Tag Archives: Nebraska

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!
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#ThrowbackThursday: SnowEMT

How’s the weather, East Coasters? Haha, I know it’s cold, stormy and snowy there. But I won’t brag about how nice the weather in Oregon has been and how I could walk outside without a coat yesterday. Instead, I’ll talk about snow!

Winter 2012 was my first real snowy winter experience. It was my first winter in Nebraska, and although it was more snow than I had ever experienced, all the seasoned Nebraskans said that it was one of their mildest winters ever.

So on Superbowl Sunday three years ago (wow, was it three years already?) a large amount of snow finally came and I was trapped at the camp I was living at. I wasn’t really trapped because of the snow, but I didn’t have a car. And no one wanted to brave the weather to visit me or pick me up, so I got to eat all the cookies that I made for my one-person Superbowl party. Anyway, I didn’t mean to tell you about my pathetic party. I wanted to tell you what happened afterward…

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You see, I was taking my EMT class at the time, so that was something that was always on my mind. I had gotten a pretty bad leg injury a few days prior since a giant log fell off of a tractor bucket and onto my leg, so I wasn’t able to do much outdoors. But it was snowing for crying out loud, and I needed to build a snowman!

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“Do You Wanna Build a Snowman” was not yet a song on everyone’s lips, but I certainly would have been singing that as I went out to find a good spot to build my creation. I had decided that I wanted something kind of Calvin-and-Hobbes-esque, like an army of snowmen or a snowman missing a head because another snowman used it as a bowling ball. Unfortunately, the snow was too powdery to roll any snowballs. I did, however, find a few chunks of snow compacted from being plowed off the road, so I sculpted those into a round shape. After stacking a few of those together, my first snowman was complete!

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I had problems building a second one. The snowballs did not want to stack on top of each other. The top one kept on rolling off until the snowballs were side by side on the ground. That’s when it hit me: this snowman was suffering an injury! And of course, the standing snowman must be an EMT!

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I hadn’t intended to make my snowmen as gruesome as the ones Calvin made in the comic strips, but I had to show that the snowvictim clearly needed help. I didn’t have any coal, but I did find some peppermint patties in the camp kitchen that made for good eyes, as well as carrots for the nose. I turned one peppermint eye sideways to represent an avulsed eyeball. Then, with the watered-down remains of a bottle of red hair dye, I splattered “blood” on the helpless snowpatient. But not to worry…

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Soon it was SnowEMT to the rescue! Both of the snowmen feature arms made out of marshmallow roasters, but I put a pair of gloves on the EMT (since that’s always the first thing to do at any scene!) I wanted to put my uniform shirt on him, but was afraid that it would get wet, or worse, freeze to the snowbody. So I found a garbage bag and put that on the center snowball before putting my shirt on. I finished the effect with my stethoscope, but of course, I removed that after taking the photos so it wouldn’t get damaged.

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I don’t much care for freezing weather, and I’m sure that someday I’ll create a lifestyle that will allow me to release my inner snowbird. But I know that snow can also bring about some fun adventures.

What’s an adventure you’ve experienced in snowy weather?

Should Travelers Have Pets?

It’s a valid question: should travelers have pets? As I mentioned in my post on cheap living for travelers, pets cost money that will inevitably eat at your travel fund. Here are a few other reasons why pets aren’t traveler-friendly:

  • Traveling with pets really limits your choice of accommodations, and you may even have to pay an additional pet fee.
  • If you don’t travel with them, pet-sitters and kennels can cost a lot. You may also be worried for your pet the entire time you’re gone.
  • Even if you find pet-friendly accommodations, you’ll be limited on all the other aspects of your trip. You’ll have to plan carefully trips to restaurants, attractions, and stores.
  • Pets require time that you could otherwise spend exploring your destination.
  • Because you’ll have to make tough decisions and sacrifices with your pet, you could become the kind of pet owner you (and most other people) hate. Like the one who leaves their pet in the car. Or the one who takes their animal into a building that only service dogs should be allowed in.
  • Even low-maintenance pets can prove to be lots of work while traveling. Keep reading to find out more.

As you can see, I find it to be far too much of a hassle to have pets. And yet a week ago I adopted these two:

fish

These guys, along with hundreds of other fish, were unpopular prizes at the harvest festival I had volunteered at. I didn’t want anything to happen to them if no one wanted them, so I did what I could and took two with me. What else could I have done?

