Where in the world was Victoria?

2012...what an amazing year! It will likely go down in my books as one of the best years ever. I couldn't have even imagined the fun I'd have, the things I'd learn, and the lifelong friends I'd meet when I decided to attend school at the University of Sussex in the UK. Europe holds a special place for me - it is my favorite place to travel to ever since my study abroad program back in undergrad. This year, I got the opportunity to explore the continent easily through the conveniences of EasyJet and other budget airlines.

By the numbers...

Lived in/visited: 
14 countries (Denmark, England*, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Monaco, Morocco, Northern Ireland*, Scotland*, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, USA, Vatican City), 8 of which were new to me. 
*For the sake of distinguishing the different entities within the UK, I considered them to be individual countries for this recap.
3 continents (Africa, Europe, North America)

And here goes my recap of 2012...

This is the first in my series of photos of the day on the MapWanderer blog. I'll try to post as much as I can, but we'll see how that goes!

I fell in love with Brighton. Living in this eclectic British seaside town was an adventure in itself. I had the privilege of living in Brighton for a year to get my Master's degree at the University of Sussex, and luckily, chose to live in off campus university accommodation right in the centre of town. Sure, it was noisy at night with all the party-goers, but I can't deny that I was often part of them. I mean, when else will I get to wake up every morning to the view of the beach and waves crashing onto the rocks (not sand)? Yes, it's England and yes, there is rain and wind and not the perfect weather, but that makes you love the sunny days so much more!

One day, my friend and I took a walk on the beach and towards the pier and I captured this photo as darkness was descending upon us. The rides on the Brighton Pier are surprisingly very fun!

Photos from upper left and going clockwise: (1) huge Christmas tree and iconic SF heart in Union Square, San Francisco, (2) Winter Wonderland decorations at the Harry Potter Yule Ball at Whimsic Alley, Los Angeles, (3) me at a friends Winter Wonderland holiday party, and lastly (4) castle display at Global Winter Wonderland at Great America, Santa Clara.
The block of Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year Day holidays is one of the my favorite time of the year! I love seeing holiday decorations all over, and even more so, I love to go to holiday parties! It's so nice to get to dress up, eat amazing food, reunite with friends and family, and take pictures. 

Anyway, I just wanted to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays (cue NSYNC song :P)! Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season filled with family, friends, and happiness! :)

Today's post is about the lovely world of airline miles! People often ask me about this so I decided it'd be a good idea to just blog about it! And, I haven't been so busy, so decided to create this graphic!

This post will be split up into a Q&A format.
(1) Q: Why does this matter?
A: It's free! Nearly all airlines have a frequent flyer program and it is free to sign up. You may not think you fly a lot, but it can add up. Ultimately...why not? Once you understand how airline alliances work, you may realize that it is a lot easier to earn airline miles than you thought.

(2) Q: What is so special about these airline alliances?
A: Basically, in the world there are THREE main airline alliances, as you can see in the graphic above. So, by just signing up for a frequent flyer account in each of the alliances, you can earn and redeem miles for over 50 airlines in the world. And most of these airlines are ones that I'd assume you'd fly on for most destinations around the world.

(3) Q: Can you give me an example?
A: To use my own experience, I have a frequent flyer account for United Airlines (United Mileage Plus), American Airlines (AAdvantage), and Delta Airlines (Delta SkyMiles). These 3 airlines cover all the 3 alliances. So, if I fly any airline within the alliance, I can use my account number for one of these that I have to earn miles. For instance, if I fly Air Canada, on the page where I buy flights, I can choose United Airlines for a frequent flyer number and enter in that number. Then, all the United Airlines miles I get, I can used it on United Airlines OR on any of the other airlines in the alliance.

(4) Q: What about the airlines not in an alliance?
A: Yes, there are a substantial number of key airlines that don't participate in one of these alliances, but they typically have their own frequent flyer program so I just sign up for those. Example, I do have accounts for Southwest Airlines (Southwest Rapid Rewards) and Virgin America because I fly those fairly frequently. Also, most of the budget airlines in Europe (EasyJet, Monarch Airline, RyanAir) don't have frequent flyer programs but well, nothing you can do about it. 

Let me know if you have any questions!
Back in October, I ended my year+ in Europe with a visit from the family in September, a brief return to Brighton, and a relaxing time in Switzerland. It was a perfect conclusion to the year, and reminds me why I love Europe so much! This past time was my 4th time in Europe since my first study abroad experience back in 2005 and it has been the place I've traveled to most. By far, this past year was the best experience I've had there! It helps that I lived there and really got to experience being a "semi-local" in Brighton.

I made so many new lifelong friends from around the world and my love of travel makes me hope that I can visit my friends in their home countries (and vice versa). So, friends, get ready for my visit sometime soon I hope and of course, you're always welcome to California!

When my family came, this was our itinerary:
  1. Brighton, UK
  2. London, UK
  3. The Cotswolds (with Stratford-upon-Avon), UK
  4. Paris, France
  5. Tours & the Loire Valley Region, France
  6. Nice, France
  7. Monaco
  8. Cannes, France
  9. Rome, Italy
  10. Vatican City
  11. Venice, Italy

I have been to most of these places already, but since it was my family's first time in Europe, I was happy to show them a bit of what I love most about Europe. It was a beautiful adventure!

It really does happen. This thing we call Reverse Culture Shock - the strange feelings associated with returning to one's home culture after being overseas for a substantial period of time. This past year (September 2011-October 2012), I was living oversees in the UK, in school working towards my Master's degree at the University of Sussex. It was an amazing year, in more way than I can even describe.

I recently took a trip to San Francisco (I'm about 45 minutes away by car/public transportation) and since it was my first time going to the City since I had gotten back, I started reflecting on a number of things. Stepping out of my suburban life, going to SF felt like I was finally returning to a city that actually had a downtown and public transportation and things to do!

Reflections on symptoms of my Reverse Culture Shock:
  1. I miss public transportation. When I took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to SF from Union City, I was reminded of how amazing public transportation is in all of Europe. I miss being able to just sit somewhere and let someone else do the steering. Driving is great in terms of independence and flexibility, but if public transportation is efficient and well organized, it's great.
  2. I don't know how I'm supposed to stand/act on escalators. When I was in SF, I was in a store and using the escalator. My friend and I were standing next to each other, and I noticed someone behind me and proceeded to move to the other side. The guy just stood there and kind of laughed because he didn't need to walk past us. I think I'm too used to always standing on the right of an escalator so that people can walk by on the left, especially in London. The idea makes sense to me!
  3. Watch the gap? What? At the BART station, the signs say Watch the Gap. But don't we have to Mind the Gap??
  4. What's the temperature? C? F? What?! I think I'm still getting confused by temperatures. Over in the UK, I was so used to thinking in Fahrenheit, but expressing it aloud in Celsius. Now, I'm trying to adjust to just think and express in Fahrenheit.
I'm back! I've finally come up with a name, so getting close to being able to release this to the public. I've been back at home in California, but dreaming of my next destination. Itching to travel again SOON! My graduation is at the end of January in Brighton (UK), so for now, hoping I can go back for that and hopefully add on some traveling to that. So many places in the world to see...
Hello friends! Thank you for visiting! I'm assuming your name is Buddy or you stumbled open this on a google search (since I haven't started doing publicity yet). I'm in the midst of my job search, so getting this website together has been a great break! I'm in the process of sorting through my photos to upload, and overall, just refining the organization of the site and filling in the blank spaces. Check back soon for daily updates! Oh, and I need to come up with a name! Let me know if you have ideas for me... :)

Current Location || California, USA
Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower.