Thailand Travel Diary: Guest Post by Ashley Wurzburger

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sometimes it's hard to believe I haven't been to Asia yet! 
Several friends have traveled there in the last few years, 
and I'm becoming increasingly anxious to go. Today, you 
all are lucky enough to hear my best friend's experience 
on her recent trip to Thailand! 

Ashley has been my best friend since 7th grade. 
We've been through just about everything together, but 
we've never been to another continent together 
(thankfully this should be remedied soon!). 
Ash and I. On an adventure.... pretending we were rich at the Breakers Hotel:)

Ashley is one of my favorite writers EVER. No, she doesn't 
write professionally (or even recreationally!) so this is a special treat (mainly for me), as she agreed to write a guest post about 
her adventures. I hope you enjoy her experience in Thailand, 
and check out her helpful tips if you're planning a trip!


xo


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“You just got back from Thailand!! Was it so nice?!”


Canoes lined up in Railay West.

I hesitate for a second. I’m not inclined to say yes, but saying "no" doesn't seem to suit it either. 

“Yeah, it was nice,” I settle on, because somehow, saying no just feels unfair. It took me a few days after returning home to realize that no, Thailand isn’t nice, and that’s ok. Its people are friendly, and its landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. Thailand is relaxing and outrageous, delicious and nauseating, fun and overwhelming. It’s so many things, but it isn’t nice.

If you want “nice,” go to Hawaii.

I’m pretty sure the Thai government has some sort of deal with foreign tourism agencies, because between the time I announced I was going and the time I actually left, at least 8 friends of mine suddenly visited Thailand. My theory would make sense if you’ve been paying any attention to the recent protests going on there. The ruling family (not the King – they have both King and Prime Minister, woo!) has been accused of amassing a lot of wealth, exploiting their country and people to do so. They actually impeached the Prime Minister on corruption charges back in 2006, but then elected his sister as his successor. I like to attribute this to a very trusting and forgiving nature, maybe. 

Anyway, people are going to Thailand by the handfuls. The country’s infrastructure can’t really keep up, so you have 5 star luxury resorts next to slum apartment buildings, and fancy restaurants on shorelines that reek of sewage. I’m not complaining; this is their reality now. I just wouldn't recommend Thailand to my friends who like their “creature comforts” – familiar foods, attentive customer service, guaranteed safety, air conditioning, sleeping without bugs or creatures paying you visits, etc.

If you are still interested in going to Thailand after all of that, great! It is going to be such a fun trip! Below is some basic geography to kick off your planning. It is a diverse country, with all different types of landscapes, foods and experiences, so you can really have a little bit of everything there. For best results, combine! Flying in-country is affordable and time efficient.

· Bangkok – chances are you will fly into Bangkok. It’s a gigantic city with plenty to do. We spent a total of 3 days here to bookend our trip, and for us it was a good amount of time. If you can swing it, I’d recommend being here on a weekend to get to visit the Chatuchak (also called JJ) Weekend Market. It’s a massive labyrinth of clothes, bags, bowls, street food, etc. This is not just a tourist trap – it’s a well-known spot for snagging trendy clothes and tasty foods on the cheap. 

Doing a little Thai Silk shopping at the Weekend Market!

· The Southern Beaches – it is islands aplenty in southern Thailand, so do a little research and pick what sounds the best. You can choose between your tried-and-true tourist haunts (Phuket, Ko Samui), your quieter-and-thriftier beaches (Railay Beach, Ko Chang), or your drug-fueled-rage (Ko Pha Ngan, home of the Full Moon Party).

Railay Beach

· Northern Thailand – this is where you can ride elephants, visit some of the most stoic temples, and see colonies of orange-clad Buddhist monks. We didn't go here because we didn't feel it would be a time efficient decision, but like everything in Thailand, it sure looked beautiful.

Once you know where you’re going, keep these tips in mind that should be true no matter where in their great country you find yourself.


· Don’t bring a big suitcase. This rings especially true if you are going to an island by boat – you will most likely get dropped off in water. Yes, in. Not on a dock. Literally in the water. Thank the Lord for hiking backpacks! 

Cait walking to shore from our boat.

· Don’t expect them to know a lot of English. Maybe this goes back to tourism expanding so rapidly there, but they aren’t like many other countries where everyone just knows English as a second language. I was pretty surprised by how little English they understood or spoke. It made for a lot of shrugging and laughing all around.

