Natural Born Control Freak

musings, Travel

I am a natural born stubborn control freak. STUBBORN. CONTROL. FREAK.

I am so stubborn that when I was a toddler I would get angry that I wouldn’t get my way and I would hold my breath until I passed out. My mom would ignore me, my grandma thought I was dying and would fuss over me. I gave up the stunt after I realized it wouldn’t get me very far.

I am so stubborn that I will be mid discussion with my husband and be looking up articles that validate my opinion and information I am sharing. This “discussion” has been known to go on for days…I can blame him, but it’s really my doing.

When I planned my first trip to Europe in 2010 I literally planned everything down to the hour and half hour. This included each museum, how to walk, where to eat, how long it took on the train/public transportation. It was planned to the wire. Then an Icelandic Volcano blew up and ruined the plan and I had to adjust everything.

Going into college I had a straight and narrow plan on getting my BA, getting my MA and getting the dream job. I would work my ass off and ta-da I would have it and in no time I could be at Conde Nast or the Times and one day I would move abroad and work for the Guardian.

 I thought a lot of things.

Life likes to shit on these thoughts and dreams.

It’s not that the universe, or life, or God, or Goddess, or Cat (whatever you’re into man) wants you to suffer, it’s that the universe is chaotic and nothing is promised. You can do everything the way you think you should, and it will all go to hell regardless. It’s just our existence on this blue marble.

I like to think I am a recovering control freak, but I think I am still more control freak than recovering. I will probably never be someone that can just show up on a rip with no plan or preconceived notions. Instead, I will show up with a folder of details, receipts, and schedules that I will refer to all week. I will have a mind full of facts and ideas and images and expectations as to what I should be experiencing on said trip. I will be well informed on food choices and activity prices, shoe and age requirements, cultural norms and common sayings. In many respects I am over prepared, in other respects I have spent a disgusting amount of time preparing myself for things that won’t go any set way.

I dislike chaos and disorganization, I dislike not being able to find things and things that go missing. I dislike the natural chaos of existence and I have done little things to try and shelter myself. I have a hard time committing to anything in a solid way, jobs, friendships, clubs, romances, etc. I WANT to, but I also fear if I come up with something more important to do, or a need, that if I can’t be there I am letting people down, and more importantly myself. This is not to say I don’t take risks, traveling is inherent risk, going to college is risk, my job is constant risk. I risk a lot, but it all is comfortable risk, risk that builds into something better. Emotional risk is something else.

Emotional risk, and inevitable failure, is heartbreak and tears and pain. It is not getting the job(s) you apply for, all 200 of them, and settling for a different field entirely. It is facing that marriage and long partnerships are not all wine and roses but something better, though scarier. It is learning to grow where you are planted, not demanding the perfect climate at the start. It is being vulnerable and real and going with chaos. It is the ultimate lemonade with lemons, no matter how sour they are, and no matter the sugar that is poured in the pitcher. It is daily getting up and trying to be better than the day before.

I am still learning in my recovery, I think each day my walls crumble a little more.

Keep Making Plans

Travel

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by life. We live in a culture that celebrates being constantly busy. We find ourselves overloaded with clubs and projects and cleaning that it’s hard to feel like it’s worthwhile to think about next week let alone next year.

Yet, in the planning of life and goals, if one does not plan ahead, one often misses the boat on being able to do all the things on dreams of.

I have found time and time again that if I actually plan for something, it will happen. It isn’t just penciling in a vacation or tentatively agreeing to something, it’s committing to a promise you made yourself! It’s a promise that is easier to keep when you begin laying the framework to make it happen.

While it’s not always easy to keep plans going, it is easier to work on plans when you know what needs to be done. Here are my tips for a successful plan framework, when committing to travel.

Life is unbelievably short, but you can pack more into your short ride on earth if you work hard, research, and plan out your fun for maximum benefit!

