#2066 | #LAdiaries – One Cold Night in DTLA

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The Broad Museum, Los Angeles
Wearing: Her Velvet Vase

My time in Los Angeles was very short, and very sweet. My first time in the city of angels, and for only four and a half days. And no Disneyland! That’s how you know I’ll be back, no disneyland. Ha. I am so predictable as a basic girl in her twenties. I was there on a work trip, as mentioned before, and in my Griffith post I mentioned us not actually having any scheduled free time. But what free time I did have, I made the most of. Consequently my short sojourn in Los Angeles felt like a good block of time spent doing many different things (half of which full credit goes to Airbnb’s wonderful itinerary). Today’s story revolves around this one cold night I had alone in DTLA, after my half-day Airbnb Experience with The Adventureman had ended. I’d found myself back in the city feeling the soft lapping of jet lag and skin kissed by salt and sun. I thought to myself, four days in LA. No time for naps. I can nap when i’m dead (a sentiment I actually heartily disavow on a regular basis, me being a girl who loves my sleep). And so I showered, changed, and headed out again.

My remaining half-hour of sunlight for the day was spent in an uber with a lady driver who had a personality bigger than the sum of our carseat space. She sang ditties nonstop, had no idea where she was going, and then told me that it was sad, real sad! that her GPS was full of shit! A real tragedy, she said again, shaking her head at me, in between breaths of singing along to Bruno Mars. It was like living in a reality tv show. I didn’t really know what to say, so I shrugged and smiled. It’s sad, she said again, then dropped me off outside The Broad.

Im not someone who loves to spend my entire day indoors in a museum when traveling, but I have to say, some of the best museums Ive seen have really blown me away. I snuck into The Broad on my media pass (dubious looks from the guard, but he waved me through anyway) and it was a nice, easy museum that was also very enjoyable. It’s small, for one, just two storeys, and each exhibit is properly explained in real-speak. That is to say, the way a friend would explain it to you, and not in some highfalutin art speak. I wandered around on double speed, moped a bit about having to skip the Yayoi Kusama exhibit (a 1.5 hr wait was too much of a luxury i couldn’t afford), and left after slightly over an hour.

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“Contemporary Art”

When I emerged it was dark. Dark in LA is not like Dark in Singapore. There are dense city lights you chalk up to light pollution, but the stars shine so bright you forget for a moment everything you think you know about science and the sky. From The Broad I basically ran down the road to the Frank Gehry Walt Disney Concert Hall, something I’ve wanted to see for almost five years now. Architecturally it’s a wonder, but you forget all that then you’re faced with the hall. You just stand before it, overwhelmed. Touched? Is it too silly and cheesy to say I felt my heart clench? But it did, and so I will. Some things just take your breath away. Though fair disclaimer – I’m the type who cries at everything. The first time I saw the Eiffel tower at twenty one, I sobbed. Little girl dreams come true and all that.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall was everything I hoped it would be from the outside. People slowed as they passed it, to look up in wonder. Sighs were heard. Other people smiled. The occasional tourists brushed by me holding everything from iPhones for selfies to huge DSLR for mood shots. I gave myself ten minutes to gape at the Hall – I had agreed to meet the rest of the Singaporean media at In-And-Out for our first iconic burger experience in half an hour. But ten minutes was all I needed. When something is as innately beautiful as that, you don’t need much skill. You just need to be impressed, let yourself savour the moment, then snap once.

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the beautiful Walt Disney Concert Hall by night

One day, I told myself, I’ll watch a concert in there. My uber driver honked.

Half an hour ride. It takes half an hour to get anywhere within the city, it seems. I have to admit that the ride there was cold and disappointing. Where was the bustle of the movies, the charm of the streets? Outside the car it was quiet and dark. The stars shone on. The pavements did not. I wondered where all the people were, and something floated back to me as if from another life: a friend casually telling me that you party in LA, at the house of someone if you know someone who knows someone.. bar culture isn’t as strong as it is back in other cities while I looked on in envy. Well, I thought. This is me, looking in from the outside. I know no one, and so the city turns from me.

I do have a flair for the melodramatic, if you hadn’t already guessed.

In and Out appeared so suddenly I must have dozed off in the car. A yellow and red neon monstrosity! The famous Sunset Boulevard. Still feeling mildly underwhelmed, I went in and got seats for the four of us. Somehow defending an empty booth as a single asian girl against hungry Americans seems every bit as iconic an experience as any other. Glares all around! I kept my head down and looked at my phone. I act big when I’m on home turf but abroad I’m always so afraid someone will come and punch me for no good reason. I watch too much TV, I think. And the rest arrived, and we had the famous burgers they talk about, “animal style”.

