Tag Archives: travel

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It’s All Relative

Time

A well-known rule, at least to me, is to avoid going grocery shopping hungry. I often end up buying more food than I should. And once I’ve gotten something in my stomach, I have buyer’s remorse for getting so much food.

It often boggles my mind how time alone can change how a person feels both physically and mentally. Around the time astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson was hosting the reboot of the show Cosmos, I found this piece of artwork online done in chalk by a duo of design students who called themselves Dangerdust, illustrating one of Dr. Tyson’s quotes: “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” The piece was so aesthetically and poetically beautiful that I wanted to get poster to hang in my home. But at the time I was also in the process of decluttering my life, trying to live with less things and being very selective about what I have in my home, like this poster.

Aware of my tendencies to impulse-buy sometimes, I actually managed to resist the urge and instead set a one-month reminder to see if I still wanted to get the poster by then. A month later, with a bit of mental and emotional distance, I realized that while I still really liked the piece, I continued to have trouble justifying the purchase. As a compromise, instead of buying it and putting it on my living room wall, I pinned it on my virtual wall on Pinterest so I can look at it whenever and wherever I want, while enjoying one less item in my home.

Space

I had been fascinated with astronomy at a young age, learning about how the Earth’s tilted axis creates the seasons and how the moon’s revolution around the Earth results in the phases. My knowledge of astronomy expanded throughout the years to learn about the solar system, galaxies and the universe (along with a bunch of laws, properties, and theories that sort of went over my head). The universe is a very very very big place, and that is an offensive understatement. I’m always taken aback when I’m reminded of the incomprehensible scale of our universe when I revisit Carl Sagan’s reflections on “Pale Blue Dot” or rewatch the Eames’ “Powers of Ten.”

The line from “Pale Blue Dot” that got me the most was: “Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.” It definitively put in perspective our roles in life and in the universe. In fact, it liberated me from my responsibilities and obligations in life (to a certain extent), and I felt more free to do whatever I want.

Powers of Ten:

Size of Earth and the sun compared to largest known star (among many other things):

Tech

After working for more than five long years in a video game company in the tech hub of San Francisco, I took a leave of absence and traveled around the world. While abroad, when I told people where I work, I tried to reference things they may have heard of, like FarmVille and Words With Friends. But people rarely knew what I was talking about. While understandable, It’s still a bit disorienting to realize that the product I have poured my time and hard work into and supposedly has some market share worldwide actually has little recognition by people in those parts of the world.

Environment

As a person of science, based on the evidence experts have presented over the years, I strongly believe that global warming/climate change is real (regardless of the name it is given). I am very interested in doing what I can to lead an environmentally sustainable life. Recycling, composting, taking public transit, using energy-saving light bulbs, conserving water, automating bill pay to reduce paper mail (and worries), and being very selective about material purchases are some of the low-hanging fruit that I believe a lot of people can do.

But that is only my belief. Based on their beliefs and priorities, some people may care more, some may care less, and some may be actively against it. As a result, they do whatever aligns with those beliefs and priorities: living completely sustainably and carbon-neutral, being eco-friendly only when it’s convenient and affordable, or letting their bottom line dictate their decisions, regardless of the welfare of the planet.

Civil Rights

Similarly, I believe in and support equal rights for people of all kinds and identities. However, beyond voting and independent boycott, I have yet to do much to show my support. Still, there are varying levels of support that people can give. In addition to beliefs and priorities, people’s personalities play a role in their behaviors. Some supporters are very active, practicing their First Amendment right to assembly and free speech and speaking out against injustice and discrimination in everyday social situations. Some, like me, are more quiet, studying the situations, and making small, calculated moves.

Personal Improvement

By my late twenties, many moments and events in my life led me to let go of my need to be perfect and instead to focus on “becoming better.” I stopped constantly thinking in binary terms, like good vs bad and right vs wrong, because I realized that rarely is something 100% good or bad, etc. So instead, I learned to look at situations and judge things on a scale, determining what worked well and what could improve. I would compare it to past experiences, and evaluate its importance against the big picture. This method gives me more opportunities to learn and grow than the black-and-white approach, where I might restart the process from scratch, throwing away the mistakes along with any progress that I could have built upon.

