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How To Save For Travel

This is probably the number one question I get from inquiring minds. Travel is not always cheap, so how do I afford to do it so much?

The first and most important answer is that I am lucky enough to have a well-paying job that gives me a decent amount of disposable income. I feel that’s important to mention in any discussion about saving for travel. I hate the disingenuous articles from writers who make it seem like saving for travel should be easy for everyone. That’s not always true since people have a variety of incomes and financial responsibilities.

But if you do have some disposable income and you’re wanting to know how to cultivate a travel fund, I’ve got a few tips.

Calculate. Before you can figure out how to save, you have to figure out how you spend. I suggest using a worksheet like this one to figure out exactly how you’re spending your income each month. From there, you can easily see where your disposable income is going, and where you could make some cuts. For me, spending money is like snacking: I had no idea how much I was doing it until I took the time to write it down over the course of several weeks.

Make saving easy. I would never put money aside for travel if I left it up to my already over-extended brain to remember to do. So I’ve set up a number of automatic savings plans that do it for me. I use Capital One 360’s automatic savings plans, which I’ve set up to pull specified dollar amounts from my checking account once a month. I actually have two travel-specific accounts: one for my future “round the world trip” that I don’t touch, and a second “vacation” fund for spending money when I’m on a trip (I just transfer however much I think I’ll need to my checking account a few days prior to a trip).

There are also several apps that allow you to both track your spending and set up automatic savings. I use Digit, which withdraws a few dollars from your bank account every few days, in amounts you can afford (which it calculates based on your balance and spending habits), and puts them into a savings account that you can access any time, with no fee. They have a no-overdraft guarantee, too. Another similar app that I’ve heard of but not personally used is Acorns.

You can also make travel easier on your wallet by earning miles and points through the use of travel rewards credit cards. I always put my flights and lodging on my travel credit card and pay it off the next month, so I can rack up miles, but that topic deserves a post by itself, which I’ll be doing soon.

Consistency is key. The best way to  build your travel savings is to be consistent in adding to it. It might take a while to build up, but you’d be surprised how much money will be in there if you regularly contribute to it over the course of a few years. Even if you contribute just $100 a month, that’s $2400 in two years; enough for two plane tickets to pretty much any destination in the world. Even if you can only put small amounts aside, it’s better than nothing! The key is to actively contribute to it, in whatever amounts and on whatever schedule works for you. Your travel plant won’t grow unless you water it (or some other analogy that is better than that).

Make small adjustments. Saving for travel is different than, say, saving for retirement. For the latter, you’d need to focus big picture on things like tax consequences and investment strategies and diversifying your savings in different types of accounts. Saving for travel, in my experience, comes down to making small adjustments of your daily routine.

Example: I used to buy coffee every day, which worked out to about $4-$6 a day, depending on how #basicwhitegirl I was being that morning. But let’s call it an even $5. That’s $35 a week; $140 a month; or $1,680 A YEAR. For coffee. FOR COFFEE. That amount is more than what I spent on a 12 day trip to Turkey. I started making coffee at home and began putting that money into my travel savings.

And that’s just coffee. I used to buy my lunch almost every day, which cost anywhere from $8-$10 per lunch. That’s about $200 a month, or $2,400 a year. $2,400! A year! For a mediocre lunch that’s not as good as something I could make myself. Start bringing your lunch to work if you don’t already, even just 3 or 4 days a week, and that’s probably around $1,500 you can put into a travel fund.

I don’t know your personal spending habits so I can’t give you specific advice, but I’m positive everyone could look at their spending habits and find a place you could stand to make a cut and devote that money to a travel account.

Prioritize. At the end of the day, it all comes down to priorities. You can save for travel if you prioritize it over other things. That’s what I do. Tax refund and birthday or Christmas money? Straight into the travel account. Shopping? Of course I shop, but I go to places like H&M, TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, or the occasional thrift store, instead of blowing money on costly clothing. Expensive car, designer jewelry, eating out all the time? Nope.

I’ve determined that these things are not very important to me. I’m more interested in collecting experiences, not stuff. The first thing you have to do if you want to save for travel  is to decide it’s a priority and, to quote Captain Picard, Make It So. That means making sacrifices elsewhere in your life, like saying goodbye to your basic bitch coffee habit or committing to cooking meals at home more often.

If you have any specific questions for me, please feel free to ask me directly or in the comments!

 

Let's Travel Travel Tips

Beauty Routine, Light

Figuring how to carry your hair and makeup routine with you when you travel is a challenge. If you’re used to doing a little bit of primping at home, traveling without any beauty products and heading out into the world with undone hair and no make-up isn’t fun; trivial as it may seem, you won’t feel like yourself. But packing your entire bathroom isn’t a good use of space in your suitcase, either.

I don’t always pack super light; if I’m not doing a lot of moving around, I’ll bring more of my products, whereas if I’m visiting several different cities or countries and will have to maneuver planes, trains, and cars, I’ll pack more sparsely. I’ve managed to find a good middle ground between packing my entire beauty routine and packing nothing and having to sport frizzy hair and under-eye circles in every picture.

Make-up

For figuring out what make-up to bring, I go by what I’ve dubbed my “3 minute face” rule. If I only had 3 minutes to do my make-up, what would I put on, and what would I skip? Bring only the products you’d feel compelled to use in that 3 minutes. This alone will whittle your makeup pieces down to a handful.

