Tag Archives: travel tip

We’re Square Pegs in the Round Demographic of World Travelers

We don’t fit into the nomadic wanderer demographic of young explorers off to see the world. It’s taken us a whole lifetime of careers, marriage and kids to finally decide to shed all of our ‘stuff’ and set out to travel the world without a finite end.

Osaka_20140501_213051We didn’t even realize how atypical we were, not fitting into the mold. Folks “our own age” often admit they wouldn’t think of doing what we are doing. For most of them, traveling is centered around vacation time where they can catch the tourist attractions that a certain destination has to offer. They look forward to returning and enjoying the comforts of their homes after a holiday. I admit that when I was younger, I could hardly imagine moving to a foreign land as many of my University friends did.

Most of our friends are younger, and many of them have told us how they would love to be able to do what we are doing. Some have been inspired by our travels and have begun their own journeys. And many more are working towards being able to do so.

Osaka2014_0595Two or three weeks is often considered a long enough time to visit a place. We travel slowly, which is to say, we remain planted in a place for a few months at a time in order to better experience a destination. We try to integrate into the community, and experience their lifestyle. We rent an apartment, get a couple of used bicycles, join the gym and mix with the locals.

Staying in a Western hotel or being on a tour conducted in English does not interest us much. We would find it difficult to embrace the foreignness of another culture or tradition if we didn’t immerse in it. We did stay one night in a Best Western in Japan. There was little similarity to one in North America!

marketSanJoseCRWe shop at the local markets and try to duplicate some of the local recipes. This not only cuts down on costs but also makes it feel more like a home (especially when we can enjoy a bottle of micro-brewery sake with our meal!). We won’t be trying our hand at making ramen though, as we won’t ever be able to make that perfect stock. We’re still thinking how we would cook the enormous live octopus sold in the open markets.

Catching tourist attractions is not usually in our plan. We enjoy trying to integrate with the locals even if it becomes very entertaining for them, and subsequently for us. We like to get to know what makes them tick, and suppose that they’re wondering the same about us.

We don’t take the world or our place in it too seriously. We continuously explore who we are, and examine the world around us. We love to meet those who have enthusiasm for anything. Hearing about their stories and about their passions is always very interesting to us.

Even though neither of us has really walked the beaten path, this deep experiencing of other cultures and traditions changes us. I don’t feel that we are the same as we were a year ago. I figure that each new place changes us again and again.

We don’t look for the out-of-the-ordinary, but we often discover it in our travels. We meet many people who deeply touch us wherever we go. They begin as strangers and become those with whom we never want to lose  touch.  We’re often amazed and thrilled by people everywhere. Encounters like these, however brief, have a great impact on us. It’s one of the reasons we love to travel.


10 Ways to Make Traveling with a Companion Companionable

I’ve always thought that renovating a house or traveling together are true tests of compatibility. We’ve done a lot of house renovation, and now we’ve been traveling together for over a year. That means spending time together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway

Here are some suggestions that have worked well for us:

Discussion and mutual agreement must be the order of the day. For instance, in the ‘getting rid of possessions’ stage of travels, it must be agreed that the woman gets three suitcases and the man gets one. (What woman wouldn’t need a suitcase just for boots and shoes?)

Allow the partner with the impeccable sense of direction to lead. It’s preferable to remain calm and patient while waiting for the spatially aware partner to decide which way to go. After all, you’re not in any hurry and sometimes your best discoveries are when you’re lost. For sure, one of you is better at navigating and one of you prefers asking for directions. Kudos to the one who can find their own way, but the other is practising their fledgling language skills with the natives.

Osaka, Japan
Osaka, Japan

Take a hint from your partner when you’ve been approached by scam artists. Your partner may be intrigued by these people’s approach but realizes the impending scam and is obviously playing along. You want to hone those street smarts, especially in Shanghai.

Take rest during the day to ward off the weariness of new situations that require patience and attention. Prevent irritability of either party at all costs. Actually, carrying a supply of snacks, water and the indispensable Japanese fan is a travel asset. It’s akin to always carrying the diaper bag (if you have that experience) but without the diapers and extra change of clothes. I’m not admitting that we’re approaching second childhood, but snacks, water and a nap are always welcome.

