When You Can’t Travel… Bring the Travel to You!

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I haven’t done any traveling this week. But sometimes even staying at home can lead to an unforgettable travel adventure!

I went to Cieneguilla, Peru in 2007 and 2009. It doesn’t feel like it’s been nearly six years since my last visit! While there, one of the many people I met was Ruby. I have kept up with this fellow adventurer through Facebook as she has gone through different ministry programs. Not too long ago, I saw she was fulfilling her dream of taking her first trip to the United States… including Southern Oregon!

Ruby’s schedule while here was tight, but fortunately we managed to squeeze a couple hours in this afternoon when we were both available. I decided to take her to the local tourism town of Jacksonville. I played tour guide as I showed her the famous homes of the Nunans, the Britts, and the Beekmans, as well as a few other sites related to the Gold Rush. We then finished up our time with a lunch at Bella Union, including sharing a mud pie for dessert!

Instead of seeing the local culture that I’ve seen countless times, it was unique to see things through Ruby’s eyes. Even the small things were special, like having cars stop for us so we could cross the street instead of waiting for all the speeding cars to go away. We also discussed how Peru has changed since I saw it six years ago. I recalled the things I found shockingly different during my time in Peru, and she shared a few of the American practices that she hadn’t expected. We both were missing the Peruvian food!

Pretty soon I had to drop Ruby off with some friends so that they could spend some time with her.  I joked that Ruby has near celebrity status since she’s so busy with everyone wanting to see her! But I’m am super thankful that she spared a couple of hours to spend adventuring with me!

Featured Interview on Something In Her Ramblings!

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If you head over to Something In Her Ramblings, you might see a familiar face in today’s guest interview. Each week, that blog features a different female traveler in the “Women Who Travel Solo” series. I was asked about last summer’s trip to Niagara Falls, and about solo travel for women in general. I even provided some tips there that I haven’t mentioned on this site yet!

The Packing Experiment

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During after-Christmas sales last December, I got a bargain on the kind of luggage I wanted to take to Europe. It was a wheeled suitcase that not only featured a long enough handle so that my 6’1″ body didn’t have to slump over to roll it around, but it also contained hidden backpack straps for when I realize that a roller suitcase is not ideal for cobblestone streets! The front part (not shown in picture above) zipped off so it could be used as a daypack. It had nearly everything I could wish for in a a suitcase. It’s even the maximum carry-on size!

I’ve used this backpack a few times since buying it, kind of like a test drive in preparation for the big trip. I’ve taken it to Wilderness Trails. I used it over the course of my tri-state California road trip. I also used it this past weekend for the outdoor retreat. This time, I wanted to study my packing, and see if I can use this experience to learn to pack better.

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Packing Clothes

Since this retreat was for two nights, I would only need two changes of clothes, right? However, there were a few variables. I would probably want shorts or capris for this trip, but I had no idea where I was actually going. Would there be a breeze? Would we be in a shaded area? Would cold weather hit? Not knowing these kinds of variables, I decided to pack a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved under armor shirt. I also decided to pack three shirts since I figured I had a good chance of getting one dirty or sweaty. I also needed to pack swimwear. Since I don’t wear standard swimsuits, this meant that an extra swim tunic, bikini top, swim shorties, and sarong had to be packed. Still, in total, all these clothes took up about one-fourth of the main compartment. (Socks, hats, and undergarments took up little room in the front pocket.) Of course I had completely forgotten about sleepwear until the last minute, so I did shove in pajama pants and a three-quarter sleeved shirt right before leaving.

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Packing Everything Else!

Most of my luggage weight consisted of non-clothing. Since this was a camping type of experience, I would need to bring a pillow and sleeping bag. These two items on their own were larger than my suitcase, but for most trips (like Europe), these things are not necessary. The other items, as you can see in this picture, include sandals, towel, Camelbak, wallet, phone, glasses, sunglasses Bible, notebook, car keys, head lamp, flashlight, pedometer, mug, and bag of toiletries. I put the Camelbak and the small items that are normally found in my purse into the daypack compartment to ensure I had easy access to them. Everything else fit into the remaining space of the main compartment.

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Things I Didn’t Use

Clothing was the main thing I over-packed. I ended up wearing my capris on both Saturday and Sunday (since there were only a few hours on Sunday that I wasn’t in my swimwear), which meant that both the shorts and jeans were unused. I did end up using the long-sleeved shirt as an extra shirt, but I still had one extra shirt even after that. I don’t drink coffee, and although there was some tempting-sounding hot chocolate, I ended up only drinking water during the entire trip. That meant my mug stayed clean and inside my bag. I only used my head lamp for light, so my flashlight was unnecessary. Other than that, there were several toiletries I did not use. I didn’t use soap (hey, we didn’t have a shower!), nail clippers, hair tie, bug wipe (I had bug spray instead), cotton swabs, or the icy-hot patch.

