I love a lot of things, like coffee, new shoes, blankets and hot cocoa, comfortable rides on public transportation; but there’s not much I love more than the sound, sight and smell of water meeting land. That said, it’s no surprise that I adored Jeju Island.
Even though it was November/December, Jeju has just enough of a warm climate to sustain fruit and farming for most of the year. Coming from the bland dead of winter, the green fields and mandarin orange trees were a sight for sore eyes. The island also was borne of a volcano, so the majority of rocks are porous and black and fascinating. Some of the beaches are a normal white and since it’s the end of fall, some areas of the island also sport the browns and yellows of retiring plants.
So when the blues of the ocean, the green and orange and the black and the occasional white or brown or yellow come together, it’s like walking into Toys-R-Us for my eyeballs. I did my very best to capture some of the beauty on camera, but there was nothing like seeing it in person. Here are my best shots.
Which picture is your favorite? Have you ever been to an island similar to Jeju?
Shopping for a traveler, let alone a perpetual traveler can be tough. Those who spend a lot of time on the road usually tend to reject the notion of “stuff” and try to be as minimalist as possible. If the traveler you know has sold their home, then it’s even harder to shop; if your gift isn’t well-received, it will probably be left behind somewhere, maybe re-gifted to someone you don’t know or left at the local Goodwill donation center. So what should you buy someone who is easily burdened by the unnecessary? What should you give a traveler for Christmas?
Being a traveler myself, a person without a house to keep things in and someone who is constantly shedding their belongings to fit them in a suitcase, I thought I’d offer some tips. But I, just one person, can’t speak for everyone. Each traveler is different, but hopefully this list at least sparks an idea for you. Christmas shopping is hard, I know, and my mom can vouch that it’s especially hard when you’re shopping for a moving target.
So here are my suggestions.
Provided your traveler enjoys reading and has an eReader (many of us do!), then eBooks are always a hit. Not only can you buy and deliver this gift from the comfort of your chair, but the traveler doesn’t have to jump through any post office/redemption hoops. They just need to find WiFi. And within minutes, they’ll be reading.
The tricky part is which book to get them. As this is a highly personal choice, I’d recommend getting a third-party to ask if they have a wish list somewhere and shopping from there. If you have to shoot blindly, then a wanderlust-inciting story is usually a safe bet.
Note: if your traveler doesn’t have an eReader, then you may need to help them. I’d recommend the Kindle Paperwhite; I’ve had mine for two months and it’s revolutionized my (literary) life.
Thin, Versatile Clothing
Folks on the road are constantly wearing their clothes out. While it’s easy to buy clothes abroad, it’s also nice to be gifted quality threads. Traveling clothes usually need to be lightweight, frill-free and easy to wear in a variety of situations. Think t-shirts, thin sweaters and undershirts, neutral colors or classic patterns, like stripes. For most jet-setters, trends fall to the wayside while comfort and usability become paramount.
A Custom Map Key Chain/Necklace
A nomad’s life is place-independent and yet, completely fixated on location; a strange mix. Getting a traveler a small token of a special place they’ve been, where they are from or where their loved ones are is a sure way to put a smile on your wanderer’s face. And the gift is small, which is a must.
You can find several shops on Etsy that will put any map into a necklace/key chain/tie fastener/etc and for not too much money. This shop, Brass and Chain, has a nice mix of items and won’t break the bank.
Situations pop up all the time when traveling where the vagabond in question needs to write something of importance down for later. Scraps of paper are easily lost and memory can be faulty; sometimes language barriers require a drawing of some kind. A small, portable notebook is always a big help on the road and serves as a principle place to put down directions, phone numbers, the address of that night’s hostel or anything else of importance.
You know when you were younger and opened up a present, then hid your disappointment with a big exaggerated thank you, because Aunt Susan gave you socks, again? Well this is the opposite reaction of those always on the road; socks are destroyed and smelly in short order and constantly need replaced. If you give socks to your favorite traveler, the thank you and accompanying smile will be genuine. Their feet will thank you, as well.
