10 Reasons Why Didn’t Want to Leave Vietnam

I remember arriving in the Atlanta International Airport after a 24+ hours long flight (with a canceled flight night in Seoul, Korea- an adventure I will write about next time).

In three words, it was: quiet, cold, and lonely. Where were the loud honkings? Where were the street vendors on every corner? The dozens of people trying to sell you tropical fruits? The motorbikes? I distinctly remember all those things being really annoying and obnoxious, but without it, I suddenly feel empty.

Reverse culture shock is a real thing. When I went home, all the trees were bare, the house was empty. The neighbors stuck to themselves. It was like I had never left.

I missed Vietnam a lot. I still miss Vietnam, and fondly remember all the people I’ve met and cherished. On this quiet night in a mountains of North Carolina, I want to dedicate a post on what I really wished I had right now.

Noise, Noise, Noise!!!

The grinch would have hated Vietnam. To properly pinpoint a specific noise is a difficult task since there are so many contributors to it. People. Motorbikes. Music. Cars. Honking. Dogs. Roosters (and their roosting). Cows. Cats. Machinery. Trucks. Boats. Noise is everywhere (unless you live in a really mountainous town or tiny village).

Yes, I realize I’m listing the 10 reasons why I didn’t want to leave Vietnam. However, I strongly feel that the cons were Vietnam’s  pros. So hear me out.

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Perhaps one of the most memorable traits of Vietnam is that 80% of vehicles on the roads are motorbikes. And 99% of the time, they are honking. I understand it’s something that could give someone deep migraines as a newcomer, but after awhile, I learned started to find it quite practical. See, with technically no constant enforced laws on the roads, motorbiking around will look reckless and dangerous.

Honking is a constant form of communication between drivers of automobiles and motorbikes. It’s a way of saying, “Hey! I’m here, just a quick reminder…” 

Crowded

I miss being able to jump on a motorbike and go pretty much anywhere. Being on the road in Vietnam is like playing MarioKart in real life. Sure, there are pot holes on the roads and no room to ride between all the legit motorbike riders out there, but it’s the thrill of being in the open and riding next to your family members.

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Haggling in the markets is a culture trait I despise taking part of while in Vietnam. However, I can’t deny that the markets would not be the same without the loud, and oftentimes intimidating, bartering back and forth. There is a beauty in it, once you listen for awhile. If you listen even longer and not afraid of being embarrassed, you could barter just like a local.

Dirt. Cheap. Food.

Vietnam is definitely in my favor as a vegetarian. The country is 70% Buddhist and vegetarian meat substitute are abundant and have stellar quality.

Not only that, I could get one big bowl of quality vegetarian stirfry noodles or pho (noodle soup) for less than $1!!

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Kilos of tropical fruits with value of over $10 could be bought for $2. In my many posts in the past, I have divulge that I’m a huge fan of good cheap street food. Only in traveling to other countries do I get a chance to try delicious cheap street food (unlike the $5 for a tiny serving street food in New York).

Landscape

With three main regions in the long “S” shape strip of a country, Vietnam has everything to offer. It has beautiful islands, lovely ancient cities, famous plantations, undiscovered caves, and beautiful mountains.

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Some of my favorite sightseeing moments are driving by rice fields and looking at dilapidated houses.

A picture speaks more than a thousand words. Need I say more?

Cheap Everything Else

Overnight buses cost $5-$10. Compared to overnight buses to New York, Vietnam buses are heavenly. Nice 3-4 star quality hotels costs range from $10-$20 a night!

Motorbiking

I’m addicted to being on the road. Cuong and I would often argue over who gets to drive first. We were like kids riding a bicycle.

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(I can’t believe I’m including this, but…. ) Soccer/Football

Soccer/Football, the one you play with your feet, is a huge deal in Asia. While we were in Vietnam, we were in the midst of a U23 international soccer competition. Vietnam supporters were very passionate about our country making it to the almost-top. I’ve never been a sports fan in my life, but I have found soccer to be the easiest to understand.

When the time and day arrives, all of Vietnam’s eyes were on the TV, no matter where they are. It’s amazing how even the people with the biggest differences all sit down and watch the same thing, cheer for the same things. If there’s anything I found out from soccer games, it’s that the Vietnamese are united and proud, not of the communist government, the the people and the country itself.

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When Vietnam won the semi-final match, we all stormed the streets. Hundreds and thousands of people took their motorbike and rode through town with the flags in the air. “VIETNAM UNDEFEATED!!!” they chanted.

Enjoy Tet Celebration in Its Entirety

Something I got to do differently this year was take part in the searching and buying of flowers. We had a seven foot tall lime tree sitting in the back of our motorbike while one person drives and one person holds it up. The vase took 5 people to carry, and was huge! When in Rome, am I right?

Another favorite new experience of mine is cooking the traditional Banh Tet! We spent over 7 hours cooking outside with wood fire to completely cook a giant pot of banh tet. I wrote about the entire experience here!

Family and Communities

When my parents fled Vietnam in the 1990s, they had left behind their entire family. We’ve been back as a family a total of 3 times in 20+ years. I did not meet my extended family until I was a teenager. When I came back, I feel like a part of me was missing, because, well… they’re like family to me. Now, whenever I have problems with my parents, I can’t come running to my aunts for safehaven or advice anymore. Now, I have to deal with my issues like the adult that I am. /sigh.

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See, Vietnamese people have a very special and close-knit bond with each other. Families live near one another and children often live with their parents in their old age. Neighbors come to one another’s house to play board games, eat, cook, party, and especially gossip on a day to day basis.

Way of Life

Vietnam is so different from the United States in so many different ways. Some for the better, and some for the worse. Cuong and I often mention how we were able to freely make decision in Vietnam.

Children wander around on their blocks and ride their bikes out to the beach (up to 3 miles from home).

We like living a minimalist lifestyle.


Vietnam is truly beauty in chaos. It’s hectic, it’s loud, it’s dirty, but it’s endearing. I’ve never felt so much at home. I understand everyone and everything, and can feel where my roots are.

Vietnam Transportations: To Motorbike or Not?

Motorbikes are riding within inches of each other, the loud whirring sound of the motor and fumes fill the air as everyone’s idling at the stop light, the crazy woman driving a 10 ft tall lime tree with the man sitting in the back holding it up (that was us), etc.

It’s easy to say, “I’m not doing that.”

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To Ride or Not to Ride

Motorbikes are riding within inches of each other, the loud whirring sound of the motor and fumes fill the air as everyone’s idling at the stop light, the crazy woman driving a 10 ft tall lime tree with the man sitting in the back holding it up (that was us), etc.

Looking at the driving conditions in Vietnam, it’s easy to say, “I’m not doing that.”

Then you settle in and realize that everybody does it.

It sure beats being stuffed in a giant bus that is taking passengers that is over the capacity it’s supposed to have. I have paid as much as everyone else for a seat on the floor between the aisles. There, my motion sickness gets real.

