Finding Yourself Abroad: A Practical Guide to Moving Overseas

Ever sit at your cubicle under fluorescent lighting dreaming of adventure.  Day dream of seeing cobble stone street instead of strip malls on your commute home.  If you have ever considered traveling away from the humdrum and trying something new this article is for you. I have twice moved myself overseas.  Once in 2008, as an international student in Scotland and again in 2017 to teach English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  

Here is what I learned from these experiences and researching a lot of other scenarios as well.  

A Guide to Moving Overseas
Imagine your lunch break here! (Luxembourg Gardens, Paris)

Think of Your Why (Include goals)

Wanting to move overseas is not enough to get you there.  It is a process that is an exercise in patience, organization, and sheer will.  The way there isn’t always apparent nor is it easy. So before even researching, write a list of what you want out of living as an expat.  For me when I left for Vietnam, I wanted a shorter work week, launch my career as an ESL teacher, and of course have an adventure. So think of your career goals, skills you would like to develop, as well as your personal goals for the future.  Then think of how they could be improved by moving away. 

Be Open to Different Countries

Many people ask me about Europe or Latin America first when chatting about living overseas.  I mention this fact first because I want to drive this point home early. It is best to be flexible on what country you want to live as an expat.  The reason for this is because some careers and countries have different needs depending on the place. Let’s use teaching as an example. Teaching English in Europe is difficult for Americans because of VISA requirements along with the fact that U.K. Citizens can easily work on the Continent.  Alternately, South and Central American pay their teachers very low. So it is difficult to live there comfortably even with the low cost of living.  

One way to avoid disappointment is to make a list of several countries you could see yourself living.  Think of places you have visited and cultures you admire. Use that as a starting off point to begin researching.

Look at Cost of Living Versus Earning Potential 

It is important to research carefully and weigh the pros and cons when considering cost of living.  When looking at jobs check into their going salaries in the countries you want to live. A lot of information can be found on international expat boards like Dave’s ESL Cafe and others.  Also consider the time of an average work week versus pay. Will you have to commute from affordable housing? How much would that cost? Make a list of your normal expenses in a month like utilities, cell phone, rent, and compare them to your dream locations.  

On the same note, I almost accepted a job in Hong Kong managing two school libraries with an International School.  However, my salary was not as good as it sounded due to the expensive housing market in the city. I also would have been faced with a crowded commute and 50 hour work week.  It was more reasonable to take a 20 hour work week with the pay scale offered in Vietnam. Especially when considering my average dinner costed 2 dollars!  

A Guide to Moving Overseas
One of my favorite strolls. (London, U.K.)

VISA Logistics 

The most frustrating, confusing, and tedious process of moving overseas is deciphering the rules for the VISA.  However, it is the most essential. Nothing can happen without the endorsed passport and proper paperwork. Here is my basic breakdown of the process.  (Seriously it gets complicated, so consider this the cliff notes version.)                           

What is a VISA?

A VISA is your legal authorization to enter a country for a certain period of time.  All VISAs have an expiration date and they vary depending on country rules as well as purpose.  They have fees attached and will request documentation that you meet the requirements to enter the country as dictated by their government.  Some will require proof of employment, degrees, and some medical records. It will certainly vary from place to place. So do not assume after researching one country another will be the same process.  (Even if they are right next to each other or on the same continent!)

3 Common Types of VISAS

Here are the three main types of VISAs that are commonly used when entering foreign countries.  

Student VISA

This was my first VISA issued to me when I moved to the U.K.  It is given for the sole process of studying in that country. They last for the extent of the length of the academic program.  Some have a limited option for employment. (In 2008, I was allowed to work 20 hours on my student VISA.) The documentation required proof I could afford study in the U.K., my medical records, and proof of my academic achievements using official transcripts/degrees.  

Tourist VISA

Some countries do not require this, some you need this before entering, and others you need one if you stay past a certain time.  They are only meant for touring and short visits. It is illegal to work on a tourist VISA in almost all if not all countries. So only use this for vacation time!


If you are reading this article, you probably need a work VISA.  Therefore, you will probably need to find a job before you leave to be sponsored.  There is a popular belief in some countries like Vietnam or China that you can go on a tourist VISA and find a job there.  However, this is a terrible way to do it because it sets you up to be scammed. It would also require you to pay to leave and re-enter the country on the correct VISA.  (Also known as a VISA run.)  

A Guide to Moving Overseas
This could be your backyard! (Tarragona, Spain)

How to Get a VISA

Consular websites for countries should give you the basic rules for all VISA types.  Find the locations of these embassies as well in your country. Most employers will give you the steps for a work VISA or their Human Resources will guide you through the process.  For my British VISA, I had to send all my documentation to the consulate assigned to my state including my actual passport. My company in Vietnam used a service to email a letter. My temporary work VISA was granted upon entering the country with that letter.  Read the fine print, often your passport cannot be expiring within 6 months.  

Note:  Sometimes you have to pay a VISA service to get your passport endorsed at an embassy.  This is the case for our Chinese tourist VISA.  

VISA Costs 

Be prepared to pay several hundred dollars in VISA costs.  Some companies will pay it for you. (Lucky you!) I have also heard of companies reimbursing you the costs if you stay with them a certain amount of time.  Most of the time it is up to you. So when creating your move away budget, make sure to be aware of the VISA costs.  

Do You Have to Teach English?

You do not have to teach English to move away.  However, it is a popular path for many. Take into consideration your past employment, skills, and degrees.  There are marketing companies, and media outlets that have English content overseas. Check to see if your own company has international divisions or partners. Maybe you can do the things you need for a transfer.  

Many people I met in Ho Chi Minh City started teaching English, but quickly moved on to other industries once they found the right contacts.  So it may be a good idea to use teaching English as a springboard to get started.  

Ways to Prepare 

You found the perfect place, right job, and your VISA is on its way!  Now what? Here was my basic process when leaving for Vietnam, and I would use it again if the opportunity ever showed up again. 

