Flashback Trip: Seattle! (FIRST TRIP!)

My boyfriend, Pete, who you may remember as 'Pete' in my Japan photos, has just been hired by Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington- just a stone's throw away from Seattle.

In an effort to convince me, his partner, how awesome Seattle is, and how awesome it would be to live there, he invited me along on his apartment search for 4 days, funded by Microsoft. The point of being there was to find him a place to live, one that we both liked, so that when I move up there [eventually!] we'll both be happy with the living space.

We saw a handful of places and thank God found one by the end of the day because I was getting super nauseous in the back of the location facilitator's Audi. So many mountains.

Let's talk about the planning, first. When I knew we'd be going to Seattle, I started looking for stuff to do- all the typical stuff: Space Needle and Puget Sound, local museums like the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum, the local aquarium, Pike's place, etc. I also looked to see if any famous people were buried in or around Seattle- there are some!

Ok, so we're in Seattle, in a little hotel, where they offer a continental breakfast (YES!), and are within walking distance of a brick shopping plaza with tons of shops and eateries, like this gem, Todai. It's a bit pricey, but they do have some neat stuff like crepes, fresh crab, and an assortment of Asian delicacies, all buffet style.

The entire trip, around the last week or so of December, was bleak and rainy- which is expected. It wasn't freezing outside, but it did require a jacket, maybe a scarf, and if you had them (which I do now!) some sweet rain boots.

Next, we headed to Lake View Cemetery, to pay our respects to the awesome Bruce Lee. You can find other famous gravesites on Find A Grave- and read about incorporating them into your travels in a previous post I made! His son, Brandon is buried alongside him- and there is a bench across from the tombstones, erected by his wife and daughter, to sit on.

After that, we found our way to the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum, which is amazing! It's only open until 5, so you'll have to either rush through the thing, or get there early enough- it's right next to the Space Needle, so you can spend a whole day wandering around the area.

The next day we wandered around downtown Seattle, which has an impressive building-engulfed mall called the Palace or Plaza or something like that...I honestly don't recall, but for the holiday season they had these painted, giant nutcrackers everywhere. Those were pretty neat, and there is a huge movie theatre on the topmost floor. Since it was rainy and cold, we explored the mall and caught Juno. At night, we ate at the Space Needle! Overpriced, undercooked, and you really can't see all that well out of the windows at night- probably best in the daytime hours. It's nice to say you've eaten there, like I just did...but other than that, don't waste your money!

The next day, we rode around and found Jimi Hendrix's grave! Then, we headed toward Puget Sound and the Aquarium, walked around the piers and finally ended up in our favorite mall.

All in all, it was a fun couple of days- my first impression of Seattle was horrible. The dreary weather, the terrible traffic (it's like there are only 4 main roads and so they are always backed up!), and the general malaise that comes with being not quite 'rained on,' but always wet. As somebody who has curly hair and glasses, it's so freaking annoying.

Post Labels

Just a quick reminder on what the preceding labels mean in my post titles:

Travel Info: any news or personal experience stuff
Tech Travel: new electronics used for travel
Flashback Trip: past trips taken
Travel Buyables: travel merch
Travel Planning: personal planning
Travel Tips and How To’s: things to do, tutorials, etc
Travel in Style: stylish merchandise, these are more luxury items
Travel Ease: deals, or programs like ‘Clear’
Travel Tools: online apps and sites
Travel Buddy: highlights on fellow travel bloggers

Things To Do: Visit a Dead Guy

Before I forget, I just wanted to share that another cheap and interesting thing you can do when you're visiting someplace new is look up if any well-known individuals are buried in the area.

For example, I just went to Seattle and visited both Bruce and his son, Brandon, Lee's graves, as well as Jimi Hendrix's. These are people you've never met, or would have never met in your life, but by visiting their gravesite, you can pay a few minutes of respect, do a grave rubbing, or just take-in their last resting place.

Here is a great site to double check the final resting place of life's who's who: http://www.findagrave.com/. What's cool about Find A Grave is that you can even look people up, like family members! I didn't find any family members, but I'll upload a photo of a note left at Jim Morrison's grave, Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France:
Wikipedia also has a list of notable cemeteries, separated by country, so be sure to check those out, too!

