Shut Up & Travel — Day 6, Can That Loose Change

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“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Ancient words of wisdom attributed to Chinese philosopher Laozi.

“The legacy of a fabulous trip begins with chump change. — The realest advice given freely by Whileawaythehours.

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So you want to try to travel and just expect that a wonderful, super cheap trip somewhere is going to fall into your lap?  You might win one of those vacation contests you keep entering, but probably not.

I hate going on vacation only to come home to a huge bill.  I’m an organized tour girl, so I like to pay for my trips in full (including tips and day trips when possible) before I get on the plane.  I can use credit, but have lived by the sage adage that if “you can’t pay cash for it, then you don’t need it.”

The best way to reach your travel destination without creating a huge credit card bill? Plan for it and save in advance.  That’s where the loose change comes in.

Only you know your financial situation.  You may be able to save $50 to $100 per month deliberately.  Banking the cash you save by cutting out one to two of your beloved trenta mocha lattes per week may be the path you take.  Or maybe you only give $15 out of that $50 you plan to give to charity each month, and stash the rest.  The point is, the choice us up to you.

Your goal by the end of this month?  Figure out a way to monthly save 5% towards the trip of your dreams.

Tell me how you save money for travel.

 

Light Bulb Moment #11 — Pack a Grounded Power Strip to Charge More Electronics

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We’re all guilty of having way more electronic devices than we need.  We find that no trip is complete without taking along our tablets, cell phones, cameras, reading devices, iPods, and on and on.  American hotels are usually quite generous with the number of power outlets provided for their guest.  In Europe, it’s more hit-or-miss.

When there are only two outlets in the entire hotel room (and one in the bathroom if you’re lucky), how’s a power-hungry American supposed to charge all of his or her superfluous needed electronics?  A grounded, universal, travel power strip is the answer.

Why a grounded power strip instead of a regular power strip?  I like to use a grounded power strip because in case of a power surge, my electronics won’t get fried.  Why a universal power strip?  It accepts plugs compatible with many different countries with no need to buy an adapter before plugging other countries’ electronics into the power strip.  That means that, theoretically, you can plug into it a device with a plug compatible with the UK’s electrical system at the same time that you plug into it a device compatible with the US’s electrical system.  The outlets on the universal power strip are designed to take just about any country’s plug.  However, I have never attempted to use electronics with varying countries’ plugs in the power strip at the same time.  If you do, proceed with caution.

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Besides its safety and convenience, a travel power strip is just a good idea, period.  It’s small and compact, and packs easily.  The power strip extends a single wall outlet into a way to charge three or four electronic devices.  Some power strips even have a USB port on them so that you may charge other types of devices.  I’ve personally used the Simran SM-60 universal power strip with three outlets overseas and in the Caribbean with on issues.  I used a dual voltage flat iron with the power strip and had zero issues.

One caveat to using a travel power strip:  your travel power strip’s three-prong  grounded plug must be compatible with the receiving outlet.  You will likely need an adapter for the plug, to adapt it to the country’s electrical system.  Without the adapter, the plug won’t fit into the outlet.  Need help figuring out which adapter you might need?  Check out a handy site here.

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2015 – My Travel Year in Review

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imageA little over a year ago, the last page of 2014 quietly flipped and 2015 came in just as peacefully. As I reviewed my 2014 travel year, I wondered where would I go in 2015.

Would my destinations in 2015 be as fun as the February week spent in Vegas on an all-girls trip? Or as hilarious as the time spent on a cruise to the Bahamas during a high school reunion in July ? Would my 2015 destinations turn out to be as idyllic and blissfully beautiful as the time I spent nearly three September weeks taking a tour of Italy, with a glorious side-trip to Switzerland? Would I have the time of my life in as I did when I spent time with friends in the Dominican Republic in November?
In typical Me fashion, I found a way to not only repeat the fun and hilarious times I had had in 2014, but to add to them. Along the way, I met so many people who enriched my travel life for the better.