Pros of Driving a Motorbike

  • It’s the most convenient way to get around in the city. It’s also much faster. Motorbike riders can get up between cars and zoom off while cars gets between a sea of bikes.
  • Fun and free feeling of driving in fresh air. Everything feels real when you ride through the streets at night, feeling the sea breeze. Or if you go through villages that could best be experienced on a motorbike. There’s a freedom of being able to control where you go and go anywhere you want to.
  • Feeling cool. Being able to ride alongside family and friends is pretty fun. Whenever we go out, we would take at least 5 motorbikes and head on to the beach. One the way home, we don’t even worry about soaking up the bike seats.
  • Experience the authentic way of navigating Vietnam.

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Cons of Driving a Motorbike

  • The chance of getting caught by the traffic police. In certain destinations like Nha Trang and Hoi An, traffic police generally let tourists alone. However, cities like Sapa and Saigon, there is low tolerance of drivers with no licence.
  • The chance of getting in a motorbike accident. Accidents happen day to day. It’s a result of drivers going so close to each other. Most of the accidents I’ve seen are small ones, where motorbikes run into each other at slow speeds. Most people just apologize and go on with their day.

Renting a Motorbike

One of the greatest things about motorbiking is that you’ll get to rent a bike for under $5. Most places will try to take your passport, but I have gotten by with giving them my US driver’s licence. If you book your bike through your hotel, they will rent your bike without needing ID. Generally, I’ve found that hotels will charge more for a bike than a motorbike rental shop.

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Don’t forget to haggle for your motorbike. Since motorbikes that aren’t rented out would just be sitting their anyway, you can use that to your advantage in haggling with the owner. We’ve rented motorbikes for as little as $2-3! Though don’t be surprised if they hand you a bike that is all out of gas. When that happens, just go to a local shop and grab a $1 bottle of gasoline to refill as you go along.

Driving Advice

If you do choose to ride in Vietnam, here are some useful tips that has helped me during our trip there: 

If you’re scared of driving, then there are excellent moto taxi driver services that allows you to ride at the back of an experienced driver. Use the apps Grab or Uber to ensure you know exactly how much you pay before you get on the motorbike or car. Grab is a Southeast Asian “Uber” that includes motorbike taxis. In my experience, Grab is generally cheaper.

If you’re scared, drive slow. Other experienced drivers will go around you, nobody wants to get in an accident. On the other hand, don’t drive too close to other bikes, as they can change their direction at any moment.

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Don’t be afraid of using your horn. Yes, actually, you should beep every 30 seconds, every time you turn a corner, every time you pass another driver, every time you feel like it’s been quiet too long. It’s not rude, it’s just letting other people know that you’re there.

There will be times where it makes sense to go down a one way road. Do it, everyone does. But if you see a traffic police, turn around and hope you don’t get caught. We’ve seen people get their bikes get taken away, and it’s not fun.

If you get caught by a traffic police without licence, you will get fined. It’s not personal, as they do it for everyone. Though get this, if you don’t have the ridiculously high amount of money they’re asking for, they will settle with whatever you have in your wallet. So just don’t carry a lot on you, yeah?


Have I missed anything? How is motorbiking in other countries compared to Vietnam? Did you have a different experience?

Do check out my other posts about Vietnam here!

 

A Blogging Post to Get the Ball Rolling

What is the definition of procrastination? 

I’ll tell you later… 

Ha, get it?

I saw that joke in a video on the internet, and related to it too much. Which reminded me of the blog posts I have not been writing and the endless list of things I want to put on there. It’s been awhile since my last post and I have not updated on my Vietnam trip.

It really is a lot easier said than done, while everything is a work in progress. The more things I do while traveling, the less time I have to write about it.

But as I am too familiar with it, all it takes is to get the first post out to get the ball rolling. I hope my readers will forgive me for my absence and understand that I also owe it to myself to have a good time on vacation. This post will be one that will hopefully kickstart my routine, so it’s really for me, not you.

As I get back into the groove of being in the United States again, blogging is not the only thing on my priorities (though it is, because I did decide to buy a hosting plan that costs plenty of monies). I’m once again making money by working from home.

A short version: Vietnam was awesome. We had absorbed so much during this 2.5 month trip with family. I’m in much more control and aware of myself and my surroundings.

Though I did not come up with as many posts as I’d like, here are some that I had written on Nha Trang. Please peruse and enjoy our photo adventures of Vietnam.

Sunset in Hoi An, Vietnam

 

Day 0: Handling a 20+ Hour Flight to Vietnam

People often dread long flights, I love it.

I love being at airports.

From the process of checking in, finding our flight terminal to watching hundreds of people anticipating their next adventure, I’m in love with the energy.

To save time, we checked in online and spent the night before at La Quinta Inn and Suites. It was great for us as we had a nice breakfast and a free shuttle to the airport early next morning.

The day before is always stressful with all the last minute packing for the trip. Not to mention, I have an innate fear of missing the flight and end up with a Home Alone situation.

We’re fairly used to traveling, but traveling with family is new.

Everyone, kids and adults alike, are excited for the flight. The difference this trip and our typical backpacking trip is evident. We have 8 people on this trip, and we have whopping 13 luggages, most weighting over 45 pounds!

Fortunately, it’s not because we each over pack to have tons of clothes. See, when Vietnamese immigrants (Việt kiều) return to Vietnam, it is customary to bring back gifts. Ours, prepared by my parents for the last few months), contain new clothes, USA branded shampoo/conditioners, chocolate bars, and various medications.

We were at our gate 3 hours early, which gave us time to explore the airport and relax a before the long haul flight.

Korean Air, well known for its good customer service and professionalism, makes us feel instantly at ease. Our vegetarian meals and seat changes were dealt with in a very friendly manner.

If there’s anything I’m sure of about an international flight, is that it’s bound to have a ton of in-flight services. I watched some brand new released movie titles such as Birth of the Dragon, Wonder Woman, and Megan Leavey. This gives me a chance to get my thoughts together and ready myself for Vietnamese food.

Looking out the window while flying over the arctic regions of Canada is one of the coolest sights. There were miles on miles of uninhabited ice. If we look really hard, there would be specks of towns in the distance. This is something we would never see otherwise. The sun in the sky is so beautiful and the treacherous icy slopes.

Do you have any quirks while traveling long haul flights?

Working From Home: Language Interpreting

As you know from my previous post, I have recently been working online with my second remote job (see my first remote job post here) with a language company.

As a lot of people are quite interested in what it’s like to work from home, I decided to make a post about what it’s like to be a language interpreter, why I decided to do this, and where I want to go from here.


Do you know a 2nd language? Do you care about helping people surpass communication barriers? Want to improve on industry specific vocabulary?

I found a company that had allowed me to pursue an interest of mine, and had taken me lots of efforts to pursue. The results were quite rewarding because I was able to work from home full time, improve on a language, and help people!

Here are some details I have compiled for those who are interested.


Hiring Process

Onboarding was a long and gruesome task to of testing my fluency in Vietnamese. I was required finish a 40-minute long recorded call, specifically regarding Medical and Insurance vocabulary. I was required to do a drug test and other phone interviews. The entire process of interview, waiting, and training process takes up to 3+ weeks.

