Be a Better Tourist

worst-touristsI still cringe when I think of some of the faux pas I’ve committed over the years in Japan. I’ve said the wrong thing, sat in the wrong place, worn the wrong clothes, given an inappropriate gift, and so on. Most of the time I had no idea I was doing something wrong, and it was excruciating to later learn about my mistakes. Most of them were things I should have known to do differently, or that only a little bit of research would have prevented. I have learned from them though, and think I have become a better traveler and tourist because of those errors.

Here are some of my tips for how to be a better tourist and get the most from wherever you visit, whether it’s across country, a location half-way around the world, or one of nature’s masterpieces:

  • Learn some of the language: While you don’t need to become fluent to visit where another language is spoken, you can learn and use simple phrases, greetings, and other words rather than expecting everyone to speak English to you. Being able to communicate even a little in the local language can go a long way, and shows a genuine respect for another culture.
  • Shop and eat local: Don’t make your destination come to you. Be adventurous and try some of the local cuisine, and not just in “name” restaurants. Let locals recommend their favorite eating places. Do your research ahead of time and find out what dishes or sweets sound interesting and that you think you’ll enjoy. And if you try them and don’t like them, so what? At least you tried. Take yourself off the beaten path and go shopping where locals do, from markets to department stores to mom & pop shops. Haggling is expected in some countries, and can be fun, but be sure you know the local “rules” before you start.
  • Wear acceptable clothing, and follow dress codes if necessary: I couldn’t understand all the stares I got one autumn day in Japan when I wore a light, summery dress because it was hot. I discovered later that in Japan you dress appropriate to the season, not the temperature! Shorts, sleeveless shirts or other casual dress are often not allowed or inappropriate for both men and women when visiting religious sites or places of worship throughout the world. Be yourself, but find out what’s appropriate before you go.
  • Pay attention to local customs: Another faux pas I once committed in Japan was eating while walking down the street. Nope. If I’d been paying attention I would have noticed that while people eat outside, they’re never walking at the same time. Simple cultural rules about things like forming or not forming lines, taking off your shoes, counting or not counting your change can all be different depending on where you are. Be careful too when using hand gestures or taking selfies – you could be doing something insensitive, insulting or downright rude depending on your location.
  • Be ready to answer questions about yourself: We discovered on our trips to China that locals could be very direct when they wanted to know something. After we got over the initial shock of some of their questions, we answered them as best we could without giving away what was to us private information. As interested as you might be in the place you’re visiting, people in other countries are curious about you as well and it’s up to you how much you want to share. I think there’s going to be a very good chance coming up that Americans abroad will be asked about our incoming president, and what they think of him.
  • Respect Mother Nature and the rules: It was frankly shocking last year how many times we noticed people paying no attention to the signs posted around the Grand Canyon, rules that were there for both safety and to preserve the canyon. The past few years there have been several insensitive and anger-inducing examples of vandals who have irreparably damaged sites in the natural world, from defacing national parks with acrylic paints to damaging fragile natural wonders (i.e. Duck Rock in Oregon) to carving names for selfies and destroying views for others. It’s common sense that whenever you visit natural sites, monuments and national parks ask that you follow posted rules – they exist for very good reasons. Don’t feed the animals, leave trash, go or climb where it’s prohibited. Stay on the path if requested to do so, and recycle and reuse as much as you can. Don’t remove or move plants or rocks. Leave a place better than you found it – if you see trash, pick it up!
  • Don’t compare everything you see or do to how it’s done back home: This is my biggest pet peeve whenever I travel – there is always someone who complains that “this is not how it is back home.” The reason you’re traveling is because you wanted to get away from home and experience something different, so enjoy the difference! Ask questions, try new things, and give yourself a chance to learn something from wherever you go. It’s travel, not a permanent relocation.

Travel is a powerful way to experience different cultures and natural wonders, meet interesting people, explore different customs, and generally expand your mind. Getting the most from your travels, and not being seen as one of “those” tourists is as simple as showing respect for another place and other ways of doing things and using common sense and good manners. In other words, be the best example you can of your own culture!

Five Frugal Things

Raspberry-white chocolate glaze over a $1 chocolate cake tastes might fine (and it looked better after I cleaned up the glaze)

Leftover raspberry-white chocolate glaze over a $1 chocolate cake tasted mighty fine (it looked better after I cleaned up the runny glaze)

As our big goal this coming year is to save as much as possible, I am going to shamelessly steal this idea from The Non-Consumer Advocate and post five frugal things we’ve done each week, if nothing else to keep me motivated.

Here’s five frugal wins we had this past week:

  1. We put the $85.18 that would have gone to the electric company this month into our savings account.
  2. YaYu and a friend baked lemon cookies with raspberry-white chocolate filling for the swim team’s annual holiday cookie contest a week ago (they won second place). There was filling left over, so I baked a chocolate cake ($1 cake mix bought on sale at Big Save), and put the filling between layers and on the top of the cake for a fabulous Christmas dessert.
  3. We used brown paper bags, leftover tissue paper and ribbon, and Japanese furoshiki to wrap our Christmas gifts. Everything will be reused or got recycled, and we spent nothing on wrapping materials. Everything still looked lovely under the tree.
  4. I almost bought a book for my Kindle from Amazon, but remembered to check the library first and it was currently available to download – for free. Amount saved: $10.99.
  5. I made Meiling two ham sandwiches, and also packed some cookies for her to take along on her flight back to the mainland so she didn’t have to spend on food. She used the Starbucks card she got for Christmas to purchase drinks in the airport.

What frugal wins did you have this week?

This Week’s Menu: The Best Laid Plans


The Cuban Bowl from Laughing Planet Cafe in Portland was the inspiration for our Cuban-style burritos.

At the end of last week I did my usual menu planning, and based our meals on what we have on hand and what we would be picking up at the farmers’ market on Wednesday and Costco on either Thursday or Friday.

And then on Sunday I injured my back (again) and am now on Day Two of bedrest, hoping that I can get myself back to where I can at least stand and cook, let alone shop and do all the other things that need doing. My long day of sitting in airplanes and airports, and lifting my carry-on in and out of the overhead bins at the end of last month apparently was more than my lower back could handle, and it’s had good days and bad ever since. On Sunday all was well until I bent to pick up a basket of laundry, and suddenly my back was a hot mess again, and here I am in bed.

We switched yesterday’s planned Homemade Fish Cake sandwiches to hamburgers which were easier for Brett to fix, and although I’m going to go ahead and stick to the planned meals for this week, I decided to switch a few days around and front load the week with meals that are easier for Brett and YaYu to prepare. Hopefully by the end of the week my back will be pain free once again and I’ll be back in the kitchen.


Here’s what’s planned for this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Beef & broccoli stir fry; steamed rice (vegan lo mein for me)
  • Wednesday: Grilled mahi mahi; roasted sweet potatoes; grilled zucchini
  • Thursday: Cuban-style burritos (stuffed with saffron rice, Cuban-style black beans, roasted sweet potatoes, fried banana, and pico de gallo)
  • Friday: Pizza for Brett and me (YaYu will be dining at her cross country team spaghetti dinner)
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Slow cooker balsamic pork roast; vegan stuffing; petite peas (“chickenless” nuggets for me)
  • Monday: Slow cooker adobo chicken with bok choy; steamed rice (tofu for me instead of chicken)

We’ll see how it goes. I’m feeling confident that by giving my back the rest it needs and deserves, and then being careful, I can get things back to normal and keep them that way.

Fingers are crossed.

The Truth About Nepal


Bhaktapur, Nepal,

Bhaktapur, Nepal,

I arrived in Kathmandu after 4 flights, 33 hours, and sleeping on a seat tray, yes the one you eat off of.

Stumbling off the plane from China, clutching my Nepal visa on arrival, yes it’s all worth it to be back here again!

This is my 5th visit to this remarkable country. Twice I’ve traveled here solo to see my friends and help out but the real reason I discovered Nepal is the fact that my son has lived here for 10 years empowering women in one of the poorest countries in the world.

In 2005 he asked me to visit him so I closed up my apartment, took a 3-month break from Palo Alto, put my Van sneakers on, packed 50 rolls of film, and flew to Asia for the first time in my life.

When the earthquake hit Nepal last year, it was a huge re-set for the country, but people make things happen fast here and now things are changing for the better in many ways.

The best thing I’m doing besides walking around the ancient UNESCO world heritage site of Bhaktapur, gazing at temples and drinking up the people who live here is going to the women’s shelter and kicking ass on cleaning, cooking, and organizing alongside the women who live there.

The water installation is nearing completion so the young ladies can take hot showers rather than use a bucket with cold water.

In Nepal you have to live with slow wifi, no electricity at times, and the fact that you may not be able to find things you need to buy like trash bags. But this makes it even more amazing to accomplish things here.

After the earthquake, Beyond the Four Walls built a women’s shelter for displaced girls who were living in tents. They opened the California Cafe serving locals and tourists, employing Nepali girls and it’s now opening in a new location in a garden setting.

The foundation helps girls make empowered choices so they don’t fall prey to child marriage and sex slavery.

Wolf Price, founder of Beyond the Four Walls

Wolf Price, founder of Beyond the Four Walls

It’s exciting to see the water tank go up today. It’s been difficult to get experienced plumbers as so many people need re-construction, but that’s the benefit of having a network of local people in Nepal, knowing people makes things happen faster.

Kind donations from loving people in USA have created the shelter, cafe, and provided schooling for the girls here – it has changed their lives!

You can help this amazing foundation continue it’s work here.

Check out the foundations work here:

Check out the foundations work here:

This lovely young woman came to the shelter this week and is all ready cooking with gas, working and radiating her positive attitude. She faced big challenges in her family when her husband left but she now has a job at the shelter and is happy to be here.

Changing lives in Nepal,

Changing lives in Nepal,

This vibrant girl has been living at the shelter for a year and is managing and assisting on all projects, going to school and translating Nepali to English as needed. She was rescued from a domestic abuse situation and when I met her 3 years ago was a different girl than you see here. She is confident now and happy to be free.

I’m blown away by every day here. I appreciate electricity and water a lot more than I used to. But the thing that keeps me coming back is the people.

They show me how to slow down and connect to what’s important.

I’m going off grid for a bit to an incredible monastery, Kopan, high on a hill overlooking Kathmandu, no wifi but plenty of love and peanut butter. I’ll get to read books on Buddhism, go to dharma talks, and meditate.

Write and let me know what you would like to know about Nepal.

Temple in Bhaktapur,

Temple in Bhaktapur,

Mary Bartnikowski, author, photographer and educator is in Nepal until Sept 15, 2016, read reviews on her book she wrote in Nepal, Kitten Heels in Kathmandu, Adventures of a Female Vagabond.

Donations for Beyond the Four Walls

You can sponsor a girl for $10 a month, check it out.

#Kauai: Power Places


Anini Beach, Kauai, photo,

Suddenly I was on Kauai. My toes tingled and my skin sparkled. 

My mouth dropped open in wonder and awe.

The power of this island surged up from the floor of my soul and out the top of my head. Happy I listened to that urge inside me to leave Hawaii Island and discover Kauai.

I’d been looking for this enchanted place in 32 countries and I never found it until now.

I knew I was home. 

I didn’t think I’d live in the USA again after traveling for 8 years worldwide. But when I found myself lying in the road after a brutal motorbike accident in Thailand, my heart whispered Hawaii.

So with 3 pieces of luggage I came home to the USA and landed in Honolulu, Hawaii not knowing a soul. I’ve never been more thrilled to see the Welcome to the United States of America sign in international arrivals. But this one had hula dancers on it.

Kauai happens to you. And your life is never the same. In the 18 months I’ve lived on this island I continue to discover new secrets that sing to my spirit, and when I visit a powerful place I love I am re-ignited with passion and purpose for my home.

Yesterday I went to Anini Beach in the above photo, and when I got there my heart busted open with gratitude. This is why I live here! Turquoise as far as the eye can see.

You’re dunked in killer beauty and pristine air. Swimming in diamond clear water that wild turtles love to be in!

This place heals you. My toothache disappeared. 

So I’m having dental surgery tomorrow. And I know in the depth of my being, at the core of my spirit that it kicked me into a greatly improved mindset to commune with turtles on Anini Beach.

Maybe I’ll go there right now to get another infusion of fairy dust, see my sea turtle friends, and soar to heaven and back without getting on a plane.

Speaking of that, I went on a helicopter ride and saw all my power places from the sky and it blew my brain cells out of my mind.


Flying Over Kalapaki Bay, Kauai, photo,

I was speechless and that is not an every day thing for me. You feel the radiance of cascading waterfalls, lush emerald green cliffs, and a beckoning bewilderingly blue coastline that delivers instant transformation and peace as you fly over this sacred rock in the middle of the ocean. You feel blessed.

It made me see that you can fly without your body, you just have to steep yourself in a powerful place that calls to you.

Surrender to what you loved as a child. Go see that place on the other side of the world that floats up in your heart when you’re dreaming. You’ll never be the same again. 

Next Post: the video of flying over Kauai in a helicopter.