A Guide to Moving Overseas
This used to be a common walk for me! (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Discard Stuff

Seriously, the least amount of stuff you need to store the better.  I only got to get rid of some of my things before leaving. It was stressful for my husband and me.  So I recommend only keeping the most important things. Consider if your couch is on its last leg anyway or if you would prefer new plates when coming home anyway.  I listened to a great episode of Rise Together about a financial author, David Bach, who relocated his family to Florence. (Obviously, this was pre-virus.). The best advice he gave was to think if you would really want that item in 3 years.  You won’t miss much of it I promise.

Check Air Miles, Etc.

Leaving on a jet plane to an uncertain future?  No better time to cash in rewards or air miles. Remember, if you are part of a frequent flyer program in an alliance you can apply those points to airlines within the group.  Also check on credit card rewards. I used my Capital One Card to fly to Ho Chi Minh City for 15 dollars after fees. That is right, 15 dollars!  

Scan and Gather Documents 

In country, you will need official documents. That means your ORIGINAL degrees and such.  That is right, you might have to take it out of the frame and stick it in your carry on. What I did was create an accordion folder of my originals and copies.  I even left a copy of everything with my family state side in case something went astray.

Documents to Scan and Photocopy:

All Degrees

All Academic Certifications (Example: Teachers License) 

Official Transcripts 


Drivers License

Shot Records

All Credit and Debit Cards

Any International Insurance Plans 

Medical Prescriptions 

Save Money

Moving always has costs, but moving overseas can have big costs.  Be prepared to pay fees from apartment deposits to cell phone activation.  If there is some time before you leave, it is important to have some money when arriving overseas.  

Call Credit Cards and Banks 

Banks and credit cards will cut you off if you use them overseas without verifications.  Call the customer service located on the back of your card and let them know your plans in detail.  Also, know how ATM fees work in your new place and the max you can withdraw in a day period.  

”Trade the typical for something colorful”~ Greatest Showman
(Lisbon, Portugal)

Pack Less Than You Think You Need

My first jaunt living overseas I brought 2 rolling bags and mailed 2 boxes.  I didn’t even use everything I sent. So when I moved to Vietnam, I downsized to a medium rolling bag, a large North Face Crestone (60 liters), and a rolling suitcase.  It was fine, but I think I want to go smaller next time! For example, I brought some of my favorite OPI polish not realizing I could go for a gel mani/pedi for $11 a pop.  Most places you can get what you need. Here is a quick hack while you are making a packing list. Join an expat group for the city you are moving to. Then ask your new friends what they recommend you should bring!

As recommended by a dear friend who has also made this life change, bring something that can remind you of home. I would not recommend anything valuable to heirloom. However, a stash of pictures or a special necklace can be a great comfort moving to a strange place.

To Be Continued!  

There are so many more things I can tell you, but for now I will leave you to absorb this information.  In the future, I will make a part II to this focusing on helping you get acquainted and acclimated when you get to your new county.  I will say that you need to be prepared for a difficult psychological and emotional time. But you are also setting yourself up for an amazing adventure that you will be telling in your old age.  

What country would you move to?  

A Guide to Moving Overseas
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Books I Wish Were Movies or T.V. Shows

When curating my list for last month’s post about my favorite book to movie adaptations, I was surprised that there are so many books that I would like to see on the screen.  Going through my bookshelves made me so thankful that I was able to read so many amazing stories.  I would like to see each of them adapted for various reasons. Here are my reasons here! 

Books I Wish Were Movies or T.V. Shows

Infernal Devices Series by Casandra Clare 

The steampunk sub genre is my top guilty pleasure even before bodice ripping romance novels.  The images of clock gears with Victorian petticoats brings out the romantic in me, I guess. However, I have found very few steampunk books are even good much less wonderful.  The Infernal Devices series is my one exception so far in my reading journey.  The first book, Clockwork Angel, begins as a prequel to Cassandra Clare’s wildly popular Shadowhunters series.  There are so many things that make these books amazing like a love triangle, hot dudes, machine army, and an interesting mystery throughout the series.  

Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

The Lunar Chronicles is a four part series that uses a post-apocalyptic world to retell the fairy tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White respectively.  In this world, there is a plague, and earth has colonized the moon creating a group of people with powers to manipulate minds. The main character is not only a strong female character, but also a cyborg.  Certainly, the amazing book cover of the red shoe in the robot foot would make an amazing teaser poster.  

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson 

I read this book while spending time traveling around Spain.  It was my first read by the author Maureen Johnson, and it has really stuck with me.  (Although, so many of her other books should be adapted too!) After the death of her beloved, but eccentric aunt, Ginny is surprised by the delivery of a large backpack, debit card, and package of handwritten letters.  In those letters, her aunt sends her on a quest across Europe retracing her steps and teaching her about life along the way. It is the best combination of travel writing and Y.A. Contemporary I have found.  

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert 

This book was such a pleasant surprise for me.  Amy Reichert did so well describing love and food in vivid detail.  The two points of view are from a chef and a food critic. They happen upon each other and make an agreement to get to know each other without any preconceived notions so they do not share what they do for a living.  Little does the chef know that the food writer slammed her restaurant with a scathing review. The story unfolds and I would love to see this as a romantic comedy.  

The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson

The first book The Kiss of Deception had me hooked by just the description!  Princess Lia escapes on her wedding day to a small fishing village deciding a life of being a royal wife is not her thing.  Two men go after her, one her jilted fiancé and other an assassin sent to kill her. The story is told from all 3 points of view, but you don’t know who the assassin is until the end!  It is fast-paced and exciting. It would be a great epic series for Amazon or other big streaming service that could keep us binging for seasons.  

