Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng Lantern Festival

Yi Peng 2014 in Chiang Mai

Yi Peng 2014 in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s annual lantern festival is a truly magical event. I figured it would be a pretty “neat” experience based on photos and videos I had seen online, but “neat” definitely didn’t do it justice. Attending Yi Peng changes you in some imperceptible way, sort of like seeing the ocean for the first time. It marks you somehow emotionally, or in my case, it left a small mark on me physically (see my note about safety below). We were fortunate enough to be in Chiang Mai for this year’s Yi Peng Lantern Festival, and managed to make our way up to Mae Jo to experience the magic.

What is Yi Peng?

Yi Peng (or Yee Peng) is a Lanna (Northern Thai) Festival of Lights that is usually held each year in November. Yi Peng literally translates to 2nd Month, and is always held on or near the full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna Calendar. During Yi Peng, Sky Lanterns called Khom Loi are released to pay respect to Buddha. Launching one of these lanterns is believed to send a person’s bad luck and misfortunes away into the air, especially if it disappears from your view before the fire goes out.

We Released Two Lanterns

We Released Two Lanterns

The Yi Peng festival is held each year on the grounds of the Lanna Dhutanka Temple behind Mae Jo University. Usually, it’s about a 25-minute drive North of Chiang Mai, but the drive can take nearly three times as long before and after the festivities. People start to crowd into the grounds as early as 2pm to snag a primo spot, but the ceremony preceding the lantern release actually doesn’t begin until 6:30pm. Lantern release starts at about 8pm, and is followed by fireworks!

Check out these crowds!

Check out these crowds!

It’s a good idea to arrive early (by 3 or 4pm) to stake out a spot, because it gets ridiculously crowded.

When is Yi Peng?

Two separate Yi Peng lantern release events are held each year. The first event has no admission charge, and is primarily attended by local Thai people, expats, and tourists-in-the-know. Because it’s free, this first event is typically VERY crowded. A second event is held a week or two later specifically for tourists, and a limited number of tickets are sold for about $100 each to keep crowding down. The ticket price includes transportation to and from Mae Jo, dinner, a lantern, and even a seating mat and scarf. Plus you won’t have to contort yourself into strange positions in order to fit into the small space you staked out on the temple grounds.

There is a Ceremony happening up there somewhere!

There is a Ceremony happening up there somewhere!

The date of the free lantern release is typically kept under wraps until last minute in an attempt to limit the number of tourists who flock to Chiang Mai to attend. I can understand why they want to limit the number of tourists at the event, because I saw some people being pretty darn disrespectful while we were there (see my note about respect below).

For 2014, the free event was held on Saturday, October 24. The paid event is scheduled for Saturday, November 8 (get tickets here).

The Best Way to Experience Yi Peng

Kevin Holding our Lantern

Kevin Holding our Lantern

We opted to attend the free event because it’s so darn hard for us to stomach paying $100/ticket. That’s like 100 dinners for us here. CAN. NOT. HANDLE. Plus, I like to experience local traditions with the locals. I think it just means more to experience this Buddhist festival with people who actually know about the religious customs and traditions.

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

We’ve learned an important lesson here in Thailand, based loosely on the 80/20 Pareto Principle. In Thailand, you can usually spend just an extra 20% and increase your comfort level by 80%. We decided to splurge on a 500 Baht/person (about $15) round-trip air conditioned van ride to Mae Jo. And let me tell you, it was a HOT day, there was a TON of traffic, and we were thrilled to have aircon. We could have saved $3 each by booking round-trip in a Songathew. (A Songathew is a pickup truck taxi with bench seating in the covered truck bed.  Definitely no aircon, but plenty of dust and exhaust.) We could have saved $10 each by just flagging down a Songathew and haggling over price, but that would involve walking a few miles in the heat and haggling, two things guaranteed to turn me into a monster. We could have saved even more money by borrowing our landlord’s scooter, but I’m fairly certain I’d be making this post from a hospital bed right now if we had done that! Do yourself a favor, just pay up front for the round trip air-conditioned transport. You can thank me later.

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

Booking round-trip transport for Yi Peng is easy – any hotel reception desk or tour company can do it for you. We walked into a hotel near our condo the day before the festival and asked them to book it for us. The real trick is finding out the date – we would’ve missed it were it not for the ridiculous number of Chiang Mai Facebook groups I’ve joined.

