One Of The Greatest Tools Any Traveler Should Have: A Moleskine

Some can’t live without their cell phone or laptops when traveling.  Others can’t travel without something more essential like a water bottle or a money belt. However, I wanted to bring up something I probably could never travel without: a pen and a moleskine.  Moleskines or any travel journal is essential for backpacking the world I felt and was my most used tool on the trip besides my backpack.

But what makes a journal such an important part of travel?  From my experiences, I felt that words could express an experience as much as a picture.  Whether it is paragraph after paragraph about eating at a night market or words written randomly to describe the colors of the Hong Kong skyline at night, a travel journal can capture that moment right then and there.

We also have had moments where we came up with an amazing idea while traveling, only to forget the very next moment.  With a moleskine or travel journal, one can grab write down that idea to reflect later and realize how ridiculous or genius that idea was.

One can argue that I can just download a writing notepad app on my iPhone and do all that without a moleskine.  That could be true at times, however, using your phone in a foreign country may not be the most idealist situation.  You can stick out like a sore eye if you are not in an area where cell phones are common.  Also, we you are dependent on Wi-Fi, one should realize that using your phone in such situations could be expensive depending how are you documenting your words and ideas.  Once you run out of battery, then you are left with nothing.

A moleskine, especially the one I had, I could fit in my back pocket.  It would be convenient and easy to access.  Before going to a new area, I would write addresses in there of places I wanted to go, draw maps on how to get to my hostel, and even got numbers from some women.

So before you go out on your next adventure overseas or down the freeway, stop by an art or book shop, pick up a nice pen and moleskine and start capturing your experiences like some greats before us: Patagonia traveler Bruce Chatwin, writer Ernest Hemingway, and artist Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.

Advertisements

Travel Tips: Where to Eat In Vegas That Doesn’t Involve The Strip

Because whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, people do not talk much other than what food they ate.  Food is amazing in Sin City, but it is unfortunate that many people only eat on the Strip.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with eating on the Strip and the food can be amazing there.  It is just that there are normally two options on the strip:  overpriced buffets or quick fast food.

Outside of buffets and fast food away from the Strip lies a lot of small start-up restaurants that are normally cheap and amazingly good.  If you have access to a car or willing to spend a little on transportation, here are a few places I love to stuff my face in Vegas:

Bachi Burger:  The word Bachi in Japanese means bad luck.  However, the only bad luck you will be having with this place is trying to decide on what burger to eat.  This place takes an Asian Fusion approach to the burger.  You can have their Banh Mi Burger, which has beef, pork, shrimp, lemongrass, aioli, and Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese fish sauce). If you have a little extra to spend, you can go for there $25 Shogun Burger with Wagyu Beef, Unagi (Eel), and Foie Gras.

20130221-102519.jpgMiyagi-sanʼs Grass Fed Wagyu Burger at Bachi Burger

On the side you can have Oxtail Chili Cheese Fries or some delicious steamed pork belly buns.  Finish it off with a nice beer or their ginger soda.  Located in Windmill or Summerlin (www.bachiburger.com)

Ichiza:   Hidden in a little plaza a little west of the Wynn Hotel lies a Japanese Izakaya called Ichiza.  If you do not know what an Izakaya is, it is usually little drinking places to go after work in Japan, where you can have small portions of food to go along with your beer.  However, at Ichiza, there is nothing small about this place.  The food here is amazing from their beef and chicken skewers to their octopus balls.  You will have a hard time deciding what to eat because of the menu being scattered all across the wall.  You can also get a good steaming bowl of ramen noodles and fried cutlet.

