Jul 01

Travel plans

As much as I try to plan stuff it seems that sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

I found out last week that I need I’m going to have to start my braces and massive dental work in August, not in the winter as I had anticipated. This means that money will be hard to come by and I lost my pre-braces last trip reason for the fall trip. I’m now considering some options for something smaller and cheaper. One thing is a 5 day cruise from NY to Bermuda with my Mom during my 2 week vacation in September.

My travel plans for the duration of my dental work, which is estimated to take at least two years is to take smaller long weekend types of trips within the US. Places where I can get cheap flights and hopefully cheap hotels. There is talk of a family trip to Vegas for Thanksgiving, and one sister is considering a trip to Disney for the Spring which I may join with Tara.

My other plan is that I was thinking that I would want to take a big dream like trip after all this work – Australia or Africa or whatever else I come up with. But then I wondered if I would actually have money for this, which I probably wont. So I’ve decided that I will open a separate bank account to save some money for the trip. I received some birthday money which I will use to start it and then I’ll occasionally move some money here and there to the account. Hopefully at the end I’ll have at least enough to make it possible to do a big trip.

Jun 30

Feedback

After my Hawaii cruise I sent a long detailed email to my travel agent, Julie, about the good and the bad of the cruise. Julie passed my email to NCL, I thought that that would be all I would hear. But today I actually received a letter from NCL acknowledging my email – my “constructive comments, suggestions and criticisms.” It’s always good to know that someone from the company read my comments.

I am known by friends and family as a letter writer. It’s not that I’m a complainer, but I do get satisfaction from writing to a company about the good, bad and the ugly. What is important in writing a letter of complaint, if you want to be taken seriously, is that you need to state specific complaints and when possible write suggestions of how things could be done better. Writing – the food sucked, I always waited for a table and the servers weren’t helpful. That’s not going to get anything done except make you feel better, it’s not constructive enough. Something like – We often waited over 15 minutes for a table at restaurant A, the food was below the standards of other cruises we have been on and we felt that having a different server every night took away from the dining experience over the week. That’s made up, but it gives them complaints with real substance that can actually be addressed.

Write your letters, someone might be listening… And maybe they’ll give you something for free, I haven’t gotten anything yet, but you never know.

Jun 29

Book Review: A Brilliant Teacher

I’ve finally finished reading the book A Brilliant Teacher: Lessons Learned From One Family’s Journey Around the World by Steve Rhine &Toby Abraham-Rhine. The Rhine family – Mom, Dad and 3 kids took 8 months off and traveled the world – Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe, Africa and South America. There are 3 different things I want to talk about – their trip, the book and how it affected them.

I was sometimes frustrated by their trip, because they were doing things cheaply (they did go into debt for this trip) they sometimes wasted a lot of time. While I like to save money myself I do prescribe to the idea that time is money so to see them skip a tour and do things themselves, which sometimes ended in not seeing what they wanted to see, was frustrating to me. Then other times they would skip the tour and do to a comedy of errors would end up spending just as much money and more time and see less. I also can’t imagine staying in some of the accommodations they stayed in, I give them credit for that. While I’m ok with hostels and basic accommodations I’m not sure I can do bugs and dirty places. Do you need to sleep with bugs to know how the locals live? Maybe.

The book was at times very interesting and at other times slow and not as in-depth as I would have liked. I just didn’t always click with them in a way that drew me in. At times it seemed to be a bit more about the adventure then about the experience. But I often have this problem with travel books, they talk so much about the experience but not the impact, I rarely connect with the author as much as I would have liked. This is where the Epilogue comes in, it was the reward for reading the book. The other gem of the book is little sidebar types of things scatter throughout the book on different topics – Philosophy’s, Extrovertism, Progress, Harmony, Intimacy. These often bridged the gap that I was stuck at.

While the impact of the trip is seen in the sidebars the Epilogue tells the tale. I’m not sure how the Epilogue would read though without reading the rest of the book. Here they talk about their re-entry to American life. A couple years ago I listened to a podcast about couple who had taken a year off and traveled and lived in Europe, at the end they talked about their re-entry and there were some commonalities, though I think expressed differently. The idea of these big stores where you can get any of 8,000 types of a single item was a change. Also the American idea of consumption and consuming whatever you want – it could be cars, big houses, food or any of a number of things. After a trip like this there is a profound impact in how you look at America and Americans. The Rhines spent a good about of time in 3rd world countries and have learned a bit about the difference between wants and needs. When they wrote the book, a year after the trip, they wondered if their children had gotten a lot out of it. They traveled in 2001. I heard Rick Steves interview them recently and their children did seem to get something out of it, their oldest daughter certainly did and struck me as being a better person for it.

