Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Thankful for the world

Prompt #24: GIVING THANKS, my twelfth entry in the 30 Days of Indie Travel Series

Seeing what others have – and don’t have – around the world often helps us appreciate our own good fortune. What are you thankful for this year ?

I am thankful for:

  1. Having a job and even more than that is having a job that allows me the flexibility to travel as much as I do
  2. Having a family that supports my life
  3. Having Teph to share my life and travels with
  4. Living in a time where it is possible to travel around the world, to stay connected with those that you love even when half way around the world.
  5. Health and Happiness

Trans-Siberian Railway

November 23, 2011 1 comment

Prompt #22: TRANSIT – my tenth entry in the 30 Days of Indie Travel series

The word travel comes from a French word meaning “work” and sometimes, getting there is work. Between crowded buses, long airline delays, overnight trains and crazy rickshaw rides, transportation can be stressful, but it can also be a rewarding part of the tip. Tell us about a time when the journey became more important than the destination.

The more I travel, the more I enjoy the journey, at least in hindsight.  While stuck in a small airplane seat, wedged into a bus on curvy mountain roads or trying to sleep on a layover, I have done my share of complaining, but these aspects of travel are far outweighed by the ability to experience something new, to be immersed in a culture unlike your own.  Looking back on the memories of travel these unpleasant events are usually glossed over, replaced by the highlights of the trip.

One trip I have taken that was all about the journey, the experience of getting there occurred in 2007, my first year teaching in China, I decided to take the long way home.  It had long been a dream of mine to take the Trans-Siberian railroad.  While I didn’t have to take the whole trip (Vladivostok to Moscow), the Trans-Mongolian (Beijing to Moscow) journey was a perfect opportunity.  7 Days on a train is a long time, but an experience I would do again in a heartbeat.  

I arranged and purchased everything for this trip from Beijing, meaning that most of the people in my car were Chinese.  I had a very limited budget and as a result had a cheap ticket that went straight from Beijing to Moscow instead of stopping to see some sights along the way.  The seven days I had on the train meant I got a lot of relaxing (sleeping) done, some very thick books (the Brothers Karamazov and others) read and some great conversations with the one other American in my car.  I am not sure I would do it straight through on a repeat journey, but it was an amazing experience doing it straight this first time.

There were some hiccups along the way largely due to lack of funds.  I had expected my debit card to work in Russia but was distraught when I got the message that it was rejected.  Once I got to Moscow I found out that all ATM transactions are blocked in Russia by my bank due to worries of fraud.  This would have been nice to know before departing since it meant that I had no money (and thus no food) for 5 days on the train.  I had a few snacks with me which I rationed and my car mates shared some that they had with me keeping me from completely starving.  Oh well, lesson learned.

This seven day trip was simply about the journey, the sights along the way an accompaniment to the constant movement across Asia and into Europe.  Upon arrival in Russia I had a great time visiting Moscow, St. Petersburg and then on into Scandinavia but the journey remains a great memory.  Sometimes taking a bit longer to get to a place pays off and makes you appreciate the distance we are able to travel these days.

Finding Myself

Prompt #21: LOVE AFFAIR, my ninth entry for the 30 Days of Indie Travel

When we travel, our senses are heightened. We feel more alive and we’re more free to do things we might not at home. We can be who we want. There’s an air of urgency to everything we do – we know our time here, in this place, and with these people, is limited. If we want to do something, we have to do it now. It’s no wonder then that many travelers have relationships on the road. Tell us about a “special someone” you met while traveling.

Not to be boring, but there have not been any on-the-road relationships in my past.  I have however, come to terms with myself while traveling.  Traveling removes the daily patterns that we so easily fall into in our life.  At home, we eat at more or less the same places, watch the same TV shows, spend our time online or running errands, things that  follow a predictable, usual pattern.  On the road, you throw all of these things to the wind.  Hopefully you are trying new things to eat, visiting places that you would not normally come across and even perhaps trying activities that are scary.   Through taking risks when traveling, I have discovered a lot of stuff that I actually kind of like.


