3 Things I Learned While Traveling

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

The Internet is exploding with travel tips and recommendations. Any seasoned wanderluster could easily fork over a helpful list of the top 100 things to consider while on the road. Reiterating that knowledge certainly is an option. I could regurgitate a number of renowned resources and remind you to pack light, be smart and merrily gorge your way through the culinary experiences, but I’d much rather share a piece of wisdom: live like you were dying.

IMG_2655#3 Stop Making Excuses – Just Go

And there it is, the infamous two-by-four hitting me square in the jaw. I have only one significant regret in connection to world travel, one so large and time sensitive that it can never be undone. I never studied abroad. I let love and self-imposed responsibility affect a truly life-defining moment sure to be filled with fierce independence, cultural intelligence and personal development.

Two pieces of advice: If your loved one is even half the partner you make them out to be then you’ll be greeted with open arms upon your return, the joy bubbling deeply within to once again steal a kiss, breathe in your scent and embrace your soul. So stop making excuses and go make some memories. Second, it’s highly unlikely there is anything so serious and pressing in your late teens/early twenties that you literally can’t take advantage of such an opportunity. This decade of wild spirit and self-discovery is paramount to the future you, a better you, a more worldly you, experiences that will forever contribute to a higher level of interpersonal connection and influence, intelligent discourse about a variety of mature topics and immense appeal to future employers. So stop making excuses and go make some memories.

Edinburgh, Scotland

        #2 Keep the “Punchiness” to a Minimum

Manners exist for a reason. Americans tend to place them on a shelf, myself included. I’d say our progressive culture is like a fine wine, but I’d be lying. We’re probably better compared to barrel-aged whiskey…requiring decades to develop a distinctly dignified flavor that, once opened, still delivers a bold, powerful finish strong enough to knock the most experienced of drinkers on his ass. As a collective culture, we’re loud, brash and crude.

Acquiring a sense or worldliness is part of any traveler’s journey so be cognoscente that our forwardness is not everyone’s afternoon tea. Educate yourself about the local culture, traditions, civilian expectations and laws. And for Christ’s sake, watch your goddamn mouth!

“I’ve got the whole world in my hands.”

           #1 You’ll Never Be the Same Again

Once you’ve committed to the trip and experienced the unbelievable high, I promise you’ll never be the same again. Knowledge is magnified and opinions become more well rounded. Your level of self-awareness matures beyond belief and those passions in life, while always bearing intensity, surge with a new sense of resilience to any obstacle in your way of achieving greatness.

As the name of this blog suggests, see.do.conquer.

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Jim Thorpe, the Switzerland of America

It’s been dubbed the Switzerland of America, and why not? Scenic landscapes embrace visitors from every angle. Rugged mountains, terraced gardens, breathtaking water views, historic railroad tracks and a lively downtown area offer a sweet escape for everyone. It’s a true black diamond, as its coal roots suggest.

Jim Thorpe, formerly known as Mauch Chunk, was founded in the early 1800s by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company as a transportation hub for the booming coal industry during the Civil War and Industrial Revolution. As its Leni Lenape Native American name suggests, it was a true sleeping bear. Home to the second operational railroad in the United States, Mauch Chunk was an economic powerhouse and major supplier to larger industrial areas such as Philadelphia, New York and Bethlehem until the advent of oil and the Great Depression.

According to Mary’s Guesthouse, a local establishment in Jim Thorpe, “To get the mined coal from the open-pit area of Summit Hill down to the river at Mauch Chunk, engineers devised an ingenious Gravity Railroad that coasted tons of coal over eight miles down a slight grade to a point above town where it was chuted into barges or rail cars. Known as the Switchback, for the old mule trail that it replaced, this was the world’s first working railroad [Fact check: This is debatable depending upon the data source] and enabled Mauch Chunk to get more coal onto river or rail quicker than other transportation systems.” As demand increased, more advanced engineering capabilities were necessary to extract and transport the coal up to the Summit Hill loading area and down the switchback to the Lehigh Canal. 

