Archive for January, 2012

Used: 2011

Besides using Cusco as a hub for all things Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, there are other activities to do in and around town and still have a good time!

Besides running into people who will always know your name one of the highest rated (and rightly so) activities is the ChocoMuseum. The Irish couple on my tour had done this before the hike and shared their chocolate with the group one night and I loved it! I completely forgot about it once back in Cusco and after running around town on my one free day, trying to find a rafting operator that wasn’t trying to scam me and spoke English (not the easiest on a Sunday) I was wondering back to my hostel and I looked up in the square and saw the ChocoMuseo sign and the taste from the road immediately came back to me. My timing was perfect and after having a very quick look around the gallery, I joined the chocolate making workshop that was about to begin. There were two sets of partners and me. The Peruvians (I think, they were from Latin/South America, but spoke English), only the guy participated and the girl watched, tasted and took pictures and the Australian couple split their tour. Pretty much anyone can listen in (sort of, the kitchen is separate from the rest of the museum and café) but at the end when we made our own chocolate, they only give you a certain amount and the Australians split their allotment (though they did give them a bit extra anyway, very nice!). The workshop was given in English and fantastic. You got to taste the beans in different forms (coffee, tea leaves, paste and then chocolate) as the workshop proceeded and was very interactive as well. And then of course, the making of the chocolate is the best! I made little squares with all different fillings, trying to use and create the most uncommon ones. Of course, I made tons of chocolate filled with coca, as it’s illegal in the US (PS: No issue getting it back in the US) and they gave us little bags with cacao shells to make tea (once again, no issue getting it back in the US, even though it’s not “factory sealed”. Fingers weren’t crossed too tightly for the Australians though, as we all know how tight their MAF is) which I gave to my mom and she loved it, as it was a bit bitter for my taste.

I'm toasting the bean leaves, Cusco, Peru

The whole museum, café and workshop was fantastic. Everything is in English (and Spanish) and everyone who works there spoke English too. The museum is free and very professionally done and I highly recommend just taking a walk around. But of course, I do highly recommend the workshop too. It was s/75.00 when I did it which equaled about US$25 and totally worth it in my book. Peru is a once in a life time country and I wasn’t about to scrimp on something I really wanted to do over $25. Totally worth it!

Smashing the beans into paste, Cusco, Peru

Hot chocolate time!

When I was arranging my timing for Peru, I gave myself the last day of the tour to essentially be a rest day, though I did want to find a rafting company to join for the following day. I like to give myself a little flexibility when I travel and since I knew the competition was fierce for business, I thought I could get a better deal on the ground. I didn’t even realize it, but my one free day was a Sunday, when half of the shops are closed, even the touristy ones. So it was a bit harder then I had hoped to find a tour that wasn’t trying to gouge me (I knew approximately what I wanted to spend) and spoke English. I finally found a shop (Liz’s Explorer in Cusco) who booked me on a tour for the following day with Mayuc, one of the reputable operators in town. Little did I know at the time, but essentially all the store fronts sell tours for only a few companies and they sell them for whatever price they want, probably pay Mayuc a flat fee and pocket the rest of themselves, so try to bargain if you can. I am a horrible bargainer, so when I found a fare price, I just left it at that.

Huge dog at base camp. Rafting at Cusco, Peru

This was most of the scenary while rafting. Cusco, Peru

I love rafting and the trip was just okay. It was an over an hour bus ride to base camp where we got ready in our rafting gear before getting back on the bus to the raft landing. The larger group split up, into Spanish and English speakers to make it easier on everyone and it was just me and a grandmother and granddaughter, who was around 13 years old, both from New York. And Jewish. I just had to say that because I am to, it was something we had in common besides our Americaness, even though there is a difference between New York and California Jews, since my mom is from New York, I know the culture. Anyway, we got on the river quickly, named our raft “Hurricane” because Hurricane Irene had just reeked havoc on the East Coast that week (even though none of us were there) and paddled off. The scenery was really lovely and I loved hearing about the agriculture and history of the area. But the water level was very low and at one point we actually had to get out of the raft and walk on the rocks instead of paddle down a very low point of the river. That would be my biggest complaint. I had never done that before and the rocks were really slippery. It was not fun. The water was FREEZING and every time we went over rapids, I had to remember to close my mouth TIGHT as to not accidentally drink the water. The trip went on for close to 2 hours and we landed back at base to change our clothes for lunch. Lunch was really good, don’t really remember what we had, maybe chicken? But it was good and filling. Then we got to ride the zipline, which I hadn’t done since I was a kid at camp. This one went over the river twice and I screamed bloody murder when I was pushed down. It was really freakin’ scary! I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would. Then we got in the bus and headed back into town. Nothing to do with this trip, but I just have to mention my outfit after I changed after rafting. Teva sandals, shorts from my zip-off pants, Jansport backpack and my UMass sweatshirt. I looked like such a tourist, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself and ran back to my hostel before a local could rob me.

