Posts tagged travel
May 2018 Money Diary: What Makes the Perfect City?

Ivan here.

The highlight of May was a four day trip Jennie and I took to New Orleans to attend the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. It was on my bucket list of items to check off before we leave North America to work and travel around the world.

 
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Total cost of the New Orleans trip was around $600, with the help of Southwest Airlines points (transferable 1:1 via Chase) plus the Southwest Companion Pass.

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Now, with money out of the way, let’s talk about something I care about...


The (Very Short) Lifespan of Music and Cities


Diamond or doorknob?
Sapphire or sawdust?
Champagne or just home brew?
Tell me, tell me, tell me, dreamface,
What am I to you?
— Duke Ellington, Tulip or Turnip

I’ve been a casual fan of jazz since high school. It’s one of the most liberating art forms to emerge from the U.S., with a focus on “dialogue” and “improvisation,” something that really resonated with me from a young age. Spontaneity has never been my strong suit. Generally, I have what most people would consider an uptight personality. Music and writing helps me experience and feel things I’d normally miss in the moment.

In recent decades, jazz has gone the way of classical music. It’s stuffier, more “high brow” now. Academics have gotten their hands on it, turning a working class art into a “discipline,” to be studied at arm’s length like a museum piece. When this happens, art loses its original vitality and connection to everyday life.  

I think this applies equally to capitalists and cities. There’s something about achieving a certain level of wealth and comfort that tends to narrow peoples’ imaginations. One of my biggest fears is to wake up one morning and settle into a conversation with Jennie over breakfast about the price of real estate.

Like music, I think every city has a limited lifespan. Like the perfect sushi, every piece of nigiri has its own time. Its moment in the sun. And it’s up to each of us to decide the kind of city we’re looking for - before it's too late. 


3 Things We Look For In a “Perfect” City


Downtown Los Angeles, California


There are three main things Jennie and I look for in a “perfect” city:
 

1. Cost: How much does it cost to live there?

Economics tells you a lot about cities. The average price of rent determines the type of neighbors you’ll have, the kind of retail/dining experiences available, and even the opinions people tend to hold. From our experience, Jennie and I are a lot more comfortable living in neighborhoods that are affordable to a wider range of people. This not only helps our wallet, but provides a form of stimulation that’s very hard to find in certain parts of New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles (where we live).

Affordable cities like New Orleans and Philadelphia have some of our favorite types of places. For example, at the Bacchanal Wine Bar in New Orleans, we were eating cheese and sipping red wine at a table with two certified hipsters, a middle-aged couple from Houston, and three local contractors/electricians who were originally from Guatemala and Honduras. By contrast, the only Hispanic people we meet in the tolerant, liberal oasis of West Los Angeles are construction workers, cleaning ladies, nannies, and gardeners. We have a huge fucking problem with this.
 

2. People: What is the general attitude toward life?

Are people ambitious or laidback?
Do they prioritize getting the most out of life today or working for a better tomorrow?
Is there room for different ideas and perspectives?

To what extent do people care about how they look versus who they are?
Do they communicate directly or indirectly?
Are they comfortable with dissent and conflict?
Are they individualists or collectivists? 

These are just some of the questions Jennie and I ask ourselves when we visit a new city. We tend to gravitate towards certain types of people. People who like to push the envelope and are unafraid to say what’s on their minds, even at the risk of being “wrong” or causing offense. These are usually the same people who tend to be less flaky and can be depended on to do what they say they’re gonna do. And while it’s hard to make sweeping generalizations about large groups of people, we’ve traveled to enough places to notice certain patterns and differences - even between residents of neighboring cities.
 

3. Convenience: How easy is it to get around?

None of the first two points matter if the city is inaccessible.

  • Is it possible to get around by public transit in a reasonable amount of time?
  • Can people of similar interests come together in an area?
  • Are there social/invisible barriers that prevent people of different backgrounds from mingling?

OUr Verdict on Los Angeles


Some beach in Los Angeles, California.

Some beach in Los Angeles, California.

Basically, the “perfect” city we’re describing here is the exact opposite of Los Angeles. 

LA is not very affordable, the average person here is too cool and trendy for us, and it’s certainly not convenient. Now, I’m sure there are some wonderful people living in this city who we’d get along with swimmingly. But if they’re from East LA and we’re from West LA, they may as well be from the surface of Mars.

If our trip to New Orleans this month (and every other trip we’ve made outside of California) has taught us anything, it’s the realization that Los Angeles is not our type of city.

Honestly, Jennie and I are surprised we took two whole years before coming to this conclusion. Of course, every place has its positives and negatives, and we’ve really tried to make the best of our time in this city. But when we actually sat down and weighed the city’s pluses and minuses, all the positives were much lower on our list of priorities.

