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

A Californian in Huila

This is an article about a recent trip to Colombia that was featured in the regional newspaper El Diario del Huila.

Photo by Chris Rodriguez on

Growing up near San Francisco, California,
we didn’t learn much about Colombia in school. For instance, geography classes focused more on Europe and history teachers rarely mentioned (if at all) Simón Bolívar. Students who took Spanish classes mostly learned about Mexican or Spanish culture. As an adult I became aware that American’s view of Colombia was heavily influenced by pop culture. Shakira taught us that Colombian women were attractive and that their music was great for dancing. Additionally, the Netflix show Narcos told us that drugs were omnipresent. Surely, this wasn’t all true. Not every American owns a gun nor do we all eat hamburgers, so these generalizations couldn’t be accurate about Colombia. 

One day, I recently found myself on vacation in Neiva. My previous knowledge of the city and department of Huila was equal to my experience in outer space: none whatsoever. With the help of some special people I received a more genuine Colombian education. 

Even though I stood out like a sore thumb, most of the people I met in Huila were very welcoming. They also were exceedingly formal when speaking not only to me, but with each other. “Si señor” and “Como le ha ido” were phrases I heard frequently. Regardless of age or who they were, everyone was treated with respect. The only place where people weren’t polite was on the road. With motorbikes outnumbering cars, the idea of politeness didn’t exist anymore. 

Love for Huila
When speaking to locals in Neiva one thing was clear: People loved their department of Huila. They were also highly proud of their history and culture. It seemed like everyone I interacted with already knew that I was going to love being in Huila and they were right. 

Food paradise
Neiva immediately held a special place in my heart the moment I tried achiras for the first time. A fan of salty snacks, rice, and coffee, I was smitten with the cuisine in Huila. Hot chocolate, guayaba candy, lechona, tamales, and the famous Asado Huilense made my spirit feel nourished. 

Land of abundance
After spending time in Neiva I learned that both Huila and Colombia are vibrant. They offer stunning landscapes, wonderful people, and a beautiful culture that I still hardly understand. Experiencing this part of the world brought one question to mind:

When can I come back?

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, 


Colombia, South America, Travel

So This is Neiva

Neiva, Colombia in April of 2022.

It was around 2pm when my body began to feel warm. The brightness of the bedroom was inescapable because the sun was radiating with full force. I tried for a moment to hide underneath the covers of the bed, pretending that the day hadn’t started yet. It was no use. The shine from the sun and the heat of the early afternoon were too much for my imagination. 


It was time to wake up and start my first day in Neiva, Colombia. A growing sense of embarrassment began to take hold in my mind. 

I overslept is what was repeated in my head. 

My hosts, Yesi and her mom Piedad, were probably patiently waiting for me to get up so we could have lunch together. I was overthinking because I had just arrived in Neiva from Bogotá last night. Between the change in timezones (Neiva is 2 hours ahead of California), the duration of my trip (about 17 hours due to a delay), and a new sleeping environment (Yesi lent me her room and she used the extra bedroom), hopefully they wouldn’t mind. 

Setting myself free of the bedsheets, I rolled to one side of the bed in search of my phone. 

Tapping the screen, to my surprise, it was only 5:30 in the morning. 

No way. It was surely a lie. 

Checking the temperature, it read 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Somehow, my phone must have experienced a glitch during the trip. I did a Google search to confirm the actual local time and it was now 5:31 in the morning. 

It was at this moment I realized that I was in a new world.

My first thought was:

So this is Neiva.

The sun was already shining in Huila’s capital. It seemed like the city had been brought to life. From Yesi’s window, which was on the fourth floor of an apartment building, the familiar sound of cars, construction, and movement echoed from feint directions. For the first time, and maybe the only time today, I suddenly felt cold. A chill went down my spine as the view brought back memories of my former home in Missoula, Montana. This was technically a city, but from the window was a sea of lush vegetation, with a sprinkle of urban sprawl nestled throughout the green horizon.  

I attempted to navigate the scenery in search of Missoula’s Mount Jumbo or Sentinel. The mountains of my home weren’t anywhere to be found, and in the deep distance, a hazy jagged line crossed the sky. A looming mirage at the deepest point in a cloudless atmosphere, the Andes Mountains stood watch.  

Reverting my attention down to the parking lot, I could see people walking dogs at a casual pace. It was peaceful and tranquil. My eyes traced the dimensions of the lot, processing my new view. Along the border was a protective wall with barbed wire. One of the people with their dog stopped to chat with a uniformed guard. I could make out that a gun was holstered next to his waist. 

The reality of this new location came back to me.    