Zipline at base camp. Rafting at Cusco, Peru

Speaking of getting robbed, look out for it. I don’t know if it is because I grew up in LA and New York and just have this mentality that everyone is out to get me and therefore I always keep a very close eye on my bags and purse (though my sister was pick pocked in Rome and she is pretty aware. Anyway). For the most part, I didn’t walk alone at night (unless I walked fast and knew were I was going) and always carried my bag close to me and on the inside of the sidewalk. But the day the tour officially ended, a bunch of us found out that one of the girls on the tour had her purse snatched from her by a passing car when she was walking back from a bar. Of all the people on the tour, she definitely was the one most likely to be robbed and though she did a lot of things right (big group being the big one) she was on the outside of the sidewalk, it was like 4am and she was probably a little drunk. She apparently held on and got dragged before letting go and loosing it. Thankfully, the biggest thing they got was probably just a little money and her camera (no passport or ID), but it was still a wake up call for me. It happens.

Base camp. Rafting at Cusco, Peru

Moral: Rafting was a bit of a bust, especially since I put so much energy into it. Maybe with a big group of friends it would be better or a different time of year with more water, but I was kind of disappointed in it. Glad I went, but would maybe think twice about recommending it. I would highly recommend EVERYONE stop by the ChocoMuseo though. It was such a surprise, I loved it. I think I like things that are a surprise like that too. A must do!

I started this book a while back, but it was when my stacks were flying in, so I put it aside, not even knowing if I would finish it. It’s just a book of various articles written by this guy around the US. Not really too high on my interest level. But then I read the same authors book about Christmas and I really liked it, so I made a point to read this book before it was due back. And I enjoyed it. Not as much as the Christmas book, but I do like me short stories sometimes. Especially if they aren’t really up my ally. This book was about middle America, the America we don’t see on a normal basis. I can’t even name one story. They all focused on people in different situations. Mostly hard ones. I don’t know, I guess I would pick up stuff from this author again. We’ll see. I am glad I read this one though.

Used: 2011

Due to regulations on the Inca Trail, if you are using a porter, each hiker is only allowed to bring 6kg (about 12 lbs) worth of stuff (or course, if you carry your own stuff, you can bring as much as you want (to carry)). This includes the weight of the sleeping bag (about 1.5kg) and the bag provided (.5, in my case). Everyone gets a mat free of charge, but if you rent an air mattress, that is another 1kg so you either have 4kg or 3kg worth of space to fill. When we first heard that, most of the girls in my group groaned. I just rolled my eyes. What did they even want to pack? We were going to be camping and hiking everyday with no showers or proper bathrooms. I have no idea what they expected.

Packing up at the head of the Inca Trail

We were given a list of recommended items and I’ll make a note of what I brought that was not on the list as well as things I forgot that would have been helpful.

