Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Trading in the Backpack for an Apartment!

I am trading in my backpack for keys to an apartment in the Mission district of San Francisco!

The end of the backpacking run is bittersweet. I have been on the move since last June, and have had the opportunity to expand my world, to volunteer, to meet amazing people, and to visit places full of history. It is difficult for me to give up the flexibility of being able to book random flights to places like Florida or Hawaii on a whim. But I am excited plant roots and to start a new chapter here in San Francisco. Don't worry, I will still be traveling! Dallas, Texas up next in two weeks!

“San Francisco is a city where people are never more abroad than when they are at home.”~Benjamin F. Taylor

Monday, January 27, 2014

Baker Beach, San Francisco

Out of all of the beaches that I have been to so far in San Francisco (disclaimer, I have only been to 3), Baker Beach has been my favorite. While the sun is more of a guarantee at Stinson Beach and the surfing is better at Pacifica, the view at Baker is unbelievable. 

When I first arrived at Baker, I almost left because the parking lot was thick with fog and it looked like there was no hope for sunshine. Fortunately, the fog quickly rolled out, leaving us with a postcard view of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

I definitely plan on going back, but next time I will bring not only a bathing suit, but also a parka. It's SF. Who knows what the weather will be like.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Top 10 Travel Apps

1. Day One - Keep a record of your travels in this digital diary

2. Whatsapp - Send free texts to other users via WiFi when traveling abroad

3. Swell - The Pandora of podcasts is perfect for long car rides

4. Uber/Sidecar/Lyft - Travel like a local using one of these car service apps

5. Venmo - Split checks with friends using this easy money transfer tool

6. RunKeeper - Keep track of how long your epic hikes are

7. Airbnb - Find cool housing options

8. Kayak - Book cheap airline tickets

9. iMovie - The only thing better than selfies is a movie about your trip

10. Duolingo - My favorite free language app

Thursday, January 23, 2014

3 Myths About Maui

Myth #1: Going to Hawaii will break the bank!

Some people are under the impression that going to Hawaii is one of those trips that is just too expensive to ever actually go on. I am here to dispel that myth.

$188 - flight -refunded due to delays

$400 - hotel
$90 - groceries
$18 - restaurants
$120 - snorkeling
$75 - rental car
$703 - total cost for one week in the sun

Don't get me wrong, this is no small sum, but it is doable. I traded a year's worth of chai latte's from Starbucks for a trip to Hawaii. It's all about priorities.

Myth #2: I can't wear sunscreen if I want a tan!

This should not still be a myth with all we know about the effects of the sun, but somehow there are still people who think that wearing sunscreen means you won't get tan. I wore SPF 30 the entire time and not only did I not burn once, I am plenty more tan than when I first stepped foot on the sand.

Myth #3: There will be people my age

I guess this one isn't true if you are reading this and you are 70. Or 80. But if you are between the ages of 20-35, you probably aren't vacationing in Maui. There were a few exceptions here or there. Some honeymooners or families were on the younger side, but the majority of vacationers were post-retirement age. Apparently Oahu is a better island for younger people.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Where to Snorkel in Maui

Yesterday we booked a last minute tour to snorkel at the Island of Lanai. Booking one day in advance is not recommended - you have more options if you plan 2-3 days in advance. We got lucky, and there were 4 seats available on a zodiac boat with Maui Adventure Tours.

Snorkeling is a little pricey (about $100, or even less if you book directly from the company vs. from the hotel), but totally worth it. Seeing the reefs and the brilliantly colored fish up close was surreal. We left from Slip #11 at Lahaina Harbor and spent about 2 hours in the water, splashing around in our flippers and goggles. I also brought my iPhone under with me, carefully protected by a Lifeproof case and a Frieq brand waterproof bag. This was our first time snorkeling and it was surprisingly easy. After a 2 minute lesson from the naturalist on the Maui Adventure Cruise boat, we were jumping off the side and snorkeling around without too much flailing or inhalation of water. The staff on the boat, Becca and Rob, were friendly, helpful, and all around good people. We snorkeled at two stops, and though both were beautiful, the second was particularly cool because it was a lava mass that came to a pinnacle where our boat was parked. This meant you could see not only the shallow reef area, but also the cobalt deep water that surrounded it.

