Category Archives: travel tips

Managing Your Money on the Road

(null)I opened my eyes and looked out past the lace curtain on my time-capsule 70s hotel room. Without needing to leave the warmth of my bed and its four layers of thick blankets, I could watch the morning fog roll down the side of the mountains surrounding my hotel in La Paz, Bolivia. My eyes strained to make out the silhouette of the teleferico station perched at the edge of the plateau where El Alto begins, and the tiny cable cars rolling up and down the steep hillside, like toys.

My time in Bolivia was drawing to a close and I was contemplating how much money I would need for my last few days in the country. It’s always a tough balance – you never want to have too much, but of course you don’t want to run out either, so I in my sleep-haze I began attempting the mental addition to figure out how much I’d need to settle my hotel bill, book a tour in Salar de Uyuni to see the famous salt flats, and to get myself to the Chilean border in the next few days.

I reached down to the floor to rummage around in my purse for my wallet to see how many Bolivianos I had left after dinner the night before.

My heart nearly stopped – my ATM card was missing!
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Lost in Translation

Learning the word "delicious" and how to ask "what do you recommend?" are two of the easiest ways to break the ice doing something you do every day - eat!

Learning the word “delicious” and how to ask “what do you recommend?” are two of the easiest ways to break the ice doing something you do every day – eat!

One of the things I love best about traveling in a foreign country is the feeling of being out of my comfort zone. When I’m in a place where I don’t speak the language, every day tasks such as finding a good place for lunch, catching the right bus or trying to buy shampoo become learning experiences. Although it can be challenging at times (and I often feel like an idiot) it forces me to be humble, to ask for help and to use more of my brain every day.

In 2008 when I was in Laos, I wrote a post about the language barrier and how it was frustrating when it prevented me from doing simple things like getting where I wanted to go. In Asia, being half-Japanese worked to my advantage because I didn’t stand out as obviously as being foreign. It’s the same here in Ecuador until I open my mouth and I’m forced to show how bad my Spanish is!
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Where to Eat in Portland: Food Carts


Portland’s unofficial motto. Love it!

When I mention to people that I’ve never been to Portland, they’re always surprised. It’s one of the great food cities of the West Coast, and it’s been on my radar for years but I had never gotten around to making an actual stop there for one reason or another. My cousin Daniel moved up there five years ago, so I even had a place to stay. So this year, I found a way to fit it into my plans.

I’m so glad that I finally did!

Although on this trip I had a very limited budget, it was no problem in Portland. The variety of inexpensive and creative food found right on the streets blew me away. Plus I always love the chance to support local businesses, so food carts are right up my alley.

Portland was really one of the first cities to truly embrace the food cart craze, and I’m happy to report that it’s still going strong – it’s reported that there are over 600 food carts in operation. You can find just about every type of ethnic food to match any craving. And I’m not just talking about your standard gyros, korean fusion tacos, or grilled cheese trucks – although you can find excellent examples of all three. When I asked for Portland recommendations, I was told to seek out a Mauritian, a Georgian (the country, not the state), and a Transyvlanian cart. How cool is that?

Sheryl, my foodie partner-in-crime for the day.

Sheryl, my foodie partner-in-crime for the day.

Needless to say I was in food heaven just thinking of the possibilities. So on my first day, my old friend Sheryl was kind enough to meet up with me on her lunch break so that we could try a variety of trucks. Two girls + five food carts in a little under two hours = full bellies and lots of leftovers! That’s my favorite kind of math. 😉 Here’s a look at some of the things we tried.

My (Current) Favorite Portland Food Carts

*I have to put the disclaimer here that this is my current list of favorites – I’m sure that given a few more days I’ve have a bunch more to recommend. These were my highlights from my first visit to the magical land of food carts, better known as Portland.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai


Chicken & Rice ($8) from Nong’s Khao Man Gai

One of three locations, the Downtown cart for Nong’s Khao Man Gai is in my favorite food cart pod at SW 10th & Alder. This was my cousin Daniel’s recommendation and the only cart that I loved so much I had it twice!

The menu is short – they do one thing, and they do it well. Order the chicken & rice and it comes tied up with a rubber band along with a container of light soup to wash it down. So simple & delicious, although a little messy to eat unless you’ve got a table to sit at. In fact, their website has a tutorial video on how to eat Khao Man Gai. Be warned – it will make you hungry!