Mary Bartnikowski, author of 4 books, award-winning photographer, and educator. She has led programs worldwide and at Apple, Stanford University, and Intel.

Join me on Kauai and Discover the Power Places of Kauai. Learn Photography with any Camera, Get Incredible Photos Guaranteed and Change Your Life, includes Luxury Accommodation.

Learn More Here.

Tuesday Miscellany


Matcha mug cake

A few things too small for their own post:

  • Have any of you tried making a mug cake? Do you like them? I found a recipe for a matcha (green tea) mug cake, and it’s easy to make and good tasting (and vegan when I use soy milk). The consistency is a little weird though, so I’m wondering if it’s just this recipe or if they’re all like that. If you have a favorite mug cake recipe, I’d love to hear it!
  • Yesterday I got butterflies in my stomach for the first time over the upcoming Mystery Vacation™. I almost can’t believe it’s coming up in less than two months! Within two weeks of returning from that trip WenYu and I will be making our quick (and probably exhausting) trip to Colorado Springs to check out the college. Our Oahu trip is coming up in June, but yesterday we were reminded that if YaYu attends summer school the dates for that trip will have to change.
  • Meiling is back at work with the same company as she worked for in Portland, but with a new boss. He gave her nearly full-time hours, but with fewer responsibilities than she had at her old location, so she is happy. She says her schedule still gives her plenty of time for classes, homework and assignments. Although the business she works for is located on campus, the job is not school-related so she will continue full-time employment during the summer, and will just have to figure out where she is going to live after she has to move out of the dorm.
  • Both Meiling’s and WenYu’s FAFSAs were completed and submitted this past week – so glad we are done with those for now. The timing for the FAFSA submission is changing this year, and we will be submitting them again this fall for the 2017-2018 school year using our 2015 earnings once more. The move to a fall submission will be a big step toward helping families better figure out how much aid they will qualify for so they can make better decisions about college expenses and affordability.
  • Once again I am feeling very grateful that we stuck it out with the navy and earned those benefits. It was time to renew a prescription for WenYu that she uses to control her acne, and when Brett called the automated renewal line yesterday he was told the cost would be $60 for a 23-day supply. We didn’t remember paying that much for it the last time the prescription was filled, so Brett called back and spoke with a real person and it turns out the cost is $16 for us, not $60. The reason we are feeling so grateful though is that while we were trying to find the price through our insurance we discovered that the regular price for a 23-day supply (there is no generic) is $470.95! Yikes.
  • I will be able to finish up the rest of my annual medical check-up this week. There was an opening at the hospital’s women’s clinic later this morning for a mammogram (I was expecting to wait weeks), and on Wednesday morning I’ll have a fasting blood draw to check my cholesterol and thyroid levels. So far so good with my thyroid, but I have familial high cholesterol (thanks, Mom!) and last year my cholesterol numbers were a little high even thought I take a statin (Lipitor). My doctor would like to continue with my current dosage, so I’m hoping that my eating vegan and getting more exercise this past month will improve my numbers and the dosage won’t need to be increased. My doctor is impressed though that at nearly 64 years old the statin is the only medication I need (I’m relieved).

Sunday Afternoon 1/24/2016


Our Trader Joe’s care package that will be arriving soon :-)!

It’s another gorgeous Sunday here on Kaua’i. Although I would love to go to the beach for a while, Brett wants to go hiking and do some trail maintenance, and I have laundry as well as a couple of other chores to take care of so I’ll be hanging out at home today. I can always put up my umbrella, and sit with my book and some iced tea out in the yard if I want some sun.

We spent five hours yesterday afternoon at the pool. Five hours. It was the last meet of the year for the county high schools (all four of them), but because of some issues with the timing equipment the meet dragged on much longer than usual. Brett and I were thankfully prepared with comfortable chairs, an umbrella for shade, and a cooler full of drinks and healthy snacks. I had on plenty of sunscreen as well, another good thing because my doctor showed up half way through (her son is on the girls’ team) and I would have heard from her if I hadn’t been sufficiently protected from the sun. The other parents at the meet were great company, the girls’ team did well, and both girls had good races. YaYu swam like she had rockets on her feet for the 50m freestyle – that girl can sprint! The finals will be held next week and swimmers for the state tournament chosen, but the girls won’t know until Tuesday which races they’ll be in.