A Note about Safety

Lantern Lighting 101

Lantern Lighting 101

If you’re skiddish about being in huge crowds, this event is not for you. If you’re afraid of fire, this event is definitely not for you. Each year for Yi Peng, people pack into the temple grounds nearly shoulder to shoulder. At some point after everyone crams in, hundreds of torches all throughout the crowd are set on fire, and people start to light their lanterns on these torches and send them floating, on fire, into the air. Some lanterns catch on fire, like the one in this video, which landed right next to us:

There are a very limited number of small exit points, and no one announces an emergency evacuation plan. In fact, the exits are so insufficiently sized that it took us about an hour just to get out of the temple grounds after the ceremony ended. To top things off, I even got burned at Yi Peng this year! Some people get torch wax on their lanterns before releasing them, so hot fiery flaming wax rains down as the lantern floats off into the air. I’m sporting a nice red burn on my arm this week, so that’s fun. At least I was consoled by fireworks:

So let’s recap: huge crowds + open flames everywhere + floating fiery lanterns + hot flaming wax raining down from the sky = SIGN ME UP, AMIRITE?! Crowd control and liability are treated a bit more loosely here. It’s good and bad; you just have to be sure you’re watching out for yourself. In spite of the crowds and the fiery wax falling from the sky, Yi Peng is still definitely worth attending. It’s truly magical – I just might recommend wearing a hat and long sleeves, or bringing a small fire extinguisher.

A Note about Respect

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng is a wonderful, spectacular experience, one I’ll never forget. Unfortunately, a lot of the tourists who attend either don’t know or don’t care that it’s a religious ceremony. It’s hard to enjoy the experience when the guy next to you is playing games on his iPad during the ceremony, with the sound on. It’s pretty annoying when everyone is standing up to take photos in spite of the announcer’s repeated attempts to get people to sit down.

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

We even saw a couple girls whose clothes were so skimpy that I was afraid I would see some boobs if they so much as sneezed or coughed. I can’t wait for the day when I’m an old, spunky grandma that can walk up to girls wearing shorty shorts and say, “You know I can see your ass cheeks, right?” Luckily, there are students stationed at the entrances who will turn you away if you’re not dressed appropriately. Shoulders and knees should be covered, but you get bonus points if you go traditional Lanna style and wear all white.

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you had any experiences on your travels that are must-dos? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! (Rails Rumble)

Here’s something I never thought I’d ever say: This weekend, Kevin and I participated in a 48-hour Programming Competition called the Rails Rumble. It’s true, I’ve crossed over to the dark side, and I Love It. I’m not sure how I feel about admitting all of this, but hey, #YOLO, right?

Note: This post is 1 day early because we need you to vote for us!  (See “Help Us Win!” below.)

What is the Rails Rumble?

The Rails Rumble is a 48-hour programming competition in which hundreds of teams (a team is one to four people) from all over the world compete to build a web application with Ruby on Rails. After the competition ends, everyone who participated gets to rank their favorite applications.

The winners are treated to some pretty awesome prizes! They receive a bunch of goodies, but my favorite from the list is the “Rails Rumble Championship Belt” for the first-place team, which I picture to be something like this:

Here's Hoping the Rails Rumble Championship Belt is this blingy.

Here’s Hoping the Rails Rumble Championship Belt is this blingy.

And let me tell you, if we win, we’ll make sure to take a similarly awesome photo, complete with confetti, and share it on the blog. Kevin could even grow a beard. It will be awesome. In all seriousness, though, the other awesome prizes include generous gift certificates to Amazon and memberships to various online software tools. So winning is a really big deal.

What Did We Build?

Here's a peek at Pomatillo

Here’s a peek at our Pomatillo landing page

You might have read my post about how much the Pomodoro Technique has increased our productivity. We’re still hooked on Pomodoros, but we’ve been hankering for a tool to help us track our work a little more easily. Enter Pomatillo, the simple online tool we built this weekend to let users easily track their work segments.

Hop on over and visit Pomatillo to take a peek at what we came up with – it’s easy to create a guest account just so you can log in and poke around. We kept things simple since we only had a weekend to throw things together, but we’re pretty happy with what we ended up with, and we’ve been using it to track our work for the past few days! In fact, I’m using it right now to track my time working on this Blog Post!

Help Us Win!

