My 10 Best Travel Survival Tips + Products

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Next week I’ll be on a plane again, heading back to Michigan for some time with family and friends. As I start prepping for another round of packing, I’ve been thinking about our recent trip to Taiwan, and how I really reminded me to only pack the essentials when I travel. That trip was go go go for seven [amazing] days and I learned some tricks to save me space and money and keep me feeling good no matter what time zone I’m in.

Hopefully these tips will help you the next time you travel!

  1. Bring along ginger gum to combat nausea whether you’re flying or driving through the mountains.
  2. Save on a travel-size bottle of shaving cream and use the free lotion in the hotel instead.
  3. Pack coordinating clothing you can create a variety of outfits from.
  4. Store a pack of soap sheets in your bag for more, how shall we say it, “rustic” bathrooms.
  5. Keep a tube of hydration tablets on hand to add to water on the go to prevent dehydration.
  6. Speaking of hydration, throw a few packets of a magnesium drink mix in your carry-on to help you drink more water on the plane as well as relax — magnesium calms the central nervous system.
  7. Opt for a small bottle of rosewater instead of bringing along a large bottle of toner. Mist your face with it to cool off anytime.
  8. Bring along some extra large plastic freezer bags to protect purchases/stop liquids from ruining your clothes.
  9. Pack a variety of bandages so your feet never slow you down.
  10. Always have an energizing snack on hand. I love these made with chia seeds.
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Adventures In Taiwan, Part Two

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The second half of our week in Taiwan was no less action-packed than the first. After the thrill/terror of our hike, we were ready to tackle as much as possible on flat ground.

After leaving Jhongpu, we started the long ascent up to Alishan for the most amazing view of a sunrise I’ve ever seen — well worth the 3 a.m. wakeup. Wide awake, we spent the hours after sunrise hiking a much safer path through the beautiful mountains. Once lunchtime rolled around and all the tourists rolled in, we made our descent.

The last two days were spent in Taipei trying to cram as many remaining sights and meals as we could before the end of the trip. We ate lots more shaved ice and even went shrimp fishing (so many Forrest Gump jokes).

When it was time to say goodbye to Karen and Jason, I was my mother’s daughter. I couldn’t help but get emotional after such a fantastic adventure. Craig and I are blessed to have such a diverse group of fantastic people to call friends we can see the world with. We can’t wait to plan our next journey.

[In case you missed it, here is my post about the first half of our trip!]

Craig decided to try some stinky tofu before we left Jhongpu. I passed. The smell . . .

Craig decided to try some stinky tofu before we left Jhongpu. I passed. The smell . . .

Making our way to Alishan. The unofficial Trudell Christmas card photo.

Making our way to Alishan. The unofficial Trudell Christmas card photo.

Catching the early train to watch the sunrise.

Catching the early train to watch the sunrise.

The money shot. Absolutely breathtaking.

The money shot. Absolutely breathtaking.

What do you do when you're up that early? Hike your way back down of course.

What do you do when you’re up that early? Hike your way back down, of course.

Another gorgeous temple, found in the mountains.

Another gorgeous temple, found in the mountains.

Tea plantations seen on the drive back down.

Tea plantations seen on the drive back down.

Drooling over Peking duck at Brother Hotel in Taipei, where we had some great dim sum.

Drooling over Peking duck at Brother Hotel in Taipei, where we had some delicious dim sum.

One more trip back to Ice Monster. Adding the sweetened condensed milk. A must.

One more trip back to Ice Monster. Adding the sweetened condensed milk. A must.

Scoping out the goods at the enormous Jianguo Holiday Flower and Jade Market.

Scoping out the goods at the enormous Jianguo Holiday Flower and Jade Market.

After deciding against a bracelet (after a very friendly but persistent saleswoman gave me a slightly painful demonstration of how to put it on), I chose this beauty. My first piece of jade!

I decided against a bracelet after a very friendly but persistent saleswoman gave me a slightly painful demonstration of how to put it on. I opted for this beauty instead. My first piece of jade!

Blown away by the sea of colors in the flower market.

Blown away by the sea of colors in the flower market.

The souvenir we're trying to ration out: The insanely delicious pineapple cakes from Chia Te Bakery. I'm brining an extra suitcase for these next time.

The souvenir we’re now trying to ration out: The insanely delectable pineapple cakes from Chia Te Bakery. I’m bringing an extra suitcase for these next time.

The sight that needs no introduction: Taipei 101. Sadly, we couldn't get to the top this time because of the crazy wait.

