Advice, Coffee

The Recovering Coffee Drinker

Once upon I time I found myself in Missoula, Montana. The year was 2005 and I was a freshman at the University of Montana. I was the archetype of a typical freshman at an out-of-state school: An 18 year-old recently liberated from his parents. I was shy, self conscious, and awkward because I didn’t know many people.

This phase of my emerging adulthood could have been described as dorm-life because I shared a room with a guy named Jordan and a narrow two-foot walkway separated our beds. A more important marker for this phase of my life would be that I spent most mornings in a heavy curtain of mental fog. Caffeine was a foreign word to me at this time and the mere thought of consuming it didn’t make sense. I had grown accustomed to groggy mornings with a bagel and orange juice.  

Part 1: The First Taste 

On a chilly fall morning my wakeup ritual would be turned upside down. On this particular day I was groggier than usual, so cloudy in my mind that I felt delirious.  Desperation for a jolt of alertness ensued. In a deep stupor of fatigue I lurched my away through campus like a sluggish lemur and regained some form of focus upon arrival to a cafe called Just Chillin’. I needed a shortcut to waking up so I ordered a double shot mocha, my first ever espresso drink. 

The first sip was an invasion of flavors; chocolate, coffee, sweetness, slight bitterness. My heart started to pump a little faster and a rush of caffeine hit my brain. I felt alive. How the heck had been sleeping on coffee all this time?, I wondered. I was flying through campus, adrenaline pumped into my veins and I was living high in the mountains. At this moment I didn’t want to start the day with coffee, I needed it. Little did I know but this would be the beginning of a fifteen year steady relationship of coffee meets mouth. 

Part 2: The Loyal Dark Goddess

The love for coffee was so strong that it became part of my daily routine for years. The morning wouldn’t start until I drank my morning mocha. After a few years I replaced the rich whip cream and chocolate syrup for the bitterness of pure espresso. Americanos became the drink of choice and they fueled my inspiration on more than one occasion.  

My devotion to coffee transcended the act of drinking it. I dedicated blog articles and social media content to my affliction to the liquid goddess. I’d plan vacations on where I could drink this comforting black gold. As my dedication to this power liquid force grew stronger, so did my dependancy. The honeymoon with coffee reached its peak a couple years ago when I was averaging three or four shots of espresso in the morning (before 9am). The buzz wasn’t high anymore, it was necessary. I couldn’t face the world until I had consumed a few cups. 

Part Three: The Broken Heart

One morning I woke up exhausted. The fatigue was so heavy that I raced to the kitchen and started to boil some water in preparation of a french press. This was a habit that I started doing without thinking each morning. I drank a cup and nothing happened. I downed a second and nothing happened. I felt a dizziness from the caffeine but still was tired. This was a fluke I told myself and figured that I was simply in a temporary rut, until I took note over the next few months that indeed my body wasn’t favoring coffee like it used to. I noticed that the lows lasted longer and the highs weren’t fulfilling. Despite my continued fidelity to coffee I was mentally hoping for an escape. The dance between coffee and me was boiling over in my heart and I began to resent my need for this dark vice to fill my body in order to function. I was looking for my moment to jump ship. 

Part Four: The Breakup

Months later, I was on vacation with my girlfriend and her roommate in Klamath Falls, Oregon. I faced particularly difficult morning during this trip because once again the effects of a coffee buzz was absent even after a few cups from a French press. I was officially heartbroken by coffee. This cemented the desire to quit my coffee drinking habit. 

Two days later I found my window of escape. The three of us headed north to the Umpqua National Forest to camp for two days. This was it, I told myself, hold on to your boots. I decided to not pack any instant coffee or drink anything with caffeine during the camping trip. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone two days without coffee so I was already trembling just thinking about the withdrawals.

I was suffering, but two days in the woods, a hot springs, and topped off by a day in Crater Lake helped keep the urge to guzzle brown liquid at bay. Being in nature was very healing for my head and it served as a proper environment for recovery from coffee. Fortunately, no one was hurt during this process and I didn’t scream in yearning for coffee. 

