resources, saving money, Suggestions for the Travel Industry, travel tips

Money Monday: How to Book Your Hostel

Money Monday is a weekly post about ways you can save during your travels. Enjoy!
image

It should be a given that hostels will save individual travelers more money than a hotel would. (Of course there are exceptions. Last spring, I stayed at a hotel in Reno. Out of curiousity I looked up a bed in a Reno hostel, and it was twice the price!) For those of you unfamiliar with hostels, let me give you a brief description: you rent a bed in a dorm room, so you typically end up with roommates from around the world. Hostels are a much more social way to travel, which is especially great for the solo traveler. Plus, since you only book a bed and not an entire room, the hostel charges you less. Huge savings! In fact, my European trip would not have been affordable except for the abundance of great hostels.

So hostels in and of themselves save money, but there are ways to save even more on your hostel. When booking, of course consider whether or not breakfast is included, if you will need to bring your own towel, and little factors like that which could affect the cost. Also consider where you book your hostel. I use a mix of websites to book depending on what is the most advantageous for my bank account. Here are the perks of each:image

Hostelworld This is the most popular hostel booking site. The concept is pretty simple, you find a hostel in their database, pay 10% of the total to hold your place, and pay the other 90% when you arrive at the hostel. It is easy to get acquainted with this, but it is actually one of my least favorite booking sites. Sure, I may go there when they are running a contest or something like that, but Hostelworld does not really have any rewards system for people who book with them. This is why I prefer some of the lesser known booking sites.

Hostelz This has been a longtime favorite of mine. It is not exactly a booking site itself, but it uses several other popular booking sites to find you the cheapest rates. Because it is a culmination of booking sites, it is the biggest hostel database I have found to date. The only downside to this is that it is a little harder to organize the plethora of hostels in big cities and weed it down to the one where you should stay. Some listed hostels are not on any booking sites, which is cool because you can still contact them directly for a bed, but sometimes this means they closed years ago and did not inform Hostelz. The best part of Hostelz is that I write for them! Browse around their website to find my city descriptions and hostel reviews.

HostelsClub This is a hostel that I found out about just before leaving for Europe, and it has been well used over the past several weeks! They are currently running a promotion where if you book so much, you can get free nights at a hotel in Venice. I was able to get two free nights at a centrally located hotel while in Venice thanks to this. The only problem with HostelsClub is that they do charge a service fee for every booking, but that can be avoided by getting a HostelsClub membership. With the membership, you qualify for discounts at some hostels. So my membership paid for itself after just a few nights of booking! Best of all, every time you submit a review after a stay, HostelsClub gives members a 2 euro credit to use when booking future stays. It is almost like getting paid to stay at hostels!

Booking Directly with the Hostel While hostel booking sites are ideal for the long term traveler, any booking deposit you pay online does not actually go to the hostel itself. If you want to support the local economy where you visit, the best thing to do is book directly with the hostel so they can get the most money. This can be done by phone calls, emails, or booking on the website. Sometimes it is difficult to communicate with the staff, or their booking program does not really work. But sometimes, you can get a better deal because of this. While booking the Pisa Hostel, I saved 5% by booking with them as opposed to a booking site. They made a little more, and I saved a little more, so everyone won!image

There is no one best way to make a booking to save money. The important thing to do is compare the above (and any other sites you have found useful) to maximize your travel money!

backpack, Carry-On Toiletries, travel tips

The Packing Experiment

002

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.

001

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.

003

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.

077

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.

004

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? 

Foodie, saving money

15 Actual Ways a Budget Traveler Can Save for a Trip

Have you ever seen these not-so-unique ways to save for your trip?

Instead of a hotel, book a private room inside a hostel. That would be great, except I already stay in the absolute cheapest dorm room in hostels. If I took this piece of “budget” advice, my trip would probably cost twice as much!

Use a credit card to rack up enough airline miles for your trip. I’m sorry, but have you ever stopped to calculate how much you’re spending on your credit card versus how much it costs to just buy a plane ticket? Most of these rewards programs require that you put at least $1000 a month on your card. I don’t even know how I would spend $1000 every single month, unless I was buying a thousand-dollar plane ticket every month!

Fly with an airline that offers free checked bags. Here’s a better idea: don’t take checked bags! Seriously, it’s been so long since I’ve taken checked luggage on a vacation, that I don’t even remember how I filled that bag! A carry-on and small backpack provide plenty of space, and is less that can be lost, stolen, or slowing me down!

If you’re like me, you want to save a lot of money so you can have an amazing trip. But after hours and days of scouring the internet looking for some advice, all you find are these not-so-budget-minded “savings” tips. For awhile, I was convinced that I saved so much already, that there was no possible way that I could save anything “extra” for my trip. But every once in a blue moon, I would find a golden nugget of travel tips. Here they all are in one place so you don’t have to waste as much time as I did!

1. Keep your cash safe for free. Money belts can be handy, but the key to not getting all your money stolen is to distribute your cash throughout your person. A twenty dollar bill inside the sole of your shoe is a place that thieves won’t easily be able to get to!

2. Don’t spend money on beverages. Many saving tips say to order water in restaurants (and if you’re in Europe, be sure to order table water to avoid being charged for a bottle), but this can translate into not even buying beverages at the grocery store. When I travel, I carry a reusable water bottle or reservoir with me, and most convenience stores and restaurants don’t mind me using their fountain when I need a refill. (However, I always ask first, especially if I’m not buying anything else!) This rule applies to alcoholic beverages too, especially since they tend to be the priciest. I don’t drink, and the thought of spending hundreds to thousands of dollars per year on alcohol is one of the reasons I never want to start that habit! If you like to travel but also like to drink, consider that cutting alcohol for one year could save enough to fund a decent trip for yourself!

