Second Time Around

It’s my second trip to the Philippines after living here for 9 months in 2012-2013.  I always think it’s so interesting how a travel experience changes when you visit a place for the second time.  All the magic wrapped up in stepping foot onto a foreign place is gone the second time around.  It’s been replaced instead with a measure of comfort and strange sense of foreign home.  For me, several emotions defined my initial trip to this country.  First of all, I am half-Filipino and half-American, so this first trip was something of right of passage I’d been waiting to take for a decade.  I was in anticipation for all sorts of questions about myself and my heritage to be answered.  Second, the fear of the unknown on my first visit became a major contribution to my experience at the time.  I spent so much time scrutinizing maps, yet getting lost anyway.  Every attempt to speak Tagalog was riddled with fear of ridicule.  And then there was the unknown of how to simply exist in a major metropolitan landscape that was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  I could not “google map” jeepney routes to get places.  I had to operate the old fashioned way: ask someone for directions, then ask again at the next block, and ask again until you get there.  I did not know my place in relation to neighborhoods I should or shouldn’t be in, or people I should be especially polite to.IMG_8774 (2) IMG_8792 (2) IMG_8772 (2)

This time, I notice that I have carved out paths of familiarity from my first trips, and I generally don’t stray from them.  I can glide through certain train and jeepney routes without hesitation.  I know exactly where I want to have my Indian food, or which café has the best internet connection.  I had carved out a way of life for myself.  I do allow for little explorations here or there.  But, I definitely have a way of life here now–a way to live in the Philippines, a way to be part of the Philippines.

How Far is Heaven? – Finding Bliss in Dessert Tourism

Of all the reasons to travel, the most indulgent has to be a dessert tour.  I know that modern restaurateurs derive inspiration from Yelp and local hype to map out custom dessert adventures circumferencing home or work.  I’m not sure, though, if these types of extravaganzas yet traverse beyond city borders.  Given the human ability to sweep into irrationality over food, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if after a bit more digging I found a well-designed vacation bound for a culinary mecca.

This morning, I spent a good hour or two tantalized by The Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets.  Images of bacon encrusted ice

After seeing the apricot cardamom donut on The Cooking Channel, I was lucky enough to live only a BART ride away from Dynamo Donuts in SF Mission District.

cream, silky tofu panna cotta, and raw lime pie filled my eyes.  Fictional apricot cardamom donuts placed themselves on my tongue, and my mouth began to water.  Around the TV, my family’s living room became equally as alive as during the Niners playoffs, except screams were replaced by longing moans and curses were replaced by vows to travel wherever these pieces of heaven fell to earth.

For my mom, my sister, and I, heaven fell in Portland.  Our sightseeing wishlist is already just too life-altering to not take the 9 hour drive to Portland.  Dessert fanaticism has somehow pushed us into an unlikely sort of tourism.  And Portland wasn’t the only cupcake we stuck a pin in.  Chicago had just as many innovative dessert artisans as Portland.  Planning a trip to Chicago from San Francisco is a whole different story though.  Just how far are three hungry women willing to go for a cookie sandwich?  Apparently a 9-hour drive is still within negotiated reason.

Portland Dessert Sightseeing Schedule

  • Raw lime pie at Divine Pies
  • Oregon Kiss ice cream scoop at Salt and Straw
  • Almond-bergamot chocolate bark at Sagahun
  • ANZAC biscuit at Two Tarts Bakery
  • Banana Rumba at The Waffle Window

I’m sure we’ll be adding more to the list.  Let me know if you hit the sweet spot before we do!

I can’t wait to see what sort of dessert themed trips other like-minded taste tourists have already come up with.  Even though my plan includes traveling a great length to experience one location, I’d also love to see how that compares to the experience of sampling the blissful offerings of an entire region—say various parts of the Pacific Northwest, or maybe experiencing the change in venue en route between SF and Portland.

Besides individual travel planning, there’s a great opportunity for creative and trendy small dessert businesses to get into cahoots with the travel industry.   For as many tourists there are hunting down the main attractions, there are equally as many who prefer the unbeaten path.  And what can be a path more unbeaten (or batter beaten) than hop-on-hop-off Treat Transportation?

Speed Vacationing

Going somewhere for the short weekend.  My cousin flew up here to San Francisco from LA to get some dental work done.  She arrived at 8am and was back on the plane by 1pm.  Her unique healthcare plan looks illogical on the surface, but she actually saved a good amount of money on the work.  This led me to two thoughts.  First, we do seemingly irrational things to find a good deal, and second, our gauge of value is expressed in our behavior.  Traveling to find healthcare carries a different value set from traveling for pleasure.  My cousin would have never purchased these same flights for a four-hour vacation.  But why not?  Why couldn’t speed vacations, in a culture that knows how to get the most from its time, become a legitimate form of travel?

Why couldn’t speed vacations, in a culture that knows how to get the most from its time, become a legitimate form of travel? 