I also bring combination products when I can. I have an eyeliner/mascara combo, a cheek/lip tint, as well as a tinted moisturizer that has SPF30 in it so it acts as my sunscreen. Add my powder, brow pencil and one bold lip color for nights out, and my entire makeup bag has only 6 products in it and I can get my makeup done in the time it takes for a cup of coffee to brew.

Hair

I admit that I’m lucky in this department because I have curly hair, so I can get by with fewer products and hair tools than those who have to either blow dry and straighten or curl their hair. One thing I recommend for all is both dry shampoo and sea salt spray. The dry shampoo will allow you to stretch your hairstyle a couple extra days, and the sea salt spray is great for keeping frizz at bay and giving some light wave to your hair.

I typically don’t recommend taking a hair dryer. Even small travel ones take up a lot of space and if you’re traveling overseas, you’ll need to bring an adapter. Either book a hotel or AirBNB that has a hair dryer, or embrace the air-dry. If you absolutely need a heat styling tool because your hair doesn’t air dry too well, get a small cordless travel curling iron or straightener that won’t take up space or require you to use an adapter.

Which leads me to my next hair tip: get creative! Learn how to do a side braid, messy bun, and fun ponytail. Sleep in double braids or a bun to give your hair waves. Bring extra hair ties, bobby pins, and a couple of cute barrettes with you. I pretty much live in a top-knot or ponytail when I travel.

Think Mini

Go buy yourself a set of travel-sized toiletry bottles, like this one here. Put all your hair, face, and body products into these bottles and call it a day. The small pack it comes in will take up very little space in your suitcase or carry on. Take a small version of a paddle brush instead of your normal brush, or even better, bring a small comb with you, which takes up less space and works just fine in a pinch.

Jewelry

If you must bring jewelry, don’t bring anything expensive, and stick with 3 or 4 pieces that go with everything – a simple necklace, stud earrings, a watch, and a ring. I pack mine in a small velvet bag that I keep in my purse or carry on.

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Travel Resolutions Worth Keeping

I don’t much care for “New Year’s Resolutions.” Mine have pretty much been the same for the last few years: travel when possible, lose 10 pounds, try to be less bitchy. I typically only accomplish one of these – I’ll let you guess which one.

For 2016 though, I wanted to come up with some travel-related resolutions, since those seem to be the ones I actually have a chance of accomplishing. If you’re someone looking to either travel more in 2016 or make your travel experiences better, here are a few ideas….

Save Save Save

People often ask how I afford to travel a lot. The obvious answer is that I have a really good job where I make decent money. What people aren’t necessarily aware of is that I put most of my disposable income into a travel fund. I shop some because that is a weakness of mine and a girl’s gotta have cute outfits, but in between that, I am saving for travel. I hardly eat out unless it’s for special occasions. I bring breakfast and lunch to work. I buy stuff on sale. I don’t spend my tax refund, but put it into my travel savings. Traveling is a priority, so I behave accordingly. So if you’re looking to travel more, try opening a separate checking account specifically for travel funds. Even if you can only put $50 a month in it, that’s a whole day’s worth of meals or even a night’s stay at a hotel in some places. You’ll be surprised how quickly it can add up.

Travel Outside the Box

I love going to all the famous places in the world. London, Paris, Rome….these places are beautiful and worth returning to again and again. But there’s a huge world out there, and a ton of amazing experiences waiting for you if you open your mind a bit. Next year, try going somewhere different. Somewhere that will challenge you and represent something wholly new, and maybe even a tad scary. Maybe that means a trip to Tokyo instead of Rome, or Oregon instead of California, where you’ve already been 4 times. Whatever would be new and foreign to you, do it. Do it instead of defaulting to the same travel plans you always make. Make 2016 the year of true exploration of the unknown.

Use All Your Vacation Time

I’ve discussed in a previous post the need for Americans to take more paid time off if they’re lucky enough to have it. I won’t rehash the compelling arguments for that here, but it’s worth repeating: get the hell out of dodge every minute that you can. Even if you can’t actually go anywhere, have a little Staycation and explore the unknown in your own city (I promise you there’s plenty for you to see). When the clock hits 12:01am on January 1st, 2017, resolve to have no vacation time remaining.

Let Go Of Prior Bad Travel Experiences

No one has had a worse travel experience than me falling and obliterating my leg in the middle of nowhere, Ecuador. I feel confident saying that. But I’m sure we’ve all had bad travel experiences – food poisoning in Thailand, getting the flu in the Dominican Republic, having morning sickness so bad that you can’t leave your hotel room during your trip to Europe. Let that shit go. It might be hard or easy depending on the severity of your experience (I have some PTSD from my accident and the difficult, ongoing recovery, and am still trying to work through it), but try not to let it sour you from travel altogether. The truth is that bad stuff can happen whether you’re 3 miles from home or 3,000 miles from home. We simply can’t control much of what happens to us, regardless of whether we are in familiar or strange surroundings. I broke my leg during a routine, not even difficult, hike. I took one wrong step and boom, disaster. Since my accident, I’ve actually heard probably 50 stories from friends about people getting sick or injured while traveling. But don’t let that stuff control where your feet take you. Go into new travel experiences without a grudge and leave the weight of that bad experience at home.

