Archive for the ‘TRAVEL’ Category

One of the questions I ask people when I travel is “What do you do for Xmas?”

The answers vary DRASTICALLY depending on the person- not necessarily the culture. At first, I thought “well, in Belize they would celebrate it the same way as other Central Americans, right?” WRONG.

 

I urge you to ask this to others- or! Write a comment below about how you celebrate your holiday.

 

I’ve heard all sorts of traditions:

-Filipinos start celebrating in November and don’t stop until WAY after the New Year. (Even when there are typhoons).

-In Belize, they walk around singing carols and go to people’s house, drink, eat, and collect more people for the Caroler Choir.

-In France, it’s similar to ours- except for the food they eat- which is goose and fancy cheese and dried fruit.

-In Cape Town- they have a braai (of course) while they bask in the sunshine/warmth of Summer.

 

Growing up, my holiday was different because we celebrated both Hannnauakuah (I’m Jew-ISH- emphasis on the ISH) and Christmas. I never understood families that have “2 Christmases” with different parts of the family. It always sounded hectic. My family wouldn’t do stockings- we did Hanukah instead. (This had the added benefit of the dogs not eating the stockings!)

The traditions (growing up) are as follows:

  1. Eat a huge ham/turkey dinner on Xmas-eve. With all the trimmings and what-not.
  2. Mom preps her famous “egg bake” (think savory quiche/bread pudding but in a casserole dish). It needs to soak 12-24 hours in advanced.
  3. Xmas-eve was spent (forced) watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Christmas Story”.
    1. (My fathead brother and I never really liked these films. We always wanted to watch something else- but my mom would whine and complain about “tradition”. These days I would be happy watching Hebrew Hammer. But I digress.
  4. Xmas morning would happen and there would be 1 person making coffee, my mom would put her egg-bake into the oven to cook (it would take 1.5 hours), I was in charge of music (I always loaded the CD player with Xmas music for the first CD and then random CDs afterwards (The Star Wars soundtrack was my popular choice-Mom hated this).
  5. One person would open a gift at a time so we could “all watch their expression” and bask in the ego trip of purchasing more crap than we could ever know what to do with.

The rest of the day was spent either tinkering with the gifts, playing cards, eating cookies, and/or screaming at each other. This is what I remember, anyway.

 

These days, I have given up on Xmas. This is my 5th xmas in Seattle and I couldn’t be happier. I make a cup of coffee (sometimes with peppermint extract or nutmeg) and turn off all electronic devices and just sit… in silence. Sometimes I nap. Sometimes I knit. Mostly I just watch the rain.

It’s pretty magical.

My grandmother thinks it’s lonely. My parents think it’s lonely. Everyone thinks it’s lonely. I think it’s heaven on earth and it’s the thing I look forward to the most.

 

What are your holiday traditions? 

Advertisements

Last night I went swing dancing with a friend- a hobby that I used to enjoy quite often. As Leeds spun me around, he asked the niceities: “What’s your name?” and “what do you do?”

The whole experience brought back amazing memories- one being that I would introduce myself to each new dance partner with a different name and story (because my real story bored me).

“Hello. I’m Susan. I’m a receptionist”

“Hello, I’m Mary. I work in HR.”

“Hello. I’m Kate. I’m a musician.”

None of the above got any sort of response! I WONDER WHY!? So I started going bigger.

“Howdy, I’m Jill. I’m new here- I live in Australia where I see Nemo all the time.”

“Hi! I’m Cathy. I just climbed Machu Picchu.”

“Sup? I’m Samantha. I’ve ridden an elephant. No. That’s not a euphemism.”

Confession: I was (am?) a little extreme/out of control at times. During this exercise I would spend all week thinking up different lies. Perfecting the stories that I’ve already created based on the questions that people asked me. Then I started using my own (real) name. Then I realized how stupid (sorry, Deva) I was because I lived a lie.

So a bucket list was created. And then carried out.

As Leeds and I kick up our heels to the Charleston, I think back to the last time I danced like this (at the Bogo “morale event” 10 days post-typhoon) and smile. Leeds asks me if I’ve been to Korea- and I tell him “No. But North Korea is in 2016.”

