Where Do You Want To Go?

It’s always been me, me, me around here, but today I’d like to turn things over to you, my wonderful readers, and ask: “What’s on your travel bucket list? Where do you want to go?”

I’d love to hear from you about three to five places you’d like to visit, domestic or international, and a couple of sentences of why you’d like to travel there. If you like, instead of a place you could list an experience that you’d travel for, versus just a place (for example: dinner on a rooftop in Paris with a sunset view of the Eiffel Tower). You can of course list somewhere you’ve been before if you want to go back, but again, I’d love to hear why – what was so wonderful or memorable about it that you want to go back? What did you miss the first time?

I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and being inspired!



10 Easy Ways To Save More for Travel


The following is a reprint of a previously published post.

There are those people who, when they decide they want to travel, can whip out their checkbooks and cover any trip they want.

Brett and I are not those people. We have big travel dreams, but a small income, so any trips we want to take have to be planned and then saved for. Over the years we’ve come up with a variety of ways to add to our travel savings so that when we do go off somewhere, everything we need and want to do is covered and we don’t end up with a balance on our credit card.

Here are our favorite tips for how to save for travel:

  1. Set up a dedicated travel savings account, and start a monthly allotment to that account. How much you can deposit into your travel account each month will depend on your regular operating budget, but even a small monthly amount can add up quickly.
  2. See if you can save on regular budget categories, and then put the difference into your travel savings. For example, if your monthly food budget is $700, see if you can find ways to save and get it down to $650, or $600. At the end of the month, put the difference into  your savings. This is one of our favorite ways to add to our travel account – it’s almost like a game, and keeps us on our toes when it comes to saving in all areas of our budget.
  3. Do a “no-spend” week, or month, and deposit all usual discretionary spending amounts into your savings. If you stop and pick up a coffee every morning, don’t for one week. Same for going out for lunch while you’re at work, or eating out or picking up dinner. Plan ahead, keep track of what you would have spent on those things, and then at the end of the week, or month, deposit that amount into your savings. This isn’t to make yourself miserable while you save, but rather to see how much you can add to your savings.
  4. Save your change and $1 bills. Brett and I put away around $700 – $800 per year doing this, although one year we saved over $1000. We try to use cash as much as possible, and when we get coins back we immediately put them aside. Same for $1 bills. When we use our debit card, we always round up to the nearest $5 if possible (i.e. if the amount owed is $11.17, we round up to $15, and $3.83 goes into savings). This might require some effort at first to remember to do it, but after a while it becomes a habit. Once we have $25 in $1 bills, or are able to roll our change, off it goes to the travel savings account. This year we are also occasionally setting aside $5 bills – it’s not as easy to do as with $1 bills, but once in a while we feel we can set one aside. Twenty of those though and we’ve got another $100 saved.
  5. Recognize needs versus wants. This also takes some training and effort, but start asking yourself if you really need that new t-shirt, or burrito from Chipotle, or whatever from IKEA, or whether you’d rather enjoy coffee and a croissant in Paris or a week on the beach in Hawai’i. Same for your food shopping – go with a list and stick to it. There’s nothing wrong with looking, but visualizing your saving goals while you look can help keep you more focused on what you need versus what you merely want. This practice might not immediately put money into your savings account, except that you’ll probably have more money left at the end of the month that can be saved for travel.
  6. Dedicate all refunds, rebates and gifts to your travel savings. We get a nice rebate every year from Costco and from our insurance company – both of those go right into our travel savings. Same for our annual tax refund. Unfortunately, no one sends us money for our birthdays any more :-(.
  7. Get a travel rewards credit card. If you’re good about paying off your credit card every month, this is a great way to earn either miles that will help reduce the cost of air travel, or cash back that can go into your travel account. Brett and I use our credit card to pay recurring monthly expenses like our cable bill and phone bill, and then pay it off every month. Our card rewards can be used to either book travel or receive a check – we always take the check. We don’t use the card to pay for groceries because we’ve found that using cash and setting aside the change and $1 bills we get back is more than would be generated in rewards from the card. Warning: use reward cards carefully. Be sure pay off your credit card balance every month. You don’t want to end up with a huge credit card bill that you have to pay versus putting away money for your travel dreams.
  8. Sell things you don’t need or use any more. Take an inventory of your stuff every once in and while, and use Craigslist, eBay, Facebook or other sites to sell unused and unneeded items around your home, with the money you earn going straight to your travel savings. You can also become a savvy shopper at thrift stores or yard sales and find items that can be refurbished and resold online. Someone I know carefully bought high-end clothing brands at thrift and consignment stores and resold them for a profit on eBay, earning enough in a year to finance a trip to Europe. Someone else I know resold books that she picked up for a song at yard sales. Katy over at The Non-Consumer Advocate is in a master class when it comes to the resale game.
  9. Get a part-time job. I’m retired now, and have absolutely no interest in doing any part-time work, nor does Brett, but we’ve done this in the past. For example, the extra I made working as a substitute went into our savings that got us here to Hawai’i. Depending on how much time you have, or how motivated you are, a second gig can be anything from a couple of hours a week to a regular part-time position. Dedicate those earnings to your travel savings.
  10. Be creative. Pick up change off the ground. Return bottles and cans for the deposit, if you can in your state. Clip coupons and put the money saved into your travel account. Use Swagbucks and earn $$ through PayPal. There are all sorts of small ways out there to add to your travel savings. It might not seem like a lot, but it all adds up.