Accomplished and To Accomplish

Once in a while, I look at my life and notice how many things I have accomplished compared to my peers and in the eyes of my family. But very quickly I would compare myself to the world and notice many more great, inspiring things that I have yet to try, explore, and complete. If I focus only in the former, I may get too complacent. If i focus only in the latter, I may set myself up for disappointment. Instead, I look at both sides and get a good sense of where I stand in the grand scheme of things. When I feel defeated for failing at something new, I remind myself how far I’ve come; when I bask in my glory for too long, I remind myself to “get back to work.”

It’s All Relative

Time can extinguish excitement, heal wounds, torture impatience, and romanticize nostalgia. We are the temporal and physical mayflies of the universe. What I value most may be worthless to others. One person’s paradise may be another person’s livelihood. I have done much and well so far, but I can do more and better.

See

7, 17, 21, 26, 29.

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Simplicity is Freedom

Simplifying for Efficiency

I learned about Getting Things Done through a SXSW podcast near the end of my college career. Being obsessed with organization and eagered to begin the next chapter of my life, I quickly adopted the system and have used it ever since.

Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a task management methodology created by David Allen that helps people manage every piece of incoming information, thought, and idea in order to achieve whatever they want to achieve. Instead of requiring the use of a dedicated tool or software, GTD is a set of principles that can fit different people’s particular task-management style; it could be set up with just a pen and paper, or it could live exclusively in a virtual environment, or it can be a mixture of both.

I am practically evangelical about GTD, even though I have yet to fully master it, as I had gone through multiple reincarnations of the system. I usually start with high hopes and create a sophisticated system to ensure I am functioning as best as I could. Inevitably, managing the system becomes a chore, leading me to revert to my old ways, slowly becoming unproductive, and then motivating me to start the GTD system back up again. With each generation, though, I learn a little from my previous attempt and resist setting up more functionalities than I typically need, like filling out project templates for every medium-to-large project I do and manually recording my weekly progress that I rarely retrospectively review anyway. With every GTD reboot, I aimed to simplify my system a little more, learning from past mistakes and avoiding overcomplicating the process.

Simplifying for Productivity

One GTD principle I find valuable is to break an action item down to smaller items if I seemed to be stuck or hesitating to begin. A task usually stalls when the goal is unclear or if it involves multiple steps that I have yet to realize or define. So what I often do when I hear myself say, “I’m not ready to do this yet” or “I don’t want to do this”, I asked myself a series of consecutive “Why?” questions to get to the real reasons I have yet to start on the task. To some people, a task like “Replace an old pair of shoes” involves just going to a shoe store and try out shoes they like. But for me, I would need to answer a list of my own questions, like “Why do I need new shoes?”, “Do I just want the same pair or different?”, “How different?”, “In what occasions do I want to wear these?”. These questions would help break down the task, defining my goals for the new shoes, setting a budget, researching different stores online, reading reviews, generating a shortlist of shoes available in my area to check out, and mapping out an itinerary for a half-day where I can try on the shoes. And if after a half-day of shoe shopping I still come home empty-handed, the process semi-starts again with more research, reviews, etc.

This may seem excessive, but it’s valuable and actually fun to ask myself “Why” and in the process learn about my own motivations and desires towards certain things in my life. And practically speaking, breaking down into actionable subtasks lowers mental hurdles and allows me to make progress quicker. And if during the “Why” questioning process, I have a lot of difficulty answering meaningfully, most likely the thing I wanted to do came from a passing feeling and had low priority, in which case I should drop or ignore it, and move on.

Simplifying for Mobility

As I entered my late twenties, I realized I needed to travel more. It would’ve been nice to travel with friends, but I was also okay traveling by myself. I just had to be careful and watch my own back and my own things. For this reason, I wanted to travel light.

I traveled many times with just one carry-on, and each time presented different needs. For a surf trip I needed an extra swim suit, for a “New Year’s in New York” trip I needed extra boots and nice New Year’s outfit, for a Little Big Trip around the world, I need ultra-versatile, quick-drying, lightweight clothing that work for a wide range of climates and occasions. Regardless of the needs, they all lead to the same problem: I always want to bring more than I can fit in the luggage.

