Expat Life in China

Jie and I were recently interviewed on The Common People Podcast. The podcast is run by high school classmate and friend Jason Halpern, who asked us about our time living in Shanghai and traveling through Asia.

I have not had the chance to listen to the full episode yet but as a big podcast listener, it was a lot of fun appearing in one for the first time.

Feel free to listen to the episode here:


Interview with Ed Yap

To incorporate some new travel insights to this site, I invited my good friend and fellow Stanford alum Ed Yap to answer some questions on travel. I would love to do more of these interviews so please send me your feedback on questions that you liked or didn’t like. I want this Q&A to improve as much as possible over time to suit people’s interests.

When I asked Ed to describe his travel background, he said, “travel has always been a part of my life. When I was 10 years old, my family hopped on a plane from Asia and left for the United States. However, it wasn’t until a much later trip to France and a newfound curiosity for other cultures, people, and places that I got bit by the travel bug. That curiosity has fortunately made exploration a big part of my life and has helped bring me to many different parts of the United States and the larger world. Today, I continue to follow that desire to explore to see deeper and wider into the world we’re in.”

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Ed Yap…in action


Without further ado, here is our Q&A:

Tell me about how your love of travel started.
It really started with a college overseas study program in Paris. I had traveled before to visit one of my brothers in the Philippines, and visit various Southeast Asian countries with him, but Paris was a first for me in many ways. It was the first time I made decisions on where to go, the first time I visited a country without knowing the language well, and so the first time I got my traveling legs.

Read more of this post

Welcoming My Wife to the Raw Focus Team

I am very happy to announce that this weekend I married the wonderful Jie Lei at the City Club of San Francisco.

In her new role, Jie will be the new permanent guest contributor to this blog, a well deserved promotion after the great work that she did recounting our time in Panama🙂

While we are not planning on taking a honeymoon right away, we have discussed a very ambitious honeymoon itinerary including several countries that I have yet to visit: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. We welcome your input on planning the best honeymoon.

A Travel Booking Odyssey to Panama and Colombia

The itch to travel has come back. After all, it’s been five and a half months since Jie and I visited Taiwan, our last vacation together. With the six month mark at my job fast approaching, we have started in the past few weeks to brainstorm our travel options. Assuming, I took a week off work and combined that with weekends, we were looking at an 8-10 day trip.

We quickly decided on Central America, a region that neither of us has visited. But our focus kept changing. Costa Rica or Panama. Then maybe Guatemala. Nicaragua. Belize. They all were considered in one form or another. We even went so far as to start locking in my vacation dates for a Belize trip with a side excursion to visit the ruins of Tikal in northern Guatemala.

However, it was a casual conversation with my brother, Josh, and his wife, Lola, that changed the trajectory of our trip planning.

They mentioned their desire to visit Cartagena, a Colombian city on the Caribbean steeped in colonial history. I had long heard wonderful things about Cartagena from fellow travelers: its colonial architecture, forts and city wall, and its proximity to beaches. On a lark, I decided to look into flight options from San Francisco.  Read more of this post


Last weekend while flipping through the New York Times Travel section, I came across an interesting article focusing on Rome2rio, a travel site that shows user how to go from Point A to Point B using a variety of transportation options. This led to a brief moment of elation. Finally, a sophisticated travel search engine to tell me how to go from say, Bangkok to Phnom Penh, by either plane, bus or train.

I can’t tell you how many times while I was on the road did I wish that I had access to such a resource. So I decided to test it out to see where it works and where it doesn’t. Read more of this post

End of the Line…For Now

I’m back in the United State for good. After over a year away I have moved back to California to start working with Jie set to join me when she finishes her contract in Shanghai next month.

Hard as it was to come back I think I’m ready. However, before I sign off on Raw Focus, I want to thank everyone for their support over the past year and thank all those people that I met on the road and in Shanghai for all of their help. Without help from others this trip would have been so much less enjoyable and meaningful.

I still plan to use Raw Focus as a space to record my future traveling adventures. Even though I will be traveling less frequently for the foreseeable future, travel is an essential part of who I am and there are still so many places in the world that I need to visit.

I want to wrap up by saying what a privilege it has been to spend a year plus both traveling across the world and then living in a foreign country. The experiences that I have had will stay with me forever and have definitely made me a better person as a result.

To everyone who followed me I thank you and please stay in touch either through email (matt.sussman@gmail.com) or phone (+1 646-675-6497).


10 Places I Want to Visit

Only a few months off the road and my mind starts thinking about where I would like to head next. So I decided to rack my brain for the top 10 places I want to visit. This isn’t too scientific or detailed, just my gut instincts talking.

1. American South road trip

Believe it or not, if time and money was no issue, I would love nothing more than a road trip through the South, especially during college football season. It’s SEC country after all and it would be a thrill to tailgate in The Grove at Ole Miss, watch Nick Saban ply his trade at Alabama or be on Rocky Top in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Apart from some brief forays into Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana, I haven’t visited too much of the South. What better way to do it than with a road trip? Read more of this post

Random Travel Advice & Thoughts

I wanted to empty out my traveler’s notebook by offering some helpful travel tips that I have gathered over the years. Some of these may be controversial but on the road you sometimes do what you have.

I’d love to hear what people think so send along any feedback as well your own advice/thoughts.

1. Find the right balance between planned and flexible travel

I skew more towards a flexible travel approach where I figure out many key details (accommodation, travel logistics, activities) once I have arrived in my destination. But the more I travel, the more I realize the need to do as much research as I can ahead of time. Believe it or not, the more you research, the more flexible that you can be.

For instance, whether I was planning to go to a new city or a new country, before I arrived I would always reach out to a few hotels/hostels ahead of time. Rather than necessarily commit to stay in one place, I would have a few options once I arrived. This meant I wouldn’t be homeless but at the same time I had the flexibility to see how my trip evolved before deciding where to stay. Or I could arrive and actually visit a few places before choosing.

Being on the ground gives you access to real-time information and local knowledge that can’t be replicated through the internet. Having flexibility on my trip allowed me to trek through the jungle in Borneo and climb 2 of the 4 highest mountains in the Philippines, two adventures that materialized only after I arrived in each place. At the same time, if you have only a week to spend in Japan or China, it’s foolish to show up without a game plan. Read more of this post

What’s In My Bag

I always intended at some point to write about what I’m carrying with me on this trip. After not doing a post on this before I left, it became easier to put off. But after several people asked me about it recently, the time has come so here we go.

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