San Francisco 2018

San Francisco 2018

Earlier this September, I got to finally cross off San Francisco from my travel bucket list. San Fran has been on my list for a while because I’ve always wanted to visit Alcatraz. I swear, it’s the only reason why I am even remotely interested in San Fran.

I planned the trip a few months ago and the month prior to September, I was agonizing over this trip. I wasn’t as excited as I thought I’d be to visit a new city, and San Fran was the first city that never gave me the travel excited as any other city normally does. I contemplated cancelling the trip so much and expressing my concerns about savings and such. Ultimately, I decided to go anyways because I realized it’s such a hassle to cancel everything and at the end of the day, my trip to San Fran wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be.

Before the trip, Dan and I went to Bandidas Taqueria for dinner. I enjoy Mexican food and tacos but I never saw the hype for Bandidas… I think they’re an overpriced hipster Mexican joint. I enjoy their chips and guac appetizer but aside from that… not a fan of anything else on their menu.

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Day 1 – Sightseeing

It started with a 3:30am wake-up call. Dan was nice enough to wake up with me in the early morning to drop me off at the airport as well. I realized how sad it was to see drive off and felt a little guilt that I made San Fran a solo trip (don’t worry, I double checked with Dan and he has zero interest in San Fran and even agreed this was a good city to do alone).

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The flight wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, my entertainment system was broken so I ended up sleeping on the flight and woke up about half an hour before landing.

After checking into the hostel, I made my way towards Fisherman’s Wharf. I was looking at the map of San Francisco wrong and thought I’d be heading downhill… when in reality, I was supposed to head uphill! I’ve heard so many things about SF hills and didn’t think it would be that bad… but oh my god, why SF? Just… why?

It took me about 40 minutes to walk to Fisherman’s Wharf and I loved every minute of it! I got to see the major streets of SF but also residential streets as well. I don’t know about you but I also love seeing quiet residential streets in new cities to really grasp the culture and the feeling of living in the city.

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Stumbled across the beautiful church!

I dedicated this day to a day of sightseeing because Dan gifted me a voucher for those doubledecker sightseeing busses… I know what you’re thinking – seriously, Claire? But yes, I desperately wanted to try one out and SF was a great city to do!

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A dream come true! Sitting on the top of a tourist bus.

The tour bus starts in Fisherman’s Wharf and circles around the SF area. It’s a hop on/off tour but I sat for the majority of it because the major points I wanted to catch were on the other side of the city. It was still awesome to see the major tourist attractions without having to walk or hop off!

If you ever want to try out these hop on/off tour buses… go for it! Get a Groupon because I wouldn’t recommend paying full price for the service. If you sit on the top, don’t expect to hear any audioguides because it’s so loud.

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I got off just down the street from the hostel and decided to check in in hopes of getting there early with a lower bunk… sadly I got the upper bunk but the girl below me was a very nice Australian girl.

Now, call me a loser but I ended up taking a nap because when I settled into the hostel, I was sooooo tired… beyond tired!

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I don’t care how lame it was but I took that two hours nap and felt sooo good. Mind you, when I woke up from my nap, I also felt so lazy and decided to just call it a day. I Facetimed Dan, read and watched Netflix until I fell asleep. I didn’t feel like I wasted a day or anything – my body really needed that and I knew I would have longer days to come. I still wanted to relax on this trip as well!


Day 2 – Alcatraz

On my second day, I walked over to the Painted Ladies. I love Full House and Fuller House so I was pretty excited to head over here. It wasn’t too bad of a walk from my hostel – just under 30 minutes or so. BUT, I had to talk through the Tenderloin in the early morning. Mind you, I’m just a 5″ little Asian girl so I was super nervous walking through Tenderloin. I could’ve avoided it but I was following my GPS and decided it was too late to take another route now that I’m committed to it… and I have poor sense of directions so veering off my GPS route would get me even more lost.