Part Five: Freedom

It was only two days without coffee, but if I could go 48 hours without caffeine then I’d keep going. The momentum had started and with each passing day I felt more inspired to say goodbye to coffee. After only a few days my urges started to dissipate. My grogginess didn’t go away but the fatigue wasn’t as severe compared to when I was dependent on coffee.

I realized that I was trying to mask my natural sleepiness in the morning with too much stimulation. I decided that from that moment forward I’d embrace being sleepy. This last dance with coffee happened in early July so now it’s been two months without a craving. This was something that I never dreamed could happen, nor did I ever picture myself a non-coffee drinker.

I’m not totally free from caffeine: I’ve been converted into a matcha tea drinker and so far the relationship is very balanced with neither side becoming overly dependent on the other. 

Part Six: You Can Too!

The purpose of this article is not to bash on coffee. I still love it and have lots of fond memories from drinking it. I just know that I became too dependent on it and eventually I fell out of love for it.

If you feel the same way but don’t think you can quit, let me assure you that it is possible! I highly recommend starting your escape in nature and or among people who don’t drink coffee. My girlfriend and roommate are tea drinkers so this  helped me a lot. The first two days will be a challenge but if you can do that then the rest is a piece of cake. You might feel a sudden desire for coffee, but try to remember why you want to quit. I kept reminding myself this.

Try writing down why you’re leaving it and keeping the reasons on your phone, easy to access, so you can read them each time a craving arises. Finally, try to find something else that brings you that fulfillment. For example, the bitterness of matcha leaves has replaced the bitterness of a black coffee and this is a sensation that I enjoy savoring. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Coffee is a wonderful elixir and I happily drank it for many years, but I am really happy to not need it in my life anymore. 


Thanks for reading this blog post! Are you a recovering coffee drinker? How was the experience for you and how did you quit? I’d love to hear your comments!

Have a nice day,


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. 🙂



Love & Coffee In The Time Of Covid

From six feet away I knew she was the one,
My heart spun after the amber in her eyes locked with mine,
An invisible dart pierced my left side as my body didn’t know where to start,
The cotton protecting her face donned dotted designs,
I couldn’t see her lips but I was sure they were divine,
Underneath my bandana I smiled the whites of my teeth,
But she didn’t notice,
She responded with the bouncing of her feet,
Our parading bodies drew closer,
Too close for comfort,
I wanted to wave, to blink, to grunt, to do anything for her to think,
That maybe I could be her man,
A guy with hand sanitizer, toilet paper, stimulus cash, and clean hands,
But in a flash the mood shifted as she hurried across the street,
My heart fell to pieces as her shoes clamored echoes of defeat,
Not even a glance in my direction as our futures became distant,
In sadness I turned around, already reminiscent,
Of the sparkle in her eyes,
The flow of her long hair,
The…hair on her legs?
The…uh..strong looking calves?
I quickly faced forward – my stride as fast as the wind,
Because my poor vision caught eyes not with a her but a him,
Oh shit I said to myself, I’d been had,
No more going outside without a cup of coffee beforehand.

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.


Covid-19, Hacks, Ideas, Life, Random Thoughts

The Universe According to Zoom

It’s 8:25am on a Tuesday and I’m not wearing any pants.

I am wearing boxers and but they shouldn’t be seen in public.

The good news is that I’m indoors – only my fridge can judge me.

The bad news is that in five minutes I’ll have to meet my Spanish teacher for a class.

The disaster is escalating.

I need to put on a pair of pants, brew coffee, and brush my teeth. There’s not enough time to do all three in five minutes so I do what any logical human should do:

Make a pot of that sweet, delicious coffee nectar.

After pouring a cup of Joe, I race to my room, flip open my laptop, then connect to where my teacher hasn’t even started the lesson yet.

Sitting with my coffee, I tried to picture the last time I had to physically arrive to a classroom.

Back in the day (pre-lockdown), most of us had a routine that revolved around leaving our houses.

