I Read 52 Stories in 2019 (and confessions of a former English major)

bosu dong book street busan

My ideal kind of stairway: narrow and lined with precariously stacked books that might all come crashing down if an earthquake decides to hit.

A goal for 2019 was to read 52 titles. And I achieved that this morning, at 1AM, with The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan (book nerd off-tangent rant: I fell in love with the genre of the second-generation immigrant experience when I was in college, and Tan is one of my favorite authors for this genre).

The sub-goals were simple.

  • I wanted to read stories that were out of my comfort zone, titles from eras and with styles that I usually do not gravitate to, like poetry, short stories, and verse play.
  • I wanted to read works written by authors I read in my teenage years, familiar authors like Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, and Louisa May Alcott.
  • I wanted to complete the Harry Potter series I had started listening to last year on my daily commutes to school and work.
  • Lastly, I wanted to read more works from the second-generation immigrant experience genre and postcolonial genre.

I was a voracious reader “back in the day”; those were the days when I’d read one novel a day.

But, to retell a line I’ve told friends many times – adulting and university happened. I read because I had to. My university days as an English major (!) were marked with deadline-chasing, SparkNotes-ing, and feeling like a fraud who could write excellent critical papers and yet remember so little and know so little.

I struggled to find the fun in reading, even though as someone who was studying literature, I had more opportunities to read than ever before. Instead, I was too stressed juggling multiple jobs and worrying about grades and finances to find refuge in paper pages. When I did have free time, I preferred to spend them in the gym or kitchen.

Fast forward to 2019, and I’ve found myself with more free time than ever before. Some weeks, I’ve worked 40-50 hours, but there have always been days with long hours of free time in my bedroom when I’d be scrolling mindlessly through Facebook, getting lost in a YouTube rabbit hole, or endlessly refreshing the news headlines.

So, I forced myself to face a big fear. For years, I’ve been afraid I had lost my first passion: reading. And I wanted it back. I decided to read 52 titles this year; obstinately, one title a week… which, as you could guess, wasn’t how it went. Some weeks, I read zero stories. Other weeks, I breezed through 10 stories in 3 days. Sometimes, with the help of Audible and SoundCloud. Other times, with free PDFs found by scouring the internet.

It has been quite an invigorating experience. There were days when I did not want to read, days when I found it hard to continue reading something I’d started, days when I couldn’t stop reading, days when I felt that blended spark of fascination, enjoyment, pleasure derived from the pages.

I’m happy I completed this goal. But beyond that sense of achievement, I’m excited and I truly cannot wait for the day when I can begin studying literature again: when I can sit in a classroom again, surrounded by peers, discussing and analyzing the pages before us… now, this is a thought that puts a smile on my face and makes the current long work days and hermitage existence worthwhile.

2019 Book Log (alphabetized by authors’ last names)

1. William Wei by Amie Barrodale
2. The Search After Happiness by Charlotte Bronte
3. A Whisper in the Dark by Louisa May Alcott
4. May Flowers by Louisa May Alcott
5. Lesley Castle by Jane Austen
6. Cathedral by Raymond Carver*
7. Fat by Raymond Carver
8. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
9. The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad
10. The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky
11. The Hanging Stranger by Philip K. Dick
12. At Your Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald
13. Bernice Bobs Her Hair by F. Scott Fitzgerald
14. How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman
15. The Nose by Nikolai Gogol
16. Che Ti Dice La Patria by Ernest Hemingway
17. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry*
18. A Toast to Harlem by Langston Hughes
19. Feet Live Their Own Life by Langston Hughes
20. Last Whipping by Langston Hughes
21. Simple on Indian Blood by Langston Hughes
22. Claude Guess by Victor Hugo
23. In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka
24. Figures in the Distance by Jamaica Kincaid
25. On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami
26. My Russian Education by Vladimir Nabokov
27. 1984 by George Orwell
28. Animal Farm by George Orwell
29. The Collected Poetry of Dorothy Parker
30. Three Women by Sylvia Plath**
31. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
32. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
33. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
34. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
35. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
36. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
37. The King of the Golden River by John Ruskin
38. Johnny Bear by John Steinbeck
39. The Snake by John Steinbeck
40. The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
41. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan
42. A&P by John Updike
43. The Lovely Troubled Daughters of Our Old Crowd by John Updike
44. Twin Beds in Rome by John Updike
45. 2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut
46. Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Big Trip Up Yonder by Kurt Vonnegut
48. The Drone King by Kurt Vonnegut
49. The Fulness of Life by Edith Wharton
50. The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
51. The Portrait of Mr. W. H. by Oscar Wilde
52. A Madman’s Diary and Other Stories by Lu Xun

*second reading
**verse play

5 Travel Essentials for Women

hiking trail in busan south koreaIn one day, it would be exactly 17 months since I embarked on an international solo backpacking trip. At that time, I hadn’t known that I would still be traveling in 2019, but that’s a story for another post.

Today, I want to talk about the must-have items for every female traveler. Before I left the US in June 2018, I looked at different travel blogs and made some purchases. Along the way, I discarded many of them; living out of my suitcase nearly always means that for every new item I add along the way, I have to let go an old item.

Here are the 5 items that I swear by, have used since the beginning of my long trip, and would never go on a trip without:

Makeup Remover Pads

face halo makeup remover pads

I use the Face Halo brand and it works great on my face, but there are also other brands out there. | $29.38 | Amazon

I’ve actually been using these pads longer than my current trip across continents. They are made of special microfibers. To remove makeup, all you have to do is thoroughly wet them and then wipe, wipe, wipe all the day’s makeup off.

After using, wash them under running water again and they’ll be ready for the next time you have to remove makeup. I also usually throw them in with my dirty laundry at the end of every week just for some extra cleaning.

