Category Archives: travel

Day Trip from Washington DC: Fall Foliage in Shenandoah Valley

Washington DC is full of historic sites, museums, parks and is one of the top dining destinations in the country. You could easily spend weeks here and never tire of the bountiful options for things to do! But if you’re the type who loves a good road trip and beautiful fall foliage, a trip to Shenandoah Valley for its famous Skyline Drive is a must. I was lucky enough to spend two and a half months in Washington DC in the fall of 2016 and one of the things that was at the top of my to-do list was to plan a road trip out to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the peak viewing times for fall foliage.

There are four entrances to Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park. This page will tell you the major highways that lead to each of Shenandoah’s entrances. I’d recommend either exiting or entering at Thornton Gap (in the middle, near the best viewing for folliage) if you’re not planning to drive the whole thing. For a short (2 mile) and easy hike, drive 14 miles south to the Upper Hawksbill trailhead, one of the highest points in the park.

It takes about 3 hours to drive the entire 105 miles of Skyline Drive without stops, but there are numerous lookouts to pull over and places to stop for hike or picnics if you’d like to take a break. Hikes range from beginner to advanced with rewards like panoramic views, wildlife, and waterfalls. You can request free hiking maps from any of the ranger stations when you enter or preview them here. It generally takes about 90 min to 2 hours to get to Shenandoah from Washington DC, depending on which park entrance you use.

Come enjoy #SkylineDrive with us, yet again! ?❤️??? #Shenandoah #RoadTrip @shenandoahnps

A video posted by Malia Yoshioka (@maliayoshioka) on

If you’re spending more than a week in Washington, DC, particularly in the fall, definitely be sure to check out Shenandoah National Park’s Fall Color Reports for tips and a weekly update from park rangers. In 2016, the peak weekend was October 23-23 and I visited both that weekend and the week after, which was still quite beautiful, in my opinion. Note that your entrance fee ($20 per car when I visited) is good for a full week, so you could space out your visits for two chances at peak foliage views and complete different sections of the drive each time.

A few resources for autumn leaf peeping:

If you don’t have time for a day trip out to Shenandoah, there are tons of beautiful sites around the city of DC as well. Rock Creek Park is beautiful for a run, walk or drive and the trees along the Mall and tidal basin are quite colorful too. Arlington Cemetery, Mount Vernon, Seneca Park and the National Arboretum are all great options not too far from the downtown DC area.

>> Check out my Washington DC Destination Guide
>> Check out photos from my galleries on Virginia and Washington DC

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Serendipity

People often ask me questions about the life I’m living, and I get it. I’m definitely not following a conventional path in life or career and some of the choices I make tend to leave others scratching their heads a bit. I often hear, “I wish I could do what you do, but…” or “I could never do what you do”… and a lot of the times, I feel the same but the other way around. There have been other times in my life where I was more focused on following a different path, but I’ve changed (quite a few times) over the years and I don’t regret the long and winding path that’s led me to the person I am today. Nor do I think that the changes will stop any time soon! I think I’ve finally accepted and embraced that.

I’ve always been the kind of person who needs to have a few things happening at once. While I definitely do pour myself into things (school, jobs, marathons and travel are all examples) I am always thinking of the larger picture, or sometimes dreaming up a different picture altogether. I used to have more anxiety around “where is this all going?” but these days, I’ve learned to channel that energy into opening up new paths and being flexible about where they take me.

Washington, DC, for example…

A few months ago, some of my family on my mother’s side were making plans for a celebration of my grandfather’s 90th birthday. I rarely see this side of my family (having grown up an ocean and half a continent away) and it was a chance to visit with my last living grandparent and just about all of my relatives, including my mom and brother. My aunt and uncle generously offered to help me with the plane ticket if I could get myself there…

