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Travel Tip #257: No Commode Is Too Good for YOUR Derrière.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of public restrooms.

Especially in extra touristy areas.

Although, they’re admittedly worse in some of the not-so-touristy areas, like Bagaces, Costa Rica.

One time I got locked inside the restroom at a bar in Bagaces, which was really only a coffin-like broom closet with no toilet paper and a splintery wooden door and happened to be the only fully enclosed room in the entire bar, but damn it if it wasn’t the best and more secure closed room ever, because the proprietor had to kick the door in with her foot to rescue me from my claustrophobic-induced panic as the walls started caving in around me.

But I digress.

There’s really nothing to do about those kinds of restroom situations except to carry a roll of toilet paper on your person and hope that someone — anyone — can hear you scream.

But there is something you can do about nasty restrooms in many heavily populated, touristy, first-worldy locations — the kind where every single commode is stuffed to the brim with toilet paper (if you’re lucky), bowel contents (if you’re not lucky), or covered in urine because someone was too dainty to sit fully on the seat and ironically has become the very culprit of the crime she was so worried about falling prey to, which, we all know, is sitting in someone else’s piss. So because she was so worried about getting some on herself, she dribbled more than a drunken sailor and worse, didn’t bother to clean it up.

Because she’s too good to wipe her own mess.


And obviously that scenario mostly applies to women, but I’m sure men can relate too, when it comes to the concern of cracking their heads on a porcelain urinal after slipping on an unknown wet floor substance likely deposited by an over-hygienically concerned patron who refuses to touch anything after he washes his hands and streams water across the chipped ceramic tiles as he maneuvers the door open with his elbows, therefore making life much more dangerous for everyone else.

Because these things happen.

And if everyone would just keep their pee in the toilets and the water in the sinks and thoroughly wash their hands like good boys and girls, we really wouldn’t have to worry about any of this.

But again, I digress.

Sometimes there’s something you can do to avoid these public human waste dumping monstrosities all-together.

When my friend Stacy and I were wandering around The River Walk in downtown San Antonio, Texas, we found ourselves in need of a facility. We were, however, on a fairly quiet sector of the walk, away from the bustling restaurants and shops and public restrooms. What was nearby were hotels. Seemingly dozens of high-class, glass-doored, glimmering, shiny, luxurious hotels with back door access to The River Walk.

For some, we could just walk right in.

What? We’re not in a public restroom? We totally thought ALL River Walk restrooms had marble tiles and wicker wastebaskets and totally private stalls. Huh.

For others, we coyly conversed just outside the doors until a Chanel-draped guest exited with her toy poodle (I swear that really happened, although maybe it wasn’t Chanel. Or a poodle.) and we slipped inside before the chance was lost forever.

Solid granite counters, anyone, with an intricate mosaic tile surround? Doubt they had THESE in the public restrooms.

Stacy feeling extra privileged as she enters the molded wood stall.

The thing about hotels is that once you’re inside, no one really dares ask whether or not you belong there.

And most have public restrooms in the lobby or better still, for us, in the finished and rarely occupied lower levels.

And we’re not really doing anything wrong — we’re just peeing, for crying out loud.

I’m sure the hotels would rather we go inside than whip out a shenis (don’t watch video at work) and go on the side of the building like common vagabonds.

I introduced my upscale hotel restroom crashing method to my baffled husband last week when someone — let’s just say it wasn’t me — announced that we’d have to leave the lovely Biltmore Village soon because someone — let’s just say it wasn’t me — had to do something that one would rather not do in a crowded restaurant restroom or other public facility.

Grabbing his hand and hauling him across the street, I whispered, “Act cool — we totally belong here,” as we strolled past the valet and crept in the back door of The Grand Bohemian Hotel.

Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville

It turns out we didn’t actually have to sneak since this stunning space is very much open to the public with an art gallery, restaurant, and — you guessed it — public restrooms.

Back entry.

Antlered ceiling, anyone?

I’m pretty sure these are the coolest mirrors ever.

I have more photos of this amazing hotel to share with you later, but, lucky for you, this post is specifically dedicated to bathrooms.


The next time you’re wandering around Tourist Land searching for a restroom, head for the hotels instead. I’m pretty sure this is sound — and totally legal — travel advice.

If it’s not, don’t call me from prison. You don’t know me. We never even had this conversation.

I will not take responsibility for your decision to poop in a hotel where you’re not paying to stay.

(But do write and tell me about it so I can amend this little post. Thank you.)

Travel Tip #232: Dress Maybe Not to Impress, But At Least to Get Free Upgrades.


Until a few years ago, I had pretty much been one of those I’m-going-to-dress-as-comfortably-as-possible-because-I’m-never-going-to-see-any-of-these-strangers-ever-again kinds of people when I was traveling.

It was just… easier.

I’m pretty sure it’s my mother’s fault (love blaming the parents) because I can trace it back to my family’s trip to Disney World when I was 8 years old. My little sister and I had never been on a plane, and for my mother, it was a rare treat. She was so excited that she ran out and bought all 4 of us those zippered nylon track suits in posh color schemes of the late ’80’s — my dad in blue, mom and sister in matching pink, and me, ever the coolest tween (so not), had the best one in all black with splashes of the hottest fuchsia.