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This book jumps between modern day Hollywood to a small island of the coast of Italy in the early 1960s.  The story twists from there with a love story. I love the descriptions of the Italian coastline and little villages.  The story could echo back to the colorful movies with Sophia Loren. I was able to get lost in this plot and it was the perfect compliment to my road trip in the Florida Keys.  I could imagine this book making a great movie for a girl’s night. (When we can all go out again and stop social distancing.) 

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The expatriates writers that lived in Europe after World War I lived as exciting lives as those found in the stories they wrote.  This book takes the perspective of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley and creates a story of their early years in Paris. It is the perfect compliment to read with a Moveable Feast as well that was published after Hemingway’s death about this time as well.  All timelines and facts are true, but it is nice having her perspective. I watched a movie a few years ago with Clive Owen as Hemingway long after this time called Hemingway & Gelhorn.  However, I think it would be a great view to have a young Hemingway on screen as well.  

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova 

This book is a modern day Dracula hunt like none others written.  It is also an epic journey through places in Europe. (See a theme here with me?)  It is an easy story to get lost in. A young girl living in Amsterdam goes searching for her missing father that is linked with his hunt for Dracula.  It turns up many surprises about her family, the past, and how we perceive the family vampire.  

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein 

This is my only World War II themed novel on the list because 2 that I really love are being adapted this year!  (They are All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah.) Code Name Verity focuses on a strong female friendship between a young pilot and spy.  They both end up in German occupied France and all choices they make are life or death.  

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 

This book is so magical, literally.  It is about a pair of dueling magicians chosen as children to compete in a magical competition to the death.  (They are pawns to settle the argument of nature versus nurture when it comes to magic.). The circus is the platform for their challenge.  Each night something new and mysterious is added to the attractions. When they fall in love things get really complicated. The nightly elements would make this book a great television series where each episode portrays a new feature of the circus.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray 

This final book could replace my love of Pitch Perfect as my favorite quirky movie.  A group of reality show stars cast for a show about a beauty contest crash on a deserted island.  Think Lord of the Flies, but with glitter. It is hilarious, but also takes a real look at our values in society.  

That’s a Cut

This list was a fun way to revisit my Goodreads ‘read’ pile and look at my physical bookshelves as well.  I chose all of these books based on how amazing they were in my head when I read them. I think they would translate well to film, but it would be up to Hollywood to do them justice!  

What book do you wish will be adapted to movies or television?

Books I Wish Were Movies or T.V. Shows
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Hacks I use to Manage Anxiety

I promise I am not psychic!  This is another topic that is a hot-button issue.  Although we have been recommended to stay at home by all the governing agencies it is easier said than done.  There are issues of making our bills, paid leave, and what in the world will we do with all these kids out of school.  Just going to the grocery store and seeing the empty shelves can trigger doomsday feelings these days. I have been dealing with anxiety for years with varying degrees of success.  Here are my simple ways of managing my anxiety.

**Disclaimer:   I am not a doctor or mental health professional.  Do not take my word as diagnosis or the best course for you.  Please consult the advice of an expert instead.  

Hacks to Manage Anixety
Anxiety can creep into daily life. A few deep breaths can help.

Get Some Rest:  Actual and Physical 

These two are linked so much they cannot be separated.  Lack of consistent sleep has been attributed to obesity, over-production of the hormone cortisol, and even chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease.  In the short term, it causes a faster heart beat and our bodies to release more adrenaline. In short, it exacerbates anxiety that is already there. Also, not allowing ourselves time to decompress or pause our minds from stressful situations keeps us in a fight or flight state of mind constantly.

It isn’t easy to get rest on both counts.  Especially when you work a job with weird hours.  However, it has helped for me to make a point to take an extra 30 minutes to sleep by going to bed earlier or allow myself 45 minutes to rest on the couch.  Find ways to get more rest, and it can certainly approve the way you start your day.  

Cut Caffeine and Sugar

Anyone who gets heart palpitations from a big cup of coffee can agree with this.  I actually am not too badly affected by a normal 8 ounce cup of coffee. However, even I feel on the verge after a venti iced coffee from Starbucks.  (Even though it is so good!) For various health concerns, including my anxiety, I have made a point to give up coffee over several periods of my life.  Since I have decreased my caffeine intake to one cup every few days, I can say it does make things more mellow. The same goes for sugar.  

A word of caution though.  When getting off both coffee and sugar you will feel worse before you feel better.  There are several Youtubers that chronicle this experience well. Caffeine withdrawals can cause some rip-roaring headaches.  So I recommend replacing your coffee with some green tea first that has a quarter of the caffeine before going off completely.  Kind of the same with sugar, by finding a lower sugar item like a few pieces of dark chocolate instead of a piece of cake, 

Hacks to Manage Anxiety
Focus on gut health in order to help with feelings of anxiety.

Make Lists and Organize 

Everyone knows that I am an avid traveler.  I am always planning or fantasizing about my next adventure.  From my freshman to senior year in college when I first started flying, I was petrified to fly.  I would count the minutes until we landed safely on the ground. This past trip to China, I let the time move naturally without counting it.  I slept, watched movies, and finished two books on the way back. Instead of worrying about not having control, I decided to take control of my time on the flight.  This helped me a lot.

Therefore, when I feel overwhelmed with something that I could control, I make a list or a plan.  Take out a notebook and write a to do list in stages prioritizing the most important tasks first. This will help put the problems in perspective and give you some control back.  

Hacks to Manage Anxiety
Check lists are a great use of brain space instead of worrying.

Focus on Eating Things with Magnesium 

Studies have shown a reduction in anxiety with more magnesium.  It is possible to have magnesium from supplements, but definitely consult a physician first! I do not take magnesium supplements, but I make sure my snacks are foods known for the mineral.  Some examples are raw almonds, spinach, avocados, and others. Here is a list of other magnesium rich food.  These have other health benefits and they improve my overall mood as a whole.  Find a food and add it in!