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Things I Learned

Most of the things I brought that I didn’t end up using were brought because I was unsure of what to expect. Now I know that it’s very important to do my research for every city I plan to go to in Europe. I will definitely be taking more clothes there than I did on this trip, but I’ll know that I can wear things multiple times, especially legwear. One piece of clothing it seemed like everyone but I wore was athletic leggings or fitted yoga pants. Seeing how versatile they were for sleeping, exercising, getting wet, staying warm, and simply hanging out, I went out and bought a pair yesterday!

A few items I brought on this trip will not go to Europe in order to save space. The biggest thing I will not bring is a beach towel. Most hostels provide towels, and I’ll have a small towel for the ones that don’t, so this will free up about a quarter of the main compartment. I will also not bring my Bible. Now, as a Christian going on a trip for three months, that sounds weird, but hear me out. I love my full-size waterproof Bible for trips like these, but it’s just too heavy and space-consuming for Europe. Instead, I will bring the miniature New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs that the Gideons give out for free. If I want to read a passage of scripture not included in that Bible, I can always access it on my phone. Speaking of my phone, I will use that as my flashlight in Europe instead of bringing a redundant item.

There were some “emergency-only” items in my toiletry bag that I actually ended up using. Fortunately I didn’t need these things for myself, but as the EMT/former Girl Scout of the group, others ended up benefiting. I offered a sample pack of bacitracin and a band-aid for a tick wound, and afterwards when everyone was doing a tick check, several ladies used my nit comb for closer examination. Hand sanitizer was also very useful throughout the trip- it was the only way to wash hands! One thing I didn’t bring, but someone else gave to me, was a Benedryl pill. This helped will all the allergens collected from the outdoors and also helped me fall asleep that night. Benedryl (well, the store brand of Diphenhydramine, at least) was already on my packing list for Europe, so I made sure to buy that yesterday, along with a couple other useful medications. Needless to say, I will bring first aid supplies along with me!

These are just a few results from my packing experiment this weekend. I know that an outdoor retreat and urban backpacking Europe are two completely different beasts, so I guess I still have plenty to learn before cramming three months of my life into a carry-on and setting off!

What is your all-time best packing tip? 

An Outdoor Retreat

Nearly two weeks ago, I attended a young adult Bible study for the first time. Since I was a newbie, and summer and European possibilities weren’t too far away, I didn’t expect much to come of it. But little did I know that the group was planning an outdoor retreat! I didn’t know anybody, but since I was invited I decided to go for it. So on Friday afternoon, I brought my over-packed backpack, sleeping bag, and pillow to a big white van where I met up with a few of the others. We hopped in and headed south to Klamath National Forest in Northern California.

Now, if you read this website as inspiration for your own travels, I must warn you that I can only sort of help you in this post. This retreat was done mostly on private property. However, if you can find a natural setting, you can still imitate a multitude of things that happened in the past couple of days.

Go Off-Grid

Our humble abode for two nights: no electricity, plumbing, or cell service!
Our humble abode for two nights: no electricity, plumbing, or cell service!

I do believe that the internet is a wonderful thing. But I think all of us can admit that, deep down inside, there is something missing from it. When we rely on instant connectivity, we tend to forget about connecting with the people and environment around us. Since everyone that went was in the same boat, we enjoyed some rare, uninterrupted face-to-face connection.

Have a Campfire

Fire was our only source of heat on this trip, so it brought us together on so many levels!
Fire was our only source of heat on this trip, so it brought us together on so many levels!

Mix a little bit of danger, a little bit of fellowship, and a little bit of visual stimulation, and you would get what’s known as a campfire. Now, campfire’s aren’t all fun. This weekend I ended up with a hole in my favorite pair of pajama pants due to a spark landing on them! But even after that incident, the fire ring was still the best place to circle up and participate in conversation.

Enjoy Solitude

My solo toes pointing to my view during my time away.
My solo toes pointing to my view during my time away.

For a couple hours on Saturday morning, each trip participant had the opportunity to go into a different part of the property for some time alone. Since there was no agenda during this time, we could read the Bible, nap, pray, snack, journal, sing, or just be still and become more aware of our surroundings. I did a bit of all that, except for sleeping. (The army of ants crawling up my shoes encouraged me to stay awake and alert!) My spot was next to the creek with cascading miniature waterfalls. While this activity was very simplistic, it actually turned out to be a unique and enjoyable activity. After all, how often do you get the opportunity be alone and away from anything man-made?

Enjoy Company

Although I only had had small talk with a few people before this trip, I got to know everyone better this weekend.
Although I only had had small talk with a few people before this trip, I got to know everyone better this weekend.

