Category Archives: travel

September 21: Here’s To A Complicated Youth

Every Wednesday, I’ll (try) to post up a Simple Living Tip, with an emphasis on tips that can be done while living a more traditional 9-to-5 life. 

I wonder if there’s a certain age when people gravitate toward simpler things in life.  While there are certainly many young people who are  mature and goal-oriented, even to the point of seeming “wiser than their years”, most simple-life seekers seem older. I even know  Type A go-getters who crave a simpler life as they hit their 30s or 40s.  It may not even be the age but where the person is in life (married or not, children or not, property owners or not, secured job/career or not etc..).

Anyway as I mulled over this, I started thinking that it’s okay, even better, to have a messy, complicated youth — where you date the “wrong” people, don’t plan your vacations well, waste too much time with frenemies,  and even make money mistakes.  Youth is the time to explore and take the harder road sometimes.  Even if an “older, wiser” person suggests an easier path, many people need to learn the hard way and with first-hand experiences. 

Travel is one of the first things that comes to my mind.  I wasn’t the best travel planner and I did not do guided tours.   Instead I wasted time getting lost, figuring out sights to see once I got there, and made detours.    I look back and think I should have read better guidebooks and planned better but maybe I needed complications back then.

So I guess this is sort of an ode to dumb youthful mistakes and taking the roundabout route instead of the simpler straightforward path, until you get older and it’s not so fun anymore!

Feel free to share your youthful mistakes!

September 7: Write Everything Down

Every Wednesday, I’ll (try) to post up a Simple Living Tip, with an emphasis on tips that can be done while living a more traditional 9-to-5 life. 

Every once in a while, I give organizational tips  because frankly the more disorganized I get, the more complicated life gets.

My big life-changing tip is to write everything down as soon as possible.  Yesterday while I was in the break area, a co-worker asked me to bring food for a potluck.  I went back to my desk and wrote this request down.  Any piece of paper or electronic method with reminder will do. Because if I don’t write it down somewhere, I will completely forget by the time I walk from the break area to my office.   This is not surprising or uncommon, unfortunately.  Recently I went to Target to pick up three items; If I had not checked my list before leaving, I would have forgotten one.  That’s right. Three items is  too taxing for my little brain.   

I don’t know when I became so forgetful.  Part of it has to do with aging; Most of it has to do with having so many things to do.  When I was in college, my to-do list consisted of going to class, studying, hanging with friends, and a few errands. If I forgot to buy an item, I’d just go another day.  Now if I forget to buy something, it is a big hassle to make another supermarket trip. Or worse yet, I forget something crucial, like diapers or wipes, and the baby has to sit in the same filthy diaper for days… (just kidding). 

I already write down everything for my job so it’s not too much of a bother to write down every seemingly insignificant task for my personal life.  While I do have several to-do lists, on my desk there’s always a post-it note with random things like expiring coupon codes, rebate submission dates, books I want to read, people to email or call, shopping lists, etc… 

I know there are fancy electronic versions out there where you keep your list on your smartphone and can update it anytime from your phone or computer AND even share this to-do list with others in your household.  However, I’m nowhere near that tech savvy yet!

Here’s a good primer about creating effective to-do lists from LifeHacker.

Do you swear by to-do lists? How do you keep organized? Do you keep everything in one place or do you also use the post-it “method”?

August 24: A Simple Wardrobe

Every Wednesday, I’ll (try) to post up a Simple Living Tip, with an emphasis on tips that can be done while living a more traditional 9-to-5 life. 

Since this series is supposed to be geared toward worker bees, I had to write a post about the work wardrobe. 