The nice thing about this company is that their training on an entry level interpreter is very thorough. Though I rolled my eyes at a lot of the common sense customer service tips, I was learning a lot of how the company works.

A lot of interpreting companies still use the telephone as the means to interpretation. In contrast, LLS stepped up their game and uses an wifi audio/video call program to manage all their call flows. The interpreter can transfer calls, mark themselves as taking a break, or receive video calls.

Free Stuff, yay!!!

I was quite surprised the day LLS send me my equipment. I arrived one day to 2 giant boxes full of equipment for my home office, consisting of:

  • Dell Inspiron Intel Core i7 laptop
  • 1080p webcam
  • Plantronics headset
  • A blue backdrop
  • 2 desk lamps
  • 2 work uniforms
  • and more!

When requesting replacements, they were very fast with their shipping. They even randomly send equipment that I may need in my interpreting work– for example: whiteboard, shredder, etc. So thoughtful, LLS! They don’t even require most of them back when the employment terminates!

5 stars for treating their employees nicely <3

Paid “Free Time”

Because I get paid per the hour I work, whenever I don’t have calls, I can work on improving other aspects of my life. I use a lot of my time to organize my thoughts, write, and plan out the rest of my day. Pretty nice, pretty nice.

Work in My Pajamas

One of the best things about working from home, however, is that I get to do it in my pajamas! I set my alarm 10 minutes before work, and when the time comes, I hope out of bed, brush my teeth, then get to work. Sometimes, I take quick breaks to go to the kitchen to whip myself up a hot meal.

I love this so much compared to the 2 hour commute in NYC. I certainly don’t missed the crammed subway and traffic in the city. I definitely don’t miss an opportunity to tell people what a comfortable life I’m living (for) now.

Flexibility

I have traveled with my equipments twice. All I need is WIFI, laptop, backdrop, camera, and headset. It’s been great in allowing me the flexibility to go somewhere new. Days off are requested through the Impact 360 portal online. I request the days off electronically anywhere I see an available opening slot.

Making a Difference 

Interpreting work covers a wide range of needs. Calls for help include medical visits, EMS calls, court hearings, insurance, legal matters, and more. On some level or another, I feel like I’m contributing my skills to help those who need it.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve hit some rough patches while working with LLS. I’ve had emotional breakdowns because of people’s problems. Why are there so many problems in this world??

That’s not all, I’ve also learned of the many ways people treat each other. I’ve learned that nurses can be rude and disrespectful. Elders can be stubborn, hopeless, and depressed, and humanity can be quite selfish at times. However, I’ve also learned that parents are ultimately those who care about their children the most and vice versa. I’ve learned that certain people have a true desire to help others, and I’m quite happy to be a part of the process.

Slowly, I learned to detach myself to all the problems. Once I took a step back, I’m able to seamlessly direct the flow and do my job as efficiently as possible.

Educational Value

My initial reasoning of becoming and interpreter is to master my industry vocabulary in Vietnamese. (What better way to learn than jumping in head first?) I’ve never received proper schooling in Vietnamese, and have learned all that I can read and write on my own.

Though I am not even close to becoming as scholarly fluent as I’d like, I am happy to pursue the the cause that keeps my cultural identity intact. My parents have been a tremendous pusher to keep the Vietnamese language alive. That I can achieve the ability of becoming an interpreter is all thanks to them.

As I began my interpreting work, I have become more adept in many other skills.

Because the context of what I interpret can make a sizable effect, I learn to choose my words carefully. I’ve learned to deliver bad news, deal with impatient clients, to negate all the negative things that I hear and not let it affect my life.

Are you going to do this for the rest of your life, Winta? 

Unfortunately, this is not my life career path. I never intended it that way. I’m doing this to make my life more meaningful. I’m learning my mother tongue, while getting paid. What can beat that?

My next steps are to actually discover my mother country. Yes, I’m taking a 3 month long backpacking trip through Vietnam for the first time in my life! I’m psyched, and hopefully, so are you. I will try to keep my adventures updated. <3


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Top 10 Free Things to Do in Nashville, TN

It’s no wonder that Nashville is considered Music City. The entire metropolis permeates with music and arts. If you are around or in town, be sure to stop by these top 10 free things to do in Nashville, Tennessee, put on a pair of boots, and go honky tonkin’! 

“So honky tonk means white people hitting it hard?” – Dev, Master of None

To those who have seen this episode, kudos, I love this show! Master of None was where I first saw clips of Nashville, it seemed fun! I’ll be the first to admit that country music/living is not my style, and was unsure of how I’d feel about Nashville! But.. you never know until you try, right?

Turns out, Dev (Aziz Ansari) was pretty on point. Nashville has many, many things to do during the day. That aside, the city really comes alive at night

We had so much fun discovering the quirks of our new home. As always, I’ve come up with a budget friendly list of things to do in this new city.

Things to Do:

#10: Opry Mills Shopping

If you’re into shopping, this beautiful mall has a huge inventory of places to shop. The store is definitely decked with Christmas decorations and music- point! Highlights are advertisement of leather boots for buy 1, get 2 free! Don’t forget to stop by the stalls, where they give out delicious free samples of chocolate fudge!

#9: Opry Hotel Gaylord Resort

Right across the parking lot from the Opry Mills Shopping Mall (or take the closest walk from the IMAX theater) is the Opryland Hotel. We were recommended this spot to check out from our AirBNB host.

The hotel features 3 magnificent domes, each one with their own special attribute. Upon walking in, we weren’t even sure we were allowed in there! The place was very beautiful, hotel rooms surround the artificial tropical environment.

 

  • Delta Dome – a manmade river, where you can pay to take a river ride through the hotel; a really cool water show fountain that comes every hour or two!
  • Magnolia – pool (outdoors) and bar
  • Conservatory – an indoor jungle; very cool exotic plants (I found this out when I poked at one that oozed sticky stuff on my hand)

This hotel is comparable to the majestic hotels in Vegas (just without the casino, hehe). If you’re in town, do check it out!

#8: Walk on the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge

It is completely worth it to see Nashville lit up during the night. It takes about 30 minutes from one side to the other. We took fantastic photos of the opposing bridges and the Nashville skyline!

The nice thing about this bridge is that there are no cars allowed on it.​

When you get to the other side, keep an eye out for a mysterious elevator that takes you to the Cumberland Park, there was live music as well! This is an excellent place to go to take a break from the loud music downtown.

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#7: TN State Museum

Nashville’s Tennessee State Museum and Capitol Museum are free and pretty close to each other. This is a great place to learn more about Nashville’s culture and history. But look out, they’re shutting the state museum to relocate to a different location, so some of the artifacts are not in display.

While you walk around, also look out for this cool diagonal crosswalks, which were everywhere downtown! Reminded me of Shibuya Crossing in Japan.

#6: Parthenon in Centennial Park

Definitely come check out the full-sized replica of the Greek Parthenon. The closest thing to being in Athens itself!

#5: Radnor Lake State Park

After staying up an unhealthy amount the night before, you can recover the next day by taking a lovely stroll through Radnor Lake with its beautiful hikes.

Also a great opportunity for some photography!