Mauch Chunk, once booming because of coal production, declined with the progression of the Great Depression. “Town leaders changed the name of the town to Jim Thorpe in 1954, in the hope of reviving the tourist trade, and interred the body of the Greatest Athlete in the World on the east side of town, where his mausoleum stands today,” according to the Inn at Jim Thorpe.

Today, tourism is the beating heart of this quaint town, attracting tens of thousands of visitors per year.

Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, has earned numerous distinctions, including nods in National Geographic, the Travel Channel/USA Today and Philadelphia Magazine as being among the best places to live and play – a captivating, friendly and romantic spot to get away from all of the hustle and bustle. Stroll through the narrow streets and admire the Victorian architecture. Roam timeless antique and book stores where you’re sure to find a hidden treasure to showcase in your home. Enjoy some adventure by hiking or rafting the Lehigh gorge. Take your children for homemade ice cream and enjoy an old-fashioned candy shop. Stay at a charming bed and breakfast establishment or hang out in creatively-themed coffee houses, bars and restaurants. 

How blessed am I that this gem is right in my backyard.

The opportunity is NOW

Photo Credit: BBC News
Photo Credit: BBC News

This morning we learned about ISIS destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra Syria, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back nearly 2,000 years to the first century AD.

As I read through the specifics of the attack, I was consumed with anger and disgust at such a despicable display of humanity and then I felt an overwhelming sadness. Sadness for those who lost their lives. Sadness for the mindless acts of terror that destroyed historic ruins. And sadness for all those who call themselves world travelers.

My mind wandered to the blogs and Instagram accounts I follow, as well as the common themes weaved into those entries: self discovery, freedom, adventure, enlightenment and the ability to see.do.conquer. I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer we’ll have the ability to backpack or tour all corners of the world without seriously sacrificing personal safety or, something that needs to be equally considered, how much longer these wonders of the world will even exist due to natural disasters, human pollution, continued vandalism or global terrorism.

Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy

A memory of Venice creeps into my thoughts today, a floating city with ancient origins that is certainly in danger of geographic extinction.

“The flow of rivers and canals mingles with the wash of the sea, with the slow movement of the Adriatic tides, checked by peninsulas and sandbanks. The barene, those stretches that are now submerged, now emerging, sometimes appear to twinkle on the horizon below their fringes of weeds. The mysterious play of the currents, in a slow process of undermining, eroding, and filling, shifts the deepest basins and brimming lands, providential pastures for crab, shrimp, shellfish, octupus, squid, gulls, snipe, herons, wild ducks, shoveler ducks–all the incorrigible hunters and fishers. And I thought this was an inanimate realm,” said Frédéric Vitoux in Venice: The Art of Living.

Will cities such as Venice, Hamburg and Amsterdam become the new tales of Atlantis with their art, architecture and history submerged like the Titanic?

For those of you evaluating the pros and cons of traveling or studying abroad, do it now while you have the chance. Save up your funds, map out your adventures and do it. Face your fears, stop making excuses, capture a lifetime of memories and just do it. I can’t guarantee you won’t miss flights, lose your luggage, spend more than you budgeted, get lost and even encounter some dangerous situations, but what I can promise you is this: If you don’t muster the inner strength to jump in with both feet, broaden your horizons and simply explore, then life will eventually catch up with you and the opportunity may be lost forever like the Temple of Baalshamin. Carpe Diem folks, carpe diem!

Is Backpacking Changing Or Am I?

Great perspective and entertaining delivery.

Bemused Backpacker

As you read this lament of a not so modern day backpacker I hope you will excuse this brief sojourn into my grown up self as I mourn the loss of my twenties – and even early thirties – and embrace my inner grumpy old man.