I love these for a couple of reasons – first, they work like magic. I could have layers of makeup on my skin and they’ll be able to remove all of it with just a wipe.

Second, they’re lightweight, and great space and money-savers. Each purchase comes with 3 pads, and 1 pad can replace up to 500 makeup wipes. Say you use 2 wipes a day to remove makeup, that’s 250 days of makeup remover taken care of, if you use makeup everyday! I don’t, which means I still have all 3 pads I bought in April 2018.

Menstrual Cup

lena menstrual cup

As I suggest below, take the menstrual cup survey to find out which type of cup will likely work best for you. I opted for the Lena brand, and bought the pack with a smaller cup for regular flow and a larger cup for heavy flow because I wasn’t sure if the regular cup would be too small. I’ve only had to use the regular flow cup, so my worries were for nothing. They both come with their own little baggies for storage. | $39.90 | Amazon

If you’re into the travel scene, you’ve probably heard of menstrual cups. Unlike the Face Halo pads which I bought before I even knew I was going to become a world traveler, the menstrual cup is something I bought as a result of reading travel blogs and watching vlogs.

But in case you’re clueless about it, a menstrual cup is a silicone cup you insert in your vagina when you’re on your menstrual period. It’s the sanitary pad and tampon replacement.

Most travel bloggers will expound on the environmental friendliness aspect of it, but I want to focus on a couple other reasons why you should use the menstrual cup.

First, they’re a great investment and they’ll save you a lot of money in the long-run. If you’re traveling in Europe or Asia, you’ll find out very quickly that tampons aren’t just harder to find in many countries, but they’re also not as cheap as they are in the US, where you can buy a box of Walmart’s Equate brand at a fairly low cost.

A menstrual cup could be more expensive than a box of tampons, but it’s something that’ll last up to 10 years. Imagine how much money you can save by not buying tampons for 10 years! To help make it more convincing, I’ve done some calculations.

1 box of Equate Tampons (Walmart brand which is cheaper than Tampax, Kotex, Playtex, etc.), Regular, 40 ct. = $4.32
Huffington Post estimates a woman uses 20 tampons per period cycle, so 1 box of Equate Tampons = 2 months.
6 boxes = 1 year —> 60 boxes = 10 years
60 x $4.32 = $259.20 for tampons vs. $20-40 for a menstrual cup

Second, if the monetary savings aren’t convincing enough, there’s also the allure of not having to change pads or tampons multiple times a day. There’s zero risk of toxic shock syndrome, and how often you should empty your cup depends on how heavy your flow is, as well as the size of your cup.

For me, I change mine every 12 hours on regular days, and every 24 hours on the lighter days at the end of the cycle. Imagine being on the road from one city or country to another and not having to worry about whether you have enough tampons/pads in your luggage and where the stores are to find more. It’s freeing! Sure, it might be a little awkward figuring out how to insert it in the beginning, but after 1 period, you’ll be a pro at it.

Some commonly asked questions about the menstrual cup…

Does it pop out when you pee or poop?

Can you swim with it?

Does it leak?
No, if you inserted it correctly (watch as many YouTube videos about it as needed) and have the right size. There are dozens of menstrual cup brands producing varying menstrual cups. Take this survey to help you figure out which one is best suited for your body and needs: https://putacupinit.com/quiz/.

How do I clean it?
Wash with running water and soap. If you are on the go and don’t have access to a sink, you can also just empty it out and reinsert it. Some people like to bring a bottle of water with them to the bathroom so that they can rinse it out and reinsert. At the end of your period, clean it with boiling water. Some people choose to buy a cleaning solution, but I think it’s over-priced and takes up additional space/weight in my luggage.

Wet Wipes

cottonelle wet wipes

This was my favorite brand of wet wipes while I was in the States. I found them very durable. Now, on the road, I usually buy wet wipes from the baby department in stores, because it’s cheaper than the ones labeled as “feminine wipes” (pink tax and all that). | $14.32 for this 8-pack | Amazon

Wet wipes are something I’ve included in my restroom routine for a couple years now. It might seem like a ridiculous addition, but I never go to a public restroom without a pack of wipes. Countless times, I’ve stepped into the restroom only to see dubious substances on the seat. This seems to happen the most often when I’m having a night out with drinks and needing to use the restroom every 15 minutes or so!

Other times, I’ve squeezed into one of those tiny bus restrooms on an overnight bus only to see that I can’t even do the half-stand-and-pee position since there’s literally no room to do so!

Besides keeping your vajayjay clean and reducing your risks of catching an infection, you can also use wet wipes for those times when dry tissue just wouldn’t suffice. Like when you open a can of beer and it gushes out onto your hands, down your arms, leaving a sticky mess everywhere.

Of course, be a responsible wet wipes user. Never throw it in the toilet. Even when the pack says “flushable,” it really isn’t actually “flushable” and throwing it in the toilet could cause a clog.

Also, don’t forget the “wet” in “wet wipes.” I’ve gotten an unopened pack of wet wipes confiscated by airport security because it’s categorized as liquid. So now, I always carry a small travel-sized pack in my carry-on, and then either have a larger pack in my checked baggage or buy one when I get to my destination because the larger packs are always much cheaper than the travel-sized ones.

Tea Tree Oil

100% pure australian tea tree oil

This is a brand I’ve used for years and can highly recommend. But if you can’t find it in a local store or Amazon doesn’t offer free shipping to your location, any 100% Australian tea tree oil should also be good. | $9.71 | Amazon

I call this my magic oil. I have friends who are in the oils MLMs, and I don’t buy into that. But, I will talk about how tea tree oil can save you from acne embarrassment anytime. Tea tree oil is something I’ve used since I was a teenager, and it’s a tried and true method.

