Planning for the Unknown

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We live in an exciting time of where we have endless information at our fingertips through social media, news sources, books, and endless other methods. At any given second I can go on my phone or online and see what is happening in many areas of the world. In real time I can explore what is happening at a place I plan on visiting.

This is awesome and equally problematic.

From a travel planner perspective, we use the most up to date, thorough and well-researched information at our disposal. Coming from reliable sources like travel guides, national tourism boards, official websites, rail aggregators and other “first hand” knowledge sources. For the rest of the public, their perspective on a new place comes from a video or social media post, perhaps a news article from a well-reputed magazine. Guess what fails to be in the articles and videos? Thorough information on how to get to, explore, or enjoy a specific region.

No doubt this is not a problem that content creators have to fix alone. Because when well-meaning Conde Nast makes a list of places to see before 2020, they don’t expect people to just cherry pick and randomly show up to Machu Picchu. They do think that people research or look into the complexity of getting to Machu Picchu on train, or foot, or bus. But many don’t, because in our world of instant gratification people don’t always understand that other parts of the world have more layers to their exploration.

Like any good history geek I love researching an answer for myself or my clients. I look at the stories that made up a place. I look at train schedules. I call locals to get information on schedules that I can’t find online. I look at sunset and sunrise times to explain to a client when they can get that perfect view. I check weather patterns to explain what they should pack. I love this research. Granted, I get a little more in the weeds than is necessary, thus, I encourage you to find a balance as you set off into the world.

Here are my tips for researching unknown place.

  1. Go to the library or book store and buy the most recently published guide on the area that you are interested in.
    • Pro-tip: ask the bookstore clerk if an updated version of that guide is coming out BEFORE you travel and ORDER it so that you have the best vetted information for your actual trip.
  2. READ the crap out of that book. Make copies, take pictures with your phone, make notes. Learn everything you can so you know what needs to be done when you’re boots on the ground in Argentina headed to Patagonia.
    • Pro-tip: I use sticky notes in a color coordinated pattern to mark places of interest or areas I am headed to. That way I know where to get information quickly. For example, I will use a large sticky note to mark a region and write the name above the edge of the page. Then I know green stickies are dining in Delhi, pink are activities, etc.
  3. Ask Around to people that travel and see if someone you know has been to such and such place and ask them for recommendations. This might save you time, money, and stress when you know someone else was able to enjoy the same vacation or trip you were planning.
    • Pro-tip: vet all the information you get to make sure it’s accurate and safe. Make a list of suggestions and then read up on what your friend/family suggested.
  4. Read reviews with a grain of salt. Reviews offer TRUE experience feedback, but remember that people are more likely to complain online versus compliment so sometimes complaints will reflect a slanted view, good or bad, of a company.
    • Pro tip: if you see complaints ask yourself if it matters if “the room is small” “if the restroom only had a small shower” or if “the price was insane” because sometimes what bothers someone else will not matter to you.
  5. Utilize hotels and locals by asking questions on dining, activities, weather, and how to enhance your vacation! No one knows better than locals on where to eat, drink, and enjoy your best life.
    • Email your hotel, tour guide, or organizer well in advance so that you have time to get a response and make arrangements to enjoy the best parts of wherever you are going.
  6. Plan for emergencies and extra time. There is nothing more frightening to me than having someone with a schedule that has no extra time built in. Why? Because if one thing goes wrong, like a train delay or a volcanic eruption (true experience from yours truly) you won’t have any time to make up for time lost. I always suggest having at least one back up flight or one back up train between you and when you need to be somewhere. YES you may have more wasted time, but you WILL be less stressed about your travels. Cool bonus: people watching is always enjoyable.
    • Pro-tip: don’t cram everything into one trip. Pick your favorite options and stick to a simpler plan. You will feel less stressed and exhausted, and when you slow down truly magical things happen! There is a reason why EVERY tour company offers some free time on varying days and afternoons because they need extra time for the unplanned and everyone needs to slow down.
  7. Teach yourself the customs, some key phrases, social norms, and other details before you go. Nothing will make you feel more insecure than thinking you have pissed someone off or that you are awkwardly getting through life. Read up on dos and don’ts and mentally note how to behave.
  8. Most importantly, have fun! Laugh off your mistakes, learn as much as you can, and don’t sweat the small stuff. In my experience, things work out and you always have a phenomenal time!

HAPPY TRAVELS!

