Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Travel Storyboards

I found a great way to keep a memento of your travels is by creating storyboards of your journey. I usually collect postcards, train passes, boarding passes, museum tickets, and other random souvenirs and put them on a cork board. Here are my 2 examples from my Europe and Asia trips. How do you keep mementos from your trips?

Europe Trip Storyboard

Asia Trip Storyboard

Thursday, May 14, 2015

List of Expenses and Itinerary from Asia

Want to do a similar trip to mine through Asia? My whole trip cost me on average about $155/day (less that $2650 total) including flights, lodging, food, transit and activities. Well, hope this information helps. On my itinerary there is a $ sign next the the activities that cost money. Feel free to contact me if you want any more specific details!

Tips: -Pack for very different climates and account for bugs, sunscreen and humidity!
-Allow sufficient time to explore cities and countries. Many Asian cities are massive
-Be prepared to learn the language. Outside of Singapore, the Philippines and Touristy Islands many people don't speak English.

Expenses for Asia

Asia Itinerary

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Back to Taiwan & Reflections on Asia Trip

After Tokyo I returned to Taipei for a day because my return flight was from Taiwan. I had been in touch with a group called Harmony Home and I was able to spend the day volunteering at one of their centers. Harmony Home helps care for people affected by HIV and migrant workers in Taiwan. Nicole Yang and her team do wonderful work selflessly serving the community and helping those that many won't even give a second thought to. In Taiwan many of the people with HIV/AIDS are shunned by society and offered little help. Many of the centers that are set up by Harmony Home even face backlash from neighbors because they don't want HIV patients in their neighborhood. Harmony Home helps bring awareness to the greater community by teaching prevention and also correcting false assumptions about the spread of HIV. The shelter I worked at serves women and children and this specific one houses about 40 children of all ages. I spent most of the day with the kids that were less than a year old. Many of these kids have heartbreaking stories including a 3 day old who was left in a car. Hopefully someone gives these kids a chance one day because they are all special and have hearts of gold. They are sweet kids who don't have stranger anxiety because so many different people come and care for them. It was a privelage to spend the day helping out however I can whether it be feeding babies, changing diapers, helping administer medicine or countless airplane rides to babies. The most satisfying thing was looking into their eyes and having them gaze back at you with a smile. I would love to come back and visit and see how much they have grown. We have to remember that all children deserve to be cared for because they don't choose the circumstances they're born in to. It is up to those of us that are more fortunate to really care for those that are less fortunate because someone cared for us first. But that does not make us heros because the real heros are those kids and the workers that do this day in and day out. It was an honor to just spend time with them to witness their bravery.
Now on to my trip. In my last post you read about my time in Tokyo and here I'll just give an overall summary of my trip and how it was different from my last trip. Well the obvious thing is this trip was a lot shorter but I feel like I learned a lot. Traveling through Asia is more difficulty than Europe. Yes many cities have very good mass transit systems but many people don't know English depending where you are and sometimes you encounter signs that are not in English. Even in Europe since things are in Latin script you can figure stuff out eventually because we see the letters but in Asia the letters are in all shapes and sizes.

My Europe trip was more about discovering myself while this trip was more of let's say a vacation. Everything here was planned out beforehand like my flights and where I was staying. In Asia as an American you will always bring attention whether positive or negative and you have to prepare for that even if it means hiring a driver to be with you the whole time to make sure you're safe. Many of the people I met in Europe were similar to me just starting their travel journeys and trying to see and learn as much as they can and that's why we bonded so much. Yes I met a handful of more experienced travelers that gave me plenty of tips. While in Asia many of the people I met were seasoned travelers. They were used to the routine and did this on a regular basis. I didn't meet many college kids like I did in Europe instead I mostly met working class folk who were simply on vacation for a while. This was good because we got to share many stories and now I consider myself a seasoned traveler also after having been to 20 countries. I did make some great friends on this trip too that I'll be sure to keep in touch with. And any thanks to the great people that took time to show me around in the cities I visited whether it was friends I just made or friends I knew for a while.