We've learned that some things are just more important than 284 days of sunshine.



Origami Guides: A 3 Day New Orleans Itinerary (with Local Recommendations)

Jennie here.

In early May, Ivan and I spent a fantastic long weekend attending the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. In just a few short days of hanging out in The Big Easy, this city has catapulted onto our top 3 favorite cities in the U.S. - right after Boston and Philadelphia. The city’s slow pace, melting pot of culture, food, and history makes it the ideal hub for us. In another lifetime, I could definitely see us living here.

Jazz Fest | NPS Photo | Bruce Barnes

Jazz Fest | NPS Photo | Bruce Barnes

During this trip, we made a point of pestering every local we met to give us their favorite places to eat, drink, and relax in New Orleans, and we followed their advice to compile this three day itinerary.

Basically, we’ve asked all the questions - so you won’t have to!


Who should use this itinerary?


Solo travelers/couples on a budget who prefer to stay off Bourbon Street in favor of more “off the beaten” path hangouts.


What are the best times to visit NOLA (New Orleans)?


Before June. Our rule of thumb: go before it gets too hot and humid to enjoy the sights. We went on the first weekend of May for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the weather was just right.

Crawfish in New Orleans |  Source: Flicker

Crawfish in New Orleans | Source: Flicker

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

  • Crawfish boil fans: If you’re looking for a good crawfish boil, go before August; crawfish season is typically between early March through mid-June.

  • Mardi Gras or party junkies: If you want to party and join a few second lines, go during the Mardi Gras season. Be warned though - prices will double or triple for accommodations during this time period. A local Uber driver did mention that Mardi Gras lasts about a full month for locals with all the backyard barbeques and shindigs.


What is the best way to get around NOLA (New Orleans)?


Staying true to who we are - we usually go car-less in any city we visit.

New Orleans Canal Street Streetcar

New Orleans Canal Street Streetcar

We recommend using NOLA’s public transit system. For $3.00, you can get a 24-hour pass to use NOLA’s public transit system, which includes 24 hour streetcars and extensive bus routes. Over three days, it’ll only cost you $9 a person.

We also found New Orleans to be relatively walkable in the main touristy areas (e.g. Frenchman Street, French Quarters, Magazine Street, etc). However, there are still some “shady” areas you’d want to avoid walking through after dark.

When in doubt, take a Lyft/Uber after sundown.


Where should I stay in NOLA?


I'm only going to recommend what I can stand by - unless you’re doing it “for the Gram/IG”, I don’t think you should pay for more than $70 a night for your stay in New Orleans. Think about it: how much time will you actually spend in your room?

For the budget conscious (up to $60 per night):

  1. Airbnb is a great option. We found a lot of Airbnb options under $60 a day. I would highly recommend staying in the Garden District along Magazine Street. It’s an emerging area with a growing arts scene, boutiques, and restaurants.

  2. Hostels. Our friend mentioned that NOLA has a pretty decent hostel scene compared to other Western metropolitan cities. You can check out The Broke Backpacker’s recommendations here that will suit your needs.


Thoughts On Bourbon Street


New Orleans Bourbon Street in the French Quarters

New Orleans Bourbon Street in the French Quarters

We did the obligatory walk through Bourbon street one evening. Truth is, I could’ve lived without it. Despite its long history, you’ll quickly notice it’s just a copy-and-paste job of clubs and sleazy bars that are packed with out-of-towners.

Here’s our tip: You can do the obligatory 30 minute stroll through the main street and then walk over to Frenchmen Street where all the interesting jazz clubs, dive bars, street performances, poets for hire, and other shenanigans that are more worth your time.


New Orleans People and Southern Porch Culture


My favorite part of our entire trip was actually getting to meet New Orleanians and transplants. We found New Orleanians to be kind, warm, and unfazed by what others think of them. Our favorite type of people!

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Oftentimes, you’ll see locals leisurely hanging out on their porches having a smoke or drinking a cold beer or sweet tea. And as we passed some of these beautifully crafted homes (especially in the Lower Garden District), locals would casually say, “Hi, how are you?” or “Where y’at?” (the correct response: “what it is”). Although it seems silly to read into this porch culture, I found myself longing for that sense of community and closeness that it represents.


What we wished we’d done differently before going to New Orleans...


I think my biggest regret was not learning more about New Orleans and its history before I visited. Although I recall some basics from my U.S. history classes, it’s one of those cities that continues to carry its traditions.

Here are a few resources I’d suggest before visiting New Orleans:

Book(s):

Radio / Podcasts:

Television:

  • HBO series Treme (pronounced: tre-MAY) from the series creator of The Wire (available for free on Amazon Prime Video)


How do I use this guide?


