Posts in Travel
5 Reasons to Visit Singapore (That Have Nothing to Do With Crazy Rich Asians)

Ivan here.

Singapore was the first country on our RTW trip.

When Jennie and I told people we were staying in Singapore for a week in October, the first thing they asked was, “Why? A week is too long for Singapore.” Then the follow-up question: “is it because you saw Crazy Rich Asians?”

No, we still haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians.

 
 Crazy Rich Asians Source:  EW.com

Crazy Rich Asians
Source: EW.com

 

Whether a movie boasts an all Asian-American cast or an all Somali-American cast is beside the point. In the final evaluation, Crazy Rich Asians just isn’t the kind of movie I’d go out of my way to see. Then again, I’m also the kind of asshole who resents being told what I should see based solely on what I look like. It’s almost as if the studio is saying, “This movie’s Asian. You’re Asian. What’s the problem here? Where’s my money?”

Don’t sell me on something being Asian or (insert minority identity), and therefore, groundbreaking and significant by default.

Sell me on the actual work being groundbreaking and significant.


The First Stop on our RTW Trip:

Why We Traveled to Singapore


 The iconic Marina Bay Sands building at night. Singapore is much more than meets the eye.

The iconic Marina Bay Sands building at night.
Singapore is much more than meets the eye.

Jennie and I had a very practical reason for why we wanted to spend a week in Singapore:

We’re looking for the next city to live in once our RTW trip is over. And Singapore is on our list.

On paper, Singapore checks a lot of our boxes:

  • It’s a financial services hub with a growing technology and cybersecurity industry.

  • Singaporeans are well-educated, speak multiple languages and have an entrepreneurial spirit.

We also got the sense that Singaporeans actually felt the rest of the world had something to offer them. That different countries, cultures and ethnicity could *gasp* learn from each other and get along.

I know, truly groundbreaking stuff.


5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Singapore Now


1. You can have a good time on almost any budget

Singapore enjoys a higher standard of living than most cities in the world, with a GDP per capita ($55,235) that’s slightly higher than the U.S ($53,128). That said, you arguably get much more for your money relative to other places. You notice this right away as you land in Changi Airport, rated the world’s best airport by Skytrax. Immigration was a breeze and the subway (MRT) to the city center took 40 minutes and cost less than $2 USD. The public transportation system is so efficient that we never had to take a taxi or Grab (Singapore’s Uber equivalent) during our entire week-long stay.

The only thing that could break your budget is accommodation. Jennie and I were lucky in that a friend let us use his apartment while he was away on sabbatical, but it’s possible on the low end to get a dorm bed for $15-20 USD a night or a private room for around $50-60 USD a night.

Outside of rent, there’s a wide range of things you can experience on any budget. Hawker centre meals cost $3-5 USD each. If you want to live the expat lifestyle during your stay, you can - for a price. Free tours are available in different neighborhoods across the city and local meetups and the dating scene (so we hear) is quite active and diverse.  

Jennie’s Note: We highly, HIGHLY recommend Monster Tour and their free walking tours. They are truly high quality and filled with a lot of personality.

If I could describe Singapore in one word for visitors it would be: seamless. Everything about Singapore is perfectly held together and without you knowing it, there were years of thoughtful planning behind it.

2. Singaporeans are great conversationalists, ambitious, career-driven, and that’s stimulating

One of the things you hear often about Singapore is the idea of the city-state being a “meritocracy.” This means that from a young age, the education system segregates students based on test scores into different “streams,” leading to intense competition and an overemphasis on study.

Predictably, this has negative consequences, including mental health issues and growing inequality between different “streams” of students. But what the visitor actually experiences are well-educated, highly ambitious people who are knowledgeable about the world around them. Combine that with a dry sense of humor and their own brand of English (Singlish), and it’s almost impossible to have a dull conversation.

3. Foodie and hawker center culture is king in Singapore

Singaporeans live to eat - and the options in the city are limitless. A quick Google search will turn up hundreds of Singaporean food blogs dedicated to a specific niche. Everything else a visitor does in Singapore can be considered filler for the next meal.

This is a true food haven for people who want great quality food at an affordable price point. There are few places in the world that can match Singapore’s quality. More on this in an upcoming post about Singapore’s hawker centre food culture next week.

4. Exploring different neighborhoods and public spaces

Arguably, outside of the famous Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay (arrive well after dark), the other “tourist attractions” in Singapore are pretty sanitized and unimpressive. The appeal of the city is actually in picking one or two neighborhoods to explore for the day, choosing a few local food spots and just lounging at a cafe from midday to mid-afternoon to escape the oppressive heat. Then as night falls, join a group of locals for conversation and drinks.

This might not sound like a fun, action-packed way to spend a trip, but as two type A personalities, Jennie and I never felt close to being bored during our one week stay.

5. Singapore has modern conveniences and infrastructure that actually works

If you’re unfamiliar with Singapore’s history, you should know one thing: Singapore became an independent country in 1965; it’s a little more than 50 years old.  

Whatever the downsides of Singapore’s government (and there are downsides), it just feels refreshing to step off a plane and arrive in a city where public infrastructure actually works the way it’s supposed to. To experience even the semblance of competence and streamlined government was a huge revelation to us, and raises some questions about the American model.


5 Places in Singapore We Recommend


1. Our favorite Singaporean hawker centers & stalls

 A delicious meal from A Noodle Story

A delicious meal from A Noodle Story

Learning how to order coffee at a Singapore kopitiam. Lime juice and barley drink from any drink stall.  A Noodle Story in Amoy Street Food Centre, Hong Lim Centre near Chinatown, wan tan mee at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, and satay skewers with Tiger beer (satay stalls No. 7 and 8) outside Lau Pa Sat food court were some of our favorite food experiences. More details in a coming post.


2. Tiong Bahru neighborhood

Singapore’s hipster neighborhood. Highlights include lunch at Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice and BooksActually, a vintage and independent bookstore store that publishes local Singaporean writers. It opened my eyes to a talented and hugely underrated Southeast Asian literary scene.

2. Bugis & Kampong Glam neighborhood

A Thursday evening starting with craft beers at Good Luck Beerhouse on Haji Lane ($18 USD), dinner at Michelin-starred Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle ($16), followed by a Korean movie (Burning) based on a Haruki Murakami short story at the The Projector ($20) - barely scratches the surface of a night out in Singapore after a long day of work.

Check out this guide from Click Network and a Singaporean local. It was actually really helpful when we planned for this neighborhood!

3. Geylang Serai district after dark

Red light district of Singapore. Grungy shophouses and late night eateries with plastic chairs and outdoor seating - all under the glare of fluorescent lights and electric ceiling fans. Cheap, delicious food, beer, and people watching in a “seedy” part of town, in a country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world.  

4. Little India

We joined a free walking tour with Monster Day Tours to get more context and local recommendations on Little India (they do tours all across the city. You should tip the guide afterwards). It was also an opportunity for us to chat with other visitors over some roti canai.


3 Places in Singapore We Avoided Visiting


 Singapore Orchard Road - all high end shopping.

Singapore Orchard Road - all high end shopping.

1. Orchard Road

Orchard Road is Singapore’s 2.2 km stretch of shopping malls. Unfortunately, we can’t (and don’t) really shop because we have to fit everything we own inside two 40L backpacks. So for us, malls are only good for two things: air conditioning and clean bathrooms.

2. Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands (or MBS as locals call it) is owned by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. Mr. Adelson is also known for other tasteful establishments like The Venetian in Las Vegas and an entire strip of casinos in Macau. MBS provides the essential service of redistributing wealth from the bottom 99% to the top 1%, as well as populating Instagram with infinity pool shots which, by some miracle, manages to crop out the other 976 people in the pool trying to take the exact same photo.

 Singapore Universal Studios

Singapore Universal Studios

3. Sentosa Island & Universal Studios

Sentosa contains two of our least favorite activities: paying a lot of money to wait in line for a two minute ride - and being anywhere in the vicinity of a casino.

Look forward to our full travel guide to Singapore over the next couple of weeks. We’ll update the link here as well once it’s live.



Travel Diary: A Week in the Life in Kauai, Hawaii & An Unfiltered and Comprehensive Couples’ Trip Report

Couples Travel Diary - Kauai, Hawaii:
First Stop on our Global Long-Term Travels


Ivan here.

Over the two weeks Jennie and I spent in Kauai, Hawaii, we worked for roughly three days. But instead of commuting home to our Los Angeles studio, we drove along scenic coastlines in a small Nissan Versa, back to our small Kauai cottage by the jungle.

If I could describe Kauai in one word, it would be lush. The Garden Island was much greener and the landscape more diverse than we’d expected (not just palm trees and beaches!). Time moves much slower on Kauai. Two weeks living there felt like months.

Exactly the type of place we were looking for to start our RTW trip!


A Week in the Life:
An Unfiltered Couples’ Travel Diary in Kauai, Hawaii


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Since we manually record every transaction we make, I’ve recreated the first week of our trip, leaving in both the good and the bad parts. The second week is pretty much a variation of the first - except we’re hiking and snorkeling at different trails and beaches.

Day 1 (Sunday) in Kauai: Breakfast at jungle Airbnb cottage, cleaning gecko poop, showering outdoors, and biking along the East Shore

We’re staying at a rustic cottage near Kapaa on the East Shore of the island. I booked the place on Airbnb back in February for $75 a night ($975 for 13 nights), which is insanely cheap for Kauai. Other listed budget options here run almost double that. The cottage is located on a chocolate farm right on the edge of a tropical jungle. From our patio, we can hear the sound of the river flowing a couple meters below us.

Features of the cottage include a huge shelf of vintage books, no wifi, and an outdoor bathroom and shower, located about five feet from the cottage. I chose the place specifically for the experience, but Jennie for some reason was not as enthused. Also, the cottage is inhabited by a half dozen geckos. They mainly leave us alone, but in the mornings, they leave droppings we have to clean up. No big deal.

We wake up bright and early (6 AM) - partly due to the army of wild roosters who run free on the island - and take our first open air shower. Jennie insists on showering together because she’s deathly afraid of spiders. I’m a romantic and a gentleman, so I agree.

We make the 10 minute drive to Kapaa and grab breakfast at the first place we Yelp, an artsy coffeehouse called Java Kai ($17). The place reminds us of West Los Angeles/ Santa Monica - and not in a good way. We promise each other to do better.

We walk around Kapaa and rent a pair of island bikes from Hele On Bike rentals ($25 for three hours). We bike along Ke Ala Hele Makalae trail. The weather is humid without being unbearable. Tradewinds blow in regularly from the coast. In the afternoon, rain clouds move in and there is a brief, cooling shower. We return the bikes and cap our afternoon off with some Ono Ono shave ice ($6).

Shave Ice from Ono Ono Shave Ice - Sour cherry, mango and pineapple with an ube-flavored ice cream center is called an East Side Sunrise.

In the evening, we drive to Walmart ($55) by Lihue airport to pick up a week’s supply of water and groceries. Our plan is to eat out every day for lunch and cook simple dinners at our cottage.

There’s not much nightlife on Kauai. Locals typically turn in before 10 and wake up with the sun. That schedule sounds great to us.

Day 2 (Monday) in Kauai: Exploring Kapaa, morning run, poke lunch at Pono Market, and Kalapaki Beach

6 AM. Simple breakfast at the cottage. Jennie is working on a profile/interview of a senior exec for a client and needs to do a one hour phone interview, so she breaks out our pocket Wifi. I have no work planned, so I go for a morning run in Kapaa on the same route we biked along yesterday. Every runner/biker I pass by smiles and says aloha to me, which catches me off guard. The trail is less than four miles roundtrip and the scenery is stunning.

Jennie and I rendezvous for lunch at Pono Market ($21). It’s a cheap local spot that also serves Hawaiian plate lunches and other traditional dishes (amazing Lau Lau), but we decide to have poke bowls today. We order a spicy Poke bowl and a sesame Poke bowl and wash it down with a can of Hawaiian Sun Guava nectar. The ahi (tuna) is chewy and fresh.

