Travel Planning Toolkit

Caribbean, colorado, Cruising, documentary, Travel

We live in an amazing age of information and technology. Meaning we also have invaluable resources to use to make or lives easier. The trick is knowing where to turn to create the best plans.

Ten years ago I started planning and saving for my first international adventure. Still in high school and rather ignorant on what was online, I turned to the age old classic. Something that centuries of explorers have used.

Books

Good, old-fashioned books…because they work, and people work to make them accurate. And mostly (MOSTLY) they are more accurate than false.

So I gathered some books from the library. Then I began narrowing down what I wanted. I got maps and looked up stuff. Paper maps. Then I would consult Google maps to see what could be found. Google maps was a little vague at the time for places outside of the USA, but it served a purpose.

I would organize my routes and activities with notes and colored sticky notes. I didn’t even do things this thorough in school. But for travel- everything was organized.

I still do this for places that are unfamiliar and not as well covered online, such as India and China (more rural areas over big cities). However, we now have much more at our fingertips, including the phone I am writing this on.

Here are my go to places for the best information and the best way to plan an adventure.

  • Rome2Rio
    • Plan your routing via plane, train, automobile…ferry, donkey….. okay you get the idea
  • Google Maps
    • learn areas, proximity, features and more. As it is always updating, there is always something else to discover
  • Lonely Planet
    • possibly the best online tool for getting started, explore little details as you flesh out ideas, then pick up a book to get the full story
  • Trip Advisor
    • read reviews, get pictures, and learn about hidden gems. While it’s user generated, that doesn’t mean it lacks insight
  • Booking.com
    • Narrow down hotel options in areas, find hidden gems, and get great deals!

 

Happy Travels!toolkit.jpg

Let Kids Plan the Adventure

family, Travel

It’s often assumed that mom and dad are the ones that plan travel. They take the budget, and they make something work. It is then that the kids toddle along, after the parents, sometimes exuberantly, from place to place.

In theory, this is not an oddity, it makes sense, parents have the wisdom and wit to know how to plan a vacation or adventure. Yet, when we stop to listen to kids, we often find they are full of creative ideas that can enhance a vacation.

Why? And how do I know this?

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My loves in 2012 in California

Well, while my stepdaughter likes to spout out different places she thinks she wants to go (New York, Paris, Hawaii, Mexico) she often lacks a full grasp on what these places offer for the average family. That is where the education and fun come in. Instead of saying “I don’t think so” we encourage Lily to research these places and why they may be worth visiting.

For instance, she hears from the boy at school that she has a crush on that he spent Christmas in Italy. Well, Lily now wants to go to Italy. Which is awesome! I love Italy. However, while Italy would be fun, she needs to have an idea on why she wants to go somewhere.

Another situation is with the Girl Scout troop that I help lead. The troop likes to take adventures and outings. What kid doesn’t? But in order to make it happen, we encourage thought and discussion in our meetings on how we need to plan the day or weekend away. It encourages the girls to think about money, time, everyone’s needs, and what it means to get to travel. The easy way for the leaders and girls would be for the leaders to just plan, the smart way is to get the girls thinking about the world and what it means to interact with it.

It can be scary to let kids take the reins, but usually it ends up with multiple benefits for everyone. Here are my observations:

  • The child feels included in family plans
  • It teaches budgeting and how to manage money, or how to save money for bigger trips
  • It helps kids work with others to find solutions that make everyone happy
  • It makes kids think about their impact on the world as they navigate life
  • It helps them think about time management and how to maximize days of vacation
  • It creates leadership skills as they take over say one day of planning
  • Their mistakes teach them how to improve next time
  • They develop research skills as they learn about new places

The list could go on, but what I have seen can be life changing for a kid.

My biggest surprise was telling my stepdaughter our planned vacation for this year will have to be a year later, as the wedding we are in was postponed. Instead of being devastated about waiting a year, she happily accepted it and we began talking about our summer/fall alternatives as a family.

So, my encouragement, is let the kids help, and see what magic is in their great little minds.

Happy Travels!

Springtime For…

Travel

Spring seems like a naturally GREAT time to travel the world. It means grass and warmth, maybe some rain, but mostly good and beautiful things. Right?

Well, not totally.

While in the United States most of us can embrace Spring with  shorter pants and lighter dresses, much of the world is still in a chilly part of the year. Here in Colorado we can get our heaviest snows of the year between March and May.

April in Paris? Well the song speaks of romance, but the reality is frozen fingers and drinking a lot of hot tea. Northern Scotland can have some of it’s coldest and worst rain and wind in April; while much of the United Kingdom and Ireland can stay pretty chilly into June.

Of course, much of this changes the closer you get to the equator. June in Spain and Italy is warm and welcoming. Which means these are all popular areas for Brits to run away to. Germany warms up in late April to a more comfortable temperature. When you add in humidity this also changes the feel of everything.

23801_396372784176_805008_n While Paris is always beautiful, April is often cold.[/caption]

When we look at other parts of the world, we see that the rainy and monsoon seasons hit Southeast and other parts of Asia with months of rain and flooding. While we look on this as problematic, it’s vital for these areas to survive.  This season varies slightly from place to place. “Spring” ends up having different or no meaning in some parts of the world. For more information on rainy seasons in Southeast Asia, click here.

For the Southern Hemisphere some areas are moving into “fall” or “winter” so the weather can get cooler and messier depending on the distance south. For instance, weather in Cape Town, South Africa in June is cooler and rainier than other times of the year.

Wherever you want to head, check Weather.com or Lonely Planet to see what the weather may look like for your scheduled dates. While weather is manageable in most conditions with the right gear, one may have a better time if it’s not freezing and raining.

Spring Foods from Around the World

europe, History, italy, mexico, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

Have you noticed how with each season come certain holidays and with said holidays comes certain food?

Naturally, this is not purely American (though we tend to take it above and beyond). Other countries in the world celebrate holidays in their own way and with certain dishes. Here are some of my favorite spring treats.

 

North America

  • Easter candy- this is a given, with Easter on its way and the end of lent, food looks mighty tasty that’s full of all the bad stuff you maybe gave up for 6 weeks.

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  • Fruit on everything- Though we live in world with fruit available almost year round, when berry and cherry season arrive everything has a touch of blueberries or cherries to make life more colorful.
  • Meat- pair your fruit and chocolate with some lamb….somehow this makes sense.

South America

Due to the flipping of seasons south of the border, most of South America is entering fall. Here are some of their preferred treats for their Easter Season

  • Easter Bread Ring “rosca de Pascuahas roots in Spain, king of like a King cake in the French tradition, it’s a sweet and tasty bread.

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  • Spanish Fasting Soup “potaje de la vigilia is popular this time of year. The main ingredients are codfish, spinach, and chickpeas.
  • Ceviche is a popular dish in Peru, and that means Easter week it becomes a necessity for home and celebration

Europe

Many of our “American” traditions have European roots; here are some of the better or more surprising foods.

  • German Eggs – This one surprised me on my first trip out of the country. As Germany was my first stop my friends there had received an Easter basket from their landlord. To my surprise, eggs are not refrigerated in Europe before purchase AND sometimes after. So boiled Easter eggs are often just left out for a few days, fully decorated and then consumed. The cool thing about eggs in the shell is that they don’t really rot and eggs don’t rot in general until they are very old or exposed to oxygen.

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  • British- Guess where that odd 1994 Cadbury commercial came from, the Brits. Who make and developed those delicious, sickly sweet fill eggs that are popular this season.
  • Italian- The Italian menu for this holiday moves away form heavy and sweet into fresh and tasty. Though lamb is also common asparagus side dishes are popular, so is an egg and rice soup, and for a finish many enjoy Columba cake.

Asia

With the seasons come new foods, and Asian cuisine is all about embracing what is fresh and seasonal. Many parts of China and into Korea love to eat dumplings starting from Lunar New Year into the summer as a hearty cold weather treat and for traditions around the food. Here are some other tasty treats.

  • Japanese- As blossoms and spring plant life leads to many spring traditions in Japan, they whole-heartedly embrace it with their food. Mochi with cherry blossom leaves are common, strawberries don many treats, and mugwort comes into popularity in mochi and other treats.

