Voices: On Travel

 On Travel | On the Street Where We Live (aretherelilactrees.com)  Busan, South Korea, Gwangalli Beach, Gwangalli Bridge

It’s apt that this is our first post after a hiatus as the reason for our radio silence is that we’ve been busy traveling! We’ll be sharing more on that soon, but in the meantime, here’s July’s installment of Voices, featuring my best girlfriends and their thoughts on travel.

 

How important is traveling to you?

L: Traveling to see friends and family and to explore with them is very important to me. In order to maintain relationships, I think it's critical to maintain face-to-face interactions and to create new memories, especially with those who live in a different city, state, or even country. I take away the memories of the company I am with more than the actual history of different sites.

G: As a backpacker, traveling is a lifestyle.

B: Travel is a huge part of my life. One of my biggest hobbies and something that I prioritize. For me it’s a big part of my work/life balance (being on the life side of things).

K: I’ll be honest, I don’t hype traveling up like other people who seem to constantly talk about wanderlust and wish to live nomadic lives. But do I love it? Yes! I’ve also started exploring fairly recently, so I’m definitely looking forward to filling up my passport pages.

 

Where is your favorite place you've ever traveled?

L: My favorite place I've ever traveled to is Hong Kong. The food is amazing, and although it is a completely foreign country to me (I can barely speak the language), I feel so connected and close to everyone there.

G: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

B: This is always a really tough question for me because I’ve enjoyed every place I’ve been to for very different reasons. For me, the biggest surprise was Poland, which I found to be very underrated. It’s a beautiful country with so much history, cozy atmosphere, and lovely people. While I was there, I truly felt like I could be at home there and it was so tough to leave. One of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen was probably Croatia. The national parks there are completely breathtaking with crystal clear waters, acres of lush green, waterfalls cascading overhead everywhere you walk. It almost didn’t feel real.

K: I’m going to cheat and say two—Croatia and Singapore.

 

Where's the next place you will or would like to travel?

L: I would love to go to the Maldives, Santorini, or the Amalfi Coast.

G: The Red Sea—I hear it has the best scuba diving.

B: This year I’m going to Montreal, and later on to France. Guess I should probably brush up on some French phrases soon. Next year though, I am very excited to plan for Japan and South Korea (to visit this awesome blogger’s new hometown).

J: Eee! :)

K: I’ll be off to Lisbon tomorrow with the great minds behind this blog!

J: Ah! :)

 

How long do you travel for?

L: If I am traveling internationally, I usually go away for 2 weeks. If I am traveling domestically, this could vary from a long weekend (3 days) to a full week.

G: Anywhere from a week to a year.

B: I do a lot of small trips and long weekends throughout the year. I also plan one bigger international trip each year which will be somewhere between 1-3 weeks depending on my work and schedule. The longest I’ve ever traveled was a month and a half for backpacking trips. I wish I could do those more often though!

K: There’s no set duration, sometimes a weekend to sometimes 10 days.

 

What are your travel essentials?
In-flight essentials? Long-haul flight essentials?

L: I don't always travel with makeup but I will always pack my routine skin products. I don't really pack any shampoo, conditioner, or body wash because I am okay with using the hotel products. I ALWAYS pack a pair of flip flops or slippers to wear around the hotel. 

For long-haul flights, I always pack a change of clothes and clean underwear in my carry-on. I will usually have a book, headphones, and a TON of yummy snacks depending on how long the flight is.

G: Microfiber towel, travel insurance, really long cell phone charger, camera, and external batteries.

Vaseline is essential because my skin gets really dry, even on short flights. And I binge-watch the movies.

B: I pack light. I can’t emphasize that enough. In fact, most of my friends always joke about that. Some essentials include a microfiber towel (dries quickly so you can pack up and leave for your next stop), daypack to explore the city with, lock for my belongings at the hostels, flip flops for hostel showers, earplugs to help sleep through hostel noise, portable power bank for my phone, copy of all my documents just in case (passport, credit cards, etc.). Of course I also bring small amounts of toiletries and clothes that are easy to mix and match or re-wear. If I go for longer trips, I’ll pack individual laundry detergent packets so I can wash my clothes in the hostels.

A good book and headphones. That’s generally all I’ll need for any flight. For longer flights, I also bring earplugs on the plane so I can get some shut-eye (in case there’s a baby on the plane), a bottle of water, and a snack.

K: Something I never do at home, I bring products for curly hair when traveling. I don’t want to waste time getting ready and they come in so handy when in a hurry or in hot weather! Additionally, skin care products, but that’s basically it. No frills here.

