How to Get Your ARC in Korea

Disclaimer: This information is based on the process I went through in 2011-2012 and 2016. It is not legal advice. It is quite possibly not up to date. Visa regulations change all the time (as you will see later on in this article). Check with the Korean Embassy for the most up to date information.

2016 Updates in this chic purple colour!

It’s a rite of passage for almost all foreign teachers who decide to teach in Korea. Running the gauntlet to live legally inside Korea’s borders, also known as obtaining one’s Alien Registration Card (ARC). Keep in mind that this process is for an E-2 Visa, one for teaching English in a hagwon or public school when one is not ethnically Korean.

Before I begin with the steps to achieve this feat of bureaucratic maneuvering, let me give you a disclaimer. These instructions are subject to change at any time, for no reason, without warning, and are for guidance ONLY. Please don’t get on my case ten years from now when it isn’t the same.

It took me 118 days to get my visa and another 56 to obtain my ARC. It cost countless hours of legwork and over $800.  Prepare ye. 

First things first. You must obtain a teaching visa in order to live and work in Korea. Before you can apply to the Korean consulate with jurisdiction over your state/area, you must obtain a Visa Issuance Number (VIN).

To get your Visa Issuance Number (before departure), you will need:

  • A photocopy of the face page of your passport
  • Your signed contract with your school and/or all EPIK paperwork
  • A national criminal record check (FBI background check in the United States, website here)

2016 UPDATE: As of this year, the Korean Consulates in the US are accepting FBI checks obtained through channelers. This is a more expensive but totally worth-it option. Instead of taking five months (like my first ones), it took a week. Worth it. 

  • A copy of your actual university degree

You must send all of these documents to Korea, in order for your school to request a VIN from immigration. *Do not* send your original degree, because you may never see it again. Wait about ten days. Once you have the VIN, you need to apply ASAP to your local Korean consulate to get your visa. When I did this, I had less than a month left until departure.

To get your visa, you will need:

  • Your passport
  • The VIN
  • A completed visa application (see here)
  • The full address of your school in Korea
  • One sealed set of official university transcripts (2016 UPDATE: Maybe. Get them and be ready to send them if your consulate requests them)
  • One passport photo

All that for a damn sticker.

You need to make an appointment to visit your consulate immediately, or send the required documents to them via insured overnight mail. Enclose a self-addressed, paid return overnight envelope for them to return your passport.

Once you have the visa in your passport, you can leave for Korea.

2016 UPDATE: We had less than three weeks until departure when we sent everything off this time. My visa in the US came back from the San Francisco Consulate in about five days. Russell’s took a week in London. 

But wait, there’s more! You must register with immigration and obtain an ARC as soon as possible once you arrive. If the impetus of impending deportation isn’t enough to get you in gear, know that you can’t use the Korean National Health service until you get your ARC. If you’re like me and get sick easily, this could pose a problem.

2016 UPDATE: Speaking of health, you must complete a hospital health exam for the ARC once you arrive in Korea. The cost is 90,000-120,000 KRW, and it will be self-paid. You will need:

  • Your passport
  • The address of a hospital certified in giving foreigners health checks
  • Dolla Dolla Bills (I mean copious won), y’all
  • Good health 
  • Clean urine

Your health check includes a chest X-ray for tuberculosis, a drug test, STD/HIV testing via blood draw, an eye test, and  possibly a dental examination (in 2012-2013 this was the case in Suwon, but not in 2016 in Busan). 

No, there is no way around this. No, you should not fake your pee. Be ready to squat if you are a lady. Work it out! You live in Korea now! Squat toilets are cleaner and better for you, anyway. 

On the day of your health check, do not drink. Do not have too much caffeine. Do not take over-the-counter medications (even Advil or Tylenol). Be healthy!

To obtain your ARC, you will need:

  • Your passport with the E-2 visa inside
  • An official letter from your school
  • 10,000-30,000 KRW 2016 UPDATE: Apparently an ARC costs 3x as much these days. Maybe only in Busan. 
  • ARC Application form (get this from your school)
  • Two receipts for a clean health check from a recognized hospital in Korea (the health check costs 120,000 KRW and is often not covered by the school)
  • Yourself
  • A good book, or maybe just lots of soju to pass the time

You must go to the immigration office in your area with these documents and wait to be seen by an official. You cannot have someone from your school go in your place as in the past, as you must provide a digital scan of all five fingerprints on your right hand in person. I waited eight hours over the course of two separate days.

MAKE SURE YOU ASK FOR A RECEIPT from immigration that you have submitted your documents. You can request that the ARC be sent directly to your school and pay 4,000 KRW. Worth it. Do it. Don’t waste more of your life in the immigration office trying to pick it up. It should arrive about two weeks to one month after you submit all the forms.

Stupid piece of expensive plastic!

Once you have your VIN, your visa, and your ARC, you’re done! Just kidding.

You still have to register with the Education Office. You have to duplicate many documents because they aren’t friends with the Immigration Service.

To register with the Education Office, you will need:

  • Your physical, actual university degree (not a copy)
  • A **second** national criminal record check
  • Apostilles for both (they will copy your degree, but you still have to have the original)
  • Your passport with the E-2 visa
  • Your ARC
  • A letter from your school
  • Anything else your school requests

If you manage to make it through all four gauntlets, you should throw a legal residence party!

In all, I spent over $800 in fees and shipping in order to obtain all the necessary records. Your total costs will vary according to how much shipping and fee spending you must do.

These requirements are constantly shifting. I was all set with my VIN and visa when I suddenly had to obtain a second FBI background check and another degree apostille for the Education Office, and without the support of my family in the States I would not have been able to move to Korea.  The bureaucratic process is so complicated that one is almost required to break it somewhere in order to move here. Don’t be surprised if things get a little sketchy.

A couple of final tips:

  • DO have someone whom you could trust with documents inside your home country in case of sudden changes.
  • DO make and keep copies of every single document and carry them with you on your flight.
  • DO ask questions of your school and recruiter.
  • DO consult others who’ve been through the process before you.
  • DON’T try to fake your drug test. It’s just not worth it.
  • DON’T get a national apostille from the State Department in the US. It will take over six weeks. A state one is just fine.
  • DON’T try to get a degree from another country apostilled in the USA. They will reject it if it is from England, Colombia, etc.
  • DON’T wait until the last minute for any of this.
  • DON’T freak out when the requirements change.

Happy hunting! Please post comments if you have any recent changes or if you have questions.

China Survey: Results

Thank you very much to everyone who responded to the survey I put up about China in 2016. It was very interesting to see how people said they view China.

The biggest takeaways:

  1. The majority of respondents have never set foot in China.
  2. More respondents have a negative view of China than a positive one.
  3. Stereotypes about China are persistent and often outdated.

Now let’s get into the survey’s meat itself. If you want to take the survey yourself, please click here. 

Q1 Result: 57% people residing in the USA.

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The other countries in the 32% at the bottom were mostly Canadians, with several Australians and many others.

Q2 Result: 56% of respondents consider their nationality US.

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Only a couple of people identified themselves as Chinese.

Q3 Result: Hardly anyone reads hard-copy magazines anymore.

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Bizzarely, most of the responses for ‘Other’ were for Reddit. Guys…that’s an internet news site. Except this one:

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Russ, is that you? 🙂

Q4 Result: Slightly more than 40% of respondents have a mostly negative or wholly negative view of China.

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One person did say it was too complicated to categorize in this fashion.

Q5 Result: ‘Authoritarian,’ ‘Corrupt,’ and ‘Communist’ are the top adjectives for the government of China.

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This question could have been formulated better, but I wanted to see what people used to describe the government of China broadly speaking. Additional write-in responses included ‘capitalist,’ ‘unknown,’ ‘fascist in some aspects,’ and ‘i haven’t thought of it before.’

Maybe I should have included a definition of these words, or asked people to define them in their own words.

Q6 Result: Nearly 80% of respondents have never visited China.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 3.46.22 PM

This is the most revealing question in the whole survey. The vast majority of the respondents have never seen China with their own eyes, so their views must only be formed through the information they get from the news and their interactions with people they know who are Chinese.

A little over a year ago, I would have been in this category, too. My own views on China have changed a lot since I moved there last year. The post is coming, I promise! I’m still digesting what I think and forming it.

Q7 Result: 65% of respondents are not nervous about China’s place in the world. Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 3.46.30 PM

Interesting! I wouldn’t have expected this, based on the conversations I’ve been having since I got back. The comments on this question are revealing:

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.18.18 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.18.26 PM

I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to North Korea since I’ve been back in the States.

Q8 Result: I’ll get out of the way and let people speak for themselves. The question was ‘Describe your mental picture of China, in two sentences or less.’


Highlights include this gem:

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.23.53 PM

The most commonly mentioned phrase in these responses was ‘air pollution’ or some variation thereof, following by mentions of weak legal institutions and income inequality.

Q9 Result: Most people know at least one person from China.

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Q10 Result: Everyone knows about Mao Zedong, few people know the name of the First Emperor.

Sorted from most responses to least.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.35.14 PM



It seems as though people hear about China a lot, even though most in this survey have never been there.

This survey falls in line with the general ideas about China in media, and the narratives that drive them. Some of the ideas people have about China are really outdated, but my guess is that this is due to the poignancy of the images from the Cultural Revolution and the heavy focus both within and outside China on the current air pollution issues.

I was surprised that more people did not indicate they are nervous about China’s role in the world, given that they are mostly from the USA and most people I’ve spoken to since being back here appear to be hyper-nervous about it. Equally surprising is that the Rape of Nanking ranks above the Cultural Revolution in renown.

It is unsurprising that those surveyed have a mostly negative view of China.

How do you feel about China in 2016? Do you have opinions about travel to countries like China or North Korea?

What to Know About Applying for Visas: Become a Bureaucratic Ninja

This morning I arose after a night tossing and turning, with visions of paperwork and stamps in my head. I turned on NPR and jumped in the shower, carrying my pre-laid-out professional-but-not-flashy in person application outfit. I grabbed my Go Folder and headed out the door into a mini-snowstorm. Fifty minutes of intense winter driving later, I was at the Colorado Passport Agency.

Today, I renewed my trusty passport in preparation for moving to Shanghai, China. My international life had taken up too many pages. The passport that ushered me across the borders of 25 countries was suddenly no more, with two precise holes punched through it.

This is normal for me. I have applied for more than five full-pager visas. This is what they can look like.

Full-page sticker for my E-2 visa in the ROK

Full-page sticker for my E-2 visa in the ROK. Chile’s is above. 

I don’t know which process was more intense, the E-2 work visa for Korea or the Tier 4 student visa for the UK. Both were months long, involved huge amounts of paperwork, and required various biological data (biometrics for the UK, a full-blown health exam and fingerprinting for Korea). Italy’s Schengen study visa was the first I ever applied for. India required a full application even as a tourist. Chile’s took me far longer than my programme said it would because I lived in a tiny town in Patagonia. In seven years, five major visa applications. And I’m in the middle of my sixth.

You could say I’m familiar with immigration and visas.

I know from experience that this amount of involvement can feel less like red tape and more like a bureaucratic Ninja Warrior course. It’s not something that many people mention when talking about study and work abroad, perhaps because it would re-traumatise those who make it through. Being able to get a visa is the step that can make or break a trip abroad.

My best advice for getting yourself into Paperwork Warrior shape is here:

Before you do anything else, make certain that your passport is in hand. It must be valid for at least six months after you intend to leave your destination in most cases. You also need to consider how many pages you have available. Some countries (ahem, Korea and China) may discourage the use of ‘additional visa pages’ and require the originals. Renew as necessary.


Get a folder. Label it on the front in black, permanent, HUGE letters with words to reflect the seriousness of the process. Something to the effect of “VISA DOCUMENTS. Do not move, touch, re-arrange, or put away this folder or I will chuck my passport repeatedly at your thick head!” (don’t actually write that….). This will be your Folder of Doom.

Organize thyself!

Organize thyself!

Take this Folder of Doom and make sure it has a home. Always put it back in that home. It gets homesick if it’s out for even a few minutes, if it’s not doing the work for which it was born. Be consistent. Losing this shit will make you lose out on your trip.

Depending on the country to which you are applying, and the nature of the visa you require, the list of documents that must go into the Folder of Doom will change. For example, a student visa will generally require a letter of enrolment (official), proof of funding and means, and more. A work visa is generally more intensive, requiring criminal background checks, degrees that have been officially recognised, letters of reference, you firstborn, etc.

