Advice, Hacks, Travel, Travel Tips

How to Overcome a Fear of Flying (Part 2)

With a few simple tricks you can free yourself from a fear of flying!
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

After only a few minutes in the air, I felt like my life was in danger.

The flight started normally – the door closed, the flight attendants and pilot greeted passengers on the loudspeakers, and we gained altitude. 

Moments later we hit turbulence. 

For a few seconds the plane rattled and shook. 

Ok, nothing to worry about here.

I took a deep breath and tried to rest. 

After a brief pause the turbulence came back. It felt like the clouds around us were shoving our mechanical bird around. This time the jolts didn’t stop and my comfort level quickly dissolved.

The air currents around us were unforgiving and for the remainder of the journey my fingers dug into the hand rests. 

In spite of my dread and acceptance that maybe we wouldn’t land safely, we did actually land safely. The plane ride was over. I wearily staggered into the terminal.

This was the worst flight experience I ever had. Landing felt like a gift.

Little did I know but the emotional scars from that journey stayed with me for a long time. This experience didn’t stop me from flying, though. It did however, make me absolutely horrified of air travel. 

A desire to conquer the fear of flying inspired this and my other most recent previous blog post. After a long time I was able to (mostly) lay the fear to rest.

In this post, I’m going to share some things I did to remain calm during that fateful trip. These strategies became the foundation of my current travel tools I use to stay relaxed while flying.

I still use some or all of them while flying today. Hopefully they can help you feel safe on your next flight!

Note: The tips listed below are based on my personal experience. They are not medically proven or tested. The advice given here should not replace recommendations from a medical professional. Also, this article is not meant to encourage people to fly over other means of transportation. It’s just to provide tools for those who would like to fly but aren’t comfortable. 

Ok, let’s get started!

Safe words, affirmations, and prayers

For a long time I was terrified during plane take offs and landings. On the flight mentioned above I began repeating a comforting word in my mind over and over again to relax. To my amazement it actually gave me a strong feeling of security. 

If you like this idea but can’t think of a word, here’s mine: “ice-cream.” It’s simple and delicious. Try saying this word at least ten times the next time you feel uncomfortable during a flight and it may help. 

A simple positive affirmation like “I am safe” or “I’m protected” can also be beneficial. If you are spiritual then a prayer before, during, or after the flight can create a strong sense of security as well. 

Distract yourself 

Some easy ways to do this would be to read a book, watch a movie, play a game on your phone, listen to something (podcast or music), or try to sleep (if it’s not too turbulent).

If you choose a book, then I recommend a juicy thriller, mystery, or romance novel. Anything that’s a page-turner is golden for a flight.   

Visualize arriving 

Similar to my first post, another strategy to feel safe is to imagine yourself already at your destination.

Picture the conversations you’ll have. Create in your mind the things you’re excited to do.

Personally, I’ve always felt safer when I pictured the reward of arriving at the destination.

Bonus: What’s your favorite and most comfortable method of transportation? Close your eyes and imagine yourself there instead. Maybe it’s not a plane you’re on but a boat, bus, or dinosaur (let your imagine have fun).

Enjoy the views 

If you’re flying during the day and happen to have a window seat then something that works for me is to direct all my attention to what’s outside. Maybe you’ll see a cool mountain, river, or cloud formation.

I usually don’t focus on the wing but everything else around it. There’s a lot of beauty out there to behold. 

Talk to people

I honestly am not always up for starting a conversation with the people next to me on a plane. This being said, one of the best ways to overcome a fear of flying is to talk to people.

Learning about someone else and having a conversation has many benefits: your mind goes away from yourself (your fear), you practice some social skills, and time usually flies by (pun intended) if the chat is interesting. 

During turbulence: Observe the vibe 

What I mean by this is to gauge the energy of the other passengers and crew. When there are a few bumps it’s helpful to see if anyone else is reacting to the sudden changes.

I learned that paying attention to (but not staring the whole time like a creeper) the flight attendant’s reaction to turbulence helped calm my nerves. Their body language should tell you how serious any turbulence really is.

So far I’ve never seen a crew member panic and all my flights thankfully have been safe (besides some turbulence). 

My favorite: Be creative 

Finding an activity that requires your complete attention is a great way to distract yourself during a flight. For me, doing something creative has always helped.

Writing is my inflight activity of choice. For example, the first draft of this post was actually written during a flight.

Also, most of us have smart phones so another idea would be to create a video collage of some recent photos or weed through old ones you want to erase. These all can be surprisingly engrossing. 

Bonus: Remember this

Photo by Sterry Larson on

Flying is the safest way to travel and the airline’s mission is to get you where you want to go safely. The crew are also people who want to remain alive just like us. Turbulence is natural. It doesn’t mean anything bad is happening to the plane.

You can do it! The world is waiting for you!


Have a great day and I hope you enjoyed this post. If you missed my first entry about getting over a fear a flying, check it out here!

Take care,


Advice, Travel, Travel Tips

How to Overcome a Fear of Flying (Part 1)

Image by snowing on Freepik

Planning a trip, packing a bag, and taking a flight somewhere new is one of the many joys of modern travel. It’s crazy to think that nearly all destinations on the planet are within one or a few day’s reach thanks to our friend, the airplane. Nowadays we can book a trip on Skyscanner or Kayak to a different country within a series of mouse clicks!

Despite air travel’s growing facility, there is something I need to get off my chest: 

I’ve been scared of airplanes for years. 

Even though I’ve had the privilege of flying on a somewhat regular basis in my life, the fear of flying has latched onto me like an unwanted invisible seat partner. 

My love of traveling luckily outweighs the angst I feel when boarding a plane. Over the past few years I’ve developed a few strategies to keep my emotions under control and I think they can help people out if they are experience their own trouble with flying.  

If you are someone who wants to travel but feels held back by their fear of planes, then this post is for you. Hopefully this post will provide some inspiration to help you feel free to travel wherever you want.

Below are some tips that anyone can carry out before they actually enter a plane. In my next blog post I’ll share strategies for remaining calm during a flight. 

Disclaimer: These tips do not guarantee that you’ll overcome a fear of flying, they are based on personal experience so use them at your own risk. These ideas should not replace advice from a licensed medical or psychiatric professional. I’m not a medical professional or phycologist, so consider getting expert attention if you feel it’s needed.

Take a look at what makes you scared:


We can’t overcome our fear of flying without reflecting on what actually is the source of our worries. It may be hard, but we need to face our fear. Once we understand what it is and even why it exists, we can move forward. Maybe you saw a scary movie about planes or heard a story about a negative experience from a random person at a bar. Write down what worries you and try to dig as deep as you can to understand what you’re feeling.

Next we can see if this fear is realistic or not. I realized that most of the things I worried about were the result of my vivid and vastly exaggerated imagination. For example, the movie “Snakes on a Plane” was highly fictitious and it’s not possible to be ejected from a passenger jet (my personal farfetched fear). 

Know the facts:

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), approximately 2.9 million passengers fly in and out of United States airports per day. Additionally, there are 45,000 daily flights within the country. Research from Harvard University reports that the odds of dying in a plane crash are one in 11 million. The odds of dying in a car is one in 5 thousand. These numbers indicate that air travel is safe, and when I mean safe I mean really safe. Personally, knowing this information has been enough motivation for me to continue using them.

Reserve a flight based on comfort level:

Now that we have addressed our fears and have established that flying is safe, it’s time to book a flight. A few ways to ease the experience of flying are:

  • Choose an airline you trust, preferably one that is larger with more routes.
  • Fly direct if it’s not too expensive.
  • Avoid small airports if possible.
  • Elect seats based on numbers you feel are lucky or have an affinity towards. For example, I love the number 9 so I tend to go with that whenever it’s available. 
  • Choose a takeoff time where you feel safest.
  • Be aware of the weather forecast to reduce turbulence.

Visualize your destination:

Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on

Once we begin planning a vacation, whether it’s an hour away or across the planet, it’s useful to begin picturing what we want the trip to be like. What feelings will we have? What will we do? How will the food taste? I try to do this prior and during a flight. Creating the journey in our minds not only takes our thoughts away from what worries us (flying) but it also brings us closer to achieving those desired outcomes.

