Travel Series: Conclusion

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I wrote the Travel Series over the last month because I thought that it would maybe be helpful to one or two people, and because a friend asked me to.

Like I said all month, travel is personalized. It all depends on your attitude, how much planning you want to do, how much you want to spend, and what you bring with you.

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This isn’t a travel blog. In fact, I started it in 2007 because my teacher for my Online Media Class at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication required that we make a blog.

I have updated it sporadically over the years when I thought that I had something to say. And now, nine years later, I am still not sure if I am offering anything that is truly of use to anyone.

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I guess I have kept it up just in case anyone wanted to know where I was or what I was up to, since my life sometimes feels scattered across the world.

So, if you read this blog, then thank you. I appreciate your interest. I hope that some of the things I have to offer the world are of use to someone, and that I am not just “screaming into the void,” as they say.

Anyway, that’s the end of the Travel Series.

Now, on to next month, where I start to write about the island of Guam (my home from September of 2015 to September of 2017) and my adventures there with my husband Rich.

(We’re been married for years but I still can’t get over how weird it sounds to say “my husband.” If you know me, you know I wasn’t looking. It just happened.)

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Travel Series: Where to Stay

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I am very lazy about planning vacations. I am ashamed of this, but it is the truth.

When I backpacked Thailand I didn’t even have an itinerary. I did exactly zero research. My strategy was to buy a plane ticket and book a cheap hostel. Then, I went down to breakfast in the morning and asked folks what their plans were. One group had planned to ride elephants. That sounded fun, so I asked if I could tag along.

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Later, a travel agent asked me if I had thought about seeing the islands. I hadn’t. But, she had really cheap plane tickets, so I spent a few hundred dollars to tour the islands in the south part of the country. It sounded like fun, and it turned out to be a great experience!

Another day, a tuk-tuk driver asked me if I had been to Chang Mai, and I said no. He told me that his family lived up there and that it was a nice city. So, I asked him where I could buy a train ticket, and he took me to the station. I bought a ticket and spent a week in and around Chang Mai, and it was great.

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I lived extravagantly. I bought expensive fruits just to try them, had a suit and a few shirts made, and did all the tours I came across. However, I did this because I knew that I could. Thailand is not an expensive place to travel. I didn’t even manage to spend a thousand dollars there in a month.

However, sometimes you can’t be lazy.

I may like to do the kind of trips where I can turn up and do whatever I like, but I only do that in places where I can afford to. When the place I am going is crazy-expensive, I don’t have that option. In those cases, I plan meticulously.

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A great example of a place you have to plan for is Tokyo. It is so expensive to travel in Tokyo! You think the airfare is going to be the bad part, but then you see hotel prices and nearly faint. Then there’s the cost of transportation, which is negligible in most places. It is anything but in Tokyo!

You have to plan exactly where you want to go and how much your trains and subways will cost you, because it’s easy to spend hundreds of dollars just getting around in the city, never mind the country. And unlike other parts of Asia, you really won’t see that much English around, so you also need to try to avoid getting lost.

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Even in more affordable countries like Korea, research will save you money. For example, hostels are seen in most of the world as a cheap place to stay the night. This is not the case in Korea. They think of hostels as a fancy foreign thing, and so they are actually quote expensive in most cases.

Instead, you want a jimjibang (or bath house) for really cheap accommodations. But of course, the easiest way is to just stay in love motels. They are very expensive in Japan, but in Korea they are one of the most cost-effective options available to anyone.


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Really, it’s all about how much time you want to put in. If you think hours of research is worth the money, then you should do a lot of research. Every country is different, so there is no rule for what you should do. Maybe rent a car in Tokyo. But take the subway in Seoul. Paris has great subways and they go all the best places, but in London the Tube is pretty pricey and the tour buses are cheap.

If you look around online and compare prices, you can always find the best ways to do something in the place that you are going, and this will help you to have an organized and cost-effective trip.

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Or, if you would rather, you could be like I was in Thialand, you can listen to other people talk about the great deals they got while you walk around sunburned and lost eating a $7 Popsicle.

They would say that I am an idiot who doesn’t understand how to travel. I would say that I value adventure and that I like to have trips where I can go where the day takes me.

