Category Archives: Travel Advice

Taking a Different Look at Travel

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I’ve gotten bad about posting on my blog. But here’s my reason, or excuse. I’ve been on the road from May through June nonstop. This summer, I’ve been resting.

When I told friends and colleagues that I wanted to stay around much of summer (except for maybe quick trips), I explained that I wished to make these months about catching up on life in general. My bedroom floor is littered with papers, tote bags and souvenirs. Along with much needed housekeeping, I haven’t seen the people I love or I’m close to in a while. I missed them; I hope they’ve missed me too. And there are work assignments.

I’ve also tried digging my toes back into dating. One nice man asked me to re-connect with him when I got home from a work trip to South Africa, but he chose not to respond to my texts and calls. Another guy caught my attention, but it didn’t work out either.

Now, after recharging, I’m getting ready to get back to traveling with a fresh perspective. Here’s what I’ve learned as a traveler while being home after being on the road for a while.

More Checking In with People

It’s funny; I was away for my May birthday and I didn’t get a call from family. The reason: They didn’t know where I was. When I was with them for Memorial Day Weekend, I was pretty much falling asleep around them. I wasn’t a good houseguest. Going forward, I’m going to be better about staying in touch via phone, Facebook, IM and Skype.

Taking Things Slower

Have you heard of the term “slow travel”? It hasn’t been used for a while but it usually means spending more time in a particular location than trying to rush to see everything. On my trips, I’m a go-go-go person. So much that I run here and here, eat this quick, drink that fast. For work, I try to get to as many places as I can but I’m going to take my time in doing so. And try to avoid bring over-scheduled.

But Still Taking More Chances

In May, I went on a work trip to South Africa that focused on the centenary of Nelson Mandela. It was not only my first time to South Africa, but also my first time on the continent itself. The experience made me want to pursue more “firsts” abroad or experiences I never thought about or wasn’t interested in before.

Bringing a Plus One

Now and then, I might have the chance to bring somebody along with me on a trip. I hope to do this more in the future. Although I have no qualms about exploring places on my own, I’m finding that I’d like to bring someone else along – a BFF, relative or anyone I know who’s up for going.

Have your views changed on travel overtime? Let me know.

How to Feel Comfortable Going Out Alone

 

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Creative Commons photo / Georgie Pauwels

 

For a while, I’ve been thinking about how to write a helpful post about being okay with traveling alone, particularly in mind for women.

Now it’s time to do so.

Recently, a trending hashtag called #metoo has highlighted how many women have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted at some point in their lives. While sadly as these incidents occur in common settings, from the workplace to any public venue, travel can also involve scenarios in which women might find themselves in uncomfortable situations involving unwanted advances from catcalling to sadly the unthinkable.

While my tips or advice might sound more general, I would like to think that they can at least ease your worries or assumptions about what others might think of you being by yourself. Whether it’s venturing out where you live or in another destination, here are some ways to help you feel more comfortable with being out alone.

Don’t make nice if it doesn’t feel right

In particular with women, there’s a common feeling that people have to maintain politeness even in circumstances we’re we might feel unease. While I’ve met some people who hesitate in being assertive or showing or speaking what they think, it’s a good reminder to remember that you don’t have to explain yourself, or be nice, to those who make you uncomfortable. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitant to leave or excuse yourself in doing so.

Go to afternoon showings

If you’re itching to see an exhibit, movie or play, but don’t want to feel awkward about being out at night, consider going in the afternoon. Matinee showings often attract different and smaller audiences where it’s easy to get into your seat and focus on what you came to see –and not worry about who’s noticing you.

Sit at the bar

Granted you might get hungry while being out, and heading into a crowded restaurant alone may make you want to loose your appetite. So do this: find a bar stool. Sitting in this part of a restaurant doesn’t mean you have to have an alcoholic drink; rather it helps make you not feel weird about being at a table. So order a meal with your beverage, and use this space to relax and maybe have some small talk with your bartender or those seated around you.

