December 2016 Travel Photo of the Month

Between the brutal jet lag and catching up on real life, I’ve neglected editing the 824 photos my husband and I took during a recent trip to Southeast Asia. Equally daunting: how can one possibly chose just one to feature as December’s Travel POTM™? Time management and prioritization aside, I’d like to offer a glimpse into a part of our journey that wasn’t even on our radar prior to our trip planning.

Enter Tonlé Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. Some interesting factoids about this body of water in Cambodia? It flows in two directions–due to the Mekong River–and can swell to be four times its size in the wet season. We traveled by car to a boat “dock” (I use that term lightly), where we boarded a rickety local boat, run by an engine that resembled a weed whacker and sorely needing a fresh coat of paint.

Our cruise took us to Kampong Phluck, a small village entirely on stilts! Fishing is the main local economy, and we delighted in seeing families working together to bring in that morning’s catch. Imagine an entire existence based upon living on the water in a house on stilts! Even further, the schools, police department, and even temple were raised high above the muddy waters as locals buzzed about in small boats.

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Stilt Village on Tonlé Sap Lake

We also saw multiple crocodiles and had a harrowing canoe tour, yet that is a story for another day. Perhaps one in the future when I have edited all of the photos from an incredible visit to Southeast Asia…

My Travel Bucket List

I’m a list maker–whether it be a shopping list, an ever-evolving to-do list, or my places to visit bucket list. As a travel blogger, this last list is one that I am constantly scheming places to add and later cross off. As I draft this, I’m currently at 39 countries visited, and soon, I hope to have seen more.

So, without further adieu or waxing eloquently (un-eloquently?), here is the shortlist of where I’d like to visit sooner than later:

  • All 50 U.S. state capitols: I currently have 9 left to hit.
  • Cuba: I am hoping to see Havana before it catches up to modern city.
  • Galapagos Islands: Turtles!
  • Peru:  Bring on Machu Picchu.
  • Brazil: After the Olympics this summer, I’m looking forward to Rio even more.
  • Antarctica: It’s the ultimate…and I do have a goal to hit all 7 continents.
  • Iceland: Air Iceland’s stopover package in Reykjavik sounds amazing.
  • Jordan: The historic architectural site of Petra seems unreal.
  • Egypt: I really want to see the pyramids…should have gone several years back when I had the opportunity!
  • South Africa: Friends went on an incredible safari…yes, please.
  • Cambodia: Angkor Wat is absolutely at the top of my list.
  • Vietnam: I’m curious to see the difference between Northern and Southern Vietnam.

With ever-growing inspiration and places I’d like to go, it’s almost impossible to want to revisit destinations I love. Yet there are places I want to be again. Places like Bora Bora, where we honeymooned, or Greece or Italy, which I’ve traveled to a couple of times but want to experience more.

As I pen this, I think of the Things To Do While Alive advertising campaign that struck me almost a decade ago when I lived in Sweden. Some items are checked off, and some of the items are still on my bucket list. I am thankful for these experiences, for the technology to capture memories (from my trusty Canon EOS! to Hipstamatic! and now my Sony and Instagram app), and for 5 senses to take in the world. Cheers to those places and people that have made impressions on me, and here’s to all of the adventures in store!

 

November 2016 Travel Photo of the Month

When asked what my favorite country in the world to visit is, I immediately think of Thailand, home of friendly people, phenomenal food, and incredible sites. I love visiting it so much that my husband and I are preparing to journey there in the near future during an upcoming Southeast Asian vacation. Making this my third trip to Thailand, I began to research new things to see during our initial couple of days in Bangkok.

The recent passing of Thailand’s long-serving monarch, King Bhumibol, certainly shed a sad light onto my planning, as the nation is now in a mourning period. I did find these recommendations for tourists from the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT); these guidelines mentioned Wat Phra Kaeo and the Grand Palace would be closed for funeral rites. From a past visit, I recall that both are stunning architectural sites–and this inspires November’s Travel POTM™. This photograph, of a Grand Palace guardian, was taken on a sunny May afternoon and remains my desktop image…reminding me of colorful, historical Thailand.

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September 2016 Travel Photo of the Month

Shall I post a snapshot of Old Town Dubai, after talking about trip with a friend this weekend? Or do I go old school and pay homage to my first visit Down Under, which happened seven years ago? Nope. September’s travel POTM is a recent image I captured last week on a tour of the U.S. Capitol.

About a month prior to visiting, I emailed my senator, who just so happened to be Harry Reid and currently the Senate Minority Leader. For those that know me, I am not the most political of people, yet I was thrilled when my visit coincided with a breakfast meeting with Senator Reid. We met in the LBJ room–fitting for a Texan-turned Nevadan–and our host was charming and personable.

After spending 30 minutes or so with our small group, Sen. Reid jetted to the Senate floor to give a speech about Donald Trump. Since I’d been eagerly been awaiting a tour of the Capitol for many years, I can’t tell you what he said in that speech. I can wax eloquently about the dome–featured in the picture of the month, as well as giggle about the “sassy chicken” that traipsed across the floor of the crypt during construction. (Her footprints were fun to find, in addition to statues from each state in the union.)