Bonus: Fly with someone you trust:

We don’t always have the opportunity to plan a trip with another person, but having someone next to you on the flight can increase one’s comfort level. There have been many moments in my life where I was able to overcome a phobia or fear just because a friend was there for support. Traveling with someone who loves flying or at the very least doesn’t mind it will make the journey more bearable.


Thank you for reading this blog! I hope you’ve found this information useful. My next post will tackle ways we can overcome a fear of flying during the trip (on the airplane). Before I say farewell, I’d like to hear from you!

Which airline is your “go-to” for domestic and international travel? Also, what are your tricks for mentally preparing for a trip?

Have a fantastic day!


Colombia, Travel, Travel Tips

A Gringo’s Guide to Colombian Breakfast

Photo by Flavia Carpio on Unsplash

One day back in April I found myself in Neiva, Colombia visiting my girlfriend Yesi and her mom Piedad...

“Are you hungry?”

“I slept pretty well, thanks,” I replied to the question in a heavy gringo accent. 

Yesi responded to me in English, “My mom asked if you were ready for some breakfast.” She gave me a look of anticipation as if she knew I was in for a surprise. 

It was still pretty early in the morning and I was half-asleep. My ears hadn’t been trained to the way Yesi’s mom, Piedad, spoke. I could tell she had slowed down her speech so I could understand but it would still take some practice.  

Attempting a groggy smile I responded to my two hosts, “Yes, please.”

My senses already had already known the answer because the aroma of something delicious was emanating from the kitchen. I’d only been in Neiva, Colombia for about 12 hours so this would be the first breakfast the three of us would share together. 

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I could hear inspiration to one day write a blog post about this growling in my stomach. I was a newcomer in a foreign environment but it was a relief knowing that the first meal of the day was going to involve delicious food. 

Hot Chocolate 

Starting the day off with hot chocolate, mango juice, and fried eggs.

There was a time when I was a recovering coffee drinker. Now, I admit, I’m back to drinking coffee albeit no more espresso and fewer cups a day. After traveling to Colombia, a refreshing cup of joe felt like a treat. 

Yesi placed a warm cup in front of me and inside I leaped for joy. The sensation of parched lips and thirst made this new beverage look very inviting as I dove in for a first sip. Burning my tongue, the flavor was…sweet…and to my surprise it wasn’t coffee. It was hot chocolate. Yesi told me that in Colombia having a cup of hot chocolate was as common as drinking coffee. 

Yesi and her mom presented to me the choclatera and molinillo in the kitchen. This was homemade and soon the beverage became more abundant in flavor. The process of creating hot chocolate included melting actual bars of chocolate in a metallic kettle (chocolatera) and then whisking them with a wooden stick (molinillo). The three of us each had a cup and it was a pleasant start to the day. Serving cheese to dip into the drink was also common in Neiva but at this moment we didn’t partake.  

Piedad and Yesi knew I was tired so they offered me a coffee with breakfast, which I gratefully accepted. They handed me a cup that rested on a small plate. It wasn’t just coffee they gave me, but also a spoon and what looked like small round crackers. 

“We call these bizcocho de cuajada, this is similar to what I gave you in the car yesterday.” Yesi’s words refreshed the brain fog. The night prior when I arrived in Neiva she welcomed me with a soda from Huila called Kola Cóndor and a bag of crunchy baked snacks that reminded me of my favorite Goldfish crackers. Those snacks were larger, called achiras, but Yesi explained they were part of the same baked snack family called bizcocho. 

Looking at this new accompaniment, I followed Yesi as she motioned me to drop the bizcocho de cuajada into the drink. Italian biscottis came to mind as I witnessed the coalescence of two items I’d never seen together before. The end result was a coffee with enhanced flavor and softer snacks that were easier to eat. It was better than I expected. Bizcocho would soon become my new vice while in Colombia. 


Deliciousness wrapped in plantain leaves.

The experience of homemade hot chocolate and coffee with bizcocho made me feel grateful, but neither was the source of the kitchen’s incredible aroma. Soon I caught sight of something familiar: A wrapped green plantain leaf encompassing a hidden treasure on a plate. The sight reminded me of a tamal and in fact that’s exactly what it was. This version was unique: the sight before my eyes wasn’t made with corn (maíz) but rice. Also, unlike the tamales I’ve tried in California, this was exceptionally large. This was a homemade Tamal Huilense, named after the department of Huila where Neiva is located, prepared by one of Yesi’s colleagues. Inside were tender pieces of chicken and a thick piece of carrot. Piedad and Yesi said to avoid the carrot because it was used to absorb grease. Typically tamales back home have left me wanting at least two more. In this case, the Tamal Huilense made me want to skip lunch because I was so satisfied and full. 


My first attempt at a torta.

Later in the week, while Yesi was at work, Piedad took the time to teach me how to make breakfast using bananas. One dish that stood out was the torta (cake), more specifically a dish called a pancake de avena (flour). The ingredients were simple: One banana, flour, and eggs. First, we mashed the banana in a bowl until it became a rather thick-looking paste then added about a cup of flour. Finally, we cracked two eggs and whisked them all together. Over low heat, the mixture was poured onto a frying pan to cook. Piedad is a professional so only one flip was necessary. A simple slice with a knife told us it was ready to be served. The final result was similar to a traditional pancake in the US but more nutritional with a balanced combination of flavors. I have since begun practicing this dish at home and a variation includes oatmeal instead of flour. 

The juices in Colombia are kind of a wildcard because they are not just a staple of breakfast, but of every meal of the day. I learned that Colombia has copious kinds of fruits and each department (state) boasts its own unique varieties that can’t be found anywhere else. Pineapple, maracuya, and mango juice were staples of my stay in Neiva. Similar to making hot chocolate, there was a process involved when making juice. Washing, chopping, straining, and serving were steps needed in order to create delicious homemade juice. At grocery stores, one could find great brands like Nectar or Frutto but it wasn’t the same experience as having it made at home. 

Thank you
Thank you for reading my blog! I hope you found some useful information and aren’t too hungry after reading. Also, thank you Yesi and Piedad for introducing me to your culture and welcoming me to your home.

Before I say goodbye, I’d like to hear from you! Have you been to Colombia or Neiva before? What was your favorite food?

Take care, 


Travel Guide, Travel Tips

The Ten Biggest Rules for Two-Person Traveling

Once upon a time, in a previous blog post, I quoted John Steinbeck:

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

For me, this is one of the most accurate descriptions of traveling. Traveling is a volatile activity. This statement becomes even more relevant when we decide to travel with a second person.

Traveling alone does offer great benefits but organizing a vacation with a friend or loved one can yield the rewards of shared memories that will last a lifetime and a resounding sense of teamwork.

Achieving this feeling with a second travel partner requires a lot of effort. A two-person adventure is one of the ultimate tests of the strength of the bond between those involved. In my opinion, one doesn’t truly know another person until they’ve each put on backpacks and stepped into the unknown together.

I’ve been fortunate enough to plan various two-person trips, the longest lasting four months, and have seen journeys go well and not so well. If you’re reading this now and want to embark on a future trip with a second person, then I have compiled a list of ten important rules to follow for people who are considering this sort of adventure.

This list does not guarantee a positive traveling experience, but I believe it will increase two people’s odds of coming back happy and more importantly together.

Here it is:

Know each person’s travel goals

My longest two-person journey was with my best friend Jack. This photo was taken at the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge in China in 2019.

This is perhaps the most time intensive step. If you can get on the same page with the other person then your trip will have a really good chance of being successful. What do you want to do on this trip? What does the other person want to do? Maybe one person just wants to party while the other wants to wake up early to visit museums. If you both know in advance what the other person hopes to accomplish then you can make an agreement to please both’s desires and necessities for the trip. Trips are most fun when both people either have very similar interests, or are flexible to let everyone do some of the things they want.

Respect the other person’s budget

Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

We all have different financial limitations. Agreeing on a budget, or at least agreeing on which things to splurge on, will create a fluid system of planning. Knowing the spending habits of the person you’re with will also prepare you for what to expect while on the road. Being flexible and willing to meet someone in the middle will go a long way.

Establish a payment system

Unnecessary frustration can be avoided if both people are prompt in paying the other person back on random expenses. For example, if one person offers to put a dinner bill on their credit card then the other shouldn’t hesitate to either foot the next one or send a mobile payment via PayPal or Venmo. To keep finances equal then an expense calculating app such as Splitwise would be useful. The financial aspect of a trip can easily become a tangled mess if both parties aren’t keeping track of their split costs.