Asia was a great experience and I would definitely recommend it to others but maybe not as the first major backpacking trip. FYI, there are not western toilets in every country.....yea think about that haha. Asia requires you to use some genuine effort learning languages and preparing for other methods of communication. The people in each country are unique and the cultures are very different. What seems OK in one country can be considered a major insult in another and you must be wary of that. Yes Asia is very different from Europe but one thing remains the same the people are very kind. You will find that everywhere you go though. As long as you show respect you will always get respect back.

Of course at the end of every trip one thing you gain is a to do list for the next time. I definiltey have a rather long one for the next time I come to Asia. I definitely want to go back to Japan. There's still so much more of Tokyo I have to see. I also want to make my way to other Japanese cities including Hiroshima and Nagasaki to see the sites of the American Nuclear attacks. And what's a trip to Japan without going to Mount Fuji? My next major countries I want to visit in Asia are China and Thailand.  But both of those seem like individual trips themselves. I may be able to knock out Vietname and Cambodia with Thailand also. Not really sure where my next adventure will take me but I'll be sure to keep you all posted!

I hope my last 2 trips do inspire many of you to travel. If you're waiting for others, don't, just go if it is feasible. Don't be scared of the roads ahead. You'll figure it out just like I did. If money is a problem, don't let it be, everything can be done on a budget. Just like my last trip I'll provide details of all my spending and itinerary. And as always I am more than available to provide as much help as I can. So I hope you have enjoyed reading and continue to do so because there will be many more adventures and stories ahead. Feel free to subscribe as I'll continue to provide updates like future plans, budgets, and guides to cities around the world! Thanks for being part of my journey. Peace out!

Monday, May 11, 2015


I know I'm a few days late but here's my summary of my 3 days in Tokyo. Well for one Tokyo is massive! I feel like I still have so much more to see. I definitely have to come back. I thought I would have time to do a day trip out of Tokyo to somewhere else in Japan but it wasn't even possible since I still needed to see so much in Tokyo. Tokyo has like 7 different districts that look like Times Square and at some point you realize it is never ended. One thing right off the back I noticed: the Japanese are the most polite people I have encountered. They are very formal and professional. They say thank you for everything even when playing eachother in competitive sports. One experience I had was I gave a cab driver way too much money by accident and left the car. He later got out of his car came into the building he knew I went in to and found me just to give me back my change. Never would have happened anywhere else. FYI, if you have visible tattoos be ready to be denied service by many Japanese businesses as tattoos are frowned upon because they are associated with gang activity.  So let's get to the details, my first day I was still really jet lagged from my early flight from Seoul so I didn't do much. I walked over to the Senso-ji temple which wasn't too far from my hostel to explore. Next to it there was the Asakusa market and I spent some time there.
Then I hoped on the subway to head over to Shibuya to see the famous scrammble crossing that everyone photographs and just sits to people watch. The thing with the Japanese they will wait until the sign says walk and Shibuya crossing has about 5 streets that feed in to it so it literally is a scrammble when the sign says walk.
Afterwards I headed to a sushi restaurant where they have sushi go around the place on a conveyer belt! Oh yea, most restaurant menus and people in Japan don't speak English so I was able to practice my Japanese. We know a lot of words already like Konichiwah, Arigato and Sayonara.
The next day I was signed up for a sushi cooking class with Yuka Mazda. A previous student of this class....Taylor Swift. The class was really entertaining and there were 6 of us that just stayed to chat with Yuka. I learned a lot about how to cut and prepare sushi, I would not say I am an expert by any means but I'll give it a shot! One of the girls in the class was a Hungarian girl working for a think tank in Tokyo while getting her PhD in International Security. She explained to me why there aren't very many foreigners working in Japan because the government wants to make sure the country stays Japanese overall. Another interesting tidbit that, Japan does not have a standing army, it has a self defense unit as a result of WW2. Their constitution does not allow them to leave Japan except for UN peace keeping missions.

After my class I headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to see the observation deck. Yes there are plenty of better ones across the city....but this one is free! You really get to see the urban sprawl of Tokyo from up there, it just never ends. But for a city of 35 million people it is rather quiet because everyone is so proper and follows the rules. 
Afterwards I headed to Roppongi Hills which is a shopping district and after that I headed to Ahihabara. The best way to put it is Akihabara is an interesting district. There is so much going on. For one it is the center of Anime Tokyo so there are plenty of shops catered to that crowd. Next there are a bunch of arcades and slot machines so you can get your fix for that there. And lasty there a bunch of girls dressed up like maids that try to get you to go to maid cafes. I had absolutely no interest in going but I was told they pretty much serve you food while singing and dancing? 
When I got back to my hostel I was able to sit and talk to my roommate Lars, who is from Germany. He introduced me to a bunch of people from the hostel including Soen from the Netherlands, Trine from Norway, Sean from Australia and Johannes from Germany. We all go to talking about our travels and plans for Tokyo and planned out the next day. Johannes, Lars, Soen and I would go to Ryogoku Kokugikan at 5:30 AM to line up for Sumo Tickets. These sumo tournaments only happen 3 times a year in Japan and this one was starting in Tokyo conveniently that day. The tickets sell out months in advance but every day 350 general admission tickets are sold first come first serve. We lucked out as we were numbers 44,45,46, and 47! 
We didn't think we should spend the whole day at the tournament since the top guys only fight in the late afternoon so we decided to go to Tsukiji fish market. This fish market starts early in the morning, people line up at  4 AM for the auctions. It is the biggest one in the world and all the shops close their doors around 9 AM so yes you must go early if you want some good fresh food.
We eventually made our way back to the Sumo tournament. It was a fun authentic Japanese experience. The matches are really quick and the biggest guy does not alway win. It was cool to see the Yokozuna entrances and the crowd go nuts during some matches. A Japanese person has not won the tournament since 2006 because the top rankings are all held by foriegners. 

We regrouped back at the hostel where Lars, Sean, Trine, Soen, and I headed to Shinjuku. We had reservations for the Robot Restaurant. None of us knew what it was everyone we met anywhere just say you must go and wouldn't tell us what it is. Even in Seoul people where telling me you must go! We had no idea what we would experience. We first explored Shinjuku which was another massive lite up district.

Then it was time for the main event.....The Robot Restaurant! haha all I can say is I reallyl don't know what happened or what the story was but it was really entertaining. It was a mix of dance, music, robots of course and girls and animals fighting the robots. Just go I can't explain it. But it pretty much puts the weird Japanese entertainment culture all in to one show.

In summary, I realized I should have stayed another 2 days in Tokyo if I really wanted to see everything. A tip for visitng Tokyo, you can manage by getting the 1,000 yen day pass for both subway lines other than the JR, that is more than enough to get you everywhere you need. I really want to come back to Japan because there are so many other cities and things I have to see. I was really upset that I could not get to go see Hiroshima and see the touching museum about the nuclear attack by the USA. Also day trips to Kyoto, Osaka, and Mount Fuji must all be done. Tokyo is definitely my favorite city outside of NYC and it must be revisited so I can conquer it! In terms of expenses, yes Tokyo is more expensive than other major cities but as a tourist I don't think it is all THAT expensive. I think you can have a good time in Tokyo for a reasonable cost. The thing I will miss about Japan the most....their toilets of course! And of course you can see vending machines seeling just about anything.

Lastly during my time in Tokyo I stayed at Space Hostel. It is a brand new hostel and it is the cleanest one I have ever stayed in. It has a rooftop garden where you can hang out and a japanese style common area on the first floor. A big big thumbs up to staying here, I was very happy. Yes it is a bit out of the way but nothing a subway ride can't cure.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Seoul, South Korea

So I have spent the last 2 days in Seoul. Seoul is a very modern city and has a very modern skyline. Many of the buildings are new as a lot of the old city was destroyed during Japanese occupation. Their subway system is very good and efficient and very affordable. You can travel around most of Seoul for the equivalent of $1 USD. In general most of the goods in Seoul are affordable. I lucked out because my roommate, Evan, in Paris is from Seoul and he showed me around most of the time so much thanks to him. It was definitely helpful because many of the menus were not in English. I spent one day sight seeing in Seoul itself and the 2nd day visiting the DMZ at the border of North and South Korea. I started off by visiting Gyeongbokgung, a palace of around 300 buildings. This reminded me of the castle in Prague, a lot of open space with multiple buildings. 

