Where to Next? I made a podcast!

https://www.buzzsprout.com/590431.js?player=large

Why Travel Strengthens a Couple’s Relationship

I still have to continue sharing to you my Thailand trip! Bear with me, it’s been a busy month! In the meantime, here’s an article I wrote for Tripzilla which was first published on their site on June 22, 2017.

 

In recent years, budget airlines have made it easier for millennials to travel out of our own pockets. Along with this comes the option of inviting our significant others along for the ride. It’s fantastic that we’re able to do this because travel helps the relationship grow in many ways.

You learn to cooperate with each other

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Even before flying out, you’re already working on the flights, schedules, hotels rooms, and itinerary together. You ask each other which flight or tourist spot works best for whom, what room price the other is willing to pay for, or what schedule is okay with the other? You learn to consider your SO’s needs and capabilities. You build that aspect of give and take that’s important in any relationship, which brings me to the next point.

You become a team

One of you has to figure out the city map, while the other has to learn the bus routes, right? You can’t just let one person do everything while you travel because that creates a massive headache. Eventually, you get in sync with one another and establish who’s in charge of what.

You see each other’s strengths and weakness

It’s easy to see your partner’s strengths and weaknesses in any normal day. But boy, trust me when I say that travelling can bring out a different side of your partner that you may not have seen before. Travelling, especially DIY travels, can be stressful. You may learn that your Other Half can’t keep up with the situations at hand, or find that they’re actually pretty good at keeping calm during hectic times.

When you see the strengths, you learn to appreciate

You will probably see that your girlfriend is such a boss, once she talks to the airline manager after an eight-hour delay. You might witness how firm and assertive your boyfriend really is, after the taxi driver dupes you into paying more in fare. Maybe you’ll fall in love again, five times over. If not, at least you’ll have a deeper admiration for the person that you previously didn’t see.

And when you see the weaknesses, you learn to be patient

Turn the above-mentioned situations around, and you might see a flaw in your partner during these times. You find out that they’re not as confident, or as clever as you are when the situation calls for it. Unfortunate events – which happen frequently while travelling – need quick thinking and smart actions, which your Other Half might not be capable of doing. But instead of criticising their weaknesses, you learn to be patient with them.

You learn something new about the other person

Even your partner might discover something about themselves that they previously didn’t. You could learn that they’re actually passionate about food or history, or you realise that you have different priorities when travelling. One of you would want to check out the food scene, while the other prefers to check off all the touristy sites and museums.

You learn to love what they love

And then you develop an interest in the things that they like. Soon you’ll enjoy going to every Michelin-starred restaurant in the country, or any well-known restaurant for that matter. You’ll want to check out the specialty coffee places instead of the museums. You’ll enjoy budgeting while abroad because, apparently, that’s what your boyfriend or girlfriend is best at, and you acquire that habit.

It creates opportunities for you to communicate

Image credit: x1klima

I mean, it’s just you two for the entire trip. You have all the time to talk at breakfast, lunch or dinner, during bus rides, even while walking. This likely doesn’t happen, all the time, back home because you both have separate lives, right? Not only that, when a problem arises during your trip, it’s the two of you trying to solve it, which requires a great deal of communication.

So what are you waiting for? If you want to strengthen your relationship, you better start planning that couple trip soon!

What They Don’t Tell You About Solo Travel

I got published! Here’s another in-betweener before my third post on Thailand. 

First published on Tripzilla, on June 15, 2017.

 

We hear a hundred great things about solo travel. How it changes our perspective about life, that it helps us find ourselves, the stories of newly made friendships along the way – all of the things that make your eyes glisten with aspiration. These are, of course, true and essential especially for self-growth and development. However, sometimes we need to look at the reality that comes with solo travel. Here are a few things that you should ponder on to prepare yourself for that big trip:

It gets lonely

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There will be plenty of opportunities for you to talk to other travellers. Sometimes you will meet them at the airport even before you fly to your destination, and hit it off from there. You’ll immediately make plans to travel together, but at other times you’ll go your separate ways.

Loneliness hits particularly those people who choose not to associate with other travellers. This could be for a whole lot of different reasons. Eventually, they realise that those exotic meals, that two-hour bus ride, or those magnificent new views are just better shared with someone else.

The expenses can be a burden

Yes, even on a budget. A three to four-day trip is fine, but going for more than a week could break the bank. This is true most especially when transferring from city to city. Inexpensive lodging won’t always be available. If the moment comes when you have to book a hotel room, you won’t have anyone to share that expense with.