I traveled to Asia (20+ hours) without a neck pillow last year and it almost killed me. I’m on the hunt for a good one and that would be my in-flight essential, haha. I also like to bring my toothbrush, gum, and face wipes to freshen up on longer flights.

 

How do you prepare for/get through a long-haul flight?
What tips do you have for adjusting to time differences?

L: I try to plan ahead and make a list of things that I need to do/think about/research while I'm on the plane. For example: I'll write out my to-do list for when I return from vacation, such as drop off dry cleaning, renew auto insurance, check up on some medical claims, schedule doctors appointments, etc. I'll also bring a good mystery novel, although I have a short attention span so I'll usually end up watching the in-flight movies or listening to music. I always pack my favorite snacks because I try to make myself as comfortable as possible since the plane isn't always a place you want to be stuck on for 8+ hours. I also pack some Xanax and melatonin for my fiancé who has a horrible fear of flying. As for adjusting to time differences, I just say do the best you can and drink coffee when appropriate.

G: Movies, movies, movies.

B: If it’s a long or overnight flight, I try to make sure I’m tired before I get on the plane, so I’ll stay up or get less sleep beforehand. I usually pass the time by reading or napping on the plane. Sometimes I’ll
watch shows on my phone too if I’m feeling too bored. Time differences can be a struggle, but once I land in a new time zone, I keep busy to force myself
to stay awake and then make sure I get a good night’s sleep my first night there. Regardless, the first couple days can be tough, but the excitement of being somewhere new usually keeps me going. Of course there are times when my body just can’t keep up, and in those cases I try to be patient with myself and rest up to make sure I can enjoy the remainder of my trip.

K: BRING A BOOK. I recently read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and I LOVED it. It’s an easy, juicy, and fun read that teaches you some life lessons along the way. Trust me, you can’t possibly watch more than 6 hours of TV. I’ll watch a movie here and there and read. I’m a light sleeper and very jealous of people who easily knock out as soon as their head touches the seat. I CANNOT sleep on planes. So I’m usually the bloodshot-eyed zombie-looking girl on the plane. I like to wear a watch with my originating time (I don’t reset it), and since our phones automatically update to the different time zone, I always know what time it is where I am and at home. 

 

What is your travel uniform?

L: Assuming I don't have anywhere to be right when we land and will have time to check into the hotel and freshen up upon arrival, I will wear yoga pants, flip flops or sneakers depending on the time of year, a loose fitting t-shirt, zip-up hoodie, and NO BRA! 

G: Comfy pants, a loose shirt, sweater for layering, scarf to use as a blanket, and socks.

B: I don’t really have a travel uniform. I guess it would depend where I’m going and how long the flight is. Usually I try to wear something comfy, like yoga pants, and layers, t-shirt with a sweater. I also make sure I wear comfy shoes with socks for the plane.

K: I like to mix fashion with function—comfy pants (think leggings or track pants) and a shirt

 

How do you pack for a trip? What types of outfits do you prefer to wear? How do you prepare for different situations/environments?

L: I am the type of girl who dresses for comfort rather than style. I always pack basics (jeans, shorts, yoga pants, t-shirts, dresses, Keds, flip flops, Sperrys, Birkenstocks) and only the basic makeup necessities (foundation, eyebrows, eyeliner, blush). If I am attending an event, I will pack a fancy dress and heels as needed.

G: I use packing cubes—a medium-sized one for all my clothes and a small one for my undergarments. I usually pack 2-3 bottoms, a couple dresses, and 5 tops.

B: I try to pack things that I can mix and match, so a variety of tops with bottoms (pants/skirts), that way I have multiple outfits I can put together. I will also bring one nicer outfit in case there’s a nice restaurant or event I end up wanting to check out. I want to be comfy when I’m traveling because I tend to explore a lot, so I always keep that in mind when packing. Depending where I’m going, I’ll also pack sweaters, jackets, swimsuits, hiking clothes, etc. For shoes, I generally wear a pair of sneakers/walking shoes on the plane, then pack a pair of flip flops (for the beach and hostel showers) and a comfortable pair of walking sandals. Shoes tend to take up the most space in my bag, so I make sure not to bring more than I absolutely need.

K: I still teeter on the overpacking side but have gotten much better by planning outfits for each day. My problem is that I like options. I want to have a comfy outfit that I can walk around and explore in, but also a dressy outfit for when I explore nightlife. I’m getting better at repurposing clothes that I thought could only be worn one way, which is KEY. Shirts and bottoms that you can dress up or down. Bring both comfy shoes and nicer shoes. Just don’t bring your whole closet.

 

What should be left behind?

L: I rarely travel with my expensive jewelry and will wear the same stud earrings throughout the trip.