At first, I turned it down. I’m happy living in Turkey, but I won’t lie – even with the lower cost of living, it’s difficult for me to make ends meet since I can’t legally work there. I don’t exactly have funds for a trans-continental trip lying around at my disposal these days especially after India and Portugal earlier in the year. I also have had bouts with depression and recurrent pain over the years that left me soul searching in the Himalayas and culminated with having surgery in Mumbai before leaving India, further draining my bank account. I do freelance writing and admin or communications work for clients in various time zones (Hawaii, Seattle, Turkey) but I thought perhaps I could take the opportunity to do some work on the ground in the US to help fund the trip to see my family and hopefully get me through another winter in Turkey.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you may have seen that my word for 2016 is SERENDIPITY. (More on this tradition here.) What a serendipitous year it’s been! At the beginning of the year I never dreamed I’d get to visit Portugal or India, but living where I do now and keeping an eye on inexpensive airfares made it possible to cross both off my bucket list. And now I was standing at a crossroads and leaving it up to the world wide web of wonders to see if I could make a trip to the US feasible… I put out a request to my network to see if I could find a job (and a couch to crash on) for a few months and got replies from all over the country! It truly amazes me how things work out when you are open to embracing serendipity.

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend and I was able to spend time visiting with my family in Indiana. We celebrated Grandpa’s 90th and my Uncle Kev’s 60th, ate Skyline Chili, read bedtime stories to the littles and watched old family movies from my mom’s childhood in the barn. I got to meet spouses and kids that have been added to the family tree and spent time with cousins I haven’t seen since a family reunion 16 years ago. I am so thankful to my family for bringing me over for those priceless moments together. I’m looking forward to seeing them again in a few weeks for Thanksgiving. =)

After Indiana, I spent a weekend in Chicago staying with Kim (yes, Kim on a Whim has now settled happily in the Windy City – Go Cubs!) Our friend Edwin flew in for the weekend and we made the most of the short time we had together with all the basics… Eating our way through Chicago with deep dish pizza, italian beef sandwiches, and house-party BBQ. I got to have things I’ve dearly missed in Turkey like poke (even though they spell it wrong) and pho. We explored the city on foot and just about every form of public transport including my favorite – water taxi! And when it was time to move on I booked an overnight train to begin the next chapter in my serendipitous year, DC…

I’d only been to DC once, in the 7th Grade on a school trip to the East Coast. A classmate of mine (who also happened to be on that trip!) now lives in DC and serves as Executive Director for a nonprofit called BEST Kids, Inc. BEST Kids needed support around their annual gala taking place in October and strategy to support their year-round fundraising efforts to continue to provide caring and consistent mentors for youth in DC’s foster care system. It was a perfect fit for me and I’m so grateful to Krislyn for the opportunity to help this organization (and also the space on her couch!) that allowed me to stay in DC for the past two months. It’s been so great to be able to combine work and play, to enjoy the beautiful fall weather here in the nation’s capital and to get to see sides of the city that I wouldn’t have if I had come as a tourist.

My time in DC is winding down, and soon I’ll be heading back to Indiana for Thanksgiving, then back to Turkey at the end of the month. I’m definitely missing my house, boyfriend, cat and being able to sleep in my own bed! Not to mention Turkish food and the beautiful (and soon to be snowy) landscape of Cappadocia.

This year has definitely been one of SERENDIPITY – happy coincidences that have led me to friends, family and new experiences all over the world. Soon it will be time to start thinking about my word for next year, but for now I’m just basking in the moments that have made this year one of continuous surprises and reminded me of the joy of living in the present moment.

Life in Turkey: Seker Bayram and Ramazan

Today was a bit of coincidence as there are major holidays happening in both my homeland and adopted home. So while I’m watching 4th of July beach parties, BBQs and red, white, and blue fireworks displays back in the states, here in Turkey they’re getting ready to celebrate three days of Seker Bayram, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramazan.

Ramazan (known as Ramadan outside of Turkey) is the holiest month in the Muslim calendar. During this time, those observing Ramazan will abstain from vices like swearing, alcohol, sex, and arguing and focus on being kind to others, improving the community and performing acts of charity. Families and friends are united and quarrels are resolved. During the 30 days of Ramazan, Muslims traditionally fast from sunrise to sunset. This includes not just food but anything passing your lips. No smoking, no chewing gum, no brushing your teeth, not even a sip of water!
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250 Days

What a beautiful journey this has been and continues to be, every day… As I’ve recently passed the 250-day mark in my travels, I figured it was time for another update.

