Top Questions, Answered

Since I am getting asked a lot of the same questions, I thought I’d just pre-emptively answer them here:

  1. The German and I got along great!  I was worried that non-stop, exclusive companionship would be too much for one (or both) of us, but it wasn’t a problem. We travel really well together and are similar in many ways and complimentary in the others. While we are both independent people, I can’t imagine being apart for 3 months and am already looking forward to the first time I can go visit him. (And no, we didn’t get engaged/married.)
  2. It’s very hard to pick a favourite stop on our trip. Lapland was a highlight – we got to experience what it’s really like to live there (thanks to our amazing hosts), and the midnight sun made it especially unique. I also loved our gorilla trek in Rwanda – being so close to a family of wild gorillas was incredible, and we learned so much about the country’s history. Melbourne felt most like “home”, with friendly people, lots of great food & drink, and evidence of creativity everywhere.
  3. Yes, we did get tired of traveling at times, but it was a temporary feeling.  We didn’t spend every day running from one tourist attraction to another (like you would if you only had a week’s vacation). We slowed down our pace when we felt fatigued, and adjusted our itinerary to suit our mood. Staying in places for a month or longer (as opposed to just a few days or weeks), allowed us to get to know a place and settle in a bit.
  4. It cost far less than you think.  We did have a lot of frequent flier miles which helped with moving from one continent to another, but we used budget airlines or trains to move within Europe or Asia, and then public transit for getting around within cities. Petsitting helped offset some accommodation costs and was a lot of fun! While we certainly weren’t traveling like backpackers fresh out of college, we spent a lot less money by spending a little more time researching things. Being flexible with plans helped keep costs down, and we spent our money more thoughtfully when we went out. (Protip: fancy lunches are much more affordable than fancy dinners.) We also balanced expensive locations (Europe) with cheaper ones (Southeast Asia).
  5. We don’t know where we are going to live/what happens in the Fall. The German is spending the summer at The Recurse Center, where he has already made a lot of new connections and the experience will likely result in new opportunities for him. I will be contracting in the Bay Area, where I have lots of friends and former colleagues doing interesting things. We do have one-way tickets to London in mid August (because that’s when his tourist visa expires), but are taking the summer to see how we feel before making any decisions.

So what happens to this blog? I am not sure just yet…. I will probably keep it going, but update it less frequently (since reading about going to work is far less interesting than adventures in foreign hospitals or hedgehog cafes).

I have really enjoyed sharing the trip with all of you, and continue to be amazed that anyone finds it interesting… thanks for indulging me!

What I Learned in 13 Months… 

This trip was never intended to be a big “spirit quest”, though I often joked with my friends that I was winning the mid-life crisis contest since I left my great job and fantastic apartment to travel around the world with my European Boy Toy (ha ha).

Before we left on this journey, I had reached a point where there was no work/life balance. It was constant working, accompanied with a long commute and no energy left to see friends or enjoy the city.  My main hobby was (online) retail therapy, and teaching one Zumba class per week took all of my remaining energy. This trip seemed like a good way to hit the reset button on a lot of habits.

So here are some of the big lessons I learned during our travels:

When it comes down to it, what I really need to be comfortable is: tasty food, decent wifi, warmth, and regular access to a washing machine.  Places like Borneo, where there just wasn’t very good produce or decent food, got old quickly… I don’t need gourmet cuisine at every meal, but as a vegetarian, fresh ingredients are important. I love to enjoy a good meal and eating just for sustenance makes me sad.

We relied so heavily on connectivity, for staying in touch with people and entertainment, that I quickly learned that decent wifi could make up for a lot of other accommodation shortcomings… without it, every less-than-optimal aspect of our situation became amplified.

I was pleasantly surprised that I was just fine without a lot of clothing (as long as I had regular access to a washing machine).  I only packed things that I loved, so I never got tired of them. And as The German pointed out, I was still allowed to buy things… they just had to be able to fit in my luggage. I did rotate things out along the way, especially once we were done with all the safari gear, but otherwise shopping became a rare treat as opposed to a stress-relieving habit.  (I am sure Gilt is lamenting my disappearance.)