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Spring Break – To Be Avoided?

Caribbean, Florida, Travel, United States

Spring break is coming up for most Americans this month or next. Sometimes known as Easter Break, this annual tradition gives students and their overworked teachers a break from each other.

For the rest of us, we scramble to find care for our children and stumble into our jobs. And others of us are lucky enough to escape with our kids to tropical locations.

My advice, stay home.

Why?

Well unless you have a really good incentive for a break, it’s such a busy time of year that running away may not actually be enjoyable.

The Caribbean and Florida are the top locations for Spring Breakers, and if that awful movie sharing the same name is an indication, there is mayhem in them parts. Not that hotels and resorts don’t avoid spring break vacationers, but it’s hard to inhibit.

No doubt, at about every resort, will be those having too much fun and puking in the pool. No doubt. And on top of that rates are insane at most places in March and April, at times they can be almost double due to popularity.

At some point the vomit inhibits the fun. And let’s face it, do most college and high school aged people REALLY know how to hold their liquor?

If you do have a longer break, or decide to make it longer, there is a chance to hit the road to Europe or further afield. My only suggestion is to remember the travel time to get to and from, and how that can eat into time on the ground. A “week away” quickly can turn into only five says doing anything. And for around $1,000 a round trip plane ticket, you want to make sure it’s worthwhile.

This isn’t to say that fun can’t be had. For instance, many other locations are divine in spring, such as the Carolinas or the Bay Area. These places may not offer the surf and sand, but they can offer an enjoyable escape.

While I know all of you are itching for warmer weather, remember that sometimes good things come to those who wait.

Clothing Kerfuffle

Caribbean, Florida, mexico, musings, Travel

It’s next to impossible to always know what to pack on a trip. There is so much to consider such as temperatures, time traveling, wrinkles, weight, coordination, and sturdiness. Practicality is great, but one also doesn’t want to look like the sad American tourist stereotype that all the Italians gawk at.

The best part of all of this is that you think you have it covered, and then something goes terribly wrong. Of course this never happens when you are only 15 minutes from home, but rather when you’re on a small Caribbean island an hour boat ride from your spare swimsuit.

I have had my share of “clothing mishaps” but nothing quite as revealing as the infamous Janet Jackson mishap. Of course some of these do deal with the bra area, as about 80% of all women can also attest to.

There have been water slides that left me flashing teenage boys (D cups have a mind of their own folks!). Then there was my favorite story in Grand Cayman.

Patiently my now husband and I were waiting for a tour to the Sea Turtle Farm, of which a highlight was to swim with sea turtles. I had on an almost brand new bikini top, that unbeknownst to me was struggling to keep up with its job. Standing in line I hear this loud POP and felt a snap on my back. It was then that I realized the back clasp had broken. BROKEN. Dead, not functioning, BROKEN.

Luckily, I was wearing a t-shirt over myself or the day may have been very different. I didn’t get to swim with the turtles (giant sad face) but I got to hold babies and see the beauties up close and personal.

Most of my other stories are about sad bags and buying too many books. There are ripped jeans, and holy underwear. Because when you travel for two months or more straight things start to give up. There are the brand new toms I took into the jungle and ruined, but it was worth it to get covered in mud and have the 4-wheeling time of my life!

The moral of the story is to pack spares to your spares. Buy better quality swim suits, and always have a t-shirt for emergency boobs!

Happy Travels!

A Decade of Travel

Florida, France, italy, mexico, Scotland, Travel

It has been ten and a half years since I took my first trip without my parents. In that decade I have learned a lot about the world, people, cultures, identities, food, wine, and maybe most importantly, myself.

Perhaps the most powerful thing about being on the road, about depending on only myself, about sleeping in strange places, about navigating subways is that you learn so very much about the person that resides inside. It is the quiet moments waiting on a subway platform or walking around a city all alone that you get to listen to the internal voice. It is disconnecting the cell phones and emails and constant bombardment of your life that you can listen to yourself.

In a decade on the road, where most adventures have been solo, I have found more pieces of me on the road than I ever would have staying put. On my own two feet I have found that I am strong, a problem solver, great at meeting people, good at budgeting, amusing and kind, great at navigating, good at picking up social queues and much more. My favorite part is finding out that I am in fact a brave and capable person, in spite of a society that tells women they’re not.