20130221-102343.jpgHow can you not resist the Honey Toast at Ichiza

However, after you are done with all that grilled food and beer, leave a little room for dessert.  The plate of choice to fulfill your sweet tooth is the Honey Toast, a block of Japanese white bread, which is hollowed out a little, drizzled with honey, and topped off with vanilla ice cream.  Definitely a great way to finish a good meal.  Located in Chinatown at 4355 Spring Mountain Rd #205

Firefly:  Not too far away from the Strip on Paradise Rd lies Firefly.  A very popular joint which is known for their amazing service and their sleek atmosphere.  Some of the tapas I really enjoy here is their Stuffed Dates, wrapped with Bacon and filled with blue cheese, as well as their flaky delicious Empanadas stuffed with a tender roast pork and peppers.  The plates here are meant to be shared with friends, so order a variety to get a little of everything.  And while you share some amazing tapas, share a few pitchers of Sangria, which can be quite strong with the brandy sitting in there for up to 3 days.  A little note though:  this place can be a little pricey  so if your budget traveling in Vegas (and saving that money for the Megabucks), probably not a place to go.  Located on East of the Strip at 3900 Paradise Rd (www.fireflylv.com)

Island Flavor: I remember when I got off the plane on a trip to Vegas, my sister picked me up and told me about this great Hawaiian restaurant run by people from my home island, the Big Island (the island of Hawaii).  We went for lunch and I fell in love with some of the great Hawaiian dishes.  The one dish I love immensely here is the Chicken Katsu Loco Moco.  If you never been to Hawaii or had Hawaiian local food, a Loco Moco is rice with hamburger steak, a layer of sunside up eggs, and smothered all over with brown gravy.  Here in Island Flavor, they replace the hamburger steak with Chicken Katsu (fried cutlet) and this Katsu is different from others as the chicken seems marinated a bit and deep-fried to perfection.

20130221-102722.jpgTry Island Flavor’s take on the loco moco with chicken katsu 

Also good here is their fresh poke, which is fresh fish mixed with soy or sesame sauce and includes seaweed, chopped onions. If you are feeling something different, I’d go with their Hawaiian Style Korean Chicken, which is deep-fried chicken mixed with a sauce that consist of soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, ginger, and green onions.  Korean Chicken was my favorite food growing up and being an expert on this dish, it is prepared deliciously here. Highly recommended.  Located in Southwest Vegas at 8090 S Durango Dr.

There are a ton of other places here to go off the Strip that I did not list that are amazing, but hope this shows you that Vegas has many gems when it comes to food.  What are your favorite places to eat in Vegas?  Leave a comment.

I THANK TRAVELING FOR TEACHING ME HOW TO GET ME INTO SHAPE

18758_860692642988_4951917_n

The alarm goes off.  I wake up and throw on my dress pants and dress shirt.  I hop into my car and drive a few miles to McDonald’s to grab a quick breakfast. I would always get two egg muffin sandwiches, two hash browns, and a healthy orange juice.  Then I would speed off down I-5 to downtown Seattle and make it to work just before the morning meeting would start.  For the rest of the day, I would be at my desk just crunching number, but still admire the amazing view working at a sky scraper in downtown Seattle would get me.  For lunch, I would head down the street, get myself either a good teriyaki bowl or a nice big cheeseburger.  Then work all the way through the evening, do more tax returns, and come to realize it is 10-11pm.  Pack up, grab a late dinner at Taco Bell, Jack and a Box or hit up a late night happy hour at a bar and do it all over again.”

That was me pre-October 2011:   a corporate cronie.  I was content with life:  I had a great paying job, moving up the corporate ladder, and didn’t really think about what to do other than making that money.  I was also OVERWEIGHT and would be eating a lot of free food my company would give me from steak dinners to charging Thai food on the corporate card.  I tried to do some dieting, try run marathons, and even changed the way I worked by standing up the whole time.  However, I would always teeter around 175-180 pounds and never would be able to lose those pounds.  It sucked, but I just accepted it and thought I’d always be around this weight

Then I decided to quit my job over a year ago and what happened after that changed not only my perspective of life, but this as well:

408809_10100879763284228_487405890_n

I lost about 20 pounds over a 3 month span and no, it did not involve any sort of weight watchers diet or going to the gym every day.  What happened within those three months was traveling!

Backpacking the world means you gotta give up your every day routine.  For me, that meant giving up driving my car, eating fast food all the time, watching lots of TV, and sitting in front of a computer all day.   What I traded for that was being picky about the food I ate since I couldn’t afford to eat everything I want, taking a lot of public transportation, living disconnected from the computer, and the most important thing:  learning how to appreciate the art of walking.

