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Travel Tip #472: How To Look Like You Know What You’re Doing. Kind Of.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again.

Traveling alone, while completely thrilling in a scary-adrenaline-pumping-whoa-I-just-had-sex-without-a-condom kind of way, is best when punctuated with familiar faces.  Even better when those faces happen to be local.

See, when you have access to a local, and I mean more than a quick information exchange on an airplane or subway though that’s certainly helpful too, you have access to the heart of a place.  The keys to the Camaro.  The ear to its secrets.

And in San Diego, not only did I meet up with long-lost non-local friends, but I met a friend I’d never actually met — an online friend and someone whose words I’ve been reading for over two years, so really it seemed like we’d never not met because honesty, if you haven’t figured it out by now, is kind of hard for a blogger to avoid.

So it’s like we’re in each others’ heads.

Dennis Hong is the founder of Musings on Life and Love, as well as a new relationship advice site called Lemon Vibe, and a regular contributor to and Dear Wendy and probably another one or two or seven that I’m forgetting.  He’s a molecular biologist-turned-high-school-teacher or something along those lines, the American kind of Asian, argumentative, wicked smart, swing dancer, lover of scotch and unwitting connoisseur of saki, has a lovely girlfriend named Melissa, and is an exceedingly talented and prolific writer.

Dennis Hong

See?  Must mean I know him like the back of my hand.

Which doesn’t really mean much, when I think about it, because I doubt I could pick my hand out in a lineup.


Like I said.  While exploring an unknown place on your own can be an incredible, mind opening experience, consulting with a local is, more often than not, the most efficient way to dig around its guts.

He showed me one of the best places for food.

Pulled Pork Sandwich at Searsucker's

(More on this place HERE.)

He told me one of the best places for drinks.

Wimbledon Fizz from Craft and Commerce

(More on this place HERE.)

He showed me his mad swing dancing skills at a place whose surface screamed I’m just a pub! by day but hiked up its poodle skirt by night.

Swing Dancing at Henry's Pub

Henry’s Pub

He showed me saki.  And made me drink it.

Saki San Diego

Uhh… Don’t remember the name of this restaurant.

And he left me with advice of other places to check out, like Kansas City Barbecue, the locale where Goose sings Great Balls of Fire to his kids and the lovely Meg Ryan in Top Gun:

Kansas City Barbecue

And the Top of the Hyatt, which is a FREE — yes I said FREE — elevator excursion to arguably the best view in San Diego.

Hyatt San Diego

It took me no less than 3 elevator rides from the Hyatt’s impressive lobby to get into the correct one — the one that would take me to the top.

Hyatt Elevator

This is me.  Bored in an elevator.  You can’t tell, but I was really excited to get in the right one.

Hyatt San Diego Elevator

Are we there, yet?

Top of the Hyatt

Oh, yes.  We are most certainly there.

Top of the Hyatt
Top of the Hyatt
Top of the Hyatt
Top of the Hyatt

There’s also a bar up there called — get this — Top of the Hyatt.  I didn’t get a drink or even go inside because the place is über fancy which made my jean shorts feel a little Daisy Duke but not as sexy so I skipped it, but here’s my take:  If you’re in San Diego, go to the top of the Hyatt (the floor).  If you’re in San Diego and have money to spend on drinks and are wearing something nicer than Jean Shorts and don’t smell like Saki, go to the Top of the Hyatt (the bar).  Even if they’re extra pricey (they probably are) and not that great (they’re probably not), the euphoric view more than makes up for it.

Since I have an intense aversion to travel research, I never would have known this existed if it weren’t for Dennis.  It was kind of awesome, completely free, and kind of awesome.


Find yourself a local.

And if your local happens to be a swing dancin’ Asian, consider yourself extra lucky.

Lesson… Not Learned, Apparently.

When I travel, I continuously make one of the biggest, most common, most ludicrous mistakes over and over and over again.

Almost every time.

You’d think that I’d learn.  You’d think I’d realize the pattern.  But no.  I do it every time, never expecting.  Never thinking it will happen to me.  Doing the same thing, expecting different results.


Kids, this is my #1 travel tip of all time.

Scratch that.

It’s my #1 tip of all time, and it applies whether you’re traveling or not.

Wear sunscreen.

Yes, I just ripped off Mary Schmich.

But I still feel it’s important.

My arms, they’re en fuego.

And my ego?


That burns a little, too.

Here, It’s Impossible to Get SAD.

I have this feeling.

LION Coffee

I’m sitting here, on a city street corner in a room surrounded by glass, and a salty breath of ocean breeze has found its way inside.  It kissed my cheek and made me smile and reminded me of where I am.

I have a giant cup filled with the best chai latte I’ve ever had, which doesn’t hurt.

My mood is impeccable and I feel, maybe for the first time since Justin left, like I can breathe again.

I’m in a coffee shop, of course, and I realize now more than ever that this atmosphere is not conducive to writing.  Especially this particular coffee shop, with its eclectic music, colorful street traffic, and sailor-mouthed old man sitting across the room.