The world feels considerably different now and the feeling can be increasingly lethargic. Rather than focus our attention towards going out, we now need to stay inside. This is tough but doesn’t signify that our lives are finished. Despite being sheltered in our places, we don’t have to stop doing what made us feel connected.

The wonders of modern technology are here to the rescue.

Warming up to Zoom

unsplash-logoPhoto by Gabriel Benois

If you’d asked me a month ago what Zoom was, I would’ve responded that it was perhaps a pop group from South Korea. Little did I know but this videoconferencing application has nearly become a household name.

I was always a Skype guy so the mere thought of downloading Zoom made me want to shower away the guilt. Since most people I knew were now keeping in touch via Zoom I felt obliged to cross over but this was a rocky voyage. Luckily, the support of my girlfriend and dozens of repetitions of the mantra “Zoom is great, Zoom is better than Skype” led me to finally accept it into my life. I can now admit that Zoom is (gulp) useful.

Thanks to Zoom, Skype, or Google Duo, we can connect to our friends and family circles without the hassle of brushing our teeth.

Additionally, Zoom can also mitigate the yearning to break free of the shelter-in-place which in turn reduces putting ourselves (and loved ones) at risk.

A big reason why I’ve (semi) converted to Zoom is that the majority of hobbies I enjoy can still be done on this particular platform.

Dance Classes

For folks who used to attend weekly dance classes, chances are high that their teachers are now offering lessons online. Before social distancing, I used to frequent Fernanda Cedeno Dance & Fitness in San Rafael. Thankfully, Fernanda, Camillo, & and Jhonatan are teaching their classes on Zoom.


Many gyms across the US such as the YMCA are now providing various workout classes like yoga and zumba on Zoom. As a secondary option, Instagram is swarming with personal trainers and fitness influencers who post easy stay-at-home routines.

Meditation & Yoga

Spirit coaches, healers and life coaches are finding a spike in demand these days. Zoom has become a primary medium for them to lead free or inexpensive meditations. Additionally, a great source for virtual yoga classes is a portal called The Ranch.

School & Beyond

Schools worldwide have closed shuttered their doors and locked away their projectors. Students aren’t off the hook as Zoom has stepped in as an essential tool for teachers to keep the semester rolling. Also, educators who work for now closed private language companies are now offering group or individual classes via Zoom. Verbling is also a valuable resource for private language classes.

Cooking Classes

Expanding our knowledge in the kitchen is a great way to pass the time. A simple search on Bing or Google can yield exciting recipes. For those who desire some guidance, why not book a Zoom class from an interesting source like The Seasoned Chef? Food-centric website Delish also offers cooking classes through their Instagram account. Also, the Tasty Youtube channel is loaded with mouth-watering recipes.


Khuong Nguyen

To my knowledge Zoom or Skype haven’t been used for concerts, but Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have. Since the outbreak, countless singers, musicians and DJ’s have set up miniature stages in their living rooms to broadcast their music to their fans. A practical source of streaming live music can be found at the Stay at Home Fest website.

Zoom isn’t perfect; various reports of security flaws and data leakage have opaqued this service’s reputation. Because of this, sensitive information should not be shared on Zoom. If you feel uncomfortable about it then here is an interesting article for keeping keeping your Zoom meet-ups secure.

Thank you!

We don’t have a clear idea yet about when this lockdown will be lifted, but at least we have ways to remain occupied and maintain our hobbies.

Thank you for checking this post out! You’ve just spent five glorious minutes of your day reading.

If you’re looking for more to pass the time, here’s an article about staying positive during this situation we’re all in!

Have a wonderful day, and that mask you’re wearing is very becoming. 🙂

Also, if you use Zoom what is your opinion of it? Is it better than Skype?

Take care!

Advice, Hacks, Life

How To Stay Positive During The Coronavirus

Over the past handful of weeks the news, social media, and the majority of conversation topics have been hovering around a now infamous c-word. The taboo word is in the title of this post so we don’t have to repeat it again. Like you, I’m becoming aware of the severity of the issue. I’m not sure how you feel about the matter but inside my mind is overheating from reading, listening, and watching reports about the topic.