Whether it was taking the long drive to and from our destination, sharing a meal, setting things up, coexisting during downtime, or trying to figure out how to remove the head of a tick from someone’s skin without any tools, there were plenty of opportunities to enjoy each other’s company. (Except when we were enjoying solitude as mentioned in the point above!) Funny, interesting, and embarrassing stories were shared. It may have been because it was a limited number of people with limitations on things we could do (being off-grid after all), but we got to know each other faster than people I’ve seen on a regular basis over a long period of time.

Take a Hike

Hiking through the woods
Hiking through the woods

Hikes are always fun. We took a hike that would have been fairly short, except the trail wasn’t always a trail. Sometimes vegetation made it hard to find the path. Sometimes we had to climb over or in-between rocks. For a few instances we balanced on a log as we crossed the creek. There were several points where we relied on the literal helping hand of others. A couple people got scrapes or bee stings. Twice I fell! But the unique situations made it all the more adventurous.

Find a Waterfall

There were several waterfalls along our hike, ending with this one.
There were several waterfalls along our hike, ending with this one.

You must know that I love waterfalls. There weren’t any waterfalls that we found notable enough to be named, but we found several tucked away deep into the woods. We were quite possibly among the few people who were able to witness this unknown waterfalls, which in and of itself was something pretty special.

Raft a River

One of our rafts on the Klamath River.
One of our rafts on the Klamath River.

This weekend marked my first time rafting in California. Actually, it was my first official time rafting anything other than the Rogue River. While I didn’t attain my goal of rafting over class five rapids, we did hit a few fun class threes. Plus, there was plenty of calmer water where we just got to talk, splash around, and find birds and turtles. Our group took two rafts out on the Klamath River on Sunday, and it was a beautiful day for doing so. Definitely a highlight!

Don’t Keep Time

Day and night are the best ways to tell time, anyway.
Day and night are the best ways to tell time, anyway.

A few years ago, I read a book where one chapter issued a challenge to spend some time without keeping time. It was a nice idea, but since I always need to be somewhere or do something at a certain time every day, I could never do this for a sufficient period. But as we pulled into our camp for the weekend, I decided to turn off my phone and not turn it back on until we were headed home. I didn’t bring a watch or any other way to tell time. In fact, the only electronic I used was my camera, and the time stamp on that isn’t even accurate! Other than overhearing a few people tell each other what time it was, I had no idea what time it was at any point in time. It didn’t matter if it was 10 am or 2 pm, lunch time was when I was hungry. Bed time was when it was dark and I was tired. I don’t know if I went to bed at 9:30 or midnight. You probably won’t understand how it feels until you try this yourself, but it is a very freeing experience.

I also used this weekend as a study on how I pack, in preparation for packing for three months of Europe in a carry-on. Coming up, you’ll see what I learned from this experiment.

Since today is Memorial Day in the United States, I’m sure plenty of you have also enjoyed some sort of outdoor experience this weekend. Share what you did in the comments!

My Review of Hostelling International Sacramento

Remember last month when my mom and I road tripped through California? On our first night of the journey we stayed at a hostel in Sacramento.

Selfie at HI-Sacramento

I am happy to announce that Hostelz.com has published my article about HI-Sacramento. Click here to read my insider information! A unique feature about this website is that it takes information from all over the web. That means you’ll be able to read more reviews from travelers, and you’ll also compare prices from different websites, making sure that you get the best deal. I have been a staff writer for Hostelz for a few years now, and I am especially looking forward to writing for them as I encounter even more hostels in Europe!

Question for Travelers: What websites do you like to use to book hostels and other lodging?

Question for Accommodation Owners: What makes your lodging stand out? Would you like me to come to YOUR place of business?

Note: Hostelz.com does not pay for advertising on this site. However, if you use the links above to book your next hostel stay, I will receive a portion of the reservation fee at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Checklist for Planning a Crazy Hectic European Adventure

After entertaining ideas in my head for the past year or so, I finally confirmed that I will be trekking through the Mediterranean. This was decided on exactly two months before my departure date. So what can I do in those waiting months? Ha, there’s plenty to do! Here’s a checklist if you want to know what’s been on my mind lately, or if you’re interested in taking on a similar endeavor!