One of the prizes goes to the “Public Favorite” web app! We’d love to get your votes! Unfortunately, voting for our entry is much more complicated than it needs to be. I feel like I’m typing out brain surgery instructions. Bear with me. Here’s how you can vote:

  1. Visit the Rails Rumble page for Pomatillo
  2. Sign in with a Twitter or Heroku Account. I know I know, you have to have a Twitter Account or sign up for one, which is sort of a bummer. (Mom and Dad, I KNOW you’ve been waiting your whole lives to sign up for Twitter – this is your chance!)
  3. After signing into Twitter, you should be redirected back to the Rails Rumble page for Pomatillo, where you can click the “Favorite” button to favorite our app!
  4. The last thing is to finalize your picks – visit your Rails Rumble Favorites page to rank all the apps you favorited and finalize your votes.

Voting ends on October 26 at 7PM Central Time (click here to convert to your local time zone)!  If you have the patience to get through Step 4, please leave us a comment or send me a note! If I had the power, I’d make sure everyone who voted for us got their very own Championship Belt as a thank you. We could all use something like that in our closet to spice up our winter wardrobes, AMIRITE?! However, I’m not sure I will ever figure out how to mail packages from Thailand, so hopefully a thank you email will suffice.

What Did We Think of the Rails Rumble?

We had a lot of fun competing, and we didn’t kill each other. Success! It was kind of like a marriage team-building activity. Admittedly, we were probably a bit more relaxed about things than other teams may have been. I’m certain that a lot of people kept a much more rigorous schedule than we did, probably pulling at least one all-nighter. If you know me at all, though, you know that sleep is waaaaaaaaay up there on my list of priorities. Instead of stocking up on caffeinated beverages and junk food, we bought a bunch of fruit:

Papaya, Persimmon, Mango, Bananas, and Dragon Fruit.  YUM.

Papaya, Persimmon, Mango, Bananas, and Dragon Fruit. YUM.

We also took what I’d describe as pretty relaxed approach to our work hours for the Rumble… We kicked the competition off by waking up without an alarm, having a delicious breakfast, walking to the local fresh market to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to get us through the next few days, and got down to work at about 11am. We also took a couple Pad See Iew breaks:

Kevin and our beloved Pad See Iew.  Best in Chiang Mai, for just $1.

Kevin and our beloved Pad See Iew. Best in Chiang Mai, for just south of $1.

The best thing about competing from Chiang Mai is that you can celebrate and unwind from the competition without breaking your budget! We took all of Monday off, treated ourselves to 90-minute Thai Massages at Miracle Spa, did a little day drinking while we watched the Seahawks lose to the Rams (so so sad, thank goodness for beer), and then capped the day off with dinner and some Kanom Krok.

A Special Video

Here’s a fun tip for anyone out there who uses Git for software source control.  You can set up a Git post commit hook to take a snapshot of you every time you commit.  Here’s how.  For those of you out there who are pretty sure I just wrote that last sentence in Thai (this Time last year I would’ve been in that camp FOR SURE), that just means that my computer takes a picture of me every time I check-in a software change.  I threw the photos into iMovie with some music, and this is what came out:

I hope you are laughing at our embarrassment…

We Want to Hear From You!

If you vote for us, please let us know so we can thank you! Also, if you visit Pomatillo, please leave us a comment here to let us know what you think.

A Long Layover in Seoul

The Newest South Korean King & Queen

The Newest South Korean King & Queen

There’s nothing I dread more than a really long layover.  Everyone, at some point in their lives, has had the scour-the-airport-for-an-electrical-outlet try-to-sleep-on-the-floor wish-you-could-get-some-fresh-air experience of being in an airport for too long.  So when we were faced with a 12-hour layover in Seoul at the Incheon International Airport, I was a little bit worried.  Fortunately for us, Seoul’s Airport is ridiculously awesome!  Read on for the reasons why it’s so wonderful.

Free City Tours

ICN Airport offers seven different types of tours for passengers with long layovers, varying from 1 to 5 hours in length.  SEVEN TYPES OF TOURS!  They have something for everyone – everything from a Seoul Shopping Tour to an Incheon Temple Tour.  Heck, they will even help you plan your own self-guided tour in the city.  The kicker?  It’s 100% free of charge!  Thank you, South Korean taxpayers, for making my stay so awesome.

Free Transit Tours!  YES!

Free Transit Tours! YES!