Fortunately, goldfish are probably the least expensive pet. Of course I got these fish for free, but if I wanted to I could have picked them up at the pet store for a quarter. I already have a bowl and rocks from previous fish ownership, and of course the few gallons of water they use is a negligible cost. So the only expense for these guys right now was a little over a buck for fish food, which looks like it will last a long time.

Still, I’m concerned for these fish. My last few pet ownership experiences took a turn for the worse as soon as I decided to travel. My previous pets were two hermit crabs named Ferb and Shelldon. I owned these two fellows when I was living in Nebraska. They acted just like any other normal hermit crab would, and I took pretty good care of them, making sure that they always had a moist tank and a variety of food. I took two trips when I had them, but fortunately, I knew some girls who were eager to pet-sit. But then I wanted to move to Ohio, and somehow, they knew. I hadn’t even started packing yet. In fact, I hadn’t even received a job offer, but both of them died within a few weeks. I guess they really didn’t want to move to Ohio!

Ferb the Hermit Crab

Before that, my previous four pets were goldfish when I previously lived in Oregon, which I kept two at a time. The first pair died the day I left for a choir tour. I guess they just missed me too much! The second couple was a little better. One of them died a few weeks into ownership for an unknown reason. The other one was much better, and lived for a couple of years. When I moved to Nebraska, I couldn’t take him with me, so he became my family’s pet. He lived several months longer, but eventually gave up on living.

Now that I have learned more about animal care, I’m determined to keep these little fishies swimming for as long as possible. Just this morning, I saw the gray fish laying on his side at the bottom of the tank, barely moving. Many people would just flush him (or her?), but I figured this was something that could be remedied. I guessed that there was something wrong with his swim bladder, so after moving him to his own container, I went online and did a few quick searches. Indeed, he showed the symptoms of a swim bladder disorder, and I made some changes that would help him heal. Not much later, he bounced back after a quick recovery!

fish

They seem to be okay while I’m here, but what about when I travel? As I mentioned before, I’m currently taking a travel hiatus, so these two fish will spend that time growing bigger. They’re small feeder fish now, but they have the potential to grow up to several inches long! When I do inevitably start traveling again, they’ll hopefully be big enough that I can introduce them to the other goldfish in my parents’ pond. They’ll then spend the rest of their days socializing with other fish in a semi-natural environment.

But for now I am committed to raising them to be strong, healthy goldfish! The sad thing is, I haven’t even chosen names for them yet. So today, I’m making a call-out for friends, family, and even strangers to suggest names for these two critters.

What should I call the gray and orange goldfish?

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)

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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!

Travel Journal Tuesday

A little over five years ago, my grandmother gave me a travel journal. I had previously kept some sort of documentation for some of my travels. During my first mission trip to Peru, I had brought along one of those cheap spiral-bound school notebooks where I wrote about my thoughts, feelings, and activities of each day. I don’t know where that journal is anymore. When I started my first job by the Pacific Coast, I was diligent to journal for each of my thirty-three days of employment. Again, it was a not-so-special spiral-bound journal. I don’t know where that journal is anymore, either. When my tenth-grade class flew to the East Coast, our tour company provided everyone with a colorful booklet with blank lines and writing prompts. I normally would have loved to use something like this, but since we had to turn it in to be graded, I may have been a little snarky and short in what I wrote. I don’t think I even finished filling out that journal, and its possible that it was destroyed after my teacher read it. I really don’t know where that journal is anymore! Even as far back as elementary school, I recall that my second-grade teacher gave us her handmade journals so we could write and draw about our adventures during school holidays, plus anytime we were taken out of school for a vacation (such as my first trip to Disney World). I’m sure my mom has those memories stored somewhere, but I don’t know where that journal is anymore!

Travel Journal Cover

But when I received this beautiful travel journal, I knew right away that this would be superior to all previous travel journals. I initially used it to record my experience on my 2009 mission trip to Peru. Since then, I’ve taken it along to recount my days on my 2010 Northwest choir tour, my mission trip to Mexico, my backpacker vacation to Tennessee, my international trip to Niagara Falls, and my bus ride across the country. And I know exactly where this journal is. It’s the centerpiece of one of my travel-themed shelves!

