I’ll Try Some of That

Dinner at the Spring Deer restaurant in Kowloon
Dinner at the Spring Deer restaurant in Kowloon, one of our favorite restaurants ever.

One of best things about traveling anywhere is the food! Not only do I not have to plan, cook or clean up in the kitchen whenever I’m traveling, but depending on where I’m going I not only get to savor old favorites but try new dishes as well. I’m one of those people who searches for restaurant recommendations, checks out menus, and finds out all I can about what there is to eat before I go somewhere, whether it’s Disney World or China or the Grand Canyon. I definitely don’t plan all my meals, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want to try or eat wherever I go.

Food is one of the most important cultural experiences you can have anywhere you go, and there is a lot you can discover about a country or place based on their food and cooking traditions. Is presentation highlighted? Portion size? What are primary sources of protein? Carbohydrates? Where do people buy their food? How do they store it? Is there a street food tradition? What’s acceptable to eat outside versus at home? When and where do people eat? What utensils do they use? How long do they take to eat? With whom do they eat? and so forth.

Besides figuring out some of the above, here are some tips for enjoying the food part of your journey wherever you go in the world:

  • Do some research before you go. This can be anything from learning about popular or famous dishes or restaurants, to checking out menus and prices. TripAdvisor is a good source for restaurant recommendations almost any place in the world, and Yelp and other review sites can help determine great places to eat. I always take these reviews with a grain of salt though as everyone as personal preferences and expectations, but you can generally get a feel for whether someplace is worth checking out or not. I’m a big fan of eating at small, local food joints but it takes sometimes takes some research to find out which ones are worth going to (I’m still learning about places on Kaua’i). I also love to find out about grocery stores or markets before I travel and stop in or visit some of those if I have the time.

    Expensive, yes, but you're unlikely to be disappointed in one of Mario Batali's restaurant
    Expensive, yes, but you’re unlikely to be disappointed in one of Mario Batali’s restaurants
  • Yes, try the big, famous places if you can afford it. Meals at well-known restaurants are usually as wonderful as they’re reputed to be, and there are good reasons why they’ve become famous and/or exclusive. You can be disappointed though, especially after you’ve spent a ton of money to eat there. Do your research carefully, and have a good idea about what you want to order. We had an amazing meal at the top Peking Duck restaurant when we were in Beijing, worth every penny, but another highly recommended restaurant we ate at fell far short of expectations and we regretted the money we spent there.
  • Ask locals where they like to eat versus just asking for a recommendation. If you’re at a hotel, ask employees where they like to go out to eat with family and friends. Rather than being directed to the restaurant down the street, you’ll often learn of someplace you might never have heard of or tried otherwise, and have some pretty terrific food. If you’re in a new place for work, or to visit family, ask your local co-workers or your family about their favorite places for lunch, snacks or dinner. Again, you may find out about some places that don’t show up in the guidebooks or on the web, but that serve some pretty terrific food. Some of my fondest memories of living in Japan were meals we had at three little hole-in-the-wall neighborhood restaurants and bars that had been discovered by other navy families and that we probably would have passed over otherwise.
  • Have a sense of adventure. Travel to a new place is the time to step out of your culinary comfort zone and try something new. We all know our limits (no insects or grubs for me, thank you) but there’s otherwise no way of knowing whether you’ll like something unless you try it. When I went to Japan as a college student I didn’t especially care for rice, soy sauce, or fish but came home loving all three as well as sweet red bean filling, mochi, noodles, sushi and lots of other Japanese foods that I never would have considered before.

    Candied crabapples in Beijing, a popular street food
    Candied crab apples in Beijing, a popular (and tasty) street food
  • Give street food a try. Some of the best things you’ll ever eat will come from a street food stall or food cart. I guarantee it. It’s also an inexpensive way to try out different foods, or things you might not find in a restaurant.
  • Know when to step back into your comfort zone, if necessary. On one visit to Hong Kong, Brett and I decided we were going to eat nothing but Chinese food the entire time we were there, and had created a list of several different restaurants and dishes to try. We gave up after three days, and found a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. It was enough of a break though to go back to Chinese, although not as intensely. Sometimes giving yourself a chance to eat familiar foods, like a burger or a Frappuchino at Starbucks, can help you “get back on the wagon” and enjoy eating local for the rest of your stay.

