I'm a 37-year old Seattle girl who was bitten by the travel bug on my first tour of Europe in 2004. This personal blog follows my attempts to visit as many countries as I can, as often as my budget will allow. Since starting this blog in 2007, I've also worked as a freelance copywriter for an online travel publication. This only served to add even more must-see locations to my already extended list.
Follow me as I try to balance "real life" with exploring the world, all while trying to conquer a wickedly ironic case of homesickness.


Ugly American?

My sister and I went to see "Long Way Down" this evening, and as usual, I greatly enjoyed the trek from my somewhat comfy theatre chair. However, with each passing day on the screen, I became more and more aware of a misconception in my own mind that I need to break through: I have Ugly-American-Phobia.

I don't mean that I wander around other countries in my Stars and Stripes t-shirt, expecting everyone to speak English, take dollars and serve burgers. I mean that, as a traveler, I am hiding behind such a fear of being associated with this highly resented stereotype that I'm terrified to be acknowledged or genuine when I'm abroad. I could never have reached out as much and as often as the two men in "Long Way Down"; I would have felt quite unwelcome. I've adopted the "When in Rome" mentality so much, that I'm actually very uncomfortable not fitting in lest I be recognized and associated with the loud, fanny pack-toting Americans around me. Yet ironically, this irrational fear keeps me from truly experiencing the place and the people I traveled so far to get a taste of.

This evening, I became so aware of how much of my travels I've spent trying to be too much of a chameleon, lightly treading my so-called heavy American footprint, silently absorbing what I can before disappearing as quickly as I can. And why? Because I feel that I am unwanted based solely on my citizenship. I feel like admitting I'm an American is going to be met with hostility right off the bat, even though I'm doing my best to immerse myself in the local language, currency, foods, etc. But when I really think about it, this misconception doesn't come from my travels at all. Most of the people I've met abroad have been nothing but kind to me, even after learning where I'm from. Instead, this misconception comes from travel books and grumpy travel blogs heavily pointing a finger at people that are expecting everyone to speak English, take dollars and serve burgers...which I decidedly am not.

I've realized I need to embrace who I am and learn to appreciate myself for what I am when I travel: one of the many Americans trying very hard not to be "ugly". Just because I'm carrying a US passport doesn't automatically mean I'm going to be loud and obnoxious, nor does it mean that my presence in another town is immediately resented. And by succumbing to this fear, failing to interact with people and not taking advantage of simple human interactions, I'm cheating myself out of something very important. I need to learn the freedom to walk up to anyone in any country and respectfully say to them, "My name is Lisa. I was born in America, and I realize how you may perceive my country. But I am most definitely not my government, and I want to learn, I want to grow as a person. I have the utmost respect for you, your country, your people, your culture. Please do not judge me without knowing me. Teach me, and let me share with you as well."

And for that reason, I'm putting the call out to everyone else, most especially the grumpies. Yes, the Ugly Americans are definitely out there; they've humiliated me far more than they've irritated you. But not all Americans are like that. Some of us realize the truth about our culture, and we actually don't like what we see. We're trying to learn languages and cultures, to be polite and to try new things. But we'll never grow without stepping outside of our bubble, and that requires stepping outside of the bubble. By assuming I am an uneducated, self-righteous, obnoxious American without getting to know me first is just as bad as me assuming you speak English and eat Rice-a-Roni.

We're all human; let's work together.


Shoot Experience

For any photo bug living in or traveling to London, you absolutely must check out Shoot Experience. Basically, it's a massive photography-based scavenger hunt, with each event focusing on a specific concept or neighborhood in London. The photos are entered into a competition, and the best one wins. I check their schedule every time I head to Old Blighty, hoping my travel dates will coincide with an SE event. Alas, it hasn't as of yet. But I'm still quite fascinated and impressed by this idea and the photos generated from it. Check them out!


Sam Brown's Weekend in London

For anyone that caught Samantha Brown's "Passport to Great Weekends" in London last night, the A. Gold Delicatessen she visited is in The City. It seems all the links to the "official website" isn't actually the official website, but I did find this for more information.

Furthermore, click here for specifics on the Tower's Ceremony of the Keys.

Links to most everything else she did are up and working in my London tips post; the ones that aren't will be soon, I promise!


An American meets Venice

Today, I read the following on another travel blog, and I immediately became aware how subjective travel can be and simultaneously grateful that the very same didn't happen to me. The traveler writes: "So far I'm not the biggest fan of Venice, but that's probably just because we braved a few of its most major sights during the worst time of day to go (early afternoon), with the multitudes of crowds. I agree with Jule's statement that 'Venice loses 80 percent of its potential magic because of the crowds of tourists.'"

My introduction to Venice was completely different...

