Your Travel Nannies: Best Tools for Traveling with a Baby

Travel buffs will go places no matter what. They will book a flight and head to unchartered places, baby or no baby in tow. Naturally, traveling with a baby turns into an adventure itself, and sometimes it resembles a thriller movie more than it does a feel-good family flick.

Thankfully, people who understand parents (who are very likely to be moms and dads too) thought of creating traveling tools that are specifically designed to make it easy for moms and dads to bring their baby during their trips. Statistics have shown that the use of the following tools have contributed to the decrease of stress caused by unnecessary arguments between Mommy and Daddy.

  • Pacifier. Because obviously. It reduces the need for earplugs and the mad stares from other passengers in the plane. Whether you’re taking a short Seair flight to Caticlan or a four-hour Philippine Airlines flight to Singapore, you should board the plane prepared with this weapon that stops annoying noises from your child.

Keeping your baby quiet

  • His favorite blankie. You need to make him feel that although he is traveling, he can still be comfortable just like when he is at home. Don’t you ever dare forget to bring the blanket that helps him sleep, or you’d experience the wrath of a screaming infant.

Bring a piece of home with your baby

  • A stroller. Gosh, would you want to carry a tired kid from walking all over town? Bringing a stroller is much easier and nicer than having to deal with a dead tired kid who would want nothing to do with the art museum because “I’m tired!!” Choose one that is lightweight yet durable, and has provisions for sun and rain protection.

Walking the baby can be easy piece-y

  • Baby carrier. A seemingly simple piece of cloth can go a long way (read: fewer tantrums, two free hands and zero back pains). Plus it’s virtually weightless!

Keep your tots close without breaking your back

  • iPad. Or any gadget that can act as a distraction/pacifier/nanny. Let disapproving people stare at you and your “lack of parenting skills”. As long as your kid is behaved while you sip coffee in an Italian café, then you don’t have to worry so much. Only you would understand the peace and serenity of being beside a quiet baby whose only body parts moving are his fingers.

Who knew that this nifty gadget is a form of entertainment for your baby?

  • A first aid kit. Make sure you know the climate and the temperature of the place you’d be visiting with your kid. If you’re heading to a place where it’s hot, prepare a kit that contains talcum powder and sunscreen. On the other hand, if you’re going to a place where it is biting cold, bring soothing balm and hypoallergenic moisturizer to keep your kid warm and comfortable. Of course, it goes without saying that you should bring a stash of his vitamins and medicines in case he catches a cold.

A very handy traveller must, especially with babies

Five Architectural Victories to Check out when in Europe

Here in the Philippines, we’re proud of all the natural wonders across all the 7,107 islands that we have. I personally believe that no beach matches Boracay, Bohol, El Nido and other yet-to-be-commercialized shores. But traveling isn’t all about seeing Mother Nature’s creations; it’s also about showing some love to the power of the human hands.

Much of the tourist spots in Europe are such marvels – buildings and structures that stand tall and proud as testaments to man’s boundless abilities. And while no one will ever go against the truth that natural wonders will always trump wee man-made concretes, it still is awesome to see huge structures and long-lasting buildings that amn made using his hands (and some machines and other tools). And because you can now get cheap airfare to Europe, it might not be long till you get to use this cheat sheet of the places you should check out in the continent that celebrates Nature’s greatest creation: humans.

Duomo di Milano

Image courtesy of Duomo Milano website

An arresting white cathedral with details that resemble a royalty’s crown, the Duomo di Milano is a fitting symbol of Milan, the fashion capital of Italy. It was created meticulously, like a couture gown created for the biggest socialite in town.

The Atomium

A memory of the past looking into the future

If the Duomo di Milan was created in the 14th century, the Atomium in Belgium is something that is relatively newer than other famous structures. Built only in 1958, it’s something that geeks will enjoy more than history buffs will. Why? It’s basically the shape of an iron crystal, but 165 billion times larger that the real thing. Go to the top of the structure for a stunning view of Brussels, and descend again to comprehend how in the world it symbolizes faith in humanity.