Planning it alone is a hassle

It’s exciting to think about not having to depend on other people. You can see the sites at your own pace! You can choose which places to prioritise, and which ones to pass when you end up getting tired halfway through the day. But prior to that, there’s still some planning involved. There’s the task of searching the how (to get there), the what (to ride), and the which (hostel is the best). You do not want to find yourself going in circles, just because you failed to map your day out. That entire load is on you and you have no one to divide the tasks with.

It can be embarrassing

For some people, it’s a challenge to eat in restaurants alone. It’s even more of a challenge when you want to document all of your meals. Yet, you don’t want to look like another millennial who just can’t stop sharing on social media.

The same goes for taking pictures of yourself, in front of a good spot. I’m not talking about the usual selfie. I’m talking about the whole shebang. As in, setting up a tripod and taking countless of photos, because the darn camera just won’t focus on you. Trust me; I’ve acquired quite a few laughs from doing this.

Safety and security become twice an effort

Being mindful of your belongings shouldn’t even be a question. For the duration of your travel, consider everything that’s inside your bags as your entire life. This becomes a struggle at times. Wanting to go to the toilet, but having no space in the cubicle for your large sized luggage, creates a dilemma. Getting distracted during a train ride while your bags just sit there, ready for the taking, could also create a setback. Basically, you’ll have no one to help you be mindful of your belongings.

There’s also the issue of looking out for yourself, especially for women. Doing so in your home city is one thing. It’s another thing when you’re in a city not knowing the language. You could potentially get lost and you know no one who can help you in times of trouble. If you’re really one of the more cautious, you’ll have to prepare emergency numbers, hospital addresses (possibly written in the local language), list down all the nearest police station, or keep your roaming data on the entire time – a few things I have actually done, myself. No shame.

That being said, the cons of solo travel should never hinder you from going out there. The pros of solo travel will always overweigh the cons. And if the latter does find itself to you, it can be something you can learn from to prepare yourself for your many future solo travels.

Good wagyu and a new experience in Shinjuku, Tokyo? 

Address: Japan, 〒160-0021 Tokyo, 新宿区Kabukicho, 1 Chome−26−3
Price range: 90-400 JPY
Rate on Yelp: 5 stars
Standing

Walking around Shinjuku with five hungry people who are depending on your choice of restaurant, but having no idea where to eat, is a situation you do not want to be in.

I created an opportunity for my family to grind my gears that one afternoon. After a long day of walking and going from one district to another, I found myself getting badgered with questions like “where are we eating?” “which restaurant?” “didn’t you search for it beforehand?” I should have, but I didn’t know which district we’d find ourselves last or if my family would be interested in wagyu. So there was really no point to look for a restaurant if I didn’t know where we’d end up in.

Finally, I gave in. I turned on my mobile data despite knowing that I would be paying 599 PHP once I came back home (I already saw my bill – it’s insane). I opened Yelp, the famous business locator app that I previously gave no mind until I met my now boyfriend. He uses it like a bible to find the best and cheapest restaurants in town.

I eventually found Jirōmaru, a Yakiniku place that only had 2 Japanese Yen signs next to its name. It was the cheapest around. Good reviews, only 0.6 kilometers from where we were standing. “Let’s check it out!”

I almost walked past it while I was looking at google maps. I thought that the front of the restaurant would be wide and conspicuously placed in between other establishments. Nope. The front was just about two and a half meters wide with two doors on each side of the facade. One door was for the customers to get into, while the other was for the chefs. As I peeked into the door I found myself looking at a line. This is a standing restaurant! One of the chefs firmly pointed that out when he saw us waiting and looking clueless about these kinds of places. My mom was not happy with this information.

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Much to my family’s reluctance, we stood outside for about 5 minutes before half of our group was allowed to go in. We had to wait for one couple to finish up because the space was that limited. I believe there were only about 6 small grills out on the counter. Three of us made our way to the grill that had just been cleared by the couple, while the other two waited for another 10 minutes before they could come in. My brother chose to eat at McDonald’s.

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As we were facing the area where the chefs stand, I noticed the small wooden blocks (bars?) hanging on the walls. Japanese characters were written on them, with numbers at the bottom of each bar. That’s how they displayed the menu, each wooden bar showed a part of meat together with its price. How nice. We couldn’t understand a single word.

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Thankfully, the chefs spoke good English. So they asked us if we’d like for them to pick their favorites for us. We said yes, and left everything entirely up to them. While the orders kept coming, with seemingly no sign of stopping, I thought that maybe letting them decide wasn’t such a good idea. I wondered to myself if we’d end up paying a fortune after dinner. The prices on the menu ranged from 100 to 400 JPY, which isn’t so bad compared to other sit-down (?) restaurants that offer wagyu. But small plate orders such as what were getting can add up. 