Go on a tour

One of the best ways for feeling not alone in a new location is by having a guide to go around with. Consider signing up for a visitor’s tour that gets you familiar with your location by having you walk around a certain area (and focusing on something that interests you). Once the tour is over, a good guide will ask if you need directions for what place you’re heading back to.

Read up on locations

While you would look up addresses of where you’re going, maybe delve a bit more about how to get around. Looking to use public transportation? Read up on everything from what type of tickets you need or if schedules can change (for example, New York City’s subway system can operate differently on weekends and holidays) on the day you plan to go. And if you’re driving, learn what you can do about parking; give yourself extra time in the case you might have to drive around to find a spot.

What tips would you offer to help women feel easier about traveling solo?

First Time Tips for Staying at an AirBnb

 

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Flickr Creative Commons photo / SioW

 

I have to admit that, for a while, I’ve been dragging my feet about using AirBnb. But last month, I decided to give it a try. Or felt I probably needed to in order to make my trip work.

I signed up for a travel conference in Washington, D.C., and my budget at the time was pretty tight. It turned out to be too tight for conference hotel room rates.

I still wanted to go to this event, so I created an account with AirBnb and browsed through their Washington, D.C. area listings. I scrutinized their locations and rental reviews. I figured to take a chance and put in for a reservation at a private apartment. It was a 10-minute walk from the conference’s location, at a price that was about that was about $100 to $200 less than all of the special conference rate hotels I was looking at. And it continuously got a high ranking from previous renters.

 

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Staying in an AirBnB in Washington, D.C. was an interesting experience.

 

My request got approved, and so I went.

Now with my initial AirBnB stay complete, I did some thinking about my experience, which turned out to be fine. I came up with these suggested tips to share if you’re looking to do the same.

Think about what you comfortable with. Along with searching by location, searches for rentals on AirBnb can be broken down into subcategories such as type of setup. Rental types can go from homes and private apartments to rooms in the renter’s home and even untraditional lodging (like a poolhouse). While being in tune with what you can afford can be important, you also want to feel okay about where you’re staying. Although a room rental would have saved me about half of what I paid, I felt more secure about having my own place.

Fully read descriptions. Along with having photos of the property, AirBnb listers provide a description of what their rental looks like and what is being offered with it. Fully read and re-read this section, in order to make sure you know what you’re getting when booking a potential reservation. Make sure the listing has what you probably want or need. Is there Wi-Fi? Will bath towels be provided; do I need to bring toiletries? Does it have a kitchen area; it is stocked with housewares? Is a grocery store or public transportation nearby? Can you park a car there? Also, note your booking will include added on fees such as for cleaning and complying with local business tax laws.

 

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Having an AirBnb rental in a location with access to stores is helpful.

 

Learn about access. One query to keep in mind with an AirBnb rental is how you’ll be let inside. Again, that’s where asking questions –and fully going over the listing – comes into play (AirBnb listers can be messaged through AirBnb.com). Confirm how you will access your dwelling. Will you have a key or combination number, and do you have to do anything else? In my experience, my keys were to be left in a lockbox on the outside door. The combination was given in my instruction booklet, and I tested it sans keys to be sure. At first, I dreaded the thought of not having the keys in my possession, but I grew to be fine with the lockbox. It meant I didn’t have to worry about losing this only set while I was out.

Look after the place. When you’re used to a hotel’s creature comforts, an AirBnb can be different. As in, who’ll be keeping your room nice and tidy? It’s best to remember that, during your stay, you probably will be responsible for making your bed and hanging up bathroom towels. Also with your kitchen area, you’ll probably be responsible for buying and making your own meals (or having to go out to eat). Of course, this can leave the dishwashing duties up to you. And guess who might have to take out the garbage.

Stay in contact. An AirBnb property lister should provide a phone number to reach him/her – or his/her representative – that should lead to a reasonable response time. Naturally, if you have an issue upon arrival or while there, you want to text and/or call the owner right away. Save it to your phone before arriving; confirm if they take texts. Texts can serve as a communication log for any problems, asking on-site questions, and also clarifying any issues. Initially, my rental had a plumbing issue, so I texted the property owner’s assistant ASAP. I later used my saved texts to remind my lister about what we agreed to (a price break for the inconvenience).

