Tag Archives: Travel Tips

The Beijing Subway, it is easier than you think

We put using the subway off.  We should have started using the subway from day one, it would have saved us from walking miles and miles and miles.  Seriously, pretty positive we walked a marathon every single day 🙂

Anyway, we finally decided to take a chance and try the subway out and realized it is very user friendly and if we go back to Beijing we will certainly use it from day one.

For starters, everything is in English… so you don’t have to memorize characters. It is also color coded which is very easy to use.

All you do is get a card from the counter, put a 20 yuan deposit down, pay 20 Yuan and get to riding. SOOOOO easy. If you need to reload it, you just use the machine, click reload (yes they have English as an option)  and be on your way.

The only tip I can really recommend is that every major station has 4 points, one for each corner of the road. Make sure you know which on you need, it makes a huge difference.

Also make sure you have your passport on you, we went through a few security check points and had to show our passports.   I am not sure if this is a regular thing in Beijing but I can assure you we had to show our passports more than once while in China, so while I am an advocate for leaving your passport locked up and safe 90% of the time, China is a place where you should keep your passport on you.

Also rush hour is jammed, like the whole city of Beijing is on the subway I swear so make sure you are ready to face those crowds.

When I go back to China I will utilize the subway a lot because while I enjoyed walking around Beijing I ended up loosing a toe nail from all of the walking so next time I will use the subway, it is not hard.  I promise.

Oh one last thing, take a picture of your stop just you remember the name, I confused a lot of stops.  It was not a big deal as I obviously made it back every night but this will make your life much easier.

Have you used the Beijing subway?  What did you think?



Tips for staying with a host family

When I was going through my life list goals I noticed that I have never actually written about what it is like to stay with a host family abroad. I know when I get on the IVHQ forums one of the biggest concerns I read about is “What is it really like to stay with a host family?” I remember when I first set off to go to Guatemala the thought terrified me. I had so many concerns because staying with someone you do not know can be terrifying your first time believe me. Some of the questions I asked were…

Would I like them?
What if I don’t like the food?
What if I feel unsafe?
How the hell am I going to communicate with a language barrier?

Looking back I laugh at my concerns because I realize my concerns were seriously unfounded and when I volunteer abroad again I will always choose a host family.

If you are offered the option of a host family stay on a volunteer trip or vacation you should strongly consider if for many reasons.

1. It is immersion into a language and culture. One of the main reasons I still consider Guatemala my favorite country still to this day is because of my host family. I did not speak nearly as much Spanish as I do now but I was able to practice daily and I really did get to know the culture of a Guatemalan family. It was a beautiful thing and I can assure you that while traveling to a country may give you insight into a local culture, living with a local family will put you in the middle of it.

2. I was forced to try local food. Now it is absolutely no secret how I am not a foodie, when I travel I do not think about food. In fact, I am one of the most frustrating people to travel with because I am too busy trying to see every single sight I do not even think about food and simply will not eat. I will literally grab a bagel and hit the ground running and not stop. Seriously I am one of the lucky ones that will lose weight on a vacation. Anyway, I digress. Food in a foreign country is actually one of the most terrifying things to me, (TMI GROSS FACTOR COMING, I have gotten worms before, ewww I know but if you are not careful IT CAN and WILL happen) so believe me I get the concerns. I have found though home stays will often offer the freshest and most local dishes. Sure you can go to a restaurant and eat local food but going to a Central American restaurant in the states is vastly different than eating Central American food with a Central American family. Seriously, it is significantly fresher and well more authentic.

3. There is an additional safety factor. I am not going to lie to you, Antigua is not a city you go out after dusk alone. You do not do it. One night however, I lost track of time and was going to walk almost a mile home in the dark but thanks to my home stay it did not happen. I told my house mom that I would be home by dark and one night I wasn’t because I lost track of time and went to salsa classes. When she called the studio and found out I was there she drove to pick me up so I wouldn’t have to walk home at night. Now I am not saying this is something that will happen with your home stay, but living with a local will often give you added security because they know the reality of their city. They are often very proud of their city, but they get that it may not be safe.

4. You get families from all over the world. I am friends with my house momma on facebook. We are SO lucky to live in the age of facebook. Anyone you meet in the world you can say hey add me on facebook and you are friends and you can keep up with them. With the exception of a few countries just about everyone has access to the internet in some way and you will find they love keeping up with you too. They still invite me to stay with them today.