Depending on where you live you might already be under a shelter-in-place order, quarantine, or practicing social distancing. Whatever your situation is, we all have felt the effects of the c-word and it’s not making life easier.

On the one hand, this really is unfortunate and I deeply hope that no one who is reading this has gotten sick or knows someone who’s sick. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling down then watching the news to get even more depressed about what’s happening.

This being said, there is a positive side to all of this. We will prevail and overcome the challenges that have resulted in trying to “flatten the curve”. Being forced to be at home for an extended period of time as an opportunity to do some things that we’ve neglected, put off, or haven’t ever done before. We must stay positive and a good way to do this is through distraction. Here’s a list of some ideas of things we can do to pass the time while waiting for all of this c-word madness to go away.

Disconnect with Your Roommates

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Most of us don’t live alone. We either live with our parents, roommates or children. Rather than remaining plugged-in during this extended period of time, consider this a chance to connect more with each other. A puzzle, board game, card game, drinking game, cooking, or video game with the whole group will be a fun way to get over the at-home restlessness.

Call a Friend or Loved One

We all probably have at least one good friend or family member who we haven’t spoken to in a while. If we didn’t have much to say before, then here’s a great ice-breaker: Man that c-word really sucks right? Boom! You’ve got a good topic to chat about. Rather than liking a couple of their posts on Instagram or Facebook, I’m sure they would love to hear your voice.

Learn Something New

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

You said you’ve been wanting to learn Korean since the beginning of the year. Suddenly, with all of this downtime at home, the moment has presented itself to download some nifty apps like Duolingo or Memrise. They are either free or inexpensive so give them a whirl. Additionally, if you’re a cardholder at the local library, then you get free access to every online course for Lynda.

Organize Your House

That lengthy project to shuffle around all of your furniture or throw away expired items in the medicine cabinet makes a lot of sense right now. Also, we have years of memories hidden away either in external hard-drives or floating around in cloud storage. Maybe it’s time to dive in, see what’s all there, and organize them.

Organize Your Life

Organizing life can feel deflating, but it’s worth it!

If you’re like me, your life might be a speeding train that doesn’t have a clear destination. Perhaps you’re overdue to review the goals you’ve set for yourself, create a new ones, or have a deep brainstorming session about them. Whatever you need or want to do, I’m positive that this bonus time will work in your favor.

Get Creative

The next time you visit Safeway (one of the few places allowed to stay open in my area) I highly recommend investing in colored markers, paint brushes, or water colors – if you don’t already have these goods. Creating a work of art, no matter the skill level, is a fantastic stress-reliever. Once you get in a flow, then the hours pass by really quickly. Given the circumstances, I’m sure we all have plenty of inspiration right now.


Photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash

Speaking of flow, practicing or learning to meditate is a pretty awesome tool to help lower anxiety and boost concentration. Taking time between activities to meditate can be a nice little addition to your stay-at-home routine. Spotify has some great free guided meditations and for those interested in paying a little fee per month then Headspace is a nifty app.

Read Something

We all have a book sitting on the shelf that we’ve been meaning to open. Maybe we don’t have any books in our house so we must resort to going online for our literary pleasure. My favorite websites to pass the time (that aren’t news or social media) are: Medium, Culture Trip, Thrillist, Mental Floss, & McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. If you own an e-reader then your local library offers e-books for free and so does Project Gutenberg. There’s also a pretty cool blog called There Dan Was that critics are raving about as well. 😉

Write Something

Another source of creativity is writing. Maybe you’ve been meaning to start a book, right a memoir, a joke, or a blog to rant about that pesky c-word. Now’s your chance to let the writing juices drive in the carpool lane.

Be Thankful

This worldwide event has been scary and it might seem like life has taken a downward spiral. Remember, in spite of everything, that we still have shelter and a device for reading this article. We have loved ones and, contrary to what the news feeds us, life is still good. It’s important to give thanks for what we still have (which is a lot). There is always someone who has it worse and this change to our life is temporary.