Walking is something we Americans take for granted.  We often think about the idea of time is money, which is understandable in the process of trying to be efficient.  This, however, entails that instead of walking to the grocery store or a coffee shop that’s half a mile away, we instead hop into the car and drive there instead.  When traveling, I would walk about 15 miles a day (often a 1/3 of the miles would be because I was walking in loops being lost).  If you want to be a little more detailed, I would walk about 2-3 miles per hour if I were to be out 5 to 7 hours a day.  Granted I wasn’t working and had all the time in the world.  But looking at other people around the world, they were relatively always skinnier and in shape.  This got me curious and ponder a lot about what I was doing wrong before I came overseas.

I read in an article Europeans and Asians walk 2 to 3 times more miles than Americans in a year, which results about a 5-10 pound difference in weight.  That is a big difference!  Europeans and Asians work like Americans (Sometimes even more!).  So if we still work 8 hour days and have to deal with the daily grinds in life, how do people across the Pacific and the Atlantic stay a lot more skinnier than us.

The epiphany I had while traveling was this:  we often don’t spend enough time really moving around.  It is as simple as that.  I often saw many locals in Europe and Asia consistently active in the evening or weekends.  Being active doesn’t mean working out all we want at gyms and go on special diets.  Also, the average workout is only for 30 mins to an hour a day.  People can be more active than that!  After work, instead of going immediately going to the couch, why not walk to the coffee shop down the road.  Instead of just working out at the gym, how about exploring your neighborhood on bike and walk to through different shops you never been to.  Maybe find a park to walk and enjoy the landscape.

The key is to not just always sit around like most people in the States do, but just get out and enjoy what is out there.  That is the essence of travel:  to explore on your two feet and see the world!  I always tell myself I will walk to the end’s of the Earth in order to see it’s mysteries and beauty.  The reward:  a refreshing new respect for your surroundings and a healthier you both physically and mentally!

So thank you traveling.  You have taught me a lesson that will not only help me travel in the future, but extend my life a bit more to do it.

The Bucket List: Best Books To Read About Travel

I am not going to lie: the period between traveling between one place to another can be agonizing. And no, I am not talking about the time traveling on a plane or train to a new location; But the time your sitting at home wishing you were half way around the world.

There are many ways to deal with the lull in travel, though, whether its catching up with friends, finding new places to eat, or sulking in front of the tv. One of the things I like to do when I am taking a break from traveling is walking to a coffee shop and busting out a book on my Kindle. And just to keep my nomad spirits up, I tend to read books about travel. I try to stay away from books like Lonely Planet and try to read more books of people describing their journeys.

Here are a few books to keep your mind occupied when you have some down time from exploring the world:

No Sense Of Direction By Eric Raff: This book was about a corporate guy in New York who decided to quit his job, buy a one way ticket to Europe with no agenda and no destination. He travels to many places, legally and illegally, and meets many cool travelers along the way. What made me love this book was the idea of relating to him about quitting your job and buying a one way ticket to just travel. Definitely a fun read about travel backpacking.

Favorite quote

“Well, the last thing – which I think is the best reason of all, is that you’ve got the chance to do something most people never do…it maybe really hard for you to get to travel for three months again. So why not enjoy it while you can?”

The book also describes traveling around 1980s, so its a good way to compare the differences (and similarities) if you have travelled recently.

A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal by Anthony Bourdain: I am a big fan of Bourdain from his brash attitude towards traveling to his love of food. If you love his travel shows like No Reservations and The Layover, then you will love this book as this book describes his first journeys around the world for the show that started it all, A Cook’s Tour. Just like Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain describes his adventures for good meals with the same NY attitude.

Favorite Quote

What is love? Love is eating twenty-four ounces of raw fish at four o’clock in the morning.

Some of the best parts in this book is when he describes how he hates being followed by a camera crew. Highly recommend it if you are a fan of his.

Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? By Thomas Kohnstamm: I never have been a fan of travel guides. They often lead tourists to the same places like sheep. But have you ever wondered what it would be like to write for a travel guide company like Lonely Planet. Well Kohnstamm takes you to the dark side of business where he shows that being a travel writer is really about survival in a foreign country. Lack of pay and lots of deadlines leads to lies, scams, and apparently lots of sex.