The map is divided into three color-coded areas:

  • Day 1 attractions are in Blue
  • Day 2 attractions are in Red
  • Day 3 attractions are in Yellow
  • The grey markers are for optional sites

For simplicity, we assume you followed our advice and are staying in the Garden District along Magazine Street. All currency listed in USD.


A 3 Day New Orleans Itinerary

(based entirely on local recommendations)

Day 1 (Blue): Arrival in New Orleans, Crawfish Boil, Gumbo, Boozy Bourbon Street, Jazz on Frenchmen Street, and Late Night Gene’s Po’Boys

 
 

Morning: 

  • Arrive at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
  • Take the short, six minute Uber ride ($5-6) to Harbor Seafood and Oyster Bar for boiled crawfish and raw oysters. We ordered fried alligator as an appetizer, and the boiled special: 3 lbs of boiled crawfish, ½ lb of boiled shrimp, 10 boiled potatoes and corn ($38). If possible, we recommend sitting at the bar to chat with the friendly bartender!

Afternoon

  • Uber to your Airbnb at the Garden District ($15-17). Drop off your things and head out on foot.
  • Follow Magazine Street towards the French Quarter, stop by French Truck Coffee ($5) for some cold brew.

  • Have dinner at Mother’s Restaurant ($20-30): Mother’s has a combination plate where you can try the gumbo, Jambalaya, and etouffee (our preference). Alternatively, there’s the always packed Cochon Butcher, a gourmet sandwich shop where you can get boudin (boo-dan).

Evening

  • Walk through and past Bourbon Street. Avoid the neon-colored daiquiris made with Everclear and the Hand Grenade cocktail - because you’re not 21 anymore and possess a fully developed brain.
  • Make your way to Frenchman Street. This is where all the great live music, jazz clubs, and dive bars are. In our case, we started at The Spotted Cat for live music, then a few dive bars later, ended up at the Hi Ho Lounge around one in the morning ($25-30).
  • Cap off the night by splitting a hot sausage po’boy at Gene’s Po’Boys ($15, open 24H). Every single local we talked to mentioned Gene’s as a great late night spot. Note: Gene's does take credit cards and make sure to ask for their homemade HOT SAUCE. A local highly recommended it to us.
  • Take the Uber home ($9-10).
     

Daily total (for two) in New Orleans:
$100-150 depending on how many drinks you order.
We stuck to one drink per establishment.

 

 

Day 2 (Red): Exploring New Orleans Cemeteries, Streetcars, Mufalettas, Beignets and Coffee at Cafe Du Monde, and Drinking Wine at Bacchanal with New Friends And Jazz

Morning

Afternoon

  • Take the streetcar to the French Quarter. Purchase a 1 Day transit pass (valid for 24H) from the street car driver ($3 per person).

  • Order HALF of a muffaletta sandwich from Central Grocery ($15). Trust me: half is all you need for two regular-sized people.

  • Take your sandwich to go and head over to Jackson Square for an impromptu picnic.

  • For dessert, there are two options for cafe au lait and beignets (pronounced: ben-YAYs): the famous Cafe du Monde or Cafe Beignet (multiple locations - we went to the one on Royal St). Which is better? We tried both and preferred Cafe Beignet ($10) because there were fewer tourists (i.e. quieter), no line for restrooms and the beignets were fluffier and fresh out of the fryer.

Evening

  • Take the streetcar to French Market Station.

  • Climb the stairs up the weird overpass, over a concrete wall, and down the stairs again to reach Crescent Park, a tranquil public space with views of the Mississippi River and the New Orleans skyline.

  • Continue walking north along the river until you reach the Bywater district - which reminded us of the New Orleans-equivalent of pre-gentrified Brooklyn.

  • Head over to our favorite spot in New Orleans: Bacchanal Fine Wine and Spirits ($40-50).
    How it works: you select and purchase a bottle of wine as you enter the store (with help from the friendly staff), grab a couple of empty glasses and head over to the back patio. Pull up some chairs and share a table with some strangers while listening to live music! There’s a good mix of locals and tourists who come here, and though it may seem daunting for introverts at first, stick with it! A few glasses of wine later, we promise you won’t regret it! Bacchanal also serves food and a fantastic meat and cheese plate you can order at the front. We recommend arriving early (5 PM) before the post-work rush.

Daily total (for two):
$90-120. Again, depends on how much wine you drink.
We ordered a bottle of Beaujolais ($28), shared a cheese and meat plate with some locals ($10-15), and tipped the musicians ($5).

 

 

Day 3 (Yellow): Willie Mae’s Fried Chicken, Walking Around City Park and Sculpture Gardens, More Gumbo, and Sno-balls for Dessert

Morning

  • Have a late breakfast at the famous Willie Mae’s Scotch House (closed Sundays, $25-30) for fried chicken. In our opinion, totally worth the hype. It is extremely important to get here as soon as it opens at 10AM to avoid standing in a long ass line.