This is why traveling with only one carry-on is an excellent exercise in figuring out what is important, both on the practical, trip level and the philosophical, “life” level. A common advice I hear on the Internet is that if you’re bring something “just in case,” you can probably leave it at home instead, and buy it at the destination if I really needed it. After a couple of times doing this, I began to realize that there is actually little that I really need, both on the trip and in life; everything else is a “nice to have” or “comfort” item. Having only one luggage allows me to be flexible, move quickly, and change plans at a moment’s notice because for the duration of your trip, your entire life is on your back. It also gives me less items to worry about, especially during transit.

Simplifying is Complicated

Being simple is often difficult. I adopted Getting Things Done because I literally wanted to get things done (and faster). The flexibility of the system led me to, for better or worse, experiment with task management styles, figuring out what works and what I could do without, simplifying with each reincarnation. But it takes time, experience, and trial-and-error. Ideally, I would like technology to reach a point where my task management system would just be something implemented in my brain, and the most important, appropriate thing I should be doing at any given moment has already been automagically defined, processed and filtered, entering into my consciousness right when I need it. But until then, I will continue to find the most simple but still valuable version of GTD that I can sustain using.

When I get ready for a trip, my imagination takes over and I think of all the things I could and want to do and therefore may need to bring. But I realized with each trip I take that I usually ended up taking it easy and decided to do less, which means some of the gear I brought would go untouched. So with each new trip, I try to be strict about each item I bring and ask my future vacationing self if I would really use it.

I had to do that with my six-week world trip, when the things I originally wanted to bring was over the capacity of my carry-on by half or even by one. I had to systematically fill the bag with the essential items first, and then one by one select the “nice to have” or “comfort” items to add to my bag. I made some sacrifices with a few pieces of clothing, meaning I had to wash my clothes on the trip more often. In the end, it worked out pretty well; I practically used everything I brought. If i had brought all the things I wanted to bring, carrying two bags instead of one, it would’ve been harder for me to maneuver at certain parts of my trip, and i would’ve enjoyed it less. Simplifying my “life,” in the form of my luggage, definitely yielded me more freedom to experience as much of the world as it can offer.

See

16, 23, 29

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The Olympics is My Life Inspiration

In the year 2000, I was watching the closing ceremony of the Sydney Summer Olympics when the president of the IOC admired the spirit of the Australian people and said in a monotone voice, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.” to which the crowd instead responded in three simple but enthusiastic grunts, “Oy! Oy! Oy!”

I always go back to that moment whenever I think about how passionate a united group can be. This is what I want to see in the world.

The Olympics is one of the few times in life where the world peacefully gathers in one place, both physically and virtually, to celebrate the best of humanity (by having people in their best physical and mental shape show us how much more we humans can push our limits). It was such a powerful symbol to my fifteen-year-old self that I had remained optimistic to this day (and foreseeably for the rest of my life) about the future of human race.

Ever since then, I had become more fascinated by everything about the Olympics: the human stories, the history of past Games, the bidding process, the mascots, the opening and closing ceremony, the lighting of the cauldron, etc. As someone interested in graphic design, I absorbed as much content as possible related to the visuals: the logo and branding, the medals and their traditions (the medals from every Summer Games are the same on one side, whereas the Winter Games medals are more open to different designs), the pictograms, and the torch and cauldron designs.

The Sydney Olympics was the first time I was opened to the world. In school, my social studies teacher created a special unit on Australia to go with the Olympics. And the TV coverage painted a very beautiful and inspirational picture of Sydney and Australia, with the iconic images of the Opera House with the Harbor Bridge, the Outback and Uluru, with the aboriginal people and the sounds of the didgeridoo, and the native animals of the kangaroo and the koala. At fifteen, I had come to believe this is what the real world feels like and that it is waiting for me to join it.

Finally, four years and a week ago, after ten years of making that wish, I finally got to visit Australia. I even got to count down and watch the fireworks off the Harbor Bridge and in Sydney Harbor on New Year’s Eve. A panoramic photo of my view that day still hangs above my bed. In terms of the Olympic park and stadium, I missed my chance to visit them, but it will definitely be on my itinerary next time I’m in Australia.

In my recent travels, though, I visited the Olympic parks and stadiums of the two most recent Summer Games (Beijing and London). I also checked out the site of the current (and future) Olympic stadium in Tokyo. I hope I can return in five and a half years and attend my first opening ceremony. I would also like to volunteer at a Summer Games someday and be a part of history. Depending on the host city, maybe 2024 will be the year.