Travel Memento Shelf

I don’t write in my journal for every trip I take. For weekend trips and other trips where I try to cram too much in too few days, I believe its a better use of my time to go out and experience as much as I can instead of taking a break to write about it. I also haven’t kept a journal for any trips that are primarily focused on working, such as camp conferences I’ve attended. I don’t think it would be interesting to read my journal years later about how I sat in meetings for most of the day. I memorialized these sorts of trips in different ways, such as photography, videos, or blogging. (If you visit The Rivercrester, you can read about almost everything I did while living in Nebraska, from the cool trips that I took to the times I was stuck at camp and only wishing that I could travel!) I don’t really have a criteria for which trips are worthy of my travel journal, but it’s treated like a near-sacred relic, so I use it for the trips that I feel are the most important.

This journal has a great layout, including a bookmark, a secure band, and a pocket inside the back cover to hold small mementos. Each page has plenty of room to write, plus an extra box to emphasize my highlight of the day. I also really like that each page has both a travel quote and a travel-themed Bible verse. It’s almost like having a mini-devotional each day of travel. I can usually fit everything worth mentioning about one day on one of these pages, but on some of the more mundane days (like all-day transit or staying at someone’s house), I can fit two days on one page. There have even been days that were so full of events and emotions, it was a challenge to fit everything even on two pages!

Travel Journal Entry Page

I had never really considered whether or not my journal was suitable for sharing. It wasn’t until a few months ago when I was journaling in the commons area of a Canadian hostel. A Japanese guy sat down next to me, and attempted to make conversation as a way for him to learn English. When he noticed the book on my lap, he asked if it was a diary. Then, he asked to read it! I handed it to him, and maybe it was because I was pretty sure he wouldn’t understand most of the content, but I felt okay with letting him look at it.

After thinking about that ever since starting this website, I decided that I am comfortable sharing the contents of my diary with the internet-connected world. I may change names to protect the innocent or remove pieces that don’t make sense outside the context of my own mind, but I’m willing to be real and unfiltered. So starting next Tuesday, I will have a “Travel Journal Tuesday” where I will post a journal entry every week until I run out. Even though my journal’s only halfway filled right now, I have enough entries to last until at least next summer! Enjoy!

Do you keep a journal for any reason? How do you remember your travels?

Throwback Thursday: Around the World in One Room

In spring 2012 at Camp Rivercrest in Nebraska, we were gearing up for summer camps. Our summer theme was “The REAL Adventure”, and I wanted to use that theme for all it’s worth. The one downside of working at summer camps is that you can’t really utilize the summer to travel. Since I was the camp nurse, I had to stay at camp 24 hours a day except for my day off. (But then again, I didn’t have a car at the time so I was completely at the mercy of coworkers offering a ride.) Because I couldn’t spend that summer traveling the world, I instead brought the world to the camp chapel.

Of course, I couldn’t do this alone. I worked with some very talented artists who did all the detailed art, including a stage scene and globe that aren’t pictured. But I did enjoy coming up with ideas, like turning each section of the chapel wall into its own continent.

My favorite was the Antarctica wall because I got to put the winter camp decorations to re-use. I also put the most work into this wall, making everything except the penguin and dogsled.

Antarctica

And of course there’s the continent where I’ve had most of my travel experience, North America. While I had a wealth of experience in this continent, the only representatives I made for the North American road trip are signs for Route 66 and In-N-Out. The funny thing is, I’ve been to In-N-Out several times and don’t see too much that makes it special, and the only times I’ve been on any part of Route 66 is when I’ve visited California and it’s the quickest route to make it to a nearby destination. So this wall wasn’t very representative of my travels.

North America

I guess I don’t have a finished picture of the Voyage to Asia, but the program coordinator brought in a bunch of decorations that she got from her time in China. In fact, a year after that summer, she moved to Asia!

Asia

The Europe wall wasn’t complete in this picture either. I hadn’t been inspired to backpack across Europe yet (or else this would have been a MUCH better wall), so we focused it on athletics and called it Tour de Europe, which is why you see the yellow jersey biking along the path, and we later added Olympic rings since they were held in London that summer.

Europe

Then there was Latin America, the only other continent I’ve visited to date. Although it ended up being more of a Mexican theme than true South American, I did enjoy cutting all of that papel picado!