One more note on water: there are some countries where drinking the water would be unsafe. Do your research ahead of your trip to confirm this. If your destination does indeed have dangerous drinking water, you will have to buy bottled water, but there’s still a way to do it cheaply! Instead of buying individual water bottles each day, buy the biggest bottle you can find in the store. (When I was in Peru, all the convenience stores offered 3-liter water bottles which we would use to refill our personal-sized bottles.)

DSCF1306
I would buy the largest bottles of Inca Kola in Peru, too!

3. Buy multipurpose products. My hands can get dry in certain climates. I also sometimes have trouble falling asleep in uncomfortable or unfamiliar places. And although I enjoy the rush of traveling, it sometimes makes me nervous. I could purchase lotion, melatonin tablets, and anxiety medication to solve each of these problems individually, or I could just get one bar of lavender-scented lotion. (Lavender is a natural herb that can calm nerves and help you fall asleep.) Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap is a traveler’s favorite, as it can be used as soap, shampoo, dish soap, and laundry detergent, just to name a few. A thermos not only holds soup and hot beverages, but it can be used as a water bottle, and it could even carry meal leftovers! Even a large scarf can quickly transform into a shawl, swimming cover-up, blanket, or head covering. Multipurpose products not only save you money by putting less on your shopping list, but as a bonus it will also save room in your suitcase.

4. Earn more from your savings. No matter how you travel, planning for a trip involves saving up a chunk of cash. Talk with your bank and tell them your plans to see how you can gain the most interest. Sometimes, putting money in a CD can earn you the most interest, even if you have to pay a small fee to cash it early. If your banker knows about your travel plans, they might be able to provide you with special offers, such as exchange-free credit cards and short-term savings plans. These will all vary by your bank’s services and your personal saving habits, so it’s best to schedule an appointment with your bank to see how they can maximize your savings.

5. Make your own food. Cooking at home can greatly help contribute to your trip savings. Generally, the less packaged and processed your ingredients are, the more you’ll save (and it’s healthier that way, too)! Before I leave on a trip, I try to eat out of my pantry as much as possible to avoid food spoiling while I’m away. I also prepare some snacks to take along with me. As long as I have oatmeal, I can throw in just about anything from my kitchen (nuts, sweets, spices, dried fruit, seeds) and make a batch of granola. I also try to eat out for only one meal per day while traveling, but if you’re not as much of a cultural foodie I’m sure you could go with even less dining out. I usually stay at accommodations that provide free breakfast, and then I eat out at lunchtime (since that’s usually cheaper than eating dinner out). For dinner, I’ll either eat my lunch leftovers or fix something in the kitchen of the place I’m staying. Virtually all hostels and guesthouses provide a guest kitchen, and many hotels and even camps are jumping on board with this idea. Because it’s tricky to travel with perishable food, map out inexpensive grocery stores near your destination so you can buy food from there.

Bonus Foodie Tip: Turn your food-making into a memory, like I did with this dessert-building team.
Bonus Foodie Tip: Turn your food-making into a memory, like I did with this dessert-building team.

6. Use your feet. This tip could save you hundreds on travel costs, plus give you a good alternative to your gym membership! When traveling, I stay near downtown so that I can walk to all the attractions I want to visit. There have been days where I’ve logged upwards of ten miles, but that’s okay because it means that I’ll get a great night of sleep! It also adds a new perspective to travel, as the slower place allows you to notice more of the scenery and culture. You can use this tip before a trip, too. I’ve seen so many people park in the parking lot of one store, shop there, and then get back in their car and drive to another store…which is right next to the first store! It’s okay to leave your car in one parking lot. I will sometimes even stick my bicycle in the back of the car so I can bike to places near my destination.

7. Volunteer or get an extra job. The obvious advantage to getting another job is that you’ll make extra money. But even if you don’t get a paying job, I believe a volunteer job provides many benefits as well. Getting a job or otherwise involved in the community will introduce you to more connections. I worked a part-time retail job while going to college, and because everyone that worked there was broke to some degree, we often exchanged ways that we save. You may meet people that could turn out to be travel companions, mission trip sponsors, or simply someone who encourages you to reach your dreams. Some volunteer jobs offer things like free meals, free entertainment, and possibly free travel. This of course shouldn’t be your goal behind volunteering, but it is a nice reward. Another great benefit of spending some extra time working is that these are a few extra hours each day where you won’t be tempted to spend your hard-earned cash!

Sometimes, your job may involve doing some hard work, like going on an all-expense-paid conference in the Northern Wisconsin where you get to jump from the second floor of a building.
Sometimes, your job may involve doing some hard work, like going on an all-expense-paid conference in the Northern Wisconsin where you get to jump from the second floor of a building.

8. Ask for discounts! Many tourist companies that don’t post discount rates may still have them. If you’re a student, AAA member, AARP card holder, veteran, or anything else that could possibly qualify you for a discount, ask about it! Oftentimes at independent and locally-owned businesses, you can get a discount just by asking the owner (often cleverly disguised as receptionist in these small businesses). Even if they can’t offer you a discount on what you asked for, they may be able to throw in a freebie or offer insider information that could help your trip. Ask on a discount for everything, from the food you eat to the bed you sleep in. The worst that can happen is they’ll say no, and the best that can happen is you’ll get everything free! (But don’t expect to get anything for free, and definitely don’t be pushy or annoying when asking!)