Decisions now involve “us”

When electing to take a vacation with a second person, all decisions must go through both individuals. Agreeing to share an experience away from home means that both travelers have formed a temporary bond similar to marriage. As both people are investing time and resources into the trip, then both are entitled to make decisions and be in the know of the other person’s ideas. Communication is paramount here and both people should be flexible. Everyone involved should be able to do at least some of what they really want.

Establish a clear sleep system

Photo by Alexander Possingham on Unsplash

Not every traveling duo will have the same sleep cycle or habits. One person might enjoy sleeping in while the other is an early bird. Before traveling they should agree on a system for staying out or sleeping in. This will avoid any potential resentment or frustration because their time-clocks aren’t in sync. The early bird might be ok with going to a coffee shop to let the other person sleep or the night owl won’t mind checking out a bar alone once in a while.

Establish general boundaries

Knowing what your level of comfort is before traveling is important. Will you be willing to eat a fried scorpion or go bungee-jumping? Will your travel companion have similar restrictions? Being aware of how far each person is prepared to go will be good for avoiding any potential miscommunication or conflict of interest. Having similar boundaries will allow both parties to travel with greater ease.

Keep it balanced

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

It’s a good idea to give each person a responsibility during the trip. To avoid future resentment, it’s advisable to split tasks at different stages of the journey. For example, if one person did all of the reservations or research, then they might feel frustration towards their travel mate. Taking turns to book flights, bus tickets, or accommodation will help maintain harmony between both people.

Be empathetic

As I said before, we truly don’t know a person until we travel with them. It’s important to remain empathetic and free of judgement. This might be the first time you go on the road with that special person. Their morning ritual, funny little travel good luck charm, desire to call their mom, or random habit of cracking their knuckles before breakfast might not be something you’re used to. We are all weird people in our own special way and if we’ve said yes to traveling with someone then we’ve said yes to their uniqueness. On the flip side, we also must be aware of the fact that maybe our habits while alone aren’t proper for a two-person trip so we must be respectful of the other person. Remember: This trip is to have fun and not focus on the things you find off about the person you’re with.

Be present

This rule can be true for solo travel as well. If we agree to travel with someone, then it’s ideal to focus on the experience with that person rather than other people we meet or our devices. An optimal travel experience should involve less screen time and more focus on the surroundings. We miss opportunities when pegged to our smart phones and chances for meaningful conversations. Two people will have a truly memorable trip if they can remember to adhere to this system.

When one person uses the toilet, everyone uses the toilet

The last and most crucial rule for traveling with someone else is to reduce the number of bathroom breaks as much as possible. Let’s say you both find yourselves in a remote village or hidden beach and suddenly discover a chance restroom. In many areas of the world restrooms are a dime a dozen so it’s best practice to take advantage of this rare opportunity. If your partner has an urge to go but you don’t, you should still do it. Bathroom breaks equate to slowing down and stopping for a moment. Sometimes, if you’re in a busy place, there will be a line so why not have everyone have a go at it? The goal while traveling is to wander and enjoy rather than wait in line for a toilet so it’s paradigm to be efficient with these respites.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and can use these rules in your future wanderings. Right now the state of the world doesn’t allow us to fully enjoy traveling but we are getting closer to that moment.

Hang tight, stay safe, and take care of yourself.

Also, what are your rules for traveling? Do you agree with me in this article? I’d love your feedback!

Advice, Guides, Hacks, Random Thoughts, Travel, Travel Tips

Useful Applications To Enjoy While Traveling

Remember the days when we didn’t have Siri or Google Maps?

There was a time when we didn’t have the wonders of smart phones. We needed to print boarding passes, call a taxi, ask people on the street for directions, roll the dice on random restaurants, and consult a bulky guidebook for a list of museums.

Life was more challenging because we needed to work harder for enjoyment, but when we succeeded the feeling was euphoric.

Thanks to the simplicity of smart phones traveling domestically or abroad has become less of a burden. This being said, I still romanticize about being completely disconnected while traveling. In fact, I encourage folks to keep their phones on airplane mode for at least part of the duration of a journey. It will be an exercise of remaining present.

However, there are situations when we need our phone and it saves us time, money, irritation, and sometimes preserves our health.

Over the course of my travel career I’ve found myself increasingly dependent on certain applications. I wanted to share with you some applications that I feel will curate a fantastic travel experience. Some of these you may already know and others hopefully are new. Either way, I hope at least one of these will help you in your future travel endeavors.


One of my favorite aspects of traveling is connecting the dots between destinations. How heck can one get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh then to Hoi An? Rome2Rio is a route planning application that offers every form of transit between nearly every city on earth.


Similar to Rome2Rio, Tripit grants travelers access to transportation information. In addition, it integrates every facet of one’s travel itinerary together in user-friendly fashion. It’s like a personal travel assistant, which makes the hassle of connecting flights and multiple reservations less of a chore. The downside of Tripit is that there is a fee, however it offers a 30 day free trial (good for at least one trip).


Imagine you’ve just arrived into Tokyo or New York and now you need to figure out the expansive train system. Moovit is the application for you. It’s like Rome2Rio as it displays route information between locations. The benefit of this app is that its focus is on metropolitan areas and the information provided is constantly updating. It will abate the sensation of being overwhelmed in a new city.


Scribt is a database of thousands of books, audiobooks, magazines, and newspapers that can be easily accessed for less than $10 a month. Personally I prefer paper books, but sometimes we want to avoid superfluous packing. Selections can be downloaded and read offline on a traveler’s phone and there is even access for Kindle owners. Scribt allows readers to change the font, text size, and background color to cater to the needs of the individual.

Turbo VPN

A VPN was used here…

In some countries like China the most common apps we love (Facebook, Google Maps, Instagram) are prohibited. A trustworthy VPN is necessary and I’ve had the most success with Turbo VPN. The majority of travelers I’ve spoken to are preferential towards Norn VPN, however my experience has been more positive with Turbo.

Uber or Grab

Part of the adventure of traveling is stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Hailing a taxi in a foreign environment falls into that category. It can be a mixed bag. Based on my experience, it can be a challenge to trust the local taxis while abroad. Some can be con men while others might be clueless as to where your destination is located. To avoid unnecessary problems I think it’s best to resort to a ride share service. Depending on where you are headed, it is advisable to research which services are the paradigm for that particular location. Uber has a large stake in this market, but countries throughout Asia utilize Grab.

Culture Trip

This bowl of ramen comes from a hole in the wall restaurant found on Culture Trip.

In my opinion the premier source of researching a new city or country is Culture Trip. This portal was designed by travelers and is filled with fascinating articles about history, nightlife, traditions, dining, and whatever else you might be keen on researching. If you want to take their trip to the next level with prime experiences, download Culture Trip and let your inspiration roam. I wouldn’t curate an itinerary solely on information from this site, but it is a quality source. At the very least, the articles are interesting and something to read while waiting for a flight.


I’ve written about Meetup in a previous blog post and my opinion since then hasn’t changed: This is one of the best applications for traveling abroad. Imagine yourself on a trip to Lisbon, not knowing anyone. Meetup is a site where people post gatherings based on all sorts of interests. These are typically pubic events, so anyone can partake in the revelry. Language exchanges, happy hours, movie nights, salsa dancing, you name it is on this site. It’s ideal for solo travelers or even those interested in discovering a new circle of friends with similar interests.


Most of the people here are on Couchsurfing, maybe you will meet them 😉

Couchsurfing, along with Meetup, is a fundamental resource for travelers who wish to A. make new international friends and B. potentially lower trip costs by staying for free in people’s flats. The focus shouldn’t be to save money and take from others; it should be to share and learn about cultures. It’s a wonderful platform if used with the right intentions.


Lastly, when we travel our senses become bombarded from all corners. We become exposed to exotic sites, smells, and sounds. One of my favorite parts of being abroad or even in a new bar is keeping an ear out for interesting music. If we have wifi or data it’s now seamless to scoop up songs via Shazam. There are numerous apps which help listeners identify songs but I’m partial towards this one. If we feel like being brave and adventurous there’s an even better program: it’s called going to the bartender and simply asking what that last song was. 🙂

Thanks again for reading this blog post!