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In-n-Out Los Angeles

I am heartbroken to be the bearer of unpopular opinion. The burgers were alright. We all stared at each other while eating, making eye contact, waiting for the first person to whimper or moan. It’s always a strange and communal experience, eating messy food with people you cordially know. We got much friendlier later, but these were early days, hours. Finally, Adele spoke up. They’re.. okay.

What a relief! We agreed that they were neither the best nor worst burgers of our lives, and I volunteered my own experience at Shake Shack in New York – mindblowingly average. Do I just not have the right kind of taste buds? Who knows. In-n-Out was really cheap for what it was though, and the old school American diner experience was enjoyable if only because we (I?) pictured myself in a different time, different age half-subconsciously when munching down on my chow. I told my friend this later and she looked at me in disgust. You’re crazy, she said. Those are the best burgers in the world. Ah, well.

Walking down Sunset Boulevard post-meal we all seemed half hopeful. Herein lies the avenue people write songs about. Make movies about. Herein lies the avenue where things seem dead past 7pm. What was going on? We made small talk, wondered where all the people were, agreed that there had to be more to LA than this. Privately I felt personally let down by the city, let down by pop culture, let down by what hollywood had led me to believe. No lights, no bustle. Druggies on the road, neon signs indicating a special kind of ‘pharmacist’. Cause and consequence. The most exciting thing we saw was a 24/7 grocery store – because everyone loves grocery stores. What kind of peanut butter can you get in America that you can’t get elsewhere? Is what i’m saying.

On and on we walked. It felt like we were afraid to give up and go home, because to do so would be to give in to the city’s rejection of us. We could be fun. We could be exciting. Why wouldn’t it open up? At least, that’s how I felt. Only four days in LA, and I’d be damned if I were to waste a night and go home early just because i couldn’t find something new to try.

We passed a comic book store and a couple of people lingering outside, smoking, laughing, and talking. Again I felt the sense of being left out wash over me. I walked over and asked them where they were going, what they were waiting for. There’s a comedy show starting soon at the back of this comic shop..

Lo and behold!

But the comedy show was sold out. Next door, however, had yet another show that had started fifteen minutes ago, that still sold standing room tickets for five bucks. Yes? Yes? Obviously. We went in.

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Enter: the best five dollars I spent in LA. The Nerdist School Stage, which was the name of the comedy improv club we went to, was fantastic. I personally love comedy shows, but I know they’re not necessarily for everyone. A lot of people are adverse to comedy shows because of the heckling, and Improv both eases that fear since the comedians use their own material, and grants you access to comedy anyway.

Three shows, we watched, and the last of which was performed by this group called Beyond The Disney Vault. Where the rejected disney movies live is their tagline. They consist a group of improv actors and musicians (pictured above), who start the show by asking the audience for a word. They then improvise an entire MUSICAL, complete with original song, harmony, and actual character script, on the spot.

It was incredible. I could not even begin to comprehend the kind of talent an individual would have to possess, as well as the kind of insane chemistry with the rest of one’s troupe, to be able to invent, harmonise, and stitch together a coherent piece of work on the spot. And in case you suspect the musicals were pre-written, the audience word thrown out for our show was “Boomerang”. How do you anticipate that?

An hour later, we stumbled out of the club and into the cold, raving and amazed. We were down to two: Kenath and Adele had left earlier, citing jet lag. Serene and I wandered around a bit more, me half reluctant to call it a night, ready to go some more, her wanting to get back to the apartment to Skype her kid. We settled on a workable compromise: called an uber, and asked her to detour and drive down Hollywood Boulevard so we could see it from the car on the way home. It was like a free tour – the old lady who picked us up was so excited to explain the history of the different buildings up and down the avenue of the stars, we couldn’t imagine a better way to have seen the Boulevard. And things were actually happening on that street, people were snapping photographs of the stars on the floor, there were movie theatres, shopping malls. But we sped past them all, gaping at the lights and people, semi-grateful we were able to relax and admire from the darkness of the car.

A left turn onto the freeway. Hollywood Boulevard over in ten minutes and behind us. As the freeway opened up to fluid traffic and the harmony of car sounds, I felt, rather than saw, the city dim around me and cleave to the star spangled sky. Amazing, amazing. Still high from the comedy show rush of exhilaration, I thought of the evening and what we’d done, what we’d seen. Moments of highs and lows, the emotional arc of discovering downtown los angeles. And I thought to myself: not bad. Not bad at all.

x
Jem

#2063 | #seabugged

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We have reached the age where we obsessively document everything via the cloud. This is in part a millennial preoccupation and in part a subset of Apple’s plan to cheat us of our phone space with ridiculously large iOS updates so we’ll have to purchase their cloud plans. Half of our memories now exist in lower resolution shadow copies online, categorised by hashtags and photo albums. We tell ourselves that this, too, is okay since it’s really the memories that count. We tell ourselves, we tell ourselves.