If any of my readers are from Vancouver, the only way I could describe Tenderloin is that it makes Hasting area look normal. I walked by a weed deal transaction and saw people shoot up between parked cars. It stunk of vomit, piss and poop. I saw a few fights/arguments, and drunk people stumbling down the streets. I was so, so happy to leave the Tenderloin area but I was clutching my bag so tightly, haha.

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The early morning just outside of Tenderloin area.

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After Painted Ladies, I headed towards Lombard Street to see the famous turning street.

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Finally, I made it down to Fisherman Wharf and the Piers! On Day 1, I only went down to redeem the voucher and didn’t see much of it.

Can I just say… I am in love with the Piers and Fisherman Wharf! I can’t believe SF has this on a daily basis to visit! I would love coming down here just to relax and watch people. Not to mention shop and eat as well.

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I booked for the night tour which departed the Pier at 5:55pm. It’s about a 20-minute ride to the island and because it was a night tour, we had a live tour guide for the first bit.

It was one thing to see the island from afar on land, but it’s another to be on a ferry heading towards it. It’s almost an eerie feeling because you knew this was how prisoners and residents (and yes, residents! Children lived on the island as well) arrived. To make it even better, we were lucky and got regular SF weather where it was chilly and cold with fog. Our tour guide told me that this was the type of weather most prisoners endured and not constant sunshine.

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The tour guide was amazing. He pointed out several things that I would’ve missed if I walked the island on my own. When we docked, our tour guide led us up to the building and told us some facts and trivia about the prison, followed up several programs that will be hosted after the tour.

Unfortunately, when I booked the tour, I thought it was an actual tour guide throughout the prison… it ended up being a self-guided audio tour as well. I wasn’t impressed. But, to be fair, the audio program was AMAZING! The emotions, background tracks, and acting, and the fact that it was voiced by actual prisoners really made it feel as though you were in the prison. There were so many times that I just had to turn around to make sure that there wasn’t a gigantic rowdy crowd behind me or that someone hasn’t slammed the metal door shut.

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SF from Alcatraz

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The lunch menu
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Sitting on an actual bench from the prison in the prison’s cafeteria!

The downside of the night tour is that it’s freezing. I waited for the ferry back to the city for an hour and it was brutal… insane that people used to live on the island. But, seeing Alcatraz in the night was so haunting. If you picture the boat leaving without you and spending the night there… it’s pretty isolated, scary and cold.

When I got back to the island, I hitched a cab back to the hostel only because it would’ve taken me about an hour to walk back. The cab driver was soooo sleazy! He was hitting on me throughout the ride, and even tried to pressure me into cheating on Dan. Needless to say, I didn’t tip and he was upset that I was adamant about going back into the hostel and not coming out to a club with him.


Day 3 – Chinatown

On my last day, all I had left to see on my itinerary was Chinatown. I moved a few things around so I managed to do a lot of things on Day 1 and 2. I was bummed that I missed the Tenderloin Museum and walking tour because they weren’t open on Monday… not even because it was Labour Day, but they plainly just don’t open on Mondays.

I mean, I did walk through Tenderloin but I wanted to see the museum to learn about its past… oh well, perhaps next time if I ever came back.

I made my way towards Chinatown, North America’s oldest Chinatown. I love how every city’s Chinatown is different… but yet, so similar! Vancouver’s Chinatown is dying so it’s great to see how other Chinatowns are still thriving.

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After Chinatown, I was blocks away from the shopping district where I went into Ross and Marshalls… and found an entire section on essential oils! If you recall from my previous post, I recently got into EOs and am obsessed with expanding my collection. Unfortunately, I decided to pass on them because I won’t be bringing my diffuser with me to Australia and it wouldn’t make sense to buy a bunch and have them sit in my mum’s garage for a year.