In the afternoon, we pack up our beach towels and our green boogie board we bought at Ross ($10) and decide to hit our first beach. We pick Kalapaki Beach by the airport Marriott. We take turns swimming in the ocean, but grow bored quickly just laying there on the sand.

Turns out we’re not a do-nothing-at-the-beach type of couple.

A sample of our conversation:

“How long have we been lying here?”

“Only…(checks phone)...forty five minutes.”

(long silence)

“Feels like hours.”


Day 3 Tuesday: Kayak and hike to Secret Falls on the Wailua River and half day of “digital nomad” work at Starbucks

We’ve booked an early bird kayak and hike tour with Kayak Wailua ($50 per person, excluding tip). Our guide is Renee, who’s originally from Indiana but moved to the island 16 years ago and is now raising a family. She has a spacey, hippy vibe that reminds me of some people I know in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The first part of the tour is an hour-long kayak up the Wailua River. I’ve been solo kayaking before, but somehow I can’t seem to steer the double kayak in a straight line. We zigzag our way through the first part of the river. Renee slows down to give me tips. She says I’m over-correcting the kayak by turning too sharply. I take her advice and end up under-correcting. We do the second half of the river at a glacial pace. We trail the 10-kayak group, but thankfully, with the current, only by a few minutes. However, Jennie is not impressed by my navigational skills and my ego is bruised.

Secret Falls in Kauai, Hawaii


Side note:
I have a tragic sense of direction. My instincts always point in the opposite direction of where I should be going. This makes for entertaining stories to tell friends after the fact, but in the moment, it’s very discouraging.

The second part of the tour is a hike to the “Secret Falls.” The waterfall is not so secret anymore because every tour group on the island brings billions of people there each day. Thankfully, we’re the early bird crew so we get the waterfall to ourselves for a while. Taking a swim underneath the waterfall helps my self-esteem recover and Jennie learns the power of forgiveness.

In the afternoon, Jennie and I both have billable work to do, so we decamp to a Starbucks and work until sunset. Jennie would like you to know that if you pay with your Starbucks card you can get unlimited free refills on any non-frappe coffee or tea drinks ($5) in the U.S.. Over the course of four hours she asks for five refills, and a different drink each time #shameless #winning.

Day 4 Wednesday: Sleeping Giant (Nou Nou West Trail) early morning hike, “digital nomad” work afternoon at Starbucks, Chicken in a Barrel BBQ

Early morning hike up Sleeping Giant Mountain (also known as Nou Nou). We take the less frequented Nou Nou West trailhead up the mountain, as recommended by our kayak guide Renee. In terms of effort-to-reward ratio, Nou Nou West Trail is the best trail ever. It’s only 1.6 miles and starts under a shaded canopy of ginormous trees and ends on a rock cliff with a panoramic view of the entire East Shore.

 A panoramic view of the entire East Shore from the top of Sleeping Giant.

A panoramic view of the entire East Shore from the top of Sleeping Giant.

Back at Starbucks after lunch at Hamura Saimin ($23). We have two extra large portions of Hawaiian saimin and split a piece of lilikoi (passion fruit) pie. Today, Jennie is polishing off some presentation slides and I have to revise and edit a whitepaper. We also take time to set up coffee meetings for when we arrive in Asia. I shoot off an email to friends in Singapore and Malaysia to ask for some introductions.

For dinner, we stop by Chicken in a Barrel on our way back to the cottage, a local spot that specializes in Kauai-style barbecue chicken. The chicken is smoky, tender and tastes even better cold. We order two 1/2 chickens to go ($28), head back to our cottage, microwave some Uncle Ben’s Spanish rice and a packet of frozen broccoli. We split half a chicken and save the other half for dinner tomorrow. One less decision to make!


Day 5 Thursday: First argument, snorkeling on the North Shore. Sea turtles at Anini Beach, Princeville Hideaway Beach, and Hanalei Bay

While parked at a beautiful scenic lookout on the way to the North Shore, Jennie finally has a minor meltdown about the outdoor bathroom and shower situation. The first couple of days, we ignored our host’s advice about applying mosquito repellent, so our legs have been ravaged by mosquito bites. This is the first argument of our trip.

Jennie learns in this argument that part of the reason I chose the cottage (aside from having an authentic Kauai jungle experience), was because she would always make fun of my sheltered childhood (she’s not wrong). So when I saw the outdoor bathroom, a part of me thought: “Oh yeah? We’ll see about that.” Technically, I win, but I feel bad about Jennie’s mosquito bite-ridden legs. Also, very unsexy, so that’s some self-sabotage right there.

Both our clients have reviewed our deliverables and requested some minor last minute changes while we’re snorkeling with sea turtles on Anini Beach (gear rentals are $15 per week at Kapaa Beach Shop). We break out the pocket wifi and make the changes in 15 minutes.

Onward to Princeville and Hideaway Beach.

Hideaway Beach turns out to be at the bottom of a cliff we have to climb down via ropeway. On the way back up, while carrying all our water and snorkeling gear, I slip on a muddy step and land hard on my ass. Jennie laughs way too hard (and for way too long) at this, which annoys me. I’m further annoyed we had to park with the valet at the nearby St. Regis hotel. I understand why valets exist - I just think that reason is really dumb.

We arrive at Hanalei Bay. I’m still grumpy about my fall, but my misery is Jennie’s sustenance so she’s feeling chipper again. The Bay is not how I imagined it in the short story I read by Haruki Murakami, where a Japanese woman loses her son to a shark in Hanalei Bay and returns to the place every year for the rest of her life.

I hope Jennie gets eaten by a shark (I kid). That evening, I read her the short story.

Day 6 Friday: Hindu monastery, snorkeling on the South Shore. Sea turtles and lazy seals at Poipu Beach, Mak’apela Cliff Trail

In the morning, we visit the Hindu monastery (free) near Kapaa. You ring a small bell at the entrance to announce your arrival. Beyond the entrance, you can write down a personal obstacle or struggle you have on a piece of paper and set fire to it at the altar.

I write down “ego and my arrogant attitude,” but I’m having trouble with the lighter.

“What’s the matter, you’ve never played with matches as a kid?” asks Jennie.

“No, my mom never let me,” I say. “You?”

“Yup. There’ve been some close calls...”

I wonder what she wrote on her paper.

Beyond this point, there’s the temple grounds and a gorgeous banyan tree. I’m sitting on one of the five flat rocks underneath the banyan tree, trying to meditate. A mosquito is sucking blood from my ring finger. I’m tempted to kill it, but that would defeat the whole ‘every life is sacred’ thing.

Checkmate.  

For variety, we go snorkeling on the South Shore (Poipu Beach) in the afternoon. We swim with more sea turtles and walk past a fat and lazy monk seal sunbathing on the beach.

Day 7 Saturday: Hiking at Waimea Canyon (Awa’awapuhi and Waipo’o Falls and Canyon trails) and the best sunset drive

It’s the weekend, so no chance of last minute work requests. We take the 1.5 hr drive to Waimea Canyon National Park. Today is an ambitious day, so we’re doing two trails for over 10 miles roundtrip. Over the years, we’ve learned that it’s almost always worth it to sweat for your view, rather than just park at a scenic spot and take the same pictures as everyone else.

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The first trail is the Awa'awapuhi Trail, which seemed deceptively easy and boring, since it was mostly downhill all the way there with not much to look at. But at mile 3, the trail suddenly opens up to a 360 degree view of the Kalalau Valley. There’s also a narrow strip of rock jutting right out into the ocean.

The second trail is the Waipo’o Falls and Canyon hike, which leads to a closer view of the Waimea Canyon rock face. Maybe we were spoiled by the view from the first hike because Jennie rates this trail a ‘meh’ out of 10.

 A panoramic view of the Waimea Canyon.

A panoramic view of the Waimea Canyon.

We cap our first week in Kauai off with a view of Waimea Canyon from the main lookout point and then a lengthy sunset drive from Waimea Canyon back to our cottage.


What We Would Do Differently with a Week in Kauai


1. An outdoor bathroom is now a dealbreaker for Jennie.

Jennie has made me swear a blood oath never to book an Airbnb with an outdoor bathroom again. In all honesty, I thought it contributed to the experience. It’s not like we’re talking about a squat toilet with no running water. As for mosquitoes, we learned to deal with them after our initial mistake of not using repellent. Just wear long sleeves in the early mornings and after dusk, and apply repellent regularly. Our bites healed up after the first week, and everything turned out fine.

2. Too many visits to Starbucks

We found a better alternative in the second week with Ha Coffee Bar, but we should’ve made more of an effort to support local business. Sometimes when it comes to work, we just had to go for a sure Wifi connection and clean bathrooms.

3. Talk to more locals

The cottage is fairly secluded from the main residence and we were always driving off early for some hiking or snorkeling, but we wish we could’ve made an effort to chat with our Airbnb host. Her name is Charlotte and she’s originally from Germany and her story sounds really interesting! I really enjoyed her late husband’s book collection. During our stay, I read an obscure text called The Leisure of An Egyptian Official by Lord Edward Cecil, describing the day-to-day minutiae of a British colonial administrator.

17 Questions With The Origami Life Couple: About Us and Our Future Plans

General Questions

About The Origami Couple and Blog


1. Who are we?

Us - drinking G&B Coffee at Grand Central Market.

We’re Jennie and Ivan, a 29 year old married couple who met in Kyoto, Japan nine years ago, did six years of long distance, then decided to sell our worldly possessions by September 2018 to travel the world. We’re both Type A personalities, which means we’re goal-oriented and try to make conscious decisions in all areas of our life including our relationship, travel and money.

Here are our Myers-Briggs personality results, which you can take here:

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Ivan: I’m very lopsided (INTJ-A).

Jennie: I’m a “Debater” personality (ENTP-A). 
 

2. What are Our strengths and weaknesses?

Jennie:

  • Ivan’s strengths: Ivan is probably one of the most intelligent individuals that I’ve met in my life (if he can let go his ego). His writing, published and unpublished, is actually really good. He has the ability to think both creatively and analytically, especially when he stays the course and doesn’t let small things distract him from his end goal.

  • Ivan’s flaws: Ivan is occasionally arrogant, uptight, and sometimes - his expectations aren’t rooted in reality. Whenever he is “right” about one or two things, he starts to get delusional. That’s why I try not to overreact when he does something really well. I already know I’m going to regret saying such nice things (Ivan: Wait, she thinks I'm a genius, right? Cause that's what I heard). I gotta keep his ego in check for the sake of our financial interests. And when I say he’s uptight, I mean he could stand to loosen up - like, a lot. Sometimes, he gets so wound up in what he’s doing or “the next thing” that he misses moments that could’ve been really meaningful.

Ivan:

  • Jennie’s strengths: Jennie has a way with people and can out-hustle anyone. Not only can she understand and empathize with people, she can tailor her message to get them to do what she wants. Despite this, people like and trust her almost instantly. When we first started dating, I thought this was a fluke. I know better now. Honestly, the ability to “get your hands dirty” and knowing what makes people tick is probably the most valuable skill-set you can have - and it’s chronically underrated by specialist-types who don’t know any better (i.e. people like me).

  • Jennie’s flaws: Jennie’s waaay too process driven for things that don’t need to be mapped out by the second. Sometimes, the answer isn't to create a spreadsheet or a decision tree. Some ideas need time to marinate in your head. She also enjoys barking orders and bossing people (i.e. me) around. So even when we have the same goals, we fight over “the best way” to get there.
     

3. What’s this blog about?

Jennie: I see this blog as a way to both keep ourselves accountable and share some reflections on life, marriage and our journey with anyone who can relate.

Ivan: The Origami Life is a minimalist travel blog with some personal finance and relationship posts thrown in. It’s also a place where we experiment with different ideas. Sometimes, we write posts just to see if we actually believe in it.
 

4. Where are we headed?

Jennie & Ivan: Anywhere in the world where we see opportunities for growth - whether that’s creative, financial, or personal. Over the next 3-5 years, we’re moving away from comfort and stability and towards challenge and risk (while doing it responsibly).  
 