Mid-december a bunch of us did a day dive trip in the name of practice and buoyancy. Both metaphorically and literally. Morning in, night out, yada yada. In reality it was just an excuse to get together and splash around. We all knew we’d see no fish. Visibility in Bintan is a nightmare, it’s like swimming in milk. I think it was my first refresher dive after the Survivor Episode that was Tioman’s PADI open water, trying not to drown, and so there was a mix of excitement and panic there, and a lot of hand holding.

The dives themselves were awful, a mix of bad organisation and unprofessionalism. But at the end of our three dives we sat by the hull, feet dangling off the edges, drinking beer and watching the sunset, and we talked a lot of sentimental bull about how life was good to us and how friendship was the golden elixir of life, etcetera. Georgina, being Georgina, started asking for a group hashtag. After ignoring her for two hours failed to work, we started throwing up a couple of names. You know the basic requirement for hashtags – they have to be catchy, cute, and no one else in the world must have used them before. No biggie. It was a nightmare. Obviously the job of coming up with one fell on Marcus and I (both of us being English TAs in NTU) and yet every suggestion we had was shot down by the others because they do not know what they want. Suddenly my life in advertising dealing with clueless clients came all rushing back to me. PTSD! PTSD! And another flash: Seabugged?

What?
Seabugged.
Sea Buck?
NO. Seabugged. Like the little seabugs that bite you in the water, except we’re the one’s who’ve been bitten. By the meta seabug.

Everyone loved it and I was revalidated as a useful English graduate. Yet another thing to add to my ever growing resume of useless abilities and skills. Nobody is allowed to joke about this except me, of course, but it is what it is. And from there that’s what we settled on: #seabugged. What millennials we are. And how wonderful.

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x
Jem

#2061 | #LAdiaries – Airbnb Trips: The Adventureman

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Malibu, Los Angeles

Following the announcement that caused a tizzy the world over, I signed up for my own Airbnb Trip Experience. More accurately, I got signed up – two weeks before I boarded for Los Angeles, I got a text from Elaine (from Airbnb) asking: So.. what are your thoughts on surfing?

If you’ve been a reader for awhile now you’ll remember that I learnt to surf on the Gold Coast, which I promptly realised that I both a. Loved and b. Sucked at. But you know me – just because I cant do it well dont mean i wont like trying. So obviously I replied LOVE IT without realising (in retrospect, a bit stupid – should have suspected it) that it meant that I would be going surfing. I was booked for The Adventureman by Quinn Carson in Malibu Los Angeles, a half-day version of the 3 day lifestyle immersion that he actually offers on the Airbnb app. I knew none of this till much later: all I knew was a time, date, and meeting point + notes on appropriate attire and a general idea regarding the nature of my activity. So an eighty dollar uber ride from Downtown LA later, and hola Malibu!

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Malibu is gorgeous and also where the rich and famous live. “That’s Jessica Simpson’s house,” my uber driver pointed out, gesturing vaguely at a huge white structure as we sped past. Not remembering what Jessica Simpson actually did, I nodded and rearranged my face to look impressed. Finally he deposited me along a private looking beach, which i was genuinely impressed at, and drove off.

And here came my first fun fact, courtesy of my Airbnb Experience Host – all beaches in Cal State are public. This of course annoys to no end the rich people who want to think that their beachfront houses come with, well, private beaches. And it is hilarious because all I could imagine while trying to surf was the picture of a rich old man sipping his tea and trying to enjoy his 6 billion dollar view while determinedly trying to block out the fact that some noob looking asian tourist is crashing into waves right before him. Ha!

(Yet another example of the weird things you find out when you hang out with locals that differentiate your experience from the typical tourbook one. The knowledge that you’re the bane of some rich dude’s existence thanks to Cal State law. We must all rebel in the small ways that we can.)

Previously mentioned Airbnb Experience Host was called Quinn, and he and his friend took us for the day. We were a strange, assorted group from all over – there was a tv presenter from Auckland, a fashion editor from Germany, two journalists from Italy, a tv-writer from New York. And then me, the postgrad student blogger? instagrammer? online presenter? bookworm??? Even I dont know what I am. English majors, you will quickly find, have big philosophical struggles with issues of identity. But we were all level at that point, facing the waves, and going oh shit.

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Even to a total newbie, surfing is a bucketload of fun. Most of the people in the group hadnt surfed before, so Quinn brought us through an on-ground (on-sand?) lesson on the theory of the thing, and told us that we’d probably forget it all once in the water anyway. Spoiler: we did.

