Budget – February 2018

There seem to be a bazillion nomad bloggers out there talking about how cheap it is to travel, but very few are open about their finances. We’ve gotten quite a few questions about how we can afford to travel full-time, so we’ve decided to open up the books and do a monthly post with the details of our budget. The hope is that these posts will help prepare others who are thinking about jumping into the nomad life, and help us re-assess our spending habits. Enjoy!

There seem to be a bazillion travel bloggers out there talking about how cheap it is to travel, but very few are open about their finances. We’ve gotten quite a few questions about how we can afford to travel full-time, so we’ve decided to open up the books and do a monthly post with the details of our budget. The hope is that these posts will help prepare others who are thinking about jumping into the nomad life, and help us re-assess our spending habits. Enjoy!

Our goal budget for this journey is $200 per week, putting us at $800 to spend for the month of February.

We did not live a life of the rich and famous, but we didn’t go without either. China is quite suitable for $800 per month for two people.

  • Average Daily Food Cost: $11
    • The time at our house sit included two home cooked meals and one meal out.
    • Outside of the house sit, we ate out for all three meals. We also enjoyed one cup of coffee and three cans of either beer or soda per day.
  • Average Daily Lodging: $7.50
    • Two weeks in the private room at the Yangshuo hostel were $14 per night.
    • Two weeks in our house sit were FREE.
    • One week in our two different dorm beds at the Chengdu hostels were $11 per night.
    • All of our lodging included Wifi, VPN (expect for three days), and free water.

Money Spent: $1,128

Income: $387

Monthly Net: -($741)

Two Month Total:

$692 (Income) – $2,662 (Spent) = -($1,970) 

Week One Net: -($178)

Despite some big nights out, we still came very close to sticking to our $200 budget. We rented a scooter for a day, ate a big meal of beer fish, and had a date night with a fancy Indian dinner and two import beers. We spent $202.

We reached our goal of 2,000 views on the blog for the month of January. I’m still not famous, but I feel pretty awesome!! I even made a little bit of money from AdWords (the annoying advertisements on the bottom of the page) of $0.46! May not be much, but that is enough for a small breakfast here.

Josh had a couple of long-term jobs on UpWork, so he was only able to close one contract for the week. We made $24.

Week Two Net: – ($149)

Week two was a travel week. We caught a taxi to the bus station in Yangshuo, a bus from there to the train station in Guilin, a train from Guilin to Chengdu, then a subway to our hostel in Chengdu. That adventure set us back ¥100/$16. We stayed at The Mix Hostel in a dorm room for a couple of days. The price was decent, but we lacked for comfort.

But the exciting news of the week was our house sitting job!!! We moved out of the hostel and moved into our house sit in Southern Chengdu where we watched a dog in exchange for a free place to stay. So, we went rent free for the next 12 days!! Whoop! In addition to our free accommodations, we had a great kitchen that allowed us to buy groceries which also saved us a ton of money. We spent $171.

It was another slow work week. We made $22.

Week Three Net: -($493)

In general, we did pretty awesome this week. We had one day where we spent nothing and three other days that were under $14. We really got into the swing of things eating more at home and only purchasing what we needed, when we needed it. However, as you can see from the sub heading, we still had a couple of really big purchases. First was a new charger for Josh’s computer. We tried to put it off for as long as we could, but both realized that we were selling ourselves short by sharing a computer. So, we bit the bullet and purchased a new charger at the Apple Store for $99. We also purchased our plane tickets to Kuala Lumpur for $313 (two direct flights). The ticket prices are amazing, but really cut into the budget. We spent $525.

Josh wrapped up one project for $23 and I made $10 on my Amazon.com eGift Cards link!!  We made $33.

Week Four Net: +$78

This was our hardest week due to the move out of our house sit, into a hostel, then into the more expensive city of Kuala Lumpur. Even with a $50 gift card applied, we are still paying 58RM/$15 per day for the 14 nights we booked at our KL hotel. That only leaves us with 43RM/$11 left to spend on other expenses per day. Thankfully, food and transportation are fairly cheap, but still not enough to keep us under budget. We have gone over our 101RM budget every day since we have arrived in KL. We spent $230.