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True enough, our orders did add up to an amount I’d rather not disclose because it can speak of either two things: one, is that my family and I CAN EAT; or two, we got ripped off. The more that I think about it now, the more convinced I am of the latter.

We should have checked the bill more closely. Although, we could have probably paid for each slice of wagyu. I just checked the bill from another restaurant that we ate in on our last day in Tokyo, and one plate of wagyu was 900 JPY. I don’t know! I wasn’t briefed before going inside Jirōmaru.

Be that as it may, at least the food was far from disappointing. And even though I hate reviewing food (because I don’t know how), I’m going to list down a few thoughts:

  • The meat exploded like water, bursting from a dam, inside my mouth.
  • Scratch water and replace it with melted butter.
  • Wagyu does melt like butter.
  • The meat didn’t need any seasoning.
  • It was that flavorful.
  • Their sauce didn’t really do anything to the meat. Meaning, no added flavor.
  • Or maybe I’ve just forgotten.
  • Good thing the meat was that flavorful.
  • There’s a lot of rice in a small bowl.
  • Next time count the plates.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. The food was great at Jirōmaru, as proven by the countless five star ratings on Yelp. Trying a standing restaurant, and possibly having been fooled into paying more for food, was also a first for me which I may not rate as a five star experience. But both are great to add to the imaginary travel portfolio! That’s not to say that I have never been fooled while travelling before, just not with food in particular. But every traveller must go through these things, otherwise, what fun stories would there be to tell? So cheers to great wagyu and new experiences in Tokyo. May our future travels introduce us to more food minus the problems. 🍺🎉

Dude, where’s our bullet train?

As I looked up from the bottom of the stairs to the platforms, I died a little inside. How are we going to cover more than 20 steps in 5 minutes? Five minutes was all we had before our bullet train to Hamamatsu, Shizuoka left. I was with five other people, my mom, my brother, my sister, my uncle, and my mom’s friend, each of us carrying a luggage that weighed about 10 to 15 kilos each.

Our day started well, we heard mass, ate a hefty lunch, and finally left Keio Plaza Hotel at 1:00 p.m. in no hurry. We were to go from the Shinjuku train station to the Tokyo station and from there, ride the bullet train to Hamamatsu. Like a leisurely stroll in a park, the supposed 10 minute walk from our hotel to the station turned into 15. We had no time to keep up with – until we bought our bullet train tickets.

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After another 15 minutes of figuring out the maze that is Japan’s underground metro, we finally reached the gates to the JR Line. I asked an information officer how I could buy tickets for the Shinkansen (bullet train). She said that I could either buy it in the ticketing office next door, or buy it once we were in the Tokyo station. I chose the first option.

In the ticketing office, my mom and I were informed that the next train leaving Tokyo for Hamamatsu was at 2:26 p.m.

Time check: it was 1:45 p.m.

I asked if we had enough time to get to it, and he shrugged it off like 40 minutes was a life time. In retrospect, as a tourist, I never should have listened to a local who’s probably been living fast paced his entire adult life. But I did, and so we bought 6 bullet train tickets for 8,290 JPY each. That was including the fare from Shinjuku to Tokyo. We said our thank you’s and went back to the rest of the group waiting by the platform gates. I distributed the tickets one by one and, in a fuss, prodded everyone to move quickly into the electronic gates.

In my worry and hurry, I forgot to ask which platform the Rapid Line for Tokyo was on. This was the second lesson learned: never forget to ask. So we all stand there like a bunch of lost kids on a field trip, looking at the signs and directions for the rapid line. Alas, I find platforms 11 and 12 and, with hesitation, went down the steps hoping that I would read the word Tokyo on the walls somewhere below. You know the names of places that they usually put underneath the platform numbers to tell you which big stations the train will be stopping at? I knew Tokyo should have been on the list for 11 and 12. It’s a main stop, for crying out loud! But in my desperation at catching the bullet train, I still went down, hoping that Tokyo will be in the more detailed list of stops. What a joke. Third lesson: keep your common sense.