II. Travel Questions for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


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5. What’s our travel style?

Jennie: I’m a type A planner who just so happens to enjoy travel. I love the idea of nailing down logistics, formalizing schedules, and putting together spreadsheets. I know that some of our readers can relate because several of you have shared some amazingly detailed and useful itineraries with us over the last year (🙌 thank you!). It brings me joy to have complete control over knowing when and where I’m going. This means that I’ve researched everything thoroughly and get to do everything I want - so I won’t leave with any regrets.

Ivan: Compared to Jennie, I’m less of a hard-core planner when it comes to travel. I like ironing out the big ticket items like accommodations and airfare, so I can be more carefree with my day-to-day decisions. When I’m traveling, I like to have one goal per day. If I achieve that goal, I’m happy. You could say I’m the more “laid-back” of the two, but unfortunately, this only applies to travel. I can be a pain in the ass in other areas.  
 

6. What do we hope to get out of our RTW trip experience?

Jennie: Although I’m treating my RTW trip as a building block for the next 3-5 years of my life, I just want to enjoy myself and experience things intensely. I’ve spent the bulk of my life focusing on “the next thing” or doing things for the sake of my family. It sounds funny but I’ve been caught up and stressed with work, family, and money for the last decade and I’ve forgotten to just be myself. For my RTW trip, I want to just enjoy whatever happens and comes my way. I want to meet people and forge genuine connections.

Ivan: In my twenties, I think I’ve undervalued personal relationships and social interactions. That’s because as an introvert, I don’t need much company outside of Jennie. Even when I do put myself out there and make connections, I can be pretty lazy in the maintenance department. People often don’t know where they stand with me. This is something I’d like to get better at: maximize the number of genuine connections I have on the RTW trip and the number of “uncomfortable” social situations I put myself in. Then I’ll pick a small handful of those people and try to be more forthcoming with what I think/feel to build more meaningful relationships. (Geez, I sound like a robot trying to be human).
 

7. What countries are We most looking forward to visiting and why?

Jennie: I haven’t put much thought into it because I still can’t believe our trip is finally going to happen. Top of mind: riding the Trans-Siberian Railway partway through China, Russia, and Mongolia. I really like train travel and loved our Amtrak trip across the U.S. we did last November.

Ivan: Rural India because of the history and because I think it’ll be an interesting challenge. I’m also attracted to sleepy backwater countries like Sri Lanka and Laos.
 

8. Are We nervous about leaving our family and our home?

Jennie: Absolutely. I’m worried about all the worst-case scenarios that could happen with my family while I’m away. And that will always be the case because I’m just that type of person. But the thing is, if I was truly scared about leaving, I would’ve never left New Mexico in the first place.

Ivan: This one’s easy. I’ve never viewed North America as home. I have no family here outside of Jennie. Most of my upbringing was in Taipei and I was educated in two languages (my parents are teachers). When I’m here, I think in English. When I’m home, I think in Chinese. Not having any roots is liberating because it often gives me a different perspective on things.


III. Money Questions for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


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9. How can we afford to travel long term?

Jennie: Outside of an aggressive savings plan, Ivan keeps an iron fist on our spending / expenses each month. Every month for the last two or three years we’ve saved more than 50% of our monthly income/salary and accumulated a RTW travel fund of $40,000, a reserve of airline points - while taking care of retirement and other future obligations.

Ivan: Like I said earlier, I can be a pain in the ass in other areas.
 

10. How do we feel about reaching our $40k travel goal?

Jennie: (Deep sigh) I won’t lie, when we hit that $40,000 marker in May...I felt underwhelmed. I literally thought, “wow, so that’s it, huh?” And I think that’s because of the timing. When we hit our financial goal, we were still MONTHS away from leaving for our trip. It felt unreal and almost anticlimactic. Because the savings was always automated and I never look at our bank statements and accounts. It was never a significant part of my daily life. I was doing what I needed to do which was focusing on crushing it at work and building our business.

Ivan: This might sound like a privileged thing to say, but the money is not nearly as important as the habits you build along the way. And the realization that whatever your circumstances, there are usually ways to take back control of your life.
 

11. How has our attitude / relationship with money changed?

Jennie: I’m a lot more conscious about how I spend money now. I’m more aware that if I spend x amount on something for this month, it means that I miss out on other things that I really want to experience, have or enjoy later. But it also means that I buy or spend on things that I really want or that I love now. Having a more conscious understanding of how I spend my money has actually made me much more “fiscally literate” and it’s been a positive effect on my life. I feel like the lessons I’ve learned about money - how and when to use it and how to plan long-term actually makes me a more strategic thinker.

Ivan: I’ve always viewed money as a major inconvenience. It’s a concession I’ve had to make to society in order to keep me and the people I care about alive. The only reason I’m a “minimalist” is because I don’t like conceding much of anything. Money is only as useful as the independence it buys - to ensure that no one can ever influence how I run my life. 
 

12. What are We planning to do to make money?

Jennie: Ivan and I actually started a business earlier this year. We essentially create marketing content for cyber security startups. Due to my experience in the industry and network, we’ve got a roster of clients and plan to continue working with a multitude of security tech / SaaS startups.

Ivan: I passed all three levels of the CFA exam and am a self-taught investor. I work with clients in the VC/private equity space to do financial modeling, projections and writing investment pitches. I’m also using this RTW trip as an opportunity to interview entrepreneurs on the ground in emerging economies.
 

13. What are our next financial goals?

Jennie: I’ve been hustling for the last six years and I feel like I haven’t put much thought into my next financial goals. There’s been one thing that I’ve had on my mind - increasing our net worth / saving for long-term retirement. We’re not one of those “FIRE” (Financial Independence, Retire Early) people though. Although it’s a nice concept, I can’t imagine retiring early and if the last couple of weeks without a job is any indication of what it would be like - I’d be bored as fuck if I retired early. However, Ivan and I have a very specific number in mind for us to live comfortably and completely on our own terms; my next big financial goals is to get us there early while building up my career and potentially having a  family.

Ivan: Over the long term, the risks you take equals your reward (financial or otherwise) - provided you take calculated risks that allow you to survive the short and medium term. So, our next financial goal is to take more calculated risks and being humble in the face of uncertainty.


IV. Love / Relationship Questions for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


 Us at a wedding a few years back.

Us at a wedding a few years back.

14. Describe our marriage.

Jennie: We’re still the same couple that started nearly a decade ago. If you knew us from our early days, you’d see that not much has changed in terms of heated discussions and arguments - because it’s fun for us. The only thing that’s really changes is that we’ve become much better partners, communicate better, and know each other better than anyone else in this world.

Ivan: What she said. I do think as we grow into our new roles as business partners that we should draw a clear line between business and personal. This means carving out time that’s just for the two of us.
 

15. What’s changed about our marriage over the past Few years?

Jennie: At the beginning of our time in Los Angeles, it was a pretty tense time for us due to a big move and stressful immigration processes. But once we decided to be more intentional and conscious with our time - we started planning and spending more time together at our favorite donut / coffee shop. Ivan and still very much love each other, but I’d say that in the midst of the hustle and constant goal-setting (and goal-crushing), it’s one of our more neglected aspects of our lives. We’ve spent a lot of time at coffee shops chatting about big goals, funny stories, and strategizing on work, but we haven’t spent as much time just...being together. My hope is that this RTW trip will help us slow down a bit and continue to grow our relationship.

Ivan: I agree.
 

16. What do we argue/fight the most often about?

Jennie: Most of the time, we argue about really menial things - it’s never about the big picture. It always seems to be arguments related to our behavioral / personality preferences. For example, if I ask Ivan to do something (e.g. take out the trash, do the dishes, or put the laundry in the dryer), I mean I’d like him to do it that moment because I’m compulsive about that kind of thing.

Ivan: I don’t like being interrupted when I’m working or reading, so that’s where most of our arguments stem from. To be clear, I don’t mind noise - so long as that noise doesn’t require a response from me. I’ve gotten better over the years of not lashing out, but some snark is always going to be there.


V. Plans for the Future for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


17. What’s next for Us individually and for this blog?

Jennie: We started this blog as a means for us to communicate our lives and be accountable to our life goals. However, based on emails and we’ve received from our kind readers - it feels like it actually helps add value in some small way. That meaningful / value-add contribution has been one of the more fulfilling things that I’ve experienced over the past two years. My big goal for this blog is to continue creating content that is useful for any reader that comes across this blog. 

Ivan: I’d like to experiment with travel videos. I think understanding how to combine image and sound over time can make me a better storyteller and writer. I’ve watched a lot of “travel vlogs” on Youtube and have been pretty dissatisfied with the results. I’d like to do something different. The best way I can describe it is I’d like to have the “feeling” of the Before Sunrise trilogy in online video form. The exotic destinations should be secondary to the relationship and the conversation in the frame. Hopefully, we can make this happen over the coming months.
 



Goodbye Los Angeles: Lessons on Moving, Traveling and Selling Our Worldly Possessions
A story has no beginning or end. Arbitrarily, one chooses the moment from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
— Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

Ivan here.

I had a hard time writing for this blog in July. A couple weeks ago, Jennie suggested that I do a “Pre-departure Diary” summarizing our experiences in LA and our two year journey in preparation for our RTW trip.

But even as I sit here typing on this yoga mat in the middle of our empty studio, I have no idea how I feel. To be honest, things have worked out so perfectly and according to plan that it scares me.


The Origami Couple - The Story So Far & What’s Next


aerial-beverage-caffeine-972533 (1).jpg

Since I can’t process anything at the moment, let’s just stick to the facts of our story:

  • June 2015: Ivan lands in Boston, ending six years of long distance

  • March 2016: Jennie and Ivan move from Boston to Los Angeles

  • April 2016: We discuss the idea of traveling the world for a year

  • August 2016: We start The Origami Life blog and set a two year goal

  • April 2018: We save up $40k in travel funds and $2,500 per month in freelance income

  • July 2018: Jennie quits her job. We give notice to our landlord, sell our things and leave LA.


Over the next few months, our plan is to:

  • August 2018: Spend 3 weeks in Albuquerque so Jennie can spend time with family

  • August 2018: Travel to SF for a week for final face-to-face client meetings

  • September 2018: off to our first stop on our RTW trip: Kauai, Hawaii


5 Lessons on Moving, Traveling and Selling Our Worldly Possessions


While I have no further comment on Los Angeles, I do have some thoughts about the logistics of the move itself:
 

1. Our lifestyle in Los Angeles wasn’t as “minimalist” as we thought

apartment-chair-contemporary-509922 (1).jpg

It’s true - we only owned five pieces of furniture in Los Angeles. But during the move, the amount of knick knacks we found in our apartment seriously stressed me out: notebooks, never used. Papers, brochures and advertising. Piles of clothing. Wires and chargers for electronics that no longer worked. Then there were the odds and ends we “saved” because they had “sentimental” value.

Not gonna name any names, but one of us has a lot of sentiment.

After we sold, donated, or recycled most of the useful stuff, Jennie and I decided to “digitize” 90% of our memories by taking pictures of each item and then letting them go. The last 10% was what could fit inside one small carry-on luggage - to be stored at her parent’s place in Albuquerque for a later time.
 

2. We’re still not very good at "playing house"

cooking-cuisine-dish-1030947 (1).jpg

Laundry is my least favorite chore around the house, followed closely by cooking. I don’t mind washing the dishes or sweeping the floors precisely because they’re mindless. I can do them while thinking about something else. But laundry and cooking involves interruptions and willpower. It’s not possible to do these things in your spare time. They are activities that expend mental energy. Energy that, in my opinion, could be more profitably deployed somewhere else.  

Don’t get me wrong - I do them anyway. All I’m trying to say is that I’d rather not spend so much time on things I don’t value. Maybe it’s a sign of immaturity, but I’m very much looking forward to 15 minute laundry by the sink and not needing to cook 4-5 days a week.
 