Perhaps my travel is a rebellion, as is all the other women that travel alone, to all the people that told me not to go. It’s a rebellion to the other women that told me to be scared and to stay home. It’s a rebellion to the men that warned me, or assumed my actions were reckless, or would have preferred I stayed home and did nothing. It’s a fight against the men that have tried to intimidate me, or have groped me, or have threatened me. I am saying, none of these actions, big or small, will keep me from embracing and existing in this world.

A decade of travel has emboldened me to be more outgoing and more bold to apply for promotions. A decade of travel has pushed me into scared moments of education and risk, and to walk away from crappy people and situations. Ten years of traveling has meant that I have found a voice, and a purpose, and I left my home town and I have never looked back.

While I get to own decade of travel it has only been facilitated by the support and care of family and friends that encouraged my journey. My grandma talked me through the planning and shared books and art resources for me to find. My family friends pushed me to visit them, or to make sure I went. In my college years my partner, now husband, supported my study abroad and Master’s work internationally. My mother took her own travel dreams and wove them into my own by connecting me with friends, and buying me books. My Great-Aunt and Uncle took me on my first trip without my parents. And so many more have helped me along the way, from teachers to mentors, to total strangers.

It is these hands of support and love that have encouraged me to become the confident traveler and woman I have. While I always will have more to learn about myself and the world, I know I have crafted a framework for success.

So dear reader, I deeply encourage you and the others in your life to get out there and see the world. It’s one of the most profound and moving experience that anyone can have.

Make Sure You’ve Got the Docs

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So many times I hear this classic “I didn’t know I needed a Visa”.

Here is the truth, you ALWAYS need a Visa.

“What?” You ask. Because in London they stamped your book and you were free to go as a US citizen. This is totally true, but that stamp, at customs and border, was your visa. No pre-registration and paperwork needed. Just the stamp.

Here is the thing though, sometimes the stamp doesn’t happen. And a big reason is that your passport may not have at least 6 months left on it for you to enter a specific country. Or more depending on where you are headed. In fact, many airlines won’t even let you board the plane if your passport is low on time. Meaning that week in Paris may be thrown away if you’re not prepared. This happens a lot.

Now for countries where you need advance permission, it’s vital to learn who needs what and what is needed. Meaning: countries like China may take longer and need you to buy plane tickets before you travel. Vietnam only takes a few days to process. Some countries only need a form when you land and a $50 fee. Just make sure you find out and find out at least a month or more in advance so you have time to plan.

Where do you find these details? Embassy websites and through the US state department’s website on travel: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages.html

Don’t forget to also check warnings on places you are traveling to. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/

Even consider registering with the state department in case you go missing. https://step.state.gov/step/

Other needs? Check with a travel agent or specialist that can at least point you in the right direction. Read a travel guide on your preferred country and ask around to others that have been to such locations.

Most of all, plan ahead, and have fun!

Happy Travels!

Losing Bourdain

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I started watching Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations when I was a teenager. He had a wit about him, and an elegant but no nonsense means of writing about the world. He sucked me into his journeys in Ireland or Kenya and he did everything from drinking cow’s blood in Kenya to vegetarian dishes in India with humor, grace, and intelligence.

Bourdain moved through the world as something of an enigma. He was fully engaged with his location, yet he had a distance, a perspective, an observer’s mind as he met people and filmed a story. He existed in and out of the scene all at once, which made for a compelling look into his mind and craft.

Sure, he condemned vegetarians and Colorado, both which are near to my heart, but I forgave the grumpy uncle figure that could WRITE.

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He could WRITE. Bourdain pieced together vignettes that made the viewer stop and think, or day dream, or question their perspective on the world. He spun tales and myths and legend on his own that no one dared question. They were eloquent and smart, thick with descriptors and layers of thought and depth that many of his peers could never match.

I loved watching Bourdain in his element, elbows deep in meat and alcohol, talking with a local chef about the importance of animal innards to make distinct flavors and dishes. Bourdain was a compelling force, a person that could not be tamed or cut down, he just existed, and he shared with the world what that looked like.

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.” 

Packing for the Unpredictable

Caribbean, Cruising, Florida, Ireland, italy, mexico, new mexico, Scotland, Travel, wyoming

Colorado winters overlap with spring in an unusual way. This week has gone from 70° to 25° and everywhere in between. Today it is snowing. It’s April 6, 2018 and it’s snowing.