Click Less, Look More

I am probably more guilty of taking too many photographs than anyone. I’m hardly ever without either my camera or my phone, ready to snap a picture at a moment’s notice, and I’ve been known to spend 10 minutes trying to get one good shot. There’s nothing wrong with taking lots of photos, especially if you’re into photography, and of course you want to document your trip. But every now and again, try to make sure you’re seeing things directly with your own two eyes instead of through a camera lens. It’s ok if you miss the chance to capture a moment with your camera. You captured it in your mind, and sometimes that’s even better.

Think For Yourself

When you’re on a trip, there will be no shortage of advice from people and guidebooks about things you “absolutely must do” while there. Feel free to ignore some or all of this advice. If you hate museums, don’t spend 2 days going to museums because you’re “supposed” to do so in that particular place. It’s perfectly fine to skip seeing that castle or that temple and instead go shopping at a street market or sit in a cafe and people watch. Or to march right up to that “tourist attraction” and wait for hours to see it even if someone tells you to skip it. Travel is not a one-size-fits-all thing. Make your trip something that excites you, moves you, fills you with joy. The last thing you want is to get back from a trip and realize you took someone else’s vacation.

 

Happy Traveling, and Happy New Year!

Love, Jayne

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Destination Venice: A Guide to Italy’s Floating City, by Luna Bloom

This article is courtesy of my best friend and Italian soul sister Luna Bloom. If anyone knows Italy, she does!

Venice is one of those unique places in the world—there really is nothing like it, and while it’s not necessarily for everyone, for many it has a certain melancholy beauty that captivates.  I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Venice many times over the years, and every time I go back I’m reminded of its special-something that makes it a great destination, even if just for a couple of days.  Summer is the busiest, and it can be very hot and humid in this part of Italy in July and August.  In the winter you run the risk of some flooding (aqua alta).  It’s actually interesting to see how people live through it but makes things more challenging.  It can also be quite cold in the dead of winter, especially when the humidity is high, which it often is.  Nonetheless, you will find the city can be almost empty outside of the peak summer season or around Carnival, and there is something really special about seeing it without masses of visitors—consider visiting in mid-or-late fall or even early spring to find great prices, few people, and Venice at its best.

There’s so much to see in Venice, but the best part is really just wandering around and getting a little lost (away from St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge, both of which are almost always mobbed with tourists).  While you’re wandering, here are a few recommendations:

Bar Rialto da Lollo: This is the best sandwich joint in….well, maybe the whole world.  It’s right off the Rialto Bridge, and you can get a quick coffee, beverage, aperitif, or panino made to order—it is very reasonably priced, especially considering the location.  The tramezzini (little triangle white bread sandwiches with no crust that will typically be pre-made) are easy to grab-and-go and are super yummy.  The bigger panini (which is Italian for sandwich…and doesn’t necessarily involve a press or toasting) cannot be missed.  There’s one with fig and gorgonzola that I had this summer and am still dreaming about.  The sandwich menu is on the side of the soda cooler, and you can take a quick seat to eat it or take it with you.

Going back to the aperitif, be sure to try a “spritz”—it’s a prosecco-based aperitif.  Super refreshing, it is a Veneto original that is now a staple of Italian bar culture; you’ll notice everyone drinking bright orange drinks in big wine glasses—that’s a spritz.  Usually, if you get one before dinner time (Italians eat late, so aperitif hour is at about 6pm), there will be snack foods at the bar they’ll serve with it—sometimes simple things like chips, but sometimes olives or little pizza slices.   (If you find you don’t like the taste of the orange Aperol that’s added to the spritz, you can give a “spritz bianco” a try.)

On coffee drinks in bars (the “bar” in Italy is really a coffee shop where you can get any refreshment you’d like):  “caffé” really means espresso.  Italians drink it really concentrated so if you want it a little more watered you can order a “caffé lungo”—if you want a touch of milk you can order a “caffé macchiato” and if you want a little cold cream for your espresso, you can order a “caffé macchiato freddo.” If you want more American style coffee, you might find a place that has a “café Americano” or “café tedesco” (German-style coffee).  In the mornings you will often see Italians drinking their morning cappuccino with a croissant—those are usually called “briosche” and my favorite is the “briosche alla marmelata,” which has apricot jam filling.

Keeping on the topic of food, be sure to try the Cantina Do Spade—it’s one of the oldest cantinas in Venice (if not the oldest) and is tucked away down a little alley behind the fish market (also not far from the Rialto Bridge).  Here you can have some of the best “cichetti,” which is like Venitian tapas (but don’t call them tapas to a Venetian).  The fried stuffed olives are soooo delicious, and are probably my favorite.  You can sit and have a “piatto misto” of the various snack foods they have there.  To save on the cover charge for sitting at a table, you can also get the finger foods to go—usually they’ll come in a paper cone for easy snacking while you walk around.  Once you’ve seen the place, you’ll soon spot similar ones (often called a “rosticceria” or “cantina”) all over the city and usually it’s a safe bet for a quick bite of food.  (A note about Italian pronunciation:  c with a vowel makes a “ch” sound; ch makes a “k” sound; and gn is like the Spanish ñ.  So “cicchetti” is pronounced “chickehti”.  Bruschetta is “bruskehttah.”)

