Riding the Train Through Tea Country in Sri Lanka

I’m going to be drinking a lot more tea after this trip! Sri Lanka is the world’s 4th largest producer of tea (which is incredible for a country the size of West Virginia). The tea factories and plantations are in the mountainous central region of the country, and the best way to see them is by taking a train or driving through the mountains.

We took the train for most of the route from Colombo to Kandy to Nuwara Eliya to Ella, and it’s such a fun experience passing different terrains and seeing people in the stations.

Here are the different ways you can see the countryside: Continue reading

Visit the Elephants at Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka

It was the best of travel, it was the worst of travel. If you can haggle your way into Udawalawe National Park, you’re in for an amazing safari experience!

But first you must haggle. Continue reading

How to Meet Locals When Traveling

“Where are you from?” he called out.

We’ve been dodging “touts” all week in Colombo, Sri Lanka, so I ignored him. But this time, my husband responded, “Australia.”

Instead of a pushy sales pitch on an overpriced tour, he and my husband began debating the strengths and weaknesses of both countries’ cricket teams. Because, of course. Continue reading

Best Restaurants in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Even though we only picked Colombo, Sri Lanka, a week before our trip began, I can’t think of a better place to start this adventure. It’s taken some adjusting to life without a home base and living out of a suitcase… but when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I remind myself that it could be worse. Instead of lovely 80-degree weather, I could be suffering through -15 degrees at home in Chicago. (That’s 27 and -27 for those non-US folks playing along.)

It’s also the perfect place to begin our food adventure! Since it’s an island country, the seafood here is amaaazing. And the spices are to die for.

Here are my favorite places to eat in Colombo: Continue reading

Packing List for a 6 Month Trip to Asia & Australia

Australian Koala

Take the flip flops, leave the koala?

Packing for my first long-term trip is overwhelming. How am I supposed to reduce the contents of a two-bedroom apartment into a suitcase and backpack?

My normal packing M.O. is to wait until 11 p.m. the night before I leave to start thinking about packing and, wait a minute, do I need to do a load of laundry? I can always squeeze a few extra outfits in my luggage, because my “carry on” suitcase isn’t really carry on. Measuring in at 12 inches x 16 inches x 22 inches, my suitcase hasn’t been considered carry on in a hundred years, if ever.

Continue reading

What is Long-Term Travel?

"Stop, Revive, Survive" sign along an Australian highway

“Stop, Revive, Survive” sign along an Australian highway

Vacation, holiday, honeymoon, backpacking… we humans have almost as many words for travel as Eskimos do for snow and ice. Why? Because it’s important to us. Travel is how we learn what it means to be human, and how we connect with our world. It helps us revive our spirits and come back to our place in the world refreshed.

I’m on the precipice of quitting my job to explore the world on a Honeymoon / Long-Term Travel / Backpacking Adventure. Continue reading

How To Plan a Six-Month Trip

how-to-plan-a-six-month-trip

Mr. Lost and I recently got married, and the question on everyone’s mind was, “Where are you going for your honeymoon?”

Our answer: “Everywhere.”

Okay, not really everywhere… but as many countries as we can explore in Asia in 6 months.

This idea of long-term travel is very (pardon the pun) foreign to me as an American. So I’ve started researching the idea. What do we pack? How do we pay for it? Is it safe? Is this idea crazy??

Join me over the next 31 days as I share what I’ve learned and how I’m starting to prepare for the trip.

  1. Intro 🙂
  2. What is Long-Term Travel?
  3. Packing List
  4. Where to Go?
  5. Budgeting
  6. How to Tell Mom & Dad
  7. My Travel Fears
  8. How to Research
  9. Staying Healthy
  10. Managing Finances

… and more!

Duck Over to Chicago’s Duck Duck Goat

The Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) were my favorite!

The Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) were my favorite!

My anticipation was high to try Stephanie Izard’s new restaurant, Duck Duck Goat (857 West Fulton Market). Like in Duck Duck Goose as a kid, I have been waiting patiently but eagerly to get a knock on the head for my turn. Thankfully, no sprinting was involved, but I did have to book a reservation a couple weeks in advance for Tuesday at 10pm.

The interior is fun and trendy with Chinese-inspired decorations, but we focused most of our attention on the menu. One strange quirk is that the house specials — highlighted in red text — are different on each menu. I don’t know if they’re testing ordering habits or if it’s a typo, but it’s quite confusing!

The highlight of our “reasonably authentic Chinese food” was the Xiao Long Bao, or soup dumplings. They came with pork and crab, and they were delicious.

Ham Sui Gok (rice dumplings with goat)

Ham Sui Gok (rice dumplings with goat)

Another favorite was the Ham Sui Gok or rice dumplings with goat. (When you visit Duck Duck Goat, you have to try something with goat, right?) I’ve never had anything quite like this – the crust was soft but just a little crispy.
Octopus, Cucumber and Peanut Salad

Octopus, Cucumber and Peanut Salad

The Octopus, Cucumber and Peanut Salad was a refreshing break from the heavier foods with a light sauce.
Cheong Fun XO

Cheong Fun XO

The sausage and rice noodle rolls in the Cheong Fun XO dish were worth the price of admission. They may be the best noodles in Chicago, combined with grilled cuttlefish, shrimp and XO broth.
Chongqing Chicken

Chongqing Chicken

The only dish I didn’t like was the Chongqing Chicken. It’s a Sichuan-style chicken with chilis, and it’s typically quite spicy. The dish lived up to the spicy, but the other seasonings were too strong to enjoy the heat.

The service was average. We asked our server for recommendations, and she shrugged and said it’s really our personal taste. She almost forgot to ask for our drink order, and let us order too many dishes for just the two of us.

