Stuck in Cleveland. Why you should use AirBnB to plan your next trip

Snow was beginning to fall as I came up a big hill outside Cleveland, Ohio. Winry’s engine was screaming, my trusty 1996 Winnebego Rialta RV.

“Come on girl, you can make it, just a few miles more!” I shouted.

Thump. Engine still running I pressed the gas pedal to the floor. No power to the wheels. Transmission was gone.

Winry shuddered to a halt. Snow falling on the windshield, wipers still moving, I knew I was stuck. I got towed to AAMCO where Murphy, the amazing owner, told me it was going to be 3 weeks to have my Rialta transmission rebuilt.

So. I was stuck in Cleveland.

It was December 3, Christmas right around the corner. That meant that plane tickets home to my mom’s house in Virginia were around $700.

I called the local Motel 6, they wanted $55 dollars a night.

The local Marriott wanted $100 dollars a night. If I went with that option, I was looking at the least $2100 for 3 weeks of lodging. No thanks.

Then I remembered AirBnB, which I had never used before.

Excited, I downloaded the app onto my phone and began searching. Then I found this:

Andrew was the most amazing host, and has since become a good friend of mine. He and his fantastic roommate welcomed me into their home, and into their lives.

The most amazing part about AirBnB is that the people you meet through the program are normally travelers, minimalists, nomads, and eccentric folk. When you stay at a hotel, you get a room to yourself, but when I stayed with Andrew I had a small family for a while. You learn from locals where all the best local places are.

You can learn about your host before you even go. For instance, Andrew has over 200 positive reviews due to his incredible hospitality. After reading through the reviews, I felt like I knew him before I was ever introduced.

Andrew wasn’t the only one though.

In Kansas, my air compressor seized causing me to get stuck there. I had to get towed from the middle of nowhere to Topeka.

This time I stayed overnight with Patricia, an incredible woman with the best stories. She was great, told me a fantastic story about her getting stranded in Boston and she had to work at a local store to pay for

a ticket home. Together we ended up going grocery shopping, and she cooked pizza for me. The room was warm, and comfortable. It was incredibly relaxing after my stressful day.

Recently, I used AirBnB with Abigail here in Taiwan. Our AirBnB apartment only cost $20 per night. We didn’t have a host, but got our own little place which was great.

I hope I have convinced you to give AirBnB a shot. If you have a guest room in your home, I highly recommend adding it to AirBnB and trying to rent out the space. When people want to use your room, they apply for the space and send a request. You can then check to see the reviews from that person’s previous hosts. This makes it convenient and safe since you don’t have to accept anyone that you do not feel comfortable with.

If you are a guest or a host, this service provides you with an opportunity to meet some fantastic people.Stuck in Cleveland. Why you should use AirBnB to plan your next trip

Deaf and Illiterate, Why You Should Learn the Local Language

The image is of a bamboo menu written in Chinese. I have no idea what it says because I am illiterate. Very pretty menu though! 🙂

Today with my Taiwan family, we watched a movie called Beyond Silence about Lara who is the daughter of deaf parents.

An emotional scene with her father, he finds out that Lara plans to go to Berlin to study at a dinner with extended family. The only people at the table he can understand are Lara and her sister, since both of them know sign language. The rest of her family speaks German which her father cannot hear.

Lara’s father feels completely alone because he cannot hear the conversation. Her aunt is saying something… what is she saying? He does not know. There is an argument, but he can’t participate. Her father only gets 80% of the conversation.

This is a source of conflict the entire movie, because Lara’s father is an intelligent man, but has to rely on others. When Lara comes home from school, her father needs Lara to speak on the phone for her. She signs what the person on the phone says, her father signs back and she relays to the person on the other end. He feels like a child.

There are many arguments that arise out of this. Both Lara and her father are incredibly kind people, but when things get lost in translation it gets frustrating for both of them. Luckily Lara and her father love each other dearly, so they are willing to work through the difficulties.

I can sympathize with Lara’s deaf father, and this movie really hit home for me. I am currently in Taiwan, where I do not speak Chinese. Due to the Chinese writing system, I can’t read at all either. Like Lara’s father, I am an intellectual who often has no means of communication and I have to rely on others.

I want to take a bus, but I can’t because I cannot read. The bus schedule is in Chinese. When I go to a restaurant, I have to hope that my best friend Abigail understands what I like and picks something good. I am lost, but cannot ask for directions. Where is the bathroom? Gosh… I have no idea.

