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.


Surviving Snowtober

(First of all, apologies that this post is shamefully late!)

The first day of our autumn weekend in New York City
proved the famous song absolutely correct.
The city is stunning in October sunlight!

We awoke on day two, however, to swirling snow out our window
as Snowtober rolled over the Northeastern United States,
turning an unprepared Big Apple into an icy, slushy mess:

Instead of walking, we wrestled for cabs...
with everyone else.

Instead of wandering outside, we went to the Met...
with everyone else.

Instead of being condemned to our cold, waterlogged trainers,
we went to Bloomingdales hoping for proper snow/rain boots...
with everyone else.

I'm not going to lie;
Saturday in the snow didn't feel much like a holiday.

So imagine our glee when we opened our curtains Sunday morning.
With the exception of patches of white in the parks
and chunks of ice falling from the high roof lines,
all evidence of the storm was completely gone.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip!
Two fabulous Broadway shows, great shopping,
fun wandering, wonderful food...

And once it's behind you, you can truly appreciate the opportunity
to watch a major city respond to unexpected weather.
It doesn't get much more authentic than that!

(However, after going through something similar in London,
I'm starting to get paranoid about bringing boots
wherever I travel, no matter the season!)


A stage full of Aussies

In choosing tickets for Broadway shows on our trip to NYC next month, I found that Hugh Jackman is doing a 10 week run concert. I reserved tickets immediately!

That led me to this video. I'm not much of an Oprah fan, but I have to hand this to her production team. To get Hugh Jackman, Olivia Newton-John, Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe on the same Sydney stage paying homage to their country is just cool.

It also makes me REALLY miss Australia!


Autumn in New York

Well, I made it four whole months with this "saving my last miles" concept. But, boy howdy, were they burning a huge hole in my proverbial pocket! Plus, the uncertainty of starting a family was making me question whether or not I would become physically unable to use them. Clearly, there was only one solution: use them before winter rolls in or I find myself knocked up. So I did.

Next month, I'm going back to New York City. ::big grin::

Specifically, my sister and I are going on a girl's weekend to the Big Apple at the end of October. It was difficult to see our Alaska Airlines Miles go from 40,139 to a measly 139. However, I've always wanted to stroll through Central Park in the fall, and I'm elated that I'm going to be able to see Sutton Foster perform live on stage.

This will be the first time we're putting our new Capital One Venture card miles to use, as well. I used a free loyalty club to get a great hotel deal that I will use the Venture miles to pay for. That means we'll only be paying for food and fun.

By the time we return, we'll be back to square one on earning miles, but I'll continue to use the system to our benefit and find as many ways as I can to combine savings for even better deals.



I need to get out of heeeere...

The Roaming Gnome is my personal hero,
and I've loved this commercial since it first aired two winters ago:

However, I don't think I've related to it as much as I do RIGHT. NOW.

I need to get out of heeeere!



Supermarkets on holiday

Don't miss Peter Jon Lindberg's editorial on one of my favourite parts of traveling the world: foreign supermarkets. I could've written the last two paragraphs about Hobnobs:

"Regional peculiarities aside, our planet is undeniably shrinking, and foreign treats are increasingly available in our hometown markets or, more so, online. Whether we’ve really gained from this is unclear, but it’s true that something—a certain thrill—has been diminished. Back in my Anglophilic youth I visited London once a year, and my first stop was always at the local Tesco, where I’d buy sackfuls of the things I couldn’t yet find back home: Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles, Walkers pickled-onion potato crisps, Ribena black-currant juice, Flake bars, Crunchie bars, Lion bars, Batchelors Mushy Peas (I ate them straight from the can), and, most coveted of all, McVitie’s Dark Chocolate Hobnobs (“the nobbly oaty biscuit”!). The latter became a real problem for me for a while, as I would beg and pester any U.K.-bound acquaintance to please please PLEASE pick me up a dozen packets of Hobnobs here’s a £50 note and an extra suitcase please PLEASE don’t forget I love them so. Friends learned to stop telling me their travel plans.

Years later, when imported Hobnobs suddenly materialized at a yuppie grocery near my Brooklyn apartment—selling for three times the U.K. price—I briefly worried that I might go broke and corpulent from eating cookies 24/7. Turns out the novelty wore off quick. A Hobnob in any other country, I discovered, was simply not as sweet."