If you aren’t planning on coughing up 80+ euro for a gondola ride (or even if you are), do like the locals and take the gondola ferry (traghetto) across the canale grande—it costs a couple of euro, and the main one will take you right near the fish market.  The ferry has  been around for a long time.  It’s an easy way to cross the canal when you’re not wanting to deal with the Rialto (which is always packed) and the other two bridges aren’t close (Ponte degli Scalzi (bridge of the barefoot), which is near the train station, and Ponte del Academia (named after the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia), which is the wooden one at the other end of the canal, closer to St. Marks).

A note about the Rialto Bridge–it has been undergoing restoration since this spring, so unfortunately, there isn’t much to see of it currently.  I’m not sure when it’s supposed to be completed, but Italians are not known for their efficiency.  Regardless, it’s typical for some site or another to be under restoration in the city—it’s been in continuous use since the 7th century AD so it takes some effort to maintain its treasures!

Going back to the fish market, there’s a fruit and veggie market right next to it, and is a great spot to get some fresh fruit in the morning for breakfast or to snack on throughout the day—there’s a water fountain along the side that’s furthest from the fish market, and you can wash all your fruit there.

Speaking of fountains, bring a reusable water bottle—there are fountains all over the place throughout Venice and the water is excellent!

Take a free walking tour—these are just as good at the ones you will pay 40-50 euro for, and are by donation to the guide.  There’s a couple of groups that run these free tours, and I think they’re all pretty similar so it’s more about which times you’d prefer.  Google will help you find one, but here are two: http://freetourvenice.com/ and http://venicefreewalkingtour.com/

It will cost you 8 euro to go up the clock tower in St. Mark’s.  It’s worth the view of the lagoon, and though the line will probably be long, it moves fast.

If you like rooftop views, you could also take a pop over to Giudecca (the skinny island right across from Venice) for a drink at the Skyline Bar.  I haven’t been, but I’ve heard it’s pretty nice:

On the topic of jetting around the lagoon–don’t miss out on some of the surrounding islands.  You can do three in one day: head to Murano first in the morning, and then from there to Burano and Torcello—if you’re lucky, you’ll catch the sunset on the way back to Venice, which is beautiful from the water…it will take at least 40 min to get back to Venice from Burano or Torcello):

  • Murano: This is where the Venetian glassblowers live, and it’s just a quick 15 min ferry ride from Venice.  The island itself isn’t very beautiful, but it’s worth a little wander to see some of the glass sculptures that are around.  The can’t-miss part is watching the master glassblowers at work.  Many of the workshops give public demonstrations.  You’ll see signs that say “fornace” and these are usually open to visitors if they are open (they are ALL closed on Sunday, and they are more active/likely to be open and working in the morning).  If you can find it, near the Colonna ferry stop is the V.I.A. fornace where Maestro Imperio Rossi works; it’s a good one to check out.  Regardless of where you go, beware that there may be a pitch after the demonstration, and they will drive a hard sell.  (Also, avoid the guys in Venice that will try to sell you on a “free trip to Murano/free glass demonstration”—they’re looking to make commission on a sale and won’t really offer anything special that you can’t find on your own.)  There’s a museum on the island that you may find interesting as well as a church.
  • Burano: known for the colorful houses, handmade lace and the buranei cookies, this island is so quaint and cute you’ll want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to wander around.  It’s a small island but it’s huge on character—I would make a trip to Burano over Murano if you are short on time.
  • Torcello: Right next to Burano, and home of the original Cipriani, there’s not a ton to see here but it’s a quick hop from Burano, has a beautiful little church, and Attila’s throne.  Save Torcello for last: if you’re really tired by the time you’re done in Burano, you can skip it.  If you’re looking for a splugy dinner, you may want to see about making a reservation at Cipriani before you leave.

I think it’s worth it to get the 7-day vaporetto (ferry) pass.  You can ride it as much as you want, which is handy getting around the island when you’re tired of being on your feet, or you want to pop over to another island, or go down the grand canal by water.  It should be about 60 euro, but a one way is 7.50, so if you use it more than 10 times  then it’s worth it (just to do the day trip to the outside islands you’ll use 4).  You also have the option of the water taxis, but they are a little pricey. You can get the pass at the train station when you get in, and can find information on it here.

Finally, be sure to check whether you’ll be going during a Biennale year!!  This is a bi-annual modern art exhibition with lots of events that’s worth a trip!

 

Let's Travel Travel Tips

Traveling Tunes: A Playlist

Listening to music when I’m traveling is a must, especially when I’m on planes, trains, or buses, or wandering around a new city. Sure it’s good to unplug every now and again, but music evokes wonder and emotion just about as well as anything else. It’s also essential on road trips – in fact I’m pretty sure that’s in the Constitution somewhere (if not, that’s my future political platform).

I’ve made a playlist of what I think are required travel songs. I’ll keep updating and/or changing it out as time goes on. But give it a listen, and let me know what your must-have travel songs are so I can add them!

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Understanding International Layovers

One of the most frequent questions I get from friends and family when they’re planning a trip or when I’m helping them plan a trip is “Will I have to go through customs when I have my layover at [x international airport]?”

The answer to that question can be simple or complicated, and will depend on where you’re going.  Most of us know the ropes for domestic travel within our home country, but traveling internationally can occasionally be tricky to understand. I’ll try to break down the general rules as best I can, with the caveat that I do not know the particular rules of every single airline, airport, or country, so you’ll need to double check for your particular travel plans.

