Tag Archives: travel

Travel Like a Pro

Travel like a pro

I often take for granted how much work is involved in planning a trip. I hear from friends how they saw my pictures from South East Asia or Europe and wish they could do the same. When I ask them why they can’t, their responses can be surprising. Many of them say that it’s too complicated or too expensive, or they’ll come up with some other equally valid reason for not exploring the world. I agree that travelling can be both complicated and expensive, but hopefully reading this post will help. I’ve outlined the process that I go through when booking “complicated” trips.

Let’s begin.

1         Decide where you want to go

When planning a trip, naturally the first thing you want to do is decide where you want to go, which for some is harder than it is for others. I’ll take for granted that you can figure this one out on your own.

With any trip, there are basically two options:

  • Go somewhere new
  • Go somewhere old

For the purpose of this post, I’ll assume you’ve selected to go somewhere new since that is the most complicated of the two choices. Knowing exactly where you want to go is different than just having a general idea of where you want to go. For example, “I want to go to Europe” vs “I want to go to London” — two common statements; two totally different procedures!

2         Figure out dates

Once you’ve decided where you want to go, you have to determine the dates. This actually entails two decisions:

  • When in the calendar year you want to go;
  • And for how long

Booking a trip that is less than one week, and to only one city, is very different than booking a multi-city trip that’s over one week long.

PRO TIP: If you have a bit of flexibility on your dates, sometimes flying one or two days earlier/later can affect the price significantly, and on some sites, you can view the fares of multiple dates at once which is very convenient when you’re looking for a good deal.

3         Look into finances

Deciding where and when is a start, but you have to determine whether you can afford to go. I assume that if you are serious about planning a trip, you have a little money stashed away, otherwise it’s just a sort of wishful thinking exercise. The point is that often we don’t know how far our money will go. Two thousand dollars for instance is enough to travel some places, but not others.

Looking into finances comes into play in three main ways:

  • How much luxury do you want in your trip?
  • What are the exchange rates (i.e. how far will your money go once converted)?
  • How expensive is the country you want to go to?

The biggest expenses are flight and hotel. Certain parts of the world are cheaper to fly to from where you are than others, and this can vary drastically. You can also take advantage of flight deals if you are flexible about dates.

Hotel prices vary a lot. In developing countries for instance, you can get a room for $20/night vs metropolitan cities that could cost $200+/night.

4         Look at weather

Looking at weather sounds pretty straight forward, right? You may want to go somewhere sunny and pack appropriately. Going to Mexico for instance with a luggage full of tank tops and board shorts will not be good if it’s raining the entire time.

However, there is one very important aspect of looking into weather — you want to see what is the best season to go. There are three travel seasons:

  • Low season refers to really miserable weather conditions, few tourists, really cheap, and overall a bad time to visit. Picture Hawaii during monsoon season = not good.
  • Shoulder seasons refer to an off-peak season usually spring and fall when airfares and accommodations tend to be cheaper. It is ideal for when you want to go somewhere and see some things for a relatively low price. As an added benefit, you often experience fewer crowds. The downside is that the weather may not be suitable.
  • Peak seasons are more popular times to go when the weather is nice or when it conforms to common holiday cycles i.e. summer and Christmas. As the laws of supply and demand dictate, when an influx of buyers desire something of a fixed quantity, the price goes up. In other words, what you gain in terms of good weather and time of year, you lose in it being more expensive, having more crowds, and more sold out accommodations and activities.

PRO TIP: If there is a particular natural attraction you want to see (as in, in nature), check when is the best time to see THAT since it could be that it’s in the low season for that region, but that particular attraction looks best then.

My colleague was telling me how when she went to China, she really wanted to see this particular forest that had lots of nice plants. They go all the way to China just for this one thing and when they got there, none of the plants were in bloom! Aside from being really disappointed, they also wasted their precious time and money to visit a place at the wrong time. Don’t let this happen to you!

5         Look at if there are neighbouring cities/countries to visit

If you spend a bunch of your hard-earned money and effort to travel abroad, why not see what else is in the neighbourhood? This also relates to how long you want to spend in one place and also how much time and money you have. Nevertheless, it’s good to optimize your trip.

6         Look at airfare/accommodation deals

When trying to find the best deal on flights, you can use sites like Kayak or Google flights to help track flight prices and alert you when there are sales.