The actual surfing lasted over an hour, by the end of which we were all wiped out. Update: half a year later, I still suck at surfing. Half a year later, I still enjoy it immensely. And what better ice breaker than watching each other wipe out in the face of a monster wave? I must tell you that literally nobody looks good wiping out. Everyone makes an incredibly hilarious and stupid face. The hope is that as you go on you wipe out less and less, and so the frequency of people seeing you look ridiculous is diminished manyfold.

Seven tan lines and a head of copiously salt-drenched hair later, I dried off with the rest of them and we drove to a spot in the mountains to have a picnic bench lunch. Happily chomping on my sandwich, I looked around and realised that I would literally never get to sit around and lunch with so many varied people from different cultures and backgrounds otherwise. Those of you who’ve been long term readers know that a big part of why I love Airbnb (and travel, in general) is the opportunity to meet and understand new people, mostly in the form of my live-in hosts. And with this new Airbnb Experience feature, it seems that group has expanded to other travellers who have similar interests – or at least, similar attitudes when facing new experiences that could potentially be very embarrassing. Ha! See above: re wiping out.

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The second half of the Adventureman experience was hiking – something which I definitely did not realise beforehand. I actually hate hiking because I am terrified of falling down and breaking my face. In case you haven’t realised, I am extremely clumsy. But 2016 was all about pushing boundaries, and so despite fleetingly considering making a run for it, I chumped up and attempted the Malibu Creek State Park hike to the soundtrack of Quinn rattling off his favourite spots and memories from place to place.

Malibu Creek State Park is actually absurdly beautiful, and I found myself grateful that I’d been brought here because I don’t think I’d choose to go of my own volition. Lots of movies were filmed there – like Tarzan Escapes, Love me Tender, and Planet of the Apes. You can actually see the rock wall thats so heavily featured in Planet of the Apes, and the number of people taking selfies with it was actually pretty hilarious! Strangely enough, I never saw LA as much of a nature place – I knew they had a huge beach culture, of course, but my impression of LA had always been pop-culture based: griffith, DTLA, urban lights.. very curated, very specific. Never would I imagine going to LA, putting on some boots, and just going for a hike, though come to think of it, my American friends are very outdoorsy. Is this what being a local is like, then? In that hour long hike I saw everything I never had the option of doing. Back home, in the city grid and grind that I love and live off, the option to just get in a car and go frolic in some nature an hour out from the city was never really possible. Not that I’m complaining – different cities lead different lives. But experiencing the adventure man life for a day was pretty great, for a change.

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And that’s what Airbnb’s Experiences represented to me, I think. Going one step further and not just living in another person’s home, but experiencing life in their boots. I wrote a piece on a different Airbnb Experience last month, one with a south african author who uses the Experience feature as a vehicle on social commentary. That, to me, was something you’d never be able to do on your own, and something innately valuable to understanding the cultural and deep seated political issues embedded in a country’s history. This one is more straightforward, and doesn’t try to impart any moral lessons. But both do similar things in allowing you to live out the life of another person in a slightly being-john-malkovitch way. And both promise to be extremely unique and immensely enjoyable.

I speak from personal experience when I say that I hundred percent recommend The Adventureman to anyone headed the LA way. From what I understand, Experiences will be rolling out to cities all over the world soon too, so perhaps one day I’ll see you guys in a Hainanese Chicken Rice cooking class in Singapore? Who knows. But till then, surfs up. x


Airbnb Experiences is now available on the updated Airbnb app.

x
♥jem

#2059 | The Broke Student’s Guide to the Pre-Trip Checklist

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Aloha guys!

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve done my last BSG, so I thought I’d ease into 2017 with a generic (read: non destination specific) one that all of you could potentially use and hopefully find useful. One thing that crops up quite a lot in my BSGs is seeing an influx of emails and questions from you guys asking if I can pen a 1. packing guide and 2. planning guide. As I am a messy human being, I don’t think anyone wants to see what my packing guide is like (ie. nonexistent, lots of hair pulling, stress crying), but as an accused OCD person (guilty as charged), I do think I’ll be more useful to everyone talking about the second option. Because lets face it guys – the key to saving money on anything, not just travel, is having a game plan. Spontaneity is great for tumblr overlay quotes, but if your bank account aint having none of that, then time to get over the hipster aesthetic and start getting down to planning your trip beforehand!

A couple of years ago when planning my own backpacking trip across Italy, I came across this lady’s travel planning website. Essentially, you told her how many people you had, what your budget was, and interests were, and then you paid her to plan your trip for you. I thought to myself, I could do that! And make a living out of it! But instead I wrote BSGs for free on my blog. Oh well. And ever since penning the BSG series (seriously, its getting out of hand, just look at the BSG sidebar), I’ve had a lot of friends come up to me and ask me to help them with their trip itinerary too. So I compiled the questions that I ask them that’s frequently the most useful things to know, and wrote them here for you guys:

PS. This is NOT an end-all guide. You’re meant to take these questions/points, fill them in for yourself before every trip, then base your itinerary off that!