  • Walk off the fried chicken by making your way through the Bayou St. John neighborhood to City Park.

Afternoon

Evening

  • Uber out to Pho Michael ($20-25) for a (relatively) light meal before your flight. New Orleans has a sizable Vietnamese population and the bun bo hue here was legit! Alternatively, people rave about the gumbo at Chef Ron’s Gumbo Shop, located right next to Sno-La Snowball Lounge, which sells sno-balls stuffed with a cheesecake filling (we’re skeptical about this combo). We were too stuffed to try it, but our Uber driver said she goes out of her way to eat there all the time.

  • Take the Uber to the airport ($15) and fly home 10 pounds heavier.

Daily total (for two): $90-120.
Uber rates vary depending on whether you’re traveling on a weekend or weekday.



April 2018 Money Diary: A Different Kind of Life

Ivan here.

Twenty two months ago, Jennie and I published our first money diary. Back then, we had some hopes and dreams about what our life and marriage could be, a few ambitious goals, plus zero dollars saved in our round the world travel fund.

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Since that publication:

  • Our cost of living has remained unchanged: We spent $2,787 in July 2016 versus $2,815 in the past month.  

  • Our average monthly spend has decreased: we averaged $3,140 per month in 2016 & 2017 versus $2,800 in 2018.

  • Our donations to charity have increased: From $0 in 2016 to $1,250 in 2018 (to date).

  • We’ve hit our $40,000 savings goal for our round the world trip:  $0 in 2016 to $40,286 in 2018.

 
April 2018 - The Origami Life Money Diaries
 

The shift from spending $3,000 a month to $2,800 isn’t about cutting costs or making ourselves miserable. We’ve actually learned to be more efficient with where we spend our dollars, by prioritizing our spending in areas that add value to our life. For example, over the past two years, we’ve significantly cut back on Eating Out and Miscellaneous spending, and moved those savings toward Travel and Charitable Donations.  

This goes back to how we value money: it’s not about what you spend, but how you get the maximum return for every dollar you do spend by:

  1. Eliminating waste and mindless spending habits

  2. Setting clear priorities on the things that matter to you

Having met our savings goals, Jennie and I now have some loose ends to tie up - but we’re on track to transition to the next chapter of our lives by September.


I told you what I was going to do.
— Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood

Travel On Your Terms versus On a Corporate Expense Account


A week after I returned to Los Angeles after two months in rural Taiwan, I tagged along with Jennie on a work trip to San Francisco. As one half of Origami Partners LLC, I had a few prospective clients up in the Bay Area, and wanted to take advantage of the free accommodations to set up some meetings downtown.

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Walking around San Francisco after two months of solitude in rural Taiwan was jarring to say the least.

I don’t have strong feelings about the Bay Area. From certain angles, I guess it’s a beautiful city. On the other hand, it’s also a microcosm for the massive income inequality and skyrocketing rents we see around the world.

San Francisco is by far the most expensive city in the United States. And it’s the kind of city that makes you pay for it in other ways besides money. Personally, I think New York City fits this description as well.

To explain what I mean, I want to share what it’s like to travel on a corporate expense account. The best way to begin is by comparing the cost of two very different lifestyles...


Comparing the Cost of One Month in Rural Taiwan vs.

One Week in San Francisco with an Expense Account


 

Cost of One Month in Rural Taiwan

(self funded)
Cost of One Week in San Francisco

(with expense account subsidy)
Roundtrip Train Tickets (from Taipei):
$50

Airbnb Rental:
$238

Electricity:
$15

Bicycle Rental:
$15

Food: $8 x 30 days:
$240

Total out-of-pocket spend:
$555
Flight/airline tickets to SFO (from LAX):
$205

Hotel (fully expensed):
$1,604

Uber Rides (partially expensed):
$259

Food (partially expensed):
$558

Total spend:
$2,626

Total out-of-pocket spend:
$780

Obviously, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that living in San Francisco is more expensive than living out in the Taiwanese countryside. But just how much more expensive, is something that we don’t always appreciate until we see the numbers:

It’s more expensive to live in SF rent free for one week, traveling on your employer’s dime, than it is to spend an entire month living in rural Taiwan.

This would be an okay tradeoff if traveling on an expense account was all it was cracked up to be.

But it isn’t. Maybe it feels amazing at first, but slowly, hedonic adaptation kicks in. Which is to say that when you start getting used to driving Ferraris, anything less than a Mercedes will make you feel like a peasant. And if someone gave you that Ferrari for free, it wouldn’t mean anything to you at all.

Traveling for free on someone else’s dime makes things less rewarding - not more.