Sometimes you can find airfare + accommodation deals, which can be worthwhile to consider. If you are travelling from Europe within Europe for instance, you can get some great weekend getaways that are flight/train + hotel for cheaper than booking them separately.

Also consider looking for blogs/Facebook groups/etc. that showcase deals from your local airport (i.e. YVR deals).

PRO TIP: If you are thinking of visiting multiple places, then sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to one airport than another from your home. For example, say you want to go to Paris but there’s cheap flights to London, you can fly to London instead and just take a train to Paris.

7         Look for a convenient hotel

If you want to visit several places, plan out a rough itinerary before booking your hotel. See if it’s better to have one hotel as your base and just do a day trip to the other city/country, or is it better to book a new hotel in each city/country.

Use tripadvisor for advice and prices on hotels. However, if you go to a different site directly, the prices are sometimes cheaper.

PRO TIP: If you plan on doing one-way flights to places, switching orders of cities can make a huge difference in flight prices.

8         Look into Visas/shots/customs

Visas:

BEFORE you book your flight, you must ensure you’ll be able to enter the country! Obtaining a visa can be a lengthy process, often more than one month. If you don’t have a visa, you may not be allowed into the country and they will put you on the next flight home – at your expense!

Shots:

If you need shots, you also need to account for adequate time. Be aware that it may take several months for some vaccines to reach their maximum effectiveness, so you may need to have it done at least two months before your trip.

Customs:

As a general practice, it’s always good to know a little about the local customs. You can research online or buy a book that tells you everything travellers need to know. You never want to inadvertently be rude when you visit a particular country. In Buddhist countries, it’s considered rude to point with your feet. In Japanese culture, it’s considered rude to tip your waiter, and stick your chopsticks straight up in your rice. In other places, your clothing may be offensive.

Also, if you could learn a few phrases in the local language, it will go a long way. Phrases such as: ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘where’s the bathroom?’, ‘how much?’, ‘yes/no’, ‘I need help’, etc. are common phrases. A lot of cultures want to see you at least make an effort to speak their language. Once they see this, they are usually a lot more willing to help you out.

9         Look at things to do, including where to eat lunch and dinner

While it’s not necessary to do every bit of research before you book your trip, you should have a general idea of what you want to do. Once you’ve booked your trip, you can delve back into the research.

If you go to a new city, check if there’s a free tour you can join that will give you an intro to the city. If you would rather have a private guide take you around, this can be arranged as well. It costs more, but they can be well worth the money. Guides can often get you better rates, translate for you, negotiate for you, educate you on the sites, find bathrooms when needed… and you will be travelling around in an air-conditioned vehicle all day and don’t have to worry about transit.

Know what you want to do:

If you have an idea of what you would like to do on your trip, then it makes it a little easier to plan. Just figure out where those activities are located, and plan a route that is convenient and efficient.

Don’t know what you want to do:

If you have no idea what activities are available, then you can do some quick research to see what there is to see and do (forums and travel blogs are good for this). Keep in mind where those activities are located since you’ll need to plan a route that is convenient and efficient.

PRO TIP: If you have just a few days in a city, you can google “(#) days in ____ (city you’re visiting)” and see what comes up. There are lots of guides available online and checking out a few of them can give you an idea of what some of the top sights are.

10    Look at transit/transportation

We’re nearing the end of the process!

Renting a car:

If activities, shops, and restaurants are really spread out, and public transit is too complicated or inconvenient, it may be best to rent a car. It’ll cost you more, but then you’ll have a lot more flexibility and convenience, especially in terms of what hotel you want to pick.

Public transit:

If you opt for a cheaper hotel that’s further away from everything, at least ensure there are places nearby to eat, convenience shops, and it’s close to transit with easy/fast connections to the sights you want to see.

PRO TIP:

If a lot of attractions are near the city centre and you can walk to a lot of them, then when you look at the hotel, you have to take into account how much you save from staying further away vs how much more you would spend in transit costs (or parking costs if you’re driving), not to mention your convenience.

11    Book trip

Before you book your trip, you want to go through the following checklist and ensure everything has been thoroughly researched and considered:

  1. Decide where you want to go
  2. Figure out dates
  3. Look into finances
  4. Look at weather
  5. Look at if there are neighbouring cities/countries to visit
  6. Look at airfare/accommodation deals
  7. Look for convenient hotel
  8. Look into Visas/shots/customs
  9. Look at things to do, including restaurants
  10. Look at transit/transportation
  11. Book trip:
    • Flights
    • Hotels
    • Trains

PRO TIP:

You’ve likely done a ton of research by now and have everything finalized. What I like to do is compile all the notes that are relevant to the trip into a brass-fastener folder. You can have everything you need from activities, restaurants, pre-booked tickets, maps, foreign language cheat sheet, copies of passports and credit cards… As you progress through your trip, you can remove (tear out) the pages and discard them, leaving only the pages needed for the remaining days.

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How I Almost Died in China!

died in china

I was in China recently and I nearly died… maybe not actual death, but something that felt close. We were in this small village just outside of Lijiang and had stopped for lunch. The restaurant was a bit questionable, but considering the village I was in, it seemed par for the course. The bathroom for instance was a stand-alone bathroom that had a squatter toilet and a sink, but the sink didn’t work. There was a soap dispenser on the sink, but you needed to go outside to wash up. I suppose that was the first red flag.

The second thing that alerted me that this restaurant had unsafe food preparation practices came when Sarah pulled a long black hair out of the large communal rice bowl. I had just scooped my rice, but had yet to eat it. Thinking I was ahead of the game, I ate the standard foods that I had been eating for the past two weeks – fried chicken and steamed vegetables – both I would consider as fairly safe. I always try to be cautious of what I eat while travelling. Fruit and rice are common cesspools of bacteria that I try to avoid.

After lunch I felt great. The tour continued onto a small village that was really beautiful. The landscape was fit for some stunning photos, which we took lots of. There was a stream that ran along both sides of the old street, and the architecture looked like it was a thousand years old.

China 1144

Along the way, I spotted a bathroom, but for some reason the door was locked. I didn’t even really have to go, I just like to know where the bathrooms are in case of an emergency. Sarah and I decided to get off our feet for a bit and enjoy the scenery. She was reading a book on her phone, and I watched a lady scoop water out of a stream with a bowl and splash it on her garden. There was something hypnotic about her rhythm and how skillfully she was able to distribute the water.

China 1185

Upon sitting, my stomach started to feel a bit funny. At first, I thought it was hunger since I hadn’t eaten that much during lunch. I had an apple in my backpack, so I fetched it from my snack bag and began eating it. Within a short while, the pains got worse and I stressed my urgency to Sarah that I might need to locate a bathroom quickly.

I wouldn’t say that I felt nauseous, but there was a hint of that. This added an extra step to my already hurried pace. I found an external bathroom where the door lead to the outside, kind of like a motel for bathrooms, and it was up a flight of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, a worker was scooping feces out of a hole and into a bucket. Sorry, I don’t have a photo of that. As you can imagine, the smell was absolutely horrendous and did nothing to help my ailing condition.

I held my breath, walked up to the bathroom, and locked the door behind me. The bathroom was one of those stand-alone squatter deals and was just as disgusting as the other public toilets I had been accustomed to in China. Also, I should mention that whenever you are in a public toilet, you have to bring your own toilet paper, and you also cannot flush the paper. There is always a small basket in each stall where you are to discard your waste paper. This makes the room smell lovely!

China 845

So there I am, I found a bathroom, and I have a nice comfortable squat. Everything was standard procedure, nothing to cause concern. I had been in China for two weeks at this time and up until that point, I felt fine. I didn’t have diarrhea or upset stomach at all. I took pride in that for some reason.

I left the bathroom, walked past the guy with the mud bucket, and proceeded to find Sarah. It started to rain so I took out my rain jacket and put it on. I still didn’t feel amazing, but assumed the prior stomach pains I had were now resolved. I met up with Sarah and walked with her in an out a variety of shops. She was looking for some kind of pastry and couldn’t make up her mind as to which one to get. The whole time, my condition was worsening. I told Sarah that I needed to sit down.

I found a wet step outside of the pastry shop and sat in the rain, huddled up. By now, I was feeling a bit feverish and my stomach pains had gotten worse. The hint of nausea was still there, but never did I think I was actually going to vomit. I felt it was a mental thing and if I didn’t focus on it, it would go away.