Hopefully you found this interesting and helpful. I can’t promise that these applications will elevate one’s travel experience. Trying some or all of these out will without a doubt at least add some comfort for a future escapade in a faraway place.

Have a wonderful day. Whatever you’ve been doing, keep it up I think you’re great. 🙂


Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash
Travel Guide, Travel Tips

Smart Overseas Travel Hacks (Part 2)

How can we create an amazing overseas experience?

For me, the first two factors that strongly influence the outcome of a trip are proper preparations and maximizing safety. I dove into these ingredients in my last blog post.

What else can potentiate fond memories? Personally, I feel that the next step towards having a meaningful adventure is being a respectful traveler.

How to be a respectful traveler:

A few years ago, during a trip, I encountered some friendly travelers from Egypt. During the course of our conversation, they admitted that I was the first American that they’d ever met in real life.

This blew me away and gave light to a fact we often forget about while traveling:

Whether we like it or not, we are unofficial ambassadors for our countries, cities, and states while overseas.

I felt obliged to leave a positive impression on these people and didn’t want to be known as that American asshole.

How can we avoid being viewed as jerks while abroad?

Firstly, when we enter foreign countries it’s important to respect the cultures of where we’re going as much as possible (even if we don’t comprehend them). There’s plenty of useful information online about taboos, laws, and culture points.

The second thing we can do is learn a few words or phrases of the local language. Even “hello” “thank you” and “goodbye” shows that we’re at least making an effort to communicate in the native tongue. Knowing proper greeting and farewell etiquette is useful as well. Seemingly mundane details like that can go a long way. If you want to get some extra brownie points with locals, read up on some current events for where you’re headed.

Another thing to remember is that even when we’re on vacation, we’re aren’t on vacation from using good manners. Use common sense about when to speak loudly, slowly, or on the phone. Listen to what people have to say and respect their viewpoint, even if we don’t share their way of thinking.

Perhaps you’re going to do the hostel scene during the course of your journey and don’t expect to meet any locals. That’s totally cool too, and a good way to create meaningful relationships with other travelers is to remember that we all worked hard to make this journey happen. We all have stories and can teach each other something useful.

Additionally, I think that if we set an intention to try and learn something new while abroad while accepting as much as possible this new place’s way of doing things we’ll have a better overall experience.  

How to have the most fun:  

After we’ve successfully packed our bags, researched customs of the country you’re headed to, and taken all necessary precautions to stay safe, the last aspect to an amazing trip is this:

We want to do cool activities.

If we don’t want to spend much time digging around for inspiration then the easiest thing we can do is consult advice from friends or family who have been to where you’re going. A quick Facebook post will probably generate lots of leads.

If you want to do your own activity investigation, then there are a throng of websites which specialize in helping travelers become inspired. My go-to’s are TripAdvisor, TripSavvy, Lonely Planet, Matador Network and Culture Trip.  These sites are packed with quality advice and can even help you reserve tours or various excursions. Additionally, Airbnb provides intriguing experiences for travelers. 

After reading up on various activities, I then like to dig through Instagram. Thousands of pictures will help convince you or change your mind about certain places/activities. It’s a solid way to wash away any doubts of what you think could be fun.

Some great ramen was once discovered in Sapporo, thanks to a helpful article from Culture Trip!

Also, reading up on cultural festivals for your intended destination can also offer an extra fun boost. For example, Valencia, Spain is a wonderful city that deserves a visit at any time of year but it’s at the apex of excitement during Fallas. Your future self might regret missing an incredible cultural event.

Murcia, Spain is fun at any point during the year. It’s even better in April during
Bando de a Huerta!

In a previous another blog post I shared ways for travelers to make new friends while overseas. If your goal is to meet people and you’re going to travel alone then this article might serve you well!


Thank you for reading! I hope some of this information helps you plan the most amazing journey ever.

As stated before, this is all based on my own personal experiences and might not be of use to you. Either way, I appreciate your time and wish you the best. If you have additional questions then feel free to connect with me.

Have a nice day, keep up the great work. 😉

-Daniel Catena

Travel Tips

Smart Overseas Travel Hacks (Part 1)

John Steinbeck once wrote that “a journey is like marriage, a sure way to be wrong is to think that you control it.” 

No matter how much we prepare, each trip is volatile and its experiences are unique. That’s part of the reason why so many of us prioritize traveling over other investments.

In spite of not being able to control the outcome, we can absolutely set ourselves up to have a truly fantastic time.

If you’re about to embark on a journey overseas, here’s a guide for acing your future adventure.

Talking about prepping for an amazing trip can’t be done in just one blog post. I’ve decided to divide the content into two entries. Also, I can’t promise that the content of this post will give you a memorable trip or keep you safe – Everything is based on my previous experiences and has served me well.

Furthermore, maybe nothing here will be useful to you but hopefully something will resonate and be helpful.

Alright, lets get started.

In Bagan, after doing lots of proper trip planning 😉

General preparations:

Let’s assume you’ve already decided on where to go.

Will you need a visa before entering this country? What’s the weather going to be like during your intended dates? Will your passport be expiring within six months? Do you need any immunizations? What do you plan on doing? Once you answer these questions then you’ll be able to successfully pack proper belongings. 

My favorite sites for booking flights are Skyscanner and Momondo. Forking over a little extra for travel protection is a wise decision because serious changes in your life and the world can happen.

Do you plan on renting a motor vehicle? Applying for international driver’s permit through AAA or AATA is the only option for US citizens.

Before traveling I also make copies of my passport information, credit cards, and visas (if applicable) and also upload photos of them in cloud storage. A stashed way pen drive with these documents can be handy as an additional precaution. Notifying your bank and all credit card companies are necessary steps. A cheap Travel insurance plan is good for peace of mind. A simple first-aid kit with bandaids, Neosporin, Ibuprofen and hand sanitizer will be a savior. A local SIM card and portable power bank will also be necessary. SIM’s can be purchased at kiosks at your destination’s airport.  

How to maximize safety:

Before booking flights to a different country, first one should be aware of the political climate and actual climate before finalizing a purchase. For example, if the destination has a monsoon season or there’s a nationwide protest taking place then it’s best practice to choose someplace less turbulent.

When I first started traveling my mom made me register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a complimentary service from the Department of State and I’ve sworn by this ever since. Unless you plan on snuggling contraband, letting the government know of your travel plans is a great idea. In case of emergency, the government knows where you are and also sends you alerts in regard to potential risks in the area(s) you plan to visit. It’s a small piece of mind but goes a long way. 

If you plan on booking tours or excursions while in the country, it’s advisable to organize trustworthy sites like Viator, Expedia or Airbnb. Google searching local tour operators is a great option as well. Soliciting information on the street can have greater risks but if you trust your instinct then it’s possible to find some fantastic deals.

Street smarts while abroad:

I’ve mentioned before that money belts are awesome and I still stick by those words. In developing countries, a major goal should be to not stand out too much from regular folks on the street. In order to do this, expensive cameras, jewelry, designer-label clothing should be left at home or used with heavy caution. I always like to wear old old sneakers or clothes you wouldn’t mind throwing away or leaving behind. Small locks for your bags are useful as well.

Keeping track of your belongings at all times, not going down dark ally’s alone, and remaining aware of your surroundings at all times will help you get by without any problems.

Be wary of anyone who seems overly interested in where you’re from or what you’re doing in their city/country. Don’t accept gifts of any kind from strangers.

Food smarts while abroad:

Very exotic and delicous…but be there are always risks.

For eating, tread with caution while ordering street food, raw vegetables or fruit & local water. If you do proper research about your destination you’ll know what is good or risky to eat. Certain countries are known for their street food (Thailand, Vietnam) but even this can be a risk. As a general rule of thumb, if you see a vendor with lots of patrons (especially foreigners) then there’s a very good chance that the food is safe.

It’s best practice to order drinks cans or bottles. Food should be well cooked.

Getting around:

If you don’t feel safe using public transportation or hailing a local taxi, then read up on your destination’s rideshare services beforehand. Many countries around the world have Uber or a service that’s similar. Taxi’s come with their own risks, so if possible always have your accommodation call one in advance or have a local you trust to arrange a journey for you.