We chose to go on the Incheon City Tour – we originally wanted to do the Seoul City Tour, but the immigration lines were SO DARN LONG that we missed it.  Lucky for us, the Incheon City Tour is considered “second best” according to the gal at the tour desk, and we think she was right.

Our guide, Mr. Bae, was great.  His first name was “Sang Beom”, which he told us is essentially the Korean equivalent of “Bob”.  Here he is telling us to hurry up and get on the bus:

Our ICN Transit Tour Bus

Our ICN Transit Tour Bus

First stop was Wolmi Park, which has a nice cultural center we visited.  That’s where we took the photo at the top of this post with us dressed up like Korean Royalty.  We also snapped this gem:

Hopefully we can blame this one on jet lag?

Hopefully we can blame this one on jet lag?

We were SO EXCITED to see evergreen bushes and trees in South Korea:

OMG EVERGREENS!

OMG EVERGREENS!

Wolmi Park is pretty fabulous:

At Wolmi Park, they have great photo opportunities

At Wolmi Park, they have great photo opportunities.

They have beautiful ponds and pagodas and bonsai trees.

They have beautiful ponds and pagodas and bonsai trees.

Wolmi Park has butterfly-shaped flower exhibits.

Wolmi Park has butterfly-shaped flower exhibits.

They also have dinosaur-shaped flower exhibits.

They also have dinosaur-shaped flower exhibits.

One thing I thought was really amazing was the pumpkin and squash vines hanging from a trellis.

One thing I thought was really amazing was the pumpkin and squash vines hanging from a trellis.

There were beautiful cosmos fields.

There were beautiful cosmos fields.

At Wolmi park, Mr. Bae even busted out his hacky sack skills!

At Wolmi park, Mr. Bae even busted out his hacky sack skills!

There were also replicas of traditional Korean houses.

There were also replicas of traditional Korean houses.

Next stop on our Incheon City Tour was Sinpo Market!  Anything involving street food always gets us hyped up, so we were super excited.  We read up a little bit using the free wifi at Incheon Airport before leaving, and knew we had to try the spicy fried chicken Sinpo market is known for.

Sinpo Market in Incheon, South Korea

Sinpo Market in Incheon, South Korea

Pro tip: take some South Koreon Won out of an ATM before leaving the airport!  Otherwise you’ll just have to look at all the good food and won’t get to taste any of it. So sad.

Spicy Fried Chicken.  You won't believe how much you get for 8,000 Won, or $8.

Spicy Fried Chicken.  You won’t believe how much you get for 8,000 Won, or $8.

The chicken was DELICIOUS.

The chicken was DELICIOUS.

We also got a monster sushi roll for 2,000 Won, or $2.  It had ham, shrimp, AND egg!

We also got a monster sushi roll for 2,000 Won, or $2.  It had ham, shrimp, AND egg!

The transit tour verdict?  A MUST DO!  I might even schedule in a super long layover next time we travel through South Korea solely for the purpose of taking another tour.

Free Showers

There are lots of travelers I dread sitting next to on an airplane.  There’s the guy with the cold, who is coughing, sneezing and blowing his nose the entire flight.  There’s the lady who wants to be your new bestie and won’t stop quizzing you on all your life details.  There’s also the guy on his way to a bachelor party, who is determined to single-handedly drink all the beer stocked on the entire airplane.  But there’s probably nothing worse than sitting next to the smelly person, who somehow doesn’t realize they need a shower and also prefers to fly with their shoes and socks taken off.  Fun times.

The only thing worse than sitting next to the smelly person is being the smelly person.  No one wants that.  Lucky for all of us, there are free showers at ICN airport!  And let me tell you, after a warm taxi ride to Chiang Mai Airport, followed by a red-eye flight, followed by a long transit tour, we needed a hot shower.  I would’ve settled for a garden hose at this point.

This is the only photo of the showers I got!  I assure you, they were really nice.

This is the only photo of the showers I got!  I assure you, they were really nice.

I expected a shower room that would evoke thoughts of prison; you know, the sterile white tile, the stained grout lines, the crappy shower head. Fortunately, I was way off.  The shower rooms were each more like a nice hotel bathroom than a prison.  They even had rainwater shower heads!  When we walked in, we were greeted by the guy at the desk who cleans the rooms after each use.  He handed us a towel along with organic shampoo and soap. Nice work, Seoul!