So those are just a few of the benefits of choosing a home stay when you volunteer or travel. Now let me give you a few tips for staying with a local family.

1. Practice their language. Now this one was hard for me at first. I often found myself gravitating towards the person that spoke the most English and having them translate for me. This was the easy way out, but then I learned that if I wanted to learn Spanish I was going to have to get over my self esteem and make mistakes when speaking the language. I did this with some serious embarrassing results, one time, I was trying to communicate that a dog was 14 years old… well I messed up the Spanish words and said the dog had 14 anuses. Everyone and I do mean everyone laughed so hard at that. I was embarrassed at first but then my house momma corrected the Spanish words and I now know how to say years in Spanish properly. SO dive in speak the local language make mistakes, you will find that even after a week you will easily speak 20-30 more words than you did upon arrival.

2. Bring something from your home area. Often you will find that your family is not as well traveled as you and will be very curious about your life in the United States. It is often easy to forget that while you live in the USA and know what day to day life is like, your host family doesn’t, they only know what they see on the news. I am from Texas and I tend to bring Texas Pralines and every time I do they are a hit. Mostly because the candy is very different and they have not had it before. It doesn’t have to be huge or expensive. I think I spend like $5 and I am a hit. If you don’t bring a gift buying something in a local market is a great idea. I bought blackberries once, because they were considered expensive to my local family so they never bought them, but to me they were a steal.

3. KEEP YOUR SPACE CLEAN. I put this in caps because it is so important. Now I am messy as hell and if my mom reads this she is going to laugh because my space is often a disaster at home. However, while I may be messy she did raise me to have some damn manners and respect others. So all I am going to say is, keep you space clean. Just like you take pride in your home, they take pride in theirs. Keep your space clean.

4. Be honest about your food habits. I have found that home stays are often SHOCKED at how little I eat and often if I don’t eat a lot they feel I don’t like the food and want to change my meals. Which is why I say be 100% honest about the food, if you can’t eat something let them know. Food is expensive in countries and it is more important to not waste it. Also be clear if you don’t eat a lot. I am someone that will eat more frequently throughout the day and it may take a few days but I have found that being clear about what I do like is better up front than wasting food. However, that being said it is important to understand you will likely not eat like you do at home. I have found that me just saying I really don’t eat a lot, so smaller portions with more carb heavy meals… ie rice and fruit works wonders and once that happens food is never wasted and they know I am happy.

5. Get to know your host family and do NOT lose touch. I can’t stress this enough ask questions in their language no matter how broken, find out their favorite color, what is their favorite holiday? Ask questions, communicate. When it is time to leave exchange emails or become facebook friends. I can’t stress this last tip enough. You will enjoy your stay in whatever country so much more if you get to know your family. They will be able to offer insight into the local area and even their favorite restaurants if you just communicate with them. Plus you will have a new family that you can talk about for years to come. Seriously I still talk about my home stays they had that big of an impact on me. Take pictures because if you don’t you might regret it.

Well that is all I have for tips on staying in a home stay. I hope if you are on the fence on whether to stay with a family or not this helps you decide to do it. I will never choose a hotel or any other option if I have the opportunity to stay with a house family.


Travel Thursday

There are a few things I am addicted to

1. Sweetarts


2. Sea Turtles

Photo Credit: National Georgraphic
Photo Credit: National Georgraphic

3. Traveling


So when I was trying to come up with ideas on what I can write about when i am not traveling it dawned on me that I should share my favorite travel related articles with you 🙂

Everyday I am looking for trip ideas, things I want to do, ways to make “extra” money to do what I want…. just anything travel related or to fund my travel obsession.

So today I figured I would share some of my favorite recent articles I stumbled across while surfing the internet for travel related articles

You might be a Travel addict if…

21 Signs You Are a Travel Addict by Katie Sorene

I read this article and found myself nodding away with each reason, I may not have a ton of passport stamps, but I know where she is coming from. I completely related to #s 1,4,6,7,10,11,12… You get my point

Before I turn 40….