Latin America

Because of last-minute inspiration, I later decorated the Australian Outback Adventure wall with colorful boomerangs. I also painted the koala, but someone else drew it!

Australia

I didn’t do much with the African Safari wall, except add the black dashes (which connect all the continents around the room) and make the continent. I actually made all the continents, though I got help with the painting and cutting. I looked up pictures of each continent on my computer, then plugged my computer into a projector. I hung paper where the projection was, and traced. Africa was probably the easiest because there aren’t so many nooks and crannies to trace and cut!

Africa

While I had a lot of fun helping decorate each continent wall, it was important that the partitions in the front of the chapel were also decorated. Stage right was a map from the United States to China, because it was our goal to raise money for a Chinese orphanage. It made a great visual reminder. We covered the stage left partition with all sorts of maps. These giant foam cutouts were just falling apart in storage, so I decided to give them new life and use them as decorations.

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Each circle had John 10:10, the summer’s theme verse, in a different language.

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“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Being able to look at at amazingly-decorated chapel all summer certainly encouraged me to live a full life!

7 Budget-Friendly Activities for Traveling Anywhere

I don’t believe that you have to be rich to travel. In fact, as long as you’re not in debt, there’s a trip out there that can fit your budget perfectly. Whether you’re headed around the world or simply to the next town over, here are a few ways you can get the most out of your travel experience- and still stick with your budget!

Eat Ice Cream

Twist O' The Mist in Niagara Falls, NY has been one of my favorite ice cream shops!
Twist O’ The Mist in Niagara Falls, NY has been one of my favorite ice cream shops!

I’ve visited (and once even lived in) several towns with triple-digit populations. There isn’t much in these places, but there’s usually an ice cream shop. Ask for a scoop of the most unique flavor on the menu, and you’ll be reminded of your visit whenever you taste, smell, or even hear that flavor. If you’re visiting an area that has several options for ice cream, pick a place that serves flavors from a local creamery. Sure, a small cone at an ice cream stand may cost more than a whole tub at the grocery store, but these few dollars won’t break anyone’s budget.

Visit a Church

One of the best churches I've ever been to- The River in Delaware, Ohio is held in a converted barn!
One of the best churches I’ve ever been to- The River in Delaware, Ohio is held in a converted barn!

If you want to meet locals, experience culture, and look at unique art and architecture for free, then head to a church near your destination. Churches are found throughout the world, even in places where it’s illegal, so you’re likely to find several churches within a short radius. Because this is part of your travel experience, don’t be bound by denomination or feel like you have to agree with everything the church believes. I’ve used travel as a way to experience Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and Catholic churches for the first time. Some churches have a historic significance to the area they serve, and may even be open during non-service times for visitors to see what makes the building unique.

Take a Walk

Walking can bring many unexpected surprises, like this large, walk-able map of Tennessee in Nashville!
Walking can bring many unexpected surprises, like this large, walk-able map of Tennessee in Nashville!

Not only is walking free, but it can actually save you money if you use it in place of buses, taxis, or car rentals. You can experience a lot more of the area by walking. While I remember taking some long walks on family vacations, my first trip with extensive walking was in Nashville. It was there that I went to RCA Studio B, where Elvis first recorded. I didn’t intend to go there, it just happened to be one of the many fascinating places I ended up stopping at while on my way somewhere else. Besides, walking ensures that you can enjoy all that ice cream you’ll sample, guilt-free.

Go On a Bike Ride

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!

Some areas are not pedestrian-friendly, either because of a lack of sidewalks or because all the places you want to visit are a few miles apart from each other. In that case, I recommend seeing the area on two wheels. If you cannot bring your own bike to your destination, many hostels and other travel-related businesses can rent a bike to you (with a lock and sometimes a helmet) for a daily fee. Bicycles are the best of both worlds: you’ll be able to notice most of the unique things you would if you were walking, but you can also travel faster and for further distances. While staying at a hostel in Canada, I met a fellow traveler who came from Japan to ride a bike from Los Angeles to New York City, with lots of side-trips along the way. Imagine all that he must have seen!

Photograph Everything

The best part of Chicago's Cloudgate "Bean" is taking tacky mirror selfies to a whole new level!
The best part of Chicago’s Cloudgate “Bean” is taking tacky mirror selfies to a whole new level!