Houtoung (cat town), Taiwan
Houtoung (cat town), Taiwan

Make no unilateral decisions unless one recognizes an obviously dangerous situation before the other. Decisions to do anything or go anywhere are made together. It’s great if you both want the same things and feel the same way about most everything. Sometimes though, one wants to shop for souvenirs and the other prefers to sail origami ships down the stream. Try taking turns, or maybe a compromise … sailing souvenirs downstream?

Recognize a performance well done. Compliments are encouraged if one remembers which restaurant had the amazing ramen and even how to find it. Recognize an accomplishment if one can read enough Hiragana to find the train station you need. It’s always nice to be appreciated.

Listening, listening and more listening to each other. We sometimes meet a person who just likes to talk. It’s apparent to us that they haven’t heard nor registered anyone else’s contribution to a conversation. Whenever this happens, it prompts us to inspect ourselves to make sure we are not guilty of the same. Listening and paying attention to each other is essential to companionable travel.

Remember that hardly anything is more important than joy, happiness and tomfoolery (and Tom’s sisters and brothers too). Is it really worthwhile to be contrary about anything, even the slightest points?

Be flexible and go with the flow. You never know what will present itself around the next corner. Sometimes you’re just too tired to bother doing something that your partner is suggesting, but if he or she is excited about something, it’s probably worth a try.

Don’t forget to sing and dance and enjoy every moment because, really, all we have are moments to live.

on the Sapphire Princess
on the Sapphire Princess

Shanghai’ed in Shanghai!

We really stick out in a crowd in some places of the world, like a cat in a dog park. In these places, I don’t even bother trying to blend in. I wear my blue Columbia hiking shirt, my white Panama hat and sling my old DSLR with the big lens over my shoulder. I thought about carrying a big flag that says “TOURIST” but maybe that’s a little too much, huh?

It’s not surprising, then, that we were stopped on the street in Shanghai by a couple of Chinese kids. They were very friendly, spoke English well and asked us to take their picture in front of some very unremarkable building. They struck up a conversation and then mentioned how they were going to a special Chinese tea ceremony. Since we were being friendly, they put the pressure on us to join them, until Deena finally gave me the old “Kiwanis Club elbow” and said we should move on.

The “Chinese Tea Ceremony” scam is one of a few popular scams in Shanghai. The unsuspecting “mark” is taken through side streets and back alleys to someone’s room, served a few different cheap teas and handed a huge bill. I suppose one could argue about the bill and threaten to call the police, but most tourists just pay the bill out of embarrassment.

Shanghai is a city that loves to prey on tourists. Fortunately, we were warned about the tea ceremony scam on board the cruise ship.

In case you go to Shanghai, here are some other common scams to avoid:

Tourists and the Shanghai Skyline
Tourists and the Shanghai Skyline
  • Art Student Exhibition:  A young “art student” will ask you to attend his exhibition, or perhaps some other special art exhibition. At the “gallery” you will either be pressured into buying art (like the Persian rug salesman) or at the end, handed a large bill hoping you’ll be too embarrassed to argue.
  • Short Change: You have to watch the Chinese merchants very closely as it’s not uncommon for them to try to short change you. Another Shanghai trick is to slip in a note from some other currency that looks similar but is not worth as much. They hope that, as a tourist, you’re not familiar enough with their currency to count the change correctly.
  • Black Taxi Scam: While the regular taxis in Shanghai are reasonably priced, the unofficial taxis don’t have meters. They look for tourists and either charge them ridiculous prices, rob them or worse. (To be fair, unlicensed taxis are common in many tourist destinations around the world.) Make sure the cab you enter has a meter.
  • Fake 100rmb Scam: This is popular among taxi drivers, but also can happen in shops. You hand them a 100rmb note and instead of making change, they pretend to be testing it but use a little slight of hand to substitute a forgery. Then they hand it back complaining you gave them a forgery. Now you’ve lost 100 plus you still have to pay the bill.
  • The Nut Cake Scam: In the marketplace, you might see a huge fruit cake that can be cut to size and paid for by the kilogram. No matter if you want a small sample, the merchant will cut a huge slice and then tell you it can’t be put back and you have to pay. Just stay away from the fruit cakes. Your aunt will send you one for Christmas anyway.
The beautiful City God Temple in Old Shanghai

There are other scams, but these are the most popular. Shanghai has a reputation for a good reason. There isn’t a lot of violent crime in the city, though. It’s pretty safe if you can avoid the scams and there are many interesting locations in the city to visit.