Thank you for reading this blog post! There are countless other activities that we can all do to pass the time but just in case you’ve been stumped for inspiration I hope this post was useful. Have a wonderful day, wash your hands after reading, and stay safe. By the way, keep up the great work!

-Daniel Catena

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,


Fiction, Random Thoughts, Short Story

The Case of the Sneaking Rut

Once upon a time, under the covers of a bed not so far away, I found myself trapped.

Outside, the fall air was blanketed in fog and I was groggy, struggling to get the morning started. 

The sheets weighed like cinderblocks – they usually do but on this particular morning they were oddly stronger than normal.  

My arms trembled to break myself free. After a few revs the cerebral engine kicked into first gear as I launched the covers off my body and in a daze I lumbered downstairs. 

A series of steps later and soon I was face to face with my daily rocket fuel.

My loyal french press.

Without focusing, muscle memory had me opening a cabinet and twisting off the lid of a mason jar filled with ground coffee. My vision was blurry and hands were shaking. I erratically started digging and scooping tiny mounds of coffee into the press, and the blue linoleum all around me became tarnished as grounds escaped to the floor.  

It didn’t matter; this was time for coffee and to wake up.  

Not one, not two, but three massive scoops of Safeway Select ground coffee were necessary for this batch of brew. 

Water boiled on the stove then my frantic hand swirled the mixture together. A voice echoed from some far off corner of my consciousness as the liquid began to steep. 

Daniel, you’re in a rut.

I blinked and didn’t break eye contact with the metallic press, ignoring whoever that was who said that. 

In the background, the kitchen clock’s metallic hand became maddening. Once every second my serenity would become disrupted by a tick. 

Finally I pushed on the steel lid on my coffeemaker, plunging it deeper into the canister and dividing the grounds from the hot water. 

A wonderful waterfall of caffeine poured into a white mug.

One sip, then another, then one more for good measure. 

Usually the mere flavors of coffee would instantly perk me up but this morning was different. 

Nothing, absolutely nothing. The tide of drowsiness wasn’t receding; it was flooding all over the morning’s picnic. 

I poured a second cup of java. 

Oh frick I thought to myself. This was the moment I was fearing since the day I started my successful passion project many years ago of drinking an endless supply of coffee provisions: the caffeine stopped working.

After multiple tastes it became clear that that no matter how many cups of coffee were drank that it wouldn’t be enough to mask the hard truth: 

Maybe this was a rut.  

It was time for a new plan of action. 

I plopped my torso and legs onto the floor. I started to push myself up and back down in fury. If the sweet nectar of caffeine couldn’t galvanize my body then surely some bursts of physical activity would.

Up, down. Up, down. Up, down.

My arms creaked in harmony with the floor as momentum started to dissipate. Gravity became the victor as my body went limp. The only place that escaped the muscular burn was the right side of my face as it pressed against cold kitchen. 

Damn my feeble 32 year old body I cursed. In a pant I lifted myself up and down a few more times but it wasn’t to any avail. Exercise wasn’t doing to dig me out of this internal hole that seemed to be shoveling dirt into my face. 

I sat up feeling lost and already missing the good old days of a caffeine buzz. 

This was a textbook case of being stuck in a rut.  

Neither coffee nor exercise could appease the inner vacancy. There was something missing and I needed another remedy. I needed…

…to write. 

Natural light entered my world as I opened the blinds, returned to the coffee table, flipped open my laptop and oxygen seeped into the deepest corner of my lungs. 

A blank Word document. 

Without thinking my fingers started to dance across the keyboard. 

In times like these what the heck could I write about?

A flurry of tapping and spaces and periods started to consume me. My roommate aka-my dad walked by and I only greeted him with a neanderthal-like grunt. Somehow words crept into the territory of sentences and eventually something happened:  

I started to wake up. 

The kitchen clock was probably still ticking but the only important thing was filling the blankness of the word document in front of me. Moments later I looked up and noticed that hours had passed. Whatever it was I had written was suddenly finished and a wave of relief came over me. My hands needed a break and inside the flooding was at bay. 