The sight that needs no introduction: Taipei 101. Sadly, we couldn’t get to the top this time because of the crazy wait.

One of the theaters on the grounds of the Chiang-Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.

The beautiful detail on one of the theaters at the grounds of Chiang-Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, also the main picture of this post.

Going for the gold at Shilin Night Market, our final night market of the trip. So crowded!

Going for the gold at Shilin Night Market, our final night market of the trip. So crowded!

Squid, anyone?

Squid, anyone?

This gentleman was making  several oyster omelets at once.

This gentleman was making several oyster omelets at once.

We couldn't pass on this oreo and baked pudding shaved ice.

We couldn’t pass on this oreo and baked pudding shaved ice.

The night ended with the most bizarre of our activities: shrimp fishing. Karen was the only one to succeed, but a nice woman (every Taiwanese person we met was very nice) donated some of her impressive catch to us to cook and eat.

Our last night ended with the most bizarre activity: shrimp fishing (shrimping?). Karen was the only one to succeed in landing a catch. A nice woman — every Taiwanese person we met was very nice — donated some of her impressive catch to us to cook and eat.

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Adventures In Taiwan, Part One

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Our trip to Taiwan can easily be summed up in one word: whirlwind. From the moment we touched down in Taipei, our friends Karen and Jason (who is Taiwanese and has family there) scooped us up and took us on a parade of their favorite sights and the essential tourist spots.

Only hours after arriving we were off to Hualien to tackle the Old Jhuilu Trail in the Taroko Gorge. After that, we were back on the road for a quick stopovers in Taichung and Puli and then out to Jhongpu, where Jason’s family lives. Whew, getting tired again just typing it!

This first half of our journey was filled with incredible food and an adventure I’m quite frankly still recovering from, but it was so worth it. All good vacations get your heart pumping, your mind racing and your feet sore. Am I right?

Part two coming tomorrow!

The very cool Taipei Main Station.

The very cool Taipei Main Station.

We found some delicious grilled seafood at our first street market.

We found some delicious grilled seafood at our first street market.

Check out the size of that oyster!

Check out the size of that oyster!

The beautiful Taroko National Park. Thanks to Jason for this shot.

The beautiful Taroko National Park. Thanks to Jason for this shot.

Now you can get an idea of what I'm recovering from. Novice hiker that I am, I decided to hike up into the clouds . . . in Nikes. Sorry about the fog.

Now you can get an idea of what I’m recovering from. Novice hiker that I am, I decided to hike up into the clouds . . . in Nikes. Sorry about the fog — it quelled my fears just a bit. More pictures from the hike coming soon.

Back on the train to head to Taichung.

Back on the train to head to Taichung.

More soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, at the place that started it all, Din Tai Fung.

More soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, at the place that started it all, Din Tai Fung. I could eat these everyday forever.

Where the magic happens.

Where the magic happens.

The enormous Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Puli.

The enormous Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Puli.

Buddha. Just one of the towering figures throughout the main hall.

Buddha. Just one of the towering figures throughout the main hall.

Jason took us on a walk through Jhongpu to see where his aunt grows papayas. Man the fruit was good out in the country.

Jason took us on a walk through Jhongpu to see where his aunt grows papayas. Man the fruit was good out in the country.

Found this little guy on a bridge.

Found this little guy on a bridge.

Quite literally stumbled upon this amazing temple. All the colors and detail . . . just spectacular.

Quite literally stumbled upon this amazing temple. All the colors and detail . . . just spectacular.

Just look at that ceiling!

Just look at that ceiling!

This nice man who looks after the temple invited us to sit and made us some tea. He told us he brought out the good stuff and he wasn't kidding.

This nice man who looks after the temple invited us to sit and made us some tea. He told us he brought out the good stuff and he wasn’t kidding.

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Weekly Web Tacks

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It feels good to be back to my work routine, even if my energy is waning by mid afternoon. I took an embarrassingly long nap this afternoon so, needless to say, I’m in for a long night. I’ll be sharing the first of my sights from Taiwan tomorrow, so be sure to check back for all the food and fun — trust me, there was plenty of food.

