Whether it’s fine dining on discourse or sharing tasty travel tales, Lea Cramer appreciates great company, fine wine, and a stunning backdrop. She is a tiny traveler with a map of the unknown, leaving behind a wake of grand adventures, some terrible, some extraordinary. Lea is a travel blogger who writes about her adventures, human interest, budding veganism, and what life is like living in a tiny house on wheels. She describes herself as a wild woman in a mad world and an explorer of the unexpected.
Lea’s blog is Fine Dining on Discourse and she was kind enough to answer a few of our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Lea: I have been traveling for about 30 years. When I was a kid, my parents had a subscription to National Geographic. I would spend hours looking through the magazine and dreaming of traveling the world. I have always loved history, architecture, and new experiences. I couldn’t wait to adventure out and see what was beyond my town, my state, and my country. Traveling isn’t really about going from place to place, it is about experiencing the culture, food, music, art, people, and all that a particular place has to offer. I have worked on fishing boats in Alaska and nannied in England. I am always down to try something new or interesting.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Lea: I probably concentrate on budget travel the most. Like everyone else I try to make my money stretch as far as I can. I like getting down and dirty with the locals and the challenge of finding the biggest bang for my buck can be fun. However, there are somedays I want to win the lottery so I can take a first class, luxury trip around the world.
TA: What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Lea: I loved Amsterdam in the Netherlands. It’s quirky, interesting, friendly, colorful, ethnically diverse, jammed packed with history, and the architecture is amazing. I loved exploring the network of canals and assorted districts.You can bike just about anywhere. The people watching from sidewalk cafes and coffee houses is second to none! There are also several museums to wander through, housing masters like Rembrandt and van Gogh. I am rarely in any travel photos because I take photographs of the captivating views and architecture.
TA: What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
Lea: Bora Bora. I want to stay in one of those little huts over the ocean. It’s the screen saver on my laptop.
TA: What’s one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Lea: I have two. Duct Tape and an oversized scarf. You never know when you are going to need a bandaid/sole patch/cord mender and makeshift blanket/pillow/towel/shawl/hood/skirt.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Lea: Be flexible and don’t forget your sense of humor. Things will rarely go as planned. Semper Gumby!
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
Lea: I am a big fan of Aly from Psychotraveller and Collin Wright. I also follow Debbie and Michael Campbell from Senior Nomads. Travel bloggers from every generation inspire me! It’s good to know there are other adventurers and age has little to do with it. Like many, I also follow Murad Osmann and Natalia Zakharova, because their photographs are the stuff of travel dreams.
TA: What are the top 3 websites you use for research/inspiration when planning a trip?
Lea: Check out Skyscanner for amazing last minute flight deals. You can fly from Seattle to China for under $450! I also like Momondo for budget flights. I can find flights from Seattle to Finland for as little as $325. I find Booking.com to be the most reliable when looking for accommodations. Rome2Rio uses information from nearly 5,000 transport operators in more than 150 countries to provide travel route options, times and prices from all over the world.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given?
Lea: The best piece of travel advice I have ever been given was “attempt to assimilate.” Try to speak the language, try the foods, try to appreciate the culture and customs. Endeavor to do as the locals do. Every effort will be appreciated by the native people and it will make your experience all the richer. Things WILL be different than home — but that’s kind of the point. Do your very best to be a good guest in any foreign country.
Also, take a picture of your passport, visa, driver’s license, and credit cards and email them to yourself. Take a picture of your suitcase and contents as well. If anything is lost or stolen, in an emergency you can retrieve the information from any internet cafe. Just be careful to guard your passwords. Scammers like to hang out at internet cafes as well.
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Lea: Sign up for Global Entry. Travelers must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program.The program is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. While it takes a little time on the front end, if you travel often internationally, it could save you a ton of time on the back end.
My second tip is to be nice to the ticket agent. Take a quick scan of any personal details. Often times I will compliment the agent on a personal detail. “I love your earrings, I have been looking for a pair like that for ages!” Endearing yourself to the ticket agent can make the difference between getting that upgrade for free or not. Be polite, patient, and sincere. Whether we like it or not most people “play favorites” in their jobs. Ticket agents are no different.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Lea: Most travelers worry too much about packing. Travel lightly. You don’t need more than one outfit for every three days. Pack breathable, quick dry items. The more you lug around, the less flexible you can be. The best adventures happen when you can say “yes” at a moment’s notice and pack on the fly.