This exercise was firstly just a form of therapy and way to distract myself. However, after a quick skim of the draft I actually liked it.

A thought bubbled up into my head:

Dare I share this with the universe? 

I decided to not wait a second later and publish it in my blog, before waves of doubt started to swell. Clicking open my page I noticed that it had been months since publishing anything. 

My blog didn’t need to give me a lip service for its lack of attention because the aftertaste from all that coffee was from a blend called remorse. It had been a neglected digital puppy from a lazy wannabe verbose owner. The inspiration garden had been suffering a drought so nothing had been motivating me to write. 

After copying, pasting, and finally clicking the “publish” button I realized that we don’t have to be inspired to create something, we just need to start and eventually inspiration will come. Going with the flow and seeing what happens often times works in interesting ways. 

A small green notification told me that the article had been successfully published to the world. 

Looking out the window the fog was fading and it appeared that the day would actually be beautiful. A mental scan told me that the rut was thankfully gone. The voice came back.

Daniel, this might be one of the best days ever.

I was going to brush my teeth, get the day started, but impulsively I sat back down, opened the laptop and clicked open the article. 

I had to read it again…just one more time for good measure. 

I read the opening sentence to myself:

 “Once upon a time, under the covers of a bed not so far away, I found myself trapped.”

After a moment I decided to close the laptop and get going. This was all I needed. 

It ended up being a truly wonderful day.


Thanks for reading, I like your style!




Four Important Life Lessons from a Lost Passport

In the not so distant past, I found myself in Almería, Spain. 

Famous for providing the setting for countless Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s, Almería’s other claim to fame is its vast Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park and long stretches of stunning Mediterranean coastline.

Visitors are frequently drawn to Almería because of the inspiration mentioned above. 

I spent less than a day there…

…but not for any of these reasons.

downtown Olula del Río.

One of my best friends is a teacher there, so I wanted to pay him a visit. 

With little experience in this part of the country, I was excited to see what the hubbub was all about and to catch up my friend David. 

I also was really excited to get my passport back.

Three days prior, I committed the first of four blunders. 

What did I learn: Always be aware of the location of your personal items.

In a sleep deprived and jet-lagged stupor, I forgot my passport in my friend David’s car after he picked me up in Alicante then dropped me off in Murcia. It was a quick reunion as he continued to his home in Olula del Río, a small town in Almería. I had just arrived from Oakland so it was natural to be in a daze. A few days later I realized that my passport was 100 miles away. David wouldn’t be visiting Murcia anytime soon so I knew the solution to my dilemma:

Go to Almería, collect my passport.  

The sun was sizzling overhead and a few hours via bus later, I was greeted by David along the long marble promenade of Olula del Río. A native of Gijón, David teaches in Olula but also spends time in Murcia. We spent the day exploring his town and also neighboring Macael. These municipalities are famous in Spain for their massive quarries of marble that encompass the nearby landscape. Marble from Macael and Olula is mined and sold all over the world; also in Macael a replica of the Lion Fountain of the Alhambra in Granada is situated in one of its centralized plazas.

Since Macael is a village of about five thousand people, everyone we encountered knew David. Current and former students would come up and chat with us in the street and it was noticeable that David was a role model for the youths of this town. It was an inspiring sight. 

It had been almost a year since we’d last seen each other, so naturally the next step was to catch up over beers. 

Out and about in Macael.

As stated before, time was of the essence so my time in Almería lasted just a single night then I had to return to Murcia the next morning. 

David had to work so my best and only option would be to take the same bus that brought me to Olula. 

This is where my second mistake happened. 

What did I learn: Always make sure you phone is charged.

I thought that my phone was properly connected to one of David’s wall outlets during the night. 

It wasn’t. When I woke up at 5ish in the morning to catch the early bus to Murcia, I noticed that my phone had about 7% battery life. 

My third and final mistake followed me soberingly as I stumbled out of David’s apartment and staggered through Olula before daybreak. 