First and foremost, let’s clear up the often misunderstood issue of customs vs. immigration.  People tend to conflate these two processes, and while sometimes you go through each successively, they are different.  “Customs” controls what is entering a country (goods, including money), while immigration controls who is entering a country. The easiest way to remember it is that customs = things, immigration = the people carrying those things.

Now that we’ve cleared that issue up, here are the important things to remember with international layovers.

Boarding Passes 

Assuming that you booked both legs of your flight on one ticket, you should receive both boarding passes when you check in at your departing airport. If you booked through a site like Expedia, however, you may be flying different airlines for each leg of your flight, in which case you’ll need to collect a new boarding pass for your second flight during your layover.

Luggage

As for what happens with your luggage, this will depend on the country to which you’re traveling.

If you’re flying into the U.S. or Canada for a layover from an international destination (for example: you’re returning from Europe and you have a layover in Charlotte before heading back to Dallas), you have to pick up your luggage at your layover, regardless of where you are heading on the second leg of your trip; this is because the U.S. and Canada require both a customs and an immigration check on your first stop in the country. So, you’ll have to go through immigration (passport control), collect your luggage, then go through customs, and re-check your bag to your next destination. If you’re thinking that’s a huge pain in the ass, you’re correct.

In most other countries, as long as both of your flights are on the same airline or partner airlines, your luggage will get transferred from the first to the second flight for you. Again, though; if you booked through a site like Expedia that has you on different airlines for each leg of your trip, you’ll have to collect your luggage and re-check it.

Security

For most domestic travel, you generally don’t have to go through a second security line during your layover, though some airports have separate security checkpoints for each terminal, so you may have to go through it again if your connecting flight leaves out of a different terminal than the one in which you arrive.

For international layovers, even those where there is a “transit area” for passengers catching connecting flights, you will most likely have to go through security again. Some airports in other countries have security checks for individual gates or a small group of gates in one terminal, so depending on your gate, you may have to go through security again, but these lines are typically shorter and move much faster.

Immigration and Customs

Whether you have to go through immigration, customs, or both, really depends on the country and airport and where you’re traveling after your layover.

Just as with your luggage, if you have a layover in the U.S. or Canada, you will have to go through “border control” (meaning both customs and immigration) at the first point of entry into the country, even if your final destination is somewhere else entirely.

For many other countries, whether you have to go through immigration and/or customs will depend on whether you are considered a “transit passenger” – meaning you are not leaving the airport and not staying in that country.

For transit passengers, some airports do not require you to go through immigration or customs since you’re not really “entering the country” in the conventional sense. There may even be signs indicating where transit passengers should go to catch connecting flights, which takes you around immigration and customs.  If you head toward your connecting flight and it directs you to passport control, customs, or both, however, then you know you don’t have a choice. For other airports, they may require you to go through immigration depending on how long your layover is or the location of your arriving and departing gates. Of course, if you have a long layover and plan to leave the airport to explore, you will have to go through immigration and customs.

This gets a little trickier in what’s called the Schengen Zone in Europe. Over half of the countries in Europe are part of the what’s called the Schengen agreement, which sets up border rules for the group as a whole in order to simplify travel between European countries. The effect is that traveling between Schengen countries is considered “domestic,” so you don’t have to go through border control when entering any of the Schengen countries from other Schengen countries.

In some ways, this simplifies things, but it can also get complicated. The United Kingdom is not part of Schengen, and London is a very popular layover destination. So if you’re traveling to Barcelona from New York, with a layover in London, you’ll have to go through immigration and customs in both London and Barcelona. This is why for trips to Europe I always try to do layovers in Schengen countries, to simplify the border control process.

If, however, your layover and final destination are both Schengen countries, it simplifies it. By way of example, let’s say you’re traveling from New York to Rome, with a layover in Paris. Both France and Italy are part of the Schengen zone, so travel between the two is considered “domestic.” Paris would be your first international stop, so you would go through immigration there, and not have to do it in Rome. Your bags would be waiting for you in Rome, and you will go through customs (i.e. bag check) there, though it is usually barely a walk through, if that, since your flight is technically “domestic.”

It gets a little trickier if you have two layovers, though. Let’s say you are traveling to Cape Town, South Africa, and you have two layovers – the first in Frankfurt, and the second in Rome. You would have to go through immigration in Frankfurt, since your next leg (Frankfurt to Rome) is considered domestic and the domestic and international terminals are different, and when you exit the international terminal, you’re technically entering Germany, even though you’re not leaving the airport. So you would go through immigration in Frankfurt, but would not have to do so in Rome.  However, since Cape Town is not part of Schengen, you would have to go through border control (both immigration and customs) in South Africa upon your arrival.

Exhausted yet? Me too. It can definitely get tricky when you have multiple layovers in multiple parts of the world. If you’re not sure, however, just ask the airline before your flight. Or you can always ask me and I can look into it for you!

I do have two very simple rules for traveling that can help ease some of these issues: always take a carry on instead of checking your bag, and always give yourself ample time for layovers. My general rule is no shorter than 1.5 hours, even if it means paying a little extra for a ticket, because there is nothing more frustrating than missing a connection. This way, if there are any surprises or long border control lines, you’ll be fine regardless.

