Recent travels

I love to travel. So much personal learning comes from traveling - you don't have to be in classes, or take seminars, or even take tours of any historical sights to learn through travel. Travel (especially international travel) teaches you to be resourceful, and patient, and teaches you a huge amount about other cultures. It really gives you some perspective on your own life when you are able to see the whole world outside the little bubble of your home state (to say nothing of living in another state).

I will preface this post by saying that I am extremely blessed and spoiled to have married into a family that places travel so high on their priority list, and to have a mother-in-law generous enough to take me on some of these trips (Cancun, the Bahamian cruise and our upcoming Africa trip, specifically). Not everyone that gets to travel to such incredible places is willing to admit this, but some of these trips were gifts. I believe in giving appreciation, thanks and credit where credit is due, and not acting as if my meager bagel-stand income bought me the vacations I took while I was in college, or that I am spending money currently earmarked for student loan payments on vacations. ;) I'd rather be real about what I have and have not provided for myself. I did manage to do several of these trips on my own and with my own money, however (China, Grand Cayman and our honeymoon), and so I do have lots of advice to give about how to travel cheaply and efficiently if that's something ya'll think I should write about.

Here are some bigger trips I've been on recently, my thoughts and opinions on those trips and destinations, and advice I have if you plan to travel there:

2009

8-week study abroad program with the Council on International Educational Exchange in Shanghai, China

If you are in college, I highly recommend studying abroad. Particularly if your tuition will be the same abroad as it is at home, you really have no reason not to go. You just have to dive in head-first and go for it, and don't look back. Immerse yourself and be serious about learning the language, if you're going for language learning (like I did). I do wish I had savored the experience a bit more, but I had a lot of maturing still to do when I went.

China is a super weird place. If you want culture shock, don't go to Europe. Go to Asia. And don't go to "bottled Asia" and take a tour of the Great Wall and all that crap. Go on your own, and explore. Stay in hostels (in groups, of course. Don't be dumb.) Learn some basic language before you go, or at least get really good at pointing at guide books. See some touristy things, sure okay, but also seek out the more obscure things. I got to do some pretty interesting stuff when I studied abroad, mostly because I didn't bother to spend time in Beijing (I figure, if I really want to see the Great Wall, we'll go back). I went to a Maoist propaganda museum, I went on a cruise of the Yangtze River through the Three Gorges Dam and saw an ancient "Ghost City" supposedly inhabited by demons, saw the world's biggest buddha statue, hiked a mountain (oh if only I were in good shape back then, so skinny-fat!) and held a panda at the Chengdu Panda Base:


I do wish I had taken my language-learning more seriously. There were some highly intelligent, focused and educated people on that trip I could have practiced my language skills with, and I would have gotten even better than I did. But, hind-sight is 20/20 and I still really loved the experience. One of the best decisions I've ever made.

Carnival cruise, Bahamas

Yeah, so….don't cruise with Carnival. We booked this cruise (my mother-in-law, Seth, his brother and I) for Jamaica and Grand Cayman in November of 2009. We got a call from Carnival three days before departure stating that the ship that was slated to take us to Jamaica and Grand Cayman was having rotor issues, and that it wouldn't be able to make it that far. So, they told us we were being re-routed to the Bahamas. (If you've been to the Caribbean, you know that the Bahamas are not nearly as cool as Jamaica and Grand Cayman.) They refused to refund us our money (forget the airfare), they wouldn't refund us the money we had spent booking our on-shore excursions in Jamaica and Grand Cayman, they were just all-around unhelpful. The ship was fine - not much to do, if I'm honest, some random "game show"-type entertainment in the "theater" area in the evenings, and a casino, but beyond that not much to do. Nassau was a hot mess, but the "Carnival-owned" island they took us to, Half Moon Cay, had a nice beach. We did go parasailing there, too, which was really fun.


All-in-all, we wouldn't cruise with them again. I've heard good things about Royal Caribbean, so if we ever chose to cruise again we would probably try them next.