Another 2 hours were spent on the boat, where we were frequently surrounded by whales that came as close as 40 feet from our boat. It was so close that when it was breached, you could tell that it was a female because of a lump the size of a volleyball located under the tail. Whales do not usually approach boats as they pass, but when they do, it's called being "mugged." We could even hear the "songs of the humpback whales" from a hydrophone that the naturalist placed in the water. It was truly a whale watch and snorkeling adventure in one. While the tour company claims to see dolphins 80% of the time, we were in the unlucky 20% of tours, and didn't spot any dolphins, which was kind of a disappointment. Overall though, the whole trip was an amazing experience.

Cruising Down the Road to Hana

One upside to arriving at the rental car place at 3:00 A.M. is that all of the economy cars have already been taken, leaving us with a hard top Jeep. We heard great things about the Road to Hana, but the Jeep cinched it for us - we had to spend a day road tripping.

From our hotel, it took us almost an hour to actually reach the road to Hana, but even the drive down Honoapilani Highway was stunning. Our first stop on the Road to Hana was a popular pull off by mile 6. We were hopeful that all of the cars parks on the side of the road meant we had reached a patch of the famed painted eucalyptus trees, but instead we found a beach that was hosting a local surfing competition. We watched for a while, then returned to the road.

Our next stop was a pull off by mile 10 where we read in our Lonely Planet that we would find the trail head for a popular hiking spot. That's not what we found. Instead, we stumbled on the real Hawaii where residents were fighting for Hawaiian nationalism and revolting against US colonization. This was interesting to see because we have spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing Hawaiian politics.

We went back on the road until we reached mile 22, where we found a fresh fruit stand. We each downed fresh pineapple and banana smoothies, coconut snacks and banana bread and learned about a short hike to twin waterfalls. We also found a secluded swimming hole that was so secluded that it was too tricky for us to find the route to.

Giving up on swimming at the swimming hole, we headed back to our hotel, the Aston Kaanapali Shores to spend the rest of the afternoon laying out at the beach. Before reaching our hotel though, we stopped at a scenic area, Ho'okipa Beach Park, to climb down the rocky coast to witness of one of the most beautiful views thus far.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

How I Made Money on My Flight to Hawaii

A few months ago, I booked an impulse trip to Maui when I saw that there was a flight deal for a $188 round trip ticket from SFO. So here I am, in the middle of January, laying on the beach. Life is easy. Flying to Maui... not so much.

When we first booked our flight, we were scheduled to fly out of San Jose in the morning and land in Hawaii by noon. Perfect. One month after we booked our flights (and after we prepaid a hotel room - first mistake), we found out our flight time was changed to 1 P.M., so we wouldn't arrive until 9:30 P.M. Not so perfect. Losing an entire day was a big deal, so I immediately called Delta, explained the situation, and tried to get on an earlier flight. There were no earlier flights available, so the best Delta could do was to switch our flight to Oakland (more convenient for us), and to credit my account with 5,000 miles.

Unfortunately, this was only the beginning. Once we stepped off the plane at LAX for our 50 minute layover, we found we were delayed an additional hour because of a mechanical problem. One hour turned into 6, and we weren't off the ground until 11:00 P.M., getting us into Hawaii at 3:00 A.M.

While this was frustrating, most of the people on the flight stayed positive, especially when Delta credited everyone $50 and started handing out free drinks and snacks. The Delta agent also suggested filing a complaint with Delta online, which I did right from the airport. Three minutes after tweeting about the situation,  I was credited another $150 to my frequent flier account. The credits ended up being worth more $200, which was more than my original ticket! I always find that a respectful and positive tone wins more than hostility. I simply tweeted: "@DeltaAssist  What happens when a mechanical errors causes a delay that prevents me from staying in a prepaid hotel room?"

While I obviously would have preferred an earlier arrival, I am happy that I now have $200 to spend on Delta. Where should I go next?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bay Area Bucket List

  1. Tourist Club
  2. Go on a trip with the Outdoor Adventure Club
  3. Watch a movie at the Castro Theater
  4. See a sunset from the top of Twin Peaks
  5. People watch at Dolores Park 
  6. Anchor Brewery’s tour and tasting
  7. Eat at Burma Superstar
  8. Sequoia National Park
  9. Dip my toes in Half Moon Bay
  10. Ski in Tahoe
  11. See the elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve
  12. Hike in the Marin Headlands
  13. Adult night at the California Academy of Sciences
  14. See the Giants play
  15. Volunteer with Beyond Z
  16. French toast at Mama's
  17. Sourdough class at La Victoria's
  18. 49er's game
  19. Los Gatos Creek Trail
  20. Yosemite
  21. Gilroy Garlic Festival
  22. Treasure Island Flea Market
  23. Big Sur
  24. Plant a tree with Friends of the Urban Forest
  25. Join The Kitchen
  26. Continue learning Spanish at Enjoy Spanish