Getting a durable, quality camera may come with an upfront cost, but it is certainly worth all of the memories you’ll be able to capture. Naturally you’ll want to take pictures of the sights you see and the people you share it with, but you can also spend some time and actually get creative with the photograph. If you take a picture of a famous place, it will look the same as the millions of other photographs that other people took of the same place. However, can you incorporate your own unique flair? I once read a traveling shoe ambassador’s blog that put a face on a flip-flop and took pictures of it in several countries and states. If you take a fun spin with a photo, be sure to share it with me!

Go To Unique Sites

Touring Boys Town in the heart of Omaha, NE was a great experience made even better by seeing the World's Largest Ball of Stamps!
Touring Boys Town in the heart of Omaha, NE was a great experience made even better by seeing the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps!

When traveling, you probably pick your destinations based on what you can see there. Of course you’ll want to visit what your destination is known for, but also keep an eye out for unique, little-known sites and attractions. People go to South Dakota’s Black Hills to see Mount Rushmore, but only a portion of these people stop at the wacky Wall-Drug on the way there. Find out about roadside stops that can enrich your travel experience at places like RoadsideAmerica.com. You can also follow road signs to any interesting-sounding attractions or, better still, ask the locals for their inside information.

Chat Up People

Two minutes before this picture was taken in Fremont, NE, I did not know this girl. But she was bold an encouraged me to dress up for the retreat's photo booth with her!
Two minutes before this picture was taken in Fremont, NE, I did not know this girl. But she was bold an encouraged me to dress up for the retreat’s photo booth with her!

Okay, I have to admit that I’m not naturally inclined to walk up to random strangers and start a conversation. But I do appreciate it when another (non-creepy) traveler comes up to me to talk. Being a native English speaker, I have had the privilege of helping people from all over the world practice their foreign language skills simply by chatting with them! While I had the luxury of speaking my own language, I have been able to hear all kinds of interesting first-person stories, and have also picked up a few tips for my travels. If you want to meet new people on your travels but aren’t very outgoing, try staying in hostels, riding the bus or train, or simply standing in a long line for a tourist attraction, and eventually someone will start talking to you!

What are some ways that YOU make the most of your adventure while spending little money?

The Map on the Kitchen Table

Although I was born in Oregon, I don’t consider myself an official Oregonian until age three. My family moved to California when I was just a few months old, but they later decided that Southern Oregon was truly home and moved back a couple years later. After renting for a short time, we moved into a lovely suburban home that not only had a dining room for our dining room table, but there was a space inside the kitchen for a table as well. I remember going to furniture stores with my parents, until they finally brought a bench seat corner table set into our home. But with my preschooler tendencies, plus the anticipation of another child, my mom was well aware that this table was just one accident away from spilled juice or coloring off the paper. To protect the wood, she decided to cover the table in plastic, but knowing that would look tacky, she made a creative decision that would not only protect the table, but would provide a lifetime of curiosity and learning.

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My mom found a U.S. map about the same size as the table, and laid that out before wrapping the table with a thick plastic sheet. Even though my sister (who wasn’t even born when we got this table) and I are adults now, we know that this protective plastic coating is never coming off- it gives the table its character! Sure, we had to replace the aging map once, and my family has moved, but this kitchen table was sure to find its way in my parents’ current home. Whenever a few of us are gathered around this, it always turns into either a geography lesson or a story about someone’s American Adventure.

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Guests always loved looking at our table. Of course, the first place everyone has to locate is where they call home- which, for many of our guests, has been good old Southern Oregon. People love pointing out their birth town, places they have lived, interesting places they’ve visited, and where their family is from.

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I’ve always appreciated the detail of such a large map as it makes it easy to figure out where exactly my friends and relatives live. Many of my relatives live in Southern California, and I’ve been able to locate every single city they live in! When planning family visits, we often used our finger to trace our route down the I-5. When my parents, sister, and I travel separate from each other, we often gather around this table afterwards and trace out everywhere we went. It’s not quite like joining them on the trip, but it gives the rest of us a more realistic perspective of what the trip was actually like! While living in the Midwest, I would come back for Christmas break and enjoy pointing out the trips I took, especially my long solo road trip between Nebraska and Ohio.

