Saigon Walking

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

Waking up in a new city or a new country rarely fails to thrill me. Streets undiscovered, sights unseen, and experiences untried. After seeing glimpses of Ho Chi Minh City [also known as Saigon] at night, I couldn’t wait to see it during the day. It’s a vast city, very modern and historic at the same time. Skyscrapers sit next to French colonial homes. Motorbikes fly by and bicycles leisurely ride past. In a city that could be a contradiction, I saw fusion. And it was through a free walking tour of the city that I was really able to immerse myself in the heart of this bustling city.

Tiger Tours offers regular free walking tours [and many other tours!] of District 1, the central district of Saigon. We met our tour guides early to avoid the impending rain, and I was glad we did. We beat most other tour groups to popular locations, and more importantly, we beat the heat. Even though I grew up in Florida, and have lived in Indonesia for a year and a half, the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia surprises me. But this morning, it was still crisp and cool as we began walking the streets of Saigon.

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We started at the historic Saigon Opera House, and began walking towards some of the most iconic sites of Ho Chi Minh City, like the beautiful City Hall building. As we walked, our tour guides shared history of the city and insights into culture. We passed by the War Remnants Museum, and my heart struggled with my own country’s history with the nation in which I stood. We saw the incredible French architecture influence on the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Each of these buildings is a work of art. Usually a post office does not warrant a stop on a city tour, but Saigon’s Central Post Office certainly does! Dramatic arches, ornate tiles, and a still functioning post office! My favorite part of this stop was meeting a man who has been working as a letter writer [in English, French & Vietnamese!] since before the War. I could only imagine how his life has changed. He showed us pictures of riding his bike to work everyday and commented he doesn’t stay as busy anymore because of Google Translate. To me, he is a treasure just like the building in which he works.

We continued our leisurely paced stroll through the Notre Dame Cathedral, which is modeled after it’s French namesake. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular spot for photographing couples! Nearby the post office & cathedral, we found bookshop road. Be still my heart. If there’s anything I love more than traveling, it’s reading. I could have spent hours wandering through each shop, sipping Vietnamese coffee and smelling the scent of new books. But, we had a tour to finish.

We walked over to Turtle Lake, a spot of green and nature in the midst of the concrete city. Apparently, turtles at one time lived in this lake, but they certainly do not now. But there is a unique bridge structure we could climb, and see the city swirling around us. It was a calm moment to take a breath and breathe in this new place.

We finished our tour, appropriately, at the Reunification Palace, which celebrates North & South Vietnam reunifying in 1976 as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This country has such a tragic history, but a bright future. My own country played a significant role in it’s past, and if President Obama’s visit might infer, hopefully a positive role in it’s future. It was only day two, and I already loved this country.

I was so glad we did the free walking tour with Tiger Tours. The guides brought more insight and understanding than if we were to wander to each of these places ourselves. I had a few things on my list I wanted to see in our limited time in Saigon, and this tour hit them all and more! And a great feature of the tour was that one of the guides was photographing us and the sites along the way! We received all 60+ of the photos just a few days after the tour. Genius. What a fantastic experience we’ve had in Vietnam so far.

Saigon’s Street Food Scene

Within hours of getting off the plane in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, [or as it’s also called, Saigon], we hopped onto the backs of scooters for a street food tour of the city with Saigon on Bikes. Even the light rain couldn’t hold back our excitement for the tour. After living in Asia for a year and a half, we’ve come to love and embrace street food. But of course, newly arriving in a new city in a new country, we’d never be able to find all the best spots ourselves. Which is exactly why we signed up for a tour with Saigon on Bikes. We were chauffeured around the massive and electric city of Saigon, weaving through traffic and back alleys to little corners restaurants with diverse menus. I’m glad we arrived hungry, because we were about to eat a ton of food.

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At our first stop we tried Bánh Tráng Nướng, which was a grilled flat rice paper with veggies, meats and sauces. It reminded me of a crepe topped with lots of goodies. This was probably my favorite stop of the night, I could have eaten here every day that we were in Saigon. I absolutely loved the Bánh Dẻo, which was a grilled rolled rice paper, and stuffed full of meats and vegetables and covered in sauce. It was warm and chewy, and reminded me of a Vietnamese burrito. As we enjoyed these delicious dishes, we also learned about the cuisine from our tour guides. We learned that the flavors of Saigon in the south of Vietnam were sweet, while the flavors of central Vietnam, like DaNang were spicy, while flavors in northern Hanoi would be salty & spicy. The Vietnamese cuisine is a beautiful balance of all these flavors.