After a few minutes of sitting, I decided I should head back to the bathroom. If you listened to my story from Bagan Myanmar (Episode 15 of The Edward Mullen Podcast) you’ll know that I am a bit paranoid about not being close to a bathroom.

SAMSUNG CSCI advised Sarah of my decision and headed down a narrow street in this quaint village to where the bathroom was located. As I approached closer, the damp smell of raw sewage filled the air and hit me like a punch in the face. I made my way past the man with the scoop and walked up stairs into the same stall I had used on my first visit. This time, as soon as I closed the door, I immediately projectile vomited and made a huge mess everywhere. I did that a couple more times and then proceeded to squat. Like a raging river, the most vile liquid gushed out of my body. I’m talking pure liquid. Not the prettiest image, I know, but I have to do the story justice.

So I’m in the bathroom and I completely murdered this poor stall. I stood up and turned around to look at the damage. It was total, unrelenting annihilation. I felt so bad that I actually grabbed a nearby broom and pushed as much vomit as I could into the centre of the porcelain receptacle and then proceeded to flush several times.

SAMSUNG CSCI felt reasonably better, but still didn’t feel good. I exited the stall and was outside in the rain. As I had done upon the first visit, I went downstairs and washed my hands in the separate sinks they had. I walked past the bucket guy, down the narrow street, and back to where I had last seen Sarah. I couldn’t find her, but I found the two guides that were in charge of our tour group. I told them of my illness and they said it was altitude sickness and that what I was feeling was very common. I hadn’t read up on altitude sickness, but I was sure it was food poisoning from lunch. When I told them that, they looked at me like I just admitted to kicking a puppy. They were like, “Food poisoning!… No, this is definitely altitude sickness.” For the record, it was food poisoning.

I sat on the same wet step for another couple of minutes. My hood was up to protect me from the rain and I had my hands were stuffed into my jacket pockets. After a few minutes, I decided that the bus would be a more comfortable place for me to sit and relax. I advised the guides to inform Sarah where I was going, and stumbled back to the bus. I felt I could vomit at any moment if I paid enough attention to it so I tried to keep my mind clear of those thoughts. Just in case, I was looking for a spot to puke. The streams that ran along both sides of the street seemed like a reasonable spot, but I didn’t know if it was the town’s drinking water. What kind of asshole would I be if I hurled in the town’s drinking water?

SAMSUNG CSCIt was a bit of a walk to get to where the bus was parked. I had to walk down a long and winding road, but I eventually found it. When I got on the bus, there were some of my other tour mates there. They told me I looked like crap and I explained to them how I was feeling. I spared them most of the gory details, but mentioned I had gotten sick.

Thinking the worst was behind me, I reclined my chair and tried to get comfortable. I didn’t last more than two minutes before I got up and searched for the bathroom. Fortunately, there was a bathroom by the parking lot, but it cost one Yuan, which was like 20 cents Canadian. Not a big deal, but I wasn’t sure if I had any Yuan on me and I don’t really like asking people for money, even if it’s pennies.

In the sleeve of my sweatshirt was a small zippered pocket. By chance, there happened to be a roll of small bills that I put there a few days ago. I usually let Sarah keep all the cash, but I must have bought something and stuck the change there without really thinking. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me. I approached the bathroom, paid the lady, and found a stall — same squatter toilets, same disgusting smell.

China 1118I’ll spare you from all the graphic details, but it was really, really bad in there for me. It was coming out of both ends and was relentless. I was in a lot of pain. After a while I went back on the bus, reclined my seat for two minutes, and then ran back to the toilet. I paid my money and found myself back in the same stall. For the next several minutes, I felt like I was exorcising a demon. I’m talking every last ounce of fluid from my stomach and bowels was coming out. I had nothing left in my stomach and was puking small amounts of this thick yellow mucous.

I’m not a religious person, but I tell you what, I was praying like a nun in there. I mean, pants around my ankles, in a fetal position, praying to God to relieve me of this pain. I was like, “I’ll go to church, I’ll knock on doors and spread the good word, I’ll do anything! Please make me well again, I can’t take it anymore!” And guess what? God didn’t answer my prayers.