Personal Note

I'm really bad at keeping this up. But! I have many a story! So I will return to write about my recent trip to Seattle and of course, throw some Japan in there.

Travel News: Japan Trip!

First, just some photos. I have to get all my info in order!

Travel Tools: Tripbase

How do you plan a trip? Do you set a budget first? Do you decide where you want to go first? Or, do you decide what you want to do, and then match that up with a place to do it? These are all important factors to consider when you're getting ready for a trip, and now there's a website to actively help you gauge these factors in order of importance to you, and presents you with trip plans that fit your specifications, based on the recommendations of other users.
So, I've set my scale as follows. Nightlife is not that big of a deal with me, and heading from club to club means mingling with people I don't know and putting yourself in a situation that involves an unfamiliar city and drunkedness...so nightlife isn't high on the list. Dining is a must, but it's also pricey, I'll leave that at half. Shopping also, not big on my list, but some cities have great specialty stores that even if you don't buy anything, are fun to visit. Nature, I could take it or leave it, they make for good pictures, so I set that at low, too. The most important thing for me is sight-seeing: Museums, theme parks, local events, etc. So I set that really high.

I'm typing this out as I move along, so I just hit submit and I'm shocked! This tool is awesome- here's what I got. Fifteen travel destinations are presented to me. They are: Mexico City, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, Boston, Berlin, Tokyo, San Francisco, Sydney, Florence, Washington DC, Chicago, London, and New York City. Aside from including precisely the cities I've already chosen to visit based on my specifications, which I bolded above, each choice come complete with a cost per day amount, as well as little icons that denote what the city has to offer. Tokyo, for example, is set at $108 per day, and offers attractions [the most important thing on my list!], dining [the second most important], and lodging. Awesome! Ok, I'm going to click more!
More surprises! The next page is a pop-up, but you can't move it around, so if I want to go back to my list, I have to close the window. Good thing I don't have to go back to the list! As you can see from the image, there's a little box to the left that shows the current temperature, rainfall, and tourist season. The temperature is set to orange/yellow, I'm not sure what that means. It's not red, which I'm guessing is hot, and it's not blue/green, which I'm guessing is cold...so moderate? Great! Next, the rain drop is completely filled, some of them are half-full, so I know that Japan is in its rainy season, and the tourist meter says L, for low? I hope so, Tokyo already has 35 million people! To the right there are things to do, articles, pictures- everything you need to convince yourself that a second mortgage makes perfect sense, if it means you'll be on the next flight to Tokyo!
A lot of the information for highlighted places is missing, since the site hasn't had a lot of traffic, when I get back from Japan, I'll be sure to add all my info- The best part of Tripbase is that it doesn't sort or make recommendations based on what is important to you, but rather how important those factors are. The sliding scale is what makes this site awesome- so is the cost per day feature. However, it doesn't explain what goes into consideration in the cost per day, and the amount jumped from $108 on the results page, to $138 on the details page, with no explanation.

The worst part is, that as a part of an emerging web 2.0 travel industry, this site doesn't provide a venue for the developers, founders, and masterminds behind the application to inform its users of updates, new features or enhancements, and the like. That is what's great about other travel sites, the company blog and maybe forums.

All in all, Tripbase is a sweet little app with a lot of potential.

Travel Tools: Virtual Tourist

Get Your Own MapView Larger Map

I stumbled on this really neat site. There are a ton of maps out there, with little flags, pins, and buttons you can place over countries, to show were you've been/are going, but I really like VirtualTourist because it's so damn pretty and easy. Sign-in, click on the countries, done. Actually, the map feature is only a facet of the site. VirtualTourist helps you plan trips, book flights, find deals, meet other users, read reviews, make your own homepage, etc. The most helpful page, however, is this one- 10 Things to do on Virtual Tourist.

The map says I've only been to 9 countries- boo hoo. I want to have been to like 87. It's going to move to 10 once I land in Tokyo! Speaking of which, 25 freaking days left, hell yes!


Travel Buyables: Haute Luggage Tags!

You know I don't like checking my bags...but that doesn't mean I can't label my luggage! I recently bought some tags that were on sale at Target, $5 for two. I think they're pretty cute. I looked online and found some pretty nice ones!

The one to the left is from lugtagz. They've got some great mod retro tags with metal bead chains. Freakin' adorable! I love that whole retro feel to things so taking something simple like a plain black bag or a silver lunch box and punching it up with one of these tags is gorgeous.

Target's got these cool motel luggage tags that accomplish the same feel! I swear, Target is the cat's ass when it comes to shopping. [My dad say's that means 'cool,' though I'm skeptical.] The selection at Target is more cutesy than anything else, but thats just the online store. The store itself has some pretty sweet plastic ones with bold colors and sturdy rubbery/plastic straps. I just looked at the back of the tag and it says, 'Bright colors make it easy to identify your bag' and 'Personal identification panel on back of tag.' I guess both of those are good advice.
Some other cool sites and tags:
Visitag's got a neat spin on personalized tags.

This site, aptly called Discount Luggage, has a selection of tags wider than Peter Griffin's butt. Lots to choose from, cutesy to simple, expensive and not-so-much, definitely worth a look!


Travel Tools: VibeAgent Review

How often does a site come along that incorporates the best attributes of a handful of sites and throws them all together? Not too often but there's a great travel startup out there that is making some really awesome steps in doing just that. Specifically, with hotels!

The new site, still in its beta and hidden stage, is called VibeAgent and in one word; it's awesome. You can search for hotels and sift through reviews containing special keywords that distinguish your tastes from those of others and find just the right blend of expectation and accommodation. It's actually quite ingenious. You can post your own reviews of hotels and answer to questions that fellow users ask regarding your review. Actually, the users of this site are called 'Agents' and each one has a profile. You can invite any agent to be your friend, join your group, send them a message, or even bookmark them. Clicking on an Agent will show you a cool map of places they've been and written reviews about, and also whether or not they're 'planning' a trip.

As far as your individual account, there are tons of features. First, there's the usual- you can load a photo, a few lines of 'about me,' date of joining, etc. Then there's the cool stuff. For example, you can note whether you're planning a trip somewhere. Then, people who see that and have ideas for you can pass them along, become your friends, send you a message, etc. Next, and this is an awesome feature, internal messaging. That's right! You can send messages via your own message center to Agents or customer support. That's the beauty of start-ups- the staff is so eager to interact with users; greedy for feedback. I had an issue and Adam, who I believe is one of the higher-ups, helped me out himself. Awesome customer service, don't lose that!

Lastly, the company keeps a blog, which is excellent in keeping all the users up-do-date on the lasted additions, enhancements, and system fixes. It's actually a great source for travel news in general; specifically, hotel searches! There are also forums for meeting and getting help from fellow Agents. All in all, VibeAgent should be a part of your trip planning process- from now on, it's definitely part of mine!

Travel Buyables: Vintage Luggage

Two words: Old luggage. I love love love vintage luggage! I have a pretty decent collection, too! When shopping for luggage, never go looking for it. I've never bought a piece of luggage that I was looking for. More so, I'm surprised by their presence in local thrift shops, antique stores, garage sales, and vintage shops.

Most of the stuff I've bought has been under $5. You have to set rules when you go shopping- period. Doesn't matter what you're shopping for, always have a price limit in mind. Me, for example? Well, I don't buy pants over $9, I don't buy dresses over $30 and I don't buy luggage over $5. It's great! Here are a couple of my favorites.

