Why I’ll Always Travel Solo

family, love, outdoors, Travel

A lot of people seek out someone that is a reflection of them in a relationship. Reflections show you…well you…they don’t always help you examine your own back. Instead, I have the spotlight relationship, a person that shines light on where I can improve, and helps me build myself into a better person.

It’s fun to have someone that loves all the same things as you, but it’s equally fun to have someone to teach you new things and visa versa. My husband is someone that would prefer a night in to a night out. A day of video games to a day of hiking. A staycation to a camping trip. If you can guess, I like the opposite.

We have done plenty of trips together such as cruising, Santa Fe Road Tripping, and our Honeymoon to Mexico. However, there are journeys and activities Mr. Stillway will never be as keen on and that means I get to do one of my favorite things, traveling solo.

I love traveling with Ryan, but I also love being on my own in the world. I love the thrill of being independent and free to travel and do as I please. I love the opportunities and strength and wonders that it brings. I will always continue to travel by myself as long as opportunity allows.

I plan on, in 2020 to hike the Inca Trail. I plan on taking work trips with or without my colleagues. I plan on going to places like China and India as Ryan and many friends don’t hold the same interest in them as I do. In the decades to come I plan on checking off places like Antarctica, Kenya, Rwanda, Egypt, Jordan, and many other places.

Traveling solo means time to reflect and learn the deepest parts of myself. It makes me stand taller and hold my head higher. It encourages me that if I can plan a trip halfway around the world, I sure as hell can kick ass at work and school. It helps me encourage my fellow woman and girl to dream of all the possibilities they also have in the world!

Where are you going?

Happy Travels!

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There is Always a Cost

Travel

Here is a cold hard tip for travel.

It costs.

It costs money to go.

Or points that came from spending money.

It costs fuel, gas, electricity.

It costs for your food.

It costs for someone to clean up after you.

It costs for someone to make you food.

It costs for someone to fly the plane, to run the train.

It costs money to travel.

I don’t mean to sound like a jaded children’s poet, but I think there is a disconnect from the thrifty and the reality of expense.

While I love saving money, just like most people when I travel, I think it’s also important to understand that there is a minimum cost of everything. This minimum costs has to come from somewhere.

I say this because I notice trends in the travel industry that look like something too good to be true, and really are too good to be true.

For instance, one may see amazingly cheap resorts in Mexico. Which is great for those of us with limited means. Yet when you break down the real cost of some of these vacation packages, there are added costs. There are costs to how well the people are paid, less profit can mean lower or stagnant wages.

Then there is the AirBnB mess that i constantly hear about. Someone books a house to save a little money, and then they find out that the place wasn’t what they thoughts, gets cancelled at the last minute, or the locations ends of being some type of illegal renting situation. It’s not that every AirBnB is bad, but that sometimes the “discount” isn’t really a discount.

From my work in the travel industry the best deals and most security come from doing the following:

  • Joining loyalty programs for hotels, airlines, resorts etc.
    • These are usually free and they often offer things like better rates, free Wi-Fi, discounts on future bookings, points accumulations etc.
  • Book a package
    • Companies like FunJet work with airlines like Southwest to create better rates for flights to popular areas like Cancun, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. This doesn’t always save a significant amount of money, but it can have bonuses like resort credits, spa credits, free transfers from the airport etc.
  • Go in the off-season
    • research pricing in advance to find the seasons that are lower. This can sometimes save 50% off air and hotels, versus going around Spring Break or winter holidays.
  • Book Ahead
    • If you DO have to go in the high-season, then make sure you book as early as possible. This usually can save you a significant amount on your rates, and ensure availability.
  • Book Last Minute
    • If you wind up with some extra vacation time to burn, a last minute booking can prove to be really economical and get you into places wanting to fill a spot. This works best in shoulder and off-season time-frames.
  • Find Hidden Gems
    • Sometimes the best experiences are away from the crowds and the chaos of popular areas. For instance, instead of high-end lodges in Africa for $1,000 per night, one could have a similar experience at a lesser-known lodge for closer to $300 per night. Sometimes the lodges don’t have the luxury pools and details of the luxury lodges, but they do have fantastic views, wildlife experiences, and animal viewing that is sure to amaze.

What are your budget finds that don’t risk losing out?

Happy Travels!

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.

Don’t Be An Ugly American

Caribbean, Cruising, europe, History, italy, musings, Photography, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

One of the things I hate most when I travel is seeing people be an “Ugly American”. Well really you could insert anything after “Ugly” (but for a magical reasons Canadians aren’t on this list). Regardless, my point is that the world was not designed and created to make Americans more comfortable in moving through it. AND if you want to move through it, then you owe the world some respect and humility.

On my travels I have seen numerous moments of “Ugly” in Scotland to Mexico and Haiti and in between.

On my first trip there was an American couple with a bus tour sitting at the cafe and museum at Urquhart Castle complaining that the castle was “too ruined to enjoy”. Mind you this castle is in one of the most picturesque places along Long Ness and that most people would give their right arm for such a trip. But no, because this castle was not up to their expectations, they were bitter about this excursion.

