Travel Tip #156

Have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

After graduating from college, my family and I went to my cousin’s wedding in Canada. We flew to Calgary and drove six hours to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where my cousin lived. On our return home from the wedding, we explored Calgary, including CrossIron Mills mall. In deciding what to eat at the food court, I made the decision to hit up Taco Bell. Why? Because it was cheap, I wasn’t too hungry, annnnd Taco Bell Canada sells french fries that I wanted to try. They’re alright. I paid with my credit card, which I think was the Chase Freedom card at the time.

A few weeks later, when I checked my card activity online, I realized that my cheap Taco Bell meal was slightly more expensive due to the foreign transaction fee charged for that Taco Bell. French fries are dangerous.

:-/

After that, I decided to get another credit card, especially one without foreign transaction fees. I ended up applying for a Capital One credit card because it didn’t have foreign transaction fees. I later converted it to a Venture One travel card whenever they started offering it.

Long story short–have at least one credit card that has no foreign transaction fees when you travel outside of the United States. There’s no sense in paying more than you have to when using your credit card abroad. Don’t let your Taco Bell cost more!!!

Here are the two credit cards without foreign transaction fees that I currently have: 

My Chase Sapphire Reserve goes with me everywhere when I travel abroad. There are many more options out there, but typically any credit card that specializes in travel benefits will not have foreign transaction fees.

Good luck out there!

-JD

A Moment on the BART

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When I think back to my trip to San Francisco in January, I keep thinking of a particular observation and memory. No, it wasn’t the West Coast Walk for Life that I was part of nor the list of churches I visited and went to Mass at. No, not even the times I got yelled at and middle fingered at for being part of the Walk. No, it wasn’t even the gathering of the Women’s March that same day. Nor the sushirritos I saw, but never consumed, or the many Pokéstops I activated.

Something else.

Back in January, I went to San Francisco for the weekend. It was a pilgrimage (of course!) with the primary intention of participating in the West Coast Walk for Life because I wasn’t able to participate in this year’s March for Life in Washington, DC. Awesome weekend, awesome Walk.

These days, months later, one particular memory and observation keeps popping up in my head.

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I had gone to an Extraordinary Form Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi after the Walk. It finished late in the evening so it was already dark outside. On top of that, it was raining. I hurried over to the Hilton Union Square where I had left my big bag to pick it up. I then made my way to the nearest BART station to take the train all the way back towards the airport to check into the Hilton San Francisco Airport Bayfront (#HiltonHopping for the points!!!). Honestly, I was in a hurry because I was paranoid of my safety since I wasn’t in Japan, and I wasn’t sure what San Fransiscoans are like.

During that train ride, I was pretty tired from speed walking through the main parts of San Francisco in the rain. I couldn’t help but people-watch on the BART because I didn’t feel like doing much else as my phone’s batteries were low. Also, we were pretty packed on the train.

From where I was standing, over to my right were a group of young women busily checking their social media feeds on their phones as I’m fairly certain they had participated in the Women’s March, which had just recently finished (it was after the Walk for Life). Nothing out of the ordinary or interesting.

Over to my left, I noticed a variety of people either on their phones or talking to others within their party. Also not that exciting. However, at the back of the car in that direction, I noticed a young family–mom, dad, and their toddler daughter. For several stops, I noticed that the dad would cover his ears and showing his daughter to do the same because the BART train kind of screeches when it slows down before a stop. Ok. A little interesting.

As we got closer and closer to the airport, my particular BART car started getting emptier and emptier. When it was empty enough to move about the car, the dad took his daughter up to the BART map by the doors. He was trying to teach her, I guess, about the train and where it goes judging from his pointing at the map and spoken words-that-I-couldn’t-quite-hear.

I couldn’t help but notice this because most everyone on the train, by now, were keeping to themselves on their phones. Women’s Marchers still engrossed in their news feeds. The only interactions I saw between two human beings on this train, in person, were this dad teaching his daughter about the BART train.

I guess these observations of the dad with his daughter on the BART stick out to me because it was such a simple, but awesome, example of a father’s tenderly love for his daughter. I appreciate and admire his patience and desire to teach because of the love he has for his daughter. Manly virtues, for sure, that I can learn from by his example.

As I’m constantly on a quest trying to be the man God created me to be, it’s beautiful to witness these kinds of moments. That’s the thing about me and traveling. I don’t travel to escape. I travel with intent in order to be open to whatever lessons I may learn during the journey while traveling.

-JD

BART Train // BART.gov

Lessons From the Japanese Toll Booth Men

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Gosh, it must’ve been my 5th or 6th trip to Japan when I started driving a rental car. For a first world country, their roads sure are backwards. Haha.

