Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Apple


You know what they say about The Apple, right?  That is doesn’t fall far from the tree?  YEP, it's true.  Which is why I wasn’t too surprised when my daughter, who recently graduated from high school, approached me with the idea of a “Gap Year” in order to travel. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t immediately on board with the idea. Although my inner traveler was doing swirls, the Mom in me had some concerns.  I mean, at the time, she was only 17.  What did she know about traveling the world?  Where was she planning on going?  What was she planning on doing?  Who was gonna pay for all of this “travel”.

Putting my motherly feelings aside, I gave her a challenge:  come up with a plan for the next year and we will talk about it.  Off she went with her assignment and less than a month later, she came back to me with a very rough draft:  take a TEFL Certification Course, Teach, Travel.  SMH…this plan certainly needed some work and more info.  So, I sent her off with another challenge.  One that required a little more research:  where are you getting a TEFL Certification, is the program accredited, where will you teach (considering she does not have a 4-year degree), and most importantly will it pay you enough to live (and travel)?
 
She was up to the task and I was very impressed with her diligence.  Little did she know, I had already given in and was doing some research of my own.  Turned out, there was a highly recommend program right here in the Chicago area.  It also turned out that there are a few places that will allow her to teach English as a Foreign Language without a 4-year degree.  I was also surprised at how many colleges and universities were willing to let her defer her admission for a year in support of a Gap Year. 

It was pretty much a done deal.  All we had to do now was work out the details and fill in the gaps of the Gap Year.  She was so excited it was contagious.  We were constantly on the internet reading blogs about teaching abroad and learning about all of the different programs.  She decided on a program in Paris, we paid the fees, secured housing and in less than 6 months, we were boarding a flight.  

I know what you are thinking, "But how did she end up in Paris when there was a program right there in Chicago?"  Well, we looked at the programs offered by the TEFL Institute and found that they had schools in various locations.  I suggested London (or Peru since she wants to teach there), but what 17 (now 18) year old female could pass up a chance to spend 6 weeks in the “City of Light”?  What adult could pass up that chance?!

She asked, I agreed.  Simple.  Besides, not agreeing to a Gap Year for travel and allowing her to take the course abroad would have made me a hypocrite – right?  I mean, I travel.  I encourage others to travel.  Why wouldn’t that include her?

I believe that travel changes you.  You grow and become more tolerant.  You learn to appreciate things and you move out of your comfort zone.  You expose yourself to different food, customs, ideas, and languages.  You make connections.  You learn more about yourself and become more confident.  Didn't I want these things for her?  Of course I did.  

Leaving her in Paris was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  I think I woke up that morning crying.  I cried in the shower, while brushing my teeth, while getting dressed...I cried, cried, cried.  When it was time for me to head to the airport, she looked me in the eye and asked, “Why are you crying?”  I answered, “Because I will miss you so much.”  Her response?  “I will miss you too.  See you in Barcelona.”

And with that, I knew my work was done.  Enjoy the journey Kennedy!




Saturday, August 24, 2013

What's In a Staycation?

A friend of mine recently stated on her Facebook page that she was off work for the next 3 days.  Of course, I got excited and asked “Where Are You Going?” and to that she responded “No where.  It’s a Staycation.”  OHHHHHHH….a Staycation?!  I got REALLY EXCITED.  Why?  Cause Staycations can be fun too!

Staycations give you a chance to do things in your own city that you never get to do or never think about doing.  A Staycation allows you to see your city the way others do.  It gives you an opportunity to slow down and smell the streets of unknown neighborhoods, walk around an empty shopping center, or have a leisurely lunch at a restaurant that usually has a 30 minute wait just to be seated.  It gives you a chance to fall in love with your city - all over again.

Recently, I’ve been on a self imposed “no travel” restriction.  Unable to leave town, I have been exploring Chicago in ways that I haven’t in a long time.  And while I will be the first to admit, I love hopping on planes and heading to new places; it's been fun to explore my own streets.