3. We’re not convinced by the cost vs. quality debate when it comes to buying new things

They say you get what you pay for. To an extent, I suppose that’s true. But the further from the midrange you go, the less relative qualities matter. This makes sense because raw materials are only a small fraction of the cost of production. What’s leftover is design and brand. I for one, give zero fucks about brand. If I wanted a story, I’d just write one. As for design, is there an objective difference between the best that money can buy and the second best that money can buy? And if it’s all just preferences and self-expression, I’d rather express myself in ways that don’t cost me both my time and my money.
 

4. We’ve probably outstayed our welcome in Los Angeles by 2 to 3 months

Being responsible adults can be insufferably boring at times. Jennie and I achieved the goals we set out in this blog three months earlier than our September 2018 plan. Ever since, we catch ourselves staring at each other over breakfast and wondering:

“What the fuck are we still doing here?”

There was some discussion about Jennie quitting her job back in May. I mean, do we need to be adults all the time and tie things up into neat little bows? To quote Bobby Axelrod from the entertaining series Billions: “What’s the point of having fuck you money, if you never say fuck you?”

In the end, we decided that relationships are the reasons (not to say fuck you). You never know where certain relationships can lead you down the road. And a person with a reputation for burning bridges or disappearing can’t be trusted with anything of value.  
 

5. It’s a relief not knowing what the future holds

adventure-antique-atlas-1051077 (2) (1).jpg

For some time now, Jennie and I have known that all of the goals we set out two years ago were within reach. We might not have been there yet - but we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Everything was working on autopilot. And that was comfortable - for a while. The satisfaction of having turned an initial conversation into a reality.

But soon, we found ourselves missing the uncertainty of a new beginning. That hopeful/fearful feeling of facing the unknown. The thrill of the pursuit. It doesn’t matter what we’re pursuing so long as it’s challenging and meaningful. For us, the pursuit and the journey is all there is.

I realize now that this is why we’ve been struggling to “sum things up.” We’re sick of talking about what we’ve done or are going to do. We’d rather just be doing it. We’re looking forward to having a new blank page - and all the possibilities that come with it.

Finally, another chance to start over.



5 Reasons Why Travel Is Expensive and How We’re Making It Affordable

Ivan here.

We haven’t published a travel post in a while, though we’ve been doing a lot of it this year. In the past seven months, we’ve made eight trips out of Los Angeles: San Diego, San Francisco (twice), Albuquerque (twice), Taipei, New Orleans, and in July, Portland, Oregon for a wedding.


Cost Breakdown of Our Portland, Oregon Trip


 Downtown Portland, Oregon

Downtown Portland, Oregon

Jennie was a bridesmaid for the weekend, so we didn’t get to explore the city as much as we wanted. But we still ended up enjoying ourselves anyway: we had the reception lunch on a boat going down the Willamette river, sampled different food carts downtown, went to an Oregon winery and a Portland Timbers game, and I found a book I’d been looking for at Powell’s Bookstore.

Here’s the full cost breakdown for our 3 day trip:

  • Winery and limo ride for the bride. Split evenly between the bridesmaids: $300

  • Gift registry for the bride: $100

  • 2 nights at an Airbnb: $150

  • Taxes and fees for 2 round-trip tickets (we used the Southwest Companion Pass and paid with points): $25

  • Food + other costs: $200

Which is a total of $775 for a long weekend. Pretty reasonable by American wedding standards (though I’d argue those standards are arbitrary), but it made a significant dent to our $2,800 monthly budget. But fuck it, we knew this was coming and had planned for it. Relationships are more important than hitting a number. At least that’s what Jennie tells me.


Why is Travel So Expensive?


This segues into the topic of this piece: why do so many people think that travel is expensive? Now I’m not going to argue that it isn’t, because obviously, travel involves privilege. What I am going to argue is that most people’s expectations of what travel “should look like” makes things far more expensive than it needs to be.
 

5 Reasons Why Travel Is So Expensive

I can understand why a two-week vacation in Europe costs more than two weeks living at home. But I don’t know why the same vacation to Mexico or Southeast Asia should cost more. That doesn’t make any sense.

Here’s what I suspect:

Traveling isn’t the expensive part - the “vacationing” PArt is.

For some reason, people treat “vacations” as something separate from their everyday life. Whenever I hear the phrase “you’re on vacation. Live a little.” I can’t help but wonder - what does that say about the life that happens before and after the vacation?

Here’s a “vacationer’s” idea of what travel looks like. It goes a long way to explaining why people tend to overestimate the cost of traveling abroad:
 

1. They travel when everyone else is traveling.

Spring and summer breaks, festivals and national holidays are the only times that some people are able to take vacations. To make matters worse, people tend to gather at a few “trendy” Instagrammable destinations. By the laws of supply and demand, this means that businesses there can charge these customers whatever they want.
 

2. They book things impulsively.
 

 Source:   Google

Source: Google

Since fuel prices are way below its peak in 2014, airline tickets are cheaper than they’ve ever been in history. Low cost airlines are now advertising sub $400 round-trip tickets to Europe and Asia. It’s like Black Friday every single day of the week, which makes it harder for travelers to stay disciplined and on-budget. “Amazing deals!” make people forget that flights are only a small fraction of the total cost of their trip.
 

3. They overload their itineraries.

Cramming too many activities into 1-2 weeks is the quickest way to spend the maximum amount of money for the maximum amount of stress. It’s a trap that all beginner travelers fall into. A few years ago, this was us.
 

4. They pay multiples of their rent for accommodations.

The human brain has an uncanny way of putting the same thing into separate mental buckets. Here’s a question: what’s the difference between the nightly rate you pay at a hotel and the nightly rate you pay for your apartment (i.e. your rent divided by 30 days)?

I’d argue that not only do they serve the same purpose, they’re also redundant expenses (whereas food purchased in a foreign currency is a substitute for your grocery budget at home). Yet in practice, people are willing to pay 3-5x multiples for one, but not the other.
 

5. They tailor their trips around other people.

Traveling with friends sounds like a fun idea - in theory. But this assumes that you know your friends as well as you think you do. Jennie and I have been together for almost a decade, and we’re only just starting to get a handle on how the other is going to react under stressful conditions in a foreign country. In our case, we’re fortunate enough to have overlapping travel styles and interests. But if you like hostels and street food and your friend has a taste for boutique hotels and Michelin star restaurants, then brace yourself. And your wallet.
 


5 Ways We’re Making Our RTW Travels More Affordable


A big part of this blog is about making conscious decisions to achieve the things that we want out of life - even if this means taking the slightly unconventional route and thinking differently.

Here are five ways that Jennie and I are making our RTW trip more affordable:
 

1. We’ve mapped out shoulder & off-seasons for every region in the world.

Instead of traveling when everyone else is traveling, we’ve given ourselves the flexibility to go where the herd is thinnest. The trick is to avoid peak season and map out the shoulder and off seasons for every region in the world.  

For example, here are just some of the places we’re thinking about visiting:

  • September/October in Eastern Europe

  • January/February in India

  • May/June in East Africa

  • November in Japan

  • Christmas in Vietnam

When we have a rough idea of where we’ll be throughout the year, it opens up our budget, allowing us to be more spontaneous (and carefree) with our daily decisions.
 

2. We’ve built up a reserve of airline points to avoid paying last minute prices.

The great thing about having a two year plan is that we’ve had a longer runway to visualize our end goal and work backwards. For example, Jennie and I like to travel slow, so we can work off the following assumptions:

  • We’ll be traveling to a new country every 3-4 weeks.

  • Over the course of a year, that’s 10-15 one-way flights

  • We can divide these flights up into three different categories:

    1. Transatlantic flights

    2. Flights between neighboring continents

    3. Short-haul flights within the same continent

For us, it was just a matter of figuring out, on average, how many points does each flight cost? We added them up, multiplied by two - and voila! - that’s the exact number of points we’ve saved up over the past two years.

If everything goes as planned, I don’t expect us to pay out-of-pocket for flights for the first 8-12 months of our RTW trip.
 

3. We’re canceling our lease and reducing our overhead to (near) zero.

Our rent and bills living in our Los Angeles studio adds up to about $1,600/month. With the RTW trip, that drops to $200 per month with our phone bill ($50/month) and global health insurance ($150/month). Every other expense is variable and completely within our control.  
 

4. We’re taking advantage of long term stays to lower our nightly rates.

In most places around the world, we shouldn’t have to pay more to live abroad than to stay at our $1,400/month Los Angeles studio.

To give you an example: in November 2018, Jennie and I are staying in a Kobe, Japan international sharehouse for $1,000 a month (around $33/night - and this includes utilities and wi-fi). We get a private furnished room, with bathroom facilities and a social area. And we actually get to live like locals for a month instead of having to move constantly from place to place.
 

5. We prefer traveling to friends instead of with friends.

Jennie and I have enough trouble agreeing on things between the two of us. As a compromise, we’ve had to divide up our travel days in half (Ivan days and Jennie days) so that we can take turns shutting the hell up and learning to take direction from the other. An additional person requires more compromise, and more compromise can get expensive fast. This is the main reason why we prefer traveling to where our friends already are, rather than bringing an extra set of preferences along.



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!

Columns_Hotel_Front_Porch_Flags.jpg

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.



Origami Guides: Camping in Joshua Tree National Park

Jennie here!

It’s becoming a little tradition of ours to go camping during major fall and winter holidays. Last year, we went to Death Valley National Park and this year, we decided to get away from the city life and go camping in Joshua Tree National Park for Thanksgiving 2017. We got a bit of a reprieve from the frustrations of our daily life...while others spent time at large family dinners or shopping on Black Friday. Ignorance is bliss.


Who Should Use This

Joshua Tree National Park Guide?


 This could be you at Joshua Tree National Park. AKA - BAMF..

This could be you at Joshua Tree National Park. AKA - BAMF..

This guide is meant for solo travelers and couples who are looking to do some digital detox from our crazy world.
Oh, and travelers who are really into scrambling, hiking, or star gazing.


WHAT ARE THE BEST TIMES IN THE YEAR

TO VISIT JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?


It depends on what you want to do.

Spring is best for checking out the blooming desert wildflowers and the Fall and Winter are best for cooler weather and stargazing. Scrambling and hiking is available year round.

Avoid summer at all cost. It’s the desert so daytime temperatures from June through August hover around 100˚F (38˚C). If you plan on going during the summer, just plan your activities early in the morning or late afternoons; drink lots of water.

Note: Thanksgiving weekend was crowded. Since most campsites inside the park are first-come, first serve, we lucked into a spot as a family was leaving. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on come out during the holidays.


HOW DO I GET TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?

Do I need a car for Joshua Tree?


Yes. Unfortunately, your only option is to drive. We came out from Los Angeles but the closest airports include the following:

  • Palm Springs International - 45 minutes from park headquarters

  • Ontario International - an hour and a half from the park

  • Los Angeles International, Burbank, and Long Beach Airports are all about two to three hours away depending on traffic

Regardless of where you come in from, you eventually have to hop in a car to get around.

Since we got rid our our car last month, we opted to rent a car from Sixt car rentals and only paid $178 for five days for unlimited mileage on a full-sized car. So, we spent about $35.60 per day on a car (split between four people).


WHERE SHOULD I STAY IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?


Going to a place like Joshua Tree means that you’re looking to reconnect with nature a bit. And there’s no better way to do that than straight up camping. Choose any available campsite in the park. Most of the campsites are either $15 or $20 a night and operate on a first-come, first serve basis.

Here are a few campsites to consider:

  • Campsites at the edge of the park can be reserved in advance: Black Rock, Indian Cove
  • Campsites inside the park are all first-come, first-serve: Hidden Valley, Ryan, Jumbo Rocks, Belle, Sheep Pass, White Tank, and Cottonwood. 

If you’re not that big into nature and prefer the comforts of city life, there are a ton of nearby motels, hotels, and Airbnbs that you can seek out on your own.


HOW SHOULD I PACK FOR CAMPING AT JOSHUA TREE?