G: I never bring too many shoes. They always take up the most space. Flip flops and flats are all I bring.

B: The only electronics I bring on my travels is my cellphone. I like to have as few gadgets with me as possible so that I can be more present in my surroundings and less worried about losing them.

K: Towels. Don’t carry extra weight. 

 

What is your travel routine/traveling style or speed?
What are your top priorities (to do/see) when traveling?
Do you prefer to plan or wing it? Do you try to meet new people?

L: I always set reminders in my calendar to check in to flights and print out all itineraries and confirmations. If traveling internationally, I send itineraries and copies of important documents to my family just in case something happens. When we arrive at our destination, I unpack my suitcase and place my clothing and toiletries where they belong (drawers, bathroom, wardrobe, etc.). This helps me stay organized and keep track of where everything is. I do the same thing when we return home. I unpack immediately and start the laundry to get settled back in as quickly as possible.

Depending on the destination, I typically like to have everything planned to the hour. Sometimes I will make an agenda and share with my travel buddies. The itinerary usually includes a bit of sightseeing and relaxing activities. Depending on who I am traveling with, I like to go somewhere less touristy where I can chat with some of the locals. My fiancé is the type to wing it and prefers to get his suggestions from locals we meet along the way.

G: I enjoy traveling alone and traveling very slowly. I don't like to plan more than the first day. I enjoy meeting new people and making plans with them as I go.

B: I like to immerse myself in a new city or place when I travel. I want to really experience the culture and find the unique charm of everywhere I go. I don’t plan everything specifically, but I first look up general things in the area that I really want to check out. I’ll have a simple list of places I want to see and things I want to do. Then, once I get to my hostel, I find that the staff are really great at giving other recommendations. I like meeting new people through the hostels I stay at, and they usually have great suggestions too about things they’ve seen or done so far. I have found some other travelers that I can explore with if we both want to visit similar spots in the city.

K: I’m a greedy traveler. When I go somewhere, I want to see and eat EVERYTHING. This lands me in trouble and overwhelms me at times since it’s hard to then prioritize. I always have things left over on my checklist with a mental note to come back and cross them off. I prefer to have a rough itinerary because I do like to wing things, but again, I don’t want to waste time being in another country looking up what to do. So a mixture of both—I set off for a planned attraction but have no problem taking the scenic route or getting distracted to have some fun experiences! I love talking to people and try to interact when I can.

 

Solo travel or travel buddy? Who is your favorite travel buddy?

L: My favorite travel buddies are my sister or my fiancé, but not the two of them together. ;) I prefer to travel with at least one other person because I like to bounce ideas off of them and debrief our experiences together.

G: I love traveling alone.

B: I enjoy both, but they are such different experiences. I’ve learned to really love traveling on my own because it gives me a chance to focus on me and my surroundings. I am able to go with my heart and spontaneity which I always enjoy. Finding a good travel buddy is tough, but I have had great trips with a friend or two as well. I think it’s important though, especially on long trips, to take time for yourself and be comfortable with spending some time doing our own respective activities.

K: So far I’ve only traveled with friends or met them while traveling, which leaves me with a penchant for a solo trip! No favorites here. I’m easy going—I think, haha.

 

Domestic or international?

L: International, although there are some major sites I'd still like to see in the US, such as the Grand Canyon, Acadia National Park, and San Francisco. I would love to explore eastern Europe, South America, and South Africa.

G: I've mostly traveled internationally but I would like to do some domestic travel.

B: I love both, but I find that international travel for me is always the big travel plan. For domestic travel, I tend to be more spontaneous, like taking a long weekend somewhere just because I feel like it. For
international travel, I try to do one big trip each year that is at least a week or longer so I can really experience new places and cultures.

K: BOTH.

 

Carry-on or checked bag?

L: Both. 

G: Checked bag. I like to feel unhassled at the airport.

B: My friends all think I’m a little nuts, but I never check bags. Ever. My last big solo trip was a month in Europe, and I only traveled with a carry-on bag on my back. I’m glad I did because it made it much easier to jump from city to city and country to country.

K: Carry-on. Get me out of the airport as soon as possible.

 

Go-to/favorite souvenirs?

L: I always get kitchen magnets for myself and as souvenirs for my friends. 

G: I usually buy a magnet for my mom. I sometimes get a shot glass for myself. 

B: I like to find unique souvenirs that are characteristic of the city or country I’m visiting. When I was in Barcelona, I brought home a tile that was designed specifically for their cobblestone streets. When I was in Florence, I brought home a handmade leather keychain which is a huge artisan craft in the area.