Just like nickel-and-dime items can drain your bank account in a hurry, what might seem like nickel-and-dime savings can also pump up your account in a hurry as well! It’s surprising how much you can save in a year toward your travel dreams once you set your mind to it!


Be a Better Tourist

worst-touristsI still cringe when I think of some of the faux pas I’ve committed over the years in Japan. I’ve said the wrong thing, sat in the wrong place, worn the wrong clothes, given an inappropriate gift, and so on. Most of the time I had no idea I was doing something wrong, and it was excruciating to later learn about my mistakes. Most of them were things I should have known to do differently, or that only a little bit of research would have prevented. I have learned from them though, and think I have become a better traveler and tourist because of those errors.

Here are some of my tips for how to be a better tourist and get the most from wherever you visit, whether it’s across country, a location half-way around the world, or one of nature’s masterpieces:

  • Learn some of the language: While you don’t need to become fluent to visit where another language is spoken, you can learn and use simple phrases, greetings, and other words rather than expecting everyone to speak English to you. Being able to communicate even a little in the local language can go a long way, and shows a genuine respect for another culture.
  • Shop and eat local: Don’t make your destination come to you. Be adventurous and try some of the local cuisine, and not just in “name” restaurants. Let locals recommend their favorite eating places. Do your research ahead of time and find out what dishes or sweets sound interesting and that you think you’ll enjoy. And if you try them and don’t like them, so what? At least you tried. Take yourself off the beaten path and go shopping where locals do, from markets to department stores to mom & pop shops. Haggling is expected in some countries, and can be fun, but be sure you know the local “rules” before you start.
  • Wear acceptable clothing, and follow dress codes if necessary: I couldn’t understand all the stares I got one autumn day in Japan when I wore a light, summery dress because it was hot. I discovered later that in Japan you dress appropriate to the season, not the temperature! Shorts, sleeveless shirts or other casual dress are often not allowed or inappropriate for both men and women when visiting religious sites or places of worship throughout the world. Be yourself, but find out what’s appropriate before you go.
  • Pay attention to local customs: Another faux pas I once committed in Japan was eating while walking down the street. Nope. If I’d been paying attention I would have noticed that while people eat outside, they’re never walking at the same time. Simple cultural rules about things like forming or not forming lines, taking off your shoes, counting or not counting your change can all be different depending on where you are. Be careful too when using hand gestures or taking selfies – you could be doing something insensitive, insulting or downright rude depending on your location.
  • Be ready to answer questions about yourself: We discovered on our trips to China that locals could be very direct when they wanted to know something. After we got over the initial shock of some of their questions, we answered them as best we could without giving away what was to us private information. As interested as you might be in the place you’re visiting, people in other countries are curious about you as well and it’s up to you how much you want to share. I think there’s going to be a very good chance coming up that Americans abroad will be asked about our incoming president, and what they think of him.