9. Enter contests. This isn’t a guaranteed way to save, but someone out there has to win that all-expense-paid trip! I have yet to win a travel contest (probably because I forget to enter every day), but I have won books, food, gift cards, and scholarships that ultimately helped me put more money towards travel.

10. D.E.Y. (Do EVERYTHING Yourself!) I fully back up making homemade laundry detergent (especially since it’s concentrated for easy travel), but as a single person that only saves me about $20 per year. But combined with money saved from patching up my old clothes, making more creative gifts, growing herbs in the windowsill, and making some of my own toiletries and cleaning products, it eventually adds up to a lot! I know I spend hundreds on car maintenance, but if I could learn a few auto mechanic skills, I wouldn’t have to pay nearly as much. The more you can do yourself, the more money you’ll save.

D.E.Y.-ing doesn't mean missing out on the fun, it just means getting creative. Got invited to a costume party? Make your own costume!
D.E.Y.-ing doesn’t mean missing out on the fun, it just means getting creative. Got invited to a costume party? Make your own costume!

11. Don’t sell on eBay. Unless you are selling an in-demand product for an incredible profit, using sites that charge you to sell is often a waste of money. If you’re just trying to sell some items you no longer want, Craigslist is probably the best option. Plus, since you’re selling to someone nearby, you won’t have to spend money on shipping. To get even more local, many communities have Facebook groups where you can buy and sell from neighbors. In my experience, these tend to be fairly effective. Even posting your for-sale items on your social media could garner your friends’ interests!

12. Take care of yourself. The right foods, a little bit of exercise, enough sleep, and taking care of your physical and emotional self will work wonders. You’ll have a better trip (and ultimately, life), and you’ll save money on doctors, medications, and numerous other consequences that you can expect when you neglect your health.

DSCF6033
Biking does double duty: It’s a good overall workout, and it’s a fun way to travel locally!

13. Need something? Phone a friend. Ask your friends and family if you can raid their castoffs before they’re sent to the thrift store. (Of course, offer to let them do the same with your things- you could even plan a castoff swap!) If you’re looking for a specific item for your trip, such as a backpack or an ice chest, ask your friends before you buy one. These kind of items are often kept in storage, and your friend probably won’t mind you borrowing it for a few weeks.

14. Give up whatever you use most. Cut out one frequently-bought item cold turkey. Maybe it’s junk food. Maybe it’s movies. Maybe it’s coffee. Maybe it’s clothes. If you find that you’re craving it, ask yourself if you really want to spend your money on short-term gratification, or use it to take a trip with memories that last a lifetime. Even if you’re only spending money on necessities, think about cheaper substitutions you could make.

15. Take online surveys. These don’t pay much, but can help fill the time when you’re bored or waiting for something. They’re are a ton of survey sites that pay their users, so look up a few and choose which one you think is best for you. (Or sign up for them all!) You can use your earnings to buy gift cards, airline miles, or other rewards.

Am I missing any important travel information? Leave a comment with your best ways to save!

#ThrowbackThursday, jobs, resources, writing

#TBT: In The News

One fun perk about traveling is that it makes news. I mean, I don’t expect a reporter to follow me around whenever I travel (although for celebrities, this does seem to make for good reality TV), but every now and then, on a day when the world is pretty much at peace, whether near or far, travel can make headlines.

I was first featured in the newspaper as a preschooler. I was visiting the now-defunct Jacksonville Children’s Museum, which was a four-year-old’s paradise housed in a historic prison. I was using the plastic food in the play kitchen to create fine dining, when someone with a camera started to set up her equipment. I ran off, afraid I would be in the way of her picture, but then she came over to my mom and asked if she could take a picture of me! So my first published photo was me tasting a pretend dish to head an article about the museum. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a record of that article, but I was able to find the next news snippet I was in:

My preschool class was going on a field trip. Sure, it was just to the public library that was two blocks away from the school, but even though we were in walking distance, it was made quite the adventure on a rainy day. My ex-scout parents passed on the “Be Prepared” motto and had sent me to class with an umbrella. It only made sense to share my umbrella with my walking buddy. On the way there, I glanced back and noticed that someone behind me was holding a camera, as if they had just taken a picture. I didn’t know I was featured in the paper until a few days later when my neighbor came over and showed us his clipping!

When I got older, Girl Scout events were a good source of getting into the newspaper. Sometimes it was completely accidentally, like this time I was off to the right in the background of the photo:

DSCF1736

But seriously, all those service projects were good for slow news days. Once, when my troop went on a trip to the coast to participate in the annual beach clean-up, one of our chaperones ran into a news channel reporter, and they agreed to do a segment of us for the evening news! Other times, our helping the community helped the paper get a story, like when the Central Point Sun was released, we helped fill their very first issue!

DSCF1738

As I got older, I was still mentioned in the newspaper for things like being on the honor roll, but being in the paper wasn’t nearly as desirable as it was before. Maybe it was because people stopped reading the newspaper, or perhaps I just didn’t like the way I looked, but regardless, there were several years when no more but my name and GPA were published. But in my late teens, when I started professionally writing, I started seeing my face in print again. But this time, instead of being in an outdated newspaper, I was in magazines. Many of my articles didn’t include my own pictures, but there were some, like the one below, that featured several pics!

