Moved

26 01 2010

Dear all,

I have moved my blog to AHartBeat. There, I will continue writing about my interests – travel, causes, business ideas, possibly some racquetball and some musings about life. This blog will no longer be updated.

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25 Travel Tips

28 10 2009

As a young female who has now spent a chunk of time traveling solo, I feel obliged to give my fellow and future travelers advice for their current and upcoming adventures. You can also find some great travel advice here, written by AC360 Contributor Chris Guillebeau. Happy reading, and travel safe!

1. Only carry your passport with you when you need it. At all other times, carry a copy of your passport. It’s easy to lose belongings while traveling, and trust me, you don’t want to lose your passport while in a foreign country. If you do lose it, you’ll need to go to your country’s embassy to get a new one.

2. Keep track of your laundry. Whether you make a mental note or a written list, make sure you get back all the clothes that you gave to the laundry mat. I learned this the hard way. On a few different occasions, I paid for my laundry, took it back to my hostel and then realized that I not only had missing clothes, but also someone else’s shirts mixed in with my underwear and pants. So, check your clean clothes bag before you leave the laundry mat.

3. Only carry as much money as you need. Keep the rest in a safe place. Along the same lines, if you’re going to carry a credit card, only carry one at a time.

4. Bring more than one card if you have more than one. I lost my debit card twice, and I sure am glad that I had back-up cards with me.

5. Try new food, but be careful! I once thought I had an iron stomach. This is most certainly not true, as I have gotten sick a number of times. A food daredevil and enthusiast, I am still not sure I have learned my lesson.

6. If you go to a questionable restaurant and ask whether food is washed in purified water, the answer you will receive is yes. Eateries want your money, so even if the lettuce is washed in tap water, they will probably still tell you that it’s safe to eat. There isn’t a sanitation standard in third-world countries, so even if the food is washed in purified water, they still might have sub-standard conditions in the kitchen. It’s not uncommon to find hairs in your food, dirty utensils and fingerprints on the rims of your glasses.

7. Book a trustworthy hostel. I recommend hostelworld.com. Anything 87% or higher is usually pretty decent.

8. Walk! Walking is one of the best ways to see and learn about a city. For bigger cities, definitely take advantage of the public transportation system too. It’s fun, and you’ll feel more like a local once you get the hang of it.

9. Use maps, but don’t be afraid to ask locals for directions (If they can understand you). You might be surprised by how many people speak English, or at least how many people can understand English and point you in the right direction.

10. When you’re not using a map, look confident in where you are going. Pickpockets are good at reading signs of uncertainty, hesitation, fear and ignorance.

11. Follow your gut. If something doesn’t feel “right,” then leave the situation as soon as possible. I cannot stress this enough. On some occasions, I have even decided to jog. When you walk fast or jog, people will think you know where you are going and are less likely to approach you.

12. Don’t help strangers. This can be tough. And in some situations, it’s okay to help them. But, if it feels like a shady situation, don’t do it. I remember walking down my street at night in Cusco, Peru. Suddenly, a man about thirty feet in front me fell over and started moaning. My first instinct was to help him. Then, I saw some other men crowd around him to help him. I proceeded to power walk past them as they stared at me and I stared at them. I don’t know to this day if the moaning man was faking or if there was actually something wrong with him.

13. Try to avoid scams. Check out Virtual Tourist for scamming advice. I also highly recommend watching this video, where Kevin Rose (founder of Digg), Glenn McElhose (blogger and video producer) and Tim Ferriss (entrepreneur and author of Four Hour Work-Week) recount a storybook scam in China where Kevin and Glenn fell right into the trap. It’s highly entertaining and helpful at the same time.

14. Don’t make eye contact with people selling something unless you want to buy it. In regard to this travel tip, I fail. I’m constantly observing and staring. And then, my curiosity gets the best of me, and I take a look at what the poor person on the street is selling. Just like that, BAM! I am the next target, and I must decline six times before I can be left alone again.

15. Go out to the clubs with people. Going by yourself is a bad idea. If you lose them, make sure you have enough information and money to get you back to your hostel/hotel. Write the address on your hand and/or keep a piece of paper with the address on it somewhere safe.

