Travel Advisories

 Incheon International Airport Seoul, South Korea

Incheon International Airport Seoul, South Korea

My last trip to Asia was fun. But there is a ton that was hidden from the camera. This last trip really put me through the ringer. I just wish my luck worked this well on lottery tickets.

My first mistake on this journey was not taking my own damn advice - give yourself time! Everyday something was on the itinerary. There was no breathing room whatsoever. Since one of my many rules when traveling is to never visit the same place more than once, I wanted to make sure I could do as much as possible. I consider myself to be very disciplined to handle this back to back scheduling but it hurt me in the end. Museums, DMZ tour, temples, markets, fly out early in the morning to Manila, take a 10 hour bus to Banaue...bam bam bam. I mean it just kept going. I even had to cut short my amazing dinner with my friend Che whom I hadn't seen in years because I failed to give myself considerable time to catch the next flight out to Manila. But one must remember

 

GIVE YOURSELF TIME

You haven't seen the world, yet you're still alive.  You're not going to die if you don't see everything. Enjoy the moment. Traveling like a contestant on the Amazing Race can really suck out what you're supposed to take in. 


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Xochilimilco canals where I found pulque cursed by Montezuma!

The other part that made this trip the hardest journey in my life is that I caught a vile stomach bug from the underworld. And this is not the first time. I first caught one in Mexico. I was on a row boat in city called Xochimilco, México just 30 mins outside of Mexico City. On the banks there were farmers selling a drink made from a Maguey plant that is native to Mexico called Pulque. I had it a few days before and knew that I wanted more before catching my flight back to Nashville. Heartburn, sulphuric burbs, paralyzing cramps and violent hacking in the toilet the next morning before my flight almost made me miss the plane. I'll never forget it because Lauryn Hill was playing at the Ryman Auditorium downtown the night I returned. I was with my mom and started feeling better because I refused to eat anything. As I grew hungry I decided to risk it with a hotdog. Then that dreadful curse reminded me that it wasn't just a dream. It must have been the pulque that I got off the banks in Xochimilco. The farmer must have used local water to make that batch. That was the only unprocessed fluid I ingested. I ended up having to see a doctor to get it taken care of. Most Americans and Europeans are not used to non processed water. So water from naturally occurring sources can really harm us if we are not careful.

Similar story in the Philippines except it was rice wine from a local village that did the damage. Local water is used in the fermentation process. You'd think I'd have learned from the first experience but as one who's trying all kinds of different foods and fruits and exotic flavors, it's easy to forget. I say all this to say that.

 

IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE IT CAME FROM, DON'T DRINK IT. 

Sometimes other countries don't have strict rules about prescription antibiotics and you can find them at a local pharmacy. In my case the pharmacist in Banaue, Philippines gave me what I needed right away. But I wouldn't ever risk that again. I imagine it's possible for certain places to not be as willing to give them out or to not have exactly what it is you need. Since my doctor knows that I travel, he gives me emergency antibiotics to have available in case situations like these ever occur. Stomach bugs are no joke. So it's a good idea to be medically prepared.  And that's the next travel tip...

 

BE MEDICALLY PREPARED BEFORE YOU LEAVE. 

Another hurdle that I encountered during my return flight from Seoul to Nashville was a sinus infection. I know right!!!! I told you this trip was rough. I was so congested that my ears wouldn't equalize to the cabin pressure. One ear in particular felt like it was going to explode. I  thought I needed to go to the hospital. When I landed in Seoul from Manila I told the nearest taxi driver to take me to the hospital. I didn't care what it cost cause I was in so much pain. I got to the hospital and I couldn't get fixed cause it was unbelievably expensive. 500 USD to be seen. 500 USD to get treatment. 1000 USD total to fix my ear before my outbound flight to Nashville. I wasn't prepared for that so I was on the verge of tears. But there was good news. Turned out that there was an emergency clinic on the bottom level of the Seoul airport. I wish I had known before paying the taxi driver 200 USD to take me to the hospital. I'm still sour as hell about that. I got to the clinic in the airport and the doctor checked out my ear and was like whoaaaa!! My eardrum was severely bulged like a balloon and full of fluid. She gave me antibiotics and a steroid to reduce swelling. She said in 24 hours I should be ok to fly. My flight was in 12. Oye! Total clinic cost 36 USD. Better than 1000 the hospital was asking for.

Because I also experienced this, my doctor prescribes me nasil steroids and antibiotics to alleviate any symptoms of sinus infection. This as well as Aphrin, an over the counter nasil antihistamine, solves the problem. I can say for certain that this works because on my last flight to Haiti in December I had a sinus infection and the steroids and Aphrin helped to allow my ears adjust to the cabin pressure. 