Favorite Quote

“The waitress suggests that I come back after she closes down the restaurant, around midnight…We end up having sex in a chair and then on one of the tables in the back corner.”

It is a fun read and makes you think twice on whether the recommendations from these travel guides are truly genuine.

What are your favorite travel books? Leave a comment on some new reading material for others to read.

THE BUCKET LIST: CHEAP (BUT DELICIOUS!) EATS OF VENICE, ITALY

So while I was working, my desktop wallpaper so happen to change to this aerial shot:

venice

(Courtesy of Google Maps)

What happened after this was a rush of memories of one of the most popular tourist cities in Italy. The locals know it as Venezia, which translates to English as Venice. Venice is a beautiful city from the canals that go through the entire city to San Marco Basilica and the famous Rialto bridge. But I hate to break it to you, Venice is tourism central and can be a very pricey city. The island city is filled with many high end shops as well as restaurants promoting English menus (red flag if you are trying to budget travel). I admit, I was a sucker for one place: Harry’s Bar. It is near San Marco Piazza and I wanted to have a Bellini like Ernest Hemingway and have an epiphany. Instead I got a 15 Euro cup of nothing.

20130129-165655.jpgDon’t think Hemingway paid this much for juice

I know foodies will travel around the world for great food and pay top dollar for it, but I am definitely not that type of guy. Venice has a ton of these small, yet specialized restaurants that would cost me an arm and leg. However at the same time, its hard to subject one self to McDonalds and after spending 2 weeks in Italy living off of 1 euro slices of pizza and cheap kabobs, I needed something different. Fortunately, there is a happy medium between eating cheap and finding something delicious in Venice. Here are two restaurants I enjoyed during my time in Venice:

Arte Della Pizza: Off the beaten path, hidden behind the tents of street peddlers, lies an alleyway where you see tons of locals crowding a small shop. People are running off with pizza boxes and you start smelling some delicious pizza. This is when you realized you finally found (and it can take a while) Arte Della Pizza. This pizza joint is a gem where calling it cheap or budget pizza is a crime. Slices are only 1 euro a piece and you can order an entire pizza for 7 euro! The pizza here is great ranging from you typical margarita to some creative french fry pizzas.

20130129-153545.jpgA Margarita, French Fry Pizza, and a Beer from Arte Della Pizza

Locals love this place as you see many coming in and out of the place with take out boxes and eating it by the canal. Each time I ate here, I would eat 2 slices of pizza and have a couple of beers for about 7 euros! It is such a steal to be full and content for so cheap. Located at Calle Dell’Aseo – Cannaregio.

Rosticceria Gislon: Tucked away near to the famous Rialto Bridge and next to Campo San Bartolomeo lies this little lunch place that locals come for a quick meal. Just like Arte Della Pizza, the Rosticceria Gislon can be easily missed being hidden in an alleyway. The Rosticceria Gislon may not seem like anything special with it’s few tables and counter space. But what it has is some great and affordable dishes. Don’t expect a gormet meal, but they serve fresh seafood and pasta dishes here ranging from calamari to pizza to whole chickens.

20130129-161157.jpgCounter eating at Rosticerria Gislon

This place has a cafeteria feel to it from the arrangement of the seats to ordering some dishes from behind a counter. When I ate here, I had their amazing white lasagna with a glass of red wine for 8 USD! Also, tucked in the right corner of the restaurant lies their baked items including a bomb mozzarella prosciutto for less than a euro! You will definitely becoming back here for more if you are staying in Venice for a long period of time. Located at Calle de la Bissa 5424 near Campo San Bartolomeo,

There are tons of places to eat in Venice. But if you want something cheap, yet different from the budget food of kabobs and stale pizza, check out these two places when your in Venezia!

Travel Tips: The Do’s and Don’ts To Packing a Travel Backpack

When planning a trip, there is something as important as booking your ticket or wondering where to go once you arrive at your destination: what to bring. What you bring on your trip is vital for your trip being successful.

From my time traveling around the world, I’ve seen people bring huge bags on their trip and often they never use all the things they bring. People say they may need it, but my rule of thumb is bring the most important things and if you need something along the way, buy it!