The food was quite good, but it failed to live up to my (perhaps too high) expectations of Izard. As a former Top Chef winner, she’s one of the hottest chefs in Chicago, and she opened Girl & the Goat in 2010 and Little Goat in 2012.
  • Restaurant: Duck Duck Goat
  • Address: 857 West Fulton Market
  • Price: About $40/person (served family style, so everything is shared)
  • Favorite Dishes: 1) Xiao Long Bao, 2) Cheong Fun XO, 3) Octopus, Cucumber and Peanut Salad and 4) Ham Sui Gok
  • Rating (Fun Scale): 4 out of 5 stars

Best Korean Food in Chicago

Seoul South Korea

I visited Seoul, South Korea, last year and I’ve been craving Korean food ever since. The perfectly seasoned meats cooked right in front of you, the bulgogi, the kimchi, the bibimbap… I can’t get enough!

Luckily, Korean fusion is on trend in Chicago with bopngrill, bellyQ and Parachute. But sometimes a gal just wants to scrap the fusion for the real deal. My favorite thing to order at traditional Korean restaurants is beef bulgogi and a seafood pancake. If you’ve never had Korean food before, they typically bring the raw meat to your table, and either the server or you cook it, while you enjoy lots (and lots!) of side dishes. The sides come in little bowls and are filled with pickled vegetables, tofu and other unknown delights.

My list of Korean restaurants to try is a mile long, but these are my favorites in Chicago so far:

Da Rae Jung (5220 N Lincoln Ave)

Beef Bulgogi at Da Rae Jung

Beef Bulgogi at Da Rae Jung

Many of the traditional Korean restaurants in Chicago are located in strip malls, and so is the case for Da Rae Jung. The interior is quite small with only a few tables. Their beef was tender and flavorful, and the meat cooker had a ring around it for water so we had a nice soup with our rice. We only ordered one meat and got 8 side dishes. The seafood pancake was fresh and soft, not crispy like I prefer. The waitress didn’t speak much English, but helped show us how to cook and eat the food.

Gogi (6240 N California Ave)

Beef Bulgogi at Gogi

Beef Bulgogi at Gogi

At Gogi we ordered two meats, a seafood pancake and got 12 side dishes. One thing to note here: You have to order two meats for them to cook it in front of you, so bring a big appetite (and a couple friends!). Gogi wins on tender meat and good sides. But it’s a tie on the pancake – Gogi’s is crispy, but Da Rae Jung’s had more pieces of seafood. Gogi’s seafood pancake was also spicy with jalapeno. It’s a bigger restaurant and a little fancier, but less of a mom and pop. They also have a service button, just like we saw in South Korea!

San Soo Gab San (5247 N Western Ave)

Seafood pancake at San Soo Gab San

Seafood pancake at San Soo Gab San

You know it’s going to be a good meal when they run out of table space! So far, San Soo Gab San is my favorite Korean restaurant in Chicago. The beef bulgogi is delicious, and the seafood pancake is crispy and has lots of seafood. They also win for side dishes: 17 different sides!

So many side dishes at San Soo Gab San!

So many side dishes at San Soo Gab San!

The only issue I had at San Soo Gab San was almost creating a “scene” and offending my servers: I accidentally started to walk across the raised seating area with my shoes on, which I learned (by all the yelling) is a big no-no. It’s an interesting seating area in the restaurant, where you don’t sit on chairs. It almost looks like people are sitting on the floor, but it’s actually built-in chairs. It’s the mullet of tables: business up top, party underneath. Anyhow, lesson learned!

Any other Korean restaurants I need to try? I’m making a list, and eating it twice!

How To Avoid Food Poisoning

Antigua Guatemala Local Market Steak Tacos

I went to Guatemala, and I got food poisoning.

The twist? I got food poisoning the day after I returned home to Chicago when I cooked chicken for myself. This steak taco from the local Antigua food market? A little chewy, but my stomach was fine.

The irony is that I’m a worrywart traveler. I’m nervous about getting lost, getting scammed and — you guessed it — getting sick when I travel. So even though I didn’t need the advice in Guatemala, I thought I’d share the tips I researched on how to avoid food-borne illness (or traveler’s diarrhea):

  1. “Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it”
    The quick answer from the World Health Organization and Mayo Clinic is: boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it. Raw food is risky, because you don’t know what germs it may have. So boiling or cooking it, or only eating the inside are key ways to protect your stomach.
  2. Be street smart
    Some people will tell you to avoid street food altogether. This may be controversial, but I actually like to try food from street vendors occasionally. It’s part of the food experience in travel! Here are the conditions when I’ll give it a try:

    • Raw food must be completely separate from cooked food. In Antigua, I skipped the vendors who had raw fish hanging above the cooked food.
    • Try small bites. In Guatemala I only ate a snack, rather than a full meal – just in case it bothered my stomach.
    • Make sure other people are eating it too. This isn’t sure-fire, because locals may be accustomed to a different diet. But avoid places where no one else is eating.
  3. Hit the bottle
    Bottled water, that is. Don’t drink tap water and avoid ice in drinks. I also recommend drinking lots of bottled water to stay hydrated. The only time I used tap water was to brush my teeth, but I was careful to always spit it out.
  4. Check for shots
    I prepare for trips by reading up on recommended vaccinations and checking with my doctor. The State Department has a good summary to get you started, and vaccinations are a good way to prevent illnesses like typhoid.

It’s important to remember that food poisoning and stomach issues can happen anywhere… even in my little Chicago apartment! Take precautions when you travel, but keep it in perspective and don’t let it keep you from enjoying every bite of the journey.