Be an ideal house guest. Regardless of your setup, do remember that you’re a guest in someone else’s home. Follow the golden housekeeping rule: treat this place as though you’d like yours to be treated. Tidy up loose ends before leaving. Put away items you’ve taken out. Even neatly folding and placing your used bed sheets on top of the bed is a kind gesture. Also, AirBnb gives about 14 days to list a rental review, so remember to leave your comments (as they will leave feedback about you in turn).

 

Have you used AirBnb before? What would you suggest?

Applying for a Travel Visa

 

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Credit: Jon Rawlinson / Flickr Creative Commons

 

2017 marks a travel first for me: getting a visa. Up until now, I haven’t traveled to a country that requires one. My work trip to China is changing that. In order for me to attend an excursion to Suzhou, I had to apply for a visa. I had to fill out and mail in paperwork for review and then wait on getting an approval (which I succeeded).

Overall, a visa is a government document that temporarily gives you the permission to be in the country you’re visiting. It grants you entry for a certain period of time.

Depending on what country you’re a citizen of, and where you’re planning to visit, visa requirements can vary. For example, as of this writing, U.S. citizens have to obtain a visa in order to enter and exit destinations like India, China, Russia, Turkey, Australia, Brazil, Cuba, some Asian countries like Bhutan, and most African nations. Some visas can be acquired on arrival in the destination, others might be done ahead of time through an online processing system, and others require sending in documents like your passport to embassies. Yet they all can involve paying fees.

Don’t let the process scare you. With the right approach and application materials, a visa application can be completed easily and effectively. Here are five general tips to keep in mind when applying for a visa.

Check on your destination’s visitor status. Visa needed or not, always research and confirm what your country of interest requires for visitors. Oftentimes, if a visa is required, you’re the one required to obtain it. And you have to make sure it’s done right. Check what categories your visit falls under and what your length of stay will be permitted. In some cases, based on politics or other reasoning, there are additional requirements such as written proof of a hotel stay or vaccination records. Also, your visa application might ask for specifics like a certain category your visit falls under – tourist, business, etc. – so see what your type falls under.

Read and re-read your requirements. Little mistakes in your paperwork can cost you in many ways, so thoroughly go through documents and their directions. Along with obtaining the right form(s), scan them with your eyes very carefully, so that you understand everything from what size your headshot should be, to what additional documents you need to submit (most likely your passport). Print out more than one copy, so if you can “practice” filling out a test form and then have the other one as the final version. Or if it’s done online, carefully fill out forms or get a copy or get screenshots to refer to as a guide beforehand.

Give yourself extra time. Procrastinators, be forwarned. Usually, visas can take about a week or so for processing, but waiting until the last minute to submit an application could cause you some agita over getting approved in time. Plus, in the case your paperwork has errors or other problems come up like slow service, you want some buffer time to have these issues solved. And if you need your passport for something else in the meantime – like a pre-trip trip – then you’d definitely be hustling. Also, submitting your paperwork is often done by mail, so you don’t want to have to rush to extra expedite your envelope. Or, if possible, see about going to a consulate.

Invest in a quality headshot. While major drugstore chains offer passport/visa photo services, perhaps think about spending a little extra on getting your headshot. Headshots for China visas have a unique set of measurements, so I chose to go to a photography studio to get it right. And make sure you also understand the guidelines for your pic so you can explain them to your picture-taker, if needed. My first photographer decided to touch up my tired-looking face (A BIG NO NO!) so much that I went somewhere else for a retake (which was accepted despite my weary appearance).

Consider using a visa processing service. If filling out detailed forms sounds daunting, don’t be shy about getting, and paying for, help. Visa processing/application centers deal with these applications daily and can guide you through the process. For my China visa, I used CIBTvisas, which has offices in major U.S. cities like New York. For a processing fee, with additional options, I was able to speak to their customer service department have reps by phone, mail in my documents for review and submission, and then opt to have my visa picked up in person or mailed back to me.

Have you applied for a travel visa before? Tell me about your experience in the comments section.