So this is Neiva..

Outside the walls and gate was a world I didn’t understand. It was too early to think about it so I returned to something I knew and could control: the covers of my bed. 

I forced myself to stay under the sheets a little while longer and managed to squeeze in about an hour of rest before it became necessary to leave the room and start the day. 

Groggy, jet-lagged, and partially disoriented, I opened the door of the room not knowing what to expect with my first morning in Colombia. It was 7am, feeling more like 2pm, as I hobbled to the kitchen like a weary pioneer who had just survived a harsh winter. Anyone or anything could have been around the corner: Piedad, Yesi, a hungry monster. 

The numbness of fatigue was my shield as I turned to see my hosts already awake. 

My brain wasn’t fully functioning and probably a few word exchanges took place at that moment in time. One sentence stood out. It was the first phrase I remember from that day and it was perhaps the most beautiful. These words evaporated any fear or worry about my new home. 

“Are you hungry?” 

So this is Neiva…

To be continued…

Spending time with Yesi & Piedad.
Colombia, South America, Travel

Back to Colombia

In August of 2012, I found myself on a plane headed to Bogotá, Colombia. I was traveling alone and my level of Spanish fluency was equal to perhaps a six-month-old baby. A carousel of emotions rotated in my mind, mostly fear, as I left the familiarity of home and gravitated toward a new world. 

The unknown is what scared me; I didn’t know the culture very well, had no contacts there, and had no idea what or who was waiting for me when I landed. It was this same uncertainty that inspired the trip; I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. After a layover in Panama City, the flight finally touched down on Colombian soil. It was at this point, I remember when my internal stress was at an all-time high. With the address to my accommodation clutched in my hand, the process of actually getting there wasn’t determined. The only things certain were that I was about to exit the plane, and somewhere on a baggage carousel would hopefully be my backpack. After that, it was a terrifyingly blank canvas.  

The El Dorado airport was immense and it seemed like I was the only gringo with a large backpack walking out of the terminal. I could have asked someone about buses or shuttles to the city center but at that point, I couldn’t muster up an actual sentence in Spanish. 

I could feel a soft blanket of heat as I entered the Colombian atmosphere for the first time. The scene felt frantic as I decided to trust my life with a taxi. The fray of the passenger pick-up zone of the airport seemed fast and shocked my consciousness. With crowds of people walking in all directions and a seemingly endless supply of taxis, many of which asked me if I wanted a ride at the same time, I took my first risk of the journey: 

A man in a brown jacket stepped into view with a taxi badge and asked where I was going. Tired, stressed, and now overwhelmed, I showed him the address. With a quick gesture, he pointed me to his vehicle. I said “OK” and entered his car, hoping that this was the right decision. 

I found out that he actually was a taxi driver. Or, at the very least, he decided to play the role of one at that moment in time. We successfully navigated through an endless sea of tall buildings and a city that had previously just been part of my Lonely Planet reading list. 

After about an hour we had made it and I was alive. More importantly, I truly felt alive. The sensation of actually getting from point A to point B in a new country made me feel like anything was possible. All the planning, saving, and hours on multiple planes were worth it for this moment. This was my invisible travel badge of honor. As the man with the brown jacket drove off to perhaps save another scared foreigner at the airport, I knew Colombia would always hold a special place in my heart. 

Daniel cerca 2012, at the Sanctuary of Monserrate in Bogotá

Since that day I knew I’d want to keep coming back to this country. The only question was when. Well, it’s been nearly ten years, a whole decade, since embarking on that trip. As for everyone, life has had many twists, turns, decisions, and changes. New priorities, projects, a pandemic, relationships, and breakups have all happened since then. Much had changed since 2012 but one thing stayed the same in my mind:

I wanted to be back in Colombia one day. 

Five weeks ago, in April 2022, this goal finally became a reality. A second fateful plane left San Francisco and stopped in Panama City, then another landed once again in Colombia’s capital. After ten years, I was back in Colombia. A similar sensation of fear echoed behind me as I exited the plane and followed the signs to baggage claim yet at the same time it was different: I had been here before.

This time around I sported a suitcase rather than a bulky backpack. My accommodation details were saved on my phone rather than in a journal and my Spanish was good enough to ask someone at an information kiosk about shuttles. Exiting the airport, not in search of a man with a brown jacket but just to get some fresh air and an empanada, the scene wasn’t nearly as fast or chaotic as I’d remembered from ten years prior. Perhaps it was the effect of the pandemic or maybe I was just getting older. 