In the past five or six years, I have had my picture featured with my written work several times. But there’s always the goal to make it as the cover feature. This past summer, when I served as the guest editor for Camp Business, I was told that my photo would be featured. When I received the issue, this is what I saw:

No, I’m not that girl. (C’mon, I would NEVER do a swimsuit shoot!)

Remember on Monsters Inc how Mike Wazowski was so amazed when he made it on a magazine cover, even though his face was covered by a barcode? This past summer, I had a Mike Wazowski moment. I finally make a cover debut… my name and photo is literally right underneath the shipping label!

#ThrowbackThursday, destinations

#ThrowbackThursday: Trading Winter for Warm Weather

I’m not a huge fan of this season. If it wasn’t for Christmas, I don’t think I would be able to survive between the months of November and March. In Oregon, it rains too much to do anything fun outside. In other places I’ve lived, it’s ice spaced out by muddy thaws. Although I’ve had some fun adventures in the winter months, I always prefer warmer weather for my travels. Lately I’ve been dreaming of warm places, like Hawaii, Mexico, and Southern California. Then I recalled the last time I was in Southern California, back in June 2011…

Just sit right back and I’ll tell my tale, my tale of a fateful trip…

Okay, we did take a boat tour, and although it wasn’t three hours, we did see one of the locations where Gilligan’s Island was filmed!

Newport Beach 11 009

Most of that trip consisted of going around the harbor by Newport Beach and looking at the super-expensive homes of the rich and famous. We only saw one location that was inhabited by the non-uber-wealthy, and it was a buoy full of sea lions:Newport Beach 11 011 Newport Beach 11 013

But most places looked like the picture below. We didn’t stay in a place nearly as fancy, but we were fortunate to spend nearly two weeks in a beautiful home in Newport Beach that my aunt and uncle live in. They were in Sweden for my cousin’s wedding, so we got to house-sit for them!

Newport Beach 11 042

I had realized that it had been a long time since we had gone to Disneyland. The last time we went as a family, California Adventure hadn’t even been built yet! I thought it would be neat to go and see everything we had missed over the years, so I secretly began making plans to pay for my entire family to go to Disneyland. When I looked up the admission prices, I realized that I couldn’t even afford to take just me and my sister! I began looking at other options. Then I remembered Knott’s Berry Farm, which I barely recalled since I only went there as a toddler. My mom ended up not going, but I got to take my dad and sister into this amusement park all for the cost it would have been for just one of us to go to Disneyland!

Newport Beach 11 055 Newport Beach 11 061 Newport Beach 11 070

Of course, because we were staying at Newport Beach, we spent a lot of time at the beach. We rented a surfboard one day, and after my sister got a little bit of practice with it, I went out for my very first surf session. But no sooner did I get out in the ocean did a lifeguard call everyone out of the water due to too harsh of waves!

Newport Beach 11 072

But there were plenty of boogie boards at the house we were staying at, so I went boogie boarding just about every day.Newport Beach 11 092

We did quite a few other things, too. One day we visited my grandparents, and another day I participated in the International Surf Day’s beach cleanup. We did a lot of shopping and fairly healthy eating, and we did some sand sculpting…

Newport Beach 11 101

And another thing we did pretty much every day was ride beach cruisers. Newport Beach has a great bike trail that goes along the shoreline. Sometimes we would just ride to the nearest beach, and other times we would go further to different shops. Some days it was hard to ride because we were going quite a few miles in the direction opposite of the wind, so we definitely kept in shape!

Newport Beach 11 117

Because we kept in such great shape, treats at the Balboa Pier were not only guilt-free, but they were mandatory! Newport Beach 11 149

jobs, saving money

4 Ways to Survive a Desk Job When You Want to See the World

It’s only a seasonal job, I have to constantly remind myself. It will only last a few more weeks!

Last month, I began a job at a Harry and David Call Center. I knew going in that I wouldn’t exactly like the job, but my other three jobs combined don’t make as much as my one job at Harry and David does, so I certainly needed a more steady job, even if it was only for a couple months. The two weeks of training were actually kind of fun. It was more like an adventure, because it was the opportunity to explore the company: explore the physical location that is one of the prides of my hometown, and also explore the internal matters of how this business runs, in an effort to be able to transfer some of what I learned into my own business. But after training ended, I was stuck in the call center.

Eight hours a day of nothing but sitting in a chair, reading a script into a headset, and typing whatever I hear.

Clearly not me. I would lose all my incentive pay if I tried to take a picture of myself in the uber-secure call center, so this is what you get.
Clearly not me. I would lose all my incentive pay if I tried to take a picture of myself in the uber-secure call center, so this is what you get.

This is not the ideal job for any traveler-at-heart. And some days, I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it until my layoff date. But here are a few things that I keep in mind about this job, and they’re things you too can ponder when you find yourself in a job you weren’t meant for:

I won’t be working this job forever! If you don’t count freelance writing (which I’ve worked on for six years), I’ve never kept a job much longer than two years, and some of those jobs I actually enjoyed. And I know that this particular job is even more short-term. I don’t know my exact layoff date yet, but it won’t be later than January. Near the end of my life, when I look back on this job, it will take only a few seconds to reflect on its entirety (even though now it seems like each shift is forever)! Instead, I’ll more clearly remember all the amazing adventures I took before and after this brief period of work.

It’s money in the bank. Life isn’t about money, but I will admit that it’s the biggest motivator for me working this job. My hourly wage is pretty decent, and I earn bonus incentive money too. Of course, right now a good percentage of my earnings are going towards Christmas. (Although I will say I won’t have nearly as big of a budget for Christmas this year as I have had in the past, thanks to the fact that I don’t have to fly anywhere this year!) But most of my leftover money is being stocked up in my savings account, ready to be used for all my 2015 travel plans!

There are other perks too. Every job has perks other than a paycheck. I’ve had jobs that provide food and jobs that provide employee discount. This job happens to provide both. I can typically score some fresh fruit (usually pears, of course!) during my breaks, and in training we were even required to sample a variety of treats! I get a 45% discount in Harry and David stores and 30% off on shipped orders, plus there are discount to other stores and services as well as a discount on mailing services. Harry and David even started a charity where their employees can go to a building twice a month and fill a grocery bag with “imperfect” food and other goods. Best off all, if I work until my layoff date, all of these services are available to me until next November! Because I’ve saved money on things like food, gifts, and even an oil change due this job, it means that more of my paycheck is going toward travel.

I challenge myself to learn new things every day. And if possible, I try to learn something that will still apply to my life after this job is in the past. Sometimes it means reading health articles during my break time. Sometimes I try to think about why a particular sales tactic I used was effective or ineffective. And sometimes it’s just an appreciation for things, like how much small business owners have to do to compete with established big names like this one, or how so many of the overnight shift people seem to be so happy while I dread the fact that I don’t get home until after midnight. Learning through experience is one of the main things that fuels my travels. With a little effort, this can be brought into the workplace,too!

destinations, travel tips

Happy Half Birthday to Me!

Today I am exactly 282 months old, or 23.5 years. No, I’m not one of those self-centered people who try to make up as many occasions as possibly to celebrate my existence, but I’ve always used this day as a time of reflection. I’ve only had 6 months of experience being 23 years old, yet in just 6 months I will have a new age to experience! So let’s take a look at what has happened since my birthday, and then plan what to do with the rest of the year!

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

My 23rd year started on May 10th, 2014. I wanted to celebrate my birthday by taking a trip, because my favorite birthdays have been while I was traveling. I celebrated my 8th, 13th, 18th, and 22nd birthday in Disney World. No, my parents didn’t take me to Disney World just to celebrate my annual milestone; my birthday just happens to be the best time of year to go! But there was no way I would be able to get to Disney World this year, so I looked more locally. At the time, I lived about an hour away from Columbus, but I had never actually spend much time there. So I decided to book a weekend at The Wayfaring Buckeye (reviewing this hostel helped me rediscover my travel writing passion), throw my bicycle in the back of my Explorer, and head toward the city. I may have spent my birthday alone, but it didn’t even matter because I got to go to a topiary garden, a humongous bookshop, a record-breaking gavel, a fun science museum, two street fairs, and Buffalo Wild Wings, accessing all this on just two wheels! I even went to the Capitol Building and art museum the next day, and of course I set aside some time to call my family and just kick back.

At the science museum, I got to ride a self-balancing unicycle that was two stories high!
At the science museum, I got to ride a self-balancing unicycle that was two stories high!

I had been working at a retreat center as an outdoor school instructor. Sadly, the school year was just about ending, which meant the job was transitioning. I had the opportunity to help build a new website, and unfortunately I was also given the task of being a lifeguard. Since my summer work was looking somewhat bleak, I started making plans for my days off to “escape” in the world of travel, which also included filling up the remaining weekends in May with even more travel!

Harding Memorial Tomb
Me at the Harding Memorial.

The next weekend I had to go to Marion, Ohio, which I had never been to before. I looked up things I could do while in that town, and was surprised to discover that President Warren G. Harding had lived there, and now he and his wife were buried there! I decided my first stop in Marion would be to visit the cemetery he was buried in. The Harding Memorial looked like something that should only be found in a place like Washington, D.C. But since it was in Central Ohio, it had the bonus of not being crowded with tourists! After finding a geocache near the cemetery, I eventually made it to the event that brought me to Marion in the first place. Secret Keeper Girl had invited me to cover their event so I could feature it in Girlz 4 Christ Magazine. Since it was a mother-daughter event for tween girls, it was a little awkward for me to go by myself. I’m neither a tween nor a mother! But it actually was a great program with some fun games, a message that everyone could take to heart, and a pre-show concert from Copperlily.

Copperlily performing on the Secret Keeper Girl tour.
Copperlily performing on the Secret Keeper Girl tour.

The next week was Memorial Day weekend, and coincidentally, that was the only weekend where I didn’t have any plans. But my work was having a camp out that staff could attend for free, so I turned the back of my Explorer into a bed (while somehow also fitting my bicycle back there) and enjoyed a few nights away from home.

My typical camp set-up included my car (with all my clothes and bedding in the back), my bicycle, and hopefully a provided table to read and eat at!
My typical camp set-up included my car (with all my clothes and bedding in the back), my bicycle, and hopefully a provided table to read and eat at!

Because I had so much fun camping in my car that weekend, the next weekend involved car camping as well! I was invited to a review stay at Turkey Hollow Campground near Millersburg, Ohio AKA Amish Country. I spent two nights there picnicking, sleeping where I could see the stars, walking some paths, and using the camp paddle boat on the pond. During the day, I experienced as much of the Amish life I could in Holmes County by feeding the exotic animals at The Farm at Walnut Creek, touring the schoolhouse, barn, and cyclorama at the Behalt museum, and of course enjoying the authentic shops and foods!

