Tag Archives: Travel Tips

Postcard from Paris

Amie-Lu au Tour Eiffel

My deer friend, Amie-Lu*, has been having a great time exploring the town. Amie-Lu has plenty of energy…she rides comfortably in the pocket of my travel vest.

I, on the other hand, find myself hitting a point where I just need to rest. One art of traveling is knowing when to get off the boat and just enjoy the view for a while…before you are exhausted. It’s fine to have a list of potential ideas, just don’t mistake it for a to-do list.

*Amie-Lu is a Chinese talisman for safe travel; James says they typically hang on rear view mirrors in cars. She was given to my husband and I by one of my son’s co-workers, a Chinese woman named Amy. Her name is from Amie-French for friend and Lu-Chinese for deer. We don’t take selfies when we travel, we take Amie-Lu-ies.

Zip lock bags

In scouts my son’s nickname was “Jimmy Ziplock” because of his packing technique. I find zip lock type bags to be a life saver. Even though I like things organized I am not particularly gifted at achieving it, and even worse at keeping things organized. I use packing cubes some, but I really like to use ordinary zip lock type bags for many items since they can keep things clean and dry, and you can see through them.

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Xenophobe…or xenophile?

These are two sides of one coin: the idea that the stranger is different and needs to be judged.

It is not a new idea: Many myths and ancient stories are based on the stranger. Throughout history societies have struggled with the question “what do we do about this person who is not one of us?” Current events clearly show that we still haven’t figured out a solution.

When we travel, we are ambassadors, not just for our little corner of the world. We are ambassadors for the stranger, for travelers everywhere. That extends to when we return home.

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Walking sticks

One thing I always bring along when I travel is a walking stick (mine is also a monopod for my camera.

I used to be too proud to use a walking stick, but that was a very long time ago. I had a bout of plantar fascistic almost 20 years ago. I got that fixed up but while my feet were hurting I started bringing along a walking stick.

It is very useful for things like crossing streams, climbing up and down slopes, area with uneven ground and the sometimes infinite, usually uneven and sometimes very tall stairs at temples and other monuments.

It is also useful for photography. I learned that using a monopod and setting ISO to 400 on my little Canon A510 camera allowed me to take nice night photos in many circumstances by experimentation at the Mantoro (Lantern Festival) we happened onto visiting Nara, Japan one August. Since then I’ve never traveled without a walking stick, even if I don’t always use it I always want it available.

Dai Miao Temple gate at night with tree and crescent moon.
Tai’an’s Dai Miao Temple’s north gate at night


These days I nearly always keep a small umbrella with me. This wasn’t always so.

I live in Seattle, sometimes called “rain city”. But we don’t tend to use umbrellas much. I’m not sure why that is, maybe it’s just cultural or maybe it is the nature of our rain: it isn’t usually exceptionally heavy and often is just very wet air that seems to come at you from all directions…or if it is heavy it is often combined with wind that makes an umbrella more of a nuisance than a help.

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Maybe I’m a nerd…okay, no maybe about it, but I like to learn about stuff, and find it interesting to plan my travel to include some understanding of the geography, natural science, history and culture of the places I visit.

I am a big fan of being where you are and going with that, but with so many things to see and do one can’t do it all. One way to winnow down the choices is to focus on a theme for selecting them.

While I don’t do it all, or even most, of the time. A theme gives a trip focus. I have never gone whole hog and only done theme related activities, if there was something in the area I wanted to see I always added it in. None-the-less a theme (beyond eating Ice Cream) can enrich a holiday.

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Spiral Exploration

The main way that I get to know a new place is to walk. I walk in a spiral pattern, which helps me to not lose track of where I am staying and get a feel for what the surrounding area is like.

As I walk in the spiral pattern I make a point of photographing the names of streets. This is exceptionally useful if you might need to give a taxi directions. You can show the driver the photos of the street signs, which can be helpful. In the are near my son’s last school there was wei xian lu (pronounced way-shian-lu) and huixian lu (pronounced h-way-shian-lu).

It is surprising how well you can get a handle on what an area has to offer with two spiral walks: one starting out to the left and the other to the right. You learn where you can buy basics like water and fruits and what restaurants are available.

Do you have a method for getting to know a new area?

Realistic Planning

You can’t see and do everything in a short period of time. My preference is for quality over quantity. Which is fortunate since I am not a high energy particle.

I touched a little on this idea when I talked about planning around having jet lag.

A few things that I have learnt to plan for:

  • Travel time from place to place.
  • To add time beyond the minimum recommended to see things, because I process more slowly and like to take photographs.
  • Realistic levels of physical activity. I can hike 13 miles on fairly even ground (I did it last June on our Hadrian’s wall walk), but on steep or choppy terrain that goes down to 9 or 10. High altitude affects that as well. Lately I have taken a couple of falls, and had some bad back days, and that has made me aware that I am smart to go places where there is an alternative activity if I am not up to hiking.
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