2016: Travel resolutions that work

Going with the theme of resolutions, as I wrap up a trip to the Middle East, I reflect on what has worked for me.

10. Follow the crowds. If i get lost
, have no idea what sites I am supposed to look for, I find following where the general traffic is flowing takes me right to the points of interest.

9. Get lost. Follow #10 to only a certain point. Letting myself wander at the likely risk of getting lost usually leads to finding a neighborhood jem only locals visit.

8. Don’t stress over packing. While I am known to chant some variation of “ID, keys, camera, wallet, everything else I can buy” I am really a perpetual overpacker. I stopped caring. As long as I can physically drag my luggage, and as long as I am within my airline bag allowance, I stopped wasting time trying to perfect packing and enjoy the excitement of an upcoming trip.

7. Learn and master one expression in the local dialect. Doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple “thank you” usually works in endearing myself to the locals.

6. Don’t need a plan. I often arrive to a destination without any advance research beyond what I needed to book flights and hotels. I admit having too any times of being on a flight then asking myself, “was I supposed to get a visa?” I don’t recommend going to that extreme. But by not researching and analysing the heck out of a location, I find I am more open minded and curious.

5. Have minimum of one indulgent sit down meal. I forced myself to do this years ago when I realized I reduced to eating crackers to avoid eating alone. I started by picking one higher end restaurant featuring local fare to dine in during each trip. I found quickly that the higher end places have better trained staff that treat a lone diner exceptionally well. I also found indulging in a full multi course meal not only let me get settled in and comfortable dining, but led to many chef’s compliments as the restaurant recognized I was there for the food.

4. Put the camera down. I love taking photos. Anyone who knows me knows that. But every now and then, I need to out my ever present camera down, and take in the sights. At the end, it is the experience I remember most.

3. Find the perfect travel partner. Some are lucky to find that partnership in their significant others. I have been incredibly lucky in finding mine. I don’t believe in pairing up with anyone who is available and I don’t do well with groups because we inevitably make too many compromises and leave with regrets. But a good partner? We have had experiences we still laugh about years later. That is priceless.

2. Go alone. I admit I have a higher tolerance of the unknown. But I challenge people to this: if you are not willing to do something by yourself, is it fair to ask someone else to do it for you? My own independence grew out of getting tired of people not committing to travel plans, but was born out of the notion, “why do I need someone when I do go alone?” While having a good travel partner makes the experience memorable, imagine if both of you had the same daring do. How much of a blast would that lead to? A lot, I know.

1. Trust my gut. We have a gut for a reason. Mine has kept me safe more often than I dare to admit.

Image: Prepared

This is what prepared looks like on a blustery overlook.

Never mind I look like something more nefarious.. hopefully the purple jacket and grey hiking pants(not pictured) disabuse that notion.

Made for a great photo bomb in the family pose!


Je ne suis pas Charlie, mais je pleure pour lui

The vicious attacks in Paris are no doubt in many of our minds.

The United States military is drawing down from Afghanistan this very moment. The military already withdrew from Iraq although small numbers are returning in response to ISIL. The United States combat against terrorism, at least on the front page, is dying.

So this attack feels fresh, feels like a strike back when we subconsciously thought the worst was over.

Nothing condones an attack like this at anyone. And nothing justifies the premature violent deaths of these people in Paris. None of those people deserved that.

We all see this as an onslaught to freedom of speech.

Charlie Hedbo depicts an underlying sentiment most people of minority races have experienced: a growing xenophobia in Europe, especially against Muslim immigrant populations. Heck, *I* as an ethnic Asian experienced it. I lost count of the number of times I see people physically relax once I start talking and they realize I am an American, not their assumed perception of “another of those Asian immigrants.” I experienced people’s hostility thawing at that latter discovery. They don’t even hide it.

Europe, especially France, see growing numbers of Muslims in their borders. Look at the reluctance and resistance to admitting Turkey into the EU. Turkey is far more populous, and Muslim, dramatically changing the demographics and shift of majorities in Europe. France’s coping mechanisms, in my opinion, are faulty. The French are famous for their  “if you want to live in France, you are French and act French” integration attitude. But banning the hijab (head coverings for women) is going too far. Sarkozy went as far as to propose legislation banning the burqa. While the bans in schools against the hijab has been at least broadened to include “large” religious items from all religions (large crosses and the Jewish yarmulks), Sarkozy’s proposal specifically targeted Muslims.

Islam is loosing a popularity contest in the modern Western world. There is no question that Islamic radicalism has been a serious threat to the world. But the tendency to lump almost a quarter of the world’s population with the terrorist elements is unfair and simply discriminatory. What a sad turn in history. The Ottoman Empire once exemplified learning, tolerance, and advancement far beyond anything seen in the European Renaissance, with probably the exception of Da Vinci’s genius. The Crusades were arguably Christian attacks on the Muslim world, for the sake of access to symbolic land.

It breaks my heart to see the Muslim community face the vitriol thrown blindly at their direction. All my travels, hands down, I found the Muslim communities to be some of the warmest hosts. Me, a lone female without my male relative to drive me around. I was welcomed into so many humble homes, fed so much delicious food, patted and hen-pecked as if I were on of their own.

Europe is standing tenuously on a tightrope. Peace and tolerance. Or racism and xenophobia. The very secularism France pride themselves in allows for both equality and discrimination.

The attacks are devastating, cruel, and so wrong. As many of us who understand the violation that comes from being attacked- US, UK, Spain, India, Indonesia, Canada- anger is a natural and appropriate reaction. However, the danger of directing that anger towards the closest Muslim in sight threatens a fragile balance of tolerance.  Our countries thrive because we believe in process, justice, and fairness. Letting the anger engulf us and descend to racial and religious hatred sets us backwards, and makes us become the very people that attacked us- vicious, narrow-minded, and driven by hatred.

So I cry for Charlie. The perpetrators must be caught and brought to justice.  Families have lost their loved ones needlessly and they are owed closure. But I am not Charlie. I don’t subscribe to his sense of humor. We need to face the facts. Charlie Hedbo published obscene offensive provocative deliberate cartoons. And the volume of those cartoons of late had been targeted viciously at Islam. This fact does in no way justify the attack. The violence is simply not defensible. Now do I even suggest the victims “earned” it; they are the victims. But this fact needs to be taken into account as we, the public, react and lash back. As the saying goes: with freedom of speech, comes great responsibility. And in this time, I need to rise above, do my part, to endeavor to live what I believe- honor, respect, and tolerance for our fellow mankind. That is what makes our society thrive.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it
~ Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in “Voltaire”

Year in Review: 2014

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I’m changing things up from previous years. While I did travel a lot with enough photos to represent each month, this slideshow represents my year quite well. It was my last.. and only.. full summer in the UK. While I’ve lived there for a while, I’ve been away for business each summer. Knowledge that I was leaving, having less work as I wound down, and finding a perfect travel partner were all elements that lined up perfectly to give me my UK summer. Boy, did I see a lot. Enjoy and get a taste of my summer.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Warmth

Everything about this stay in Sinai, Egypt, was warm.

The Berber tents under which I shared mint tea and fresh apricots, the sunny weather, the local Sheikh’s family. The Berber camp I visited twice, once on my day of arrival when I followed the Sheikh’s son when he did his rounds and second on the way down after making it to the Mount Katherine summit. The family didn’t speak any English, but recognized me and my weary expression, invited me for some tea and a break before getting back to town.

I ran into issues starting my climb up the Mount Katherine, being prohibited despite having a local guide. The Sheikh took enormous personal offence and apparently raked the local police over coals.. in the environment of the American police and racial tensions, this memory serves as an amusing contrast. And, yes, I was able to climb the following day.





Twas the night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the airport
Not a store was open, not even a food court;
The passengers are milling about without a direction,
In hopes that one convenience store would be a distraction;
The children are screaming in their restlessness;
While parents are flustered with helplessness;
And airline agents keep counting to end of light,
While the crews rush to their last flight,
Mom and I gratefully slink into the lounge and forgoe
The choas while we bid farewell to Santiago.


Feliz Navidad, peeps!