I rarely get acne, but stress, change of environment, polluted and/or humid places, and a hectic travel schedule can sometimes cause 1 or 2 to appear. When that happens, I dab a little on the offending spot 2-3 times a day, and the acne always dries up and goes away after a couple days.

I’ve also used this on scars (I had a terrible sand fly episode in Koh Phangan, Thailand that I still shudder when I think about), and the oil magically makes the spots disappear after a few times.

The oil usually comes in small bottles like pictured above, and since you’re using less than a drop each time, a bottle could last years, right up till its expiration date. That, and the fact that it’s barely an ounce or two, makes it an item I bring everywhere I go… you know, just in case a dreaded pimple appears.

There are also many other benefits to using tea tree oil, such as treating head lice problems or using as an anti-fungal, but I don’t have any personal experience with that, and so, can’t vouch for it.

Extra Large Shawl

cashmere blend pashmina shawl

This particular shawl was recommended by a girl in a women travel group. I bought it in this salmon color and absolutely love it. It’s 76″x26″, including the tassels. It’s thick enough and feels really soft. | $15.99 | Amazon

Any long-term female traveler will tell you that a shawl is one of the most versatile items you can include in your packing list. It’s lightweight and has so many uses. It’s one of those things that you think you may not need because you rarely use at home, but when you’re on the road, the shawl’s usefulness shines.

My cashmere blend pashmina shawl was a purchase from a couple months before my travel adventure began. I didn’t use it much at home; it was one of those “maybe I’ll get to go on a trip soon and this could be useful” purchases. Little did I know!

Here are some instances when my shawl has came in handy:

Sleeping in airports – I’ve had to pull a few all-nighters in airports, usually when I happen to have a really early flight. Sometimes, I’m too exhausted to keep awake all night, and a shawl helps make the uncomfortably, cold airport nap a little better.

Religious places – most religious places will require that you cover your shoulders. In hot countries or in the summer, I don’t like wearing sleeved tops unless I really, really have to. A shawl comes in handy when I’m in a tank top, and it’s compact enough to stow away in my purse when I’m back outside.

One of those not very cold days or one of those days that become colder at night – some cold days either aren’t cold enough for a jacket or the temperature drastically drops when the sun goes down. Sure, I could carry a jacket around all day, but a shawl is much lighter and less cumbersome. I always prefer traveling light, and that includes days when I’m “traveling” around the city sightseeing.

Fashion – I know this probably won’t apply to most of y’all women out there, but 95% of my clothes are greys, blacks, whites, and dark blues. I don’t have many clothes due to limited luggage space, and I find those hues easier for color coordination. Having a salmon-colored shawl gives me that extra outfit pop when I’m feeling sassier.

PleasingCare Oil Blotting Paper (honorable mention)

oil blotting tissue paper

This is the exact oil blotting tissues that I use. I even had it on my Amazon recurring purchase list when I was in the States. I like how it comes in a pack of 100 sheets, and the paper pack is less than 2 cm thick. It also has a convenient dispenser thingy, so you won’t accidentally take out more than one sheet at a time. | $6.95 | Amazon

I know my title says 5 items, but I had to include this. It’s so useful, very compact, and very light. The reason why it’s an honorable mention though is because it depends on the countries you’re traveling to, their weather, and your skin type.

Some of y’all lucky ones out there don’t have oily skin, and I’m so, so envious. I’m not like that. My skin is generally great in cold temperatures, but in humid countries (looking at you, Southeast Asia and Italy) or indoors where it’s heated, my face skin gets quite oily, and that isn’t good when I’m having a face full of makeup.

Blotting papers are great because you dab them on your face to remove the excess oil and they don’t remove your makeup at the same time, which is what using a tissue would do.

Most blotting paper packs are very small with too few pieces. I really like this brand because there are 100 sheets in each pack, and the pack is less than a couple cm thick. Each paper comes out easily due to the paper pack’s dispenser system design. Also, it’s made of 100% natural linen fibers, which is wonderful because you don’t want to put anymore unnatural products on your face than as necessary (I do realize it’s something I use when I’m having a face full of unnatural products!).

So here you go! 5 essential travel items, plus an honorable mention. I really love these products because they’re so small, light, and perfect for the frequent traveler or for someone who lives the nomad life, like I do.

If you have other travel essentials, I’d love to know what they are! I’m also going to be making another post that’s about travel essentials for everyone… hopefully, soon-ish!

Note: Some links are Amazon affiliate links, which means I may be compensated for qualifying purchases.

How to Buy Flights on Skyscanner

skyscanner italy home page

Finding a good (read, cheap) flight takes hours. I’m no stranger to combing through dozens of possible flight combinations and dates for one trip, and trawling through different language websites in a bid to find THE elusive cost-effective and comfortable flight.

I always begin my search on Skyscanner. I use other flight search engines as well, but I’ve found that Skyscanner is usually the most reliable, especially when searching for long-haul flights.

Here are 5 tips to help you maximize your Skyscanner experience and find the cheapest flight:

Search multiple Skyscanner sites

example of google chrome transation from korean to english

Use Google Chrome to translate 3rd-party booking websites that are not in English

When possible, use the Skyscanner international site of your intended country of departure and arrival. For example, when I was searching for a flight from Italy to Thailand, I had 2 incognito/private browser tabs open: one for skyscanner.it and the other for skyscanner.co.th.

On the top right corner of the Skyscanner main page, change the language settings to English and the currency to whatever currency you wish to search in.

Skyscanner searches 3rd-party websites to bring you the best fares. So, Skyscanner Italy will search English and Italian 3rd-party booking agencies, and Skyscanner Thailand will search English and Thai 3rd-party booking agencies.

These local travel agencies sometimes give lower fares compared to non-local sites, which means that you might be able to find a cheaper fare through searching on one of the international Skyscanner sites, instead of the default skyscanner.net.