After our first stop, I quickly realized the key to success on a street food tour would be pacing. Don’t fill up on stop one! We had to leave room for more. At our next stop, we tried some fresh vegetable & pork rolls called Bánh Hỏi Thịt Nướng. We sampled different fresh herbs used regularly in Vietnamese cuisine. Which could be why Vietnamese food is considered some of the healthiest in the world. We tried so many fresh leafy greens when making these porks rolls. And they were simply delightful.

On to stop number three! Could I actually fit more food in my stomach? This was our seafood stop. And our most wild stop. I am not “really” an adventurous eater, but my husband is. So I sampled a few things here, but it was not my favorite. We tried chili lemongrass clams, tamarind marinated crab claws, steamed prawns and balut. If you’ve never heard of or tried balut, consider yourself lucky. It’s a duck fetus. This is where I stopped eating. Which was ok with me, because we had more food to try later!

Next stop was in “Chinatown”. We ate delicious pork & shrimp dumplings called Sủi Cảo and I didn’t want to leave. They were so good!

Our final stop of the night was for dessert. We started with a coconut jelly, right out of a fresh coconut! We followed it up with a pomelo sweet soup and a fresh yogurt, which became our favorite dessert in all of Vietnam. It was so rich and flavorful.

We returned to our hotel full and happy, and with a much better understanding of the food & culture of Vietnam. It was a fantastic way to begin our 8 days in the country. We loved experiencing street food with Saigon on Bikes. The guides were incredibly knowledgeable and fun to hang out with. It felt like a dinner with friends, not like a tour service. I’m so glad the tour was on scooters, as we got to see so much more of the vast city. If this first night would be an indicator of our time to come in Vietnam, I knew it was going to be a fantastic trip!

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This post was sponsored in part by Saigon on Bikes, but as always, the opinions are entirely my own.

The World Below

The longer I live in Bali, the more I am in awe of the world around me. I thought I knew natural beauty, but I was wrong. America has some epic landscapes, and Florida has killer beaches. But Bali takes my breath away. From the rice fields to the volcano peaks to the Southern cliffs and the coastal shores, it’s magnificent. However, since living in Bali I’ve discovered a new layer to natural beauty…under the ocean’s surface.

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We’ve had the privilege of snorkeling some incredible sites in Bali, from Nusa Penida’s Crystal Bay to Manta Point, over to West Bali and even the Gilis off of Lombok’s coast. Each place is unique and different. I’ve seen fish of all colors, and have heard coral crackling with. Did you know that there are blue starfish!? I do now! I’ve seen manta rays as big as a car. I saw a sea turtle just like Finding Nemo. And I’ve found Nemo.

I was never a strong swimmer or lover of the water growing up, but living in Bali has forever changed me. I have become fascinated with the ocean floor, and I will overcome fears and lack of skills to see it. Overcoming these fears of the open ocean, which I’ve always enjoyed from a boat, has been liberating. My husband however has embraced free diving, which is basically extreme snorkeling. I can’t say I’m there yet! But who knows, maybe one day! I’m still not a pro, but I look forward to another chance to snorkel. To see what beauty lies in the world below.

8 Things Everyone Must Know About Me

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Even after almost a year and a half of living in Indonesia, I still have moments of feeling like a stranger in a strange land. I never blend in, and I always stand out. But I also live in a beautifully relational country. So instead of just staring at me like a stranger, I regularly am approached and questioned about my life. It was unsettling at first. The introspective American in me was like I don’t know you, why do you want to know my life? But as a learner of a new country & new culture, I learned to lean into relationship and opened up with people. Especially as I’ve been learning the language, the amount & types of questions have only increased. I now expect the questions when I meet someone new. I now have my answers memorized. I am prepared.

I guess we do something similar in America. When we meet someone new, we usually ask name, where they are from and what they do for work. Those are standard small talk questions in America. Indonesia has different standard small talk questions, which often make me laugh. Here are the regular questions I am asked from 1 – 20 times a day.