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Safety Tips for the Solo Traveler

Whenever I talk to people about having traveled abroad by myself, the conversation always jumps to how I stayed safe. Here are a couple of tips for those traveling by themselves…
  • When traveling alone, try not to be alone. This is particularly important at nighttime or when in vulnerable situations like long-distance bus rides. This may seem challenging, as you don’t really know anyone, but it’s really pretty simple. When I traveled, I made sure to stay in places where I would meet like-minded people who might also be traveling alone, or might be jumping from place to place like me. I found hostels to be a great place to meet others. Surprisingly, I encountered many solo travelers, many of whom were women. You have to be comfortable talking to anyone, but once you do, you’ll realize that there is almost always someone who is traveling a similar route or someone who is interested in sharing a meal or exploring the city with a new friend. Not only does this keep you safe, but you also can meet some amazing people who might even turn out to be lifelong friends.
  • If you aren’t able to find someone to ride the bus with you, make smart decisions. I only traveled by bus alone a couple of times, but when I did, I made smart decisions. By this I mean that I was willing to pay a bit more to travel a more reputable bus or was willing to be flexible about my travel times in order to arrive during the day versus arriving somewhere alone at night. Also, you don’t need to flash your shiny new iPad on an overnight bus ride, no matter how badly you want to catch up on the new season of Newsroom.
  • Learn how to choose a cab. Let’s start with airport cabs. When I was alone, I favored booking cab drivers through my hostel in advance. It cost me about $5 more, but it was worth it to me to know that I would be in good hands. If taking a cab provided by the hostel isn’t an option, use your best judgement and remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As far as city cabs go, know what to look for to know if a cab is legitimate. In Peru this meant finding a silver sticker on the front window and a black number written across the side. These cabs were registered and generally safer than some random person who is just driving people around to make a little extra cash. Realize, though, that while it is important to be cautious, it’s also important to expect people to be good at heart. At first, I was afraid to speak in cabs, worried that the driver would realize I didn’t speak Spanish fluently and would take advantage of the fact that I was a tourist. But let’s be real, the guy knew I was a tourist even before I opened my mouth. Face it, I am wearing hiking boots, I probably mispronounced the name of my destination, and I am carrying a backpack. Once I got over my fear, I realized all of the cab drivers I spoke to were amazing people with interesting stories and helpful travel advice. So what if I had to pay an extra 30 cents because my accent was American or I missed a few verb conjugations?
  • Only carry what you need. You never need your id, all of your money and five credit cards all at the same time. Be smart about what you carry, when, and where. I never took my passport around with me. Instead, I locked it up in my room where I couldn’t lose it or get it stolen. I followed the same rule with my debit cards. When I needed to get cash, I brought my card, but immediately returned it to my room after taking out money. As far as money goes, it should go without saying that you should only carry what you need. If you run out, you can always return to your room and get more. Whatever you are carrying, split it up and put it in a safe (and accessible) place. I tried to get fancy and hide my money in pockets where no one would know about it. The problem was that the money was so inaccessible that even I struggled to access it. Don’t go crazy. It’s not the end of the world if you lose 50 bucks.
  • Choose hostels carefully. In the beginning, my priority was to carefully monitor my budget. I learned quickly that while this strategy was great for my savings account, it wasn’t worth risking my safety. The cheapest hostel I stayed at ended up being the one that was robbed. Instead of going by cost, talk to people. Get suggestions. Ask questions and find out where other people stayed in order to find the best (and safest) places. Most importantly, write down what they say! I followed this strategy in Ecuador and stayed in some of the nicest hostels on my trip. This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but it took me two countries to figure out in-person recommendations are much more reliable than online reviews.
  • Never leave your belongings unattended in your hostel. Again, this sounds obvious, but there are moments when your phone is charging and you are tempted to leave it on your bed for 30 seconds while you brush your teeth in the bathroom. It might be fine. It might not be. My phone wasn’t. In those 30 seconds, my hostel roommate disappeared and so did my cell.
  • Most importantly, don’t ruin your trip by not trusting anyone or not taking calculated risks. Generally people are wonderful people. Don’t let one bad story taint your experience.