This is clearly from the late 60's to mid 70's- I'm unable to find a year on it, but the pattern, the colors, and the fabric/materials used help pinpoint its era of manufacture. It's got two metal zippers, the main having a large lock at the end of the zipper trail. The inside is a light orange/yellow vinyl material with an embossed paisley pattern. It has a green vinyl trim and a heavy, plastic handle. It's not very big, and it's thin so I use it for 3-day to a week trips.
The next piece is also from the 60's, but it's much smaller. It's a bowling bag! I found this in a thrift store and bought it for 50 cents. It is a bright blue with a wonderful white handle. It's in great shape, I cleaned the hell out of it with some Windex, and I use it for overnight stays, to 3 days. It meets the 'carry on' standard measurements, so I don't have to check it, either. Plus, it's completely adorable, hello!?
There are some fantastic websites for buying old luggage- but like I said, I don't spend over $5. Here's a good website for sprucing up your luggage treasure, too.

Travel Tools: Web2.0 Style

I was reading an awesome article on CNN's Money.com, about the 31 hottest startups, looking for some cool traveling sites and found a couple that are simply awesome!

First, Trivop, which allows visitors to take video tours of the hotels from videos provided by travelers!! Very very awesome! Based in France, they've already got 158 vids going for hotels in Paris- c'est magnifique!

Next, Bezurk, which the article states, "aims to provide the best prices for flights, hotels and cars in one place." Kind of vague, right? I mean, isn't that what Kayak, Sidestep, and SkyAuction aim for, too? Well, Bezurk might just give them a run for their money! They use AJAX as their main developing platform, which allows users to "sort flights quickly by price or departure time without reloading the page." Round of applause for time saving!

So use Bezurk to find a nice flight to say....oh...I don't know, India! Check out Trivop for any hotel virtual tours- none? That's ok, because you can use Burrp to find the most fun and non-touristy recommendations for food and nightlife in India. Sign up before the site gets too trendy and useless, like MySpace. Right now it's a very cool idea- like Yelp! There's another site sort of like this, but more focused around virtual and 3D maps for China called Edushi. Says the article, "Apart from allowing users to look for information on the existing maps, eDushi lets them build interactive maps in basic 3D, adding comments and information. For example, one user might write a map entry about hotels in Shanghai, and others might make comments that help to build out the map." The site is in Mandarin, however- but you can go to Google and have the pages translated, if you like!

Now, by far, the coolest site on the list, Bliin. This site is genius, here's how the article explains it, "Bliin lets you broadcast your location and post location-tagged photos from your computer or phone. If you have a GPS-enabled cell phone, you can allow friends and other Bliin members to track your real-time movements on a map. " So, you could be standing in front of the Eiffel tower, snap a picture on your phone, send it to Bliin- and your friends would be allllll sorts of green with envy!

Weblin is a neat application that pops up an avatar when you are viewing a page, and the avatars of other members will appear, too! I think this is great when looking to plan big trips with a handful of people- you can all meet at a site, or a page and have a conversation while all looking at the same info. Pretty neat- I have an image of it in action below:
Check out those sites, get an account and reserve a username before you have to add numbers and random letters to your name! I was able to acquire 'Veronique' for nearly all of them, yay!

Travel Planning: What planning?

I'm a stickler for plans- I like itineraries, maps, guidelines, deadlines, schedules, all that jazz. Having a plan for your trip, or even a day out on the town, is the best way to get all you want to get done accomplished.

However, sometimes this doesn't work. The devil fools with the best laid plans, after all. Be ready to accept that, and -surprise- have a back-up plan! The devil is only busy enough to mess with your plan once, so make sure you have a back-up. I just finished reading a great travel book, lonely planet's Tokyo City Guide. What I love about this guide book is that it highlighted a lot of hidden Tokyo hotspots. When you're visiting a city where walking is key, make sure you allot time for 'Hey, look at this!' type stops. This guidebook is great because I can now plan on stopping by!

Sometimes, running behind schedule, missing a train, or forgetting your ticket is the least of your worries- those are all your own fault. You should have back-up plans for things you can't control, like the weather, a city-worker strike [no joke], or say, a natural disaster [Japan has had 2 earthquakes in the past couple of weeks!!]. Rain is far more pleasant, so we'll use that as an example! Pack your day with as many in-door activities and places to visit as possible, but keep in mind that if it rains, chances are outside areas, like parks and promenades may be empty- so don't completely knock them off your list.