When I wrote my 100 Days update, I tried to dispel the myth of travel being so expensive by giving you a breakdown of costs from my first few countries. Although they have gone up slightly in the time since that update ($46 per day now vs. $40 then), they’re still solidly less than what it would cost to live in Hawaii, which reaffirms my decision to take my work on the road. In fact, everything still comes in around $1700 per month, even allowing for bus and air travel, sightseeing, and a few splurges here and there. The following sections will further break things down by country, for those who might be interested.

>> For cost breakdowns from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, please visit my post from my first 100 days.

Bolivia Cost Breakdown

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugFood – $14.33
Lodging – $18.16
Transport – $2.90
Sightseeing – $2.76
Personal – $2.47
Misc – $2.73
Bolivia cost per day: $43.35 (22 days)

Notes: My food costs in Bolivia were on the high side, in part due to a major splurge to take part in the 7-course tasting menu at Gustu. Without that splurge, food was quite reasonable as I often went for set menu almuerzos or inexpensive food at the mercados. Thanks to my friend Freddy, I was also able to keep my sightseeing and transport costs low by really exploring like a local.

>> Bolivia Destination Guide
>> Bolivia Photo Galleries

Chile Cost Breakdown

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugFood – $18.80
Lodging – $16.89
Transport – $9.69
Sightseeing – $10.31
Personal – $3.29
Chile cost per day: $58.97 (9 days)

Notes: Everything in Chile was quite expensive, although I did luck out in Santiago with a hostel that had fast wifi, a good location and a great price. Whenever I make my way through a city or country quickly, the costs really add up and don’t have a chance to be distributed over a longer number of days. This is a perfect example of why “slow travel” really lowers your overall costs and allows you to dig deeper into the experience of a place.

>> Chile Destination Guide
>> Chile Photo Galleries

Argentina Cost Breakdown

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugFood – $14.38
Lodging – $18.83
Transport – $7.76
Sightseeing – $2.87
Personal – $4.28
Misc – $0.18
Argentina cost per day: $48.31 (29 days)

Notes: Lodging was my biggest cost in Argentina, as I splurged on a hotel for a few days when I was sick. Transport is also a bit high because I splurged on the “suite” category for the overnight bus between Mendoza and Buenos Aires. Staying in a hostel meant I was often surrounded by people who were on holiday, which meant eating out a lot since it was always someone’s last night, which can get expensive quickly. It would have been easy to lower food costs if I’d taken advantage of the kitchen a bit more, but the steak (and wine! and coffee!) in Argentina was so tempting that I ate out much more than I should have! Although I don’t regret it one bit. 😉

>> Argentina Destination Guide
>> Argentina Photo Galleries

South Africa Cost Breakdown

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugFood – $11.29
Lodging – $24.00
Transport – $3.94
Sightseeing – $2.67
Personal – $5.78
Misc – $0.20
South Africa cost per day: $47.87 (58 days)

Note: My lodging costs in South Africa were significantly higher than anywhere else I’ve been in the world. Even a dorm bed in a hostel ran about $18 and although I did have some good luck with Airbnb, I also splurged on a hotel room before and after the Two Oceans Half Marathon and as a treat for my birthday! Another note is that if you are counting on access to free wifi, it’s extremely limited in South Africa. I ended up getting a SIM card with data and rates were quite expensive compared to other countries.

>> South Africa Destination Guide
>> South Africa Photo Galleries

What’s next?

I’m still working at freelance writing, social media consulting and various partnerships with brands I trust. While I can’t say that it’s enough to live off, I am not ready to give up the dream yet and I’m considering this an exploration of a new career path. I’ve also had a few semi-serious offers to work in exchange for accommodation or food here in Cappadocia, which are quite tempting as it’s quite a magical place!