What’s even funnier is that we actually waited there for a minute or two until we asked two locals for other platforms of the rapid line. The first person was a young lady who spoke no English and wasn’t really sure which platform we needed to be in, although she was kind enough and made an effort of googling it. I would have so done that if I only had data or wifi, or if I even had the time to pull out my phone. The second person was an old man who spoke impeccable English and was very sure that we had to transfer to platform 8. I swear to goodness, those were the longest three minutes of my life. When we finally set foot on number 8, it was 2:00 p.m. only 26 minutes left till our train in Tokyo Station choo-chooed (zoomed? –modernization and all) away without us.

I was going crazy, thinking that we were about to waste a total of 49,740 JPY – or add another certain amount to it, like a fee for catching the next train. Then again, due to my lack of research, I don’t know how the system works in Japan. But I digress.

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As I sat in the train going to Tokyo station, I counted the minutes that passed between every station. Four minutes, then five, sometimes three. I believe there were about 4 stations until we finally reached our stop. But the craziness didn’t end there. We still had to navigate the underground chaos and we had to do that in under 10 minutes!

I remember going down some stairs, going out one gate and into another, and then asking two different station staff which platform our bullet train was in, you know, just to be sure. We could have saved 2 minutes If I hadn’t. But if I hadn’t asked the second staff, the train would have left us because there I was standing at the bottom of the stairs, thinking how we were all going to carry our bags up there in less than 5 minutes – until the staff pointed behind me. There was an escalator that I previously had not seen. No joke, it seemed like spotlights were shining on the thing, telling me what a blessing it was.

I didn’t expect the train to still be there once we arrived, but it was. The funny part is that I went in the number 7 cart and came back out because my brother told me that our seats were in cart 16. Outside, I was turning around on the spot because I couldn’t find the 16th cart until that same brother suggested that we just get back in and transfer carts inside. We could have already done that a minute before, but all my common sense just goes out the window whenever I’m in a fuss. So we went inside cart 7 once more and covered two carts until the doors of the train finally closed. How horrible would it have been if we were still outside running towards cart 16? I was finally able to sigh in relief and laughed at how crazy everything was. Trying to catch the Shinkansen, in under 16 minutes, was a great big adventure all on its own!

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My mom’s passport was mistakenly reported as lost/stolen (Japan Edition)

So my family and I flew to Japan on May 7. At 11:30 a.m., I went through immigration without a hitch. Each one of us was checked by a different officer. My brother, my sister, and my uncle all went through smoothly as well. My mom didn’t.

She was brought in by another officer to that secluded room everybody knows about. So we waited in that area where passengers can loiter, behind the immigration booths. 10 minutes passed, no update. 20 minutes, nothing. I thought,  “Okay, so my mom didn’t tell them that she had people waiting for her? We couldn’t be talked to by these officers?”

When 12:00 came by, I decided to approach one of the guards walking around. He was nice enough to talk to the immigration officers for me. A pretty Japanese lady came out and informed me, in broken english, that my mother’s passport had been reported as lost (maybe stolen? I got distracted). Mama made no such report.

We were assured that, in terms of her rights and security, she was fine but they were still calling the Philippine Embassy in Roponggi District to clarify the report. So she had to be kept there until a staff from the embassy picked up. Apparently, after 30 minutes of trying, no one had. At 12:50 p.m. we were told to transfer to the waiting area that’s past customs and wait for my mom there. One airport staff was holding my mom’s luggage. Uh oh, this doesn’t look good, I thought. We couldn’t take it because “it wasn’t ours.” At this point, my mind was getting ahead of me. My mother is going to get deported!

So I asked if there was even the slightest chance this could happen, but they couldn’t give me an answer. Fine. We’ll transfer.

At 1:45 p.m. – a realization.

Today’s a Sunday. Is the embassy even open? So I kept calling anyone who needed to know about our situation -our travel agent, my aunt in Shizuoka -in case we had to wait there until the next day. Finally, my mother came out at 3 p.m. with news that she was cleared but that she had to go to the embassy the next day to straighten things out.

So here’s what happened the next day,

From the Shinjuku Station to Azabu-juban Station

Our hotel was in Shinjuku. We rode the train to Roppongi, where the embassy is located. We went down at the Azabu-juban Station, the nearest station from the embassy. We followed the arrows that directed commuters to the exit for the other Asian embassies. Once we exited, we asked for directions and were told to turn right up the hill by the stop light.

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By that stop light is the road going up hill on the right

Up on the hill

It’s about a 7-10 minute hike to the corner for the Philippine Embassy. There are alleys where the other embassies are. Like the Embassy of Singapore is in the very first alley that we reached since the start of the hike. We kept walking straight, thinking that the embassy will be in the other official-looking buildings right by the main road. By the time we saw a Snoopy Museum, that’s when we decided to ask around. Apparently, the Philippine Embassy is in the alley right after the museum.

