A Woman Alone – Travel Thoughts

Back in July, my father gifted a book titled A Woman Alone: Travel Tales from Around the Globe. I had never heard of the book before but the concept intrigued me for obvious reasons. Thanks to my book project I did not have a chance to read the book until the first week of this month.

As I read the book, I compared my own travels to those of the women in this book. That comparison inspired this post. I gleaned a few nuggets of reflection: technology advancement, writing inspiration, and relationship change.

After reading a significant portion of the book, I wondered when all of these essays had been written. Some aspects of travel remain timeless, but others? Others scream with outdated evidence. The book was published in 2001, 16 years ago. Technology has grown in leaps and bounds since then. Technology, in all my trips enables me to carry out a successful trip in so many ways. I read these accounts of trips carried out before the advent of smartphones, popular travel websites like tripadvisor or portable and reliable GPS technology and concluded that I woul dlikely have never undertaken such a trip, much less undertaken such a trip on my own. I have undertaken two significant solo trips and relied significantly on technology. Although I had yet to purchase a smartphone prior to my 2011 trip to England, I used tripadvisor and viator to find places to see and mapquest to print off specific direction. This past summer, I exploited current travel technology to its fullest: smartphone GPS, tripadvisor, airbnb, and digital camera for frequent and prolific picture taking. Reflection helped me realize just how much I rely on technology while traveling, just how much technology has changed travel.

I also noticed another common theme, writing, specifically writing as a profession. For the most part, the women whose essays appear in this collection make a living putting pen to paper in some fashion or another. They routinely filled their travels with thoughts of writing, inspiration for writing and actual writing. This might be the aspect of travel I enjoy the most even I seem to always run out of time since I spend every moment possible making memories I have often daydreamed of being some sort of travel journalists getting paid to do two things I love – travel and write.

Last, but not least, came the relationship example. Clearly, with the title, “A Woman Alone,” a good portion of the essays would end up focused on relationships. A few mentioned building relationships with strangers they met along the way. Far more described journeys undertaken as a means of catharsis after a messy divorce or as a means to prove one’s worth as a human being despite a perpetual state of singlehood. The vast majority of the essayists declared their unabashed preference for solo travel eschewing the companionship of others for whom they would have to alter or modify their trips. (Lest anyone think my brush too broad, I acknowledge the inclusion of at least five or so essays written by women who found themselves unexpectedly alone of their trip.) This concept gave me the most trouble as I read and tried to engage with each author. I have had both experiences – solo travel and group travel yet I would never totally eschew one for the other, especially group travel. Nothing would incline me to forge ahead with exclusive solo travel. I have done it before and enjoyed every minute. I enjoyed traveling at my pace, seeing destinations of my own choice and all the other things the essayists mentioned. Yet, I have a distinct memory from my life-changing trip to the UK six years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed and savored every moment of the trip yet I felt like something was missing. I realized after I returned home that I was missing someone to share those experiences with; I could not wait to return to the UK, this time with Mom along for the ride.

Unlike many of the essayists in this collection, or at least what they portrayed in their essays, I have no desire to travel to prove anything, to prove my worth. All that has been decided already. I travel for the experience, to trod where history has trod and to share that thrill with others. Sharing such experiences with someone close to you broadens and deepens every moment. It gives you the gift of an additional set of senses and perspectives. That’s the richness I seek.

Next summer, summer 2019, I plan to take off on another adventure, a grander, more expansive trip than I have ever taken. What started as an idea to finally see the Iberian Peninsula РSpain and Portugal Рmorphed into a minimum three week adventure starting with a flight into Frankfurt and a path winding through Alsace, France, Zurich and Geneva, Switzerland, Marseilles, France, Guernica, Barcelona, Toledo, Madrid, and Córdoba, Spain, Gibraltar (technically part of the United Kingdom) and finishing in Lisbon. There also may or may not be a short jaunt over to Lichtenstein as well, which puts the country total at seven if anyone counts.

Of course, as I read this book, I contemplated the aforementioned grand adventure. THe school year permits long blocks of vacation like this; my normal traveling partners have no such flexibility. I thought about the prospect of undertaking this trip on my own, daunting yes, but I know I could handle it. I would prefer, unlike many of the essayists in this compilation, to travel with someone to share and someone who would enrich the experiences. A year and a half line in between. We shall see what the future holds.