  • Buy plane tickets. I have found fairly cheap tickets with budget airlines, but in the end, I just booked with Expedia. There were a few reasons for this: for one, I could make sure to earn loyalty points, both with Expedia and with the name-brand airlines they booked for me. For another, I could fly right out of the nearby little airport instead of going to Portland, San Francisco, or another major airport. It would also ensure that there would be no ridiculous hidden fees and that all the basics were covered. I know the exact size my luggage can be, whether or not I’m getting in-flight meals or entertainment, and other things that provide more peace of mind. I decided to book shortly after news broke out about an ordeal involving a passenger suing United Airlines. I thought it might be a good time to snag a cheap ticket. The funny thing was, even though United is usually the cheapest airline for me, that’s not the airline that ended up being the cheapest this time. I guess the other airlines wanted to draw in the loyalties that United was losing!
  • Purchase traveler’s insurance. This was something extra offered as I was checking out with Expedia. I had debated for so long if I would get this, and at the last second I decided to go for it. It was less than $100, but it could end up saving me thousands if certain situations arose. A number of things have the potential to occur during a trip (just like every other day of life), so it’s good to know that I have a fallback for many of these possibilities.
  • Map out destinations. This is especially important if you’re flying multi-destination or open-jaw. You have to be in certain places at certain times, and have to take travel time in between everything. Figure out how many days to spend in each location. Also determine if everything you want to visit is centrally located, or if you’ll need extra transportation or possibly two different accommodations at the same destination.
If you're going to use a GPS, make sure it is loaded with maps of your destination.
If you’re going to use a GPS, make sure it is loaded with maps of your destination.
  • Budget and brainstorm ways to save. Nobody likes the word “budget”, but think of it more as a challenge than a chore. How much can you do with a set amount of money? How much do you want to do? Also keep in mind that budgets can change over time. As I’ve gotten a more realistic idea about Europe, my budget has adjusted to reflect that. And even though my budget is still relatively low compared to most tourists, I am still looking for ways to save. (Do you have any tips specific to saving for Europe? I’d love to read them in the comments!)
  • Make at least a couple of accommodation reservations. My task today was booking the hostel I’ll be staying at for the first several days. It’s a good idea to book ahead of time, since prime accommodations can fill up quickly, especially during busy seasons. I don’t believe in booking all the accommodations for an extended trip though. If your plans change and you want to spend more or less time at a certain destination, it’s nice not to be tied down with having to pay for a bed you don’t want to sleep in. If you are making plans to visit people or enroll in a program, make sure to take care of this ahead of time, though. I was accepted into the Diverbo program a few days ago, which means that I have a free place to stay for seven days (in exchange for speaking English with those enrolled in the program). However, I did have to apply for that ahead of time to make sure I got a place, and I probably should have applied even sooner!
Hostels are great! Stay in them as much as you can.
Hostels are great! Stay in them as much as you can.
  • Get overseas communication. This was something that I had to promise I would do in order to gain my parents’ support for this journey. WiFi works overseas, but cell phone plans don’t. I did hours of research trying to see if I could get MiFi or an unlocked phone with an international plan, but nothing was cheap, and everything involved waiting until I got overseas for purchasing. However, I finally discovered a company that offers prepaid international SIM cards and inexpensive unlocked phones. I’ll tell you all about them once my phone arrives in the mail!
  • Attend any needed or desired doctor appointments. Your medical insurance probably isn’t valid overseas. And no one wants to have to cancel or shorten a trip due to unexpected health problems, so a pre-trip physical is always a good idea. I’ll usually tell my doctor when I am about to travel, and they often make some good health recommendations that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. Sometimes, they even give me sample-sized products of medicines I may need! Visit the dentist or any other specialty doctors before you go, too. Oh, and if you ever experience any sort of back pain, going to a chiropractor before leaving will change the outlook of the trip. Chiropractors can’t make being stuffed in an economy airplane seat for twenty hours feel comfortable, but they can help make it more bearable.

    Having been a practicing EMT (and I'm still licensed) gives me the confidence to take care of my and others' health while traveling. But it's never wrong to get a second opinion.
    Having been a practicing EMT (and I’m still licensed) gives me the confidence to take care of my and others’ health while traveling. But it’s never wrong to get a second opinion.
  • Arrange things with work. Will you quit? Request a leave of absence? Try to figure out a way to work from the road? Oh, so many options. With three jobs, this one will be an ordeal for me. I still need to modify my writing job so that it will be most effective for travels, and also take care of my other jobs that are not so location-independent.
  • Figure out on-ground transportation. If flying from one airport to another was the only transportation necessary during a trip, travel would be much less stressful. But the thing about airports is they tend to be miles away from the stuff you actually want to visit. Does the destination airport offer shuttle service? How much will that be? If you’re going to multiple destinations, you also have to factor in traveling between cities. Bus, train, or regional jet? Does your preferred method of travel service all the destinations you plan on visiting? Will travel time take up too much of your trip? This is probably my biggest headache right now, but I know it will be so worth it once it’s planned out. Yet another on-ground transportation factor is going about day-to-day. I prefer to walk anywhere possible, but that involves making sure that roads are pedestrian-friendly, allowing extra time to get from place to place, and planning to staying no more than a couple of miles away from the sites I want to see.

