Making the most of your around the world trip

Before you decide where to go, set some themes for your trip. An around the world trip is full of decisions: where to go, what to do today, etc. By establishing some structure up front you will be able to make the right decisions to get the most out of your trip over time. You are dedicating a large amount of time and money so make it worthwhile for you.

The problem is that it’s easy to get sucked into the typical tourist / backpacker trail. Yes, many of these “must see” places are must see for a reason and are worth your time. But if you just follow these top sites around the world then you will soon realize your trip is impersonal and hollow. It’s like you just repeated your 1-week summer vacation 50 times. That might not sound too bad, but if you are taking the time to do long-term travel I suggest you take advantage of it and not treat it like a normal vacation.

Here are my suggestions for starting to think about trip themes:

What are you passionate about? Focus your travels around destinations and experiences related to your passions, no matter how small or strange. For example, if you are into medicine, you will get more out of an afternoon at the small but unique forensic medicine museum in Bangkok than you will at the Royal Palace. Don’t be afraid to skip that UNESCO World Heritage Site if something else catches your fancy. This is your trip so make it personal – spend your time developing your passions and your knowledge.

Is there something you want to learn? The obvious one is a language which is a great way to spend a few weeks or months immersed in a culture on your trip. For me, I wanted to learn more about organic farming so I have spent several weeks in different countries living and working on various types of farms.

Does it relate to your life / can you apply it after the trip? Don’t take this too far as you will learn things you never expected, but you should look for things that relate to your life experiences and career because they will have more resonance during and after your trip. For example, meeting software engineers in Bangalore and learning about their lifestyles was fascinating for me after working with Indian offshore teams during my career.

By the end of your trip you will have a varied set of personal experiences that still tie together. You will learn more by being able to compare related experiences across the world.

For example, now I understand how pepper farming in Kerala, India differs from Kampot, Cambodia and how that impacts the final product. Now you might not care about that but I think that’s awesome and that’s what matters!


Save money and enjoy authentic experiences by avoiding hotels

We’ve been on the road for more than three months, but have stayed in hotels for less than 10 nights total. Instead, we’ve stayed everywhere from a high school in rural France (for free!) to a one bedroom apartment in Provence with its own wine cellar and private courtyard.

There are many resources out there for these “alternative” accommodations and I’ll tell you my favorites in a later post. But first, let me convince you that this is one of the few no brainers in travel. You will save money and feel like a local, if only for a few days.

Let me give you a concrete example. Paris, a beautiful city welcoming millions of tourists but with a reputation for being one of the most expensive travel destinations. Most people visiting the city have the experience of being crammed into a small hotel room with barely enough room for the bed, and paying $200+ for the pleasure. It’s not horrible and you enjoy your stay because the city is great. But it can be better. We stayed in this apartment for a week for around $85 / night. We had the studio to ourselves, with our own fully-equipped kitchen that allowed us to cook beautiful ingredients from the local market. Best of all, it was located on a great, residential street less than 3 minutes walking from the base of Rue Mouffetard in the 5th.

This situation is typical for the hotel vs. apartment rental decision, so why do people stay in hotels? Here are some of the common concerns with apartment rentals, especially peer to peer rentals like AirBNB:

I don’t know what I’m going to get, it’s too risky.

It’s true that hotels offer a standardized experience where you know what to expect. Just like Starbucks coffee, the Hiltons in Mumbai or Paris or New York will be more similar than different. People are averse to risks, especially on what could be their one week of vacation that year. But why travel if you’re not there to experience unique attributes that make up a place?

Furthermore, you can greatly reduce the risk with a little bit of effort. All major sites offer user reviews and I suggest you read these carefully. You will rarely see negative reviews, so if you do make sure to take note and understand why they are complaining. If there is only one complaint check if that user has a history of complaints – it may be them, not the apartment. If an apartment has more than one negative review, it’s a pretty big red flag. Be careful to note the specific things reviewers like or complain about. Look for the things you care about most. We can sleep through almost anything, so we ignore complaints about noise. We use the internet often to stay in touch and do work, so shoddy wifi can be a dealbreaker for a longer term rental. I’ll discuss more about how to find the perfect rental for you later, but by doing this you can usually secure a great place that fits your needs with a responsible owner.

It takes more work than just booking a hotel.

This may be true, but only sometimes. I spend as much time researching potential hotel stays as I do for apartment rentals. If you have a certain brand you always stay with it may be easier. Sites like AirBNB are focused on making the user experience as easy as possible and they have done a great job thus far. Their search and discovery process is fantastic – as easy as any hotel’s if not better. The filters are intuitive, and though I find the default sorting by “Recommended” to be a bit opaque, the most interesting properties do tend to be near the top of the results. The booking and communication process is streamlined, including an up to date calendar that allows you to find available properties easily without lots of back and forth with the owner. Post-booking is also well done from the user perspective making it easy to figure out how to reach your accommodations.