2017 Travels – Road Trip Edition

I packed in quite a bit to this summer, so much that remembering things like where I put this notebook so I could type up the previous post. For that reason, I have just one post about the road trip rather than a before and after.

The idea for a road trip first occurred to me some time this past spring. My cousin and his wife currently live there as do many members of our non-mutual family. The idea of a road trip popped into my head. I have the whole summer off. Why not?

The idea did not remain nebulous for long. As soon as I mentioned the road trip to someone, I felt locked in but in a good way. Taking this solo road trip stretched me. Telling people about it kept me from backing out and taking the easy way out by staying home and vegging on the couch.

Then comes the planning. Although everything came together in the end, I left a lot, way too much, up to the last minute, like visiting my cousin and his wife. By the time the trip was almost upon me. I focused on the logistics and by default figured that it would take too much work to try to plan a meet up. That won’t happen again. In the end, I likely would have had to skip the meet up to get back in time for the funeral.

Back to the point, I planned this trip in fits and spurts, starting with the discovery of a useful tool, tripmaker.randmcnally.com. It’s not perfect but it gave me a great place to start. This tool allows you to put in a starting and ending location and find sites of interest along your route. I found one of my favorite stops, the Mark Twain House, with this site.

I learned, however, that addresses on this site are not always reliable. Sometimes the difference stretched up to an hour longer. The site also omits sites of interest while including many obscure sites that sometimes have out of date information.

Another difficulty with this site comes with its search feature. Perhaps some of the distance estimation difficulties come from inaccurate location approximation. I learned that I have come to rely quite heavily on Google’s “fill-in-the-blank” or “read-your-mind” feature. This site is best used in conjunction with sites like Google, obviously, and tripadvisor.

Tripmaker served as the primary tool for the initial stages of planning. One look at my “first draft” would confirm to anyone that I have a serious case of wanting-to-do-it-all. If I had followed through with that first draft, the trip would have caused far too much stress.

Tripadvisor helped me revise and “finalize” the details for this trip. I have no idea how people planned trips before this website existed. With regards to this trip, I used tripadvisor to research the details of each site to evaluate just how important each site was to me. Each time I went over the printed trip plan I ended up eliminating sites, like Prince Edward Island or rearranging the entire itinerary.

Looking at tripadvisor also helped me plan out how much time to budget for each site which is crucial to a road trip, especially if you book your lodging ahead of time. The wealth of reviews often gives helpful hints and tips. A lack of reviews also helps with evaluations. The website has been around long enough that locations with few reviews are often obscure and perhaps not worth going out-of-the-way to visit. Sometimes hidden gems pop up but not very often.

When it came to what to bring on the trip, I relied on my experience from my 2009 trip, a much more extensive trip. I brought a cooler for water, plenty of snacks (way too many as it turns out) and a container to sit in the front seat to hold toll money and snacks since I wouldn’t have a copilot to grab and hand stuff to me while I drove. Most of the last-minute logistical things came together things to Dad. While I was at the beach he periodically texted to ask if I had various items, some of which I had forgotten all about.

As I headed to the airport to pick up the rental car, Mom marveled at how well I had planned everything. Right then I did not feel that way. If anything, this trip felt like the proverbial red-headed stepchild of my three major trips this year.

Then came the trip itself…

Despite all the bumps in the planning process, I absolutely loved it. I loved it so much that I want to make this a yearly tradition.

I learned a lot on the way. Make sure your debit card works so you can withdraw cash to pay outrageous New England tolls. *Cough* George Washington Bridge *cough* Some tolls are so large you should not pay them with change or face the potential wrath of all the drivers you hold up as the toll operator counts $8.80 in coins. *true story* Massachusetts has all cashless tolls. Watch out. Your rental car company will charge you a $3.95 “convenience fee” for five days worth of tolls when you actually incurred only two $0.90 tolls. If you prefer having your own space, private room is not the way to go on airbnb. Always check behind you to make sure that you have everything. One can’t depend on Good Samaritans to turn in driver’s licenses and credit cards or mail back camera batteries and chargers at no cost. Make a schedule flexible enough tom ix it up should the urge strike you. Sometimes hidden gems away just off the highway. Drink plenty of water so you don’t become a cranky pants on guided tours. I could go on.