I try to not get discouraged on these wintery days, after all we need the moisture and the snow has a charm to it. Yet, I do wish it was rain instead of the ice and freezing cold. It also reminds me of the importance of clothing with unpredictable weather patterns. While I have lived my whole life in the Colorado and I am fully aware of wacky weather, I have also been the victim of my own poor planning.  Therefore, it’s imperative that one puts together smart outfits for the unpredictable.

Here are the things I never leave home without:

  • Long pants or jeans
    • You never know when the weather will get cold, especially in the evening, even in tropical areas. Also, if you plan on any outdoor sports of hiking, long pants help with mud, cuts, and other facts of the journey.
  • Hoodie/Sweater
    • Every trip I have taken, whether a warm or cold climate, my hoodie comes in handy. I may not use it everyday, but when airport air-conditioning is too high, or a cold snap hits in Mexico, I am so thankful that I have it.
  • Sandals
    • Depending on how you travel, I have found sandals are a must have. For instance, going through airport security is easier when shoes slip on and off. If I want an impromptu visit to a swimming pool, I’m covered. Finally, if you are hosteling or staying at a number of places with a shared bathroom, sandals make trips down the hall much easier. My personal favorites are Birkenstocks or Chaco’s
  • A nice outfit
    • maybe someone will ask you on a date, or to a club. Or maybe you will want to dine at a fine restaurant. Research what seems appropriate for where you may go, and pack for it. I strongly believe it’s hard to be over dressed (okay maybe a ball gown is too much) so bring something pretty, easy to keep clean/wrinkle free, and a good pair of dress shoes.
  • Boots/Water Resistant Shoes
    • Rain, mud, and floods happen. Maybe I have bad luck, but I have always have had a need for something water resistant on my feet. Make sure you research what you may need, because warm monsoons in India are going to be far different from Spring showers in London.
  • Umbrella
    • I have lost, broken, and bought endless numbers of umbrellas. My biggest issue was not buying a high quality umbrella to deal with the torrential downpours that sometimes hit Scotland in January. My advice is that you should buy the best umbrella you can find and treasure it. Also, sometimes it’s better to just get wet than fight with gale-force winds.
  • Jogging pants, not pajama pants
    • If you don’t plan to do a normal workout routine, then I suggest you bring some warm and comfy jogging pants. These make life more comfortable, and are warmer when evenings get cold. While pajama pants are nice, jogging pants create much needed warmth, especially in winter and spring. Same goes for them as the hoodie, sometimes air conditioning and cold snaps freeze one out. Extra plush makes the day better.
  • Leggings
    • This rule is maybe not for men, or maybe, you do you. Leggings are my go to for flights, and extra layers in the cold. On flights they are more comfortable if you swell like I do with flights. Leggings are also great backups if your other pants are dirty, and they are usually easier to clean in a sink than a pair of jeans.
  • Reusable Shopping Bag
    • It sounds silly, but seriously invest in a shopping bag that is easy to fold up and stuff in a pocket or purse. This is a major convenience as more and more countries have moved from giving out plastic or disposable bags. So having a bag for shopping, or even just to lug around laundry, water bottles, snacks etc. is worth it.
  • Backpack or larger purse
    • Now don’t bring a small suitcase, but a day bag or day pack is what is needed for the day to day travels around the city or town. This can hold your water bottle, sun screen, camera, phone, snack, money and other necessities. Ladies, make sure you get a bag with an over shoulder strap. Backpack lovers, maybe carry it in front in busy areas.

What do you not leave home without?

Happy Travels!

unpreditable

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!

Universal Studios for the Potterhead

Florida, Travel

Old Firehouse Books

2015-10-24 07.12.02-1 (1) I was up at 6am! and yes that is a Marauder’s map dress!

This October I had the fantabulous experience of getting to go to Universal Studios Orlando!

2015-10-24 08.12.10 HDR-2 My baby sister and I were pretty stoked!

AND OF COURSE I WENT TO THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER!

Because you can’t have a potter tattoo and not go if you are in Orlando, let alone the theme park.

Also, 8 year old me desperately need to go be an 8-year-old in a theme park and 11-year-old me wanted to live the potter books and movies, and buy my wand, and get sorted, and try butter beer, and act like a spaz about the Hogwarts Express.

2015-10-24 09.34.33 HDR-2 The Knight Bus starts the journey to Diagon Alley

We spent like 75% of the day in “Harry Potter World” which is split between a “Diagon Alley” and a “Hogsmeade” and in two separate parks…

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