Zebras were one of the several animals I got to pet and feed at The Farm at Walnut Creek. Another highlight was when a giraffe tried to eat my hair!
Zebras were one of the several animals I got to pet and feed at The Farm at Walnut Creek. Another highlight was when a giraffe tried to eat my hair!

My weekend trip to Holmes County ended on June 1st, and sadly that was the first and last trip of June. I remember spending that month working, going to church, and reading. But that also gave me more time to plan a trip to Niagara Falls, which I had wanted to do for a long time! Since Niagara Falls isn’t too far away from Ohio, it would be cheap trip to get there, and I decided to make it even cheaper by taking the Greyhound bus for the first time. Since I had never taken the bus before, I wasn’t sure if the bus station had a parking lot. I decided to drive up to Mansfield to see for myself in early July. And of course, I decided to make a trip out of it!

Doing time in one of the nearly 1000 cells.
Doing time in one of the nearly 1000 cells.

After discovering that there was no parking at all and I would have to arrange for someone to drop me off, I headed over to the Mansfield Reformatory. The outside looks like a castle, and the inside looks like an abandoned prison, which is what it actually is. It has also been a set for a couple of movies and is supposedly a haunted locale. I also spent this day trip visiting a natural park and a natural food store.

Cave of the Winds Trip on the US side of Niagara Falls
Cave of the Winds Trip on the US side of Niagara Falls

The next weekend I headed off to Niagara Falls! I thought this would be my one big trip of the year (fortunately that was proven wrong!) and I enjoyed a weekend of hiking, eating, sightseeing, and visiting Canada for the first time! This trip also really helped me make a name as a travel writer. Starting the eve of my 23rd birthday, I had been comped a couple nights at accommodations for being a writer and reviewer. But this entire 9-day trip only required me to pay for one night of lodging, plus I got a few other perks! But of course, the best part was finally seeing the Niagara Falls in person.

Enjoying the view from the Canada side of Niagara Falls
Enjoying the view from the Canada side of Niagara Falls

A few weeks after returning to my normal life, I got the opportunity to switch my role from tourist to tour guide! My sister had just come back from living in Mexico, and she wanted to explore Ohio before settling back in Oregon. I showed her a few of my favorite places, like Amish Country, President Harding’s tomb, and President Hayes’ birthplace, and she even encouraged me to try out a few new things, like the Columbus Zoo. The few days she spent in Ohio were memorable, not only because they were jam-packed with fun, but also because I decided that I also needed to move back to Oregon after being gone for three years. After all, the main reason I liked working in Ohio was just because of all the trips I could take on my days off!

025
Walking through a cute little park next to one of the several cheese factories in Holmes County.

After spending a couple weeks trying to pack what I could and sell what I couldn’t, I finally left Ohio. It was actually miraculous to see everything that occurred in those few short weeks, such as the way my car was sold, the connection to donate my beautiful bed, and the numerous gift exchanges that occurred. I then embarked on my second-ever Greyhound trip, this time for eight days. Although I tried to line up travel writing jobs along the way, it was a holiday weekend and I had a pretty tight schedule, so I couldn’t get anything comped. Yet still, I only ended up paying for one night of lodging (thanks to relatives, former workplaces, overnight bus trips, and one night in a bus station followed by convincing the hostel to let me check in early for free). Besides driving and sightseeing through ten states, I made overnight stops in Chicago, Omaha/Fremont, and Denver. So much happened on this part-moving-expedition, part-road-trip, that you’ll just have to read all five blogs I wrote about it (here, here, here, here, and here) to see what I did!

I don't play favorites when it comes to travel, but a definite highlight was stepping out on the Willis Tower Skydeck's transparent ledge on the 103rd floor!
I don’t play favorites when it comes to travel, but a definite highlight was stepping out on the Willis Tower Skydeck’s transparent ledge on the 103rd floor!

I have spent all my time since then within Oregon boundaries. I got a few nanny and babysitting jobs right off the bat, but while I continued to search for a more regular job, I took a few Oregonian excursions. This included going to the Bigfoot Trap, spending the night in Ashland, and touring the Oregon Vortex, among a few other day trips.

Due to the height change in the Oregon Vortex, my mom and I could finally see eye to eye!
Due to the height change in the Oregon Vortex, my mom and I could finally see eye to eye!

As I mentioned, in addition to my writing work, I started to in-home childcare since moving to Oregon, which now includes a regular part-time nanny gig. A few weeks ago, I was also hired at Harry and David World headquarters to help with the Christmas rush. Not too long after that, I was also hired as a housemother at the Magdalene Home, which is an organization that provides housing and resources to teen mothers and their children. Over the past week, I have been training for this position, and I’m really looking forward to it! My training ended today, just in time for my new training at Harry and David to start tomorrow! I’m actually surprised that working four different jobs is going this smoothly. In fact, the only downside is this means I have early starts every day for a couple of weeks, which will then probably switch to a crazy combination of late nights and early mornings.

So there you have it: just about everything I’ve done over the past six months! So what do the next six months have in store? Obviously there’s work, with the goal to save up enough money so I can enjoy a backpacking trip to Europe, and possibly other destinations! I will also be going forth as one of the few remaining editors of Christian girl magazines, since most of our competition has gone out of business. In response to this, there are plans to expand and improve Girlz 4 Christ, and I am planning to apply for it to become an official non-profit organization! So far I’m not aware of any trips coming up in the next six months, but I’m sure they will happen in early 2015, and I’m ready to take advantage of any opportunities made available to me! Other than that, I don’t really know what will happen for the rest of my 23rd year, but I’m excited to find out. I’ll give you an update on this six months from now- hopefully while celebrating a 24th birthday excursion!

