2017 in review

Photographing a volunteer in the Philippines

I traveled.

Solo travels (Amsterdam, Vietnam, Hong Kong), work travels (the Philippines, Atlanta), other fun travels (Hawaii, New York, Texas), and a lot of photos along the way. I loved wandering through the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, exploring new hiking trails in Hawaii, and eating everything in Vietnam again.  Working as a photographer/videographer/producer in the Philippines was an amazing experience that challenged me professionally in the best way. I happily spent the last four months of the year traveling somewhere nearly every two weeks, including three round trips from DC across the Pacific within two months. 

coffee and french studying

I learned.

I took the GMAT after studying hours every day for three months. I completed three more French courses at Alliance Française and loved the Sunday study group we created. The group of crazy students who actively identified and purchased additional workbooks and spent their Sunday afternoons completing extra grammar exercises in the textbook. These are my people.

alliance francaise volunteer

I volunteered.

For l’Alliance, I volunteered at Fête de la Musique for the annual musical event to celebrate the beginning of summer. I also volunteered every two weeks during the summer at my local farmers’ market for DC Greens, where I supported access to healthy food through DC government’s Produce Plus program. After three years in leadership roels, I retired from my alma mater’s alumni board and was featured on the university’s website.

tea party 2017

I hosted.

Celebrated three years (!) of Friday pasta nights, a second annual yet proper tea party, and a wine tasting. 

hawaii koko head hike

It was a year of many adventures, personal growth, professional challenges, new friendships, and lots of embarrassment. Hey, French is difficult.

I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings (hopefully more adventures and less embarrassment).

16 places I traveled to in 2016

In terms of travel, 2015 was tough to beat. This year included traveling to Africa for work, planning a group trip to Peru, and returning to Paris on my annual another solo trip. A new job even led to a few opportunities for business travel. Five continents, seven countries, and 40 flights later, 2016 was quite an adventure.

1. Tokyo

“Hey mom, do you want to go to Japan in three days?” It was her first trip outside of the U.S. and Canada! We ate a lot of ramen and sushi as soon as we got there.

tokyo ramen

2. Kyoto

Beautiful temples, the bamboo park, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and my squad at the Arashiyama Monkey Park. Kyoto is my favorite city in Japan.

arashiyama bamboo park

arashiyama bamboo park

3. Hakone

Hello, Mount Fuji! What a view from the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) en route to Hakone’s hot springs.

mt. fuji - lesley siu

4. Chicago

Is your first trip to the windy city complete without this picture?

chicago - lesley siu

5. Honolulu

My annual trip to the homeland included a quick hike to Manoa Falls.

manoa falls - lesley siu

6. Malawi

A visit to the “warm heart of Africa” and fulfilling my professional goal of Snapchatting traveling abroad for work. Here’s the 5:30 a.m. sunrise at Lake Malawi.

lake malawi

7. Amsterdam

When you have a long layover here, you go into the city on a quest for stroopwafels.

amsterdam - lesley siu

8. Las Vegas

My favorite part was renting a car and driving out to Red Rock Canyon.

las vegas red rock canyon - places traveled 2016

9. Lima

The ceviche and sunshine make up for a terrifying non-taxi experience and having to purchase a new flight to Cusco (note to self: never fly Copa Airlines again).

lima peru - lesley siu

10. Cusco

We took a cooking class and made pisco sours, walked around the Maras salt mines, wandered through the markets, and met the best driver, César.

pisco sours - lesley siu

maras salt mines - lesley siu

11. Aguas Calientes

Pro tip: take the bus up to Machu Picchu. Always take the bus.

peru machu picchu -- places traveled 2016

12. New York

I always stop by Maison Kayser for a little taste of Paris, even on a 24-hour trip to NYC to shoot a video.

maison kayser new york - lesley siu

13. Paris

Then I actually went to Paris, because, you know… It’s Paris. Galeries Lafayette was dressed up for Christmas!

galeries lafayette - lesley siu

14. London

Crossed the Tower Bridge and another thing off my London bucket list.

london tower bridge - lesley siu

15. Oxford

I’ve missed the history and charm and studying in the UK.

oxford - lesley siu

16. Austin

A conference, UX class, and coffee at Dominican Joe.

dominican joe austin - lesley siu


Cheers to more adventures in 2017! Where should I go next?

15 places I traveled to in 2015

When work gives you extra vacation days, you take them. I was lucky to find affordable airfares and fortunate to have the flexibility to take time to travel. Six countries, two continents and 33 flights later, 2015 took me to some of my favorite destinations to date. My favorite trip? Solo traveling through Vietnam, where I perfected skills in dodging motorcycles, negotiating at markets and finding the best street food. It was a year of fulfilling travel adventures, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

1. Paris (twice)

The city I’ll travel to again and again and still be excited to return to every single time.