If you’re camping, these are the things you should be aware of:

  • There are washrooms AND toilet paper. Unless you’re backcountry camping, most J-Tree campsites come with bathrooms with toilet paper. However, these bathrooms are basically glorified porta-potties, meaning there's no running water or sink. Hand sanitizer is an absolute must!

  • Showers are accessible for campers right outside of the park. If you want to camp but also need to shower, there’s a souvenir shop right outside of the west entrance of the National Park and and it offers quick showers for $4.00.

  • There is NO, I repeat NO cellular service once you enter Joshua Tree National Park. Yeah, let that one sink in. Just let the smartphone go.

Most of my items for Joshua Tree camping are fairly similar to my Death Valley camping list

Here are a few items I recommend you pack:

For Your Comfort:

  • Fleece or vest jacket
  • Hand sanitizer (!)
  • Baby wipes (one pack for the face and one for...the nether regions)
  • Climbing gloves (for scrambling) - we bought cheap pairs from Daiso
  • Light blanket/throw for cooler evenings
  • Camping chairs or lightweight folding chairs
  • Wine because you don’t need to keep it cold
  • Ingredients for S’mores

Packing Food:

If you don't feel like cooking - we found the following food items worked:

  • Pita chips
  • Bagels
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Bananas or apples
  • Granola bars

J-Tree Necessities:

  • Lots of water. At least 1 gallon per person per day
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats

Note: If you don’t have everything - don’t worry. There’s actually a Walmart Supercenter in the neighboring town. It’s less than 10 minutes away from the western entrance of the national park. And you can easily purchase any camping necessities (e.g. firewood) or modern conveniences (e.g. batteries) you might need.


HOW DO I USE THIS JOSHUA TREE GUIDE?


For simplicity’s sake, this guide assumes that you’ll be based mainly inside Joshua Tree National Park and you’ve got a car to get around.

The map is divided into the following color-coded areas:

  • Outdoor activities are in Green

  • Foods spots are in Blue

  • The Yellow markers are for optional, more obscure sites

  • Camping sites are in Purple


Outdoor Activities in Joshua Tree National Park (in Green)


  • Rock scrambling and climbing. One of the park rangers at Joshua Tree mentioned that Joshua Tree should actually be re-named “Jumbo Rocks” because that’s what is really unique about the area. Many people from all over will come out just to spend the entire weekend scrambling or climbing at this rock “mecca”.

    Here are a few suggested areas to do some light scrambling:

    • Skull Rock: Often crowded but still cool for some beginner’s scrambling (and family friendly).

    • Hall of Horrors: Steeper drops but supposed to be pretty thrilling…

    • Hidden Valley: A ton of scrambling and climbing spots.
       

  • Hiking all over the park. The terrain is significantly flatter than I’ve seen at other places but still a pretty pleasant hiking experience. We saw lots of families hiking together along several paths. For the full list, check out the National Park Service website or ask a park ranger when you get there.

    Here are a few notable hikes you shouldn’t miss:
    • Fortynine Palms Oasis: Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is 3 miles round trip with 350 feet of elevation change. Once you get into the canyon, you’ll see a cluster of Californian palm trees with boulders and pools of water threaded throughout this strange oasis. It’s a strange sight to see.

Note: We also did the Lost Horse Mine Loop...but the payoff was not worth it. It was a pretty flat and dull trail for the majority of the hike.

 Because sunsets in Joshua Tree are that gorgeous. #nofilter

Because sunsets in Joshua Tree are that gorgeous. #nofilter

  • “Garden” viewing at the Cholla Cactus Garden. I actually found this view to be the most breathtaking outside of the sunsets at Joshua Tree. There’s something unexpected about seeing a vast stretch of these prickly cacti at J-Tree. Walk through it and tread lightly. You’ll probably get some needles stuck at the bottom sole of your shoes.
     
  • Sunsets at Joshua Tree National Park. My favorite moments were sitting on some large rock/boulder and just watching the sun slowly set after a long day of hiking and running around. And with no internet or cell service, I felt even more relaxed about the entire experience. It’s the type of beauty that makes you think about the big questions in your life.
     

  • Stargazing in the winter and spring months. If you can plan your trips around meteor shower events, I highly recommend spending it at Joshua Tree. There are also guided stargazing experiences at the Sky’s the Limit Observatory & Nature Center on most Saturdays. Check out the NPS website for their tips and tricks on stargazing at Joshua Tree.


Where To Eat At Joshua Tree (in Red)


We came during Thanksgiving so...unfortunately for us, nothing was open on Thanksgiving day. Our group ended up eating out at IHOP when we arrive and cooking food the rest of the trip.

Here are a few notable spots that came highly recommended:

  • Joshua Tree Coffee Company: Organic coffee roasted in only small batches. From what I’ve read this cafe is the perfect way to kickstart your morning. Sip your cup of joe on the attached patio deck as you get caffeinated and plan for a full day in Joshua Tree.

  • Crossroads Cafe: I got several recommendations for Crossroads Cafe from several trusted Angelenos. This place is right outside the west entrance of the park and offers filling meals, friendly service, and great options for lunch or breakfast.

See the shared map for a few more food suggestions. 


Stranger, More Obscure Activities

Near Joshua Tree National Park (in Yellow)


Everything I’m listing below are just free experiences because...why the hell not?

  • World Famous Crochet Museum: Essentially, a small shrine dedicated to the cozy art of crochet.

  • Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Desert Art Museum: 7.5 acres of "Environmental Sculptures". There’s something extremely sad and strange about the entire experience in the middle of nowhere.

  • Desert Jesus Park: A 3.5 acre sculpture garden park; I only found out after but the statues were moved here in 1951 by the local church. Words I’d use to describe this place: eerie, odd, creepy, strange...

  • Bob’s Crystal Museum: An eclectic “cave” with decorated crystals by Bob Carr in the middle of the Sky Villages Swap Meet. Worth a gander.

  • Cactus Mart: Eclectic and you can create your own mini-cacti garden at $0.59 a piece. A steal if I ever saw one.

* * *

Have you been camping at Joshua Tree National Park before? 

What did you and your group do differently?

Did you come across any unique experiences?



 

 

Our Los Angeles Bucket List: 60 Things To Do Before We Leave

Jennie here.

Assuming we leave by our deadline of September 1st, 2018 (and not earlier), Ivan and I have exactly 530 days in Los Angeles before we give up everything and start our trip around the world.

Since there’s a 0% chance that we will ever settle down in Southern California again, this will definitely be our last opportunity to experience the city of Los Angeles and get the most out of our time here. 17 months may seem like a long time, but when you think of it as all the time we’ll ever have, there’s the added urgency to appreciate every second of it.

In that spirit, I went ahead and created a bucket list of things that Ivan and I are interested in doing before we leave. In keeping with our travel style, I deliberately steered clear of some of the touristy areas.

Griffith Observatory

Here’s the list and what we’ve covered so far:

  1. Enjoy happy hour drinks and live jazz at The Varnish.
  2. ✅ Catch a live Jazz at the Blue Whale Bar in Little Tokyo.
    Jennie's thoughts: This was fantastic! I LOVED this jazz bar -- it was intimate and so refreshing to see some fresh jazz groups play live.
  3. Watch a movie and picnic at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
    Ivan's thoughts: we saw Casablanca. Bring a picnic blanket to sit on, some wine and cheese, and dress warmly!
  4. Check out the abandoned LA Zoo.
  5. ✅ Listen to music and buy a record from Amoeba Music.
    Ivan's thoughts: I bought a copy of Curtis Fuller's Blues-ette. Five Spot After Dark!
  6. ✅ Check out Angel's Flight.
    Jennie’s thoughts: It wasn’t functional while we were there but I hear they’re opening it up again because of La La land; it’s in a state of disrepair currently and seedy
  7. See the "modern" art at Bergamot Station.
  8. ✅ Visit the Caravan Bookstore.
    Jennie's thoughts: the owner here gave us some really great advice about traveling across India!
  9. ✅ Buy and sell used books at The Last Bookstore.
    Ivan's thoughts: Selfie taking tourists wouldn’t get out of my way near the second floor decorative book arch of “who gives a shit?” Otherwise, there’s a reasonable selection of used books. 2.5 out of 5. Like most things in downtown LA, everything is covered in a layer of grime.
  10. Check out the goods at Historic Core Farmers Market in Downtown LA.
  11. Lounge around The Huntington Library, art collections, and botanical gardens.
  12. ✅ Go to both of The Getty museums.
  13. ✅ Travel outside of Los Angeles on the metro line.
    Jennie's thoughts: we went to San Diego. 
  14. Drive around Mullholland Drive.
  15. See what's what at the Santa Monica Camera Obscura.
  16. ✅ People watch and listen to live music/musicians at Union Station.
    Jennie’s thoughts: Ivan and I sat here for a few hours just people watching and talking. We even got to listen to some random person play piano for the public!
  17. ✅ Take a photo at the Bradbury Building.
  18. ✅ Bike or walk along The Strand (along Venice Beach, Santa Monica).
    Jennie’s thoughts: Pretty nice intro to LA as a whole. It’s fantastic to walk along the beach early in the morning when the city isn’t hustling and bustling yet.
  19. Somehow score a chance to tour SpaceX.
  20. ✅ Go to LACMA during a free day and check out the art exhibits.
  21. Meditate and visit the Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple -- apparently this is where part of Gandhi's ashes were spread.
  22. ✅ Eat sushi at Sugar Fish
    Jennie's thoughts: Hands down the best affordable sushi that I've had in the U.S. 
  23. ✅ Have a meal at The Grand Central Market.
    Jennie’s thoughts:  Meh. The lines aren’t worth it if you ask me.
  24. ✅ Enjoy dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley / Arcadia area.
    Jennie’s thoughts: It’s a trek from the Westside but definitely a worthwhile area if you’re craving decent Chinese food.
  25. ✅ Get the chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles.
    Jennie’s thoughts: Delicious, salty, and probably heart attack inducing.
  26. ✅ Eat delicious Japanese food in Little Tokyo.
  27. Queue up for street vendor Corn Man's cheesy, buttery corn goods.
  28. ✅Drive to and eat Ave 26 Tacos on a spring/summer night.
  29. ✅ Enjoy SOMI SOMI's taiyaki ice cream delight.
  30. Try Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken.
  31. Eat Japanese/Italian/WAFU pasta and baked goods at Spoon House Bakery & Restaurant.
  32. ✅Try tsukemen ramen at Tsujita LA Artisan Noodles Annex.
    Jennie’s thoughts: Overhyped. There’s better ramen elsewhere and not worth the lineup.
  33. ✅ Try fresh pasta dishes from Pasta Sisters.
    Jennie's thoughts: Still prefer Italian food in Boston, but not bad!
  34. Take a tour of Huy Fong Foods, Inc. (aka home of la Sriracha).
  35. Check out and tour Meiji Tofu, where they still make tofu the traditional way.
  36. ✅ ✅ Go to The Broad and check out the Infinity Mirrored Room exhibit.
  37. Spend an afternoon getting lost at The Museum of Jurassic Technology.
  38. See the Space Shuttle Endeavour installation at the California Science Center.
  39. Go paddle boarding with whales in Redondo Beach.
  40. ✅ Enjoy the sunset and “star party” at Griffith Observatory.
    Jennie’s thoughts: Probably one of my favorite sunsets in LA.
  41. ✅ Trek around and camp at Joshua Tree National Park when there's a meteor shower.
  42. Weird hike to Rustic Canyon’s Nazi Ruins “Murphy Ranch” in Santa Monica Mountains.
  43. ✅ Hike the trails of Santa Anita Canyon.
  44. Do the cliche hike up to the Hollywood Sign.
  45. Commit and do a 10 mile hike to the Bridge To Nowhere.
  46. ✅ Hike up Runyon Canyon. Apparently very popular and worth the hype.
  47. Eaton Canyon hike to get to some gorgeous 40 foot waterfalls.
  48. ✅ Relax and lounge for a day at one of Malibu's gorgeous beach spots (e.g. Zuma Beach)
  49. Be in awe of the "Lost Sunken City".
  50. ✅ Take a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) through to San Francisco.
    Ivan's thoughts: We took Amtrak along the PCH. Does that count? 10/10! Google Coast Starlight Amtrak. 
  51. Do a random road trip to Wayfarers Chapel.
  52. ✅ Watch a double feature at the New Beverly Cinema.
    Ivan's thoughts: We saw a double feature of Die Hard/Die Hard 2 on Christmas Eve, Thunderbolt & Lightfoot/Desperate Hours, and a John Cassavetes double feature (Opening Night/A Woman Under the Influence), oh and Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch on Thanksgiving. Love this place!
  53. ✅ Take a tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Fascinating architecture.
  54. Enjoy a cheap show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre during a weekday.
  55. Watch a movie at a drive-in theatre (e.g. Vineland Drive-In or Electric Dusk Drive-In Theatre).
  56. ✅ Watch a show and check out the interior of The Orpheum Theatre.
    Jennie's thoughts: Pretty gorgeous venue. I ended up going to a DragCon show hosted at the Orpheum Theature with an old friend. 
  57. ✅ Pathetically trek up the Santa Monica Stairs.
  58. ✅ Drive by the Chandelier Tree in Silverlake.
  59. ✅ People watch at Santa Monica Pier.
    Jennie’s thoughts: I sort of regretted this immediately because it was just SO crowded. Probably not going back, especially during the Thursday Summer Concerts.
  60. ✅ Walk through and enjoy the fancy houses and bridges/canals in [America's] Venice Canals.
    Jennie’s thoughts: Surprisingly...few people still know to check out this area. It’s gorgeous and wonderful to walk through on any day of the week.