 

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“Hidden” New York

Visiting New York City and living in New York City are two completely different things. I had visited many times before I moved there, but once living there, I realized I’d barely scratched the surface of the best city in the world. Once you move beyond the tourist attractions (which are wonderful in their own right, and shouldn’t be missed), you see an entirely different side of New York that only makes it more charming.  Here are some of my favorite spots that you might miss as a visitor, but you should really make a point to see next time you go.

Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden:

It’s not as popular as the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, but therein lies the charm of this hidden gem on Staten Island. It’s a truly beautiful, sprawling green space with ponds, a variety of trees and flowers, zen gardens, and cultural artifacts amid the mini-museums scattered throughout the grounds. When you’re there, it’s easy to forget you’re on Staten Island or even in New York City. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a concert at the amphitheater. Bonus: you get to enjoy one of the best views in NYC from the Staten Island Ferry.

The Cloisters: The Cloisters 

the cloistersThe Cloisters museum and gardens, located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan, is a branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to art and architecture of medieval Europe. Situated on a hill overlooking the Hudson River, with a its nearby gorgeous park and spectacular views of the George Washington Bridge, the various buildings within The Cloisters – beautiful medieval looking fortresses and chapels disassembled in Europe and brought to the United States – house over 4,000 works of art. Hop on the train and explore this little piece of European history in NYC.

Asian Food in Flushing, Queens:

Dumplings in FlushingMaybe one of NYC’s best kept secrets from tourists, Flushing boasts the best Chinatown in all of NYC – far superior to its Manhattan counterpart.  You can find any Asian food your heart and stomach desires here. So hop on the 7 train, get off at Flushing/Main Street, and prepare yourself for the deliciousness you’re about to consume. To sample a lot of different foods, hit up the Food Court at the New World Mall, which has a variety of authentic Chinese food, from noodles to hot pots. It gets crowded with locals and you have to stalk tables like you’re a Hawk looking for a mouse, but it’s worth it. Then try the Golden Shopping Mall – specifically the dumplings from corner stall Tianjin Dumpling House. This place alone is worth the trip to Flushing.

The High Line:

The HighlineNot really a “secret” from New Yorkers,  but a lot of tourists don’t bother with this spot because they’re busy checking out Central and Riverside Parks. Abandoned train tracks were turned into a winding city park with beautiful green spaces and a backdrop of street art, sculptures, and of course the enchanting NYC skyline. Hop on anywhere along its many entrances off 10th Avenue and take a stroll, have a seat, eat a snack, and enjoy the scenery. It truly embodies the idea of the concrete jungle.

 

The Frying Pan:

Again, not a secret to most the frying panNew Yorkers, but this old lighthouse/sailboat-turned-restaurant and bar next to the West Side Highway is a unique place to grab food or a beer while getting stunning views of Jersey City, Hoboken, and Manhattan, and most visitors don’t even know it’s there.  Grab your beers and climb up to the top for the best seats in the house.

 

 

Vinegar Hill: 

Brooklyn

This small (as in, only a few square blocks) area in Brooklyn is like stepping back in time. Nestled between landmarks of urbanization – a Con Edison plant, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, cobblestone streets and old-fashioned looking storefronts give you a sense of the magic of the New York of Old. John Jackson, a ship builder, had a shipyard at the foot of Hudson Avenue and built houses nearby for his workers, and these historic districts – between Plymouth and Front Streets – are some of Brooklyn’s oldest residential neighborhoods. People refer to Vinegar Hill as a “jewel” of Brooklyn, and I tend to agree.

 

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“Two Sides of Memphis” by D.C. Cutler

Another great guest post by friend and fellow traveler D.C. Cutler!

Several years ago, when I was driving back from Oxford, Mississippi to Fayetteville, Arkansas, I got the sudden urge to stop in Memphis. It was a gorgeous, October afternoon in the “Home of the Blues” and I had a roll of money I hadn’t spent while attending an Ole Miss Football game that morning.

I was heading west on Interstate 40, around the St. Jude Children’s Hospital, when I turned my Explorer off at the exit that takes you to downtown Memphis.

When you visit a city that you’re unfamiliar with, parking is vital. I parked my car on the lower level of an empty parking garage near Poplar Avenue. I didn’t know downtown Memphis, so I had no idea that I had parked blocks away from Beale Street. I had always heard stories about how fun Beale Street was with its live music and barbecue restaurants. I had two hours before the sun would start setting over the Mississippi River and Arkansas horizon, so I rushed down 14th Street to save time.

I crossed over to Front Street that runs slightly along the Riverfront. Suddenly, as I walked past an abandoned building with “For Lease” signs in its unbroken windows, I see a homeless man looking out one of the windows at me. He was African-American and he had the kindest eyes. The window he was peering out of was two stories up and there were shards of glass still outlining the windowpane. I didn’t know what to do; I thought about waving to him, but I dithered. I nodded, put my head down and kept my rushed pace.

The abandoned building was to my left; to my right, on a platform in Memphis Park, a fashion shoot was taking place. With Mud Island and the Hernando de Soto Bridge in the background, a brown haired, tall model was posing in a flowy, ruffled dress. There was a noisy wind machine helping her show off the length of the yellow dress. The photographer and his crew had four studio boom lights and an enormous shade screens; it looked as professional as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot. I could hear the photographer yelling instructions at his crew and the stunning model.