The staff here at LION Coffee are friendly, the windows are open, and I know I’d come here again and again if I lived in this town.  They’d know my name, and they’d know my drink, and I think I could probably be happy.

Until I’d want to move again.

Next time, I wouldn’t order the breakfast burrito.

LION Coffee breakfast burrito

With its cheese, potatoes, and bacon, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t awesome.  The spicy salsa made the difference.

I would, however, order the acai bowl with yogurt, fruit, and granola.  It looks incredible.

And the coffee?  I could drink this all day.  I could drink this all day and develop chronic shakes and totally not care because it’s just. That. Good.

And San Diego?

(That’s where I am, by the way.)

I could learn to love San Diego.  I’ve been here before, and I’m happy to see that it sill makes me smile.  With its people and its restaurants and its ocean and its perfect, perfect weather, it’s hard to be unhappy.

In fact, I don’t think I could ever get SAD.

And that, I think, is exactly what I need.

San Diego
Henry's Pub San Diego
Weather San Diego

I have this feeling.

And I kind of want to keep it.

So You Think You Can’t Travel? (Part 1: The Why)

I’ll admit it.  This is something I should’ve written a long, long time ago.  Two years ago, mayhaps, around the time I quit my well paid office gig for a 2 month bout of Costa Rican hot sauce cookery during my first ever existential crisis.

I’d like to think it was my last, but let’s be realistic.  I’m a writer.

If you’re new here and have no idea what I’m talking about, you might want to check out this.  Or this.  Or just go to my travel section under “Costa Rica” and read everything there.

The short of it is that I realized that I was doing nothing. My life was slipping away, day by day, and I’d somehow hopped on this windowless, nonstop express train, streaming movies and midnight visits to the dining car the only distractions from the mundane ride, and lethargic retirement its final destination.

Melodramatic, maybe, but it’s how I felt.

I’ve written before on the top 5 regrets of the dying, and while they’re each insightful in their own right, the one that speaks loudest to me — the one that makes me think, YES! Where, along the shaky path between youth and adulthood, do we lose this? — is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself — not the life others expected of me.”

Yet, there I was.  Sitting in a gray office cubicle, wondering how I’d gotten there.  Had I been asleep?  What next?  Kids?  As a military spouse, I could hardly count on climbing the corporate ladder, so kids were the next logical step.

And that’s when I knew.

I had to get off this train.

I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one who’s felt that way.  Who’s felt that I somehow missed the announcement when the conductor said, “If you want to be an adult, make your own choices, and live your own life, get off my train.  If you want to do what’s expected, what your parents want you to do, what society expects you to do, and live your life in a sea of ‘shoulds,’ then by all means, stay on board.”  It never even occurred to me that there might be an exit.  As a kid, people were always telling me to just be myself.  They said I can do whatever I want to do — be whatever I want to be.  Days were spent honing creativity and imagination.  It was okay to laugh and be loud and just live in the moment.

But then?


Then we’re supposed to grow up.  And apparently growing up means forgetting everything they told us about being ourselves and instead we need to be what they want us to be:  Demure.  Put together.  Successful.

Don't Grow Up

Apparently fun and finger painting had gone the way of Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny and consequenceless cupcake binges.

Growing up, it seems, means accumulating student loan and automobile debt if you’re smart, and loads of credit card debt if you’re not.  It means bills and payments on some things you need and many you don’t.  For the majority of us, it means going to work for someone we hardly respect, sleepwalking through our days just so they’ll end, and being too exhausted at night from under stimulation to manage much more than a Lean Cuisine and a few hours in front of the tube.

Then we do it again.

Tomorrow, we think.  Tomorrow will be different.  We’ll go for that run.  We’ll cook that amazing meal.  We’ll start that diet.  We’ll plan that vacation.

But we don’t.

Because it’s easier, sometimes, to sleepwalk through life than to sit back and examine our own state of being.  We reach certain preconceived milestones and assume we’re supposed to be content.

The problem?

We’re not.

Because milestones are fake.

They exist so we can see if we “measure up” with our fellow humans — do we make enough money?  Do we drive a nice car?  Are we married?  Are our kids great at sports?

It takes the acknowledgement of dying regrets to realize that none of that matters.  At least, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it so others won’t criticize the life you’ve chosen.

That logic is useless because

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
here is the root of the root
and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
(E.E. Cummings)

They’ll criticize it anyway.

They will.  Your neighbors will talk about the grass you forgot to water or your sofa with the tear or the way your dogs bark at every passerby.

The truth is, you will never be good enough for the standards of another.  So until you start caring only about the standards you set for yourself, your need for approval will never be sated.


What does this have to do with travel?

Too many of us want to embark on an adventure, but we don’t.  We create excuses.  We fear the unknown.

For me, at least, my decision to quit my “normal” job came with a price.  While I was fortunate enough to have a supportive husband, some select supportive friends, and the savings to make quitting fiscally possible, it became very clear that my decision was somehow threatening to others.  Many of the uninvited warnings were incredulous, unsupportive, and often cruel.

I cried.

A lot.