I was worried that I would feel lost without my job… what would I say to people when I introduced myself? How would I spend my time? Thankfully, I was relieved to discover that work doesn’t define me.  The “what do you do?” question is only central to American conversations and came up much less frequently in other places. And while I certainly like to feel productive and always want to learn new things, there were many other ways to achieve this. I rarely felt bored and being in new places meant that just walking to the grocery store could be an adventure.  It was nice to be able to leisurely spend time reading the news while drinking coffee, instead of rushing from one thing to another as I previously did.

Dancing always makes me happy. In Melbourne, I was going to multiple classes per day and I loved it. In Ubud, I had daily access to a studio where I could work on new choreography. Even a “bad” dance class was a good learning experience. When I return to work, I need to continue to make Zumba and other dance classes a priority, even if I am stressed and tired.

Friends are important, and it’s hard to make new ones when you’re not working and constantly on the move. It was always amazing to meet up with old friends in various places, and FaceTime dates with my friends in SF were always a treat.  Zumba was a great outlet for me to meet people, but other than the odd tech meet-up, The German struggled to connect to like-minded people.  Once we discovered the co-living places with built-in communities, we couldn’t go back to isolated AirBnBs. Wherever we settle, it needs to be a place where we already have a lot of friends or will easily be able to make some.

Roughing it can be good for you (though it doesn’t need to be to the extreme of climbing Kilimanjaro). The positive side of bad meals or crummy accommodation is that it helped reset our expectations for the next spot.  Despite how it may have appeared in this blog (since posts about us making omelettes in a tiny kitchen would be pretty boring), fancy dinners became a rare treat that we really appreciated, and my first trip to the cheese counter at Whole Foods was particularly joyful after 4 months in SouthEast Asia.


Now the real test will be if I can hold onto this perspective now that I am back in SF for a few months…


Rachel’s Country Cheat Sheet

Every time we change countries, I find myself scouring multiple resources to cover all the basics.  I’ve summarized them here in case it helps anyone else:


Speak English? Yes, communication was easy
Vegetarian-friendly? Extremely, especially in Ubud
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? No, but ice is fine since the supply is quality-controlled by the government
Do I need cash? Yes. Visa & Mastercard are accepted in some places, but will add 2-3% surcharge for using them.  Cash is handy for taxis, markets, and many cafes are cash only.
Tipping 25-30,000 in spas, 10% in restaurants if no service charge has been added, round up for taxis. Hotels typically have a service charge built in but you could tip anyone who has provided exceptional service.
Uber Highly controversial and nearly impossible to use due to the local taxi mafia. Best to pre-arrannge transport from the airport, then either rent a scoot or get your hotel to help negotiate rides.
Favourite Drink Coconut Frappe from The Elephant


Speak English? Mostly – though Spanish is very helpful
Vegetarian-friendly? Not really
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Yes – many places don’t take cards
Tipping 10% in addition to the service charge (only if service was good), 10% for taxis
Uber No
Favourite Drink Cava

Cape Town

Speak English? Yes 
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Not really
Tipping Wages are low so 10-15% in restaurants (if no service charge added), 10% for everyone else
Uber Readily available and much cheaper than taxis; public transit isn’t generally safe for tourists
Favourite Drink South African wine – delicious and cheap!


Speak English? Pretty much everyone speaks English, and Google Translate works well for signage/grocery stores
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping No
Uber Yes, at least in Copenhagen but public transit is good and the locals all mainly use bikes.
Favourite Drink Wine


Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – hummus and falafel galore!
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Only for taxis
Tipping 10-15% in restaurants; round to the nearest 5 or 10 for taxis
Uber Yes, but it is actually more expensive than taxis, which are government-subsidized.  The metro is the cheapest transit, and very easy to use… best to take the metro as much as possible then supplement with a taxi
Favourite Drink Whatever you brought in from duty-free. As a tourist, you cannot buy alchohol outside of hotels and drinks prices are steep.