This trip far surpassed my wildest expectations. I fell in love with the road trip all over again, even more so than the epic trip of 2009. I cannot wait to take what I learned and apply that to next year’s road trip and the next and the next and … you get the picture.

2017 Travels – UK Edition – Lessons Learned

This post was supposed to go up last Tuesday. However, I very cleverly hid the notebook in which I had written the post by tidying up my room so that I overlooked the notebook when packing for my road trip. Thus, I had to wait until after to get the post up.

This is what I wrote a couple weeks ago…

Several weeks have passed since the trip, enough for it to pass into memory and make me wonder if we actually got to do all that. This trip fulfilled all of my expectations and then some.

I should have had this post up last week (aka the last week of June) but this is the summer of travel and distraction. I thought I had a different post scheduled for that week and thus chose to enjoy the beach rather than check to be sure.

On to the lessons learned:

Lesson #1 Book as much ahead of time as possible.

I learned my lesson through my mistakes in earlier trips like Italy in 2015. For example, I did not book tickets to the Vatican ahead of time. We ended up in a massive line which led us directly to getting suckered into a guided tour with a sub par guide that we lost less than halfway through the tour. (We were relieved though.)

Booking ahead of time has two primary benefits. First, online advance tickets often come with some sort of discount. Even if the tickets cost the same online as in person, booking ahead of time helps budget planning, both setting and maintaining. Second, advance tickets usually come with the added benefit of a formal or informal skip-the-line status. Several times we arrived at a particular stop and found a long queue but got to jump to the front.

For example, on one day we skipped the line twice. At Westminster Abbey we got in the one line. I took the tickets out of the folder and held them face out in the hopes that an employee might see and invite us to the front. That move paid off mere minutes later. When we arrived at the War Rooms after touring the Abbey, I was surprised to see a line down to the street and around the corner. I spotted a separate skip-the-queue side. We got to go inside minutes later.

Lesson #2 Factor in the exchange rate.

Of course, I knew that our dollars would not go quite as far-although father than my dollars went six years ago-but I neglected to take a look at the average exchange rate and calculate how many pounds roughly equaled the $100 a day I budgeted for us to spend. Each night as I entered the charges (something I learned in Chicago) the total usually reached $10-20 above the $100 threshold. That’s not much, of course, just enough to cause mild frustration but not a budget buster. It could, however, easily become a budget buster depending on the exchange rate and record-keeping diligence of the traveler.

Lesson #3 Communicate with your travel companions about the budget and the plan.

While Mom and I have similar tastes and methods, I have been to England before and brought back souvenirs. I forgot to ask Mom what she planned to purchase. Thus, I neglected to factor that into the budget. Complete information makes for easy budget planning.

Lesson #4 Plan for navigation needs.

Unlike six years ago, I printed out no maps. That trip took place pre-smartphone for me. We did not have too many issues and none of the ones that we did have were significant. However, things could have flown a lot smoother had I made better navigation plans. The biggest oops moment for me came when we left the train station in Edinburgh and headed to the bus station to store our bags in secure lockers. I took screenshots of the directions from the bus station to the meeting place for our tour and from the bus station to our airbnb but neglected to screenshot directions from the train station to the bust station. I mistakenly assumed that the information stating the closeness of the two stations meant that the bus station would be easy to locate upon leaving the train station. We made it to the bus station with the help of an employee of a restaurant in the train station. Once we stowed the bags int eh lockers, we picked up a map and were good to go for the rest of our time in Scotland.

Possible solutions include the low-tech paper map to the high-tech European sim card or international plan. I have yet to explore the latter.

Lesson #5 A good tour guide can make or break a tour.