Next up was Gwanghwamun Plaza with 2 big statues. This is also where you can borrow traditional Korean clothes for free!

After that we headed to Cheonggyecheo. This is a rather cool project. It wis a stream that runs through downtown Seoul that you can walk along. It used to be so poluted that it was covered but the city made an effort to clean it up and make it into public space.

After that we roamed Seoul and visited a bunch of markets including Myeong-dong, Itaewon and of course Gangnam. The one I liked the most personally was Itaewon, it is nearby an American base and it is where you can get food from all over the world. All the clothes here also come in "big" sizes aka for Americans. In Itaewon many of the signs and menus are available in English. 

Since I was in Korea of course I had to have Korean barbeque and I had plenty of it. I had my personal favorite, bulgogi and other Korean dishes including Korean pizza, octupus, and bibimbap. 

Many companies offer a tour of the DMZ but the USO one is generally regarded as the best. I was not able to get a seat on this one as the waiting list is usually one month so instead I went with Comojin Tours which turned out really well. Be aware you must book any of these tours at least 3 days in advance as the UN has to clear you for the visit. The DMZ is the demilitirized zone between North and South Korea at the 38th parallel. The tour takes us up front and right to this dividing line. The tour started off by showing us a train station that was built to connect the North and South but is not in use for the intended reason.

Next up was the third tunnel. Four tunnels have been discovered by the South. These are tunnels the North created to try and infiltrate the South. We were able to go down one of the tunnels and up to the wall that was put up as a barrier.
The highlight of the trip was definitely the JSA, the joint security area. This is a UN controlled area right on the border inside the DMZ. Highlights of this included visits to the armistice area where both sides meet for negotiations, a watchtower to the North, and the bridge of no return. We were also able to see the North Korean town Propoganda town which is a fake town that was built on the North Side to look like a resort it is just buildings with windows and doors painted on with no body living there and it has propoganda going over the loudspeakers praising North Korea's leader. This part of the tour was conducted by US soldiers and we were escorted in military buses. 

It was really interesting to learn about the history and things that happened here. It was also mind boggling to say that I was standing in North Korea at one point. We were able to stand inside the negotiations rooms on the North Korean side next to a South Korean soldier. We were strictly instructed not to interact with North Korean soliders. It is crazy to realize just how close we are to the enemy, literally face to face. We were also able to see the North Koreans conducting their own tour and taking pictures of us while we took pictures of them. On our tour we are not allowed to take pictures of any buildings owned by the South, only the North and are then encouraged to upload them to the internet.

The Korean people are very kind people. They are laid back and are so helpful. One time when I did not know where I was going someone walked me the whole way to where I was supposed to go. Seoul can definitely be done rather quickly in a few days as most of the historic sights are quick to see. There are plenty of markets to visit. But Korea has so much culture to explore that I would definitely want to come back and explore other parts outside of Seoul especially Busan in the south. I hear it is a very nice beachside city.  You can tell the unification is something that Koreans desire and hopefully in our lifetime we can see the 2 countries come together and the starving people of the North can finally have freedom.

During my visit to Seoul I stayed at Hongdae Lazy Fox Hostel. This place was fantastic, probably one of the best hostels I have stayed in purely because of the staff. Sunny and Kim were so welcoming and took care of everything I needed. I felt like I was staying in a family members home. The location is a little outside of downtown Seoul but very close to  subway lines 2 and 6. I highly recommend staying here if you want to stay somewhere you are treated like family. Next stop....Tokyo!

Feel free to look at the rest of my pictures from Seoul: