faith, News, Nonprofit

Prayers for Nebraska

Nebraska was on my mind a lot this month. I lived just outside of Fremont, Nebraska for two years. Even though my last visit there was in 2014, I still think about it.

Platte River, Camp Rivercrest, Fremont, Nebraska
The outdoor riverside chapel where I worked at Camp Rivercrest in Fremont, Nebraska.

At the beginning of the month, I was asked to write this blog post called Omaha After Five, part of a series for business travelers who want to explore the cities they’re visiting after work hours. I had to do a little research to freshen up and make sure my memories were accurate, but it seemed like time moves slower and nothing ever changes in the Midwest.

Then the flood hit.

Much of Fremont had to be evacuated, along with many other areas along the Platte River. Since I lived and worked on a property situated right above the Platte, it’s been crazy to see how what normally is a fairly calm river among the plains can cause so much damage.

Platte River Fremont Nebraska
The Platte River during my last visit to Fremont, September 2014

While there is danger of the flood returning, the water has mostly subsided. However, the damage has been done. Families have been displaced. Roads have ruts bigger than the cars that can’t drive on them. Structures have been swept away. Farms have been ruined. So what can we do to help?

There are two things that need to be done: help for the people and restoration for the state. I’ve made two donations to different organizations that are each helping with one of these aspects.

Help People

My heart really goes out to the people. That’s why I’m so glad so many people and organizations are stepping up to help those in need. I made a donation to the Salvation Army who has been doing a lot in Fremont, Nebraska, but other relief organizations and churches are involved as well.

I first signed up for the Operation Blessing’s volunteer alerts when I was living in Nebraska myself. I’d just heard about another flood, though this one was in New York. I wanted to be in the know in case any nearby disasters struck and I could get involved. This charity organizes work projects for disaster-affected areas. Although I no longer live in Nebraska and am unable to make it there at this time, I still get Operation Blessing alerts for all over the country, and they have one for Fremont right now! As with any relief effort, make sure you register ahead of time and follow all of the guidelines instead of just showing up at the worksite. You don’t want to contribute to creating more of a problem than they already have!

Restoring the State

When I first stepped foot in Nebraska, it was also a pretty stormy day! It was raining and thundering while I was still in the air. While the plane was landing, the guy in the window seat next to me told me to look at what he was pointing down to: a farm covered in water. When a coworker picked me up, before we even left the airport, we thought someone threw a baseball at her windshield. It turned out to be the first drop of a softball-sized hailstorm that ended up totaling her car. But the next day, all was clear. My northwestern upbringing left me in shock at the view of endless corn and soybean fields.

Since Nebraska provides much of the country with beef, corn, and soy, this flood could affect all of us. Obviously, helping the farmers will help restore the economy, which will ultimately help with the roads, buildings, and everything else that needs repair. That’s why I donated to Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Disaster Relief Assistance.

004Have you ever felt personally connected to a disaster? Share in the comments so we can support each other!

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travel tips

How to Truly Relax While You’re On Holiday

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Image Credit; Unsplash

You’ve been on a plane all cramped up and a bit on the chilly side for a few hours. You’ve made do with the plane food and tried hard to ignore the grumpy toddler behind you. Then you land on the tarmac, the warmth hits you and you think: now, surely I can relax.

But though we all go on holiday to take time out of our hectic lives, how often do you end up checking your work emails while sitting by the pool? As a culture, we are becoming less adept at switching off and tuning out of the pressures of everyday life. And we need to find a fix.

Whether your idea of a relaxing holiday is at a Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club, taking a long hike into the middle of nowhere or cuddling up in a cabin with a good book, here are a few ways to slow down and unwind.

Switch Off

Here is a shocking stat for you: American adults spend around 11 hours per day looking at screens. But the shock isn’t the amount of time, it’s that you’re probably doing it without even realizing it. Because so many jobs now rely on us to work at computers, most of our days are spent sorting through emails, analyzing data, reading reviews. And then we come home and watch TV and scroll through social media.

When you are on holiday, it is easy to feel the lure of screens all the time. Since you spend most of your time either working or being entertained, this is a natural response. But if you truly want to relax and take a break, you must give your brain a chance to switch speeds. Avoid taking your electricals everywhere you go; learn to enjoy the moment.

Meditate

If you are struggling with the pull of your phone, meditation could be a good way go. You don’t need to be a monk for this to work, you just need to find a quiet spot where you can sit with your thoughts for a while.

Meditation is a brilliant way to give your brain a chance to process your thoughts and destress. As you get better at it, you will find that you are more in tune with your emotions, less anxious and even feeling better physically.

Explore Other Avenues

Though going to sit in the sun by the pool with a magazine is certainly an appealing way to relax, sometimes, you need to get out of your routine completely. They say that a change is as good as a break so instead of lying down for a fortnight, you could try going on a physically active holiday instead.

Working out releases endorphins, stretches out your office-cramped limbs and completely fills your attention. You really can’t check your phone while you are SCUBA diving or riding horseback along a mountain path. Getting out and about, even if it is just stepping outside your resort to find a bar that does exceptional mojitos, is highly recommended!

travel tips

The Ultimate Guide To Planning A Vegas Vacation

Vegas is a large, eclectic, and fun city to visit, and that means if you want to get the most out of your vacation you will need to plan out your trip before you go carefully. Of course you don’t need to have a minute by minute schedule but instead, think about tailoring the places you visit and the things you do to the people that you are traveling with. Then you will be guaranteed to have the best possible time. Read on to find on more.

Your party

The first thing to consider if you are thinking of visiting Vegas is the people that you are going with. After all, a family of four with young children’s visit will have a very different audience to cater for, from those attending a bachelor party!

 

Season

Next, using this idea of audience, consider the season that you wish to travel. If you have a choice, those looking for party central are best picking the peak season from March (spring break so expect college students) through to August. You will also find that this is when Vegas is at its hottest as well, so that means all the pools will be open, and you can expect plenty of alfresco fun.

Alternatively, if you are looking for a more family-friendly vacation then heading there off-peak is a much better idea. This is because not only is it cooler and so much more pleasant to walk and drive around the city, but is less jammed packed with people as well.

Entertainment

Although many people think of Vegas as a place with casino and pools, it is probably one of the best location choices for any type of vacation that you could possibly imagine because of the variety of entertainment on offer. Of course, once again your activities will need to be customized appropriately to their audience to be successful.

What that means is planning things like visits to Circus Circus Midway, Mandalay Bay Shark Reef, and even hiking at Red Rock Canyon are best for a for a family group.

Alternatively, if you are traveling as an all adults party the casinos, pool parties, and even some of the raunchier shows like Zombie Burlesque shows can be a great bet. Luckily, you can get the best deals on Vegas show tickets online before you travel. Something that means you don’t have to waste time queuing for seats when you arrive.

Hotels

Finally, when it comes to planning your vacation in Vegas, it’s crucial that you pick the right hotel. Those looking for high-end, luxe vibe will probably suit the Encore Or Wynn on the North of the strip, while Mandalay Bay can be an especially good choice for those with kids.

It’s worth noting as well that some of the older hotels on the strip like the Luxor, often have great value rooms suitable for adult parties as well. A fact worth knowing if you are to plan, and enjoy a Vegas vacation that is well matched to those that will be going on it.

 

Accommodations, Birthday, Books, Couponing to Travel, day trip, destinations, saving money, Travel Life, travel tips

February 2019 Update: Change in Plans and Change in the Bank

February may be the shortest month of the year, but these past 28 days were packed with more than I expected. I worked even more than I do in a typical month, I saved more money with couponing than I did in January, and a lot happened with my planned trip.

Wondering what this challenge is? Start here. 

Check out my progress report from January. 

Shall I start with the good news or the bad news? (Hint: always pick the bad news first.)

I’m Not Going to Germany

After waiting over a month to hear a response about my pending placement with Diverbo, I sent a follow-up email. They finally got back to me saying that both the program I wanted to be in as well as my back-up program were full. They didn’t even have room on the waiting list for my first choice! Since this was a big motivator (and money-saver) for going to Germany, I decided to defer my time there until I have a confirmed place in a Diverbo program and instead went back to the drawing board.

Mount Tibidabo, Barcelona, Spain, Western Europe
At the summit of Mount Tibidabo during my previous trip to Europe, shortly after my time with Diverbo

A few years ago, as I was about to make my first trip to Europe, I wanted to see it in three trips: one for the Mediterranean (check!), one for the British Isles, and one for Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Since I didn’t want to lose my momentum for going to England, I decided to go back to this original plan and add Ireland to the mix. (I also briefly considered Iceland, but since that’s so far away from the rest of Europe, it could be included as a stopover for just about any trip.) The switch from Germany to Ireland surprisingly came with some money-saving opportunities!

How I’ll Save Money In Ireland

Last week, I bought my plane tickets! I will fly into Dublin and out of London. I haven’t bought a flight between the two islands yet, but I’ve looked up the cost and it’s incredibly affordable.