16. Be prepared to answer strange questions, to be stared at and to be scrutinized. In some parts of South America, it’s common for people to ask your age and if you are single right away. Someone even asked me my weight!

17. Make friends with new people. Having global connections is wonderful.

18. Step out of your comfort zone and look silly. It’s okay to laugh at yourself. I wish I could dance salsa the way the Peruvians do; I wish I could dance to reggaeton the way the pros do; I wish I could shake my butt the way Shakira does. The truth of the matter is that I don’t, and I have been known to look foolish on the dance floor. But hey, I had fun.

19. Pack light, but don’t pack light on medicine. You can always buy more clothes and toiletries in the country or countries where you go. However, it’s harder to find the same medicine as your own country. The last thing you want to be doing when you’re sick is trekking around trying to find some medicine for that inevitable traveler’s diarrhea or the nasty cold you picked up.

20. Keep your change. Then use it wisely. Many places (at least in South America) don’t like breaking big bills. The ATMs dispense big bills. When you can, step inside a bank to exchange them for smaller ones.

21. Take a taxi that’s not right in front of the terminal. It’s way less expensive.

22. If you plan to take a tour, research different tour companies. The prices vary significantly, and oftentimes there are little differences between the tours. Sometimes you don’t even need to take a tour. Personally, I’m an anti-tour person unless it’s with a one-on-one guide, which can be pricey. If you’re trying to save money, you can make your own tour by reading the itineraries of the tour companies and copying what you like yourself.

23. Don’t believe everything the guidebook says. A lot can change since its publication, and it’s not always the best source of information. Guidebooks can be great for getting yourself acquainted, but the best way to see a country is to explore and try what looks good. Many of the restaurants and destinations mentioned in guidebooks have become less authentic and more “touristy.” Asking locals, your hostel/hotel staff or other travelers for recommendations is really the best way to go.

24. Be flexible. Your country if different than their country. Things work differently. Get used to it, or go home. I’ve noticed that some people don’t like it when you make comparisons between your country and their country. So it might be best to refrain from making comparisons unless you are asked.

25. Ask questions. The more you ask, the more you’ll learn. Language barriers are hard. The more you try and the friendlier you are, the more approachable they will be.

Tomorrow night, I will start my 19-hour journey home to the states. I have had a priceless several months traveling, and I can’t wait to see, feel and share more. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to revamp my blog and website, so look out for a change!





Gearing Up For My Return

26 10 2009

Since I am recovering from an unknown stomach issue yet again (Buscapina is a life saver), I have some more time to update my blog.

Coming home for a few months before I head to South Korea will give me time to pursue more of my interests.

Interest #1: Keeping track of business ideas. My interest in entrepreneurship has always been high, and I would say that it’s at an all-time high right now. Consequently, my mind cannot stop thinking of random business ideas, both domestic and international. So, I’ve decided to write every idea down and keep a log of them.

Interest #2: Update my website on my MacBook Pro and figure out a way to update it remotely.

Interest #3: Think about and implement video on my blog. I’d love to be able to capture my experiences on camera.

Interest #4: Continue learning more about social media.

Interest #5: Learn about online advertising.

Interest #6: Learn how to make short movies.

Interest #7: Learn more about photography.

Interest #8: Read more about investing. It’s a fascinating subject in which I’d like to devote more time.

Interest #9: Find a place to play racquetball. I played in college, and I really miss it.

Interest #10: Learn more about wine and cooking, and experiment with different spices and foods.

Random Buenos Aires fact: Love hotels, otherwise known as “telos,” are common here. Basically, it’s a pay by the hour place to go spend time with your special someone. Since most people live with their families until marriage, they go to these places to get it on. From what I hear, they are actually quite nice.





Uruguay + More Thoughts

23 10 2009

Uruguay

I spent a few days in Uruguay this past week, and I loved it. My only “complaint” was that I was in the capital, Montevideo, over the weekend. Weekends mean family time and church time for South Americans. Thus, the city was pretty much deserted on Sunday.