My Takeaway from Two Different Ways of Life:

Life in the city versus life in the countryside


If we truly want to treat money as a “vote” for what people and society value, it’s hard not to look at that $2,626 number spent in just one week in SF and realize how absurd it is.

$2,626 says nothing about anyone. It’s just a number that gets moved around faster so people can drink slightly more expensive wine and eat at slightly more expensive restaurants. It could easily have been $5,000 or $10,000. It makes no difference because human beings were barely conscious in the decision making process at all.

$2,626 is just stimulation for the economy - so the poor can get by and the rich can get used to (and grow bored of) slightly better versions of what they already have. 

*

By writing this post, I’m not advocating that everyone retire to the countryside and start living off the land. I would be a completely useless farmer.

The larger point I'm making is that these are two lifestyles on opposite ends of a wide spectrum. And having experienced two starkly different realities back to back, I now have a better idea of which direction I’d like to move towards.

 

Our Manifesto: One-Upping Mr. Money Mustache

 

The Next Level of Frugality

Ivan here. 

I love Mr. Money Mustache. He’s been a hero of mine ever since I stumbled upon his blog in late 2012, as I was starting my first full-time job following graduation. Because of him, I was able to save 60% of my income in my first three working years and avoid the status seeking impulse which inflicts most people my age. Without MMM, I wouldn’t have a two year fuck-off fund. I wouldn’t have maxed out my 401k every year. And I definitely wouldn’t have the luxury of writing full time today. 

We share a lot of the same values: the importance of constantly exercising our frugality muscle and letting your money work for you through passive indexing. I also laid out a similar philosophy in my article, A Millennial’s Guide to Money and Long Term Investing

So what I’m about to say is with all due respect to the huge impact he’s had on our lives. But it needs to be said:

The world has changed. We all got a healthy dose of this when we witnessed the last inauguration. With this change comes new return expectations and new ideas on what financial freedom really means. And the idea that our generation, millennials, can follow the same Mustachian prescription and get the same results is the very definition of complacency. 

When something moves into the mainstream and becomes conventional thinking, it’s time to think again. Last year was a record year for passive indexing. True rewards can only enjoyed by those who dare to think different. Frugality is great (and still a useful tool for a majority of over-consumers), but there’s also a new frontier out there. 

The hard truth is that this frontier no longer lies in America, where comfort has become the expectation and not the enemy. 

Escape from Debt and Rising Cost of Living

As inhabitants of the wealthiest country on Earth, the faster we realize that America is only a jumping off point, the more clearly we’ll be able to see our own future. 

Why are we crowding into large expensive cities in search of diminishing opportunities and stagnant wages?

Why must we lock ourselves into 30 year mortgages to buy cramped homes we can’t afford to make the hour long commute to some anthill of late stage capitalism? 
 

The big picture doesn’t look so hot either. With a looming multi-trillion dollar federal deficit and wealth disappearing into the Cayman Islands, what’s the one asset that can’t escape future tax increases to pay for all of this? 

Oh right, property. Real estate owners are about to become the bagholders of the 21st century. 

While we think it’s great that Mr. Money Mustache can live in Colorado for under $2,500 a month, you know what sounds even better? Living in Bangkok for $1,333 a month. Ho Chi Minh City for $975 a month. Rio de Janeiro for $1,592. Here, see for yourself. 

Sure, all of this sounds “risky” and “dangerous.” But how do we grow without risk? In 2017, comfort is the true enemy and change is the only constant. Nature rewards those who learn to adapt to their surroundings. 

So keep your overvalued coastal properties. We're not interested. It's time to find out what the rest of the world has to offer us. 

Global Mobility is the New Frontier

You might be asking yourself: what happens when it’s time to settle down and start a family? Don’t we all eventually have to return to the rat race? Better to stay put, keep your head down and work your way to the much coveted six-figure salary than to leave everything behind and not make “progress.” 

Right? 

Wrong. Why take a six figure salary in a city you can't afford when it’s possible to work digitally for at least $30,000? 

A studio in New York costs half a million dollars, but a two bedroom in a city like Phoenix costs $100,000. With a dual remote income and a frugal lifestyle, we could pay this off in cash within five years. Our only requirement would be that this house be located near an airport. North America would be a home base to us, somewhere to stay rent free when we want to take a breather. 

The world on the other hand, will be our playground. 

That's the dream of The Origami Life. True simplicity, maximum flexibility. The ability to work, live and play anywhere in the world. A life completely without restrictions.

We, as millennials, don’t even know how good life could be if we dared to think a little different. We live in the wealthiest nation on the planet and there’s an arbitrage opportunity staring us right in the face. Something that will enhance both our financial and life experience banks. A life that’s self sufficient and semi-nomadic. A life where the choices you make actually belong to you. 