During my daily Japan commutes, I encountered toll booths four times a day. These toll booths usually have a quick pass through lane for those who have an “ETC” card, which is the equivalent of a toll tag or sticker for your car. The “ETC” card is an actual physical card that goes into a little module that can be installed in your Japanese vehicular device that gets read at toll booths in Japan. The other lanes at toll booths are actual manned toll booths. In Texas, where I’m from, even before our toll sticker days, toll booths were merely just large bins that you threw your change into to make the gate go up. And then DFW International Airport was really my only experience of interacting with a human being at such a kind of booth.

Japanese toll booth men. The unsung heroes of the transportation system as I know it. They’re the real MVPs. Quite honestly, they’re one of the best parts of my day when I spent all those days in Japan.

They’re freakin’ awesome and here’s why:

Gratuitous Enthusiasm

Imagine this. I’m still tired because my hotel Executive Lounge coffee to go hasn’t yet kicked in so I’m driving through Japanese streets in a bit of a hazy (but still competent) daze. When I pull up to the toll booth before entering the highway, I roll down my window, and I’m met with a boisterous “OHAYO GOZAIMASU!!!! Nana hyaku nana juu en onegai shimasu!!!!”, which means “GOOD MORNING! 770 yen please!”, from the toll booth man. I hand him a Noguchi (1000 yen note (that’s the guy on the bill), because USD Hamilton’s don’t work here), and he enthusiastically says “SEN EN–CHOTTO MATTE KUDASAI!!” (“1000 yen, please wait!”). I receive my receipt. I thank him. He yells “DOMO!!!” at me (also a form of “Thank you!”. And I’m on way.

Classic Japanese Pride In Work

Knowing, experiencing, and observing the Japanese and their penchant for hard work, I can just tell that the Japanese toll booth men do take great pride in their work. From an American perspective, their job seems really simple and mundane. But still I can appreciate that they strive to do their simple job well and with great pride even though their job looks simple and mundane to me.

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I went through tolls 20 times a week, and for the most part, each toll booth encounter was met with consistent enthusiasm and pride. Like, I can’t think of an instance of a bad example. That’s pretty awesome.

I’m inspired by the Japanese toll booth men by their joyful enthusiasm and pride in work. I want what they have. And I want to try to incorporate a little more enthusiasm and pride in the work that I do even if it’s not necessarily the most exciting at times.

Japanese toll booth men. Life. Changing.

Here’s to them! Kanpai!

kanpai

-JD

Japanese toll booth // Taking Flights

Lettuce Do Our Best // Spreadshirt

Kanpai! // Gaijin Chronicles

 

Travel As A Non-Escapism

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Something I’ve been reflecting on in the past 2 years since I started traveling frequently to international locations is the intent of my travels. Because I tend to go to far and away places, it’s really tempting for me to consider my travels as a form of escape from the rigors and struggles of my ordinary life.

But of course my life at home has struggles since I have many responsibilities and obligations especially to my family, my friends, my work, and my ministries. Not only that, but also in the care, upkeep, and cleanliness of my place of residence. And the dog. I’m gaining lots of experience points in adulting, for sure!

Yes, all these things can be stressful. And yes, it’s really easy for me to be admiring blooming cherry blossoms in Kyoto, lounging around at first class airport lounges in Hong Kong, praying at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, or long walks along many beaches in Sydney (all things I have actually done recently) as ways for me to forget about everything that I’ve got going on at home.

But, I don’t.

Or at least…I try not to.

I try to make all my travels intentional. In other words, I try to have a specific purpose or purposes in mind when I do travel. I strive to make sure that I’m not escaping my realities. I don’t use travel as an excuse to get away from or not deal with whatever struggles I’m dealing with at the time.

I guess the question I ask internally when I travel is how do these travel experiences help me grow as a person? What lessons do I learn when I experience other cultures or places or people? When I begin to ask myself these kind of questions when traveling, it becomes less and less of an escape.

Why do I not want travel to be an escape? Simply put, I don’t want to be an escapist junkie or one who is addicted to escaping reality. That’s juvenile. I say that’s juvenile because as an adult, I have to learn how to confront issues, and I can’t be running away from all my problems. When I was younger, the frequent solution to bad feels was to get lost in activities or isolate myself physically or emotionally. And traveling frequently, especially to far and away places, it’s easy to fall into the temptation of using travel as an excuse to not deal with or confront my struggles as an adult.

Perhaps it’s all the retreats and pilgrimages I’ve been on that help me travel this way. With retreats and pilgrimages, there’s always a specific intent of why they’re occurring and never as a means to get away from it all. Even with retreats, these are not meant to escape from the daily battles, but rather, they are time spent away to recollect so as to reengage the daily struggles even stronger than before.