#4: Bi-centennial Park

Don’t forget to visit this park in the middle of town, a beautiful stop for a day trip.

While you’re there, don’t forget to catch the bell towers as they go off! It rings every 15 minutes, but the hourly tunes are even more magnificent.

#3: Farmer’s Market

We loved the farmers market for its outdoors-y indoors feel. Visit to the Picnic Tap for the board games and a delicious Flight of Tennessee. There are also tons of other restaurants and an International Market, where I bought yummy persimmons.

#2: Nightlife: Live music!!

You can’t miss the Honky Tonk Highway/Music Mile/Downtown on your visit to Nashville.

It’s hard to imagine any other place like here, except for perhaps New Orleans, where bar after bar right next to each other plays live music through the night, every night. But there it is, on Honky Tonk Highway. The amazing thing is there are no cover fees anywhere! Let’s go honky tonk!

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You can’t miss the Honky Tonk Highway/Music Mile/Downtown on your visit to Nashville.

It’s hard to imagine any other place like here, except for perhaps New Orleans, where bar after bar right next to each other plays live music through the night, every night. But there it is, on Honky Tonk Highway. The amazing thing is there are no cover fees anywhere! Let’s go honky tonk!

  • The Big Bang Bar– this dueling piano bar is very popular among locals, and rightly so. We even got to hear some ragtime piano! The energy felt in the music is evident in the artists makes this top my list of favorite places on Honky Tonk highway.
  • AJ’s Good Time Bar – a 4 story bar karaoke spot with a rooftop bar! This place has great music and great energy. Love their karaoke DJ! <3 Do visit! 
  • Ms. Kelly’s – located off of the Printer’s Alley, but completely worth the visit (only several blocks away) for a night of fun karaoke. A lot of college students and locals come here to let off steam. 
  • Nudies Honky Tonk – frequently advertised as the longest bar in town. True to the fact, it is very long, with several floors of live music.

For a less touristy destination, visit the Printer’s Alley for some cool live music at night. For late nights, make sure to go with other people or take precautionary measures!

Literally every other person is a performer, a to-be performer, or incredibly musically talented.

#1: The Bluebird Cafe

If you’re in Nashville and skip everything else on the list, you must visit Bluebird! I have never cared too much for country music (though I’ve never hated it), but Bluebird had changed me. You’ll frequently hear that Bluebird was where a lot of singer/songwriters started off at.

The storytelling songs made me laugh, cry, and reflect upon life more than I’ve ever had while listening to music. These artists really knew how to tell a tale.

There is no cover fee to listen at Bluebird, however you must buy $10 in foods. We had a baked brie and a local dark beer, which were both delicious and completely worth it!

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Where to Eat:

True to our budget oriented selves, we cooked almost through our entire trip in Nashville. Because we were vegetarian, it is a little bit difficult to find a place that served us dishes that weren’t sides.

However, we found a vegetarian restaurant The Wild Cow, which had 5 star quality foods! The portions were very large for its price, and we were very happy customers. Be aware that it is very busy and you might have to wait 30 minutes to an hour without reservations.

Where to Stay:

We stayed at an Airbnb with our lovely hosts Shuo and Ron. It was a great location!! It was only $40, way cheaper than all other options we had. The room was very neat and cute. He had left us free granola bars and water bottles. The kitchen and living room were very homey. This is possibly the best Airbnb I’ve ever had! If you’re interested in booking with him, here is is page link! I 100% recommend. 🙂

Sign up here for your next Airbnb and get $40 on your trip!

Get Around:

We primarily used our car during the day. Parking is free for most everywhere except for downtown. Parking downtown is free after 6pm.

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While there, we found that even on a weeknight, bars were packed! Even more coincidentally, we were there during the CMA’s (Country Music Awards, as I found out). Streets were completely blocked, people pouring out, performers mingling with visitors in the glow of the night. It was a quite sight. 

Should you go to Nashville?

Well, it depends. Do you love listening to live music? Meeting nice people? Having a good time?

I think there’s something for everyone in Nashville. You should at least give it a try and you may find that you like it as much as we did. <3

Cheers!!

 

Last Post: Travel Blogging Challenge Highlights and What I’ve Learned

I made it!!!!!!!

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For those who have never heard of this challenge, here is your opportunity to read it all the way ’til the end: 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge (feel free to do a challenge of yourself!).

After over three months of blogging, there are a few posts that I’m quite proud of for writing myself. Here are some of the best:

Challenge Highlights

As I approached this last post, I feel nervous and excited. Nervous because I feel as if I have exhausted my writing topics. What else is there to share aside from all the experiences I’ve had?

With the end in sight, I’m excited because I’ve stuck to this challenge through the end. There were definitely weeks where I did not feel like writing, but this challenge had motivated me to get back into my blogging grind. Furthermore, this challenge was born from one of my monthly goals list, and I’m quite happy about being able to finish it.

I’ve learned a lot from this blogging challenge. I have practiced determination by pursuing a hobby and passion of mine through long, lazy days. I have learned to flow my writing better. Best of all, I’ve made great fun blogging friends along the way.

Again, do check out my 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge, where you will find the rest of the challenge prompts!


What’s next?

Well, now that I’m out of a 3+ month long blogging commitment, I want to take a break from challenge prompts for a little bit.

I’m hoping to get an actual blog domain for myself in the next few months. This would be a great way to explore uncharted waters and take a dive in the deep blogging pool. Adventures ahead!

What are some of your goals and proud accomplishments?


Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

Here are some other posts you might like:

Read more of my posts from the Travel Blogging Challenge:

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

These awesome people are also doing the challenge!!! Click to see their stories!

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

Five Perfect Photo Opportunities in Mexico and Central America

As a travel blogger and a social media enthusiast, I would like to list some of the best photo ops in Central America that will get your toes wiggling for an adventure!

5. Bacalar, Mexico

Where better to have a relaxing few weeks on the crystal blue waters and laid back town of Bacalar?

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The little town of Bacalar on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is home to one of the most beautiful open, calming, clear blue waters I’ve ever seen. Walk along the streets and you can find lovely huts that take you right up to the water, rendering it a stunning spot to take photos.

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While you’re there, don’t forget to take a dive in the famous Cenotes Azul, going as deep as 200 feet! Let the large and deep body of water excite and scare you as you take a leap from the tree branch!

We made a wonderful community of friends from Couchsurfing, who showed us the best secret spots to eat and play in town! Bacalar became a sweet place for us to remember our great friends and the adventures we took.

#4. Carnival, Caye Ambergris, Belize

We had the wonderful opportunity to witness Carnival in several cities in Central America. However, Caye Ambergris (Belize) was my favorite.

The colors, the music, the energy, the food, the people-  everything is wonderful about Carnival. The beautiful thing about it is that you are bound to encounter it anywhere in Central/South America! Make sure you check and mark your calendars!

I loved Caye Ambergris because we were right by the water as well as all the festivities. After an exhausting night out, we were able to stumble right up to our hostel for a rest.

For a more peaceful getaway, Caye Amberghis is a great island hop spot to a nearby island, Caye Caulker, where visitors explore on foot and golf carts!

