Archive | July, 2012

Tourist in My Backyard: San Diego LGBT Pride Festival

25 Jul

As a California native and proud supporter of LGBT rights,  I can’t believe that with all the wonderful cities in my state holding annual pride festivals I had never been to one. So when my best friend Kat invited me to join her and her fabulous cousin, Austin, for the last day of San Diego’s Pride Weekend, I jumped at the chance.

I didn’t know what to expect. I’d seen festival pictures before where everyone dressed in brightly colored outlandish outfits adorned with wigs, props, fake eyelashes and glitter (think Club Kids of the 90s), so that morning I sifted through my closet and tried to find the most pride-friendly, rainbow-colored garment I could.

I settled on my usual look. I like earth tones, what can I say?

Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin in the Club Kid cult-classic “Party Monster”

I met Kat in Huntington Beach and Austin picked us up on his way from L.A. The electro-dance tunes of Britney Spears and whoever was on the latest top 40 list were bumping and Austin did interpretive dances to their lyrics the whole drive down. I was thrilled: it wasn’t even 11a.m. yet and we had a club in our car.

We decided to skip the Pride Parade and Block Party in Hillcrest and went straight to the W Hotel since Austin knew one of the people throwing the massive pool party. We grabbed our drinks at the bar downstairs and made our way through crowd to the third floor deck that floats in the middle of downtown. There were half-naked gay boys as far as the eye could see,  some in dramatic outfits and others looking like they might still be in the closet.

I was feeling overdressed in my shorts and tank top when a Speedo-wearing cutie tapped me on the shoulder as he walked by and said, “You’re the hottest bitch here.” I blushed and said thank you.  He smirked and walked away.

“I could get used to this,” I said to Kat and Austin, with a beaming smile and a boost to my ego. I reveled in how nice it was to get a compliment from a man with no ulterior motives.

The rest of the day continued in much the same fashion as each person we met greeted us with love and sincerity. Boys gushed to Kat telling her she looked like Lady Gaga and Austin innocently kissed his friends on the lips as they said goodbye.  Even as we left the W Hotel pool party and went bar hopping the theme continued and people saw past your gender or your reputation and accepted you for who you are.

Months after same-sex marriage was legalized in California in 2008, the LGBT community’s landmark victory was taken from them with the passage of Prop 8,  or Prop HATE as we refer to it, which amended the earlier decision and limited marriages between a man and a woman. Even though same-sex marriage licenses issued before Prop 8’s passage were still legally recognized,  equal rights supporters knew we’d taken ten steps backward.

Pride weekends, however, feel like a step in the right direction because they’re filled with love and acceptance. No matter who you are or who you’re into: you’re welcome. All races. All backgrounds. All genders. It was eye-opening to see so many men who might be minorities in their day-to-day lives congregating in a brotherhood that dared them to be free. Pride weekend is not about sexual preferences and “alternative” lifestyles. It’s about celebrating who you are.

What To Do Before Heading Overseas

18 Jul
Otres Beach, Cambodia

Otres Beach, Cambodia

Whether you’re traveling abroad for a week or a year, trip preparation is essential and can save you from many inconveniences once on the road. Here are some of the things I gratefully did, or wanted to kick myself for not doing, on my last trip:

1) Research Recommended Travel Vaccinations

Finding yourself in the depths of an Indonesian jungle wondering whether you have the right vaccines to protect yourself from the strange bug bite swelling up on your arm is not an ideal travel situation. Visit a travel clinic, with your childhood vaccination records in hand, a few months before your departure date for expert advice and up-to-date health information about the countries you’ll be visiting.

Some vaccines, such as hepatitis A and B, are administered in a series over several months and preventive drugs, such as antimalarials, are typically started a month before you even reach your destination so this is the one area where you really shouldn’t procrastinate.

Find out which countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination upon arrival and where malaria is most prevalent on the Center for Disease Control’s Travelers’ Health website.

2) Sign Up for Frequent Flyer Programs Before You Book Your Flight

Some programs require membership enrollment before your flight ever leaves the ground to redeem frequent flyer miles and others make requesting miles such a rabbit chase you’ll wonder why you even bothered.

Your best bet is to sign up for free airline partner programs such as Star Alliance, Skyteam and the oneworld Alliance, which allow you to earn miles through their affiliated airlines. Also, remember to save your boarding passes to redeem your miles after the flight is over!