And my bucket list gets longer.

Moral of the story: As the cliche goes: “fake it until you make it”.

How I Find Cheap Airfare

Posted: December 14, 2014 in In My Backpack, TRAVEL
Tags: , , ,

“Yea, sure, housesitting and working for accommodation is one way of traveling for the cheap, but plane tickets cost a fortune!” -Tracy S.

Sup Tracy, 

You asked- I’m delivering!

 

When you travel, you have the forever triangle of decisions:

Good, Fast, Cheap… pick 2.

 

I always go for cheap and cheap… I don’t care about quickness. I don’t care the mode of transportation (hello, chicken-bus!). I just care about cheap. Sometimes this bites me in the ass- but I just write it off as an adventure/future blog.

With that said, the more flexible you are with Airline, Airport, Destination and Time-frame, the cheaper/gooder your tickets will be.

 

So- let’s get started:

I live in the greatest city in the world, Baltimore- and I don’t care where/when I go… but I have 300$ to spend on tickets. 

Great! I love people like you!

  1. Go to Skyscanner.com. This site gives you a flex period of max a month, and you are able to pick “everywhere” to see where the cheapest places are.
  2. You can also go to http://www.kayak.com/explore/. This allows you to search your home airport and see where you can go (what month/season) and how much it’ll cost.
  3. Another site that is good for initial (US domestic) searches is https://www.google.com/flights/. Note: I haven’t used it in a while.
  4. You can also check out the “escape” fares on sites like orbitz, expedia, etc… Sometimes they are good, sometimes they aren’t.

I am in country X, want to go someplace else for THIS WEEKEND, but don’t know where. 

This is where skyscanner really comes in handy! Search: FROM “(insert your current country here)” and TO “everywhere”. It’ll give you some great ideas! 🙂

Yea… but now I need to get from Baltimore to Chicago Ohare! WTF, LN?!

Hey hey… chill out. check these out:

http://megabus.com/ (or GotoBus, Transit apps on iphone)

http://www.amtrak.com/home (or NJTransit when traveling around Philly/NJ/NYC)

www.google.com/flights is also good/decent for domestic flights.

*NOTE: When you’re traveling internationally, these obviously don’t work- but there are buses and trains everywhere. And they are usually cheaper than airfare, but not always. SE. Asia, for example, is cheaper to fly. Africa, if you are braver than me, bus is cheaper. In Nicaragua and Belize, hitch-hiking is the common mode of cheap transportation.

How far in advanced do I need to book my tickets?

My friend, Suz, says “6 weeks is the magic number”. I have booked 2 weeks in advanced (on international tickets) and still got great deals- but the earlier you go for American-domestic, the better.

According to this article- they say “Sunday, 57 days before leaving“.

I typically will do a priceline thing for 3 weeks along with a kayak alert. 3-4 weeks before take off (for international flights only… not during holidays) I will buy a ticket.

What if I’m not picky about my airport but I know I want to fly into SEA-tac. 

  1. Google “Direct flights into SEA”
  2. (or) google flights/kayak can search multiple airports around that area.

Your flights are cheap because you don’t have to pay for parking!

Accurate! I hate paying for parking. You have multiple options!

  1. Uber (like a taxi… but cheaper and more friendly)
  2. Lyft (like Uber)
  3. Park in a grocery parking lot (with cameras) that is also near public transportation to the airport.

When should I use frequent fliers? 

I compare flight prices first and do maths in my head. I’m terrible at math, but, basically, if the ticket is over 500$USD I consider using Frequent Fliers.

This guys explains the maths really well to see if it’s worth it or not.

 

Do you ever go for those “deals”?

There are some deals that are awesome, and some that just flat-out suck. Again, it depends on what you are looking for/how you travel. I had a friend that bought the Expedia “all inclusive” plans to Ireland. (Flight + castle hotel stays). It was a great deal for her. For me? I just look at flight deals.

Here are some that have recently popped up in my inbox that I’m curious about/would try:

Jet Blue’s GO PACK

Air Asia Unlimited

I also had a friend that bought the “RTW ticket” by virgin/delta/etc. He saved heaps of money. This is great if you have a set itinerary. Sometimes Statravel has some awesome deals- if you’re young enough.