Fortunately, all of those big projects Josh has been working on are finally getting wrapped up. He edited a woman’s non-fiction novel, wrote an essay about intermittent fasting, researched and wrote an article about drug testing, and summarized another research paper for CannaHealthWe made $387.

For our second month overseas, we still have not met our budget goals, but we did get much closer AND came in under $800 for the month’s total net. Overall, we feel pretty good about it. Some learnings this month were:

I have 50% of the rest of our journey booked with house sits. My goal is to bump that up to 75% by the end of next month. That should save us quite a bit of money on food and lodging, but will add to the travel costs (although that was going to be an expense regardless).

Josh and I also had a long talk about his UpWork “career” and have decided to pull back a little bit. He is going to continue to write for CannaHealth, but will otherwise focus more on his short stories. We put together a plan for the month that would have him doing brand building and creative writing for at least five hours per day. I think he will enjoy this much more and, if we start now, will hopefully start making some money at it within the next few months. It’s a risk, but one we are willing to take. I’ll update you on his work in a couple weeks.

Please check out our new branded Facebook pages:

The Places We Live Facebook Page

J. Brandon Lowry (Writer) Facebook Page

China Brews

China isn’t really known for their beer and it is obvious why at the first sip. Now, that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my beer in China, because I absolutely did. I enjoyed it the same way I enjoy a refreshing Coors Light. Sometimes I just really want a Coors Light, sue me.

China isn’t really known for their beer and it is obvious why at the first sip. Now, that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my beer in China, because I absolutely did. I enjoyed it the same way I enjoy a refreshing Coors Light. Sometimes I just really want a Coors Light, sue me.

My favorite brew of China was Guilin Liquan’s 1998 LiQ beer. It was very smooth, refreshing, and a great price at only ¥10 ($1.55). I would also put Guilin Liquan as my favorite brewer in China. I tried two of their crafts. I couldn’t taste much of a difference between the two, but they were both better than the others I had.

On our last couple of days in China, we bunked with a Chinese brewer at the hostel. He was in the middle of a brewery tour in Chengdu. He gave us a list of places to try and talked to us about the growing micro-brew culture in China and how he sees it around the world. It was super interesting to talk to him and we are looking forward to our next trip to Chengdu to check out the breweries he suggested.

I only got a taste for the flavors around me. Please share your favorite China beers in the comments, and if you’re an Untappd user, add us as friends!

Top UnTappd Badges Earned This Month

Brew Update – China

New China Flavors: 9

 New China Breweries: 8

Flavor Life List: 51

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Beijing Yanjing Brewery – Beijing, China

  • Yanjing Beer North American Adjunct

China Resources Snow Breweries – Beijing, China

  • Snow Beer 8.0 P Lager

Harbin Brewing – Harbin, China

  • Harbin Beer Pale

Master Gao Craft – Nanjing, China

  • Baby IPA

Panda Brew – China

  • Outlaw Witbier

Shandong Hande Brewing Co. – China

  • Baishi Royale Lager

Tsingdao Brewery – Qingdao, China

  • Tsingtao Pale

Yanjing Pijiu (Guilin Liquan) – Guilin, China

  • 1998 LiQ American Light
  • 10P LiQ North American Adjunct

Yangshuo to Chengdu by Train

We took a bus from Yangshuo to Guilin, then a train from Guilin to Chengdu. Check out the full story here:

We are on the last month of our 60 day tourist visa, and we’ll be spending it in Chengdu, China. Chengdu is in Sichuan province, which should sound a little familiar; it is China’s spicy food capital! I’m not usually a fan of spicy food, but with our trip to Thailand coming up, I figure this is a great place to practice up.


There is a high speed train that goes through Xingping on the way to Guilin, but we chose to go with the slightly cheaper and more convenient option of catching a train from Guilin, instead. Tickets can be purchased online if you are willing to pay a $10 service fee or for a smaller fee if you book it on a Chinese site and use WeChat or AliPay. Since we aren’t using either of those services, and I hate service fees, we opted to purchase tickets in person at a kiosk in Yangshuo.

InkedGoogle Maps_LI

Turns out you still get charged a ¥10 fee for this service, as well! If you buy from the actual train station, it’s free, but that would have involved traveling to Guilin. So I guess ¥10 isn’t that bad. Our two tickets on hard seats cost ¥778 ($125). This is a little more expensive than I have seen them in the past, but this is peak travel time due to the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year).