We witnessed this first hand, starting with our tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. Our guide started to rub me the wrong way from the beginning thanks to her tabloid-focused speech and glaring historical inaccuracies. I ended up putting my headphones in and listening to music whenever she started to speak. For example, she described Stonehenge as being built four to five million years ago based on the carbon dating of the stones. No, that’s how old some believe the stones to be, not the structure. Both Mom and I laughed when we got the official brochure which stated that the structure was estimated to have been built three to four thousand years ago. Slight difference.

Two days later, our tour guide on the Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour, Oz, impressed us, especially Mom, so much so that she made sure that we were in his group when we split in Oxford. Then there was Martin, our guide on the Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands tour. He did such a good job that I gave him the remainder of our cash as a tip. (That would be even more impressive if we had had more than a mere two pounds left.) Although application of this lesson is a bit more up to chance than the others, careful perusal of reviews helps select the best tours. I remember reading high praise for our guide, Martin, before purchasing tickets. When I found out that we were on his bus, I was very happy.

Lesson #6 Airbnb is the way to go.

Laura has long been singing the praises of this service. I finally had my first personal experience on this trip. I loved having access to a full apartment. Not only did it feel more like home, it also made it easy to save money on food. We stocked up at the local grocery store which kept costs down and saved space in our backpacks, crucial for a frugal minimalist.

Lesson #7 Minimalist travel rules!

I could not have done this six years ago on my first self-planned international adventure. Experience and a growing propensity towards minimalism helped significantly. I had everything that I needed and only a small handful of things that I brought but ended up not using. Although for the first several days Mom and I wished that we had brought more than one plug adapter, I realized shortly before we headed to Scotland that the adaptor I brought had two other plug-in options available; I had simply overlooked them for several days. We had plenty of laughs about that.

I loved traveling with just the backpack. Several times Mom expressed her gratitude by commenting on how difficult various treks would have been if we’d had a rolling suitcase of any size with us.

We also made a tight-tightest I’ve ever had-connection that we likely would not have been able to do had we had to wait for a checked bag like Dad and I did coming back from Italy. (Our bag was the last to be unloaded which delayed us a good forty or so minutes.)

Now it’s time to apply these lessons to the next trip, wherever that may be!

2017 Travels – London Edition – Preparation

When this post publishes, Mom and I will be well into a long awaited jaunt across the pond. We started setting aside money in 2014. For as long as it took to finally get the trip under way, it is well worth it.

Planning this trip looked a lot different than the others, especially from my first European journey. Even though these two trips share a lot, leaving on Wednesday June 7th for example, the day after completing school year obligations, I dod not have the luxury of a snow-storm induced week off from school in early January this time. I made do with the time that I had, thankful for technology enhancements over the past six years. That alone significantly eased the planning duties.

Planning for this trip took place in two primary stages.

Stage One

I knew that I would need to spend one of my winter break beach vacation days planning the skeleton of the trip aka booking flights and lodging as well as nailing down a rough itinerary. I knew that I would not have much time to work on the itinerary once the semester started up again so I also planned to book as much as I could at that time.

I started with the basics, first of which was the flight. Once I found cheap enough tickets, it was time to move on to lodging. Apart from airfare, lodging can make or break a budget. I looked first at hotels to estimate the approximate cost. I then looked at airbnb. Before this trip I had not made use of the services provided but Laura has used it frequently with great success. I excluded all other options besides whole house/apartment, knowing that that would be the most comfortable option both for myself and for MOm. To my surprise I found that six nights in a charming flat north of London cost less than $100 a night with taxes and fees included. I found a similar option for our two night stay in Edinburg. Altogether, our lodging for eight nights cost a little over $700 for two people during peak vacation season.

After nailing down the skeleton of the trip, I set to work on fleshing out the itinerary. I first needed to figure out the best way to fit in the handful of “must sees” on the list. Admittedly, these were things that were must sees to me. Mom, gracious as ever, deferred to me when it came to what we would see on the trip. I knew that if possible, I wanted to go to Cardiff and take part in the Doctor Who Experience. I also could not possibly go to London and not take in the sights of the Harry Potter Studio. Apart from that, I simply wanted to take in as much history as I could without repeating anything from my first trip.