Pure Michigan

I have no particular desire to go to Michigan.
I've never had a desire to go to Michigan.

Which is why I think the Pure Michigan commercials
are the single best tourism ad campaign in years.

A couple soothing shots, Tim Allen's voice,
and the Cider House Rules soundtrack,
and suddenly my life won't be complete until I go to Michigan.

Nicely done, advertisers.
You get me every single time.


May I ask a favor?

My British Airways Miles Millionaire contest entry has finally posted live online, only their editor clipped off the last line of my essay! I'm going to need as many votes as I can get!

Might you vote for me? Pretty please? My essay can be found here.

Thanks in advance!


Visions of England

We're having a lovely time in England!
A few photos from the last four days...


Last minute addition

There has been a last minute rearrangement of plans, and it looks like we're going to Brighton and the coast of East Sussex after all! My inner architecture nerd is especially excited to see the Royal Pavilion:

While the reason behind the change makes me sad (we'll miss you, Lisa!), I'd be lying if I said I wasn't elated to finally make it to Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. These chalk cliffs have been on my bucket list since before I knew what a bucket list was: ten years old, watching Kevin Costner's Robin Hood roll around on the beach under them. I can't wait to stand proudly as close to the edge as I'm safely allowed (much to the chagrin of my acrophobic husband, I'm sure)! Here's hoping for dry weather!

(And a big thanks to Abby for reminding me that I haven't been there yet.
You're holiday pictures were truly inspiring!)


A London-lover sounding off

UPDATE: Tube Strike has been officially suspended. PHEW!
Original article below:

Wednesday morning, I logged onto my computer to read the two words I really didn't want to read: Tube strike.

Over the last eight years, I've experienced many LU rush hours and a crippled Tube, but overall, I've managed to avert the full blown strikes. Yet, there it was: three days of our romantic escape glaring back at me from the screen listing the upcoming strike dates. $%#@&!*&%!#$@!!!!!!!

While I fully understand that stiff-upper-lip London finds a way to go on amidst these strikes, and alternative transportation options will be beefed up for the strike, I also know that 3.4 million displaced commuters have to go somewhere. This translates to long waits in bus queues and/or traffic:

I think this kind of frustration is a bit different for locals versus travelers. Not that it doesn't suck for locals as well; excessive commuting traffic always sucks. But excessive traffic on holiday sucks even more. Londoners didn't save for a year to be there, Londoners aren't trying to make the most of a measly few days they've looked forward to for months, and Londoners most certainly didn't spend thousands of dollars and fly twenty hours round trip in excruciating economy-class to be there. To Londoners, those ridiculous hour-long bus and taxi queues are a headache after another work day. To travelers on a limited schedule and budget, these long waits could actually sabotage the long-awaited and long-saved-for vacation.

While we're still clinging to hope that the talks announced Friday will continue and rectify the situation entirely (oh please, oh please, oh please!), I've also come up with an entirely new Plan B, just in case. It basically consists of walking to any and all places of interest within a few miles of our hotel for the first three days we're in the city and praying to God that it doesn't weep rain. It means we'll have to totally scratch several looked-forward-to spots off our list, but it also means we won't waste time in lines a mile long just to cram onto a overcrowded bus or spend an insane amount of money we don't have in a taxi stuck in horrible traffic.

I have to admit, while I support the basic principles behind unions and don't think anyone should be sacked unjustly, I am now totally on board with the millions of Londoners that believe the Tube strikes are becoming far too excessive. Besides this lovely encounter, three of my past London trips barely escaped strikes, as well. Too many too often, and the point becomes completely lost on everyone. Strikes can't become a crutch, or they'll lose their effectiveness entirely.


Prudence vs fear

I've been asked several times already whether or not my husband and I are still going to London in two weeks given the US State Department's newly issued Worldwide Travel Alert to American citizens.

My answer is an emphatic YES,
for a myriad of reasons.

I'm not saying we, as travelers, should cease to exercise common sense. I am saying there is a difference between a prudent traveler and a prisoner of fear. Right now, this alert gives us absolutely no specific information whatsoever. It essentially says that anything could happen, anywhere, at any time, including within America itself. Of course, absolutely nothing could happen, as well. No one really knows.