An Unlocked Smart Phone
This gift is only for the rich among us, as buying smart phones out of contract is tremendously expensive. Any traveler can tell you that their smart phone is their life and not because it can make phone calls. Essentially a smart phone can be used simply as a mini computer, when it has access to WiFi, and in-country SIM cards can be purchased just about everywhere, so wandering foreigners can call their hostel if they’re in a jam. If your traveling friend has an old or broken smart phone, no phone or even worse, a Blackberry (!!!), then they would likely be very appreciative of an iPhone 5, for instance. The obvious downside is this gift is pricey.
A Wide Scarf
Travelers all know of the usefulness of a good scarf; not only can it keep your neck warm, but it can cover your head in conservative places, double as a towel when in need, cover legs in the middle of doing laundry, keep breakables from breaking… the uses go on. Just make sure you buy a scarf wide enough to be versatile and lightweight enough to bring everywhere.
While I haven’t purchased from FashionABLE myself, I’ve heard tons of positive things not only about the scarves themselves, but also the business. Ethiopian women make these scarves by hand and get the opportunity to leave poverty behind at the same time.
Chances are your vagabond wants to document what they’re seeing either for themselves, for you, or possibly a wider audience. While I don’t have one myself, every traveler and their mother mentions GoPro cameras as a must-have. It’s essentially an ultra-durable and waterproof camera with excellent video capabilities. If your traveler already has one, they may be lusting over the GoPro head-strap for situations where they need both hands. If your vagabond is more of a DSLR kind of guy/gal when it comes to photography, they may want a GorillaPod when extra hands are unavailable. Camera gear can become heavy and burdensome, though, so proceed with caution and understanding; this gift is a hit or miss.
Buy What They’re Selling
If your wandering friend is on the road long-term, chances are they are offering some kind of service to make money while mobile. Lots of travelers have written and sell eBooks, some people offer web design services, yet others offer prints of their photographs (like me!) or the chance to buy a postcard from them. Whatever it is that your friend is offering, consider sending them a big order. You could even buy from your favorite vagabond as a Christmas gift, and then give that product to someone else who’d appreciate it more than you. Two birds with one stone, my friend, you’ve just double Christmas shopped.
A Gift Receipt
Aside from straight cash, this may be the best gift you could give a traveler. Whatever it is you decide to buy, always remember to include either a gift receipt or contact information for doing a return/getting a refund. No wanderlusting friend wants to leave your gift behind because they couldn’t figure out how to return it and pick up something more useful. And you wouldn’t want them to: always give the option of returning/exchanging your present.
Plane tickets are getting more expensive, but your friend’s desire to see the world is probably still on the rise. There’s nothing better than receiving money, and if you want to make sure the money is put to good use, write a little note about what you’d like your friend to put it towards. Flights always need paid, hostels booked, and buses paid for. If your vagabond is young, chances are they have a loan or two that is keeping them from total freedom. If they blog, then they may have yearly web hosting costs. Sending them $50 to help them on their way, even just a little bit, is a gesture that every traveler appreciates.
Travelers, what’s on your Christmas list this year? What’s the best vagabond-related gift that you’ve ever received?
When it comes to people, distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. But that phrase came about for a reason, and I think that perhaps, the inventor of that phrase was actually thinking of their hometown when they said it. Ever since I’ve spent time away from home and in other lands, I’ve returned with more and more love for Pittsburgh. Maybe at that exact time Pittsburgh was also getting more and more awesome, which could be the case, but I think I was also wising up to the fact that it’s not such a bad place to be.
And with my upcoming short-term return, my mind has been dwelling on the things I’m looking forward to doing in the city of bridges. I figure that it’s about time that I sing the praises of this random US city to the travel community. Someone has to represent, right? And I’m not just saying Pittsburgh is the best because I’m from there and everything has a nostalgic feeling for me, but I truly think it’s an incredible city to live in and to sight see through. Somehow, Pittsburgh has managed to hold onto its history and past, while also making crazy futuristic advancements in a variety of areas. I love that mix; old and new, past and future. So as a city it’s got a lot to offer, my favorite of which are these following thirteen things.
1// It’s Not Dirty Anymore
So when you think of Pittsburgh, I’m guessing you think of steel or industry or possibly Heinz. Well, the factory central days of Pittsburgh are over, and have been for quite some time. The steel production has all but ceased in the areas near the city, and the air is clean, gloriously clean. One of the old steel mills was actually turned into a giant shopping center with an awesome movie theater and some nonfunctional smoke stacks as a reminder of history. Lovely. The days of black-stained-stone suburban homes are gone, Pittsburgh is as clean as can be these days.