Here are my best tips on simplifying dressing well for work:

  1. Pick your outfit the night before – Nothing causes more headaches than trying to decide what to wear at 7 a.m.  Always have a light jacket or cardigan handy in case the weather is cooler than expected.
  2. Forget the crisp white shirt, or don’t buy high-maintenance clothing – For me, nothing is harder to upkeep than white blouses and cashmere.  After a few washes, my formerly crisp white shirts always look drab and rings around the collar are a pain to get rid of.  While I like the feeling of cashmere,  moth holes inevitably appear after a few seasons (despite my best attempts to keep them clean before storing them in airtight containers with cedar blocks).  I also hate handwashing cashmere, which I feel that I must do in order to preserve them well.
  3. Stick to one main wardrobe palette – It’s easier if all your clothes match blacks and grays so that you don’t have to buy brown shoes/boots.  I don’t follow this rule because, well, I love brown shoes and boots.
  4. Get a work “uniform” – At some point, you’ll realize that certain outfits work better on you.  Dresses are an easy solution.  Even if you’re not a dress person, it’s a good idea to have a few work-appropriate dresses (like wrap dresses) that you can always wear when you’re having trouble deciding on an outfit.

What are your best tips for keeping a work wardrobe simple yet stylish? Please do not say that clothing is an investment.  It is not. Don’t argue with me on this one!

July 20: Unplanned

Every Wednesday, I’ll (try) to post up a Simple Living Tip, with an emphasis on tips that can be done while living a more traditional 9-to-5 life. 

While on my own mini-staycation, I had many unplanned days.  To tell you the truth, these stress me out a bit.  My unplanned days tend to turn into household chores and errands, with a bits of or lots of TV and web browsing.  

Unplanned days did not stress me out when I was younger (or even now whenever I’m traveling).  That’s because in college or early 20s, you can stumble upon things to do.  While I admit that my unplanned days were usually humdrum, there was always the possibility — like the time I had nothing planned but ended up with free tickets to a heavy metal concert.  

These days, I stress out because I know that my unplanned days will definitely be errand-filled and the scary thing is that I don’t really want to do anything out-of-the ordinary.   I guess I have to kick myself out of my rut once in a while.

The High-Low Cost Of Travel

A while ago, I wrote a post that that mentioned the travel habits of Europeans versus Americans.  With our lack of vacation time and isolationist tendencies, it’s no wonder many Americans have never left the country. One commenter added that another major reason for this disparity is costs.  There’s a huge difference between a trans-Atlantic flight and inter-European flights. 

The comment inspired me to go back and tally up my travel costs.  Since I didn’t really keep tabs in my 20s or early 30s, it’s impossible to know how much I spent back then but I’ll try:

1 ) First Trip to Europe –  the poor college student with a giant backpack days (when the Euro didn’t exist and the dollar was strong!)

I think the plane ticket costed at least $1,000+.  I didn’t shop around at all. I just went to the Student Travel center and purchased my ticket.  Since I was backpacking for 3 months, I think it was worth it.  I believe I had at least $2,000 saved up for the entire trip.  I stayed at youth hostels most of the time, ate a lot of picnic-like lunches, and never went inside a discoteque.  I was more of the museum-going, cafe-people watching type of traveler.  I had a credit card but only planned to use it for emergencies.  Estimate: 3 months for approximately $3,500 including airfare — I really had no idea though and a favorable exchange rate made it possible.

2 ) 2nd trip to Europe

I’m sure I spent a lot more. I can’t remember how much more.  I was just happy that I could now afford a nice, budget hotel.   Although I didn’t really pay attention to finances at that point, the best thing I ever did was NOT charging vacations on my credit card.  Yes, I worked hard and deserved fun.  No, I did not want to pay for it months or years after the tan has faded.  Estimated cost:  3 weeks for $2,000 (?)

3 ) Subsequent Trips to Italy  – the “having an Italian husband has lots of perks” days

Other than plane tickets, we don’t have to spend much to visit Italy.  Some people spend more on domestic trips than we do on international travel.  I do use kayak.com, farecompare.com and a host of other sites to find the lowest possible airfare. One year, I got two r/t tickets for $650 each, including taxes and fees, during high season.   I have no idea why this particular flight was selling for $200-300 less than other flights that pulled up on the same search. It was on a major airline, not unusually long nor with extra connecting flights.  Needless to say, I jumped on it. 