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Nowadays, one of my favorite routes I like to trace on this map is the bus trip I took across the country. I remember while on that trip, probably somewhere in Wyoming, another bus passenger stated that she wished she and her family knew American geography better. I immediately thought of this and told her all about how my family sealed a map on the kitchen table when I was growing up. She was interested in the idea, as many of our guests have been, and I recalled all the fun memories that took place seated at this table. Who would have guessed that, of all things, I would be looking forward to once again seeing the map on the kitchen table?

Free Substitutions for Everyday Expenses

What would you rather spend your money on: a super-amazing trip of a lifetime, or day-to-day costs? Of course you want to be able to live well, but when you’re saving for a trip or other big goal, you may realize that you’re spending money on things that you don’t need to spend money on. But going on a spending freeze does not mean you have to stop enjoying the things you love. It just means you have to go about things differently. Here are twenty-one expenses that many people have, along with some cost-free substitutions.

Instead of paying for network television… many channels upload some of their popular shows onto their website or onto the free version of Hulu. ABC, CBS, and A&E are just some of the channels whose websites you can visit for free shows. Yes, this does mean watching on your computer, but if you really want to watch on a bigger screen, you can consider a one-time cost of buying a cord that will display your computer screen on your television. If your favorite show is not offered online, see if a friend who has that channel would be willing to host a weekly screening night.

Instead of going out to dinner… enjoy time together by cooking a meal at home. Begin by looking up a recipe (for free online, of course) for a dish you’ve never made or tasted before. If you don’t have the ingredients at home, make shopping at the grocery store part of your dinner date! This can be your opportunity to try out crazy cooking methods and use your finest dinnerware. You can even make it formal by busting out the cocktail dress or suit and tie! I realize that technically, this still costs money as you’re buying the ingredients, but you need to eat anyway, right? As long as you’re not purchasing new cookware or exotic foods, this memorable night in can cost just as much as any other meal you cook at home.

A former roommate and I spent an evening shaping and baking pretzels!
A former roommate and I spent an evening shaping and baking pretzels!

Instead of spending money on movies… some production companies have movies available for free online, often available to stream straight from YouTube! There are also dozens of websites dedicated to providing free documentaries to the public. Now this takes care of your movie subscription services, but what about the movie theater experience? If you’re a business owner, ministry leader, or even a blogger, not only can you attend movie screenings for free, but you can see them before they come out. Since getting into the Lifeway Films advanced screenings, I’ve been able to see several free movies over the past few years in the best theaters in town!

Instead of buying books… the obvious recommendation would be the library, but I realize that it is not a viable resource to everyone. Even if you do have a local library, it may not have the kind of selection you want. Many communities have some sort of book exchange, which could be anything from a mailbox on the sidewalk, to a bookshelf in a store, to a whole building filled with free books! Sure, you may have to give up some books, but in return you can get an entire selection of new books! If your area doesn’t have a book exchange, consider starting one up! A great way to get brand-new books is to enter contests, often sponsored by either the author or the publisher. Even if there are no advertised contests, a nice fan letter sent to the author may be returned by free books- possibly autographed!

Instead of shopping online Craigslist, eBay, and other online stores… you can look for a local free group on Facebook. This has a similar philosophy to the Freecycle website, but because it’s on a regularly-accessed social network, it tends to be better utilized. Once you join your local group, all you have to do is either post what you’re looking for, or post something that you want to give away. Your neighbors will then be able to help you out in your endeavor. In addition to this, never underestimate the good old-fashioned method of telling your friends what you’re free-shopping for!

When I was moving, someone on a local Facebook group was fortunate enough to take this custom-made bed out of my hands for free!
When I was moving, someone on a local Facebook group was fortunate enough to take this custom-made bed out of my hands for free!

Instead of purchasing clothing… you can try trading with friends. Of course, this only works if your friends have similar size and style. You can also take up sewing and upcycle your current threads. You can prolong the life of your clothes by patching up holes, or you can give your wardrobe a complete makeover and turn one item of clothing into something else entirely. If you get creative, you can turn a t-shirt into a skirt, or a skirt into a scarf!

I upcycled twelve camp t-shirts into a no-sew blanket!
I upcycled twelve camp t-shirts into a no-sew blanket!