My eyes darted from the surreal photo shoot back to the abandoned building. He was gone. The two things were so drastically dissimilar. I wanted to watch the shoot longer, but the sunlight was fading fast.

When I arrived on Beale Street, almost every restaurant, particularly the barbecue places, had lines out their front doors. There was one barbecue joint that I found down a narrow alleyway. The sound of blues and the appetizing smell coming from the place made me immediately get in line.

The line was really long. I kept looking at my watch and fondling the hundred dollar bill in my pocket that I just wanting to spend on a memorial meal on one of the most famous streets in the world to try barbecue.

Kansas City barbecue fans…I wrote “one of.” Simmer down.

I eventually left the line after twenty minutes. I hadn’t moved an inch and people were cutting in line by the entrance. Apparently, when it comes to barbecue in Memphis, there’s no democracy when it comes to a restaurant line. One of the guys with the group that cut in line looked an awful lot like Rob Zombie. It may’ve been the rocker and filmmaker; I didn’t get a long look. It’s probably likely Zombie’s crew had a reservation.

I walked to Dyer’s, the legendary hamburger restaurant on Beale Street, a place that is often featured on travel and American diner shows. It felt like I stepped back in time when I walked in. The restaurant has a 1950’s diner look with its checkered tiled walls, wooden booths, and steel counter tops.

Oddly, Dyer’s wasn’t crowded for a late-afternoon on Saturday. Dyer’s has been serving burgers in Memphis since 1912. I like any burger place that’ll proudly advertise that they’ve been serving burgers out of the same deep fried grease since the year the Titanic sunk.

I ordered two Dyer’s singles and a mountain of fries. My waiter was really pushing the house chili; so I broke down and I had a bowl. He also told me that they can pour chili on a burger as well; I thought about it for a moment, and politely said, “No thanks.” I had the best pink lemonade I’ve ever tasted in my life there. I ordered another the moment I finished my first glass.

When I was devouring my delicious bowl of chili, I remembered the man back at the abandoned building. I put my spoon down and asked my waiter for a to-go box. I noticed how dark it was getting outside as my waiter boxed up my one remaining burger and a handful of fries.

While walking back to the parking garage, the dimming sun was streaming between the skyscrapers. The photo shoot was over. There was nothing left; not any of the crew or equipment. I peered up at the second floor window of the abandoned building. I didn’t see him. I set my untouched leftovers down on the sidewalk and scanned all of the other shattered windows. I waited for a moment and I picked up the food. I walked a few yards. Then, out of the blue, I had the feeling that someone was staring at me. Without glancing around, I stopped, put the Styrofoam box back down on the payment and walked off. A box of fries and a Dyer’s burger wasn’t much, but I had the sympathetic urge to leave him something.

Driving west, across the de Soto Bridge, I wondered who the man in the window and the model on the Riverwalk were. How did those two people get to where they were that fall afternoon in Memphis?

They represented two very different sides of a city I plan on visiting again.

Let's Travel Travel Tips

Cultural Sensitivity While Traveling

As a frequent traveler, I try to keep in mind the following: “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”

That may seem like an amorphous saying, but I take it to mean this: check your ethnocentrism at the airport.

One of the best – but often strangest – parts of traveling to places very different from where you live is experiencing another culture. It’s not for everyone; some people don’t feel comfortable getting out of what they know, which is not a bad thing, just a personal preference. I often find, though, there are people who want to experience different cultures, but are unprepared for doing so.

Nothing dampens a travel experience like internal or external conflict with the cultural or social norms of the country you’re visiting. The best way to avoid this is to go into a travel experience with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

In general, you can’t expect your own country’s values or ideals to be accepted everywhere you go. When you travel to places that differ substantially from where you call home, you must sometimes leave behind many of your own cultural norms and temporarily accept some new ones. It doesn’t mean you have to go to extremes, but it does mean that you need to be respectful of people and their customs and try to abide by them when necessary.  This might mean not making jokes about being gay, not discussing certain social or political topics, covering your head with a scarf, refraining from engaging in public displays of affection, or not being visibly drunk in public. On top of being culturally sensitive, it can keep you from getting in real trouble, like finding yourself being detained for breaking the law.

Sometimes, we can be inadvertently offensive because we’re simply unaware. There are plenty of social norms or customs that might not be obvious to a visitor that have implications in your interactions with people – certain gestures or words that are considered rude or inappropriate, for example. The best way to prevent accidentally upsetting people is to do your research ahead of time. You can easily find information on local customs online or in guidebooks. Understanding local codes of behavior is an important part of planning for travel. It may be that where you’re going, there’s nothing to know; but in case there is, be a conscientious traveler and check. Not only will it prevent you from offending people, it’ll make your travel experience that much more enjoyable. If you’re acting like a jackass, good luck being able to have pleasant, educational interactions with the people you’re upsetting.

I’ve unfortunately read about travelers being disgruntled with local customs (like covering your head or shoulders at a religious site) and purposely bucking tradition in order to make a point. Don’t do this.  This is unequivocally a dick move. It is not your prerogative as a traveler – a tourist, vacationer, visitor – to take stands against customs or beliefs you find disagreeable, or to balk at cultural norms or traditions because you have ~feelings~ about them. The origins and workings of most customs and government/religious/cultural institutions are far too complex for the casual traveler to understand anyway, so you’re not going to solve any of those perceived issues by being insensitive. This is what I meant when I said to check your ethnocentrism at the airport. Unless it’s your actual job to delve into these matters, be respectful and mindful of your attitudes and actions.