The Parthenon Tower 

For the love of Zeus

Standing tall in Athens, Greece, the Parthenon Tower was built around 400 BC. Now if you think about how long a time that was, you’d be amazed. That’s where democracy was born, for the love of Zeus! Check it out!

The Colosseum 

Get ready to scream “Sparta!!”

Wouldn’t it be epic to see the place where gladiators once rocked it out? Although you wouldn’t see the Colosseum in all its glory (it’s super old; what gladiators did back then are now considered strictly barbaric), you can still expect to feel a chill down your spine. Just rely on your imagination for all the action that happened right smack in the middle of it, as well as 50,000 people cheering and jeering for the gladiators. Better yet, watch the movie Gladiator. That would set you in the mood.

The Eiffel Tower

Fall in love over and over

Perhaps the most photographed tower in the world, the Eiffel Tower is Paris’ and France’s icon. It is more than 300 meters tall, very difficult to miss and too arresting to skip taking a photo of.

How to Maximize Your Point and Shoot Camera during Travels

Photos are as easy as 1,2,3 shoot.

So what if you don’t have an SLR camera? It’s bulky and it’s heavy, said the bitter person without one. But instead of sulking in the corner and getting all sad about how we could take good photos if only, let’s just pick up our trusty point and shoot digital camera and enjoy the perks of not having to mind knobs and simply, point, and, shoot!

  • Shoot in a well-lit location. The sad thing about a point and shoot camera is that it is not as obedient to its owner as an SLR. So the only time you can rely on its abilities is during a well-lit day. Snap away during the day, especially when it’s sunny. Although you can use flash in a dark place, you’d most likely end up with a black background; much like taking a photo against a blank black wall. So manage your expectations and don’t expect that you will be able to see the cityscape as your background from your hotel’s balcony. But don’t be discouraged; just read on.
  • Read the manual before you take your trip. Just because it’s called point and shoot doesn’t mean that it’s all you can do with it. A lot of point and shoot cameras have settings that mirror those of SLR cameras. You can adjust the white balance (white what?), shutter speed (what’s shutter and why does it go fast?) and even the ISO settings (does that mean International Standards Organization?) of your point and shoot camera. To use these settings, read the manual. It will tell you everything you need to know.
  • Bring it anywhere even before your trip. You won’t be able to maximize your point and shoot camera during your travels if you’re not familiar with it. As you get to know the different settings you can use, you should also experience taking photos as you adjust the knobs and select the different “scenes” your point and shoot has. This will make it easier for you next time to decide on the best settings to use in certain situations. And when you get to your destination, use it like there’s no tomorrow. The moment you land on Caticlan Airport for a trip to Boracay, take photos of your travel buddies and of all the other interesting stuff you see.
  • Get to know basic composition techniques. Hey, you can use your smartphone in taking good photos, what more your digital camera? They say that the photographer takes good photos, not the camera. Prove it right by learning composition basics, things that aren’t dependent on the camera’s abilities, or lack thereof.
  • Process your photos. You’d appreciate even the poorest performing point and shoot camera if you know how to optimize photos using processing software such as Photoshop. Since your camera is limited, there’d be times when all you can do is compensate by adjusting some knobs in the computer. Check out PicMonkey.com for a sampling of all the fun that photo processing is about.

How to Maximize Your DSLR Camera during a Trip

Capture those moments with a professional touch

You’ve gone as far as purchasing a bulky and expensive digital SLR camera, so might as well go the whole nine yards by learning how to use it. I, for one, am a camera junkie, but not until I realized that photos are much better if I knew how to use my camera for all its capabilities. Seems to be something that you’d know out of common sense, but I kid you not when I say that a lot of travelers still lug heavy DSLR cameras yet shoot only on “auto” mode.

For all I know, you could be that traveler. I see them everywhere, sometimes with expensive professional cameras I can only have and hold in my daydreams. For the love of Canon, please maximize your cameras. It isn’t that hard anyway. Here are some starter points:

Know how to use your camera. On MANUAL mode. 

When you use your SLR camera on auto mode, it’s just like using any other type of point and shoot camera. If you’re not willing to invest time in learning how to shoot on Manual mode, then this is the part where I’d have to ask you to sell your SLR and bring a point and shoot camera the next time you travel. That should help you lessen the weight of your carry-on baggage, as all airlines, from Philippine Airlines to Cebu Pacific, naturally have weight limits for hand-carry items.