Finally, they handle the economic transaction securely, which is one of the biggest annoyances of apartment stays. For some non-AirBNB stays during this trip we had owners asking for deposits via bank transfer for 2 night stays. This is not just annoying, it’s expensive with international bank transfers costing $25-$50+ at my bank.

I won’t have a concierge to recommend restaurants or book concert tickets for me.

Yes, this type of travel is more independent. But it doesn’t mean you are alone. In general, we’ve found the hosts to be incredibly generous with their time and local knowledge. This is often better than asking a concierge who often has standard, tourist-driven recommendations that will be safe to give their guests without complaint (low chance of negative experience is more important than unique, special experiences). We’ve also had many hosts help us book restaurants or find transportation, though we try to ask this of them sparingly. Some of our best experiences are the offhand recommendations from our hosts.

Let me know if there are other reasons you haven’t tried AirBNB or similar service as a guest. I’ll try to address it in a future post. Again, I think this is a no brainer. Just to summarize, here are some of the major benefits of choosing this over a hotel:

  • Save money – apartments often cost 50% less than the equivalent hotel room.
  • Live like a local – locations are not limited to major tourist areas. You can immerse yourself in a local neighborhood with few tourists, but often have quick access to tourist sites on public transit. You can also see how locals actually live – what types of apartments do they have? bathrooms? kitchens?
  • Cook your own meals, if you want – this is huge for me as I love to cook local ingredients, especially from the great markets you find all over the world. As an added bonus, this saves even more money versus eating out so the cost equation gets even better.
  • Surf the internet for free – most rentals come with free, wifi internet. This is priceless now that everyone has iphones loaded with useful travel apps. Hotels are starting to catch up, but many still charge $15+ per day for access.
  • Individual, local advice – hosts are some of the best people when it comes to finding local hidden gems, and as hosts they are often excited to share their city with you.

Peru Restaurant Visits (May 2012)

So I’m getting way behind what I intended – for some of these I may go back and give a full write up but for now this should be helpful for those travelling to Peru.


Overall the food in Lima was fantastic. The people there clearly care about food and most of the chefs we saw were dedicated to their craft. However, there does seem to be a slight push toward the trendy rather than the tasty which we ran into a couple times. But everyday food there, in the market and local restaurants, was delicious.

Chez Wong (Calle Enrique Leon Garcia 114, lunch only): Solo, Chinese-Peruvian chef starts with beautiful whole flounder and filets it in front of you into the freshest ceviche you’ve ever had. Unlike some other preparations, this was ceviche in its simplest form: great fish, shallots, lemon juice, salt, pepper. Marinated for less than 2 minutes before reaching our table and served with chopped hot pepper. The restaurant is hidden, hard to find and hard to book, but is worth it just for this dish which is always served. The second course has an option (hot or cold) and we ended up with a simply perfect seafood stir-fry more asian than Peruvian. It was good but in itself not worth the trip, especially at the prices of around 60 soles per dish (both dishes are large enough to split, which most patrons did).

Chinen (Av. Republica de Panamá cdra. 45): We never would have found this, but we tagged along with the family we were staying with in Lima for lunch on the first day to this local hole-in-the-wall. Surprised to see it featured in this Gaston Acurio video, the food was a great introduction to Chifa Peruvian. Don’t miss the lomo saltado with the provided hot sauce.

Central Restaurant: This is a top rated, posh restaurant in Miraflores. We wandered in because the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed for an unknown reason and were able to be seated at the bar where you can order from the full menu. We ordered 3 dishes a la carte, the best of which was the charred purple corn octopus appetizer. The arapaima and seabass entrees were good, but at these prices in Lima they were a bit disappointing. The chocolate dessert however was world class – a subtle and interesting combination of . Honestly this visit reminded me why I try to stick more to regional specialities when I travel as compared to ambitious modern / world cuisine. It reminded me somewhat of Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar in Buenos Aires, though much less molecular. It was a meal I felt like could be found in many places around the world with nothing distinctively Peruvian, though there were obvious efforts made to focus on Peruvian ingredients. I would skip this next time for food, but the drinks in the bar were some of the best we had in the country.

Pescados Capitales: One of the most highly recommended restaurants for ceviche in Lima, this too came as a disappointment. Perhaps coming 2 days after Chez Wong was not fair, but we greatly preferred the austere preparations from Chef Wong to the overly sauced, and overly sweet, ceviches here. The fish may have been top notch, but it was hard to tell with what we ordered. This was the biggest disappointment in Lima.