I quickly discovered that, to my horror, the Doctor Who Experience was scheduled to close some time that summer. Tickets had not yet been released for the spring and summer. I had to maintain hope that closing at the end of summer meant July or August, not June. I then moved over to a tool which has served me well the past two international trips, Viator. After reading the descriptions and reviews, Mom deferred to me once again but let know if there was an option she preferred.

By the time the day ended, I had booked our flights, reserved our lodging, booked three tours, made a list of things yet to be booked and nailed down a rough itinerary.

Stage Two

That one day of planning comprised the entirety of my effort for the next several months. Occasionally I checked on Doctor Who Experience tickets but until early May, nothing had been released, including a lack of notification regarding the official closure date. I kept meaning to get around to trip planning but life kept getting int he way.

After Spring Break and the Chicago trip, I knew that I could not afford to put it off any longer. I tentatively scheduled in a little time each weekend to chip away at the remaining tasks. I should have known better than that. I do my best work when I’m on a roll.

On the first weekend of May I sat down to work – I remember because I postponed seeing Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. I started with the Doctor Who Experience tickets. By the time I finished several hours later I had booked and arranged everything that I could ahead of time. The only things that we will purchase once we arrive are Oyster cards (for the Underground), food/meals and a handful of souvenirs.

Some things had to be scrapped form the original plan, like touring the Houses of Parliament. Due to the snap election called by Prime Minister Teresa May, the number of available tours diminished and by the time I went to purchase tickets, sold out. Even if I had been able to snag one of those tour tickets, it would not have included the House of Lords, closed for preparation for the opening of the new session of Parliament. Even with taking some things out, our itinerary is full, not quite to the brim, of amazing things that I cannot wait to share with Mom.

When I return, look for two more posts on the trip: one on the completion of the plan and another, possibly more, on the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the United Kingdom.

Traveling on a Teacher’s Salary

So far in this blog’s short history, I have talked a lot about both traveling and personal finance. most of those posts have focused on the how. This post focuses on the why.

Why do I choose to spend a comparatively high percentage of my income on travel and everything that goes along with it? Why does the prospect of actually being in a place that holds historical significance fill me with nearly inexpressible joy and wonder?

As a child I temporarily satisfied my thirst for exploration with books. I read books from diverse settings in both time and place. While I read those books and often much after I finished those books, I lived in my imagination, personally taking the place of a beloved character in the events the author did not yet describe in the book.

As I moved into adulthood, simply imagining these places was no longer quite enough. As a newly minted eighteen year old, my traveling adventures began with a high school graduation trip, my first trip north of the Mason Dixon line, to New York City.

In stunned awe I took in the sights and sounds of the city, of things I had seen on Friends and in “You’ve Got Mail.” Places like Central Park and Times Square stunned me with their diverse beauty. I stood in silent reverence on the site of the former Twin Towers and signed my name to a remembrance wall for those who had perished merely twenty-one months before. I craned my neck to see Lady Liberty’s torch. I called my grandpa in giddy glee from Ellis Island to ask when his mother immigrated only to find out that she actually came through Boston. I ate lunch where Harry met Sally and slowly melted in the bleachers of old Yankee Stadium to chants of “1918” as the Yankees faced the Red Sox.

Many vivid memories remain from that trip. A lifelong passion found expression. For the next several years as I progressed in my education my father subsidized my travel. First came our trip to Washington, DC, a fitting trip for a recent Bachelor’s in History graduate. I reveled in the history that abounds in our nation’s capital from the Smithsonian Museums to Mount Vernon and Monticello. Two years later, Dad and I took off on a graduation road trip in which we visited twenty-five states in fourteen days. That trip included sites like Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, Jackson Square in New Orleans, the Grassy Knoll, the 6th Floor Museum in Dealy Plaza, the Oklahoma City Memorial, Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks, the Ingalls’ Homestead in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois.

I could spend pages describing all of the places that God has given me the privilege of visiting. None of those descriptions would even approach being able to describe the thrill I felt, for example, when my tour bus first crested a hill and I glimpsed the iconic pillars of Stonehenge. These few paragraphs, however, more than prove my point.