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugMany have asked me and the answer remains that I am not tired of this new nomadic life, yet. I have learned so much about the places that I’ve traveled and I believe even more strongly today than when I started that the best way (for me, at least) to learn about the world and its many interwoven cultures is through food. It’s a common thread that gives me somewhere to start, even in places where I have no frame of reference and know so little of the history, language or culture of the people. Seeing variations on similar dishes, ingredients or cooking techniques really helps me to learn the ways that people have moved and interacted through history and it is endlessly fascinating! Nearly every place I’ve been is proud of its food and traditions. Eating together and handing down recipes through generations reminds people of family. These things are universal, no matter how different we are.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me! :)

Looking Back: South America

Looking back on our time in South America, it’s hard to imagine that I would have fallen in love with the continent quite the way that I did. When I first decided to plan this trip, I was debating between going back to spend time in Asia, which I loved and knew that I could easily fall back into. But I’m so happy that in the end, I decided to try something new.

Colombia

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugWhen Kim and I landed in Bogota, the adventure was full of “firsts”. I can still remember the first delicious empanada from a street cart, our caffeine-fueled days (including my first time riding a horse!) in Salento, and eating picada on Calle 70 or catching the cable cars in Medellin. We also made it up the 740 steps of La Piedra on our day trip to Guatape. But the highlight has to be getting to visit with Emily and Bryan once again (after six years) and toasting their engagement! In Cali, we also were able to experience country club living and to catch a futbol match featuring some of the worlds most energetic fans who made up for the world’s laziest cheerleaders. Returning to Bogota, I got a great education in street food and some of Colombia’s food traditions, thanks to my excellent AirBnB host, David.

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Colombia Photo Galleries (still being updated!)
>> Food highlights: caldo de costilla, ajiaco, empanadas, stuffed arepas, guanabana, guarapo, bandeja paisa, casuela de frijoles, lechona, pandebono con arequipe

Ecuador

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugWhere do I even begin? Ecuador was my favorite country in South America. I started out with a trip into the jungle near Tena with Andres and Carter, who later became partners in all kinds of food adventures. I fell in love with the beautiful mountains and volcanoes, the historical buildings in Quito‘s Centro historico, standing on the Equator line at Mitad del Mundo, the street food and the great friends that I made there. I loved my tour down the Avenue of the Volcanoes to visit Cotopaxi the Nariz del Diablo train, plus a side trip to Banos (where I got to try ziplining!), the “swing at the end of the world”, and Lake Quilotoa, which literally took my breath away – and not just because of the altitude! Celebrating my first thanksgiving away from home with the Espinoza family really made my time in Ecuador special. Meeting fellow travel blogger, Dyanne (aka The Traveln Lass) in Cuenca and spending a food-filled and family-centric 24 hours in Loja made it so hard to want to catch my bus on to Peru, but eventually I did.

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Ecuador Photo Galleries
>> Food highlights: hornado, choclo mote, chuntacuro (not my favorite, but happy I tried them!), seco de chivo, cevice, locro de papas, emapanadas de morocho, salchipapas, guayusa tea, encebollado, picada, mote pillo, cecina, horchata, cafe lojano

Peru

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugWhen I first got to Peru, I was coming off of such a wonderful time in Ecuador that it never really had a fair shot. But all was forgiven with my first bite of ceviche in Lima. Oh, the seafood! I spent my time in Lima gorging myself on ceviche, including my last meal at one of the mercados in Surquillo, where I got to meet up with Henry and Megan of the Borderless Project, before heading onto the overnight bus to Cusco. I loved the cool temperature and the holiday atmosphere there as the town got into the spirit of Christmas. I took a fantastic cooking class on Christmas night after a Google Hangout with my family, and returned to my hostel to find the entire place gathered around a holiday meal. I also made some great friends to come along on food missions (hola Noelia, Ross & Diego!) and even to drag me out for a night dancing! To celebrate the new year, I headed to Machu Picchu with a day trip to the Sacred Valley en route, and then the train from Ollantaytambo. I spent New Year’s Eve overnight in Aguas Calientes and woke early the next morning to greet 2015 among the ruins of Machu Picchu. Finding my own little corner to sit and reflect and to watch the clouds swirl in and out of the ruins was exactly what my heart needed – time to sit and reflect and to breathe it all in.

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Peru Photo Galleries
>> Food highlights: In Lima, ceviche, ceviche, and more ceviche! In Cusco, anticuchos, rocoto relleno, pisco sours, chilcanos, chicha morada, lomo saltado, spicy adobo, and finally getting to try cuy.