3) Create a Rough Itinerary

Don’t plan your trip down the day because it doesn’t leave any room for spontaneity. There’s no way of knowing who you’ll meet or where you’re supposed to end up. Have a general idea of the places you definitely want to see and the things you’ll be sorry if you don’t do, but leave the rest of your schedule open.

It’s wise to book your first night’s accommodation beforehand, especially if you’re arriving late, but don’t forget to consult your fellow travelers for advice on where to stay and which city to go to next. I didn’t plan much for my 6-month-long Southeast Asian adventure and relied on my instincts, whim and the suggestions of others to get around. My “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring” guidebook rarely left my bag and as I looked around at all the people on the same buses as me, reading their Lonely Planets like they were bibles and meticulously highlighting each place they would go to next, I smiled to myself as I read my novel and listened to my favorite music. The unplanned route isn’t for everyone, but it felt more authentic to me.

3) Organize Your Electronics

Create your playlists, load up your kindle and organize your external hard-drive a few weeks before you leave. If you think you’re going to want to delete files on your laptop to accommodate all your new photos during your trip, when you could be staring out a train window contemplating your existence or socializing with that cute Swedish guy, you’re kidding yourself.

Make your bedtime playlists (for those nights when you’ve got a snorer in your hostel dorm), party playlists (for those half-drunken music discussions with your new international friends) and downtime playlists (for the aforementioned bus rides) beforehand, and with care. I brought two iPods and an iPhone on my trip. I ended up losing one iPod on a night train in Thailand and didn’t realize the majority of my music files were missing from my external hard-drive until I was abroad, so I was stuck with the music I had. And I’m sure we’ve all overplayed a favorite song or two… it takes a while for those to feel fresh again.

Have everything running smoothly so your devices enhance your travel experience rather than take you out of the moment you should be in.

My office for the day in Mui Ne, Vietnam.

4) Bring an External Hard-drive

I know I just mentioned this in the last one but, do it – really. You can use your external hard-drive to back up your photos from your trip and you can store all the music your heart desires, including pre-made playlists so you never have to suffer through if-i-hear-this-song-one-more-time-itis.

And never underestimate how many instances you’ll want to swap music and movies with your new international friends. Bring an external hard-drive, keep it separate from your laptop and camera, and if, by some stroke of awful luck, either of the two are lost or stolen you’ll have a backup.

5) Carry a Small Notebook

I highly recommend bringing a pocket-sized notebook and carrying it on you at all times. Store all your friends’ and family’s addresses inside for quick reference when writing postcards on the go and have it ready when your bartender suggests you visit that secret beach on the other side of the island. At the end of your trip, the notebook will also act as the perfect travel memento, chronicling your trip’s progression with funny hand-drawn maps and the email addresses of all the wonderful people you’ve met.

A Vietnamese neighbor started reading my journal upside down.

6) Pack One Week Before You Leave

Get all your necessary shopping done at least a week before you leave. Then get packing. Spend those days before your departure deliberating over what you really need. Take out what is just going to weigh you down (do you really need three pairs of shoes?) and put back the things know you use often and wouldn’t want to have to hunt down and buy on the road.

I never do this. No matter how many times I’ve done it in the past and immediately regretted it, I leave my packing to the night before my flight. Every time I get to my new destination I curse myself for forgetting those few items that should have been so obvious to pack at the time. Give yourself the time to take your packing seriously or you’ll end up lugging around things you hardly use or having to buy expensive foreign versions of what you do need. (No one told me sunscreen would be so expensive in Asia!)

Download the packing checklist by “go-light guru” Doug Dymet at to use as a reference point.

7) Go For a Test-Run

Once your bag is packed test it a few days before you leave. Make sure the zippers are where you need them to be and the weight isn’t going to break your back an hour after carrying it. See if everything is easy to get to but secure and remember this is the bag you’ll be carrying for the duration of your trip. If it isn’t comfortable and functional consider exchanging it for another bag before you go.

Also, check that your day bag or purse doesn’t scream “take me, take me!” Sometimes an older, less flashy school backpack is better than a fancy new one. I’ve also known people to purposely distress new backpacks, including sticking some duck-tape on it, to ward off pickpockets.  And don’t forget to break in your shoes to avoid nasty blisters once on the road. There’s nothing worse than having a raw blister while wearing new shoes that seem to stab it with every step.

Happy travels!

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