An FBI Background Check for a visa (required for work and some student visas) should be your first priority to submit. It requires:

  1. A set of fingerprints taken at your local police station.
  2. A completed form and payment (you can pay with a credit card).
  3. 14-16 WEEKS for processing (an international embarrassment; the UK takes two days). According to the FBI’s website as of 4 February 2015:

On September 7, 2014, CJIS installed a new IT system. As a result of this installation, we are experiencing delays in processing. Please be assured that each issue is being identified and resolved as quickly as possible, but at this time anticipated processing time for an Identity History Summary is approximately 14-16 weeks. Allow additional time for mail delivery. “

As soon as you possibly can, submit this. Even before you have a job secured in Korea or a place on your year-long study abroad program in Spain or Chile. Before applying for a passport, if you need one.

Get familiar with your local notary.

Get familiar with the term ‘apostille.’ This is a special recognition of the authenticity and importance and general expensiveness of an official document like a university degree or a criminal record check. It can be quite stressful to obtain, and takes time. Check your state’s Secretary of State website for more details, and consider going with a channeler.

Get familiar with being fingerprinted. It takes practice, believe it or not.

Always show up early for appointments at the embassy or any other official office. Leave time for getting lost/a giant random snowstorm. Bring only what is necessary for that appointment, and leave the Folder of Doom in its home.

Be stubborn, but practical. If necessary, ask to speak to a manager. I once sat down on the floor of the Chilean equivalent of the DMV and refused to leave until they gave me my passport back. It had been two weeks that I’d been walking around passportless, and I couldn’t go on a trip to Argentina without it. I gauged the situation carefully, and I don’t recommend this except as a last resort. The woman eventually opened an unlocked filing cabinet (!) and attempted to hand me a Russian passport. I walked out with the passport and that damn sticker, ready to complete the next step of any work permit: the residency card.

Three different kinds of ID, lined up from three different adventures

Three different kinds of ID, lined up from three different adventures.

Keep all your receipts. ALLLL you receipts. You never know when you may need them. Put them in the Folder of Doom.

If your visa requires a health check, either before or after arrival, assume that you will be drug tested. Don’t take any risks. I live in Colorado now, and there are temptations. Just don’t do it. The laws regarding drug use of the country you are going to is all that anyone will care about. Get healthy and get used to giving up illegal activities. It’s just not worth the consequences.

Find something to do in offices and at home that will keep your hands busy while you wait. Crochet is a great one, I’ve found.

And finally, once you do send away the documents and your passport make certain that you get a tracking number. Put that tracking number into your Folder of Doom. Depending on the embassy and national holidays, you should get the package back in a few days to a few weeks. Make sure you have your ‘No Idle Hands’ activities ready.


Gathering all your documents and getting them to the embassy or consulate on time is enough to give me an ulcer. It comes and goes. It’s cool. Visas and immigration are a big part of my life, and it doesn’t look like they will be leaving it any time soon. When my husband and I go through the partner visa process in one of our countries, or emigrate to a third party country that will accept us both, I’ll post a guide.

If you have any questions, I will do my best to help you out. Contact me here:

On Saving Lots of Money in Korea

I miss my old Korean neighborhood, the Gok.

I miss my old Korean neighborhood, the Gok.

About one year ago, I wrote a post titled “On Not Saving Any Money in Korea.” I encourage you to check it out for a reality check if you are currently considering moving abroad to do TEFL, currently living in South Korea as an English teacher, or interested in my bank account. Sorry, phishers. There’s only a screenshot without any info.

The post is almost wholly negative. I griped about the cost of living in South Korea. I griped about the possible inflation of saving possibilities by TEFL recruiters. I griped about how expensive the visa process was. I griped about my projection that I would only save about $2400 total during my year in Korea.

And guess what? I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

I miss my old apartment, too!

I miss my old apartment, too!

I blame my apparent lack of maths skills for the miscalculations, but there are other factors at work. As it happens, that post is one of the most-read ones on this blog. It consistently shows up in the top ten posts on the left there, and it seems that quite a few people are interested in the topic. In the interest of not being one of the many (MANY) out of date TEFL in Korea blogs out there silently sabotaging potential teachers’ dreams with incorrect and scary-sounding information, I want to correct that post with this one.