-Daypack: I used my trusty old Jansport backpack and it was fine.
-Hat: I brought a wide-brimmed hat that was super helpful as I hate having the sun in my face or eyes. Everyone made good fun of me, that you could spot me a mile away, but I just shrugged. That is a good thing! I’ll never get lost!
-Bandana: I didn’t bring and was fine.
-Zipoff pants: YES! Super helpful when switching from hot to cold on the trail and happens really fast.
-T-Shirts: I brought one for everyday of the hike and was fine, plus one to sleep in though thermals probably would have been better.
-Thermal underwear/Long Johns: Didn’t bring, but probably should have as I was cold every night.
-Long pants: I am going to call these “pants you change into at the campsite”. They can be anything from jeans, work out pants, yoga pants or what I brought, my sleep pants. You are pretty sweaty at the end of the day and the first thing I did at every campsite was change my clothes into what I was going to sleep in. Yes, we still had to get through dinner, but I didn’t care.
-Sweater/Fleece: 1 or 2, for day and night, if you can spare the space (or just carry your day one in your pack to save space).
-Long Shirt: I guess, I didn’t bring one and was fine. I don’t like long sleeve shirts anyway. (See T-Shirts)
-Trekking shoes or hiking boats: I went with just my sneakers and I was okay. If you have hiking boats, please bring them, but I didn’t have a pair and didn’t want to spend the money on something I was probably not going to use again. Not the best idea, but I don’t regret my decision.
-Rain Poncho: I guess my group got lucky, because it didn’t rain a lick for 4 days. I did bring a beanie for cold nights. Hell, I am from LA. I don’t know how to dress for rain anyway.
-Sleeping Bag: You can rent these on arrival and they are appropriate for bag packing. I somewhat regret not bringing my own, if only because the ones provided by Gap annoyed the hell out of me by not being able to zip all the way down the side.
Flashlight: A MUST!!!!! Bring 2 if you can. It gets so dark at night, it’s unbelievable. I had never brought a flashlight on my travels before, but I brought one to Peru and it was a lifesaver!!
-Water bottle: I drink water like a camel and brought two 2lt bottles with me. Don’t forget to get the porters to help you fill them every morning before you start off, because that is it for the day!
-Bug repellent: didn’t bring, didn’t have issues. See Rain Poncho.
-Warm socks: The item everyone in our group bought in Ollantaytambo was a pair of socks from the locals for s/10 (US$3). I brought mine on the trek and when putting them on with my after hike (aka sleep) clothes, I put on the socks, over my own fresh ones. They were super helpful when sleeping.
-Camera: Duh
-Personal Medical kit: my group included a male doctor and a female nurse, so we were pretty set on medical supplies (and random medical questions to some issues some of us had at being at such a high altitude.) I brought some band aids and I was fine.
-Gloves: I forgot mine and wish I had brought them! It got so cold at night, these would have helped.
-Scarf: I bought one at one of the shops we stopped at as a gift for my mother, but wore it at night along the trail to get some authentic dust on it.
-Sun block/sun glasses: Yes. Though I only put block on the first day, because of my huge hat, it didn’t effect me the other days.
-Bathing suit: N/A for our group. We were so beat, I have no idea where those hot springs in Agues Caliente even are.
-Cash: there is all sorts of shit to buy along the route the first day and a half, until you get to Dead Woman’s Pass. But there is little need for any of it. I didn’t buy a thing as the farther up you get, the more expensive things get (obviously). You may need money at the end of the hike for anything you may want to Agues though and of course, do not leave your wallet or passport in your left luggage in Cusco. You need your passport for the trail!

Porters packing it up at the start of the Inca Trail

The biggest things I can’t believe they don’t require you to bring:

Wet wipes: These things were a daily life saver! Since there are no showers on the hike (until the last day, but they are super gross and worthless except to the porters) I wiped myself off every single day with these. I would arrive at camp, climb into my tent, strip down, wet wipe up and put on my sleep clothes. After a day of sweating, this was a highlight. They are a MUST!!!!
-Sandals (camp shoes): These were on my list and very helpful. Except for the sandal part. If you can spare the space, I highly recommend bringing a pair of CLOSED TOED SHOES for walking around camp and the bathroom because the last thing you want to do is put your gross hiking shoes back on after you have taken them off for the day. And the bathrooms are pretty gross (think squatting and what happens when you pee like that). I brought sandals and they were fine, I survived, but if I had known, I would have brought a cheap, crappy pair of old shoes.

And that is my packing list! Anything you want to add?

Moral: I think I did a really good job packing. I used everything I brought (including my blowup airplane pillow) and came back with 100% dirty clothes, which to me is always a sign of a successful trip.