At least, that’s the way I remember it.

(Not us. But it could’ve been. source)

We represented the epitome of stereotypical American tourists as we swish-swished down the airport corridors.

I’m pretty sure we wore visors.

And while at the time we honestly thought we were trendy as hell, the truth is that we were dressing purely for comfort. “And the jackets unzip!” my mom explained that morning as she tucked my long-sleeved turtleneck into the pinched elastic waistband of my swishy pants. “So you can easily take it off if you get too warm on the plane.”

Had I been at all in tune with my surroundings that day, the only warmth I would’ve experienced was that of embarrassment as we swish-swished past the besuitted occupants of business class and tucked ourselves safely into coach. Instead, I occupied myself by creating masterpiece drawings in my sketchpad of the wonders I saw outside the airplane window: a network of rectangles depicting farmlands on one page; some puffy clouds — aka. “The Kingdom of the Care Bears” on another page; and a genius blank page in between representing the time we actually flew through the clouds.

Hey. This was pre-camera and my first taste of travel enthusiasm. I worked with what I had.

The thing is, I’ve never been a proponent of doing something solely for the benefit of others.

I mean, hey. If you like that 6-gauge septum ring, then you wear it with all of the pride of the bull that you apparently think you are.

But when traveling? I’ve just learned over the past few years that dressing up, even just a tad, has several more significantly positive aspects than that of well-dressed strangers not wondering if you smell as wrinkly as you look.

For example. I was headed to the middle-of-nowhere North Carolina last Wednesday morning to drop my dogs off at their kennel before driving over an hour in the opposite direction to get to the airport in time to catch my flight to Florida. I’d taken Justin’s car since my beloved Chevy Tracker’s back right tire seemed a little flat and I didn’t think I had time to fill it before I left. So of course, as seems to be the general law when you make a decision that’s supposed to make your life easier, one of Justin’s tires blew when I was 45 minutes away from my house. And when I say “blew,” I mean exploded.

So there I was, on the side of the road with 2 mutts strapped into my back seat, cursing myself for never bothering to learn how to change a tire. It didn’t take long though, as I stood there making phone calls, for a friendly military officer to stop and change it for me.


I’d like to think he would’ve stopped regardless of what I was wearing, but let’s face it — my airport-ready sweater dress, tall boots, and leather jacket probably didn’t hurt.

And I don’t think it’s just because I’m a woman. I think a well-dressed man looking helpless on the side of the road is more likely to find assistance than someone looking bedraggled. It’s just human nature. Accurate or not, general scruffiness, ball caps, and saggy jeans conjure images of serial killers.

And people don’t tend to stop for serial killers.

Also, I think better dressed people are more likely to get assistance from airport employees. Think about it: They have one of the most under-appreciated jobs in the universe. They show up to work wearing pressed suits, uncomfortable shoes, immaculate hair, and they have to take orders from tourists all day. Have you ever had to work for someone who knew less about the job than you? Now imagine that person showed up to work every day wearing sweat pants and a fanny pack. Would you resent him more, or less?

Point made.

Finally — and this is really the kicker — it turns out that “uncomfortable” dress clothes can actually be more comfortable than “comfy” clothes.

Think about it: Well-worn jeans can be the best if you’re working around your house or your yard or off running errands. They’re industrial, don’t wrinkle, and can wear coffee spills like they’re in style. But for travel? No way. After a couple of hours on that plane, you notice them squeezing in places they never used to squeeze — pinching in places they never used to pinch. You find yourself tucking belly folds of skin back under the waistband and urging them to stay there. And they ride up. They ride up like they’re in some epic race to see which leg can crawl up your butt the fastest, except for when you squeeze yourself into that miniscule airplane restroom. Then? Then you couldn’t pull them up if your life depended on it.

Jeans are no good for travel.

Think dresses. Long or short, depending on the season, in soft wools, light cottons, and other breathable fabrics. If you’re a man, think slacks. Again, soft. Breathable. What’s not comfortable about that?

Think layers. The more you wear, the less you pack. Airplanes can get chilly, so bring that cardigan or jacket on board.

Think comfortable shoes, but not tennis shoes. Unless you wear tennis shoes on a regular basis, don’t even pack ’em. Get yourself a nice pair of flats or boots with chunky heels — something you can wear rushing through terminals if need-be, but will also look nice with that sun dress or those khakis you packed and plan to wear later.

The greatest thing about looking good is feeling good. When I got off the plane in Florida, I was ready to grab some dinner with my sister without stopping to freshen up.

My sister. (Okay. Admittedly, at the Taco Beach Shack in Hollywood, Florida, dressing “up” means putting on a shirt. But whatever.)

And while my pasty northern skin will always give away the fact that I’m no beach local, the dress made me feel good.

Katie Domestiphobia

It also allowed me the room to eat this:


Never could’ve happened if I’d been wearing jeans.


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.