I started the year traveling to Houston, Texas for a business retreat. A working vacation is not sexy, I know. However, a working vacation to Texas in January when your northern state is neck-deep in snow is a sexy idea.  imageOne of the highlights of the long-weekend trip was sampling the food at Peli Peli, a South African restaurant.  I am by no means a foodie, but sometimes food just tastes exquisite; even to my dulled palate. My meal, paired with a chilled glass of Chenin Blanc, made me smile.

I also managed to spend some time in Galveston, Texas — a quaint community on the Gulf of Mexico. While there I went to one of my favorite restaurants, Black-owned Clary’s Seafood, which has an amazing view of the Gulf. All in all, hitting Texas in January was a great start to the year.

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The view from a table at Clary’s in Galveston, Texas.

 

A working vacation is not sexy, I know.  However, a working vacation to Texas in January when your northern state is neck-deep in snow is a sexy idea.

My next vacation was an impromptu, and domestic, trip right after Memorial Day. A friend in Chicago was getting married in Italy in September sans guests, and her friends in Chicago invited me to her bridal shower. Instead of spending a hazy/crazy weekend in Chicago, we drove to Michigan and toured the wineries there. I know. Michigan? Wineries? Those two don’t match. However, there is a vibrant wine-producing scene along the Great Lakes.

Once in Michigan, we hired a private driver and visited no less than six wineries over a twenty-four hour period. I’ve visited plenty of wineries and had tastings domestically and abroad, but I’ve never had such hilarious times at wine tastings as I had last May. Although one of the girls in our group promised to “do something strange for a little bit of change” for one of the winery staff (a man who could not prevent the tears from flowing he was laughing so hard), we were mostly harmless.

Tastings of note?  Lemon Creek Winery blew my mind with a Cabernet Sauvignon ice wine, and I fell in love with the Nutty Russian cocktail (a Black Walnut Creme smoothed out by the on-site distilled DiVine vodka) at the Round Barn Winery.

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Hard Rock Cafe, MI

After blitzing the wineries, we headed to the local casino for fun.  Who would have known that the Hard Rock Cafe at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Michigan was jumpin’ on a Saturday night? The band, Your Villan My Hero (now named Goodbye Hero), was GREAT. In between sets, the DJ had the crowd crunk and disorderly. Let’s just say I Wobble’d wit it, and I did the Pee Wee Herman ’til my feet got sore.

That Crip Walk we did as we were leaving the casino? All in good fun. It must have been authentic because a random gambler, a Caucasian gentleman, both knew what it was and gave us props for it. He was so magnanimous that he also congratulated me on my favorite college football team being the first National College Football Champion, despite him being a fan of the rival team.

The DJ had the crowd crunk and disorderly.

In March of last year, Spain began to call my name. What’s a girl to do when a country sends for her? She goes, of course.

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I spent three weeks in September exploring the artistic elegance that is the entire country of Spain. My trip started with five days in Barcelona before my organized tour began, where I fell under the spell of Antonin Gaudi’s works and his Seussian-like touch all around the city. I sampled tapas, used my high school Spanish to navigate a metropolis where very few are fluent in English, and took a side trip from Barcelona to the countries of Andorra and France.

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Andorra La Vella

Once on the tour, we viewed the majestic fort and the endless beach at Peniscola, before stopping overnight on my birthday in Valencia — home to the unbelievably designed City of Arts and Sciences. While on tour we viewed the cave houses of Guadix, explored the halcyon grounds of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, reveled in the sun in the Costa del Sol before viewing the Barbary Apes in Gibraltar. We were mesmerized by authentic flamenco dancing in Seville, before spending several days in Portugal’s Lisbon on the Tagus River. The Portuguese food was beyond compare, and was matched only by the amazing Fado singing we witnessed.  We visited the town of Fatima, where a hundred years ago three children claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary, before spending the night in Spain’s Salamanca, a university town. Too soon we found ourselves in Madrid, and I was bidding adios to my companions and the kingdom that stole my heart.

