The Walk To Our Son’s Condo

The New Sanno Hotel, where we’re staying while we’re here in Japan, is just a 15 minute walk from our son’s condo in the NishiAzabu neighborhood. We have two choices of how to get ourselves from the hotel to his place: a) turn right out of the front of the hotel and walk along a busy four-lane thoroughfare lined with shops, restaurants and other businesses, or b) turn left out of the hotel and then take the next left onto a narrow residential street that takes us the “back way.”

Both options are quintessentially Japanese, but we always choose the second one, and this is the walk we take each day.

While most of the area is residential, there are also a few businesses along the way. There are also several vending machines interspersed on the road, most selling either hot or cold drinks, or cigarettes.

The street is very clean. There is absolutely no trash, and the sidewalk is swept the entire way. Japanese are master recyclers, and on trash days bags are neatly set out in designated areas with each type of trash/recycling separated for pick up. If there is a large pile of trash, the bags are covered with netting so they don’t spill out into the street.

Occasionally we see an old house among the new. The land the house sits on is extremely valuable, worth millions of dollars. Building a new house would also cost millions, so the owners tend to hold on to their old house as long as possible and then sell the land to a developer.

More older-style homes, probably from the 1970s and 1980s, with a new high-rise condo going up in the background. Almost every house and condo has plantings in the front, or at least some potted plants.

We pass a small neighborhood Shinto shrine on the way. This is one of the things I love about Japan, finding a very traditional shrine or Buddhist temple mixed in with modern homes and condos. Local festivals and services are held at the shrine throughout the year.

Halfway to our son’s condo is the National Azabu supermarket. The neighborhood contains many embassies, so there are lots of foreigners living in the area, and National Azabu carries a wide selection of “foreign” foods, although you will pay dearly for them. A container of Fage yogurt that costs around $4 back in the U.S. is approximately $19 here, and a western-style beef roast, if you must have it, will cost you your firstborn.

A studio apartment in the neighborhood can start at $2000/month, and prices go up from there. Many of the apartments in the neighborhood are larger than a typical Japanese residence, to suit Western tastes, and have amenities like dishwashers, ranges with ovens and such, things not typically found in Japanese homes but that appeal to foreigners. We saw an ad for a 683 sq. foot 1-bedroom condo (new construction) that was selling for $1.25 million dollars!

A sculpture adorns a corner of an apartment building along the way.

Our son’s condo is just nine stories tall, but all units open into an inner courtyard, which is a feature our son and his wife wanted after the big earthquake in 2011. A mixture of foreigners and Japanese live in the building, and there is rarely ever a unit available for rent. An apartment/condo building will always have balconies; a commercial building won’t.

I have yet to go to any residence in Japan, whether it’s a house, condo, or high-rise apartment, that doesn’t have an intercom system used to announce your presence, whether you’re family or a tradesperson. Modern intercoms, like at our son’s condo, also have video capability, so you can see who is asking to be let in.

Everyone takes off their shoes in the genkan before stepping up into a Japanese home. When you take your shoes off, you turn them to point out so that all you have to do is slip them on to leave (we fail miserably at this). All homes have a spacious shoe closet built next to the genkan.

What no photo can capture is how safe the neighborhood is. Cars watch out for people walking. You can walk alone at night and not worry about being accosted. You can leave your umbrella or your bicycle outside a store and it will be there when you come out.

But Will It All Fit?

Gifts play an important role in Japanese culture, so any trip to Japan for us means taking gifts for family and others . . .  and in our case this usually means lots of gifts. However, Brett, YaYu and I will only each be taking a carry-on bag, and one additional bag for under-seat stowage (tote bag for me; backpacks for Brett and YaYu), so making sure everything fits and arrives in good condition will be a bit of a challenge.

Besides clothing for eleven days, here’s what we’ve got to fit into our luggage this time:

Gifts for our granddaughter: Two onesies, a Hawaiian-print sundress, some leggings, a stuffed hippo, a feeding set, and some ocean-themed blocks.