Question #1: Where are you going?
This question, literally translates from the Indonesian as “want to where?”, is used like Americans say, “What’s up?” Sometimes we are actually asking a direct question and want a direct answer, but usually it’s just a casual greeting to acknowledge someone’s presence. And it doesn’t make sense in English. Mau ke mana, which means “Where are you going?” is used by my neighbors as I’m about to drive off, by my friends as I see them in town, or the gas station attendant. To which my answer, regardless of who asks it is always, “walking out & about” or in Indonesian, jalan-jalan.

Question #2: Where are you from?
Answer: America
Follow-up: How long have you lived in Bali?
Answer: [approximate time frame]
Follow-up: Oh! You speak the language [Bahasa Indonesia] so fluently!
Response: Well, I’m not fluent, but thank you.

Question #3: Are you [already] married?
Answer: Yes, I am already married.
Side note: Indonesian language has interesting feature of using “already” and “not yet” for yes and no questions. Have you already eaten? Have you already showered? Have you already…? Rarely do I respond with a hard “no” to a question, it’s almost always a “not yet”. Have I been to Jakarta? Not yet. Have I learned Balinese language? Not yet. 

Question #4: Is your husband Indonesian? [as a result of my apparent flawless language skills, I suppose]
Answer: He’s American too. Although, clearly we look like a nice little Balinese couple!

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Question #5: Do you [already] have children?
Answer: Not yet

These are standard regular questions that anyone from a taxi driver to a shopkeeper to a waitress may ask me. Depending on how long the conversation continues, here’s a few of my favorite questions I am regularly asked.

Question #6: What’s your religion?
Answer: Protestant Christian. What’s your religion?
Culture note: This always catches me off guard. Indonesia has 6 official religions [Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestant, Catholic & Confuscism], and everyone HAS to have a religion. Like, it’s required. Like, an Indonesian isn’t allowed to be agnostic or atheist. It’s on their government ID cards. It’s assigned at birth. You can’t marry someone of another religion. One person has to change their religion to marry. Religion to Indonesians is as standard as gender or hometown.It’s even on application forms!

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Question #7: How much did you pay for (fill in the blank)?
Indonesians will constantly ask how much I pay for stuff. Oh, I like your shirt, how much was it? Oh, you are renting a house for 2 years, how much did pay? Oh, you are sitting next to me at a red light, how much was your motorbike? Nothing is off-limits when it comes to asking the cost. Sometimes I am proud a good deal, and will share openly. Other times, I am ashamed of being ripped off for being a foreigner. But it’s a constant.

Question #8: Do you like living here?
Answer: Of course, I love living here.
Side note: Is there any other answer that would at all be polite to say here???

I absolutely love how relational Indonesians are. Nothing is ever a distant or removed task, but a chance for a personal connection. One of American friends recently commented after a trip to the States that self-checkout lanes would never work in Indonesia. And it’s so true. These people are hard-wired to be in community. I’m learning how to live in a relational culture, and it’s simply beautiful.

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JoyFilledWander Snaps

Hey all you snappy SnapChatters out there! I’m giving this SnapChat thing a try! I recently discovered some of the great travel bloggers out there using SnapChat, like Expat Edna, Mark Wiens, and Drew “the Hungry Partier” Binsky. They are rocking it on SnapChat with more stories, photos and videos from the road. SnapChat has become a new way to see “behind the scenes” of someone’s life with it’s unedited raw life moments. I also have enjoyed the SnapChat community. I’ve reached out to some of these popular Snappers, and have gotten such personal responses. I’ve spent time in real life with fellow Snap-Travelers, and it’s just a unique community.  So I’m jumping in and adding my stories to the world. Follow along my SnapChat for stories from this American girl living life in Asia!

Things you’ll see on my SnapChat…

Beaches!

Culture Moments!

Foodie Love!

Volunteering Stories!

Glimpses into my new normal!

Things to inspire YOU to travel!

Oh, and my own geofilter for my neighborhood beach!

So, Scan my code and follow along @joyfilledwander

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Happy Snapping!

Top 10 Beaches in Bali for Photographers

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Bali is a paradise of beaches. Any type of beach goer can find the beach of their dreams in Bali. Like surfing? Check out Uluwatu. Enjoy swimming & sunbathing? Nusa Dua is your beach. Like your beach with a side of party? Kuta & Seminyak is for you. Like to eat on the beach where your meal came from? Head to Jimbaran Beach. There’s really something for everyone at the beaches of Bali. Even photographers!