Speak English? Most people do and Helsinki is fairly easy to get around, but you will struggle in grocery stores. Google Translate is not very useful.
Vegetarian-friendly? Surprisingly, yes.
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping Round up in restaurants with good service and for taxi drivers
Uber Locals say there are lots of issues with the police, so best to stick with taxis/public transit
Favourite Drink Long Drink: a fizzy gin & grapefruit drink that comes in a can


Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Easily gorge yourself on pasta and gelato
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Yes, for taxis and some cafes.
Tipping Round up in restaurants with good service and for taxi drivers
Uber No and taxis only stop at specified locations for pick-up. You can walk almost anywhere or use AppTaxi (which works like Uber)
Favourite Drink Aperol Spritz!


Speak English? Only in Paris. Even high school French will be helpful in other cities, as is Google Translate
Vegetarian-friendly? Not really, but the cheese is exceptional
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping 10% in restaurants for great service, 10% for taxis
Uber Yes for Pairs, No for smaller cities
Favourite Drink Champagne, of course!


Speak English? Most people do, so even if menus are in German, waitstaff can help translate. Getting around is easy.
Vegetarian-friendly? Shockingly, yes (but you might need to ask for something to be made special for you in restaurants)
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Yes – a lot of places don’t take international cards, especially in Berlin
Tipping 10% in restaurants (at most), round up for taxis
Uber Yes (in Berlin, anyways), but public transit is good and easy to use.
Favourite Drink Gluvine at a Christmas Market – tasty, and it helps keep you warm


Speak English? Not really but moreso in Tokyo. Japanese are often better at written than spoken English, so when in doubt, write it out.
Vegetarian-friendly? No.  It will be tough to avoid fish broth or bonito flakes
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Yes – it’s not uncommon for smaller restaurants to be cash-only, many subway ticket machines don’t take cards, and food stalls are all cash.
Tipping No, and it is generally considered insulting to do so.
Uber In Tokyo, but it’s the same price as the taxis (expensive) and you are better off with public transit.
Favourite Drink Sake!


Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – Indian food is particularly good
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No – Apple Pay works well (even on The Tube), and cards are accepted everywhere (though make sure to ask the cabbie before driving away)
Tipping Up to 10% in restaurants if no service charge is added; round up for taxis
Uber Yes, but taxis know the city better and are always available, The Tube is usually the fastest and cheapest option for getting anywhere.
Favourite Drink Sparkling wine by the bottle in pubs, or the occassional pint of cider


Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes, though it’s helpful to know which local dishes are possible without meat. Make sure to specify “no fish or meat” or try to find a vegetarian hawker centre.
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes (in large cities)
Do I need cash? Yes – many places don’t take cards, and hawker centres all require cash
Tipping No
Uber Yes, and are much better than taxis, who are known for scamming tourists
Favourite Drink Gin & tonics – they make terrible drinks there so pick something that’s hard to mess up.


Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – pretty much every restaurant has adequate vegetarian options
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? You can mostly get by on Apple Pay, which will save you the hassle of signing every time you use your card. Cash is handy for farmer’s markets, which is where you should buy your groceries if possible.
Tipping Not expected, especially if there’s a service charge added but 5-10% for great service or throw a coin in the tip cup; round up to the nearest dollar in taxis if they are deserving.
Uber Yes, though trams & trains will be faster if that’s convenient 
Favourite Drink Australian Wine or a Flat White


Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – though beware of refried beans, which often have meat in them
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? No – brush your teeth with bottled water, avoid ice unless you know it was from bottled water
Do I need cash? Many places take cards, but you’ll want small bills (either pesos or dollars) for tipping, especially at resorts. You can get by with dollars but it will be pricier than using pesos.
Tipping Restaurants 10-15%, spas 15-20%, give a few coins if someone bags your groceries for you (that is often their only income), no tipping for taxis, private transfer drivers should get about 100 pesos for good service on a longer drive
Uber Not in Playa del Carmen or Cancun
Favourite Drink Margarita, naturally

San Francisco

Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – just about any restaurant can accommodate any crazy dietary restrictions
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping 15-20% in restaurants, 10% for taxis
Uber Readily available and cheaper than taxis, though BART/MUNI might be faster
Favourite Drink Artisan cocktails in a speakeasy bar, or margaritas at Tacolicious


Speak English? Depends. Taxi drivers may not but you can get by with the basics everywhere else.
Vegetarian-friendly? No. It’s a nightmare.
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping No
Uber No.
Favourite Drink Sochu


Speak English? Depends. Taxi drivers don’t – get your accommodation address written in Chinese so you can always get home.
Vegetarian-friendly? Not really. Din Tai Fung is always a safe bet and there are a few vegetarian Chinese restaurants, but otherwise expect surprise meat in vegetable dishes.
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? No
Do I need cash? Only for taxis
Tipping No
Uber No. Car services require a China phone number or credit card
Favourite Drink Tea


Speak English? Yes – it’s the national language
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – Indian food is particularly good
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Not really… only for hawker centres, or taxi fares are cheaper if you pay cash.
Tipping No, unless you had exceptional service in a restaurant, then leave up to 10%.
Uber Readily available and cheaper than taxis, though the metro is fast, cheap, perfectly punctual and so clean.
Favourite Drink TWG Tea


Speak English? Most people do.  Google Translate works well for grocery stores, menus, etc.
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes, but best to check the menu before you pick a place to eat.
Drive on the… Right (but people walk on the left)
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping 5-10% in restaurants if there’s no service charge added
Uber Yes, but there’s plenty of good public transit
Favourite Drink Aperol Spritz – why hasn’t this caught on in the US? It’s so refreshing!


Speak English? Pretty much everywhere
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? No, but ok for brushing your teeth
Do I need cash? Yes – food stalls all require cash and many stores don’t accept cards, but those that do usually accept Apple Pay
Tipping Almost never
Uber Technically works but doesn’t seem like there are many cards
Favourite Drink Boba tea!


Speak English? Hotel staff and restaurants that cater to foreigners do, street food might require some gesturing. You can get by, though.
Vegetarian-friendly? It’s doable but takes some effort to avoid fish sauce, especially with street food.
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? No
Do I need cash? Yes – food stalls all require cash and many stores don’t accept cards.
Tipping Up to 10% in restaurants if no service charge is added, 50-100 baht for a massage, a little extra for taxis driver (provided they don’t try and scam you)
Uber Works in Bangkok but we had many problems with drivers getting lost and taking ages to pick us up – factor in extra time.  The BTS Skytrain is easy and cheap.
Favourite Drink Coconut Shake: ice, coconut water and coconut meat blended together – yum!


Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes, though best to check menus
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Sometimes – some cafes are still cash-only
Tipping 5-10% in restaurants if a service charge isn’t added, round up for taxis
Uber Yes
Favourite Drink Sprtiz, especially the variation with lemon & elderflower


Speak English? You can get by, especially in places that cater to tourists.  English & Russian are common.
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? No
Do I need cash? Yes – hotels take cards but don’t expect many other places to, even in big cities.
Tipping 5-10% in restaurants if a service charge isn’t added, round up for taxis
Uber Works great in Ho Chi Min City, but be careful not to accidentally request a motorbike.  Outside HCMC, you’ll need to use taxis. (Insist they use the meter.)
Favourite Drink Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Distance is hard sometimes…

Being so far away is a double-edged sword.  With US politics being so depressing and overwhelming, its nice that I can just step away from the internet and have a break from it all (which I am assume is much harder to do if you’re physically in the US).

Its a different story when the news is more personal. In the same day, I found out that 2 wonderful people had passed away. When things like this happen, I really feel the distance… 12-15 hours time change makes it difficult to connect with anyone. And while Facebook used to be an adequate medium for staying in touch, its now a relentless source of bad news – death, sickness, hate crimes, and panic-inducing political updates. Its more painful than comforting to wade through it all.

Aunt Ellen was quite old and had been suffering from Alzheimers for years. Even after she no longer recognized anyone, she was always kind and full of joy. She always knew what to say or do to make the people around her happy.

When I was younger, her house was always the most fun – we would get the dogs fired up and have them run after me, skidding across the floors and barking.  She had a room full of pachinko and some antique parlour games that I loved to play with… one day, I accidentally pulled one over onto myself and was crying because I thought I broke something valuable, but her concern was just that I was ok.

She was the kind of person who sent me a fondue pot, just because its frivulous and fun she knew I’d love it. She gave me the ring off her finger because I commented on how much I liked it. And when my grandfather was dying, she insisted on taking me to lunch away from the depressing hospital waiting room, because she knew I needed a break. I wish I tried harder to do more for her.

Kit was only a few years older than me. He had been battling cancer for several years, and recently taken a turn for the worse. Though he was a quiet person, he was outgoing in his own way and part of such a large community of folks.  He & Kirk came to my Zumba class regularly, were always out dancing at Space Cowboy events, and willing to attend any costume party (no matter how ridiculous the theme). I don’t think I ever saw Kit without a smile on his face.

His husband, Kirk, has been unbelievably strong throughout all the chemo treatments, and did everything he could to help Kit make the most of his last days.  I can’t even begin to imagine how he’s feeling or how he managed to be so brave.  I hope he’s surrounded by some of the many people who love him and loved Kit – my heart breaks for him.



Phase I: Complete!

We wrapped up our time in Europe with a visit to Duisburg, home of The German. His parents are super-nice, though its always a bit tough because they don’t speak English and I only know a little tourist German and he is perpetually exhausted from playing translator.

All in all it was a nice way to finish our European adventures – he got to visit his folks and collect some important mail, while I got a fix of his Mom’s excellent potato salad. Next is a stop in SF for 9 days to see all of our SF friends, eat as much Tacolicious as possible, and prep for the next phase of travel (which starts in Rwanda).

I can’t believe we’ve been on the road for 3 months already! Here are some (self-indulgent) observations about how its going:

I’m watching far less tv. I think this is mainly because I have more mental and physical energy for other things now that I’m not constantly working and commuting 3-4 hours per day. This doesn’t mean I didn’t see the full season of Game of Thrones (despite having to jump through some VPN hoops to my make HBO Now subscription work – the electronic distribution laws need a major overhaul.) And I still indulge in the odd Netflix binge when the weather is poor or I’m feeling lazy, but overall, I’m spending a lot less time watching tv.

We met fewer people than I expected… but we saw many more friends! Sure, we would chat with the odd person while we were in line for something, but we really didn’t meet very many new people. However, we saw far more friends than I expected! Between Apple colleagues, developers we met through Apple, friends who live abroad, or friends who happened to be on vacation abroad, we never went more than a couple days without seeing someone we knew. To get quality time with all these folks that I truly enjoy was really the best part of the trip so far.

I’m far less productive than I thought I’d be. All of those things I always said I’d do if I had more time? Still haven’t done them. (I haven’t even managed to make this blog look decent – sheesh!) Some of this is excusable – daily life takes a lot longer when you’re in a strange place and don’t speak the language. Things like grocery shopping can take hours instead of minutes. And I have a lot more travel planning to do on a regular basis. However, some of this lack of productivity is due to having fewer external forces committing me to things. And I’m sleeping too much. So I’m in the process of correcting this, starting with setting an alarm each day. (8 hours of sleep is plenty.) And I’m reading a lot more.

I don’t miss work but I do miss dancing. I really thought I’d miss all the activity and importance of work, or telling people that “I work for Apple”, but thankfully it seems that work doesn’t define me as much as I thought it did. It felt weird to watch the annual developer’s conference from the outside, and I still love discussing apps with people, but I am not feeling completely lost without having a job (which I was initially concerned about). What I really miss is dancing on a regular basis. It’s much harder to motivate to do Zumba on my own when I’m not prepping to teach a class. I have actually done some spontaneous bellydancing (in our AirBnB) and worked on a few new Zumba routines, but its less satisfying when I don’t have anyone to share it with. Starting with Berlin, I’ve made dance a priority and I’m going to do my best to make it happen regularly, even with language differences…

… which leads me to the next point:

I need to take more risks. The problem with my nature of constantly planning everything and having all of this technology at our disposal means we’re very comfortable – which is both good and bad. Yes, we have probably avoided some disgusting accommodation or regularly enjoyed decent meals, but it also means I’m not pushing myself to grow enough. This isn’t supposed to be a year-long relaxing vacation – I want to come away feeling like I really lived it. So I’m going to take dance classes even though I can’t understand what the instructor is saying. And I’m going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, despite my worries about altitude sickness and the fact that it involves camping. And basically I’m going to say “yes” all the time, even if I’m not sure if I’ll like something. If nothing else, I’ll have a funny story for you all.

I can’t believe people are actually reading this blog! I expected my family would (Hi Mom!), but quite frankly, I’m surprised that so many of my friends are reading it, let alone strangers! So thanks for all the encouragement – I’ll certainly do my best to keep it going.


Now we’re headed into an action-packed 9 days in SF to see all of my SF loved-ones, attend an epic wedding for two men I adore, and eat all of the things! Then we head to Africa, where it will certainly be very different…

There’s an App for That

Having recently given a couple tips to traveling friends, I thought it was worth posting what’s become most valuable to me now that I’m on the road, and often on a limited bandwidth diet/poor wifi connection.

Sidenote for app developers: I have a newfound appreciation for apps that have a great offline experience. Its amazing how many apps just silently fail instead of telling people they need to be online to function.

Google Maps: saving places for offline use has been a lifesaver! Before I arrive in a new place, I download the city to my phone and save all the places people recommend along with where we’re staying and spots I’d like to visit. I add custom labels so I know which restaurants were recommended by whom, or which little yellow star is our AirBnB. GPS works without data so I have often relied on this to help us find our accommodation when we first land, plus its nice when we are our and get hungry – I can quickly see which nearby cafes have been recommended by our friends.

Google Translate: this also works in offline mode, and has been critical at restaurants and in grocery stores. You can either type in the text you want translated, or point your phone’s camera at a menu or street sign or food packaging and it will translate for you. The night before we head to a new country I make sure I have the local map and the local language downloaded. The caveat is that some languages seem to be handled better than others – it was great for French and Spanish, but pretty terrible for Finnish.

Citymapper: This is my preferred app for navigating public transit. It will give you routes based on fastest time, the least amount of walking, the least exposure to rain, etc. It will also estimate Uber/taxi prices relative to public transit, and tell you how many calories you’ll burn based on the amount of walking. I far prefer their UI for walking directions over Google or Apple – I seem to have an easier time knowing which direction I need to go. The only issue is that its not available in all cities, but they add more all the time.

AirBnB: If we are staying someplace for a week or more, this tends to be a better option than a hotel. You get a kitchen, better wifi (usually) and access to a washing machine, plus the price works out to be cheaper than a hotel for longer stays. One of the nicest things is that you can communicate with your host via the app, so I don’t have to worry about int’l text fees or the fact that my phone number changes with every country. Also, in the case of language differences, it appears the app is helping translate.

Expedia: There is rarely a lower price for a hotel room on any other site, and the app is much easier to use than their website. Plus, booking through their app gets you extra points, which I’ve already redeemed for even more discounts on hotel rooms.

Trip Advisor: But before I actually book anything on Expedia, I check the reviews on Trip Advisor, who has more hotel room reviews than any other site. I’m certain that these reviews have saved us from some miserable accommodation, because I refuse to stay anywhere where the review mentions “bugs”, “filthy” or “poor wifi”. And I review every place that we stay in case friends are looking for recommendations/places to avoid.

Foursquare: As much as I appreciate the detail of Yelp’s content, it just isn’t used as much in Europe so Foursquare has been a great help in determining if a place is decent or awful. According to The German, anything rated 8 or above is good. I do still review all the good spots on Yelp (or the really, really bad ones) to help the other vegetarians out there.

Cuppings: Where to find hipster coffee, worldwide.

Fancy Units: It has pretty much everything in there – currency, volume, length, temperature, weight, etc. I’ve tried a lot of these kinds of app, and truthfully, I don’t love any of them but I’ve been happiest with the UI of this one. I do wish I could find one that includes clothing & shoe sizes. If you’ve used a good app for this, let me know.

Sponsored by Betabrand

Being restricted to just one (reaonsably-sized) suitcase of clothing was the thing I was most anxious about as we prepared to leave. Not terrorism, not health insurance – clothing. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I’m someone who enjoys having lots of options and having the perfect outfit for any occasion – whether that means a costume party, a fancy dinner, or just working out. I had to be very selective about what I brought with me, and so far, I’ve been pretty happy with my choices.

Which brings me to Betabrand… I’ve been a fan of the SF-based clothing company for many years now. Their clothes are designed with both form & function in mind, are generally very durable, and usually good value for the price. And the company has a cheeky sense of humour in everything they do.

I love how they engage with people… Not only are their emails very entertaining, but their Model Citizen photos showcase the creativity of their customers, and let you see how their clothing looks on a variety of people. They support indie designers by “crowd-funding” their designs – if enough people pre-purchase an item, they put it into production. Or if you have a vision for a garment, submit it to their Think Tank and they will help you turn it into a protytpe, and then a real product if enough people vote for it.

But I was really blown away when their founder published all the details about their Fly Away Program – they put all of their company purchases on a credit card account that collects miles, and then they use those miles to send an employee on a trip! How cool it that? And they think every company should be doing something like this, so they published all the details of exactly how they do it. This is a company that clearly cares about its employees as much as it does its customers.

So while I’m not officially sponsored by Betabrand, I am traveling with 6 pieces of their clothing (and have many more back in SF), so I’m obviously a fan. Not only do I love their merchandise but these are people who do innovative things with both their products and their internal operations, so I wanted to take a moment to sing their praises.

And if you’re curious about what I have with me, I’ve put details below. (I promise I’m not getting commission). Their products tend to be in fairly limited batches, so don’t drag your feet if you’re interested in something:

Travel Cargo Pants:
For long-haul flights, these are amazing! They feel like yoga pants, have a plethora of pockets, but look like normal trousers. The thigh pocket is the perfect size for my passport and was especially convenient in the airport. They are lightweight, stetchy, and waterproof. And they look good.

IMG_5123Grey Work-It Dress:
Again, yoga pants material, but its an adorable dress with pockets! (Yes ladies, pockets!) I’ve had this for years and the colour hasn’t faded and it never wrinkles. Plus the structure makes it very comfortable, but it still looks stylish.





360 Reversible Dress:
4 dresses in 1! You can wear it forwards and backwards, plus its reversible. And its a lightweight material that dries quickly, doesn’t take up much room in my suitcase, and looks cute!


Don’t Sweat It Top:
Another great travel essential – its warm but breathable. Perfect for airports where you seem to constantly be going from “too hot” to “too cold”. It has a cute, sporty look but the draping around the neck makes it a little more fashionable. Its odor-resistant and sweat-wicking, yet still cozy and soft.



Shopping for cheese on a rainy day in Reims

All-Day Coat:
I’ve gotten tons of compliments on this one – its a cozy coat that has breathable lining so you don’t get sweaty armpits. It has a hood and high collar if its very cold, and the snaps are biased towards the top of the coat so you have easy access to pants pockets. It has 2 large pockets (though full disclosure, I did lose a lip-gloss as the shape is a little shallow). It is perfect on freezing airplanes, and it means I can get away with mainly short-sleeved clothing since I can just throw this over any of my other outfits if its chilly. Plus, it was designed by a Project Runway competitor.

IMG_0435.jpgMiss Print Skirt:

No special features on this one – I just find it cute and comfortable. Its made from scraps of fabric, so each one is different.






And while I didn’t bring them with me as they are too bulky, I’m also a huge fan of their Vajamas, which are pajama pants that are fuzzy on both the inside and outside!

Wifi Scavengers

So one of the challenges has been figuring out what to do about our phone plans (without spending a fortune on data roaming).

We’ve been in Europe less than 24 hours and we’ve already turned into wifi scavengers… We actually hung out for an 30 extra minutes in Heathrow baggage claim just to use their free wifi.

I really wanted to be reachable on a consistent phone number (at least until we go to Africa in August) so I’ve kept my AT&T contract and added their cheapest int’l plan. This only gives me 120MB of roaming data per month (and is still
costing $80), so I’m trying to be extra-conservative and just use it for things like maps, etc. In other words, I’ll be on Facebook a whole lot less.

Stefan is going to buy SIM cards everywhere we go. You can get a lot more data for less money that way, but his number will change every time, and he will need to buy a new one in every country. (And they are only good for 30 days). So in cases like now, where we are in London for only 24 hours, he has no service at all.

All of this adds up to us becoming ridiculously excited about wifi at cafes, airports, hotels, etc (or especially angry if a hotel’s wifi isn’t decent). You’d think it was on the same level as clean drinking water – that’s how worked up we get. It’s certainly an adjustment coming from our unlimited international data plans that were paid for by work.

I promise not to make fun of the people standing outside of Apple Stores at all hours to use the free, speedy wifi ever again. 🙂

Thoughts on Travel

Some random thoughts on travel since we hit the road:

Packing Remorse:
• Why did I bring 8 bottles of wine but no corkscrew?
• I need to ditch at least half the makeup I’m carrying… who was I kidding when I packed all that stuff?

Packing Genius:
• As previously mentioned, 8 bottles of wine!
• The German brought a HDMI cable and a connector for the iPad so I can still watch Game of Thrones on a big screen. ❤

I seriously think Trip Advisor needs to add a way that you can sort hotels by wifi speed. I would take a crappy hotel with good wifi over a good hotel with crappy wifi.

Why are most ice buckets half the size of a bottle of wine? I’d like to chill the entire bottle, not just the bottom half.

I’m way more dependant on a data connection than I realized. While I’m fine going all day without checking email or reading Facebook, I’ve hit long stretches of dead zones on the drive and I have no map in the car and no general idea of where I’m going. It made me realize that I’m relying too much on my phone and not enough on my brain. I’ll have to work on this.

Since we started traveling, I have left my credit card at 2 different restauants. Thankfully, I was able to recover it both times, but this is totally out of character for me. As in, the only 2 times I have ever done this in my life. What is wrong with me?

Recommendations & Reviews

People regularly ask me for hotel, restaurant or activity recommendations. Here’s where you can find them:

I’ve used Trip Advisor for years for hotel reviews and any particularly great tourist activities.

For restaurants, bars, and random other services like nail salons, I use Yelp.

My go-to travel agent for animal-related vacations (like safaris) is Natural World Safaris. I can’t say enough great things about these folks – they are eco-friendly animal experts who always support the local economy.

While I haven’t actually used this service yet, Trusted Housesitters looks very promising – it connects people who need pet sitters with people who need a place to stay (worldwide).