Montevideo reminds me a a little bit of Buenos Aires in the sense that it has European-looking buildings. It’s just way smaller and way less congested. After Montevideo, I took a bus over to Punta del Este, a city known for its beautiful beaches. During summer (tourist season), it’s packed with people. Since it’s only Spring here, there were very few people there, both tourists and residents.

The beaches were really beautiful and relaxing. It had been the longest I had ever gone without seeing a beach (five months), and it was so great to stick my feet in the sand and walk around with the beaches to myself. I thought about going to a few other more remote beaches a few hours away, but I decided against it for safety reasons– didn’t want to be by myself.

Here are a few pics of my trip.

Wine and Steak on the Grill

Wine and Steak on the Grill

Interesting Graffiti

Interesting Graffiti

Atlantic Ocean

Atlantic Ocean

Empty Street

Empty Street

Sandy Beach

Sandy Beach

Hand Sculpture

Hand Sculpture

More thoughts, Experiences and Observations

  • The service in South America is slow and inefficient. There are two or more lines for almost every store you enter. Example: One line to get a ticket for what you want, another line to give the ticket to the cashier to pay, and a final line to give them your receipt and get what you paid for.
  • Many people think I look Argentine. I’m not sure why.
  • People trying to make money pass out stuff on the metro and at coffee shops and want you to look at it. They range from pens to flashlights to toys. If you want it, you buy it. If not, they take it back. It makes the coffee shop experience less enjoyable.
  • The Halloween and costume stores here are very enjoyable. They have tons of accessories and props, which are really fun to look at.

Coming home in a little less than a week!





It’s Official: Coming Home and Working in SK

18 10 2009

Well, it’s official. I’m coming home in 12 days. This may come as a surprise to some people, but here’s my reasoning.

  1. I’ve decided to go to South Korea to teach beginning late 2009 or early 2010. I’m currently applying because the application process is lengthy. They require a criminal background check, a copy of my diploma, copies of my TEFL/TESOL certificates, medical records, interviews and several other immigration forms. It’s hard to get all this done if I’m in South America.
  2. Positions in South Korea offer paid housing (furnished studio apartment or shared apartment) equipped with a kitchen, living room area and a Western bathroom. They also offer 50% or more paid health care, round-trip airfare, paid vacations, a salary of $1500-2500 per month  and a month’s salary bonus upon completion of a year program. There are opportunities to earn more money if I work overtime. The only things I have to pay for are utilities, expenses and partial health care. In other words, I can save a lot of money. No place in South America offers anything remotely similar.
  3. I prefer to travel South America when I’m settled and when I have more money saved up. I was hoping to settle down in a city and then travel with limited luggage to selected destinations over the course of my stay. However, I decided not to settle. Hostel hopping is not really the way I want to see the rest of South America. I’ve accumulated so many things over the past several months that I had to buy a bigger suitcase. I’m done hauling everything from hostel to hostel. I’m done sharing a bedroom with strangers. I’m done showering in luke-warm, swampy bathrooms.
  4. I will return to South America when I’m done saving up in Asia. My desire to learn Spanish is too great not to return.

Before I leave, I’ll be enjoying more of Uruguay and Buenos Aires. And, I’m on a mission to find a good Halloween costume since I’m coming back on October 30!





Recap: Buenos Aires

16 10 2009

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is an awesome city. It reminds me of New York, San Francisco, Barcelona and Paris all combined into one. There are endless amount of restaurants, bars and coffee shops. The Subte (metro) and the bus lines are very efficient (except when there is traffic) and easy to navigate. There are also quite a few nice parks.  Not to mention, the nightlife is great.

Like any big city, there are all types of people, friendly and unfriendly. For example, a recent friend and I were lost, and we asked a local businesswoman for directions. She spent several minutes talking to us and showing us the right way to go. The unfriendly person I encountered was a professional dog walker. There are tons of dog walkers here who walk between about  five and twelve dogs all at once. They take their job very seriously, and I learned that they hate it if you take pictures of them. So unfortunately, I didn’t snap any good pics of them. I’m not sure that anyone picks up the dog droppings though, because there is dog poop everywhere! Luckily, I have been careful, and I have avoided stepping in it.