I love photographing my travels, and in Bali, that means beaches. Over the past few months I’ve been traveling to some of the beaches of southern Bali, which are most well-known beaches on the island. Many I had heard of before arriving, but some I had not. I wanted to visit these beaches as a photographer, and see what made them unique. Here’s a look at the 10 beaches I visited and what I loved about them!

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#10 Kuta Beach: If you are looking for photos of flat dark sand, throngs of tourists in bikinis, merchants seller their goods, and drunken surfers, then Kuta Beach is your spot. I know this beach is a “famous” surf spot, but I really don’t get the appeal. I always find it crowded and unpleasant. These are the photos that make me don’t want to come to Bali. I’m not into the party or club scene, so I’m probably not the ideal expat for Kuta Beach, but either way, there’s way more interesting beaches to photograph in Bali.

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#9 Seminyak Beach: A step above Kuta, but not much. Still crowded, still rather dull, Seminyak does offer spots of secluded beach. And I have noticed some impressive waves on this beach. Parts of this beach can look quite nice, but it’s really determined by tourist season.

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#8 Dreamland Beach: Speaking of tourists… I’m not a fan of this one because it’s one of the few southern cliff beaches that tour buses can access. Therefore it’s packed with tour groups. Plus you have to walk through a long stretch of souvenir shops & pushy sellers. It’s pretty, it’s simple, but as a photographer, it’s a pass.

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#7 Nusa Dua: This beach has the advantage/disadvantage of being mostly a beach for resorts. The advantage is that it’s quite clean. The disadvantage is that sometimes it can be quite crowded. But Nusa Dua does offer some unique photo spots that other beaches do not. One is a water blow, just off the beach. When the tide is just right, the swell is legendary. I like this beach for swimming, as it’s a pretty protected cove and the waves aren’t too crazy.

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#6 Padang-Padang: Another “famous” surf spot, but a little overhyped if you ask me. There’s a charge to park and a charge to enter the beach. It’s a pretty small beach too, for all the fuss. It does have some great cliff and rock shots from the beach, which make it unique. It’s a nice beach, but it gets crowded quick.

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#5 Secret Beach [Pantai Tegal Wangi]: I call this one secret, because I never hear anyone talk about it! But when studying the map of Bali one day, I stumbled across it. It’s remote and cut out of the rocks. It’s a small beach, but definitely has the private island beach feel. When we were there, a wedding was about to take place. It’s a great spot for a secluded Bali beach wedding. It has a real isolated feel.

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#4 Bingin Beach: The only downside to this beach is the stairs. But other than that, it’s a gem. Soft white sand, nice waves, cool rocks & caves giving Bingin a nice unique coastline. I also enjoyed photographing from some of the cafe’s above the beach for some great wide ocean shots. This is a lovely beach that might even be worth all those stairs. It’s not for the faint at heart!

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#3 Jimbaran Beach: I’m partial to this beach, because I live on it. But other than that, it’s still a great beach. It’s fishing beach, which makes for great local culture shots of the boats, the fisherman, the fish and the markets. It’s a sunset beach, so sometimes it glows. There are a lot of tourists at sunset, so getting that isolated postcard photo feel won’t happen at Jimbaran Beach. But if you want to photograph a beach with character, this is the spot.

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#2 Balangan Beach: What a gem. The best part of this beach is the great overlook on the coast. Part of the cliff juts out, and gives you wide views of the coastline from all angles. I could photograph from up here all day. The coast is so rich and green, and the sand is a beautiful sandy tan, with turquoise water that just pops. The beach itself is nice too. But this overlook is a real nice spot.

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#1 Uluwatu Beach: I know, I know. It’s touristy. It’s hyped. It’s always crowded. But it’s all worth it you guys. It’s epic. After walking down who knows how many stairs winding through countless shops & restaurants, you see it. This crazy stone cave opening up into the ocean. You climb down a few more precarious stone steps, walk across a stone bridge, and you hear the crashing waves coming through cove. You can barely see the sky because the cliff walls are so tall. But as you walk toward the sounds of the ocean, the walls widen and you are at the edge of the world. Uluwatu Beach is beautiful and unlike any beach I’ve seen before. You photograph here for hours, and never take the same shot. Depending on the tides, you can go through the caves to the other side of the main opening, and a whole new beach awaits. It’s a photographer’s dream come true. Don’t miss it.

