College Reunion

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I recently went on a long trip.  One of the things I did was go to my unofficial college reunion in Arizona.

My best friends in college were two lovely women named Sidra and Clarice. Both of them are doing well now, and it was a lot of fun to catch up. I am really glad that I took the time and spent the money to make it possible.

The reunion brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings for me. Most of them are sort of private, but I did want to share a few things that might help others.

1. Keep in touch with snail mail.

I am always surprised at how much it means to people to get post cards and seasonal greeting cards. I guess this is because mail is always exciting. You can hold it in your hand, and put it on your refrigerator. It is a way to display that someone thought of you. Most people just get bills and junk mail, so getting things you didn’t expect that make you happy can be very special.

I have been sending post cards and holiday greeting cards for about 20 years, and I think this is part of what makes people feel like they are still connected to me, even after years apart. I had not seen Sidra and Clarice in 10 years due to all of us being in different countries, but we still felt connected and like we were good friends.

Though it might seem silly, I will also add that I never got a label maker, nor do I run envelopes through my printer. I hand address each envelope, write a personal message referencing things in the person’s life, and include a Holiday Letter talking about my year. People bring up these personal touches when they see me, and thank me for them. That is how I know that they matter.

2. Make connections in college.

We all know that nepotism is how people get the really good jobs. The narrative is that anyone can do anything if they go to college, but the reality is that without connections, your degree is meaningless.

In college, I was so busy working to support myself, studying, and looking after my wayward aerospace engineer boyfriend that I missed a lot of chances to connect. I should have gone to my professor’s office hours and “kissed ass,” as they say. I should have tried to make more friends on campus. (And, probably richer more powerful friends.) I should have seen the scholarship breakfasts I had to go to as an opportunity instead of a burden.

The truth is; I was so busy surviving that I forgot to live. I wish that I had put more effort into climbing ladders instead of just working hard and thinking that would be enough to succeed. I bought the lie. I regret that.

3. Take chances.

I still regret winning a scholarship to study in Costa Rica in college, but then deciding not to take it. I was afraid that my boyfriend would get kick out of school while I was away (since he had so much trouble getting up in the morning.) I was worried that my boss would replace me at work. I was worried about where to store my stuff…

The truth is, I still regret not going.

If you get the chance to have a new or different experience, just take it! Even if you have to find a new job when you get back and put your stuff in storage. Just do it!

It’s true what they say: You only regret the chances you don’t take.

Over the years I have done a lot of wild things, like running away with the Renaissance Festival and then taking off to teach in South Korea. I don’t regret any of those things. But I still regret not doing that semester abroad.

I am hardly an oracle of brilliant advice. I am just a person who has been wandering around the world for awhile now, and I would like to think that those three pieces of advice are pretty solid.

I guess it also goes without saying that you should never lose touch with your friends. I am so glad I kept in touch with Clarice and Sid all these years!

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.