Focus on Gut Health with Good Bacteria 

Another possible anxiety trigger is poor stomach health.  Our stomach is a microcosm of bacteria that aid in the digestive process.  When these are out of whack or overtaken by bad bacteria digestive all kinds of discomfort ensues.  But the issues go beyond indigestion and heartburn. The stomach is also important to the health of our brain as well. Some professionals even call the stomach the second brain!  Therefore, take some time to analyze your gut health. I did not have issues until I was put on medication to deal with my issues in 2015. 

However, since then I have to be careful and make sure I am allowing good bacteria to enter my system.  I do this through refrigerated probiotic capsules and no sugar added plain greek yogurt. Note: Probiotics are a popular label now on many grocery store items. Most products that are not refrigerated are just gimmicky not offering what you need in terms of probiotics.  I recommend finding a health food store to consult when looking for helpful bacteria strains. It may sound gross to try bacteria, but it can really assist with curbing anxiety.  

Exercise Someway Somehow 

Exercise can help in multiple ways.  Getting your mind off of the worries, improves overall health, and releases feel good endorphins. Not to mention the calming and relaxing benefits of yoga.  I mentioned in my last post, that there are plenty of exercise tutorials on YouTube.  Try some different things until you find the right combination for your personality, interests, ability, and schedule.  

Try a Focused Task

When my mind is running like a stampede of horses, I try a very detailed task in order to calm it.  I prefer tasks with my hands where I have to concentrate on the details. My top three tasks are adult coloring sheets, crochet, or playing my ukulele.  There are plenty of other things you can do from home like embroidery, painting, crossword puzzles, and the list goes on and on. If it is healthy, and offers a good distraction, use it to help calm a bout of anxiety.  

Hacks to Manage Anxiety
Give detailed tasks a chance when feeling anxious.

Talk with a Friend 

Some nights having a beer under the stars with my friends at a campfire have been as calming as meditating.  There isn’t anything better than knowing you are not alone and have wonderful people to support you. I found my time with encouraging instagram friends to help me feel the same way.  Find people that honestly want to help you, and care about you. 

The Bottom Line 

Do not keep it all in.  If you feel like you do not have someone to talk to, find a therapist.  They are even online now! 

Do you have anxiety?  How do you manage anxiety?

Managing Anxiety
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Things You Can Learn on YouTube

YouTube has changed the way we video media since it began in 2005.  I remember laughing over the videos “Charlie bit me” and “The End of the World.”  About 6 years ago, I began consuming more YouTube videos for make up and body product reviews. I had to trade that form of content consumption in because I found myself with more product than I could use on all the sensitive skin in South Mississippi.  So lately, I watch YouTube like I do with podcasts to entertain and inform.

I cannot believe all the things you can begin learning on YouTube.  There are some skills you can go from beginner to master all using their free video content.  Now that my librarian life has been put on pause because of social distancing, I have time to try some more of these as well.  Here is my list of things you can use to learn on YouTube.


This was one of the first skills I tried to pick up on YouTube.  I got a ukulele on a whim one day in Vietnam when I felt lonely. Some of my teacher friends lived off of a street that sold nothing but different kinds of guitars.  After visiting about four stores, I found my perfect little pineapple shaped soprano ukulele. Hence began my ukulele strumming career. There are so many ‘how to videos’ and song demos to try!  I particularly like The Ukulele Teacher, and recommend downloading his app as well. 

Handcrafts-Knitting, Crochet, and Sewing

My first instruction on crochet was by my grandma on a summer day when I was in the throws of pre-internet boredom.  I would not trade that memory for anything, but I am glad that there are other options to learn stitching. Being an immediate adopter of the Baby Yoda or The Child trend, I was dismayed to find out Disney had not released a plus Yoda while The Mandalorian was streaming.  Turns out there were a ton of crochet patterns on Etsy to buy with a picture demo. I got one, and then looked at the pattern in confusion. Luckily, my friend Lisa Markle Sparkles recommended using YouTube to find the patterns needed to complete my new friend.  I did learn how to make the magic ring stitch, but have not completed the Yoda. (Hey another social distancing project!)

Fitness-Yoga, Pilates, Zumba

No need to pay for a class or allow others to see you sweat.  There are videos for any form of movement you can imagine. I have used YouTube for a relaxing 7 minute bedtime yoga video or a kick my butt abs workout.  I really like the fun and positive personality of the blogger Blogilates


Meditation and mindful breathing are actually very difficult to master.  People work years gaining peace and calm while meditating. Use beginner and tip videos on YouTube in order to start your own journey to enlightenment.  

How to Pack a Carry On

These packing tutorials are like my drug of choice.  I am always trying to find the next best trick to save space in my carry on.  There are also great videos reviewing bags, suitcases, and showing you what they packed.  It is easy to spend hours seeing how people fit the most in their small bags. There are also videos where expats recommend what to bring to your destination.  (Quarantine tip: Watch travel vloggers as well like Kara & Nate and Where’s Poppy to dream about your next vacation once travel bans are lifted.). 

Work Your Latest Gadget 

For my besties bachelorette we took an epic girl’s road trip to Savannah.  We enjoyed the weekend among the moss and southern grandeur. The problem was, when we went to leave our  AirBnb to drive home, we could not figure out how to unlock the key lock! YouTube came to the rescue in order to help us find the factory code to unlock the compartment in order to return the key.  I have also used YouTube to safety use my Instant Pot. If you are confused on where to start on your newest purchase, chances are you can find step by step guides on YouTube. Ditto for cleaning and maintenance!  

Financial Management 

I do not recommend using YouTube as your only financial advice.  (Definitely discuss your plans with a financial advisor before putting your money anywhere!). However, if you are a complete newbie to investing and savings, it is a good place to start.  If nothing else, it can help you decipher the difference between a stock and a trade. There are also great videos taking advice from professionals like Dave Ramsey and applies them to real life.  Kristen at The Gold Project does well explaining real life saving practices in her household.  