The BSG Pre Trip Checklist


Generic

1. What are your key trip details?

Date/ Time/ Number of days/ Number of people on the trip/ Time of Arrival/ Time of Departure/

2. Is everyone on the trip on the same kind of budget/ financial capacity?

This may seem like an inane question because friendship should technically transcend all materialistic barriers etc etc etc. But I guarantee you, this will make a difference. Someone who’s earning 3k a month is going to want to do different things from someone earning 6k a month. Someone who is a broke student is going to be way more willing to hobo it out in a backpackers hostel than someone who’s a working adult and prioritises having a comfortable sleeping place. And neither option is wrong – you should be able to make the choices you want to make on a holiday you’re paying for. But it’s not great to stress each other out when this is happening – if 3/4 the people in the group want to go somewhere nice to eat and 1/4 doesn’t really want to spend that kind of money, you’re going to cause a lot of tension and resentment thats totally unnecessary. Just watch FRIENDS season 2 episode 5!

So there are a couple of ways to get around this. Firstly, and the most obvious – choose to travel with people who are similar to you in terms of budget. Secondly – if you’re in a group where the finances of each person is very varied, then either agree that it’s ok to split up at times, or make your trip budget clear to everyone in the group. And this goes the other way too – if you’re the well to do one in the group, then be considerate of the ones who aren’t as free with their finances. Or travel with people who are.

3. What’s the aim of the trip?

Do you want to experience things, like go hiking and surfing? Do you want to cafe hop? Do you want to shop? Are you the type that wants to instagram everything and therefore hunt down photogenic places? These are things you need to establish before going, because again, it’s going to be very frustrating if half the people in the group want to run off and shop and the other half want to shoot an OOTD at every corner. Again, this boils down to both understanding the travel style of people in your group, and also being considerate of what each individual wants.


Travel Specific

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4. Are there any hidden costs you need to look out for when booking your plane ride?

Some airlines will charge you an extra fee at the gate if you don’t print your own boarding pass (ie. Ryanair). Some are ridiculously strict with baggage and will only allow ONE carry on – not one carry on + one handbag (ie. EasyJet). You should definitely google your airline before flying, just to be aware of what flight terms and conditions you should be looking out for. Travel forums are really handy here. And yes, this applies mainly to budget flights, but this is a budget guide after all 🙂

5. How long is your plane ride and what might you need?

Again, another budget flight specific point. You can fly budget to pretty far off destinations, like Japan, Korea, and even Greece. So you’re talking a good 7-8 hours in air. What might you need that you don’t want to pay for inflight? I always carry an onigiri in my bag so i can snack if I’m hungry instead of purchasing the oft ridiculously overpriced inflight meals. You can also bring in an empty water bottle and fill it up at the water dispensers after bag-check and before boarding, if you’re flying from Changi Airport. This varies from airport to airport, so again, google is your best friend here.

If you need in-flight wifi to do work on the plane, then check if your airline offers that before flying. This is not necessarily budget specific. Scoot, a budget carrier, does in flight wifi. Cathay, supposedly one of the world’s leading airlines, does not. Emirates offers you in flight data for a dollar. SQ offers it for about fourteen times that amount. So, check!


Either / Or

6. Change money locally or overseas?

As a general rule, I find that changing money at your destination is cheaper. This goes against everything people advise online, but it is what has been true for me. So I like changing a little before I go so I won’t be stranded when I touchdown, then changing the rest there. However, this varies from country to country, so make your own decisions based on research before you go.

7. Cash or Card?

Logically, if you have a card that gives you interest free or no foreign conversion fee benefits, or a card that gives you great offline spending rebates, then carding more purchases might make sense. But you need to do your research as to which countries are more card/cash friendly. The US, for example, is very big on card culture. You card nearly everything. In Hong Kong, however, many places accept CASH ONLY. So my idiot american friends who met me in Hong Kong were wandering around the whole day with no money because they assumed you could just live on your credit card wherever you went.

And of course, as a general rule, always pay in the local currency on your card. Here’s an article explaining why.

For someone on a budget, however, what I would recommend is not bringing your card and only putting a certain amount of cash into your travel wallet for the day. Reason being, the minute you mentally commit to signing off on your purchases, you become so much more willing to buy frivolous things. But if you carry around the idea of your cash budget in your head all day, you’ll naturally spend less. When I was backpacking in Europe, I gave myself 100Euros cash per country, averaging 4 days each. Per country, mind you, not per day. And guess what? I stuck to it! Without much difficulty too, I should add. So it is possible, and I would definitely recommend this if you’re hoping to keep your total trip budget low.