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Our POTM highlights the center of the dome, with a painting called “Apotheosis of Washington”. It clearly shows George Washington–whom I learned so much more during jaunts to Annapolis and Dover!–being the baller leader that he was, rising to the heavens. It was a gorgeous, patriotic experience, and I must express my gratitude to Senator Reid and his staff for hosting a lovely meet-and-greet and tour of our nation’s capitol. While the first presidential debate tonight rages in the background, I am proud to be an American…and a Nevadan!

The Art of Kindness

“Let me stop you right there and catch you up on how this works,” the man at the American Airlines Platinum desk said to me this morning on the phone. After his extremely condescending explanation about how we should have used more miles to purchase an upcoming trip–even though we were already booked mostly in business, I had what I thought was an epiphany: can customer service and loyalty really be dead in the airline industry? It was an extremely frustrating conversation that ended up with me sadly hanging up and shaking my head.

1.7 Million Miler = Rubbish
Having spent a considerable amount of the last decade on an AA plane for a previous global role, I figure I am fairly knowledgeable about how this works. Yet the last several experiences on what used to be my carrier of choice in the sky, I feel that the special touches as a frequent flier become more diminished each year.Today’s occurrence was nothing new…yet I started to think about companies that really do stand by customer service and trying to always make it right.

Fitbit gave me a full replacement on my wearable device when it wasn’t properly tracking my steps. Apple has traded not one but two iPhone SEs when the cellular reception was weak. Even though it may be a provider problem, they stood by their product. As I thought of the customer loyalty that Apple has, I had a figurative “light bulb aha! moment” and thought of a recent happening that might just restore my faith in an airline and make me a converted and true customer for life.

Let me set the scene: a family member very close to me had emergency open heart surgery a few weeks ago, and many of us flocked to Lubbock, Texas to be by her side. I was there a week, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the lovely people at both the Wyndham Hawthorne Suites and the amazing team at Covenant Health a special thank you for their kindness during a hard time. And one thing happened at the airport when I was trying to catch a Southwest flight home on standby that I won’t soon forget.

Tired Traveler Seeks Seat Home
My loved one was recovering beautifully, and I attempted to get home–to a certain desert city of sin–on a holiday weekend. Yes, I knew my chances that Friday afternoon were slim. Yet after an emotionally draining week, I had to try. You can imagine my sigh when plane one left the gate without me on it… I went back to the podium to ask Melissa, the gate agent, my chances for flight two. I missed it by one person, then promptly burst into tears.

Melissa immediately came around the service counter and enveloped me into a hug. I felt embarrassed about my emotional reaction and even farther away from home, yet her kindness (and the hug) made it somehow better. The story ends on a happy note: I got to spend one more night at the hospital with family, and I ended up making it home the following afternoon with no problem.

And the moment I checked in for my flight, Melissa had my security pass pre-printed and ready for me with a smile. We chatted briefly–and I was again touched by her kindness when she worried if I was able to find a hotel room in a college town on the first football weekend of the season. I assured her all was well and asked if there were a supervisor I could share her wonderful treatment of me. She demurred, and soon after, I was on a flight home.

The Moral? Kindness Can Be a Core Value
This week’s post is not my typical travel blog, yet the story and thought behind it is something that will stick with me for a long time. Emulating loyalty and kindness is certainly worth aspiring to, and I would much rather be on that end of the customer service spectrum. Thanks to companies like Southwest Airlines, whose actions of loving their passengers seem to go viral weekly, role models to emulate really do still exist. 

LUVing the Friendly Skies Over West Texas

LUVing the Friendly Skies Over West Texas

Seven Magic Mountains

I have been waxing poetically about things to see and do in Las Vegas for over four years now, yet there is never a lack of adventures and sites in my city! My latest must-see is a large-scale public art exhibition called Seven Magic Mountains that debuted this summer about 10 minutes south of the Strip. Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s massive, brightly painted boulders are free to visit and will be displayed for two years.

We visited on a Saturday morning in July. A rather warm day, I’d recommend a trip in the fall when the desert temperatures are cooler. I was lucky enough to hit the seven towers at the perfect moment to capture an image sans humans, and a patient photographer can most likely get the same shot. For more details about this vibrant art installation and driving directions, click here.

August 2016 Travel Photo of the Month

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Four years ago, four close girlfriends went to Belize and Guatemala for one of the more adventurous trips I’ve taken. We explored caves, went “wheeeee!” down a zipline, hiked, toured Mayan ruins, and spent a day on horseback. You can read more about what I’d recommend in both countries in past posts Belize It Or Not! and Tikal.

For this month’s travel POTM™, I thought I’d share an atypical photo for my bloggery: a view from souvenir shopping in a small village in Belize. The wares were colorful and quite eye-catching! In case you’re curious, I brought home a ceramic Mayan calendar and a hand painted ornament–Christmas ornaments are my item of choice everywhere I travel.

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Local Souvenirs in San Jose Succotz