· Tip if you want, but not based on percentage. You don’t have to tip in other countries, but people know that Americans do it so it is almost expected. Plus they’re all just so dang nice there! But don’t ever give based on percentage, it’s embarrassingly high. Custom is to give 20, 40 or 60 Baht, depending on the type of service and your generosity (at the time of writing, 100 Baht is about $3 USD). 

· You will probably get sick. In fact if you don’t, call me and tell me your secret. Like many places, the tap water is not good for drinking, but there’s no way to guarantee it isn’t being used to cook with or will otherwise sneak its way into your digestive tract. And there were flies on everything, so… (Note: you should still eat everything! Food from carts, food from noodle shops; we even ate one meal from a boat vendor!)

· Put your hands at heart center and bow low. This is one thing I wish I would have really gone for while I was there. Being from a culture where we don’t bow, I felt silly or somehow like a fraud when bowing. Turns out I just looked disrespectful, because they bow to everyone, and the lower you bow the more respect you are showing the other person. Except don’t bow to kids, because that makes you look dumb (I read that somewhere). “Thank you” is “khob kuhn ka,” and should be said liberally.

kayaking through the waters off Railay beach

Going to Thailand wasn't on the top of my travel list. In fact, it wasn't even in the middle of the list. I am so glad I went, though; it’s a trip I’ll always remember and I still find myself wishing I was back, kayaking through crystal blue waters with towering rocks overhead. If you’re Thailand-bound, enjoy! And feel free to comment or reach out – I’d love to hear your suggestions or answer any questions! 

Khob khun ka, everyone.

Travel Diary: An Amelie Inspired Parisian Trip

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Today, I have a guest posts from my dear friend Sharyn. Sharyn was lucky enough to go to Paris with her fiancé (now husband!) about a month before their wedding when he had to go for work. Lucky girl! Sharyn is a dietitian and has one of most wonderful outlooks on life & health! You should also probably know that the first time Sharyn went to Paris was with ME, over 7 years ago (with the best Parisian tour guide ever, my wonderful friend, Antonio!).



Us at Versailles. I carried around 3 loaves of bread and didn't eat ANY of them!
Most self control I've ever had or am likely to have again. Also, ignore our clothes. 

Here's here recent travel journal & series of anecdotes. She gives great tips on an Amelie experience as well as how to eat healthy in the city! She's one of my favorite people and also one of my favorite story tellers. You can read more of here blog, here. I hope you enjoy!

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A year ago, if you told me I would be flying to Paris for “the weekend”, to meet up with my fiancé, have a whirlwind tour of my favorite spots and re-see the city of love with my love, I might have found that a bit ridiculous since I had just started dating said love of my life…

7 years ago, if you had told me I’d be returning in 2014 under previously described conditions, I would have thought for sure you were deranged, meant to tell that to someone else, or a magician…

Because 7 years ago I was seeing the city of love for a weekend… with a love… but not in the romantic sense (no offense Nae Nae)… you see, 7 years ago I saw Paris for a 48 hour whirlwind trip at the start of a 10 day journey around the world wherever RyanAir would take me with one of the best adventure/travel partners a person could ask for: Renee “Nae Nae” (then) Cutaia (now) Olson.


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My first trip to Paris was unforgettable. And now, given a second chance to explore what became one of my favorite cities, I was elated to plan – in a similar manner- my plan of attack.

Having recently viewed Amelie and Julie&Julia for inspiration, I grabbed my well worn MTV Europe book (our favorite guide book) that led me through so many historical and cultural sites back in 2007 and flipped to the Paris city section to see my highlights and notes from our previous adventures. Since I had been to the main sites (Arc d’Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Musee d’Lourve, Notre Dame, etc etc) before, I didn’t feel the pressure to spend time planning trips to that area of town (sort of central Paris). Instead I “Bing”ed (I say that since my husband works for Microsoft, even though we all know which search engine I probably used) the phrase “walking tours of Amelie film locations” and found one that mentioned all the places I had noted from my recent Paris themed movie weekend and began plotting. The one area of Paris I had yet to see, since it was a little farther away from the City Center tour we took during my last trip, was Montmarte. Known for its idealic hilltop neighborhoods (reminded me a little bit of San Fran) and of course, the white washed stone cathedral that can be seen throughout the city landscape: Sacre Coeur.




That was number one on my list and since I had more time to really take it all in I felt it might be nice to meander up some side streets, poke in some local grocers and get some snacks, and sit in a café to slowly sip some “expresso” (as the signs read at many of the cafes) with a delightfully buttery/flaky croissant, rather than going directly there and back.

