Disney Planning – How to Plan

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Part 1

While looking at lists of everything you need to do when you plan your Disney vacation it’s all extremely overwhelming. With my work as a travel advisor (agent) it’s always best to break things into reasonable pieces. Think of it like cutting up your plate of food, the small pieces prevent you from choking and dying. This is important for Disney too. (Ok death is less imminent, but your headache is real).

If you don’t have a lot of time to break everything down and you need to make sure things get done, talk to an expert! There are thousands of travel agents that have specialized training to help you turn a Disney dream into a reality. AND it doesn’t have to be a bank breaking vacation to get help! Search locally and online and you are sure to get connected with an expert. Many times your fee is minimal or even free!

Also, check with your credit card perks, some even offer concierge and travel experts as a part of your card fees! This is especially true if you are using points for any parts your travel.

If you want to handle the whole thing yourself, then prepare for it to take a good chunk of time. Most importantly, start planning what you’re doing MONTHS if not a year in advance. Even if you have been to Disney since you were in pull-ups, the changes that roll out every few months will mean you need to update your mental picture of what you want to do.

My personal suggestion is to make a list of wishes. Ask your spouse and kiddos or friends what they want out of their Disney time. Some may be all about Star Wars, others may be into the Princesses, and some may not care. Make a detailed list of everything from rides, foods, events, shopping, and hotels. This will make putting the puzzle together much easier. If you can, have everyone pick their top 1-3 “things” they don’t want to miss and then narrow it down. Find the things that overlap, and work in the rest. Ultimately, this will help you understand what you need to plan for the most.

Once you have a good idea on what everyone is wanting (don’t forget yourself) you can get into reservations and solidified plans.

-stay tuned for part 3

Happy Travels!

Disney Planning – Getting Started

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I have never been to a Disney Park. A weird admission from a travel and media geek like myself.

See my parents didn’t really love theme parks. I don’t think my dad went to a single one with us as kids. And the biggest theme park I had been to before 2015 (I was 24) was Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado.

It wasn’t that my dad didn’t like fun, or even Disney movies. In fact he adores the music from quite a few of them, it was the crowds and the noise and the heat, and most importantly, the cost.

When you’re living below the poverty most of your childhood, a Disney vacation is at the bottom of the list.

Therefore, at the age of 28 I am taking on the work of planning a day at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World!

What I thought would be a simple planning of a day or two has turned into months of opening dates and reservations and hourly details. It’s insane.

Therefore, what has been a deep dive into planning a Disney World vacation, and at times a headache, has lead me to thinking that other people could use some guidance. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my tips and tricks to figuring it all out, saving money, and having the best time possible! I look forward to helping others along the journey.

Happy Travels!

Part 2

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!

A Decade of Travel

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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.

To Camera…or Not to Camera

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I love photography, as anyone that has followed this blog for a while knows. However, I am conflicted with a constant concern when I travel if I should bring my camera equipment or stick with my phone.

The simple answer is I don’t know.

I don’t know because it depends so greatly on how one travels, what one is doing on a particular trip, or if you have a safe way to keep your gear. So I have a few check points when determining this. It is not an exact science but it helps me sort out if my camera on my Iphone is OK, or if the DSLR is worth the extra bag, weight, and effort.

I bring my camera under the following circumstances

  1. I am doing some portrait or fine photography
    1. this is a “well duh”
  2. I have the chance or time to do some real photography
    1. This means if I am going to be in nature for a good amount or time, or if I have a long trip I am taking.
  3. I have extra luggage space
    1. If I can afford the extra ten pounds, then it goes!
  4. There is no way my cell phone camera can capture it well
    1. This is especially true in situations where a zoom lens is a good idea, such as nature or travel photography (again more time/space is a must)
  5. I can keep it safe
    1. Traveling on a cruise or boat or water-based situation can be lethal to your best camera friend. Sand, wind, dirt, rain etc. is also an unfriendly mess!
    1. I don’t want my cameras, AKA my expensive travel tools, to be ruined on a wild trips.

I don’t take the camera kit for pretty much the opposite reasons but I also keep this in mind on certain trips. Am I going to “work” on this trip or am I going to play?

Because when you do photography professionally such as for weddings and your blog. When you write off travel as a business expense, which it very much is, you have to draw a line on fun and work.

I make an effort, some times better than others, to not make every trip a working trip. When I go with my husband, I tend to leave the DSLR behind because the point is to not work and be with my husband. When I travel by myself, the camera is likely in my bag. It’s a lot about priorities and what is most important on a specific journey. Is it to get more great shots (which I love love love) or to spend time with those I love (also love love love)?