Prompt #18: BUDGET – My sixth entry for the 30 days of Indie Travel series.

Every traveler has a budget; for some it just might be higher or lower than for others What’s your style? What do you spend very little on and what are you always willing to pay more for?

I am in a very fortunate situation. As an ex-pat, my company helps out with my housing expenses. How they have it set up, however, is that they have a flex account that can be used for a variety of expenses, including travel. I have a much less expensive house than many of my co-workers and as a result have a very large portion of my leisure travel paid for by my school. This, combined with spending more and more time working on getting the most out of loyalty programs has allowed me over the last year to travel at a bit higher standard than I have previously done. I have been working on gaining top-tier status for United and as a result have paid for most of my flights this year. I am collecting my miles and points so that I can continue to travel when I change jobs to one that does not cover as much of this as my current employer.

This year I have stayed at some really nice hotels. Some of these were splurges (Mala Mala Safari Lodge, Correntoso Resort in Argentina) while others have been through the use of points and promotions (Marques de Riscal Winery in Spain, Cape Town Westin). When choosing a hotel I want someplace that is in a good location. Wireless internet and a comfortable bed are pluses as well. But at the end of the day a hotel is a place to spend the night. If the trip is going well, I do not actually spend all that much time at the hotel, though it is always nice to come back to a luxury hotel.

One thing I am usually hesitant to pay for is transportation. I will often walk “just a little bit further” rather than take public transportation or get a cab. I feel that walking through a city is the best way to get a feel for the place, to understand the culture and vibe of the city. That said, I know I have spent a lot of time and energy walking instead of paying for a 3 or 4 euro subway fare. At the end of the day I am not sure if this strategy is worth it, but I continue to do it, even when spending the night at a luxury hotel.

Food is something that I do not mind spending a lot on. I enjoy a nice meal, especially if it is the local cuisine. I have gone out of my way to visit places with a well known restaurant usually with a price tag to match. That said, many of my favorite meals are those that I have had on the street, snacking on local fare at very low prices. When it comes to food, a higher price does not necessarily mean higher quality.

I like to think of myself as a budget traveler, but this is really not the case. I like the nicer things in life and especially when traveling I am not going to give up an experience or enjoyment to save a little bit of money…except when it comes to transportation which is just weird. I need to work on changing that and maybe cutting back in some other areas of my travel budget.


Prompt #17: PASSION, my fifth entry in the 30 Days of Indie Travel

It’s easy to be passionate about travel, but does that passion permeate the rest of your life? Do you live and work with passion? Why or why not?

Many of the travel bloggers I read have left the “normal” life of work and gone on the road more or less full time. Supplementing their life on the road with earning from websites, design projects, writing or other “location independent” work, they are able to travel more or less full time. There are times when I feel jealous of this lifestyle, wishing I could spend more time on the road, more time in places I love and free to move when I want instead of just when I have time off of work. That said, I feel very fortunate that I have found a job that allows me to follow my passion of travel as much as I do, while at the same time being something I am passionate about. I LOVE my job. I get to work with some awesome kids, teaching them something that I really enjoy doing. Swimming has taken me all over the world. From a start in a summer league, I am now teaching and coaching swimming half way around the world. Before I came to China I was able to coach across the U.S., interact with some amazing people and really look forward to my jobs more days than I didn’t.

There are times when inevitably, life at home is boring. When we travel it is something different from our everyday life and thus easy to be passionate about. The fact that I am bored some of the time, that I would rather sit on the couch watching a movie rather than experience Beijing does not mean I am not passionate about my life here. I love my job, I am doing something I am passionate about and I get to travel. How much better can life be.


Prompt #16 – Baggage, my fourth entry for the 30 days of Indie Travel.