How could they say these things about me?  I’m lazy.  I’m a quitter.  I’m going to get my husband in trouble with the military and drag us into the poor house.  Oh, and I’m probably going to get raped and robbed while I travel, so I better just be prepared.

Best of luck.

But you know?

This process helped.  It helped Justin and I weed out the people who matter and the people who don’t.  The people who encourage and lift us up, and the people whose happiness, it seems, is dependent on our failures.

Why don’t more people — people who have the desire — travel long-term or more often?


It’s hard.

It forces us to admit that we’re caught in a trap of our own design.

We sometimes have to spend time away from people we love.

We might have to sacrifice some modern comforts in order to afford it.

People will criticize.

It’s hard.

But think.  Why do some people gather the courage to jump off the train?

Because, my friends… they can never really understand the why until they’ve experienced it themselves.

Eggs ‘n ‘Maters. Who Knew?

I bet you thought that I don’t cook anymore, just because Justin’s beachin’ it in Afghanistan.

What?  There aren’t any beaches in Afghanistan?

Then what the f*ck is he doing there?


Anyway, if you thought I don’t cook anymore just because my man’s not around to eat it, you’d mostly be right.


See, back when he was gone for only weeks at a time versus months at a time, it was easy for me to wax on about Dinners for One and why it’s important to prepare decent meals for yourself like rustic pasta carbonara or  even just a simple microwaved artichoke antipasti platter.  (It sounds fancy because I used the word “antipasti,” but really it’s just a microwaved artichoke served with cheese and crackers and maybe olives, if you’re feeling extra indulgent.)

And I still believe this to be true.

Even so, I just don’t cook as often.  See, I still like to eat well.  But as many of you singletons have been telling me over the years, I’m learning that it’s hard to stay motivated when you come home to an empty house.  It’s hard to want to cook, when you’re the only one there to enjoy it.

But then, when I stop to think about it, I realize — one of my favorite foods is a hot dog.  A thick, juicy, grill-marked, real meat dog on a crisp toasted bun.

Wellington Dog

Or one of these Wellington Dogs wrapped in puff pastry from our trip to Biker Jim’s in Denver.

Read the rest of this gem…

When You Think About It, It’s Really Just My Age. Times Two.

Birthdays are strange in the sense that as we get older, is seems like we have so many so often that they start to lose their luster.

No longer do they represent a special day where people lavish us with gifts for something over which we never had any control — being born.  Instead, they represent aging.  Deterioration.  They turn from something to celebrate into something to dread.

It’s the birthday curdle.

And it’s a terrible thing.

Or at least, it is if you let it.

Read the rest of this gem…

So We’ll See If Husbands Can Be Replaced by Ladders and Sheer Will.

1.  Do not worry.  I haven’t decided to quit my day job to write erotic literature, nor will I start charging blog readers by the minute.  (Unless, of course, you’re in.  In which case, I’m in.  Just… you know… let me know.)

2.  My friend Stefanie had her baby.  Five pounds, 12 ounces, and I hear she is beautiful and will be able to go home soon, where I will visit and tell her harrowing tales about how her mother, while 7 1/2 months pregnant, moved across the country and survived apartment fires and dealt with dying vehicles and leaked amniotic fluid on my office chair all in an effort to find her a safe place to live.  Stefanie’s husband, by the way, made it home safe from Afghanistan in time to greet his daughter.

Read the rest of this gem…

Confessions of a Domestiphobic. (Taxicab Not Included.)

I used to flip through my mom’s novels — you know, the ones she kept on dusty basement shelves — and look for the dirty bits.

I’m not going to lie.

It started when I was bored.  I’d already gone through my stack of library books and Mom said, “Go find something in the basement.  I have tons of books down there,” and then suddenly my mind was opened to the likes of John Grisham and Sidney Sheldon and their twisted, dramatic worlds of crime and greed and super soft-core suggested sex.


People can write about sex?

This was news to me.

See, I’d picked up a paperback by Karen Robards called Heart Breaker, which was probably spankin’ new at the time but now has those tea-stained yellow pages with curled corners — the charming kind that smell like dusty antique stores when you flip them past your nose* — and it promised to have action and romance and, if I was lucky, a little kissing, so I snatched it up and let me just say Boy, was I surprised when I got to page 251.

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It Turns Out Mucus Plugs Are More Important than Surge Protectors When It Comes to Safeguarding Your Office Equipment.

Call me crazy, but I have the sneaking suspicion that someone leaked amniotic fluids on my office chair.

Why do I think someone leaked amniotic fluids on my office chair?

It could be because I’m a woman with a surprisingly astute feminine intuition about maternity related body juices.

But probably not.  You all know how I feel about babies.

Or it could be because, through years of diligently studying the field detective tactics of one Horatio Cain and his partner, Eric Who-Cares-What-My-Last-Name-Is-Have-You-Seen-My-Ass-In-Magic-Mike? on CSI Miami, I’ve honed my forensic skills to a startling level of hyper sensitivity.

H and Eric

But probably not.  Most of the time, I have the awareness level of a sloth toked out of its mind while drooling over Johnny in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

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