5 Thoughts You’ll Only Have at the Grand Canyon

I spent Memorial Day weekend in Vegas ( more to come in a separate post) but the highlight of the week-long trip was the day spent at the Grand Canyon. After a long night of doing Vegas things, my friend and I took a shower and a nap before meeting our tour bus at 5 am. Even so , after a morning that included a quick walk around the Hoover Dam and an energetic bus driver who laughed like a hyena and threatened to sell  left behind items on eBay, I arrived at the canyon renewed and ready to explore.

A quick drive by the Grand Canyon | photo credit:thepinkexpat

A quick drive by the Hoover Dam | photo credit:thepinkexpat

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photo credit: the pinkexpat

And finally a successful travel selfie...this is four years in the making , guys

And finally a successful travel selfie…this is four years in the making , guys

When I walked to the edge of Mather’s Point and saw the valleys and peaks , the random greenery growing from steep ledges , and  the vibrant reds and oranges of the canyon’s interior I could only think Wow.  Here are a few more thoughts – and photos -from my visit to the Grand Canyon.

Thought #1: How does nature make so much beauty ?

The Grand Canyon |photo credit: @thepinkexpat

The Grand Canyon |photo credit: @thepinkexpat

All the different colors and textures of the canyon | photo credit @thepinkexpat

All the different colors and textures of the canyon | photo credit @thepinkexpat

Thought # 2: It must go on forever and ever and ever…

It's called grand for a reason |photo credit: thepinkexpat

It’s called grand for a reason |photo credit: thepinkexpat

photo credit @thepinkexpat

photo credit @thepinkexpat

Thought # 3: Do not fall…Do not fall

I was very brave and leaned over a rail for this photo |photo credit:thepinkexpat

I was very brave and leaned over a rail for this photo |photo credit:thepinkexpat

Do it for the photo! |photo credit: thepinkexpat.com

Do it for the photo! |photo credit: thepinkexpat.com

My fear is evident in this photo. I'm not afraid of heights, but I really,really didn't didn't want to go splat  |photocredit:thepinkexpat

My fear is evident in this photo. I’m not afraid of heights, but I really,really didn’t didn’t want to go splat |photocredit:thepinkexpat

Thought #4: I really hope those people don’t fall

But I wasn't nearly this brave | thepinkexpat.com

But I wasn’t nearly this brave | thepinkexpat.com

photo credit:thepinkexpat.com

photo credit:thepinkexpat.com

Thought #5: If I do fall to my death ,it’ll be fine because I saw this with my own eyes.

photo credit : thepinkexpat

photo credit : thepinkexpat

My favorite photo of the bunch |photo credit:thepinkexpat.com

My favorite photo of the bunch |photo credit:thepinkexpat.com

 

Do you remember the first time you saw the Grand Canyon, either in person or through a photo? What was your first thought?

3 Dumb A** Travel Mistakes I Continue to Make

I’ve just returned from my first trip to the West. I loved the heat and palm trees ( two things we just don’t have on the East Coast) but now that I’m back in the comfort of my bed, I can’t help thinking about how I could have made the trip better. Though I’ve been traveling for nearly two years and returned from my first solo trip overseas alive and with all my belongings, I still make mistakes…sometimes expensive ones.

Here’s some of the most recent travel mistakes I regret the most

Mistake #1:  Taking Emergency Cabs

photo credit:gettyimages.com

photo credit:gettyimages.com

Back in April, I was in Amsterdam. For a reason I don’t remember, I didn’t buy the round-trip train ticket from the airport to Central Station. Fast forward three days and I found myself at the station at  4 in the morning surrounded by closed customer service desks and with an American credit card that wouldn’t work in the  automated ticket booth. Because I also read my boarding pass wrong, I thought I had an hour to make my flight. Long story short, I ended up taking a 70 dollar cab ride to the airport.

A round trip ticket would have on caused me 16 US dollars.