372tq

Here are a few do’s and dont’s when it comes to backpacking:

Do use a backpack when traveling multiple countries

Basically, rule #1 when packing a backpack is get a backpack!  Suitcases are definitely not recommended when you are country hopping. Because suitcases are big, even when they are carried on luggage, we have the tendency to use up all the space. It is human nature to do that. The problem with that is we bring more clothes and accessories than we need. When you bring a backpack, you are limited to a certain amount of space. This makes you start to decide what you really need to bring and what you need to get rid of.

Also, many foreign countries do not have great sidewalks and have lots of stairs with no elevators or escalators. This makes trying to lug luggage up a number flight of stairs or rolling it through terrible cracks a hard task. With a backpack, you have it strapped against your back and even if it can be a little heavy, you are able to maneuver through subways, streets, and stairs easier than with a suitcase.

Do not bring more than 3 pair of shoes.

When traveling, I feel you need 3 pairs of footwear: a good pair of walking/running shoes, a pair of slippers (flip-flops) and avg. dress shoes/heels. The first two pairs are a must! A good pair of walking/running shoes is a no brainer as majority of travelers will be walking an average of 10+ miles a day.

While running shoes will help with the constant walking, who wants to walk when the sun is blazing on a beautiful beach. A pair of slippers are great for warm climates with beaches like Thailand, Hawai’i, or Vietnam. They will keep your feet cool and comfortable. Also when you are staying at a hostel, you definitely want a pair of slippers for showering. You do not know whats on the floor of them showers.

Dress shoes/heels can be debatable, but with the spontaneous tendency of backpacking, you may never know when you need to dress up a little. I am not a fashion expert, but as long as you have average dress shoes/heels and its black (black matches everything), you can pull off any good outfit.

Do bring a first aid kit

The first aid kit is normally not something someone thinks of when packing a bag. But when you are traveling, you may never know when you will be bleeding from spelunking. You do not need to buy a first aid kit. They are often too bulky and has more things you need. A DIY first aid kit is much more reasonable, cost-effective, and easier to pack. I usually pack band-aids of all sizes,antiseptic cream,sterile gloves,pain killers,pepto pills,cold medicine (preferable pills), multivitamins, and condoms (safety first!) I usually kept it in a zip lock bag and would not take as much space.

Do not bring a guitar 

I have seen many people bring guitars to hostels and although it is awesome to drink beers and sing some awesome tunes, traveling with anything that big can be a pain.   It goes back to the whole suitcase issue, where you have to lug another piece of luggage everywhere.  If you really need to express yourself to other travelers, most hostels these days have spare guitars to you use.

Do use compression bags/roll your clothes

The art of packing is utilizing your space and one way to make sure you get your clothes in your bag the most efficiently is either rolling your clothes or using compression bags.  Rolling your clothes helps keep clothes packed and creates space for other things to pack.  The way to roll a t-shirt is the army roll.  This method is easy to remember and will be vital when packing.  Another option is using compression bags.  Basically, you place your clothes in the bag and squeeze the air out of the bag.  You do not need any vacuum or a machine to take the air out.  You just gotta sit on the bag while sealing it and then roll the remaining  air out.  You can find some cheap compression bags are dollar Japanese stores like Daiso or you can get some pricier compression bags at REI.

Don’t bring a laptop

 The internet has help the way people travel these days from couchsurfing to finding deals on hostels and plane rides to keeping connected with family and friends.  However, carrying a laptop in your backpack  can be pain as laptops tend to take some room from your luggage and an extra thing to keep an eye on from thieves.  My tip is leave the laptop at home and use computers at the hostels or cafes.  It’s great to be connected, but I have seen people just stay all day and all night at the hostel on their laptops just chatting with friends back home and I always think to myself, “You didn’t leave home for a trip just to sit on a couch in a hostel.”  If you have to be connected, using your smart phone is a good alternative as its small and with the way Wifi is free everywhere, you can have something portable with you.

Well that’s the tips I have for packing a backpack when traveling.  Anyone have any other tips on packing a backpack? Leave a comment.