Talk to your doctor to see if they can help you get antidiarrheal tablets, antibiotics, and inflammatory steroids. These are a good first aid. Aphrin is available over the counter at most pharmacies. 

How to Plan Your Trips

1) Know When to Go

I don't spin a globe and book a flight. I get inspired to travel to a certain destination by watching Anthony Bordain's Parts Unknown (currently running on Netflix) or the travel channel. A destination may peak my interest after reading a section in a travel magazine. I follow dozens of instagramers and digital nomads who document their vacations...and so on. Once I've chosen, I do research on the attractions and activities as well as the history. One of the most important aspects I recently started paying attention to is the holiday/festivals. Look up when and where they take place. I imagine it would be dreadful to depart a day or two after Brazil's Carnival. If only you had known that Spain's La Tomatina (throwing of tomatoes) started two weeks ago, your itinerary would have let you take that experience home. But it's okay. Next time. 

 

2) Make a List (Give Yourself Time)

Once I have found out the best time to go, I will make a list of all the things I need to accomplish. What museums, which landmarks, who's restaurant, which temple, how many trains to get there...yes, it's homework. I love and hate this step so much because I get super anxious and excited at all there is to do and see and taste and learn that it's difficult for me to stay focused and make sure I don't make any booking mistakes that could potentially cost me a non-refundable $400 plane ticket, or oops!... I got the dates wrong, or overlapped hotel stays or failed to calculate in the time it takes to get from the hotel to the airport. When I'm trying to figure all of this out it's truly a mission to just sit still. But I want to book right away. I don't want to research anymore, I just know I'm ready to go. Like tonight! Book now, CLICK IT!!...Breathe. Lightning strike on whoever said ADD isn't real. 

One important thing to remember when creating a list is to give yourself time. Beside the activity, I'll write the cost, how long I predict I will want to spend based on other peoples' reviews and advice, and how long it takes to get to and from. More time is better than rushing to get to everything. It's simply not worth the stress of running from temple to mountain if you cannot take it in. If you have overestimated your time then that means more free time to explore or do something you didn't anticipate. 

The number of vacation days, or amount of time away from family may need to be considered when figuring the duration of your trip. So the duration of your trip is in your own discretion. 

 

3) Book Transit First

Book that flight that you've been monitoring for how ever many weeks or months (refer to Hopper; also the tips tab). Once you have found the plane ticket price that best resonates with you and your time window, Book it. That train to the next country, or that day trip bus, Book it. I say book your transit first because as long as you're at your destination, you can figure out your tours, stay and everything else out later or even once you're there. Don't pay for all of your excursions and accommodations without having a way to get to them. That just simply isn't recommendable. It is better to arrive and figure it out than to be stuck at home with some tour company reselling your seat to someone else.

 

4) NOW You Can Make the Reservation (Call Around)

Now you can go ahead with filling up your schedule. When making my schedule I use Trip Advisor, and Google. Google is the world's greatest invention. Trip Advisor is a bit over commercialized when it comes to activities and tours. It caters to the cookie cutter tourist. I try to find private tours in the nooks and crannies of the web to get that real personal level experience. Email to make sure their site or tours are still running. When communicating with whomever is hosting/guiding, inquire about the reservation times (duration, pickup/dropoff). Because you want to ensure that you have gieven yourself time (step 2).

If you haven't already or are looking for the best prices for accommodations, it could benefit you to call around. I don't always do this. I only do this when I'm really in need of a good deal. Sometimes the price on the website isn't listing the actually price of the room (mostly pertaining to apartments). If you need to get ahold of someone with an international number, download the TextMe app. It's friendly toward both iPhone and Android. Once you add credits, you can call or text anyone in the world. Credits are very reasonable. I paid $8 for 500 credits. I used them in Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, and Mexico and still have over 100 credits left. Calls and texts within the US and Canada are free. 

 

5) Print EVERYTHING

I mean just that. Depending on where you are, you'll need to have physical copies of your flight itinerary. Some airlines do not accept smartphone e-tickets. Print out receipts incase they ask for proof payment. This may sound extreme but you never know. I have been asked to provide proof of payment in the past. Fortunately, I had a copy of the receipt in my iPhone. If they didn't take e-tickets like some scenarios I have heard of, I would have been up a creek. Hotels/hostels can screw up your reservation. If you have proof of payment and reservation, they don't have an excuse. It is better to be prepared. This step is easy. 


For tips on how to travel lightly...

Pack Lightly

THE WORLD IS YOURS. SIMPLY OPEN THE DOOR AND KEEP THESE TIPS IN MIND...