AUGUST 2018 UPDATE: We managed to cross off 35 items (out of 60) before we moved out of Los Angeles. 58% - not too shabby!



Origami Guides: An Introvert's 3 Day Itinerary Through Toronto (Off the Beaten Path)
 Toronto, ON, Canada

Toronto, ON, Canada

 Downtown Toronto

Downtown Toronto

Ivan here. 

I’m sitting in our LA apartment, between mouthfuls of chicken biryani, thinking back on the three years spent in Toronto. 2012 to 2015. A dark period. Years 3 to 6 of a long distance relationship. Months 0 to 17 of a Kafkaesque immigration process. Despite making more money than I ever had (or have since), what Toronto really represented was a lot of wasted time living someone else’s life. 

There were good times with amazing people, of course. But the times in Toronto I remember best are the days spent alone, languishing in my favorite neighborhoods, waiting for Godot. As a result, I know all the places to go when you’re alone and just want to blend in; the A to Z of restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops, theaters and bars where a traveller can truly remain anonymous. 

 

Who should use this itinerary? 

Solo travelers looking for ways to avoid the tourist traps in favor of a quieter, slower pace of travel.
 

What are the best times in the year to visit?

My favorite month is September for the Toronto International Film Festival and Nuit Blanche, a night when all of downtown Toronto becomes an art installation. Springtime from April to June is also nice. Avoid the dreary winters. Canadians aren't nice all the time.
 

What’s the best way to experience Toronto? 

Toronto is not an “attraction” city, which are mediocre at best. Here's a list of all the places that won’t move the needle: CN Tower, Toronto Centre Island, Dundas Square, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Second City, Casa Loma, and the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

I’m boring myself just typing this. The only way this list gets more generic is if I tack on a day trip to Niagara Falls.  

The best way to experience Toronto is to pick two or three neighborhoods to languish in and try to act like you live there. My favorites are The Annex and Kensington Market.  
 

 

Where should I stay in Toronto? 

Most Toronto hotels are overpriced so I’d recommend an Airbnb within walking distance of a TTC subway stop. My favorite neighborhood is The Annex (near Bathurst station). It’s grungy, artsy, and fun. 
 

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 Green Martians...I’ll explain the Martians at the end
  • Grey attractions are optional 

An Introvert's 3 Day Itinerary Through Toronto


Day 1 (Blue) - A Perfect Day at The Annex

Morning

  • Land in Toronto. Avoid the long taxi ride from Pearson International Airport by flying Porter Airlines’ turboprop planes to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, located right near downtown. It’s the only civilized way to arrive in Toronto. Unfortunately, Porter only flies to/from major East Coast and Midwest cities in the US. 

Afternoon

  • Take a 10 minute taxi ride to Bathurst Station near The Annex. Check into your Airbnb.  
  • Have your first Canadian poutine at Smoke’s Poutinerie. Forget the unnecessary toppings and just stick with the classic: cold cheese curds and hot gravy on fries. 
  • Grab a coffee at the Green Beanery. The coffee won't blow you away, but its location on the intersection makes it the best place to people watch. 

Evening

  • Walk over to BMV Books, my favorite bookstore in North America. BMV has no theme, no ambiance, no quirk. The only thing BMV cares about is selling cheap books, books made even cheaper by the current US/CAD exchange rate. 
  • Dinner at Yummy Korean Food Restaurant. I had to look for the name of this place online. I know it as the giant orange sign with the photo of the smiling Korean lady on it. This place is cozy and the food is fantastic (if you like homestyle Korean). A lot of singles dine here. Like we were all invited over to some lady’s house. 
  • After dinner, stop by Doug Miller Books and say hi to the rabbit for me. Hope it’s doing ok. 
  • Two options to cap off the night: existential pinball and beer at Tilt Arcade Bar or a documentary at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Or why not both? 

Day 2 (Red): High Park & Drinks at Kensington Market

Morning

  • Take a 20 minute stroll down to Kensington Market. Breakfast on the covered patio of Our Spot. 
  • Make your way through Chinatown enroute to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), a building most recently renovated by Frank Gehry. I hate sharing so I usually get here when they open at 10:30 (closed on Mondays, free admission on Wednesday nights from 6-9). 

Afternoon

  • Walk to St. Patrick Station. Take the TTC to High Park. 
  • High Park in the springtime (late March to early April) is full of cherry trees in bloom. Visit the free High Park Zoo to see the llamas and capybaras. But mainly, just sit on a bench and read the Toronto Metro daily or a BMV paperback. 

Evening

  • Back to Chinatown. Dinner at whatever hole-in-the-wall restaurant catches your eye. I like to get my takeout from Buddha’s Vegetarian Restaurant (open 11-9, cash only). The portions are unreasonably large. 
  • End your night with beers or cocktails at Poetry Jazz Cafe. There’s a $10 cover charge for live performances which start at 9 PM. I’m never disappointed.  
  • Soak up the alcohol with some late night pho at Pho Pasteur (open 24 hours, cash only).  Sometimes all you need is good broth, Thai chili and dandelion leaves. 

Source: Buddha's Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant by StevieSurf


Day 3 (Yellow): Scarborough Bluffs & The Performing Arts

Morning

  • Wake up whenever you want. Check on Mirvish.com (my favorite Mirvish venue is the Princess of Wales Theatre) or the Young Performing Arts Center for available shows that night. Reserve tickets.
  • Take the green line (aka The Suburbia Express) from Bathurst Station east to Warden Station.
  • Grab enough food for breakfast and a brown bag lunch at Cafe on the Go (it's the one on the right) inside Warden Station. In the early mornings their Jamaican patties are still piping hot from the oven (Jamaican patties are to Toronto what $1 pizza is to NYC). Order one spicy, one chicken. You're welcome. 

Afternoon

  • Take an Uber or taxi down to Scarborough Bluffs Park.
  • Hike the path up to the cliffs, hop a wooden fence and be rewarded with the best and least known view of Toronto. 
  • Picnic, read, and nap under a tree. What's the rush? 

Evening

  • Take an Uber or taxi to Sukhothai for dinner. There are multiple locations, but I can only vouch for the original spot on Parliament Street. I lived in Thailand for two summers and I think this place may serve the best pad thai in North America (2018 update: Was informed by one of our readers that the quality at the Parliament location has gone downhill. Over-expansion and new management. It's a shame.)
  • Depending on where you reserved your tickets: Taxi to downtown King Street for Princess of Wales Theatre or make your way to the Distillery District for the Young Performing Arts Center. End the night with the internal satisfaction of knowing that you couldn't have played this city any better. 

Princess of Wales Theatre


PostScript: The Green Martians

Truly far out options. These inconspicuous places make perfect hideaways for the visiting Martian who wants to study our species. The most cost effective way to reach them is to take the TTC to Finch Station, then transfer to an Uber or taxi. 

  1. Le Cafe Michi: Nothing about this restaurant makes sense: not the quality of their sashimi, their Japanese chefs, their gourmet fucking desserts, or prices totally at odds with the shabbiness and remoteness of their surroundings. Is Le Cafe Michi a run-down suburban strip mall joint? A high-end French boulangerie? A sushi bar serving chef special omakase sets that's way higher quality than it has any right to be? The answer is all of the above. 
  2. Pacific Mall: If an entire block in Hong Kong was suddenly transported to the middle of bum-fuck nowhere and gets sealed off from the rest of the world until the place becomes both sentient and sad, the end result would be P-Mall. 
  3. Seoul Zimzilbang Korean Sauna:  Tired of staying in nice, tastefully curated hotels? Why not spend the night in one of Toronto's weirdest 24 hour Korean saunas, located in a garage-like building behind a Home Depot parking lot? It costs $25 to get in (stay forever).  Seoul Zimzilbang is an oasis for Korean families and Russians hiding from the cold. You get to wear funny towel hats while ordering from a number of Korean restaurants who deliver directly to this modern sanitarium, while you make the rounds between sauna rooms named after different power crystals.  


4 Reasons to Delay Gratification (And Choose Purpose)
I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.
— -Jiro Ono (Jiro Dreams of Sushi)

Ivan here. In 18 months, Jennie and I plan on leaving for our round the world trip. 18 months is a very long time.

 A longer wait than cup ramen. 

A longer wait than cup ramen. 

Then again, $40,000 is a lot of money to save.  The math seems reasonable: $100 a day times 365 days plus $3,500 for emergencies equals $40k. 

But you want to know a secret? 

We probably don’t need that much. 

Scratch probably. We definitely don’t need that much. In fact, if we were to leave tomorrow armed with our current travel fund ($11,000) and our fuck-off fund, I’m 100% positive we would have enough financially to travel the world for an entire year. 

So it’s not about the money. Then again, when have the most important things in life ever been "about the money?" So what’s really keeping us in Los Angeles? Are we scared to take the plunge? Are we over-planning and wasting the prime years of our youth?

The short answer is we’ve come to value the pursuit as much as the thing we're pursuing.

1. Resolve vs Impulse

Travel bloggers like to say you don’t need to be rich to travel. So stop making excuses as complainey internet people about how expensive it is. Just buy a one way ticket. Today. What are you still doing here? I said now. 

They’re right about one thing - you don’t need to be rich. You do however, need to be privileged. This means no debt, kids, no family or health problems.

Unfortunately, that’s just not the reality for the majority of people our age. Even more unfortunately, solving these issues take at least some planning and time. The good news is you can make it work if you want to (and you prioritize it). 

Basically, we're saying how you arrive at a decision is as important as the decision itself. 

If you have $20,000 in student loan debt compounding at 6% interest, it’s probably not a good idea to YOLO your way to Regretsville. I mean theoretically, I could airdrop into the Sahara Desert with nothing but the clothes on my back, and pull a Bear Grylls by drinking my own urine - but that doesn’t make it a great idea. 

2. Take the Time to Figure Out the Why

This is just our opinion, but traveling to find yourself is a crock of shit. That’s the Eat, Pray, Love method and we really hate that book.  If you don’t know what you’re about and why you do the things you do, then how the heck is getting food poisoning in India supposed to help you figure things out? 

In my case, the goal is simple. When I grow up, I want to live up to my full potential as a writer. Logic dictates a writer gets better by running as many inputs (books, travel, experience) through his/her personal bullshit machine (style), to churn out as much meaningful output as possible (words). 

In Jennie’s case, she wants to travel because growing up in a poor family, she never had the chance to do something just for the sake of doing it. There was always this nagging sense of guilt. She wants to find out what she can accomplish without that cloud hanging over her head. 