    Hoofing it during last year's international trip to Niagara Falls
    Hoofing it during last year’s international trip to Niagara Falls
  • Gather gear. Knowing I needed a good maximum-sized carry-on backpack for this trip, I found one way back in December. It’s possible that will be my biggest piece of gear, but there are plenty of things that I will need for this trip that I don’t normally have at home. Just yesterday, I bought an international adapter/converter plug (so I don’t fry my electronics), a combination lock (so I can secure my belongings in hostel lockers), and mini caribiners (so I can make sure the zippers on my backpack stay closed). And while I’m almost done with shopping, there are still a few more pieces of gear on my list to get!
  • Ensure passport and any needed visas are prepared. When I was sixteen, there was a big ordeal with getting my passport. I was going to Peru the same year that the law was made requiring passports for Canada and Mexico. With the increase in people applying for passports, somehow mine got lost in a government storage room for months on end, so I had to go to Seattle to get a replacement. Case in point: get your passport as early as possible. Keep in mind that passports technically expire six months before the printed date, so check the information and apply for one if necessary. This will be my first trip where I will need to get a visa. I can actually go through Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and pretty much anywhere else without one, but for just a few days in Istanbul, the Turkish government is going to make me apply for one. This sort of thing can typically be done online ahead of time.
  • Pack. All that stuff you bought for the trip? Now it has to go in the backpack you bought for the trip. I am sticking with carry-on only for a number of reasons: I won’t have to pay airline luggage fees, there’s less chance that I’ll lose anything, I won’t get a back injury from carrying too much luggage, and when I arrive in a city I can explore on foot instead of paying for a cab to get to the hostel. In order to accomplish this, I can’t take my whole closet with me, and I have to siphon liquid toiletries into TSA-friendly 3.1 ounce containers.
Having multiple bags, like I did while moving across America, means that you may have to try to balance all your belongings on the curb of a busy Chicago street while waiting for a cab to take you one mile to the bus station.
Having multiple bags, like I did while moving across America, means that you may have to try to balance all your belongings on the curb of a busy Chicago street while waiting for a cab to take you one mile to the bus station.
  • Make it to the airport on time! This one is probably the simplest, but also the most important. Find someone to drop you off or otherwise make arrangements, and plan plenty of time to get through the security line and find the right gate. Yes, there is plenty more do to once you land. But for the next few hours, kick back and enjoy the beginning of a new adventure!

How to Survive the Language Barrier

multilingual language barrier

What do I think is the biggest barrier to worldwide travel? Languages. Ugh! Sometimes I just have to throw my head back and ask God if He could have possibly done anything different to take care of the Tower of Babel issue without spurring all these different languages. I mean, really. If everyone in the entire world spoke the same language, wouldn’t you be much more comfortable traveling in foreign countries? Of course, language is one of the cultural differences that helps make each location unique, but there certainly is an advantage to knowing the native language! And a big problem with Europe is that, with each different country I hope to go to, I’ll be exposed to a completely different language.

I have taken multiple trips to Latin America (Mexico and Peru), all which were done during my high school and college years. Because I knew while I was still in middle school that I wanted to visit one of these countries, I began studying a bit of the Spanish language. Having a purpose for learning a language certainly does help when it comes to studying! Fortunately, I had already been given a program that would be a huge help:

rosetta stone

Using Rosetta Stone was a good primer for Spanish vocabulary, and I do appreciate that it uses pictures to help you identify rather than English words. (It’s almost, but not quite, like immersion.) This program was my only real Spanish study experience before my first trip to Mexico. It turned out that everyone in the tourist ports I visited would speak in English, but I was able to decipher many of the signs. Still, I don’t think I would be able to hold a conversation at all!

The next school year, I began taking Spanish class, and would continue to do so through college. I did have a bit of an advantage thanks to my foundation with Rosetta Stone, but the Spanish class itself was taught much differently, and I will say much more effectively. I’m sure it helped a lot to have that face-to-face interaction with someone who was actually fluent! My first year of Spanish class was by far the most effective, and although I was barely conversational at the end of the year, I had all the tools I needed to interact with the people I visited in Peru that summer. I’m not sure if it was because I learned so much by immersion in Peru, or because I couldn’t get my original Spanish class teacher for the following years, but the subsequent years did not seem as effective for me. Sure, I learned some, but not as much as I would have liked. Fortunately, I’m not actually supposed to know Spanish during my time in Spain. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone!)

diverbo

Diverbo is a Spain-based one-week language learning program… for learning English, that is! Spaniards who are book-smart in their English studies, but may not be comfortable in English conversation, come to this retreat where no Spanish speaking is allowed. So how do they improve at their conversation skills? Diverbo gets volunteers from English-speaking countries to spend a free week at a Spanish resort in exchange for talking, talking, and talking. I have been accepted to be on the waiting list for an upcoming program. I really do hope I get selected. Besides, it’s been so long since I last took a Spanish class, I won’t be tempted to utter a word of it. Let’s just hope I retained enough to survive in the city!