Traveling in the Time of Uncertainty

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Creative Commons photo / ricardo

Let me start off by saying that I tend to avoid having political discussions on my site. However, I can see how news involving the recent travel ban executed by President Donald Trump is shaking up the travel sector. And for many reasons beyond, as well as in addition to, its confusing rollout. From protests at airports to public outcries, I’m concerned about this scenario will impact American travelers.

My point is not to discount those directly affected by this ban, or even sub sequential international relations. However, I do worry about those who are traveling from the U.S. overseas soon or over the course of the current presidential term. I worry about how others might perceive them, or even if they feel nervous about their travel plans as a result. I also wonder how other visitors will be inclined or not to still visit our nation.

As we have to see — and respond to — what the outcome of this presidential decision will be, we travelers can take some steps of our own for peace of mind. Here are my suggestions for how to approach travel during political uncertainty, particularly if you’re traveling soon.

Stay in tune with the news. While the news can seem depressing as of late, it’s good to follow what might be happening within your expected destination in relation to this recent ban. Can’t stand TV? Like Facebook pages of solid news sources or perhaps consider getting email alerts (like through Google) related to where you’re going.

Check on cancellation policies. Emergency or not, it’s good to know what your options are in the case you have to cancel your flight or overall trip. Read up on what your air carrier’s rules on cancellations or flight changes are, in relation to this current topic. If you get travel insurance, fully read the form and ask questions or clarifications in terms of what’s covered and what’s not.

Arrive at the airport earlier. With demonstrations taking place at major U.S. airports such as at JFK and SFO, plus still debate over how this policy is being delivered, it might be best to get to yours with extra time to spare.

Confirm your ride. Another thing: your method of getting there could also be impacted. Everything from protests to boycotts (there have been reports about an NYC taxi strike) can alter your transportation, so keep this factor in mind as well.

Keep to small talk. It’s possible to be asked, or perhaps questioned, about our leadership while abroad. If you would feel uncomfortable to discuss politics, consider being simple with your responses. Don’t feel you have to be defensive about where you’re from or what’s been happening. If need be, consider excusing yourself or changing the subject.

 

My 5 Travel Goals for 2017

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Credit: Michael Mueller/Creative Commons

 

Happy New Year! I don’t really create New Year’s resolutions, but more and more I’m trying to set some goals to complete over the course of the year. Now with travel being an important facet of my life, I’ve been thinking about what goals I would want to accomplish during 2017. So far I’ve got two that I’ve decided on, and three in the works, so here are my 5 main travel goals for 2017.

  1. Try staying in an AirBNB or other kind of apartment rental. Except for spending a weekend at a hostel, I haven’t stayed a reservation in non-hotel accommodation yet. Maybe it’s due to slight worries about staying in a rental place (P.S. don’t read these types of horror stories) or just figured that a hotel lets me avoid dealing with any serious concerns. Yet for a conference I’m attending this summer in D.C., I decided to give AirBNB a shot due to the location of the property being super close to the conference center and being half the cost of a week stay in a conference-sponsored hotel. So fingers crossed and probably many email Qs sent to the apartment holder.
  2. Better budgeting/spending. Those who know me well get that I like to buy items while traveling – souvenirs, mementos, neat finds, even gifts for family and good friends. Yet, due to a budget that keeps changing, it’s best that I stop doing so (okay, maybe just one thing). I’m pretty good about trying to buy local, in terms of checking where a product is made from or shopping from markets or direct manufacturers. My biggest issue is when my heart gets set on something, and my head tells me it might be better to buy it and bring it home than not to and wonder about it later (hence my wishful thinking on regretting to buy a kimono in Japan last year). So instead of shelling out cash – and definitely avoiding pulling out plastic – I’m going to either set a stricter limit of what I buy or discipline myself in realizing that what I spend will have to come out of something else (eek, meals or attractions).
  3. Getting more comfortable with adventure travel. As a kid who was often picked last for teams in gym class, playing sports has never been my forte. Sometimes my work assignments have me scheduled to do more adventure-style travel, too. I’ve had to pass up on water activities because I’m not a strong swimmer, and I’ve (probably unnecessarily) freaked out over doing ziplining and even rappelling (both of which involve experts leading us through every step and checking our equipment). In hindsight, I’m glad that I did ones that brought me out of my comfort zone, and I also realize that I’m probably holding myself back from trying new things. Even if I suck at them, at least I know that I tried.
  4. Experimenting more with photo and video. 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of starting out my career in writing/media (wow!) but a lot has changed in my field that time. Even with travel, good writing is still appreciated but nowadays the game of storytelling keeps changing. A video segment of a destination totally provides a different perspective that the written, even spoken, word. And photography also has much to tell. A while ago, I won a GoPro Hero in a raffle and have to get on using it. I also want to invest in a good camera that permits good pics and video taking (if you have a recommendation, I would love to hear it), because it’s fun to learn and can provide some extra work.
  5. De-cluttering big time. This goal doesn’t seem like it fits on a travel list, but probably for the past 10-15 years I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff (from apartment living, clothing bought for special occasions/office work, a hobby of attending book signings, a revitalized interest in reading, and that damn site called eBay) that cost me not just money but also space, time, and, in some cases, emotions. To help me save on future expenses, I’ve been trying to reshop my closet for clothes I can reuse and perhaps give to charity like tag sales or libraries or maybe sell some items for a few bucks.