Happy photographing!!

8 Books That Will Inspire Wanderlust This Summer

Can reading be an addiction? If so, I’m addicted to reading. For multiple years in a row I’ve completed reading challenges of over 50 books a year. Back in 2013 and again now in 2016, I’ve been doing a travel-themed reading challenge called Around the World in 80 Books. As I read books set in different countries around the world, I get to be immersed in a new world and a new culture.

So this summer, whether you are hitting the open road for adventures of your own or looking to live vicariously through someone else’s, check out these reads!

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski- Northern Thailand
This lush book by Mischa Berlinski will have you booking a ticket to Thailand today. Set in the northern mountain country of Thailand, Fieldwork is the story of 2 American expats, the mysterious death of a cultural anthropologist, and a remote hill tribe of people. Berlinski beautifully weaves together the storylines, which thrusts Thailand to center stage. Romance & mystery, culture & drama, and great writing will whisk away with this read.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter – Almafi Coast, Italy
I read this a book a few years ago, and while I couldn’t remember the plot, I could remember that it made me want to visit the Almfai Coast in Italy. A rocky love story set on the cliffside cities of Italy’s famed coast, this book could not have a better setting. Opening in a 1960’s Italian sleepy sea village, jumping to the cutthroat modern-day Hollywood, through movie pitches and unfinished novels, we meet the lovable Pasquale, an Italian hotel owner whose greatest dream is to host American celebrities. American actress seeking refuge from filming in Rome, Dee Moray, shows up on the right shoreline, and checks into Pasquale’s “Hotel Adequate View” because she’s dying. As the years pass, and the story unfolds from many sources, we begin to understand the full story of what happened that fateful weekend at Pasquale’s inn. Lives were forever altered, and destinies changed. Oh, and Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton play a significant role as well. What’s not to love?!

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson – Australia
I read this book right before I went to Australia for the first time last year. And I’m so glad I did. Bryson’s comedic & quirky look at this unique country really captures Australia’s heart & soul. Bryson travels throughout much of the island country, and comments on the oddities of each section. His outsider’s outlook, an American having lived in the UK, was wildly entertaining. If you didn’t want to head down under before, you will after this book.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey- Scotland
This book I loved solely because of the description of Scotland. The plot is average, but the Orkney’s of northern Scotland sound simply captivating. The titular character, Gemma Hardy, knows loss. In her 10 young years, she’s become an orphan and now lives within a strict boarding school. But instead of withdrawing from the world around her, Gemma looks for friendship, connection and belonging wherever she goes. From boarding school to employment and beyond, Gemma is a girl searching. Employment takes Gemma to the isolated Orkney’s, where she must begin again connecting to the world around her. Howling winds, snow falls, cold ocean waves, and abandoned caves was all I kept picturing while reading this book. Sign me up for Scotland.

Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller – United States
Ready for a road trip this summer? Join Donald Miller as he travels across America in a journey of self-discovery. Similar to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the plot is not what keeps you turning pages. It’s the travel. It’s the movement. It’s the discovery. Donald Miller is a great writer of our generation, tackling hard topics like faith & spirituality. I loved reading him wrestle through these big things like hiking through the Grand Canyon. Throw this book in your bag when you hit the open road.

Girl at War by Sara Nović – Croatia
I can honestly say I’ve never really given Croatia much of a thought when making travel plans. But this book put me right in the center of former Yugoslavia through the eyes of Anna, the young narrator. Girl at War by Sara Nović is told with alternating storylines, jumping around in Anna’s timeline, but each section tells the story of the conflict around Anna and within Anna. From her early memories of the Adriatic coastline, to the arrival of military troops in the capital of Zagreb, through unspeakable acts of violence and horror and onto America where Anna relocated, the story moves quickly. It’s a short book, packed with a powerful story. Pick it up and dive into the ancient beauty of Croatia.