A Seattle Second: The Hidden Beer Gems of Greenwood

For those who live outside of Seattle, coffee is not the only beverage we are good at making. People in the Pacific Northwest love their beer and even create a ton of locally brewed beer. You can see this in many parts of Seattle, especially outside of downtown like in the neighborhood of Greenwood. Greenwood may not be the norm for where people in Seattle recommend to go out at night. But if you are looking for a nice chill place and some great beer, here are some of the best places to experience a refreshing pint or three.

Naked City (http://www.nakedcitybrewing.com): I remember the first time I told a girl “You want to go to Naked City?”, she gave me a not so flattering look. The name might be deceiving (It is based on the 1948 Barry Fitzgerald film), but this bar is the place to go to try Washington microbrews. They have about 20 beers on tap from multiple WA microbrews as well as other breweries around the US. They also serve some great food including a great burger, hand-made pizza, and giant pretzels. You can eat and drink all of this while watching a silent black and white film on their projection screen. Also pints are normally just $3-$5 and this is for the good beer, not PBR. So come here if you are very, very thirsty.  8564 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle WA

20130124-124433.jpg

Naked City can get pretty crowded on the weekends.  

Uber (www.ubertavern.com): Along Highway 99, you see a bright fluorescent growler with the words Uber flashing. This marks one of Greenwood’s best drinking holes. Recently renovated, their drink menu is digitalized to show what is on tap and how full each keg is. They serve beers from all over the world including my fave from Belgium – Delirium. Some of their beers aren’t for the faint of heart as their alcohol content surpasses 10%.

20130124-082607.jpg

Enjoy a strong beer around the fire pit in Uber

Uber also is one of the few places you can drink Das Boot, a German glass drinking boot. Have one with your friends as you sit around their indoor circular fireplace. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t serve food, BUT they will let you order food outside of Uber and let you have it delivered to the bar. 7517 Aurora Ave N, Seattle, WA

TRAVEL TIPS: WHERE TO FIND A CHEAP AIRPLANE TICKET ONLINE

I was just booking a few tickets for my next trip overseas to Asia and I thought to myself  “Finding decent price tickets is HARD!”  If there is a bad thing about traveling, it is trying to find a plane or train that works with your schedule and is decently priced.   When I was traveling around the world with a backpack on the go, I had to rely on many different sources to figure out where to get a cheap ticket.  With the fears of increasing airline fees and gasoline prices in 2013, it is even more important to know these resources on where to get a cheap ticket.

I have to say thank goodness there is so many travel websites out there and there is price war going on.  Buying at ticket online has its perks and knowing which websites to buy your tickets is the key to saving money and using that money for other travel expenses like food and booze.  I know everyone uses such websites like Expedia and Priceline for airplane tickets, but where you want to buy tickets are those who look at all those websites and compares the prices.  Here are a few I tend to use:

Kayak (http://www.kayak.com): The first website that I would recommend is the every so popular Kayak.  If you haven’t used Kayak to purchase US airline tickets, you probably have been living under a rock.  Kayak is a great website that looks at the main US airlines as well as compares many US travel websites.  You can also compare multiple cities at once if you are not looking at round trip tickets.  This is especially good when you are traveling all over the US.

However, as you can tell, I found that Kayak is only great to book US flights and US-based airlines.   When trying to book an international flight, it tends only look mostly at the big US carriers and some of the big International carriers.  When trying to book on Kayak when traveling outside the US, they do not carry a lot of the budget airlines.  As a backpacker, budget airlines are the way to go to save money.  So the question then goes, where else can I go to book an international flight online?

SkyScanner (http://www.skyscanner.com):    The answer to the previous question is SkyScanner!  I learned about this website through a travel podcast and I fell in love on first sight.  SkyScanner is everything Kayak is for US flights, but on a global scale.  SkyScanner showed me many flights that Kayak didn’t have.  For instance, I was looking for a one way flight from Manila to Seattle on both Kayak and Skyscanner in the middle of March.  The results are seen below.

kayak

sky

Let us compare the two searches and see the differences.  The first options Kayak gives me is United and Delta, two US carriers, at okay prices followed by the Japan based airlines ANA.  Looking at Skyscanner, the website gives me the Taiwan based Airlines EVA Air at a lower price as well as 2 cheaper ANA flights before showing any US based carriers.