Yes, if something does end up happening, within America or abroad, it will be horrible, it will be scary and it will be heartbreaking. But right now, there is no way of knowing, and if we live our lives dictated by that kind of vague speculation, we're setting ourselves up for a lot of disappointment. Besides, the entire point of travel is to deliberately step out of our comfort zones to expand our own knowledge.

For that reason, unless a far more tangible, definable and legitimate threat presents itself between now and then, we are packing our bags, we are standing in all the painfully long TSA lines, we are getting on that plane and we are spending our holiday overseas as originally planned. I can only encourage anyone else with upcoming travel plans to do the same.

If that still doesn't help, think of it this way: there are an estimated 90,000 flights worldwide every day. Not only are the statistics on our side, but an increase of vigilance surrounding our airports and subway systems just made our travels much safer than they were yesterday.

"Courage is the knowledge of how to fear what ought to be feared
and how not to fear what ought not to be feared."
David Ben-Gurion


Staying healthy

If there is one thing I feel I've perfected over the last eight years of international travel, it's my first aid/health kit. There is a fine balance between over-packing and being prepared. I like knowing I have just enough to get me through to a drugstore/chemist for whatever the problem may be. Whenever I travel, this is what I take with me. (not all items pictured, as I have some shopping to do!)

Staying healthy on the plane
Recycled airplane air is horrible, and the planes aren't really cleaned very well between flights. I'm one of those people that always used to catch a cold after flying. Here is how I learned to win that battle:
- Travel-size Lysol spray (spray seat upholstery/head rest upon boarding)
- Travel-size antibacterial wipes (wipe down everything else upon boarding)
- Ocean saline spray (keeps nasal passages moist; fights airborne illness)
- Antibacterial soap (airplane bathroom soap is a joke, and it smells horrible!)
- Antibacterial hand gel (to use before I eat if I can't get to the lavatory)
- Travel-size quality hand lotion (keep your skin hydrated, especially with all the antibacterial stuff you're using!)
- If I'm taking an overnight long-haul flight, I now bring a N95 grade face mask to block airborne illnesses while I’m sleeping. It seems silly, but it really works!

Fighting jet lag
Sleep is vital to staying healthy, but jet lag doesn't have to ruin a holiday:
- Melatonin (helps your sleep cycle transition naturally)
- Diphenhydramine HCI (name brand: Simply Sleep) for when melatonin isn’t enough

First aid
We always exert ourselves far more on holiday than we do on normal days. This leads to sore/fatigued muscles and sometimes some scrapes and bruises:
- (2) large Band-Aids/elastoplasts
- (2) small Band-Aids/elastoplasts
- Tube of Neosporin
- Travel-sized container of Aleve
- Small tube of Icy Hot
- (2) heat therapy patches (also doubles to keep you warm on a cold plane)

Food related illnesses
New cuisines often trigger indigestion, diarrhea or constipation, as your body processes something it's not familiar with. That doesn't mean you can't eat well:
- Pepto Bismol or Imodium AD tablets
- Travel size bottle of Tums
- (1) sheet of ranitidine tablets (acid reducer)
- (3) to-go packs of Benefiber powder

Those darn pesky colds/flus
As previously mentioned, this is the area I have the most experience with. These items should keep you going so you don't have to miss any of your trip:
- (2) Emergen-C or Airborne
- Travel-size bag of cough drops
- Enough cold medicine/fever reducer for a full day and night
- Vicks Vapor inhaler
- (2) Breathe Right strips (to help you sleep better)
- Small vial of peppermint oil
- 3 oz container of salt (to gargle with hot saltwater)
- (3) Travel-sized packs of quality tissues
- (3) bags of Organic Throat Coat tea

This list is in addition to normal things like lip balm and daily vitamins. And before you think this is excessive, consider that - when packed carefully - all these items fit easily into a small toiletries bags and a TSA-approved Ziploc. After the flight, they can easily be transferred from carry-on to day bag:

This homemade kit has saved my sanity countless times. Every item has been used at least once, whether it was for myself or someone I was traveling with.