It’s not the best book I’ve read, but far from the worst either. A Brilliant Teacher certainly has a place in travel books. Anyone who is considering traveling around the world, with or without children would benefit from this. Or just families considering travel with children could certainly learn from this. There are lessons to be learned on traveling, on experiencing the world and the resilience of children. They really are harder to screw up then one would think.

Jun 26

Taking a year off for $80,000

I found this article the other day and thought it was great…

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/13/nyregion/13bigcity.html?_r=3&ref=todayspaper

I love this article and what this company is doing. I like the creative thinking and the way they are taking the bad economy and creating opportunities for employees. The people taking the year off are probably not the type of people who would up and quit there jobs so they could travel the world or finish their PHD’s, nor sit around the house and watch TV. If it wasn’t for this opportunity these people might be pushing off their dreams until retirement.

In case the link doesn’t work here is the text of the article:

This year may be a disastrous one for the global economy, but it’s shaping up to be one of the best that Heather Eisenlord has enjoyed in a good long while. Granted, that might not be saying much: For the past five years, Ms. Eisenlord has been an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a notably grueling place for a lawyer to work.

But even by more stringent standards of fun, the coming year looks pretty good. Ms. Eisenlord, 36, who works in Skadden’s banking group, will be buying a plane ticket that will take her around the world for a year, and she’s been stocking her apartment in Brooklyn with Lonely Planet travel guides.

Although she’s not yet sure exactly what she’ll be doing on her trip, she has some ideas. She would like to teach English to monks in Sri Lanka and possibly help bring solar power to remote parts of the Himalayas. She’ll probably hit 10 to 15 destinations around the world, most likely practicing not-for-profit law wherever she can be helpful.

The best part of all: Skadden is paying her about $80,000 to do it.

For a sixth-year associate at a New York law firm, $80,000 isn’t exactly competitive pay. But for someone cruising around the world, doing good wherever she sees fit and, let’s face it, probably hitting a beach or two, the pay is excellent.

Only in a financial world turned upside down would an arrangement like this one make sense. Looking to cut costs like everyone else, but not prepared to lay off associates, Skadden has chosen instead to offer all of its associates — about 1,300 worldwide — the option of accepting a third of their base pay to not show up for work for a year. (So far, the partners have no equivalent arrangement.)

The company is helping associates find pro bono work, and is encouraging them to do so. But the lawyers could also spend the year catching up on every episode of “Top Chef” that they missed during the boom years, or traveling around the world, “all of which is O.K. by us,” said Matthew Mallow, a partner at the firm. Other firms have adopted similar strategies, but Skadden’s program is unusual in that it has no pro bono requirements.

As of Friday, about 125 associates had expressed interest. “I think it’s fair to say that the numbers are in excess of our expectations,” Mr. Mallow said.

Only at a corporate law firm would the managers underestimate employees’ interest in taking a year off from the grind for what most of America would consider a small fortune.

Not everyone could cover monthly living expenses on a third of one’s pay, and naturally some skeptical lawyers grilled the partners about job security. If there are layoffs in a year, they wondered, is it really possible that the lawyers who’d been defending trees in British Columbia wouldn’t be disadvantaged, compared with the lawyers who’d been slaving away on contracts in Midtown?

Not only were the lawyers assured that their time away wouldn’t hurt them; in some ways it would be protective: If there are layoffs while they are away, they will be immune.

So far, the majority of the lawyers are looking for worthwhile legal work, Skadden says, to keep them as competitive as possible; but yes, some will take the year off to spend time with their children or look after a sick relative. Someone’s planning to wrap up his Ph.D., someone else is looking into legal work for a news organization, and another associate will be joining Ms. Eisenlord on her round-the-world adventure.

Ms. Eisenlord says she fully intends to go back to Skadden after her trip, and will be eager to return to the work she loves and the co-workers she admires. It’s possible that after a year teaching monks English, installing solar panels in the Himalayas and working on human rights in developing nations, she will come to the conclusion that there is no more fulfilling life than the one she has spent in corporate law.

But maybe she will have some kind of revelation. If there is any silver lining to this financial catastrophe, it’s that business as usual has come to a grinding halt. Sometimes it takes getting thrown out of the office to notice there is a life outside.

Already, Ms. Eisenlord seems to be making some sort of transition. Has she been getting any work done lately as she anticipates this thrilling new trip?

“No comment,” she said.

Spoken like a lawyer — but a lawyer on the verge.

E-mail: susan.dominus@nytimes.com

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 15, 2009
The Big City column on Monday, about an arrangement at the Manhattan law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in which associates can take a year off at one-third pay, referred imprecisely to the firm’s efforts to cut costs. Although it is not planning to lay off any associates, it has in fact laid off some employees — including secretaries, support staffers and staff lawyers.

Jun 24

Money Belt

The money belt…

What is it, what do you use it for and how do you use it?