What if the local travel agency website is in a foreign language, with no English version available? Do not fear! Download the Google Chrome browser, if you don’t already have it. It has an awesome feature that’ll help you translate the foreign language to your language of choice.

Search the Skyscanner site of your airline’s headquarters location

I also take my search a step further by opening a 3rd browser tab and searching on the international Skyscanner site of the country where the airline is based.

For example, I found that AirAsia offers the cheapest flights from Korea to Thailand. AirAsia is headquartered in Malaysia. On the off-chance that I might be able to find an even cheaper flight, I searched Skyscanner Malaysia after searching Skyscanner Korea and Skyscanner Thailand.

Since AirAsia is a Malaysian company, Malaysian travel agencies might be able to offer more competitive prices than their counterparts.

Pay attention to ratings

skyscanner 3rd party website ratings

3rd-party website ratings

Skyscanner is a search engine. Every time someone selects a 3rd-party website that Skyscanner shows in its search results, they are given the option to rate their booking experience with that 3rd-party website.

I know I’ll probably have a seamless booking experience if I choose a website that 1) has a substantial number of ratings and 2) has at least a 4-star cumulative rating. Trip.com is one such example. It usually has thousands of ratings and a 4 or 4.5-star cumulative rating.

Only buy flight extras on the airline website

After you’ve booked your flight, you will receive a flight confirmation email. I get my confirmation emails about 1 hour after booking the flight. It could be sooner or up to 24 hours later, so don’t start panicking if you don’t see the email immediately after paying for the flight!

In the confirmation email, look for the airline reference number or airline booking number. That is the code you should use to search for your flight on the airline website’s Manage My Booking page .

When I need to purchase add-ons like extra luggage or when I want to select my seat, I do it on the airline’s website. Skyscanner and other 3rd-party websites often charge exorbitant amounts for those extras.

For example, I wanted to purchase an add-on of 15kg checked luggage for my flight from Japan to Korea. The 3rd-party website that I used to buy my flight ticket from was asking $125 to do that. Since that’s a ridiculous charge for only 15 kg of checked luggage, I used the airline’s website and only paid $30. That’s an almost $100 difference!

Check, double-check, triple-check

It goes without saying that you should always be careful when filling out your information on a flight booking page. Be extra careful when you are not buying from the airline website.

Airline websites can occasionally be a little more forgiving. If you mistype one of your names or forget a name, you might be able to change it for free within a 24-hour window or pay a small fee for a change.

When you book through Skyscanner or another 3rd-party website, they might either make it really difficult for you to make a change or they might charge a crazily-high fee for it.

Again, this might seem like common sense, but the top complaints I’ve seen people make about using 3rd-party websites are the lack of customer service or the rip-off fees. Using Skyscanner and a 3rd-party website can be a really great and cost-effective experience as long as you don’t make a mistake when filling out your personal information!

So here you go: 5 tried-and-true tips to help you Skyscanner your way to your next vacation!

Buon viaggio

The San Marino Travel Guide I Wished I Had

san marino fortress

On a fortress tower in San Marino. On a clear day, you should be able to see the Adriatic Sea.

Last year, I took a short trip to San Marino. This was the first country I’ve visited where I had so many questions, but alas, Google wasn’t helping. Even Booking.com and Airbnb showed me homes for San Marino, CA or San Marino, Rome! After I returned from my trip, I wrote this list for fellow travelers in the Girls Love Travel Facebook group.

1. San Marino is only accessible by road. The easiest way to get there is to take a train to Rimini, Italy, and then hop-on the Rimini-San Marino bus that runs about every hour. A ticket costs €5 one way, and it’s about 40 mins from the pick-up point outside Rimini train station to the last drop-off stop in San Marino. You can buy the bus ticket from the tabacchi (tobacco shop) across Rimini train station. There’s NO train/railway into San Marino and no airport in San Marino. If you’re renting a car, even better! The roads are winding and the historic center isn’t accessible by car, but I saw many parking spaces available.

2. Wear walking shoes or hiking sandals! The roads in the historic downtown center are hilly and cobblestone. If you’re visiting the fortress towers (only 2 are open for visitors; the 3rd, reportedly, doesn’t have an entrance), you WILL be walking uphill quite a bit to get to the towers.

3. In the historic downtown, there’s a shit ton of shopping (a nice FYI: San Marino is duty-free), a handful of museums, a hiking trail, and the fortress towers. It takes less than an hour to visit both fortress tours. You can buy a ticket that will give you access to both towers. The second tower has a weaponry museum inside. It’s 4.50€ for one tower and 6.50€ for 2 towers. Other museums in the historical area include a vampire museum, a museum of curiosities, and a torture museum. It was rainy and foggy when I visited, so I didn’t have a great view from the towers. But on a good day, you’re supposedly able to see the Adriatic Sea.

4. Accommodation in downtown historic San Marino is very limited and more costly. If you’re planning to spend more than one day in San Marino, it’s better to book a hotel in the more urban areas. BUT, be aware that you’ll either need a rental car or a taxi to get around. If you want to stay in the downtown historic center, book far in advance.

5. The food to try when you’re in San Marino is piadina! It’s a flatbread folded in a crepe-shape with fillings – usually prosciutto, melted cheese, and arugula. I loved the bread!

6. I didn’t do this, but you can buy a passport stamp for 5€, and it’s completely legit because San Marino is a country and can issue passport stamps – getting a passport stamp from them will not invalidate your passport.

7. What I did do – bought a postcard and a global postal service stamp from one of the many shops selling them, and mailed the postcard in one of the white mailboxes that can be found everywhere.

I wish there are more articles out there about visiting San Marino and what to expect. San Marino is the world’s oldest independent republic, has more cars than people, is surrounded by Italy, and has one of the best economies in the world with its lowest unemployment rate and a national budget surplus. If you are in the northeast of Italy, do pay this small country a visit.