And pilgrimages. A pilgrimage-style trip is very intentional because just as important as the destination is also the journey. I often travel to places with an attitude of pilgrimage-ing because I’m willing to forsake being comfortable and things going according to my plan. If I get to travel in a luxe way due to my airline and hotel statii, I would consider those as bonuses rather than entitlements. In fact, I’ve found that the more hardship I encounter on a pilgrimage or pilgrimage-style trip, the more I grow as a person and being acutely aware of how every opportunity I’ve been given is awesome. Which in turn makes for a better trip.

While 2017 won’t be as intense of a travel year as 2016 was, with every trip I take going forward, I will try to not use them as a means to escape the daily battles and struggles of my life. If anything, these trips will be an even better opportunity to grow as a person better equipped to handle them or even confront them head on.

Long story short…

  • I don’t want to be an escapist junkie
  • Travel is really tempting to be used as an escape for life struggles
  • I strive to travel intentionally so as to grow as a person
  • Retreats and pilgrimages helped me have the mindset of traveling intentionally
  • I’m not traveling to 4 continents this year, but all trips from here on out will be opportunities for growth

-JD

Because I’m An Eagle

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Over the past year or so, I’ve found it challenging to consistently write blog posts. I mean, it’s not like blogging is my livelihood or anything. My actual, real, non-virtual life takes priority at times.

Ok, most of the time.

But blogging is a hobby I enjoy doing whenever I have time for it. But that’s been the challenge. I haven’t been prioritizing blogging because I’ve been devoting my time to other things.

Since spring of 2015, I’ve been traveling rather extensively. Primarily Japan. Why? I seem to be part of a team at my company that directly supports our international partners, and I’ve been assigned to support Japan, and for a long while, that involved in-country support. In summary, I traveled to Japan for a week or two at time on a near-monthly basis from April 2015 to August 2016. Really. Kind. Of. Crazy.

Even after ending travel to Japan in August of 2016, I traveled to Italy and Australia along with several domestic travel locations to all three coasts.

Now, all this crazy travel is a factor as to why I haven’t been able to blog consistently. It’s not THE ONLY factor, however.

You see, there’s something else that’s occupied a lot of my time. Yes, besides all the work, the work travel, and all my volunteering in various ministries.

I’m an eagle.

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Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Eagles! -insert gesture here, if exists-

I take great pride in being a Fightin’ Texas Aggie where I majored as an aerospace engineer. After several years working in the aerospace industry, I decided that I should pursue a Masters degree to broaden my skills. And my company is willing to pay for it. No brainer, really, for me to decide to pursue a Masters.

At the end of 2014, I applied to and got accepted to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to pursue a Masters of Systems Engineering.

Online.

ERAU’s main campus is in Florida, but they offer a good handful of online programs which is great for me so I can continue living in the great state of Texas. Due to other reasons, I didn’t actually start grad school until March 2015.

Then I quit. Lasted one week.

Having been out of school for 5 years, I seemed to have lost the art of time management involving school. I was off to a fantastic start when I absolutely screwed up in not managing my time well during my first week doing a prerequisite Statistics class. At 9PM on Sunday night at the end of that first week, I realized that I had multiple assignments due at 11PM that I had not yet started. At 10PM, I emailed my advisor to withdraw from class without penalty.

Whoops.

I re-enrolled for a May 2015 term for the same Stats class to try again with much better success.

But…

That’s also when I started going to Japan.

Praise God for online grad school! With my classes being online, I’m able to work on my Masters no matter where I am in the world.

The most extreme example I have is a class that I started in August 2016 and ended in October 2016.

I started it in Japan while on my last business trip.

I worked on some major homework assignments in Italy when I went to Mother Teresa’s canonization.

And I took my finals and did final assignments in Australia while visiting family.

What! So. Crazy.

Whenever I traveled to Japan, it was also difficult in finding free weekends to explore the country because of homework and such. In fact, the times that I was able to visit Osaka and Kyoto, I was not currently enrolled in a class.

Needless to say, with weekly assignments, group projects, discussion boards, and other tasks for classes, it’s really hard to find time for blogging. Combined with travel for work and travel for fun as well as maintaining a decent level of involvement as a volunteer, free time (or even time devoted to blog) is a luxury for me.

As of today, I’m halfway done to completing my Masters with a 4.0 GPA. I’ve had to take several semesters off here and there knowing I’d have some big events in ministry that would make it super challenging to work on homework. Like running retreats on weekends. Or going to Europe  for two weeks for World Youth Day.

So there you have it. Finding time to blog is a challenge for me these days. I’m in grad school. Still traveling. Still working. Still volunteering. I take semesters off here and there.

Oh, and I initially wrote this blog post between hours 8 and 9 on a 16 hour flight to Hong Kong. Because I’m not currently taking a class. Go figure.

-JD

Eagle // All About Birds
ERAU Campus // Glassdoor