3. Have we Earned It?

It’s a question few people ever stop to ask themselves. As everything in the world gets easier and more accessible, we’ve become the worst kind of takers and consumers: ones with no intention of giving anything back in return. 

My theory is if you can’t put in at least 12 months of work into something, it probably wasn’t that important to you. It’s one of the reasons this blog exists, because we believe things worth doing require commitment. Frankly, if we give up on this blog before September 2018, we don’t deserve to go. 

There aren’t many things in life I can definitively say are true, but one thing I know is that after my marathon, the first sip of water behind the finish line tasted like elixir sent by the gods. 

4. Travel won’t make us happy

Whatever you were struggling with back home, chances are you’re going to carry it with you when you travel. Same goes for work, life and family. I think many people falsely assume travel is going to fix something. From our experience, travel only amplifies. We want to get our mind, our relationship, and our finances right before we set out (in that order). 

5. Nor is travel the end goal

You never arrive, you’re always becoming. The world isn’t something you can cross off like a grocery list. You don’t get extra points if you’ve been to more countries. Only the process counts. The process of slowing down, appreciating every waking moment, while constantly learning and iterating. 

And maybe through this process, we'll be able to build a life together that we can be proud of. 



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. 
Death Valley Camping Essentials (Winter Edition)
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Jennie here.

Ivan and I are headed out in a few days to Death Valley for some winter camping. Seeing as we spent the majority of our travel budget for the year on our wedding, we figured it would be a great way to still get a “vacation” in.

And yes, we’re perfect aware that we’re going to a place with the word ‘death’ in it -- doesn’t sound promising but who knows? Also, bear in mind that “winter” in Death Valley is pretty mild. We’re headed out in late December and the temperatures during the day are a mild 60-ish degrees fahrenheit and 35 degrees in the evening.

When I put together this list, I was thinking about necessities that would make our entire road trip and winter camping trip comfortable and relaxing. To be clear, Ivan and I are not avid campers -- in fact this is the first time we’ve gone camping in over a year. But fortunately, we’re staying at a camping site that will have running water.

hiking-1385937_1920.jpg

Here is our (tentative) list of packing essentials for our upcoming camping trip in Death Valley:

Camping essentials:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bags (warm enough for 30 degree weather)
  • Sleeping mats (or a yoga mat will do)
  • Camping chairs/folding chairs
  • Portable gas stove
  • Cooking pan/pot
  • Flashlights
  • Headlights
  • Cooking 
  • Utensils
  • Paper 
  • Plates
  • Trash Bags
  • Disposable Cups
  • Disposable eating Utensils
  • Ice cooler
  • Firewood
  • Matches
  • Roll of toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lighter fluid
  • First aid kit
  • Binoculars (we couldn’t find a pair to borrow in time but I’d highly recommend this)

Food essentials:

  • Water (at least 1 gallon per day, per person) 
  • Granola bars
  • Mixed nuts
  • Hot chocolate packets
  • Coffee
  • Tortillas
  • Spam (yup, mystery meat in a can)
  • Eggs

The other important things we’re taking -- for comfort-sake:

  • Body wipes and cleansing wipes (for non-shower days)
  • Moisturizer (unscented)
  • Sunscreen
  • Hats
  • Boots
  • Hiking shoes
  • Extra blanket (for warmth)
  • Towels
  • Camera
  • Waterproof jackets/vests
  • Long-sleeved heat-tech shirts (for potentially cold evenings)
  • Extra socks
  • Airplane pillow
  • A book or two

Contingency essentials after plans A, B, and C fail:

  • A few filled gas containers (for when we run out of gas in the middle of nowhere)
  • Tweezers (for cacti needles)
  • Saline nasal sprays (to avoid a bloody nose)
  • Artificial tears (for the super dry climate)
  • Duct tape (for any potential issues)
  • Eyeglass wipes

And of course, there needs to be contingency items such as extra cash, printed maps of the Death Valley area, and external batteries.

Stay tuned for our next post! We’ll let you know how our trip went and make some alterations to this list if we’ve left anything out.

Happy holidays from the desert!

Our Taipei Trip in Pictures

In late October 2016, Ivan and I traveled from Los Angeles to Taipei for our wedding ceremony.


Wedding receptions, street food, and shrimp fishing all in one day...

 The two of us, waiting awkwardly as the reception room filled up.

The two of us, waiting awkwardly as the reception room filled up.

We had our wedding reception at Taipei 101's Ding Xian 101 (頂鮮101) seafood restaurant.

Ivan's family actually arranged the entire reception. We had fancy seafood as well as other delicious Taiwanese influenced dishes. I'd say the biggest highlight of our wedding (reception) day was that we finally had a chance to relax and unwind. And it was my family's first time in Taiwan; my siblings first time abroad. Everything was new for them and I wanted to share all the great things that I'd come to love about the city. So, let me warn you -- there's a lot of food. 

Since I wanted to share my love of Taipei, I thought -- what better way to enjoy a new country than by eating more Taiwanese food? So, we headed over to Shilin Night Market

And what was I most excited about?! The Hot Star Large Fried Chicken. It was hot, crunchy, fatty, and oozing with hot oil. The hype around this snack is definitely worthwhile to check out. 

Another fun thing that we did in Taipei after my wedding reception was shrimp fishing. We stayed up a little late, had a few beers, and caught a few shrimp. Sadly, the owner felt so bad for how little we caught that they gave us some free shrimp on the house. 


Another beautiful day in Taipei...

We took the subway with my family to one of our favorite areas in Taipei's Zhongzheng District

Ivan grew up in the area around the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂). Every time we've been back to Taiwan, we come and visit this area. I love it because I get a peek into Ivan's memories and past. We could easily spend hours wandering around this area...

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A visit to this area also means that we have to visit our favorite soup dumpling place, Hangzhou Xiaolong Tang Bao (杭州小籠湯包)

We actually enjoy this place a lot more than Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) because it's still a family run restaurant and tastes great. 

Hang Zhou Xiao Long Tang Bao 杭州小籠湯包
Opening hours: 11:30am - 9:30pm (Opens daily)
Nearest MRT: Chiang Kai Shek MRT Station (Exit number 5 and walk about 5 mins)

If you're stopping by, I highly recommend checking out the cold side dishes, the crab roe xiao long bao, and the seasonal dishes. When we came out they had sweet pumpkin buns.
 

Jiufen (九份)

On our last day with my family, we took an hour long (and rickety) bus ride up a mountain to check out Jiufen (九份)

The views were spectacular but it was really crowded in the narrow alleyways, which were filled with delicious Taiwanese snack and memorabilia vendors.

If you want to see what foods you should eat in the area, I'd recommend checking out this guide from Food Republic. My favorite snack was the grilled snails!

Our last days in Taipei...

Our last days in Taiwan were spent together, wandering the streets for my favorite foods, hanging out with Ivan's family, and running last minute errands before we had to leave Taiwan again. 

 Beef noodle soup from a local shop near Taipei Main Station.

Beef noodle soup from a local shop near Taipei Main Station.

We both got new bracelets from the Taipei Weekend Jade Market 台北市建國假日玉市.

Each time I come back to Taiwan, it becomes a little bit more difficult each time to leave it. At the airport before our departure, we had Mos Burger before we went through security. We sat around, thinking about our time in Taipei and we felt exhausted...and a little sad to say goodbye again.

IMG_20161031_082229.jpg

If you're thinking of visiting Taipei, check out some of our latest posts below.


Origami Guides: A Local's 3 Day Itinerary Through Taipei

Taipei, Taiwan
台北市, 台灣 

Ivan here. 

Taipei is the gateway drug to Asia. It’s Japan without the rigidness, Hong Kong without the hyperactivity, and China without the pollution.  It’s also one of the most socially liberal democracies this side of the Pacific. The people here are warm, friendly, and laid back. English signs are everywhere and everywhere is just a subway ride away. 

What’s the best way to experience Taipei? 

Glacially. With a beer in one hand, a snack in another, and a view to look at. Maybe a good conversation if you're lucky. For me, I’m just happy to be part of the scenery. I’ve learned that that’s all it takes when I’m in Taipei. Because being home is enough.  

Who should use this guide/itinerary?

Independent couples or small groups (i.e. 3-5) who are looking to avoid the crowded tourist traps in favor of a slower and less conventional way to experience Taipei. 

What’s the best time of the year to visit? 

Avoid the summers and typhoon season, which runs from June to early October. Taipei in the summer is a humid and miserable experience. Like swimming through the intestinal tract of a gassy farm animal. Also, steer clear of Chinese New Years, which runs from late January to mid-February. 

Where should I stay in Taipei? 

Stay within walking distance of Taipei Main Station. From there, it’s less than a half hour subway ride anywhere in the city.  

For mid-range accommodation, we’d recommend the Cosmos Hotel ($100-120) for maximum comfort and convenience. More frugal, minimalist alternatives include the Star Hostel ($60-70) and Meander Taipei Hostel ($60-70)

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 gray markers are for optional sites

Note: For simplicity’s sake, this guide assumes that you’re staying at either the Cosmos Hotel or within walking distance of Taipei Main Station. All prices below are in USD.

A Three Day Taipei Itinerary

Day 1 (Blue) 

Morning

  • Land in Taoyuan International Airport. Follow the signs to the buses and take the Kuo Kuang 1819 Express Bus ($4) which takes you straight to Taipei Main Station and lets you off right across the street from the Cosmos Hotel. The journey takes 45 minutes. The taxi is more expensive ($35) and is only 15 minutes faster. We timed it. IMPORTANT: By mid-2017, the long-delayed subway line should be open, which will take you from the airport to downtown in under 35 minutes.  
  • Arrive at the Cosmos hotel. Freshen up. Then head out to explore the surrounding area. Lunch nearby at Liu Shandong Beef Noodles ($5-7), a local hole in the wall serving piping hot bowls of beef noodle soup. 

Afternoon

  • Book an appointment for a body and foot massage to relax after an international flight. The most popular is Manyi Ting Massage Parlor ($30 per hour), but we recommend the smaller, family run Jingqi Massage Parlor ($30 for 90 minutes). To get there, take the escalators down into Taipei Main Station from the Cosmos (Exit M3) and follow the underground signs to Exit M8. Cross the street, make a left. The place should be on the second floor up a narrow flight of stairs. The staff there speak English and know what they’re doing. Feel born again. 
  • After the massage, take the subway a few stops down to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (free). There’s a changing of the guard ceremony every hour from 9 to 5. 

Evening

  • Dinner at Hangzhou Xiaolongbao ($15-20) for soup dumplings. We prefer this place over the more prestigious, Michelin star rated Din Tai Feng ($25-30).  Prestige is basically another way of saying that everyone else thinks a certain way. When it comes to food (as opposed to the laws of physics), this is both irrelevant and meaningless. 
  • Take the subway north to Jiantan Station. Exit 2 leads you to the Shilin Night Market. It’s gotten touristy (and crowded) over the years, but it’s still the best that Taipei has to offer. Get there well after dinner (8 or 9). 
  • Time to go late night shrimp fishing. Take a taxi from Jiantan Station ($8-10) and ask your driver to take you to Zhishan Road Section 2 (‘Zhishan lu er dwan’), where you’ll see a row of buildings with large indoor pools. These places have similar prices and are open twenty four hours a day. Grab your bait and fishing pole. Drink your weight in Taiwan beer as you wait for the shrimp to bite. After you’re done, you get to clean and cook them yourself on an open grill. Don’t worry, there’s staff onsite to help the beginners and the squeamish.
  • Taxi back to the hotel and pass out ($15-20)
 Din Tai Fung (Taipei);  s  ource: Tripadvisor

Din Tai Fung (Taipei); source: Tripadvisor

 Shilin Night Market;  source: Wikimedia Commons

Shilin Night Market; source: Wikimedia Commons

Day 2 (Red)

Morning

Afternoon

  • Take the MRT to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. Follow these directions to get to Jiufen Old Street. The bus ride should take about an hour. We recommend going to Jiufen on a weekday to avoid the crowds. The scenery allegedly served as inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Our favorite thing to do in the afternoons is to find a cafe with a nice view to watch the sunset. 
  • Grab a taxi and head over to the nearby Houtong Cat Village. The name says it all. This sleepy former coal mining town is now overrun by cats. Everything here is cat themed.
Screen Shot 2016-12-08 at 4.09.01 PM.png
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Screen Shot 2016-12-08 at 4.09.17 PM.png

Evening

  • Take the final half hour taxi ride of the day to Keelung Miaokou Night Market. Keelung is a small port city about a 45 drive north of Taipei and Miaokou is probably the most “authentic” night market in northern Taiwan. It’s renowned for its cheap, fresh seafood which is cooked to order (crabs and shellfish).
  • Walk along the harbor towards Keelung Railway Station. Take the train back to Taipei Main Station ($4-5)

Day 3 (Yellow)

Morning

  • Breakfast at hotel or take an order of Taiwanese savory breakfast crepes to go from Dasifang Egg Pancake (大四方蛋餅). The old man who runs the stall is the real deal and typically drops the mic (closes up shop) by 10 am. 
  • Skip the Taipei 101 Observatory (not worth the $20 admission) and instead hike up Xiangshan (free) for a nicer view. It only takes 20 minutes to reach the summit. 
o-14.jpg

Afternoon

  • Lunch at one of the many basement food courts beneath Taipei 101. Snap an obligatory photo in front of the building as you leave.  
  • Head over to MRT Taipei Zoo Station. Follow the signs to catch the Maokong Gondola (closed on Mondays) up to Maokong scenic area, known for its teahouses.  