As noted above, there are more options on SkyScanner than on Kayak.  SkyScanner looks at a lot more travel websites and a lot of budget airlines, globally, that Kayak normally would not look at.  If I were to book an international flight, it would probably look at Skyscanner.  However, if you have a key preference in an airlines, like Delta here for instance, Kayak might give you a better option.  SkyScanner is showing  the Delta flight at a higher amount than on Kayak.

If I had one issue with SkyScanner, it is that they do not give you the option to do multiple cities like Kayak.  That would definitely help a lot when one is looking to country/city hop intentionally.  Also, one must note that SkyScanner looks at non-US travel websites such as eBookers, which is a UK company, that there could be international transaction fees involved.  So be aware of that.

CTrip (http://english.ctrip.com): When I was traveling around Asia, my friend from Shanghai recommended me look into this website. The site was called CTrip, which is the leading travel website in China.  I took a look and was blown away how many budget flights were available on this website to travel around China and HK.  If you are traveling around Asia, one must check CTrip to find multiple Asian travel budget websites.  But please note that like SkyScanner, international transaction fees could be involved with the travel websites associated with CTrip.

So there you go with my recommended websites.  One last tip:  When looking for flights, do not use just one website.  I am not saying one is necessarily better than the other on this post.  Kayak may have better internationally deals than SkyScanner or SkyScanner may have great US deals.   I remember once, I was trying to get from Taiwan to Vietnam and the cheapest option was to buy one ticket from Taiwan to Singapore on Kayak and another ticket from Singapore to Vietnam from Skyscanner.  Look at all the options you have and see what gives you the best option.

Anyone have any other recommendations for travel sites that they use to book tickets. Leave a comment.  Other than that, enjoy these sites when booking your next ticket to knock off an item from your travel bucket list.

The Bucket List: Where to Run A Destination Marathon

When it comes to running a marathon, you could always find a race around your city to do.  But when you dedicate 4-6 months of your time training for a marathon, you want to make the experience awesome and one way to do that is to include travel with the marathon.  The idea of a destination race is not new.  With so many to choose from, you want to pick a race that you can enjoy your time running those 26 miles as well as a place where you can explore the sights and sounds of the area.  Here are a list of destination marathons I have done that I would definitely recommend:

The Big Sur International Marathon

Iphone Back Up 1363

The coastal view of Highway 1 at Big Sur

The Big Sur International Marathon happens the last weekend of April and goes along the scenic Highway 1 of the California coast.  You start off at Big Sur in the middle of a redwood forest and encounter some of the best coast line any race has to offer.  Some of the highlights of the race are the sounds of a piano playing through a valley, Japanese Taiko drummers, fresh strawberries at Mile 21, and semi naked Carnival dancers near the finish line.

Iphone Back Up 1353

The sounds of the piano through the valley let’s you know you’re done with Hurricane Point

This course is not for meant to have a personal best as it is a pretty hilly course including a 2 mile, 0 to 800 ft climb called Hurricane Point.  But who wouldn’t want to take their time and take in the beautiful views of Highway 1.  After the race, you can explore more of Monterrey and Big Sur or drive about a few hours north to San Francisco.

The St. George Marathon

The St. George Marathon happens every October in Southern Utah.  This course is a fast course as the course is mostly downhill.  You start off at an elevation of 5000 feet and end at 2000 ft.  What draws people to this course is the natural beauty this course brings.  The course starts at 6am in the morning, before the sun has even risen.  But when that sun rises, you are treated to some of the most beautiful backdrops the southwest US has to offer.  This includes the cylinder volcanoes of Veyo and the stunning hills of Snow Canyon.

Iphone Back Up 545

Snow Canyon

I highly recommend this race to anyone who loves to run marathons as it embodies the strong support of a community rather than the glitz and glamor seen in huge city races (it is also fairly cheap for an elite marathon).  Once you are done with the race, you can venture out to Mt. Zion National Park or do what I did after the race, drove two hours west to Las Vegas, and partied the night away on the Strip.  A drink or two can definitely make you forget you ran 26 miles.