I got in a taxi the other day, who misunderstood my destination. He started taking me in a random direction across the city. Both of us, good people, got very frustrated with one another because of the situation. I was going the wrong way, and the taxi driver couldn’t fix it.

I am really grateful for my adoptive “Taiwan” family around me. It’s a lesson in humility for me, because I have to trust whoever I am with 100%. Being someone who likes to take charge, and make decisions, this is incredibly difficult for me.

Volcano Hank took me to today. There were some sulfur rocks with water, the water was boiling.

It is difficult having your support family speak a different language. I went out today with Hank and my two “Taiwan” moms. The three of them spoke around 80% Chinese, so I only got to participate in 20% of the conversation which was always directed at me. Any general conversation was in Chinese, like how beautiful the scenery was, and I couldn’t even participate in that.

Two weekends ago I went with them to Mao Kong Gondola. The experience was great, but I have no idea what was said the entire time. It was like I was deaf.

The other week I was with Abigail walking down a nice quiet street. Along each side there were little shops, most of the shops were for selling things during Chinese New Year. As we passed each shop, I was looking inside to see what they sold, then I realized. The signs, in Chinese, that were hanging over each shop said something that meant something to Abigail. She and I had completely different perspectives of this street.

She saw signs and store names “Fabrics, Food, Snacks, Toys”. I saw pretty symbols “出口, 火, 人” (My Taiwanese friends will get a laugh out of that, because that’s the only Chinese I know)

Make sure you spend at least a month doing Rosetta stone, or Pimsleur, or take a class before going to a foreign country. Especially if you intend on living there for more than 15 days, it is important. Even if I couldn’t understand everything going on around me, knowing the words for time, person, counting, food, hungry, thirsty, water and being able to ask where the bathroom is valuable. I still wish I could attempt a conversation with Abigail’s uncle or her dad. Both seem like incredible people I want to get to know, but due to communication issues it is difficult.


Don’t Coast! Do Things for Reasons!

My best friend Hannah has inspired me to think about the great things happen when you take control of your life. I am super excited for her, because she recently got a promotion at her job.

Her employer provides an opportunity for employees to get college reimbursement. I am sure many of her co-workers do not take her employer up on this offer, but she decided she is going to take advantage of the opportunity and go back to school.

This morning she was telling me about how she spent several hours going over her class plan this summer, and next fall. Hannah has life plan and is now putting it into action.

I thought about my own life, and considered the places where I have coasted.

Why did I go to Virginia Commonwealth University? Because the opportunity was given to me, I didn’t choose it. I went on a class field trip to VCU, decided that day to apply. They accepted me and I went to that college.

I didn’t even look at or consider other options. I was lazy about it. It ended up being a good thing, but I can’t really take credit for steering my life in that direction.

I have met some students who actually went on to get their masters or PhD’s because it was easier. School is all they knew and so they just decided to keep going into their major. It actually takes less willpower for some people to continue in school than to submit applications and find a job.

On the other hand, an old friend of mine Justin recently got a job at Microsoft. FREAKING MICROSOFT. This made me so happy because he is kind and genuine, one of the best people I have ever met and I honestly believe he can make a huge difference there. Why is this impressive to me? I never submitted Microsoft an application. There was a time I was interested in doing that sort of job, but I never had the guts to do what Justin did. I may have even gotten the job.

Many of my posts are directed at 20-30 year olds, which makes sense because I am a part of that group; however, for those of you who have kids I recommend encouraging them to Do Things for Reasons. I played soccer for most of my childhood, but I hated it. I was never really bothered to tell mom I didn’t like it, it was simpler for me just to keep going to practice.

If you are doing something, make sure you are doing it for a reason. I came home tonight tired, not wanting to write this post, and sat down on the couch next to Belinda. She was watching the news, so I just started watching with her.

After sitting there for 15 minutes I asked myself “Why am I watching the news, is there some specific information I want to know? Especially since this news is in Chinese, you don’t speak Chinese….”. I had no reason for doing what I was doing, so I got up and started working on this post.

Walking home from visiting Yvonne tonight, I looked around in the subway car and thought.

“Is everyone here in Taiwan here because they were born here, or because they chose to be here”

“That woman over there, is she married to that man because she picked him among a bunch? Or was he the first guy to ask her out” (Very common here)

I wondered about how often we go with the first available option.

