w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
We thought it would be a great idea to break up the long flight from Asia to Central America which is how we ended up in the U.S. Why L.A. is a longer, more convoluted misunderstanding, as it would have made more sense to stop through Miami. I think Chris “accidentally” booked our one-way flight to L.A. as part of a ploy to get us excited about a move to California, an idea he’s been toying with for years. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of L.A., but I was, admittedly, super excited to see our friend Helen, my cousin Elaine and her husband Mike. Another perk? A trip to Target to replace threadbare underwear, holey socks and mysterious tasting toothpaste.
Three days before we were set to arrive in L.A., Chris and I still had no idea where we would go next. We had stockpiled our hotel and frequent flyer miles in the event of an emergency return and now that we were toward the end of the trip, it seemed the ideal time to cash them in. We spent hours investigating options. My suggestions for Argentina and Brazil were met with a collective groan (too long a flight), we couldn’t get a visa to Cuba in time, Machu Picchu tickets were sold out, the Galapagos too expensive. Costa Rica and Panama were already on the docket. We couldn’t use miles for Colombia. So when Helen, a family friend, and her husband, Hans, a friend and sometime work colleague of Chris’ asked how long we would be staying with them, we answered, “I dunno, maybe forever?” I’m sure Helen wanted to kill Hans for inviting us and then abandoning her for a the long planned week in New Orleans, but despite this, Helen was an excellent hostess, opening up her beautiful home to us, letting us do massive loads of laundry, playing dominos with the kids, and waking up to find Oona, brush in hand, waiting to do her hair.
The other surprise was that my brother Kyung was flying in on the red eye to meet the kids. When we got off the airport shuttle, Isoo and Oona were shocked to see him waiting in line at the Budget Car Rental Center. Needless to say, it made an already exciting stop that much better. More awesome family time strolling Brentwood with Elaine and Mike, touring picturesque Manhattan Beach with Helen and Kyung, and Helen whipping up a killer BBQ with our new friends Rose and Michael to watch the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight. The next day we all strolled groddy Venice Beach, but by the time we made our way down the mountain at Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park, I had drunk the L.A. kool-aid and it tasted of sunshine, the ocean and a touch of middle-aged hippie. And just to make sure I had the full California experience, I was jolted out of bed in the middle of the night by an honest to goodness (baby) earthquake.
In between we made it to Target (twice!) and shipped home the remainder of our cold weather gear so that we were down to two small suitcases filled with clothes and shoes, a small carry-on case of hard to replace items (medicines, eyeglasses, contact lenses, the kids’ blankies), a backpack for laptops, another for binocs and school supplies, and my purse. People often ask me how I packed for this trip and all I can say is that the old adage of “take half the stuff and twice the money” is true. Here is what I learned from my packing experience:
Things I regret bringing:
Nice shoes and clothes - Who are we kidding? Our kids did not have the patience for fancy dress up meals.
Pochard Box - bulky and seldom used. Crayons and paper work just as well.
Kids' Kindle keyboards - impossible to use even for small fingers.
Anything White - with the exception of the husband.
Toys and Games - who has time for games when there’s so much to see and do?
School Books - heavy, boring (just kidding) and so easy to find tutorials and worksheets online.
Things I’m glad I brought:
Kindles - cheaper, lighter and easier to carry than books
Jackery - a portable cell charger that can charge two cellphones at once at half the time. Super important during long travel days.
Blankies/Sweats - anything that makes you feel like you're at home.
Packsafe Travel Safe - Airbnb rentals seldom provide a safe, and with so many keys in the hands of past tenants, a portable safe has given us some peace of mind. Also handy for overnight train/boat trips.
Fabric softener sheets - believe it or not, fabric softener is hard to find abroad. I pack loose sheets in with clothes just to keep things smelling fresh.
Spices - cause sometimes all your kids want to eat is pasta with butter and dill. Or tacos.
Starbucks coffee packets - that is unless you want to drink Nescafe.
Antibiotics - in Europe you can pretty much walk into any pharmacy and they will happily cure you of gangrene over the counter. In other countries, it makes sense to buy and pack in advance.
Hand sanitizer - cause some countries do not provide soap in public bathroom (Japan, I'm talking to you!).
Flip flops - if you're Asian and used to being barefoot, this is the next best thing.
Sponges, shower curtain, Clorox Wipes - some Airbnbs are cleaner than others. If I'm staying in one place for awhile, I'll provide my own fresh sponge, new plastic shower curtain and a can of Clorox Wipes. I've also been known to purchase replacement broom heads. Wait did that just make me sound crazy?
Earplugs - Lisbon, anyone?
Things I Wish I'd Brought:
Robe/Pool Cover-up - especially if you find yourself RVing in New Zealand.
Full-size Travel Towel - you try changing on a public beach behind a hand towel.
Perfume - though we made ample use of the testers at the Duty Free shops.
Tevas and a fanny pack - these are two things I said I would never own. Alas.
Last but not least, the ABSOLUTE MUST-HAVES:
Schwab Banking- no ATM fees!
Chase Sapphire Card- no foreign transaction fees and a great rewards program. Saved us a TON of money.
T-Mobile Cell Carrier - fantastic global data and text plan. Seriously, we could not have done without this.
FaceTime, Google Hangout - both more reliable than Skype.
Whatsapp - free text app that's super popular in Asia. Fantastic for getting in touch with family members and landlords in Asia.
Google Maps - a godsend. How did anyone ever get anywhere before this was invented? With the exception of Marrakesh, Vietnam and Beijing where it was not available, we used it every day.
While I'm enjoying this trip immensely, and really loved our time in L.A., it felt strange to come so close to Chicago only to fly further away. In the back of my mind, a nagging voice said, "just end it here and go home and check on dad." But by then, we had our tickets to Mexico in hand and our bags repacked with all we needed (and none of what we didn't). Only one more month until we're back in Evanston for good (or until California comes calling).
Watching birds and surfers at the Manhattan Beach promenade.
Uncle Kyung!!!!! Reunited.
I totally get why Helen is Kyung's favorite "sister". She's pretty awesome. Hans, we understand that New Orleans needed their king, but we missed you!
Wandering Venice Beach.
That's about right.
Poor Mike seeking shelter from the sun. We gotta get this man a tan!
Here is Chris trying to convince me to move West. The views were on his side.
Oona and Barbie hiking Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park. Mike and Elaine better watch out for 8 year-old dognappers.
Isoo gives Helen some pointers on birding.
My L.A. family.