K: I like to bring back things that are meaningful and useful. I brought back a bottle of olive oil from Croatia since they make the best olive oil in the world. 

 

Share a memorable unexpected travel/travel-related experience.

L: One winter when I was in college, I flew alone from NY to Hong Kong with a layover in Beijing. My first flight was delayed, so I missed my connecting flight from Beijing to Hong Kong and ended up on the next flight 2 hours later. While in Beijing, I tried to get in touch with my family who was waiting for me in Hong Kong, but no one would let me use their phones to make an international call, which I completely understand. This was also pre-We Chat, so there was no way to get in touch with my mom. I arrived at the Hong Kong airport with all of my aunts and uncles, mom, and sister frantically running around looking for me as if I had been abducted and that sending my entire family to the airport would help in finding me. Well, it did, because my sister screamed from the other side of the terminal, "There she is!" and my mom ran to me in tears of relief after having searched the airport for me for over 2 hours. Good thing we have Wi-Fi and smartphones these days!

G: I made best friends with a stray dog while I lived in Malaysia. She followed me everywhere. She was a black dog with a white chest and sweet eyes. She slept in front of my door every night, watched me as I did my daily chores, and played with me in the evenings. There was an unfriendly pack of dogs that lived in the area and she guarded me from them. She was in really bad shape when I first met her. I bought her food and medicine for her mange, and over time, she got healthy. She had babies a few weeks before I left. She let me play with her pups and take care of them. They were the cutest! I miss her so much. 

B: When I was traveling in Poland, I met a very friendly local who I had a lot in common with. We ended up spending so much time together exploring the city and sharing stories about our lives in our own hometowns. Most of the places we visited I wouldn’t have even known or heard about, so I was very appreciative to see so many hidden gems. One in particular was a cemetery, which I was skeptical about at first because it doesn’t sound like a good place to explore. It turned out to be the most beautiful, historically-rich cemetery I’ve ever seen. It honestly looked like I walked into a secret garden with huge stone walls and sculptures, green plants and flowers growing everywhere with lush ivy on every wall, and acres of land. Who would’ve thought to visit such a place? My friend and I have kept in touch over the past few years, and it’s definitely a friendship that I will always remember and treasure.

K: This is sort of a hard one. As I mentioned, I'm always happy to take detours while traveling, which lead to a lot of unexpected experiences. Something that is very memorable to me is my trip to Malaysia/Singapore last year. Firstly, those places weren't even on my list to visit, but when I got there, I had a great time! Secondly, I went there to meet a BFF without any itineraries or plans. We spoke to locals, went to happy hour, and gathered so much to do from just talking to people—every day was an adventure. I love talking to locals for their recommendations because you will never find those on Google. We had bartenders and strangers write out a list of restaurants/bars/lounges/must-dos/must-sees for us. Such great culture and such a mix of people. That has pushed me to always mingle with anyone I come across when I go away, from the cab driver from the airport to the juice vendor on the street.

 

How do you handle complications/mishaps? (e.g., delays, missed flights, navigation, getting lost, baggage, etc.) How do you handle stress/anxiety/motion sickness? Barriers? (e.g., language)

L: I try to plan as much as possible in advance. If I know there will be a language barrier, I'll print out certain key phrases and keep them handy. I pack extra clothes in my carry-on just in case my suitcase is misplaced. I also carry medication with me, like Advil, Tylenol cold/flu, Claritin, Motrin, and eye drops for my chronic eye condition.

G: It's best to stay calm and know that things always work out. I do my best to be mindful of my surroundings to minimize theft. Delays will always happen and the only thing that can be done is wait. Having airport lounge access can help make the waiting a pleasant experience. I always carry dramamine for motion sickness, which I always get on boats. Hand gestures are a universal language and most everyone speaks a little English. 

B: Complications are always bound to happen. I’ve learned to be flexible with my plans and expectations and roll with the punches. I try to focus on one day at a time, and that really helps to manage any anxiety with traveling. On a fairly recent trip last year, I was robbed, which was very traumatizing. I found that there are also so many warm-hearted people who stepped up and helped me, especially because I was traveling alone and did struggle with a language barrier when trying to sort out the issue. People helped me get a metro card to get back to my hostel, find the police station since I had no cellphone, and a stranger even lent me money (I was able to send her money back after returning to the States). I truly believe that all these experiences, even the negative ones, are part of the adventure. I didn’t enjoy that part, but it made me appreciate the good parts even more, and brought people into my life who I wouldn’t have connected with otherwise. I guess I’m a silver-lining kind of person.