From the hotel, we hailed two motorcycle taxis for ¥15 each. It took only 10 minutes to get to the bus station, which was really just a corner gas station with buses parked next to it. From there, a woman beckoned us onto a bus to Guilin for ¥30 each. The bus was clean, comfortable, and even had a horrible Chinese movie playing.

After almost exactly 90 minutes, we hopped off near Wada Hostel. We had a little extra time, so we took a walk to do some grocery shopping and have breakfast. We splurged a little on breakfast and enjoyed a coffee tea (still not sure what this is) and biscuit from a Hong Kong cafe. Both were delightful. At the grocery store, we purchased lunch and some snacks for the train. The train does have a food car, but it is usually expensive and rarely includes an English menu.

Last time we rode the train, we arrived two hours early and were bored out of our minds. This time, we arrived 30 minutes early and nearly missed our train. Thankfully the lines were moving quickly and we had some very helpful attendants to help us along the way. When we aren’t in a hurry, the train station is easy to navigate and has English signs throughout.

Most Chinese trains are organized into “hard” seats, and “soft” seats. The hard seats, which we had booked, are similar to airplane seats with a fold out table. Sometimes, the seats are literally hard, wooden benches, but this time they were padded and comfortable. The soft seats are slightly more comfortable chairs, arranged in groups of  four around a large table. These are great if you have a group of four. Otherwise, I suggest the hard seats, as they’re cheaper and basically the same.


The ride was seven hours long and arrived 10 minutes earlier than expected. There were several bathrooms for each car, with at least one Western toilet per set. I strongly suggest using the squatter on trains. It requires less touching of anything and less leg strength than hovering over the always-wet Western seat. The bathrooms included toilet paper, sink, and soap. As per usual in China, there were no towels.

The train also includes a hot and cold water dispenser. We used the dispenser to fill our noodle bowls (the blue one with shrimp on the front is my personal favorite) and an attendant came to collect our garbage later. Our seat mate ate some smoked pigeon for lunch. She ate it out of the bag it came in and spit the bones into the provided barf bag. Her garbage was also collected and she was given a replacement barf bag.

The train stopped multiple times along the way, with each stop lasting 5-15 minutes. If you do get off for some air, watch the smokers; they seem to know the drill. Thankfully, our stop was the last one, so there was no confusion as to where we were getting off. When the train emptied, we got out too.

We got off at the Chengdu Dong (East) Station and caught a metro to our hotel. It was a long, but easy and comfortable trip. So far, Chengdu has a very different vibe from most other Chinese cities we’ve been to. We can’t wait to get set up at our first house sit and spend the month exploring our new temporary home!




Adventures with Jen – Yangshuo

We’re just a few days away from moving to our next destination which means it’s that time again to tell the stories of my less-than-totally-epic adventures. Yangshuo was amazing in almost every way, but had its fair share of not so brag-worthy moments. Join me again for: Adventures With Jen! [cue theme music]

Downtown Art

West Street and the area surrounding it are fun and exciting at nearly all times of the day. With our daily walks, we were able to explore the area top to bottom, front to back. On top of all the fun shops, restaurants, and music/sounds loud enough to blow an eardrum, there is also a healthy amount of art. We had fun wandering around and taking pictures of the weird and wonderful.


There are several markets in town. There are two small ones right near our hostel, one large one downtown, and a huge one in the next town over. The small markets near our hostel are fun to walk by. They mostly sell fruits and vegetables, but there are a couple that offer duck or fish. The large market downtown takes up the first floor space of two large buildings. There are stalls for everything from nuts and herbs to fish and snake.


On one of the sunny days, we rented an electric scooter again and rode about half an hour out of town to the neighboring town of Fuli. They host a large market every few days and had good reviews on all the travel sites. The drive took us through busy, loud traffic, but the market itself was pretty cool. I was particularly happy that we went at this time of year because the whole place was filled with red shops selling goodies for Chinese New Year.


Hike – Xi Lang Shan

There are so many beautiful mountains throughout Yanghuo, most with pagodas perched on top. It isn’t always easy to find the way up, however. There was one mountain in particular with a nice pagoda on top that looked like it gave a view of the whole city. We walked around nearly the entire thing looking for the stairs. There were several sets of stairs that led up to little caves and hobo camping spots. After several attempts, we did find the right stairs and worked our way to the top.