In the distance, I could see the makings of a tiny white building at the top of a sea of mountains. It looked like it could have been the famous sanctuary called Monserrate where ten years ago I visited with a buddy from New York named Max. It was so far away to know for sure, but for an instant flashes of memories from ten years ago hovered in my consciousness. During this trip it would only remain a fixture in the mountains, like a mirage, sitting in homage to a previous chapter in life. My time in Bogotá would be just a layover and within a few hours my stay in Colombia’s largest city had already ended.

My final destination awaited: Neiva, an hour by plane in the southern region of the country. I felt thankful for my first experience in Colombia and all the great people I met back then. Waiting for the last plane to Neiva I was grateful for this second chance to be in this beautiful country.

New memories and people awaited.

To be continued…

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 Link Hoang on Unsplash
Ideas, Inspiration, Random Thoughts, Travel

Books That Inspired Me To Travel

So there I was…

Stretching my legs along the couch, I was half-watching a black and white movie. On the surface everything was fine. It was a typical succession of events to a routine evening. After trying to understand the plot of the film my mind abruptly went somewhere else.

I was drifting, flying as far as the eye could see.

A flash and a jolt later my mind landed back onto the couch. Possibly the effects of too much marinara from a pasta dinner was playing mind tricks. Whatever had just happened, I knew one thing for sure:

I was restless and wanted to go somewhere. Anywhere.

Despite a large dinner I was still ravenous. A handful of goldfish crackers or popcorn wouldn’t suffice. I needed to wander. A simple walk down the street wouldn’t cut it. Where could I go? A plane ticket was out of the question. Driving at night wouldn’t provide any scenery. There weren’t any bars, cafes, or restaurants open. At this hour, there existed one solution to abate the rising tide of wanderlust.

I went to my room, opened one of my favorite books, and started on page one.

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux (2002)

Image by Simon Matzinger from Pixabay

“All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there…”

I felt like an addict getting my temporary fix. Oh hell yeah, baby is what I thought to myself.

This is an excerpt from the first line of Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, an account of his epic journey from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt (over 6,000 miles!) on land. Not only did reading a few pages help me wind down, but a thought bubble popped into my head.

Maybe next year I should go to Egypt?

Woah woah woah, hold your horses Daniel.

I put the book down and refrained from browsing Skyscanner for cheap flights to the Middle East. This is the power of Paul Theroux; He not only makes you feel like you’re next to him on his adventures, but he makes you want to quit everything and escape to the great unknown. I’m a huge fan of his books and Dark Star Safari was the first one I read back in 2010. This book not only inspired me to see the world but it also motivated me to write.

It made me think about the other books have inspired me to travel.

On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

On The Road was required reading in high school so my introduction to Jack Kerouac was not out of pleasure. Being a teenager living with a curfew and little desire for rebellion it was difficult to pick up what the author was throwing down.

Years later, while literally on the road, I stumbled upon this book (seen in the above photo) in a hostel book exchange shelf. I donated a recently finished book to the shelf and gave the story a second read. It was mesmerizing and eventually became a fixture to my room. I’m thinking that it’s time to donate this book yet again..

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2003)

Image by DARSHAK PANDYA from Pixabay

A copy of Shantaram was gifted to me by my friend Kelsey sometime in 2016 (I think) and it couldn’t have been welcomed at a better time. The story of an Australian fugitive who flees to Bombay, India to create a new life, Shantaram (by Gregory David Roberts) is a novel loosely based on the actual life of its author.

The story of the protagonist named Lin resonated with me because at the time I was in life transition and searching for a place where I felt like I belonged. I was feeling lost, so reading about a man who rediscovers himself in India gave me hope. It’s a wonderful story filled with countless characters and twists.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1988)

Image by Nico Wall from Pixabay

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

The Alchemist is the only novel I’ve read three times. The first time I was emotional and inspired to see the world. The second time I felt that it was best to find happiness at home. The third time I became hungry and ate a salami sandwich. However way you interpret the book’s message, it’s a captivating story and has the power to ignite a fire in a reader to make a major life decision. Be warned, the third time around will induce heart-burn.

Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson (1985-1995)

One of the most impactful books of my life wasn’t a novel but a comic strip. I first put my hands on a collection of Calvin & Hobbes back in elementary school. Back then I didn’t know how to read yet but the illustrations had my eyes racing from page to page.

The story of a mischievous kid and his best friend Hobbes, his stuffed tiger doll, the comic defined my childhood. I felt like I was Calvin: we both were an only child, about the same age, vivid imaginations, and oddly had similar looking parents.

Over time, when I finally learned to read, it became my favorite comic strip of all time. Calvin & Hobbes would go on adventures through outer space, the Yukon, and through time. Bill Watterson’s creation was one of my first ever escapes and it fed my growing desire to see what this world was all about.