Ideas for rainy days:
Seeing a movie
Visiting a church
Visiting a museum/gallery

Bad ideas for rainy days:
Sports match
Amusement park
Walking tour

Check out this list of things to do in Japan, rain or shine!
Yahoo! Things to do

Note: If you're looking to visit Japan, be sure to visit this blog, tons of tips!

Travel Planning: Airfare Competition

Finding a flight at a fair price is no easy task. It's arduous, if done properly. However, it's so worth it if you can find a flight at 30 or 40% of the typical price. That's the problem, though, nobody has time for that! So, we rely on these search portals to scan competing websites in hopes of gleaning the very best in flights and pricing.

Therefore, I'm doing an experiment. My boyfriend has never been to Boston. I'm a born and bred Bostonian and I think it would be a nice gift to fly him there for his birthday, which falls on a Saturday- Aug 4th, to be exact. Let's see who has the best findings, shall we?

Factors to consider:
1) weekend flights are expensive- best to leave on a Thursday night, fly back Sunday
2) airports in proximity for both departure and arrival
3) budget
4) his family plans
5) budget

I'd have to check and see what his family is up to for that weekend, only if I want them to like me, of course. [sigh] Anyway, hopefully they wouldn't have a big shindig planned, so we'll consider number 4 done. Next, budget! I suppose I don't want to spend more than 80-90$ for each way, which is 160-180$ round trip, each. The reason I broke it down like that is because sometimes, it's cheaper to buy two one-way tickets instead of a roundtrip flight. Weird, I know. Typically, I would search for those one-way fares, but today we'll leave it up to the search portals. So the budget is set. Airports are easy, you can elect for the search portals to include neighboring airports quite easily- done. Ok, let's go!

Requested flight: depart Thursday 8/2 and return Monday 8/6, <$200 each Here are the best found prices, for each site: SideStep.com- $237 on JetBlue, total cost $467.60 SkyAuction.com- total cost $465.40 on USAirways and Airtran Kayak.com- $234 on JetBlue, total cost $467.60
Farecast.com- $239 on AirTran, total cost $498.40
Orbitz.com- unknown, see Notes below.
Expedia.com- $242 on USAirways and Delta, total cost $485.40
Travelocity.com- $240.20 on USAirways and Airtran, total cost $480.40


Kayak opened the JetBlue site in another window, and my original window gave me a nice list of options:
We took you to jetblue.com to book this flight. Flight not found?
Go Back to your flight results
Sign up for Boston fare alerts
Find the best Boston hotel for these dates
Return to Kayak.com homepage
Additionally, a Boston fare alert popped up, leading me to a list of flights for under $200 each, but they gave me specific days- still a VERY good deal.

Orbitz presented a list of very competitive prices, but everytime I clicked on one, I got this message: Sorry, but your search results are no longer available. Please redo your search. (Message 1010). :(

Farecast told me to hold off purchasing, that the flight price was dropping- awesome! I can also choose to place a watch on this flight so that when it hits below a certain price, I can buy it. Neato.

Results, SkyAuction is the gold medal winner, with Kayak and SideStep right behind. To me, though, Kayak wins for providing other options quite easily.

Travel Tools: Bundle Folding

So I'm getting ready to start packing for Japan- Yeah I know, the trip isn't until late September, but who can wait! I'm already picturing the outfits I'm taking along- not because I'm a serious modern fashionista, but because I don't like bringing clothes I a) won't wear and b) don't want cluttering my suitcase.

Here's my plan of action, as far as clothes:
1) thin items I can layer
2) cotton unmentionables, only 3 -yep. 3.
3) pair of jeans
4) cotton skirt/ sundress
5) 3 pairs of flats

Done. That'll certainly last the 8 days we're there. Now, I'll be [gulp] sharing a suitcase that we'll be [double gulp] checking. This goes against everything I am, especially on international flights! However, it'll be mostly empty, and I'll still have my carry on. I still want to save space, so I found this neat guide on how to 'bundle' your outfits together. It's pretty neat.

Travel Ease: Luggage Locks and TSA Requirements

When was the last time you traveled? No doubt you've noticed the heightened security and 311 measures that take place now. Basically, restrictions on what you can [3 Oz toothpaste] and can't [nailclippers, tweezers] bring on your carryon bags have been in place for a while now.