2. Amsterdam

Wandering around the canals will never get old.


3. Brussels

A city that feels like the European version of D.C. is even better at night.


4. Ho Chi Minh City

A crazy and energizing city where it is 100 percent necessary to play Frogger in real life.


5. Hoi An, Vietnam

My favorite place in Vietnam. Biking to An Bang Beach was a highlight of the trip.

Hoi An, Vietnam

6. Hanoi, Vietnam

A magical place where I discovered the French Quarter, Old Quarter, egg coffee and life-changing bun bo nam bo.


7. Singapore

Clean and efficient, a bright city with a fascinating mix of cultures.


8. Honolulu

Annual trip to the homeland.

ala moana

9. Haleiwa, Hawaii

Driving to the North Shore and around the island is one of my favorite things to do.

matsumoto shave ice

10. Charleston, South Carolina

The architecture. The history. The charm. The food!

charleston city market

11. London

Even in a quick 36-hour trip, there’s always time for tea.

tea in london

12. Reims, France

Santé to Veuve Clicquot for teaching me how to properly open a bottle of Champagne.


13. Virginia

Just your average day trip to the vineyards with great friends.


14. San Antonio, Texas

Congrats, grad!


15. Washington, D.C.

Traveling and discovering new places within your city counts, too. There’s no place like home, right?


hoi an, vietnam






On my recent solo trip to Southeast Asia, my favorite stop was the riverside town of Hoi An in central Vietnam. It’s small but lively, with quaint shops and airy cafés lining the streets dotted by colorful lanterns. The people are the nicest I met in Vietnam — I was at a restaurant for dinner, speaking to the owner who told me his daughter lives in Houston. So, yes, I was in Vietnam speaking in French to an old man about Texas. Proof that you may have more in common with a stranger than you think. Or that everyone truly does have a Texas connection. Maybe a little bit of both.

flying solo: travel safety tips


I love traveling alone. The freedom, the independence, the adventure…

But wait! Safety first, safety first. Since I’m venturing alone in a foreign country, safety is a top priority. I’ve traveled quite a bit by myself and learned a lot along the way. In the game of flying solo, it’s always better to play it safe—you’ll have a winning travel experience.

1. Always [look like you] know what you’re doing.

Walk with purpose. Look for signs. Beware of your surroundings. I’m one to figure things out on my own, but it’s okay to ask for directions—just turn to shopkeepers before stopping a stranger on the street. You’ll never find me with a map out, camera around my neck, confused look on my face and a target on my back. I may be lost, but you’d never know it.

2. Tell someone where you are at all times.

Taxis provide a convenient way to get from point A to point B, but they aren’t always the safest (or the most pleasant). While I enjoy getting into cars with strangers just as much as the next person, I try my best to protect myself.

Last summer in New York, whenever I took a cab alone at night, I texted a friend the cab number, and sometimes even the driver’s name, then a follow-up when I made it home safely. This could get annoying, but I always say it’s better to be safe than sorry. Whether you’re alone in a foreign country or your home city, always let someone know where you are. Sounds a little excessive, but take time to make the extra effort just in case. While I’m in Paris, I send my mom daily e-mails just to let her know I’m alive (hi, mom! I’m still here!).

3. Keep your money in various places.

Speaking of my mother… She always taught me: Don’t put everything in your wallet. Keep cash in a coin purse, inside your carry-on suitcase and tucked away in purse pocket. Holding all of your credit cards in one place puts you at risk for losing everything. I always carry a skinny wallet and a small card case, and I split my money between them. If one gets stolen, all is not lost (but actually)! I also keep my metro tickets in a separate coin purse so I don’t need to open my wallet in the crowded stations.

4. Write down important phone numbers and addresses.

I’m guilty for using my phone for nearly everything. It’s just so easy to rely on your stored contacts and make notes. But before you leave, write down emergency contacts, the international numbers for your banks, physician information, the address of where you’re staying, etc. I go the extra mile by writing down two copies – one to carry with me and one to keep in my suitcase if my purse gets lost or stolen. You can also store info in your e-mail or Google docs—I’m just a little paranoid about hackers.

5. Be prepared.

Easier said than done, right? Just do your research, have a backup plan, know what to do if ____ happened. If you’re like me and don’t speak the language, know important phrases like où est le métro? (where is the metro?) and pouvez-vous m’aider? (can you help me?). Carry your phone charger. Study the map. Don’t panic.


What are your tips for traveling solo?