TIPS: 

  • Searching for direct flights MAY be cheaper, or more expensive. So search for both. (google “direct flights from IAD” for example)
  • Search smaller airlines. (kenmore, spirit, airtran, Seapoint, etc.) If you are settled, you can find these by doing a google search on your airport. (“CPT airlines”, “IAD airlines”, etc)
  • When looking at airfares, use your normal browser. When BOOKING- do it in incognito mode (so it doesn’t look at your cache/cookies. This tends to jack up the prices slightly. sneaky hobbitses).

 

Last but not least:

The worst travel experiences I have (in airports/planes) is in America. With that said- don’t be surprised when travel plans change. Expect the worst (especially when flying in America). Planes will be canceled, they will be over-booked, you’ll be screamed at by under-paid/frustrated ticket-counter people and sexually-pent-up TSA agents. You aren’t going to have fun, so make the most of it! Create a drinking game every time you hear someone say “BUT I NEED TO BE ON THAT PLANE!”. Chill out. Just expect that you will be traveling for 48 hours (even if it’s a 2 hour flight). It’s an adventure! Something to tell the grandkids later about how their parents were conceived in a bathroom in LAX because you were stuck there for 4 days. (#truestory)

 


EDITS:

Here are some other useful websites to check out:

Are there questions I missed?

“You used a money belt the whole time, right?”

Back in Ecuador on the Worst Day Ever (See Spidey Sense), I met this Canadian guy named Tony. We kept in touch and decided to meet up in Lima and travel to Cusco and hike Machu Picchu together. Before I leave Ecuador, He warns me about the bus ride down to Lima.

“Blah blah blah. You should wear a money belt! Blah blah blah. The latinos see you as a target and will steal everything from you! Blah blah blah those buses get stopped/robbed all the time. Blah blah blah you should be using a money-belt all the time! You should never take it off! Blah blah blah BE AFRAID!”

I’ll be honest- normally I ignore all these warnings- but something about the tension of his voice, his stories, the fact that I had just gotten (poorly) kidnapped in Ecuador all made me think that maybe I was just getting lucky this whole time- and maybe my luck will run out soon. So I donned my uber-sexy-beige money belt and put everything of significant value in it (my iPhone, credit card and passport), arrived at the bus station late and barely made it onto the bus in time.

That was the most exciting part of the trip.

The ride was advertised to be 48 hours. You weren’t allowed to use the coach-toilet for “solid waste. Only liquid waste”. The bus stopped a few times to drop people off/pick people up but I never knew how long the stop was- so I just stayed on the bus, sitting,  cramped, next to a guy who snored and thought my seat was also his, for 52 hours. The added hours was due to getting stuck behind herds of goats a few times.

I got a lot of reading done. Did I mention I had 52 hours? If not, I’ll say it again. I sat, cramped, on a bus, with all my valuables in my money belt pressing against my bowels, constantly reminding me that I had to poop and I probably shouldn’t have eaten the on-board meals of white-bread, mayo and government-issued cheese slice. As a bonus, though, passengers got their choice of beverage: Inka Cola (tastes like bubblegum) or brown hot water (“tea”).

I won’t bore you with any details of the bus ride. Let’s just say it was long… and boring… The entertainment was endless, though: Movies played (with the audio blaring from the over-head speakers) from 8am until 10pm. If no movies were available then music would be pumped through that reminded me of a party bus. Some of the locals would dance in the isles or have arguments with their spouses.

I wish I could say that I was scared shitless, but that would be the opposite of what I was. I was full of shit and scared- because of a warning and anxiety that was given to me by someone who was unlucky many times throughout his travels. The worst part of the trip was not being able to poop which made me really uncomfortable.

Finally we get to Lima. Surprise, surprise, nothing bad happened on or to the bus. And this was the last time I used my money belt. I actually started using it as a bottle-cap holder but Chilean TSA wanted to search it because they thought this was suspicious.

MORAL: Don’t listen to other people’s fears. Listen to your gut.

Health tip: I found this out later- but if you drink lemongrass tea 1-2 days before your long journey, it acts as an anti-diarrhea agent or a non-cramping alternative to long-travel-time woes.