The Katya Hijazi series by Zoë Ferraris – Saudi Arabia
Truth – Saudi Arabia fascinates me. Maybe because it’s still such a mystery. Which is also why I’m loving the Katya Hijazi series by Zoë Ferraris. These books gives so much insight into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia, and Islam in general. The characters of Nayir and Katya are interesting and well developed. I very much enjoyed their story lines, weaving in and out of one another’s lives. Each book features a murder mystery and criminal investigation set against the religious extremism and the harsh desert of Saudi Arabia is the perfect combination for a cannot-put-this-down read. The second book, City of Veils, picks up roughly a year after Finding Nouf, the first in the series. Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi have distanced, after what appeared to be the beginnings of a relationship. Nayir Sharqi is a devout Muslim man, and a scholar of the Qur’an. Katya Hijazi is a modern woman who continues to work in the medical examiner’s office, and is forced to lie about being married to keep her job. A new case, the tortured body of a young Saudi woman tortured washes up on the beach, intrigues Katya as she attempts to look past the burqa at who this woman really was and what caused her death. This story also has an element of an outsider looking in as well, with the storyline of an American woman searching for her missing American husband who may or may not have connections with the washed up woman. I haven’t finished the third book yet, but in case you can’t tell…I will.

Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Stemple – Pacific Northwest & Antartica
What can I say about Where’d You Go, Bernadette? It’s laugh out loud funny, sentimental, and mysterious all at once. When acclaimed, yet reclusive, architect, Bernadette Fox goes missing, her teenage daughter, Bee, takes the investigation upon herself. Using her mother’s correspondence, Bee pieces together her mother & father’s secrets that may have led to Bernadette’s disappearance. This witty read is a page-turner you won’t put down! I loved this book! Written entirely through “correspondence” [emails, faxes, letters, transcripts, voicemails, texts, etc…] this book has the most unique voice. From rainy Seattle to frigid Antarctica, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is non-stop fun! Traveling this year? This book will keep you going through plane rides, layovers & road trips.

Do you have a favorite book that inspires you to travel? What is it? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading & happy travels!

How to Plan Your Next Trip

I’m a planner by nature. I love researching, reading, planning and preparing. This skill comes in quite handy when preparing for a trip to a new place. I’m constantly preparing for some kind of travel. Whether it’s a visa run to a new country or a weekend on our own island, I like to be prepared to get the most out of our adventures. Often, I’m planning a trip to somewhere brand new. Maybe I’ve met someone who has been there before, but usually not. So I have to start from scratch.

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So how do I do it? How do I plan a trip to a city I’ve never been before? I’ll share some of my favorite planning resources…

I almost start with WikiTravel. This is a user generated travel guide on a city. This helps me understand a few things about the city right away. Like, how should we get there? Can we drive or fly or take a train? I also can get an idea of the layout of the city. Usually a larger city will have it’s specific neighborhoods or districts highlighted on WikiTravel. While reading this, I start to get an idea of what area of the city we’d like to stay, and where some of the best things to see are located.

Once I have a basic understanding of the city, I can turn to Trip Advisor. I am a huge Trip Advisor contributor and consumer. How did we ever travel without this?!? TripAdvisor gives me real life experience with attractions, restaurants, and hotels. I hardly go anywhere without checking it on TripAdvisor first. If a restaurant has a TripAdvisor sign in the window, I’ll look it up on my phone before trying it out. It’s also a great way to get menu recommendations at a popular restaurant. The TripAdvisor map function also allows you to narrow down what part of the city you are exploring for the day or whatever. Super helpful.

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Almost right away, I’ll open up the city on Google Maps. I love being able to “star” or save a location for future use. As I begin to note tourist attractions or restaurants that I don’t want to forget, I star them and keep them for later. The more I star, I’m also able to see geographic groupings of what I’d like to do. This is helpful in planning a travel route. Novice travelers lose so much time by crisscrossing the city multiple times a day to get to their stops. If you know where things are on the map, you can chart out a logic route that can save you time in the long run. Google Maps often will giving you the driving, walking and even public transportation routes between destinations. In larger cities with public transportation this is really key. You can set what time you’d like to depart, and it adapts the route to include subways or buses if available. Google Maps is probably the travel tool I use the most.

By now, I feel like I have a good understanding of the city. I know it’s neighborhoods and the basics of what to see and do. Now I turn to my favorite travel inspiration source: Pinterest. Here I can search a city and find beautiful photos, or links to other travel blogs & travel guides, or maps of the city. Pinterest is loaded with travel resources that constantly keeps me inspired. I’ve often found a photo on Pinterest and said “I need to take that photo”, and added it to my map. This is the fun part. What’s beautiful about this city? What’s a must-see? What’s off the beaten path?