I made a similar mistake leaving Vegas yesterday.

I had already scheduled a shuttle to take me to the airport and as my hotel was all the way at the other end of the strip, I caught a taxi to get me there in time. The driver, who only paused his phone conversation to ask me where I was going, drove halfway there before I told him the meter wasn’t running. He wanted me to pay him the “normal ” fare but I wasn’t using cash and just paid what the meter said.

I was too busy averting his death stare to check the seat as I normally do and I was at the airport before I realized I didn’t have my passport. It must have fallen out of my bag when I was searching for my wallet. After calling the cab company , the driver brought me my passport but , of course, the meter was about 15 dollars higher than it should have been. He had added the “normal” fare from before.

The cost of using my passport for a domestic trip and then leaving it in a questionable taxi? 50 US dollars.

Mistake #2:  Relying on ATMs

photocredit:gettyimages.com

photocredit:gettyimages.com

I was so excited to start traveling within the States because I figured it would be much cheaper. I made my budget and celebrated when I didn’t have to allot for exchange rates and conversion fees. What I should have thought about , was the fact that I’d be splitting taxis and checks and giving tips for ever service imaginable. The result was a handful of trips to the ATM and more than a handful of fees.

Mistake #3: Not Planning with Co-Travelers

photo credit: gettyimages.com

photo credit: gettyimages.com

When I’m solo, I don’t do much beforehand except for looking up directions. I have the whole day to do whatever I want, whenever I want and rarely leave a place without crossing the most important things off my to-do list. When you travel with others, as I did in Vegas , you not only have to take others’ interest into account but also their sleeping/eating/bathroom schedules, budget, and other eccentricities. Looking back, I feel like we only did a few of the things we planned on doing. Things I though would only take a few hours turned into half-day activities.

Next time, I’ll definitely sit down with co-travelers and have a solid plan before departure.

So, to my future self: take out cash before leaving, do not carry your passport on a domestic trip, and have a plan when traveling with others. And for the love of everything good in life, do whatever it takes to avoid taxis to the airport.

What are some of your travel mishaps …and how did you recover?

My Travel Reading List

My least favorite part of travel is always the “getting there” stage. whether by plane , train, or bus being stuck in a tiny seat and surrounded by strangers is never very comfortable. Luckily , I’ve found that another passion of mine – reading – is the perfect pastime. The hours seem to melt away and I can block everything and everyone out.

Here’s what I’ve been reading while  in transit .

IMG_0324

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

A bi-racial detective discovers he can use magic  and must develop his skills as a demonic force causes the faces of London’s innocents to fall off.

I liked it so much that I already have the sequel , Moons Over Soho, packed in my bag for the next flight.

Half-Bad by Sally Green

A product of a good white witch and the most evil black witch , a boy has to fight through a childhood of  torture to figure out where he belongs.

This was gory and entertaining but I don’t know if I liked it enough to pick up the second book in the series.

The Hiding Place BY Corrie Ten Boom

The true story of Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian who was sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews in her home during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

I read this once in middle school but decided to have a reread after visiting the house in Amsterdam. I would recommend  reading this on a long overnight trip, when there’s plenty of time to think and the darkness will hide any tears.

 

What have you all been reading?

Missing the Train to Hogwarts: A Day at Leavesden Studios

I couldn’t go to London without making the trek out to Leavesden Studios. Since filming of the Harry Potter movies concluded , the two studio stages, J & K ( See what they did there?) have been turned into permanent … Continue reading

Top-Ten Tuesday: 10 Reasons to Travel with G Adventures

Today’s Top-Ten list is simple and short; it’s a review of my China trip with G Adventures. If you don’t know, G Adventures is a travel company that provides local guides on trips throughout the world.

Here are 10 reasons to travel with G Adventures

10. Insider Guides

Having a guide who spoke the native language, could explain the currency, and give detailed directions  was  extremely valuable. I actually got to enjoy the sites instead of searching for hours and then being too exhausted for more than a photo-op.