5 Days Amalfi Coast and Naples Itinerary

sentiero degli dei

View from the Sentiero Degli Dei (Path of the Gods) hike

Due to the nature of my work, I’m not usually able to take long-ish vacations. Last week was an exception. I had an almost 5-day vacation, and I decided to visit the south of Italy. I usually fly to another country for my vacations, but I figured it was time to explore southern Italy, which is very, very different from northern Italy. Scroll down for an itinerary of my trip, as well as transportation, accommodation, and budget information.


Marina Grande Beach in Positano

I visited the Amalfi Coast and Naples. The Amalfi Coast is, without a doubt, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in Italy. I visited Venice last year, and I would actually rank the Amalfi Coast higher than Venice. I did a couple hikes, and around every corner on the hikes, there’s a different breathtaking view to be seen.

The Sentiero Degli Dei (English: Path of the Gods) hike is the number one reason why I decided to visit the Amalfi Coast. The hike was stunning (tip if you decide to do this hike: Coming from Bomerano, always keep the ocean on your left and you won’t get lost. I went down the wrong way for 30 minutes when I didn’t follow this rule, and had to make the arduous, nearly vertical climb back up), the towns I saw were gorgeous, and the beach time was sorely-needed and a welcome relief.

agerola to amalfi

Hike from Agerola to Amalfi

I spent a couple nights in Agerola and a couple nights in Naples, and I truly regret not spending all four nights in Agerola (I stayed at a castle stable-turned-ostello) which was so quiet and peaceful. I’d heard all kinds of things about Naples before I visited; it’s no secret that northern Italians dislike southern Italians and vice versa. However, I didn’t take what I heard seriously, until I stepped foot in Naples, heard the incessant honking, saw street after street terribly littered with trash, saw people selling passport covers and pills in the “flea markets,” and felt the constant, nagging need to hold on tightly to my belongings. Out of all the Asian, America, and European cities I’ve visited, Naples wins the ‘dirtiest city’ award by far. I read that it’s a city that you either love or hate, and unfortunately, I fell into the latter camp.

But, I live and I learn! Back to the Costiera Amalfitana. One day, after I’ve learned how to use a motorbike, I will return to the Amalfi Coast and Vespa my way through it. Hiking was so lovely and fun, but the speeding bus rides up and down the very narrow, winding mountain roads had me searching for my motion sickness chewing gum. One last parting thought before I info-dump my trip: people say the Amalfi Coast is a romantic destination, one that’s especially for honeymooning couples. That might be true, but as a solo traveler, I had an absolute blast. It was the most peaceful, calming, and quiet couple days I’ve had in awhile.


Day 1

agerola to amalfi

Hike from Agerola to Amalfi

Arrived in Napoli at 8.25 from Milano.
Took an ALI bus (5.00) from Napoli Airport to Napoli Stazione Centrale. Journey time was about 30 minutes, with quite a bit of rush hour traffic and a weird moment when a police bus, escorted by police riders, forced its way through the traffic.
Took a direct SITA bus (3.90) from near Centrale/Piazza Garibaldi to Agerola on the Amalfi Coast. Journey time was about 1.5 hours.
Hiked 2.5 hours from Agerola to Amalfi. The hike wasn’t supposed to be that long, but I got lost down some endless, narrow stairs and had a small adventure with a black garden snake. Took the SITA bus (2.00) up from Amalfi to Agerola.

Day 2

sentiero degli dei 1

View of Positano from the Sentiero Degli Dei (Path of the Gods) hike

Took a morning bus (1.30) from Agerola to Bomerano.
Hiked 3.5 hours from Bomerano to Nocelle on the Sentiero Degli Dei (Path of the Gods). Distance was 7km. The hike usually takes 3 hours, but I went the wrong way for 30 minutes, and that’s like 30 hours on a hike.
Walked down 1800 steps from Nocelle and then a short walk from the last stair-step to Positano.
Amazing, relaxing beach and tanning time in Positano.
Took a SITA bus (2.00) from Positano to Amalfi, then another SITA bus (2.00) from Amalfi to Agerola.

Day 3

Took a noon direct SITA bus (3.90) from Agerola to Napoli.


Spaccanapoli, a straight and narrow street that, when seen aerially, appears to divide the historic center of Napoli

Day 4

Visited the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Naples National Archaeological Museum) for free since May 19th is one of the museum’s free entrance day.
Wandered around Via Tribunali and Via Toledo.

Day 5

Took a very early morning ALI bus (5) to the Napoli Airport from outside Napoli Stazione Centrale.
Left Napoli at 8.50.


Agerola – Ostello Beata Solitudo
Napoli – Couchsurfing


Transportation – 38.10 (including r/t bus 13 from Milano Stazione Centrale to Milano Bergamo Airport)
Food – 36
Accommodation – 41.64


Travels FAQ

Mexico City

When in Mexico City… (2017)

I’m making a comeback to blogging (my last blog post was in December 2015), and here you go! All the answers to the burning questions you have about my travel life. These are the questions I get asked most often. If you have another question related to my travel life, drop it below in the comments.

Where’s the best place you’ve visited so far?

You might be surprised by my answer – Mexico City. I’ve visited the usual touristy cities that people seem to love to flock to – London, New York City, Los Angeles, Rome, Beijing, Bangkok, Paris, etc. – but Mexico City remains my favorite. I was struck by how the people there always had such wide smiles. I loved how it only took random music for them to start dancing. And don’t even get me started on the amazing, delicious, cheap food. I found a hole-in-the-wall place for breakfasts. None of the staff spoke English, and my Spanish is mediocre, but I had the best breakfasts I’ve ever eaten in my travels.

Which is your favorite place to live?

