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!

No such thing: “The best place to visit”

Now that I’ve come back to the United Stated permanently, I’ve spent a lot of time explaining to people where I’ve been and why I ask so seemingly inane questions (“How long ago was it when the flu shot needles changed to these things?” “What is the sales tax again?” “Are those parking rules new?” “When did you change your menu?” “You don’t accept these frequent drink punch cards anymore?”). Inevitably, a lot of people ask me “where’s the best place to go?”

Whew. Where do I start? There is no such thing. At least for me. Some people may fall in love with a particular place. Many do, and continue to purchase vacation or retirement homes in those locations. But I’m not that person. I want to see as much of the world as possible. It takes a lot to convince me to revisit a place when there are other places I want to explore. My philosophy is that no matter how poor or different each place is, there is some inherent beauty to it and I always find those features. There is a top destinations list, but each made it to that list for a very different reason.

The worst part about that question is each person’s idea of vacation is different. So many people want to lounge by the beach and go no further than 10 feet from bedroom to beach. I hate it. To me, I can’t imagine a more boring and expensive way to blow through a budget. I pounce through places like Myanmar and Egypt. I don’t define exotic by palm trees and sand. The poorer the country, the more intriguing to me. My to-do list includes Mongolia, Nepal, Tibet. So to ask me to make a recommendation to a beach-goer is asking for a disaster.

I do realize I travel so much more than an average person, regardless of nationality. I do have so much more experience in a large variety of destinations. I realize that knowledge alone is precious. I continue to travel a lot, even domestically. I have so much more freedom and time in taking off somewhere than a majority of my peers. So, when you ask me “Where is the best place to go for vacation”.. be ready to sit down for a good 20 minutes while I drill you on your preferences before getting around to answer your question.

Tales of the Wanderlust Daughter: South Dakota

I started this series last year.. and forgot about it for a while. It was born from sharing some stories with my mother to show how I encounter so much kindness and care, especially as a lone female traveller.

I have seemed to rid of my writer’s block and wanted to revisit the memory lane with these stories. Furthermore, having recently experienced some bad, I needed to reassure myself and many travellers out there, that I had experienced the goodness of humanity and those far outnumber the evil.


On a cross country vacation I took back in the USA between my moves from Asia to Europe, I stopped through South Dakota. I got off the train in North Dakota, and drove to South Dakota. I wanted to see the parks in the area- Badlands National, Mouth Rushmore, Wind Cave, Custer State…

I found a charming bed and breakfast run by a sweet couple who still maintain the working ranch it sits on. I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that it was SD’s busiest two weeks of the year- the Sturgis rally. As a last minute booking, they worked to accommodate me, asking me to move from their main B&B building to a separated coach house usually rented to families for one night in the middle of my stay. No problem.

I completely underestimated the distances I had to drive to get to all the sites I cared about. As a native New Englander, I completely lost perspective of how large some of these states are. So I found myself driving longer and later than anticipated.

One morning, the day I stayed at the coach house, I slept in. I had a particularly late return, the night before, barely awake enough to grab my pajamas out of my packed bag to change into before collapsing on the closest bed to the entrance. So I took my time getting up the following morning, rummaging around my new surroundings to find the kitchen and prepare a breakfast. I also took advantage of my access to laundry machines to do a couple loads.

I heard car tires rumbling up the dirt road and looked up to see the owner pulling up. He popped his head in, apologized for intruding, saying his wife asked him to check on me. They hadn’t seen my rental car turn in before they went to bed last night and wanted to make sure I was OK before they call the cavalry.

I was surprised, but pleasantly so. Even I knew I had returned at an extremely late hour. But, as B&B owners, they didn’t have any responsibility over my coming and going, as long as I paid for the lodging I booked. Knowing that they were concerned on my behalf was both embarrassing and comforting. The fact that they were willing to notify someone if I wasn’t present after one night alone, gave me the assurance that despite the vast and seemingly desertedness of the state, I wouldn’t have been stranded unknown for long, were I to encounter any troubles.


Other posts in this series:

This Week’s Losers: Transportation, Part 1

Well, that sums it up. It is a bad week for transportation. Asiana Flight 214 has a horrific massive crash landing over San Francisco International Airport’s runway. Canadians officials are still putting out fires from a run away train carrying crude oil, forcing 2000 people to evacuate.

Maybe it is because I travel often, especially on a variety of airlines, but I am completely glued to the coverage about Asiana. While I never flew Asiana, I want to point out the airline has won many accolades as a top airline. They led the industry in prohibiting smoking in flights, and being proactive in environmental measures, almost an oxymoronic concept in the airline business. Their awards come from many reputable travel magazines like Air Transport World (2009 Airline of the Year, one of the most prestigious titles), Skytrax (2010 Best Airline, 2011 and 2012 runner up after Qatar).

