Island Life

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

We want to hear what you love about islands, what your favorite indie travel island destination is, which island you’re most longing to see, or why you think islands evoke such strong emotions in travelers. And – you know we have to ask – what would be three things you would absolutely have to have with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

so here’s the thing. even though i was born in and grew up around Los Angeles, i was never one for the beach, so paradise-y islands were, for a long time, not my thing. i guess that’s why islands to me don’t necessarily mean beaches and palm trees and drinks with umbrellas, but well, just the literal definition of an island.

some of my favorites:

Tokyo on the island of Honshu

One of the islands of Suomenlinna, Helsinki, Finland

New York City on the island of Manhattan

Cambridge on the island of Great Britain

ok, who am i kidding. especially in the winter, who can resist the siren song of laying in a hammock on a beach, soaking in the sun while a warm breeze slowly wafts? the slow pace of life, the great weather, and great seafood you can’t normally get at home are what draw me to tropical islands. (side note — how i wish it were summer now, island or not!)

Hammock on the island of Oahu

there are a couple islands on my bucket list — ibiza and the isle of skye. the former, i think i’m outgrowing, so i’m not sure how much longer that will stay on my list (or i will have to do it soon), and the latter, well, i don’t think will ever lose its appeal. ever since i saw this j.crew catalog years ago, it’s been somewhere i have to go. i can’t put my finger on why, but it’s prettier than say, a beach paradise. *turning on some celtic music*

what three items must i have on a deserted island? hmm. i don’t really like these questions since i don’t think i’m ever happy with my answers, but here goes. assuming there is no way i can ever get off, so not including things like flares or a cell phone, etc.:

  • my ipod with a solar charger
  • a survival handbook
  • a tractor trailer full of food and water that will last until i get my encampment set up

(Nearly-)Religious Experiences in Asia

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

If you’ve traveled in Asia, what’s your favorite destination? Share a story of one of your best experiences in Asia, or tell us about a place you love.

really? you’re going to make me choose? i’ve only recently started traveling to Asia (other than a couple trips to Hong Kong growing up, as that’s where my parents are from): Beijing/Great Wall in 2010, the Angkor Region of Cambodia last August, and Japan in November. each of those alone was amazing, and i’m not sure i can pick just one to highlight, especially since my options are limited and those destinations were chosen with the intent of having stories to tell.

there are three places, though, that i could spend countless hours in:


all y’all must get tired of me talking about this, but this is my favorite temple in the Angkor area. it’s like being surrounded by a couple hundred Faces of Boe, but a lot less creepy. in fact, there’s this serene benevolence that adds a palpable sense of mysticism to what otherwise would be “any ol'” Angkor temple.




i did the Hakone Round Course as an overnight trip on my way from Tokyo to Kyoto. i am not sure what it was — the funicular, the ropeway with soaring views of Mount Fuji, the steaming mountainside of Owakudani (eat those black eggs!), the breathtaking Open Air Museum filled with modern sculpture, or the pirate ship ride across Lake Ashinoko — my first impression of Japanese countryside and fall foliage after being in the urban jungle of Tokyo was absolutely breathtaking.

PROTIP: if you want a treat, take advantage of Fujiya Hotel’s Special Hospitality Plan for non-Japanese passport holders. they have a very small (5?) number of rooms set aside for just $133 per night (based on the number of years the hotel has been in existence, so it will change annually). not only do you get to spend the night in a historic grand hotel, but a morning walk in their Japanese garden is a great way to start your day. also, they had the most amazingly fast (free) in-room internet. even up in the middle-of-nowhere-mountains i got speeds faster than i could ever get at home.

From Owakudani to Ubako, Mt. Fuji in the distance

One of a handful of stray kitty cats I saw near the lake


The Okunoin Graveyard and Torodo Hall, Koyasan

walking the two-kilometer path through the forest cemetery (the largest cemetery in Japan) during the day and again at night are two soul-moving pilgrimages. midday, being surrounded by 200,000 tombstones amongst towering grand old trees filtering the sunlight, finally reaching the Hall of Lamps (after passing through many clearly-significant religious sites and devout adherents paying their respects), your heart is filled with awe. at night (be sure to go once during the daytime beforehand so you’re not caught by surprise at the length of the trek), with dim lights illuminating the path every now and then, you’re not filled with dread and fear as much as you are with a sense of reverence and somewhat otherworldly spirituality. combined, it is possibly the closest this devout atheist could ever say he has felt to a religious experience in his life. if you go, definitely stay overnight at a temple: lodging like no other where they serve you food like no other (quite yummy)!

The cemetery

An old mausoleum

Fly North for the Winter

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

When the weather gets cold, do you prefer to head to sunnier locales or do you love the outdoor adventures or off-season prices of winter? Warm or cold, what’s your dream winter travel destination, and do you have any travel plans for the coming months?

as someone who was born and raised in southern california, seeing and being in snow still has not become tiresome to me, even after living in chicago for five years and germany for two. especially when combined with off-peak destinations, i really treasure the solitude, sights (pristine, snow-covered hills, stark barren tree branches), and smells (wood-burning fireplaces), and tastes (hearty soups, hot chocolate) of a snowy winter getaway.