Wanna LISTEN instead?

10kg

Posted: November 30, 2014 in ADVENTURE STORIES!, In My Backpack, TRAVEL
Tags: , ,

I booked my holiday flight (London Gatwick-JFK) with Norwegian for 280$usd. A bargain, right? Even though it’s bare minimum service, I’ll take it.

When they wanted to charge extra for checked bags, I clicked on the link of “carry-on rules” and found that my main bag had to be 10kg.

Pfft. No problem!

Except it kinda was.

When I flew from Cape Town to Qatar I weighed in at 13kg.

Hmm.

Since I was visiting my brother, josh, in London, I asked if he had extra space in his “coming over” bag. “Yea- no problem” he said.

So I gave him my beloved bottle cap collection, sea shells, sleeping bag and a few other things I wouldn’t need for the brutal winter that the east coast was going to greet me with back home- but I wasn’t sure if this was enough.

I arrive at Gatwick.
I check in. No bag weigh.
I go through security. No bag weigh.
I go through the gate- and that’s when I see the dreaded scale!

I quickly run out of line, looking like a lunatic, and go to the bathroom.

I put on every single article of clothing I had.

Every. Single. Piece.

As I write this, I’m currently wearing 6 pairs of underware, my bathing suit, 2 sports bras, 1 normal bra, a tank top, 2 sports-tops, dress top, a snap-up shirt, jeans, pjs, cargo pants, wrap-around sweater, hoodie, down jacket, balaclava, scarf, shoes, socks and a bear hat.

(I’ll write a whole blog about this bear hat later)

The girl in front of me wheels her bag up to the counter. The woman asks her to put her bag on the scale and its’s weighed: 10.12.

“Ma’am? You’re going to have to throw things away, or rearrange. Or, (smiles and with a super cheesy voice) you could pay a little extra and we can check that for you!”

The woman, distraught, takes some things out of her bag and throws then away.

“Thanks, ma’am. You’re all checked in….. Can I help you?” She motions to me.

I smile at the woman who’s checking us in and ask how her day is going. She smiles at me and says “fine”- then makes a comment about how #adorbs my hat is.

Yes. It is hashtag adorbs.

She goes back to checking me in. This is the part I’m waiting for. I’m acutely aware of everyone behind me standing in line. This isn’t like Tiger Airlines where I can simply go to the side and discard/rearrange my belongings. I begin to sweat in very uncomfortable places. If my bag is over 10kgs, it’s a 50$ charge to check it. Not a huge deal- but if you’re traveling on budgets- like I am- that’s 2-3 days of living! She purses her lips as she looks at the screen. She looks back at my passport photo and at the screen.

An eternity goes by.

I practice meditation. I keep telling myself to think positive thoughts. I think of my kitten who I will get to see in a few weeks(!!!) I focus all my energy on her saying “alright, you’re all checked in”. I practice Jedi-mind tricks…. And that’s when she says:

“Alright. You’re all checked in! Have a nice flight.”

2 things could have happened:

1) Norwegian airlines weighs bags randomly and I got lucky. Or!
2) I’m a mother-effin’ Jedi!

I’m going with the obvious answer here.

I decided to go back to Cape Town for a boy. This is something I haven’t done since… uh…. Highschool? I guess you could say that the week-long romance (and communication afterwards during my overland trip) was good enough I wanted to see where this would go. So when I arrived in Vic-Falls I booked my flight with frequent fliers using united.com’s (star alliance) website. I checked several options- and finally decided on the most complicated (and least expensive) option of going from:

Kilimanjaro – Addis Ababa – Nairobi – Johannesburg – Cape Town. 4 flights, 2 carriers, 1 alliance, 56 hours of airport time. Total cost to me: 52$. If nothing else, I would get a lot of reading/work done.

I got a ride to the airport from a great friend (Praise Nygene– who I also booked my Kili trip with) along with another American girl who was flying to Rwanda. She checked in and left with no problems.

I get to the counter, after standing in line for 55 min, to find out that my ticket has been “flagged” and I needed “to go to the office”.

