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: 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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