The nice fun fact about Belize is that everyone speaks English and takes US Dollars! There are also a lot of Creole people in Belize, with a completely different set of fascinating foods and cultures. Not to mention is the island frequently referenced in Madonna’s song, “La Isla Bonita!”

#3. Colorful Mercados (Markets)

Ah, beautiful markets of Central America. It’s almost comparable to my markets in Southeast Asia. The haggling, the tropical fruits, the cheap clothing. What’s not to love?

The reason I picked markets as one of my favorite photo opportunities is because it’s the perfect place to capture locals in their element. I love finding cheap horcatas or strange stalls of food to try out. Of course, I will first have to ask if it has carne (meat). market

#2. Colonial Streets – Central America

With a heavy influence from the Spanish colonization era, colonial towns in Central America.

EditThere are not enough words to describe the glorious cobblestone streets of Central American colonial towns. Honorable mentions to Antigua, Guatemala and Granada, Nicaragua!

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#1. Twin peaks: Volcan Acatenango and Volcan Fuego in Guatemala

Camping on top of a volcano makes it to the top of my list. There is no other feeling as exhilarating as sensing the earth rumble and a burst of lava fill the air right in front of us.

10399594_10207428749890366_760704894419302331_nAnd be honest, aside from being on a plane, when was the last time your legs have taken you above the clouds before? 12592512_10207428749650360_1420307703996003216_n (1)


Have you been to great photo ops while traveling? Please leave your favorite spots on comments!!! 

I’ve been slowly improving on my eye for photography, showcased on Instagram. I would love some feedback!!

My Travel Bucket List

Ah, my never-ending list of things I want to do and places I want to go. Today, I’m going public with my to-travel list. 

Destinations

Visit castles and go to pubs in Ireland 

To be absolutely honest, my very first impression of Irish culture is the time I ate potato skins at an Irish pub. There weren’t many vegetarian options. I thought that was such a bizzare dish, but ended up crunchy delicious! I was hooked.

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Aside from that, I simply adore Irish music. I always find myself putting on an Irish/Celtic playlist while going on long drives or hikes. Not to mention I love everything about the animated film, Brave. 

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And seeing myself walking down a medieval castle’s winding staircase. /dreamy sigh/

To cruise through, literally, anywhere in Africa to dance, listen to music, and explore wildlife.

In 6th grade, I memorized all the countries in Africa to impress a teacher, and won an award for it. I know it sounds kind of crazy to brag about it now, almost a decade later, but it was my first exposure to the continent.

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I love beat and rhythm of Kenyan music, the culture and history of Egypt, the friendliness of Ghana citizens. I also adore the colorful African clothing!

Not to mention I love everything about the animated film, Lion King.

New Zealand

One of my biggest inspiration of visiting New Zealand is from listening to Flight of the Conchords. 

The country itself is gorgeous, and I’ve heard so many great things about it. Not to mention the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed there. Image result for lord of the rings New Zealand

Stroll around Paris, France (with my SO)

City of love, eh? I loved Paris the first time I visited. The architecture, the people, the food, the music, the energy. Can’t beat that. However, I want to go again with my SO- because I’m a romantic like that. I want to experience the city right.

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Alaska- To See the Glaciers

Need more be said? I’m a greedy girl. I want to see the great glaciers before they all melt away (at the rate we’re going). I’ve never been, but I imagine it’s similar to Colorado, but bigger and colder. Confirmation?

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Activities

Cruise

We’re budget travelers. Cruises are too luxurious for us. That might change in the next year or two, as I’m about ready to go on one finally! I should mention I’m a pessimist on open water, and am deathly afraid of sharks/whales/icebergs/storms/pirates running over my poor cruise ship.

… I blame Titanic. 

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See Northern Lights

I just really, really want to see pretty lights.

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Pack Bags and go to random destinations

Shame on me for taking pride of being spontaneous, but never actually set off on a blind. I’ve always had some sort of planning, even though a day ahead. The most I’ve ever done true spontaneous travel was while wandering around New York City.

Rock climbing

I’m always looking for something new to try. I want to do it in nature versus at a gym or something.

Fly First Class

Here’s to hoping some airline is going to have price mistake soon.

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Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

What’s on your bucket list?? As always, I would love to connect and exchange stories!

Here are some other posts you might like:

Read more of my posts from the Travel Blogging Challenge:

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known travel tips

Week 3: Funny travel story

Week 4: Travel Misadventures
Week 5: Top Three Cultural Foods
Week 6: Unusual Travel Activities/Photos
Week 7: Inspiration for Traveling
Week 8: My Five Favorite Travel Blogs
Week 9: Gross/Disgusting Travel Stories
Week 10: The Most Unforgettable Adventures!
Week 11: What’s in my bag?
Week 12: Happy and sad travel stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: My Travel Confessions and Regrets

These awesome people are also doing the challenge!!! Click to see their stories!

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

Guest Post: Why Africa should be your next travel destination

So first, a bit about me. I’m Giles, a 26 year old travel blogger from the UK blogging on gilesmeetsworld.com. Last year was lucky enough fulfill my dream of traveling around the world, quitting my full time London job to visit 18 countries across 5 continents. The final leg of my trip was a camping group tour through Africa lasting 40 days, driving from Cape Town to Nairobi. We traveled through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania (including Zanzibar) and Kenya. It was without doubt one of my all time travel highlights so this post is just a taste of why you should make Africa your next travel destination.

The Experience

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Admittedly Africa probably isn’t on the top of most people’s travel lists. I went to Sub-Saharan Africa as I wanted to go somewhere different, go somewhere which wasn’t on your standard gap year route, experience new things, push myself out of my comfort zone, and most of all, travel in a way that felt like an adventure.

Africa certainly didn’t disappoint. From the moment I landed in Cape Town, looked out of my hostel window and saw Table Mountain in all it’s splendor, I was treated to so many incredible experiences you just wouldn’t find elsewhere in the world.

Africa has some of the most beautiful species of animals and wildlife in the world, some of the most stunning landscapes you may have not even heard of, and some of the most friendly and inspiring people you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting.

In 40 days I traveled over 10,000 miles, experiencing cities, desert, river deltas, lakes, canyons,white sandy beaches, not to forget the Serengeti (think Lion King) and so much more. I experienced the scorching heat of the Namib desert whilst climbing a 170 metre high sand dune, came face to face with lions mere feet away, and sat on the edge of the Victoria falls. This is just a taste of some of the once in a lifetime things you can experience here.

Wildlife

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Wildlife, wilderbeest migration

For many people, this is the most common reason to come to Africa, to go on safari and game drives and see some of the incredible wildlife it has to offer. We were lucky enough not only to just see it, but we were immersed in it through camping in national parks un-fenced off from wildlife.

We would have hippos and elephants make their way through the campsite at night, have hyenas calling out all around, and have buffalo casually strolling over to block our toilet facilities. We sat watching a water hole in Etosha national park, whilst Giraffes, wilderbeest, and rhino all came to take a drink.