    Learning to make macarons in Paris
    Learning to make macarons in Paris
  • If you have time during your journey, try a cooking class. If you’ve enjoyed a particular cuisine at home, and are traveling to visit the area, try a cooking class. For example, you can learn to make macarons in Paris, pesto, pasta or gnocchi in Italy, or mole in Mexico. There are tours and classes that allow you to cook “backstage” at some of the top restaurants in Las Vegas. Cooking classes can help you learn more about local ingredients, new techniques, and increase your appreciation for what goes into making some of your favorite dishes. Wine, sake, beer or other spirited beverage tastings can also be included in this category.

As always, travel is much more than seeing the sites. Travel gives us a chance to briefly observe and participate in a different culture, and learn more about ourselves in the process. Immersing yourself into the local food scene is one of the quickest and easiest ways to do that, no matter where you land, and another way to create memories to last a lifetime.

Travel Makes Us Happy

88d31facfe02cb69b0c75d117d3e9ce1Studies have shown that money can buy happiness, but only up to a point. At that point, money spent on things begins to show diminishing returns. Things need to be replaced, or upgraded. They wear out. We “adapt” to our things as we get used to having them around, and over time they bring us less joy than they did when newly purchased or acquired.

Experiences, on the other hand, have been shown to bring increasing happiness over time. We don’t become sick of our memories; instead, the longer we look back at them the fonder we typically become, and the happier they make us. Even bad travel experiences eventually get turned around – over time we usually come to love to share them with others, or even brag or laugh about them. We carry our travel stories, good or bad, like badges of honor.

Travel is all about experience.

But beyond just creating memories, “Happiness Expert” Britt Reints explains that travel experiences in particular make us happier because they also:

  • Give us sense of accomplishment. Travel, especially travel in a foreign country, gives us a real sense of success. Finding a restaurant in a strange city, figuring out public transportation, getting ourselves from Point A to Point B by following a map helps us feel that we can solve any problem. All travel stories are stories of personal success, which leads to greater happiness.
  • Help us learn more about ourselves. Travel give us opportunities to know ourselves better, to discover our strengths and our weaknesses, and change if necessary. Travel also can help us discover new passions or indulge in the ones we already know.
  • Make us more interesting. Travel experiences allow us to bring more to relationships with others, and help deepen our relationships with others. Travel makes us more interesting. And, being interesting attracts more interesting people into our own lives.
  • Connect us more to others. Travel let us realize how much the same we are than different from others in the world, or even our own country. Everyone in the world shares the emotions of love, joy, hope, and fear of change. As Maya Angelou wrote in her beautiful poem “The Human Family,” We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
  • Give us a sense of perspective. Travel and experiencing different ways of life and ways of doing things has a way of helping us appreciate what is important in our own lives. We become more appreciative of what we do have, and realize how tiny our little piece of the world is in relation to the grand scheme of things. We are very small compared to the size of the world, and compared to others our problems are usually pretty small as well.
  • Help us live our life to the fullest: While travel itself will not lengthen our physical lives, it can make our lives richer, fuller and happier. Travel keeps stagnation at bay, and allow us to use the time we have to live, and to experience rather than just react.

Joy. Surprise. Interaction. Adaptation. Accomplishment. Whether it’s across the state, across the country, or to other lands, travel experiences give us all of these things and more. Travel makes us smarter, and it makes us happier, not just for the short term, but far into the future as well.

Travel Makes You Smarter

travel1As if I needed another excuse to plan or take a trip.

The past couple of weeks several articles about the benefits of traveling have been popping up in my Facebook feed, on Twitter and other social media sites I use. While the gist of the articles are that everyone can benefit from travel (and travel planning), some of the benefits are especially pertinent for retirees and can help boost brain power, memory, and creativity.

And anything that makes you smarter is a good thing.

Here, from Condé Nast Traveler, are five ways travel makes you smarter, no matter your age:

  1. Travel expands your sense of reality: While it seems obvious that travel to foreign countries can expand your understanding of the world and different cultures and realities, so can travel within your own country. Not only can you gain a deeper understanding of how alike you are with others, but how different things can be as well. Just as with foreign travel, in your own country you can also experience different foods (and/or food preparation), idioms, expressions, and cultural norms than you can find in your own home area. It’s fascinating, really.
  2. Travel makes your brain function at a higher power: Studies have shown that travel provides up to 75% higher rates of mental stimulation, especially important for older travelers. Increased amounts of brain stimulation helps to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Things such as language study before travel, or figuring out train schedules, or driving routes help increase brain function as well.
  3. Travel helps improve your memory: Traveling in a new location requires an increased attention span, especially where a different language is spoken. This can also be true for places where different idioms and accents exist as well, where you have to listen more carefully to understand what people are saying, which would be the case for me in Scotland and other parts of Great Britain, for example. If the written language is different as well (like in China or Japan, for example) your attention span needs to increase even more to remember locations or names if no translations are provided.
  4. Travel increases your creativity: Visiting and seeing famous sites not only enriches your imagination, but so does experiencing and adapting to new smells, tastes and sights no matter where you visit. These experiences help to create new neuro-pathways in the brain as well as new ways of thinking and adapting to the world.
  5. Travel provides strength in vulnerability: Who hasn’t experienced a feeling of total vulnerability when arriving in a new location, especially one where you don’t know the language, or how to get around, or where or what to eat? However, instead of viewing this as a negative, the vulnerability that comes with travel increases one’s ability to think on their feet, and handle new situations which in turn boosts one’s self-confidence. Being more self-confident, being willing to try new things, and being willing to learn are hallmarks of increased intelligence.

The article includes a wonderful quote about the impact of travel: To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest – Pema Chödrön, Buddhist scholar.

To this I say: Throw me out of the nest! I’m all in for being more awake, more human, and more alive. Here’s to more travel, and to becoming smarter, even as I age!

The Best Thing About Traveling Is . . .

unnamed-1Everyone has their own reasons for enjoying travel. Whether it’s visiting family, trying new foods, enjoying and experiencing nature, shopping, sightseeing or just having time to relax, we all find our reasons to anticipate and enjoy the places we visit.

In no particular order, here are the main reasons I love to travel:

Kaki gori - Japanese shave ice
Fluffy, cool and refreshing kaki gori – Japanese-syle shaved ice with fresh fruit sauce
  • Eating: While it’s not always the top reason I get excited about visiting someplace, I always enjoy trying new foods, and being able to try authentic foods and recipes. I love being able to eat things that I can’t fix or find at home, like Navajo tacos in the southwest, steamed crab in San Francisco, dumplings in China, lobster rolls in New England or conch fritters in Key West. If possible, before we go somewhere I like to check out restaurants in the area we’re visiting, read reviews, and peruse menus if possible. The absolute best part about eating when we travel? I don’t have to plan, prepare, or clean up after any of our meals!

    A walk through a different neighborhood can reveal beautiful sights!
    Simple beauty in a residential neighborhood
  • Sightseeing: Depending on where we’re going, this can either be a high priority, or fall very far down the list of things to do. I’ve never maintained a bucket list or such of places or things I “have to see before I die” but I have been fortunate to see many sights that no picture can ever do justice, like the Grand Canyon, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Great Wall of China, and just about every place in Kyoto to name a few. While I enjoy sightseeing and visiting famous, historic or scenic places and museums, I’m also very happy wandering through local neighborhoods and checking out houses, markets or other aspects of daily life. These areas might not be well-known, but there is a lot to discover and observe, and memories to be made.

    Sightseeing, Japan-style (photo by Linda, my wonderful S-I-L)
    Visiting Kyoto,  Japan-style (photo by Linda, my wonderful S-I-L)
  • People watching: This may be the thing I love most about travel. I am an inveterate people watcher and can happily sit for long stretches to observe what’s going on around me. It doesn’t matter where I am, but I love seeing how people interact, how business is conducted, and how the routines of daily life play out, whether I’m in a foreign country or home in the United States. For example, I still consider myself a neophyte when it comes to understanding Japanese culture, but I enjoy watching two people interact with each other to figure out who has the higher status (based on how they bow to each other). Every trip is a cultural adventure, and I always learn something new each time I travel, something I can tuck away and remember for the future or that furthers my understanding of the local culture.

    Sharing a crepe with my grandson at Harajuku
    Sharing a crepe with my grandson at Harajuku
  • Spending time with family: Whether it’s visiting family in Japan, or traveling with Brett and the girls, or with our son when he was young, I love, love, love making memories with my family. There’s nothing as wonderful as experiencing some place through the eyes of your children or grandchildren, no matter their age, and hearing their reactions and thoughts about what they’re seeing and doing.

    I love coming home to Kaua'i!
    I love coming home to Kaua’i!
  • Coming home: This aspect of traveling has taken on a whole new dimension since we moved to Hawai’i :). Arriving home on Kaua’i is like finishing up one vacation with another.