My last trip of the year was a week before Thanksgiving, when I make my annual trip to the Caribbean for pure rest and relaxation. My small travel group of five women made Aruba our playground for a week. We stayed at the Renaissance Marriott hotel in the heart of downtown Aruba, and made frequent use of the hotel’s boat that jetted us to the hotel’s private island — Iguana Beach. The beautiful pink flamingos that dotted the adult side of the Continue reading

Annual Blogging Report for While Away the Hours – 2015

I launched this blog in 2014 with one goal in mind — share my travel insights and tips with those who may be new to traveling.  My first year, I had 900 views and 500 visitors to my blog.  Those numbers blew my mind because they validated that someone, somewhere, wanted to read what I had written.

In 2015, the views to and visitors of the blog more than doubled  As someone who does this for no financial gain but out of sheer love for travel and sharing, I also count this as an accomplishment.  For “serious” bloggers, I am sure that my minscule numbers are laughable.  To me?  They are validation.

However, I noticed in 2014 the thing that only slightly improved with my blog posts in 2015 — my posts falter the later in the year we progress.  It’s not for lack of funny stories or hilarious anecdotes.  Seriously, if I stopped traveling now I would have enough material to last me for five years.  It is due to a lack of time and committment to make this blog the very best it can be.

You see, I’m a busy trial lawyer who is also the mother of three teenagers.  Add to that the facts that I am trying to finish several romance novels while traveling all over the world.  You get the picture.  However, I vow to carve out more time to commit to posting original and unique posts on this blog.

In between blog posts, please check out my “cheat posts” — tweets about travel (TW @whileawayhours) and pictures from my trips (IG: whileawaythehours).

In the meantime, you can view the “official” 2015 Annual Report for While Away the Hours.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

When Work Strangles Your Passion

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I keep secrets for a living.  No, I’m not a secret agent.  I’m a lawyer, and I have as many legal gadgets as a spy has in her high-tech aresenal.

Lawyering by day is really tough work, especially if you enjoy jury trials.  I am in court just about every morning, and am in trial approximately every six weeks.

For the last three months, my trial schedule has been really heavy.  Throw into that an office move, law firm management, raising teenagers, trying to cook and clean at home, and be a wife, and what do you get?  You can guess.

Why am I sharing this with you?  It’s because the very job that I love and that permits me to travel like I do, and living life on TEN like I’ve been doing for the last few years, have been slowly strangling my passion.  My blogging and fiction writing have suffered terribly.

I apologize you to, dear readers, for the lack of (dare I say?) hilarious and helpful material.  I endeavor to bring you more funny travel stories, and tips on traveling well, very soon.  Please be patient.

I’m working on more tips in my Shut Up & Travel and Light Bulb Moment series, stories about my adventures in other countries, and snippets from my fiction writing that I hope you’ll enjoy.

During this lull, you can always like my Facebook page WhileAwayTheHours which I try to update at least twice a week.  On Tuesdays, I post music that reminds me of my travels under the hastag #TravelTuesday.   On Thursdays, I try to inspire you to travel under the #ThursdayInspiration hashtag.  Saturdays are reserved for #SaturdayCinema — movies that I love set in other countries, or that sparked a desire to travel to a particular country.

I am also on Twitter at @whileawayhours, and on Instagram at whileawaythehours.  Follow me and I would love to follow you.

Shut Up & Travel — Day 5, Get Your Passport Photo Taken

In this week’s episode, I want you to do something simple.  Search your couch cushions, the crevices of your car, and pairs of pants you haven’t worn in a while, and find $12.  That’s about how much it costs to get your passport photo taken.  Less if you find a coupon.  Retailmenot.com is your friend, by the way.