I saw some of the world’s most beautiful and breathtaking animals in my 40 days, and saw them in their natural habitat right where they should be. There really is no substitute.

Landscapes

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Landscapes, Namib desert

I’ve briefly touched on a couple of landscapes in Africa but the amount of natural wonders you can see, and the sheer size of it all is something to behold. I’ve mentioned it above, but sitting in the ‘devils pool’ on the edge of the Victoria falls (see main pic) has always been on my travel bucket list, and it really didn’t disappoint.

The water is shallow enough and rock formations such that you can safely sit right on the edge of the falls poking your head right out.

On top of this: we visited Fish River Canyon, the second biggest canyon in the world behind only the Grand Canyon; stayed on Zanzibar in Tanzania with its sparkling white beaches and aquatic life; we climbed sand dunes and explored the Namib desert; stayed in the Okavango river delta traveling by traditional dug out canoe to make our way past hippos to camp on a small island; saw and did game drives in the Ngorongoro crater and Serengeti; and swam in Lake Malawi with some of the friendly locals. I could go on and on and on about how much there is to see and do here, most of which I never expected.

Summary

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So in summary, I don’t actually work for the Africa tourist board, I just saw and did SO much in such a short time that I can’t speak highly enough of my experience. Having been to other places in my travels that become overrun with tourists and have the local culture diluted somewhat, traveling through these seven countries you get a real experience that feels like an adventure. In my time in Africa I was pushed out of my comfort zone and learnt more about myself than anywhere else I’ve traveled, and for that Africa will always be a special place for me.

If you enjoyed this post, I’ve got lots more on the rest of my trip and other experiences here, and here is part 1 and part 2 of my Africa travel journal with plenty more on my time there. Thanks for reading and happy traveling!


As always, thanks for stopping by, folks! I hope you enjoyed reading my latest collaboration. See my post on published on Giles’ page, writing about “My Firsts in Central America!”

Have a safe night, and safe travels. Also, Happy Halloween!

 

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is possibly one of the most beautiful parks we’ve been to during our road trip. Seeing the large sandstone arch formations created by wind erosion in the red sunset lighting is quite a wonder. 

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The world famous Delicate Arch

Arches took a day out of our trip, starting and ending our day at the visitor’s center. The trails were easy enough to follow. We hiked to the Devil’s Garden, where we saw tall formations stacked side by side like dominoes!

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Looking through a window to a different universe

We went around December, where snow was still all the ground! We navigated slippery rocks, frozen rocky puddles, and steep trails.

With over 2000 arches, the hike was very scenic and beautiful! Coming from the luscious green mountains, I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Red, dry, and very magnificent.

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The best thing about going during the winter is that there weren’t many other visitors.

A little corner of the park just to ourselves. 🙂 

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Photo Challenge: Rounded


Thanks for stopping by for another travel post! Please do leave your thoughts.

If you enjoyed this post, here are some posts I think you might like!

My Travel Confessions and Regrets

Hi everyone! Welcome back to another week of my Travel Blogging Challenge. It feels like it was ages ago since I’ve written my first challenge response. So much has changed since then. Funny how time flies, yet can still be devastatingly slow, huh?

This week’s challenge theme: Confessions. Regrets.

I have many, many things to confess.

I have always tried to live my life as if it were my last days. I want to do things as soon as possible, but with these impulses comes dire consequences.

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I guess it must be something in my personality, I often look back. Wistfully replaying events in my life in nostalgia, wondering what would happen if I had done things differently, whether there are things in my life that I regret.

Time and time again, these are oversights I find myself making…

My Oversights

Not being in the moment

I always look ahead. It is my both strength and my weakness. I don’t wallow in my mistakes yesterday if I know there’s nothing I can do to change it. However, I always find myself eager and worried for tomorrow and whether everything will go smoothly.

To relate, studying abroad in Singapore was such a big and fun part of my life. Between all the tests, studying, presentations, the semester had passed by in a wink of an eye.

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Today, I look back and saw that I participated in many clubs/events, studied abroad, made lots of friends, but it passed by with all the fretting that I did over my curriculum.

You may have seen in my previous post, I am not a huge fan of the constant dead zombie glowed faces from browsing cell phones. I am also guilty of being reliant on technology. Though I am pretty good about self control with social media, because I work online and I keep track of my travel photos, it’s quite difficult to stop myself from using the net. Only when I got my phone and wallet stolen did I finally realize how dependent I was.

Impatience

This is perhaps one of my biggest flaw while traveling.

Once I have a thought planted in my head, I take immediate action– sometimes recklessly so. I am haunted by the fear of waiting- and then losing the opportunity.

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I don’t give enough time to people and places. I’m always anxious to move forward, failing to realize that the now is what makes me happy.

I fail to realize that not everything works out while traveling.

Cultural and Environmental Impact

Looking back, I am appalled at my own ignorance while traveling.

In my first years, I never took the time to research the cultural and environmental impact of the actions I’m taking. Animals are endangered because of ignorant tourists. Locals’ livelihood are affected by my actions. 

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Moreover, I’ve never taken ample time to research the history of places I visit. What struggles they’ve been through, what their culture is like.

Though I’m not doing anything to harm the citizens, I’m not taking enough measures to ensure I’m leaving a green footprint behind. Leaving it a better place.

Luckily,

I made it through and, as always, learned important lessons that help make me a better, more conscientious person. Though I’m not any more perfect today, I am much more aware of my actions and what I can do make myself a better traveler. 


Are there things in your life, decisions, choices, paths that you felt could have been done better?

Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

These awesome people are also doing the challenge!!! Click to see their stories!

 

Guest Post: Five perfect European Weekend-Getaways

 

Let me start by introducing myself. I am Emma, a 20-something year-young girl from Belgium. I have my own blog, called Curlygirlabroad (which might change name soon). Winta was so kind to reach out to me, so I can share a post of mine on her blog. I have done quite some travelling in Europe and like to share five great cities for a weekend-getaway.

Antwerp

Being a proud Belgian, it might not seem to odd I am promoting this city in my country. Antwerp is very diverse, and not so well known for tourist. That’s why it is the perfect city to explore. The city center is filled with beautiful medieval architecture, and also has some beautiful baroque buildings. If that is not your cup of tea, you can talk a walk along the river, admire paintings from the Flemish Primitives, do some shopping, spot diamonds, or get multicultural in Chinatown and the Jewish Quarter. There is something for everyone in Antwerp!

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Almeria

I travelled to Almeria in January and absolutely fell in love with the city! It is located in the beautiful region Andalusia and might not be as known as other cities in that region like Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba. Yet it has so much potential! The city clearly shows the Moorish history and has a beautiful city center. You can easily fill your weekend in the city itself, but if you like some change there is much more to discover in the neighbourhood. The natural park of Cabo de Gata brings some lovely change with its beautiful volcanic rocks. Also nearby is the desert of Tabernas, and there is of course always the sea.

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Caernarfon

Besides the fact that I have no clue how to pronounce it, I do enjoy the small town of Caernarfon. Up in the North of Wales, the weather isn’t always that great but this town definitely makes up for it. Also here, it is perfectly possible to combine culture and nature within a weekend. Whether you like to walk along the coast path, climb Mount Snowdon, or visit another cute town in the neighbourhood, you’ll have a variety of things to do in and around Caernarfon.