The manual mode of your SLR lets you take control of your gear. You get to decide the amount of light coming in; you get to decide how blurred the background of your subject will be. There are loads of cheat sheets and basic camera guides you can see in the Internet. Print out one of them and take it with you on your travel.

Get familiar with simple composition principles.

Composition rules will break your natural train of thought as you take photos. For instance, if you think that the best way to take a photo of somebody is to place them right smack in the middle of the frame, you are so wrong. You don’t want to waste a once in a lifetime moment (say, seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time) by taking an unattractive, poorly taken photograph! It’s time to move your subject a little bit to the left or to the right.

Practice.

There are loads of other composition basics you can easily master with some practice days/weeks/months before your trip. If you will only start learning how to use your camera on the day of your trip, you’d end up a frustrated amateur photographer rather than being a happy traveler who knows how to take good photos. Read up and give photography the interest that it deserves, so that you can have a trip worthy of your DSLR, and a DSLR worthy of yourself.

Three Hole in the Wall Restaurants in Manila

We know the road in Manila is almost always hellish, whether you take the wide open streets or the side roads. Yet here we are talking about hole in the wall restaurants that will test your patience in driving and in parking. We promise they are all worth your gas. Or, you know, just commute! If you’re coming from the provinces, take a Cebu Pacfic or PAL flight to get here fast! Here are my top five hole in the wall Manila restaurants.

Galileo Enoteca

Logo courtesy of Galileo Enoteca Facebook page

This gem of an Italian restaurant is true to the term “hole in the wall”. It is located in a semi-residential area in Mandaluyong, where tricycles and private cars pass. This is where I first had a taste of cold cuts, and instantly I fell in love. I knew I’d come back for the cheese and the meat! And as they say, food is all about an experience. I absolutely had a fresh experience dining in Galileo Enoteca.

Where: 80 Calbayog St cor Malinao StHighway Hills, Mandaluyong
Price Range: P500 and above per person

Tri Mo Shawarma Co

Image courtesy of Tri Mo Shawarma Co Facebook page

I had been hearing raves and “try mo!” from friends who have easy access to this famed little shawarma place in Quezon City. So when Tony Stark (Ironman for all you non-fans, how dare you?) told the rest of the gang (Avengers, for the non-informed) that he wanted shawarma after fighting off the bad guys and saving the earth, I knew that I had to have one for myself. If it’s worth having after risking your life, then it’s worth having anytime! So when I finally got my hands on a roll of beefy goodness and fresh vegetables, I immediately understood why Tri-Mo Shawarma Ko still rocks and sells despite being almost inaccessible to most.

Where: Bristol St. – Brgy. Greater Lagro, Quezon City
Price: P70 for the beef and cheese shawarma roll

Friuli Trattoria

Image courtesy of Friuli Trattoria Facebook page

I’ve always thought it was spelled “Freoli” because a lot of my friends would tell me that I should try Frioli on Katipunan. So when I finally gave in and went to the street of the Ateneans and UPians, I had an “Oh, ok” moment when I saw that it was spelled with a U. Nonetheless, I had high expectations that were met when I had a bite of their version of Magherita pizza and Purtanesca pasta. The best thing about this place is that it’s super affordable here!

Where: 79 Maginhawa St., Teachers Village, Diliman, Quezon City
Price: P100 and up

Five Malaysian Must Try Food

I find it interesting that Malaysian food tastes so familiar yet so different at the same time. Perhaps because the Philippines has a similar landscape and weather conditions as Malaysia, we have the same ingredients off the ground. Be it proximity or be it influences, Malysian food provides a certain comfort and satisfaction to the Filipino taste buds. Here are some must-try dishes from Malaysia (truly Asia).

My staple noodle dish in Penang

  • Penang Char Kway Teow. First on our list is a staple Asian food item: a noodle dish. Char Kway Teow is basically Malaysia’s version of our local pancit dishes, but with a different set of ingredients: chives, eggs, prawns and beansprouts. The mixture is finished off by a rich sauce mainly composed of soy sauce and spices.