So that’s precisely what I did. After waking up and finding a great little eatery not far from the Hotel Banke (where we stayed for the weekend – a gentrified building in the Northeastern part of the city that used to be an actual bank – now turned hotel. Each floor of rooms is set up in a triangle with the rooms on the perimeter and the basement “vault” is now a lounge/bar area with the back walls covered in old lockboxes. Pretty unique setting.)

I will add that I had forgotten how little the French eat since they all smoke and caffeinate their appetites away (slight generalization…) so while I was famished and ready for a big breakfast, there was nothing but coffee and croissants to be found. Not that I will ever turn down a good croissant, I’m just saying, this body shuts down without some kind of color at every meal. So as I was wandering from place to place, both reading menus searching for anything more than carbs and caffeine, and working up the courage to use some of the tiny bit of French I had rehearsed with Bryan (who has had 5 years of French in his background) – I remembered passing a little natural foods eatery that I prayed was open for breakfast, and sure enough! It was. So to Ekki Natural Foods I went. Grabbed a premade arugala, mixed veggie, lentils and poached egg mix and an Americano (ironic that they serve those in France? Maybe, but it was delightful). SO for all of you out there who complain that there is no way to eat healthy when traveling, I’d like to dispel those beliefs little by little. You just have to make it “non-negotiable” and make sure you keep an eye out while you’re walking about enjoying the scenery for restuarants /eateries that serve fresh foods. I will say, it helps to notice what people are eating on the street as your walking. I first noticed Ekki the day before when I saw someone walking around with a green smoothie. Upon staring at this stranger for probably an awkward amount of time thinking “where in the world did they get that? I want one.” I noticed the Orange and Green lettering on the cup. Which leads me to another rpoint: typically natural or vegetarian friendly restaraunts are labelled using “earthy” colors… orange/green/brown/yellows. Etc.

SO.

Having fed and caffeinated myself properly, I decided to blow off some steam by taking a run from my hotel down to the Seine River where I had seen people walking/jogging the night before along a path. I thought that sounded like a great way to start the day so I bundled up in my running gear and headed the direction toward the river. Fortunately, somewhere between 2007 and 2014 they have installed large maps of the city every few blocks so the few times I did get a little turned around I stopped at a map and found my way right down to the riverfront and ran passed iconic scenes trying to pinch myself the whole time “what. Am. i. doing. Here?!”




Ok, so fast forward, I am now wandering up towards Montmarte via the map from the hotel lobby . Stopping for fruit at a market, people watching (and listening as I love the French language) . taking in the sites and every now and then turning around to see the view from where I’ve come. It’s magnificent and though the roads are becoming steeper and sidewalks are turning into stairs, I am getting more and more excited as I recall my mantra from 2007 trips around the world was always “there is yet to be a view from the top that disappoints me” so up I go, taking note of Amelie film spots and cute little areas I could picture myself living until I made it to the top, seeing cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, tons of street artists and vendors with art exploding out of their doors. After touring the cathedral I wandered around the little town of Montmarte, had some expressso and a chocolate croissant, and then headed back to meet Bryan and change for dinner.

The rest of the Paris trip was all the typical spots revisited and seen in a new refreshing light as love tends to do to people and places. For instance, I don’t remember walking across the Pont Des Arts (love lock bridge) 7 years ago, but now, it will forever hold a place in my heart- no matter how cheesey or cliché it may be- as Bryan and I “locked down” that love and threw the key in the river, as you do.



Not being much of a “museum person” myself, Bryan really wanted to go to at least one while we were here so I suggested the Musee d’Orsay as it was one I hadn’t seen yet. We were able to get in and out in about 1 ½ hours (little to no wait to get in on a Sunday afternoon after a church service at Notre Dame). We didn’t plan our weekend out methodically so we didn’t invest in the “Paris Pass” or any other discounts but I did research a lot of ways to save money in Paris if one wanted to. Since we mostly just walked around and looked at free things we figured we could shell out the money to go to one real museum and just call it a donation to preserving the art and culture of Paris.