Start Your Novel 

Turns out, many of us have aspirations to write some kind of book.  Whether it is the next Harry Potter or a cute illustrated kids book.  But there are so many excuses and technical problems that get in the way of meeting that goal.  Make it a little easier by checking out Writing with Jenna Moreci.  She is a fun personality that is witty and frank.  Jenna became a writer through the success of self-publishing her first book Eve the Awakening. Check out her content library in order to get writing!  

Let the Search Bar Lead the Way

I cannot believe the timing of this post.  My posts are planned weeks to months ahead.  It is coming out at a useful time as we learn how to deal with the interruptions to our daily lives.  So many things are available if you want to give them a try!  

What have you learned on YouTube?

Things You Can Learn on YouTube
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Apps for Growth and Productivity!

Continuing with this month’s theme of self-growth, I decided to share some apps that help me be more productive.  Usually, my phone is a big time suck, but there are plenty of ways it helps me be more useful.  Using these apps has helped me fall asleep, save time on errands, and even save money. I have tried many and these are the ones that have lasted.  Here is my list by device including iPad and iPhone. 

Apps for Growth and Productivity!
Use technology to help instead of hinder your time.



I use this app with my Apple Pencil and iPad Pr.  This is a paper app that I can use to write and draw using the Apple Pencil.  I love doodling and writing. The app has a variety of colors and paper types.  It even includes my favorite dot grid paper! Noteworthy also has unique features to jazz up your spreads like images, gifs, and a highlight feature.  Here is a walk through video if you are interested in learning more.  

Simply Yoga

This is a free app that gives a beginner yoga lesson.  The lesson has increments of 20 minutes to one hour. The instructions are clear and there is a video demonstrating the movements as well.  They even guide with breathing along the way as well. It is a great intro to yoga for someone, like me, who is a true beginner. It is a great way to relax before bed and begin a routine to practice some flexibility.  The only downside is there are some pop-up ads before the lesson and in the side bars.  

White Noise

This app saved my sleep when I was living in Vietnam.  I realized the city was the noisiest place I ever lived quickly.  My hotel room was the first on the second floor by the stairs leading to the lobby.  Then, my apartment was sandwiched between two construction sites. So I downloaded this app and put on my full sized headphones after picking my perfect relaxing sound.  I rotated between ocean, rain forest, and my favorite campfire!  


iTunes U

Brush up on whatever interests you!  iTunes U offers free lectures from top universities and their faculty.  When I was trying to pass the US Foriegn Service Test, I used iTunes U to listen to courses on government, international policy, and American history.  There is plenty to choose from and it can be streamed easily to any Apple device.

Podcast Apps-Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and iHeart Radio

There are plenty of more than those mentioned above.  However, I love using podcasts to entertain myself and learn while I walk.  I have a post in 2018 and 2020 about some of my favorite podcasts. Best of all, they are free!

Walmart Grocery Pickup

This app has saved me over an hour of grocery shopping and temptations of impulse buying.  I use the Walmart Grocery app every few weeks when I am short on time.  Pick up times can be made up to 5-6 hours in advance depending on availability.  It is free as long as purchases are over $35 dollars which isn’t a stretch for us!  


Skyscanner has been my go to flight search app since the demise of my favorite one in 2018.  It is the closest I have found to matching On the Fly’s algorithm showing cheap flights by the day.  While Skyscanner doesn’t give the price for everyday, it will give the cheapest days in a month’s view by marking the day with a green dot.  You can still use it like most flight searches by changing combinations of days, trips, and arrivals in order to see a variety of prices. I scored our tickets to China for about 700 dollars using Skyscanner.  

Reduce Screen Time With an App? 

One app I would like to try in the near future is one that decreases screen time.  I am mortified how much time I spend on my phone and social media. So, I hope to find the right app to help me put it down.  There are many out there and some mentioned in this article.  Does anyone out there use one of these?  Which one do you prefer?  

I wanted to mention this since our ultimate productivity really happens when we turn off the television, phone, tablets, and computers.  Well, at least shutting off the internet function.

What are your favorite apps?

Apps for Growth and Productivity!
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Tips to Release Your Inner Girl Boss

Happy Women’s History Month!  March has been celebrated as National Women’s History Month in some form since 1982.  I loved studying women’s history in graduate school. Still, I enjoy listening to podcasts about impressive women on Stuff You Missed in History Class and History Chicks.  The oral histories of women living their day to day lives during conflict impresses me even more.  Women do amazing things, and you can too!  Becoming a Girl Boss is possible for us all!

If you have a dream or a business idea.  You can start it this month. Here are my tips for productivity and  growth!

Tips to Release Your Inner Girl Boss
There is a girl boss in us all!

Read About Other Awesome Women

Nothing gets me more motivated than hearing the stories of other women who have triumphed over their challenges to achieve their dreams.  There are so many stories from ladies in all walks of life. I was just as inspired by the story of Malala as of older women like Rosa Parks.  Currently, I am listening to the audio book Educated by Tara Westover and it helped me realize how lucky I am to have the opportunities given to me in my childhood.  There is always something new to know and appreciate. 

Some of my favorite women power reads!  

Have a Morning Routine 

For years, my mornings consisted of hitting the snooze button half a dozen times and giving myself enough time to brush my teeth and get dressed before hauling out the door.  Now, I still only give myself 30 minutes before my VIPKid classes. (Hey it is 3:30 or 4:30 in the morning!) So now I get to spend some time enjoying myself after classes because of new regulations from China on class times.  On the rare day that I do not teach with VIPKid, I found that I really enjoy getting up to read or write while drinking my coffee.

My morning routine is not the most stellar or consistent.  My main goal is to do something productive or enjoyable however the mood strikes.  For a few weeks in winter, I enjoyed walking my cold and quiet neighborhood in the mist.  Sometimes I indulge my Asian Drama addiction with a hot tea. I will even get a jump on chores like cleaning my hedgehog’s cage and laundry.  Pretty much whatever puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.   

Tips to Release Your Inner Girl Boss
Start your mornings right!

