Talk to a Traveller: Hanna Gao

Hawaii Mauna Kea

Hanna is a full-time Financial Consulting Manager living in New England with her husband. She considers herself a part-time traveler (in between the paid time off and weekends), but also a full-time explorer whether it be writing about her own adventures or reading others’ stories. She strives to deliver “unapologetically honest reviews” from all of her various experiences – the good and bad. You can learn more about her and her travels at Rated By Hanna and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.

What is the first trip you remember taking? 

My first memory of traveling was actually a permanent move from China to the United States. At the age of 3 or 4 years old I thought I was going on a fun day trip with one of my grandfather’s friends. We boarded this funny looking vehicle making weird noises with thrilling views above the clouds. There we landed for the connecting flight. The new friend went his separate way and a new person showed up to greet me.

Little did I know it was actually my father picking me up. We boarded the second flight with my plastic bag of gum and candies. My dad asked me what those were, and me not wanting to share told him it was grass. When we finally landed in Florida, I thought the fun trip had concluded and I would be driven home back to my grandparents. I was devastated I was not going back and I didn’t even recognize my father and mother. So I cried for my grandparents. Eventually I grew accustomed to new life in America. We stayed in Florida for about a year creating some of our favorite memories for a year before moving again.

What kind of trips do you prefer? 

I absolutely love travel trips which incorporate history, culture and of course local flavor cuisines! Whenever visiting a new location, I make a point to research any famous local dishes to try out rather than sticking to the comfort zone food. Also if there are any scenic locations in the area, I enjoy taking nature walks or moderate hikes to the lookout point. Ideally if I wasn’t restricted by any constraints I’d want to spend at least a month acclimating to a new place and gathering recommendations from locals.

What is your favourite place in the world?

Currently my husband and I have agreed that our favorite trip to date together has been our 9 day trip to San Francisco even if it was during one of their heat waves (without air conditioning at our AirBnB)! We were so pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of activities available for us to try and the proximity of beaches, hiking, great food and unique museums. One of our favorite moments of the trip were the beautiful sights. We spent the first day just walking around all the way from the Fillmore Jazz District to Chinatown and back. We ended a day of hiking with a perfect sunset view from Treasure Island of the skyline and Bay Bridge.

SF Treasure Island Sunset (1)

And what is the worst place you have been to? 

I hate dwelling on the negative experiences, however I can’t possibly forget the horrendous hotel we stayed at while in Rome called Romanico Palace. We started off immediately on the wrong side of the bed when we received the WRONG room and walked in on a woman sleeping and culminated with the a shower curtain falling on my head.

Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined?

Prior to visiting Hawaii, I had always thought all of the island were lush tropics or volcanoes! My best friend informed me of an amazing area we’d visit called Mauna Kea, which is a dormant volcano on The Big Island. She told me to pack several warm layers before our trip since it gets quite cold. I thought she was exaggerating until we drove our car through the windy fog up to the Visitor’s Information Center (VIC) at 2,804 m (9,199 ft). For reference at the ground level where we stayed in Hilo, HI it was about 27°C (80°F) in May and 4.4°C (40°F) at the VIC! I layered on a long sleeve shirt under a zip up sweatshirt and thick outer shell jacket. I then pulled my long hiking socks over my long capri yoga pants to keep warm! The view above the clouds during sunset was totally worth it. We actually set out a little later than anticipated and ALMOST missed the sunset entirely because it took me longer to hobble up the formidable hill. I blame the sparse oxygen levels which were much thinner than at ground level!

What have been the biggest culture shock you have ever experienced during your travels?

One of the biggest surprises to me was the bathroom situation in China when visiting again with my college group. We briefly touched upon the squat toilets and various different conditions depending on what area of China we visited. As we ventured further south to the more rural parts such as Juizhaigou (九寨沟) all of the restroom pit stops were basically holes in the ground with a low stone wall with minimal privacy. We also needed to pay a nominal fee of 1-2 RMB to use the facility. Of course it was also bring your own toilet paper.

What are the places you dream of visiting the most? 

One of the top destinations that was on my husband and my bucket list was Italy! Thanks to our wonderful friends and family they helped make traveling there for our honeymoon possible. We spent about 2 weeks going from northern to southern Italy and making 13 stops. Now the other locations I’m dreaming of are South/Western U.S. to visit more national parks, Japan, United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore!