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  • Chinese- Asparagus stir-fries with beef, vegetable pot stickers, and lamb when available.
  • Southeast Asia- Much of this region does not have the seasons that we associate with in the west, but that doesn’t mean some food is not seasonal. Thai Basil is popular to make refreshing drinks as temperatures rise. Rice paper spring rolls, served cool make for a crisp treat with a tasty sauce and shrimp. Indonesian cuisine embraces fried crispy spring rolls full of tasty veggies and light meats.

Australia

While food in Australia is not too obscure for the holiday, and while they are very British culturally, Australia has their chocolate eggs, hot cross buns etc. BUT in Australia instead of a bunny bringing treats, kids get a visit from a Bilby…

Bilby critters are nocturnal insect, snake- eating rodent things, with giant claws. It’s really not any weirder than someone making up a rabbit that leaves/lays eggs. So while the food is not too weird, I leave you with the Bilby.

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AMENDED March 19, 2018

So I actually asked a friend about the Bilby, he is from Australia and said they have the Easter bunny in Australia and that the Bilby is a new twist on the classic. Maybe, just maybe to confuse foreigners.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Create the BEST Staycation

family, Travel

While traveling is my preferred week off from work or school, sometimes the pocket book or life doesn’t allow for it. Thus, it’s important to know when and how to make the best of time at home, and this doesn’t mean cleaning everything.

  • I suggest planning ahead, same as you would for any vacation, to make the most of your time. Start by getting your house organized, not spotless, to make the week relaxing and easy.
  • Make a list of what you want to do locally. Maybe it’s just a few restaurants you have been wanting to try, or perhaps a new art exhibit. Make a list and plan out each day to see what you want. Plan it like you are a tourist in your own city and then see what seems like the best options.
  • Keep it simple and treat it like an easy vacation, where planning is loose and you just enjoy little things. Think of it like a reset, and a chance to revive from the stress of life.
  • Don’t over plan; make sure it’s legitimate down time and not a week of errands and running around town. Treat your stay like you’re not home to do the mundane and if you find yourself thinking about it, make a list to conquer it before or after.
  • “Treat Yo’ Self” in the totally Parks and Recreation sense of the phrase; visit the pa, shop, spoil, just make it about you and make yourself feel amazing.

  • Place your phone on “do not disturb” when you want to be left alone. Silence everything, turn it off, or unplug the internet and let the outside world melt away. Here is a news flash: The world won’t end if you are not constantly taking in information on it. I promise.
  • Turn on some rain sounds and sleep like a baby. Do this every night after the staycation and I promise it will make you feel better rested on the long term.

 

Happy Travels!

Between Travels, Make Home an Adventure

family, Travel

I just realized my title sounds like you are going to booby trap your house or fill it with kittens for sneak attacks. I promise that is not what this is about, although the kitten thing could be fun.

While I love being on the road, I also enjoy being home and having down time. I should say that I NEED down time in order to refresh and recharge. It means that I snuggle my cat, read some books, watch some Golden Girls, and reconnect with friends.

This also means that I want my home to be somewhere that I can truly enjoy being and that means bringing some of the adventures home.

I love picking up treasures on my travels. Usually, especially as I get older, this means artwork or crafting of some sort. Sometimes it’s pottery such as the skeleton cat spoon rest from Mexico, or the Navajo-designed pottery egg from Santa Fe. Other times it’s my photographs that I get blown up to put on my wall. Other times it is souvenir books from places like Hampton Court Palace that I can refer to when I want a refresher on some facts and details.

Even without the crap from my trips, I have a home full of music, movies, books, and people I love. All of which add to the culture and richness of my life at home. I have furniture I like and décor that makes me smile. It’s a refuge, at my refuge, and full of things that make life rich.

This same filling a home with richness can come with or without wanderlust, just do it because it’s somewhere you spend A LOT of time at. Make it yours, make it comforting, make it a reflection of your happy place.

 

Happy Travels!

Spring Break—Better!