Free Cultural Experiences

ICN Airport scores high for being rich in cultural experiences.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to an airport before where they have craft areas set up where you can make traditional Korean handiworks.  There are also musical performances with traditional Korean musical instruments:

Traditional Musical Instrument performance at ICN Airport.

Traditional Musical Instrument performance at ICN Airport.

There was also a String Quartet performing with a piano accompanist!  These were some talented ladies:

String Quartet in ICN Airport.

String Quartet in ICN Airport.

There is even a Royal Parade several times per day!  A parade!  In the airport!  If that’s not enough for you, they also have “Traditional Cult Rehabilitation”:

Traditional Cult Rehabilitation?

Traditional Cult Rehabilitation?  (See the last line on the sign.)

Ok, only kidding on that last one.  Some smart ass scraped some letters off the sign so instead of saying “Traditional Culture Exhibition” I read it like “Traditional Cult Rehabilitation.”  We can blame that one on jet lag!

Restaurants, Cafes and Duty Free Shopping, Oh My!

If the tours, showers, and cult rehabilitation doesn’t keep you busy, there are tons of places where you can spend some of that extra Won you’ve got in your pockets.  ICN Airport is packed with duty free shopping for everything from rice cookers to liquor to fancy jewelry.  If that doesn’t strike your fancy, there is no shortage of restaurants and cafes.  There is even a Guinness cafe with Guinness on tap (for something like $14/pint)!

I liked the Charlie Brown Cafe:

ICN Airport's Charlie Brown Cafe

ICN Airport’s Charlie Brown Cafe

I also got a kick out of the Hello Kitty Cafe.

Here I am, striking a pose at the Hello Kitty Cafe.

Here I am, striking a pose at the Hello Kitty Cafe.  Can you find me?

There are trees.  INSIDE.

Someone at ICN Airport has a green thumb.  The airport is absolutely filled with nature – there are huge beautiful trees, tons of Orchids, there’s even a huge plant wall inside the smoker’s room.

Trees.  Inside!

Trees.  Inside!

Look at these gorgeous orchids.

Look at these gorgeous orchids.

We snagged some really comfortable leather lounge chairs in the relaxation area and napped.  Nothing makes a nap better than being surrounded by beautiful orchids:

Napping at ICN Airport, surrounded by Orchids.

Napping at ICN Airport, surrounded by Orchids.

Transit Hotel

If you just want to hole up in a nice room and shut the world out, it’s easy to do!  Rooms at the slightly pricey but luxurious Transit Hotel allow travelers to escape the airport madness and get some much needed rest.

We Want to Hear From You!

After having such a great time during our long layover in Seoul, I think it’d be nearly impossible to convince me to fly through Tokyo or Beijing ever again.  (Especially after officials in Beijing almost put me into quarantine.  That was fun.)  Have you had any notable, absurd, or just plain awesome airport experiences?  Please share ‘em – I could use a good laugh!

A Creative Twist on the Staycation

This is the last post of my 3-part series on Travel. In my first post, I revealed we’re no longer in the honeymoon phase in our love affair with Thailand. Last week, I shared some thoughts on Slow Travel. This week, I want to pitch a new idea – the Unconventional Staycation.

Do Vacations Make Us Happier?

Cartoon from liebers.com

Cartoon from liebers.com

Do vacations make us happier?  Shockingly, the answer for most people is no! According to a study performed by researchers in the Netherlands, vacationers were the happiest before their vacations. The researchers found that people derive the most pleasure from the planning, anticipating, and looking forward to their travels. The study found that vacation anticipation boosted happiness levels for eight weeks, but that happiness dropped back to the baseline level for most people as soon as they returned home! The only people who reportedly had higher levels of happiness after returning from vacation described their trips as “very relaxing”.

I don’t know about you, but in a world full of flight delays, lost luggage, car trouble, hurricanes, and broken air conditioners, you just about have to win the lottery to be able to describe your getaway as “very relaxing”. Enter a new hair-brained idea…

The Unconventional Staycation

Cartoon by Chuck Ingwersen of wordsandtoons.com

Cartoon by Chuck Ingwersen of wordsandtoons.com

I’d like to pitch a fun idea to you that Kevin’s genius friend Michael came up with. We’ve all probably heard of the concept of the staycation, where you take paid time off of work but opt to stay home rather than travel. It actually sounds like a pretty relaxing idea. You get to sleep in your own bed, don’t have to pay for hotel rooms, no one is going to try to nickel and dime you, and you get to avoid spending 18+ hours on an airplane.