Get your haircut/hairdo all the way together, put on a nice shirt or jacket since the photo will be from the shoulders up, take said crumpled bills and change, and go get your passport photo taken.

“But, where?” you whine in frustration, as I ask you take yet another step towards going on vacation.

CVSWalgreen’s, and Rite Aid are great places to take a passport photo.  It’s a quick and easy process in those places, and there usually isn’t a long line for the passport photo desk.  Both places regularly discount passport photos if you find a coupon online or in your local paper.  Other places that offer passport photos: Costco Stores, post offices, some AAA offices, FedEx stores, and camera shops (if you can find one in your area still in business).

“But I don’t even want a passport,” you tell me as you balk at doing even this.

Take the photo anyway.  You may want a passport one day and when the time comes, you’ll at least have a photo.  No excuses.  And, it’ll be one less thing that you have to rush and do should you need to get your passport quickly because you just can’t pass up the Groupon vacation of the day.

Looking at it this another way, when you finally decide to get your passport, you’ll marvel at how young and beautiful or handsome you looked “back then”.  There is no expiration date on passport photos.  Of course, you can’t use your tenth grade homecoming picture for your passport now that you’re 30, but you get what I’m saying.

Once you take your passport photo, upload them in the comments section so we can all ooh and ahh and see how great you look.

And don’t forget to help me make your travel life easier.  Subscribe via email to this blog, follow the blog, sign up to follow me on Facebook at While Away the Hours, or follow me on Twitter @whileawaythehoursblog.

Shut Up & Travel — Day 4, Take a One Tank Trip

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I’m originally from Northeastern Ohio.  I grew up watching Neil Zurcher extol the virtues of the “one tank trip.”  Every week or so, his One Tank Trip segment would appear on a local news channel and he would educate viewers about the rich experiences that were available right in Ohio.

Neil is no longer with us.  He’s traveling on that Great Road Trip in the sky.  You may have never heard of Neil Zurcher, but I lend his advice to you in honor of his segment being the very first travel “show” I ever watched — discover the hidden gems within an hour or two of your home.  The call of the open road is exhilarating when you’ve got the whole day to do nothing but relax and see what you can discover.  And, it’s worth it if it only costs you a tank of gas.

Your homework this week?  Plan a one tank trip that you can take in the next thirty days.  For some of you, you might get it in this weekend.  For others, it may take about a month to clear your schedule so that you can fit it in.  Whatever you do, fit it in.  And don’t be afraid to take your children.

When my children were younger, I would get them up early on a Saturday morning and not tell them where we were going.  I called it a “Rise and Shine” trip.  My husband and I would tell them what to bring, but give them no other details.  It might be the movies.  It might be the zoo.  It might be a trip to another city to visit sites there.  No matter where we went, they were just happy that we went.

Let me know where you went on your one tank trip.  Did you discover something new you hadn’t known about your state?  Did you conclude that road trips aren’t good for your family because all you wanted to do was tape your spouse’s mouth shut the entire time?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Make your life easier.  Subscribe via email to this blog, follow the blog, sign up to follow me on Facebook at While Away the Hours, or follow me on Twitter @whileawaythehoursblog.  Let me help motivate you to take a vacation.

Shut Up & Travel — Day 3, Find a Travel Agent

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Your task this week?  Find a travel agent.

I know.  This week I’m putting a lot of pressure on you.  Where in the world are you supposed to find a travel agent?

Start with your friends and family who travel.  Who do they use to book their trips?  Or find out the name of the one lady who helped your sister’s brother-in-law find a hotel room the time he was stuck in Tampa.  Easy.  Simple.

You can also “spy” on your friends and “friends” on Facebook.  Do they shout-out any agency in particular?  You can always call the agency and say you casually heard of their travel services.  No need for your “friend” on Facebook to know that you’re a stalker.

Another idea?  Contact AAA.  Not only does AAA provide really needed help in the event of car trouble, but it provides travel services as well.  A quick call to AAA confirmed that you do not need to be a member to book vacation packages.  However, it might be worth it to you to become a member as varying levels of membership offer better travel-related perks.