We arrived in Mestre, the last town on the mainland, on a weeknight as all the crowds were leaving the island of Venice. This was our first day in Italy, and we had decided to ditch our large pre-paid dinner in our cushy hotel to sneak a quick peek of Venice a day earlier than the rest of our group. I remember cramming a Big Mac into my face at the Mestre train station, feeling a bit disenchanted by the bland, commercialized Italy I had experienced so far. Combined with my first encounters with the admiring gawks from Italian locals, I was seriously starting to have second thoughts.

Arriving in the Venice train station, we became totally discombobulated. We had been slapped on the hand for forgetting to validate our rail tickets on the way in, and we still weren't sure if we needed to validate them on the way out, whenever that departure might be. Generally speaking, we were just confused American tourists wandering around like goobers. That's when I heard my sister mutter, "Oh...my...gosh..." and start to drift, mesmerized, toward the main set of doors leading out of the station.

Curiously, I followed. And the moment I registered what I was seeing, I was awestruck. You just can't put into words when you first encounter Venice. Elegantly decaying buildings flanking a beautiful canal like none you've ever seen, drowning in a sense of magic that just hangs in the air. There we were, literally standing at Venice's doorstep. Suddenly, the train didn't seem so important, and we followed the drawing straight onto a departing water taxi headed further into the city.

We watched the sun go down and the moon rise on that one-hour vaporetto ride to St. Mark's Square. No one said much; we were all too consumed with absorbing the massive sensory explosion. Lights came on and flooded every stunning building all around us as we slowly rode down the canal. With the bulk of the tourist crowds gone, the streets were filled with the sound of music pouring out of the cafes, a light peppering of people casually strolling down the sidewalks and bridges. Gondoliers were tying up their gondolas for the night; I can still hear the sound of them knocking together in the waves.

We finally abandoned the water taxi at St. Mark's Square, thinking we couldn't fall any further in love with Venice than we had already. Yep, wrong again. As we walked past the Doge's Palace, breathtaking even in the twilight, we finally walked fully into the massive square. Our senses were overwhelmed yet again with quartets playing Mozart, people dancing and kissing quite literally in the moonlight. For those wordless moments, we just got drunk on Venice's charm. The stars had come out in the sky, and there wasn't a pigeon or crowd to be seen. It was just her; her people, her beauty, her enchantment.

We spent another hour or two just roaming around the back canals. Whenever we felt hopelessly lost, we'd grab a gelato to munch on and everything seemed okay again. At one point, we stopped to listen to an accordion player in a quiet canal when we realized we were staring at the back side of the eerily illuminated Bridge of Sighs. We have no idea how we got there and we could probably never find our way back. But those minutes were amazing.

I fell in love with that floating city on the sea that night, but those were stolen moments. We weren't supposed to be there. We were supposed to be back on the mainland with all the other tourists, eating a huge American meal in our huge chain hotel.

I'm so glad we broke the rules that day.


Europe a la Carte

A huge thank you to Karen over at Europe a la Carte for giving me and my humble travel blog a whole lot of attention! Her site is a permanent addition to my blogroll, for anyone searching for a great budget European travel site.


Familiar with London?

Okay, I've massively beefed up my post about planning a trip to London. I would greatly appreciate any constructive criticism, updates or ideas I just plumb forgot (because I know there are loads!).

If you're familiar with Londontown, please feel free to comment and help me improve it! Thanks!


International board games

I'm not really a chotchky sorta person. Hubby and I don't spend money on little bits and bobs we won't ever use, even if they are from somewhere really impressive. We prefer our holiday souvenirs to serve some sort of purpose. For example, a tea kettle from England or a piece of art from France. We also love to bring home slices of the everyday during our trip, like newspapers, ticket stubs or receipts.

But the other day, we realized we didn't own any board games. We left them all at our respective parent's houses when we moved out. Wouldn't that be a nifty souvenir idea from our travels? Our kids could grow up playing Monopoly on a British board, Stratego in Italian or Clue en Francais.

The phrase "pack and ship" immediately comes to mind, however!



If there is one thing a longhaul stay in the UK leaves me in mourning for, it's salad. Not the Brit definition of "salad" consisting of a wilted piece of lettuce and two rubbery cucumber slices. No, SALAD. The meal-in-itself kind we obsess about over here in the US.

So imagine my glee upon learning about Chop'd. It seems a lot like Pret, focused more on salads than sandwiches. What got me was a photo of the great big sign in the window that says "Make Your Own Salads!" Throw in some of the gol'darn American Ranch dressing, and I'm moving in!

A salad is a justifiable reason for a tranatlantic flight, right?


Photography Expeditions

National Geographic has Photography expeditions?! SIGN ME UP! I mean, I really am total rubbish and entirely untrained, but what an amazing experience!

Ambassador Sarah

Today's simple yet humourous musings of sister, Sarah:

"Can’t we all just get along?
Then vacationing would be logistically easier."
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