There’s a reason why Genghis Khan and the Mongols conquered the world. So if any of our mad ravings make any sense to you, it’s time to saddle your horses.

Because we’re taking no prisoners. 

The Origami Life's 2018 Goals

If you're new to The Origami Life, we figured that we would sum up the big goals and what we're about. Every deliberate and conscious step that we make is for the sake our big life goals.

If you're new to The Origami Life, we figured that we would sum up the big goals and what we're about. Every deliberate and conscious step that we make is for the sake our big life goals.



Origami Guides: Winter Camping in Death Valley

Ivan here.

This winter Jennie and I went camping in Death Valley National Park, opting out of what has turned out to be a very rough year around the world. Our goal was both to sidestep the Christmas consumer-fest as well as detox from social media and our devices. And what better way to escape the madness than by packing up for the wilderness? 

What are the best times in the year to visit? 

Some people visit during spring for the rare and magical super blooms. However, we recommend late autumn and winter before the Christmas and New Year season for those seeking solitude. 

What should I pack?

Camping gear and enough food and utensils for three meals a day. Lots of water (a gallon per person per day). Warm clothing and thermal sleeping bags are a must. Overnight temperatures can drop to the mid-30s (0 degrees Celsius). 

For a complete list, check out our list of Death Valley camping essentials.

Where should I stay in Death Valley? 

We recommend the Furnace Creek Campground ($22 per night, reserve online in advance). It’s centrally located and the grounds are surprisingly well maintained with clean bathroom facilities and drinkable water. Plus, the Furnace Creek Visitor Center is right next door. 

How do I use this guide? 

The map is divided into three areas by color: 

  • Day 1 attractions are in blue 
  • Day 2 attractions are in red
  • Day 3 attractions are in yellow
  • The grey markers are for optional sites
  • Note: All currencies below are in USD.

A Three Day Death Valley Itinerary

Day 1 (Blue)

Road trip and getting settled in Death Valley

Morning

  • Depart Los Angeles before seven to avoid traffic. All gear and food should be packed and ready the night before.  
  • Drive east. Take Highway 15 north past San Bernadino to Baker, California (3 hours).
  • Lunch at Baker. We recommend Los Dos Toritos ($10-20 for two), a cheap and popular spot for the Vegas bound crowd. Baker is also the last place for cheap gas before you head into the park, so be sure to fill up. 
Los Dos Toritos  //  Source: Yelp Their carne asada tacos were amazing.

Los Dos Toritos // Source: Yelp
Their carne asada tacos were amazing.

Afternoon

  • Drive north until you reach the town of Shoshone (1 hour). Take Route 178 (instead of 127) into the park. 
  • Make stopovers at Badwater Basin (the salt flats and the lowest point in North America) and Devils Golf Course. 
  • Stop by the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center to pay the park entrance free ($20) and get the latest update from the rangers on park conditions. Pro Tip: If you visit national parks often, buy the America the Beautiful Annual Pass ($80). We had it, which covered the $20 entrance fee.
Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin

Furnace Creek Visitor Center  // Source: Death Valley Chamber of Commerce

Furnace Creek Visitor Center // Source: Death Valley Chamber of Commerce

Evening

  • Arrive at Furnace Creek Campground. Unpack and set up your tent. 
  • Head over to Dante’s View (30 minute drive) to watch the sunset . One of the rangers told us it was the best view of the park.
  • Back to the campsite. Dinner and relax by the open fire beneath the stars.
Dante's View // Source:  National Park Service

Dante's View // Source: National Park Service

Do not miss the stars while in Death Valley.

Do not miss the stars while in Death Valley.

Day 2 (Red)

Craters, racing rocks, and sand dunes

Morning

  • Rise early. Fix a simple breakfast and pack a lunch to go. Drive north to Ubehebe Crater (1 hour). We recommend taking the two mile hike around the crater to get the best view. There’s also a trail that takes you down to the bottom of the 500 ft crater, but you’ll have to pay for this experience on the hike back up. 
  • Optional: If you’re driving an SUV or a 4x4, you have the option of taking an offroad adventure down to the Racetrack Playa to see the famous sliding rocks. Located 25 miles south of Ubehebe Crater. 
Ubehebe Crater // Source: The Origami Life

Ubehebe Crater // Source: The Origami Life

Afternoon

  • After lunch, make your way south to Titus Canyon. In our opinion, the Titus Canyon trail itself is nothing special and is meant more for offroad vehicles than hikers (it’s also 27 miles long). Instead, we recommend the adjacent Fall Canyon trail for an easy to moderate hike (6 miles roundtrip). The trail is lightly trafficked and if you’re lucky, you might see some bighorn sheep or mountain goats up on the canyon! 