For now, please enjoy my web tacks for the week, which cover everything from sports to technology:

  1. Adding all these travel destinations to my bucket list. I can already cross off No. 6! [MY DOMAINE]
  2. There’s a new Canadian on the sumo scene here in Japan. [The Japan Times]
  3. Must get all these travel essentials. Especially No. 16. [Harper’s Bazaar]
  4. American J-pop fans, rejoice! A new animated flick will be debuting in the U.S. this fall. [Japan Today]
  5. Is this the most Japanese burger yet? [Kotaku]
  6. Need to make this salad, ASAP. [SELF]
  7. My absolute favorite app. I’m addicted. Download it now.
  8. My latest for Deep Japan, about the Kiuchi Brewery, in case you missed my first post!
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6 Happy Sights

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Craig and I spent most of yesterday getting laundry done, unpacking and coming down from a seriously amazing vacation in Taiwan. We did so much and saw so many unique sights that I can’t wait to share this week. For this installment of “6 Happy Sights,” I’m sharing some final snaps from my parents’ visit as well as an initial peak at our trip to Taiwan. There’s some seriously good food here, starting with the chocolate shaved ice topped with bananas, sweetened condensed milk and chocolate syrup found in Chiayi City, Taiwan, pictured above. It tasted like a Fudgsicle and basically nothing will ever be the same.

I hope your week is off to a great start. Stay tuned!

We scored some tasty barbecue in Chiba.

Here’s a look at the tasty Korean barbecue in Chiba we scored during my parents’ visit.

Origami cranes left on shrines in Kyoto.

Origami cranes left on shrines in Kyoto.

Tranquility in the mountains of Taiwan.

Tranquility in the mountains of Taiwan.

From gel to adzuki beans to matcha, this one parfait had every Japanese dessert.

From gel to adzuki beans to matcha, this one parfait had just about every Japanese dessert.

Capturing the last of the azaleas in our neighborhood.

Capturing the last of the azaleas in our neighborhood before we departed for our Taiwan trip.

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Craft Explorations: Kiuchi Brewery Tour

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My dad loves his beer and, more importantly than that, he knows his beer. He’s long managed our family business‘ imported beer department, bringing in more than 100 different brews from around the world. And one of those beer brands he’s stocked for two decades happened to be Hitachino Nest Beer, produced at the Kiuchi Brewery, right here in Japan.

Located in Naka-shi, Ibaraki, the brewery was founded in 1823. Today, they make 18 different types of beer, using both local and imported hops as well as the rice and barrels used to produce sake. Craig and I are big fans of the beer, so when my dad suggested we head out there for a brewery tour, I was more than happy to honor his request. The brewery took a couple of hours to get to, taking us to a small town in a beautiful setting, and it ended up being a fantastic afternoon well worth the trip.

Our tour guide, Hitomi, set us up first at the brewery’s restaurant, where we enjoyed an amazing soba lunch set and, of course, some beers. After that, she drove us and the rest of the group about 10 minutes away to the Nukada Brewhouse to see how it’s made. With international demand growing — more than half of the beer is exported, 80 percent of that going to the U.S. — they keep expanding, which means you may get to try Nest Beer soon!

The tour ended with a tasting of several of the brewery’s offerings (no complaints there). My favorites were the White Ale and Weizen, along with the Espresso Stout, which is a surprising choice for me, since I normally prefer lighter beers. All of the staff was very friendly and willing to answer all our questions. They even sent us off with coupons for free beers back at the Mito train station, where they have a restaurant.

Visiting the Kiuchi Brewery was wonderful to see my dad enjoy learning about something he’s so passionate about — a common thread tying his home and ours together. It doesn’t get better than that.

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Ni hao from Taiwan!

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We’ve been a bit off the grid as of late. Craig and I bid farewell to my parents Monday morning and hopped on an early flight to Taipei to meet our good friends, Karen and Jason, from Chicago. We dove right in and headed to the mountains for an unreal (and terrifying) hike through the Taroko Gorge that I can’t wait to share with you.

I don’t I’ll be posting too much for a few more days, as we have a pretty action-packed schedule. But that means lots of great things to share when I get back to Tokyo on Sunday, including some sights from my parents’ visit.

I hope you’re having a wonderful week!

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Small Kitchen Mission: Sushi With the Family

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It’s been a minute since I posted a “Small Kitchen Mission,” and I figured the only true way to introduce my parents to Japanese living was to squeeze them into our cramped cooking space. I chose sushi because it would allow all of us to test our skills without the fear of burning, over-seasoning, or committing some other form of faux pas. Once you get the method down, there’s not really much to making sushi.

My parents aren’t big raw fish eaters so I went the gentle route with some salmon and krab. That’s not a typo — krab is fake crab made from white fish, usually found in your standard California roll. The only thing you need to cook is the rice, which you really need to get right in terms of texture. When it comes to rice, the Japanese aren’t playin’. Then, it’s all about assembly.