Here’s the new twist – add a cultural bend to your next Staycation. Instead of just spending your week bumming around the house relaxing, use your week off to immerse yourself in a new culture without even leaving your hometown. The US is full of people who have moved here from all over the world, so it’s easier than ever to experience foreign traditions and foods in most cities and towns across America. Rent foreign films, read books about foreign cultures, go out for foreign food, listen to foreign music, throw a themed party (Cinco de Mayo, Oktoberfest, Carnivale, etc…), you get the idea!

She Faked a Trip to SE Asia

Beautiful, right?  This is the Sakya Temple in Seattle!

Beautiful, right? This is the Sakya Temple in Seattle!

One girl in the Netherlands took this idea to the next level. For 42 days, she faked a trip to Southeast Asia, fooling all of her friends and family with her Facebook posts showing her awesome trip. She ate exotic Asian foods at restaurants in her hometown of Amsterdam, visited a temple to talk to Buddhist monks, and even posted pictures of her snorkeling! (Turns out the photo was taken in a pool, and fish were photoshopped in later, but I don’t judge.)

The whole fake trip was a college project to show that posts on Facebook don’t necessarily paint an accurate picture of peoples lives. I have to give her credit for her commitment – she even decorated her room to look like a Southeast Asia hotel, and skyped with her family at odd hours of the night. I don’t think it’s necessary to take things that far, but you get the point.

Some Staycation Ideas

I came up with a few staycation ideas, but I think this would be easier to brainstorm if I was in Seattle. The wine aisle at Trader Joes would be fabulous for inspiration – their wines are divided up BY COUNTRY. I don’t know about you, but I really like to let booze help me make creative decisions. Here are some of my ideas:

Bust out your Beret!

Bust out your Beret!

France: Make crepes for breakfast, or have French Toast (I realize that’s probably not actually French, but cut me some slack). Rent the movie Amelie. Pack some baguette sandwiches and go on a lunch picnic. Take up smoking. Buy a beret and wear it around town. Attempt to make croissants (good luck on that one). And, of course, be sure you have a bottle of wine every day. Sounds like a good vacation to me.

Mexico: This one is easy, because almost every town in America has lots of Mexican Food Restaurants where you can eat ALL WEEK LONG. Also, this one means a siesta every afternoon – win! This staycation should end with a bang – grab a piñata from your local party store, put on some mariachi music, throw a fiesta for your friends, and go to town on the margaritas.

Thai Staycation Bonus: You won't get pooped on in the water by an elephant.

Thai Staycation Bonus: You won’t get pooped on in the water by an elephant.

Thailand: This week, you should have noodle or rice soup for breakfast! But no cereal. Splurge a little bit and get a bunch of mangos from Costco this week. Learn to make the heavenly dish that is som tam. If you really want to go all out, hide your hand soap and downgrade to scratchy toilet paper (I still haven’t found anything like Charmin over here). Go to the zoo and look at elephants. Find and visit a Buddhist temple in your area, and try to meet some monks. Go out for as much Thai food as you can handle (spoiler alert: Thai food never, ever gets old).

Bust out your Leiderhosen!

Put on your Leiderhosen!

Germany: Guten tag! The wine of the week is Riesling! Meals this week should be heavy on the meat, potatoes and cheese, and raw vegetables should be scarce. Eat softboiled eggs, prosciutto, brie, and bread rolls for breakfast. BE SURE TO BUY SOME NUTELLA. Bake some homemade pretzels and gingerbread, play lots of Oompah music like you’d hear at Oktoberfest. I will not judge you if you buy a leiderhosen or dirndl and wear it all week long. You should also get your own liter beer mug. Order an imported keg of German beer, and throw your own Oktoberfest party!

England: I don’t care what you do for this one, as long as you talk in a British accent all week.

We Want to Hear from You!

These are just a few of my thoughts – what are your ideas? I get more and more excited about this type of a staycation the more I think about it – how fun would something like this be for kids?!

The Art of Slow Travel

This post is Part 2 of a 3-part series on Travel.  I made a shameful admission last week that Kevin and I have recently discovered we might not like to travel.  (GASP!)  But there’s hope!  A new travel movement called “Slow Travel” is sweeping through the backpacker and digital nomad communities.

What is Slow Travel?

This is how to pack for an extended period of Slow Travel.