Books

A Simple Song

Here’s a fast thought for your Friday:

Books are great. If I’m not exploring the world, I’m probably at home with a good book. Today was one of those days, as I am currently rereading this:

A Simple Song

Melody Carlson has been my favorite author for a long time, ever since I first read Diary of a Teenage Girl in middle school. She’s written over 200 books, and it would be wonderful if I have the opportunity to read all of them throughout my life. Because I get Melody Carlson’s monthly newsletter that features announcements and contests, I won a prize from her last April for sharing a story about an April Fool’s joke that was pulled on me. (I may share that prank with all of you later…) My prize was a box of her books, and A Simple Song was one of them. It’s a story about an Amish girl, Katrina, who lives in Holmes County, which was relevant to me since I only lived an hour’s drive from there!

Now that I’m on the other side of the country, this book has even more meaning as a read it for a second time. Katrina has the opportunity to go to Hollywood and compete on an American Idol style of show. She goes back and forth on this decision, but eventually leaves for the West Coast. Although I’m not Amish, and I would probably only be brought onto a singing competition as the comic relief, I feel like I have a lot in common with this fictional Katrina Yoder. We both left Central Ohio for a more promising west. It was a difficult decision, and while we know it was for the best, it still makes us uneasy even to this day. Being in locations close to Katrina’s journey really brought this story to life. Also, Melody Carlson lives in Oregon, so that makes this book even more relevant to my life. I hope I can run into her someday.

A good book is typically less costly than a trip, but it can take you on an even wilder adventure!

#ThrowbackThursday, Bucket List

Travel I Can Cross Off My Bucket List

Yesterday, I posted my current Travel Bucket List. However, while I’m looking forward to hopefully accomplishing all those things in the future, I think it’s important to also look back on previous accomplishments. While I don’t plan every single trip around my goals, once I have a trip planned, I try to take advantage of any opportunities available to apply that trip to working towards a goal. I often accomplish several goals in one trip, which is why you’ll see that I have often done several goals at the same time. Here are some things that are no longer on my bucket list, because I actually did them!

1. Go to Chicago. (September 2014)

2. Eat pizza in Chicago. (September 2014)

3. Go up the Willis Tower and stand on the Skydeck. (September 2014- Okay, I’m done with the Chicago goals!)

On the Willis Tower Skydeck...before eating pizza...in Chicago.
On the Willis Tower Skydeck…before eating pizza…in Chicago.

4. Live away from the Pacific states. (August 2011)

5. Visit Amish Country. (October 2013 in Holmes County, plus two other trips within the following year)

6. Go to the Creation Museum. (March 2014)

Hanging out in the ark room of the Creation Musuem
Hanging out in the ark room of the Creation Musuem

7. Vacation in Hawaii. (April 2001, Oahu)

8. Go to Walt Disney World. (May 1999, plus three more times, all in May during my birthday!)

9. Bike around a major city. (May 2014, Columbus)

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

10. Be in two places at once a la A Walk to Remember. (March 2013, Nebraska/Iowa, also internationally in July 2014 at New York/Ontario)

11. Visit a different country. (December 2005, Mexico; July 2007 in Peru was the first time I stayed the night inside the country)

12. Visit a different continent. (July 2007 and August 2009, Peru, South America)

Playing with kids at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru
Playing with kids at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru

13. Visit Canada. (July 2014, Niagara Falls)

14. Go on a mission trip. (July 2007, Posada de Amor in Peru, plus several other trips after)

15. Go to Seattle. (March 2004 was my first trip)

16. Go to Nashville. (September/October 2012)

In front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville
In front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

17. Go to Niagara Falls. (July 2014)

18. Take an overnight train trip. (December 2011, from Nebraska to Oregon)

19. Go on a cruise. (December 2005, California and Baja)

20. Support overseas orphans. (Not including Latin American mission trips, I’ve sponsored Nelly in Zambia since 2013.)

Nelly, the teenager I sponsor through Every Orphan’s Hope

21. Fly first class. (January 2013, from Denver to Omaha)

22. See Mount Rushmore. (August 2011)

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
Mount Rushmore in South Dakota

23. Be in the nation’s Capitol. (June 2007 in Washington DC, also in Peru’s capitol of Lima in July 2007 and August 2009)

24. Go to New York, New York. (June 2007)

TIESS3 209
On a class trip to the East Coast

25. See historic Philadelphia. (June 2007)

26. Travel out-of-state without my parents. (March 2003 to Washington, and many, many, many trips since!)

27. Travel by myself. (This one’s ambiguous: in 2001 I flew by myself but was picked up by family at my destination, in August 2011 I moved to Nebraska for an internship, in September 2012 I went to Tennessee for two weeks but one week was spent with a friend, in August 2013 I took a solo road trip to get to Ohio for my new job… if none of the previous count to you has having traveled by myself, then I definitely took several trips over the past year that would certainly count!)