Once, I accidentally ended up in a parade. Another time I got to tour a Shinto cemetery. I never would have set out to do those things because you don’t set out to do things like that. And yet, they are some of my best memories.

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You do what you want to do to have the kind of trip you want to have. Just remember that stumbling upon well-spotted snacks or random parties can be fun, so try not to be too ridged. It would be a shame to go to a place and never see the culture because you were too busy taking pictures in front of each temple in the city.

Travel Series: Food and Drink

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I have met people on every part of the spectrum when it comes to food. I once dated a guy who walked around ordering street food by pointing at it, and then ate whatever it was. He never knew what he was eating!

In the time I knew him, I saw him eat reformed fish paste in the shape of a trout, silk worm larva (still in the cocoons!), unknown meat on a stick, and several questionable soups. He always said that he had to try things to know if he liked them or not, and that they “Wouldn’t be selling it as food if it would kill you.”

I have to admit, it was a fair point.

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On the other side of the spectrum, I met up with some friends in Bangkok who completely refused to eat street food. They pointed out that it was often cooked with used oil from restaurants, that there was no concern for sanitation, and that they read online about people getting sick from street food.

I humored them and paid the exorbitant prices in a restaurant that night, because there was no room for argument.

When it comes to food of any kind, I personally am not terribly concerned. I ate street Pad Thai in Thailand and lived to tell the tale. I never got sick or even felt bad. However, I did draw the line at scorpion on a stick. I am all for trying new things, but I don’t like the crunchy exoskeletons on bugs. I already had deep-fried grasshopper, and I knew it was going to be similar so I skipped it.

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I think what I am trying to say is:

Do whatever the hell makes you happy.

I mean, bring along a travel size Pepto Bismo and an Immodium tablet if you are on vacation no matter what, because you don’t want tummy problems to spoil a vacation.

Just don’t let other dictate what you eat (or what you decide to do!) because you may only visit a place once, and you don’t want to regret the things that you didn’t try because someone warned you off of them.

If you want to eat everything you see, then you should. If you want to stick to five star restaurants, then you should. It’s up to you what choices you make about what you eat.

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Now, I admit, I ate dog in Korea because I was curious. It didn’t taste at all good, but I tried it.

I have actually eaten all kinds of weird food, from rattle snake to durian fruit.

In my opinion, I would suggest that you try as much as you can. There are all those cliché sayings like “You only regret the chances you don’t take” and such, and they are right. The brain has a way of justifying things you do once they are done, but always wondering about things that you chose not to do.

So what the hell? Eat the mystery pancake or the weird fruit. It might turn out to be your new favorite food.

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As for my friends who would only eat in restaurants, I think I should share a few things with you about that. I have worked in a lot of restaurants. I bused tables, was a short-order cook, waited tables, and was a bar tender. In all those years, I learned that it’s a very good thing that the customer can’t see behind the walls.

Yes, some countries have food codes. If you don’t know, a food code is rules made by rich people who are afraid that “the help” might spit in their soup.

In spite of laws that may or may not be in place in various countries, it’s important to note that I worked in restaurants in the United States. No other country spends more on “food safety” and the enforcement of the food codes, so in theory the establishments I worked in are best there is.

And like I said, it’s a good thing you can’t see the kitchen. It’s a good thing you can’t see the prep room. It’s a good thing you aren’t watching the dishwasher or the delivery guy bringing the food.

That’s not even mentioning the farm where your vegetables were grown in fertilizer (a nice way to say poop) and had flies walk all over them. And I grew up on a farm so I can promise that the chicken you are eating was dumb enough to eat poop too.

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Anyhow, if you eat at a taco food stand on the beach in Rocky Point, you watch the proprietor cook your food. You also watch the flies walking on the ingredients before he throws them into the oil or onto the grill.

So yeah, you see the gross parts.

But the things is; the gross parts are always there. It’s just a matter of if you see them or not. No matter where you buy food from, a fly probably walked on it. It might have bits of cockroach in it. It could have been sneezed on. And that’s just life.

When I was little I remember seeing how hot dogs were made. After I saw, I didn’t want to eat them anymore. I was horrified that people ate chicken feet and cow liver, all mixed up in a disgusting soup of meat parts that couldn’t be used for anything else.