A money belt is a small pouch like fabric thing that is worn underneath your clothes to hold money. Here is a link to typical money belt. There are so other styles, like this one by eagle creek or ones that can be worn on your leg. This is not a fanny pack or a bum bag.

Money belts are used to carry extra money and other valuables like: Passport, back up credit card or atm card. I have in the past also carried the address for my hotels and my full memory cards. Do not carry larger things like your camera.

The money belt is to be worn under your clothes and should be hidden during the day – basically no one should know you’re wearing it. It should contain stuff that you will only need in an emergency. If you know you’re going to need your passport during the day then don’t put it in here (or if you do have a plan to take it out privately). If you do need to access your money belt try to go to a bathroom or another private place. The purpose is to protect your stuff from theives and when you go inside your money belt in public you announce to others that you have it.

On my first trip I wore my money belt religiously, it helped though that my jeans hid it well. On future trips I didn’t wear it nearly as much, only when I was in areas where I thought I was at a higher risk of getting pickpocketed – Moscow, Egyptian markets – places like that.

All too often you see someone who is wearing a money belt and is constantly going in it during the day. I understand that sometimes plans change and you have to go in it, it’s happened to me. The best you can do is do it privately or discretely. But if you’re constantly going in yours then you might be better off skipping it all together since they aren’t terribly comfortable to wear.

Jun 22

Pearl Harbor and the last day in Hawaii

This was the last day of Tara and I’s cruise as well as the day we were visiting Pearl Harbor and flying home.

We were up at 6:15 to get all of our stuff together and make sure nothing was getting left behind. Despite not liking the Aloha Cafe we decided to go back, but we had a plan. We were going to grab a table and then take turns getting food. This worked out OK and we were done with breakfast with plenty of time to get to the Hollywood Theatre, which was our tour meeting place. Departure was fine, though one of the escalators was broken which slowed things down.


We boarded our bus and our driver was good, he explained that we would not be able to go to the cemetery, which was closed for the Memorial Day weekend for only family of military. We were dropped off at 9:15 and had a 10:45 tour of the Arizona Memorial. We decided to first go to the area with the rockets by the Bowfin. I got some pictures of the rockets and there was an area with little monuments for all the ships lost at sea with their story and a list of the lives lost, it was really nice. Next we walked back over to the main museum.

For a $5 donation you can get the audio tour. I recommend this for 2 reasons – first, you hear good info about the museum and the events surrounding December 7, but even better is that you are making a donation to the museum. The museum did seem a bit crowded at times and in different spots, but they are building a new one which should be ready next year. There are a lot of good displays and I enjoyed the tour. On the tour for the Arizona you first see a movie, which was very good, and got me a bit misty eyed. You are reminded to be quiet on the tour which now takes a boat to the site of the Arizona and the Memorial there. I was surprised at how quiet people actually are. I’ve been to a lot of places where you should be quiet and peoples ability to do that varies greatly, until the end when we were boarding our boat back everyone was very quiet. The memorial was really nice. From the sides you can see parts of the Arizona that are near the surface. In the middle there are diagrams of the ship as it sits today. In the middle there is a cut out where you can see the oil that is seeping out of the Arizona. In the back is a wall with a list of the names of all those lost, and a list of those who survived but were later buried at the Arizona. I really liked it and the experience.


Next we took a shuttle over to the Missouri Battleship, where the armistice was signed. This was pretty good too, though not nearly as good as the Arizona Memorial. If you’re not into looking at military ships then this might not be the best use of time, but it’s still interesting. Tara seemed to find this a form of torture, and it was quite hot and it’s not really something I’m that interested in, so we did a more abbreviated tour. It would have been nice to do a tour just to hear about the armistice, but as for looking at the mock ups of what crew areas looked like, not so much. But then, I have seen several military boats in the past so I know some of what would be said. On the Missouri they do have the US and Japanese copies of the armistice, which was really neat to see. After we looked around the ship we had lunch, shopped, and then waited to leave. I felt like we had a little more time here then we needed, but that’s better then not enough time.

After the Missouri we did a little tour of Honolulu. We visited the downtown area with the Palace and the oldest church in Hawaii, which Tara and I had already seen. We also took a ride through China Town which apparently isn’t a safe place to visit after dark. Since we couldn’t go to the cemetery we made a stop at Nuuanu Pali Park which had more beautiful scenery.

We were dropped off at the airport a little after 4 and had to kill 4 hours before out flights back home.