Later in the afternoon I had back-to-back reunions with friends planned so it was imperative to return to Murcia early. I was being overly ambitious and shouldn’t have made so many arrangements. From Olula, only two buses per day went to Murcia; one leaving at 6:15am and another at 1:15pm. In my mind it would have been too late to leave at 1:15pm so I hustled for the early-bird bus. 

What did I learn: Don’t overbook yourself and make promises you don’t know you can keep.

So there I was, sandwiched between my desire to do too many things and branchless palm trees, standing at a bus stop.  

My breathe was faintly visible as I pulled on the straps of my backpack, feeling it press against my upper back. Tucked away was my beloved passport.

The sky remained a tint of shadowy violet. My phone’s battery didn’t survive long but based on when I left David’s place, I knew that there were a few minutes to spare. 

Not a soul was on the street except myself and the crescent moon overhead. 

To the right of the bus stop was a wide roundabout and I knew that the bus would be approaching from that direction. At least that’s what I assumed. It would drop off whoever else was crazy enough to be awake at this hour across the street, drive up the downtown’s primary street, then loop back to where I was and pick me up. 

My eyes felt like stones as I narrowed on where I presumed the bus would be arriving from. 

The minutes felt like an eternity but luckily I knew I was in the correct position to catch a ride. 

Shortly afterwards two beams of light shone from a corner of the roundabout and blowing into my vision was a buzzing coach. 

This is it is what I convinced myself. 

Across the street, at the very edge of the roundabout, the brakes of the bus screeched to a halt. The doors flapped open and a trickle of passengers slowly scattering out onto Olula walkway opposite to me. 

I stayed on my side of the street, thinking that I was visible.

What did I learn: Don’t assume anything.

The doors closed and the driver shifted the vehicle into gear, veering sharply to the left. My mouth dropped as it looped along the roundabout and skipped over my stop all together. The rearview lights disappeared a few seconds later and yet again I was alone on a street corner.  

In my head I was waving, chasing, yelling, or doing anything to get the driver to notice me. In reality I was frozen like a statue.

Up the promenade a bodega employee started to pour soapy water onto the sidewalk. 

Without a charged phone and seven hours before the next bus arrived, I was a Thanksgiving turkey that had just become a victim of a merciless basting.

Only the stranger mopping the sidewalk and perhaps an overlooking rooster could smell the betrayal.

A wash of blue was encompassing the sky above as the stars started to dissolve into the morning. 

Without notice, exhaustion was creeping up beside me. It was trying to win the race against internal fury for being stranded. 

Despite my despair, I was impressed that the marble could still sparkle at this horrible hour as my vision lowered to ground. 

I wanted to blame the bus driver for pulling such an audacious maneuver. Those darn Spanish power outlets didn’t charge my phone. Who the heck installed the dim light posts on this street for crying out loud?

In the end, however, I knew that the blame could only be pointed in one direction: at myself.

I put myself here.

The planting of careless acts had now blossomed into a beautiful flower of repercussions. I accepted my errors and my fate. The sun would be shining soon and eventually I’d drink about three coffees in the bodega next door and life would be normal again. 

There was still another bus and it would be ok.

With my eyes closed I heard the motors of a couple passing cars. The third vehicle that came by didn’t leave my consciousness, it continued into vibrating in idleness.

I looked up and there was a confused bus driver staring at me with the door open. It the bus I was waiting for. He seemed surprised to find someone standing at this hour at a bus stop in Olula del Río. The subtle caution on his face meant that he probably guessed I was escaping the law, but once I flashed euros he didn’t stop me. 

I paid whatever the fair was and gloriously took a seat. 

The previous unknown bus driver had been proven innocent for the crime of screwing me over. A sigh of relief washed over me for not wishing this unknown person misfortune.

This was all maybe a miracle or just a coincidence, but I thanked Mother Earth and the travel Gods for having mercy on an me. Just to play it safe I also made plans to call my grandmother.  

I sank into my seat, bid a mental farewell to the charming little town of Olula, then became absorbed in the landscape. 

What wonderful marble… 

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 🙂