One of my favorite financial bloggers, Frugalwoods, best describes how I have chosen to finance my passion. If your main goal is to travel the world, pause before you buy that diet Dr. Pepper and ask yourself whether you would rather spend that money on the drink or on traveling the world that God has created. (Obviously, I rephrased her point with examples more applicable to myself.) This question and my answers to that question have helped fund further adventures and have helped me better explain what drives how I spend my money.

I started thinking about this post during a recent department meeting. In that meeting one of the items on the agenda was determining the date on which we would gather in the summer for planning, an extra day for which we would be compensated by Title I funds. After I disclosed that I would be on a plane headed to London the day following the last teacher work day, everyone started considering the day before I left as the primary option. While that would be convenient, we would not get paid for that day because it was a regular contract day. I will also add that my disclosure of my London trip was met by the usual casually jealous comments. Those comments, which i hear all the time, quickly paled in comparison to a specific comment from another coworker. I asked if we could consider a non-contract day so that we could be paid like those from other departments will be. She told met hat I would not notice that $150 in my paycheck, not after all the taxes were taken out. It really wasn’t that much.

Many things went through my head then and also permeated discussions of that comment, which she made several times throughout the remainder of that meeting. Most of those thoughts initially centered on speculation that privilege on her part led to the comment. While that certainly factored in, I believe that there also may be a cultural norm ascribing privilege to all those who are able to travel, especially overseas. Many times the other participants in conversations about my travel wish that they had enough money for such adventures or wonder how I can afford so much travel on a teacher’s salary. Perhaps that factored into my coworker’s inaccurate statement. Perhaps she assumed that because I could afford a European vacation, I would not notice the extra $150 in my paycheck.

On the contrary, I can afford a European vacation because I pay attention to every penny in my paycheck. I have never earned a large salary in my entire working career. According to my Social Security records (which you can access by setting up a free account on their website), I have only twice earned above thirty thousand dollars in a calendar year and even then just barely. Those numbers do not scream privilege yet God has blessed me with no debt, a head for numbers and a steady, sufficient income.

Over the years I have made travel a priority. I am also debt adverse. Those two main motivations have helped me travel far more than many might think possible. Sometimes that meant postponing the trip because I had not yet saved a sufficient amount. Sometimes that meant choosing a less expensive attraction like the Chicago Symphony rather than Hamilton with Wayne Brady playing Aaron Burr. All the time it means planning and budgeting well. For example, that London trip? Both Mom and I contributed to saving for it. The final budget came out to $5100 for two people. So far I have spent $4100 of that budget with the only things left to purchase being transportation (like the Underground and one or two Uber rides), food, and a few small souvenirs. We will likely end up spending less than $5,000 for two people to travel to England and Scotland for a total of eleven days including travel time.

That is how I can afford to travel on a teacher’s salary. I prioritize my spending by reminding myself about my ultimate goal. I prioritize how I spend my time by planning ahead of time, both the trip and my budget. I look for ways to maximize experience while minimizing the expense. The next time you start to say that you can’t do something and give in to jealousy of someone who can, redirect that effort into finding what truly brings you joy and figuring out how, not if, you’ll get there.

2017 Travels – Chicago Edition – Lessons Learned

One thought that occurred to me frequently throughout that Spring Break was “this is why I am frugal. I have prioritized my spending on what brings me joy.” That’s a post for another time.

(This post was originally supposed to go up on May 2 but unfortunately something went wrong, most likely user error, and the post stayed in the draft folder.)

Each trip, no matter how many I take, teaches new lessons and reinforces old. Chicago served as fertile proving ground for the big one, the UK trip with Mom coming up in barely a month. I had to figure out what worked and what I needed to work on. Teaching has thrown my old trip planning techniques almost completely out the window. As an obsessive planner, it was difficult at times to let go of mapping out every detail. At other times, everything moved so quickly that all I could do was hang on for the ride and just wing it.

The biggest thing I learned is that planning should be strategic. It is necessary to put some work into making a plan come together. Simultaneously, the stress of jamming all the things into each day subtracted from the enjoyment of the vacation.

In the post from a few weeks ago, I talked about the specifics of my plan, the few that I had, so I will instead talk about the nebulous plans and the nonexistent plans that I went into the trip with.

