Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tips & Tricks

I've been traveling solo for about four and a half years now, and as a result I've picked up on a couple of things. Here are just some of my little tips and tricks!

1. Pack a snack: high cal, high protein granola bars, pop tarts, and trail mix have seen me through the first night in many new territories. I never expect to arrive exactly when the itinerary says we will, and often I'm too jet lagged and disoriented to buy food before lunch the following day. This is a tip I've learned through two starved days in Ireland and France.

2. If you find yourself in a pinch and need to purchase a one way ticket that seems incredibly expensive, purchase a round trip ticket for about a week's length. (Wednesday to the following Tuesday, or Saturday to Wednesday if it's international.) There's no penalty for not showing up for the return trip, and often the cost is lower. Once in a pickle in London I had to purchase a ticket for Seattle day-of and opted for the roundtrip fare because it wound up being 400$ less than if I had purchased the one way fare.

3. To avoid looking like a tourist, find detailed maps of the host city (before you leave or using the wifi at the airport). You want one with street names, landmarks, everything. Save them as photos (save image, screenshot, whatever you have to do.) When you're lost, pull up the picture. With high resolution images you can zoom incredibly close, and you don't need WIFI to access them once they're saved. This sounds a bit silly, but a tourist with a big map is a bigger target for theft than an Average Joe with their face in their phone.

4. Research before you go. I highly recommend checking your phone plan to make sure you won't be charged insane amounts of overages and, frankly, to make sure your network is operable in other countries. Currently, Japan and the US are the only countries NOT operating under CDMA. iPhones can work if you've got a SIM card, so it's important to get one before you go. On the same token, check for hotels and nearby cafes with WIFI before you leave. There's no point in paying for something you could get for free!

5. Learn basic phrases in the native language of the land you're traveling to. This might seem like a no brainer. It should be. Natives are much nicer if you at least attempt to absorb their culture. I found in France, as long as I started speaking in French, most people would cringe and tell me they would prefer speaking in English. But hey, they seemed to appreciate my efforts! 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Favorite Things: Cote D'Azur

May 2012 I ventured to a land with a very, very foreign language. I know three phrases in French, but only how to read and write them. My pronunciation skills are absolutely morbid. This trip began for me in Nice, France - closely followed by Cannes, France. I will never forget the short time that I spent there - presumably due to the flash and pomp of the Cannes International Film Festival but thats another story. 
My hotel was across from Notre Dame de Nice & I sat out on that balcony late into the night listening to a lone guitarist, a group of club goers, and the sea. The locals were very kind and accommodating. It was one of the most picturesque areas I have yet ventured. I cannot recommend it enough.

(You can view more of My Favorite Things here & here.)

Monday, May 26, 2014

It has been six months since I was last on an airplane. It's taken me this long to recooperate from my trip to London in November. It was a nightmare from start to finish, but somewhere in there was a pretty magical day. One I continue to day dream about.

Westminster Abbey, March 2012

The Catching Fire premiere was in the middle of my trip, and as always it was a long, cold, rollercoaster of an event. I've learned no two premieres are exactly alike - at least from my experience - and this one might have been the most bizarre. I found myself at 4:30AM going beyond the boundary of the garden in which we were being kept. I took a stroll down to the National Portrait Gallery, where I could see that familiar blue rooster and the monument for Mandela. There was a small group of teenagers sitting on the steps and off in the distance, in all it's glory, was Big Ben. There were some voices in the distance behind me and due to the events that had transpired earlier in the week, I decided to head back to my sleeping friends by way of the lit streets, and not the dark alleys from which I had come.

I passed the museum and walked a deserted road that had seen millions of footsteps a mere twelve hours beforehand. Whenever I visit "sleepless cities", it always strikes me odd that indeed they do have their moments of solace. Eventually everyone retires to a club or an exclusive after party or a warm bed. That occassionally you can take one left turn and wind up in a dystopian wasteland.

I rounded the corner and found myself standing in the majesty of Picadilly Circus: the Times Square of London. In every direction as far as I could see I was alone. There were no speeding taxis, no gang of teenagers, not even obnoxious club music permeated my bubble. The only sound came from the billboards above me that hummed with the same elctricity that was coursing through my veins. I felt alive and in that moment those buildings and that street and the whole night belonged to me and there was no one I had to share the moment with and there was nothing I wanted to do but to bask in those shining lights safe in the knowledge that I was alive and I was in my favorite city and amazing things were about to happen.

