packing: why it is beneficial to pack light

I like to think of myself as an experienced traveler, yet packing is one of those things I’m continuously learning about. In my latest city break to Seattle, I had yet again overpacked my overnight bag and my backpack ended up heavier than I would’ve liked (despite that I left my trusty laptop at home, among all other comforts).

From experience, travel packing is about functionality, vacation packing is another thing (with vacation packing having more leeway for more ‘stuff’ since you’re going on holiday to ‘indulge’ so pack all those things you actually won’t be needing). But really, when you’re traveling, the last thing you want is something weighing you down after you checked out of your hotel/hostel and you have to lug it around while you sightsee.

For this trip, I packed an extra shirt, sweater, pair of jeans which I did not use. I also did not use the eBook and travel journal I brought as nearly as much as I thought. Why did I think I would have time to change clothes and read lots while on the road? I have no idea.

From this experience, for an overnight trip, all I really needed was my phone, my charger, my camera, the clothes I started the journey in.

And what I should’ve added was a water bottle, a lock, a towel to the mix.

What are some of your packing tips? Feel free to let me know in the comment section! 🙂

this is why I rarely argue with people

I’d lost my voice that day at work, long before my coworker announced to me candidly.

“You look like death!!”

He said it in a way that made me zip straight to the nearest reflective surface so I can see myself. After which, I wondered that if he had a bucket of holy water, would he dump it on me?

Jokes aside, I was feeling the effects of the weather, compounded by that flu I seemed to have picked up in Seattle, and million other things I had in my mind.

By the time I could go, I was more or less brain dead. I couldn’t physically deal with anything anymore. It’d all had to stop.

So I got on the train, took the train to my stop home, except then there was a guy blocking the exit. So I said quietly in all the voice I had left, ‘excuse me’ as the train stopped so I can get off. But then I guess he didn’t hear me, so, not wanting to miss my stop I squeezed past him in a hurry.

In which he yelled. “You should’ve said excuse me!”

Imagine my surprise, I turned around and said. “I said excuse me,”

His response? “You said nothing.”

“Whatever.” I shrugged and got off, but anger boiled inside of me. It wasn’t my fault he didn’t hear me, he got angry because he didn’t hear me. I didn’t have energy to argue, nor do I want this to escalate – still, I’m angry – angry that stupid things like these happen after a long day at work, angry that I have to deal with them even though it’s so unnecessary. Why did I let him think whatever? Because, it’s just easier. He already had the perception that I was rude. Arguing with him was only going to confirm that notion.

The horrors of ‘American’ restaurant food.

“Let’s eat nothing but American,” said my foreign friend with a bout of enthusiasm, sounding the beginning of sugar, salt and fat drenched two days of gluttony. An eye-opening two days of gluttony may I add (because there’s no way in hell I”m doing that again, and those two horrible days were enough to put me off of junk food forever.)

I don’t usually go out of my way to eat ‘American’ cuisine and when I do eat out, 99% of the time, I’m eating Sushi at a Japanese restaurant or even, Thai food (yummy veggies encased in rice paper wraps) things that are not high in sodium and definitely not ‘fried’.

And my typical diet at home consists of lots of yogurt, fruits, vegetables, fish moderate amount of carbs, and comparatively, very low amounts of sodium and saturated fat.

Now, two days in Seattle – it was kind of an eyeopener. Since, first of all, we didn’t get to make our own foods, at all due to our tight scheduling so it was to the nearest restaurant we go (I probably visited more restaurants than I had in the previous month). But here’s the shocking thing, almost everywhere I went, I found the food to be way too salty and sugary – and there’s almost an universal trend of bread on bread on more bread atrocity happening across the board (enough to give you a salt and carb overload headache, not to mention sluggishness, digestive issues and irritability…)

Prior to traveling to Seattle, I’d assumed the West Coast was very much vegetarian, hippie and yoga loving…doesn’t seem to be the case in Seattle (and perhaps it was because we’re in a rush, but we also didn’t see any salad bars, though I did spot a juicery near Pike Market.)

Not only that, the convenience stores we checked out, I saw a trend of soda being cheaper than bottled water. And what’s even more sickening is perhaps that a cucumber costs more than a packet of poptarts, with the wilted cucumber being 1.99 and the poptart being 0.99 (true story).

I used to think that I loved ‘junk food’ and the stuff wouldn’t ‘hurt’ but after two days of what seemed to be ‘nothing but’ nutritional atrocities committed, I have a different outlook on the matter. I don’t think I want to look at another burger, let alone eat one, ever again. And the next time a foreign friend suggests, ‘let’s eat nothing but American,’ I’ll politely opt out.

essential travel tip: bring your own, and lots of it.

