Hanoi

I grew up with the Vietnam War on TV every night. It was a frequent topic of conversation. Eventually it became a trendy thing to say, “I’d like to vacation in Vietnam. I really would!” It was meant to shock and it did. Decades later, many Americans do vacation in Vietnam, as I did. Hanoi was chaotic and noisy, with a vibrancy I liked.

Motorcycles are the predominate way to get around Hanoi.

But you can still catch a glimpse of the old ways.

One afternoon a group of us rowed to the Perfume Pagoda festival. We were told a few people would be there celebrating.

Less crowded was the houseboat tour of Halong Bay. Beautiful boat, lovely people, and beautiful scenery.

And in case you forgot something, you can stop at the floating mini-market.

As much as I like Hanoi, it was also nice to get out of the city and see more of Vietnam.

 

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Packing for Your Exciting New Journey

Packing.

Yes. How do you get everything you need into your suitcase? First of all, do you need everything? You won’t need a coat if you’re going to the beach, obviously. But do you really need 6 pairs of shoes for a weekend trip? To paraphrase what they say at the buffet: Take all you need, but use all you take.

Suitcases come in all sizes, weights and wheels. Most of them are expandable, too. So you can stuff right up to the weight limit.

There are many, many web sites that address packing issues, and I don’t want to re-invent the wheel. See  this site. It pretty much sums it up for me. Rolling, bundling and packing cubes.

I would like to talk about packing cubes. I have had compression packs in the past. They’re ok, but with expandable suitcases I don’t feel they’re valuable. Also they don’t remove any weight, which is my main concern.

I recently bought Eagle Creek packing cubes. I bought the set made from lightweight fabric, so I add as little weight as possible. Wow, do I love these things! Now I know right where my socks and underwear are. I don’t have to take everything out of my suitcase to find something. And, as an added bonus, Eagle Creek put large letters on the outside of the cube so you won’t mistake the extra- small size for the medium size. Hm.

My advice: use packing cubes. Don’t be surprised by your suitcase!

 

 

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Should I Travel with Friends? Or Solo?

 

 

                                                 Himalaya Range, Leh, India

I work abroad where the cost of living is low. My company pays for my housing. I pay for utilities, phone and food. If I were in the US, my pay would be considered low, but because of the low cost of living, I can live fairly opulently. I go out at least once a week for dinner and drinks. I go to the theatre or to a movie, I attend special events and travel. In the last two years I have traveled to 6 countries, not counting the US.

Two things help me to travel. 1) Airline flights are much less expensive. I don’t have as far to travel, so it’s much easier to find cheap flights.  2) I have friends and family I can stay with, which means I don’t pay for a hotel.

We stayed in InterHouse hostel ($15/night) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It was clean and bright. The staff was friendly and helpful. In Almaty, Kazakhstan, we stayed in a really awful “hotel” that was more like a hostel. Due to an unscrupulous landlord, we had no choice. Lake Balkash, Kazakhstan had a nice hotel that charged us almost by the hour. Leh, India has many guesthouse to choose from in all price ranges. I chose a guesthouse that included 3 meals a day.

I traveled to Vienna, Istanbul, Bergen, Norway and Amsterdam and stayed with friends and family.

Should you travel alone or with friends? There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Let’s say you would like to go to France and tour castles. No one you know is either interested in this trip or can afford it. Should you just stay home? I say NO! Find a tour group if you don’t want to travel by yourself. But if you want to go, go!

One of the advantages of traveling alone is that you are the master of your time. You don’t have to wait for your pal to wake up, you don’t have to spend 2 hours in the gift shops if you don’t want to, you can spend as little or as much time as you like where you like. One disadvantage is there is no one to share a memory with. “Remember when we…?” Also, sometimes traveling with a friend can be a stressful, contentious experience. Not all friends travel well.

Traveling with a friend or group of friends is can be more enjoyable. Your friends may notice something interesting that you didn’t. Eating alone doesn’t compare with sharing a meal. Perhaps your friend is more outgoing than you and can make friends with the locals, something you would never do, but this makes for a memorable experience.

What about safety? Surely there is safety in numbers. No necessarily. Pickpockets like crowds. Accidents happen whether you are with people or not. Be aware of your surroundings when you travel, whether traveling alone or with friends.

It comes down to you. Would you prefer a shared experience or solo travel?

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