I have been backpacking a long time now, over ten years now in fact, and in that time I have seen so many changes in the world and in the backpacker community. More people are travelling independently now, and that is a great thing, but as modern technology has advanced and time has moved on, the way in which people travel has inexorably changed too.

I remember a time when travel was simpler, or at least it seemed to be. Back when ‘The Beach’ wasn’t nostalgic, when digital cameras were still a relatively new thing and mobile phones only came in the old Nokia…

View original post 1,800 more words

Road trip to Toronto, Canadian beer and Kenny

I love Canadians. I really do. Not only am I fortunate enough to be in the company of some lovely Canadian colleagues who dish out the American jokes as quickly as I poke them with an “Eh”, but also I consider myself an aficionado of beer, hockey and maple syrup. Not to mention, I have a thing for moose. Consider it a mountain girl thing, but I think they’re awfully adorable. For these reasons and many more that shed light on my glowing personality (but we unfortunately lack the time to adequately explore in this single post), they crowned me an Honorary Canadian. I’m not lying. This honest-to-God happened nearly two years ago to the day. It was a very proud moment and I have an impromptu concert to thank for making some of my professional relationships more personal.

Melissa, Denise, SteffAugust is the beginning of I-hate-it-but-I-love-it season within the automotive industry. It’s kind of the checkered flag setting the pace for the next 500 laps or, in our case, the next six months – SEMA, PRI, Keystone Big Shows, NTEA and more. Our team was prepared and excited for the upcoming Canadian event, divied into caravans for the trek across the border and welcomed the long week with a “Game On” attitude. A couple days before the trip, an industry friend offered me two extra tickets to the Kenny Chesney show taking place at the Toronto Amphitheater – no strings attached. Oh wow, what do you know. I’m going to be in Toronto on trade show business. SCORE!

Chesney ConcertSIDEBAR: Now, you have to understand the context of this situation. A) I’ve been made fun of for many years and have rightfully earned the Kenny Chesney Biggest Fan in NEPA title. B) I reference my Kenny Chesney stories in the familiar – I just call him Kenny and everyone around me knows who I’m referencing even if there are three others with the same name in the room. C) I attend the show each year in Philadelphia where my flip flops are firmly planted in the sandbar section for optimal viewing.

BACK TO THE STORY: The only catch was we were coming home on Sunday and the show was taking place the following Thursday. Buzz kill, I know. Most responsible people would evaluate that situation and determine the following:

  • One week prior, I was cramped in the third row of a minivan with my colleagues for eight hours and then spent the next couple days moving pallets, setting up booths, helping with the show, tearing down and getting very little sleep during the entire process only to get back in the car with those same fantastic colleagues (who really are fantastic, by the way) and make the eight hour trip home… in the same third row of a minivan. Logic would sound something like this. “I should respectfully decline the free tickets that require additional time off, another 16-20 hours round trip to the same city I was in less than a week ago and, again, have no sleep.”
Photo Credit: B.Neeley
Photo Credit: B.Neeley

Instead I accepted immediately, extended my 100 thank you’s and figured the rest would fall into place. And it did like so many other spontaneous adventures do. My sidekick Neeley and I had a couple of days to plan our route of attack and secure arrangements. Our bosses gave us their blessing to work out of the Toronto office for two days (to this day, I still wonder if the request was granted because of their motherly enjoy-it-while-you-can understanding, fear of me crying like a child if we were told no or a combination of both). We hit the road Wednesday night after work, making sure to load up on coffee, carbs, sugar and mixtapes. We arrived just before 3 a.m., settled in for the night and showed up to the Toronto office on time the following morning (surprisingly). The following 48 hours included breakfast in a corky art gallery on the first floor of our B&B, a walk around the city, a FREE Kenny concert, an autograph by Kacey Musgraves, my first Tim Horton’s experience and heaven on Earth at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse (which also included two Torpedo IPA’s that went straight to my head) – all of which made good office talk.