8. Data card or Wifi Egg?

I must say from the get go that I absolutely hate roaming services. I have never been able to make sense of them, and they have traditionally always been more expensive than getting a new local sim. Sorry, Singtel! Even the 1GB/Month malaysian roaming plan for $10 which makes a lot of sense on paper is a headache, because IT IS A NIGHTMARE TO CANCEL and you get all kinds of administrative fees slapped on you for trying to cancel the AUTOMATICALLY RECURRING ROAMING PLAN. Headache!

Some countries you can get by with no data because theres wifi virtually everywhere. See: Korea. But this is just one of the things that i’ve come to terms with as a necessary luxury for me – now that I work, and so much of my work is online, I must get data whenever I travel. I’d rather spend the money and have access to my email, my text groups, my MAPS (very impt for me cos my sense of direction is nil) and my city guides (Yelp/Foursquare).

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So which makes the most sense? I’d say this comes down to how many people you’re traveling with. If you’re solo, a data card probably makes the most sense from the local 7-11 or telco. But if you’re in a group, a wifi egg from your home country can prove very cost effective since you all split the cost of the egg and everyone can use it. You can also turn it on the minute you touch down even before you disembark, which I’ve always found to be very useful. Wifi eggs generally charge by the day, so do your math and figure out which makes the most sense for you!

9. Public Transport or Cab/Uber?

The obvious answer is public transport right?

Well, not always.

If you’re traveling in groups of 4 (or 5 for hongkong) then you might find that your cab fare per person might work out less than your train ride. Bangkok cabs for me have always been cheaper split than their trains, for example. In LA, some places can be really tough to get to unless you Uber it. And so your decision should be based on not just cost, but also time spent trying to get to a place. Because time is money, especially when you’re paying to be in a new place! Here are some bits and bobs you should know:

TO CHECK: whats the best way from airport to your accommodation?
In many places you might wanna cab, but in places like HK, Seoul, and Japan, the airport express trains are actually really efficient!

TO CHECK: do trains run all night, and if not, what are their hours?
Trains in NYC are 24 hours, with frequencies slowed after a certain time. Trains in Tokyo and Hong Kong generally end at 1am. Trains in London run till midnight. This varies according to the lines on that train, but it’s good to know.) It’s important to know what the hours of public transport are, especially since you might have to factor in time to get home after your late dinner/drinks/show etc. In cities like Seoul, the trains stop at midnight, no matter where you are. So if you’re three stops from home when it stops, you’re just gonna have to get off and cab it.

Countries never to take a flagged cab in: London, Japan, Australia
Countries where Uber > Cabs: London
Countries where Uber > Public Transport: Malaysia, Australia (some parts), LA
Countries where public transport makes the most sense: Hong Kong, New York, London, Seoul, Paris, Actually – most European cities.

*Note: in HK, there is no midnight surcharge for cabs. It’s not ridiculously expensive to cab, but public transport is really affordable, so I would generally take that instead. Not a hard and fast rule, but just useful to know!

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Lastly

10. How much money are you willing to spend?

This seems like the entire point of the blogpost, yes, I know. But at the end of the day it really boils down to this. How much are you willing to put down on a trip? I am of the belief that you can always make your budget work for you as long as you’re willing to be flexible on certain things. Can’t afford to go to Paris? Don’t go. Always wanted to see Egypt but don’t have the cash right now? Save it for when you can afford it, and make a weekend getaway to somewhere within your budget. Want to do Bangkok on as cheap as possible? Easy. Eat street food, don’t go cafe hopping, don’t drink too much. Really want to do a trip anywhere on just three hundred bucks? Read my Budget guide to Phuket. (HAHA #selfpromo).

Obviously you’re going to be very depressed if you insist on going to Istanbul and you only have five hundred bucks in your bank account. For the record, if you have five hundred bucks in the bank, I highly recommend that you don’t go anywhere and focus on working hard and saving up instead because the hand to mouth lifestyle is only romantic in the movies you guys. But the point is, decide whats important to you, and understand that everything else is flexible. And it really helps to make a mental decision on how much you’re willing to spend on the entire trip, because it gives you a limit subconsciously and you won’t just be guesstimating at your total cost during the trip itself.

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Alright guys, I hope that was helpful! Scrap that, it better be. Given how many of you have been asking for this post. Ha.

I’ll add to this as and when I think of something that will be relevant, but other than that, all the best with your trip planning, and may you all go places figuratively and literally in 2017 🙂

x
♥jem

#2052 | LA diaries: Funny stories from Griffith Observatory

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imagesLos Angeles, America

Hey guys,

So, I spent a lot of time alone in Los Angeles, purely by virtue of the fact that I was there on a work trip and knew no one else going prior to the trip. Of course in my time there I made friends, both from Singaporean press and otherwise, but still a lot of my time was spent roaming the city by myself. This is not a complaint, of course, it seems over the years a lot of my travel has been solo, and I’ve always enjoyed time by myself. But the funny thing about traveling alone is that strange things are bound to happen, and often you open yourself up to the possibility of new interactions that might be deterred by the presence of company.