On the cruise my husband and I took in 2015, some of my favorite people truly ended up being the staff that were from all over the world. One server was from Poland, the head chef was from Trinidad, the housekeepers were from Venezuela. All of them were lovable and funny and smart and made the experience absolutely fabulous and luxurious. Guess who didn’t? A lot the “Ugly Americans”. Some people got so drunk that they attacked a vintage Aston Martin that was on board. I heard others berate the staff over petty things like not more dessert or sushi or whatever else. At stops people would complain that locals asked them about money or to take them on tours. Others complained when a location was not Americanized enough with sidewalks or marked roads etc. Mind you we stopped at places like Haiti, Jamaica, and Cozumel, Mexico. News flash, the world isn’t built for Americans.

This is not to say that all Americans are bad travelers or malicious in their journeys. It is to say that if you are lucky enough to travel outside of your hometown, be on your best behavior. Unless someone is seriously threatening you, or REALLY harming you, there is no need to be angry or bitter or cruel.

In fact, most of the people that work on cruises or at resorts or in industries along the tourist trail work six days a week or more and maybe have a break once every six months. Imagine if you had to work those many hours or did not get to see your family but once or twice a year.

Other stories are endless that you hear. When I did my study abroad in Italy students (some from my school) did things like urinate on the Duomo in Florence. In the years since, there are stories of students breaking a priceless statue trying to take a picture, and others till flipped a police car for shits and giggles.

Another point, especially if you are new at traveling, don’t hold onto insane expectations of how the world will be. Read some of the history of a place you are visiting, ask locals for stories, read signs in the museums you visit. See, if the Americans had taken some time in Scotland to understand why Urquhart Castle has seen better days they would know something on the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell. They would know that most castles from that time were destroyed because of a Puritan regime, and then they might know how that connects to their own American history.

At the end of the day, be grateful. Be so very grateful that countries and people and ancient ruins open their doors each day to millions of foreign visitors. Be grateful that there is money put aside by governments to preserve these places and reduce entrance fees so you can see the Uffizi and the Colosseum. Be grateful that we live in an age when it’s cheaper than ever to travel between countries. Be grateful that you are well enough financially and physically to go to these places. Be grateful.

To Camera…or Not to Camera

colorado, love, Photography, Travel

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!

Winter Fun – Colorado Style

adventure of the week, colorado, Colorado Events, Environment, family, food, outdoors, Scotland, Travel

Colorado is shockingly mild in the winter months. Sure we have days or weeks of bitter cold or 6 feet of snow every year or two, but for the most of the winter, it’s not bad. This means that we get spoiled with having great days to play outside in the winter. While we can’t do all of the fun that summer usually brings, we have the option to play in the snow without being totally frozen. Of course, this can mean some innovation.

Between Dog Sledding and Ice Castles in late January we visited a family friend’s property. This Scottish-born gentleman has a nice spot of land outside of Breckenridge in a town that barely exists on the map (if a few houses along a dirt road count as a town…they do in Colorado anyway).

The landscape of the property hearkens to the dramatic hillscapes of Northern Scotland and while I talked with the owner and his lovely wife I learned that they chose the spot for that very reason. In fact, the snowy blanket that covered the hills was almost identical to that of what I saw in the area surrounding Glencoe four years ago.

Add to the landscape a homemade bar inside of a shed, as anyScottish transplant would have, and a fire pit, some beers, and a fewsnowmobiles and we had a winter party.

Only around 9,000 feet above sea level the weather was manageable, but chilly with a high humidity. Thus, a fire was built, via gasoline and broken pallets. We made beer slushies with the snow, and sippedcool ciders. The snowmobiles were taken into the hills and onto a small frozenlake, that perched delicately on the edge of the property. Avoiding unsettlingthe ice fishers we ran snowmobile circles on one part of the lake, draggingpeople behind on skis, snowboards, sleds, and a precarious pink flamingo tube meant for a more casual swimming pool life.

While the snowmobiling was fun, as any action sport is, thebest part was meeting new people and talking over a drink. It was great to talkwith friends new and old about their memories and new stories. My husband’sfamily is always full of laughter and love and a good tale or joke. While theydon’t always agree on politics and lifestyles, they always agree to love eachother and have a good time, which is something anyone can get behind.  

Sláinte!

Ice Ice Baby – Dillon Ice Castle

adventure of the week, colorado, Colorado Events, History, outdoors, Photography, Travel

The city of Dillon, Colorado along with a handful of other cities around North America have welcomed the magic and whimsy of #IceCastles the last few years. The company creates elegant magic with their ice castles creating spires, spikes, fountains, slides, and other intriguing icy creations.

With our Dog Sledding trip in late January, it felt naturalto add on an adventure to an ice kingdom! We decided to visit the whimsy atnight where thousands of lights brighten the structure creating a surreallandscape.

1896 Leadville Ice Castle

The castle, much to my surprise, was less of a “brick andmortar” structure of castles in the past, such as the one that used to take up residence in 1896 in Leadville,Colorado.

Yet, through better methods, less work intensive, and moderntechnology the creators of Ice Castles has built a masterpiece of art that resemblesnature versus the palaces of old England. The Dillon castle is made of layersand layers of ice crystals that droop elegantly together to make a spindledfortress. Reminding the viewer of candle wax, the castle is almost haunting inits design, as if some fantasy’s Ice Queen had designed the elements.

Almost gothic, but celebrating natural artistry, the castlesoffer a glimpse into something otherworldly and full of inspiration. Elementsthroughout offer play in the form of slides and selfie spots.  While other details inspire wonder in roomswith fountains and thousands of icicles. Regardless of what you want from thetrip, bundle up, and enjoy yourself!

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?