Eventually, I caught the train back into the airport and left for Vancouver. My commute back home was shit because Dan was already asleep and no Car2Gos or Evos were around the area… and to top it off, the moment I got off the skytrain, the bus that brings me just outside my house left. I ended up cabbing it home which was less than $20 but a car share or bus would’ve been cheaper.


So, all in all, my trip to San Francisco was pretty neat. If I’m being honest, if it wasn’t for Alcatraz, I wouldn’t have come down to SF. I’ll give this city a solid 3/5 stars.

I hate telling people that SF wasn’t what I thought it would be. It wasn’t because I travelled alone or anything, but I think it’s because I held SF on such a high standard for so long, I was ultimately disappointed when I visited the city. When I told my colleague how I felt about the city, I was surprised to see that she agreed with me as well and ultimately branded SF as just one of those cities you gotta see at least once in your lifetime.

I don’t have any tips for those visiting SF aside from…

  • Skip the night tour of Alcatraz… it’s not an actual live guide. Book the last daytime tour for a cheaper rate and you can still catch the prison in dark.
  • Even though it’s in California… it’s so windy and cold! Pack a jacket or a hoodie, even in the summertime.
  • Don’t stay overnight in the Tenderloin… and if you are interested in visiting that part of town, bring a buddy with you. I went in the morning but I can’t imagine how it would look like in the middle of the day or at night time.

Why I Love Solo Travelling

When I tell people that I absolutely love solo-travelling and list some of the places I’ve been alone, I get two reactions:

  1. “Oh my gosh, I love that you travel solo! I can never do it but kudos to you!”
  2. “Oh… why?” *thinks, does she not have any friends or something?*

And in a way, #2 is half right… I don’t have many friends and the friends I do have, don’t travel much or don’t have the same interest in seeing the places I like.

In April, I have a big trip to Japan with Dan and some of our mutual friends – right now, it’s shaping up as 5 people in total. This Japan trip is my biggest friends trip ever and I’m excited, don’t get me wrong, but I’m craving for another trip that I can do solo.

It’s not that I dislike any of my friends to not travel with them, but solo travelling offers a different experience that group travelling.

During the times I’ve visited cities alone, I’ve come to realize this:

+ Solo travelling teaches you how to comfortably take selfies in public. 

Umm, you think whipping out my selfie stick was embarrassing? Think again.

New York City Selfies

One of my solo trips was to NYC in the summer of 2016… yes, one of the busiest and biggest cities in the world and I chose to venture it on my own.

+ Solo travelling allows you to fully be in control of your itinerary.

Long gone are the days when you have to meet up with friends to plan the trip and accommodate everyone’s interest. Feel like hitting a museum instead of shopping? Go right ahead, girl!

+ Solo travelling teaches you to learn and accept being alone, and that being alone is not a negative thing.

When you got no one but yourself, you can’t help but slowly accept loneliness and when you accept that, you realize you’re not upset… because everyone associates being alone as unhappy and sad, right? Learning to live, accept, and cope with being alone is the best thing to learn for yourself.

+ Solo travelling lets you meet new people and build relationships when travelling.

When you’re travelling with a group of friends, you’re more inclined to just hang out with them and not meet anyone on the trip because why? You got a group of best friends with you already. Being alone allows you to meet new people because if you’re having lunch alone, or relaxing alone in the evening, someone will strike up a conversation with you. And, if not – being alone sort of forces you to talk to other people if you want to join in on the fun.

+ Solo travelling pushes you out of your comfort zone.

We’re all so afraid to be alone and do things alone that I bet you skipped out on a movie in theatres because none of your friends wants to catch it. Solo travelling pushes you out of your comfort zone by forcing yourself to do things alone and being alone in crowded spaces. Interested in that walking tour? Well, suck it up and buy your ticket because you got no one else by your side to drag along to!

+ Solo travelling allows you to learn more about yourself.

When you have all this time and opportunity to do what you want, you are bound to learn something new about yourself!

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My solo trip to Boston!

+ Solo travelling gives you a break from everyone and everything.