Bolivia

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugBolivia is definitely a country that I’d like to return to revisit – the three weeks I spent there were not enough! I based myself in La Paz and slowed down enough to really try to get a feel for the pace of daily life – frequenting the mercados (I especially loved Mercado Lanza and the sprawling Mercado Rodriguez on the weekends), using local transportation, having inexpensive almuerzos for lunch. The ruins at Tiwanaku and the crazy lunar landscape of Valle de la Luna were both easily done as day trips. One day, my new friend Freddy and I caught a bus out to stay overnight in Copacabana and I can still remember the taste of the trout fried in garlic right on the shore of Lake Titicaca – yum! I found the perfect spot to burn my letter to the Universe looking over the town and the lake from the top of Calvario de Copacabana – truly magical. Eventually, I said goodbye to La Paz and headed south to the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni for a three day tour by Jeep, where I made new friends from Brazil, Paraguay and China. We had a blast and took hundreds of photos of the gorgeous natural landscape that still doesn’t do it justice – salt flats mirrored with water, volcanoes covered with snow, geysers and alpine lakes of various colors with flamingos, llamas, vicunas and even a fox!

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Bolivia Photo Galleries
>> Food highlights: silpancho, trucha al ajillo, chicharron, tucumanas, saltenas, sopa de mani, chairo, quinoa soup, wines from Tarija and of course the 7-course tasting menu at Gustu! (Mahalo Nate!)

Chile

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugI was coming off of the high from the salt flats and also months spent in the (literally) higher altitude of the Andes, so arriving in the dusty desert of northern Chile at San Pedro de Atacama was a bit jarring to my system and I quickly moved on further south to Santiago. I spent a week there enjoying the more European feel of the city – lots of green parks, quick wifi, and of course enjoying the Chilean wine! I had a lovely cooking class and mercado tour and on my last day I decided to take a day trip to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso which included a stop at Indomita winery. I loved the colorful streets of Valparaiso and although we didn’t get to stop at the Pablo Neruda museum, I could see why he chose to keep one of his three homes there – the views of the ocean were spectacular.

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Chile Photo Galleries
>> Food highlights: ceviche, emapanadas de pino, chorillanas, and having a real espresso after months of Nescafe. Reading Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s ode to Caldillo de Congrio while enjoying a bowl of it was especially memorable.

Argentina

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugI stopped in Mendoza only for a few days, which was enough time for my first taste of amazing Argentinian steak and excellent wine for less than the cost of water! I was fortunate to get to experience much more of the asado tradition when I headed to Buenos Aires – in a parrilla tour of San Telmo, a 5-course closed door dinner in Palermo Soho and four times at the steakhouse around the corner from our hostel! I was reunited with Kim after her Antarctica cruise and we spent a week staying in Recoleta to change things up a bit before being lured back to San Telmo. I loved the feel of the neighborhood and the tango, although I never did get to dance it. We used the bus to get around to other areas – for hip brunches in Palermo, to stroll the Caminito in La Boca, along the waterfront in Puerto Madero and downtown, but also caught the train up North to Tigre for a day. We toured the Presidential Palace and saw the balcony where Evita greeted the people. I also enjoyed just taking hours just walking around and taking it in, stopping into a coffee shop or restaurant to enjoy a meal or a glass of wine.

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Argentina Photo Galleries
>> Food highlights: asado/parrilla fare like steaks (lomo, ojo de bife, bife de chorizo), mollejas, chimichurri, salsa criolla and of course provoleta. Choripan, medialunas, empanadas, dulce de leche (in so many forms), excellent coffee. Lots of Malbec.

The journey continues…

And now another adventure begins. South Africa will be my 6th continent and 35th country – just before my 35th birthday! But really, it’s going to be a whole new world. I’ve got two months between my flight into Cape Town on Saturday and out of Johannesburg at the beginning of May. In between, I’m hoping to do a bit less moving around than I did in South America – perhaps even to find an apartment that I can rent and buckle down to do less exciting things like work and my taxes (ugh!). This new nomadic life is awesome but sometimes it’s good to slow the pace a bit to recharge…

Thanks so much for reading and coming along for the ride!