I am horrible at packing, simply horrible.  On my recent trip back from South Africa, I lost a lot of good wine when three bottles broke in my checked baggage.  Fortunately it was white wine so outside of some soggy books, nothing else was ruined.  I thought I had done a good job padding all of the bottles, but on each layover I was greeted with the news that another bottle had broken.  In addition to needing more practice packing safely, I also tend to take WAY too much stuff when I travel.  I pack everything I might possibly need and every electronic device I have to enhance travel from an iPad, my laptop, my camera and of course noise canceling headphones.  I am working on taking less when I travel but still have a long way to go.  With Star Alliance Gold status, I no longer need to watch the weight of my checked bags as much as I used to, making it easier for me to take a ton of stuff with me.  In short, I take way too much baggage with me.  Fortunately, it is physical baggage instead of mental baggage.  Travel is a time for me to relax, even when on the move.  My time is almost always spent doing something I have chose to do, allowing me to really sit back and get as much out of a place as I can.  I will always prefer physical baggage to mental baggage, even when dragging my heavy, leaking suitcases through the airport.


November 16, 2011 6 comments

My third entry for 30 Days of Indie Travel

Prompt # 15 – Cities

When traveling, I tend to be attracted to big cities.  Given the option of a beach or a city, I will almost always choose the city.  Perhaps this is because cities are usually a bit easier to get to, but I think the bigger reason is that cities are exciting for me.  I love that there is always something to do, always something to see.  The best of a country tends to be drawn to the cities.  That is not to say that there is not good to be found outside of cities, but it is a bit harder to find.

Throughout my travels I have been to many cities that I have loved.  There are the few that I find awful, but this almost always has something to do with something out of the cities control, like weather or my mood at the time.  While each great city has something to offer, these ten rise above the others I have been to.  I am not sure that I can really choose a favorite hence the two number 1’s, so instead I will give a few reasons why each of these have provided some of the best experiences I have had while traveling.

  1. Cape Town, South Africa – Perhaps the most beautiful city I have been to.  Cape Town also features great weather, a great dining scene and so many options of things to do that it was impossible to be bored.                                                                                               
  1. Barcelona, Spain – I wrote about my visit to Barcelona here.  The food, culture and architecture set this apart from most others I have been to.  This is a quintessential city that is so easy to get lost in, enthralled in the sights, sounds and history of the place.
  2. Istanbul, Turkey – Sitting at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, Istanbul has reminders of history around every corner.  Add in some fantastic food and good weather and you have a winning combination.
  3. Amsterdam, the Netherlands – I am not sure if I have ever visited a more comfortable city.  It’s charm is simply in being there, experiencing everything it has to offer.  It’s food does not stand out, the weather is chilly and rainy, it is expensive, but I am not sure if there is any other city in the world that I would like to spend an afternoon wandering around.                   
  4. Buenos Aires, Argentina – Great food, a very vibrant culture, good weather and a feel that you are in Europe instead of South America but still with South American passion make for a great place to travel to.
  5. Kyoto, Japan- Of my top 10, this is the one that caught me by surprise.  On my first trip to Japan I was looking forward to the food of Osaka, the modernity of Tokyo and the reminder of past mistakes in Hiroshima but Kyoto won my heart.  The culture and history, combined with good food and beautiful mountains make Kyoto my favorite city in Japan.
  6. Hong Kong, China – This city that feels simultaneously Asian and Western.  If visiting from China (as I have) the western aspects stand out.  If coming from the west, the combination of Asian cultures make for a fantastic Asian experience.  The pace of life, the busyness of a city are all on showcase here along with great food, good shopping and good transportation.                  
  7. Stockholm, Sweden – Set amidst the Stockholm Archipelago, Stockholm takes all of what Scandinavia is well known for and somehow improves on it.  The architecture, design, shopping, and wide range of activities make this a must visit in Summer.  Winter might be a bit cold.
  8. Chicago, U.S.A. – Close to one of my homes, Chicago is a great city with impressive and important architecture, fantastic food, great shopping, amazing museums and a cultural scene that rivals any other city on my list.
  9. Shanghai, China – A 21st century city with a long history.  This is one of the most modern cities on my top 10, but just around the corner from modern skyscrapers you are able to find older neighborhoods.  The food is great, the architecture impressive and the history fascinating.

Honorable Mention – London, Beijing, Moscow, Portland OR, Tokyo, Singapore, Frankfurt, Lhasa

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