By the way, don’t forget to subscribe via email to this blog, follow the blog, sign up to follow me on Facebook at While Away the Hours, or follow me on Twitter @whileawaythehoursblog.  Let me help you break out of your vacation-less rut by making it easier for me to get my tips to you.

Light Bulb Moment #10 — If You’re Not Used to Walking Long Distances, Exercise Before You Go On Vacation

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Ever see the movie Zombieland?  It’s an apocalyptic comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, and Emma Stone.  Jesse plays a character nicknamed Columbus, and offers great survival tips throughout the movie in case you ever find yourself in a zombie apocalypse.  His first rule of survival?  Keep up your cardio so that you’ll be able to outrun a zombie.

Not only is this great advice in case a zombie is after you, but it’s great vacation advice as well.

Let’s face it, many Americans are not in exemplary shape.  In 2014, the Lancet Medical Journal released a report concerning obesity worldwide.  Guess what?  The United States has the largest number of obese and overweight people in the world.  This means that we have a tenth of the world’s obese population, although we make up just 5% of the world’s population:  “70.9 percent of men and 61.9 percent of women are overweight or obese, compared to 38 percent of men and 36.9 percent of women worldwide.”*

If you fall into the categories of the, let’s say, not-so-slim or exercise-is-a-dirty-word, let me warn you — you’ll want to get into some sort of exercise routine before you take a vacation to a foreign country.

The United States is a relatively young nation that has had the benefit of modern amenities at its disposal since its founding.  In America, most public, indoor spaces are cool in the summers and warm in the winters.  Tourists don’t have to walk far because public and private transportation are easy to secure.  And Americans are so ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant that it’s difficult to find a large, public building that doesn’t have an elevator; historic, multi-level sites included.  Not so, overseas.

Air-conditioning in historic structures are generally the exception rather than the rule in foreign nations, with even more modern buildings not being necessarily air-conditioned.  In addition, the idea of being transported everywhere can seem strange to other people when you’re visiting their country.  People in many other nations are generally quite fit and don’t mind walking, biking, or taking the stairs.  If anyone is huffing and puffing, and trying to keep up on tour, it’s likely the Americans.

Before your trip, start out by researching the terrain of the places you will be visiting.  Will you be in a mostly-flat city, like London?  Or will you be climbing hills often, like on the Amalfi Coast?  This is invaluable research because it will shape the exercise that you need to do.

After you research the terrain, plan an exercise regime accordingly.  If the terrain is mostly flat, focus on building stamina with walking.  If hills are in your future, you might have to throw in some reps on a stair or step machine, or start taking the steps at work.

Beginning at least one month before a vacation that you know will involve a good deal of walking, start building up your walking endurance.  If you can, try to walk at least a mile per day at least two weeks before your trip.  You’ll likely be walking at least two times as much as that in one day, especially if you like to be out and about all day and only use your hotel room for sleep.

Throw in the stairs for good measure during your exercise routine.  Trust me, when it’s you and two elderly gentleman who are the only ones requesting the elevator at La Scala in Milan, you look bad.  Or, when you recklessly wind your way down to the beach in Positano only to realize that the speck waaaay up the cliff is the business near where your tour bus is parked, you will cuss.  You will cuss and you will ask the Lord to forgive you.  You will even have the nerve to pray that He prevents you from having a heart attack as you slowly make your way up the cliff back to the bus.  Once you reach the bus, you will be grateful and you will promise to never, ever, ever go on vacation again unless you are in shape.  Until the next time that you do.

Do yourself and your eternal soul a favor and simply force yourself to increase your capacity for walking long distances and taking the stairs before your next trip.


*Quote taken from the June 3, 2014 article Are We As Fat As We Think? from the Everyday Health website.  http://www.everydayhealth.com/news/are-we-fat-think/