It was free, not too high up, and did indeed have an excellent view. Although physically easy to climb, it was a mental challenge with stairs that were not well maintained and clinging to some sketchy cliff edges. We worked our way up and down very carefully and celebrated a successful climb when we safely reached the bottom.


Yangshuo’s been a great home, but it’s time for us to move on. We’re heading up to Chengdu next, home of pandas and spicy food, where we’ll be house-sitting for a few weeks. Chengdu is quite a bit bigger than Yangshuo, and I’ve got a lot more little fun adventures planned!

Eating All of the Things – Yangshuo

Our adventure with food continues. We love to eat, and there is plenty of food to love here in China.

For breakfast, Josh collects two buns from our favorite steamer place down the road. The man that works at the shop is very enthusiastic to have some new foreign friends and has some of the best tasting buns we have ever had. Josh bags them up and brings them back to the hostel, where I meet him down in the common area with one cup of Americano coffee to split and our thermoses refilled with fresh hot water. Breakfast is small, but filling, and only costs $2 (the one cup of coffee eats up $1.60 of the cost of breakfast).

We ate at the shop once, but the tiny table and stools that are common at shop fronts in China are just way too small for our big American bodies. Also, the bowl is full of the best soy milk we have ever had. Perfect temperature, texture, and sweetness. Yum!

Our favorite stop for lunch is a place we call “The Good Build Your Own”. At the front of the shop, there is a case of fresh vegetables and meats. We are given a bowl and some tongs, then left to our leisure. We fill our bowl with the ingredients we want, then hand it off to the cook, who asks us whether we want rice or noodles. There are four identical restaurants of this style all on the same block, but there is one in particular that always serves us a larger portion than the others, hence the word “Good” in the title. Depending on the amount of meat you put in the bowl, the price will vary between $2.30 and $2.60.

This is a $2.30 bowl with rice. It has broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, and bacon.
This is a $2.60 bowl because it includes pork AND and egg. It also has noodles, snap peas, carrots, and mushrooms.

For dinner, we usually enjoy a more traditional sit-down restaurant. We named our favorite place “Paper Lantern” because of the restaurant’s choice of lighting decorations. We haven’t ordered the same thing twice because everything has been delicious. My favorite has been the sweet and sour eggplant, but Josh’s favorite was the beef and potatoes. With one or two dishes and a big bowl of rice, we are usually charged about $6 for dinner.

At the sit-down restaurants in South China, it is common to wash your dishes before you eat. Most of the time, the dishes have already been professionally washed, packed, and sealed in wrap, but the tradition lives on.

Yesterday, we made a friend down in the common room and invited him out to join us for Yangshuo’s most popular dish, Beer Fish. We had a great time chatting with someone new and enjoyed a good meal with good company. The fish was delicious, but nothing to write home about (although I guess that is exactly what I am doing!). It came in a large, hot dish with a candle underneath to keep it warm. The tomatoes made it a little saucy and gave it an almost Spanish flavor.

It didn’t taste anything like beer. We think it was a grilled carp, cut in half then served in the dish with oil, tomatoes, beef stock(?), garlic, bamboo shoots, and chives.


We only have a few days left in Yangshuo and I know I will miss all my favorite stops. But the only thing better than the food I like, is more food I like. Can’t wait to see what our next stop tastes like!

Bike Ride – Yangshuo’s Ten Mile Gallery

The sun finally came out and we have been trying to cram in as much fun as possible while we still have it. One of the first things on my to-do list was a bicycle along the portion of the ten mile gallery that we missed during our last excursion. This loop portion splits off at the bridge and follows the river instead of the valley.

The sun finally came out and we have been trying to cram in as much fun as possible while we still have it. One of the first things on my to-do list was to cycle along the portion of the Ten Mile Gallery that we missed during our last excursion, which took us through a little valley. This time, instead of crossing the river into the valley, we turned at the bridge and followed the river.

We rented bikes from our hostel for $0.75 each. My bike was missing front brakes and was stuck in high gear. Josh’s was stuck in low gear and had a persistent squeak if he touched the back brakes. But overall, I was quite happy with the bikes and enjoyed a comfortable ride.