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Carcassonne

I’ve been to Carcassonne twice now. Every time it “served” as a stopover destination towards Spain. I love to walk around in this medieval town. It can get pretty crowded though, but it is definitely worth it. Unlike other towns/cities where there are several medieval buildings, Carcassonne makes you dive back into history. A walk on the city walls is recommended!

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San Sebastian

The Spanish Basque country is way less touristic then other regions in Spain. While Bilbao seems to be the more known citytrip, I find that San Sebastian or Donostia has much more character. The town itself is absolutely beautiful and perfect for foodies! Hiking up the hill will give you a beautiful view over the bays as well as the town itself. The perfect spot to try some Pinxtos (or tapas) and enjoy the local culture.

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Hope you enjoyed the post! Let me know: what is your perfect weekend-getaway on Europe?

Emma from CurlyGirlAbroad

Also do check out my guest post on her blog! “How to Get Over a Bad Experience While Traveling” <3

The More I Know…

It’s true, what they say. You don’t truly appreciate what you have until it’s gone. Despite having travelled across the oceans, I have never fully explored my own back yard. Time to go back and walk the path I’ve never walked. 

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I’ve always wanted to leave the small towns.

I grew up in a small town, lived in one for most of my life. I never appreciated the autumn colors, the mild weather, the beautiful scape.

I’ve always wanted to move to a big city. When I had the chance, I left.

For a long time.

It’s been years since I’ve come home for more than 3 weeks. I guess it would be over five years now? I’ve looped around the world, and now I’m back.

I’m so thankful to have the time to come home, be with my family, have a productive time of my life where I can sit and think. I’m appreciating things I’ve never had before. We’ve been walking a section of the green way every day, seeing landscapes we’ve never seen before. It’s so beautiful. My mountains.

Stages of Making a Big Move

Moving to another apartment, city, country, or continent can be daunting. It is especially so when you’re moving along with someone else (like my boyfriend).

In my entire life, I’ve moved countless of times. From the Philippines (3 cities) to Iowa (2 cities) to Georgia (2 cities) to North Carolina (4 cities, 3 houses, 2 dorms, 1 apartment) to Singapore to New York City (2 boroughs)…

So I’m not a stranger to moving to a different city.

Now, preparing for a new adventure, we’re packing up to move again.

I typically undergo several stages of emotions as I undergo the process of moving such as bouts of denial, deep sense of suffering, frustrations, impatience at the inability to make it all poof into thin air.

Stage 1: I have this much stuff???

There’s always more stuff than I expected. I get so infuriated by the fact that I hold on to so many things. They always show up whenever I move. Dozens of small things that add up.

Even worse, my boyfriend and I have very different methods of packing and moving. I prefer to get everything packed up and ready to go as soon as possible. He prefers to do an all-nighter packing up all the stuff at the last minute. /sigh

Stage 2: Where does it all go??

I’m not sure where this goes. I don’t want to throw or give it away, because it’s a keepsake. I don’t use it enough to keep it in my main luggage.

This is where I get my feeling of helplessness, feeling entrapped by my own possessions.

Stage 3: The Specifics

  • Timing the cooking right so that all the food runs out on the day we have to leave. At the end of every move, our goal is to finish up all of our leftover perishables. Dairy, vegetables, frozen foods. We hate to have food go to waste so we would plan our meals accordingly to have food cooked and packed completely as we move to our new location. I know, serious issues, right?
  • One way car rentals are wicked expensive. Just like how one way flights are ridiculously expensive compared to round trip tickets, so are car rentals.

Stage 4: The long journey

Sleep deprivation, exhaustion, claustrophobic of all the stuff in the car but pulling through because it’s almost over. The car is heavily over-packed, weighted down by all the possessions we own.

Stage 5: In the End

A shower and a cup of coffee will fix everything. 

My insta-fix for a big move every week is a simple shower and a cup of coffee. What’s yours?


Do you also know the struggle? What are your ways to wind down after a stressful move? Do leave a comment and let’s connect!

Here are some posts I think you might like!

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

Travel Planning and Stress

Ask anybody, I’m one of those people who enjoys travel planning, and end up packing each day with things to do.

I would want to sight-see, eat lunch at a place I checked out on Yelp, then go see a live music performances in a consecutive four hours of activity. I would constantly check my watch to see what’s next on my itinerary.

If this sounds familiar, raise your hand.

I mean, I try not to plan every single second of the trip, but I just get so excited that I want to do everything with every second of travel.

But if you’re anything like me, then doing activity one day after another can get overwhelming very quickly. This is especially true in the case of me planning several outings in the same day.

You do things up to the point where it doesn’t feel like vacation any more.

… Not only that…

When you travel with other people (like my boyfriend), things are not going to be on schedule all the time.

The bus is late. There is traffic. The event is longer than expected. Someone has a sudden emergency. The weather is doing its own thing. It goes on.

I’ve planned and planned trips around the world, and we have missed so many of those heavily planned days because it simply doesn’t always work out

How to Save Yourself

In situations like these, it is important to realize that everything will be okay. There’s nothing that needs to be done while your on vacation.

First. Don’t be like me. Don’t pack everything you want to do in all seven days of vacation. Leave a day or two free to just do anything that catches your fancy, spontaneity is half the fun. If you’re not a spontaneous person, then at least leave several of your mornings or nights free to kick back and relax.

Second. Realize that you stressing out makes it less enjoyable for everyone else. Nobody likes being rushed. Plan with plenty of time to spare in between to get ready. If you can’t relax and chill, group travel probably not for you.

Third. Always be ready for your plan to fail. Have one or two thing that you have to do (like going to a Queen + Adam Lambert concert), and plan for that.

Fourth. Wander around. You’ll definitely find something worthy of spending time to do.

Isn’t it the plan to spend time relaxing and pampering yourself anyway?


Thanks for reading, here are some posts from the Travel Blogging Challenge you might like!

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Japan (for Beginners)

Whether you’re an avid manga reader, or lover of Japanese culture, or just fascinated about Japanese technology, there is always something mystifying and beautiful about Japan that draws millions of tourists in the past decade.

Today, I’m thrilled to share one of my three favorite cultures encountered while traveling: Japan. This is a three part series response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge, so please check out the rest of my responses!

The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Japan for Beginners

Who is this Guide For? 

This guide is for anyone and everyone to peruse. Though, I am writing it specifically for:

  • People who have general knowledge of Japan and want to catch a glimpse of the magnificent country in 3 weeks.
  • People who like cool technology and want to see it in person.
  • People who like anime, but want to know what real life Japanese culture is like.
  • People who like adventures, because really is one big adventure.

When to Go

The timing of going to Japan is very important as it could change your itinerary completely. Japan is a very versatile country. On top of a million reasons to visit the country, here some highlights of seasonal activities in Japan.

  • Winter for the hot springs and skiing/snowboarding.
  • Spring for the famous and beautiful Cherry Blossoms.
  • Summer for the fireworks and climbing Mt. Fuji.
  • Autumn for the beautiful foliage amidst Japanese culture.