Fall Canyon - dry falls // Source: National Park Service

Titus Canyon Narrows // Source: National Park Service

Fall Canyon - dry falls // Source: National Park Service

Evening    

  • Arrive at the Mesquite Sand Dunes by “magic hour” (i.e. sunset) for the best photos. We recommend climbing up the tallest peaks on the northeast corner for unspoiled surfaces.

Mesquite Sand Dunes

Day 3 (Yellow)

Canyon walk and Japanese internment camp

Morning

  • Rise early. Pack up your campsite and drive down to Golden Canyon. Park your car in the lot and hike the Gower Gulch Loop (7 miles roundtrip). We recommend taking the northern route (the Badlands trail) on the way to Zabriskie’s Point and the southern trail (Gower Gulch) on the way back. The variety of colors, landscapes and perspectives we saw made this our favorite hike of the trip! 

Zabriskie’s Point - view from the morning

Zabriskie’s Point - view from the evening

Afternoon

  • It’s time to leave Death Valley. Take Route 190 out the west entrance of the park and make your way towards the town of Lone Pine (2 hours). Stop occasionally to check out sites like the Sierra Nevadas and Owen’s Valley (the dry lake).
  • Grab lunch to go at The Grill ($25-30 for two), which serves traditional American diner fare. 
  • Drive 16 miles north from Lone Pine until you reach Manzanar National Historic Site (free, hours from 9:00-4:30), a former internment camp which housed 10,000 Japanese Americans during WWII. A lot of the buildings have either been rebuilt or preserved so that visitors get to see the conditions that the detainees lived in. It’s a sobering reminder of how quickly we’re willing to trade in our rights for a small measure of security. There’s a lesson here about our attitude towards Syrian refugees, but sadly I doubt we're paying much attention. 
Owens Valley // Source: Owens Valley Oral History

Owens Valley // Source: Owens Valley Oral History

Cemetery shrine, Manzanar Japanese internment camp // Source: History.com

Cemetery shrine, Manzanar Japanese internment camp // Source: History.com

Evening

  • Make the long drive home (4 hours). After this trip, we’ve learned to be grateful for the simple things, like a hot shower and a warm bed. 
Couples' Paris Trip: 10 Unique 'Lost in Translation' Moments
Let’s never come back here again because it’ll never be as much fun.
— Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation
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Ivan here.

Lost in Translation is the perfect movie about travel. It encapsulates everything I love about being in a foreign country: the alternating moments of solitude and human connection, the confusion and discovery.

As we travel, we’re constantly trying to calibrate our inner worlds to our new surroundings, to find some meaning in the madness. At the end of our journey, we come away with a few special moments that change us in ways that are hard to explain to our friends and family back home.

This post will be your guide to finding your own Lost in Translation moments in Paris, knowing full well that the best ones can’t be planned for. But maybe, just maybe, if you open your heart, the right moment might just tap you on the shoulder, and whispering gently into your ear...

1. On a morning run along the Seine

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I try to go on morning runs in every city I travel to. It’s an easy way to beat the jetlag and explore a new city at the same time. It’s 6 AM, barely light out. The air outside is cool and most of Paris is still asleep. With Air and Phoenix playing in my earphones, I map out a five mile route along the Seine, from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. There’s something surreal about keeping to a daily ritual in a new city that leaves you feeling both energized and at peace. 

When you reach the Eiffel Tower, stop by the first cafe or bakery that catches your eye. Take your time, sip your morning coffee and look out the window. Watch Paris wake up. Oh, and the Eiffel Tower opens at 9 AM. If you want, you could be the first in line. 

2. Between the shelves of the Abbey Bookshop

I may have found the perfect bookstore in the Abbey Bookshop, and it’s a magical and otherworldly place. The entrance is tucked away off the well trodden tourist path, its windows stacked to the brim with new and vintage paperbacks. Inside, bookshelves run from floor to ceiling. The aisles are so cramped their very existence feels like a reluctant compromise. 

The shop is run by its owner Brian, a mild-mannered Canadian expat and his sweet and helpful Parisien assistent. It’s truly a marvel that places like this can still exist in 2016, but Brian’s been here all along, ever since the late 80s. Stumbling upon a place that still feels real and true in the digital age is nothing short of a miracle. 

3. a basement bench in the Musee Marmotten Monet

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I go out of my way to avoid crowds. My theory is that they tend to dilute the intensity and significance of every moment. If reading the same books everyone else is reading means you’re confined to thinking the same thoughts, why shouldn’t this be true of places as well?

The basement level of Musee Marmotten Monet houses the world’s most extensive collection of Monet’s paintings. What’s truly special about this exhibit is that visitors are taken on a journey of the painter’s life through his works. Walking through the exhibit, you can experience Monet’s progression from a young ambitious painter to an old man near the end of his life. Simply put, it’s a moving testament to an artist’s life. Here was a man who devoted his life to a craft, and struggling through hardship and poverty, created his own meaning in the world. 