Jun 19

Experimental dining on a cruise

One of the nice things about a cruise is that your food is included. This helps when you want to be daring with food. I’m not the most daring but knowing that I can get a good quality something and that I don’t have to pay for it is a nice thing. I once tried escargot on a cruise, which I don’t imagine I would have done in many other places. I didn’t like it and didn’t have to finish it, but I tried it. Actually, I’ll admit it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good. On this past cruise I tried a couple things at the French restaurant – Frois Gras and Scallops. I didn’t like the Scallops at all, but the Frois Gras was good enough that I ate two whole pieces of it. But I wouldn’t go to a restaurant and order it. I also tried edamame, again, not bad but not good either. I had a chance to try this at home a few weeks before the cruise and wouldn’t do it, but I tried it on the cruise. There is a power in the safety of a cruise and its dining options that you get in few other places. It allows you to experiment in safe way and may you’ll learn you like something you didn’t think you liked or never would have tried.

Jun 17

Katia and Kyliemac Podcast

Update 11/2012 – the podcast has been discontinued, but there is still some great episodes out there.

I thought I would review one of my favorite podcasts, the Katia and Kyliemac Podcast. Katia and Kyliemac are ex-pats living in France and their podcast is about their experience in France, they also throw in some tidbits about travel – general stuff about places they visit. Katia is originally from Australia and moved to France several years ago when she married a Frenchman. Kyliemac is a graduate student in France, she hails from the United States. K&K bring the French culture to me with a lighthearted, and irreverent approach. They don’t just talk about the “crazy” things the French do, but talk about their experience with the french and compare them to their own experiences from home and other parts of the world. It’s a more subtle and fun approach that they take. They also talk about their own travels, around France, and wherever else they might go. Mostly though the podcast is about French culture.

K&K also do two other podcasts. The first is a french language podcast, it’s for people who already know at least a little french. They cover french terms and their meanings. An example of something they might cover if it was an English language podcast is the saying “were you raised in a barn,” or “drop a dime,”

The final podcast is french tourist tips, tips for people visiting France. This is a short podcast, typically under 10 minutes, and covers a variety of topics. It’s designed to help you get the most out of your visit and ways to avoid pitfalls. This was the first one I listened to of K&K and is a good introduction if you don’t want to spend 30 minutes on the original podcast to get a feel for the girls.

Jun 15

Los Angeles: The Fake City

One of my first vacations as an adult was in 2000 to Los Angeles. I was there for 6 days and staying with a friend. My friend was working a couple days that I was out there so I rented a car and tried my best to get around and see the city.

 I went to Beverly Hills, some mansion that a Beverly Hills cop suggested since a lot of movies had been filmed there, Hollywood and the Hollywood walk of fame, and the area around UCLA. With my friend I did a tour of the Warner Brother Studio, Santa Monica, and Rodeo Drive. We were going to go to Venice Beach but I had to beg my friend to go there and then when we finally did the weather sucked and the parking was worse so we left before we even parked the car. I did get to go there on another trip when I was passing through LA, and it was worth the visit. The city, or at least the areas that a tourist would visit, are beautiful, and there’s a lot of life there, it was good.

After 4 days though the city felt as fake as a bad boob job. like all the pretty tress and wide roads and flowers and plants are all there to mask a city full of backstabbing people. I don’t regret my time in LA, it was actually great and I suggest it for other people interested in seeing the city – it is LA. But if I went back there I would probably just go to the Disney or Universal Parks and do stuff like that, at least I know that what I’m getting there is supposed to be fake.

Jun 12

Waikiki Marriott

When I was in Honolulu Tara and I had a free night before the cruise and I chose the Waikiki Marriott. When I was choosing the hotel I wanted something nice and with a view of the beach. I figured for only 1 night that we both wanted something nice and didn’t worry about the price too much. The Marriott is on Waikiki beach and with the name Marriott I knew it would be good. There were also several Hiltons and Sheratons I considered, but the prices were more and I wasn’t convinced there was much more behind the cost. The biggest downside was that it was at the far end of Waikiki beach which added to the cost of our taxi to and from the hotel.

Things started out very well, when I checked in we were given a complementary upgrade to junior suite with an ocean view. Our room had a huge bathroom, tons of closet space, two beds, a couch, flat screen tv and 2 balconies. I’m sorry we didn’t have more time here! We both enjoyed the one balcony which had a fantastic view of the ocean, I enjoyed watching the surfers in the morning. The beds were also really comfortable. We did not eat at any of the restaurants here since we actually weren’t hungry the night we arrived. The next morning we opted against spending $15 a person for breakfast and went to Burger King for food but ate it on the beach. We found that to be a good way to save a couple dollars while still enjoying the environment. It’s not like the locals go to $15 buffet breakfasts either.

In the evening and in the morning we took a walk around Waikiki and I thought it was a nice beach area. Different spots of the water had a different set up to allow for different water conditions. There was a variety of shops within our hotel and if you can’t find it there you can probably find it in within a block or two’s walk. Overall the Waikiki Marriott and it’s location met our expectations and with the upgrade we were both really happy with the hotel. Actually, my experience with hotels is fairly limited (i.e. I’m not an expert), but this was probably the nicest I’ve been to and would definitely consider staying here in the future.