Sometimes it is hard to leave my little digital friends at home, but I don’t regret the less weight and I don’t regret focusing on reconnecting with my family.

What do you do?

Happy Travels!

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?

Don’t Plan Too Much

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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

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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

The Creative Mind

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The creative mind is a tricky thing.

On one hand you know, locked in your school are all the details needed to create and craft endless wonders.

On the other hand is the constant view of what you want to be and not being able to enact it.

Culturally and mentally we all want more than what we have. Deep down we all want to hoard everything, to have what others have, to have more than others have. While this helped us survive when as we developed into humanity, today, it can play a disservice. In the creative brain it creates a loop of dissatisfaction and anxiety.

When I take a photo, I usually like it…. then quickly dislike it. I see the value immediately but then I begin to pick at my work. Sometimes it’s because I have learned a new technique or I’ve become better at cropping or angles or adjusting aperture etc. so I see my mistakes after a while. The other part is a hatred of not feeling good enough. A creeping sensation that everything I do is garbage.

I need to put on the mental games brakes before I get to garbage. This is hard. Any of you that are creative, maybe poets, painters, or dancers, you know how hard this is. Yet it’s vital for long term success.

Even with this blog I feel scared. Fear of failure. A sensation that I’m wasting my time. An anxiety that everything I put into the universe is just drivel in a never ending spew fest of the internet. Maybe everything we do has no actual meaning.

Yet, and I pressure you, dear reader, to land here: maybe it is all a little value. A little value to you. A little value to your friends that appreciate your work. A little value to building your skills. All are like droplets in your life, and eventually you get a cup that overflows. It takes time to fill it, but you get there.

Some of our cultural issues are that we treat creativity like it’s this ethereal dance with muse and inspiration. A divine light that makes everything come together to success. And while creativity sometimes feels like that, there were a lot of little drops to get to a divine moment, the overflow. Meaning, that there was a lot of work to get there.

So while overnight success isn’t fully tangible , I know that I can add drops until I get there.

Happy Travels!

The Best Lessons Have Been My Mistakes

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I have been traveling internationally for 8 1/2 years. Mostly by myself. Always on a budget. And with a few struggles along the way. Some have been all my fault. Others I can blame on fellow travelers. All of them are important.

Here are 10 of the best/worst lessons to learn on the road.

  1. Carry a phone-
    A part of me hates this but it has saved my butt more times than I can count. For instance, when you forget to learn out to read bus schedules, you can call a cab.

2. Buy good maps

    I don’t know how many tines having a bad or outdated or confusing map has messed up a day, turned me around, or got me lost. So, investing in a good map is an important way to preemptively save the day.
  • 3. self care!
    • I have become sick 2 out of 3 extended trips. If I had used more hand sanitizer, brought some vitamins, and got more sleep, I would have had an easier time with everything.

    4. Pack Light/Buy light

    • I have always made this mistake on longer trips. I pack too much, and immediately regret it. The other side is buying too much. When my aunt went with me to Europe in 2015 she bought so many souvenirs that we had to mail two large boxes home AND a suitcase. Because of the weight and international shipping fees, she spent almost $800 to mail home about $3,000 worth of merchandise. The moral of the story is that it’s better to buy the few things you REALLY want, leave room in your suitcase to bring it home, and consider purchasing some items when you get home. Pro tip- many companies get GREAT shipping discounts if you buy say $100 of merchandise.
  • 5. Eat Well
    • Don’t eat expensive, eat well. Eat your veggies like mamma told you. Don’t drink too much. Make sure you drink plenty of water, and enjoy delicacies in moderation.

    6. Say no

    • Say no to people that annoy you. Say no to drunk guys in bars. Say no to pushy “tour guides”. Say no to flirtatious Italians. Say no when it seems wrong, sketchy, scary, or if your gut tells you so.

    7. Ask Questions

    • So many mistakes and mishaps could have been prevented for myself and others if I had asked more questions, asked for directions, asked for a better map or bus schedule. See 1 and 2.

    8. Bring a Towel

    • It sounds silly, but if you have read Hitchhiker’s Guide (or seen the movie) you know towels are helpful. Truth is having a good towel on the road is also helpful.

    9. Bring a Sweater

    • Weather conditions can change in most places without warning. The times I have needed a sweater I have been so grateful to have one. When I have forgot one, boy did chattering teeth regret it.

    10. Make sure you are physically ready

    • Travel can be thoroughly miserable if you are not in shape. Being tired from long walks, or just carrying luggage can make the trip a miserable time. See 4 for extra help!

    What have you learned on the road?