What don’t I enjoy about travel? I’m not a big fan of air travel, but accept it’s a necessary part of any travel experience for us these days. Car travel is still, for the most part, an enjoyable experience, maybe even more so now since we don’t often get the opportunity. Souvenir shopping has also lost most of its thrill for me, but my daughters still enjoy it so it’s still a part of our travels wherever we go.

So, what about traveling do you love?

How to Travel Solo and Fall in Love With It

RIshikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram, www.bartnikowski.com
Rishikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram, http://www.bartnikowski.com

Myth: it costs a lot to travel.

Yes it does if you stay in $400 a night hotels like I used to do.

It was fun.

The truth is I love to travel solo.

I don’t have to wait for a friend to break up with her lover, leave their job, or save enough money to go with me.

When I want to go to Nepal, Colombia, or Sardinia I put on my Van sneakers and go!

I can sit in a fancy pants bar/restaurant like I am now and write. And enjoy a superb glass of red wine and be at ease and comfortable.

You never have to negotiate where to go based on money.

I was backpacking in the Himalayas solo in 2009 in Sikkim, India and realized I was spending less money per month than I received for renting out my apartment in Palo Alto, California.

I was spending less than $300 per month to stay in guesthouses eating home made Tibetan soup and momos, traveling by share jeep in the Himalayas, and having a blast.

I came home from that 10-month trip with money in the bank.

Advice.

Don’t go over your budget on lodging. Yes you can splash out for a few days. But you can also get budget accommodation and live it up at the upper crust lounge/restaurant like I am now.

Secret: you can often work/write in 5-star surroundings enjoying the incredible views and then go back to your Airbnb room, campsite, or rented home.

You’ll discover that having a set amount to spend on lodging will keep you kosher.

I often times suggest a lower price on a room when the price suggested is too high.

It’s called rich foreigner tax. Many countries, like India, have no set prices on their rooms, the price is whatever they can get.

So haggle wisely, you’re still most likely paying too much.

Freedom!

One of the best things I ever did was travel twice around the world with no itinerary buying one-way plane tickets along the way.

If I felt like staying in Bali another month I could, no discussion.

If I wanted to explore Burma for a month, I went.

First time I went round the world I spent $2900 on plane tickets, the 2nd time I spent $1800. No I didn’t buy a RTW ticket, it doesn’t give you freedom on your journey.

For example I decided to stay in Cambodia for 4 weeks when I couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving.

I was falling in love with Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is located and so I stayed.

No heated arguments. I found an incredible local guesthouse: Rosie’s guesthouse. And another one, Ou Malay where the Cambodian owners and I had a love fest of laughing and daily camaraderie.

It was $7 a night, no wifi but so what?! We loved each other!

Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse Siem Reap, www.bartnikowski.com
Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse, Siem Reap, http://www.bartnikowski.com

You meet so many people!

When you’re solo, there’s no one to listen or talk to. You can be alone with your own thoughts and then Bam! you meet someone seriously interesting who lights up your world and you wonder how you ever would have met them if you were with someone.

This has happened to me more times than I can count. And I’m still in touch with many friends I met traveling from Spain, Korea, Australia, Nepal, India, Germany, and Argentina.

They shook up my world and invited me into a new portal of love and friendship. I never would have met them if I wasn’t solo.

Being solo you have to reach out. It can be intoxicating.

Traveling solo, I mention my thoughts to whoever is standing by, I don’t take offense if they don’t respond, I’m simply radiating aloha which means, I’m spreading good will and happiness which is what the Dalai Lama advises but I didn’t realize until living in Hawaii that this means Aloha.

Pay attention. You might meet your soulmate, best friend ever, or meditation master around the next corner.

Suddenly you’ll be in a new world that you had no idea even existed.

Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon, www.bartnikowski.com
Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon, http://www.bartnikowski.com

Safety.

Yes you can be safe but you have to trust your gut. Don’t negotiate with the red alert warnings your instincts tell you. Pay attention.

Your body knows before your mind. Listen.

And while you are at it: don’t tell people you’re traveling solo. Don’t advertise your solo status by flagrantly drinking and carousing. Really.

Do make friends with families and women. Volunteer with humanitarian foundations that are educating and changing lives. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and smile.

A smile is universal. Yes it works in every country. Try it. It works.

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Collections: The Coffee Mugs

We have an awful lot of coffee mugs for a family with just two coffee drinkers. One way or another though they all get used.

More pottery . . .
More pottery . . .