Even the “all beef” hotdogs that were expensive still had cartilage and organs in them. (Hey- all the parts were from a cow, and that makes them “beef.”)

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Then one day at a BBQ my boss handed me a hot dog. This was in Asia, and refusing would have been really rude.

They had gotten the hot dogs specially, to make the Americans feel welcome. Not only did I have to eat it, but I had to look like I really enjoyed it and appreciated the gesture. Being polite and never refusing a gift of food is very important in Asia.

And you know what?

It was pretty good.

I mean, it was still chicken lips and cow rectum, but it was pretty good.

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I guess the moral of the story is that we are just weird creatures made of meat and we eat other weird creatures made of meat. It’s only a big deal if you think about it too much. Otherwise, you’re fine.

Be picky if you want to be picky. That’s fair.

Just remember that even in a nice restaurant, you can still get sick. And, if you turn your nose up at things, you might miss something amazing.

I keep coming back to this, but I think it’s sort of the central theme when it comes to travel, or maybe just to life in general:

You only regret the chances that you don’t take.

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Travel Series: Looking for Meaning

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Travel is a good time to get different perspectives on life.

After all, you’re around new people and seeing new things. It’s fun and inspiring to change up your world view.

My only advice is: Don’t expect too much.

Once, I took a train to the countryside in South Korea.

Then, I took a bus to an even more rural area.

Then, I climbed a very tall mountain to have a cup of tea with a monk in the temple way up in the remote hills.

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The monk’s name was Ka-Ga, and because the Korean sounds for “K” and “G” are very similar, the other monks teased him and called him Gaga like Lady Gaga.

To play into the joke, Ka-Ga even listened to Lady Gaga on YouTube, and he liked a lot of her music.

If you have never seen a monk dance to “Poker Face,” you really should. Perhaps it’s even on his YouTube channel by now.

(And yes, I had cell phone and data service even in the most remote parts of South Korea because that’s just how things are there.)

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Ka-Ga offered me tea, which is traditional. He cheated and used an electric kettle instead of boiling water on the stove, because he said electric tea kettles were a brilliant invention.

And while we drank it, he showed me his Youtube channel where he taught people how to do meditation poses and about the tenants of Buddhism.

We talked for over an hour before a senior monk came and told him to get back to work decorating for Buddha’s birthday.

However, they both agreed to me getting a picture with Ka-Ga and the tea first.

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In contrast, I was in Thailand and I came upon a monastery having a “monk chat” day. This is where the monks speak with anyone who comes to talk to them, and try to recruit new people to the faith.

I was excited to talk to one of them until I discovered that as woman, I was considered unclean. I wasn’t allowed to speak to the monks. I asked a male tourist if he would pose my questions instead. He did, and I got the sexist answers I expected.

That reminded me to reflect on some of the things in the world that are bad, in addition to taking pleasure in the things that are good.

It also reminded me that just because someone is supposed to be wise or tolerant, does not mean that they are.

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The thing is; it’s fun to have new experiences. Sometimes they are good, like meeting Ka-Ga, and sometimes they are less good, like at the Monk Chat in Chang Mai. No matter what, it’s just important to remember that no one has the answers.

You can only go looking for answers to certain kinds of questions and find them.

For example, if you want to know what cow tongue soup tastes like in Shanghai, you can go looking for that answer in Shanghai. If you want to know why people in Ecuador use alpacas to transport goods in the hills, you can travel to the hills in Ecuador and ask. Some questions can absolutely be answered by traveling.

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On the other hand, some questions are going to stick with you no matter where you go. They are the kind of questions that have to be answered inside yourself, like “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is my purpose?” There is no Monk or Sherpa or Guru who can answer those questions for you. You can travel the entire planet, but in the end, you can never run away from yourself or the questions you hold inside.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t climb the mountain and talk to the monk. Meeting Ka-Ga was one of my favorite memories in Korea. You should definitely have those experiences!

All I am saying is: There aren’t any easy answers out there to the hard questions. Even at the top of the tallest mountain, you won’t find the words to calm your soul.

Some questions can only be answered inside your head.