If Spanish and English were the only languages spoken in Europe, I would have packed my bags and headed out long ago. But, oddly enough, none of the countries I’m going to are primarily English, and Spain is the only one with primarily Spanish. If I really wanted to converse like a local, I would have to also learn French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, and perhaps a couple more languages. So how to deal with that?

Duolingo_logo

I recently started taking lessons from Duolingo. At first, I thought it would be most beneficial to learn French. But after a few lessons, I got frustrated with the way words are pronounced and figured that Paris is close enough to England that all I would need was a convincing British accent. So, just while taking a break from French, I started the Italian course. Wow, I grabbed a hold of that language MUCH easier! And while I can’t figure out how to drop French from my Duolingo languages, I don’t have to worry about giving up that commitment. Duolingo is completely FREE and you can choose from many different learning languages including Portuguese, German, and, coming soon, Klingon! Lessons can be completed on a computer or with the phone app. And I’m not sure about other brands of smartphones, but with the Android app, you don’t even have to be online to work on lessons! There are some downsides to Duolingo, though. A biggie is that, unlike Rosetta Stone, it does not try to simulate immersion and heavily relies on translation. I also downloaded the Rosetta Stone app, and while I haven’t really used it since it works slower than Duolingo, I probably should compare the two to see which one will teach me better Italian. Overall, I think Italian will be the best third language for me in Europe since I will spend more time in Italy than any other country, and it will probably be useful in Italy’s surrounding nations as well. One problem is that it has a lot of similarities to Spanish, and I’m already getting them mixed up in my mind!

However, with all this language learning, I have yet to set foot anywhere close to Europe. From what I understand, most Europeans learn English in school as it is the language of business, so maybe I could get by with just that. Or maybe hand gestures and miming would suffice. But I don’t know. What do I need to know about surviving the language barrier in Europe? 

Note: None of the programs mentioned in this post are affiliates or sponsors. I just wanted to voice my opinions about the studies I’ve experienced and I’m interested in hearing about the experiences of others!

Fast Friday Thought

Having dreams and goals are exciting, but making a commitment toward them? That’s a big deal.

I made a commitment today.

I bought a plane ticket. First stop, Paris!

It seems so unreal. Yet, this means my Mediterranean Europe Backpacking Adventure will now actually become real.

Whoa.

Question: What backpacking or European advice do you have to share? Anything helps!

Happy Hot Air Balloon Birthday to Me!

Birthday 085

My family happened to be vacationing in Walt Disney World when I turned 18. That day, as a newly minted adult, I took a ferry to Downtown Disney in hopes of experiencing something only adults could experience- signing my own liability waiver! I wanted to ride the then-new “Characters in Flight”, a giant tethered helium balloon. Unfortunately, when I got there, it was closed due to the wind. But as a left Florida that year, I was determined that I would eventually be able to have lots of non-airplane flying experiences… and also sign lots of liability waivers!

Birthday 160

About a year later, I went to a local hot air balloon festival. It was there that I got to take my first tethered hot air balloon ride. After signing my waiver and waiting an hour in line, the ride lasted maybe three minutes, and gave me a great view… of just the field where it took place! It was well worth the $3, but it was only an adventure appetizer when I wanted a dinner buffet.

Birthday 163

For three years now, I’ve decided to do something adventurous for my birthday. After meeting up with my family at Disney World (for the fourth time), or taking a bike trip around Columbus that ended up with me suspended on a high wire, I was looking for something that would be even better this year, especially since I was spending my first birthday at home since age 19. My plan actually wasn’t on my bucket list, but probably should be: go paragliding! I called a local paragliding guide and made plans for my birthday weekend.

On Thursday night, I received a message from the pilot with some bad news. The mountain that gliders have used for years belongs to the Bureau of Land Management, and somebody complained about the property’s use. That means all paragliding in the area will be shut down for at least six months. And of course it had to happen right before my birthday weekend! I still wanted to have some high-flying fun for my birthday, but would I be able to get anything arranged in just one business day?

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Referring to my Travel Bucket List, I picked out the ones that would be able to be done in the area and started scouring the internet for contacts. On Friday morning, I got two responses. One was from a helicopter service that offered me a one-hour flight for just $1500 (yeouch!), and the other was from Daybreak Ballooning that, while not cheap enough to be a regular activity, was WAY more affordable and worth every penny for this special occasion. So at 6 am Saturday morning, I was all set for my first real hot air balloon adventure!