This is how to pack for an extended period of Slow Travel.

The Slow Travel movement is something that is quietly becoming a “thang” in our generation.  (I may have made that word up, but I use it all the time, so therefore it is real.  I define a “thang” as a popular trend.  Used in a sentence: “Skinny jeans are a thang now.”)  Slow Travel sprung out of the Slow Food movement, which began in the 1980’s in Italy as a protest against the opening of a McDonalds in Rome.  Instead of a manic 2-week vacation schedule, packed to the brim with tourist stop after tourist stop, slow travelers try to base their travels in one location and spend their vacation at a much slower pace.  Think about how relaxing it could be to rent a small home in Tuscany and spend your morning at the local farmer’s market, your afternoon reading at your favorite coffee shop, and evenings cooking dinner and enjoying a bottle of wine on your terrace.  In the US, slow travel is manifesting itself as a renewed interest in historic two-lane roads, like Route 66.

Traveling Slowly means you get to make fun trips to immigration.  YAY.

Traveling Slowly means you get to make fun trips to immigration. YAY.

Slow Travel is all about getting to know local people and learning about the culture in a new place instead of checking as many destinations as possible off of a list.  The biggest perk of all?  Slow Travel can be a lot easier on your wallet.  When you rent a place by the week or month, the nightly rates tend to drop dramatically.  Also, traveling slowly tends to mean you get off the tourist trail a little bit.  This can save money in restaurants and shops.  We’ve noticed that in Chiang Mai, a food and groceries tend to cost almost twice as much in the tourist areas compared to the neighborhood where we live.

How Do We Slow Down?

Cartoon from http://www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au/

Cartoon from http://www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au/

Did you know that the United States is the only developed country in the whole world that doesn’t require a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday?  According to a USA Today article published in 2013, workers in the US have an average of 16 paid days off per year, while the average in Austria is a whopping 35 days!  I was shocked to read that one in four Americans doesn’t receive a single paid day off.  Here’s a peek at some paid time off statistics from around the world.  Warning, the data in this table may make you feel angry/sad/jaded:

Country Average Paid Days Off Per Year
United States 16
Austria 35
Portugal 35
Germany 34
Spain 34
France 31
Belgium 30
Italy 30
New Zealand 30

I don’t want to hate on our American culture too much here.  I mean, America is the home of so many things I truly love:  Chicago style deep dish pizza, wheel of fortune, Bluegrass music, the Super Bowl, incredibly beautiful National Parks, apple pie, walkable cities, lemonade stands, Thanksgiving, fantastic comedy (Louis C.K., Jon Stewart, Parks & Rec, Saturday Night Live, I could go on and on…), Hamburgers and Hot Dogs, craft beer, and good BBQ.   I just think it’s sort of ironic that having an American passport enables you to travel nearly anywhere in the world, but being American means you probably don’t have the time to do it.

Is There a Solution?

Kevin and I at Seatac Airport in April, leaving for our big adventure.

Here we are at Seatac Airport in April, leaving for our big adventure.

Vacation limitations are a huge part of why Kevin and I quit our jobs and moved abroad.  As my infamous vacation usage spreadsheet grew and grew, we realized that we’d have to wait until our mid-forties to have kids if we wanted to get through our travel list first. We feel so lucky we were able to save up to do this, and even luckier that there are places like Chiang Mai where we can stretch our dollars many times further than we did back home.

Slow Travel Pro Trip: Learn to work from a hammock!

Slow Travel Pro Trip: Learn to work from a hammock!

So is there a solution to the never-having-enough-vacation problem?  Unfortunately, it feels like a cultural shift needs to occur in America for anything to change.  I think there’s hope, though!  More and more companies are shifting towards an “unlimited” vacation model, allowing employees to take as many vacation days as they want as long as they get their work done.  It’s becoming increasingly common at newer companies.  Evernote, a tech company, took things a step further, according to a Forbes article from 2012.  Recognizing that taking time off actually makes employees more productive, Evernote began offering employees $1,000 per year to spend on their vacations!  FullContact, another tech company, calls this new trend “paid paid vacation”, and offers its employees a generous $7,500 per year!  They also stipulate that you must truly unplug, and don’t allow their employees to work remotely while they’re away.  I like it.

We Want to Hear from You!

What do you think about the current vacation policies in America?  Do you think we’re moving in the right direction?  Where do you think things will be in a few decades?