For our grandson: Star Wars Lego set (he’s obsessed with both right now), Star Wars Lego t-shirt, six boxes of macaroni & cheese, and two packages of tortillas (for quesadillas). Tortillas and mac & cheese are available in Japan, but are super expensive.

For our daughter-in-law, Kona coffee and Kaua’i made soap.

We’re giving our son some of his U.S. favorites that are unavailable in Japan. He especially loves anything chocolate & mint, and it’s hard if not impossible to find in Japan. We’ll also get him two to three cases of Diet Coke from the mini mart in the hotel while we’re there – you can’t buy it otherwise in Japan, and he loves it.

We’ll probably get together with our daughter-in-law’s parents, so we’re prepared with a small gift of Hawaiian items: Kona coffee, chocolate covered macadamia nuts, and Kaua’i-made cookies.

Because it’s so ridiculously expensive now to mail anything to Japan, we are taking along some of our granddaughter’s first birthday gift: eight board books, a birthday card and gift bag. We’ll buy a couple of other things while we’re there for them to put away until her birthday.

We’re also taking several gift bags, tissue paper and tape, and will assemble and wrap everything once we get to our hotel room. Presentation is important in Japan!

The big question as we start this week is whether we can get all of this to fit into our bags. I think we can – the only “big” items are the box of cereal and the Lego set. Brett is a master packer (and I’m no slouch), and I’m confident will find ways to squeeze everything in. We do have some Space Bags to use if we need them, but I’m hoping they won’t be needed.

Fingers crossed!

Road Tripping

I don’t think there’s any half-way about road trips. You either love them, or you don’t. Brett and I love them. Our children, not so much.

There are three ways to approach taking a road trip:

  1. Fill your gas tank, fill your wallet, hop in your car and see where the road takes you. I have friends who do this regularly and have had some pretty terrific trips.
  2. Do your research, make a plan, fill your gas tank, and go.
  3. A blend of #1 and #2.

You might think that with my love of planning we’d go with the second method, but Brett and my road trips were mostly a combination of #1 and #2. We had a destination, a deadline and a budget, but then we’d get in the car and go, stopping when we felt like it, and adjusting our route along the way.

“To hell with the plan, Margaret!”

Here are some tips for making your road trip a success:

  • Plan your route: One of the following three things will pretty much have the most effect on which direction your plans will take: destination, distance or budget. Once that’s figured out, then you can start thinking about what you want to see along the way. Are you a fan of historical site (says the girl whose parents stopped at every historical marker along our route)? Do you want to experience nature? Are there friends along the way you’d like to stop and see? After you decide what or who you want to visit, then it’s time to see if there is a logical route that can be taken, and how that route can be broken down into manageable driving segments. Knowing your route and stops along the way can help you plan how much gas you’ll need, and how much that will cost.
  • Find your lodging: Once you know the location where you’ll be stopping for the night, then you can figure out the place where you want to spend the night. This is where Google can be your friend – search for a place + lodging, and voilà! Some locations might be worth the splurge for a fancy hotel or famous lodge, while others might warrant nothing fancier than a Motel 6. Besides the cost for the room, other things you might consider are whether the hotel or motel offers a free breakfast, if there is a swimming pool where you can cool off and unwind after a long day’s drive, or what nearby dining options are available. Camping, whether that’s pitching a tent or sleeping in your car, is one way to keep travel costs down if you’re on a tight budget. Don’t forget to check out AirBNB as well for a more unique lodging experience, depending on where you’re going and how long you might like to stay there while you’re on your way.
  • Download some apps: There are loads of terrific travel apps available now that can help make your road trip easier and more enjoyable, as well as save you money. TripIt can actually create a route for you – just plug in your preferred lodging and the attractions you’d like to see and they’ll do the rest. The Along The Way app for iPhones can find bathrooms, coffee stops, shopping locations, etc. wherever you are on your route. Gasbuddy will help you find the cheapest gasoline prices, and sites like OpenTable, tripadvisor and Yelp provide restaurant reviews, menus, photos and other helpful information about where to eat. Music apps, like Pandora or Spotify are also great to have along on your road trip. Most smartphones these days also come equipped with GPS, if you like or need that sort of thing.
  • Be flexible. Even the best-made plans sometimes have to change. Stuff happens. Be sure you are able to adjust and adapt to changes that might occur, whether than means having emergency funds set aside, being able to shorten or lengthen your trip, or taking a different route if necessary.
  • Make sure your car is in tip-top shape before you go. There is nothing worse than having car trouble when your hundreds of miles away from home, or out in the middle of nowhere (I say this from experience). Get your tires checked and take care of other maintenance issues that you’ve been putting off before you go.
road-trip-nationals_1
The Western National Park Loop

While there are no road trips happening for us these days – the highway that circles Kaua’i is just over 56 miles – Brett and I still talk about possibly making a road trip back on the mainland some day, after the girls are all off at college (that’s not what we’re planning for 2018 though). Road trips were the only way either of us traveled when we were young, and we love being out on the open road. Our dream trip is to see all the western national parks in one trip. We’ve priced it out though, and it would cost us at least $15,000 to do it from here, if not more. It would take approximate two-months to make the loop, and once we started figuring out our costs for air fare, car rental, lodging, gas, food, etc. the price just kept climbing. So, for now it remains nothing more than a dream. One of these days though . . . .

Jesus, take the wheel . . .
Somebody loves a road trip . . .

Laura & Brett’s Big Adventure

mystery-signBrett and I are planning something BIG for 2018, but that’s really all the detail I can give right now. We are currently in the research and saving stage, and have set some goals to achieve by the end of the year:

  • Save at least $7000 this year for our adventure next year. If it were just the two of us, this would be easy; in fact, we could probably save a whole lot more. But, we still have three children we’re responsible for, two of whom need plane tickets to and from the mainland a couple of times each year ($$$$), and one still at home that has numerous expenses related to high school and college admission and who still needs to be fed and clothed ($$$$). This is going to be a difficult goal for us to reach, but we’re going to give it our best shot. I will try to update our saving goal each quarter.
  • Research, research, research. You know this is fun for me, and I’m going to get to do a whole year and more of it! The first thing will be to find and reserve lodging, but there are other smaller tasks that I’ll be doing as well along the way.

I’m sorry this is all I can reveal at this time, but I just wanted to let you know that something is on the horizon. Something BIG!

Maybe I should call it Laura & Brett’s Big Mystery Adventure™?

To Souvenir or Not To Souvenir

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A corner of our travel wall collection includes a small watercolor of the Hong Kong harbor; a tiny print of the Seattle skyline; a postcard from Walt Disney World; a traditional Chinese landscape from the Forbidden City; a photo of the Oregon coast; and the Tokyo train and subway map I carried everywhere for 3 1/2 years during our last tour in Japan. The Chinese picture was created by a man using just the side of his hand – no fingers or brushes.

(Adapted from an October 2015 post)

It’s fun, and almost expected when you travel to find something to remind you of the good times you enjoyed, or to share a little of your experience with those back home.

Souvenirs don’t always need to be purchased though:

  • The best souvenirs can’t be seen or touched or heard. They’re the memories created during the journey, and the experiences shared with others.
  • Your own photos make absolutely fabulous souvenirs.
More travel wall photos: Flamingos from our time in Key West; and old photo of Opaekaa Falls on Kaua'i; and "Rainbow Row" in Charleston, South Carolina.
More of our travel collection: Flamingo print from our time in Key West; a vintage photo of Opaekaa Falls on Kaua’i; and “Rainbow Row” in Charleston, South Carolina.

Although I always take lots of pictures and create memories when I travel, I still often enjoying buying things from the places I visit. Over the years, and through trial and error, I have developed a set of personal rules for my souvenir purchases:

  • We always have a budgeted amount for souvenirs and we stick to it. I know I’ve felt disappointed that I couldn’t buy something because it would either blow up the budget or put us over or mean I couldn’t get something else I had my eye on, but in hindsight I have absolutely no regrets about anything I didn’t get to buy. I don’t even remember what those things were.
  • A useful souvenir is always best. So, no totchkes or knickknacks for us. Brett and I have often bought coffee cups from cities we’ve visited (yeah Starbucks!) that we use for our daily coffee. On my most recent trips to Japan I bought several tenugui, cotton hand towels that are printed with amazing designs, from traditional Japanese themes to the avant-garde. These towels get used daily in our kitchen, and seeing them provides wonderful reminders of when and where I bought them. I also look for things I can use in the kitchen – these items are usually affordable and connect me to a place and time whenever I use them. I’m still using the spoon rest I bought 36+ years ago when we were in Coronado for Brett to attend training, and I love the handmade bamboo spatulas I scored when we visited Kyoto two years ago.
  • Local food makes a fabulous souvenir. Food items are not as permanent a souvenir as a coffee mug or kitchen towel, but they can help draw out the experience and memories as long as they last. And, food items are usually very affordable. We brought home an amazing selection of sauces and snacks from our last trip to Japan, including all those interesting flavors of KitKats, and Brett brought back a bucket of delicious and much appreciated Danish butter cookies from his visit to Solvang in 2015 (those did not last long at all). We’re planning to send WenYu and Meiling each a box of their favorite Japanese snacks following our upcoming trip.
  • Clothing items, carefully chosen, are also good souvenirs. I don’t do the t-shirt thing, but Brett came home from his 2015 California trip with a nice collection of shirts from places he visited – they get a lot of wear. Sweatshirts we purchased on Disney World visits when the girls were little were were worn by all three girls before they wore out – we more than got our money’s worth out of them.
  • Finally, we used to always look for a picture to add to our travel wall. We started our collection back when Brett was in the navy, for reminders of places we were stationed or visited. We continued the tradition after he retired, and bought a few more, although these days we’re trying not to add to our possessions. We treasure every piece of our collection and every memory they recall. For example, the worn and broken creases in the folds of my Japanese train map remind me of the many times I pulled that map out and poured over it to find my way around Tokyo. The little watercolor of Hong Kong was purchased one evening from a street vendor in Kowloon, as Brett and I walked back to our hotel after dinner. The picture of the Golden Gate Bridge was from our trip to San Francisco for our 25th wedding anniversary, purchased on the day we decided to adopt one more time (to add YaYu to our family). Every one of the pictures is uniquely special to us.
Cross section of the Golden Gate bridge.
Cross section of the Golden Gate bridge.

The combination of kids and souvenirs can be both tricky and trying. Kids love stuff, and sometimes it seems they want you to buy them everything they set their eyes on. Our solution has been to give each child a set amount of spending money the first day of travel (to be added to whatever they have saved on their own and want to bring along). They can do whatever they want with the money we give them, buy whatever they want whenever they want. But . . . they are not allowed to ask for any more money during the trip nor can they ask us to buy something for them, including snacks. We started all of them out with this at a fairly young age, around five years old. Typically there was a quick, impulsive purchase that was almost instantly regretted when they saw how quickly their money dwindled, but for the rest of that vacation and future ones every purchase was carefully considered, even when they were just five or six years old. This system even worked at Disney World, where there’s a souvenir store every couple of feet and more temptation than can be counted. More often than not, all four of our children usually have/had money left over at the end of each trip. On our trip to Japan in 2015, YaYu bought very little, then saved up a bit more after she got home and bought herself a new (inexpensive) computer – totally her choice of what to do with the money we gave her for the trip. With this system, Brett and I have found ourselves able to enjoy our time with the kids and not feel like cash registers or pressured to buy, buy, buy when we travel. The kids like the system too, and the control they have over their purchases.

The underside of the US 101 bridge in Florence, Oregon. We camped with other adoptive families in Florence every summer for over 10 years.
The underside of the US 101 bridge in Florence, Oregon. We camped with other adoptive families in Florence every summer for over 10 years.

Souvenirs are an intensely personal and usually fun part of any travel experience, and whether they’re a planned purchase or a spontaneous find, you don’t have to break your travel budget in order to bring home something special from a memorable journey.

What do you like to buy when you travel? How do you handle souvenir shopping? What’s your most treasured souvenir?

Follow Your Nose

Outdoor yakitori stand
The aroma from an outdoor yakitori stand takes me right back to my first visit to Japan, when I was 18 years old, and visiting Inokashira Park in Kichijoji. There was a stand right outside the entrance to the park, and the smell was intoxicating. The yakitori was pretty tasty too.

Believe it or not, some of the most intense and lasting memories we have come from the aromas we encounter when we travel. Sadly, most of us tend to disregard the impressions we receive from our sense of smell when we travel, and instead concentrate more on taking pictures or buying souvenirs to remind us of our journeys.

And yet, our sense of smell has the ability to repay the the encounters we have with scents and aromas many times over. Experiencing a particular scent after we return home, or in a different location, has the power to transport us to both a place and time, pleasant or unpleasant, filling our minds again with what we were hearing, seeing and feeling when we inhaled that aroma. It’s the same way the scent of bread baking or other foods cooking can take us back to our grandmother’s kitchen, or the scent of freshly mowed grass can bring back memories of a park we visited or games we played as children.

Here are a few of my favorite travel memories associated with aroma:

  • The scent of green tea always reminds me of tea shops in Japan and China. They were calming, comforting and quiet places, even in the busiest of cities.
  • Barbecue – The aroma of smoky barbecue still takes me back to a little shack called The Brown Pig, which sold the most amazing barbecue in Millington, Tennessee. I craved it when I was pregnant.
  • Temple incense – when I smell incense now my mind leaps to several temple visits in Japan

    Fresh tatami mats are green;
    Fresh tatami mats are pale green, and have a refreshing aroma
  • Whenever I walk past a tatami shop in Japan, and smell the fresh mats, I’m transported right back inside our off-base Japanese house, where we lived for 18 months in 1990-1991. We had fresh tatami in our dining room and bedroom – heavenly!
  • The tang of ocean air and the aroma of sunscreen always remind me of childhood summers spent at our family’s San Clemente beach house.
  • Any time I smell dashi, the broth made from dried bonito that’s the basis of Japanese cuisine, I’m right back in Japan. I call it Japan’s “background scent.”
  • Yakitori cooking on an open grill (see the picture above)

    This stuff really worked!
    White Flower Embrocation
  • The scent of Tiger Balm and White Flower Embrocation always puts me in Hong Kong, having to stay in my hotel room with a very, very bad cold and watching a man across the road practice some kind of martial art on the top of his building. I still use White Flower – it works!
  • Campfire smoke = coffee around a morning campfire at Honeyman State Park in Oregon

The smells we encounter when we’re on the road are perhaps our most intense travel experiences, even if we don’t recognize them as such, or pay much attention to them at the time. While a picture can remind us of where we’ve been and what we’ve done, a remembered aroma can put us right back inside a memorable experience.

10 Easy Ways To Save More for Travel

shutterstock_248845498There are those people who, when they decide they want to travel, can whip out their checkbooks and cover any trip they want.

Brett and I are not those people. We have big travel dreams, but a small income, so any trips we want to take have to be planned and then saved for. Over the years we’ve come up with a variety of ways to add to our travel savings so that when we do go off somewhere, everything we need and want to do is covered and we don’t end up with a balance on our credit card.

Here are our favorite tips for how to save for travel:

  1. Set up a dedicated travel savings account, and start a monthly allotment to that account. How much you can deposit into your travel account each month will depend on your regular operating budget, but even a small monthly amount can add up quickly.
  2. See if you can save on regular budget categories, and then put the difference into your travel savings. For example, if your monthly food budget is $700, see if you can find ways to save and get it down to $650, or $600. At the end of the month, put the difference into  your savings. This is one of our favorite ways to add to our travel account – it’s almost like a game, and keeps us on our toes when it comes to saving in all areas of our budget.
  3. Do a “no-spend” week, or month, and deposit all usual discretionary spending amounts into your savings. If you stop and pick up a coffee every morning, don’t for one week. Same for going out for lunch while you’re at work, or eating out or picking up dinner. Plan ahead, keep track of what you would have spent on those things, and then at the end of the week, or month, deposit that amount into your savings. This isn’t to make yourself miserable while you save, but rather to see how much you can add to your savings.
  4. Save your change and $1 bills. Brett and I put away around $700 – $800 per year doing this, although one year we saved over $1000. We try to use cash as much as possible, and when we get coins back we immediately put them aside. Same for $1 bills. When we use our debit card, we always round up to the nearest $5 if possible (i.e. if the amount owed is $11.17, we round up to $15, and $3.83 goes into savings). This might require some effort at first to remember to do it, but after a while it becomes a habit. Once we have $25 in $1 bills, or are able to roll our change, off it goes to the travel savings account. This year we are also occasionally setting aside $5 bills – it’s not as easy to do as with $1 bills, but once in a while we feel we can set one aside. Twenty of those though and we’ve got another $100 saved.
  5. Recognize needs versus wants. This also takes some training and effort, but start asking yourself if you really need that new t-shirt, or burrito from Chipotle, or whatever from IKEA, or whether you’d rather enjoy coffee and a croissant in Paris or a week on the beach in Hawai’i. Same for your food shopping – go with a list and stick to it. There’s nothing wrong with looking, but visualizing your saving goals while you look can help keep you more focused on what you need versus what you merely want. This practice might not immediately put money into your savings account, except that you’ll probably have more money left at the end of the month that can be saved for travel.
  6. Dedicate all refunds, rebates and gifts to your travel savings. We get a nice rebate every year from Costco and from our insurance company – both of those go right into our travel savings. Same for our annual tax refund. Unfortunately, no one sends us money for our birthdays any more :-(.
  7. Get a travel rewards credit card. If you’re good about paying off your credit card every month, this is a great way to earn either miles that will help reduce the cost of air travel, or cash back that can go into your travel account. Brett and I use our credit card to pay recurring monthly expenses like our cable bill and phone bill, and then pay it off every month. Our card rewards can be used to either book travel or receive a check – we always take the check. We don’t use the card to pay for groceries because we’ve found that using cash and setting aside the change and $1 bills we get back is more than would be generated in rewards from the card. Warning: use reward cards carefully. Be sure pay off your credit card balance every month. You don’t want to end up with a huge credit card bill that you have to pay versus putting away money for your travel dreams.
  8. Sell things you don’t need or use any more. Take an inventory of your stuff every once in and while, and use Craigslist, eBay, Facebook or other sites to sell unused and unneeded items around your home, with the money you earn going straight to your travel savings. You can also become a savvy shopper at thrift stores or yard sales and find items that can be refurbished and resold online. Someone I know carefully bought high-end clothing brands at thrift and consignment stores and resold them for a profit on eBay, earning enough in a year to finance a trip to Europe. Someone else I know resold books that she picked up for a song at yard sales. Katy over at The Non-Consumer Advocate is in a master class when it comes to the resale game.
  9. Get a part-time job. I’m retired now, and have absolutely no interest in doing any part-time work, nor does Brett, but we’ve done this in the past. For example, the extra I made working as a substitute went into our savings that got us here to Hawai’i. Depending on how much time you have, or how motivated you are, a second gig can be anything from a couple of hours a week to a regular part-time position. Dedicate those earnings to your travel savings.
  10. Be creative. Pick up change off the ground. Return bottles and cans for the deposit, if you can in your state. Clip coupons and put the money saved into your travel account. Use Swagbucks and earn $$ through PayPal. There are all sorts of small ways out there to add to your travel savings. It might not seem like a lot, but it all adds up.

Just like nickel-and-dime items can drain your bank account in a hurry, what might seem like nickel-and-dime savings can also pump up your account in a hurry as well! It’s surprising how much you can save in a year toward your travel dreams once you set your mind to it!

Where Don’t I Want To Go

California chaparral
California chaparral

It’s far, far easier to think about the places we do want to visit. It’s far more difficult to reflect and explain to ourselves why we don’t want to visit someplace, because it goes deeper than “I just don’t like it.” There are a myriad of reasons why we are drawn to one place and totally reject another as a place to visit or explore.

I grew up in Southern California, a dry, sunny place for the most part, where if left completely to nature scrubby chaparral is all you would see. There are trees around, but they’re not a dominant feature of the landscape. Their presence wherever they are found is enjoyed all the more because there really are so few of them. When I was little I was fascinated with trees, and all their varieties. They were green and cool, especially on hot days.