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My friend Steph had agreed to accompany me on this ride, and my parents came to watch our take-off. But first we watched the crew set up. The first thing they did was figure out the wind pattern using what is probably the best instrument in the business: an ordinary helium party balloon. Fortunately, we had great weather conditions. We then went out to the soccer field of Jewett Elementary School for set-up. First, they took out the three-person basket, and then they spread out the envelope (the actual balloon part). Using a fan, the envelope slowly began to take shape, and eventually, some heat was added.

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Steph and I got into the balloon with our pilot Drew, and went over, like, two safety rules 1. You can hold onto something if you want to as long as that something is not the fuel line, and 2. Don’t get out of the basket for any reason unless you’re told to. Then with few pumps of heat, we lifted off!

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How do you describe the view? We were hovering over Central Point, which I lived in from age 3 to age 15, so I was very familiar with the town and many of its buildings, but I never saw any of them like this before! (Google Maps would be better if it was taken from a hot air balloon’s point of view!) Of course, when you’re up in the air, the first thing you want to try to find is your house. We were a little too far away to find my current house, so I instead tried to find my childhood home. I found Central Point Elementary, where I attended from kindergarten through fifth grade, and then peered into the suburbia beyond that to see if I could spot the street.

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I did find a corner market that’s about a block away from the house. While I didn’t exactly see that house in the air, I did take lots of pictures of the area so maybe I can zoom into the photo later to try to find it.

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It was kind of fun to spy on other people’s houses, too. I now know where to go if I ever feel like crashing a pool party!

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Some people were outside and, when we were low enough that they could see us in the basket, we’d wave at each other.

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One home had a super-cool large tent that you could practically live in.

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And then there was this one house that had a bus in their backyard!

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But more fun than looking at houses was looking at buildings that I knew about. Besides my elementary school, I got aerial shots of the other two elementary schools (including the one we launched from), as well as my high school. My middle school is on the outskirts of town, so it was harder to see that one, but eventually we did get close enough to take a few pictures.

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Another thing that was neat to see was the churches.

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For awhile, we were hovering in one spot above the McDonald’s. My parents had told me that they were going to eat breakfast there after we launched, and I was able to spot their car in the parking lot.

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We floated over the main street and saw many of the local businesses. In the distance, we could see the interstate, the Family Fun Center, the Jackson County Fairgrounds, and the mountains. We even saw the Medford Airport and watched a plane take off!

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One thing I hadn’t thought about until this morning was that hot air balloons can’t really control where they’re going. The crew was on the ground chasing us and keeping in contact during the entire flight, but toward the end, they were essential in helping us get a place to land.

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Pilot Drew had pointed out some of his common landing sites early in the flight, such as all the different school soccer fields, and even some power line-free residential streets, but the wind ended up taking us toward a wheat field. Of course the chasers had to ask the farmers if it would be okay to land there, and we really didn’t want to make crop circles on the wheat, so we headed to a farm road that split up two of the crops. And then I was offered the opportunity to play pilot!

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Okay, so all I really did was pull the trigger that made the fire whenever the real pilot told me to, but it sure was an experience! At that point we were also getting lower, and I mean really low, to the point that we could probably reach out and touch the wheat. (I was probably more nervous flying at that point than I would have been at our highest altitude!) Fortunately, no wheat was harmed in the making of this birthday experience!

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Our pilot threw a tether out to the crew member so that we could make sure we landed right between the two fields, and after bouncing a couple times, we were back on solid ground. For a few minutes, we just stood in the basket while the balloon deflated enough (that is where the don’t-get-out-of-the-basket-without-permission rule really comes into play, because one less body of weight could make it take off again!). We then got out as everything was taken apart and returned to the trailer. Steph and I then hopped in the car with the crew and we headed back to our starting point. But the fun wasn’t over yet!

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When we returned to the elementary school, we met up with my parents and then gathered at a picnic table that the crew had set up. While we were munching on the treats, Drew explained that, since it was our first flight, he would tell us the history behind hot air balloons and the traditional after-flight champagne toast. Ballooning was first done in France in the 1780s, before any other human-carrying aircraft was even though of. It started out by carrying a few animals, then someone took a tethered flight, and finally, they were brave enough to try a real flight. During one of the early flights, a balloon had to land on farmland. The farmers, having never seen anything like this before, thought this smoke-causing contraption must be a demon or something equally evil and vicious. To prove that they were just ordinary Frenchmen, the balloonists offered a very French-like peace offering: a bottle of champagne.

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In our correspondence beforehand, I had noticed on the website that champagne was served, and being a teetotaler (who tried champagne once and found it awful), I mentioned it was not necessary. But we were still able to carry on this tradition using sparkling cider instead. But first, Steph and I had to participate in another tradition of drinking “champagne” without your hands while kneeling on the ground and a traditional prayer is said over you that includes sprinkling!

