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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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!

Throw Back Thursday – Childhood Travel Lessons

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Many people gain a love of travel as children. Sometimes they’re crammed into the beck of a family station wagon, or a small camper, traversing open highways to neighboring states and countries. Others fly away to an annual beach escape, all-inclusive, beach, and drinks.

My family did things differently. As a product of low-income we did things a little less luxuriously. We crammed into a Dodge Neon, five of us. We slept in rustic cabins on our ranch or in canvas tents at a re-enactment. On occasion a worse than Motel 6 room was in the cards. This meant a shower and how to cram three kids in a twin or double bed, absolutely luxury was a queen. We ate at cheap diners and cheese and crackers as we rolled along plains lands.

We went through Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota to icons like Devil’s Tower, Jewel Cave, Helena, and De Smet. We saw where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and a Palace made of Corn. And we have many pictures at Mount Rushmore in different outfits, an awkward ages, with relatives that have passed or friends that have moved on.

Reenactment with my cousin Nathan, aunt Mary and baby sibling McClellan.

These journeys taught me how important a hot plate and hot water can be. That boiled eggs are always a good snack. That learning to read in the car without motion sickness is vital to surviving 1,000 miles with two younger sisters. That you can survive 30 playthroughs of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. That dogs can wedge themselves anywhere if given enough time. And most importantly, short legs make for an easier car ride.

All in all these things taught me to be better at travel in the big wide world. Hot plates turned into hostel kitchens. Small cars meant I can live through a long plane ride. Crappy hotel means I can survive…. crappy hotels and most hostels. I know the importance of hitting grocery stores to cut food costs. I know that picking light makes everything easier. I know that audio and physical books are life savers for endless journeys that have no service, wi-if, or charger.

The frugality of my parents has meant I knew how to save and travel at 19, 22, 23, 24, 26, and 27. It means I know how to pinch pennies and look for deals, to read and study and to plan my journey, to know the importance of flexibility and patience.

My cousin Nathan and I at the family ranch in Wyoming.

While I didn’t see much of the world until an adult, I know these lessons will carry me well into my old age.

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.” 

Road Trip Survival U.S.A.

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Growing up in the west, we take a lot of what the rest of the world would see as “road trips”. This could mean just a shopping excursion in the biggest city for 300 miles (Denver) or traveling state lines to get to family, friends, or just out of your bubble.

Growing up in a rural environment meant that we had to travel to get anything and anywhere. 30 minutes to the grocery store. 60 minutes to go clothes shopping. 120 minutes to go to a concert…. it took a while to get places. Then of course you had to return, usually the same day.

In some respects I feel like a road warrior, always prepared with a book and wet wipes for whatever may come my way. Yet I always cringe a little bit at the prospect of a five hour drive from where I live to my hometown. Thus, there are always a few things I bring along to make sure I can survive without going batty.

  1. Entertainment
    • This depends on the journey and if I am going solo or with family or friends. If I am solo, I bring out the audio books. Especially longer books I have been struggling to get to with my own eyes…..hello Ulysses. If I am going with a buddy I make sure we have a good song playlist.
    • Remember to download files to your phone or device as cell phone service is often unreliable or totally nonexistent in many parts of the American West.
    • If you aren’t the only driver, bring some physical books, movies, magazines, or anything else to help pass the time.
  2. Comfort Food
    • This doesn’t have to be food that’s bad for you, but rather something you enjoy munching on that fills in the gaps between meals. I personally love chips (crisps to you brits).
    • Don’t go heavy with your snacks, make sure it’s not something that will upset your system or leave you bloated and uncomfortable. I find vegetable based treats and minimal grease make the best combination.
  3. Plan You Meals
    • I often pack a car lunch of tasty meals so we don’t have to make extra stops. This is often breakfast or lunch, with the next meal being one we stop for.
    • This is often a sandwich of some sort such as an egg and bacon for breakfast, hummus and veggies for lunch, or peanut butter and jelly. I always plan for something that won’t sour and that will taste good in a few hours.
  4. Leave Extra Time
    • I feel that it’s better to be stupid early than late. Meaning it makes more sense to show up before you planned than to show up late and make a mess. If you can’t commit to a time, don’t make plans and show when you get there. This leaves frustration behind and makes the journey easier.
  5. Plan for Frustration
    • Life happens, especially when you are on the road. Maybe you’ll hit a traffic jam, or an elk jam (this happens) which means you may take longer to get where you are going. This is just a reality of driving through the U.S. of A.
    • Make sure you have an emergency kit in your car, a AAA membership and other things to make your emergencies less tragic.
  6. Plan Your Routing
    • This seems obvious but a lot of people don’t plan their routing ahead of their journey. Yet, when you look into say traveling Raton Pass in New Mexico, you learn that storms can make the journey a nightmare. Make sure you look into where you are headed, especially using local Department of Transportation Websites and other details to ensure a smoother journey.
  7. Bring Comfy Cozies
    • This means something different for everyone. For me, it’s a few things. I bring my down pillow from home (IKEA brand), a hoodie (maybe a little threadbare), and some favorite leggings. This means I have everything needed for cold morning naps, sleeping in questionable hotels, and for comfort during unexpected discomfort.
  8. Have Fun
    • Regardless of the reasons for road tripping, make sure you add some fun. Maybe it’s stopping at a silly museum, or a famous ice cream shop, but make sure you take time to enjoy the journey. Otherwise, why go?

Happy Travels!

 

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Packing for the Unpredictable

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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

Land of Enchantment Part III

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The final day was spent starting the day with a trip to the last two museums on my list, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the International Folk Art Museum. 