I think its human nature to just sort of go with the flow. To go against the flow takes a bit of willpower.

When you do get that motivation, be like Hannah and Justin and own it! Get your plan in action!


“Do Things for Reasons” is a quote from Sebastian Marshall’s book Ikagai. I highly recommend it.

John’s Guide to Taiwanese Food

We’ve had one breakfast yes, but what about second breakfast?


I have never been a place where a group of people eats so often. Many of the meals are small, but some days I ended up eating 4-5 meals per day. If you ask someone who visited Taiwan what the most memorable thing was, I would bet it would be food.

My first week here, Abigail’s uncle took me out to breakfast one morning. We had four breakfasts, two different restaurants. The food was incredible, I especially liked the egg “pancakes”, which are essentially these small egg omelet rolls filled with various toppings.

Giant bowl of soy milk and egg roll pancakes I had with Abigail’s uncle!

When cooking at home, often 5-7 different dishes are served. These dishes are actually a fairly decent size, and everyone at the table shares them.

If you have ever been to a sushi restaurant in the US, you’ll be familiar with the ordering style at restaurants used here. Your party is given a sheet of paper that you write on. Next to each menu item, you indicate how many of each thing you want. Just like when cooking at home, it’s normal to choose 5-6 things here for a lunch for two people. Portions are small, and you get to try a variety of things. It’s great!

Be prepared for a difference in food etiquette from a western country. Here in Taiwan, cooks bring out the food as it is ready. Soon as it is out on the table, you are allowed to begin to eat; which is different than the US where usually you wait for everyone to receive their meal. This was difficult for me to get used to at first, but everyone will feel weird if you insist on waiting since they feel like you are waiting on them.

Also, since food is served buffet style, with 5-7 plates on the table you just reach with your chopsticks to whatever food you want to eat. Everyone at the table just reaches over everyone to grab various foods. It’s strange, but you get used to it.

I hope you like soup. In fact, it is common for no beverage to accompany your food choice even at restaurants. Taiwanese soup is normally water, some sort of meat, seafood or vegetable; and occasionally some noodles but not always. The water from the soup serves as your drink for many meals here. At first I complained about all of the soups we had, but over time I have gotten used to it and enjoy them now.

Taiwanese “hamburger” with pork and cork soup.

When searching for restaurants, a common phrase you will hear is “This place is famous!”. It’s important to choose a place that is “famous” because the places that aren’t “famous” generally have poor food quality. You can spot a “famous” place a mile away, because there will always be a gigantic line/queue to get your food. Finding famous places is similar to Yelp or Google reviews in the US.

Clearly, this place is famous. The food here was excellent

Last night Abigail and I went to a night market, where the food was so famous the wait to have our order cooked was over an hour and a half! Remember, people in Taiwan love food, so if you have Taiwanese friends you will likely spend 50% of your time traveling searching and eating food at “famous” places.

Three great examples of popular Taiwanese food that is most unique and interesting are pig blood cakes, Taiwanese sausages, and stinky tofu.

Pig blood cake is Abigail’s favorite food. They combine pig blood with rice and press it into a square. These squares are then either put onto a plate, or onto a stick for convenient eating. The cakes are often topped with ground peanuts, but can be ordered without the peanuts if you have an allergy or do not like them.

Pig Blood, Photo from

By far my favorite food here in Taiwan, is Taiwanese sweet sausage. The sausage looks similar to Spicy Italian Sausage, but its main ingredients are sugar, red/white wine, and soy sauce. The flavor is like a sweet Virginia honey ham, but made of sausage. Abigail is the best, because she ended up combining two of my favorite foods, Taiwanese sweet sausage and fried rice!!!

An older woman prepares me some Taiwanese Sweet Sausage

My least favorite Taiwanese food is stinky tofu, but of all of the foods I think it is the most important thing to try. It is made from fermented tofu which is fried in oils then cut into squares. It is one of those foods that you will either love it or hate it. It is so popular here, that the majority of food stands here sell it. You can smell this stuff a mile away, to the untrained nose it may smell like a public toilet. How do you tell if the tofu is high quality? The stinkier the better!

The stinkier the better!

Heading back to Taipei today, if you have suggestions for posts please let me know in the comments! Special thanks to Danny for suggesting this post on food!!