I also advise bringing some non-perishable food items to keep your blood sugar up throughout your trip, since timely meals aren't always guaranteed when you're traveling. I like to bring protein bars, dried fruit, granola and/or nuts. I also like instant breakfasts packets. Add to a cup of milk and you'll be full for hours!

What about you? What is in your travel health kit?

London babymoon/anni itinerary

Our original plan had balanced time in London with a bunch of different day trips out to other parts of England, including Glastonbury, Brighton and Beachy Head. However, money reared its ugly head and we found ourselves "stuck" in London for almost the entirety of our trip. I was initially a little worried since this will be my seventh(!) visit, and I've already done/seen a lot in and around the city. Was I actually going to get bored in London?!

Turns out, absolutely not! This city has so much going on, I was able to find more than enough things we haven't done yet to fill our week. I also really like the laid back vibe this trip will have; it's rather fitting for the reasons we'll be there.

Arrive at Heathrow at 11am. I like to keep my arrival days loose. In case I didn't get much sleep on the plane, we don't have to keep a schedule in a haze of jet lag. We'll most likely wander around Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square. We might include the London Transport Museum; their gift shop is fun! We'll grab an easy dinner somewhere and most likely retire rather early.

First stop: British Museum. We've been multiple times, but my husband loves it; it's one of the few things that make his eyes light up. Then off to Borough Market for one of their ridiculous grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. (These are the only two things my husband specifically requested on this trip.) Afterward, we'll wander down South Bank, which always includes a stop into the gift shop at Shakespeare's Globe to see what fun things are for sale. Later, we'll catch dinner somewhere easy. More laid back wandering.

Kensington museum day! The V&A, Natural History Museum and Tate Britain, all museums we haven't been to yet. Our major anniversary splurge will be dinner at Rules Restaurant, after which we're going to Love Never Dies at the Adelphi. Happy 5th anniversary to us!

UPDATED: Unfortunately, our original plan of meeting a friend from Scotland isn't going to work out, so we've decided to hop a coach to Brighton and the coast instead. While I'm sad to miss seeing my girlie, I'm thrilled to be able to finally see Seven Sisters! Here's hoping for dry weather!

We'll wake up early to jump on our coach trip to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. It also includes time in Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water, and lunch in Burlford in the Cotswolds.

We're taking a morning train out to wander around Windsor and Eton.

We're taking a morning City Cruise boat down the Thames to wander around Greenwich. Once we arrive, we'll be using the City Walks self-guided walking tour. (Am I a huge geek for really looking forward to going under Tower Bridge?)

Wednesday is a wild card, and we're keeping it that way. Michael wants to climb to the top of St. Paul's again. There are a bunch of random things we haven't done yet, including Little Venice, the Museum of London, paddling the Serpentine, wandering through Selfridges, touring Kensington Palace or Somerset House. Or perhaps we'll spend the day returning to all our favourite places, like our bridge. What better place to celebrate an anniversary, after all?

We'll have a small handful of hours until we have to go back to Heathrow. We always like to keep those open in case there is something we don't make it to during the rest of the week. Afterwards, we fly home, hopefully satisfied.


Oversized boarding pass

Here is a great story for anyone that has ever contemplated messing around with a self-printed boarding pass.


BA Miles Millionaire

Not only do I adore this commercial,
my husband and I qualify to be entered in the contest!

Needless to say,
we've both already registered...


Matching miles

You may remember this decision several years ago. Since Hubs and I signed up for the Alaska Air Visa Signature card, it's worked out very well. We've been earning miles steadily while not paying a single penny of interest.

In the travel industry, however, the Capital One Venture card has been climbing the charts, and I had definitely taken notice. Comparitively, miles are earned faster, annual fees are less, and there are no foreign transaction fees. Honestly, the only reason we hadn't switched is because of the huge initial hassle of doing so.

And then I saw this commercial:

We currently have 35K miles on our Alaska account, enough for a single domestic round trip ticket. If we took advantage of Match My Miles, we'd earn not only the matched 35K miles but an additional bonus 10K miles after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days (easy, peasy!). That was the push we needed to switch, and I'm elated that we just earned enough additional miles for a second round-trip domestic ticket with a single phone call! It didn't even matter that we were already Capital One accountholders; this offer is available to anyone that doesn't yet have a Venture card.