I love my friends, I do… but sometimes, you really have to take a break from them. I mean, just because you’re away from home doesn’t necessarily mean you’re taking a break from your friends. Hell, sometimes being on vacations with your friends breaks a friendship!

+ Solo travelling is cheaper.

It’s cheaper in a sense that you’re not wasting money on activities you don’t want to do, and at restaurants, you don’t want to eat. Fancy a quick grab and go meal instead of sitting down and chatting? Go right away!

+ Solo travelling builds confidence.

Listen, you don’t have your best friend telling the random guy you’re not interested, nor do you have your best friend asking the sales associate for a different size. Looking after yourself and seeing a new city builds self-confidence because you’re the only one looking out for yourself, and the only one guiding yourself through a new city and different transit systems.

+ Solo travelling is easier and hassle-free.

It really is. I don’t have to rely on any of my friends to pay me back for whatever they owe me, or how I have to wait for them at the airport or in the morning. It’s just easier because everything is done on your schedule based on your interests, and it’s hassle-free because you have to deal with no one else.

It’s 2018 – I think it’s time to break the stigma and fear of being a solo traveller. I’m itching for my next adventure, and I think my next solo adventure would be Mexico!

A Beginner's Guide to Hostels

We’ve all heard about hostels and how cheap they are. You’ve probably seen the movie Hostel and avoid it like a plague. You probably have friends that stayed in a hostel for a few nights.

Regardless, hostels provides travelers an affordable accommodation for one night or for their entire duration of the vacation.

For many, hostels is not a first choice of accommodation for many people, mainly because they’re not familiar with hostels or hold untrue beliefs about hostels. When I first considered staying at a hostel, I was a little be apprehensive about sharing rooms with a bunch of strangers, especially washrooms as well. I grew up staying in nice hotels whenever I went on vacations, so “downgrading” to hostels was extremely different. But, the price difference was substantial so I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried a hostel and let me just say, I probably won’t be booking any nice hotels for ordinary vacations (honeymoons and all inclusive vacations are a different story!).

Today, I’m sharing you a guide into stepping into the world of hostels and how beneficial they are to traveling!

Prior to staying at hostels, I worked at hostels as well and know the “back end” of these places.

To begin,

Clear your mind of any assumptions you have of hostels. Just because they’re cheap, doesn’t mean they’re bad! Many people choose hostels because they’re affordable and safe. Many travelers from the age of 20 to even 50 stay in hostels! Get rid of any negativity stigma you have with hostels because they’re most likely false*.

*Everything differs from hostel to hostel, but like any good traveler, check the reviews!

They’re not filled with druggies, drunks, party animals and thieves. In fact, people staying in the hostels are probably some of the most culturalized individuals you’ll meet. Many travelers have backpacked throughout countries, and some are highly independent individuals. Talking to these travelers will most likely inspire you. Hostel guests are educated, well mannered and fun individuals! They’re open minded and extremely friendly.

It’s safe and clean. And not at all weird sleeping with other people. Hostels operate like any other hotel. They employ housekeepers as well and clean out the facilities. However, because you’re sharing washrooms (sometimes) with others, it’s most likely the fella down the hall that made a mess. The hostel staff tries to keep it as clean as possible, but for the price you’re paying, they’re not the typical around the clock housekeeping staff. Most locations of the hostel are situated in downtown areas, and nearly all hostels are equipped with storage lockers for valuables. However, I’ve left my phone and electronics in plain view and none of my roommates stole it. And no, contrary to the popular belief, it’s not uncomfortable sleeping with other people in the room. It’s like having a sleepover with some friends!

They’re cheap, so don’t expect much. You’re not paying $500/night so don’t expect everything to be a 5-start hotel. Some places will have you make your own bed (eg. put on the bedding yourself), and some are already made. Some hostels will charge you for towels and some will rent them for free. Some hostels provide guides and city maps, some don’t. Each hostel differs but in most cases, hostels are NOT hotels. They won’t cater to you like a princess. The staff will be there to check you in and out and answer any questions or concerns, but don’t expect them to carry your luggage to your room or hand you a toothbrush at 1am in the morning.