Caribbean, Florida, mexico, musings, Travel

I used to dream of taking Spring Break to some wild party in Florida or the Caribbean, with muscular college boys and an age 18 drinking age. Then I went to said parties in college and I realized, this is not fun.

It’s not fun because it’s a constant drink-vomit-drink-make bad choices- drink…..you get my point.

While MTV glorified the Spring Break in the 90s and early 2000s while I I grew up. I began realizing that it was all for TV, and had nothing to do with the real drama or problems that arise out of a bunch of horny, wild teens and 20-somethings believing they have no repercussions.

Anyway, as an adult, a full 27 years into my life (at least I play an adult most days), I have realized that if you have the chance to Spring Break there are a few choices that should be made to make it better.

By all means, go off to Miami and get crazy, but make sure you tell you mom you love her, and that you buy a giant box of condoms and a case of bottled water. Just be safe dear friends and children.

OR stay around and enjoy the college traffic dwindling in your town, and take local hikes with no people. OR head to a small local town and get to know new people, I can share a few in Colorado and Wyoming if you would like. OR read some books you have been intending to, while drinking at a new coffee place each day. If you are young and needing a break, take a break for something that brings you real joy, not for something that others tell you to.

 

No fun in this mess.

I think that our culture informs us at a young age that a “party” or “wild night” is the begin all end all for fun as an older teen or 20-something, but the truth is that most parties suck. Most parties end in tears, if we’re being honest, there is a point where your friend is puking in a toilet for the 10th time in a week, and you are the only one sober enough to make good decisions that you realize that there is no “fun” in this mess.

Therefore, as mentioned above, bring yourself bliss and happiness and forget what MTV had to say about it. Bliss and happiness can mean eating at your favorite brunch place, or visiting your grandma. Maybe it’s an alternative spring break where you clean someone’s house or simply visit a retirement community with a basket of kittens. (The last one sounds like my virtual heaven)

Just get out there and be good to you, find what move you, don’t make your liver cry, make good choices. Be loving in your actions.

Happy Travels!

Dreaming of Adventure

Travel

If you are like me you are always dreaming of the next big adventure. Whether it’s a weekend away or a month-long trek, you are thinking about and dreaming about the fun you are going to have.

However, to get to the fun often requires some work including saving, research and planning. So while the dreaming is fun, it’s also important to know how to make it happen. Like with any goal, it takes a few steps to get to the result.

  1. Make a list of where you want to go
    • I have a running list of places in the world that I want to visit, I add new things, and take away others. This way it is an ongoing list of places I plan to see. I also arrange them by continents and regions so I know what I can check off together.
  2. Research how to get to places and how much it costs
    • It’s always important to know how much things cost before you commit to plans to go. For instance, while the Maldives is fantastic, most hotels are around $1,000 per night for where everyone wants to stay. For most, that’s just an unrealistic goal. So instead, maybe parts of Greece or Belize are more realistic.
  3. Ask yourself why you want to go.
    • Is it because it’s a popular place? Or you saw a Facebook video? Or do you, with your heart of hearts long to go there? If it’s the later, then keep researching and find a way to get there.
  4. Plan for what is realistic.
    • Be honest about what you can afford and what way you can travel. Meaning, maybe you have to hostel in Rome so that you can see the Sistine Chapel. Or maybe you fly on a cheap airline so you can hope Venice to London. Weigh and measure what means more while you travel, sometimes an annoying three hour flight is well worth saving $100 to spend on an amazing dinner or tour.
  5. Research until you feel like an expert
    • It sounds silly, but the more information you have on a place, the more likely you are to make better decisions for your pocket book and your time. Then you may also learn of better or equivalent options for your adventure.
  6. Talk to people that have been “there”
    • Ask your friends and family about their trip(s) to Rome or London, put out a statement on social media asking for tips and tricks. Sometimes you may even get connected to a local that someone knows for what I consider to always be the best way to see a place.

Happy Travels!

Spring Cleaning- Travel Edition

Travel

Ahhhhhhhhh

We can finally open the windows after months of cold and misery. In Colorado, this may be short lived, as more snow is on the way. Yet these warm bursts of sun and fresh air sure make everyone ready to clear out some dust. This includes trying to clean off and out old luggage to make sure we have what we need for spring and summer adventures.