As you can see from the image I took from the official Transportation Security Administration website, you can have liquids/gels in 3oz containers: this does NOT mean you can take a 6oz bottle of something that only has 3 oz or less remaining! Kevin tried this, it doesn't work! :) You are permited to take one quart-sized, clear plastic zip-top bag to place your liquids in. If you want to be fancy, you can buy some clear jars/bags from this neat 311 travel gear site.
I don't do the 'check' baggage thing because I'm too paranoid that my luggage will get lost, stolen, broken into, etc etc. I'm also not patient enough to wait for my things to get thrown off of the plane, slammed onto the conveyor belt, and then roll down the dispenser into my loving arms. If you simply have too much stuff to haul and you need to check, you should look into these neat locks. They are TSA approved! Basically, it's a luggage lock that the security folks at the airports can get into, but airport employees and hotel bellhops can't!

I think I'm going to invest in a couple. My mom likes to check bags when we go to El Salvador and they tear your stuff up! It gets to you all half-open, panties hanging out, and whatnot. These locks look pretty neat, it says they have 'global' ones, which means that international airport personnel will be able to check into your things, too.

Update: I bought one! Cost me about $10 at Macy's. Yay!

Labels for Posts

I think proper labeling is key to keeping an organized blog- this is one of the only posts you'll see here without a listed label. I've restructured the labels to only a handful, and I've explained them below.

I've found that sometimes I'll combine one or two labels, though only when necessary. I think these labels help me keep a focus when I'm writing. Yay for organization, my old history teacher would be proud.

Travel Info: any news or personal experience stuff
Tech Travel: new electronics used for travel
Flashback Trip: past trips taken
Travel Buyables: travel merch
Travel Planning: personal planning
Travel Tips and How To’s: things to do, tutorials, etc
Travel in Style: stylish merchandise, these are more luxury items
Travel Ease: deals, or programs like ‘Clear’
Travel Tools: online apps and sites
Travel Buddy: highlights on fellow travel bloggers

Travel in Style: Passport Wallets

They're called passport wallets, cases, sleeves, holders, covers, sheets- it's hard to find them all! While it was no easy feat, I found a handful of awesome passport thingies to make you feel like a well-classed traveler. If you're like me, you'll see which one you like best, buy a yard of boldly colored fabric from Wal-Mart, whip out the bedazzler or glue gun, and fancy your own!

For the classic traveler, simple and affordable!

Her Point of View, in terra cotta, charcoal, or my favorite, sunkiss- $20

Modern Agent has these awesome His and Hers passport wallets! You can buy them individually, or snag them both for $37! Each is £9.95, or $20. Very cute!

For the classy traveler, less means more!

St. Tropez has a more fun, snake skin approach! Get the pink "Window Seat" one or the lime "First Class," either are $25.

Bold and colorful, Tepper Jackson's line of passport cases will be easy to spot in your bag or overstuffed carryon, but worth the $26-$30 price range? You tell me.

For the first-class traveler, nothing but the best!

If you want to help a sistah out, get a breast cancer awareness passport holder, in pink or black. Just £13.50, which is actually a pretty pence at nearly $27. Beat Cancer, here and abroad!

These are hot! Soft leather, hand-stiched and embossed, John Lewis's items are worth the $30, £15, price tag. The raspberry one is my favorite, super sleek! Would be a major luxury item for me, though.

Found these on a bridal gifts site, simple soft covers to give as bridesmaid/groomsmen gifts. I LOVE the idea! A pretty good steal for that purpose at $35. Lots of colors, and you could have them engraved!

For the world-class, exotic one-of-a-kinds!

Another UK find! I guess when you live so close to 'the continent,' you're bound to do a bit of travel on a monthly basis...Anyway, Radley has gorgeous passport wallets, in a plethora of colors, but all still hand-stitched leather. A mere £19.99, or painful $40, unless you want to ultra sleek Bond-esque wallet for a cool $45. A major splurge, but oh so pretty!