Some of them are approaching 25 years old (my blue mug with the leaf pattern); others were purchased just last year when we were in Japan (the Starbucks Yokohama and Kyoto mugs). The Tokyo mugs are from Brett and my trip to Japan to meet our new grandson in 2011, and the Hawai’i mugs are from Christmas 2012, when we first came to Kaua’i and committed ourselves to moving here. The girls’ little mugs were stocking stuffers one year when they were small.

Brett was drinking from the other Hawai'i mug.
Brett was drinking from the other Hawai’i mug the day I took this.
The girls' childhood cups (and WenYu's treasured Good Mythical Morning mug)
The girls’ childhood cups (and WenYu’s treasured Good Mythical Morning mug). They still use them frequently.

None of the mugs was particularly expensive; I think the most we’ve ever spent on one is $11.95 for one of the blue & white Starbucks architecture mugs, which celebrate our favorite west coast cities. We had collected five when Starbucks stopped making them, and had to bid for the last one on eBay. The other mugs were gifts, or picked up at a market or craft exhibit, or as an inexpensive souvenir on one of our or the girls’ travels. Each one holds much more than coffee though, and there isn’t a day that I don’t reflect on the time and place we purchased or received the mug I am drinking from that day.

From the girls' trips to China
From the girls’ trips to China
The architecture mugs are BIG so we use them for soup
The architecture mugs are BIG so we use them for soup

Brett has a system for setting the mugs out every morning, so that every day of the week he and I each get a different one, with a different memory. Will we addd another one someday? I’ll never say never, although we’re getting very picky these days, needs versus wants and all that, and we really don’t have room for more. We’re very satisfied and happy with all we have now, but who knows?

First Trip to India

Photo: Wolf Price
Photo: Wolf Price

I had no desire to visit India until my son asked me to go.

He was living in Nepal and ready for a fresh adventure after volunteering in Kathmandu.

I had missed out on Morocco when he asked me to go with him and a friend when we met in Spain (I had to go to Italy for the first time) so no way was I going to say no to India and a chance to let my son lead me to a brand new country.

So I jumped in with no prior knowledge of India except for seeing the movie Gandhi.

That first trip to India and Nepal changed my life, turned me upside down, and electrified my bone marrow. I was never the same again.

The photo of me above was shot right after rafting down the Ganges River in the winter; drenched with icy waves over our heads as we paddled to stay afloat.

Of course we had to volunteer for the front paddling positions in the boat which means you get the worst of the waves over your head and the rest of the passengers just get sprayed.

But I never felt so alive in my life.

My son pushed me to go.

I just wanted to read a book that day.

India blasted open my spirit, forcing me to leap way out of my comfort zone.

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai_Lama in India
Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai Lama in India

I was cold in the Himalayas, I got deathly sick, but I also ate tasty delectable food, was immersed in a multitude of religions, saw the Dalai Lama teach at his home in Dharamsala, had my eye balls seared with women’s colorful clothing, met gurus, saints, and friendly elephants!

There is nothing India doesn’t have but order.

Amritsar, photo student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching
Amritsar, India photo credit: student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching

There aren’t any rules in India: you can have bonfires in the street with cows who want to get warm in the high ethers of the Himalayas.

People drive recklessly. Watch out crossing the street. You don’t want to get mowed down by a motorbike or attacked by a monkey.

Some monkeys are mean in India, one stole my new dress off the clothes line and I didn’t find it until 2 hours later in the dark with my flashlight.

I’ve since been to India 4 times solo. And as soon as I left that first time, I wanted to go back. I found myself in Bali which seemed awfully tame compared to jolt your eyes open India.

What made me buck up and get strong?

The fact that yes I’m deliciously free and can make all my own decisions.

This is a huge opportunity for possible risk but it was also a leap into the unknown, an adventure beckoning, a bewildering array of options, food I couldn’t identify and stumbling happily through a language I didn’t understand.

I tried to learn Hindi and the Nepali language.

“Sundar” means pretty in Nepal. And meeto-cha means this food is yummy. That’s all I learned and actually I didn’t need to know anymore on that first trip.

After traveling with my son for a month, we went solo on our own paths. And boy did my India adventure change.

Being solo is misunderstood in India.

Local people from India wonder why you’re not traveling with your in-laws, 7 children and two sets of grandparents. Really.

Many people want to help you in India, some are scammers, and some are saints. Both will approach you especially when you are solo.

Here is what I do now. I surround myself with a shield of white light and send out the message with my mind, you will not approach me unless I invite you.

It works.

Do you remember the Beatles White Album? Much of it was written in Rishikesh, where I shot the photo below.