See

4, 10

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_ __ ___________ ___ __ ____.

_ __ ___________ ___ __ ____.
I make decisions for how to live my life.
I ask for what I want.
I have control over my decisions.
_ __ ___________ ___ __ ____.
I
try my best to accept the consequences of my decisions and actions.
I accept the events in my life that are within my control and know I can control how I should react.
I accept the events in my life that are out of my control and know I can control how I should react.
_ __ ___________ ___ __ ____.
I and only I can make decisions for myself and only for myself.
I can only give you advice through the lens and biases of my unique experience and it may be different for your needs.

_ __ ___________ ___ __ ____.
I decided to start.
I decided to make it up as I go.
I decided to live my best life.
I decided to live numbers and puzzles.
I decided to run the marathon, not the sprint.
_ __ ___________ ___ __ ____.
I decided to ask for a leave of absence.
I decided to travel alone.
I decided to use this airline alliance.
I decided to take this route instead of adding a few more from my list.
I decided to take a shorter trip so I could be home for both my parents’ birthdays.
I decided to take more time to contemplate and to book the RTW ticket, resulting in a few sold-out flights and paying the next price tier to keep my itinerary.
I decided to learn a little bit of all these languages, even if I can probably get by with English.
I decided to bring only one piece of carry-on-sized luggage for my entire trip.
I decided to get a new set of clothes for the trip.
I decided to stay mostly in hostels and splurge with a hotel once in a while.
I decided to purchase a few tours instead of self-guiding the entire way.
I decided to let my planning obsession take over and create spreadsheet after spreadsheet, even if they get slightly difficult to keep track.
I decided to skip weekends of socializing to plan this trip.
I decided to let myself off for the night and procrastinate and resume planning the next day, or maybe the day after, or the day after…
I decided to start a whole new project two months before my trip and have it eat into my planning time, like right now.
I decided to test my clothes and gear weeks in advance, as dorky as it may look and feel.
I decided to insist on traveling with one bag and leave behind a few things that I bought just for the trip.
I decided to completely change my mind and agree with my friends that bringing six weeks worth of cash is dangerous and to have to quickly find an alternative within two weeks.
I decided to tell my family about this trip less than two weeks before I leave.
I decided to keep my leave of absence at work on the down low.
I decided to have a crepe outing instead of a drinks outing with my coworkers for my send-off.
I decided to try the peach and Nutella combination this time.
I decided to take and eat that free cookie.
I decided to pay for my coworkers before my boss intercepted partially too late.
I decided to bring my new rain jacket to work, unknowingly that I would be highly satisfied with its water repellent ability on my way home in heavily drizzling rain that evening.
I decided to listen to the advice of my friends, reviews, blogs but retain the power to make the call.
I decided to plan and take this trip the way I want because this is my trip.
I am responsible for my life.

My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment. —Oprah Winfrey

See

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 22, 25.

Trip Planning Progress: Mid-June 2014

Flight and Travel Insurance

After booking my Round-the-World ticket (the first time), there was an issue with my credit card authorization process. I didn’t find out for about a week, and I had to do it again, calling the credit card company to make sure the previous reservation is not being paid for, and to let them know about a purchase that I was about to make.

But by the second time I made the reservation, the shorter set of flights from Lima to Johannesburg were sold out, and I had to take a longer route.

Soon after booking the trip the second time, I started shopping for travel insurance. The advice I got from the Internet for travel insurance is that everyone’s needs are different, so I should figure out my needs and prioritize based on that. In the end I decided to go with WorldNomads.

About a month after booking the trip, I was contacted by Star Alliance saying that I had duplicate bookings, and if I don’t cancel one of them, both would be canceled and I would be charged with cancellation fees. I was confused and a little upset that there are more problems with my reservation. In the end, the issue was resolved and I wasn’t charged any extra fees, but I still don’t understand the issue exactly, because I thought since my first reservation was not paid for, the transaction isn’t complete and therefore not a “duplicate” booking.

Moral of the story: If you want to book a round-the-world trip, call your credit card company that you’re about to make a big purchase and they should do everything they can to make it go through correctly. It’ll save a lot of headache.