Here are just a few things I have been doing on my weekends while playing tourist in my own home town.
  • I spent some time at Navy Pier where I sat by the water and watched the boats while eating Funnel Cake. I found a deal on Jetsetter.com for a downtown hotel I wanted to experience. 
  • I booked a room for July 3rd (yes, I was surprised that date wasn’t blacked out), sent the deal to some friends and we spent the night hanging out enjoying the start of summer.
  •  I walked up and down Michigan Ave., not shopping (that’s new), but taking in the sites, listening to all of the different languages being spoken and snapping pictures of “Planter Heads” that were installed by Plant Green Ideas in an effort to promote sustainability.
  • I got up early one Saturday morning, headed to the closest beach and spent the day laying around, catching up on some reading and watching people on the bike path.
  • Some friends and I snagged a Groupon deal and hopped on an architectural boat tour where I learned that the natural flow of the Chicago River has been reversed.  WOW – that’s interesting!  I actually did some research when I got home about how they did that.
  • I’ve been to Millennium Park at least twice.  On one trip, I simply sat by Crown Fountain eating ice cream and watching children play freely in the water. On my most recent trip to Millennium Park, I discovered a series of sculptures in an outdoor gallery.  Turns out, this gallery is named Boing Gallery and the collection is titled Dangos by Jun Kaneko, who is known for his work in the field of monumental ceramic sculpture.  I found these sculptures uninteresting, yet interesting.  It was odd.  I read the information card and learned that the pieces were “representative of his past and present artistic practices” and that the ceramic steels are “covered in a variety of vibrant shapes and patterns which allow viewers to examine their environment and focus in a sense of scale and place.”  *Blank Stare*

I will say that my self imposed travel restriction has been frustrating, but rewarding.  Yesterday, I spent some time at a beach close to my house watching boats sail by.  I whispered to my friend, "Chicago is a beautiful city" and he whispered back "Yes, it certainly is".  

31st Street Beach. Chicago, IL



For more photos of my weekends out, click here.



Saturday, June 15, 2013

Get Started Traveling

A number of people have said to me that they admire my ability to travel the way and as much as I do.  When I tell them that I am not doing anything they themselves can not do, I'm usually met with the blank stare or a flat out "na, I can't" but when asked "why not", the blank stare appears.

After a lengthy conversation with a co-worker this week about how to get started traveling and a recent post in a Facebook group from someone who is admiring others travel from afar, I decided to give some practical, step-by-step instructions on just how to get started traveling.

It's easy to tell someone "just get out there and GO" but to a person who might not be as spontaneous and adventurous as I am, this statement might very well induce a panic attack!  So let's take it slow and do some pre-travel work.

Now unless you just got it like that, your first step should be to open a Travel Savings Account.  I do not recommend anyone finance their travels completely using credit.  Now there are creative ways to use your credit cards and finance your travels, such as paying your monthly bills with an airline card in order to rack up miles to purchase a plane ticket, etc.  But other than that, try and pay for your travels using cash.  Or, put your escape on lay away.  There are a few sites, such as Book It that offer payment plans.  This way your travels aren't haunted by the bill that will show up in your mail box next month.

I use ING (now Capital One) for my travel account because they do not have a local branch where I live, reducing my urge to use an ATM for withdrawals.  I have a direct deposit going into that account so every time I get paid, my travel dreams get paid.  This account is used for travel, and only travel.  This also helps me stay within my budget.  I talked more about this in my blog "How I Afford to Travel".


Next, start a list of possible destinations.  Can't think of any places you would like to visit?  Grab some travel magazines (Conde Nast Traveler is my favorite), surf the internet, ask friends/family/coworkers about their favorite destinations.  Also, create a travel vision board and post it in a place where you will see it daily.  I have my board posted in my closet so I can see it a few times per day.  If you are a social media junkie, create a digital board using Pinterest.  If you have children and a spouse that will be traveling with you, have them get involved in selecting destinations and posting pictures.

Got your destinations ready?  Start your research.  I typically google "things to do in XXX" or "best time to travel to XXX".  Usually the Tourism Bureau for that destination will be the first link and there is not a better place to start.  You will also find blogs from people who live in that destination and expert guides.  I read anything and everything I can find about my destination.  I clip photos of things I want to do and place them on my board.  This helps me build my excitement and keeps me motivated to continue to save towards my goal.

Now sign up to receive email alerts from websites such as Jetsetter, Orbitz, SniqueAway, Sherman's Travel, and The Flight Deal.  This will get you advance notice of airline deals, hotel specials, etc.  Also remember to sign up directly on the airlines websites.  But remember that these deals come and go quickly.  If you see a great fare to a destination high on your list, or a great rate for a hotel where you would like to stay, you must be prepared to pull the trigger (your travel account is waiting to be used) because these deals are usually in limited quantity and may not be available for long.