(I wish I had taken a picture, but I didn't bring my camera and my phone had already been stolen at this point.)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why I Can't Backpack

I love backpackers. I have friends who love to throw on a backpack and go rock climbing for two weeks, or hitchhike through South America. And they're great at it. I love their sense of adventure and their enduring spirit. But I can't do it.
I don't think I'm a high maintanence girl. There are some days I roll out of bed and don't even look at my hair. I can wear the same jeans for two weeks without batting an eye about it. But I can't backpack. Here is why:

1. Hygeine
The image of dirt caked under my fingernails puts a chill down my spine. I can go a few days without a shower but I can't go a few weeks.

2. Modesty
It's been said I may be too modest. Sharing a bathroom with complete strangers sort of terrifies me. I can do it - I've stayed at motels with shared bathrooms before - but the comfort of having my own bathroom, whilst definitely a Western amenity - is one I take whenever I can get it. Also, I am incredibly uncomfortable about being unconsious around strangers. I don't even let my dentist give me anesthia.

3. Predictability
I am a planner by nature. The idea of not knowing where I'm going to stay until I'm there making me anxious for the whole day - and that's no fun when I want to explore a city! Also, being a solo female traveler, I feel a lot safer knowing I have a place to stay before the sun goes down.

The problem with my way of travel is, of course, cost. It's not as easy or freeing to travel around my way, but I find staying in serviced apartments gives me an insight to the lives of the locals: having to shop at grocery stores, being able to cook meals myself, etc.

(*Disclaimer: I know I'm young. My travel style may likely change.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Accidental Eavesdropping

For four hours I had been waiting for my friends to arrive outside the Odeon in Leicester Square in London. We were planning to camp out for the Les Miserables world premiere which was taking place the next day. I had flown in from Seattle specifically for this event - taking a few days beforehand to experience London during Christmastime. This was my last day in London, so I had already checked out of my hotel. My bag sat at my feet and my phone rested in my frozen hand.
"We'll be there in an hour!" They told me.
Cold, anxious, and starving, I went into the nearby Costas for a bit of a warm up. First of all, let me say that their hot chocolates are amazing not only for taste but for presentation. The barista used a Christmas tree cookie cutter to get the best shape with the powder cocoa he sprinkled over the foamy top. And then he covered it all with a lid! Remarkable.
So, freshly warm with Costas and an outlet to charge my phone, I awaited my friends and tried not to overexcite myself with the following day's events. The only other premiere I have camped out for - or attended at all, for that matter - was The Hunger Games in March 2012. The friends I was currently waiting for were the same friends I met that night. But tomorrow, oh tomorrow was Les Miserables. I grew up watching the 10th Anniversary Special and I couldn't wait to see the stars and hear how Cameron Macintosh revamped this classic for the silver screen.
"We just got off the train! We'll be there in five!" My phone illuminated.
I gathered my things and headed for the cashier.
"Can I use the restroom?" I asked.
I was met with a very confused look - ask for the toilet, the loo, the WC, even the bathroom. But the 'restroom' is not a European phrase.
"Uh...the toilet?" I corrected myself.
He told me a labrinthian path up the back stairs and beyond multiple corridors. After having gotten lost multiple times, I deduced that I was indeed in the Odeon theater and was supposed to use their bathroom. Because it was warm and my friends had yet to arrive downstairs, I took my time. I brushed my hair in the mirror, added extra layers for the impending cold December night, and brushed my teeth. As I began washing my hands, a voice penetrated the bathroom walls. Quiet at first, and then growing stronger.
"God on high, hear my prayer-"
I stood frozen where I was.
"-In my need you have always been there"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I grew up listening to Colm Wilkenson belt out this familiar tune, and now the voice was quite different. My hands shook with excitement. I tried to surpress a squeal. I grabbed my bags and went to find the source.
There, just beyond the door to theater #8, the movie was playing. This movie that I have waited years to see. This movie that I was camping in an English winter to celebrate, was right in front of me.
I cracked the door just barely. Just enough to see a full crowd and Hugh Jackman - face the size of a billboard - singing at the barricade.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Travel Quiz