The Beatles stayed at a now defunct ashram with Maharishi on the Ganges River while they learned meditation and wrote songs.

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski
Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

What I did was I was lay on the marble floor of this gorgeous “ghat.” (a river side temple, dock, or bathing spot)

The nightly puja was happening.

My tripod was only 6 inches high, one of those tiny jobs that don’t extend, but even though a policeman’s foot was inches from my head, I got this shot from a unique angle.

My body commanded me to capture it.

That’s the real secret of how I get the money shots. My body tells me to shoot and I listen.

So this was our happy hour of prayers, offerings, songs, and chanting.

Puja persuaded me to stop drinking wine when I hadn’t decided to give it up.

But Rishikesh is a holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas; you can’t get booze there.

I was not going to get on the boat, cross the Ganges, and go into town to purchase low grade wine or spirits.

I had spirits at the puja so instead of a cocktail I joined the young Hindu priests, the head swami, and countless tourists from India and worldwide.

Rishikesh_India_Ganges_River_Bartnikowski
Rishikesh_India_Ganges_River_Bartnikowski

I was in heaven.

Afterwards we would meet with Swami for a blessing (darshan) then I’d walk back to my room at the ashram, or go hook up with Skype, being careful not to step in the cow flops along the path.

Yes India has the internet. And this was in 2006.

But India is the mothership. All roads lead to her.

You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to turn your world upside down pineapple cake but it was just what I needed after living in Palo Alto, California, the epicenter of Silicon Valley for 29 years, not knowing that outside this comfortable bubble of technology, splendor, and genius, there was a world named India that whispered to me, Just Do It.

So I did and I thank my son for inspiring me to do it.

I took 3 months off from life in Palo Alto, turned down work, closed my apartment door, paid the rent which was significant, and set out for India, Nepal, and lastly, Bali.

If you ever hear the call to go to India, do it. Your life will never be the same.

Wolf, my son, and me.
Wolf, my son, and me.

Mary Bartnikowski is an author of 4 books, award-winning photographer in Palo Alto, Hawaii, and worldwide for 29 years.

She has led programs at Apple, Stanford, Intel, and globally.

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You Lose Some, You Win Some, v.2

go-with-the-flow

Life is pretty calm around here for the most part, with days flowing in and out of each other without a whole lot of turmoil and/or surprise.

This week is already begging to be different, with both good and bad news showing up.

Bad news out of the way first:

I don’t know what’s going on with my computer. It’s doing the whole overheating and battery draining again but it’s been inconsistent. I’ll have a bad day where I wonder if it will make it through the day and then the next day everything is perfectly normal (like yesterday). On Sunday afternoon it got so bad that I decided I’d better order a new laptop, and of course right after I did the overheating stopped and the battery began operating normally. Then, Monday morning the overheating and battery issues returned with a vengeance and hung around all day, but yesterday it was back to operating normally. This morning it’s fine again . . . so far. The new laptop arrives today but I don’t know whether to keep it or return it. I’m afraid if I don’t keep it this one will soon up and die, but if I do keep it this one will continue to run fine. Arrrrgh! I’m more than a bit upset about (possibly) having to buy a new laptop after only two years, especially after paying several hundred dollars to have this one repaired just six months ago for the same issues. I’ve been using a Mac for over 24 years now, and have never had a problem until I got this one.

I spoke with my phone service provider on Sunday morning about not being able to call or text with the new phone I had just received last week, and that tech support had determined the phone was defective. The rep I talked with was wonderful, and agreed to replace the phone without hesitation. However, I first had to pay for Phone #2, so that’s two phones out of our account right now (along with a new laptop). However, when Phone #1 is returned I will be credited back the full amount (free shipping for return is provided). Then, I got a notice on Monday afternoon that my new phone would arrive . . . in two weeks. What? Two weeks with no phone? But, late yesterday I received another email that the phone had shipped (!!!) and should be here tomorrow!