I’ve lived in 6 countries (by ‘live,’ I mean stay for at least a month), and Milan, Italy is my absolute favorite city to live in. It’s urban, metropolitan, and buzzing with activity, but it’s not as crowded as a city like Beijing or New York City. On one hand, there’s enough to keep me entertained, and on the other hand, it’s still quiet enough for chilling and relaxing. The public transportation is great and a major plus point. I especially like taking the old trams; they’re so quaint and almost-antique.

How can you afford to travel? Are you rich?

No, I’m not rich, but I’m a good researcher. Through experience, I’ve learned how to find the best prices for flights and accommodation. I also work a lot. I work every weekend that I’m not traveling. I avoid eating out or buying new clothes/shoes, and I’m careful with my spending.

What are your secrets for finding these good prices?

Number 1, patience. And lots of it. I’ve sometimes spent hours finding the best possible flights for a trip. Number 2, be flexible. It helps if you’re flexible about destinations and dates. For me, it’s usually a little harder to be flexible about dates because I have specific off days, but I do my best to be flexible about destinations. I wanted to go to Budapest, Hungary, but the price wasn’t right, so I changed my plans. Budapest will always be there for a visit at another time!

Also, …

use incognito/private mode when browsing for flights,
search on SkyScanner for good dates,
remember to check budget airlines,
look at nearby airports (for example, it was cheaper to fly out of Vienna, Austria so I took a bus from Bratislava, Slovakia to Vienna for that flight),
always do free walking tours the first day to get an introduction to the city’s history and a rough idea of what you might want to sight-see later,
use Hotwire and HotelTonight to find premium hotels at half-price or less,
don’t be afraid to stay in hostels (between AirBnb and hostels, I prefer the latter because they usually offer free breakfasts and are located centrally), and
before going to a restaurant, Google their menu to get an idea of their prices.

How do you find good-priced accommodation?

Like I mentioned above, Hotwire and HotelTonight are good for finding premium hotels at lower prices. Booking.com is actually my go-to app for booking accommodation in general. I also use HostelWorld. For both Booking.com and HostelWorld, I always set the minimum average review score at 8/10 and read a few pages of the reviews. If a reviewer wrote about a bed bug incident, I will never book that place, no matter how long ago the incident was.

Do you get scared? Aren’t you afraid of traveling alone?

Yes, countless times. But you have to be the right amounts of scared, cautious, bold, and reckless. If I wait to find a travel partner, I would never be able to travel. Life’s too short to wait around for someone, and there’s so much of the world to see. Unfortunately, the world is also often not a safe place for a solo female traveler, but I have Malaysia-cultivated street smarts and the best resting B face.

What tips do you have about how to travel alone as a female and stay safe?

Remember the ‘don’t talk to strangers?’ rule your parents gave you when you were young? It’s still applicable. I never respond or talk to any man on the street who tries to talk to me. I cannot emphasize this enough. I actually inwardly cringe whenever I see my female friends responding to questions from male strangers. I don’t care if I come across as unfriendly because my safety always comes first.

Maintain a healthy level of skepticism. I’m probably the most skeptical person you’ll ever meet, especially when it comes to strangers or men (I’m trying to not be gender bias here, but I cannot recall a single instance of a woman approaching me and trying to sell stuff or talk to me). I’m also usually good at detecting BS, even over the phone screen. I guess it’s something that time and experience teaches, but if you struggle with that, don’t worry. The bottom line is: don’t trust strangers, they’re not your friends.

Wear a cross-body bag and keep your hand on your bag in crowded areas. This is one of the common sense safety rules.

Don’t look lost. Easier said than done, but it always helps to have done a little research beforehand. I usually have some kind of idea of what public transportation I will be using, a screenshot of the metro map in my phone, the applicable taxi apps ready in my phone, and access to Google Maps. I don’t actually walk while holding Google Maps because I don’t want people to see I’m looking at a map and I don’t want to hold my cellphone in my hand for long periods of time, but I check the app regularly to make sure I’m on the right path.

Don’t you ever feel lonely since you travel by yourself?

When I was first asked this question, I was a little taken aback, but my answer was and has always been ‘yes!’ However, I’m always so busy seeing new places, learning incredible history, and eating amazing food that I don’t have the time to ‘feel lonely.’ In some ways, I do prefer traveling by myself because I can do whatever I want at my own pace. With that said, I also do like traveling with a partner, something I’ve done a few times, because it is nice to not have to plan everything by myself. I’ve noticed that when I travel with a partner, I get a little lazy and usually let my partner make most of the decisions about where to visit or eat at.

How do you get around when you’re at a foreign place?

I’m never afraid to use public transportation. It’s all part of the adventure. Here in Europe, I like using trains and buses when traveling from one city to the next, if they’re near enough to not require a flight. It’s always fun navigating the transportation system when you don’t know the main language used. Also, my general rule is that if it’s not raining and safe, I will always walk to any destination that’s less than 50 mins away. With all the good food I’m eating, I have to find a way to work it out!

What’s the best way to obtain foreign currency?

ATMs. Always. This is something I wish I knew when I first started traveling. I have a debit Mastercard with zero foreign transaction fees, and the ATM fees are always lower than the fees at the currency exchange store or bank. When withdrawing from the foreign ATM or using your card to pay in a foreign country, always select the country’s currency as the payment currency. For example, here in Italy, I always select Euro instead of USD. I don’t select USD because it’s the marked-up ‘guaranteed’ rate from the bank and not the current mid-market rate.

Confessions of a Former Bill Gothard Adherent

reflecting at table rockYesterday night, I posted a Facebook status that read:

The cause of this Duggar family fiasco is one reason why I no longer buy into the traditional, conservative, “Christian”, homeschooling deal. It also doesn’t surprise me to read that Bill Gothard, the man I always heard of being referred to as “godly” when I was growing up, has also been accused by more than 30 women and teenagers of sexual harassment. Funny how the people who always judge and condemn others over immoral behavior are the very ones having skeletons in the closet regarding the same matter.