Next tasks:
  • Book flights for the beginning and end of my trip (San Francisco to Albuquerque, Hawaii to San Francisco) because the round-the-world trip actually starts from Albuquerque and ends in Hawaii to keep me under the next distance/price tier.

Immunization, Visa

I looked up the CDC website and consolidated a list of shots I may need to get based on the places I’m going to. I think they’re pretty standard as far as traveling goes. I’m most concerned with malaria in South Africa, so I’m going to make sure to cover my bases there. And I’m going to make sure I have a good first-aid kit and medication if I get sick on the trip.

Regarding visas, I want to say the only place where I need a visa is China. There’s a lot of conflicting information regarding layovers in Brazil. I will be at the Sao Paulo airport for a few hours in the same terminal that houses the two airlines that I arrive in and depart from (I checked the airport map). I need to check with the airlines and the airport as it gets closer so I could have enough time to apply for a visa that I would only be using for a few hours.

Next tasks:
  • Make appointment to get immunizations two months before trip.
  • Contact airlines and airports regarding Brazil visa.

Accommodations

I looked into my options: hostels, AirBnB, couchsurfing, hotels. I looked into the whole couchsurfing culture and feel that it might be too limiting of an experience for me for this trip. I’m still open to AirBnB and hotels, and I think for China, since my visa will require me to submit the location of my stay, I’m going to be safe and book a hotel room. But for most of the trip, I think I’m going with hostels. I’ve never stayed at a hostel before, but I watched “A Map for Saturday” and realized the potential of staying at a hostel and meeting so many travelers.

Next tasks:
  • Make reservations for at least most of the 40+ nights that I’ll be spending.

Packing

About a month ago, I started looking up packing lists for traveling to my destinations. I logged the advice in a spreadsheet (as I have for so many other aspects of my trip), and consolidated them into one long list. Then I ranked them by necessity and whether I need to buy them. I’m still aiming to bring one carry on, and since I will be going to places of different weather, every item I put in my bag must be essential.

This is my current project. Specifically, I’m shopping for clothes. I realized that I pretty much can’t bring any of my cotton-based clothes. The advice is to wear lightweight, quick-drying, wrinkle-friendly, culturally blending clothes. So I’m looking at companies that make products for travel, like REI, Patagonia, and Icebreakers. The good news is that they have a lot of high-rated items that I like as well. The less good news is that they’re much higher than my price range for regular clothes. Nonetheless, I think they will be worth it.

Next tasks:
  • Shop and buy travel-optimized clothes
  • Shop and buy travel gear (day pack, security items, etc.)

Languages

I’ve been updating my progress on learning languages. Currently, I’m two-thirds way through first level of Spanish. Previously, I had done one level (30 half-hour lessons) of Italian and one level of Japanese. I review the previous languages once a week by going through one of the lessons, but I realize that I’m forgetting a good amount still. By the middle of each review, I could slowly pick up and remember some phrases, and speak at about the same pace as when I was learning it, but I wouldn’t be able to recall everything I learned.

Still, I think it is a really effective way for me to learn. I may not be able to carry on a full conversation with native speakers, but I believe I can put together basic phrases and short, simple sentences in common situations. I wish I had more time and learn more in each language so I could be more independent in my travels. But most travelers don’t learn the languages of the places they visit, and they survived, so I will too.

After my trip (meaning next year), I’d love to resume learning one of the languages, with the intent of returning to the country (or countries) that speak it, either to travel or to live for a short time. It’s a fantasy that I have right now, and I believe it’s very doable.

Next tasks:
  • Finish Spanish Level 1
  • Learn Norwegian Level 1
  • Learn/Brush up Mandarin Level 1
  • Review all languages

It is unbelievable that it’s already almost late June, and I have a little over three months (or 100 days!) before the trip. I had been busy at work, and I had been behind on planning this trip. I wanted to take care of the logistics of the trip early on (like by now) so I can spend the rest of the lead-up time to learn about places I could check out and the culture of my destinations. The things I have left to do are starting to create stress, though I am grateful that I still have this much time to prepare, and that it’s actually mostly fun planning and fantasizing as well, since I have a planner personality.

(103 days until start of trip)

(The World Cup is in full gear, England is eliminated yesterday, and the US’s fate is yet to be determined tomorrow when they play Portugal. Interesting that Germany and Ghana (who are in the same group as USA) tied)

(It’s the summer solstice!)