Staying on the winning side of things, I found both a great price and great schedule for WenYu’s and my flight back to Boston this summer. There were a few flights with cheaper prices (although not by much) but they either had l-o-n-g layovers or not enough layover (like only 35 minutes between flights, not enough time to even move the luggage from one plane to another, let alone passengers). Each of the less expensive flights also had a redeye segment, and after last month’s trip to Colorado neither WenYu nor I was eager to repeat that experience – we were both zombies when we arrived. The new flight schedule gives us a full 13-hour overnight layover, enough time to get a good night’s sleep and breakfast in a nearby hotel before returning to the airport in the morning and heading on to Boston, and with our luggage still checked through. I also got a terrific price on a nonstop flight between Boston and Denver – less than $200! – as well as for my flight from Denver back home – $328 – which includes a nonstop flight between Seattle and Lihue (we paid $378 per ticket just for the Seattle-Lihue non-stop, which was a bargain, when we moved in 2014). I also was able to reserve a room in the same B&B YaYu and I stayed at in Colorado when we visited in 2012 – it was the most reasonable place to stay in the area, is an easy commute to my mom’s residence, and the breakfasts are to die for. All that’s remaining to arrange now is ground transportation and hotel in Massachusetts, and I’m closing in on that.

And, saving the best for the last, WenYu was notified on Monday that she had been selected as one of ten statewide finalists and will be receiving a $3,000 scholarship!! One student from each high school in the state was chosen to receive a $1000 scholarship, then ten were chosen from among those students for the top finalist awards. This means that all of her costs this year at Wellesley will be met through scholarships and grants, that she will not need any federal financial aid to cover expenses. Brett and I are so proud of this girl we could just about burst!

You lose some, but you win some too! I’m still wondering though what the rest of the week will bring . . . .

Burma, One Woman’s Love Affair

One of the best countries to travel solo is Burma, AKA Myanmar.

I spent 31 days boating and bussing across this incredible, new to the Western world, country and I was amazed.

Warning: Don’t listen to any media news about this isolated and remarkable country. Ask a person who has actually visited Burma.

What did I love?

The non-stop devotional people who are kind caring and told me where to get off the city bus in Yangon before I asked.

This is the mark of a compassionate culture.

I didn’t want to leave, everywhere you looked, more lovely souls.

Example. My passport fell out of my camera bag in the taxi from the airport and I didn’t know it until I was checking in at my guesthouse and noticed I didn’t have it.

The smiling taxi driver returned it within the hour, without being asked to.

Wow.

The Hidden Places

I’d never heard of Pyinoolwin before arriving in Burma, but this place soothed my soul, the orchids and flowers in the botanical garden got me awake and strolling at 8AM in the morning.

I met kind women gardening who painted me up to look like them.

Yangon and Bagan are filled with little known temples, markets, and beckoning Buddhism that doesn’t make you feel like you have to be Buddhist. It’s serenity on tap, a simpler life than what most people are used to. It’s in the air and the soil.

Maybe even in the water but I didn’t drink any. I buy bottled when in Asia.

Burma has everything, kind people, holy places, simple tea shops selling noodles, and markets where the farmers will talk with you as they slice their fish, put out their wares, and haggle over price.

I didn’t feel unsafe at all. Yes I know what happened to Aung San Suu Kyi, but she’s off house arrest and things are beginning to change in this amazing country. Political prisoners are starting to be released and Burma is waking up to the fact that tourism can be good.

Don’t wait. Go now. You will never regret it. 

2motorbikingcuteBurmaGirl

Photo: http://www.bartnikowski.com

www.bartnikowski.com
Photo: http://www.bartnikowski.com

Want to see more of Burma and discover the highlights of my 31 days exploring this mystical country?

Check out my Myanmar issue of Vagabond Travel Mag in the itunes store. It’s for iphones and ipads.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Burma but didn’t know anyone who had the answers.

Here is the link.

Vagabond Travel Mag

See my gallery of photography from Burma here

Mary Bartnikowski is an award-winning photographer, author, educator, retreat leader, and lover of world travel. She has led programs at Apple, Intel, Stanford University, and globally. Come say hello at www.bartnikowski.com and get a free ebook, Secrets of Stunning Photographs.

How Do We Do It?

budget-travel

How do we manage to save and pay for travel? How did we manage to afford a week’s vacation at the Grand Canyon, or our upcoming getaway to Oahu? How can we even think of taking a trip back to Japan next spring?

Aren’t we retired and living on a fixed income? Don’t we have two, soon-to-be three, children going to college? Aren’t we living in one of the most expensive places in the United States?

The answer to all the above questions is yes. We do live on a fixed income. We will have two, soon-to-be three, children attending college. And the cost of living here on Kaua’i is higher than many places back on the mainland.

How are we able to afford to travel as much as we do and afford all of the above?

Here’s our big secret: We live below our means.