Nong’s Khao Man Gai (Downtown)
SW 10th & Alder St.
Portland, OR 97205
Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Yelp

Kargi Gogo

Khinkali - stuffed beef & pork dumplings ($6)

Khinkali – stuffed beef & pork dumplings ($6) from Kargi Gogo

Owners Sean and McKinze wrapped up over two years in the Peace Corps in Georgia in 2012 and opened Kargi Gogo to pay homage to the people, the food, and the recipes they fell in love with while there. I’d never had Georgian food before, so I had to ask for recommendations – I wish I had more time to try them all!

We ended up going with the Khinkali, stuffed beef & pork dumplings, and loved them. I expected the wrapper to be thinner like asian dumplings (they are shaped like Xiao Long Bao), but the outside is more doughy, and for me the taste reminded me of a chow funn noodle.

Kargi Gogo
950 SW Washington Street
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 489-8432
Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Yelp


Mici from Delicios ($8)

Mici ($8) from Delicios

My friend Jay is the ultimate foodie. We jokingly call him a “food snob” but really, what it means is that he has high standards for food and everything about it. The ingredients, the preparation, the love that goes into the final product, the experience of eating and the enjoyment that can come with sharing it with good company. So when he declared the Transylvanian cart, Delicios, his favorite food cart in Portland, I knew I had to seek it out – and we weren’t disappointed!

We ordered the mici on Jay’s recommendation and chatted with the cart owners are we waited. They were so sweet and even remembered Jay from his visit a few months ago. As the mici are grilled to order they do take a few minutes, so they also passed out samples of their popular chimney cakes, which were delicious. Or “delicios”, as they’d say in Romania. =)

521 SW 10th Ave
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 887-9779
Twitter | Facebook | Foursquare | Yelp
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Amtrak Coast Starlight: Portland to Los Angeles

Enjoying the morning light on my overnight train...

Enjoying the morning light on my overnight train…

The first time I can remember catching a real train (the Sugar Cane Train and the Pearlridge Monorail don’t count) was the summer after I graduated from high school, when I spent three months backpacking around Europe before heading off to college. My friend Meghan and I bought the Europass option that allowed us 8 days of train travel over a 2 month period and we made use of it by visiting France, Spain, Italy, plus a last minute addition of Prague when we gained one extra leg where the conductor forgot to punch our passes.

I loved it even more than I loved airplane travel, simply because it allowed us so much more room, huge viewing windows and freedom to walk through the cars. Growing up in Hawaii, we have no need for a long-distance train, so I find that in my adult life – whenever the routing allows – I try to book train travel to get me at least part of the way to my destination.


Since that summer in Europe, I’ve also taken trains in the Northeast US – I remember heading from NYC to West Point one autumn when the leaves were changing color because I sat glued to the window in awe. (Leaves don’t change in Hawaii either.) In 2008 when we traveled in Asia, I frequently caught the overnight train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, enjoying the ride even when I was squished up in my sleeper bunk, rolling around and hoping I wouldn’t fall out in the night. One particularly memorable train ride came in 2011, when I’d talked Jess, Eric and Edwin into coming with me from Seattle to Vancouver for my TBEX Conference. On the way back to Seattle, Eric got down on one knee and – with the help of Edwin and I (and the train crew) – shocked Jess by proposing while he played “their song”.

Portland to LA on the Amtrak Coast Starlight

This trip, I had the chance to piece together trips on an Amtrak route that I’ve always been curious about. The Amtrak Coast Starlight actually starts in Seattle and runs all the way to LA, but I opted to catch it from Portland. This portion of the route takes a whopping 30 hours because of the stops, but it really didn’t feel that long until maybe the last couple of hours once the sun had set. It was also one of the most productive trips I’ve had. There is no wifi available yet on this route, which I at first thought would be a hindrance but was really a blessing in disguise. Without constant connection to the internet, I was able to slow down, unplug and to really soak in the experience.

We left just around 2:30pm from Portland and arrived in Los Angeles about an hour ahead of the posted schedule, at 8:15pm the following day. The best part of the trip was watching the scenery change as you head south.
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Things to Do in Seattle: An Afternoon in Fremont

The 2014 AWP Conference took place this year in Downtown Seattle at the Washington State Convention Center. It was a great location, just minutes from the Pike Place Market and with easy access to public transportation to take you elsewhere if you desire. We were fortunate to have great weather the first day or so, but as the forecast for the weekend called for rain and lower temperatures, I decided to skip a few of the sessions one day in order to take an excursion to see a different part of town.