Toronto, you’ll forever be remembered as the city I visited twice in one week, heard “Kenny who?” more times than I can count, crashed a Carnival setup and initiated a bond with some of my favorite people, which eventually led to my reign as Honorary Canadian.

But this one time… at band camp

Once upon a time, there lived a daring broad who was down for an adventure in any corner of the world… except ocean-related activities. Hurl myself out of a plane – sure. Meander through a Latin American jungle – sign me up. Hold a wild monkey for the sake of a picture – what’s the worst that can happen? Ask me to go past my shins in crystal clear water – go to hell.

But there was this one time at band camp (kudos to those of you who catch the reference) that my husband somehow convinced me to snorkel in Grand Turk. There’s bound to be skeptics who question the potential exaggeration of this post, which is exactly why I’ve included photographic proof. Does this look like the face of someone who’s excited to suit up, swim and explore among the fish? If you could insert a caption for this photo, what would it be? Let me help you. “Dear new husband, you’ll spend the rest of your life paying the price for making me swim in the world’s largest public toilet, no matter how pretty it is.”

I won’t bore you with the details of how I came to dislike swimming in anything other than a pool; however, I’m happy to share what happens when you don’t follow your gut and respectfully decline your husband’s request to bond in a danger zone.

The story goes something like this: Wife concedes. Husband is genuinely happy. Native guide announces that there is a “friendly shark” who resides in the vicinity as soon as husband is successful in getting wife into the water… yah that just about covers it.

A) There’s really no such thing as a friendly shark. Various other adjectives come to mind but friendly doesn’t make the list.

B) How polite of him to make the announcement once we’re actually IN the water and he’s in the comfort of the pontoon boat. Schmuck.

C) I spend the rest of the excursion completing a mental risk assessment and ensuring that I’m the closest snorkeler to the pontoon ladder so I’m least likely to become shark bait.

General gist of this story: I can think of numerous ways to spend $199, none of which include freestyle swimming with a shark, and this experience was unsuccessful in helping me overcome a fear of water.

Cash back in your pocket – Travel tips and resources

I live for lists probably to a fault. I love the physical “CHECK” I make next to a task with my colored Sharpie. I can’t help it. People at work think I’m mental, but you know how there’s something indescribable about the musty smell of paper pages in a book mixed with a whiff of ink? God I love that smell. Well, that’s how I feel about checklists… only substitute professionally bound pages for sticky notes and ink for one of those cheap pens I neglected to return to my neighbor’s cubicle. But you get it.

Google Docsspreadsheets-organize-trave

Unfortunately in today’s day and age, paper lists aren’t always the most efficient way of checking the box. Friends introduced me to the benefits of Google Docs and I’ll never go back…when planning my road trip adventures that is. Everything you can possibly need to access should be in your Google Docs file – It can be set to be shared among select friends and is accessible from any device. Your Google Docs file should include the following:

  • All airline comparisons, even those that are priced too high
  • All hotel/hostel choices with the full address, phone number, cost, website and payment options (What if something happens with your planned reservation? At least if you keep the other choices in your Google Docs, then you’re familiar with pre-researched options if there’s an unexpected change in plans.)
  • A trip breakdown by city with a list of all the things you want to do in ranking of priority
  • City maps, potential alternate routes, as well as city parking and toll information
  • Any tour packages, travel insurance, city transportation, or car rental information
  • If traveling outside of the country then consider including a copy of your passport and birth certificate
  • A detailed travel checklist reminding you to alert your credit card companies, bring two forms of ID for traveling out of the country, list any pre-researched spots to attain local currency (a post office should be the top choice – you won’t incur fees like you will at other exchange companies) and have a finalized itinerary to give loved ones in case of an emergency
  • Anything else you feel is pertinent in the document
  • Reminder, you should have hard copies of all your travel reservations which include airline tickets, hotel/hostel, transportation, etc.