Thinking for a while longer, I tried to come up with another favorite travel book but contemplation was greeted with quietness.

Perhaps it hasn’t been written yet…

A flash and a jolt later, my attention landed back onto the couch.


Thanks for reading! I appreciate your time and hope you’re having a wonderful day.


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, DACKasia2019, Travel

The Last Chapter: South Korea

It was sometime in late April when Jack and I ended our after hours yakatori binge in Japan.

We were now in South Korea. 

Taking off from the Tokyo Narita Airport, we flew two hours north to Seoul. 

Here’s a quick guide to what we did and saw while in the country:


Photo by Yeo Khee on Unsplash

This is booming mega-city with a rough population of about ten million inhabitants. There are twenty five gu (districts) and twenty seven bridges to connect the north its south-side across the Han River. Seoul is the capital of South Korea and can satiate any kind of traveler. 


Thanks to our good friend Jae, we knew where to stay. He’s been living in Seoul for a few years and was an oracle of knowledge. He thought that we’d enjoy either the Itaewon or Hongdae district. In the end, we booked an Airbnb for a handful of nights first in Hongdae then we moved over to Itaewon in order to compare. 

Both are booming with bars, restaurants, cafes, and nightlife. Herds of people congregate on the street and at all hours there’s a hive of activity. Hongdae is a university district, so the crowds are strikingly younger and consist primarily of students. Itaewon is perhaps the least Korean neighborhood in the city, as its a hub for expats. 


If there’s anything we learned from our time in South Korea, it’s that soju, kimchi, fried chicken, and grilled meat are all delicious. Fried chicken is a national dish and in Seoul hofs (fried chicken joints) can be found on most street corners. The portions are typically generous and the best way to pair a tender chicken thigh is with a chilled glass of cheap Korean beer. We fell for a hole in the wall hof called Eongteoili in Itaweon (thanks Jae). 

Near Sinchon we became the token Westerners at a barbecue restaurant called Yeonnam Seo Seo Galbi. With our own personal grill, we stood and poured soju (a typical Korean liquor) into our beer glasses. This is a technique to make soju taste better that we picked up from a night out with Jae and his friends. A waitress greeted us by placing glorious portions of beef short ribs over the table’s flame. Scissors were used to separate the meat into smaller pieces and we used chopsticks to eat. Side dishes included green peppers, chili paste, and a savory garlic dipping sauce. The ceiling was charcoal black and each window was open as smoke was bellowing from each table’s grill. 


We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Seoul. The changing of the guard at the Gyeongbokgung Palace is an essential pitstop. Ordering a steaming bowl of dumpling soup at neighboring Gwangjang Market is also a recommendable experience. The gardens of Deoksugung Palace are great for thinking and the Retro Game Bar is a fun escape from the boisterous streets in Hongdae. In Itaewon, Jack’s Bar offers free arcade games and Casa Corona is a cool rooftop bar with Dj’s spinning until the late. Walking along the Han River was also nice source of fresh air.

Exploring the Deoksugung Palace.
The Gyeongbokgung Palace.
A night out with Jae and his friends.


Back in February, Jack and I were given advice from some Koreans we met on a bus: 

Go to Busan

Three months and a three-hour train ride from Seoul later, there we were.

This is a major port city (the fifth largest port in the world) that is a juxtaposition between a town with chill beach vibes and a pulsating business mecca with towering skyscrapers. Busan is considered the summer city of South Korea thanks to its vast coastline, numerous boardwalks, national parks and beaches.  


Gwangalli Beach.

We stayed near Gwangalli Beach. This consists of an expanding cove and an esplanade that divides the beach from an expanding row of bars, hotels, and restaurants. Not too far off in the distance is the Diamond Bridge (Gwangandaegyo), the second longest in South Korea. 


Dwaeji Gukbap.

Our first meal in Busan was at Sisters Gukbap. This is a family-operated joint and the entry was probably once someone’s living room. We were served a simple yet memorable dish: Pork rice soup. Unique to Busan, Dwaeji Gukbap is hearty and delicious. The chef was an exuberant lady who made heart gestures when she discovered that we were from California.


We arrived on a Monday, coincidentally at the end of a three-day weekend for Koreans. The previous day was a public holiday called Children’s Day. Taking this into consideration, we weren’t shocked to see an abundance of businesses with hardly a soul inside. 

We did, however, enjoy some beach time and trip to the Gamcheon Culture Village. Touted as the “Santorini of Korea”, Gamcheon is a colorful enclave of neighborhoods that sprawl upward along a mountain. Murals, beautiful views, and a puzzle of narrow streets make this an interesting visit. 

View of the Gamcheon Culture Village.

Spa Land, located in the Haeundae district, a massive jjimjilbang (Korean spa). Here one can enjoy various steam rooms, saunas, an outdoor rock pool, hot springs, and even a body scrub session. The variety of options combined with its affordability (about $11) made Spa Land an essential visit while in Busan. 

Good Night and Good Luck

We landed in Korea knowing that it would probably be our final chapter in Asia. 

By the time we reached Busan, we already had a return ticket to San Francisco booked. 

An “end” didn’t feel real until one morning at the beach, when I suddenly felt really far away from everything I knew. 

I was looking at the tide, thinking that this was as far East that we were meant to go. 

Somewhere across the ocean was a different life that we’d put on pause for four months. In that life were people we loved, food we were craving, and future books that we needed to start brainstorming. 

Maybe I would have cried but the wind was pretty strong. 

Days later, we were on a plane from Seoul and the trip was officially over.  

It was one heck of a journey. 

From the Buddha shrine expeditions of Bagan to the free kimchi samples in Seoul, Asia’s alright. 

It took Jack and I ten years to make this adventure happen and to write this story. Thankfully, the principal characters all made it out alive and more importantly remained good friends. From Europe in 2009 to Asia in 2019, its been a great anthology of experiences.

This trip is finished, but its wonderful memories will remain with me until I become senile (in about fifteen years from now). 😉 

I’m deeply thankful that we made this dream happen, and even more so to have an incredible friend. Through thick and thin, thanks for being my friend, Jack. 

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Thank you, whoever you are who’s reading this, for your time.

Traveling is more fun when you can share with others. I appreciate you!

Also, this blog is meant to continue. Its focus might shift, but more content will arrive soon.

If there’s anything you want to know about our trip and get ideas for places to visit, you can always reach out. 

Have a wonderful day and remember that we only live once, so make it count 🙂



Wanders in Japan

Hey there, welcome back! 

In the last blog post, Jack and I were taking a yakatori exam in Tokyo, Japan. 

After multiple excursions with our Kyoto posse, and a really fun day with some of Jack’s family (Bob, Linda & Kim), we sadly all went our separate ways. 

Most of the Kyoto Posse.
Remembering some great times in Kyoto.
For relaxing times, make it Suntory time..

Some people booked flights for home while others were off to new countries. Jack and I had our backpacks ready and planned to remain in Japan.

We were preparing for an escape from the grandeur of a city with over thirty million inhabitants. The feeling wasn’t somber as the farewell was temporary. In about three weeks we’d be crashing at an airbnb in Shibuya for one final weekend before flying to Seoul, South Korea. 

With sixteen days to see as much of Japan as possible, we first went to the nearest Japan Rail station (located at the Tokyo Shinkansen station) and purchased a seven ride JR West rail pass. Train officials told us that buying regional passes were a better deal than national passes. A seven ride West pass was $172 whereas a national pass was $261. We elected a JR West pass because our next stop was:


The Osaka Castle ran out of sunscreen…

Located almost four hours southwest of Tokyo, Osaka is Japan’s second largest city. We made Osaka our temporary hub for five days thanks to its close proximity to smaller cities that seemed worth visiting. We stayed near the Namba ward which is popular for its nightlife.

We hovered around Dotomori Street, a walking street that sits along a long canal. It’s similar to Amsterdam but without the coffeeshops and fewer trees. We also enjoyed walking around the Osaka Castle and made friends at the Mahi Mahi bar. Osaka is a charming city. 

Glico’s Running Man Signboard (an Osaka must)



We took a forty minute train from Osaka to neighboring Kobe during an essential part of the day: dinner time. Upon arrival, the sun had already dipped below the skyline and we were greeted with drizzling rain. It was the dead of night, wet, and we were starving. To our fortune, the vast majority of restaurants offered the sole reason why we came to Kobe in the first place: Steak. Kobe is a kind of Wagyu beef that’s exported all over the world and some of the highest quality cattle are raised near the city that bares the same name. A glass of red wine and a fabulous steak dinner was our lone yet highly memorable moment in the city. 


Yayoi Kusami’s yellow pumpkin on Naoshima.

A miniature bohemian oasis tucked away in the Seto Inland Sea, Jack and I visit the island of Naoshima. Scattered around the island are contemporary art installations, art museums, and random sculptures. Only a handful of hours from Osaka, we took three trains and one ferry to get there. The recommended means of navigating around the island is by renting bicycles.