The first was home to a massive amount of history and artwork dating back to prehistory and into modernity. It not only showcased the long story and history of native peoples but also the current conflicts and issues that exist. I especially appreciated a section that called out cultural appropriation and stereotypes in modern american culture.

The plaza outside of the museum was equally impressive and an enjoyable visit all on its own. Full of life-size and larger statues it paid testament to native culture, struggle and existence, a story that often is overlooked and misunderstood.

The folk museum provided a great blend of other stories, and the fact it had a folk-art element meant that it reflected the tale of the average person and not that of another identity. Rooms were filled to the brim of a variety of cultural expressions including miniatures, needlepoint, dolls and much more.

After musuem land it was time to PARTY!

We started the events with a surprise mass, and wedding for my great aunt and uncle. We finished with food and sangria at their home in rural Santa Fe. I got to see cousins that live in Germany and England that I don’t usually see and talk with other cousins I didn’t know too well. All around it was a success and very enjoyable for all involved.

And sadly the next morning ment driving home…until next time Santa Fe!

Part I, Part II

 

Land of Enchantment Part II

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The second day was an early start to the day and driving to downtown before the tourists invaded. I also wanted to talk to the Native American artists that sat outside by the Palace to sell their goods to locals and tourists alike. This was a great opportunity to learn how the system worked and how it provided artists the chance to make money directly and control their art.

I ended up buying a small pottery egg from a woman that had a turtle and fish on it, representing life and sustainability. The price was great and it felt awesome to support local and small artists. As an artist and from a family of artists, this direct connection meant a lot.

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I talked to others about their goods and how they made things. There were silver workers, pottery masters, jewelry makers, weavers and everything in between. If you want to REALLY shop native goods, then this is the place and the best way to do it.

I then hit a few more shops looking for a thank you to the neighbors for loving on our cat while we were gone and I found a small place that sold local arts such as tin work and jewelry made from dried corn. All of these made great little souvenirs and it was enjoyable to be shopping so early and away from the crowds and chaos.

Before it was too hot I also walked the few blocks around the center of town, photographing and enjoying the soul of the city. One that dripped with art and culture and history. The entirety of it brought me a sense of peace and joy that I miss living in a newer city. The sensation reminded me of the same sensation I receive when I’m in Europe. Traversing ancient pathways and soaking up centuries of movement.

Late that morning some other relatives arrived for the celebrations, so the afternoon was spent eating, talking and doing some more sightseeing.

We spent a significant part of the afternoon looking at the old and famous churches of Santa Fe, including the Loretto Chapel, known for its staircase. Gothic in style the church has a classic charm to it.

Then we visited the OLDEST church in the United States, San Miguel Chapel. Which not only has the claim to being the oldest, but also is home to a 14th century bell from Spain, and some beautiful old art from the colonial time period.

We finished the day at the OLDEST home in Santa Fe, which was perfectly sized for someone short like myself and was a darling walk in the lifestyle of early Europeans that settled in the area.

Finally, we returned my aunt to the hotel and Ryan and I were able to have a date in Santa Fe. Which, naturally,deserved being full of tacos (American-Mexican) and margaritas. We ate the most amazing fish tacos I have ever had at Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill (that also had an awesome Gluten-Free menu. Then we finished with a quick visit the art museum and a walk around the old part of town.

Part I, Part III

Land of Enchantment

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A few weeks ago I had the great luxury of being able to go to Santa Fe on a road trip with my fiance. The main reason we were going was for a family get together/surprise 50th anniversary party for my Great Aunt and Uncle, the second reason was the excuse to get away for a long weekend and do something different.

I am very much an artistic and creative person. It’s kind of my reason for living so the chance to go to a city dripping in art, that wasn’t in another country, was like an elixir of joy and artistic energy that I desperately needed. Since graduating from my MA degree things have been…rough, to say the least. So I have been trying to find energy and joy in the small things.

From the Fort, Santa Fe is between a 6-8 hr drive depending on traffic and route and if you obey speed limits.

Photo Jul 20, 6 47 20 AM

We left at 4am on Thursday and got to Santa Fe at about 10:45am with a few pit stops so I could pee, stretch my legs and get a little something to eat. We also stopped at a tourist center in Raton for a few guides on where we were going and what to do.

The nice part about leaving so early was that traffic was minimal and not backed up in Denver and Colorado Springs. This made everything easier and less stressful. It also meant we got to Santa Fe at a good time to get lunch at a local diner called Joe’s, and see the New Mexico History Museum.

Joe’s offered some amazing huevos rancheros ( a go to for me) with the most amazing green chili! Ryan got a bison burger and all around the staff and environment proved to be comforting and tasty. They also offered an EXTENSIVE list of Gluten-Free options (extra win).

The history museum was also a fantastic adventure. Stations off of the plaza in the oldest part of the city it starts in the Palace of the Governor’s and winds into newer buildings as it moved forward in history. The collection of native arts and Spanish influences paints the picture of how New Mexico changed under European influence and they spent a good amount of time discussing the conflicts that it brought. For instance the Pueblo Revolt was very influential in the history of New Mexico and the Americas.

Photo Jul 21, 2 24 28 PM

Casta paintings represented the different “races” and categorized them into hierarchies depending on one’s ancestry of Spanish, Native American or African.

Ryan found much of the military history intriguing and enjoyable and we finished the trip through time reflecting on the Nuclear test sites around New Mexico.

For dinner we ate some food we brought with and stayed the night in the well-priced and well-maintained Super 8 that sat about 15 minutes from downtown. The best part was the artwork that covered the hotel by a P S Romero. The large sun piece over the front desk was the best, and I desperately wish I could own it.

Photo Jul 24, 9 18 01 AM (1).jpg

Added bonus: mini murals were painted throughout the hotel!

Part II