Zig Zag: OK, I’m embarrassed a bit but we stumbled into this tourist trap based on its consistent top marks on Trip Advisor and lack of other info about Arequipa on reliable sites. Perhaps to be expected, it was expensive, the food was forgettable, and the experience was over-the-top. What’s the point of serving the meat on a hot volcanic stone? Well it’s obviously not a culinary choice and I had to juggle to keep my alpaca at a reasonable doneness. Just look at the photo – it’s fun, but if you care about food more than experience skip it.

ChiCha from Gaston Acurio: We didn’t have a full meal here, just the peking cuy. Great space, especially the enclosed courtyard. The cuy was delicious if quite expensive. I’d go back for more.


Cicciolina: We ate here twice, once for breakfast and once for dinner right after our 5 day hike. Both times were great, despite the fact they lacked the local identify I criticized Central for earlier. Oh well-I’m not consistent, I just know these were well enjoyed meals with good wine. I won’t fawn over it but if you want yummy, Italian-inspired, gut-filling food, go here. Book ahead as it gets busy.

Greens: Our stomachs just couldn’t stand up to the onslaught of street food and we needed something to settle them before our 5 day hike. We came across this restaurant right next to the main square which promised organic, vegetable driven fare with most of its ingredients sourced from its own farm. Sounds risky, but my SF / Berkeley brainwashing made it sound strangely appealing. We had a solid meal here at a somewhat high price. But if you want something simple, light and fresh, I would recommend it.

Richard Lenoir Market – the largest outdoor market in Paris

Yes, we love markets. Today was our first day in an apartment with kitchen in Paris, our first day able to cook in nearly a month, and our first time visiting a market in Paris. We went wild. Our pick ups:

Fish from Lorenzo (1 whole line-caught mackerel, 1/2 kg monkfish)
Lots of veggies from a busy vendor in the north-center of the market (white asparagus, artichokes, shallots, leeks, tomato)
Pork tenderloin from a vendor with lots of pork and pork products
Canned foie gras from the southwest, also rillettes de canard.
Big head of lettuce and a few smaller ones to satisfy a salad craving.
Bundle of herbs, mostly thyme.
Assorted other stuff like potatoes, lemons, cucumber.
Andouilette (tripe) sausage, cured ham, and pork pate from an Alsatian vendor.
Boudin noir (blood sausage), jambon cru, and another pate campagne from another vendor specializing in pork.
Button mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms from France.

Finally, a few ready to eats – half roast bresse chicken, pickled herring with onions from the preserved fish vendor, fried dough balls with African spices.

Can’t wait to cook with all of this. Our first meal tonight was half of the monkfish simply pan-roasted served on top of blanched white asparagus, mushrooms sauteed with butter and thyme, and a green salad. Simple, like back home – delicious.

Markets in Peru

I love markets. Whether it’s the corner store, grocery store or a farmers market, you can learn so much about a culture from their markets. The best are the large, open air markets you find all over the world. Producers selling directly to consumers, you are immediately immersed in the sights, smells, and sounds of a place. We always try to stop by one in every new city we visit.

In Peru, we had the opportunity to visit some of the major markets in several different cities.

Bioferia Mercado (organic) at Parque Reducto in Lima, Peru

This market was the first and most “Californian” of the markets we visited in Peru. One of two all organic markets in Lima, this was a small but delicious market focused toward well-heeled locals and assortment of tourists. None of the markets we visited had many tourists, but this small market probably had the largest percent of tourists wandering by the stalls.

In total there were 15 or so stalls lined up in a row along the southern edge of Parque Reducto, with many offering ready to eat items such as coffee (our first taste of great, Peruvian coffee), rellenos, baked goods, and wraps. We waited patiently for a wrap from one vendor filled with fresh, organic vegetables and a hummus spread. Not especially Peruvian, perhaps, but delicious.

There were also a couple cheese vendors giving out tastes, and a handful of produce vendors with pristine looking potatoes, leafy greens, and carrots.

This doesn’t seem like the kind of place most of Lima gets their daily meals, but it’s a great stop and a good introduction to the produce and markets in Peru. There is plenty to munch along the way for a tourist without a kitchen and this might be the only place we found vegan food in abundance. I noticed a vegan couple nearly buying out a vendor – they must have been starved for good options.

If you are in Lima, this is a great stop and accessible for everyone. Open every Saturday from 8am to around 3pm on the south edge of Parque Reducto (corner of Reducto and Benavides).