What was the most important lesson that you learnt during your travels?

I am so forgetful so unfortunately I’ve lost several items in transit (most recently a couple of scarves in Tuscany)! Now I make sure to create a “packing checklist” to reference each item I’m bringing along. In addition, I remind myself to open EVERY single drawer, shake out the sheets and perform a final room walkthrough to ensure I didn’t leave anything behind.

Hubbard Glacier Alaska

Why do you travel? 

I travel, since there’s no other feeling like actively immersing yourself in a completely new place and culture! One of the most rewarding moments for me is discovering the extensive history and adding onto any current knowledge. When I was younger and bored I embarrassingly played this Facebook game by Playfish called GeoChallenge where you would learn about World Cities, Landmarks, and Flags through quiz game format. (I’m so sad that was discontinued!) I dreamed of visiting all of those places and now that I have more flexibility in my life I can slowly plan trips to make this come true.

What is one thing you don’t like about travelling?

I hate the actual long travel to the destination as well as packing and unpacking! Getting up early or ready at odd hours to arrive at the airport, and waiting at their mercy for a potentially delayed flight! I once had a flight landing delayed for over 2 hours due to weather conditions and it scarred my poor husband so now he waits until I confirm I’ve specifically landed at the airport before driving out to pick me up! Don’t get me started on the long flights. Even with sleep interspersed, they are still difficult for me to survive. Once I finally arrive at the destination, if it’s a long trip across many time zones I also need to factor in some jet lag recovery time. I’m currently working tackling my procrastination tendencies to avoid waiting until the last minute to pack all of my luggage and inevitably forget something!

On your blog, what has been your favourite article to write? 

Strangely enough my favorite travel article written was about my Niagara Falls & Winter Misadventures! Even though overall it’s NOT a positive experience, it gave me an interesting outlet for developing my storytelling about an unbelievably wild and at times very dangerous experience of a road trip gone sideways. I’m hoping that my harrowing journey is entertaining to read and road trippers can glean some advice for preparing for unpredictable winter weather conditions. It includes me learning how to change a tire 101 under very stressful circumstances nearly freezing over 4 hours away from home. It’s also currently my longest word count article with a 6 part sub-menu to assist readers with navigation!

And for the end, a round of quick “best of” 😉 Just give me a couple of words descriptions, where necessary. So, where did you have your…

Best meal

 Stuffed mussels and stuffed fried anchovies in Cinque Terre, Italy. I have never liked anchovies prior to Italy and when I returned I still would not eat them in the U.S.

Best coffee/tea 

Everywhere we tried coffee in Italy was amazing. It was such a downgrade coming back to the US. One of our tour guides mentioned the calcium level in the water contributes to the taste.

Best view 

Hubbard Glacier in Eastern Alaska and part of Yukon, Canada. Even though the glacier is sadly receding the sheer sight of it is awe inspiring! One of the coolest parts was watching and listening to the enormous icebergs cracking off of the glacier and falling into the ocean also known as “calving” (no relation to baby cows)! It seriously sounds like thunder from a distance.

Best stay 

St. Regis Princeville Resort (Kauai island Hawaii)

Best transport experience

Taking the bullet/high speed train from Shanghai to Hangzhou in China. It was amazing watching the speed ramp up to max velocity and we traveled 200 km (124 mi) in about 50 minutes!

Best shopping experience

Alaska in September. It was the end of the yearly tourist season so when we visited the shops all of the souvenirs were 50% discounted!

Best quirky attraction

Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. we sampled so many different flavors.

Best “touristy” moment

Hanging out with stingrays on sandbar in Cayman Islands

Best underrated activity

Skywalk Observatory Boston, Massachusetts. One of the best views of the city for a nominal fee you also can learn about the rich history of Boston and various communities of immigrants that sought refuge. There’s even a “US Citizenship” test that gives you a sample of questions featured on the official exam to see if you can pass.

Best sunset

Aruba at Palm Beach. In that moment I felt so relaxed in between stressing out about college exams and finals. My friends and I just sat on the beach and watched the sun disappear slowly into the clouds casting beautiful hues of purple, blue and gold on the water.

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