Airline Comparisons

Always check the airline websites first as a high-priced baseline and then use a preferred third party site to review various options, i.e., Kayak, Expedia, Hotwire, Cheapflights, Orbitz, etc. Personally, I like to use Skyscanner and Momondo. The rail is also a great option in those countries that offer it. Click here for more information from the blogger Distant Lands.

– Skyscanner.com: Has a very sleek and user-friendly search option. Skyscanner gives a “Price Check Comparison” in the same area you enter all of your other travel information. The comparisons open in a new window, so they don’t interfere with your primary search. And there’s an app!

– Momondo: By far, my absolute favorite third-party website to use in gathering flight data to make the most informed and budget-conscious decision. Momondo combines the great search options of Skyscanner with a graphical representation of price fluctuations within a 10+ day range so you don’t have to constantly change the travel options in order to do effective price comparisons. It combines the absolute best offers across all airlines to provide you with the best price and impeccable service.

– Airline Loyalty: If you’re a frequent traveler then chances are you spend a fair amount of time in airports. Build airline loyalty – even if you don’t fly often enough for it to translate into free tickets, it will earn you upgrades, earlier boarding and some preferential treatment with the sometimes obnoxious customer service folks.

Tip: The best day to book is Tuesday at 3 p.m. This is when most airlines drop their prices and the third party sites can pass the deals through to you. First flights out on Wednesdays and Saturdays (yes this typically means an ungodly hour) are good days to travel as well. Fridays and Sundays tend to be the most expensive.

Look for FREE

When researching options for doing a full tour with a group or traveling on your own, always include “Top FREE things to do in the city of (x)” – The search will return anything from free museums, galleries, gardens, walking tours, and more. You don’t need to spend big money to experience life like the locals.

Swapping a passport for burp cloths

It’s 9 pm and I turn to my husband saying, “Do you hear that?” We both smile… complete silence minus the hum of a glider. As our sweet angel drifts off to Never, Never Land, we decide to forego a few minutes of cuddling (which undoubtedly causes new parents to conk out in a narcoleptic state of sleep) for personal quiet time instead.

There we lay, he on one side of our oversized couch and me at the other, both of us fully absorbed in a bubble of meaningless, monotonous and quiet activity that we hope will drown any stress accumulated throughout the day and allow for some decompression.

I watched my husband doze off and found my thoughts wandering. It was in those few moments of silence and remembrance that I found peace. You see, last year I took the trip of a lifetime with two of my closest friends. In my heart I knew that if we didn’t commit to the adventure then it would never happen… not because we wouldn’t want to stay up late researching the endless possibilities and planning our daily routes with a glass of wine in hand; rather, we were at a crossroads, one that inevitably was going to lead the three of us in very opposite directions. And so we did it. At 28, 29 and 30 years old, we left a boyfriend, fiance and husband at home and backpacked across Ireland, made our way to Edinburgh, explored London, hopped a bus to Stonehenge and finished in Bath. It was everything we imagined it would be and more – the good, bad and ugly of being on the road, as my fellow blogger Noodles says.

Understandably, life did put some distance between us after that trip. One moved eight hours away, two finalized wedding plans and my husband and I learned we were expecting our first bundle of joy. While I’m temporarily swapping my passport for burp cloths, I wouldn’t trade my current adventure of mommyhood for anything. If there’s one thing travel taught me it’s to live in the moment because you never know when it will be your last. That trip and this lesson made me a far better friend, wife and mother.

So what are you waiting for? As this blog suggests, set your sights on something, do it and conquer. No matter how challenging, put yourself out there. Make yourself vulnerable for the sake of the experience. And make some memories that can survive any crossroad.

Tips for traveling on a budget

DC2BB4C7-8011-47A8-81A4-EF35F71D1719 (1)As I’m reminiscing about my backpacking adventure in the UK, I thought it would be helpful to publish a post about maximizing funds for your trip, the importance of pre-planning and taking advantage of proven resources.