Care Less About What Others Think

This has taken me years and years to make headway on this.  I used to obsess over what people thought of me both good and bad.  But letting go of this worry has been the most liberating feeling of my adulthood.  It started back in college when I passed up president of an organization in favor of focusing on a scholars program.  This is where I began caring about what I wanted for myself versus others assumed of me. This has allowed me to have courage to move overseas (twice!) and carve out a career path in the millennial landscape.  

To get started just remember this favorite quote:

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.” -Rachel Hollis 

**I could probably take a whole other blog post to unpack that!**

Invest in Education 

We are so lucky to live in a time where self-development is so easily accessible.  I was able to learn Mandarin for travel with a teacher from Taiwan on my own computer.  The creation of online course subscription services like Skill Share and Master Class makes learning almost any topic within our reach.  The Gulf Coast School District even offers community classes in courses ranging from digital photography to phlebotomy.  Paying for coursework has been something even this cheapskate can rationalize! There is no way to put a price tag on my CELTA certification that is my ticket to the world.          

Write Your Goals Down Along With Smaller Steps to Attain Them 

The first step to making your dreams a reality is to write them down!  This can be in any form or media. If you are a visual person, you may find a collage of your goals more productive than a typed list.  But don’t stop there! Think of the smaller steps to obtain these dreams. Say if you want to write a book, for example. Think of an attainable goal now like reading a book on writing or drafting your first short story for practice.  Use that momentum to plan further into the future slowly stepping towards your big plans.  

Tips to Release Your Inner Girl Boss
Invest in yourself.

Have One Pinterest Worthy Outfit 

I think this one is so important for your confidence.  There are phases in my life where I wear the frumpiest and old clothes!  (I am currently in a slump right now.) However, when I have a cute, confident outfit I feel like I can conquer the world.  You can build an outfit based on one item you like or find inspiration by typing styles into Pinterest. Use Poshmark, thrift stores, and whatever you need to find some quality pieces like a reliable handbag for reasonable prices.  You can even put your outfit on your vision board too! 

Find Your Own Girl Boss

Of course your definition of what Girl Boss means to you is different than mine.  However, you can still get ahead on this by living intentionally towards your goals and self-care.  I hope whatever the methods you can find your way!  

How do you release your inner goal boss?  

Tips to Release Your Inner Girl Boss
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No Spend Self-Care Ideas

It is not a surprise some of my favorite things (thanks Julie Andrews) are pricey! This goes especially for my favorite self-care activities. They range from pedicures to world travel. I can’t help but feel invigorated walking anonymously down some foreign street where I cannot even read the shop signs. Last post, I discussed my thoughts on self-care versus self-indulgence. I think there is a balance between both, but I definitely think self-care is a necessity. Right now, with my reduced teaching schedule and my 2020 trip to the U.K. in the horizon, I certainly do not have disposable income.

Therefore, in honor of my No Spend until the end of March, here are some of my ideas for self-care that is free!

No Spend Self Care
Find the lavender oil and soak!

Create Your Own At Home Spa

Dig through your bathroom cabinets and drawers to see what luxury products you have forgotten. Maybe your mom gave you a bath bomb last Christmas, or there is a fancy candle tucked away behind your hairspray. You can even make your own spa products with this post. Some cheap items make great bath products. Epsom salt is a wonderful bath soak and witch hazel can be used as a face astringent. There are free streaming services like Pandora where you can enjoy relaxing music to your taste. Use what you have to create ambiance.

Find Your Next Favorite Book Series

We all have this one book that has captivated us. For may, it began with the Harry Potter series. However, I have been lucky enough to find several over my years of voracious reading. Think about some of you favorite series from the past. You can use websites like Goodreads or What Should I Read Next to find books similar to those. (What Should I Read Next takes all the guesswork out by generating a list based on titles provided!) No need to spend money to buy them. Check with your local library and they are not in the collection request for them to be ordered through inner-library loan. Most libraries will do this for free! If it is a classic that you crave, many of them are out of copyright and can be found online as open source.

Take Time to Try Meditate or Yoga

To begin the basics of both of these, you can go as far as YouTube. Check out free apps and beginner courses. Even some communities offer classes for free at libraries or churches. The simplest start is by practicing deep breathing from the stomach instead of the chest. Another skill that takes mastering is the slow inhalation and exhalation breathing pattern used in meditative practices. Even just the act of clearing your mind is a skill that is nice easily mastered. You can start this process on your own in a quiet room.

No Spend Self-Care
Find free resources online or at the library to begin a relaxing habit.

Unplug from Social Media

This is the most freeing ‘free’ item on the list. Cutting back on social media allows you time to pursue something else more healthy to you. Whether it is talking with your partner or working on a creative pursuit. Try to unplug a little a day while slowly adding more time off social media each day. I find after a few days, I don’t even miss it!

Start a Journal

Journaling within itself is a good calming and reflective practice. It is used by mental health professionals, creatives, memory enthusiasts, and more. The greatest aspect about journaling is that it can be used however it best benefits you. It can be a brain dump of ideas so you can sleep. It can be a place to bring more positive things in your life by thinking of the happiness already present. You can doodle, complain, and cry into the pages as needed. Do not feel tempted to purchase a fancy product, find a notebook with empty space and get started.

Think of 3 Health Challenges Then Begin a New Habit Today!

So much of our life can be improved by finding a balance with our health. However, our fast paced world with cheap unhealthy food and energy drinks makes it difficult. (Myself included in this! I sure love venti iced coffees.) My biggest mistake with trying to be ‘healthy’ was trying to change everything at once. It is overwhelming to start cutting sugar, eating salads, exercising all in the same week. Pick one of these and implement it for several weeks. When you feel confident it is a habit, then add something else.