I felt like a school kid who was in trouble…

I went to the office and was told that I would be rerouted straight to Nairobi. Great!

6 hours later, I get my new itinerary (I hope it works out!!!) and I’m sitting down at dinner in a really posh lodge that the airline put me up in “for my inconvenience”.

I need to explain something:

I have been camping for the past 52 days. I have been in every climate in all of the southern African horn: desert, rain forest, high altitude, volcanos, snow, sleet, rain. Having people snore next to/below you. Sharing tents with people who talk/moan in their sleep. Having to get up at crazy hours for heaps of reasons (taking care of drunk people, domestic abuse, hippos eating outside your tent, climbing a dormant volcano….)

This was the first night, in 52 days, that I got to:

1) Sleep in my OWN ROOM
2) with clean sheets!
3) NAKED! (if I wanted)
4) while drinking the free bottled-water!
5) jumping on the bed
6) with a mosquito net!
7) WITH MY OWN BATHROOM! ATTACHED! TO THE ROOM! I didn’t have to get dressed/shoed to pee in the middle of the night!

Oh… glorious!

I also got free dinner (and dessert! and breakfast!) which was a huge spread and I stuffed myself silly.

Tangent: there have been several times when re-booking was a great idea… Like the time when I was re-routed to Denver and missed my flight. That night I decided “either I’m going to get a hotel or watch the opening of Batman. Luckily, I got a hotel room- as the closest theater to the airport was in Aurora.

Moving on.

I got into Nairobi. It’s kinda like a shitty little airport- Strike that. Not kinda. It is a shitty little airport. The hallways are way too small and loud people with roller bags stand in the middle of the 2-butt isle screaming on their cell phones.

I search for a lounge. There is none.
I search for comfortable chairs. There are none.
There is nothing that isn’t metal or tile in this entire airport. (Believe me- I had 13 hours to kill… I searched!)

This all surprised me because it’s supposed to be “the airport hub of Africa”- and yet… It’s so unfriendly towards passengers. I mean, when you have a options to fly through certain cities, why would you ever choose to fly through Nairobi? I couldn’t find a single one.

I eventually settled for an over-priced cafe that has ugly orange plastic-coated booths and electric plugs and I plopped myself down for the long-haul.

The waitress startles me when I’m informed that they are closing. Good! 2 hours left in this gawd-forsaken place. I pay, get up and go towards the shitty tiled terminal to wait -in my sleeping bag, on the tile floor- for my flight to begin boarding.

I get on the plane. It’s empty. I would have gotten a row to myself except a Kenyan decided to sit in the middle seat and hovered over me while I fill out my Ebola health form.

I tell him I’m switching seats and get up and move behind him- only to be woken up by the flight attendants who wanted to give me breakfast. At 3am…..

“It’s ok,” I breathe. “I’ll be there soon.”

By this point, my cheerfulness was waning from the long hours of doing nothing. I was exhausted, circling around angry/pissed off- but I needed to look refreshed and flirty for the customs guy at Jo’berg.

You see, South Africa has this weird law about Visas. They give you a 90-day visa with an option to extend (but that takes weeks). Normally, (free) visas are “refreshed” every time you cross a boarder, but SA has had problems with “boarder-hoppers”- so they changed the law, but didn’t really post it anywhere. When I emailed the embassy and explained my whole situation, their (oh-so-not-helpful) reply was simply: “it varies from custom official to custom official. Good luck!”

….. heh.

So, basically, I had to show off my persuasion skills (which is really difficult since I’ve been traveling for 54 hours, in shitty airports, all my clothes are dirty, I don’t own any mascara, AND my next flight leaves in 20minutes). I approached the customs window and gave a huge smile. I told the guy that my future relationship depended on him. He asked me to explain and so I told him the whole story… How I met a boy, we want to continue our relationship, I left on an overland tour, I just summited Kilimanjaro, and now “I’m coming back to see him… Please! If you believe in love, you will give me a new visa.”

He told me “Sorry. You need to go back to your home country. To America.”

“But I don’t get stamps from America. How will you know if I’ve been back there or not?”

“Well, you just told me you came from Nairobi from an overland tour.”

“So, you’re penalizing me for telling you the truth?”