When I flew up to Portland to attend college for the first time I remember looking out the window of the plane and seeing giant patches of black on the ground. Coming from a place where brush fires were a somewhat normal occurrence, I figured that there had been terrible forest fires below, with millions of acres burned. It wasn’t until we landed and I saw all the tall firs everywhere that I realized that what I had been looking down on were miles and miles of forest. I was in heaven, especially because Portland stayed green all year long.

Big fir trees are everywhere in Portland
Portland stays green all year

Our family spent a lot of time when I was growing up out in the desert, because that’s where my mom and dad wanted to be. We camped at Joshua Tree, made many trips over to and around Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, because they loved it there. I didn’t. I felt hot and parched most of the time. I wanted trees and green. One summer we did a family camping trip up the California and Oregon coasts – it was wonderful to see so much green.

My childhood city was a suburb of Los Angeles, and came complete with lawns, swimming pools and two cars in every garage. We were located just a few miles from the city, but trips into LA didn’t happen all the frequently, and most of my time outside my hometown was spent on freeways getting to the other suburban cities that surrounded Los Angeles. Trips into LA, to see places like Olivera Street or the La Brea Tar Pits or Chinatown, or to go to the theater, were thrilling and always left me wanting more.

Shibuya Crossing always makes my heart beat a little faster
Shibuya Crossing always makes my heart beat a little faster with excitement

When I went to Japan for the first time at age 18, I started out with a six-week homestay in Tokyo. Tokyo was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It was in-your-face city life, and I loved every second of it. I still do – I love being out and about in what may be the busiest city in the world. Every street I turn down is an adventure, and a total rush for me.

Although all our time spent living on military bases was pretty much small town living, Brett and I spent more time living in the city of Portland with all it had to offer. We live in a quiet, more rural place these days, but there are lots and lots and lots of trees, and plenty of green everywhere, which keeps me happy. The ocean also makes me happy, and rather than remind me I’m isolated, it tells me every day that there’s a big wide world out there for me to explore. I dream about visiting and spending time in different cities around the world.

So, where don’t I want to travel these days? Not the desert – the landscapes can be stunning, but I prefer trees and greenery. Small towns can be charming to visit (I know, I live in one!), but given a choice I prefer to experience big city life when I travel, in all its vibrancy and variation – the people, restaurants, museums, stores (even though I rarely buy anything), housing and so forth.

Every place is beautiful to someone, and we all have our reasons for preferring some places over others, and we all have places that don’t interest us as much. I no longer feel as though that I have to see everything, to give every place equal weight and appreciation. I prefer cities, or places with lots and lots of trees and green. Those are my happy places.

Not Who We Are

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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” – Emma Lazarus

On Mondays, I usually write about something related to travel, my favorite subject. Right now that seems like rather a quaint idea, in light of the thousands of people who were caught up in the executive order banning travel from seven Muslim countries in the middle east. I had hoped that this blog could remain free of politics, and going forward I hope I don’t feel the need to write about things like this again. But I cannot stay silent.

The travel ban is still in place, and although federal judges have ordered a stay on the ban in several areas some with visas or green cards are still not being allowed in or being detained. Hundreds of lawyers have volunteered their time to assist the detainees, and other judges have ordered that lawyers have access to those with permanent resident status. Customs officials in some locations however have refused to obey the judges’ orders. Tens of thousands of citizens spontaneously gathered at airports all over the country to protest the ban, and protests are continuing.

Here are just a few examples of how the travel ban affected people trying to enter the United States, although its effects were more far-reaching and devastating than the few examples can provide:

  • A Syrian man, a permanent resident with a green card, was not allowed to re-enter the United States. He is the sole caregiver for his father, who remains in the U.S.
  • A 77-year old grandmother, from Iraq, who has not seen her family here for over four years, was locked up, detained upon her arrival at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. and sent back to Iraq.
  • An Iranian woman, who has held a green card for the past five years, and had her citizenship interview scheduled in two weeks, was denied entry into the country.
  • Legal permanent residents, returning home after funerals, vacations and study abroad were stopped and questioned about their religion, their views of Donald Trump and denied entry.
  • Interpreters who risked their lives to serve with the U.S. Army in Iraq, and who were promised safe travel to the U.S. were stranded at airports in Iraq; one was held in handcuffs for over 17 hours. Others’ family members were denied entry to reunite with their husbands and fathers.
  • Two of the persons held for hours at O’Hare airport were an 18-month old and a newborn. Both are U.S. citizens.

Does the ban make us safer? Not one of the 9/11 hijackers came from any of the countries that were banned, nor did the Orlando shooter or the San Bernadino shooters. No American has ever been killed by anyone from any of the banned countries. I sure don’t feel any safer because of the ban. In fact, it makes me feel a whole lot less safe than I ever have.

The ban is a disgrace. It is shameful. It is hateful and cruel. It is illegal. It is evil.

I’m still reeling from this action. I did not serve, nor my husband, nor our parents and ancestors to see this happen in our country. I will close with a quote from Dan Rather, written on Saturday:

I still remain optimistic that the vast majority of American people will recoil and speak out at this unwise policy. But whether we like it or not, as the detentions and impediments already springing up make all too real, this is the stated de facto policy of the United States today. Every day that it goes on, every day the chaos, confusion and heartbreak deepens, America loses more pieces of its soul and standing in the world.

When Your Bank Account Says You Can’t Go

pennywize-best-travel-sites-2013What can you do when you want to travel, to get up and go, but your bank account says “no way.”

Well, there’s plenty you can do until you can afford to travel again:

  • Dreams are free: Use your time to think and dream of the places you’d like to go, from general ideas to somewhere particular. Think about why you want to go there, what you want to see, what you want to do. Let yourself be open to places you haven’t considered before, or experiences you’ve never thought of trying.
  • Research is free too: There are a myriad of ways to research and find out more about how much it will cost you to go to places you’d like to go. You can become an expert on airfares to different locations, including the best times of the year to travel. You can explore hotels at your destinations, or B&Bs, or Airbnb and other vacation rentals and figure how much it might cost you to stay there. Would it make sense to book a package deal for your destination? How about a tour? A cruise? The Internet, travel magazines and the travel section in many newspapers are filled with ways to explore travel ideas, costs and also find reviews. Online travel sites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz can give you an idea of what travel packages cost. Guidebooks for places from local to all over the world can be found at the library, packed full of information about places to see, places to eat, and experiences to try.
  • Discover travel blogs and websites: If you’re looking for anything travel-related, there’s a good chance you’ll find it in someone’s travel blog. Besides actual travel experiences, travel-related blogs also cover topics like places to go, reviews of all sorts of things related to travel, tips for how to save for travel, and ways to keep travel expenses down. There are also websites devoted to finding cheap airfare, lodging and all other aspects of travel.
  • Travel through books and TV: Finding and reading books and magazines that go beyond guidebooks can give you a deeper sense of place, and of the culture of places you want to go. Photo books, non-fiction travel experiences, or even fiction set in a particular place all have the potential to tell you about places or experiences that don’t or won’t get written up in the guidebooks, and give you a deeper understanding of the culture of a place. For example, Donna Leon’s mysteries set in Venice go way beyond the “whodunit” to inform about the culture and food of Venice. You can also discover what to eat (or avoid) through books or television shows, like the ones from Anthony Bourdain, and create your own “must-try” list.
  • Learn a new language: No matter where you want to go, you can learn a little of the local language while you build up your travel account. There are several free sites available offering language instruction, like Duolingo or Memrise, and you can often find free language instruction materials, like those from Pimsleur, at your library. Language learning is good for your mind and memory, and at the very least will help you get around your destination more easily, wherever you go.

Can’t go anywhere because you don’t have money right now for travel? Look for the upside, and become an armchair traveler for a while. Get yourself ready to actually travel. Use your time to dream and figure out where you want to go and how to do it the best way for you. No, it’s not the same as actually being somewhere, but it can eventually get you where you want to go.

And, while you’re armchair traveling? Save, save, save so that someday you can go!