I'm now in the process of switching all our finances over to this card, and I'm thrilled to be earning miles twice as fast. When traveling abroad, I used to have to choose between paying a foreign transaction fee and earning miles; not anymore! Since we pay off the balance every month, we won't be acruing any interest whatsoever. Finally, not only is the annual fee lower, it is also waived for the first year.

Match My Miles is honestly the best introductory offer I've ever seen for the best card for diehard travel junkies. If you're in the same situation and searching for the best budget travel possibilities out there, I'd recommend taking the plunge. This is budget-conscious traveling at its best!


YouTube's Hitodori

I am frequently overwhelmed by a strong nostalgia of a place I've visited, and I yearn to return, if only for a few minutes. I'm not quite that rich, so I go searching for the next best thing: armchair traveling. Sure, my DVD collection is filled with beautiful travelogues by Rick Steves, Burt Wolf and Samantha Brown, but most travelers would admit that those polished, edited, scripted creations shot only on good weather days and are vastly different from simply being there.

That is when I turn to Hitodori.

At the time of this blog post, Hitodori had 1,252 uploads on his YouTube page. What are they, you ask? Seven to ten minute chunks of a stationary camera set up on street corners and public spaces all over the world. These videos don't have narrative or music; they're simply the experience of being in that space. Sounds of local transportation, bird calls, conversations in many languages...very unique and true-to-life characteristics of that place. It's as if you've stepped through your monitor and sat on that sidewalk for a few minutes. To a wanderluster, that is better than therapy.

I can listen to unique street crossing blips in Sydney:

The squeak of double decker buses in London:

Lively street music in New York City:

The sound of high-heeled shoes on cobblestones in Italy:

I can even experience the personalities of places I've never been before. This morning alone, I've witnessed car horn symphonies in Mumbai and Cairo, the celebration of football fans in Berlin, masked commuters hurrying to work in Tokyo, a call to prayer in Istanbul, the overwhelming majority of men walking the streets of Bahrain, and the fact that even if you're in Mexico, you can't escape the Black Eyed Peas.

I also can't help but wonder what takes this person to all these places so frequently...


Tourist in your own town, 2011

One of the best parts of being a travel writer is that you get to armchair travel from nine to five. One of the worst parts of being a travel writer is that your list just grows and grows and grows with each new destination you research.

This time, however, my growing list is entirely doable. Why? My current project is on my home city of Seattle. As soon as I started to look at my city as a destination as opposed to just a string of chores and traffic, I got excited to get out there and see it through the eyes of a visitor. This summer, I'm taking the Tourist in your own Town concept to a whole new level!

The things I'm most looking forward to are:

Savor Seattle's chocolate indulgence walking tour

Seattle Bites'
walking/nibbling tour of Pike Place Market

Seattle By Foot's Coffee Crawl

Argosy Cruises' Murder Mystery Cruise

The architecture of and views from
The Smith Tower Observation Deck
(How have I never been there before?!)

Seattle Center's Movie's at the Mural

More Seattle Architectural walking tours

...and, of course, several doses of
Shakespeare in the Park!

I'm also considering just charging up the batteries on my camera and going on photography expeditions around the area, especially Kitsap Peninsula and local farmer's markets and street fairs. There are some great shots out there that I've seen many times but never bothered to capture and share.

I realize I probably won't do all this in a single year. It's encouraging just to know there are intriguing activities out there just waiting for me, especially since we're going to have to slow the full-fledged traveling way down after this spring. In the meantime, I'm actually excited to explore my own city!

Whirlwind NYC?

Right now, I'm considering a whirlwind trip to New York to see a play. Hubs and I have enough miles earned for a single round-trip domestic ticket, and I found a great sale on NYC hotels. Two nights, a theatre ticket, two more days to wander around the Big Apple...it sounds so very lovely right now!

But is it worth 40K hard-earned miles at a time when money is very tight? Hmmm...


My favourite cities

London, England

Sydney, Australia

New York City, USA

Vienna, Austria

Venice, Italy

Las Vegas, USA

Rome, Italy

Ka'anapali, USA

Edinburgh, Scotland
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