When I picture my vacation plan, I build a whole day around a single site-seeing event.  I find value in allowing myself time to steep in the culture of a location, and I will behave irrationally, at least according to my parents, to achieve this value.  I have at some points sacrificed stable jobs in order to open up my schedule for my dream excursion.  But most consistently, I will sacrifice time and energy planning every way to maximize my experience .  (This generally includes a precise string of events involving local eatery, tourist traps, local events, and natural and cultural scenery.)  One major site per day therefore is totally justifiable if it’s enhanced with a pairing of local experiences.

By no means then do I believe you have the opportunity to truly absorb a place or its culture by zipping out and back through its airport security.  I do think it is possible though for a speed vacation to be appropriately enjoyable, and that I might find value in the amount of money I spend for the roundtrip flight.  Until I actually achieve my first sped vacation to tell about, here are some ideas on what a potential plan would be.

The Plan

  • Consolidated location  A city that has quick and simple transportation is key.  This means you need to find the best ratio possible of more time spent at sites to time spent getting there.  A place like San Francisco will have a heap of sites in a walkable distance.  Places like San Diego are more spread out, but if you have a car, you can zip from coastal town to coastal town, maximizing scenery every inch of the way.
  • Exotic but not far away   A place that is the perfect balance between being new enough to be exciting yet not so exotic that it takes the whole day of your day trip to get there.
  • Simple airport  Likewise, the airport can’t be a maze.  You either need to know your way around the place, or make sure it’s the kind of airport you can draw a direct line from off-boarding to taxi.
  • Off hours  There’s no time to afford for baggage check-in traffic and security checkpoint lags.  Book a flight in the off-hours of that airport.  If you can find an airport-less-traveled, then that’s all the better.

Benefits

  • No Hotels  Since you are not staying overnight, your potentially biggest expense will be eliminated.
  • Any day is a holiday  Don’t wait for the next MLK holiday weekend.  Any weekend, or even half weekend is game for the speed vacation.

Complications

  • Just as in my last post I conceded that less packing space means for more packing strategy, I have to admit now that less time in a location means for tight time coordination.  Everything will be planned minute by minute.  This calls for some real coordination skills.

No Baggage Challenge

Baggage makes order of a frantic material world.  I can think of my purse, my gym bag, my bike pannier, my reusable grocery bag, a backpack for school, a shoulder bag for larger things my purse can’t hold, and my lunch bag; that’s seven bags I use frequently throughout the week.  And when I travel, I have bags within bags that function like a perfect filing system.  In my backpack (I usually take a backpack) is my main toiletry bag, which has within it separate bags or containers for soap, shampoo, makeup, medicines etc, which are themselves small containers.  Baggage and storage create order for us in the middle of a crazy world of material goods.  They have become not only a practicality, but a cause for comfort like an adult security blanket (smart phones being the teddy bear), and so integrated into the normal day that they are almost never thought of.

The image of myself on a plane without some sort of bag is impossible to create.  I tried to picture myself strolling down the aisle, both hands in my pockets, and slipping directly into my assigned seat.  Just sitting there quietly while everywhere around me, luggage was being hammered into overhead bins, and purses were being kicked into floor space.  Imaginary me looked like a lunatic–maybe even suspicious.  There is no way I could go to another country without the comfort of even some small weight upon my back.  A bulging weight that tells me I didn’t lose something, and that tells others I’m not crazy.

My mom, who easily embraces the revolutionary while comfortably making no volutions, proded me to investigate the No Baggage Challenge for myself.  On this challenge, travelers trek with only the specific name-brand jacket (that is a maze of hidden pockets and secret zippers) on their back.  The most evident sacrifice, that probably requires the most adjustment, is the clothing capacity.  Bagless travelers expect to fold away only one spare clothing set within their jacket, switching sets and washing frequently.  I toyed with her challenge and figured there are only two circumstances that would make no-baggage travel practical–neither of which categories I belong to.

This jacket is designed for the Modern Minimalist.  According to the design of this travel jacket, you’ve simplified your living situation to necessitate only an iPad, an iPod, an iPhone, your wallet, and (space-granting) a few helpful toiletries.

This jacket works best for travelers who have money.   You don’t need to trail stuff after you if you have the ability to buy and dispose in guiltless abandon. Having money is undoubtedly the most feasible way to make bagless travel work.

Now, if you can manage to get away with no-bag travel, there are a few ideal benefits.  Just get up and go: there is no need to tether yourself between hotels solely to accommodate your stuff.  Avoid the tourist trap: there is no desire to fill extra space with souvenirs if that extra space is going to be pressed against your body for the duration of the trip.  There will be no extra baggage fees, and less chance of misplacing some extraneous item in the constant shuffle of travel.

So if the culture works for you, then bagless travel isn’t the most ridiculous solution to luggage rack fatigue.  In the course of history, if we have moved in the direction from trunks to suitcases to rolling backpacks, then jacket-luggage is visibly the next step.  I can accept that.  For some of us, though, who have kids, medical, comfort, hygiene and beauty needs, travel will continue to be bagful.