4. Dazed and confused at the Palais de Tokyo

At the bizarre end of the spectrum, there’s the dubiously named Palais de Tokyo. Its connection to Japan and Tokyo remains one of life’s great mysteries. Inside, you’ll find yourself strolling through a maze of loudly post-modern art and a cafe festooned by stretched-out panty hoses. 

I sat speechless through a video installation of what I can only assume to be a woman’s battle with chronic constipation and her quest for the sweet salvation of Activia’s probiotic yogurt. It’s true what they say: all life becomes art. 

5. In a TROPICAL Greenhouse At Jardin des Serres D’Auteuil

The greenhouses in the Jardin des Serres D’Auteuil makes for the perfect hideaway on a rainy afternoon. It’s one of those places you imagine could only exist in a city like Paris. This vast garden produces 100,000 exotic plants from all around the world, separated into greenhouses by region and climate. Walk through aisles of desert cacti, then lounge away in a tropical climate in the middle of a Parisian winter, to the calls of birds imported from the Amazon -- and tell me this won’t change your life. 

6. burgers and fries at De Clercq

While I enjoyed my share of French cuisine during the trip, the sheer quantity and richness of meats, cheeses and wine taxed my untrained and decidedly East Asian palate. De Clercq provides some cheap comfort food, with a local twist.  It’s a small standing-room-only shop catering primarily to take-out orders. If you happen to make the poor life decision of ordering a maxi cornet of Belgium fries, keep in mind that instead of gorging yourself, there’s enough warm food to feed one of the many people living on the streets of Paris. 

 

7. Visiting Oscar Wilde At the Pere Lachaise Cemetery

As a general rule, walks through cemeteries and shrines are best done during the early hours of the morning, before the hordes of tourism arrive with megaphones loud enough to reanimate the dead. 

A literary circuit involves a visit to the graves of Balzac, Proust, Moliere, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde among others. When I arrived at Wilde’s tombstone, I was disappointed to find that they had erected a makeshift barrier to prevent further acts of love in the form of lipstick marks. Given the writer’s mistreatment at the hands of the State, you would think that separating him from his readers was the last thing he would’ve wanted.  

8. sunset on the steps of the Sacre Coeur

The best place to see the sunset is sitting on the steps of the Sacre Coeur Basilica. Watch as the blue rooftops and clay chimneys of Paris are bathed in the temporary light of a golden sunset. Take your time and wait for the night to descend and the lights to flicker on. A hundred lighted windows to a hundred Parisian lives. 

9. Reservoir Dogs at the Filmatheque du Latin Quartier

Paris is a city that remembers when going to the movies was an event, when the magical whirl of a projector casting images at 24 frames per second was an experience worth sharing with an audience. 

At Parisian revival houses, nothing gets butts into seats quicker than a midnight showing of a Tarantino feature. There are only two screening rooms at the Filmatheque du Latin Quartier: the red room is Marlyn Monroe, the blue room is Audrey Hepburn. 

Watching Reservoir Dogs is like hanging out with your buddies every weekend, where you crack the same jokes and laugh at them anyway. Sitting at a midnight showing with lonely old men, young French couples and bored, chain-smoking students (male and female), you feel like you’ve been transported to another time. 

There are "the little differences" with a Parisian audience. Like Americans, they can’t wait to know what Madonna's Like a Virgin is really about, or Steve Buscemi’s stance on tipping. But they laugh at slightly different points. Certain pop culture references escape them. Yet when Stealer’s Wheel comes on with Stuck in the Middle with You, the anticipation and excitement in the room is universal. Like a quarter-pounder is to a royale with cheese, you’re in a moment that feels familiar and foreign at the same time. 

10. Strangers You Meet in Paris

It’s not conventional opinion, but the people my Jennie and I met in Paris were some of the friendliest we’ve encountered in all our travels. Perhaps it was a function of us visiting during the winter off-season, but I think it also has something to do with our expectations. 

I don’t enjoy attentive service or small talk. I much prefer a polite exchange of greetings and being left alone to have my conversation or to read my book. No complications. No rush. And this side of Japan, no country does leave-you-alone service better than the French. 

But then there are other moments, where Parisians have gone out of their way to be helpful. On our first walk outside our studio in the 10th arrondissement, an elderly man came up to Jennie and I, shook our hands, and asked us where we were from. At a restaurant, a young waitress translated an entire menu from French to English before we could stop her. Or the bartender who insisted we stay past their closing hours while we waited for a midnight movie. 

These are the stranger than fiction moments that I can’t explain, and they’re moments that we'll carry with us for the rest of our lives.