Our first adventure was to get to the Gallery’s gate, where traffic becomes limited. This requires a 15 minute journey through the busy streets of our small town. I took the lead. The key seems to be: ride like you aren’t scared to death and just go with the flow.

Once through the gate, it was smooth sailing, with only a few cars, scooters, or cyclists along the way. Rather than an “out and back” like last time, our route took us off on a small street that runs along the river, eventually looping back into town. The wind and rain from the day before pushed out most of the pollution, and the sun finally made an appearance, so the day was beautiful! The colors were vibrant and clear. The majority of the road was very scenic, winding between the mountains and rivers, but there were also large sections of farmland dotted with small villages that were super cute. Everything about it was amazing! Best Day Ever!

Yangshuo, China karst mountains behind bike on road

Each place had a small collection of people going about their business. Some would shout at us to stop and check their menus, some were doing laundry in the farm canals, kids were playing with dogs, and men were washing their cars using buckets of water and rags.

[Tangent Alert] I’ve noticed a real lack of hoses in China. For example, there is a farm outside of my window at the hostel. Since I am a horrible snoop, I spend much of my morning watching the neighbor woman attend the farm. It is the same routine each day. She walks through her fields, bends over every so often to either collect something or discard something, then fills a bucket with water from the central well. The bucket has a rope attached that she wears across her chest. She lumbers from one patch of green to the next and ladles out water to the plants using a large soup ladle. It takes her nearly all day to get through her small patch of land. I am sure she isn’t a representation of all farmers here, but it struck my curiosity and really made me consider the farming fields surrounding the path we were riding on. There were well-planned canals webbed throughout the fields, but I didn’t see any sprinklers or tractors. Do they all water the fields by hand?

Farm and karst mountains with bike on road in Yangshuo China

Of course, my favorite part was the mountains! I have been looking at these strangely shaped pimples on the earth for a month now and I am still mesmerized by nearly every one. My camera is full of pictures of this mountain, and that mountain, and the one next to it. I think Josh is over the glamour (or maybe never had it to begin with), but I am still in love and have found my bliss.

riding bicycle bike in Yangshu China at 10 Mile Gallery. Karst mountain and farm

Although the ride took a few hours due to my constant need for pictures, the trip was only a little over three miles and dropped us off on the other end of town. The plan was to have lunch at a popular expat pub on the way, but it looked like they were closed for the season (seems to be the case at many places). So, we followed our noses and found a block of Chinese fast food restaurants.

We enjoyed some beef and potatoes, green beans with sausage and chilies, egg-wrapped pork meatballs, a giant bowl of noodle soup, and two bowls of rice. All this for only $2! We left stuffed and happy.

Somehow, we were able to drag our full, tired bodies back home, and finished off the afternoon with a nap. What a day!


Bird Watching in Guangxi, China – January 2018

The birding in Guangxi was awesome despite the cold. I am particularly excited that each bird I found was a new addition to my life list.

Birding in Guangxi was awesome despite the cold. I lived next door to a farm, so it was easy to spend time after breakfast each day watching the backyard birds. Without my usual apps I had a hard time identifying them all, but with the help of my friends on Reddit, I was able to get most of them.

Check out the beautiful guest house we stayed in while in Yangshuo. ♥

Bird Watching

I do not include caged birds on my Life List, but I do enjoy going to Aviaries and, in China’s case, the market(!). It was difficult to see the treatment of these animals, but it was interesting to see the variety of birds available for both food and friend.


My favorite bird of the month was the Blyth’s Kingfisher. I saw two different kingfishers in two different towns. Each time, they allowed me to get close enough for a halfway decent picture. One was spotted just off of a busy street. I got some very strange looks for stopping in the middle of traffic to get out my binoculars and camera, but after some bilingual charades, I made it clear that I was after the birds.

I am particularly excited that all seven of the Chinese birds I identified this month were new additions to my life list. I have caught a Kingfisher and Night Heron before, but never a Blyth’s Kingfisher or Chinese-Pond Heron. This one month added quite a few more birds to my list. All in all, it was a good month for birding.

January’s Birding List

Birds Identified: 7

New Birds: 7

Life List: 96


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