Steps for Successful Trip Planning

  1. Research where you what you want the most
    1. Some places may be fiscally out of reach unless you save for 20 years, which makes it an unrealistic goal, at least for right now.
    1. Prioritize what is most important. Is it more important to see such and such place, or stay in a nice hotel.
    1. Think about the “I can’t do that anywhere else”. Meaning if you REALLY want to have Giraffes eat breakfast with you, plan and budget for it. No where else in the world does Giraffe Manor quite match for drama and finesse.
    1. Think about what you can ACTUALLY save, not what you hope to save.
  2. Figure out what is needed for the trip
    1. Find out what the cost will be for EVERYTHING on the trip, then figure out your total, add some padding to that budget, then figure out how to make it work.
    1. Plan out a monthly amount you need to sock away to make it happen. Maybe it’s $50 or $500, but make sure you can make it work within your means. Put away more if you can, then you may have more mad money for the journey.
    1. Prioritize your “musts” and then cut what is unnecessary. This may mean no more morning coffees or less shopping trips, but the payoff is well worth it.
  3. Consider “cheap” travel
    1. Never has there been as easy of a time to research and plan travel. That is true for saving money on everything but the necessities. Budget airlines allow you to customize your needs (checked bags, seat selection, carry ons etc.) so if you know you don’t need much for a week away, leave it behind and skip the fees.
    1. Instead of hotels, which can eat up a lot of budget, consider bed and breakfasts, hostels, and even Airbnb-type accommodations. If safety is a worry, read reviews, check into location specifics, and ask questions.
  4. Visit friends and family
    1. If you are lucky to have friends and family living around your nation, state, or the globe consider knocking on their door. Many times my trips were only accomplished because good friends and family offered me a bed to sleep in.
    1. Visiting “locals” often means a richer journey to a place, it’s there that you make new friends and connections, experience local cuisine, and see hidden gems you would have otherwise missed.
    1. Naturally, it’s best to check in with your loved ones far ahead of time to make sure it’s okay if you take over their couch.
  5. Keep it simple
    1. It can be tempting to want to pack in “everything” on a trip, but the truth is that you miss a lot running from place to place. If you are limited on travel time due to poor vacation time allowances, this is especially true.
    1. It’s inevitable some plans will get derailed due to weather, train strikes, illness etc. so while it’s good to plan, have some wiggle room in your time abroad.
    1. Research places or things you want to see and make a list of opening times and priority locations. For example: you can walk York in the morning before places open, or in between sightseeing stops. For Venice, the canals don’t close at 5 so make sure you see museums before this time and enjoy evening splendors that are always there.
  6. Timeline It
    1. If you are limited on time off make a timeline on how long it will take you to save up enough vacation days and/or money. Add an extra month or two in case of a sick day, but this should let you figure out a good time to go.
  7. Be open to change
    1. There will be life things that mess up your plans. Your best friend may do a destination wedding. Your house may need a new roof. Be open to this possibility and be flexible with your planning. Sometimes pushing an adventure back a year is ideal over just giving up.
  8. Invite a friend
    1. One way to reduce lodging costs is to share with someone. If you have a friend, or a spouse, or niece etc. that would also be down for an adventure then have them come along. If you split a hotel room in most countries it makes a nice room much more attainable.
    1. For cruises, tours, and all-inclusive trips having a second person is almost a necessity for cost savings. Many times the single supplement almost pays for an extra person, so you might as well bring a pal!

What are your tips to making things happen?

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!

Don’t Plan Too Much

Travel

As a follow up to my last post, Plan Ahead, Avoid the Headache, I wanted to share the opposite problem for travelers to ponder, planning too much.

Flash to January 2010 and I am a nervous 18, almost 19 year old, planning their first trip to Europe. I was working in a small gift shop in Manitou Springs, and while the day was slow I would plan out, step-by-step how my trip was going to go. I mean step-by-step. I had the time I woke up, map directions and times to get to the first spot I wanted to see, approximate times for a lunch break, and what area or grocery store, or park bench I thought I should stop at.

This was a classic case of a bored mind finding mazes to run, and a nervous first time (solo) traveler trying to figure out how to maximize time in other countries. I had no freakin’ clue.