Being lazy and cheering the porters on the Inca Trail

Another book from the same author of those South Pacific books I read. This one was way more recent then the others as the author talked about like the internet, 9/11 and some other recent world-wide events. Except this time, the trip was just about him and his travels. A good mix of experiences with expats who live there now as well as locals. I liked hearing how much has changed recently in this fast moving country. The names of people and places didn’t mean much to me and I glossed over most of it.

The main point of this book is the author has kids now and to make them more well rounded, he wanted to check China out to see if it would be a good place to raise a family. He spent a lot of time bitching about the smog and didn’t say his answer at the end of the story, so I am going to guess that his family did not make the move. It’s one thing to teach kids Chinese or whatever in school, but to actually live there, just because. That seems like a big move for little return. I liked this book just as much as the others. Maybe slightly more because it was more recent, but still didn’t love it.

Used: 2011

After Gap changed my hotel booking and I canceled it, I had to find a place on my own. I checked out Trip Adviser and looked at places nearby and Frankenstein Hostel was the first place to pop up and was quite highly rated. It seemed like a good bet.

And thankfully, it was! I think it was good, since I was traveling alone that I had been in town for a few days before, so I had the lay of the land for the most part. The owner was around all the time, but the “front desk” was not supervised 24 hours (though you could ring a slightly awkward bell for service 24/7) but since I was in town for a few extra days, I didn’t need much (except for a cab on my last day).

The pictures on the website do it justice. It’s not super modern, but clean and comfortable and small and quiet (at least it was when I stayed, plus I had an upstairs room). I love the feeling of being outside even when your not. I liked the common area and chatted with some other guests who had just arrived, which was nice and would have not been able to do that at a hotel. TV in the common room with all the typical channels always ranks high with me. And really awesome free wireless internet, perfect for my phone. Love that the code name is the house dog’s name. The dog is HUGE, but thankfully didn’t go where the guests were and pretty much sat and slept in the lobby the whole time.

My room at Frankenstein Hostel

There was a small shared bathroom with plenty of hot water (though the pressure could have used some work, but it still wasn’t as bad as the first place I stayed in in Lima) and was also clean.

In the lobby, there was a recommendations book with reccs on various tour companies around town that I loved reading. I found a good rafting company through that and I liked reading what other people had to say about other companies used for the Inca Trail or the other trails in the area.

And of course, the price couldn’t be beat! I am so not used to prices like this for my own room and even though this was my once a year vacation and I could have splurged a little bit, staying somewhere different is always nice for a few days. And for like US$8 (!!!!!!!) it was well worth it. I don’t think I have ever stayed somewhere so cheap in my life.

Moral: While I am glad I stayed at hotels most of the time in Peru, I do like to mix up my accommodation a little bit and stay in different types of places, if only for a short time and I am really glad I did it in Cusco, where hostels are a dime a dozen and I had already been in town for a while (by tourists standards) so I knew the lay of the land. But I would recommend this place, if to get away from the larger (and louder) hostels in the area!

Another winner from one of my current favorite authors. And now I have finished everything she has written at the moment. This book takes our protag to Rome. Girl is very straight laced and always looking out for her father and crazy sister before herself. Dad talks her into breaking out of the mold and going back to Italy, the only place she has spent more time in her younger days then home. She goes, but not without some hurdles, of course. Before she goes away, she goes out on a “perfect” date with a restaurant owner, but of course, he has a “mother in law” and “child” and she runs away before he can explain himself. LAME! Plus, on their date when she mentions how much they have in common, it is like so much, it is pretty unbelievable. Those were the two things I liked least in this book and luckily, they got that out of the way quickly. Stuff happens and Girl ends up staying with one of Dates friends while in Roma. She meets other Boy and while kind of pointless, you know they aren’t going to end up together in the end. Also, according to the Girl, everyone in Italy speaks in “rapid Italian” which got annoying after like the third time. That is like saying we speak in “rapid English”. So pointless.

I like Harmel’s books for the most part, in that they are very real. Real hurdles come up and she writes herself out of them very well, in my opinion. Of course, it is chick-lit, so it’s not totally real, but real enough for me in these books. And while Rome is again not a favorite city of mine, it’s always nice to step out of the traditional American mold.