Swipe It… Responsibly

I was raised the old fashioned way: 1) Never buy anything you can’t afford and 2) “Cash is King”. Even good practices evolve as they are passed from generation to generation. I say, 1) Never buy anything you can’t afford at the time of the purchase and 2) you’re a fool if you don’t take advantage of Rewards Programs.

Forking over cash doesn’t earn you credits toward hotel stays, airfare, car rentals, excursions, fuel, food and more. There are Rewards Programs to tickle anyone’s fancy. The Chase Marriott Rewards and Bank of America Power Rewards are two cards that fit my needs. I’ve earned free airfare, upgraded seats, car rentals and free stays for charging what I was going to pay for in cash – your gas, groceries and date nights add up.

Remember, credit cards are convenient while traveling, but they also put you at increased risk of identity theft, non-tourist areas may not accept them or you may pay a premium in international rates. Make sure to call your credit card company before traveling, let them know where you’ll be staying and inquire about incurring any additional fees.

Hostel Style

  • Don’t cheap out & read those reviews:  You get what you pay for – read every review and don’t just book a hotel, motel or hostel without reading and documenting everything you can. Know what you’re willing to compromise on and what’s a hard limit. I don’t particularly mind taking a cold shower, sharing a room with six other females or if breakfast is included, but safety and security are top priority for me. Recently, I was convinced this brand-spanking-new hostel with all the bells and whistles was the queen jewel of all budget stays… until I found one review that caused a change of heart. Centrally located in the city, yes, but it was off the beaten track on a back alley, poorly lit and difficult to find. Location, location, location. Safety, safety, safety.
  • Communicate: Don’t be afraid to call the hostel management team or send them an e-mail. I’ve never contacted one that hasn’t been more than happy to help. They don’t make money by running a poor business, so you’d be surprised at the level of customer service you’ll receive… all you have to do is ask.
  • Resource: Hostelworld.com is a trustworthy site that provides you with plenty of quality reviews, lets you compare locations, amenities and prices and connects you directly with the hostel website. This is a must-have app while you’re traveling.
  • Resource: If a Platinum Status existed for those with an OCD list obsession, then I would be president of the club. Grocery list, cleaning list, daily planner, workplace project tracker, random notes in iPhone – yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. So when my friends introduced me to Google Docs as part of the trip-planning process, it was like falling in love for the first time all over again.

Read Everything

  • I am a big believer that you can never be too prepared. How you’re traveling also determines the level of research you’re going to need to complete prior to getting on the road. If you’re planning to go the tour route then the most important research you’ll do is on the tour company itself. Nearly everything else is handled for you once you find a reputable group that suites your needs – typically your airfare, hotel/hostel stays, breakfast, tour packages and transportation are included in the price. If a tour isn’t for you then you’re responsible for dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” to ensure a successful trip so grab your reading glasses and make a pot of coffee.
  • Resources: EF College Tours is a FANTASTIC tour group for young adults ages 18-25. Fun, outgoing and knowledgeable guides lead your adventure-packed vacation. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. This is a great way to meet people your own age – many of them still in college – network and experience more than you thought was possible in such a short period of time. Go Ahead Vacations is another solid choice to consider but is more laid back with less excursions planned for the day and more free time scheduled so you can explore on your own. Any Rick Steves resource in valuable to your entire planning process, including financial, accommodation, sightseeing and transportation tips.

Don’t Sit on a Good Deal

As quickly as they come across your computer screen and cause you to have a shriek of excitement, they vanish and so does that smile from your face. I stumbled across a roundtrip ticket to Dublin, Ireland from Aer Lingus. It was so unbelievable it caused my eyes to bug out, mouth to drop, heart to patter and voice to crackle like an adolescent boy. I could barely contain myself when telling my friends. I was so proud of my find that I was beaming. Needless to say, I waited 24 hours too long and lost out. I ended up paying $200 more for the same ticket.