We visited one of the famous pumpkin sculptures by Yayoi Kusami and the Benesse House Museum before our visit was interrupted by the disappearance of blue skies. Evening snuck up on us and in the darkness we luckily made it in time for the last ferry to the mainland. 

Biking around Naoshima.
Views that bring echos from home in California…


Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

Located two hours southwest of Osaka is Hiroshima. Jack and I didn’t have much knowledge of this city except for what we learned in school. An atomic bomb was dropped there. World War II ended nine days after the Enola Gaye flew over this city on August 6th, 1945.

Back in school, reading about Hiroshima only felt like a multiple choice question in a written exam. It was just a name on a page. It didn’t seem that a real event that took place until experiencing Hiroshima in person. Seeing this city, walking on its streets, and wandering through its parks gave a sense of tranquility. It was eye opening because in the blink of an eye everything around us had been erased from existence during one point in time. It was a sad reminder of the horrors of war, no matter which side you’re with.

The bomb was dropped to “prevent” further casualties. It made me question whether it was an honorable decision because thousands of innocent people died without warning. The dance with somberness was also led radiant beauty. Modern day Hiroshima is lush, vibrant, and full of life.

We strolled down a path towards the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, a building that survived the blast. The Shukkeien Garden was peaceful and we did some hunami. Before heading back to Osaka we went to the top floor of the Orizuru Tower for a beer in its sky garden. Overall, Hiroshima reminded me that we’re all just human beings on this planet. I highly recommend this city to anyone.  

Zenning out at the The Shukkeien Garden.
The top of the Orizuru Tower.


Finding a ramen oasis in Sapporo.

After Hiroshima, Jack and I bid adieu to Osaka and to the south of Japan. We hopped a plane and flew north to Sapporo. Sapporo is Japan’s fifth largest city, situated near the western coast of Hokkaido Island. We came here with one goal in mind: to take a tour of the Sapporo Beer Museum and try samples of Japan’s most iconic brewing label.

In the end, we skipped the tour because it was offered only in Japanese but this didn’t stop us from having a good time. The museum was just one fragment of a campus like setting, with numerous restaurants and buildings that all belonged to the Sapporo beer company. 

The city is located in a mountainous valley. The winter months are chilly and normally greeted with lots of snow. During our stay we checked out a Couchsurfing meet-up and met some interesting folks from distinct places. Nice people, beer, and the mountains. I got attacked by a case of nostalgia because Sapporo reminded me a lot of Missoula, Montana except it was larger and filled with ramen shops. 

Speaking of ramen, Jack and I frequented the Ganso Ramen Yokocho. Another title for this landmark is Ramen Alley. This narrow corridor is crammed with dozens of world-class ramen establishments. We’d been off the Anthony Bourdain track but coincidentally one of the places we ate at was featured in No Reservations in 2011.

We left Sapporo, after buying JR East rail pass, very full and pleasantly surprised by how cool of a place it was.  

In 1983 it was common to enjoy Sapporo beer in a kimono.


Views of Jigokudani.

We trained from Sapporo to the southern coast of Hokkaido island to a town named Noboribetsu. At first glance this is a sleepy coastal town with very few options for leisure. People come to Noboribetsu for two reasons: The first reason is because they’re in the Japanese witness protection program and the Yakuza have a hit on them. Another, and probably more common, reason is to enjoy the bountiful selection of onsens. Jack and I were here for a mix of both…

What’s an onsen? 

An onsen is a Japanese hot spring and typically refers to bath houses or hotels that are built adjacent to one. We stayed in Naboribetsu which neighbors a resort town called Naboribestu Onsen. This town is at the base of a volcanic crater called Jigokudani with a large geyser and numerous natural hot springs.

Dozens of resort hotels have been constructed in Naboribestu Onsen, each offering bath houses that are open to the public. Jack and I spent all our time in the Daiichi Takimotokan onsen because it was the biggest, highest rated, and offered both outdoor and indoor pools. Views were of the Jigokudani valley and it was a great way to recharge some travel batteries. 

The one aspect of onsens that took some getting used to was that everyone was supposed to enter the thermal baths in the nude. Additionally, and logically, they were all separated by gender. It was awkward at first but quickly you realize that this is part of the culture.  

Mt. Fuji: 

After a few days in Naboribetsu Jack and I trained back down to Honshu, Japan’s largest island. Ten hours and five trains later we arrived at midnight to a village called Fujiyoshida. We booked a hostel for three nights here because of its close proximity to Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is an active volcano, is an iconic symbol for Japan, and we wanted to see if it was climbable. 