PACK LIGHTLY

Pack lightly! This cannot be overstated. You really only need a backpack. When planning for my semester in Europe, I read travel guru, Rick Steves’s travel book, Europe Through The Back Door (2015), and thought it would be impractical to fit everything into one carryon bag or backpack. However, with practice I was able to do it to where I had extra space. I became a true believer.

The best trick to make everything fit into one carryon bag is to roll your clothes. As long as you don’t need to be too formal, rolling your pants will not be a problem. Even so, most hotels and hostels offer laundry services. You can use whichever style bag works for you, but I recommend a hiking backpack with zipper access to the top and bottom. This avoids having to empty the entire bag to get to items at the bottom of a traditional backpack.

 35L Paladineer pack used while trekking through Germany. 4 days max pack.

35L Paladineer pack used while trekking through Germany. 4 days max pack.


NEVER UNPACK

This may sound strange, but it is much easier to manage your belongings when everything is kept in place. Things never get lost or go missing. This also saves time especially if you’re traveling to a different place every couple of days. If I am running late for a plane or train, all I have to do is grab my bag and go, instead of emptying drawers to repack my belongings.

Since I only pack a carry-on, I never have to wait in lines at check in, wait for my suitcase at the luggage belt, or carry a large suitcase down a building without an elevator. Last minute changes in travel plans are not much of a bother. By not weighing myself down and marking myself a helpless tourist, I can be mobile, spontaneous and in control.



Hopper

My new best friend. Hopper is heaven sent. Searching for flights is super easy. Not only does the app find you the lowest prices for airfare, it alerts you when your recent searches have increased or decreased in price and it gives you advice on whether or not to wait or book right away to get you the best deal. 


 

Once the dates are selected, Hopper gives me advice. I can choose to book immediately or select "Watch This Trip" which allows hopper to notify me when the price drops. It's that easy!

 
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The watchlist tab shows all the trips that I chose to follow. Updates on their prices will show in the notifications tab.   

 
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A recent search for a round trip to Los Angeles from Nashville.

I can see which days are the cheapest and most expensive to fly. 

 
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My search for Belize a few weeks ago showed flights for as low as $140 round trip. Hopper advised that I book right away as prices were expected to increase. I didn't have any plans to leave for Belize in the near future so I chose not to book. Now the same search shows $500 round trip flights.

 
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My notifications tab shows me the trip, which dates were selected, its price, the airline (depending on the search), and whether to book or wait. 

 

Hostel World

You can save significantly by booking airfare and lodging as part of a single package. For even greater savings, I opt to use hostels instead of hotels. Some might frown at that, but hostels have come a long way. While some might imagine large rooms with rows of rickety bunk beds in dormitory style facilities, in my recent travels, most of the hostels I stayed in provided the option of private rooms with en-suite baths and were better than your average hotels.


The biggest reason I choose hostels over hotels is because I can usually stay within $30 USD a night versus a few hundred per night in a hotel. Hotel concierges will recommend expensive excursions and other costly options that devour a budget. At hostels, I tend to meet like- minded travelers who cherish the local, authentic experience rather than the five-star ceremony reserved for the few. Hostels provide simple and friendly accommodations. And for single travelers, this is a great way to meet people.

The Swanky Mint Hostel in Zagreb, Croatia is one that deserves mention because it has a fantastic sense of community and fellowship. It hosts parties every night. There’s a bar and music, they cook Croatian dishes, keep the kitchen open to guests, and have cozy lounge areas with fire pits for people to enjoy for only $28 USD a night. It was hard not to meet travelers of all ages from around the world who shared awesome travel experiences and recommendations.

 

At hostels around the world, I met people who sold their business just to travel, flew halfway around the world to visit the breathtaking Plitvice Lakes, visited the Aztec pyramids for an archeology research paper, and others who simply sought a place to exhale. Many were locals who gladly shared with me the best and cheapest ways to get around and must-see hidden gems not reported in travel books. Some people make such an impression that you’ll stay in touch for years. And it’s not only the guests who make my trips memorable. The staff at hostels can be some of the friendliest people you meet on your travels.


The family-run Casa Roa Hostel devotes itself to providing friendly, household style accommodations in México City. Sofia, co- owner of Casa Roa, personally drove me an hour outside the city to give me a tour of the Teotihuacan ruins for a fraction of the price hotels and tour companies were offering. They took me off the tourist path to show me hidden gems enjoyed by locals. My hostel accommodations consisted of a private bedroom with a private bathroom and a backyard with a view of the city. Casa Roa opened their hostel up to me as if I was a member of the family. All of this for the equivalent of $24 USD a night. My stay at the four-star Marriott in Munich could not rival Casa Roa.


Give hostels a try and check out the Hostel World app. It lists all the hostels worldwide with customer reviews and ratings. It’s the easiest booking tool I’ve used when looking for affordable accommodations.