We have three sources of retirement income: 1) Brett’s military retirement, 2) our Social Security benefits, and 3) a pension Brett receives from the last company he worked for (I rolled my retirement into an IRA). WenYu and YaYu also currently receive a monthly dependent benefit from Social Security, but that ends when they graduate from high school, and we are required to provide proof that the money is used to support them (the cost of which is considerably more than what they receive from SS each month). All of it isn’t very much, but it’s more than adequate for our needs.

We live simply. We rent a small but comfortable house, less than 800 square feet. Although the rent is slightly more than we’d like to pay, it is what it is for Kaua’i. We are very careful with our energy use, and keep our utility payments low. We actually use and pay less here in Hawai’i for gas and electric than we did in Portland, but we don’t have heating bills any more, we cook outside more, and use the slow cooker more, rather than heating up the stove or oven. We dry much of our laundry outside. We’re conservative with water use. We have basic cable/WiFi, but mainly watch TV on Netflix or Amazon, and we still use the low-cost family phone plan we had on the mainland. The girls don’t have data plans for their phones (Meiling does, but she pays for it herself). We fix things when we can rather than replace. Clothing expenses here are less compared to what we spent back on the mainland because we don’t need as many clothes. Entertainment is free – we go to the beach, we go watch the sunset, Brett hikes, we get books from the library, and so forth. The girls stay busy with school clubs, sports as well as community service projects.

We don’t have any debt other than my student loan. We use our credit card to earn rewards, but pay it off every month.

We own one four year-old dependable car that gets great gas mileage, a 2012 Honda Civic sedan. We bundle errands so that we’re not driving all over the place (which is hard to do anyway on this island). Our monthly gas expense has also turned out to be less than it was back in Portland, even though gas prices here are higher.

We eat well, but we do it on a budget that we have been able to bring down by several hundred dollars a month since we first arrived here. We’re able to get great prices on produce at our local farmers’ market, and save by bulk shopping at Costco and Amazon Prime, and occasionally Walmart, buying just a few fill-in items at the local, but more expensive, grocery stores. Other than our weekly visit to the farmer’s market, we shop just once a month, and only step in a store otherwise for things like milk or eggs. Brett makes the girls a lunch every day; they often take leftovers. We rarely eat out, and if we do it’s usually at small “local” spots where we can get a good meal at a low price. If we do go to an upscale restaurant for a special occasion, we let them know we’re kamaaina (local) and usually receive a discount.

We take advantage of the benefits Brett receives because of his military service, which include low-cost car and rental insurance, military hotels and recreation services, and low-cost health and dental insurance. We don’t pay premiums or for prescriptions, but have to meet a deductible and pay a percentage of other costs. Brett is enrolled in Medicare, and I will join him next year; the military insurance will stay as our supplemental. We also have a less than negligible tax burden here in Hawai’i because of our income sources and because we rent (we still pay federal taxes though).

But wait! What about all those college expenses? Surely we have to be hiding something or scamming the federal government or someone in order to cover our children’s educational costs so we can spend our own money on traveling.

Nope, there’s no hidden wealth, no secret stashes of money, no undeclared or unreported income. Believe me, we have provided more financial documentation to the federal government and the colleges the girls applied to than we ever did for any mortgage. The total amount of federal financial aid both Meiling and WenYu will receive next year will be less than $4000, around 4% of their combined total college costs. They were both eligible for much more, but are turning it down because they won’t need it. All three of our daughters have known for many years that they would be responsible for their own college expenses, and they have worked incredibly hard (and are still working, in YaYu’s case) to earn scholarships to pay for college. Both Meiling and WenYu were awarded scholarships and grants by the colleges they (will) attend as well as outside scholarships, and Meiling currently works 20-30/hours week to pay for her room & board. We take care of some of their expenses (dorm room needs, luggage, clothing and such), as well as the girls’ travel between college and home, mainly using the frequent flyer rewards we have saved. Their brother pays for their books.

We budget and save for travel because it is important to us – we value experience. We would rather travel than buy things or live in a bigger house or own a home right now or drive a fancier car or go out to eat all the time. We put away money every month for travel; it’s a line item in our budget. It’s not a lot but it adds up month after month. If we spend less than our monthly budget amount in other areas, the leftover goes into our travel fund as well. We save all refunds and gifts, we use rewards from our credit card, and all those $1 bills and the change we save (about $1000/year) goes toward travel too. And, when we take a trip, we do it on a budget, and we stick to it.

That’s how we do it. Living below our means, and saving and taking advantage of the opportunities we have earned or been given allow us to get up and go somewhere else a few times each year, to see family, friends, and eventually, we hope, more of the world.