In the airport at the beginning of my move to Nebraska
In the airport at the beginning of my move to Nebraska

28. Drive more than an hour. (First time was February 2013 from Twin City area in Minnesota to somewhere in Iowa)

29. Drive the entire way on a road trip. (First time was August 2013 from Fremont, NE to Marengo, OH)

30. See a Great Lake. (First saw Lake Erie November 2013, within the next several months also saw Ontario and Michigan)

Walking alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago
Walking alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago

31. See the Atlantic Ocean. (June 2007)

32. Go to Colorado, but not just inside an airport. (October 2011, Estes Park, visited twice later on)

33. Buy a car (August 2012, bought a y2k red Ford Explorer, sadly sold August 2014)

My SUV Dora (named so because she was an Explorer)
My SUV Dora (named so because she was an Explorer)

34. Go to Yellowstone National Park to watch Old Faithful, see large wild animals, and stand on the Continental Divide. (July-ish 2002?)

35. Take a tethered balloon ride. (July 2010)

36. Sleep (inside a car) in a Walmart parking lot. (September 2013)

37. See Multnomah Falls. (September 2014)

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls in Northern Oregon

38. Go on an extended whitewater rafting trip. (May 2011, Rogue River)

39. Take a trip with only carry-on luggage. (September/October 2011, Tennessee, and nearly every trip ever since!)

40. Ride the Greyhound. (July 2014, and again in August/September 2014)

Good Ol' Greyhound
Good Ol’ Greyhound

41. Go waterskiing/wakeboarding. (July 2004 was my first waterski attempt, July 2006 proved more successful and was also my wakeboard introduction)

42. Sleep all night in a hammock. (July 2012, at the top of a 60-foot tower overlooking the Platte River)

43. Stay in a hostel. (September 2012, Music City Hostel in Nashville; hostels are now my favorite accommodation!)

44. Attend a Christian music festival. (September 2011, Lifelight South Dakota)

Among over 10,000 fans at a Lifelight concert
Among over 10,000 fans at a Lifelight concert

45. See The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. (June 2007)

46. Visit the three main countries that make up North America. (Started at birth in the U.S., ended in Canada July 2014)

47. Hike from base to summit of a mountain. (The tallest so far was Harney Peak in South Dakota August 2011, but was preceded by Mount Humbug and both Table Rocks in Oregon)

This building is at the very top of Harney's Peak and it was a strenuous four-mile journey to get there
This building is at the very top of Harney’s Peak and it was a strenuous four-mile journey to get there

48. Ride a roller coaster that goes upside-down. (May 2003, Disney’s Rock n Roller Coaster, and of course with visits to more “adventurous” theme parks like Six Flags Marine World, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Adventureland, I’ve been on dozens more)

49. Be invited to a movie screening before it comes to theaters. (July 2011 for Courageous; I’ve also gone to Grace Unplugged, Moms’ Night Out, and When the Game Stands Tall)

50. Become a travel writer (started professionally writing November 2008!)

So there you have it: my top 50 travel accomplishments! I’m looking forward to adding more to this list!

saving money, writing

Taking a Travel Break

Many people like to travel as a way to take a break from their routine schedule. Me? I pick up a routine as a break from travel!

Ever since crossing the Oregon border on a Greyhound bus nearly two months ago, I have not stepped outside the Beaver State. That unusual cross-country move, while fun, was tiresome, and I guess I experienced a bit of travel burnout because of it. That doesn’t mean I stopped traveling per se. In fact, if you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve been to lots of places, such as The Bigfoot Trap, Ashland, and just a few days ago The Oregon Vortex, to name a few. But I haven’t been going international or breezing through a dozen states, and oftentimes I come back home at the end of a travel day instead of spending the night somewhere! I’ll never completely stop traveling, but the past few weeks have been a slower, more local pace.

I haven’t spent much time in Southern Oregon in the last few years, so I’ve practically been living like a foreigner as I explore this little corner of the country. Just today, I went to the DMV so I could replace my Ohio driver’s license with an Oregon one. I also voted as a resident of this state and county. (Yay Oregon, for their mail-in-only voting system!) I guess these sorts of things officially make me a local, but it feels surreal. Perhaps now that I can no longer claim to be a traveler in this state, I’ll be motivated to travel elsewhere. But I think I need a travel break, at least for just a little bit longer.

Most people slow their travel down in the fall and winter months. In the past I may have slowed down a little during this time, but I’ve never stopped. I’ve always taken a trip with a roommate or coworker during Thanksgiving weekend, and taken a train or plane across the country to visit my parents for Christmas. But now that I’m back in the town I grew up in, I’ll likely spend these holidays right here.

So what am I doing when I don’t travel?

I’ve picked up four jobs. Four! Of course, one of those jobs is writing, and I’ll still be taking enough weekend and day trips to have something to write about. I also nanny part-time, and I use this opportunity to explore the local area with the kids. Tomorrow, I start a job at as an on-call housemother at a home for teen mothers. And next week, I’ll start training for my seasonal job at Harry and David’s headquarters. I’m hoping to use the next couple of months as an opportunity to make connections (and also money!), so that when my H&D job ends, I can take even more trips while still working around my nannying and housemothering schedule. Maybe this break will allow me to research and network enough so I can travel full-time!

Here’s the tricky part: I’m not going to be traveling much (if at all) this month, but I also signed this website up for NaBloPoMo. This challenge is an offshoot of NaNoWriMo, but instead of writing a novel in one month, participants in National Blog Post Month commit to posting every day of November. While I may not have much fresh content from new trips, I hope I can provide a post every day on packing ideas, product reviews, throwback stories, and more travel advice. I don’t know if I’ll make it, but I believe this travel break will inspire even more travel!

What travel-themed subjects should I write about during my travel break?