The discussion that ensued made me think and brought up old wounds I had suppressed over and over again.

When I was almost school-age, my parents learned about this wonderful homeschooling thing called the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). Created by Bill Gothard and his Institute of Basic Life Principles, it advocated godly living. There is a heavy emphasis on moral purity, courtship, modesty, etc. Many of these principles were justified using Scripture. I was homeschooled using this curriculum for a couple years before switching to other curriculum, but the Gothard nightmare didn’t end there.

For years afterwards, we went to the ATI conferences, had Character Sketches lessons read to me and my sisters, and was pretty much taught that if I ever did something immoral or “wrong,” I was on the road to hell. Wearing skirts higher than knee level was frowned upon, clothes shouldn’t be too fitting or they’ll reveal my body shape and cause other men to sin, listening to rock music would help fuel my rebelliousness because of the satanic beat, dating is not an option because physical and emotional purity are so important, drinking alcohol and dancing leads to grave consequences, etc. I was always preached repentance, and that if I did not change, hell would be my destination. It didn’t help that I was never a rule-follower. Therefore, instead of helping my faith grow, all these legalism, judgment, and condemnation made me question.

When I left home on August 2013, I saw it as my chance to finally break free. Now, I listen to rock music on a regular basis, own a bikini and wear it on occasion, frequently go on dates, dance with my friends and strangers, drink alcoholic beverages, and do many other things that according to the old “rulebook,” would mean my soul is lost. I still believe that God exists, but I’m also attempting to reconcile what I’ve been taught about His “expectations” of me, the man-made standards that were imposed based on His Word, and the whole deal about grace and love. Most days, it is a struggle about leaving behind the old legalism I was taught during childhood and adolescence, trying to find my own way in the world, and learning what really is right and wrong.

I don’t blame my parents for following the teachings of Gothard. I honestly believe that all of us were swindled by his cult, and just like all the other cults, it is so easy to be brainwashed and be tricked into believing the wrong. But then, there are many consequences that is the result, and I’m still suffering these ramifications that stems from teachings propagated as God’s Words and supported by a twisting of Scripture. In trying to escape from these teachings, I have swung to the opposite end of the pendulum. Still, it is hard to escape the former mentality of “if you don’t follow this rule, you’re a sinner destined for hell.”

Why am I writing this post? Partly as a cathartic form of recovery because writing always helps me process my thoughts and feelings. Also, partly as a warning against legalism for those practicing it. Now that I’m living in the Bible belt here in the US, I see legalism everywhere – at church, in school, and among many Christians. I have respect for people trying to be godly and do what is right. But the danger lies in interpreting Scripture to suit your purposes and beliefs, and then teaching it to others as justification for the principles. Living in a legalistic environment doesn’t resolve any problem, it only suppresses it for awhile.

I don’t want to point fingers and judge the Duggar family, but I also do know the pain that is a result of living in legalism. It makes me wonder if any of the Duggar girls are feeling the same way I felt as a consequence of going through a Gothard-influenced upbringing. One thing I do know is that I’m not alone in this journey where almost everyday is a struggle and a heartache. There are many others like me who are still trying to make sense of what we were taught, and how to reconcile those years with real life and the truth. At the end of the day, I regret how our gullibility and desire to do what is right has led to serious repercussions down the road.

Becoming An Adult in a Foreign Country

table rock state park becoming an adult

This evening, I signed my first house lease… ever. Never in a million year did I ever think that I would one day sign a house lease in the US. As the house owner explained the terms of the rental contract, and I wrote out my check for the security deposit, I felt the familiar sense of panic and unsureness rising in me. This was the same panic and unsureness that I felt when I…

…arrived in the OKC airport one August evening in 2013 and wondered if the person who was supposed to meet me would be able to find me because I wasn’t wearing an OBU shirt.
…navigated opening a bank account, buying a new cellphone, paying taxes, etc. all in a different country with an unfamiliar currency.
…realized that the tuition and fees listed on the OBU website deceivingly did not include many other hidden costs and that I might possibly have to take out a student loan.
…sat in front of my financial aid adviser, and she curtly told me that there were no scholarships I could apply for even though I had a perfect GPA, and then took away a loan form I had filled out because I “wasn’t supposed to have it.”
…walked back to my dorm room after that meeting and started crying on the way.
…spent days agonizing over where I could get money while a fine was imposed, adding to the amount I couldn’t pay, because I had not paid the tuition bill in time.
…got into a mad scramble to find somewhere where I could spend the summer of my first year in the US in.
…took the public transportation in Atlanta, GA alone, and found myself at a dark, deserted train station where a mentally unstable man spoke to me as I ran up the endlessly high escalator as quickly as possible so that I could exit the station.
…took on job after job just to pay the bills, while refusing to go into student debt because I know there’s a possibility I might not be able to repay the debt since finding a job while on an international visa is a huge challenge.
…got accosted while walking on campus in the night alone because the possibility of being attacked in a foreign country is a very scary thought.
…am unhelpfully told that it’s okay if my GPA can’t get me more scholarships because in the end, the 4.0 will look good on my resume.
…become terrified at the mere thought of driving when I used to love driving so much back home.
…have to carefully plan my grocery lists and meals so that I can eat balanced meals, while also saving as much money as possible.
…went to the Southwest Airlines website and booked myself a flight ticket back to OKC from GA.
…taught myself how to pay my bills online and enroll in auto-pays.

This list only contains things I can think off my head now. But my point is this: no one told me that although leaving my teen years, becoming an adult, and doing adult things in a foreign country by myself would be a daunting and frightening experience, it has also taught me to be strong, independent, and responsible.