  • Respect Mother Nature and the rules: It was frankly shocking last year how many times we noticed people paying no attention to the signs posted around the Grand Canyon, rules that were there for both safety and to preserve the canyon. The past few years there have been several insensitive and anger-inducing examples of vandals who have irreparably damaged sites in the natural world, from defacing national parks with acrylic paints to damaging fragile natural wonders (i.e. Duck Rock in Oregon) to carving names for selfies and destroying views for others. It’s common sense that whenever you visit natural sites, monuments and national parks ask that you follow posted rules – they exist for very good reasons. Don’t feed the animals, leave trash, go or climb where it’s prohibited. Stay on the path if requested to do so, and recycle and reuse as much as you can. Don’t remove or move plants or rocks. Leave a place better than you found it – if you see trash, pick it up!
  • Don’t compare everything you see or do to how it’s done back home: This is my biggest pet peeve whenever I travel – there is always someone who complains that “this is not how it is back home.” The reason you’re traveling is because you wanted to get away from home and experience something different, so enjoy the difference! Ask questions, try new things, and give yourself a chance to learn something from wherever you go. It’s travel, not a permanent relocation.

Travel is a powerful way to experience different cultures and natural wonders, meet interesting people, explore different customs, and generally expand your mind. Getting the most from your travels, and not being seen as one of “those” tourists is as simple as showing respect for another place and other ways of doing things and using common sense and good manners. In other words, be the best example you can of your own culture!

Five Frugal Things

Raspberry-white chocolate glaze over a $1 chocolate cake tastes might fine (and it looked better after I cleaned up the glaze)

Leftover raspberry-white chocolate glaze over a $1 chocolate cake tasted mighty fine (it looked better after I cleaned up the runny glaze)

As our big goal this coming year is to save as much as possible, I am going to shamelessly steal this idea from The Non-Consumer Advocate and post five frugal things we’ve done each week, if nothing else to keep me motivated.

Here’s five frugal wins we had this past week:

  1. We put the $85.18 that would have gone to the electric company this month into our savings account.
  2. YaYu and a friend baked lemon cookies with raspberry-white chocolate filling for the swim team’s annual holiday cookie contest a week ago (they won second place). There was filling left over, so I baked a chocolate cake ($1 cake mix bought on sale at Big Save), and put the filling between layers and on the top of the cake for a fabulous Christmas dessert.
  3. We used brown paper bags, leftover tissue paper and ribbon, and Japanese furoshiki to wrap our Christmas gifts. Everything will be reused or got recycled, and we spent nothing on wrapping materials. Everything still looked lovely under the tree.
  4. I almost bought a book for my Kindle from Amazon, but remembered to check the library first and it was currently available to download – for free. Amount saved: $10.99.
  5. I made Meiling two ham sandwiches, and also packed some cookies for her to take along on her flight back to the mainland so she didn’t have to spend on food. She used the Starbucks card she got for Christmas to purchase drinks in the airport.

What frugal wins did you have this week?

This Week’s Menu: The Best Laid Plans


The Cuban Bowl from Laughing Planet Cafe in Portland was the inspiration for our Cuban-style burritos.

At the end of last week I did my usual menu planning, and based our meals on what we have on hand and what we would be picking up at the farmers’ market on Wednesday and Costco on either Thursday or Friday.