At the opening keynote of the Airbnb Open 2016 conference by Brian Chesky, he mentioned the Airbnb ethos being that the magic is not in the places you go – the magic is in the people, and always has been. This is true. I can attest to this. The things that struck me most in my travels, the moments I’ve looked back on and labelled significant in retrospect, have always been about interactions, whether good or bad. The first time a stranger defended me from a drunk man in public. The first time someone gave me a free coffee in New York cos I looked cold. The first time someone shouted at me in the UK for being chinese and because she thought “your food stinks”. The first time I was picked up (literally) and found myself on the other side of the road in Korea because someone was frustrated at how slowly I was walking and decided to just pick me up and deposit me to a side. The first time (in London) my Airbnb host tried to explain to me the mechanics of a tampon while tipsy. Getting cat called. Learning how to say no. Learning how to stand up for yourself in a strange land in a way that doesn’t get you killed. Learning how not to always be suspicious of every new person, and learning to accept kindness from strangers. These emotions I subconsciously link to different cities all over the world but I have come to realise that a place, for me, is and always has been the sum of it’s people and relationships.

That’s a big part of why I love staying in Airbnbs, I love couchsurfing, and I love talking to strangers on subways. It doesn’t always go according to plan of course. But sometimes that window of opportunity you open up for conversation turns into something beautiful you keep for years to come. Does this always have to happen in an Airbnb? Obviously not. But it is a platform, and on platforms the frequencies of certain things happening are increased.

Today’s story isnt about an Airbnb, although it happened while on an Airbnb press con trip. A couple of days after that beautifully succinct line from Chesky, i found myself at loose ends for a couple of hours. That happens, often, when you’re on agenda – theres very little scheduled free time, but sometimes you think you’ve got a full day of meetings then bam! Two hours with no specific itinerary.

So I thought to myself – what does one do when alone in LA? Do whatever your uber driver suggests, of course. Always ask a local for advice!

I hopped in an Uber and asked him to send me wherever he thought was best for a solo female traveller with two hours to kill.

“It’s 3pm. You gotta catch the sunset.”

And so the sunset it was.

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Solo travel then selfie lor. Taken with a go pro!

He deposited me halfway up the hill and so I hiked the rest of the way. Hiking as a word used here in its loosest form. It was more of walking at an incline. As I walked, slightly grumpy that he refused to send me the full way, I caught sight of the Hollywood sign and all was right with the world because POP CULTURE!!!

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Shot on a Nikon D750 85f1.8 lens, which is SUCH an amazing lens it can capture such great detail and at such a distance too!

So obviously I was walking by myself happily basking in the golden glow of sunset being rather smug by that point about the weather, and about how if I were in Singapore, I would be sweating buckets with my top sticking to my shoulder blades and my hair being disgusting because of the humidity. And despite my exhaustion (it had been work work work nonstop for the past few months) I found myself grinning because how can work look like this? Catching the sunset from one of the most iconic spots in LA during my break time? This is privilege, and I am blessed. And despite how tough the going gets, it is still privilege. It is a good existence. There is space and cause to be grateful, and grateful I must be.

I reached the top and believe me i gasped. The Griffith Observatory is one of the most iconic buildings in los angeles and say what you will about icons not living up to pictures in HD, but I’ve always been the kind of girl to be blown away by the likes of the eiffel tower and the empire state and now the griffith. I settled myself in a nice spot on the observatory deck and waited for the sun to dip into dusk. And that’s when the funny stories that had been waiting to happen, happened.

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Beside me, I heard a mother and daughter talking. It became apparent to me that she was raising this kid on her own (or at least it seemed like it). Whether or not she was, motherhood is tough. But she was a total trouper, answering her kid’s million and one questions about why the sun moved this way, which neighbourhood fell under the sunset rays, where they lived (too far for this, baby) and whether they could see this everyday (no, baby, it’s too far). I must be honest, I don’t like children. But there was something about this mother-daughter pair that I couldnt help being drawn to. After awhile they started trying to take pictures of the sunset and selfies together, and I remember something my mother said to me once, long ago: i wish we took more pictures together growing up. And so I turned around and asked: can i help take a picture of you two?

My goodness i have never seen such an excited child.

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I downloaded it off my camera and sent it to her (again, another advantage of a wifi-enabled camera haha) and the look on her face was all I needed to validate my being a creep about taking someone else’s picture.