I’m not going to lie and say that there aren’t days when I see my roomies come back from a trip home with sack loads of groceries bought by their parents, and I don’t find myself wishing that my parents are here to buy my groceries for me. Or that I don’t wish that my mom is here when I have to pack up all my things at the end of the semester or year, and I find myself staring at my possessions, amazed I have accumulated so many things, but also wondering at the huge task of packing all of them up.

But even when these times happen, I am fully aware that people go through different stages when they leave their parents’ home. For me, it meant a complete “cut-off” without the opportunity to return on long weekends or holidays. This complete “cut-off” has been torrid at times. There are days when I want to curl under my blankets and forget about “being an adult.” Then again, there are days when I feel proud of myself for how far I have come and the progress I have made since August 2013.

No one said that “being an adult” is easy. But it’s going to happen for everyone… eventually… at some point in their lives. Mine came sooner than later. And as I sit back and feel the panic and unsureness about whether I’d made the right decision to rent a house, I realize that this is just one speed bump in my life. There has been many others before this, and there will be many others in the future. Because after all, “being an adult” means making decisions with consequences, and living and learning with those decisions.

A Year in Review: 2014

This year was one of my most eventful years ever. Here are some of my favorite memories, pictures, things I learned, etc. Enjoy a sneak peek into my life this year, and here’s to a New Year filled with new adventures, friends, and an unforgettable journey. 🙂

Being the 3rd wheel or 5th wheel almost everyday. This happens when 2 of your best friends get boyfriends.
Learning how to say goodbye because when most of your friends are internationals, they’re most likely not going to be in college all 4 years with you.
Traveling to places I never thought I would be able to go to.
Starting and teaching an ESL class over the summer.
Working 3 on-campus jobs to pay the bills. This meant learning how to be responsible, to manage my time and finances well.
Knowing that friends I can always rely on are invaluable.
Learning how to be open-minded, to think for myself, that it’s okay if my opinions differ from others’.
Making mistakes and learning from them.
Taking the time to Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, or Viber family and friends hundreds of miles away. It takes effort, but my favorite times are when I can talk to my best friends living halfway across the world.
Creating memories and living spontaneously because I don’t want to think, “What if…?”
Learning how to grade homework at a college level and finding out the key differences between students who try and those who don’t.
Sticking with a job even though I hate it because paying the bills is more important. Calling people and asking them to donate money to the University isn’t exactly a fun job, but the fun part is laughing over the bad calls after shedding a few frustrated tears, of course.
Discovering how much I love cooking and crocheting.
Finding out that hard work pays off, and no matter how much I talk about dropping out of college…especially right before Civ exams…, I’m in it for the long haul.
Getting the balance between eating healthily and working out. Both pays off, and isn’t difficult with the right motivation.

easter weekend 2014

On Easter weekend, my friends and I went on a camping trip I think my two favorite parts were the tan I got and my role as the camp cook. Being the 5th wheel was also very interesting… and might have put me off the idea of dating for awhile.

erina and leena spring affair

One of the hardest parts of this year was saying goodbye to Erina and Leena. We were inseparable as a group, and not having them with me for the 1st semester of my Sophomore Year was tough. We loved to play pranks on each other, do random things, and generally, find something fun to do even when the going gets tough. After they left, I learned that true friends stick together no matter the distance.

sarah black friday

I have the best roomie I could ever ask for. This is our 2nd year rooming together, and we already have living arrangements planned for our 3rd year. We’ve never fought or disagreed over anything, we tease each other mercilessly at times, have our inside jokes that no one else understands, etc. Hanging out with Sarah is always a fun time, and this picture will show you how we think we are so funny sometimes.


This year, cooking and baking became my go-to relaxation times. I found out how invaluable Pinterest is, and how I can mess up on a dish and there’s still always going to be someone who would think it’s delicious. I learned how to cook dinner for more than a dozen people, and how to prep and cook meals even when on a busy school schedule. I’ve always said that if I could have any job in the world, it would be a wedding planning job, but I think a chef comes in close second now.

on the farm

A year ago, if you had told me that I’d be spending winter break on a goat farm, traveling 32 hours on Greyhound, scooping out goat poop from the feeders with my bare hands, clomping around in a t-shirt, shorts, and rain boots in winter, etc., I would have probably laughed at you. But here I am. And I know that living on a farm for a month will give this city girl a different experience and perspective about life.

Baked Tuna Pasta Casserole

baked tuna pasta

As a college student, I’ve learned to appreciate bargain meals that are easy to make. My friend, Sarah Blankenship, made this dish for me once, and I wanted to try making it myself since it’s a simple, but tasty dish. I made some modifications to the recipe she gave me. I thought I’d share my modified recipe here, along with the price of the ingredients.

baked tuna pasta casserole

Servings: 2
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Total cost: $2.34


1 cup pasta: $0.20
1/2 cup condensed cream of mushroom/chicken: $0.34
1/2 cup milk: $0.16
1 can tuna: $0.78
1/2 can corn: $0.34
1/2 tablespoon flour: $0.01
Dash of cayenne pepper: $0.02
Shredded mozzarella cheese topping: $0.50


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Boil pasta in a medium sauce pan.

3. While pasta is boiling, combine the condensed cream of soup, milk, tuna, and corn in a casserole dish.

4. Add flour to the mixture to thicken it.

5. Add boiled pasta into the dish.

6. Add dash of cayenne pepper into the dish. This is optional. I added more just because I like spicier food.

7. Mix everything together.

8. Top casserole dish with shredded mozzarella cheese.

9. Bake casserole dish in the oven for 35 minutes.

And… you’re done! Easy, right? There’s plenty of meat and veggies, and some carbs. Although the servings is listed as two, it depends on your meal portions. I tend to eat smaller portions, and this dish is pretty filling. For me, one such casserole can last 3-4 meals.

If you decide to make this dish, let me know how it went! 🙂