SAMSUNG CSCI must have been in the bathroom a long time because by now the tour group was all back on the bus and were waiting for me. Several men from the group came in to check on me, and then Sarah came in. I had run out of toilet paper a long time ago and after telling Sarah I was dying, I asked for more paper. She found my stall and passed some under the door.

Eventually, I staggered out of the bathroom, probably looking like hell, and made my way onto the bus. It was about 4:00 p.m. and I was eyeing the taxis. I asked if I could take one back to the hotel because there was no way I could continue on to the next adventure. I was done. I needed to lay down and be near a bathroom. The local guide told me that we’ll take the bus into the city and drop me off. From there, I could take a taxi and it would be much cheaper. So that’s what I did.

I had a small garbage pail on my lap and used it several times on the way to the city. I had learned that another person on the tour was experiencing what I was going through and for some reason that made me feel better. I wouldn’t wish what I had on anyone and I’m not sure why it made me feel better, but it did. I guess in those moments, I didn’t want to feel alone. So there was me, this other sick lady, Sarah, sick lady’s mum, and our national guide, Jeff. We all got dropped off at some random hotel in Lijiang. While our guide hailed a taxi, I ran into the hotel and had several more pukes and diarrheas. When I came down, we got into a taxi van and drove to the hotel.

I was wearing sweatpants, a hoody, a toque, a down vest, a down jacket, and was under two down blankets, and I was still cold. I laid in bed, shaking, and wishing I would get better. Moments later, Jeff came into my room and said, “I think we should go to the hospital. Urgently.” I was happy to just lay in bed, but he sounded pretty convincing. In fact, his tone and word choice scared the heck out of me. I thought for a moment I was dying.ChinaHospital

Me, Jeff, and sick lady found a taxi and drove to the People’s Hospital of Lijiang. Sarah and sick lady’s mum took a separate taxi and met us there. While on our way, sick lady was puking into a bucket and moaning like she still had a demon in her. She told me, “This isn’t altitude sickness” in which I responded, “Yeah, I know.” She then said, “They’re just trying to save face.”

When we arrived at the hospital, we had to walk through a bunch of buildings to get to the ER. Inside, I laid on a metal bench and closed my eyes. Shortly after, Sarah and sick lady’s mum showed up and asked me how I was feeling. I told them I was dying. Yes, I’m a little dramatic!

China 1995

It took forever to get to an actual hospital room where medical things could happen to me. In the meantime I visited the bathroom several more times. When I got to the room, there was a messy bed waiting for me. This thing had blood stains on it and looked like they had just dragged some poor soul out of it minutes before, but I didn’t care. I laid down on the blood stains and tried to get comfortable. I shared the room with sick lady and one other random Chinese person. The entire time, sick lady was incessantly moaning, making the whole experience much worse than it needed to be.

By now, it was quite late in the evening. The sun had set and we were all pretty worn out from the day. Me and sick lady were the only ones lying down, which I felt bad for. As I looked around the room, I noticed faded paint on the walls, large cracks in the ceiling, and equipment that looked like it was from the 50s. In fact, it felt like I was in a war museum, the kind where they show you an old hospital from World War II. It was janky as hell, but that was probably standard for China. No offense.

A nurse eventually came to check on me. Jeff told her everything that was wrong and then she withdrew blood from my arm. The results of the blood test took over an hour, but when they came back, they revealed that I was severely dehydrated – big surprise right! I then had another needle stuck into my arm, this time it was for a large IV bag. There were four bags that I had to have slowly drip into my arm through a thin tube. At the rate of the drips, I estimated it would take at least two hours for one bag to drain into my arm. And there were three other bags! I did the math and figured I would be in the hospital until about 3:30/4:00 in the morning. I settled in for the long night and tried to get some sleep.

China 1996Jeff stayed awake and spoke with the nurse every so often. The local guide came in at some point, but then she left. Then another lady in plain clothes came in for a while to check on things, but then she left as well. Meanwhile, my mouth was desert dry as I was instructed not to drink or eat anything. I kept envisioning being back home, going into my fridge, and chugging an entire gallon of cold juice. Not to be dramatic, but I felt like if I didn’t get some water in me, I would be dead within the hour.