They each successfully made one maki (roll), and then I jumped in to plow through the rest of the ingredients. My cooking instructor would be so proud. In the end, they really enjoyed it, although I don’t think they’ll be hitting up too many sushi joints back in Michigan. All in good time.

Pick up a couple of sushi mats from your kitchen supply store and give it a try! Sushi makes an impressive and satisfying appetizer or meal. Any combination of fish and veggies you can think of, you can do.

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Ingredients:

  • 3 cups short-grain, Japanese rice
  • 3 1/4 cups water
  • 8 tbsp sushi vinegar (recipe here, or cheat and buy it in the bottle. I did, no shame)
  • 1 large avocado, sliced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 1 salmon fillet
  • 1 pack krab sticks
  • 1 package nori (seaweed) sheets
  • Wasabi paste and soy sauce for serving

Directions for Rice:

  1. Put the rice into a large bowl and rinse with cold water three times until the water is almost clear. Place in a pot with the 3 1/4 cups water and let sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Place the rice on the stove and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes
  3. After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and let the rice sit for another 15 minutes. Do NOT remove the lid.
  4. Scoop the rice into a large glass, ceramic or wooden bowl — no metal — and drizzle the sushi vinegar onto the rice a little at a time. Use a wooden spoon to slice through the rice, flipping over sections and breaking up clumps. Do NOT stir to avoid smashing the rice.
  5. Allow the rice to sit until it reaches room temperature or a bit warmer. Cover with a damp towel until you use it. Storing it in the fridge will cause it to harden and taste yucky, so do use it up. This recipe makes about 10 rolls, so you can scale it back if necessary to avoid wasting anything.

Directions for Assembly:

  1. Place one sheet of nori shiny side down on your sushi mat.
  2. Wet your fingers in cold water and grab a handful of rice. Rewetting your hands as needed, smooth out the rice into an even layer, leaving about 3 inches of space at the top.
  3. At the bottom end, arrange your ingredients horizontally, beginning with the fish.
  4. Once you have all your toppings, use the tips of your fingers to secure the nori in place while you use the mat to fold over the roll. Be careful not to wrap the mat into your maki! It’s meant to be a guide to help you make a tight roll.
  5. Once you’ve reached the end, use a wet finger to brush along the seam and close the roll.
  6. Slice using a very sharp knife and serve immediately.
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Giving Old Memories New Meaning

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My dad makes the best pancakes. Hands down. For as long as I can remember, my dad has wielded the spatula whenever we had pancakes and no matter what I add to mine, they never turn out like his.

Yesterday morning, my dad took a shot at cooking in my tiny kitchen to whip up a batch of yummy blueberry pancakes with bacon and eggs for a hearty, American breakfast. Donning one of our finest aprons (“Move Over Martha,” hehe), he got to work and quickly mastered the balancing act that is my everyday. He may have been thrown off a bit by the buckwheat flour (Soba-inspired pancakes, anyone?), but it was just what we needed to kick off another full day.

It’s been a joy having my parents here and while the time is flying by, we’ve really gotten to show them a lot so far. Bringing one of my favorite childhood memories — my dad at the stove flipping pancakes — to Japan was incredibly comforting.

I hope you’re having a great week. More coming soon!

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6 Happy Sights

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My parents are here! I can’t believe they’re here in Tokyo with us to explore our new home. My cup runneth over, as they say. It was a bit of a race to the finish line to get everything ready, since Craig and I were both sick this past week, but we did it. On Friday, my wonderful hubby was up at 7 a.m. to clean the shower and do dishes while I hit some deadlines.

I’ll be sharing our adventures over the next week right here, including a new “Small Kitchen Mission,” so be sure to check back. For now, enjoy my happy sights for the week (starting with these epic blueberry shortbread pancakes from Bubby’s) and I hope you had a wonderful weekend!

Our neighborhood is in bloom.

Our neighborhood is in bloom.

Prayers at Meiji Shrine.

Prayers at Meiji Shrine.

Godzilla made an appearance in Tokyo Midtown.

Godzilla made an appearance in Tokyo Midtown.

Saw our first geisha at Meiji Shrine as well.

Saw our first geisha at Meiji Shrine as well.

Perfect tuna nigiri and matcha in Tsukiji.

Perfect tuna nigiri and matcha in Tsukiji.

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