Leave Your Living Room Dungeon and Go Outside

Find an activity that gets you out of the house. The University of Alabama Birmingham found that even just 20 minutes outside at the park can improve your mood. There are so many free things to do. Just walking my neighborhood daily brightens my day. If you are fortunate enough to live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, parking on the beach is free! There are plenty of piers and harbors to walk. I love watching the pelicans swoop down at the boats to catch a snack at the Ocean Springs Harbor. Check out State and National Parks in your area as well.

No Spend Self-Care
Take a walk outside as much as possible to improve your days.

Self-Care Daily

Use this list as a starting point to jump start a self-care habit that you can enjoy daily. Begin with just 30 minute sometime in the day and then you can add more slowly. Get creative with your time. A car rider line is a great place to enjoy an audiobook. Waking up a little earlier can give you the reflective time you need. Even taking a break at work for coffee with a friend is a good start! Just get going!

What free self-care activity do you like?

No Spend Self-Care
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Is it Self-Care or Self-Indulgence?

Back in 2015, I was in the worst health mentally and physically.  It was shocking to have such problems at the age of 30. Although I had a condition I could not help and was probably genetic, I had spent years not taking care of myself.  This means letting stress get to me, not listening to warning signs, putting a lot of garbage in my body, and other unhealthy habits. With my health wake up call, I began focusing on the things that would improve my overall health.  This was my beginning of understanding the difference between self-care versus self-indulgence.  

Is it self-care or self-indulgence?
Start self-care by getting enough sleep!

But Mandy, What Do Those Words Even Mean?

I never thought of these words before my 30s.  Everything to me was just ‘surviving’ or ‘thriving.’  The term self-care has made a resurgence lately, and I have been seeing it all over the place.  (Or that could just be the algorithm on my Pinterest account!) Self-care means to do the things that keep you an overall healthy and happy person.  While self-indulgence is the result of going overboard with things that make you feel good for the moment. In some cases, self-indulgence is the result of overdoing the self-care.  Also, some people’s version of self-care is someone else’s self-indulgence.  

Self-Care Guilt 

Most of us, especially women, spend a lot of time taking care of business with family, work, and kids.  The cycle continues until one day something stops the cycle for us. Whether it is sickness, bangs, or an existential crisis.  Rachel Hollis spoke about this topic in her book Girl Wash Your Face.  She recounted her experience with bell’s palsy and how the stress in her life triggers episodes.  So isn’t it better to evaluate and take measures to help yourself first? Also take into consideration that you cannot help the people in your family if you are not operating at your best.  

Is it self-care or self-indulgence?
Skip the sodas and try a cup of herbal tea.

Here Are Some Examples of Self-Care

Making an effort to get 8 hours of sleep a night.  

-Whether it is by going to bed early or creating a night time routine.  

Enjoying a cup of coffee while reading or having some contemplative time.  

-It is alright to sit alone with your thoughts or think about something that interests you.  

Spend the money to replace your 3 year old bras.  

-If it is something you need, fork out the cash!  

The Pitfalls of Self-Indulgence 

If I was on the show, My Strange Addiction, it would be for my love of Asian dramas.  It all started with Meteor Garden on Netflix last year.  (Thanks Teacher Lauren!)  Since then, I have binge watched close to 10 of them.  The thing with the dramas, is that there can be 40 plus episodes a season!  So I love sitting on the couch, and watching these shows ridiculous plots, subtitles, and all.  With working over a 50 hour work week, where does this become self-indulgence?  I pretty much tell myself that if I do not do anything that day, I am being a little ridiculous.  However, I feel like a champ if I watch two episodes then take a walk.  

If it is something you are spending too much time, money, or energy on then it probably is an indulgence.  When anything is taken in excess it can have a negative effect on us and even get in the way of self-care.  

Is it self-care or self-indulgence?
Be kind to yourself most of all!

Here Are Some Examples of Self-Indulgence

Constantly sleeping late.  

-Getting up a little earlier with a small routine or ritual can really get your day started right! 

Pounding down sodas and over consuming social media.

-Both are really bad for us! 

Shopping to make you feel better or put a band aid on a bad day.  

-Any other unhealthy habit can go into this like needing a drink or eating a tub of ice cream.  

Defining Self-Care for Yourself

Take a moment to contemplate your basic needs and then think of your personality type.  Are you an introvert or extrovert? Your answer will depend on whether that glass of wine at happy hour is self-care or not.  Write a list of ideas to get started with self-care or steal one from online. If you still feel in doubt or confused, do not feel scared to find a mental health professional or close friend to discuss this further. 

How do you practice self-care?  What self-indulgence do you love, but try to avoid?  

Is it Self-Care or Self-Indulgence?
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Book to Movie Adaptations Worth the Hype

I have been interested in hearing from other readers since I spoke next to my school librarian at the pre-computer card catalog.  (Yes, I know that tells my age!) There were days I would go to the public library and ask for recommendations when I first got my driver’s license.  When the internet became a thing, I read fan fiction then book blogs. I have now been part of Goodreads for over 10 years! More recently, I watch BookTubers on Youtube.  

Throughout my journey in the book lover community, there is one thing for certain.  Everyone loves the book better than the movie! I am no exception to this, but from time to time a book to movie adaptation will bring me great joy.  So here are my favorite book to movie adaptations that worked in my opinion.  

Books to Movie Adaptations Worth the Hype
It is always a nice surprise to have a good book to movie adaption.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (Of Course!)

Although a lot had to be deleted for time sake, I must say I loved all the Harry Potter retellings.  They changed from director to director, but they also matured as the characters aged. I would say that having J.K. Rowling heavily involved in the making of the movies really helped keep major plot points intact and recreated the magic we all love so much from the books.  