The OCD planner in me shudders at the knowledge that I had not planned the following: public transportation to get around the city and to the various events, snacks to keep the runger monster at bay, food for breakfast and other meals so that we wouldn’t have to eat every meal out and how much I was prepared to spend each day.

While I did manage, barely, to stay under budget – only $10 to spare – that does not include the Uber we took to and from the symphony, to the race start and to the airport for departure. The Uber app resided on Dad’s phone, connected to his debit card. He told me not to worry about paying him back since it was connected to his card. I will likely payhim back even though that means going over budget.

The lack of a plan for food was the budget’s near downfall. I failed to plan and thus ended up eating all but two meals in a restaurant. All the food was delicious for sure. However, I could have planned better. Thankfully, Mom is not prone to eating quite as much as Dad; that will help. Specific lesson: plan and budget for meals including restaurants, snacks and meals at the airbnb.

On the flipside, sometimes the plan can get thrown out and yet result in a completely awesome experience. I had written an idea in my day planner for each day of the trip. While we got to one of the items I wrote down, it was five days later than I wrote and we happened upon it completely unintentionally. This M.O. was the best part of the trip. We found restaurnats with delicious food, the Federal Reserve, museums and numerou other amazing places along the way. If we saw something that caught our eye we went to go see it. The stress free aspect of the M.O. was the perfect respit for the break from school. Lesson learned: let go of rigidity.

Lastly, staying within budget requires daily upkeep. I didn’t do this during the trip but one time. Only on Sunday after I had already returned did I see how close to the limit I had come.

I had such an amazing time in Chicago and can see why Laura fell in love with this city. I’m a bit infatuated myself.

2017 Travels – Chicago, the Preparation

After a year of no travel, I am beyond excited to get started on a summer filled to the brim with travel. On the agenda for the summer? The UK, Hilton Head Island, road trip to Maine/Prince Edward Island, and San Francisco. All of this starts with a sampler in Chicago which, when this post publishes, is where I am.

All of this travel will be done on a teacher’s salary following a year with short stints of unemployment. Although I will be using my credit card, I will not be going into debt. The spending is all backed up with my dedicated travel savings account aided by frugal travel hacks I have picked up over the years.

The tentative posting plan is as follows. Since each trip is slightly different, I plan to write about how I planned and prepared for each trip. After the trips I want to write about the execution of the plan and how I dealt with the inevitable unexpected. I also hope to have my writing chops up to par and ready to write about my experiences and the history of all that I am privileged to visit.

This trip started to take shape on a whim. Some time last year I thought “hey, since Laura lives in Chicago now, maybe we could go visit over Spring Break.” Dad and I actually started brainstorming the trip before telling Laura. Whoops.

The trip existed in hypothetical form only for several months due mainly to my school schedule. I wrote down “30 minutes at least travel planning” in my planner on every Saturday so far this year but have yet to be able to follow up with that. (I hope to change that since the UK trip cannot be planed on such a whim as this trip.)

Even with my schedule working against me, the trip gradually started to take shape. First, I set a budget, $1000. I also established that on this trip, unlike all previous trips with Dad, we would go Dutch on everything. This means that more money comes out of my pocket but less is spent on the trip overall. All our previous trips were graduation gifts.

Second, I purchased tickets or the must sees and airfare. Those must sees included White Sox, Cubs, and Hamilton tickets. Unfortunately, we will not be able to see Hamilton. That story comes a little later.

I couldn’t purchase the baseball tickets as soon as I wanted since the regular season tickets were not released until early March. I could still see the schedule which helped plan the flight dates. The White Sox played at home through Sunday the 9th. The Cubs played at home for most of the rest of the week, including April 15th, Jackie Robinson day.

This schedule did add an additional expense. Laura had people staying at her apartment through the weekend. That meant that we needed a hotel for two nights.

When I could finally purchase the baseball tickets, all of the affordable Cubs tickets for the 15th had vanished. They are the reigning champs after all. We’re going on Thursday.

I clicked from there to Hamilton tickets. My jaw dropped at the prices. Of course, I expected them to cost more than the baseball tickets but at $300 each, a single ticket would use up just under a third of my total budget. Then began the internal battle. How much did I really want to see Hamilton?