Here are my tips on cleaning out the closet to open up your bags and yourself to better travel in 2018!

  1. Take inventory
    • Go through all of your travel-related items and see what you have. Take note of what you may need and what you already have and even keep the list on your phone. Especially if you have a family, then next time you are off to a wedding you know that Sally has a neck pillow and Jason is all set with luggage tags.
  2. Get rid of the broken and sad
    • Here is a fact of life: luggage wears out. Meaning you will have to replace pieces as they get worn out. Now a few snags or scuffs doesn’t warrant a new bag, but if a wheel is broken or a strap is worn down, get something else. I guarantee you will be thankful next time you are running through the airport.
  3. Clean your bags
    • Your luggage goes through a lot to get you places, and it comes into contact with a lot on the way. I take time after every trip to empty out everything, wash it with a mild soap or cleaning wipes and then put it all away when I am done. This way when I am packing for the next trip I know its good to go, and there will be no unpleasant surprises.
  4. Fix the good stuff
    • If you have a bag that is ideal for how to travel, then hang onto it. If you can stitch up holes, if it’s leather condition and clean it, if it’s plastic smooth down scuffs. All around, if it’s a worthwhile item, take care of it. Because you often won’t find another travel friend as good.
  5. Store nicely
    • Make sure when you clean and put away your luggage after a trip that you keep your bags somewhere where the temperatures stay consistent and that is not damp or too dry. Wacky storage damages things, especially plastic and leather which can become brittle and cracked. This is especially true of items you want to keep and use for a while. Don’t abuse your good stuff and it will keep you moving for a long time.

Want an added bonus? NOW is a great time to purchase that new Samsonite you have been eyeing for a year, or that really cute carry-on that you couldn’t justify at full price. Especially department stores, which has luggage on sale for really great prices! Some are as low as 60 or 70% off their original price. The sale comes from new stuff coming in and last year’s stuff moving out, and buying a better brand means more years of travel. It also means Le Sport Sac or London Fog become really reasonable.

Spring Wanderlust

Travel

It is usually around the first of March that I begin getting antsy to get away again. I have usually been stuck at home for a few months; there are events with my stepdaughter and family, girl scouts and other obligations that have us running around Fort Collins like we’re in a marathon.

By March I am ready to get moving, to see new things, to get away from the monotony of life. It is this time of year that I plan out my adventures for the following 10 months of the year. As two months have already left us, I want to make sure the rest of the year is full of the best fun possible.

For those wanting to also plan out their best year, here are my tips for maximizing your time and money.

  1. Know how many vacation days you can afford
    • This may be paid time off or non-paid time off, whatever it looks like be realistic on what you have and don’t have.
  2. Choose one place for a week
    • Hopping around from place to place makes it hard to get the most from a vacation, instead narrow down on one spot you really want to go and then expand from there.
  3. Set a realistic budget
    • Go through your bills for the year and see what you have left to work with. If you don’t have much, see what you can cut back on. Even if you limit your coffee habit, or trips out to eat, you can save a lot of cash.
  4. Stay close
    • If you are short on time or money, choose somewhere nearby or cheap to get to. Flights to Las Vegas are usually cheap, or visit a National Park in your state. Find an AirBnB close by and bum out for a long weekend. Escaping doesn’t need to be hard.
  5. Plan ahead to maximize your time and money
    • Planning ahead means you often get batter airline, hotel, and even activity rates. It can also mean you get to see things that booking last minute won’t allow. Research thoroughly, ask questions, and seek out alternatives to bigger budget activities.
  6. Visit family
    • One way I have saved thousands is by taking time to visit family all over the world. Sometimes I stay with them, sometimes I stay nearby, but the best part is getting a local’s point of view.
  7. Make sure it’s fun
    • Sometimes traveling is not for everyone, so make sure you are actually selecting things everyone wants to do. There is no reason to pay for everyone to go to DisneyWorld all day when only one kid wants to. Instead, take everyone to a cheaper activity everyone will enjoy.

Happy Travels!