Some awesome applications to help get you from A to B while overseas are Rome2Rio, CityMaps2Go and of course Google Maps.


Keeping loved ones frequently updated about where you’re about to visit is very important. Any easy trick would be to blog about your trip, create a Facebook/Whatsapp group, or send daily messages to the ones you care about.


Thank you for reading! Hopefully this information will be helpful to anyone about to plan a vacation overseas. Part two of this blog post will be arriving sometime soon, but until then I’d love to hear your thoughts…

What do you do to stay safe abroad?

How do you like to prepare for an overseas trip?

Take care,


Advice, Asia, Travel, Travel Tips

Useful Gear for Southeast Asia Travel

Southeast Asia.

It’s a pretty nifty part of our planet that deserves at least one visit in our lifetime.

The nearest Southeast Asian airport from my house is in Manila, Philippines and it’s roughly fourteen hours away by plane. Due to its not-so-close distance from here, appropriate planning is necessary before embarking on vacation there.

Before booking a flight and leaving, there are some important questions that must be answered. 

An assessment of who, what, where, when, and why is important before any such journey. 

Based on previous experience, figuring out the “what” can be the steepest hill to climb. What exactly should you bring? More specifically, what sort of gear is most useful while wandering in a country like Cambodia or Vietnam?

My good friend Jack and I recently returned from a long backpacking trip in Southeast Asia. Based on our experiences we’ve discovered which items are imperative and need to be added to your packing list!

This isn’t a complete grocery list of every nook and cranny that we stowed in our luggage, but it’s a nice start for anyone in search of inspiration.

Money Belt:

A money belt is a small pouch with an elastic band that you can wear under your shirt while out-and-about. I must admit that they take some getting used to, but after a while you start to feel naked without one. They are suitable for carrying passports, extra cash, or credit cards. I have a goldfish memory so I often would even put hostel room keys or bus tickets stashed away in mine as well. Thwarting a pickpocket or memory lapse goes a long way.

Try this: Raytix travel money belt


Besides entering temples or taking a bite out of some random meat on a stick at a market, you’ll probably frolic around water. Southeast Asia is replete with rivers and beaches so a dry-bag is necessary. Also, the weather can abruptly go from sunny to drizzly. I exclusively used a dry-bag in countries like Vietnam just to play it safe. Having your phone and personal items dry even when the world around you is sopping wet is a tiny joy that mustn’t be overlooked. 

Try:  Earth Pak Dry Bag

Portable Charger: 

Even with a local SIM card, your phone’s battery will drain faster than rigatoni in a strainer. Well, maybe not yours but mine certainly did! The desire to take lots of cool pictures or videos was a probable culprit. In Southeast Asia odds are high that you’ll be outside for long periods of time and without access to outlets. The solution to this dilemma is to invest in a proper wireless portable charger. With this you can charge phones or any other devices that have a USB cord. This is an essential item to have on your trip.

Try: Mophie Wireless Charger

Portable speaker: 

What can make an afternoon of relaxing on some desolate beach in Krabi slightly more enjoyable? How can a pre-night out beer in your Airbnb or hostel become a pinch more energetic? Music, duh! When you’re out and about or at home, music a primary ingredient. A Bluetooth portable speaker tops putting your phone in a coffee mug or bowl to amplify its sound. 

Try: All-Terrain Sound Bluetooth speaker

Microfiber Towel:

What my friend and I discovered during our trip to Asia was that every host (hostels, hotels, Airbnbs) provided us with towels. During the preparations for our trip I didn’t expect towels to be so readily available so I invested in two microfiber towels. I expected to utilize them more but in the end not so much. They still were handy for going to the beach because of their compact size so I think that one is ideal for a trip to Southeast Asia. 

A microfiber towel and dry-bag were needed here.

Try: Wise Owl Outfitters microfiber towel

Throw away clothes: 

In Southeast Asia you’re going to sweat, you’re going to get dirty, and you’re going to face the elements head-on. You’re going to forget a pair of flip-flops on a long-tail boat or get Pad Thai stains on your shirt. I recommend stocking up on second-hand clothes from Goodwill or bringing clothing that you’re ready to replace. If anything, you can buy clothes while on the road and often times at a strikingly good deal in a night market or vintage store. Jack and I bought sun hats within a few days of arriving then donated them to the travel gods once we left.

Stoked about my sun hat..

Portable devices:

The three portable devices that I used on a daily basis were my iPhone, laptop, and e-reader. A laptop isn’t a necessary item to pack but it makes life substantially more convenient. I typically favor a physical book over a digital copy, except when I’m traveling. E-readers are light, compact, and store enough books for countless hours of literary binging.

Try: Nook e-reader

A journal:

What was that random tuk-tuk driver’s name? What was the address of that quirky little corner bar? These are trivial details that perhaps you won’t bother to look up right after the journey, but fifteen years later you’ll love to have a scribble about them. The treasures from my experiences abroad have been the Moleskine notebooks that I carried during each trip. I highly recommend you take small breaks throughout the day to write about what’s happening. Your future self will be really thankful.

Try: Moleskine

And the most important…

This is kind of a wild-card for this blog post but it’s worth mentioning. Besides carrying all the fancy and not so fancy gear that has been mentioned above, it’s very important to go to Southeast Asia with an open mind. You’re going to be surrounded by cultures and traditions that will seem odd or possibly incorrect to you. Unless you’ve been brushing up on the local language, you’re not going to understand what most locals try to say. Yes, many people do speak English in Southeast Asia, but many more won’t. Just take a deep breath, accept that you don’t have a clue and just smile it off. You came here to be out of your comfort zone, right? I learned that a smile can go a long way and that many menus in these countries will have pictures. If you see other customers eating something delicious, just point at that, too. All around you will be sounds and aromas that are foreign and previously unknown, so relax and embrace the experience!

Well, there you go. I can’t promise that this assortment of gear will ensure you a safe or fun time in Southeast Asia. Maybe none of this information will be of use to you and that’s totally ok! I used these items and they helped me a lot, so hopefully at least one of them will be valuable to you as well.

What am I missing here? If you’ve been to Southeast Asia and have some other items that have helped you then for sure I’d love to know about them.


Thanks for reading this blog, I hope you have a great day!


Asia, Bali, Indonesia, Travel, Travel Tips

Learning How to Bali

So there Jack and I were…

…semi-tired from a Bagan night bus to Yangon, then a flight from Yangon to Bali.

It only took a few minutes at the Denpasar airport to hear a rumor.

“In five days, all of Bali is going to shut down for a day.”

Shut down, this guy says.

As we slowly progressed through a titan-sized customs line we were a little skeptical of our Brazilian neighbor’s words.

“Shut down?”

“Yep, everything.”

Ok, fine. This guy seemed a little overly confident, so we didn’t completely heed his words.

Passing through customs, connecting with our Grab driver, and arriving under the cloak of a relucent moon, we arrived to our Airbnb in Ubud in little time. 

Downtown Ubud.

We enjoyed Ubud and forgot about the Brazilian guy’s words. On Jack’s birthday, March 3rd, we were graced by the presence of two friends from back in the States: Stella and Becca. 

Both had some free time and wanted to relax in Bali. Seeing familiar faces from home is always a treat, so this was for sure a highlight of our trip. 

Ubud is a hub for artists, yoga enthusiasts, and seekers of relaxation. Tropical climate, rice paddies, Hindu shrines, and plantations encompassed us upon arrival. Each morning we were awoken by competing roosters and our morning views consisted of well-fed cows munching on grass.

Cow-watching in Ubud.

Here are a few things I can recommend to anyone visiting Ubud: Firstly, the most favorable means of transport in Ubud, and all of Bali for that matter, is via motorbike. They are cheap to rent and allow you to comfortably explore. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is very well worth a visit. Also known as Mandala Suci Wenara Wana, this is a large protected habitat in the center of Ubud where over seven hundred Balinese long-tailed monkeys reside. A short drive north is the Tegallalong Rice Terrace. In some ways this is a tourist trap, but the scenery is spectacular and you can even go swinging above all the rice fields. If you fancy a night out, No Más offers a fun a latin themed atmosphere. 

Jack’s birthday dinner with Stella & Becca.
Monkeys are big fans of sweet potatoes.
Rice terrace posse.
Bali’s turning Jack into a real swinger.