Instead of buying school books… share with a friend who is also taking the class, or borrow from someone who took the same class the previous semester. If you don’t have these kinds of connections, many school libraries, and sometimes local public libraries, carry the current school books and allow students to borrow them for a short time as needed. If you can, contact the instructor before the class starts and ask what books are actually required. (Sometimes what the school thinks is read and what the instructor actually assigns can be different.) All the above options typically only work for books that are not read on a daily basis. You probably will have to buy some books, so find them used for as cheap as you can online, and after your class ends you can sell them directly to another student for almost the same amount that you bought it for. Even though it requires putting a little money down, many students find that this method will help them break even in the end.

Instead of purchasing souvenirs… take lots of pictures. Go geocaching and trade for an item that will remind you of the area. Keep a travel journal. Collect your ticket stubs, itineraries, and brochures. Find rocks, shells, or other natural objects and label where you found them (make sure this is legal before taking them). The souvenirs you want to buy are likely made overseas and simply stamped with your destination’s name. Another bonus of free mementos is that they often better represent your vacation spot.

The only "souvenirs" my friends and I have from this hike are the photos we took and the trinkets we traded in the geocaches.
The only “souvenirs” my friends and I have from this hike are the photos we took and the trinkets we traded in the geocaches.

Instead of giving pricey gifts… find a way to spend time instead of money. Newlyweds may need a house- or pet-sitter while they’re on their honeymoon. First-time parents often need help catching up on housework and yard work, or getting the nursery ready. Not-first-time parents may be looking for babysitting for their older kids or meal preparation. You could also get crafty and make a unique, quality gift out of items you already own. Used gifts are sometimes okay as long as it’s a gift from the heart, such as an antique family heirloom being passed down. Just make sure that your free gifts don’t come across as stingy or unwanted. In some cases it is better to buy a (couponed, on-sale) gift for a dear friend than hoarding away a few extra bucks.

Instead of paying for a pet… pet-sit for your friends and neighbors and you could get paid to snuggle with a furry friend! You can also get your animal fix by volunteering at, or even just visiting, an animal shelter. You could also volunteer or work as a farmhand and be exposed to a variety of creatures! Remember that a pet does not typically fit into a traveler’s lifestyle. You either have to hope to find pet-friendly lodging and camps and pay the extra pet fee, or pay for a kennel or pet-sitter back home. This is a huge expense in addition to the regular expenses of food, immunizations, etc.

Not having pets didn't stop me from playing with my Nebraska neighbor's puppy!
Not having pets didn’t stop me from playing with my Nebraska neighbor’s puppy!

Instead of buying paper products… use reusable! Many people already have plenty of towels and other paper product replacements already in their homes, but even if you don’t have enough cloth towels to replace paper towels, you probably have enough material to make your own. Bandannas can make festive napkins. Old t-shirts can be cut to any size of rectangle for whatever you repurpose them as. Even old socks are great for scrubbing and wiping down when cleaning. If you don’t feel like washing rags, use a small piece of salvaged cloth for the task and then throw it away.

Instead of purchasing periodicals… think about why you’re really reading it. If you only buy magazines to read one or two certain sections, search for those topics on Pinterest and you’ll get thousands of pins linking to articles on that topic. Remember that lots of magazines publish their most popular articles online for free. As for the newspaper, I’m not sure why they’re even still in print, but you can find all that news online and immediately after it happens. If you want something you can hold in your hands, there are free subscriptions, or at least trial issues, to many magazines. They’re getting rare, but they’re still out there! Finally, utilize free magazine racks, check out magazines at the library, and trade magazines with friends. As long as it’s your first time reading it, who cares if the magazine is several months old?

Instead of paying to exercise… work out at home and on the road. If you are traveling and there is no price difference between an accommodation with a pool or workout room and an accommodation that doesn’t offer any workout equipment, choose the place where you can be more active. As long as you have decent walking or running shoes, you can turn any place into a gym. Motivate yourself to exercise more at home by doing small, vigorous tasks such as unloading groceries, walking to the mailbox, or vacuuming. Also, there are many workout videos available for free online streaming. Some may recommend simple exercise equipment, but you can replace a yoga mat with a towel and use water bottles filled with rocks instead of weights.

You can save money on exercise AND transportation if you decide to walk EVERYWHERE like I did on my Niagara Falls trip.
You can save money on exercise AND transportation if you decide to walk EVERYWHERE like I did on my Niagara Falls trip.