Some of what I wrote last July is true. Exchange rates are generally shitty, no matter which end I find myself on (I’m finding this to be especially true as I prepare to move to the UK for graduate school, and my tuition keeps fluctuating literally thousands of dollars based on the ups and downs of the market.). The global economy is still getting dragged through the mud somewhat, don’t let the talking heads deceive you. I still have semi-expensive tastes in food and clothing. And above all, saving money is hard work, no matter where one happens to find themselves. But the crux of the article, that it is difficult/impossible to save money in Korea while teaching is flat false.

At the end of my time in Korea, I had a little over $11,500 in the bank.

Yeah, that’s a shitload of money. My calculations were off by almost 500%, if I did my maths correctly this time. I was able to put away almost $7,000 in the months after I told the internet I wasn’t saving any money in Korea. Almost exactly the $1000 a month promised by my recruiter before I came over. Whoops. Perceptions can be wrong!

I miss those kiddos most of all!

I miss those kiddos most of all!

After I completed my contract, I received even more cash injections into my bank account. I got $4,000 in severance and my final paycheck (I left just after we’d all been working our asses off in the Winter Intensive schedule and got a little overtime). Last, but certainly not least, I got my pension money back at the end on March. Already in India for over a month, I suddenly saw $1,800 show up in my bank account.

Furthermore, I paid almost no taxes this year. Because I earned almost all my income in Korea for 2012 and the US has awesome tax treaties with the ROK, I was exempt from paying federal and state taxes. I paid taxes in Korea (around 3% of my income…that is ridiculously low), but I got to write off everything else as non-taxable income. US citizens who teach in Korea for two years or less are able to take advantage of this kickback. It’s a pretty huge one.

And now, it looks like at the end of the summer I will have almost exactly that $8,000 I wanted in the bank from the original post. Even with traveling in India for 2 months. Even with a month in England. Even though I’m only working part-time this summer.

Shit! My financial situation turned out way better than predicted!

I may need to keep this in mind as I as I lay awake at night regularly worrying about graduate school finances and apply for an exorbitant amount of loan money. Hmm.

Despite the awesomeness of my finances post-Korea, a few words of caution. The over-arching theme of that July 2012 post remains important; don’t make the experience of living in Korea suffer for the hypothetical payoff of traveling or graduate school after the contract ends.The Incredibull India experience certainly brought that home.

Far too many teachers I met in Korea spent a lot of time indoors playing MMORPGs and eating instant noodles as their only sustenance. Surprisingly many of these folks eventually ended up staying on for multiple years after the initial drive to travel turned into a desire to plant roots, meaning that the fabled travel for which they were sacrificing just never happened. Then again, everyone has their own financial preferences and circumstances. I know of several teachers in Korea who had moved abroad in large part to afford health insurance, or to pay off student loans. It would be harder to save as much as I did if those were concerns.

Circumstances also change. Last July, I thought I’d be living in the States again for graduate school. After the application process went slightly differently than planned, I’m moving abroad again (and getting a visa AGAIN). I’m also in a long-term committed relationship, which was in its infancy last summer. We can share resources and effort, and I’m not in this alone. My finances have to adjust to the new realities that come up. DSCN1994

Bottom line: It is definitely possible to save a lot of money teaching in Korea. Don’t let my old, mathematically-inaccurate, and pessimistic article discourage you.

As a final note: I am always thrilled to talk to those who want to get a TEFL career started, who want to travel more, or who want to study abroad. It’s part of my job, but it’s also my passion. Contact me today with your questions. I promise to get back to you quickly.

Coleen’s Amazing Feats of Travel (Thus Far)

Torres del Paine 2011

Torres del Paine 2011

Five years ago this week, a very stressed out freshman college student received her passport in the mail. She had only a few days before she left for five weeks in Perugia, Italy as part of a summer study abroad program. The process for obtaining a passport was snarled beyond belief in the summer of 2007; the US government had only recently deemed it necessary to have one to travel to Mexico and Canada that year. The waiting time had ballooned from the usual 4-6 weeks to an ungodly 10-12 weeks, and after much lost sleep the passport arrived barely in time to get on the first plane she ever took alone.