Usually when I’m creating my own little detour, I like to set out with a point of interest or two in mind and to see what develops from there. Unless I’m really short on time, I prefer to slow down and travel via public transportation because the people watching is better and sometimes you get great travel tips from locals this way. So I got myself an Orca Card (Seattle’s stored value rider card) which allowed me to blend in a bit better and to not need to bother with digging out exact change. And where better to set off to than “the center of the Universe”, or as it’s better known, the neighborhood of Fremont.

>> Read more about Orca Card official website.

How to Get to the Fremont Troll

Luckily, I found a group of girls who could snap a photo for me with Mr. Troll!

Luckily, I found a group of girls who could snap a photo for me with Mr. Troll!

From Downtown Seattle, catch the #5 bus at 3rd & Pike Street towards Shoreline / Greenwood and ask the bus driver to warn you at the stop for the troll under the Aurora Bridge at 36th. Here, you’ll come face to face with the troll himself.

If you’d like to climb up over him go ahead! Of course, it makes for a good photo op, but it’s a shame when people leave trash or graffiti behind on this public work of art, as you can see in the photo I got.

>> Read more about the Fremont Troll’s History.

Here’s a Google Map so you can plug in your own starting point:

Where to Drink in Seattle: Fremont Brewing Co.

Lots of choices to sample at Fremont Brewing Co.

Lots of choices to sample at Fremont Brewing Co.

After you’ve gotten your quality time with the troll, head down towards the water and turn left on N. 34th Street. A couple of blocks down and you’ll find Fremont Brewing Co. where you can sample the beers on tap or purchase a pint to enjoy at the picnic tables outside (if the weather is nice) or a growler to take home. The staff is friendly and knowledgable. They have to be, as their slogan is “Because Beer Matters.” Nice! I particularly enjoyed the Proletariat Porter.

Fremont Brewing Co.
1050 N 34th Street
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 420-2407

Must Eat in Fremont: Paseo

Carribean Roast Pork Plate from Paseo ($12.50)

Carribean Roast Pork Plate from Paseo ($12.50)

I was urged by multiple people to try to find this little hole-in-the-wall to try one of their famous sandwiches. I didn’t think I had time, but when I stopped at Fremont Brewing, a group of people to the left of me unwrapped Paseo sandwiches to go along with their beers and I about died of jealousy. The smell was intoxicating, and not because we were in a brewery! In fact, the family to my right caught a whiff and instantly said “oh god, that must be from Paseo.” That sealed the deal – I was done fooling around with the bus and caught a cab directly there to try for myself. (It’s less than a mile away, little did I know!) I got a plate instead of a sandwich and the portion was huge. The Carribean pulled pork came with beans and rice, corn on the cob, and a tasty cabbage salad with fresh cilantro and beets to brighten it up.

4225 Fremont Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 545-7440

>> Tip: Paseo is CASH ONLY and there’s always a line, though it moves quickly. There is very limited seating available, so you may opt to make this your first stop in Fremont (here’s a map), then visit the troll, then head to Fremont Brewing to enjoy your sandwiches. (Wish I had done it in that order – learn from my mistake and thank me later!)

One Last Look: Gasworks Park

Still toting my Paseo leftovers, and starting to feel the chill as the sun was beginning to set, I caught the bus back to my hotel at this point, but if you have planned better and have time, I suggest you end your visit to Fremont with a stop at Gasworks Park. Here you will find a beautiful view of the Seattle skyline across Lake Union, with the sun going down behind it.

Enter the park via the Burke-Gilman Trail that runs along the water, a public walking and biking path and find a spot to take a rest and watch the kite-flyers or stop for a picnic (if you haven’t inhaled your Paseo goodies by now!) Bask in the view and congratulate yourself from getting out of downtown and into the Center of the Universe, Fremont.

>> If you’re heading back downtown, you might enjoy this list of Where to Eat in Downtown Seattle.

>> Did you enjoy your time in Fremont? Know of something else to do, see, or eat there that I missed? Leave a comment and let me know!