Instead of buying shipping material… save the packaging from items shipped to you, cover your address with a new label, and ship it out! If your shipment requires cushioning, you can use already-used wrapping paper, the contents from a paper shredder, or any other needs-to-be-recycled paper from around the house. Oh, and you can also save the bubble wrap that gets sent to you for later use. You can even place fragile items in the center of the package and surround it with other softer, non-fragile items. If you plan to ship through Priority Mail at the US Post Office, don’t even bother trying to find packaging. All post offices provide Priority Mail boxes, envelopes, tape, and address labels for free. Whenever you have to mail just a small envelope, consider if you could send the information online instead. If you’re careful about your shipments, you can get away with only spending money on stamps!

Instead of buying video games and gaming devices… I’m not entirely sure why the gaming industry is so big when there are so many games you can play for free. If you have a smart phone, you’re probably already aware that you can download free gaming apps. There are also many free online gaming sites with many different genres. And a bonus to parents and students: there are a ton of fun, free games that are also educational! But, in my opinion, video games will never be as fun as traditional board games. You probably have a few hiding in the back of your closet; why not pull them out and play a few rounds?

Instead of paying for a hotel room… don’t do it! I understand the merit behind hotels and motels, but I believe that they are used far more than they need to be. Read my article on ten alternatives to hotels. All of them are cheaper than a hotel, and several of the suggestions are absolutely free!

Lounging in a lodge... that we stayed a night in FOR FREE!
Lounging in a lodge… that we stayed a night in FOR FREE!

Instead of an expensive friends’ night on the town… enjoy a night in! Have a potluck (depending on what dish you make, you could actually spend less than you would for your own personal dinner), and spend the night watching movies, playing games, or simply catching up. If you volunteer to host a night like this, your friends will probably realize that they can also host low-key, low-cost get-together at their house. There will be fewer pricey nights in town and more times celebrating friendship in the comforts of each other’s homes.

Instead of spending money on music… many cities of decent size will have free concerts going on at least a few times per month. These may be small, one-man shows inside coffee shops, but this could be great as you’ll really get to know the artist. For in-home entertainment, Amazon often offers free downloads, and up-and-coming artists will give some songs away on their website to get people interested in their music. Of course, if you don’t care about owning music, you have plenty of options for listening to music, such as YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and, of course, the traditional radio.

A few years ago, I bummed a ride with friends to South Dakota to attend Lifelight, a huge, FREE music festival!
A few years ago, I bummed a ride with friends to South Dakota to attend Lifelight, a huge, FREE music festival!

Instead of buying snack foods… go foraging! First study up on different types of edible plants that are native in your area, and which ones can be poisonous if ingested. Then go into the forest or perhaps even your backyard or another area that doesn’t get sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Some leaves can be used as spices or to make herbal tea, and there are plenty of other nuts, flowers, grasses, fruits, and roots to enjoy. Foraging may not fill an empty belly, but it will give you a greater appreciation for food and hopefully these wild, organic options will lessen your consumption of junk food!

Instead of spending money on sporting events… watch the kids! In most communities, sporting events for children in middle school and under are free to attend. Even if you don’t have any kids in sports, this is an easy, free way to show your support in the community. Check with the local schools and Little League for game times. You could also check with community clubs, churches, and other organizations that may play intramural sports and ask if you can come watch a game. Local games can be just as interesting as the big leagues. If you’re set on seeing the professionals play and you don’t get any free sports channels, you can stream some games online.

Even some college games are free! When Penn State Men's Volleyball came to challenge Ohio State, it didn't cost me anything to cheer on my cousin!
Even some college games are free! When Penn State Men’s Volleyball came to challenge Ohio State, it didn’t cost me anything to cheer on my cousin!

Instead of paying a monthly phone bill… make phone calls using Google Voice. If you’re in the United States, you can call for free to any other phone number in the United States. However, there are some caveats. First of all, you need to be connected to the internet, which usually isn’t a problem with the prevalent free WiFi and the fact that so many people use data plans. The worst part is that you cannot provide a number for people to call you, and you cannot leave voicemail. But since Google Voice will take care of most of your outgoing calls, consider getting a cheap pay-as-you-go phone for when you need to receive calls and leave messages. You can get a Tracfone for as little as $10 (they even have smart phones for a slightly higher price), and all of their phones come with at least 10 free minutes upon activation. If you prefer texting, there are many websites that will allow you to text over their website, and will even provide recipients with a temporary number for them to text you back.

What swaps have you made to save money for your adventures?