I had just started listening to the soundtrack on repeat-late to the party I know-and am obsessed. This is something that I sincerely and completely want. I also received a larger than expected tax return which helped me talk myself into taking the plunge. Then Dad sent me a Facebook message; Hamilton is coming to the Peace Center in 2018. Decision made. I’m not happy with having to wait but it’s the logical, financially-wise thing to do.

The story does not end there. Laura came to visit a couple weeks ago and commented that it was a bummer that we weren’t going since Wayne Brady was init. Immediately I set to work looking for tickets again. Wayne Brady as Aaron Burr? Yes please! I found some tickets and prepared to purchase them. Then I thought to check on the end date of Brady’s temporary run. It ended on the 9th. The tickets I found were for the 12th. Tickets for the two possible showings we could have attended were $100 or more above what the other tickets cost. Back to waiting on 2018.

When I initially decided against the Hamilton tickets, I looked for something else and discovered the symphony. For significantly less than a Hamilton ticket, I get to take in a performance by one of the best orchestras in the world.

Third, after I purchased the tickets, I planned the rest of the daily activities. Unlike most of my other trips, I planned only minimal daily activities. The primary reason is a culprit that I have mentioned a few times already, lack of time. The secondary reason flows indirectly from the primary. Work has been fairly crazy so the idea of packing in as much as possible felt counterproductive. I want to both rest and to explore.

Planning each trip, although similar at times, takes on a life of its own. This is the first trip I have planned since returning to teaching. I hope to apply what I learned to the rapidly approaching UK trip.

Faith Rooted in Joy not Fear

Last Wednesday, on the one year anniversary of the terror attack in Brussels, a radicalized British-born man drove his vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge killing three and injuring forty before exiting the vehicle and fatally stabbing a police officer. The assailant was then killed by other police officers before he could cause more harm. The entire incident lasted just under a minute and a half.

This incident impacted me for a couple reasons, the most prominent of which being the fact that Mom and I will be walking in that exact area this coming June. if everything works out I hope to actually enter the Palace of Westminster and sit on one of the benches like a regular back-bencher.

One of the men who died as an American man on his 25th wedding anniversary with his wife who was also critically injured. This trip likely was a bucket list adventure for them, a milestone in a committed life. I imagine that they may have toasted to 25 more years before in the blink of an eye his life and their life together ended.

This trip will be the first time Mom has traveled to Europe, a trip that we have been saving for quite a while. In a blink it could be over, just like for that couple. Does that mean that we should not go?

On the contrary!

I faced a similar scenario two years ago before I traveled to Rome. Several prominent airplane accidents had occurred in the past year including the as of yet unsolved disappearance of MH370 and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by BUK missile purportedly of Russian origin provided to Russian backed Ukrainian separatist fighters. Then, while we were in Italy, Andreas Lubitz committed suicide by intentionally crashing the plane and killing 144 people. Most of my coworkers at the time declared their intention to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground. As my trip approached, a few of them questioned whether all of this made me rethink my travel plans.

Without hesitation I replied, “No. Not at all.” Obviously, they did not understand and probably still do not agree. The reasons I explained to them then remain true today.

Starting with the least important, my reasons are as follows: One, the pure statistics of plane crashes and terrorist incidents provide the perfect counterpoint to those irrational fears. Two, the fiercely independent streak in me refuses to bow down in fear to those who seek to take away freedom or to random unpredictable accidents of man-made or natural origin. Third, and most importantly, as a child of God, death holds no fear for me. Killing me would be the least that someone could do to me. If I die, I leave this finite, corruptible body on a world infected by sin, death and decay to begin an eternity together with the sinless, incorruptible God giving glory to Him for all eternity.

To leave with faith rooted in fear would be to say to God that I do not believe that He is sovereign, that I believe that my effort can do a better job at keeping myself “safe” through life’s uncertainty. This sort of life holds very little if any real joy. I reject it.

Instead, I choose to live with faith rooted in joy, joy in the God who has delighted to love fallen humanity and a world tainted by sin and to redeem that world for His glory. I will delight in His creation with the goal in all that I do whether work or leisure to glorify and honor Him.