And then on Sunday I injured my back (again) and am now on Day Two of bedrest, hoping that I can get myself back to where I can at least stand and cook, let alone shop and do all the other things that need doing. My long day of sitting in airplanes and airports, and lifting my carry-on in and out of the overhead bins at the end of last month apparently was more than my lower back could handle, and it’s had good days and bad ever since. On Sunday all was well until I bent to pick up a basket of laundry, and suddenly my back was a hot mess again, and here I am in bed.

We switched yesterday’s planned Homemade Fish Cake sandwiches to hamburgers which were easier for Brett to fix, and although I’m going to go ahead and stick to the planned meals for this week, I decided to switch a few days around and front load the week with meals that are easier for Brett and YaYu to prepare. Hopefully by the end of the week my back will be pain free once again and I’ll be back in the kitchen.


Here’s what’s planned for this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Beef & broccoli stir fry; steamed rice (vegan lo mein for me)
  • Wednesday: Grilled mahi mahi; roasted sweet potatoes; grilled zucchini
  • Thursday: Cuban-style burritos (stuffed with saffron rice, Cuban-style black beans, roasted sweet potatoes, fried banana, and pico de gallo)
  • Friday: Pizza for Brett and me (YaYu will be dining at her cross country team spaghetti dinner)
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Slow cooker balsamic pork roast; vegan stuffing; petite peas (“chickenless” nuggets for me)
  • Monday: Slow cooker adobo chicken with bok choy; steamed rice (tofu for me instead of chicken)

We’ll see how it goes. I’m feeling confident that by giving my back the rest it needs and deserves, and then being careful, I can get things back to normal and keep them that way.

Fingers are crossed.

The Truth About Nepal


Bhaktapur, Nepal, www.bartnikowski.com

Bhaktapur, Nepal, http://www.bartnikowski.com

I arrived in Kathmandu after 4 flights, 33 hours, and sleeping on a seat tray, yes the one you eat off of.

Stumbling off the plane from China, clutching my Nepal visa on arrival, yes it’s all worth it to be back here again!

This is my 5th visit to this remarkable country. Twice I’ve traveled here solo to see my friends and help out but the real reason I discovered Nepal is the fact that my son has lived here for 10 years empowering women in one of the poorest countries in the world.

In 2005 he asked me to visit him so I closed up my apartment, took a 3-month break from Palo Alto, put my Van sneakers on, packed 50 rolls of film, and flew to Asia for the first time in my life.

When the earthquake hit Nepal last year, it was a huge re-set for the country, but people make things happen fast here and now things are changing for the better in many ways.

The best thing I’m doing besides walking around the ancient UNESCO world heritage site of Bhaktapur, gazing at temples and drinking up the people who live here is going to the women’s shelter and kicking ass on cleaning, cooking, and organizing alongside the women who live there.

The water installation is nearing completion so the young ladies can take hot showers rather than use a bucket with cold water.

In Nepal you have to live with slow wifi, no electricity at times, and the fact that you may not be able to find things you need to buy like trash bags. But this makes it even more amazing to accomplish things here.

After the earthquake, Beyond the Four Walls built a women’s shelter for displaced girls who were living in tents. They opened the California Cafe serving locals and tourists, employing Nepali girls and it’s now opening in a new location in a garden setting.

The foundation helps girls make empowered choices so they don’t fall prey to child marriage and sex slavery.

Wolf Price, founder of Beyond the Four Walls

Wolf Price, founder of Beyond the Four Walls

It’s exciting to see the water tank go up today. It’s been difficult to get experienced plumbers as so many people need re-construction, but that’s the benefit of having a network of local people in Nepal, knowing people makes things happen faster.

Kind donations from loving people in USA have created the shelter, cafe, and provided schooling for the girls here – it has changed their lives!

You can help this amazing foundation continue it’s work here. http://til.tt/8qrA

Check out the foundations work here: www.b4wnepal.com

Check out the foundations work here: http://www.b4wnepal.com

This lovely young woman came to the shelter this week and is all ready cooking with gas, working and radiating her positive attitude. She faced big challenges in her family when her husband left but she now has a job at the shelter and is happy to be here.