I asked Sarah to give me just a small cap of water and she obliged. She took off the cap from a water bottle, filled it with water, and poured it into my mouth. It’s funny how we take the smallest things for granted. I swear, the moment that wonderful liquid hit my mouth, I was in heaven. I immediately asked for another cap, then another. I didn’t care about the doctor’s instructions, I was dying! The last mouthful I just let swash around for a moment to keep my mouth moist, and then I swallowed.

I was trying to be as disciplined as possible and fight off the insatiable thirst I was feeling, but self-preservation is a powerful motivator. After ten minutes I asked Sarah for another cap. They always came in threes and the last cap always lingered in my mouth for a bit just to savour it. As soon as I swallowed, I counted down another ten minutes until I could ask again. The entire time, my body was sore, my stomach hurt, and I was visualizing cold glasses of water being poured into my mouth. I didn’t make it to the ten minute mark. After about eight minutes, Sarah was standing over me pouring caps of water in my mouth. I thought spacing them out every so often would be good enough and wouldn’t hurt anybody. Then I got greedy.

bottled-waterThe next time I asked, only about five minutes had passed. Then two minutes after that, I had convinced myself that I was better and able to drink as much water as I wanted. I told Sarah to give me the bottle and I proceeded to chug it like a dying man in a desert. As one might expect, all this water was not good for me. Soon after, I needed to go to the bathroom, quite urgently.

Going to the bathroom presented a bit of a challenge. First, I was connected to an IV bag, which was not on a stand that could be wheeled around. It was connected to a hook that dangled from the ceiling. I advised Jeff of my situation and told him I’d just carry the IV bag. He then said that would not work because the bag needed to remain at a certain elevation. Being a nice guy, he offered to hold the IV and accompanying me to the bathroom. Bless his heart.

Not actual image. Photo courtesy of www.medicaldaily.com

Not actual image. Photo courtesy of http://www.medicaldaily.com

I slowly rose from the bed and squeezed into my shoes. Together, Jeff and I walked down the long hall toward the bathroom. When we entered the bathroom, there was a squatter toilet, a urinal stall, and a regular sit-down toilet – all out in the open with no privacy. There was another guy in there at the time, but he was at the sink if I remember correctly. Jeff asked me which one I needed, and I opted for the squatter toilet. For some reason, I had grown accustomed to them. Sit-down toilets are good for slow, relaxing bathroom situations, but this wasn’t one of those times. I got about a foot from the squatter toilet and immediately expelled all the precious water that I had been sneakily consuming for the past hour. Next was the other end. With Jeff standing at arm’s length in front of me, I pulled down my pants and released a fountain of liquid. Never once did Jeff complain or say, “Ah, come on dude, seriously!” No, instead he stood tall, holding my IV bag like a champ, and then handed me toilet paper. Again, bless his heart.

That situation I described happened three more times throughout the night and each time, Jeff had my back. I thanked him profusely and made a mental note to remember this moment for when I would decide how much to tip him at the end of the tour.

China 1998We walked back to the room and I crawled into bed. I wasn’t able to sleep, although I tried. At one point, Sarah crawled into the disgusting bed with me and tried to get some rest herself. Never once did I feel comfortable. I had my eyes closed mostly, and whenever I opened them, it was to check the IV progress. I’m not sure if me watching the IV made it drip slower, but it seemed like it was taking forever. At a certain point I think the IV had stopped and we had to call a nurse. She opened up the flow so it dripped faster, but that made my vain swell up and feel like it was going to explode. I trusted she knew what she was doing and I tried to ignore the discomfort.

As I expected, we didn’t end up leaving until around 3:30 am. Sick lady and her mum had left hours before so when we left the hospital, it was just me, Sarah, and Jeff. My arms were draped across their shoulders and they were helping me walk as if I was a wounded comrade in war. I used the time to thank Jeff and Sarah for what they had done for me. We waited curbside for less than a minute before a taxi showed up and took us back to the hotel.

SAMSUNG CSCBack at the hotel, I settled into bed and tried my best to put this horrible experience behind me. Jeff accompanied us to our room and made some kind of salty beverage that was supposed to help restore my electrolytes. I slowly sipped it and was able to keep the fluid down, but it did nothing to make me feel any better.