I am back and absolutely exhausted. 2 days in Seattle had been hectic to say the least. For one, my friend and I probably covered 40 miles in the city on foot just to see it (underneath the hot hot sun as well). We went to every tourist-y trap Seattle is known for, from tasting overpriced beer at the Space Needle, to committing nutritional atrocities at the Cheesecake factory, then visiting The First Starbucks, Westlake Park, Volunteer Park, and the Museum of History and Industry and of course, the famous Waterfront where Pike Market is located. It was … so much walking (and I’m accustomed to walking everywhere in my own city!) At the time of this post, I’m happy to report I’m back in my own home, lounging on my own bed and drinking lots and lots of water.

Water, which I had conveniently forgotten about since I had expected the stuff to be plentiful around the city. Like tap water is perfectly drinkable right (at least where I come from), a test from the taps of Seattle during dinner made me raise my brows. The tap water tasted chalky, hence I stayed away from the stuff, thinking I’ll survive if I just load up on the stuff with ice in it (you know, the stuff they serve at restaurants). In hindsight, that was really stupid. What ended up happening was me drinking tons of coffee (well, Seattle is the coffee capital, so…perfect excuse there) and finishing up my friend’s teas and checking out a lot of tea shops in the process (which all could’ve been avoided if I just brought along an empty water bottle and an water filter that fitted on the faucet.

Well, lesson learned.

Why I’m not breaking the news to my parents just yet…

As in, I was approved of requested time off from work, but I haven’t told my parents.

At least not yet, why?

Because, they tend to over worry and ask too many questions. Case and point, why is it okay for me to go a State over, but not okay for me to hop on a plane and go further, into another continent? Even if its just for a few days? Even if I have the resources and capabilities to do so?

It is as if parents have this built in alarm that gives off paranoia – or, you know, maybe I’m just sheltered and overprotected. Or maybe they think a cross-continental trip will cost a lot of money and I’m not being ‘wise’? Or is it because they don’t believe in me crashing with my friends and all the shenanigans I’ll get up to with said friends?

Well, these 21 days will be my chance to prove myself once and for all, because I don’t want a repeat of 2013.

“When are you going to let me go mom, when I’m 25 (hah, nope), 27, 30, 35, 40!?!”

I’ve long accepted that I needed to be away and do my own thing and live my own life.

In the times I’ve voiced my aspirations they dismissed me and ignored me. Now I can only hope they’ll continue their dismissive streak, because I’d rather not deal with the alternative – another lecture on what constitutes a happy and productive life.

leaving things unanswered, for now, because I’m not in an hurry

If there was one thing valuable travel has taught me, is that, everything has its time and place.

Yes.

The plane will not get to your destination any faster if you worry or obsess over it.

It will get there when it get there.

How you spend your ride however, is entirely up to you.

You can’t physically cram so many sights in one day, you need time to breathe, rest and perhaps alter your plan a little.

And of course, travel is not a checklist of things ‘done’ just so you could say you did them, but destinations are to be ‘experienced’, best, with other people, that way memories can be cherished.

Now, replace the word ‘travel’ with ‘life’.

Ah.

Yes, maybe this is why I love traveling so much. It’s never purely about the destination as it is about the possibilities life has to offer.

how to save offline maps on Google Maps

In the previous post I touched upon saving yourself money and grief by pre-planning your telecommunication prior to traveling. And in that post I briefly went over how to save offline maps on Google Maps (which is really simple) in this post I created a mini tutorial that explains the process in details.

Step 1: Open up Google Map app on your phone when you still have wi-fi connection, and make sure you’re logged into your Google Account (which is essentially your Google Gmail Account). Now, tap on the triple striped button just in front of the Google search bar. You’ll get the side bar that looks like the left hand side image. Now, select ‘Your places’.

Step 2: Scroll down to the very bottom of ‘Your places’, depending on how much you use google Maps you might see a lot of saved places, scroll down to the very bottom until you see ‘my saved places’ and of course, offline areas (you can see my old maps from my last trip which I’ve downloaded and are now expired, Google keeps the offline maps active for 30 Days, after that you can redownload the area). If you’re new to this, you should see a command that says, ‘Download A New Offline Area’ tap on that and proceed, if not, you’ll need to click on ‘View All and Manage’, which will lead you to the command ‘Download A New Offline Area.’

Step 3: Select “Download New Offline Area”.