Changing lives in Nepal, www.b4wnepal.com

Changing lives in Nepal, http://www.b4wnepal.com

This vibrant girl has been living at the shelter for a year and is managing and assisting on all projects, going to school and translating Nepali to English as needed. She was rescued from a domestic abuse situation and when I met her 3 years ago was a different girl than you see here. She is confident now and happy to be free.

I’m blown away by every day here. I appreciate electricity and water a lot more than I used to. But the thing that keeps me coming back is the people.

They show me how to slow down and connect to what’s important.

I’m going off grid for a bit to an incredible monastery, Kopan, high on a hill overlooking Kathmandu, no wifi but plenty of love and peanut butter. I’ll get to read books on Buddhism, go to dharma talks, and meditate.

Write and let me know what you would like to know about Nepal.

Temple in Bhaktapur, www.bartnikowski.com

Temple in Bhaktapur, http://www.bartnikowski.com

Mary Bartnikowski, author, photographer and educator is in Nepal until Sept 15, 2016, read reviews on her book she wrote in Nepal, Kitten Heels in Kathmandu, Adventures of a Female Vagabond.

Donations for Beyond the Four Walls

You can sponsor a girl for $10 a month, check it out.

#Kauai: Power Places


Anini Beach, Kauai, photo, http://www.bartnikowski.com

Suddenly I was on Kauai. My toes tingled and my skin sparkled. 

My mouth dropped open in wonder and awe.

The power of this island surged up from the floor of my soul and out the top of my head. Happy I listened to that urge inside me to leave Hawaii Island and discover Kauai.

I’d been looking for this enchanted place in 32 countries and I never found it until now.

I knew I was home. 

I didn’t think I’d live in the USA again after traveling for 8 years worldwide. But when I found myself lying in the road after a brutal motorbike accident in Thailand, my heart whispered Hawaii.

So with 3 pieces of luggage I came home to the USA and landed in Honolulu, Hawaii not knowing a soul. I’ve never been more thrilled to see the Welcome to the United States of America sign in international arrivals. But this one had hula dancers on it.

Kauai happens to you. And your life is never the same. In the 18 months I’ve lived on this island I continue to discover new secrets that sing to my spirit, and when I visit a powerful place I love I am re-ignited with passion and purpose for my home.

Yesterday I went to Anini Beach in the above photo, and when I got there my heart busted open with gratitude. This is why I live here! Turquoise as far as the eye can see.

You’re dunked in killer beauty and pristine air. Swimming in diamond clear water that wild turtles love to be in!

This place heals you. My toothache disappeared. 

So I’m having dental surgery tomorrow. And I know in the depth of my being, at the core of my spirit that it kicked me into a greatly improved mindset to commune with turtles on Anini Beach.

Maybe I’ll go there right now to get another infusion of fairy dust, see my sea turtle friends, and soar to heaven and back without getting on a plane.

Speaking of that, I went on a helicopter ride and saw all my power places from the sky and it blew my brain cells out of my mind.


Flying Over Kalapaki Bay, Kauai, photo, http://www.bartnikowski.com

I was speechless and that is not an every day thing for me. You feel the radiance of cascading waterfalls, lush emerald green cliffs, and a beckoning bewilderingly blue coastline that delivers instant transformation and peace as you fly over this sacred rock in the middle of the ocean. You feel blessed.

It made me see that you can fly without your body, you just have to steep yourself in a powerful place that calls to you.

Surrender to what you loved as a child. Go see that place on the other side of the world that floats up in your heart when you’re dreaming. You’ll never be the same again. 

Next Post: the video of flying over Kauai in a helicopter.

Mary Bartnikowski, author of 4 books, award-winning photographer, and educator. She has led programs worldwide and at Apple, Stanford University, and Intel.

Join me on Kauai and Discover the Power Places of Kauai. Learn Photography with any Camera, Get Incredible Photos Guaranteed and Change Your Life, includes Luxury Accommodation.

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