40 Before 40

I am a list maker, lately I have had an obsession with 40 things to do before I turn 40 list… I am working on this list and I hope to debut my list soon, but I have been obsessed with what other people have said on theirs… this list was a fascinating one and needless to say forced me to add a few things onto my bucket list 🙂

Where I Should Have Gone…

52 places to Go in 2014

I read this when it came out earlier this year, but I stumbled across it when I was googling eco-travel in Ecuador. Also I am amazed to see Ethiopia on a must do list. Mostly because I remember seeing pictures of starving children when I was a child. While this country has a long way to go, it is nice to see Ethiopia on a list, plus African beaches are just beautiful…

If you want a last minute summer travel deal…

6 Places to Find End of Summer Travel Deals

In my office there are two reasons people come to me, they want advice on Disney or they want to know how to find last minute travel deals, we get a lot of PTO at my job and I am constantly amazed at how many people in my office have 25 or MORE days they have to use up in the last quarter of the year. Seriously my PTO is spoken for before the year even starts…

Slash those costs never pay full price…

Slash those costs

I am a huge budget traveler, I love finding cheaper travel options. I make very few dollars, so I need to stretch those dollars as far as I can. Most of these tips I knew, but I still think it is great to be refreshed… for example when I was looking to book my air to NYC… I checked all three airports. LGA was the cheapest, people often look just at JFK. Which is often the most expensive… just something to think about 🙂 Plus there is a reason why I say my favorite months to travel are Jan-March & Sept-Oct (also sorry I talk in airport code 🙂 )

Fundraising Volunteer Trips Abroad…

10 Ways to Fundraise

I am a huge advocate for volunteering abroad, it is way to get a glimpse into a culture that you don’t always see on the tourist trail. I won’t debate the “paying to volunteer” argument, because truly I see both sides, and I will say make sure you know where EVERY dollar you spend is going before you enter that credit card number… but some trips require $$$ and that may not be money you have. I am really hoping to volunteer with sea turtles soon, so I am always looking for ways to raise money. This article had some fantastic ideas.

This article gave me a great idea about hosting a Sri Lanka Dinner party, to raise money for a trip abroad to Sri Lanka. I just have to talk that over with “M” first. Sri Lanka has been on the very short list for quite some time, along with China and Peru. I also long to volunteer with sea turtles in Sri Lanka.

As this is typically the boring part of my year, this is when I spend more time reading, netflixing and just being plain bored so I can save for the following year’s trips. I am hoping to share more traveling tips with you in the coming weeks.  I will continue to share my favorite travel related articles with you, so if there is something you are interested in feel free to comment or email me!

Until Next Time,


So you want to spend 24 hours at the Magic Kingdom?

Clearly I am a HUGE Disney junkie.  I jump on just about every chance I get when it comes to going to Disney so I feel my knowledge of the parks is helpful, and I know more than the average bear when it comes to making the most out of your trip to Disney.

Which is why I can tell you, spending 24 hours in the Magic Kingdom is no easy adventure.

me, approx 2 hours before my 2am melt down. 🙂

In 2012, when Disney announced their One More Disney Day celebration, I jumped on that train as fast as I could.  I was booked for a trip to Disney that evening and counted down the days until I would spend a full 24 hours in the Magic Kingdom.

Well friends, Disney has announced another celebration the “Rock Your Disney Side Party” which is going to occur on both coasts from 6am May 23rd to 6am May 24th.

As I am someone who often Rocks Her Disney Side, I think this is going to a be a totally stellar celebration.  Even adults are welcomed to come dressed up for the occasion!

Rocking my Disney side :)
Rocking my Disney side 🙂

As I have been through a 24 hour event before I think it is very important I share my knowledge with you, because you DO NOT want to have a total meltdown at 2am like I did. Seriously it wasn’t pretty. I even wrote a note the company apologizing to the cast member.  (I hope he got the apology lol)

Let’s talk costumes:  Disney has laid out very specific rules and guidelines, so don’t be THAT person that shows up breaking the rules then feels like it is Disney’s fault your costume didn’t follow the rules.  I see it EVERY year at the Halloween Party. I am sure some loser will do it again at this event.

Taken from the Disney Website:

Costume Details:
• Costumes should be child-friendly and adhere to any guidelines determined by Disney.
• Costumes should not be obstructive, offensive or violent; drag on the ground; contain sharp objects, pointed objects or materials that may accidentally strike another Guest; contain any weapons or objects which resemble or could easily be mistaken for an actual weapon.
• Masks may be worn, but they must not obstruct vision, and eyes must be visible at all times.
• Guests who dress like Disney characters may not pose for pictures or sign autographs.
• Guests who do not adhere to these guidelines may be refused admission.