I slept decently for a few hours and in the morning, I decided to skip breakfast. Jeff called me and asked me how I was feeling. I explained to him that I still wasn’t feeling good and told him I was going to skip the day’s activities. Sarah was a bit tired, but other than that she felt fine. She went out with the rest of the group and I laid in bed all day.

Jeff called me around noon and offered to bring me some food for lunch. I declined, but it was a nice gesture. He told me that many other people had gotten sick and were also at the hotel resting. Sometime in the afternoon, Sarah came back to check on me. I hadn’t moved all day and was still feeling awful. She then went outside of the hotel to look for some crackers and juice for me. She returned shortly after with saltine crackers and a Vitamin Water. I slowly nibbled the crackers—the only thing I had eaten in the past 24 hours—and chugged the Vitamin Water.

That day went by and I had skipped breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was fatigued and still feeling nauseous. I didn’t feel good while standing and I only felt slightly better laying down. The next morning, I went to breakfast in the hotel and just ate some fruit and a piece of toast. I also had a couple glasses of juice. There were no activities scheduled for the day, which was good, but at around 2:00 p.m., we had to catch a flight to Chongqing. I remained close to a bathroom at all times and had to use it on several occasions. The bus ride to the airport was about an hour, and then the flight was about two hours. I kept it together and didn’t have any emergencies.

We landed in Chongqing at night and I had skipped lunch, which was greasy KFC—probably the right call!  From the airport, we boarded a tour bus and drove through the busy metropolis to our cruise ship. The local guide was at the front of the bus and was explaining to us that Chongqing has over 32 million people—almost as much as the entire population of Canada! She said that there were a lot of factories there like Ford and Apple. With such a dense population, the traffic was really bad. I’m assuming the pollution was bad too, but it was night time so I didn’t notice it.

China 1190We arrived on the cruise ship about one and a half hours later. I felt really fortunate to get sick when I did (as opposed to some other time) because for the next five days I could just rest in my room on the ship. No other time during our trip would have provided me with this opportunity. We were constantly moving from place to place and it would have been really hard on my system. For the next three days or so I took it easy, mostly remaining in bed. I slowly regained my appetite. First, I was eating just small portions of plain noodles without any sauce, and then by day three on the ship, I was feeling much better and my appetite had fully returned.

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I’ve had food poisoning before, but nothing like this. It was really nasty. China was an amazing experience and despite this incident, I really enjoyed my time there.

For more stories from my trip to China, or other travels, check out Episode 20 of The Edward Mullen Podcast.

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Edward Mullen Goes to Las Vegas!

In June 2014, Sarah and I embarked on another journey – this time to Las Vegas! We flew in from Vancouver and stayed for three nights at Mandalay Bay Hotel. It was my first trip to Las Vegas, so I was excited to see what the city of sin had to offer.

We arrived around 10:00 pm and took a cab to our hotel. The first thing I noticed when we queued for a taxi was the heat. It was around 38 degrees, but it was that dry desert heat that reminded me of when I lived in Kamloops.

Along the way, I was mesmerized at all the bright lights and famous landmarks. Our hotel was fairly close to the airport so we only got a small taste of the renowned Las Vegas strip.

Once we were checked into our hotel, we set our bags down and immediately went out. We didn’t necessarily want to walk the strip since we would be there for three nights and would have plenty of time for that. We decided to walk across a parking lot and over to the Luxor hotel (the giant black pyramid). We were just in time to catch a late-night happy hour. We ordered a couple of beers, some pulled-pork sliders, and an order of spinach and artichoke dip.

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The following morning we made a point to start our day off at the pool. Mandalay Bay has a spectacular pool area and even at 9:00 am, the sun was plenty hot for us to go for a dip. We spent most of our time in the wave pool, which was fun, but it got boring after a while.

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After about an hour or so at the pool, we decided to get a start on our day. We didn’t have much planned during the days, mostly just shopping and checking out the sights. When we arrived on the strip, the sun was in full bore and blasting down on us. It was well in the 40s and getting hotter by the minute. I felt sorry for all the homeless people, but even sorrier for the street performers wearing hot suits such as the minions from Despicable Me, various Transformers, and even Chewbacca.

The sights were truly spectacular. If you’ve never been, Las Vegas is a place where anything seems possible. You cannot just have a hotel, you must have a giant pyramid or a roller coaster or a massive fountain or recreate the New York skyline or build an Eiffel tower replica… Everything is grand and over the top, but that’s part of what makes Las Vegas special.