I’m going to print this,
she told me, so she has something to remember this moment by when she gets older. Even if she doesn’t actually remember it. And i thought to myself, these are the moments of little delights that make travel special. I have gotten so much from travel. But instead of waiting for someone to talk to me and give me a memory to hold on to, why not do something for a stranger? Take turns. Be that person that someone else will remember years from now, thinking there was that once a stranger in xxx country did this thing for me.. people are nice. Why the hell not?

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I dont think I’m being annoying about this, by the way. I think it’s not too much of a stretch to say that she genuinely liked and appreciated the pictures. And I felt (no other way to put this) happy too, to have done that for her.

And there I was, being cheesy and happy and having a moment by myself, when someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” this girl said, “I saw what you just did. Could you take a picture of us too?”

It was a tall, pretty girl with her tall, pretty boyfriend.

“We’re trying to get something instagrammable,” she explained, and he chipped in: “can you suggest a few poses for us?”

I mean, that was kind of hilarious. I shrugged. Why the hell not?

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(Later, she joked: we should pay you! But she did not.)

And then somehow that turned into me standing there taking pictures of a bunch of other people.. for an hour. Someone asked me if I was the designated photographer for the observatory and if I needed to be tipped (no, and no). Nobody actually offered to tip me. A bunch of people felt the need to explain to me how they got there, and what they were doing. There were a surprising number of people who came to Griffith on a regular basis, locals. Equally surprising were the number of people who confessed that they were on (tinder) dates, because the need to photograph-document the first blind date is interesting to me. What if the date doesn’t go well? What if it never pans out? What if one party ghosts the other after this sunset? Such a poignant moment to choose to document, a moment of potential and hope and possibly loss. First dates, ha.

My favourite photos from the day:

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I wonder what their stories are.

After the sun started visibly moving across the sky (there’s always this beautiful period of generic sunset, and then suddenly a very small amount of time where the sun seems to hurry up and set incredibly quickly), everyone kept quiet and turned towards the horizon. And down it went. Camera shutters clicked. Time lapses were taken. Someone tapped me on the shoulder again – just a random dude, holding a sketch pad.

“See that?” he said, pointing to a little lookout below us. “That’s where Joseph Gordon Levitt sits in 500 days of Summer to sketch the city.”

That’s the only thing he said to me. After that he turned away and stared at the sun again, as if he hadn’t said a word to me. He wasn’t looking for conversation. I don’t know. He had something to say and he had said it, and the moment passed. Something about solo travel invites this, I’ve learnt. People dont tap you on the shoulder and drop sentences on you when you travel in groups, that’s for sure. I laughed inwardly.

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Said place where JGL sits to ponder his architectural dreams

And then the sun set, just like that. The deck erupted in cheers and applause. Strangers grinned at one another. I thought about how people find kinship and solidarity in moments of shared appreciation. And how the feeling is so easily let go after the moment has passed.

Afterwards, I spotted one of the journalists from Singapore who’d been in the observatory for the star show (and missed the sunset!) skyping her daughter the city view. I took a picture of it from afar and sent it to her later, and i think possibly that is when we became proper friends.

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After that, it was time to leave.

Another funny thing about Griffith is, beautiful as it is, there is no cellular signal up there and traffic up and down the mountain is awful. And so after uber proved impossible, we hitchhiked down by ambushing a Chinese couple who looked ultra worried about being spoken to by strangers until we started speaking in Mandarin. And then it was all, hey bruh! help a sister out!

They dropped us halfway down the mountain (again!!!) where there was an internet signal finally, and where we could call an uber. We were near this place called The Greek Theatre and it was bustlin.

“Come in,” said the woman by the door. “Here’s a raffle ticket.”
“We dont have event tickets,” we said.
“It’s free. And if you go in and turn to the right, you can get free hot chocolate and cookies.”

What in the world.

What sort of surreal alternate life did I land myself in?
I found myself thinking. I am not the sort to hitchhike because people who hitchhike get chopped up into pieces and sold off as chunks of meat. I know this because I watch movies. But desperate times call for desperate measures and instead of being killed I found myself being ushered into some sort of community party with a Santa Claus in a corner granting kids their wishes, a little string orchestra, and free cookies and hot drinks?!

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Incredible.

As we waited for our uber sipping on free hot coffee, i found myself thinking of Brian Chesky’s words again. The magic is in the people. It’s not a revolutionary truth, it’s something we’ve known innately all along, but had never defined so succinctly. There’s something to building an entire empire (lets face it, that’s what airbnb is) on this line of thought. He’s on to something. There are worse things to be founded on.

And that is, I suppose, my not so short segue into my LA Diaries series. An amazing four days in the city of angels. More to come, of course, and though this is not strictly an airbnb story, it sure shares the same sentiment.

Till then x

x
♥jem