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After this door/building is the road to the Philippine Embassy

In the embassy

Where is the Philippine Embassy in Japan Located

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Inside the embassy, we were asked to write down, in detail, our dilemma, the events that led to it, and the actions we took to solve the problem. And so we did. We gave it to the young man managing the door, as instructed, and waited for a little over 10 minutes.

Next thing I knew, my mom’s name was being called. She was given another piece of paper – a format for an affidavit, in which she had to state that she is the rightful owner of the passport that was flagged as lost/stolen and that it was mistakenly reported. She also put her purpose for being in Japan and how long she’s staying. Talk about stressful.

So what happens after your passport gets flagged as lost/stolen?

Apparently, the Philippine Embassy in Japan submitted a certificate to immigration, clearing my mom of any passport-related problem. So on the day that we left Japan, she went through immigration again without delay. But it was also suggested to my mom that she renew her passport once we were back in our country (even though she still has another year on her passport), because the flag is irreversible.

All that took less than an hour, even though the embassy was full with other Filipinos bearing their concerns. Now that we are actually back in the Philippines, and thankfully in one piece, what’s left to be done now is to renew my mom’s passport for our future travels!

 

 

A day and a half more before…

So here we are, just a day and a half more before my scheduled flight to Taipei. You know my struggles, and you’re about to read more.

The good news is, I have my passport! The bad news is, i had to let go of and will (still) soon shell out a few more bucks for: 1. having my passport shipped from Manila to Cebu via express shipping; 2. my return ticket from Taipei to Cebu; 3. shipping my passport from Cebu back to Manila.

So much for my future “Taipei on a Budget” blog post.

One of the reasons I booked that ticket to Taipei in the first place was because I thought it was relatively cheap, considering that I saw it so near to my desired day of flight. No point in dwelling on that now though; as my mom said, “what’s the point of money if you can’t enjoy it?” uhm. to use it to survive this cruel and corrupt world, for one? But I saw her point and – seeing that I am pushing through with this trip – I loved it.

Let’s backtrack a bit to Monday, April 3. I took a call from the person in-charge of submitting our Japan visa applications to a travel agency in manila, which was, in turn, responsible for submitting said docs to the Embassy of Japan. I was told that someone in the group, whom I don’t know, was lacking a few documents so our passports might not be released to us within that week yet. I thought, I guess I could reschedule my flight. So, without thinking it through, that’s what I told him. But! I had hope. I had hope that I’d still receive my passport before the day of my flight. See, I’m doing this thing called “thinking positive to attract positive,” and because of this I was feeling good about the situation for two days. I was so sure that I’d get my passport back, with another Japan visa meticulously attached inside, right before April 12. I was so wrong.

There was a misunderstanding. I was so optimistic because I thought that my application had already been submitted to the Embassy and was ready for release. Apparently, the entire group’s passports were still with the travel agency; not even reviewed by the Embassy yet. I found out about this on April 5. I panicked. After much consideration, I DID NOT WANT TO RESCHEDULE. I get so much complaints from my mom whenever I travel during work days; this was my chance to leave without having to worry about missing work.

I called so many numbers to ask what I could do with my situation. Thankfully, the travel agent I last talked to was nice enough to assure me that he would send me back my passport, hold my application, wait for the passport once I get back from my trip, and submit my papers to the Embassy. I only had to pay 200 PHP for the MNL-CEB shipment (and probably another 200 for sending it back to Manila).

That’s what I did, and now I have my passport minus 200 PHP.

Since I was already assured that I would get my passport back, the next thing to do was to book my flight from TPE to CEB. Remember in my previous post, when I said that the ticket that I was eyeing went down to 2,000+ Taiwan dollars? Let’s say it was at 2,840 TWD, I would have bought it at 4,970 PHP but I didn’t, because I couldn’t stand wasting 4,000+ PHP without knowing if I’d be able to fly. I am the definition of smart because the ticket went up to 4,238 TWD, which is roughly 7,416.50 TWD. That’s how much I charged my credit card with. This one; I can’t let go.

I really should have bought that cheaper ticket, and left it all to fate, immediately after I saw it. But no. I. Had. To. Make. Sure. Such are the risks that come with not being carefree enough.

In conclusion, I am with a passport, an itinerary, a plane ticket. I am also without 11,846.50 PHP total (round trip tickets from CEB-TPE, and shipping fees), in my wallet, just so I could be in another country by April 12. As one great and anonymous poet once said, “the struggle is real.”