Is it just me or my nilagang baboy just got tastier? 😉

  • Bah Kut Teh. From noodles, we go to pork. Bah Kut Teh is a Chinese dish best taken with Chinese tea (what else?). It consists of pork meat, veggies and flour sticks cooked in spiced herbal soup. Just like any pork dish, bah kut teh is best eaten with rice! Now you might not be able to replicate this concoction of a meal, so don’t miss the opportunity to eat it in Malaysia, particularly in Klang, Selangor.

This Hainanese chicken is best served with rice balls!

  • Chicken Rice. Oh yes, the chicken  rice that you know in Singapore is also in Malaysia. Although most people would say that chicken rice in Singapore is the best there is, give Malaysia an opportunity to get the gold medal by trying chicken rice at the Lou Wong Restaurant. Hey, this restaurant wouldn’t be able to make a name for itself if it doesn’t cook a mean version of chicken rice. A flight to Malaysia from either Clark Airport or NAIA would all be worth it with a taste of the best chicken rice in this famed restaurant.

Dreaming of roti canai with curry

  • Roti Canai. Although you can get Roti Canai in various restaurants in Manila, you wouldn’t get it for a very cheap price anywhere else. In Malaysia, roti is a staple food that you will find absolutely everywhere. It’s like Malaysia’s fish balls, basically. Tracing its roots to India, roti is a flattened dough with an addicting texture and the versatility of a true artist. You can eat it with Indian curry (any type of curry), or with condensed milk. You can also take it stuffed with all the goodness of either banana, sardines or eggs.

  • Nasi Lemak. The most popular and most familiar-sounding Malaysian dish, nasi lemak is basic and complicated at the same time. Why basic? It’s just rice served with eggs, peanuts and anchovies. Why complicated? The rice is cooked with coconut milk, the anchovies fried to the right crispiness, and the spices impossible to replicate.

How to Create a Practical Itinerary

Maximize your travel enjoyment with careful planning

Maximized travel: this is the main reason why you should create a practical itinerary. Of course the word practical is subjective; what’s practical for you might be too grand or too killjoy for me. But I’m treading the safe and sweet spot among most travellers, and this is the type of travel that packs the most number of activities with the lowest cash out without compromising comfort and convenience.

Such a kind of trip is unachievable without the right itinerary planned way ahead and in a significant amount of time. Here are some tips:

  • Start by booking a cheap flight. This is practical! Cheap flights are usually for off-peak dates, which means that you will most likely be staying in a hotel with off-peak rates, and you will be travelling in a place without much tourists. Stay tuned by monitoring travel search sites so you can grab the lowest Manila to Hong Kong flight for the year.
  • Pack light. You don’t want to lug heavy bags with clothes and contents that you won’t use during your trip. Decide on your outfits and group them accordingly, so that come travel time, you won’t take a long time in dressing up; you’d just grab one set from your backpack.
  • Know where to go. If you are travelling with a group, ask them about what they want to see and where they want to go. This eliminates the need to edit and revise your itinerary as you tour your destination.
  • Go from one place to another strategically. Consider factors such as the distances between destinations, as well as the activities you plan to do. Maximize your travel time by calculating the distances between the different spots you want to check out. You may also group all swimming-related activities in a day.
  • Be realistic. Though it may be easy to group all historical tours in one go, you might get saturated with all the information that you will get. That’s boring, and can take the number one spot in your list of worst trips ever.
  • Consider local events. If you want to take a trip to Boracay on the day of the Ati-atihan Festival, expect tons of people in the airport, and some traffic on your way to Caticlan if you’re coming from Kalibo. Other travelers would appreciate the wonderful coincidence and would celebrate the festival with the locals, but some just would not have any of the crowd and the influx of tourists. Best to be prepared.
  • Bring copies of your itinerary, complete with details, maps and directions. Don’t trust that Internet will always be available for your queries and needs. Have a copy of your itinerary in your phone, pad or laptop (or in all of the above), with details such as addresses, phone numbers and directions on how to get to each and every destination of your choice. It doesn’t get any more practical than that.