Used: 2011 (and pretty much every year of my life)

So like recently I went to San Francisco for the families annual holiday fun fest. We don’t celebrate Christmas but my sister does like getting us all together for the holidays, since it really is only the 4 of us. I flew on Southwest, which I call the bus line of the LAX-SFO route (flying Virgin is like taking the train; both will get you there, Virgin is just more comfy. But there is really nothing wrong with Southwest!).

If you have never flown Southwest (really you must, it’s such an experience!) they don’t have assign seating. Essentially it’s first come, first serve when you check in as you board in that order. Usually I try to get Group A (pretty much guarantee yourself a window seat) but since I didn’t have access to a computer for my return, I ended up in Group C (the “worst”). I don’t really mind this most of the time, as flying from LAX to SFO and vice versa only takes like 50 minutes, but I am partial to a window when given the chance.

Though when I flew over the holidays, and ended up in Group C, I came to a realization why Group C kind of rocks. At this point, there are no more windows or aisles, so really you have all the control. As you walk up the aisle, check everyone out and pick your seat based on who looks the least crazy. In between two big guys? Ew, no! Screaming babies or talkative old people? No thanks! Skinny people with headphones are my favorite (though cute guys with no rings are a close second, haha). Silence (and eye candy) and you’ll most likely get the arm rests. If you are in Group A and claim a window, you have no idea who is going to sit next to you. But loading in last, you have all the power! And for a short flight, who cares? Southwest still gives drinks, pretzels and peanuts as well as an airplane magazine and a Skymall catalogue. Can’t say as much from Virgin!

Moral: So next time you print your pass and you see Group C, don’t groan (well, you probably still will) but think of all the power you hold!

I know I advocate “switching off” while traveling and totally look down on people who have their heads in their laptops and in their phones instead of the sights. Who cares where your next internet fix is coming from, enjoy the break! Open a BOOK, read an ad, watch some local tv. Who cares what is going on back home? Chances are they’ll survive without you.

But times, they are a’changing. And while if I ever ask if I should bring my netbook or laptop when I travel, feel free to shoot me in the foot, when I went to Peru, I brought my phone. Last September (2010) I finally upgraded to a Blackberry (even though I have been on AT&T, iPhones do not interest me at all for their lack of buttons and my fat fingers). I like it. It keeps me connected on the weekends just enough, but not all the time. I still forget and leave it at home half the time. And I don’t care. But when I went to Peru, I turned off the phone portion and used the internet when I had access to wifi. All the hostels and hostels I stayed at (except for the last one) had password protected wifi which I used eagerly. I would check my email, clean out my box, email my family updates and check twitter at night when I had the time. I left my phone in my room during the day because I had no use for it outside the wifi range.

And I hate to say, but I am now a convert. I loved being able to email my family every day updates on what I was up (none of us had ever been to South America before) and getting nice little notes from them in reply. On the few nights I couldn’t access anything, it wasn’t a big deal and I didn’t care that much, but I liked the little contact I did have. I had gotten lazy in the US with notes and directions because of my phone and I like to think that Peru reinstalled that “be prepared” attitude back in me because I left things in my room that I normally would be able to access on my phone, but couldn’t because I didn’t have internet. I remembered the good ‘ole days.

For the most part, for quick trips (and heck, even for long ones, but that is just me) I still say ditch the laptop. And still, don’t bring anything you don’t mind getting stolen or lost. If my phone had gotten stolen or lost, I wouldn’t have cared too much. Lots of people had Blackberries in Peru (but only tourists had iPhones) and I never waved it around in public and could easily hide it in the bottom of my suitcase or purse. I would still feel too exposed with a laptop.

I love books about families that travel around the world. And while Americans are the least traveled people I know, it’s always them who take their entire families on the road and then write about it later. Now is it that they take their families on the road more then most or are they the ones who just always have to cash in on a book later? I wonder. Anyway, I saw this book at Borders a few weeks ago and found it only at the LAPL system. It sat for 3 weeks and then when I couldn’t renew it, I made an effort to read it in three days. And knowing the topic, I knew I could. And I did! Not all that surprising.
Anyway, this is one of the better ones that I have read lately as this family wasn’t in it for fame and while dads that are obsessed with staying connected while on the road, that wasn’t too main a point here. Plus, they wanted to cycle through Europe, which is always a nice twist. It didn’t really work out as one of their kids had a major leg accident a few weeks in and like life, it didn’t go as planned and things changed but the family rolled with it and kept on trekking, which was nice that they didn’t dwell on it too much. They traveled around Europe, a bit in the Mid East and a touch on Africa. They traveled well around Asia and S. America to places that I have not been but definitely want to go and they made me want to go there more.