Here are some more observations I’ve made about the city and culture:

  • The Spanish here is much harder to understand and speak than in other parts of South America. The accent is different, and they use the “vos” form instead of the “tu” form. I hear Chileans are the hardest to understand.
  • Marijuana is just as prevalent or more prevalent than in San Francisco. I went to a soccer game, and people were smoking it close to the front row. No one seemed to mind since it’s so accepted here.
  • The men here are aggressive. They will usually say something to you when you walk past them. Also, many of them have mullets, and it’s a completely normal haircut here.
  • There are McDonald’s and Burger Kings everywhere. It literally seems like there is one at every corner.
  • Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) are proud.
  • The expats are really friendly. I’ve enjoyed some great meals and delicious Argentine wine with new friends.
  • All the taxis are yellow and black.
  • Tango is the national dance. People dance on the streets, in restaurants and professionally in theaters.
  • Soccer is obviously very huge here. Maradona, one of the most famous soccer players of all time, is the coach for Argentina’s team. There are photos and statues of him everywhere.
  • Empanadas and alfajores are everywhere. For people who don’t know what an alfajor is, it’s basically two cookies with filling inside. The cookies can be chocolate or sugar, and the filling is usually chocolate or dulce de leche. They are delicious and deadly.

Next Steps

Tomorrow, I go to Uruguay for a few days. Then, I’ll come back to Buenos Aires for a day or two. After that, I’ll head to Cordoba and Mendoza, and then Chile.

I have decided not to pursue work here in Buenos Aires. It’s a great city, but the pay is not worth it to me.  I could look for other, non-teaching jobs, but I’d rather stick to teaching. In Chile, I have a couple of job interviews lined up. However, it is not really hiring season. So, I am seriously considering teaching in South Korea. The benefits and pay are phenomenal, and they are always hiring in Asia. I figure I can teach in South Korea for a year or two, save up some money, and then return to South America to teach when I have more spending cash. That way, I can enjoy my time here more and take more time to learn Spanish.

If I go down the South Korea route, I’ll tour around South America for another month or so and then return to California for a little bit. If that’s the case, there’s a high chance I’ll be back in California for New Year’s Eve.

Below are some snapshots of the city.

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

Maradona Statue

Maradona Statue

Tango

Tango

Soccer Game

Soccer Game

Soccer Game

Soccer Game

Obelisco

Obelisco

Financial District

Financial District

Ecological Reserve

Ecological Reserve

Ferry Entering the Harbor

Ferry Entering the Harbor

Apartments

Apartments

Night Club

Night Club

Park

Park

Alfajor

Alfajor





Change of Plans?

10 10 2009

It’s currently thunderstoming in Buenos Aires, so I have decided to update my blog. A lot has happened since my last post.

To begin, I decided that I made a hasty decision in choosing my new apartment. Thus, I decided not to move in and look at more places. I think this was a wise decision because there turned out to be a few things that I didn’t like about it. I have looked at about ten different places, and I haven’t really been impressed with any place that I’ve seen.

Secondly, I got hired for a part-time teaching position during an impromptu interview when I dropped off my resume somewhere. I have now decided to turn down the job because I’m not sure Buenos Aires is the city for me.

I had been so busy running around trying to find a job and an apartment the first few days here that I completely didn’t make time to actually figure out if BA would be a good match for me. So, I am now going to book a private room in a hostel, explore for the next week or two and see if I want to live here.

I am leaning towards a smaller, different city. Why?

  1. The pay for teachers is low here. It’s not too difficult to find work, but it’s difficult to find work that pays well.
  2. The city is huge. I love big cities. However, it takes a long time to get from one side to the other. Also, there have been transportation strikes recently, and the subways have been closed on some days.
  3. I would like to work at a language institute or somewhere with more structure. Many of the English-teaching jobs here have no curriculum and few resources.

So, the next week or two, I will be enjoying myself in Buenos Aires and not worrying about finding work or an apartment. The only thing I have to think about is where would be a good city to work next. I am thinking about somewhere in Uruguay or Chile. I still miss Cusco dearly, but I think I want to try a new city.

Anyway, I’m sure things will work out. I’m just a bit confused on where to go next to work. After Buenos Aires, I will probably visit Uruguay for a few days since it’s so close.

Stay tuned for touristy pics!