Of course, traveling still adds up.  We often want to do side trips.  We have to pay dogsitting costs.  We always want to eat well.  However, in Italy, it’s very possible to eat well at small affordable trattorias rather than five-star restaurants.  You just have to know where to go!  And of course, we eat many delicious meals at home.  Total: 2 weeks at $2,000 for 2 people (including airfare)

During my late 20s and 30s, I also travelled to China, Argentina, and Mexico.  We have relatives in China so we don’t have to pay for much other than airfare. It’s not cheap but I think you can find deals also.   Argentina flights are not cheap.  Right now, airfare to Buenos Aires is hovering around the $900 mark (not including taxes and fees).  Last time, I paid closer to $700 per ticket total.  I’m hoping that wasn’t a fluke.  We had a great time there and would love to go back.   You can eat very well for little and you can stretch your budget by staying at bed & breakfasts or apartment rentals.  As for Mexico, it’s just a hop and skip away from Los Angeles, so almost every Angeleno can visit for very little money.   To keep it budget-friendly and more authentic, we avoid mega-luxury resorts in favor of smaller towns and hotels.

Among Americans, I do consider myself well-traveled.  (I’m not counting Europeans and others with many more vacation days than I’ll ever get!)  I know people who have traveled more but many more that have traveled much less.  However, now that I’ve looked back, I realize that luck and sacrifice have played a big part in my ability to travel.  Most people don’t have relatives with guest bedrooms in far-flung places.  While my friends complain about visting in-laws in [insert domestic suburb here], I complain about visiting Italy yet again.  

We have also made sacrifices that allow us to travel.  We don’t own fancy cars or a flat screen TV.  We try not buy into the consumerist culture.  We also don’t own a home.  Of course we’re not renting  just so that we can travel!   However, a house in Los Angeles is very out of reach at this point and we don’t want to be house-rich and cash-poor.  I do understand that for most people, owning a home takes priority over everything else.

I still think that the poor student backpacking through Europe is an important rite of passage. I’m just not sure how feasible it really is in this day and age.  If you can only go to Europe once, that is the time to go. You get a long summer break.  It’s fun to meet other young travelers at youth hostels. No matter how materialistic you are, you can probably live on less at that age than any other time.

Among your peers, do you consider yourself well-traveled?  Do you wish you could travel more?  How much have you spent on traveling?

Food Flashback: Empanadas In Argentina

When you think of Argentina, you think of meat. And the meat is in one word: perfection.  My husband and I had never tasted steak so juicy and tender yet well-done.  We want to go back someday just to eat meat. 

Some people may not know that Argentina, and most of South America, is also famous for empanadas.  Empanadas are stuffed bread or pastry that originated in Spain and Portugal.  Due to colonialization, empanadas are popular throughout South America.  In Argentina, freshly-made empanadas are widely available with a wide choice of fillings such as chicken, beef, ham, fish, corn, mozzarella, etc..  We even saw ones stuffed with Rocquefort cheese. 

In most shops, empanadas are ready-made and heated up when you order.  At one restaurant near Buenos Aires, they prepared it after you placed the order and then baked it.  It took a while longer but we learned that the dough is ten times better when fresh from the oven.  See photo below.

I was going through our Argentina photos today, which prompted this post.  Oddly enough, we did not have many pictures of meat.  We were definitely too busy eating to snap photos.

Confessions Of A Food Smuggler

It’s a good thing this blog is anonymous or someone could report my husband and I to the FDA!

First, those food smuggling days are long over. The last time that we tried to bring back some cured Italian meats and dried porcini, we were hauled over to an inspection area and had our bags scanned inside a giant X-Ray machine. It was a random search but both of us got pulled aside!  The dried porcini was vacuum-packed and hid inside clothing but of course this isn’t foolproof. While the machine scanned our luggage, I looked around for drug-sniffling dogs who might also have the sense to alert authorities to smuggled bresaola, speck and pancetta.

As if our own personal scare wasn’t enough, a friend coming from Italy tried to bring us various Italian delicacies only to have it confiscated at the airport. Luckily he wasn’t fined.  Another acquaintance was not so lucky. He received a fine AND was red-flagged in their computer system, thereby insuring that his luggage will be searched for years and ending his food smuggling days.

As much as we love authentic Italian pancetta, speck, bresaola, porcini and other hard or impossible to find foods, we don’t want to risk a huge fine just for our culinary habits.  Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that travelers from Italy are classifed as ‘most likely to hide food in their suitcases’  by airport officials.

Has anyone ever tried to smuggle foods into this country? Were you or anyone you know ever caught?