A: Age you made your first international trip
I’m ashamed to admit it was a mere two years and six months ago.
B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where
I’ve only ever had Fosters - in London no less. I’m not a big fan of drinking when I’m alone.
C: Cuisine (Favorite)
I’m a bit fan of Pret A Manger & French baked goods.
D: Destinations. Favourite. Least Favourite. Why?
Favorite: London. Ugh I fell in love two years ago and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Least: Paris or Sydney.
E: Event you experienced that made you say ‘Wow’:
On a rainy night in London - my first international trip - my hotel was a couple of blocks from Parliament and the Eye so I took an evening stroll. I was sitting across from Big Ben. It chimed 10PM and the crowds had diminished. A thin fog had set and from the bridge a lone bagpiper played the saddest song I’ve ever heard. 
F: Favourite mode of transportation?
I love the Tube. I hate the RER.
G: Greatest feeling while traveling?
Arriving at the hotel after the guaranteed mess that is airports and getting from them.
H: Hottest place you’ve ever travelled?
Clifton Beach, AU. The added humidity made it death.
I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where?
When I checked into my serviced apartment just outside of Cairns, the owner Craig was incredible. He was classic Australian - very tan, Hawaiian shirt, no shoes - and so so knowledgeable. 
J: Journey that took you the longest?
Seattle - Philadelphia - Frankfurt - Nice. I was supposed to arrive in Nice at 2:30PM, but I arrived at 9PM. It was more hellish than it sounds.  
K: Keepsake from your travels?
I buy my sister a pen. 
L: Let down sight. Why and where?
Sydney. It was so less impressive than I had been lead to believe. Although I think it might have been aided by the fact that I had just spent a week in freaking Clifton Beach which is amazing. 
M: Moment where you fell in love with travel?
I’m not sure - I’ve been traveling since I was a baby.
N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in?
It’s changed hands several times now, but was called City Inn Westminster. It is next door to Burberry HQ in London.
O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?
The architecture.
P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?
Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where?
I tend not to go to many things. I’d have to say Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
R: Recommended sight, event, or experience?
The National Parks on the West Coast of the United States. The Hoh Rainforest in Washington State is incredible. 
S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking over for while traveling?
A hotel with an airport shuttle. And coffee.
T: Touristy thing you’ve done?
Going to Disney parks - especially Euro Disney.
U: Unforgettable travel memory?
When I was freshly arrived in Ireland, a very kind old lady came up to me and told me about her upcoming trip to the Arctic Circle and help me find the airport shuttle. Also when I was flying home from Australia I had a window seat and one of the most amazing views of the night sky I have ever seen. 
V: Visas. How many of them and for where?
Only one - Australia.
W: Wine, best glass while traveling and where?
I don’t drink wine.
X: eXcellent view and from where?
The Kuranda train, TGV train from Nice - Paris. The landscape changes so much so quickly. 
Y: Years spent traveling?
Z: Zealous sports fans and where?
I once ignorantly wandered into Hyde Park during a huge sporting event. I don’t even know what it was for, but they were mighty passionate.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Out-Running A Rain Cloud

It had to have been 90° with 105% humidity. The clean, dry shirt I put on this morning was now a damp mess, clinging to the severe sunburn on my shoulders. Warm waves splash against my bare feet. My brand new camera swings at my side. A young family has a picnic in the sand behind me. Long expanses of sand and water lay before me. The slightest breeze plays at the tips of my hair.
If it hadn't hit my scalp I wouldn't have felt it. A glance at the sky reveals a dark looming storm cloud - a million times darker than anything I've seen all week. Another raindrop falls on my head and I begin to pick up my pace. My new camera just happens to be about 300$, and it alone holds all the pictures of my adventures in Australia. From looking at it, the cloud appears to end about half a mile in front of me. I decide to make a run for it. There is no one else on the beach, so I run as fast - however awkwardly - as I can. The rain starts coming down harder now, making ripples in the ocean. The sun falls behind the dark cloud and a breeze sends the rain sideways, splashing against my shoulder. With no shield for my beloved camera, I cradle it in my arms and run with a strength I didn't know I had.
A few yards ahead of me is a notorious crocodile estuary. The hotel owner has warned me to be wary around here, especially when the tide is high. I had just visited the zoo yesterday where I stood mere feet away from a crocodile that swallowed a full sized black labrador in one bite. Throwing caution to the wind, I charge right through it, not daring to look around for company.
Even though I have surpassed the half-mile mark, the rain still thunders down on me, threatening the safety of my possesions. The sand is getting sticky beneath my feet; my shirt feels painted on. Finally - finally I reach the safety of my hotel. I collaspe on the bench under the awning and watch, exhausted, as the rain washes the day away.