These parents don’t know how lucky they are with their kids. Don’t know how much is true, but the kids hardly complained and a big part of their trip was reading. Now I think my sister and I are good kids, but I don’t know if even we could have done something like this at that age. I could relate to a lot of some of the situations they used after coming back from my trip. You don’t need so many possessions. Home is where your stuff is. Seems like you are always looking for water and a bathroom. All in all, a good read. If you are into books like this.

ABC’s of Travel

Since I know no one is going to tag me and I like this meme, I decided to start the year off with it:

A: Age you went on your first international trip:
First time I left the country, we took a day trip to Tijuana from San Diego when I was 6. I got a wax candle shaped as a cat that I still have (ever summer I think it’s going to melt and it NEVER does!). We then drove to Vancouver for the day (sense a pattern here?) from Seattle and it was the worst drive ever. We also drove and spent a week in Toronto and Quebec a few years later.
But since I didn’t need a passport for any of these trips (all pre 9/11), I sort of don’t count them even though the first time I went to Vancouver, I couldn’t get over how awesome it was that everything was in English AND French! The first country I needed a passport for was a trip to Italy with the family in 1997. That was the big first international trip. I was 16. (But thankfully 15 when I got my butt ugly passport, so that only lasted 5 years!)

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:
I quite enjoyed Tui beer in New Zealand. But I like to drink whatever the “local” beer is where ever I am. I’ll give anything a shot!

C: Cuisine (favorite):
Italian. Italian in Itay is AWESOME! Though I do love a good ‘ole fashion Aussie BBQ or a meat pie. YUM!

Heaven from Harry de Wheels in Sydney, Australia

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why:
No idea on favorite as while I like everywhere but there are few places I would return to, as there is so much more I want to see! Though when I am dead bored, you can always find me google’ing houses in Akaroa, New Zealand. I love that town.
Least favorite is easy. Rome, Italy. Granted it was our last stop after running around Northern Italy for 3+ weeks (as well as I had been away at an art program for 4 weeks before I left. I came home for one night and then Italy for 3 weeks) and I just wanted to get home already. I was so burned out. Usually I’ll give places another chance, especially as an adult, but I just don’t have the motive to give it another chance anytime soon. It’s still near the bottom of my list.

Heav- wait, Akaroa, New Zealand

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:
The moment I first saw the Sydney Opera House FROM THE AIRPLANE!!! For me, such an iconic landmark that totally lived up to my expectations.

Can't get enough of this building!

F: Favorite mode of transportation:
Train or boat. I love the idea of a boat, though I get seasick easily (love ginger chews!) and I just love riding the rails. Or driving myself. But only if the roads are empty!

G: Greatest feeling while traveling:
The surprise of the unknown on the other end. Love the rush!

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to:
Besides home? (Har Har.) Either NYC 2001 (Worst! Heatwave! Ever! I can’t deal with humidity) or the Australian Outback for nice dry heat. Hot but not unbearable.

My looks are the last thing I care about on my trip up to the Red Centre, Australia

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where:
This isn’t really travel related, just a really good story. A few years back I was at Staples Center for a U2 concert. When I go to concerts I don’t like to carry anything and just bring in my keys, ID, credit card and $20. I guess when I was buying beer, I got sidetracked and ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years and dropped my credit card while putting it back in my pocket. My friend and I went and sat back down in our seats. A while later (but before the show began) a Staples Center employee comes up to us and holds out my card and asks if this is mine. I am in SHOCK. I was so happy with the return that I didn’t even realize it was missing! How they found me was that it was the same card I used to buy the tickets, so they scanned the card and found my seats and then found me and connected it all together. How awesome is that?!

J: Journey that took the longest:
Since I was starting in Akaroa and ending in Melbourne (with transfers in Christchurch and Sydney) the whole thing took about 2 days which included sleeping in CHC airport, a day to wonder around Sydney before taking the overnight bus to Melbourne. It was a rough two days of which I slept for about 20 hours once I finally got to Melbourne.
The worst one-day journey was the 24 hours it took to get from Milan to Los Angeles. We boarded the plane in Milan and then sat on the runway for 4-5 hours (from 12pm-5pm-ish) because the air traffic controllers went on strike for a few hours. We couldn’t deplane because we were an international flight and we couldn’t eat until we got in the air (no one ate before we boarded because we were supposed to be fed lunch as soon as we took off) and then everyone missed their connections in Chicago and we were all stuck with random middle seats on the last flight of the day from CHI to LAX. It was a miserable miserable day.

K: Keepsake from your travels:
Ticket stubs or pictures.

L: Let-down sight, why and where:
I try to set my expectations really low (Mona Lisa, Stonehenge) so I am never really disappointed. Maybe I would just do some things differently next time. But everything is a learning experience and I try to never be disappointed!

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:
When I was 12 and at the last minute my parents decided to take us to the East Coast (first time on an airplane since I could remember!) and I just loved everything about it. The plane, the rental car, the hotel, all the rest stops alone the NJ Turnpike, magic!

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:
Hotel Kette in Venice, Italy. If I couldn’t love Venice anymore! Or The Hudson in NYC (a hotel so flash that it refuses to put it’s name on the entrance) when I went for a work event. Neither place was actually that great, I just loved to experience of staying at both, neither which I could do on my own dime, especially The Hudson. It’s just one of those swank, hip spots.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?:
Cars and photo booths, which thankfully are not dying outside the US as quickly. Cars outside the US are so weird looking and tiny! And phone booths are sometimes really elaborate in some countries.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?
I just counted this morning and I have 22 stamps! This does not include any visa stickers or my Machu Picchu stamps you can put in your passport. Most of the stamps are entry and exits from Australia as they stamp it each time and I technically visited 3 times in the span of a year. I also seem to have tons from the UK as I used it for a base in the early 00’s when I was traveling back and forth from Europe and around a lot. My passport expires next year, so that is probably it for me. I was sort of debating getting a larger passport next time, because the extra pages are free when you request them on the initial order, but decided against it as I would rather have a small but full passport then work really hard just to fill it up.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:
Mount Rushmore in South Dakota or any of the “Big Things” in Australia

Me and the "Big" koala on Philip Island, Australia

R: Recommended sight, event or experience:
I don’t know, I am a big fan of doing what you want and not letting others influence your decisions.

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling:
Something I really really want to do. I hate the feeling of regret so I try not to practice it within reason. Usually it’s an activity.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:
Um, everything! (To the places I have been at least.) It would be a lot easier to go the other direction. Like I didn’t bungee or skydive in Australia or New Zealand because I didn’t want to nor did I stop in Surfers Paradise even though everyone told me it was awesome. All the reasons they told me it was awesome are some of my least favorite things to do, like ever. So glad I skipped it, no regrets!

U: Unforgettable travel memory:
Getting my job in new Zealand. More like a LIFE highlight!

V: Visas, how many and for where?
Electronic for both New Zealand and Australia and actual sticker for my work permit/visa to stay longer in New Zealand.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?:
Whatever is local. Though I do like New Zealand, even if it’s just for the memories! Wine O’clock Fridays anyone?

X: eXcellent view and from where?
The View bar at the top of the Downtown Marriott in San Francisco. On one side you can see the Bay Bridge and the other, Golden Gate. And with a drink!

Y: Years spent traveling?:
Apparently my first time on a plane, I was 5 months old and my parents took me to New York to visit family. We went a lot when I was younger, but our first big road trip was in 1990 and my first time that I can remember being on a plane was 1992, when I was 10. I am not even going to do that math (2 weeks a year times 10 years, plus all my college summers were spent on the go, and then the 2+ years I worked and traveled overseas, I’ll leave the math up to you).

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?:
I am going to say Australia because who outside of the US cares about American football? According to the people I worked with in Sydney, they used to air our games there because people were so sports crazy. I don’t get it at all. That is actually a big reason why I could NEVER live in a place like Australia or New Zealand forever. I just don’t care.