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.

Journey to the center

Thomas CrumAs the name of this post implies, I’m currently reading, and have been for a cringe worthy amount of time, Journey to the Center by Thomas F. Crum. Have you ever stumbled through a text? I mean harder than a drunken fall. Don’t pretend you don’t understand the analogy. I was in college at one time too.

It’s not that the content isn’t insightful or even interesting, but you just aren’t in the right frame of mind to embrace its potential influence – too long, too deep, too upbeat or too melancholy for your mood and far too physically, mentally or emotionally time consuming to make the effort.

Sometimes there’s a much more simplistic answer to the slow-as-freaking-paint-drying process and that is life just gets in the way and you can’t finish the damn text. That’s the position I find myself in and at this rate I’ll be entering menopause by the time I yell, “I’m done!”.

Journey to the Center is intended to serve as a helpful guide for those seeking a higher level of “centeredness”, as the title so cleverly suggests. Call it a self-help text, leadership guide or masterful collection of personal aha moments, but achieving self awareness is the core concept. I thought it would provide me with some unique perspective before entering a natural labor and delivery but all it accomplished at the time was this nagging sense of added stress and for the life of me, I have no idea why. So I put it down and tried to ignore its existence on my husband’s nightstand next to his pile of anatomy texts… yes, I even tried the out-of-sight-out-of-mind theory and no it didn’t work.

Journey to the Center has been a blessing in disguise despite being cursed with the procrastination of actually finishing such an introspective book (you know, in between nursing a constantly hungry newborn, tending to the never ending piles of laundry and even trying to sneak a five minute shower before dinner… shaving my legs is a luxury these days, don’t judge.) You see, each time I pick it up off the nightstand, remove the inch of dust that’s accumulated and comb through the pages, I’m punched square in the jaw with a word, sentence or chapter that is so simply presented, yet has such a profound personal impact.

Post delivery, it was this underlying message of self awareness that helped me better understand and cope with the challenges of becoming a new mom. Every page has a thread of hope weaved in, letting the reader know it’s okay to stumble. It’s okay to fall. And it’s okay to have days that you feel lost, alone and incredibly frustrated with yourself, a loved one or a personal situation. But so long as you maintain that level of self awareness, you’ll always be able to come back to center and overcome the challenge.

It’s a powerful message, one that is perfect for a Monday in order to set a proper pace for the rest of the week. When that obnoxious colleague pushes your buttons, travel plans get off track and push the budget you so carefully set or a beautiful newborn decides to throw up all over her car seat and third outfit before noon… acknowledge the setback, laugh it off and return to center.

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.

A gift of memories

Riverside in Upstate New YorkI was living on the excuse train while deciding to put pen to paper. “All aboard! Next stop ‘Denial Isle’…” I simply don’t have time. There are too many commitments to fulfill – a family to care for, freelance work to complete, a house to clean, dinner to make and pets to play with.

The truth is, I feared if anyone would be interested in reading about my experiences, no matter how touching I found them – the funny camping stories, world travel, cultural intelligence and sensory overload of rich flavors, breathtaking scenery, intoxicating smells and native tongues that are deeply ingrained in every fiber of my being. The only thing scarier than putting yourself out there is to put yourself out there and receive no response, as if your thoughts and words are merely an echo in the universe.

I’ve grappled with creating this space for quite some time but in the end it was a life event that caused a domino effect of reflection, one that led to this very post.

One of my dearest friends – a fellow wild spirit, world traveler and lovely soul – moved back home to make a different kind of memory…. new beginnings. Prior to her, I was content with a mental image that left a smile in my heart and a footprint in my soul. I didn’t feel the need to document everyday memories that I believed would always be in the back of my mind but actually took for granted. I realized what is the logic in closing your eyes and being taken to a beautiful distant memory if you can’t take someone there with you. Memories are one of our most precious gifts and failing to share is not only sad but sinful. What a realization… Even in parting, she had that profound impact on me.

This blog is my gift of memory to you, reader. A collage of past journal entries, photographs, captions, quotes, stories, travel suggestions, resources and recipes that make me who I am, shape my worldview and keep me coming back for more. So here’s to cherishing the past, living in the present and welcoming the future.