Step 4: Select the area you want saved, as you can see here I’ve pulled up the map of Seattle for my trip. You can zoom in or out of the map to get your desired selected area. Of course, if the area you’re saving is too large, you could always save it in multiple maps for later use. Once you’re done, hit ‘Save’

Step 5: And viola, your map is now saved and ready to be used offline. Though it is important to note that offline maps do have their draw backs, you can’t route around the map and any finer detail that’s not saved in a generic map, like bus stops and buildings might be lost – but hey, a map is better than no map and your GPS system will help you navigate smoothly in most cases.

how to save yourself money on your overseas phone bill

Once upon a time, I had a near $400 phone bill that I ended up paying in full.

True story.

It was the first time I’d gone to the Netherlands in 2013. I didn’t exactly ‘plan’ to use my cellphone. After all, coming from North America, I so conveniently assumed that Europe would be dotted with many wi-fi hotspots like North America. The truth is, not so much – if I recall correctly, the hostel I was staying at had spotty wi-fi and this was before the time I’d figured out how to download maps on Google Maps. So I literally had to run everything on roaming data (big opps!) lest I got lost somewhere. And even with my data on, I roamed into some highly questionable alleyways in Amsterdam. Oh yes, misadventures.

Now fast forward 2015, I’m armed with more knowledge than before and I’m smart enough to research ahead of time.

1. Pre-purchase roaming data plan: It’s aways good to check with your cell service provider, as most have travel packages you can buy ahead of time. They usually come in 100mb, 200mb or even 1G bundles, depending on the length of your stay, you can purchase accordingly. And I know for my service provider, these only cost around $30-100, depending on which option you chose. It’s such a better alternative than coming home to a $500 phone bill. $100 vs. $500 is a no brainer.

2. Google ahead of time: if you’re like the rest of modern humans who are more or less addicted to the internet then you’ll be doing yourself a favor in mapping out coffee shops with free wi-fi ahead of time. While Starbucks exists elsewhere in the world, they however don’t offer reliable wi-fi. Trust me, I’ve been there. What I’ve found interesting is that, sometimes, when you’re abroad you’ll find that other places do offer wi-fi (albeit it could be spotty) i.e: when in Stockholm, I learned that 7-Eleven offers wi-fi. Or, there are establishments such as bars or pubs that also offer wi-fi and as always, it doesn’t hurt to ask the establishment for the password nicely, I’d say you have a 70% chance of success.

3. Download your maps on Google ahead of time: for those of you who don’t know, you can keep offline maps on google. The idea here is that you’ll download your map when you have wi-fi connection, and then when you’re without the built in GPS tracker on your smart phone will help you navigate on the saved map, eliminating the need for data usage (so you can save the data for random pictures uploaded to Facebook, or status updates…or you know, your usual instagram scroll-then-likeathon.)

travel safety: in light of train attack in France

“Gunman open fired on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris…”

I felt goosebumps rising on every inch of my skin when my eyes swept over the words. The chilling sensation set in before my brain even fully processed. All I focused on was Amsterdam and Paris – sight of the Thalys branded train in the background of the article sent another chill through me, to which I start to worry if it is a good idea anymore to visit Paris alone like I’d planned later this year.

Yes. There’s a trend here, even though I haven’t been following all that closely.

If anyone remembers, first there was the Charlie Hebdo Attack, on January 7th 2015. I remember this because I was in Amsterdam at the time and note that Amsterdam is only 3 hours and 18 minutes away from Paris by train. I’d looked it up. And of course like all wanderlust afflicted individuals, thought about boarding the Thalys train to get some pain et fromage in the city of love.

Then, there is the lesser well known mass shooting spree in Copenhagen. Yes. Copenhagen. Possibly one of the safest capitals in the world, according to wikipedia, “on 14–15 February 2015, shootings occurred in Copenhagen, Denmark. Two victims and the suspected perpetrator were killed, while five police officers were wounded.”

May 6, 2015: Curtis Culwell Center Attack, interesting to note that Geert Wilders is one of the guest speakers in attendance was Geert Wilders.

And now, August 21, 2015, the train attack in France, where a massacre would’ve occurred if it wasn’t for the three heroic man confronting the perpetrator.

That’s 4 attacks this year across the western world.

Statistically speaking, it is still very safe to travel. Think about how many trains that actually run from Paris to Amsterdam everyday, out of a 365 cycle – and this is only one incident. The same goes for planes, you’re still statistically in more danger when on a high-way, than in an airplane.

However, these attacks do spook me out in the worst ways possible, though possibly not for obvious reasons. They spook me out because I simply can’t understand why people would rather destroy one another than finding peaceful solutions to problems.