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

When I listened to this on audiobook, I thought it could not get any better.  (They had the insight to use three different voices for the 3 main women.) However, the cast of the movie was phenomenal.  They also took time to re-create parts of Jackson, Mississippi to look like it did in the 1960s.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schafer 

I almost devoured this book in one sitting when I read it.  It has a unique style of being told through letters. This method captured the feelings of the people in the community during and after World War II.  The movie available on Netflix was fantastic as well. The flashback method of filming helped capture the stories evolving plot. Plus having so many Downton Abbey actors in it sealed the deal for me! 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

This was one of my best reads of 2019.  I actually read it because of the movie trailers.  It also gave me a look into a culture I already had a glance at with my current job as an ESL teacher.  I liked the book so much that I downloaded the sequels right away to my ereader.  The movie was so good, that I saw it in theaters twice and pre-ordered the DVD. Now, I cannot wait for the sequels to be filmed as well!  

The soundtrack may or may not have been my theme music for my trip to China.  

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald (Both movies!)

The Great Gatsby is my favorite book of all time.  The way Fitzgerald wrote a book defining a generation has always amazed me.  I actually like both the Robert Redford version and the Leonardo DiCaprio version.  The movie with Robert Redford was perfectly true to the book following the plot almost exactly.  However, the racy re-imagination of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie was good as well. (Not to mention those party scenes!) 

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

The book and movie were both such an emotional roller coaster.  The movie did a good job of portraying the intense feelings the book brought about.  Emilia Clark and Sam Claflin did well as the main characters. I think this is the first time since A Walk To Remember that a book and the movie had me in the same amount  of tears.

Honorable Mention: Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin 

I go through phases of reading a lot of chick lit like I do with YA.  Most of the time, I do not like the movie adaptations of chick lit books.  However, I did like Something Borrowed.  I am just embarrassed to admit it since the premise of the story is actually terrible.  Seriously, props to Emily Griffin, who had us buying into a story about an affair between a bride’s best friend and her groom!

Keep Reading and Watching

Although I feel a little ‘meh’ about many adaptations.  However, there are still so many great books I would love to watch on the big screen or even in the comfort of my living room.  Stay tuned for that list coming in March! 

What book to movie adaptation do you love? 

Book to Movie Adaptations Worth Hype
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Mardi Gras Parade Essentials

Now that you know my favorite Mardi Gras parades I would like to give you some tips to have a better carnival experience.  I was spoiled as a child to have a spot a block from the parade route my family would celebrate Mardi Gras.  It would be a big pot luck event with all essentials close by including the restroom! When we no longer did this, we would have to figure it out ourselves.  

I have spent years in heat, cold, and rain.  The days can be long and here are my personal recommendations for your parade day gear.

Be Prepared

Firstly, the weather in South Mississippi is as fickle as a lead star in a soap opera.  Each year can host a variety of climate conditions. (And when you think it can’t get any worse, it will!)  Some years are extremely cold while others can be hot or even rainy. One year, in the 1950s there were even snow flurries!  

Also take into consideration that you will need to get to the route early to have a spot to park and stand.  Then afterwards, the traffic leaving can be deadlocked for a good while. Think of possible scenarios and use this list to plan accordingly.  


Whether you like hot or cold drinks, alcoholic, caffeinated, sweet, bitter or whatever, you will still need a way to keep them at the temperature you want.  It is easiest to fill tumblers with what you need for the day so you can stop and go visiting as most of us do along the parade route. Also do not forget to stay safely hydrated with water as well!

Toilet Paper, Tissues, and Wipes

Plan to have to use the porta potties for the parade.  If you are lucky enough to find an establishment with a bathroom, do not count on toilet paper with the amount of foot traffic experienced on parade days.  Therefore, bring tissues to use as toilet paper or stuff a roll in your bag before leaving home.

Hand Sanitizer 

I have seen some bathrooms in devastating states after Mardi Gras.  Be prepared for a possible lack of cleanliness and soap. Also think of door handles, sticky hands from king cake, and even the throws from the ground.  So keep a small bottle handy on your person throughout the day.

Wagon or Rolling Cart

This is essential if you are planning to park your car away and walk.  Or if you are energetic and want to catch the parade in two spots. Use the cart to haul your kids or your loot from the day.  

Sunscreen and Sunglasses

Even on years that it is overcast.  Being outside all day can cause some wicked face and back of neck sunburns.  Be sure to use sunscreen and reapply during the day. I have so many friends that come back to work the day after Mardi Gras looking like a lobster.  Sunglasses can also help you avoid being hit with beads while staring at the sun’s glare.  

 Head Gear 

Cute little head pieces have been all the rage over the recent years.  Originally, all people riding in the parades had to wear masks. Now everyone wears cute headbands.  You may not want to be left out. Otherwise, you can done on a hat to protect your head from the sun or rain or whatever the weather decides to do.  

Comfortable Shoes

Even if you have a place close by to park, you can still be in for a lot of walking if you want to see others that day or grab something from a shop where the roads are blocked.  You will certainly be standing for the length of the parade. It is important to have some comfortable shoes or you every step leaving the fun could be painful.  

Hot Hands (If it is Cold)

These are a great way to keep a little warm on cold days.  Some of the night parades especially tend to get cold. Keep your feet toasty by putting them in your shoes too!  


Some places close for Mardi Gras, and others raise their prices.  If you are not set up with a group or pot luck, I would pack a few easy snacks to have that day.  Expect crowds at restaurants and possible long waits for food. You do not want to be in a long restaurant line with only mushed moon pies to eat!

Cash and ID

Cash is king on Mardi Gras Day.  You can find groups selling snacks and goods around the route.  Also it is easier to pay cash quickly in some places while others will only take cash that day. Once, the ATM in downtown Ocean Springs was actually out of cash the night of their parade.  So stock up before hand and keep your ID on you if you plan to go anywhere that serves alcohol.  

Let the Good Times Roll!

Or in Mardi Gras speak, just go with it.  Think ahead and check the weather. Call ahead to places you may want to eat.  Ask friends for advice. However, that may not account for all scenarios that may occur.  But no matter what happens you are still in for a good time, or at least a fun story.  

What are your Mardi Gras parade essentials?  

Mardi Gras Parade Essentials
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