2010

World's Fair, China

Seth and I found cheap airfare (meaning,  $900 per person instead of the normal $1600) back to China the summer after I went, so we decided to buy tickets to the World's Fair, which was being held in Shanghai. I was already familiar with the city, and we both spoke passable Chinese, so we figured, why not. It ended up being a really fun experience. It was SO crowded and SO chaotic, but still really amazing. Most countries had a pavilion, and most of the smaller island nations or poorer nations had booths in a larger group pavilion. Unfortunately, the US pavilion was pretty disappointing. The first section was essentially dedicated to making fun of how uncultured Americans are (to be fair, it was pretty accurate, but still embarrassing). It was a video of regular Americans and American celebrities attempting to say "Welcome to the World's Fair in Shanghai, China" in Chinese. So. Awkward. We were some of the only non-Chinese attendees at the Fair, so it was particularly awkward for us. I feel like we totally could have pulled out the stops better, too - the second room was dark like a theater and showed a video of a little girl planting flowers in her neighborhood (the general theme was environmental friendliness and innovation) and it had some fake rain, which was cute. But there were others that were phenomenally more impressive. Like Spain:



Made to look like a basket, Spain's pavilion featured flamenco dancers and this giant (creepy) animatronic baby (whose purpose we still do not know.)

Australia:





Australia's pavilion was focused around this giant stage in the middle, that looked like a sandbox. The staged rose and fell at different intervals, basically like a giant, animatronic mini-play. It was awesome. The second-to-last photo is of a room full of giant rain sticks, and the last photo is the final room of their pavilion, which had huge LED versions of native Australian flowers hanging from the ceiling.

and my personal favorite, Switzerland:






Switzerland's pavilion was a slow chair lift around a cylindrical room, which was covered in plants and grass. It took you up to the top of their pavilion, then slowly wound its way around the top (which was great, because you could see a lot of the Fair from up there). It was just such a cool, simple concept, and I thought suited the theme really well.

There were a ton of other really awesome pavilions, but those were just some that stood out to me. I could probably make a whole post just talking about this trip. The World's Fair this year started today, in Milan, Italy.

Us in front of the China Pavilion in the Expo Axis


2011

Scuba certification, Grand Cayman

As a Christmas/Hanukkah gift to Seth, I got my scuba certification (by far the most expensive Christmas gift I have ever given anyone). My dive school here in DC offered a great deal on a package to go to Grand Cayman to do my "check-out" dives, so we went with the school in August. Cayman is beautiful, and it was the perfect place to do my check-outs. I was also spoiled because my dive school was sooooo awesome (SPE Dive School in Friendship Heights, if you're in the market! I highly recommend!) I recommend to everyone that they try scuba - I'm claustrophobic and I did pretty well learning to wear a mask and breathe through a regulator.

We got to dive with sting rays, which wasn't as scary as you might think. They were so calm and sweet. I also got to dive on a ship wreck, and we did a night dive, which was cool. We did a deep dive, which I wasn't a huge fan of, except I saw a sea turtle. That was cool.


2013

Honeymoon, St. Lucia

We went to Sandals in St. Lucia for our honeymoon. It was awesome. It was legitimately the PERFECT place to honeymoon. They pick you up and drop you off at the airport, and everything at the resort is all-inclusive, so you don't have to think about anything. The food and drinks were fantastic, the staff was friendly, the rooms were spacious and clean, and we got an ocean-view room. The water was clear, the sand was soft and it was hot, but not unbearably hot. It was also really affordable, so we didn't have to spend an arm and a leg getting to and from the island. We spent five nights, and it was the perfect amount of time to relax and unwind after getting married. I LOVED it. We plan to go back to another Sandals for our five-year anniversary, because they give you a great deal as a return customer.



2014

Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls River Lodge & Little Makalolo June 26- July 6- recap to come in mid-July!

California: Hiking in Yosemite and/or up the coast, TBD in early September - recap to come in mid-September!






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