Do you remember when and where you caught the travel bug?
I grew up in a small town in Puerto Rico, so I think I caught the travel bug very early in life. When you live on an island, you dream of seeing new places. That was my experience anyway. Luckily my parents felt the same way and I remember traveling at a very young age to other neighboring Caribbean islands.
So how often do you travel?
I’m a professor and live in Los Angeles, so my travel overseas is organized around the academic calendar and sabbatical leaves. Prime travel time is summer when I’m off. I typically plan a trip for the month of August. Additionally, I like to take a few weeks to get away in December. I oftentimes take a trip around spring break as well that might last a week or so. Finally, as part of my job I attend international conferences. This gives me the opportunity to explore different places since my scholarship has global interest.
Puerto Rico in November and Myanmar in December. This will be my second trip to Myanmar. When I first visited this enigmatic and beautiful country I knew it would be only a matter of time before I returned. I’m looking forward to visiting again the ancient city of Bagan, which is one of the world’s greatest archeological sites with thousands of temples and pagodas, mostly built between the 11th and 13th centuries.
Do you typically travel by yourself or with others?
I normally travel with my spouse, who is a professor as well. We both appreciate having plenty of time to get away during the year. For conferences I sometimes travel alone or with colleagues.
What is the place you most like returning to and why?
So hard to pick one! I really enjoy returning to Ubud in Bali, Indonesia. It is a quaint hill town nestled amongst rice paddies, steep ravines, rushing rivers and a monkey forest sanctuary. Ubud is the artistic and cultural center of Bali. It is a very laid-back town, dotted with ancient Hindu temples and palaces that still play a central role in Bali’s fascinating culture. Ubud is also famous for its traditional dance performances, museums and art galleries. It has a wonderful restaurant scene and the most amazing, unique and beautiful hotels I have ever seen. I also like the many boutiques for a unique shopping experience since most of them feature locally made handcrafts and exceptional goods that you cannot find anywhere else. Ubud is one of my absolute favorite places on Earth.
Of all the places you’ve been to, what’s your least favorite? Why?
I can’t think of anywhere offhand. I do so much research before going to a place that I avoid disappointment. That kind of research allows me to know what I’m getting into and set expectations accordingly. Usually, if I have a negative experience it is tied to weather, which obviously cannot be controlled. For example, my memories of Hanoi Vietnam, an amazingly beautiful city with wonderful food, sights and people, is impacted by the fact that when I visited there was an epic heat wave with 100+ degree temperatures and 100% humidity. But I still want to go back. Only next time will be during the cool season. On a positive note, I was welcomed with perfect weather when I visited Halong Bay, which is about 3.5 hours from Hanoi. This part of the trip was very enjoyable.
What was your most embarrassing travel moment?
When visiting Mingun (a gigantic unfinished pagoda on the banks of the Irrawaddy river near Mandalay in Myanmar), a group of children followed me for hours fanning me because they thought I was going to faint due to how warm it was. They climbed up to the top of Mingun with no effort whatsoever while I was visibly struggling in the heat. I ended up buying a lot of post cards from them!
What’s your least favorite airport?
Charles De Gaulle, in Paris. It is the airport where I have missed the most connections. But one good thing about this airport is that you can find the famous pâtisserie Ladurée to buy last minute macarons! I do love Paris and think it is one of the most exhilarating cultural capitals in the world.
What are the top 3 places you’re burning to go to?
Interestingly, they are all in Africa: Namibia, Ethiopia, and Zambia/Zimbabwe. I’ll probably go next year to Namibia to see the sand dunes and the natural beauty of Zimbabwe/Zambia, including Victoria Falls. That feels like a great trip to me. Ethiopia seems like its own experience since there is so much to see and do there. As a cultural tourist, Ethiopia has enormous appeal to me.
Can you share some of your travel secrets and tips?
Research the places you will be visiting so you are prepared and know what to expect. I typically do the following:
–Use websites like Lonely Planet, Travel Fish, wikitravel and Tripadvisor to get an idea of the best things to do and sights to see; Also Google a place to see pictures and images to get a sense of what to expect.
— Follow travel bloggers who share their expertise on many topics, such as how to travel more for less, getting ideas of exciting destinations or what to do and see once you have picked a destination.
–Research hotels in a number of booking sites to get the best price. And don’t be afraid to contact the hotel directly and ask for their best price; sometimes they like to eliminate the commissions from online travel sites and can give you a great deal.
–Use Google maps to see what the surrounding area looks like for a hotel or place you might be visiting. Streetview can be a great tool to determine if things are walking distance as well as what services, restaurants and stores might be nearby.
–Instagram is great for seeing pictures of a place before you go. It can really help you prioritize your time as well as decide what you’ll see and do. Search on hashtags for cities, sightseeing spots and landmarks.
–Youtube has many channels featuring travel videos, some of which share personal travel experiences and tips (travel vlogs) and are a great source for travel inspiration.
–Set up a Google Alert (Alerts.google.com) for news about a place you might be visiting. It is always nice to know what’s going on in terms of news and events in the weeks leading up to your trip. Alerts make it easy since you can have top news stories about your destination delivered right to email on your phone.
–Consider visiting some destinations during off-season to avoid crowds and to lower expenses. You may find that hotel rates drop as the off–season approaches.
–Scan all your important documents, including your passport, and email them to yourself.
–Be aware of restrictions on the size and number of bags you may bring onto your flight to avoid extra fees.
–Bring your camera and sense of adventure!