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We all chatted for a little bit longer, asking any last burning questions we had about flying hot air balloons. Then we all thanked each other for the part we each played in making this event happen, and I got a few birthday wishes as we left. Even though it was a day before my actual birthday (which is today), this was a great start to a birthday weekend!

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Have you ever flown without an airplane? Have you ever wanted to? What would you like to do for your next birthday?

The Tri-State Journey

Here it is: the last part of my recent road trip! It started by going through Northern California, then to Twentynine Palms, and then small attractions around Southern California. (Click on the links to catch up.) To really capture the road trip style, we chose not to take the I-5 back home and instead explored some cities I had never been to before.

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For our first night, we stayed at Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth Lakes is a ski and summer resort type of town, and we just so happened to hit it between seasons. So while we were too late to be snowed in (and I was very thankful that the only snow seen was just a little bit high in the mountains), the summer activities weren’t in full swing yet. But we still found plenty of things to do- drive through the National Forests, see a few of the lakes, and of course, eating. Our no-frills Travelodge surprised us with cookies in the afternoon and round-the-clock free beverages in addition to the included breakfast. That was great, but we still needed dinner. We chose to share a plate of nachos at Gomez’s in Village Plaza. The Village Plaza looked like it would be a happening place to hang out at in season, but even then, there were lawn games such as ladder golf and cornhole, as well as a fire pit in the center of the square!

Mammoth Lakes offers year-round bus service- for FREE! This even includes a free trolley. Most people take it to get from place to place, but we decided to turn the trolley ride into a round-trip sightseeing tour. For most of the trip, we were the only passengers, so the driver was telling us about all sorts of places to visit. One of those was Obsidian Dome, which we visited the next day.

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It was really cold and windy there, so we didn’t spend as much time as we would have otherwise, but it was neat to see all these rocks made of beautiful shiny obsidian!

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While continuing on our road trip, we stopped by Mono Lake. Unfortunately, we were there on a Tuesday, when the visitor center happened to be closed, but we still enjoyed seeing the unique tufas (salt towers). IMG_20150429_095518_023

Then we took a detour to Bodie. I’m not sure why anyone would want to live in Bodie, but that probably explains why no one lives there anymore! It is a ghost town several miles off the road, and was once a bustling, godless mining city. I’ve only been to a three-building ghost town before, so it was incredible to see all the old buildings, and most of the town had been burned down! We even went to the cemetery and saw the gravestone of the town’s founder W.S. Bodey. (Yes, his name is spelled differently than the town itself- the town was named after a typo!)

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After more driving, it was time to cross the border into Nevada! Have you ever tried to take picture of a state sign from a speeding car? It’s so hard to get it to look good!

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We ended up in a little city… or was it a big city? Oh, that’s right, it was the biggest little city in the world!

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We stayed at Harrah’s. I had never stayed at a casino before, so it was really interesting to see everything there.

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But while many people go to Reno thinking “Ooh, I’m gonna win big at the slots”, my mom and I were thinking “Ooh, I’m gonna eat a lot at the buffet!” And that’s exactly what we did. The best part of the buffet was the crepes that you watched being made right in front of you, and you pick out all the fillings and toppings!167

After dinner we decided to walk off our buffet babies. Our intention was to go through the different casinos and attractions like that, but we found some other interesting things too. For instance, we happened to come across a part of the sidewalk where blue jeans were invented.

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Just a little bit further down the block, we found a Blarney Stone stuck to the wall!

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Circus Circus was a blast. It is connected to several casinos, so it was a change of pace to suddenly walk into a room that was offering toys for prizes instead of big bucks!

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Besides looking at (but not actually playing) the games, we took a train ride in a connecting casino and then went back to Circus Circus to watch a free show called “Best Friends”. We thought it might be a clown show or singing or something like that, so we were thrilled to find that it was actually funny and incredible dog tricks!

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When we got back to our 14th floor hotel room, we decided to sleep with the window shades open so we could enjoy all the lights and sights of Reno.

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The next day we visited some small towns. One such town had the Alpine Drive-In, a locally-owned burger joint where we ate lunch.

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And our final stop of the day was… a landscape supply yard? Okay, it wasn’t planned like that. But after we crossed the border into Oregon (after we crossed from Nevada back into California), my mom dropped me off at Harry and David to get my allotted former employee free food while she picked up a few things for dinner. It took her awhile to come back to pick me up, and I was almost worried that something might have happened. Something did happen, but it wasn’t that severe of an emergency. My dad had called her explaining that he was picking up some gravel (they’re redoing their patio), when the van’s fuel pump stopped working. So we had to come rescue the dog from the heat and make sure that his coworker could pull the gravel home while making sure the van could stay there until the tow truck arrived. It was an unexpected way to end a tri-state road trip (hey, we were even in all three states that very day!), but one lesson from the school of travel is to expect the unexpected!