Iphone Back Up 535

View during the Veyo Hills portion of the St. George Marathon

You can check out a video of the race I filmed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ3vS_3rHxY&feature=share&list=UUATbvtq7sHRRtJQDjKzWwjg

The Athens Classic Marathon

2513

The original marathon.  The one that started it all.  The course set with the backdrop of where the Olympics originated.  This course starts off in the city of Marathon, which is east of Athens.  After running around the monument to the Marathon soldiers, you run through the country side of the Greece.  The course is quite grueling as it’s an up hill climb from KM 10 to KM 31 (or basically, half the race) as well as the weather around that time of year in Athens can be unpredictable (In 2010, the weather was a beautiful sunny 70-80 degrees, while in 2011, it was a cold and miserable 40 degrees).  What makes this race so awesome though is the pride of the Greek people during this race. Many Greek people run this event, including those who rarely run marathons.  To them, its something they feel strongly about completing and is apart of their heritage.  Lots of Greek locals are also out there cheering you on yelling “Bravo! Bravo!” to encourage you as you deal with the climb up the hill-side towards Athens.

2511

The finish line in the 1st Modern Greek Olympic Stadium

One of my fondest memories of the race was when children would be running with you and handing you an olive branch to run with.  The end of the race is one of the coolest finish lines ever as you finish at the 1st modern Greek Olympic stadium.  This race will definitely make you feel like you accomplish something.  After the race, you have all of Athens to explore and soak up the history.   You can also take a ferry from the ports near Athens and go to the beautiful coastal islands like Santorini.

You can check out the Athens Classic on this vlog video I made here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BA7ohwEnrqc&feature=share&list=UUATbvtq7sHRRtJQDjKzWwjg

There are a ton more destination marathons I want to do including the Honolulu Marathon, Tokyo Marathon, and the Walt Disney World Marathon.  If you have any other suggestions about destination marathons to run, leave a comment.

2512

A SEATTLE SECOND: WHERE TO EAT TO WARM UP IN SEATTLE

Seattle during winter is not as bad as the midwest or the northeast. In fact, it can be beautiful if you can look past the constant rain and clouds. But Seattlites are known to only be comfortable between the temperatures of 40-70 degrees and during winter, nothing feels great than eating a nice warm meal. If you need something to deliciously warm up to, here are some places I love to indulge in Seattle:

Aloha Ramen: Ramen is a great way to warm up around this time of year and what better place to have it than at Aloha Ramen in the Greenwood area. Ran by Hawaii local Lorenzo and his lovely wife Reiko, this place takes the traditional Japanese dish and puts a little local Hawaiian twist.

back up jun 2012 1318

The Curry Katsu Ramen at Aloha Ramen

Some of my favorite dishes here includes the Curry Katsu Ramen, the Kalua Pig Ramen, and the slightly spicy, yet oh so delicious Tan Tan Ramen. Don’t forget to get an order a side of his homemade pork gyoza (pot stickers).  Aloha Ramen, 8102 Greenwood Avenue North  Seattle, WA 98103

Pho Big Bowl: There are a ton of pho places throughout Seattle. Its like the Asian equivalent of Starbucks in Seattle. Most are pretty cheap and great for a nice quick meal on a cold day (or after a night of drinking). But if I had to choose just one place, it would have to be Pho Big Bowl in Ballard. What makes this place so great is the broth! It taste so amazing, which is crazy because they do not use any MSG. This place also offers vegetarian pho as well as good mango pudding to finish off you dish. If you feel really hungry, they are called Pho Big Bowl for a reason with their $20 “feed an entire family” bowl. Pho Big Bowl, 2248 Northwest Market Street  Seattle, WA 98107

74th Ale House: One drunk night during grad school, my classmate kept on talking about how great this ale house was in Greenwood and after trying this place, he wasn’t kidding. What makes this great for a cold winter day? It’s the gumbo! The gumbo here is amazing. It a good spicy with shrimp, chicken, sausage, rice, and a nice pickled okra. You can have this as a bowl or as a nice side to their great Reuben or black salmon sandwiches. Make sure to get a beer from their rotating draft selection (it is an ale house after all). 74th Ale House, 7401 Greenwood Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98103, http://www.seattlealehouses.com/

Check these places out if you are visiting Seattle during the winter or if you live here.