 

So, tell me what your goals are for 2017.

 

My 2016 Travel Year in Review

2016 was a year of twists and turns, yet the milestones were just as great. I had a lot of firsts this year: new states, new countries, and new bylines. I had some setbacks – changes in relationships, work scenarios, and just time beginning to creep up on me – but thankfully nothing major going wrong. Here is my three best moments from this year.

What I accomplished:

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Taking my first cruise. While I’m sad to learn that Fathom Travel will be ceasing its cruises, I’m also grateful that I was able to go on one of their social impact cruises to the Dominican Republic in May. I hung out with travel influencers and other passengers (who I still keep in touch with). Excursions brought us into communities where we got to learn about micro-businesses and help out with their projects. I also purchased products such as notecards made from re-purposed scrap paper and chocolate bars from a women-owned cooperative.

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Checking off new cities. I’ll probably still keep using this example, but it’s still a valid one. 2016 had me on the road a lot; I estimate on and off over 10 months. That’s a record. I’ve been lucky to visit five new states – Ohio, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, and Minnesota – and four new countries – Dominican Republic, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Also I got to revisit six states I’ve already been to (New Hampshire, Texas, Rhode Island, California, Virginia, and Pennsylvania) plus two countries (Mexico and Jamaica). In each location, I got to try new foods, witness amazing festivals and events, and just wander around different neighborhoods and attractions.

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Being exposed to new scenarios. At times, my work trips can schedule situations that either I do or don’t (want to) do. I’m not an athletic person, so I tend to shy away from choosing or having to participate in certain adventure activities (such as being a poor swimmer). However, my trip to Utah’s Red Rock Country put me in a situation where I had to do it. During our trip to Goblin Valley State Park, we were led by our guide Chris from Get In the Wild to go rappelling down a 90-foot high section called Goblins Lair. I was seriously freaking out – bawling like a baby and probably stalling my drop by 10 minutes – but with some encouragement (as in, you have to do this), I made it down just fine. I wasn’t my best self during the experience, but I’m glad to have done it.

Now here’s what need I work on:

Blogging more. I’ve been behind on posting here more, and I don’t like it. I had been putting a lot of energy toward getting publishing, but I want to commit more time to posting about work trips, topics that are on my mind. I kick myself a bit because there were a lot of good moments this year, but hopefully I can still post about them. So expect a lot of catching up.

Getting fit. I had some health concerns this year (nothing serious/crucial, thankfully) but my goal for 2017 is to build up my stamina. One thing, among many, that travel has taught me is that you have to adapt to your surroundings – particularly with getting around. Going up stairs, to walking many blocks, to hopping up and off subways or buses. My pace might be getting slower, but there are still places I want to get to. So more exercise for me.

I’m sure more “must dos” will come up. But tell me what’s your travel goal for 2017?