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Travel Series: Bringing Someone With You

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Whenever I could, I brought someone with me. I am way too stupid and bold to have done this because I was afraid of traveling alone. I don’t have the good sense to be afraid of anything. Rather, I like to share experiences.

Once when I was 21, I was sitting on the beach somewhere outside Los Angeles and the sun was setting. A pod of dolphins started jumping over each other and playing in the surf. The setting sun was glistening on their bodies and they were making adorable noises. I turned to say “Did you see that?” But I was alone. There was no one to share the experience with. I didn’t even have a camera. So the moment passed, to be only experienced and remembered by me.

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Now, it’s fine to be the only one to have an experience and the only one to remember it. I backpacked Thailand by myself, and I had a great time. However, that one moment on that beach really made me realize that I personally prefer to have someone there with me. I want to share experiences so that I can ask people “Do you remember that one time…?”

You can learn a lot about yourself having experiences alone, but you can also become more disconnected from people because you fill yourself up with things that no one on Earth can share.

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There are exceptions to every rule, and I think that what will make you happy largely depends on what sort of life you lead. Humans have a lot in common with each other in a larger sense. And yet, in a specific sense, we’re often very different.

For example, let’s say that you are a solitary student about to graduate, and you are planning a trip. Will it make you weirder and harder to relate to if you go backpack Europe on your own? Probably. You’ll see beautiful things that you won’t get to share with anyone, and when you come back, you will feel like no one understands you.

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However, imagine that you are a housewife with a husband, three kids, and a full-time job. Most days you don’t have a moment to think, let alone be introspective. In that case, a trip on your own might be good because it will give you a chance to stand back and take some time to yourself.

Of course, I suppose the risk you take when you travel alone and enjoy some self-discovery is that you won’t want to go back. It’s important to know that traveling makes your world bigger, and you can’t fit a bigger world into a tiny box. History is filled with stories of people who went for a trip and never came back. They weren’t murdered or anything; they just had some time to think, realized they were unhappy, and couldn’t stand the thought of going home. When it comes down to it, I think this is the very biggest risk associated with traveling.

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Anyway, I bring people with me when I can. I like to share things, and I like to have someone to hold the camera.

Besides, I am a companionable animal. Every great discovery seems greater to me personally when it is shared with someone else. That’s just my opinion.

However, this opinion comes with a strong word of caution. It is better to travel alone than with someone bad. To give an example: I took my ex-boyfriend Jeff to Paris. He complained about everything! The room was too small. It was too rainy. The subway smelled. We got lost. It just went on and on. It seemed like nothing at all could actually make him happy.

Meanwhile, I took my husband to Oregon one year for my family reunion, and that was great. Our flight was delayed and he had no problem curing up with our luggage and sleeping in the terminal. Then due to fog we ended up at the wrong airport, and we had to drive ten hours to my mom’s house. Did he complain? No! He downloaded some audio books and we had a fantastic road trip.

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I guess what I am trying to say is; travel is only fun if you focus on the good stuff.

Think about the golden Buddha in the shrine that you saw, not the fact that your hostel room looks like something out of a horror movie.

Think of a delayed flight as an opportunity to nap spread out instead of being cramped in a plane seat.

Think of a surprise road trip as a chance to listen to a new audio book or some of your favorite music.

Look at how you can make anything unexpected fun, because unexpected things will always happen when you travel, and it is your attitude that determines if you still have fun or not.

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Travel Series

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I have written about places I have been and things I have done.

But, a friend asked me to write about tips for travel. I think what she wants to know is: What is it really like?

That is a hard question, because so much of going places is what you bring with you. Not in your backpack, but in your head.

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I don’t have any mystical knowledge. I mean, you read these blogs by travel writers and they always have their “Five Hot Tips” for seeing some part of the world.

Then there are those introspective pieces trying to tell you how you should act on vacation, claiming that it’s important to “embrace the loneliness” and “just be.”

I have traveled Europe, Asia, and the Americas. So I guess I am allowed to have a say. And as far as I can tell, it’s really an experience too individualized to be neatly put in a box where it can be said that “this is how it is.”

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I won’t tell you how you should travel. I don’t know. But I do have a few things that I can share from my experiences.

So, let April be the month of travel tips!

P.S. Remember that no one can tell you how you should do things. This series of posts will be nothing but my opinion.

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