Standing roughly twelve thousand feet above sea level, this wasn’t an easy task. Our first attempt was a lot of fun but also a challenge. We started walking up from our hostel to the Yoshida trail head, passing a Kitaguchi-hongu Fuji Sengen shrine, and walking through endless forest. Elevation gained for hours and eventually we were forced to withdraw because the sun was setting. 

The Aokigahara Forest.

It was raining during our second day, so we decided on a hike through the Aokigahara Forest. Serene, lush, and mystical was this place. This is a popular destination for hiking and draws thousands of visitors a year. Ninety-nine percent of the forest’s visitors are people who simply just want to hike in the woods. I was a slightly on edge the entire time because Aokigahara has a nickname: The Suicide Forest. With soil created from hardened lava, Aokigahara is said to have spiritual powers.

For this reason, its become the world’s third most popular destination for suicide. I was hesitant to search deep into the woods, for fear of witnessing someone in the act. Fortunately, we were completely solo during our hike and it was quite a beautiful place. We did however, pass by trees with red ribbons tied to their trunks. A ribbon signified that a body had been discovered nearby and recently extracted from the forest. I walked out of the forest grateful to be alive and to have loving friends and family. 

During our final day, Jack attempted a second trip to summit Mt. Fuji. I was feeling less motivated and opted for a visit of the Chureito Pagoda instead. Jack took a bus to Station Four of the mountain and ended up catching some wonderful views. The sun was shrining that day so he captured some amazing photos. It was still the hiking off-season and we learned that hikes to the summit were closed due to the danger of ice and snow. 

Honorable Mention: Nara

Also, when we were still in Kyoto, we went to a small town called Nara with Kristen! This is a famous for Nara Park, where the deer are tame and like to receive snacks from humans.

Jack learned how to tame deer in Nara.


Celebrating our last weekend in Japan with out buddy Jae.

We ended our odyssey in Japan with a fun weekend in Tokyo. Jack’s good buddy Jae flew in from Seoul, making it even better. 

It was icing on our Japan cake and it tasted like Ichiran ramen fused with French electro thumping in the background. 

In what seemed like a flash, our straight to DVD movie through this interesting country reached its credits. It was a wonderful journey and only took five weeks to learn two phrases in Japanese (Thanks and hello). 

South Korea was in our sights and floating on our minds. 

Inside, I was intrigued because a new culture was waiting for us. 

Swirls of melancholy circled my consciousness because after South Korea a final plane would eventually be boarded. 

Soon we’d be going to perhaps the strangest and least familiar destination of our entire trip…



This was an epically long blog post, so thanks for your time and for reading. 

If you have any questions about places we visited in Japan, please feel free to contact me!

If you have any positive or constructive feedback for this post, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas 🙂

Have a wonderful day, I appreciate you a lot. Thanks for being you. 

Love and bye for now,


Photo courtesy of Erik Eastman (@erikeae) -Unsplash

How to Drift in Tokyo

At three in the afternoon the scenery around us started to transform.

Gone was the countryside. Away were the scattered towns. The quick glimpse of Mount Fuji was now a memory. The views from every window was now a sea of flashing lights and concrete. 

The doors of our train silently glided open and closed. Our personal space became a parade of shoulders brushing shoulders.

Kristen, Jack, and myself weren’t in Kyoto anymore.

We were now in Tokyo. 

My only knowledge of this city was through movies like Lost in Translation, Godzilla, and Akira. Sharing a cup of miso with Scarlett Johansson was unlikely. New experiences and feeling like a stranger in a strange place was looking probable. 

Waiting for a train.

Somewhere else in the city were our friends Rich and Stella. Jimmy would be joining us the following day. The Kyoto crew was about to reunite for a double dip in Japan’s capital.

Thanks to great company, proper research, and excellent recommendations from friends or family, we ended up with plenty of happy memories. 

Tokyo offers countless activities. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and not know how to plan a vacation there. Hopefully this blog post will help guide future visitors. 


Where to Stay in Tokyo

Tokyo is immense, so which ward should be a proper home base? Through our experience, the best wards to stay in Tokyo are Shibuya and Shinjuku. These are the commercial epicenters of the city which vibrate with lights, people, and energy. Countless bars, restaurants, and attractions are all within short train rides or walking distance. It’s also possible to stay in quiet neighborhoods in these areas.

What to Do in Tokyo

What can one do here? The answer is simple: Everything and anything. Here are some highlights from our time there:

Magic potions in AFURI.