9. Use of Local Transportation

I actually prefer using public transportation. It easier, much cheaper, and you get to interact with the locals in an authentic setting.  On the tour, we used a plane and charted buses to bridge the long distances between cities. Once we were there, it was all subways,buses,and overnight trains. Chinese public transportation is an experience all of its own so it was a worthwhile experience.

8. Solo Traveler Friendly

Even the solo traveler craves a companion sometimes. It’s also helpful to belong to a group if you’re heading to a notoriously difficult or dangerous location.  A major plus for G Adventures is that solo travelers aren’t charged extra automatically. They share accommodation with others traveling alone or could choose to pay for their own room.  (In most cases-some Thailand trips seem to charge a single-supplement)

7.  A One-Stop Place

It was very easy for me to book and confirm my trip, email them the required documents,and buy the necessary travel insurance in one afternoon. After booking, I simply called their office and brought their travel insurance. If you need to, you can also arrange for airport transfers and extra nights while booking.

6.They Know the Hot-Spots

Because G Adventures guides are also natives, they know where to go for the best food,cheapest shopping, and cleanest bathrooms. (Trust me-this information is worth its weight in gold.) Our guide knew where to go for the best late-night dumplings and escorted us to the cheap yet safe shopping areas. China has a strict policy when it comes to antique and souvenirs so without his guidance, I could have  loaded up on gifts and trinkets that wouldn’t have made it past customs.

5. See the Best of the Best

The itinerary is made to fit in all of the major to-dos. In my 8 day trip I saw four different cities. It felt rushed at times, but there was always moment where I could stop ,reflect, and realize I was in either a very special or a very beautiful place.

4. Meet a Diverse Group of Travelers

On my trip, our small group consisted of 6 people: 2 Mexicans, 4 Americans from all over the US, and , of course, our Chinese guide. While traveling, I got to learn about all these different cultures and practice my Spanish as well. I like traveling with people from all over; you get to learn a bit and get ideas for future traveling.

3. Location,Location,Location

G Adventures offers trips to both the most common and most  exotic of places. That makes it easy to get to uncommon places or places where the language barrier can be unforgiving.

2. “If you’re confirmed, you’re going”

Group sizes are limited to 12-16 people. However, you’re not punished if no one else signs up for your departure date. As long as you pay, turn in the required documents ( copy of passport and flight information) and get a conformation email, you’re going.

1. Pick a Budget, Any Budget

The best thing is that there are trips to fit every budget. There are trips for the student’s budget,for the adventurer who wants to spend a bit more to party hard, comfort style for those who want Western comforts overseas, and family trips for those with small ones to accommodate.

I obviously loved G Adventures and plan on using them again in the future.However,for the sake of a well-rounded review, I’ll have to include some things I didn’t love.

Some Things I Didn’t Like…

No Heads Up About Tipping for Services 

Before leaving, you get a suggested budget that covers things like food,transportation, and emergency spending. I had planned for each of those categories plus a bit of souvenir shopping. Knowing that tipping wasn’t common in Asia, I didn’t think we would have to tip for drivers or extra tour guides during outings. I thought it was included in the fees. It was normally 20 yuan which isn’t big deal-especially when converted to US dollars- but it did force me to make a few unexpected ( and fee-ridden) trips to the ATM.

Optional Excursions

Most days, there are optional outings that you pay for separately. Most of these are cultural events and I did enjoy the majority. Some of them, however, fell a bit flat and were expensive. However, that’s probably more of an interest and personality thing.

Have you had an experience with G Adventures or another tour company? Leave a comment below ! I would love to know what other tour companies are like.

Best of China: Floating Around in the Venice of the East

If Suzhou sounds unfamiliar to you, it’s probably because you’re used to hearing one of its many nicknames. Also referred to as “Heaven on Earth” or “The Water Town”, it is best known as the “Venice of the East”. Although I haven’t seen the real Venice, if it’s half as beautiful as this tiny,traditional town , I can see what all the fuss is about.