TA: What’s a travel scam travelers should be wary of?
Lea: Beware the cunning cabbie! One of the most common travel scams in the world is the overpriced taxi. The cabbie is well aware that you are in a foreign country and that you probably know little about the fares or the laws. Get out if the taxi driver tells you the meter is broken, or that the fare is cheaper without the meter. I have also seen meters go up unusually fast. This scam is especially popular near airports and train stations. I have met cabbies that don’t respect the rate negotiated beforehand and take a longer route or claim your hotel is closed so he can take you to an “even better one.”
Stay vigilant. If a taxi driver tells you your hotel is closed, insist on going anyway. If you have a reservation, check with the hotel directly. Research how much the ride should theoretically cost before taking the taxi. If you aren’t sure, ask your hotel what the average fare is for where you are going. If the fare on the meter seems to jump too fast, ask the driver to stop. Get out. If the driver doesn’t want to put the meter on, get out. Apps like Uber can be very helpful. Scams are much more difficult when the price is set in advance. Finally, public transportation is always an option!
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Lea: You’d be surprised by how good the food is at a Singapore hawker stall. The food is fresh, hot and there is something intrinsically fascinating about exploring native food. If you are in Singapore and find yourself at a hawker stall, check out all things ramen. You can get any kind of ramen for any sort of palate. Dozens of stalls put their own spin on their signature noodle bowls. It’s hard not to just eat your way from one stall to another.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you’ve ever visited?
Lea: As a budget traveler, it is difficult to choose one beautiful and affordable city. I can find bargains in any beautiful city (and there are a lot of beautiful cities!). In Paris you can find a sandwich, drink, and eclair lunch special at Grenier au Pain for under €7. If you find yourself in Amsterdam and have a hankering for a baked roll stuffed with bacon, sausages, mushrooms, hash browns, a fried egg with cheese, you can chow down for under €10 at Belushi’s Bar. In Aguas Calientes, the city at the feet of Machu Picchu you can enjoy a meal for under $7 and lodging for around $20. In Florence, Italy you can lose yourself among the piazzas and cathedrals and still grab a slice of pizza at Gusta Pizza for around €8. Befriend a local and they will often let you in on the city’s best kept secrets.
TA: Have you ever met someone while traveling who changed your life?
Lea: I have had several travel heroes over the years. The honest guy in Amsterdam who picked up my wallet and turned it in. The lady in Paris who kindly walked me to my train platform when I was confused. The patient hotel patron that helped me work out a snafu with the front desk clerk in Spain. All of those small acts of kindnesses made a huge impact on my trip. It also helped me to see the world as a more beautiful place. I strive to be as kind, helpful, and compassionate as those strangers were to me.
TA: What’s one way people can get the most out of their cruise experience?
Lea: Research your cruise before you go. Select a cruise that gets you to your end-game. If you want to meet someone, pick a singles or dating cruise. If you want to visit several countries, pick a cruise that offers excursions in various ports. If you want to take your kids, check out a Disney cruise. Today there are cruises that are tailored to a variety of interests! Don’t just pick any old cruise, pick one that meets your specific needs.
TA: What’s something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Lea: Nothing provokes a more negative reaction from me than sitting down on a flight, on a train, or in a restaurant and having to listen to someone’s video game, sports commentator, or death metal. You are welcome to listen to anything you choose, but don’t be rude and subject everyone to your audio assault. Use your headphones!
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Lea: I think the San Juan Islands tour is entirely underrated. One can fly into Seattle, spend a day kicking around the city. Have a cup of joe in the first Starbucks. Explore Pike Place Market bustling with vendors, vibrant colors, and delectables for every palate. Finish up with a stroll down to the Wharf or take a ride to the top of the Space Needle. Rent a car and drive up to Mukilteo to catch the ferry to Whidbey Island. Take a wine tour of the Island’s excellent wineries.
When you’ve had your fill, hop on over to Fidalgo Island and meander around Anacortes, an adorable little fishing port. From there, park the car and walk on the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. While more than 172 islands make up the San Juan archipelago, three of the islands are accessible for visitors. The San Juan Islands are home to old-growth forests. From the beaches, you can see whale pods, seals, and other aquatic life. Instagram-worthy photo opportunities abound! There are plenty of exotic locations to recommend, but sometimes the most beautiful places in the world are right under our noses.