Many of us who fly often like to compare Boeing and Airbus. Personally, I like Boeing much more. While the likely cause is the superficial internal mountings, the rattling I sense from Airbus unnerves me. I feel Boeing is a much more solid plane..  sort of like the comparison between the heavier metal German cars and the lightweight Japanese models. Despite the issues with Boeing’s new line of 787s, the 777s are considered one of the best in the world with amazing state of the art technology on board that assist and even take over the pilot’s job. Including self-landing.

I want to stop for a minute to say I am neither a pilot or plane fanatic. I dread boarding planes unless I manage to upgrade myself. I have had to fly on small charter planes and I will gladly take a sleeping pill to not live through those flights again. Nor am I a safety fanatic. I don’t track safety records and numbers.. I don’t want to bother myself with such worries. So everything I share is what I consider laymen’s information, things any average passenger will encounter or read about.

So, all that said, it’s still too early to know what happened to Flight 214. It is especially easy to speculate based the released information about the pilot’s experience, and the video of the landing.

Between the background information for Asiana and Boeing.. I want to point out that commercial air travel is one of the safest forms of travel. I do concede that the plane crashes are much more catastrophic, especially aided by visual technology. I can see how not actually understanding the mechanics let alone being in control of a vehicle as one would driving, adds to the sense of powerlessness on the passenger’s part.

Think about this:

– About 50,000 planes fly each day all over the world- Those planes average 3 million passengers
– London Heathrow daily volume with a mere two run ways: 1200 movements
– Chicago O’Hare daily volume: 2400
– San Francisco daily volume: 1100

All those pilots, all those planes.. how often do you hear about incidents?

My heart goes out to the survivors, as many of them fight to live and more to recover.

My heart breaks for the pilots. The senior pilot’s information has been broadcasted the most. 10,000 hours of flight time, assuming an 8-hour shift, is average 1250 flights, likely more with shorter flights. Over 400 days of continuous flying. That’s an extremely experienced pilot and crew. One disastrous flight, and he and his crew may never fly again. Even if they can professionally, this cloud will forever be over their heads. How to live with that, will take such strength many of us never tested for.

I am more likely to be skittish going into a hotel room than to board a plane. I, for one, will continue to fly. I hope you all will, too.

So, now what? Part 2: Using B&Bs

I’ve started enough B&Bs in New Zealand, where they brought out some terrific hospitality. When the owners of on place in the USA checked on me to make sure I got home, as if I were their own daughter, I knew this was the way to travel, especially as a lone female.

I’ve been meaning to post and praise bed and breakfast establishments. Living in Europe, travel has been considerably more expensive than in Southeast Asia. I found B&Bs to be an excellent alternative. The more I travel throughout the UK, the more fun I find in trying an assortment of places and comparing notes.

It seems counter intuitive. B&Bs are often people’s own homes. You are walking into their space, living under their roof. The smallest B&B I stayed at was all of two rooms where they keep the adjoining doors locked and a back entrance separate from their own. Some rooms I’ve stayed at had old photos of their family’s generations past. One had an eerie porcelain-faced doll staring right at me when I lay in bed (I ended turning her face away). One had a rocking chair with a quilt throw sewn by the owner’s grandmother. Another had such a dangerously steep ladder called a staircase that had I been wearing a skirt, anyone “downstairs” would be looking right up at my crotch. Definitely not a universally clearly  standard of size, shape, safety, or decor.

The bathrooms are always a hoot. Some of them were added as part of the conversion into a B&B. One had a large bedroom, but turned the closet into the ensuite “facilities” where I had to keep the sliding door open so I can sit on the toilet comfortably. Continental Europeans seem to have something against showers and shower curtains- leaving the entire room to inevitably be doused sopping wet with no safe corner for your towel.

Each new B&B is an adventure. I have a little bit of excitement walking into a new one each time. The truth is.. you really don’t know what to expect at all!

One this I found to be consistent across the board is the superb hospitality of all the hosts and hostesses. As varying as the definition of comfort and furnishings are, never had any of them shied from helping or offering help. Every single place I’ve been, the owners had plenty of recommendations, most of which pan out. My recent scare has now pushed me to B&Bs even more than ever now.

It’s not to say B&Bs are a sure bet. I do much more meticulous research on these accommodations because it still is someone’s home I would be walking into. Sites like TripAdvisor,, and are crucial not only because ratings give a perspective by past guest experiences but also because these independent establishments rely on large travel sites and good customer reviews to bring business to them. The reputation of a chain like Four Seasons will always have a consistent clientele and have a reputation of maintaining standards in all their locations. B&Bs don’t have the same branding advantage, making customer reviews their key to success.