While I was always planning to go in May, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in Europe for my birthday or celebrate in my hometown first and leave a day or so later. As I looked up Dublin hostels, I found a cool one that offers a free night on your birthday. That sealed the deal for me! My 28th birthday will be my first full day in Dublin.

Birthday Hot Air Balloon Selfie
What’s more exciting: this hot air balloon ride I took on my birthday in 2015, or being in Dublin for my birthday in 2019?

I’ll actually stay in two hostels in Dublin, and three in Ireland. After a couple nights in the first hostel, I’ll take a bus trip to see sights like Blarney Castle and Cliffs of Moher while spending the night in Cork. When I return to Dublin, I’ll stay at the hostel that partners with the same tour bus company. For spending two nights there, I get a free bus trip to Wicklow!

 

Overnight Greyhound Bus
I’ve taken many bus trips in the past, including exploring the breadth of the US, France, and Spain!

I wanted to take a third excursion to Northern Ireland and Giant’s Causeway, but decided to go with a different tour company this time. Although this one wanted to charge me an extra 5 euro for what would basically be the same trip, they included the admission for the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge when other tours did not. And because I started making a reservation but didn’t finish, they offered me a 5-euro-off coupon code to come back to their site. Score!

I was disappointed that I would not be part of a cultural exchange like I would in Germany’s Diverbo. (It turns out that people in England and Ireland are already great at speaking English!) But I did find out about another opportunity to connect with local Dubliners…

My Money-Saving Activities this Month

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve earned an additional $629.51 (through extra work hours and projects) and saved $772.41. This was a few dollars short of my goal (I wanted to be at $800 by now), but I’ll chock it up to being a shorter month. This doesn’t include the money I’ve saved by using the library. My library lets me know how much money I’ve saved on my receipts, and it’s been nearly $1000 this year alone. I’ve chosen not to include this since I probably wouldn’t buy the books, DVDs, and musical instruments I borrowed, at least not for full price. But this did lead me to other money-saving ventures.

Library Guidebooks, Movie, and Reciept
All the money I’ve saved with things like guide books. Even The Princess Bride movie was for Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher (Cliffs of Insanity) research purposes.

I’ve been borrowing a lot of Rick Steves books, and one mentioned an Irish program where you can meet a local. With City of a Thousand Welcomes, the organization will pay for me and a local volunteer to go out for a nice tea and chat. I’ve already reserved my spot for the day I arrive!

Europe Guidebooks
One of these guidebooks is so good, I read it like a novel. The other I’m allowed to tear apart and bring along with me. Both are FREE!

Since I can’t take the library’s Rick Steves books to Europe with me, I took advantage of my AAA membership and got their Europe guidebook for FREE! I plan to tear out the England and Ireland sections and just take those along with me, with a bunch of notes added from my other reading.

Wildlife Safari Guanaco
A guanaco at Wildlife Safari’s drive-through

Despite my focus on saving money this month, I was still able to take a day trip to Wildlife Safari. I celebrated World Hippo Day with their free hippo-themed activities, and even used a free carload pass I was given a few months ago (for donating blood) to get everyone in my car free admission to the drive-thru safari. So I got the whole trip just for the price of (discounted) gas! The rest of my recreation was free activities like local walking, hiking, and even snowshoeing on our snow day! I also experienced the snow and sledding for the two weekends I helped at camp, and filled a few more days with extra work shifts.

Looking Ahead

With dates set and airline tickets purchased, I know March, April, and May will be focused on this trip. I have a few coupon and other savings ideas set into motion, but I have a feeling that I’ll soon be scrounging for more ways to save.

February Couponing to Europe
My couponing spreadsheet thus far. The blank spaces are deals that I plan to use, but haven’t cashed in on yet.

As of right now, I have $772.41 couponed and $629.51 extra dollars earned (only half, or $314.75, of my extra earnings goes towards this trip). That’s a total of $945.02 saved for this trip, but I’ve already spent $1644.07! Most of this expense is for the overseas flights, but also includes trip insurance, The London Pass, and the Giant’s Causeway day trip. So this trip is technically “in debt”, but I am putting all these expenses on a rewards card so that I’ll get a nice cash back bonus in time for the trip. Since I have other necessary trip-related expenses like hostels, more out-of-city excursions, transit, and food, I’d better keep on couponing!

Have you ever experienced an unexpected change in plans that ended up saving you money? Let me know in the comments!