(back and forth for about 10 minutes… My flight is boarding now…. Finally…..)

“… I can see how that is frustrating. Ok. This once. In the name of love, I will give you your visa. But if you plan on staying, please allow 1 month to extend your visa!”

Breathless, I ran (until I was really/for realz breathless) to my gate and was the last one on board.

I arrived in Cape Town, bought airtime, called my boy, squee’d a little, rode the bus back home– where the boy and I had a week and a half of romance-followed by a week of frustration from jobs and lack of money and other things, followed by an epic breakup on Halloween.

………Oh well. It was an educational experience, at least.

———

Are you an editor? I’m trying to put together a book of short-stories. (basically, more of these blog posts.) They’re funny! They’re moving! They’re 90% true. If you’re interested in being an editor (cutting out the crap, challenging me on stuff that doesn’t make sense, etc) and have time/interest, let me know!

Marcus

Posted: November 16, 2014 in ADVENTURE STORIES!, Hope, TRAVEL
Tags: , , , , ,

As I said before, I work in a backpackers in Cape Town. One morning I got a weird call from a woman named Shamise. She said “I’m looking for Marcus. Do you have a guest by that name?”

I told her that I couldn’t reveal that information, but if she wanted to leave a telephone number and message I would pass it on *IF* he was staying here.

She left her name, number and a message of “I have your wallet and shoes.” She explained that she was the girl that he was with last night.

Alright. No worries. This stuff happens all the time in hostels. A crazy night of fun followed by a quick get-away while the girl is in the bathroom or whatever. “screw and run” as we call them. I was a little tickled that this girl was honorable enough to try to get his ID/shoes back to him.

*NOTE: I always think people are doing the honorable/right thing. This is my default. I’ve been told that this is what separates me from my fellow South African counterparts. They think everyone is dodgy/out to scam them and we think everyone is good by nature. They blame it on being closer to Nigeria. #whatever #movingon

—-
Fast-forward. My shift ends and a girl gets buzzed in. Janette (my co-worker) takes over and talks to the girl.

Apparently, this was Shamise! She says that she has his ID and he’s missing and she’s worried about him. Janette asks for the ID. The girl didn’t want to give it up, but eventually did. She still has his shoes, though.

She leaves.

Enter stage left: Marcus!
He looks AWFUL.

Apparently, the night before, he went out to the club, had a kickin’ time, and then walked home. While walking home (around 2am) 2 guys walked along-side him, pushed him, and demanded that he gives them money, wallet, keys, phone, etc.
Marcus gave them everything.

Then they demanded his shoes and shoved him into a car, “like in one of those movies”.

In the car, was an older woman, this Shamise character, and the 2 guys got in. They explained that they had to drop the woman off somewhere and they will “totally give you (marcus) a ride back to your place”.

So they drop the woman off. Everyone gets out of the car, but they lock Marcus in the car with the child-proof locks (or something…. This is where the story gets strange).

Marcus, shirtless, shoe-less, no wallet or phone, signals to someone that he has been kidnapped and they break the window and he climbs out and runs home. (about 10K… at 3am.)

*Side note: I find it hilarious that 2 guys would kidnap/rob someone while HAVING YOUR MOTHER IN THE CAR! I mean, what an awkward conversation that would be, eh? “Hey mum. We’re going to rob this guy, then we’ll drop you off, ok?” I wish I got more details on this.

—-
So now we are back in the present. That girl, Shamise, is still looking for him. Marcus is still staying here. He filed a police report, but that’s kinda useless in Cape Town as everything is pretty corrupt and since there was no murder/real violence, even less action will be taken.

Marcus is scared to walk around- since Shamise and the boys know what he looks like and know where he lives. Also, Marcus knows what they look like and could identify them if/when the police do anything.

Marcus, bless his heart, is a local South African who just re-moved here from Pretoria. He’s lived in Cape Town before, but wasn’t expecting this kind of welcome when he came back. What does he do when he’s telling me this story? He laughs.

“Because that’s all you can do right now. You can worry all night, but what does that get you? Ulcers. If you laugh, you live longer- and get less wrinkles.”

Spot on, Marcus… Spot on.