If I need more photographic inspiration, I turn to Instagram or Tumblr. By using hashtags to search, I can find some great places, restaurants, or events to check out while I’m in the city. Most cities have a hashtag, but some are even more specific. As you find cool posts, look at what other hashtags are used. Maybe it’s a foodie tag or an explore tag, which are great. Those can help you find some great restaurants and cafes and more usually posted by locals from that city. For example, Bali has #explorebali, #balifoodies, #igersbali, and #thebalibible. Each of those tags have their own account, which is filled with must-sees in Bali.

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My final stop in travel planning is YouTube. Ironically, this is my husband’s first choice! In my opinion, I feel like I have to wade through a lot of “junk” to find the “good” on YouTube. But the good is there! Usually if I can do a more specific search, the better results I get. I’m so thankful to the quality video bloggers out there, because I am not. I value their resources!

So by now, I probably have a long list of what I want to do, see, eat and try while in the city. If I’ve been starring my Google Maps along the way, I can see the general area of where stuff is grouped together. I can choose where we want to stay, and how we will get around. If the city is in a new country, I’ll research visa or immigration needs. I forgot this step once when we were planning for Australia, not realizing as an American that I couldn’t get visa on arrival! Glad a friend spoke up for me in time to get the application in! There’s plenty of hotel websites out there, but my favorites are Agoda and AirBnB. Agoda, especially in Asia, have the most selection of hotels. And AirBnB is my favorite for wanting to get off the tourist track. Staying in a local neighborhood really lets you immerse in the city.

Hope this helps you in planning your next new travels. Let me know where you are headed! Maybe we’ll meet up.
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Secrets in Sanur

Some things are better left forgotten.

We always assume that when something or someone has been forgotten, it’s a catastrophe. Forgotten birthdays, forgotten anniversaries, forgotten kids at school, or forgotten meals on stovetops. It usually doesn’t end well. But what about forgotten places? Too often a forgotten place leads to disarray, chaos and danger. But sometimes a forgotten place can lead to beauty & wonder.

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That’s what I found when I recently discovered a forgotten amusement park in Sanur, Bali. Originally it had been designed to be a vast entertainment complex just a short taxi ride away from tourist town, Sanur. It only opened for 3 short years. But since closing it’s doors in 2000, it’s been left to the wild. And the wild has been good to it.

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I didn’t even know where to begin. I saw the remains of the old ticket booths at the entrance, and made my way inside. Doorways had been broken down, and the trees had begun making their home inside. Several structures still remain, like an amphitheater, an old pond covered in lily pads, large multiple story buildings that could have been hotel-like properties, and even an epic vaulted crumbling ceiling multi-purpose space. Graffiti, like the trees, has overrun the buildings. There’s hardly blank spaces left on the walls anymore. But it adds to the abandoned feel of the whole place.

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Small paths lead off from the main areas, and fear somewhat gripped my heart as I walked down these unknown roads. Every few feet, I’d see something new. A signpost, an old bathroom with no walls, another smaller theatre building, and large areas of unbroken concrete which skateboarders seem to love. In one section, I looked up and saw a huge net stretching through the trees. And I realized that the remains of the building below was probably an old aviary, home to exotic birds. The most eerie section to me was an large man-made pond, which had been filled in with stones. Legend says that when the park closed, the wild animals that were part of the entertainment were never collected, like the birds, and even crocodiles. And that after awhile, the crocodiles turned cannibal. Was this large stone pond the home of cannibalistic crocodiles?? I got out of there pretty quick.

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The Balinese are such a creative people, and Taman Festival did not lack in typical Balinese creativity. Ornate stone carvings lined many buildings, and detailed statues guarded entry ways. Brightly colored tiled mosaics could still be spotted on stone pillars throughout the park, and intricately laid into the walkways. Details and careful thought had gone into this place. And it stands empty, a shell of what it was destined to be.

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I think the same thing can happen to us. When we forget what we were created for, who we were destined to be, we become walking and talking relics. What gives us life? What gives us purpose? Find it and live it. That’s only way to remain truly alive anymore. Our generation refuses to settle for status quo. We are a generation of more. We are a generation of finding ourselves. But once we find it, we gotta live it. I love getting to live life in Asia. It fills me and fuels me. What fuels you?