I landed in Germany in April 2010 and within a week everything had gone to hell. I was luckily staying with friends outside of Stuttgart, but the next part of my trip was delayed an entire week as all flights were grounded due to a certain Icelandic Volcano. When I say everything was grounded, I mean this volcanic ash cloud left 10 million stranded, cost airlines 1.7 billion in revenues…etc. etc. Thank you Eyjafjallajokull volcano! 

On a personal level it meant my two months of planned travel was also interrupted and I played a fast game of cutting out places in England and Ireland that I had planned to see. I split London into two chunks. I cut out the Lake District. I spent less time with friends in Diss. Then I met a Scottish guy and changed my plans for matters of the heart (this was also a flop). 

However, the lesson was that all my hours and hours and days of planning meant that I had failed to see that life, especially in traveling, gets messy and disruptive, and REALLY hates strict rules. I learned hard and fast that on long journeys you often just don’t know how your desires may change and that your heart may find a new path. 

I learned this again in 2013, when my funding for my study abroad was late and I was staying with family with no money. That same trip meant I would catch whooping cough and be bedridden for a week instead of going to Istanbul. 

Since then I have become wise to these tricks, or so I pretend, and I try to find a happy medium. A set of “plans” maybe a few tours, maybe some reservations, but ultimately I let things happen and I stay open to opportunity. What I have learned more than anything is that it’s important to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. 

Happy Travels!

Plan Ahead, Avoid the Headache

musings, Travel

Probably the single biggest, and best piece of advice I can give to those wanting to travel, is that planning ahead will save the day. While it’s great to take advantage of a last minute vacation, it can also spell disaster for making the most of your travels. Of course one can over plan, more on that another day.

Essentially when it comes to traveling, especially internationally, planning can mean huge savings, better experiences, and a smoother journey than winging it on the last minute.

For example, if you are a foodie and you want to experience one of the best restaurants in the world, how likely do you think it will be that you can get a reservation at Central in Lima, Peru if you are leaving in two weeks, versus trying to make the reservation 45 days in advance? You guessed it, 45 days. This isn’t just the Michelin rated places, but Disney dining, and popular gems that bring in the crowds. If you know a place is a pinnacle of your journey, plan ahead, ask questions, and do your research.

Another example is accommodations. Unless it’s the off season, a lot of places book far in advance, meaning the crowds of people make finding a room hard. This also means that prices increase based on supply and demand (this is also true for flights). So unless you have cash to burn, booking a refundable rate well in advance secures your spot to sleep. If you get closer to the date and KNOW you are going come hell or high water, a non-refundable (if still available) can save money and secure your stay. Either way, it’s important to have something pinned and secured.

This also is true for excursions and activities. Did you know many places have a cap on how many visitors can come a day? This includes places like Machu Picchu and Yosemite. Beyond limits, many places have insane waits unless you book in advance (I’m looking at you Vatican and Uffizi). Meaning it’s almost vital to get a museum pass, book a tour, or work with a hotel concierge to get tickets in advance and this is especially true in high seasons.

I say all of this being the type A planner that I am, and being that I know from personal experience I have missed out by not planning ahead. However, if you are last minute taking off consider these tips to make it easier:

  • Use tour aggregators like Viator to find the tours/activities you want
  • Contact a tour guide or concierge service to see about getting help with details
  • Visit the tourism board websites of where you are traveling
  • Most importantly: check travel.state.gov to make sure that you don’t need a passport update or visa which could majorly foil your plans
  • Ask stupid questions of people that have been where you are going. With endless Facebook groups you are sure to get some information
  • Buy a travel guide! I can’t stress this enough for those trying to learn about a new place last minute. Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, and many others offer endlessly valuable information, not to be missed.

Happy Travels!

Also: Don’t Plan Too Much

A Stack of Magazines

musings, Travel

It’s easy to say “I read” as a kid. It’s much more interesting to explain exactly what that looked like.

My family are readers, through and through, every room, including the bathrooms, had books or magazines in them. Often she leaves were two or three deep, the coffee table housed endless picture books. I read before bed. My mom read to us before bed. I read on the bus. My grandma shared art books with us. I powered through reading challenges. I took home stacks of books from each library visit.

My mom was an assistant library for our community school/public library (small town Cripple Creek) which meant the book love train was never ending.

Some of the coffee table books that littered the living room were elaborate photo essays of places all over the world. The art ones showed off masterpieces and where to find them. The DaVinci anatomy book connected past and present to our understanding of the body.

But the cream of the crop was the, what’s seemed to my child mind, mountains of National Geographic magazines in our basement. Vividly I remember pouring through stack after stack searching for images and stories that inspired my exploring. Ships bobbed on azure waves, tribally adorned men dove for pearls, houses were made raw and blended seamlessly into the landscape. I saw that much more was happening outside of the mountains of Colorado.

As I grew older I would read some of the articles and learn about poverty, war, crime, danger, and the perseverance of peoples. Combined with all my reading, and the nightly news my grandfather consumed I began traveling in my mind. I was compelled to seek these other lands, these people, the animals, the food, the azure waves (I didn’t see the ocean until I was 17).

I knew then, as I do now, that the stacks of magazines were so much more than “a stack of magazines” they were portals into all that the world was and could be. They were windows into the soul and spirits of endless stories and endless lives. They were pure magic.

At some point the magazines were donated to the local school, where they were cut into collages and posters, an upcycling rebirth. And as an adult I collect new stacks and new stories and new portals to new worlds I dream of exploring.

What I Wish You Knew

colorado, musings, Travel

It’s easy in 2018 to find information on every part of the world….except when it is not.

While there are probably millions of pieces on Paris and London, there are only a handful of helpful writings on parts of American Samoa, or rural areas of Vietnam. While more people explore the world, this gap tightens, but there is always a need for better information, not more.

“Being first is irrelevant when the story is just wrong.”

While it’s great to have endless options for readings, articles, videos, and blogs, there is often a disconnect on the quality of works. Or much of the information is just outdated, poorly written, ethnocentric, exaggerated…. you get the idea.

Recently I saw a pretty popular Facebook page attached to a page through a pretty popular media company. In the video it stated that a VERY popular Colorado tourist site was only 1,000 feet above sea level. To put this into perspective, the capitol of Denver is at 5,280 feet above sea level, and this site was around 7,000 feet above sea level. The mistake was glaring and extremely unhelpful to visitors that may not know what to do with elevation gains, altitude sickness, and other problems that come with mountains.

It is mistakes like the video that create a cycle of bad information and problems for travelers, researchers, and those working in the tourism industry.

Time and time again I return to travel guides as a resource because they have many things going for them, and most importantly, they are updated and more accurate than other resources.

No doubt many bloggers and news sources try to update their work as much as possible, but travel guides have the set up to ensure their accuracy and consistency. Guides also work with companies to present information, update locations, and create a standard of information that other media sources cannot keep up with.

When I get out in the world, or run into an issue on research for work, I find that I am constantly returning to a book on the place or finding a blog that is specifically written on a set region.

What I wish all travelers knew is that it’s important to be accurate, and it’s important to provide good content. Being first is irrelevant when the story is just wrong.

Maybe the journalist in me is fighting an over-saturated market of bad blogs, but I wish I could tell people every day to buy a book, read some more, ask questions of locals. Don’t expect someone that has barely or NEVER been to Paris to give you a rating on the best restaurants. They’ll go to Yelp just like you and regurgitate 30 reviews. The authenticity is simply lost.

you-knew

Packing for Kids

family, Travel

My mom and I used to fight about who got to pack bags for trips. My mom and I are both type A personalities, and stubborn, and sometimes control freaks (just being honest).

Thus, when stubborn preteen me took a trip, she would argue with her mom about what was packed and what made sense to take.

Mind you, I have never forgotten more than like a toothbrush on a trip. I have maybe broken many chargers, sunglasses, tubes of shampoo and more, but it usually makes it in the suitcase first!

Anyway, fast forward 17 years and I have a step daughter that doesn’t care what goes in her bag. Which helps so much when we travel! The down side is that she doesn’t end up helping in the planning stages as much as I would like.

Thus, I put together this handy guide on what kids need for a summer car trip with a train return. Making it an easy and simple way for adults and kids to know what to plan when hitting the road.

Side note: I totally forgot shoes, which are usually attached to the kids feet.