That stressed out college student was me. I was such a newbie traveller that even a 20 minutes ride to the next town over was terrifying. I was so stressed by airport security that I left my favourite belt of all time in the bin. I felt nauseous for a few days after arriving in Perugia, jetlag or anxiety working foul magic on my tummy. Who would have ever thought that I would become a seasoned traveller? I’m not certain that I did. My pristine passport seemed to suggest no.

I’ve only been a traveller for five years. Even though my family and I travelled a lot within the US and once outside it when I was a child, as an adult travel has become my lifestyle, my goal, my history, and my future. I spend a great deal of time on the road every year. I found new homes across the globe. I made and spent a large amount of money (though I’m breaking even at this point). Almost one year ago, I met an amazing man with whom to share this transitional, transnational life. My passport is now thoroughly disgusting yet an interesting read, after years of being carried in a money belt.

I began humbly, but has expanded into awesome feats of travel. Perhaps the biggest will come tomorrow, when our own version of Around the World in 80 Days will conclude with a flight home to Denver. If you want to find out why this is so special, I’m afraid you’ll have to read the rest of this post first. Here they are, in no order of magnitude.

Coleen’s Amazing Feats of Travel!

Swimming in the geysers at El Tatito in the Atacama



One of the highest geyser fields in the world, El Tatito is a bitch to get to but totally worth it. We got up at 3AM in SanPedro de Atacama and drove for two hours to arrive at the field before sunrise. The air temperature was around -17 C (1 F). The geysers themselves are beautiful, but most are too hot to take a dip. Toward the end of the trip we were able to swim in a naturally heated pool that lies at 4200 meter s(13,780 feet) above sea level, making it possibly the highest hot spring pool in the world.

Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia

Crossing the Strait of Magellan

Crossing the Strait of Magellan

When I lived in Chilean Patagonia for several months, my friends and I spent Easter weekend in Tierra del Fuego. It was an 18 hour bus trip for me from Putero Natales to the Southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia. At 54°48′S 68°18′W, the city of around 60,000 is a beautiful and remarkably comfortable place given its remoteness. I would have loved to stay longer.

A 14er in Colorado

Mount Bierstadt 2011

Mount Bierstadt 2011

Within a week of returning from South America, I decided to walk up a 14,000 ft. mountain. Alone. This was perhaps not one of my smartest moments in travel, but it turned out to be a great experience due to the many other hikers on the trail at Mt. Bierstadt. It was a late-season climb, with freezing temperatures at the summit and patchy clouds blowing through constantly. This summer, I can’t wait to try another!

Five continents in four years

11 degrees


North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and (technically) Antarctica. Since 2009, I’ve lived for at least six months on four different continents. Thanks to my visit to Ushuaia, I’ve also technically-but-maybe-not-but-maybe set foot on Antarctica. I’m calling it close enough, since I will probably never have the ovaries or the cash to cross the Drake Passage. I’m well on my way to my soft goal of living on each continent before I turn 30.

Eight Trains in 12 hours

The beginning, before I looked like hell.

The beginning, before I looked like hell.

One of my first true travel adventures was a ten day trip in the spring of 2009 around Italy, France, and Switzerland. I went alone for half the trip, and managed to get from Napoli to Geneva by train. Despite swine flu’s outbreak being declared a pandemic while I was right next to the WHO’s headquarters and talks of closing borders, I managed to make it from Lauterbrunnen to Ferrara in a single go. It took eight trains and twelve hours, and at the end of it my phone had died and I had no cash. I got to walk home across town at about 11 o’ clock at night, feeling like a hardcore traveller for the first time.

And finally….

Circumnavigation of the Globe


Roughly 14,204.9 miles. Six countries. 170 days. The map above shows the route that my boyfriend and I took to go all the way around the world, for the very first time. This is a big one. I feel like we are in a different league of traveller now, or rather that we will be once our flight to Denver gets in. Considering where I began five years ago, circumnavigating the globe feels like a major life achievement.

Now begins the next five years of travel on this passport. May they be as exciting and wonderful as the first five.