Keep an open and adventurous mind. Unlike hotels, guests at hostels are welcoming and fun! These people are the type of people you can grab a beer with at the local pub down the street. These are the guys that you will add on your Facebook account and the next time you travel to London, they’ll hook you up. Hostels are a fun place to meet new people and create friendships. Keep an open mind and don’t brush anyone that greets you! I’m not saying you have to be an extremely outgoing person to stay a hostel, but don’t be alarm when a group asks you to join them in their night out.

Hostels are fun! Unlike hotels where they have such a formal lobby, hostels are homes to some of the coolest common areas ever! It’s the place where guests come downstairs to relax and have fun and meet other guests. Most common areas are sort of like a living room or university student lounges – TVs, board games, couches, books, etc. At one hostel I stayed at, they even have a “theater” with movies playing until 10PM.

Hostels are family-friendly. Believe it or not, hostels are not just reserved for the young 20-something years old for a weekend getaway. Hostels can accommodate to families as well!

Tips and Tricks:

+ Bring flip flops (and maybe a bikini). Flip flops to keep your feet clean throughout the hostel and bikinis if your hostel doesn’t offer private showers (aka community showers).

+ Book and read reviews with HostelWorld, the biggest hostel booking website.

+ Remember, choose a location with good location, cleanliness and security rating.

+ Many hostels offer free breakfast. Take that advantage to save some money!

+ Also, many offer discounted tourists stuff. Ask the staff if they have any coupons.

+ Some hostels will charge for necessities such as towels, toothbrush, etc. Pack your own if you want to save a few dollars. Alternatively, some hostels require you to pay a deposit for their towel and then refund the deposit upon check out – ask if they do that.

+ Hostels are not meant for their guests to stay in their rooms for the night. Don’t forget to immerse yourself into the “hostel culture”!

+ Hostels offer private rooms with en suites, usually for a few dollars more. If you really need it, opt for a private room instead of sharing.

+ Hostels have great kitchens. Feel free to buddy up with someone to cook a meal and save some money.

+ Hostels are a great place to solo travelers. You can meet so many people traveling alone that wouldn’t mind buddying up for adventures! One of my friends, Jenny, traveled to Hawaii alone and 1.5 weeks later, she found herself with a lasting travel buddy. The two of them ended up doing everything together and built a great friendship, all thanks to the hostel they were staying at!

Hostels have an iffy stigma to them, but I honestly recommend everyone to try it at least once in their life. Step out of your comfort zone and throw yourself into the hostel culture! I think you might actually enjoy it!

Sure, hostels are not meant for honeymoons or such, but if you’re having a weekend getaway or a short vacation, opt for a hostel. Especially if you’re traveling alone! If you think about it – if you’re spending most of your vacations exploring the city, and returning to your bed at the evening for a 8 hours of sleep, why pay $500/night? You’re already asleep, it’s not like you can fully indulge in your hotel room. For me, it makes more sense to pay $30/night for a bed, a fun culture and spend my money elsewhere.

My (First) Solo Trip to Seattle, WA

After my ever-so dramatic proclamation about how much I hate my life, I booked a Greyhound bus to Seattle for a night (trust me, I would’ve stayed longer if budget wasn’t my issue) and officially crossed off 1) Travel alone and 2) Have a last minute vacation off my bucketlist… although, I don’t know if I consider this a vacation but.. whatever, I like crossing things off lists.

Greyhound station, Vancouver, BC

Bright and early at the ugly Greyhound terminal station in Vancouver. I took this place for granted when I realized how even more ugly (and shittier) Seattle’s Greyhound station was.

An annoying couple decided to sit behind me – the boy wouldn’t stop talking and laughing nervously like he’s trying to impress the girl. And, I can tell that the girl was uninterested and just wanted peace and quiet.