Another fun thing to do is hike up Mount Batur, one of two active volcanos on the island. Jack and I went with a tour group, getting picked up at two in the morning. 

Sometime before the sunrise, Jack and I heard the words “shut down” again.

This time it wasn’t a chatty line guy, but a man from Delhi in our group. 

“It’s Nyepi tomorrow and everyone stays inside,” he told us. 

Catching the sunrise on Mount Batur.

The rumor was indeed true. In one day all of Bali would be closed. Everyone would be off from work, schools would suspend classes, and the streets would be completely vacant for twenty-four hours.

The Batur hike was also our last day in Ubud; later the four of us packed our bags and headed to Canggu for a few days. Our Grab driver warned us that this was a serious holiday. Fines or perhaps jail time could ensue if we were found on the street. The clamor of loud noise from one’s house could even result in police throwing rocks at your roof. 

The four of us checked into our accommodation, unpacked, and hastily scurried to the closest El Pepito market to stock up on snacks.  

At six in the morning the following day, house arrest commenced all throughout the island. 

With twenty-four hours to stay inside, luckily among good friends, I feel safe to say that I learned some new things:

What on Earth is Nyepi?

Somewhere in Canggu.

Nyepi has another name: “Day of Silence”. It’s New Years Day in the Saka calendar, in conjunction with Hinduism. The Balinese adhere to this calendar because of its primarily Hindu population. What’s interesting is that this isn’t celebrated anywhere else in Indonesia because over ninety percent of the population is Muslim. Nyepi is a day to be with family, to meditate, to reflect, and to fast. The ritual of staying indoors is called Yoga/Brata. 

What’s an ogoh ogoh?

Some curious sites we encountered on Nyepi eve were lots of ogoh ogoh’s. An ogoh ogoh is a large statue of a demon constructed with styrofoam, tinsel, and bamboo. This statue can be either a Hindu character or evil spirit. Each town builds dozens of large ogoh ogoh’s for Nyepi and on the night before the “Day of Silence” they’re paraded around in a procession called Bhuta. The Bhuta is very high energy with dancing and people partying in the streets. The Bhuta ends with a burning of all the ogoh ogoh’s, similar to Fallas or the Burning of the Man. It’ a ritual to vanquish bad spirits or negative energy and to promote a prosperous New Year.

Stopping is good for moving forward

During our twenty-four hours of being locked inside, Jack, Stella, Becca, and I were able to pass the time by watching movies which was nice. We also had a lot of time to do nothing; to turn off our technology and turn on our minds. I often forget to slow down and reflect on things, to think about myself and what direction my life is going. With so many ways to distract ourselves, it’s easy to ignore our thoughts or be afraid of addressing them. It felt good to have time to focus on myself. 

This is the tip of the ice-burg

Somewhere near Seminyak.

Bali came with lots of hype, and it lived up to all of my personal expectations. Learning about Nyepi, ogoh ogohs, and Hinduism, it became clear that Indonesia was a complete mystery to me. There are around 17,000 islands that belong to its archipelago, which means that there still remains a great deal to discover. Bali by itself is quite diverse; you can have very different experiences depending on which part of the island you’re visiting. After Canggu and Ubud I wanted to learn a lot more.

Goodbye didn’t feel emotional because our time on the island felt like the appetizer to a future main course. All we have to do is just have reserve a a new table.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about our time in Bali feel free to ask. 🙂

More updates are coming soon and will be about two other mysteries:

Hong Kong and Beijing…

Take care and remember to wash your hands before dinner!

-Daniel Catena  

Asia, DACKasia2019, Travel, Travel Guide, Travel Tips, Vietnam

Take Three (Vietnam Part Two)

It’s about ten in the morning and the flavors of powdered coffee are loitering on my tongue as this update gets written.

Jack and I are in Ubud, Bali, a small town on a medium-sized island that belongs to Indonesia

I’d like to talk about the weather and the happenings that are taking place over here, but that will be for a different day!

Returning to where the previous post left off, Jack and I recently concluded our stay in Hoi An, Vietnam. This was on February 10th, exactly three weeks ago. We christened our Anthony Bourdain culinary-inspired quest with an unfortunate fail on the first try, however, we knew that there’d be more opportunities to rebound in our next destination.


A perfectly stress-free Hanoi morning.

Welcome to a Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam

The flavors that circle your palate during each meal are as varied as the visual sites you encounter while on the streets. After a shuttle to Da Nang, a flight to the Noi Bai International Airport, and a Grab ride to our Airbnb, we were already absorbed. Through the haze of either heavy mist or light smog, we felt an eery relation to the movie Blade Runner while we crossed the Nhat Tan Bridge at night. Engulfed in a swarm of motorbikes, none of which were obeying traffic laws, and an endless string of seemingly makeshift stores, I felt like I’d been transported to a future where this was the surviving colony after some grizzly apocalypse. 

Hanoi feels like a place with no beginning or end. There exists a forest of buildings with French and various Asian design influences that stretches as far as one can see. The pinnacle of this tangle of streets is the Old Quarter, also considered to be the heart of Hanoi. Jack and I rented an Airbnb here. The traffic was intimidating so we opted to either walk or call a Grab between destinations. 

The craziness and invasion of the senses make Hanoi a unique spectacle, and its lack of aesthetic beauty left me curiously enamored.

I could spend an entire blog post about Hanoi, but in order to save the headache and potential boredom, I’m going to mention three things that were pretty awesome about this city. 

The Food:

Fried Seafood Rolls in the “Obama Combo.”

Following the guidance of ever-so influential Anthony Bourdain, Jack and I gained a lot of weight in Hanoi. We sat next to the famous table where he and Barack Obama had lunch at Bún chả Hương Liên. We ordered the “Obama Combo,” a popular choice for foreigners. On our final morning we ordered pork noodle soup at Bún Chửi 41 Ngô Sĩ Liên, also known as “Cussing Noodles” to Bourdain followers. The place was packed to the brim and we didn’t get cursed at by the chef (at least I think), but the experience was as authentic as we could have ever hoped. 

Pork Noodles at “Cussing Noodles.”

Bia Hoi:

Meanwhile, at Bia Hoi Ha Noi

Continuing with Bourdain’s travels in Hanoi, we became fans of an experience he shared during the filming of Parts Unknown called Bia Hoi. What is Bia Hoi you ask? Well, it’s simple. There are specific neighborhoods in Hanoi where locals and travelers mingle on the sidewalk, ordering keg beer that costs about twenty-five cents and sitting on uncomfortable plastic chairs that could even reward a child a sore back. In certain places, a passerby can see hundreds of beer drinkers enjoying the water-like taste of beer in plastic cups.

These are either restaurants or bars that have taken over the sidewalk by illegally adding chairs onto the walkway for whoever wants to order something.  Many of these establishments offer a wide range of local cuisine and the magic words here are “Bia Hoi” because this signals to the order taker that you want the cheap elixir. When the police do their rounds, the staff hastily orders everyone to evacuate as they stack all the chairs and hide them from sight. It’s like a sting in a speakeasy except it’s outside. You don’t have to be a beer fan to enjoy this activity, simply watching the thousands of people walking during a now chilled evening by is worth the visit. 

The Friend Reunion:

John and some random guy.

It’s hard to say what was better than catching up with my good friend John. We met back in 2012 at a hostel in Quito, Ecuador and by a grand chance, he now lives in Hanoi. John’s an ESL dojo master and he had some time between classes to show me around Hanoi. I’m thankful for the existence of social media for these moments because if it didn’t exist we wouldn’t have been able to keep in touch. John’s a fantastic guy and I’m thankful that we got to catch up. Hopefully, our next reunion will happen sooner than later.

Halong Bay:

Views from a Halong Bay ferry

Halong Bay and Hanoi are similar to a perfect married couple; Halong is the Ying to Hanoi’s majestic Yang. Where Hanoi severely lacks in visual grandeur, Halong Bay picks up the slack with intense visuals of natural landscapes. Halong Bay is perhaps a culinary dungeon, one of the few destinations in Vietnam which can be given this title, so Hanoi balances the enigma by being a mecca for foodies. We didn’t take a four-hour bus to eat in Halong Bay, we wanted to cruise around the emerald waters and ponder life between towering islets. 

Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and enjoys a tropical-style climate.  “Ha Long” translates to “descending dragon” because according to Vietnamese lore an emperor unleashed a mother dragon and her children to repeal an invading force. The dragons spat fire, jewels, and jade into the waters, thus forming a natural barrier to defend against the outsiders. Today, Halong Bay spans one hundred and thirty square miles and consists of nearly two thousand islands. A common stopover for tourists in Vietnam is Halong Bay, and a few weeks ago two good-looking Americans joined the fray. 

Our Airbnb was located in the town of Bia Chay, the nearest mainland town. A vacation hub with large apartment buildings and hotels, the appeal of this place isn’t its looks but its close proximity to the bay. Here are three highlights from our handful of days there:

Renting Motorbikes:

Drivers in Vietnam, especially the ones who sport Vespas, Hondas, or any other brand of motorbike, are a curious case. The driving laws, once again, don’t exist in Vietnam so navigating here can feel like a scene from Death Proof. Halong Bay is sparsely populated, the roads are nearly all straight, and they continue until the horizon practically disappears. This is unfavorable for anyone who doesn’t have their personal method of transport, but a dream to someone who does. Jack and I wanted to be in the latter category and rented a pair of motorbikes at the horrible price of $5.50 a day.

Cat Ba Island

Horsing around in Cat Ba.

Tucked behind a maze of limestone rocks in Halong Bay sits Cat Ba Island, the largest of the archipelago which also is a Vietnamese National Park. Jack and I took a day-trip here, riding our bikes onto a ferry and taking them to the island to do our own personal tour. It’s too large of a place to explore only on foot, so bikes are a necessary travel tool. People can spend the night on the island, as bountiful numbers of hostels and hotels are located along the southern tip. We explored a cave that was converted into a hospital bunker for the North Vietnamese during the “American” War and hiked up to the viewpoint of the Cannon Fort. Other options for Cat Ba include kayaking, sunbathing, and traversing the diverse landscapes of the National Park. 

Cat Ba Island

Halong Cruise

Ferries around Halong Bay.

Almost every single boat that one can spot in Halong Bay is most likely a part of a tour company offering cruises. Cruises can vary between a half-day, full-day, overnight, or multi-night experience. Part of the allure for Halong is watching the flow of boat traffic and see how small they are in comparison to the countless rocks that inhabit the area. Jack and I opted for a full-day cruise, getting picked up at 8:30 in the morning and not returning until about 4pm. Lunch was provided, along with pit-stops at Thien Cung Cave, Ti Top Island, the Kissing Rocks, and a tour of a pearl farm. A cruise through Ha Long is an obligatory activity, and it’s a nice site for any sort of traveler. 

Views from Ti Top Island.

Ninh Binh:

Lying Dragon Mountain, Ninh Binh

Ah well, here we go. Ninh Binh.

The only thing I can say to you is that Ninh Binh is a small town in central Vietnam. 

It’s a point, on Google Maps, and it’s pretty fast to find. 

It definitely wasn’t peaceful and by no means was it one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen before. 

Everything else, well, I think you have to go there and find out for yourself.  🙂


A major perk of writing this blog is knowing that there are some wonderful people who read it, so thank you for your time. Even if you just skimmed this post, and missed the part where I talked about getting scurvy, it’s totally fine and I still appreciate you a lot.

Have a wonderful day and take good care. More updates are on the way! Until then, lots of love.

-Dan Catena

Travel, Travel Guide, Travel Tips, Vietnam

A Tale of Many Vietnams (Part 1)

It’s Sunday in Ninh Binh, Vietnam. 

The windows of our Airbnb are wide open and a flurry of almost soundless rain is washing the horizon. Through layers of mist, the Bái Đín Pagoda towers in the distance. 

Why are we in Ninh Binh? What the heck is a pagoda?

Firstly, we came to this rural northern town on a recommendation from someone back in San Francisco. Also, we needed an escape from the entanglement of motorbikes, noises, and large crowds of other tourists. A pagoda is another term for a tower built somewhere in Southeast Asia, most commonly to practice Buddhism.  

We dropped our belongings here yesterday, and it’s been nearly three weeks since arriving into the country from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Dense vegetation, a looming pagoda, roosters clucking, and a cyclist donning a conical hat just peddled nearby. It’s a peaceful sight in what has been a beautifully chaotic experience so far in Vietnam. 

It’s hard to connect the dots between the last blog post and right now because a lot has transpired. Because of this, the story of Jack’s and my time in Vietnam will be divided into a few separate chronicles. 

Ho Chi Minh City

Mayhem in Ho Chi Minh City

In 1975 the United States evacuated their embassy in Saigon, officially marking an end to the Vietnam War. On January 31st, 2019, Jack and I set foot in this urban sprawl which has since been renamed Ho Chi Minh City. 

With eight million inhabitants in a Communist country where the national median age is about thirty years old, Ho Chi Minh City is in the south of Vietnam. 

Fifteen minutes was all it took before being confronted with the racing face of death, also known as crossing the street. We soon learned that sidewalks and crosswalks are more symbolic than actually serve a purpose. Crossing streets are like asking a hungry hyena to a romantic dinner. Trust in some higher force is imperative for avoiding a collision. Finding gaps in traffic, followed by no stopping or changing of pace was the key to preserving our bloodlines. 

We wanted to be in Vietnam to experience Tết, also known as the Vietnamese New Year, which coincides with the Chinese New Year. 2019 is the year of the Pig. We anticipated a large party, similar to how the lunar calendar celebration is started back home. We learned that this was actually not the case, and for ten days almost every business would either be closed or have oddly determined hours of operation. The decorations, however, were beautiful and we saw people buying bonsai-style trees as a symbol of good fortune. 

Tet festivities

Our five-day stay in Ho Chi Minh City was luckily pre-Tết, so we didn’t have to worry about sudden changes. By pure coincidence, we booked a hostel (Suite Backpackers Inn) located next to Bui Vien. This street is similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. With the help of the hostel owner, Lin, and another friend we made named Anthony,  Jack and I managed to take in various nighttime events without getting trapped in the neon lights and invasive sounds of this hectic street. 

The highlights of Ho Chi Minh included shopping for vintage shirts at Mayhem, an introduction to Vietnamese coffee, exploring the wonders of Banh Mi and Pho, while also meeting some interesting people. Banh Mi’s are sandwiches with French style baguettes and Pho is a noodle soup that comes in delightful variations. Another somber yet vastly necessary place to visit is the War Remnants Museum. It sheds light on an opposing perspective of the Vietnam War, calling Americans “henchmen” and the former Southern Vietnamese government a “puppet”. 

Da Nang

Da Nanging out…

Da Nang is a coastal city in the center of the country. We were faced with two choices: Hop a fairly priced flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang that would last about an hour, or pay for an outrageously affordable bus ride that would take seventeen hours. We valued our time, and more importantly our fragile sanity, so in the end we headed north on a Jetstar plane. 

Besides a crying baby, water hoarding flight attendants, and a fake landing, we enjoyed the journey.  During the final descent, we were greeted with fireworks. At first I thought, “how did they know that Jack and I were here?” but then I remembered that it was Tết eve, so this was all part of the yearly holiday tradition. 

Morning in Da Nang, Vietnam. Good!

Staying at the Travellers Nest Hostel, we met some friendly folks ranging from the Vietnamese staff to laid-back weed growers who claimed to be programmers. We didn’t have much of an agenda for Da Nang, as it was Tết holiday, but we ended up with one of the best experiences of our trip. 

During the evening of Tết, we wandered the empty streets of Mỹ An and discovered an eating gem. The woman who runs Banh Mi Phan Tic is a wonderful person. The majority of travelers who come here make a visit to The Golden Bridge of the Ba Na. We, on the other hand, opted for a more independent activity and rented motorbikes in order to wander around the neighboring San Tra (Monkey) peninsula. It’s here where one can encounter the 236 foot tall Goddess of Mercy (Lady Buddha) statue. This is part of a pagoda named Linh Ung. We took photos here and then explored nearby San Tra Mountain on motorbike, a destination for spotting endangered Red-Shanked Douc monkeys

Hoi An

We took a forty-minute shuttle to Hoi An, a former trading port that sits along the estuary of the Thu Bon River, a bike ride’s journey from the South China Sea. Nowadays, Hoi An is a tourist magnet thanks to its well preserved historic quarter, culinary scene, world-class tailors, leather goods, and trademark Lantern Festival

When we arrived, the city was still recovering from Tết festivities. The streets were swarmed with visitors, both Vietnamese and from other countries. Hoi An isn’t an oasis from motorbikes, as honks serenaded us along most corners. It felt like we were in a city of aspiring social media influencers because there wasn’t a wall where someone wasn’t posing for a photo. The energy and motion of every street felt like my hometown of Sausalito on performance-enhancing drugs. Overall, Hoi An truly is a visual site to behold even with the vast numbers of crowds. 