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I’ll finish A God In Ruins tonight. It’s been a great book, one of those ones I almost don’t want to end. Next up is Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day. It’s the first of a three-book series, and the third book, World Gone By, is considered by many critics to be one of 2015’s best books. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve ever read by Lehane (with Mystic River and Shutter Island on top) so am looking forward to getting started on this series.
  • Listening to: It’s been a very quiet morning here. The girls are tired from yesterday so are quieter than usual, and Brett has been reading. Only one lone mower is going in the neighborhood. I sometimes can’t get over how much quieter this neighborhood is compared to our old one, especially the lack of noise from the chickens and roosters. We can hear them, but they’re background noise versus front and center like they were before.
  • Watching: More Downton Abbey tonight followed by another episode of Mercy Street. I wasn’t exactly grabbed by the premier last week, but I’m going to give it a few more tries to see if I can get into it. Brett and I finally finished all the available Murdoch Mysteries, but they ended with a cliffhanger so of course now we can’t wait for the next season. We started watching River on Netflix, and last night rented the movie Mr. Brooks (with Kevin Costner) because we all wanted to watch something creepy.
  • Cooking/baking: Last night I made up a pan of pecan sticky bun french toast for Brett and the girls so all Brett had to do was stick it in the oven this morning. It smelled heavenly, but I was good and had naan bread with peanut butter and a papaya instead. We’re having grilled hot dogs (vegan for me), macaroni & cheese, and coleslaw for dinner tonight.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: Getting all of us everywhere we needed to be on time and still getting to the beach twice. It was a crazy week for everyone in the family when it came to schedules and appointments. I also did not miss a day getting in my two 15-minute rides on the exercise bicycle.
  • Looking forward to next week: Not having any appointments other than heading up to the clinic one morning for a fasting blood draw (my annual cholesterol check). I’m hoping to get together with a couple of friends for either breakfast or lunch, and for good weather again so Brett and I can get to the beach.
  • Grateful for: I’m feeling especially grateful right now for friends who are willing to bring over items for us from Trader Joe’s when they come to Kaua’i. It’s the one mainland store I miss, and there are no replacements here for several of their items. Faithful reader and friend Denise and her husband are heading over to Kaua’i soon (yeah!!) and I am feeling extremely thankful she is willing to bring us over a few Trader Joe’s items. What she’s bringing should keep us for quite a while!
  • Bonus question: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? My secret goal growing up was to marry Prince Charles and become the Queen of England. I wanted to wear the tiaras. And then I thought I might become an artist, but that dream ended when I accepted that I could barely draw a stick figure (I love color though, and am good at putting colors together and arranging things). My family’s dream for me was that I become a nurse, and so I headed down that path until mid-way through college I realized that even though I liked working in hospitals, nursing was everyone else’s dream for me and not my own. It took me a while to figure out that what I wanted to do was stay home and raise my children and take care of my home and family. I got an advanced degree and worked as an ESL instructor for many years, but my teaching never overwhelmed my life or got in the way like my mother’s job had when I and my siblings were growing up.

I hope all of you are enjoying your Sunday afternoon? What are you up to today?

Feel Good Friday


My morning view from the exercise bike

It’s been a busy, but very, very nice week here at Casa Aloha. Other than a rainy day on Wednesday, the weather has been positively glorious. It’s almost hard to believe it’s still January.

There’s lots to feel good about this Friday, too:

  • I finally got my hair cut! I cannot tell you how great it feels to be rid of the “old lady pouf” (which is what happens to my hair when it gets too long).
  • Brett and I went to the beach twice this week. Both days were gorgeous, and the water warm. I am no longer the color of a blanc mange.
  • Both times at the beach we were treated to some spectacular views of humpback whales swimming by. Last Sunday we saw three whales breach; yesterday we saw one – it completely cleared the water (one did on Sunday as well)! Beautiful creatures . . .
  • I rode my exercise bicycle twice a day for 15 minutes every day, another 46+ miles and 1900+ calories burned again this week.
  • Still rocking’ the vegan eating. Did you know that Costco’s apple strudel is vegan?
  • No problems with my teeth and the dentist said my gums are in perfect shape (I was having a couple of issues six months ago).
  • Our new gas dryer was delivered – two weeks early!
  • We put $9.02 in the change/$1 bill jar.
  • The family has done a masterful job of eating leftovers and the fridge is almost cleaned out. For some reason we ended up with more leftovers than usual this week, but the girls took some for their lunches or ate them for breakfast, and Brett and I kept at them as well.

How was your week? What good things happened for you?