Vaxholm, Sweden

Hot chocolate, Helsinki, Finland

my most visceral memory, though (you know how they say smells can do that to you), is the smell of the smoke from wood-burning fireplaces and stoves in český krumlov. walking around the deserted old city in the heart of winter, that smell + the cobblestone streets + the chill in the air + the sound of the river…absolute magic.

what’s my dream winter destination? somewhere to see the northern lights. i don’t care if it involves an ice hotel or a cheap motel, it’s on my bucket list! unfortunately, no upcoming winter trips this year except for work trips to the east coast.


part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

Have you ever studied or taken classes on a trip? What did you study, and perhaps more importantly, what did you learn while on that trip? What would you like to learn on your travels this year?

why yes, i have! i took two years off life between 2005 and 2007 to get a Master’s degree in Computational Linguistics at the University of Tübingen, in the southwest of Germany. my primary reason was not the degree itself (in fact, that was at the bottom of my list) but primarily to live in europe and have the opportunity to travel around on the cheap. and boy, did i. cheap airfares from Stuttgart were plentiful thanks to German low-cost carriers. that, combined with (frankly) an easy program and hostels and the wonderful rail system (and annual visits by travel-loving parents) meant i was able to travel not only around Germany to many other countries in the area (pictures from which can be found on this flickr page):

  • France (a lot)
  • Switzerland (a lot)
  • Italy (quite a bit, including the 2006 Winter Olympics)
  • Czech Republic
  • England
  • Slovenia
  • Austria
  • Hungary
  • Morocco
  • Belgium
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Estonia

this was my dorm room the night i moved in:

my bookshelf a year and a half later (moved furniture around as well)…

and for good measure, a rainbow (or two, if you look closely) taken from my dorm room window…

but this post isn’t about my time in eden, it’s about what i learned. well, my thesis was on manipulating XML treebanks (fundamentally, large databases of linguistic data), but as i said earlier, the academic side of things, while interesting, was not my main focus. yes, i learned german (sort of — took a class before i left, but it’s really not until you get there and see how it’s used by native speakers in natural speaking situations that you really learn how to speak, incorporating words you never learn in class like krass or geil or hammer lol). but more importantly, i learned so much about cultures throughout europe and the world over since i had friends and classmates from countries like syria, romania, poland, israel, and bulgaria–countries i really did not know much about at all.

what else? i also learned that german tabloids are as bad as american ones…

german mcdonald’s restaurants often have random themes…

hanukkah traditions from danielle…

baby food tastes horrible…

…and so much more, more than could ever fit into a single blog post (or even a single blog).

it was a completely unforgettable experience, but one that really paved the way for my solo travel career (since i was older and had more money than the other students, not many could travel as often as i could, although i did appreciate their company when my friends joined in!).

what do i hope to learn in 2012? bah, i’m a sponge, and i’ll soak up whatever i can get!

oh! i almost forgot! i did do a trip within a trip — the summer after my first year four of us went to Malaga, Spain, for The 18th European Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information (ESSLLI), where besides learning that Andalusian summers are incredibly hot, i also took classes in the following:

  • Treebank-Based Acquisition of LFG, HPSG and CCG Resources (Miyao, van Genabith, Hockenmaier)
  • Linear Logic, Linguistic Resource Sensitivity and Resumption (Asudeh)
  • Working with Discourse Representation Theory (Blackburn, Bos)
  • Proof Theory and Deep Inference (Gugliemi)
  • Computational Semantics: Linking Language Processing to Applications (Flickinger, Copestake)
  • Machine Learning and Dialogue (Lemon, Henderson)
  • Higher Order Grammar (Pollard)
  • Probabilistic Methods in Computational Psycholinguistics (Levy)

good times, i assure you, despite my friends’ poses:

Indie Labels

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

Are you an indie traveler? What do you think makes someone an indie traveler? 

my first thought: asking that is like asking if someone is a hipster. (and no, i am not a hipster!) but seriously, this is a good question. ever since participating in the #indie30 challenge last year, i’ve been asking myself the same thing.

let me describe my travel style — maybe it’s indie, maybe it’s not?

  • i prefer solo travel (i suppose in the most literal of senses, this would be independent travel, but i don’t think that’s what they’re going for)
  • i can be quite spontaneous (i decided to go to cambodia last year about two weeks before i actually left)
  • i do my own research and make my own travel arrangements (though i am not averse to enlisting the help of a professional, i haven’t had to yet)
  • i am content to walk around on my own for hours on end, seeing random stuff i want to see — things that the majority of people probably aren’t interested in (why yes, i made it a point to head out of town in prague to see paneláky, walked around tallinn looking for abandoned soviet-era statues with a vague idea of where to go, finally stumbling across them, and so on)
  • i don’t change money before i go; rather i rely on ATMs at the destination (random thought)
  • i give up creature comforts if that means i can experience more
  • i travel for me (which loops back to the whole solo travel thing)

i think that last point hits it on the head.

i don’t travel to “see the world”, but rather to satisfy an inner desire in me. if that desire points me halfway around the globe, great. if it’s the unknown right in my own backyard, cool deal. being an indie traveler doesn’t mean you eschew or look down upon ultrapopular or “entry level” destinations like London or Paris (i’ve been to each multiple times and love them every time i go) or doing organized tours (i’ve done segway and bike tours, and had an amazing time on safari last year). as long as you are driven by an internal burning desire to explore the diversity of humanity and the planet we call home, and are willing to go your own way to do so, i think you’re indie. indie travelers have a fire in their guts, one that forces them to leave their world behind and experience and discover the world around them.