Dinners! Dinners in Paris were a fantastic cultural experience. We had to keep telling that to our wallets as well since they kept complaining about how skinny they were becoming while we were being filled with amazing tastes from butter. Baguettes. Bordeauxs and you might be surprised at how many vegetables and vegetarian options we were able to find. While we dined a fine places such as L’Tour de Argent (specatular view, uppity French cuisine atmosphere and tiny portions for enormous prices – a once in a lifetime experience… as in we can only afford to do it once unless we want to dip into our retirement funds), and a dinner boat cruise along the River Seine- lovely sights from the river and again, very good vegetarian options… BUT my personal favorite dining (aside from the boloungeries that you pass every other block wafting smells of fresh baked goods into your nostrils and heart) was the falafel stand called Mazo (MTV EuropeParis Eats section FOR THE WIN) in the heart of little middle east (not sure if that’s really what it’s called but there were probably 2 dozen falafel/gyro places and tons of shopes/souvies similar to middle east. Therefore, we dubbed it so.) Mazo falafel is fantastic BECAUSE. It is affordable. And they load your falafel pita with 5 fresh little balls of garbanzo bean love and then give you access to the incredible edible bar of delightful toppings that range from pickled peppers and veggies to various flavor and spice sauces, relishes, sun dried tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, and so many other things I’ve forgotten but let’s just say, I topped off my falafel, ate half of it, and then went back and topped it again. It’s like two meals for the price of one! Thus again, dispelling the belief that one cannot eat well (healthy and cheap) in Paris. Tis NOT true! Just seek and ye shall find.

Now having bored you to death with details that may or may not apply or interest you, I release you. Plan . travel. Adventure. Whether it’s in your own city or across the world. Never underestimate the availability of free things. And when in doubt, share a bottle of wine and a baguette with someone you love.

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I hope you enjoyed this! Thanks to my Sharyn for sharing her trip & if you'd like to see a comical little part of our Parisian experience in 2007..... here you go :)


The Name Game: How to Book Flights When You're Legally Changing Your Name

Monday, August 4, 2014

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I got married in November 2012 and I'm STILL working on changing my name on everything. Anyone else annoyed by the process? I never thought I had so many accounts & documents to change! Your Social Security Card, Driver's License (or State ID), Passport & Credit Cards all need to change - barely scratching the surface!

Marriage, divorce, adoption or any other reason - traveling after a name change can be a bit of a hassle. Here's how to book flights & travel even when you're half way through the process.

If you can, change one ID at a time (passport & license). That way, you'll have one ID with your old name & one with your new name until you can get everything changed. When I changed my license in April, I still hadn't changed my passport. It came in handy as I had already booked a flight under my maiden name. I traveled through security with my passport as my photo ID and there was no problem.

If you book a domestic flight (or a cruise) under your former name and change all of your identification, it should be fine - you'll just need a little extra paperwork to get through. Call the airline/cruise line to see what their policy is, but a certified copy of your marriage certificate should be proof enough. It ties your old name to your new name.

Cruises leaving from/returning to the US don't require a passport, but they certainly make it easier. You can bring alternative documents. Learn more about that here.

Please note that there is no "quick fix" for traveling internationally on a passport that doesn't match your flight reservation.  This includes Mexico & Canada! [The only exception may be a cruise of US origin/return, see above]. If this is the case for you, you'll need to expedite your passport renewal. Here are the guidelines to expediting your passport. Take care of this as soon as possible!


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Depending on where you're visiting, your credit card will need to match your ID. Many places in the US ask to see ID, but some countries have more strict policies. In the UK, if you present a credit card without a matching ID, many shop keepers will take it away from you (to prevent fraud). It's always best to have a matching ID with your credit cards so you don't run into a sketchy situation. In my experience, even an expired ID works - just your name next to your picture so they can verify you're not a thief. 

Don't book flights with your new name until you have an ID in hand! This is a huge mistake, because you never know what will happen. For example, a honeymoon should NEVER be booked under your married name! You won't even have a copy of a marriage certificate to tie these together yet and could end up being a disaster. Most flights are non-transferable, so you might end up with a useless flight. Error on the side of caution. 

You can transfer Frequent Flyer accounts to your new name so your miles aren't lost! It's best to wait on changing these until all documentation (passport & license) are changed, so you can take care of it all at once. If you book with your married name BEFORE your FF# transfers, don't worry. Book without your FF#, and once you change your FF# to your new name, request miles for a previous flight. Every airline can do this simply. Keep the confirmation number for any flights taken while you're in name change limbo. I'll share more about how to make this transition in a future blog.

Keep in mind the random accounts you might need to change; travel insurance (and all kinds of insurance, for that matter!) any loyalty programs (car rental, airport lounge, hotel), etc. Go through your wallet and see what cards are tied specifically to your name, then work on changing them as quickly as possible.

Changing your name (on everything!!!!!!!) can be such a pain, but having a plan will make it easier. I recently received my new passport, so I've almost fully transitioned. Can't wait until it's over! Are you in the process of changing your name?