2// Riversides Galore
Downtown Pittsburgh is situated on this triangle of land, surrounded by two rivers and a technical third, created by the rivers merging. Obviously it spills over onto both sides of all three of the rivers, which leads to one wonderful development. Riversides, glorious, river fronts and river walks and river trails galore. There’s a riverside biking/hiking trail, an entire park on “the point”, where the two rivers merge, over the river balconies and restaurants, and other random uses of riverside space. And that doesn’t even touch the boating, river cruises and just ducky tours. Pittsburgh does rivers right.
3// Market Square & PPG Plaza
Market Square and PPG Plaza are a street away from one another, so they’re kind of the same entity. In summer, Market Square has outdoor tables and plenty of restaurants and coffee shops to make sitting outside beautiful. PPG Plaza has cool automated fountains at ground level, so kids can come and run around getting soaked with water on hot days. The mood is always friendly and relaxed, even inside such a busy urban area of downtown. In winter, PPG Plaza is transformed into a giant ice skating arena with a massive Christmas tree in the middle. Tell me that isn’t awesome! You’re wrong! It’s awesome!
4// It’s Bikeable
There are some parts of the city that are a little terrifying on bicycle, particularly the busy downtown/fifth avenue areas. Thankfully, though, that area is very small, and the majority of the city is actually very accessible to bikers. The Southside always has a million bikers, head East over to Oakland and there are two million bikers, go deeper into Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield and Lawrenceville and you have yourself a biking party at every intersection. You can even bike over bridges. So if you’re visiting, the bike-ability should be a great help, as you can transport yourself places more easily. (Except for Mt. Washington which just can’t be helped, because it’s a giant effing mountain. Sorry.)
Do you like amusement parks? Do you like places that have history and character? Do you like really terrifyingly awesome roller coasters and delicious french fries covered in gravy? Then I can assure you that Pittsburgh’s nearby amusement park, Kennywood, is going to be one of your new favorites. It’s been open for over a hundred years, the signs are old-timey, the rides are new-timey/terrifying at times and the food is delicious, heart-attack-inducing deliciousness.
6// The Pirates’ Recent Comeback
So while the last ten years were the Steelers’ golden years, they’ve since fallen into disarray that involves rape lawsuits and less than spectacular game performance. Somewhere in there, the Pens also blew a few people’s minds, but now it’s the Pirates’ turn. While for years Pittsburgh’s baseball team has held records, those have been of the depressing variety: the most consecutive losses, the most years in a row with a losing average, etc. This year, the Pirates came back, kicked butt and advanced pretty far into the playoffs. Pittsburgh baseball has officially gone from zero to hero and that’s pretty damn awesome, if you ask me.
7// The T
If you’re a public transportation nerd and addict, then Pittsburgh public transportation will satisfy you somewhat, though like most US cities, it has a ways to go. But what I love most about Pittsburgh’s public transportation system has been the continued use of the Trolley, affectionately (at least by me) called “The T”. It’s an above ground rail car that also heads underground, depending on the area, and serves most of the southern suburb areas, bringing people into the downtown area and back out. I’m not sure why I like it so much, considering that it can’t get you very far within Pittsburgh and there are only two main lines (and a couple other side shoots), so maybe this item is more nostalgia based than the others. It’s still great. You can’t tell me otherwise.
8// It’s Kind Of Hipster
Recently, someone somewhere said Pittsburgh was more hipster than Portland, Oregon. (So specific, I know!) Looking around areas like Lawrenceville and Squirrel Hill, you could easily believe it. Small businesses abound, fresh produce and fair trade, gluten-free menu items, biking as previously mentioned and farmer’s markets are all getting some solid business in Pittsburgh. You can find grocery store co-ops, tons of local breweries, a restaurant/brewery built inside an old, converted church. The Southside hosts a population that seems to be 100% tattooed and pierced from first glance. I could go on, but just suffice it to say that Pittsburgh is kind of hipster and for people looking for interesting dining/walking experiences, this is a huge plus.