Mercado Surquillo 2, Lima, Peru

This is a market we accidently came across while walking back toward Miraflores from lunch at Chez Wong. Never one to avoid a market, however uniniviting it may look, we dove in. Later we found out there are 2 Surquillo markets a few blocks from one another. One was recently renovated and has received recent support from Gaston Acurio. We did not visit that market, so we had our first experience with a true Peruvian market – for Peruvians.

By the time we got there around 4pm half of the stalls were closed. We wandered around taking in the sights and sounds and smells. Especially the smells – fresh seafood. When you are in a market like this you often worry about sanitation, and seafood might be an especially risky choice. But Lima has some of the best seafood I’ve had outside Japan and this market was no exception despite its shabby appearance. We waited for a plastic table to clear at a corner cevicheria that seemed busy and ordered a ceviche mixto, despite just having an exquisite ceviche a couple hours earlier at 4x the price. While maybe not quite at the level of Chez Wong, this ceviche beat the pants off anything I’d had in San Francisco, Acurio’s Le Mar included. One thing we noticed quickly here was the level of attention and care people took toward food preparation. This is a surefire sign of quality – they clearly cared about the product they were putting out. It took some time for us to get our ceviche, but we watched the woman diligently combine ingredient after ingredient, tasting along the way. It was probably the 10,000th plate of ceviche she’s made, for a couple of gringos who don’t know a thing about ceviche, but she put it together like it was for her family.

Mercado San Camilo, Arequipa, Peru

After having a taste of a real market at Surquillo, we couldn’t wait to visit this large, central market in Arequipa. After doing a bit of research and hearing that it “wasn’t in a nice area of town” and a bit off the tourist track, we were surprised to find it just 3 blocks from the main plaza. Tourists don’t like walking 3 blocks? In any case, there weren’t many tourists there, but it was very busy with locals bustling about, getting quick lunches, and buying produce for their homes.

The market quickly reminded me of some of the markets I’d been to in Asia, especially Hong Kong. It was organized by product, with sections for bread, fruit, dairy, fish, ready-made food and of course a whole section for potatoes. We wandered around the food stall perimeter spying for a good place to stop. Most places served soup of some type and would call out to us as we passed. A chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) stall looked good, but we had already eaten too much lomo saltado. We ended up first at a stall serving adobo and filled with Arequipa police officers. It was also next to a woman with “el major queso helado” and several local news stories posted to prove it. We couldn’t resist and had some dessert here of fresh queso helado (frozen cheese dusted with cinnamon). Finally, we stopped by a chicarron vendor that was busy and ate as much fried pork belly as we could muster before giving up.

Mercado San Pedro, Cusco, Peru

This was probably the largest market we visited, with nearly half of it dedicated to food stalls serving everything from fruit juice to rice and eggs to soup to what we ultimately ordered, malaya fritto. With no clue what that was until a few days later when our Peruvian guide explained it, the hunk of meat sitting on the counter just looked too good to pass up.

We sat in front of the woman who quickly offered us both soup to whet our appetite for the meat plate. Then she piled the malaya on top of rice along with a helping of lomo saltado for good measure.  This is the kind of meal I travel for – honest, unique, and delicious. Not to mention the entire meal for both of us was about $3 USD.

Do you have a favorite market? In Peru or anywhere else? We’ll post soon about markets in New York and Paris.


Risk vs. Reward in Travel

How do you balance risk and reward when you make a decision? Behavioral economists have studied this closely and found that risk aversion is hard-wired into our brains. A potential reward must be relatively large compared to the potential downside for most people to accept a risk.

People who travel are accepting risk because they believe the rewards will be disproportionate.  You are leaving your everyday for uncertainty and novelty – and possibly spending lots of money to do so.

But the risk involved in travel can be quite variable. Where do you go (Hawaii or Bolivia)? Do you speak the language? Do you arrange everything ahead of time or figure it out once you get there? Do you stay in the tourist area or explore the locals’ hangouts?

Perhaps it is no surprise that some of the most popular forms of travel are also the least risky. All-inclusive vacations, cruises, guided tours. People would rather take a guaranteed, small win over the potential of a loss.

But I believe that in travel, as in so many other things, you must accept big risks if you want the potential for outsized rewards. Walk home instead of taking the taxi door to door. Eat something you have never seen, or even heard of. Get lost, sometimes. Think about the last great story you told about your travels – was it about a scheduled visit to a tourist site? Or some chance encounter you were not prepared at all for?

It’s not that this type of travel is always better. But for me travel is about the exploration of potential. This contradicts my other need to maximize my experiences, especially when I travel – I always want the best. So I often have to fight this urge to seek out an undefined best and open myself up to spontaneity.

My question is whether we can reduce the risk and maintain the reward for this explorative, individual travel. Or by reducing the risk do you necessarily reduce the potential for reward?