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Everett, WA

Speaking of which, along side with this being my first solo traveling experience, I also experienced my first Airbnb reservation – which turned out to be an annoying experience.

I arrived in Seattle about 10AM and it took me about 30ish minutes to find the Merchant’s Cafe, the building I was staying in. Not only did the owner, D. not give me any information regarding check in time, check out time, etc. etc., I got there at about 10:35AM and the doors to the cafe (where I was supposed to pick up the keys) were locked! The itinerary for my stay said “flexible check in time, flexible check out time” which, like anyone else, would assume the place would be open by the time you arrived!

I started freaking out – I don’t have internet connection on my phone (roaming is a bitch to pay!) nor did I write down her phone number (stupid, but I trusted she’ll be there by the time I arrived). I asked a few people if they knew when this place opened and nobody knew. I eventually found a Starbucks at the end of the block and connected to the wifi and sent a message to D. but she didn’t reply back.

I decided to check the place out again and at 11AM, the doors were finally opened. The bartender told me that check in is actually at 2PM, so I was stuck with what to do. He told me to visit the Pike Place Market, about 15 minutes walk and get some food. I figured, why not? I somewhat enjoyed that place last time I was there… I also stopped by Target because I love Target.

By the time I arrived back at the cafe, it was 2PM, BUT, lo and behold, another issue arrived. I wasn’t in the scheduled book so the bartender talked it out with D. Even after they sorted out the room problem, I was delayed for another hour or so because the housekeeper was still cleaning up my room… fun, eh?

Waiting…

The room I booked was like a studio apartment. There was a nice little kitchenette in the room for those staying longer to cook. I personally didn’t want to use it because I have trust issues with cleanliness.

 
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Chief Seattle

After a short nap, I headed back outside to Spooked in Seattle and did their Seattle Haunting tour…

Which, let me just said, was pretty decent!

Seattle Underground Shop. The walls you see are the actual original structure from the 1800s or so!

During the ghost tour, we toured a few of Seattle’s Pioneer Square haunted buildings, in which he also provided videos and actual photos of that site. He also played us audio clips.

You know what was more scary?

The fact that the building I was staying at, Merchant’s Cafe, is really haunted. In the basement of that building, there was a fire that killed two children. There’s proof (video and photo) of their presences in that room that was shot by tourists too. At one point, someone with a DSLR camera couldn’t get their camera to work but the moment we stepped out of that building, it was working fine. When she described it, the tour guide said a few other people had the same red screen.

 The building is also significant because it stands in front of the old lynching trees were men have died. It’s said that their spirits haunts a few hotels around the area.

Needless to say, I was a bit afraid of sleeping alone that night…

Also, the neighbourhood wasn’t the safest either. I got a bit paranoid that someone would break in…

Can’t deny myself of selfies in Seattle, right?

Traveling alone is quite the experience. I enjoyed it, being on my own. As an independent person, it suited me well that I did things on my own terms without needing to consult someone. I faced my own problems.

It was scary; Seattle is close to Vancouver but I felt so disconnected from home that gave me this vulnerability that something could happen and I can’t reach anyone. It gave me the chills when I called it night to be sleeping alone in a sketchy neighbourhood. I was paranoid someone would break in or climb through the windows. I left the TV on throughout the night just to make it look like I was still up.

But, at the same time, I was told to keep an eye on everything and take precautions when traveling alone. Growing up, my parents always left the TV on when we went out for dinner to make it look like we’re home.

Would I travel alone, again? Of course! This was such a short trip but I felt more confident about myself. I can’t wait to tackle a bigger and further city!

I never realized how much I adored Seattle… it’s such a nearby city that I wouldn’t mind moving to Seattle… but, we’ll see about that. Being Canadian, it’s tough to let go of that “built in” bully to Americans, haha. We just like to laugh at them a lot.