Noshing The Night Away 

In Tokyo, one can feast like it’s a public holiday. Our two favorite places for ramen were Ichiran (Shibuya) and AFURI (Harajuku). Expect lines and to feed cash into a machine that resembles a jukebox. Genki Sushi (Shibuya) is a conveyer belt spot that’s inexpensive with a lively atmosphere. Every order is typed into a tablet and delivered on rocket-ships. Tsunahachi (Shinjuku) is where one should go if they’re craving tempura. Jae, a buddy who lives in Seoul, visited us in Tokyo and one place we ate at was Seirinkan (Meguro City). This is a pizzeria that brings Neapolitan flavors to Japan.

Genki Sushi
When it’s on a yellow plate, it must taste great!

Memory Lane 

Continuing the theme of satiating one’s appetite, an iconic institution in Shinjuku is Memory Lane. This is a complex of bars and restaurants ideal for someone looking to hide from the clamor of society.

Connected through narrow passageways, Memory Lane was established shortly after the second World War. Up until 1999 there weren’t any public restrooms here, so an alternative nickname to many is “Piss Alley.” Currently, over one hundred and fifty businesses operate in this tight quarters area.

On various occasions we took a late night stroll here and discovered an intimate bar that specialized in yakitori and pickled hornets. Order some grilled chicken rectum and cleanse the palate with a cure for a hairless chest. Coincidentally, next door was a soba noodle restaurant. It was so good that I ordered two bowls in one sitting.

Daytime Golden Gai.

Golden Gai

Looking for asylum and a chilled beer at the same time? You’re in luck! Similar to Memory Lane but less cordial, welcome to Golden Gai. Also in Shinjuku, it’s an immense grid of bars that are squeezed together. Most of the bars are cozy and connected via winding streets and mysterious alleyways.

Entering Golden Gai is similar to playing roulette: Some businesses charge “foreigner fees” and some might be filled with dubious locals looking to create trouble. The majority are perfectly fine and you can enjoy a beer with complimentary snacks. Either way, there’s a lot of character. 

Robot Restaurant

Occasionally it’s a appropriate for a viking queen to fire lasers from a machine gun at an attacking robot dinosaur. Enter the Robot Restaurant in Kabukicho and the vibe will be similar to a scene from a Mad Max musical. Robot Shows happen daily and sell out quickly. Expect a decent sized line but it’s worth it. Beaming lights, dancing neon samurais, and commanding drum lines are a perfect way to kick off the day.

Lawson, FamilyMart or 7-Eleven?

When one visits Japan it’s almost a guarantee that they’re going to eat ramen or drink sake. It’s also certain that they’ll frequent a convenience store at least a hundred times.

Three Japanese-owned chains are Lawson, FamilyMart and 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven dominates the convenience store market with almost three thousand locations in Tokyo alone. A street corner in Tokyo without at least one 24-hour store is similar to a house without a mailbox.

During our stay in Tokyo we visited so many Lawsons, 7-Elevens, and FamilyMarts that eventually we held heated debates about which company we liked best. Are you with team Lawson or team FamlyMart? We all agreed that Lawson people probably shouldn’t share a tempura with 7-Eleven people. 

Themed Cafes

Drinking coffee in a regular old Starbucks has become boring in Tokyo. The Harajuku ward offers a fresh alternative: Animal cafes. Jack, Kristen, and I visited an owl cafe one afternoon. We interacted with a dozen owls after sipping on matcha tea. If owls aren’t your thing then cat, hedgehog, puppy, and bunny cafes are scattered all over the city.

Additionally, Tokyo offers a hip Gundam Cafe for enthusiasts of the mecha anime series Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. The Akihabara ward is home to yet another themed cafe: Maid cafes.

Entering a maid cafe is like getting a small taste of being treated like a royal. These are like any other restaurant except all the waitresses are donning maid costumes and addressing you as “master” or “mistress”. Every table had it’s own “servant” and overall it was a strange interaction but something that everyone should do once. Alternatively, butler cafes also exist but aren’t nearly as popular. 

Myself, Jack, Kristen, and Jimmy at a secret location..
We met some cool people at a ramen restaurant! Bob and Linda Colombo came out to visit us in Tokyo.
Harajuku is for the crazies.


This isn’t our complete list of activities, but it’s a good starting point for anyone about to explore Tokyo.

Thanks to everyone who gave us tips for enjoying Tokyo. If Rich and Stella are reading this, sorry for not putting a photo of you guys here. It wasn’t anything personal, I simply didn’t have any. I had a great time with you both!

Thanks for reading this blog. You’ve just earned ten reading points. 😉

If you have any questions or have something to add, then please leave a comment or send me a message.

Once again, you’re looking fantastic.

Keep up the great work and have a wonderful day.