How to prepare for this most EPIC event:

Do your self a favor and start exercising now. Disney is a beast during normal business hours, trying to last 24 hours is that much harder.  I would recommend walking as much as you can, and making sure you power walk to build that stamina! Eat healthy too! Why cause it is better for you lol.

Make sure you have a solid pair of shoes.  You will be standing a lot during this event, as finding a seat is not easy especially later in the evening.  You want the best shoes possible for your feet.  I would also make sure you are not breaking in a new pair of shoes during this event.

If you are going to wear a costume make sure you work on that now, you do not want to pull an all nighter before you pull an all nighter with Disney.

Tips for surviving the event:

Make Rope Drop.  End of story.  When I went in 2012, I made rope drop, by 11am, I had tackled every ride in Tomorrowland and Adventure Land.  If riding rides is your intention, then you must under no circumstances miss rope drop. Plus if you plan on leaving and not lasting you will get a lot more done. 

Why make rope drop?  Because by noon the park will be so crowded that if you were hoping to ride Space Mountain, be prepared to wait 2 hours.

Understand if you leave, you MAY NOT be able to get back in, yes even if you get your hand stamped.   Disney uses Phased Closures and this could become a phased 4 closure.  When I went in 2012 it rumored as a phased 4 closure around 6pm.  In fact, I remember thinking man, as every hour passes, we were slowly descending into madness.  I had the whole park to myself at 6am… around 9pm I waited a HOUR to get on the PEOPLEMOVER.  Seriously it was insane.  Fun. But FREAKING INSANE. 

It is my understanding that Disneyland was that much more insane, 90,000 in the park.  Crazy right?

What are the phased closures? Taken from a reliable source. Some things may be untrue, but do you really want to risk it?

Phase 1 Closure

Casual visitors are turned away at the automobile toll plazas. This means that people without tickets, those with one-day, single-park tickets, and those intending to use cast member passes will not be allowed to park.

Other guests may enter:

  • Those with multi-day or multi-park tickets
  • Those staying at a Disney Resort
  • Annual Passholders
  • Those re-entering the park that day.
  • Those “hopping” from another park.
  • Those with in-park reservations or appointments.
  • Those arriving via Disney transportation

Phase 2 Closure

The following guests are allowed through the turnstiles and into the parking lots:

  • Those staying at a Disney Resort
  • Annual Passholders
  • Those re-entering the park that day.
  • Those “hopping” from another park.
  • Those with in-park reservations or appointments.
  • Those arriving via Disney transportation

Phase 3 Closure

The following guests are allowed through the turnstiles and into the parking lots:

  • Those staying at a Disney Resort
  • Annual Passholders
  • Those with in-park reservations or appointments.

Phase 4 Closure

The park and parking lot are closed to all arriving guests.

So if you want to make the whole event? Don’t leave.

At the Crystal Palace :)
At the Crystal Palace 🙂

My next tip?  Make dining reservations.   This might be a little too late on the tip, because I just checked the Disney site and sadly there are NO RESERVATIONS available, but never fear friends people do cancel, and I highly recommend you check every single day, if you want a reservation.  It will be an opportunity to eat while sitting down and get that much needed rest.

Another tip? If you want to meet characters, utilize fast pass.  Schedule those passes now. This has been pitched a very “character” heavy event, and I think you can expect a lot of surprises, especially when it comes to meeting characters.  Kenny The Pirate is an excellent source if characters are your thing.

Ride rides early, watch shows later. Again I had zero wait first thing in the morning but waited a hour for the people mover.  Which I never wait for.  If you must ride space mountain do yourself a favor and ride it early.

Rent a locker.  The very first thing I did when I entered the park on Leap Day was buy a locker, I found this to quite possibly be the smartest thing I did.  I brought a change of clothes and some first aid items.   Again this was the BEST idea ever.

Finally? Have fun.  I had a blast at the event in 2012, I still smile about the time I had.  Yes I had a major melt down around 2 am.  Seriously I made 2 year olds look tame, but all in all it was a fantastic event and one that I hope you get to experience and one that you enjoy!

Any questions? Please feel free to comment below or email me 🙂