There have been times I’ve been uncomfortable with what I see or hear while traveling. Some places  have customs and attitudes about women that trouble me on many levels. I am human and I have opinions on things like that – I suspect we all do, and by no means am I saying people are not entitled to those opinions. But there is a time and a place to discuss those, and as a visitor to another country, you should prioritize being respectful and culturally sensitive over ignorance or making a point.

This brings me to culturally sensitive photography. I love taking pictures of people and “daily life” when I travel. But don’t be disrespectful about it – either snap photos inconspicuously if you’re trying to snap a picture of people or scenes on the street, or better yet, if you’re wanting a photo of particular people, ask if they mind you taking their picture (you don’t even need to speak the same language to do this, simply smiling and pointing to your camera does the trick). I got a great picture of a couple of people walking their cows across the road in Peru. They smiled and waved for the photo, and in return I gave them some money for their time. It was a small price to pay to have a pleasant interaction with them and in return get myself a great memento of my time in Peru.

In short, don’t be a culturally insensitive jerk when you travel. Be mindful and respectful. It’s the least you can do.

 

 

 

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Planning Your Trip: Part 1

This is Part 1 of a multi-part series about planning a trip, from figuring out your destination to choosing a hotel to exploring.

Deciding Where To Go

The world is a big place, so figuring out where to take a vacation if you don’t already have a place in mind can be daunting.  A lot of friends ask me where I think they should go on vacation, and that’s hard to answer because everybody is different and wants different things out of a trip.

Generally speaking, however, if you’re completely undecided and open, I find it helps to figure out the answers to a few basic questions:

  • When will your trip be?
  • How long will your trip be?
  • How far are you willing to travel?
  • Do you want to limit it to one place, or do you want a multi-destination trip?
  • What is your overall budget? Include flights, transportation and hotel costs, meals, and attractions.
  • Do you want an active/adventure oriented vacation? A relaxing vacation? Or some combination of both?

These are the important questions and can help you narrow down your choices. If you’ve only got a week, traveling to Australia from the United States might not be the best use of your time, for example; if your budget is on the lower side but you’ve got some time, a road trip or choosing your destination based on available flight deals might be a good option. If you’re like me and hate the cold, you’ll want to stay away from Helsinki in December.

You also have to decide whether you want to stick to one place or visit multiple places, because this will affect your budget the most. In Europe specifically, getting from one city or country to the next is decidedly easier because there is a great railway system and very cheap budget airlines, so it may be doable to do two or even three cities in the span of 7-10 days without breaking the bank.

Harness the Power of Social Media

There is no shortage of travel information available on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It takes a few minutes of effort, but try to follow some travel accounts online and read some good blogs. Here is a short list of some of my favorites: Travel + Leisure, Budget Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR Media, National Geographic Travel (and its various off-shoots), Matador Network, Jetset Extra, Nomadic Matt, Landlopers, The Frugal Traveler, and Digital Nomad Andrew Evans of “Where’s Andrew?” fame.

If you search the #travel or #destinations hashtags on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll find a bevy of information. Pinterest is also great for travel inspiration. You’ll probably see places you’ve never even dreamed of going. For me, Instagram is where I get most of my inspiration. I browse the photos and can see what travelers are seeing during their trips. It has given me so many ideas in the past and it’s a simple thing you can do, since most of us are on Instagram and browsing photos on there anyway.

Figure out the Logistics

Do you need a Visa from the country to which you’re traveling? What about vaccinations? Is there a State Department Travel Advisory? Figure this stuff out before you go any further. It can take a while to get Visas to certain countries, so start the process immediately if you decide you want to go to a place that requires one.

Also, now is the time to check your passport if you plan on traveling internationally. The general rule is that your passport must be valid for at least 6 months past the date on which you plan to enter your destination country. I almost got burned by this when I went to Turkey, as my passport expired 6 months and 2 weeks after I planned to enter – too close for my comfort. If you’re not sure of requirements, check the government travel website of your destination; it will have visitor information for entering the country. The US State Department also has some information that might be helpful in answering your questions regarding visas, vaccinations, and any movement limitations within the country.

Do Your Research

Once you have it narrowed down to a few places and you’ve ticked off all the government travel requirements, use your resources to help you decide. Ask friends and family via Facebook if they’ve been to any of the places you’re considering. Use the internet to find out what travelers before you thought of your destinations, as sometimes places are very different than they seem and your expectations might need to be adjusted. Sites like TripAdvisor let you search forums for discussions about cities and activities in those cities, including a ranking of attractions, reviews, words of warning, and must-sees. After reading about your choices, one may stand out as the best, or you may decide that they all sound great and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

The travel sites i listed above also have lots of information from fellow travelers. The travel world is full of information on pretty much any destination you can think of, no matter how remote; travel is a multi-billion dollar industry, after all.  Tap into the hard work of hundreds of travelers before you; there’s no need to start from scratch!

So Now You’ve Decided….

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, which will focus on finding and planning flights and transportation, lodging, and activities.