Like its sister over in Italy, the city of Suzhou is built over and around a series of canals and waterways. Shortly after arrival, my group headed to a private boat tour of the canals and a traditional village built on its banks.

A bridge view of Suzhou  ©thepinkepat

A bridge view of Suzhou
©thepinkepat

The trip down the canal was long and very scenic. Red lanterns and intricate stone carvings decorated either side. Most interesting ,however,was watching the people go about their daily lives. People sat on the steps of their houses and washed dishes, did laundry, and even bathed their pets.

Houses on the bank  ©thepinkexpat

Houses on the bank
©thepinkexpat

House on the bank ©thepinkexpat

House on the bank
©thepinkexpat

Dogs get to enjoy the water too!

Dogs get to enjoy the water too!

After turning down a particularly narrow street, our boat drifted towards a stone staircase. Hidden just beyond the stairs was the entrance to the village.

Inside , the village was a crowded maze of activity. Even though crowds quickly parted to stare at the foreigners, it was difficult to maneuver. If you weren’t careful, you could wander into the path of a biker or into a chicken coup ( seriously !).  The village was mainly a huge marketplace; a quick walk took us past displays of clothing and fresh and live food stands.

Live birds for sale ©thepinkexpat

Live birds for sale
©thepinkexpat

On the last afternoon in Suzhou, I had the opportunity to visit  The Master of the Nets Garden which also happens to be a  UNESCO World Heritage Site.  On the day I was here, it was nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit and people were more interested in finding a bit of shade than really exploring. It was lucky I took the time to snap a few pictures so I could at least reflect on the beauty later on in my air-conditioned apartment.

The courtyard of the garden. ©thepinkexpat

The courtyard of the garden.
©thepinkexpat

Entrance to the Garden  ©thepinkexpat

Entrance to the Garden
©thepinkexpat

Pretty but no idea what it means

Pretty but no idea what it means

If you’re ever exploring China and need a day to recharge, Suzhou would be the perfect place. Because it’s a smaller town, the attractions weren’t as overwhelming. There’s a lot of beautiful sites to soak in before heading off to the nearby, hustling Shanghai.

Top-Ten Tuesdays: Favorite Korean Foods

10. Waffles

blog.korea.net

blog.korea.net

My students buy these in prepackaged bags and try to munch on them in class.

9. Teok Rice Cakes

Korean rice cake dessert

Korean rice cake dessert

I didn’t like these at first, but with my school handing them out nearly every week, they’re growing on me.

8.  Rice Stew

images

Leftover rice is allowed to boil until nearly burned. If seasoned with juices from leftover meat, this is delicious.

7.Soju

IMG_0271

The most popular alcohol choice in Korea by far.

6. Mandu Soup

koreataste.org

koreataste.org

Meat-filled dumplings in soup. Very simply and very delicious .

5. Instant Kapi

IMG_0273

Kapi is how “coffee” is pronounced in Korea.While Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts blot every corner, instant coffee seems to be popular, especially in office settings.  Everything-coffee,sugar,and cream-comes in one cute little package.

4.Japchae

yelp.com

yelp.com

Noodles and vegetables in a brown sauce. It  tastes amazing.

3. Tteokbokki

dukbokki and soup

dukbokki and soup

One my favorite Korean meals so far. Spicy, circular rice noodles in a spicy red pepper sauce.

2. Bulgogi

commons.wikimedia.org

commons.wikimedia.org

Flavorful beef cooked on a table-top grill. When it’s done, you wrap it in a lettuce leaf and make a scrumptious type of Korean taco.

1.Bibimbap

bibimbap

bibimbap

A mixture of ground beef,vegetables, and rice topped with a spicy red sauce. If you want to try the best of the best, head to Jeonju, the home of Bibimbap.

Have a favorite Korean dish or top-ten list of your own? Comment below!