9// Primanti Brothers
Do you like sandwiches? Primanti’s is a city-wide chain that started the way the best places do, as a hole in the wall in 1933, in a busy industrial district. Why is this place still around? Because putting french fries and coleslaw on an Italian bread, deli meat sandwich is GENIUS. Every time I come home, one of the meals I look forward to most is my first Primanti Brothers sandwich. Is it unhealthy? You bet. Is it difficult to bite, because the sandwich the size of half your face? Absolutely. Is it my recommended daily calories, in one meal? Yep. Worth it.
10// The Southside
The Southside isn’t just home to tattooed people and tattoo parlors, it’s a mishmash of interesting things, all down one very long street. (Technically the area is all the Southside, though most people mean East Carson Street when they say the name.) I’d recommend biking down Carson, but if you have the leg power and the time, walking is also a great option. All along the street you’ll find the most eclectic collection of shops: gyro places, tattoo and piercing parlors, pizza shops, independent coffee shops and a pricy sushi restaurant, some hardware stores and fair trade shops, my favorite Burger place Fatheads (that also has a huge selection of local beers), another million piercing places, a hookah bar or two, some normal bars, an Irish bar that has a little person come in on Tuesdays? Thursdays?, and towards the end of the street, a super developed area with fancy designer clothing, H&M and a favorite restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. Talk about a weird mix.
[Note: I’ve just been informed that the aforementioned little person has passed away. RIP.]
11// The View From Mount Washington
If you want to get a view of the city (which you do, believe me), then it’s mandatory that you take the incline (trolley up the mountain) up to Mount Washington and go see the overlook. It’s a traditional spot for prom photos, engagement pictures and other picture-worthy occasions, so you won’t be alone up there. But it’s a stunning view, especially at night, and the view does not disappoint. Nor does the intro picture of this post, taken from Mt. Washington, do it justice, you’ll have to go see it yourself.
12// The Newly-elected Mayor Actually Cares
Nothing drags a city down like a crappy government, and while this may have been the case in the past (cough, cough, Ravenstahl and strippers), the future looks bright. Bill Peduto will come into office this January, and he’s already accepting applications for transition committees to get things running smoothly is a bunch of areas. As far as I can tell, Peduto is actually…. ethical. Insane for a politician, right? And when the mayor actually cares about the city he’s supposed to work for, then good things are on the horizon. Hurray.
13// Green Things
Did you know that Pittsburgh is actively trying to make the city buildings environmentally friendly? In the USA, Pittsburgh is 4th in line for having the most green buildings. The convention center is LEED-certified, seven Carnegie Mellon University buildings are “green” and the list goes on. The commitment to green space within the downtown area is easy to see and if you head farther East, towards the city neighborhoods, you can find tons of park and grass areas. Who doesn’t love green?
Have you ever been to Pittsburgh? What do you love about the city? Do you disagree with anything? What’s the best sandwich from Primanti Brothers?
After a few people came to Korea for the first time and I was bubbling with things for them to do and especially eat, I knew that this post needed to be written. I’m obsessed with food and I love eating. I’ll try almost anything at least once. This list is definitely not an exhaustive list of everything delicious in Korea; that’s just impossible to do. This is just a list of what kinds of food I would definitely force my family members to eat if they came to visit. That means what I find especially delicious will easily find itself at the top, it’s just the nature of the game. Soju & makgoelli are also on this list, despite being drinks.
I’ve grouped them into fives, the ones at the top are more important than the groups at the bottom. Meatless items have an asterisk (*) and full-blown, no fish and no meat vegetarian items are doubly starred (**). I’ve linked each item either to my own post, a Wikipedia entry or occasionally elsewhere to clarify what exactly it is.
Are you ready to eat? You’ll need a very, very empty stomach and perhaps a solid week to even manage all of these items. Here they are!
Patbingsu**: Ice, condensed milk, sweet red bean, rice cake, maybe nuts or other additives and you have one addictingly delicious dessert. That link leads to a guest post in which I raved for several paragraphs, in detail, about the food I’ll miss the most from Korea.
Hwae*, or sashimi (Wikipedia has such a weird spelling for this word, please disregard) is basically sushi, just without all of those unnecessary extras like rice or avocado. Raw fish, dip in spicy sauce, and eat.