Japanese Festivals (Matsuri) occur year round, entailing large parades, floats, food, traditional clothing, and costumes. Each shrine has its own local festival, so you will encounter one unique to the location you are visit.

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Transportation

Japan is mostly accessible by plane, where tickets are typically quite expensive to buy, unless you could find the cheap off season ticket deal. Throughout the year, there are various Japan flight deals from theflightdeal.com, as little as $600 for a roundtrip ticket!

Once you’re in the country, there are railway systems everywhere. Tokyo Metro is the subway system of Tokyo, taking you anywhere you need with in 30 minutes. Be mindful of the time though, because unlike NYC subways, this one is not open 24/7. These are much more economical than taking a taxi, as those could run you a hundred dollars. We had to take the taxi on hour first night in Japan because our flight had arrived too late and the metro had closed.wp-image-1577289470

If you want to catch a good glimpse of Japan in a short amount of time, I highly recommend purchasing the Japan Rail (JR) Pass, which was by far the most expensive thing we bought (about $200/pass). However, it is entirely worth it to ride a bullet train (on my bucket list) and cruise through the country within hours. They also have an option for regional passes, which are more economical. 

Luckily, through Couchsurfing, we met our good friend Keisuke, who had a car and showed us around Yokohama for a couple of days.

Biking is a great way to explore the streets of Japan, especially while exploring architecture in the rural areas. Imagine riding around Kyoto on a beautiful afternoon by beautiful temples in the Autumn. /sigh

Useful Things to Bring

If you’re traveling with backpack, check out my comprehensive guide to what to pack! However, I just want to reiterate the importance of bringing:

  • Smartphone, with pre-installed:
    • Google Translate
    • Google Maps

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Walking down the streets of Tokyo, there are minimal amounts of English in writing or speaking. We heavily relied on our translation apps, including when we interacted with our Couchsurf friend.

Accommodations

Generally, accommodations in Japan are cheaper than the United States, but only by a smidge.

Airbnbs

For those who aren’t familiar with this site, it is a fantastic accommodation option for travelers to stay with hosts (though still like a hotel, because all bedding and linen are provided). We used Airbnb throughout our travel in Japan. Without knowing language or pricing in Japan, Airbnb provided us an authentic, cheap, and no nonsense stay with our hosts. Do get $40 off your first stay with Airbnb through our referral link here!

Capsule Hotel

Sleeping in a Japanese Capsule Hotel is exactly as it sounds, and has always been on my bucket list. I finally had my chance! Surprisingly, it not as cheap as you would expect, pricing around $30 to $50 per capsule. It features exciting amenities of a tiny door with blinds, a tiny TV, and a tiny desk to eat on!

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Manga Kissa

Have you slept in a manga book store before? It’s actually quite common in Japan! The pads in our private cubby makes a great bed for tired souls. This was our chance to take a break from wandering, and sit, read manga, cruise the internet, and sleep.

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Where to Go

Tokyo

Tokyo is the capital of Japan. One of the the most populated urban areas in the world, and a giant hub for technology, business, travel, culture, foods, weirdness, and much more. Tokyo is made up of several large districts with its own character.

  • Akihabara– electronic, anime, video games center.
  • Shibuya– temples, culture, foods. Don’t forget to check out the Shibuya Crossing (just a really busy pedestrian crossing that looks like a giant ant colony collision from above)
Kyoto-Osaka-Nara

Do visit the Kyoto-Osaka-Nara for the rich, authentic culture and traditions. The temples are beautiful and palaces magnanimous.

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Hiroshima

We were touched by the remnants of the Hiroshima bombing during World War II. Such a sad history for such a beautiful city. We were taken through a heart throbbing journey of recovery. History class lecture is nothing like being in the city itself.

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Things to Do

  • Check out the Tokyo Tower! It’s essentially a version of the Eiffel Tower, except it’s 13 meter taller!
Explore Culture and Temples

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  • Asakusa Temples – this area features a variety of beautiful temples. Traditional foods and souvenir items are bountiful here as well!

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Explore strange, but cool things in Japan
  • Cup Noodle Museum – We made our own cup noodles!!! I’ve been a huge fan of Ramen since my youth. Now, I finally made my own unique label and packaging (and eating it!), standing in front of the wall of ramen– feels amazing.

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  • Robot Restaurant – possibly the craziest dinner show I’ve ever been to. Our tickets were $40/person (includes dinner and drinks). No regrets, because this gave me just the experience of Japan that I expected. See my post on our adventures at the Robot Restaurant here!

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  • Vending Machines – Ramen vending machine? Yes, please!

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  • Who wants a black burger?

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  • Using the Toilet is an adventure in itself. No English to indicate whether or not there’s going to be water splashed up my butt. Awesome.
Feed your nerdy interests:
  • Ghibli Museum (anime fan) – Upon going to Japan, I knew I had to visit Studio Ghibli. I’m a huge fan of the animated films and their soundtracks. The studio is as amazing as I imagined!! Don’t forget to order your tickets early, as they are booked out veryyyy far back. <3 Let me know when you go!

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  • Manga Kissa – Rows on rows on rows of manga! *drools*

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  • Pokemon Center – My favorite starter Pokemon, Torchick!

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  • Hop on the Hogwarts Express at Harry Potter World!!!

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Feed your love for cute things:
  • Hello, Kitty!

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  • Maid Cafe

What to Eat

Great Tea Kit Kats – 258 yens ($2.30 dollars), whereas in the US could run up to $6/bag. If you’ve never heard of this, it may sound a little weird to you, but they are so delicious.

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Sushi – What’s Japan without Sushi? Even though we’re vegetarian, there were awesome options for us on the Sushi belt! 

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Soba Noodles, Ramen, and Tempura

Dango (Sweet Japanese Dumplings)- if you’ve seen Clannad, you’ll know what I’m talking about. wp-image-86198478

Onigiri (Rice balls) – sold across all 7/11, possibly one of  my favorite Japanese foods, it is so delicious. A perfect snack with all the ingredients I love.

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Fun Culture Facts

  • Walking and eating is frowned upon. We ate our home-cooked meal out of a grocery bag on the sidewalk.
  • Tokyo Metro rush hour in Japan is BAD, even comparable to NYC rush hour subway. The trains are so cramped! The best way to step into the cart is by facing the other direction and stepping in, so that no awkward looks pass as you shove yourself into the crowd. Very professional.

While there is an endless amount of things I could write about Japan, I would love to hear any questions, stories, and comments you all have! I would happy to write more or clarify, and especially to hear your thoughts! 

Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

These awesome people are also doing the challenge!!! Click to see their stories!

 

Impressive Structures Around the World

While I haven’t seen nearly enough, I am always thankful to visit someplace new. Here are some of my highlights of noteworthy structures around the world. 

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Piazza San Marco, Venice
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Museum in Paris
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Thai temples
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Parisian streets
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Cambodian Temples

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Thanks for passing by my page! Here are some other posts you might like!

Via Photo Challenge: Structure