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Another thing that makes Las Vegas special is the night life. It’s just as busy at night as in the day (perhaps even more so). At night, the strip truly comes alive with bright lights. The streets are filled with interesting people, and the entertainment seems to never stop.

I haven’t mentioned the food yet, so I should include a quick note about the buffets. We went to the one at Mandalay Bay, which was not ranked as one of the best in the city, but it definitely did not disappoint. For roughly $25.00 per person, you had access to an all-you-can-eat Smörgåsbord of decadent food choices. There were fresh fruits, smoked salmon, Pad Thai, pasta made the way you like it, steak, pizza… you name it. Then if you had room, there was an equally impressive selection of desserts. We ate so much food at the lunch buffet that we skipped dinner (we had a late-night beer and nachos at the Luxor again – happy hour!) and we were still not that hungry the next morning.

On our second night, we watched Penn & Teller at the Rio. Now, the Rio is a bit far from the strip – about an hour walk from our hotel. However, it is deceptively close. We found this to be the case with most things on the strip. Everything is so big that it seems like a stone’s throw away, but after thirty minutes of walking, you’re still nowhere near your destination. Then of course add more time for the foot traffic, photo ops, and shops along the way. The Penn & Teller show was amazing, and as a fan of magic and illusions, I try to pick apart the tricks and learn their secrets. However, with many of their tricks, I have no idea how they are done. It was magic!

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On our third night, we went to the Treasure Island hotel/ casino to watch Cirque du Soleil – Mystere. The seats we paid for were not great, but when we arrived, the usher offered us front-row seating, which we happily accepted. The problem with front row, we discovered, was our view was too narrow. It was hard to take in the whole show since much of it was taking place above our heads, and our eyes kept darting around as not to miss the action taking places on other areas of the stage. I think a mid-range seating is optimal. As an added benefit of sitting further back, you can avoid the risk of being selected to be a part of the show and embarrassed in front of everyone, which was a concern of mine. The whole time I was like, “please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me…”

I’ve been all over the world, but for me, Las Vegas was the best place I’ve been so far. I definitely cannot wait to go back!

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See Also:

DISCOVERING MYSTERY IN THE ANCIENT CITY OF RIGA, LATVIA

OUR FIRST NIGHT IN KAUNAS, LITHUANIA

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Discovering Mystery in the Ancient City of Riga, Latvia

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In March 2014, Sarah and I set off on another adventure – this time to Riga and Jurmala, Latvia. Riga is renowned for many things, but it can now boast the prestigious honour of being labelled one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2014. Needless to say, we were excited to travel to the beautiful and historic city.

We arrived by bus in the evening just as the sun was descending over the horizon. The warm colours of the sky made us forget that it was freezing cold. As we came properly prepared for the weather, we stopped to take a few photos of the red and orange sky before proceeding.

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With our heavy backpacks in tow, we were eager to find our hotel. Sarah had printed a map from the Internet, which proved very quickly to be useless. We remained on the main street, walking along the sidewalk with the water and sunset to our left. Eventually we found a Wellton Hotel (not the one we had booked), and figured we’d ask them for directions to our hotel. As it turned out, we were not very far from our hotel at all. The receptionist assured us we just needed to follow the road for another two blocks and then turn left and we couldn’t miss it. Sure enough, we found our hotel.

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After checking in, we set our bags down and immediately went back out to explore the city. By this time, the sun had completely receded and it was now night time. The starry sky provided the perfect backdrop to the ancient architecture and cobblestone streets. Despite it being below zero, we happily snapped more photos of the rustic buildings.

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The following days and nights were filled with awe-inspiring discovery. At one particular church, we found an odd-looking boulder with a face carved into it. Upon reading the blurb, it turned out to have quite a fascinating story.

It was called The Stone Head of Salaspils. The origin and time of this idol are unknown. The earliest information about it can be traced back to mid-nineteenth century. As the story goes, a farmer from Salaspils discovered the stone idol on his property in 1851. The head went on display at a museum until 1875, where it then disappeared for the next 125 years. It finally resurfaced in the year 2000, when it was found buried in the yard of the church where it now resides. The origins and disappearance still remain a mystery to this day.

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