K: I usually get frustrated and that's about it. I'm always in contact with my parents. Mom especially—she's a worrywart—and in an effort to put her mind at ease, I automatically talk myself into logical thinking. Always react with logic, not emotion (when you can). I like to think of alternatives before my brain goes to any irrelevant thoughts or fears. Google is your best friend. You can always look up solutions to your problems. You won't find everything there, but it is definitely a guiding light. 

 

How do you budget for travel?
What tips do you have for traveling on a budget? 
Do you use any airline loyalty/points/rewards/travel credit cards? Would you recommend them? How/where/when do you buy flights?

L: Typically when we go on vacation, we try not to think about how much we are spending because we don't want the thought of how much we are spending to ruin our trip. We definitely save a certain amount for each vacation in advance, but we don't look at our credit card bill until we return home. I use credit card points and airline miles to book airfare/hotels. I highly recommend keeping on top of your rewards because you can get some really great deals if you plan and research. I once paid only $120/ticket for roundtrip airfare from NY to London, and my mom once paid $80/ticket for roundtrip airfare from NY to Hong Kong, by using a combination of miles and thorough research on more affordable flights. Which brings me to my second recommendation—I would track your flights at least 8 months in advance and check every day for airline prices to drop. You never know when you might get lucky!

G: Hostels and AirBnB are great ways to save money. Alcohol is where budgets go to die. Spending more money on meaningful experiences will make any trip that much more amazing. I use a Barclaycard and the Chase Reserve Card for travel.

B: I am definitely a gal who travels on a budget! One of the main ways I find my next travel destination is based on how cheaply I can find plane tickets. I enjoy staying at hostels because they tend to be budget-friendly and a great way to meet people. I try to balance out activities in each city based on cost. I will pick one more expensive day to enjoy, and the rest of my trip will be free or low-cost activities. I also find that some of the best local foods tend to be the less expensive hole-in-the-wall-type places. You can generally get great recommendations for those from any local.

I sign up for every airline reward program. They are usually free, so why not? It might take a while to build up enough mileage, but once you finally do get a free plane ticket, it makes a huge difference. I recently got my first travel credit card (I know, what took me so long?!) and I can’t wait to start using it. One of my hobbies is actually looking at plane tickets, so I tend to track them over time. I’ll look at some destinations I’m interested in and get a basic idea of the cost. Then, since I love looking at plane tickets when I’m bored or stressed, I’ll be able to tell when the prices drop, and if I find something that looks very reasonable, I’ll just go all in and buy it. I use some apps for tracking tickets, like SkyScanner, and others for looking at discounts or comparing prices, like Kayak or Expedia.

K: I'm very lucky to have been living at home and saving, so I can honestly say I don't particularly need to put aside dollars in order to budget for a trip. With that said, I always have a budget in mind and hate overpaying. GOOGLE EVERYTHING!

 

How do you find/what is your go-to for travel accommodations?

L: I have never been steered wrong by Rick Steves and recommendations from friends and family.

G: HostelWorld and AirBnB.

B: My go-to is usually a hostel. It’s affordable, there are lots of different types/styles/rooming options, and it’s a great place to meet other travelers.

K: I do my research on hotels and AirBnBs.

 

What apps or other resources do you use for planning/when traveling?

L: There are apps (I can't remember the name of the one I've used) that help plan out your itinerary. You can tell it where you want to go and it will lay everything out for you by the half-hour. It provides canned itineraries based on your travel style (e.g., leisure, family-oriented, active), and even considers hours of operation and public transportation routes and options. I leverage Google Docs to stay organized and share with fellow travelers. It's the best!

G: Google Maps and Google Translate.

B: I use a lot of different airline apps and discounted ticket apps. I also use different hostel booking sites, like Hostels.com, to find places to stay. And of course I keep a list of activities that I want to try when I’m in the area, just on my cell notepad. I've found that there are lots of travel groups and pages on Facebook that can be good resources depending on where you’re traveling to or what kind of travel you’re looking for.

K: I currently have the Bank of America travel card which doesn't have an annual fee and has been great for my purpose. As I mentioned, I've only started "real" traveling within the last couple of years, so I haven't made the switch to a travel credit card with monstrous perks and a hefty annual fee. However, I am now considering getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the best perks but with a price tag of $395 (with travel credits as well as reimbursement for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck). Do I sound like a salesman yet? I'm also looking to open a checking account that allows cash withdrawals anywhere in the world without foreign transaction fees. For flights, I always start off with Google Flights (great way to get an idea of the cheapest and best flight combinations), and then double-check with Kayak and Momondo. Sometimes a slight difference in timing will allow me to buy cheaper flights on any of the three sites. By the way, you can easily look at flights through the Google ITA Matrix. Check it out.