Thu Bon River

The fellow backpackers at the Tribee Kinh were fun and the staff there was also really nice. Vietnam has an infatuation with lemon tea, and we tried our first one at Mót. We found perhaps a new favorite food in Cau Lao, a thick noodle soup with pork. Finally, we started our quest to follow in the footsteps of the late great Anthony Bourdain by visiting restaurants he ate at during the filming of “Parts Unknown”. We started our hunt in disappointment because Banh Mi Phoung, in Hoi An’s old quarter, was closed due to Tết.

We eventually hugged Hoi An goodbye and booked a plane to  ___________________.

Well, this is probably a good place to say farewell! Hopefully this post was a nice distraction for five minutes.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, it truly means a lot! Another one or two posts about Vietnam will be coming soon. 

Have you been to Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City, or Hoi An? How was your experience there?

I’d love to hear about it. Take care and lots of love.

Guides, Travel, Travel Guide, Travel Tips

Playing Fair in Cambodia

Angkor Wat sunrise.

Once upon a time, in a part of the world fairly far far away, my best friend Jack and I landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

By once upon a time, I mean last Saturday. 

A 6am flight from Phuket, Thailand landed at the Siem Reap International Airport at 7:25am. If you’re a United States citizen, a trip to Cambodia is straightforward. Upon arrival, Jack and I each paid $30 for a thirty-day tourist visa. We each needed to provide a passport sized photo, which we had already brought from the US, and completed an application. Within half an hour the immigration official stamped our passports and we were granted permission to enjoy Cambodia. 

Why did we go there?

The first reason why we opted to spend four days in this Southeast Asian country was simple. Cambodia is sandwiched between two neighbors that were very high on our list of destinations: Thailand and Vietnam. Continuing east from Thailand, it was sensible for us to dedicate a few days to discover another country before visiting Vietnam. The second reason why we stayed in Cambodia was thanks to numerous positive accounts in regard to the temples of Angkor Wat. Stepping foot in Angkor Wat was an important personal goal for this journey, so a stopover didn’t require much debating. 

About to see some Wats.

Angkor Wat (Capital Temple) is the most iconic temple in what is a massive complex of temples (Angkor Thom) constructed in the 12th century in Siem Reap, by Khmer King Suryavarman II. The Khmer Empire was the predecessor state of what is currently Cambodia. They were originally Hindu, however over the course of hundreds of years they converted to Buddhism. Their empire ruled in this region of Asia for over six hundred years. Angkor Wat was built to be a dedication to Vishnu, the Hindu God, and serves as a proud modern-day symbol for Cambodians. I’m not really a historian nor do I have the capacity to remember such facts; all of this data has been gathered with the wonderful help of Wikipedia. One of the temples in Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, was used as a set in the original “Tomb Raider” film, starring Angelina Jolie. 

Walking through Bayon Temple.
Bayon Temple.

Ok, so back to the story. Jack and I arrived early on Saturday and we had to wait about six hours before being able to officially check-in to our hostel called Lub D. The price here was very affordable, and the hostel came equipped with a pool, bar, cafe, and a friendly team of staff members. 

We didn’t come to Siem Reap to do anything except visit Angkor Wat, so once we got settled we learned a few necessary details: The best (and most affordable) way to visit Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom is to hire a personal tuk-tuk driver and have him or her transport you between temples. We also learned that a single day Angkor Pass costs $37 and that the majority of visitors start their experience by witnessing Angkor Wat at sunrise or at sunset. We discovered that the city of Siem Reap is a car trip away from Angkor Wat, about twenty minutes in a rural zone of the region. 

Angkor Wat likes to reflect on itself sometimes.

A girl at our hostel referred us to a driver named Peng, an independent tuk-tuk driver who runs an enterprise by driving tourists around the famed temples. Based on our previous experiences with tuk-tuk’s and taxi’s in general in Thailand, I felt slightly unsure about trusting a stranger to drive around and wait for us as we explored the ruins. Peng ended up being a wonderful guy, with above average English, who was willing to drive us between the various sites and wait while Jack and I took in the visual flavors of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. In the end, we spent ten hours walking through various temples. Eventually, the heavy heat from the sun left us completely gassed by 3pm. It’s hard to describe Angkor Wat other than it’s an experience that is hard to match. If you’re thinking of going to Angkor Wat, definitely come prepared with sunscreen, a hat, and decent walking shoes. Absolutely consider hiring a personal tuk-tuk driver, then check out Peng’s Facebook page. The sunrise was spectacular and it’s worth waking up at 4am. 

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

In total, Jack and I stayed two nights in Siem Reap, as well as two in the countries’ capital of Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is a medium sized city with heavy motorbike traffic, a beautiful waterfront that hugs along the Ton Le Sap river, and a handful of interesting landmarks such as the Royal Palace. Phnom Penh was purely just a layover for Jack and me. We stayed two nights at a hostel called Mad Monkey and the consensus among the fellow backpackers we encountered was same: Phnom Penh is an interesting city, however, it’s best served as a quick stopover before going to Vietnam or Siem Reap. 

I can’t say much about Cambodia, as our stay in the country lasted exactly four days. Four days in an entire country is insufficient; it simply wasn’t a high priority destination for us, so we kept it short. What I can say, despite this, is that Cambodia has left a lasting positive impression on me. Between our friend Peng, to the hostel staff, to even just random people on the street, it was evident that Cambodians are kind people. They are generous, polite, and proud of their country. The food was fantastic. We tried some incredible curry, beef lok lak, among other dishes. Compared to Thailand, it was clear that Cambodia’s tourism industry wasn’t as polished, nor was it accustomed to many foreigners. We weren’t treated like walking moneybags, at least that’s how it felt. The Cambodians we encountered seemed very grateful for our visit and business. The only place in Thailand where I left with a similar feeling was in Krabi, and for this reason it became our favorite stomping ground in that country. 

Some delicious spring rolls with beef lok lak in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia, for all the beauty that we witnessed, also has a somber side. It’s classified as a third-world nation, and it was apparent in all the homeless families we saw while driving in Peng’s tuk-tuk. More than once, we were approached by young children to either buy a pack of postcards or simply just give a dollar. Even security guards at Angkor Wat expected tips for any minute piece of information that they offered. We were told to avoid giving anyone money, especially children, as these kids are often being exploited by others who weren’t always their parents. It was a sobering reality that there exists a completely different world from what Jack and I are used to. Cambodia is developing, but we saw that there’s a still deep gap between those who live stable lives, those who struggle on a daily basis, and those who are in a near hopeless set of circumstances. 

At 6am, at the gates of Angkor Wat and before the ever-so-popular sunrise above the temples, two nine-year-old kids tried to cajole us into buying some postcards. Jack needed postcards and bought ten for one dollar, but I initially refused and tried to ignore them. The first kid ran off with her score, while the other started to pout at me in broken English: “Be fair, be fair.” This was all part of the game they were playing, but who was I to deny a Cambodian child of a dollar, which to me had very little value but to her probably so much more? I played fair, gave her a dollar, and let her keep the postcards. I don’t know if this donation helped anyone, but it made me grateful to have grown up with a loving family and in a first world country. Sometimes you feel helpless in a situation that’s greater than yourself, and this was one of those instances. 

A tuk-tuk commute in Phnom Penh.

Despite seeing the both good and not-so-good, Cambodia is filled with history, delightful people, and is ideal for anyone looking for adventure. 

Have you been to Cambodia before? Comment below, I’d love to hear about it!

Also, if you have any questions about specific restaurants, cafés, or general information about our time in Cambodia, feel free to message me any time. 🙂

Have a nice day, thank you for reading, you’re a great human being. 

More updates about Jack’s and my trip are coming in the not so far away future.