Samgyeopsal or Korean barbeque is meat-tastic and delicious; technically samgyeopsal refers to thick pieces of bacon that you grill at your table, but the same shops will also sell several other cuts of meat like rib or beef. Eat with lettuce, spicy sauce, garlic and other additives for a mouth-flavor explosion.
Bibimbap(**) is a very typical cheap lunch with a rice base and several different kinds of vegetables that you mix together and maybe add spicy pepper paste to. You can ask for no meat, if you’re a veggie, and some versions already replace the meat with a kind of vegetable.
Hoddeok** is the sweet dessert of my dreams during the winter. It’s fried rice cake, filled with cinnamon and other nutty flavors on the inside.
Ddeokbokki* is a street food that’s especially good at night, after a few glasses of alcohol, with fried foods to dip in the sauce. Think hot rice cake and little bits of fish cakes covered in liquid spiciness.
Soju** tastes terrible but it’s a rite of passage, however don’t underestimate the alcohol content in it. It’s like vodka’s weak and grosser cousin that for some reason grows on you.
Makgeolli** is amazing when done right and an unfortunate decision when done wrong. Kind of like rice water with sugar and alcohol.
Sweet filled rice cakes**, preferably purchased from an elderly Grandma on the street are usually filled with things like honey, sesame seeds, or red bean. It’s always a surprise when you bite into one!
Mandu, or Korea’s version of dumplings, are addicting. Three typical kinds: kimchi (spicy!), pork and vegetables, or seafood.
Grilled eel* is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s yummy.
Raw beef and I promise you won’t die. Really. Mix with raw egg for the most tasty results.
Cold noodles(**), but proceed with caution because there is a large variety of tastes and some are quite strange, for best results, get a solid description in English (some noodles are in a beef broth, some are not).
Kimbab(*)(**), it looks like sushi but can have meat, tuna or simply vegetables inside instead of raw fish. It’s perfect for being on the go.
Dakgalbi is chicken, grilled at your table with spicy sauce, cabbage and rice cake. For some strange reason it’s really good.
Pork bone soup sounds terrifying, but it’s absolutely delicious. See the link for a more complete description: number 4, “Haejang Guk”.
Coagulated blood soup also sounds terrifying, but tastes so yummy if you can get over the fact that you’re eating blood jello. Don’t worry, there are noodles and vegetables too!
Squiggling, moving octopus* that you should chew very well before swallowing. This isn’t on the list for the taste, no it’s here because of the experience.
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Istanbul is one of those huge cities with both way too many things to see and longer distances to navigate to get there. Because my mom and I had a short time in Istanbul, only five full days (we traveled to Cyprus as well), I suggested that we look into a tour that covered some of the most famous sites in a shorter amount of time, right at the beginning of our trip. The idea was that we’d see the must-sees and wouldn’t waste any time getting lost on the way there, and in the process get ourselves somewhat oriented to getting around the city. So I did a little blog research and came across My Local Guide Istanbul, also known as Salih.
Since I was seventeen, it feels like I’ve been constantly on the move. I ventured out to Austria, became infatuated with a world I could never see enough of, and began a series of geographic shifts that came with no less frequency than every year. I’ve spend five years like this; in and out and on to the next. Sometimes I moved away, and sometimes I returned back home and left something behind. I’ve had a whole lot of hellos and I’m no stranger to goodbyes. Continue reading On Losing Touch with Friends
I’ve never been a big fan of group trips while I’m living abroad, because of a few (admittedly petty) reasons. first of all, I despise being part of a foreigner parade and watching locals gawk at “all the foreigners”. it’s weird. it’s uncomfortable. secondly, I am pretty introverted and when it comes to spending an excess amount of hours with a bunch of people I am somewhat obligated to make small talk with, I get overwhelmed. I’d rather not. the last reason is that I like doing my own thing, because group tours will often visit sites that I’m simply not interested in. I wanna see my own places. I like to wander off the trail and do my own thing. but, all that being said, I made an exception over a recent weekend and signed up for a two-day group trip with Adventure Korea. (the same company that took me on the DMZ trip.)
while talking to people here and there, I’ve come to realize something I had previously overlooked: my job is awesome.
I’m not talking about my job teaching English in Korea (which is also pretty awesome), but about my specific job. my school, my contract and my living situation is pretty bad-ass. it’s also the only job I applied for, so it’s pretty obvious that I lucked-out big time.