Evening

  • Most of the teahouses in Maokong are touristy. Locals prefer the mile long hike away from such establishments to Yao Yue Teahouse (open 24 hours). It’s the perfect place to while away an afternoon brewing your own tea leaves from traditional clay pots, playing cards and eating tea infused dim sum while enjoying a gorgeous view of the city.  Watch the sunset and wait for the city lights to come on. It’s magical.
  • Make your way back to the Maokong Gondola (shuts down by 9 pm). The ride down in the darkness will take your breath away. 
o-17.jpg
How To Travel Without Murdering Your Spouse

Jennie here. 

Ivan and I have been together for almost eight years now. It’s insane to think that we’ve spent the majority of that time apart; it’s no surprise that during our short stints of traveling together, we’ve come to the realization that we have fairly different traveling styles.

Ivan enjoys dropping into a new place with the minimum amount of planning. He likes to explore a new city methodically, moving glacially from one neighborhood to the next, with no set itinerary outside of a handful of “must see” sites. On the other end of the spectrum, I like to know the where, when, and how of my trip down to the hour. Then I draw up a map of the most efficient route that will help me avoid the tourists and save time. Then I’ve got contingency plans just in case plan A and B fail. Because having a back-up plan to the back-up plan is totally normal, right?

You can imagine that our different travel styles have led to many arguments during our trips abroad.

Here are some tips on how to keep your sanity:


Tell each other your travel preferences.


And yes, you need to communicate this. If you’re the type of traveler that loves luxury travel (e.g. nice hotels, spas, etc.) and your spouse loves slumming it in eccentric hostels with limited amenities -- you’re going to have to find some common ground. 


Understand each other's triggers and warning signs. 


For example, do you get “hangry” when you haven’t eaten in a while? Do you snap at your wife when she interrupts your reading (*cough* Ivan)? It’s good to know what sets the other person off so you can learn to give each other space and avoid a nightmare situation. Because it will be much harder to ignore these habits and eccentricities once you’re together all the time.


Compromise. Seriously, figure out a middle ground.


One thing we’ve found that’s worked for us is to divide up our travel days so that we can each take turns being “in charge” of our travel. On Jennie days, Ivan has to go along with my militant itineraries without complaining. And vice versa. That way we each get what we want without feeling like we’re not getting the full experience.


Create an itinerary that accommodates
to both of your needs / likes / dislikes.


Create an itinerary that accommodates to both of your needs/likes/dislikes.

In our case, Ivan loves bookstores and I love cafes. So, we make it a point to try and check out at least one or two places that we love going to.

Below, are a couple of things I listed that Ivan and I both enjoy/like/dislike:

 
 

Understand each other's strengths and use them.


Ivan is the worst navigator, ever. He reminds me of P-Chan / Ryoga from the 90’s anime, Ranma 1/2. When we used to travel together, I’d let Ivan lead us...and nine times out of ten we’d end up getting lost and in an argument. In recent travels, Ivan has left most of the navigating to me. Conversely, I have let Ivan take over when my Plan A, B, and C falls through and my brain starts to shut down in panic. I don’t do well without a plan.


Schedule some time alone / apart. 


I believe in setting aside personal time for yourself. Because before becoming a couple, you were individuals first with different needs, desires, and interests. Setting aside some personal time to explore or relax and read with during travel is going to be crucial in traveling together. This way, you have time to actually miss one another and enjoy each other’s company more.


Build in relaxation days where you don't need to do anything.


Days like this are usually our cafe days together. We’d hang out in cafes, just working or surfing the net -- holding onto some piece of reality that is a normal part of our daily lives at home. This also gives you a chance to appreciate how some locals might live/work and to savor your time a bit more than usual but with a nice cup of coffee.

11 Things We Like and Don't Like About Okinawa

Ivan here!

Last month, Jennie and I traveled to Naha, Okinawa for a three-day mini-honeymoon. Here’s a list of things that we liked and didn’t like (in no particular order). 

 1. Okinawan banjo

The sanshin (or “three strings”) is an Okinawan instrument covered in python skin, which makes for its distinctive sound. This music was playing all over the island - at restaurants, convenience stores, and from loud speakers in front of street vendors as we slogged past under the midday sun. It made for a pretty memorable soundtrack. Like being in a fairytale about an island long ago and far away. 

2. Coloring within the lines

One of the quirks about Japanese society is that people are - for lack of a better term - hopelessly square. Ask the average customer service rep to buck company policy and watch them try to process this troubling development. It’s like throwing a rock into a still pond. 

Here’s what must go through their minds: 

  • Good customer service is very important
  • The rules are very important
  • The customer requests that I break the rules in order to provide good customer service 

Like Fermat’s Last Theorem, these three statements do not compute.

Here’s how a Japanese person would get around this: 

  • This customer will experience good service if I break the rules
  • This sets a dangerous precedent that will prevent me from providing good customer service in the future
  • Therefore, for the sake of good customer service, I must defend the rules with my life

3. Okinawa soba 

 
okinawa-soba-724986_1280 copy.jpg
 

I love Okinawa soba. It’s simple, cheap, and unspoiled by commercialism. This means that when you walk into a noodle shop on a random street corner, you can still taste the difference because the people who serve it still give a damn. The lightness of the broth, the chewiness of the noodles, the tenderness and fat content of the pork. It’s a dish that’s still tied to the Okinawan way of life.

4. The Japanese 4-hour workweek

In Japan, lunch is usually served between 11 and 2, and dinner between 5 and 8. Some Okinawan restaurants observe these business hours religiously. This means that for the more popular establishments, you either show up to find out that there’s an hour long wait or it’s completely empty because it’s 3 pm and they closed an hour ago. And since Jennie and I have this rare illness where we'll bleed to death if we’re in line for more than thirty minutes, this severely limited our options. 

5. Returning home

Every five years, Okinawans from all corners of the globe return to the island for a giant celebration call the Uchinanchu festival. A full week of events are scheduled, complete with opening and closing ceremonies. It was fascinating to watch the kids, their small faces pressed against the glass, as they rode the monorail from the airport into the city for the very first time. 

6. Parker's Mood Jazz Club

It makes me sad when I think about Parker’s Mood Jazz Club. We rode the elevator to the fifth floor of a shabby looking residential building and found the place empty. We were the first (and only) customers of the night. This was 9 pm on a Friday night. Inside, there were comfortable fifties style leather seats, candles and iPad menus on every table. Two female bartenders in white dress shirts, black vests, and bow ties were polishing the crystalware behind the counter. The live performance that night consisted of the owner, Kousuke, on jazz guitar and his friend on the piano. As they ran through their set from Charlie Parker to Thelonious Monk for an audience of two, you could tell that they still loved what they did. They just wanted to play for as long as they could. 

7. Okinawan office wear

The kariyushi shirt is a uniform of sorts in Okinawa. Basically, it’s a rip-off of the Hawaiian aloha shirt. It's mandatory attire for salarymen, government office workers, and even newscasters on television. Everyone looked like they were on a mandatory vacation. 

8. Kokusai Dori (International Street)

 
 

A copy and paste job of souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants. The noise and neon signs trick tourists into believing that they're having loads of fun, when what they're really doing is emptying their wallets on crap they don't need. Every major city in the world has a street like this. Nevada has an entire city.

9. Back Alleys of the Makishi Public Market

The further you venture away from Kokusaidori, the shabbier the surroundings. No guidebooks will lead you here. An old lady sells vegetables from a mat, which doubles as her living room. The local seafood bars and family run soba shops here barely get any customers. Walking through these back alleyways, we got a sense of how people actually live, and the income disparity that still exists between Okinawans and Japanese mainlanders. 

10. Former Japanese Navy HQ

This was a sobering reminder of what Okinawa went through during WWII. We walked through underground tunnels that housed Japanese soldiers prior to their surrender. Everything was left in its original condition, even the shrapnel and bullet holes on the walls where officers committed mass suicide. In a note to the Japanese government, the commanding officer asked them to remember the horrors of war and the sacrifices made by the Okinawan people. 

The other day, I overheard a conversation at an L.A. coffee shop about Mel Gibson’s new movie Hacksaw Ridge.  I’ve transcribed their conversation here without comment: 

"What war was that movie based on?” 
“I don’t know. I think it was either the Korean or Vietnam War. They mentioned Okinawa.”
“Okinawa? I’m like 99% sure that was the Korean War.” 

11. Blue Seal Ice Cream

 
 

Born on the U.S. military base, Blue Seal Ice Cream soon became an Okinawan staple. Our favorite combinations were Mango with Ube, Okinawa Salt Cookie with Beni Imo, and Okinawa Taro Cheesecake with Sugar Cane. 

Origami Guides: A 3 Day Itinerary Through Okinawa (Without a Car)

Naha, Okinawa
那覇市, 沖縄

Jennie here!

After our wedding reception, Ivan and I went on a three-day honeymoon to Okinawa. Okinawa is like Japan’s younger, more easy-going brother. The language and the traditional Japanese politeness are the same, but Okinawans are also more laid back in attitude with a slower pace of living. For us, the experience was like visiting a completely different country.


Who should use this itinerary?


Solo travelers and couples who are time constrained and prefer to get around by public transportation.


What are the best times in the year to visit? 


We recommend visiting Okinawa in late October/early November to avoid typhoon season, which runs from July to early October in some years. It still feels like summer this time of year, and you avoid the tourists and salarymen who flock to the island in the spring (from March to June). 


How do I get to Okinawa? 


If you want to avoid a 40+ hour ferry ride, your only option is to fly. From Tokyo, it’s a 2.5 hour flight. Most likely, you’re going to begin and end your trip in Naha International Airport. 


Where should I stay in Okinawa? 


For the Budget-conscious:

  • Myplace Guest House - If you’re comfortable staying with shared rooms, then Myplace Guest House is the place to be. And at a hard-to-beat price of ~$24 USD per night, it’s hard to complain. Also, it’s great to keep in mind that these hostels also have fantastic partnerships with diving/snorkeling tour groups and plans that often include island hopping, rental gear, lunch, and transport back to your hostel.

Moderately Budget:

  • Estinate Hotel - For a single standard room, the prices in November ranges between $70 to $79 per night. This being our honeymoon, Ivan and I were looking to take it easy and go a little bit above our normal budget. We booked our stay with Estinate Hotel (through Agoda.com) for three nights in Naha. The total (including taxes) came to $77.80 USD per night. The room was small, clean and had everything we needed.


How do I use this okinawa guide? 


The map is divid