You are now prepared to "just get out there and go".  But if you are still unsure of how to plan the details: What should I do while there?  How long should I stay?  How do I get to my hotel after I landed?  ETC?  Don't be afraid to use the services of a professional travel agent, such as myself.  I would be more than happy to help you plan out a vacation that will get you up and out.

So what are you still doing here?  GO ALREADY!  


Thursday, May 30, 2013

When My Need to be Cute, Cool and Covered Clashed


Hello all you 2 Girls & a Bikini followers, “Other Girl” checking in for the very first time. Over the past few years, or should I say past few vacations, Angie has encouraged me to share my thoughts and experiences on our many adventures. But until now I didn’t feel I had anything to contribute, but our most recent trip to Dubai has inspired me, and now I have caught the writing bug also.

Packing for Dubai was the most challenging thing I’ve done in awhile. When trying to pick outfits, which adhere to a cultural standard, yet continue to represent my personal style, I ran into many a conundrum.  These problems were only multiplied by the al la carte travel industry we seem to be living in these days, where you practically pay for everything but air on your flight. So, I got to thinking.  How do I manage to pack “light”, dress comfortable for the weather, dress appropriate for an Islamic state, yet still be my Fabulous self?

Here are 5 ways I made it work, and all in one suitcase!

1.     5 outfits, just 1 pair of shoes!

If you are anything like me, I live for a pair of sexy high heels. Unfortunately six-inch stilettos are neither comfortable nor functional for exploring the streets of Dubai, Italy, Greece, or wherever your adventure takes you.  While I miss the days of no baggage fees and multiple suitcase travel (a girl needs options), it’s just not the world we live in today. So, it’s time to get creative. Pick a pair of shoes that are both cute and comfortable, especially if you plan to do a lot of walking, then start building from there. Wedges and Espadrilles staples in my travel wardrobe.  They are cute, go with multiple styles of dress and I can walk for hours in them before I have to sacrifice fashion for the sake of actually being able to walk.  They also satisfy my need for a high heeled shoe. I also love that these shoes are appropriate for a day of sight seeing in jeans and a Tee, chilling at the beach in a romper, or heading out for a nice dinner in a sundress. Pretty much making them my all-purpose travel shoe.

Not into to heels? How about the ballerina slipper or the gladiator sandal? They are both cute and comfortable, especially ones with some rhinestone or stud embellishments.

2.     Go from day to night!

To keep the luggage fees down and limit the shear amount of clothing you pack, pick items that easily transition from day to night. The maxi dress, harem pant, and pant jumper are all great options for this. You can easily transition any of these from day to night with a change of shoes, adding a jacket, or throwing on new accessories. Also, these items are typically pretty light weight so they don’t take up a lot of space in your suitcase.  Besides, these items are usually made out of jersey cotton material so they can be hand washed and hung to dry in the event you need to recycle outfits.

3.     Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize!

Belts, necklaces, and rings! Oh, My! Accessories are a great way to change up your outfit without adding a lot of bulk to your suitcase. And as I mentioned above, you can take any outfit from day to night with just a change in necklace or adding a belt.

4.     Just buy it at the mall!

Shopping? Yes please! Sometimes I embark on a vacation knowing there will be lots of opportunities for shopping. In these events, why pack your old clothes? Use this as an opportunity to buy new ones. Instead of trying to project what mood you will be in to go to the club in 7 days, just buy an outfit on the day of that suits what you are feeling and won’t make you a spectacle at the club. Then you know you will feel confident in a foreign setting. Just be sure to leave space in that suitcase to get all your fabulous new purchases home.

5.     Leggings are our friend!

Like many fashionistas, I did not consider plain leggings haute couture (unless they were literally haute couture). But I have learned that the legging is my travel friend, especially in Dubai. Leggings, like the maxi dress, are lightweight, comfortable, and very versatile.  All while keeping everything covered. I found it super easy to continue to wear many of my normal vacation sun dresses, rompers, and wedges, by just adding a pair of plain leggings to match.

Hope you found some of these tips helpful.  Here’s wishing you happy and fashionable travels.




To view all of our pictures from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman, please click here!

2 Girls & a Bikini

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why I Travel

When I was first asked that question, my initial response was “Why Not?” But since that wouldn’t make for a very interesting blog, I gave the question some additional thought. That is when I began to notice that all of my fondest memories from my childhood involved travel.

You see my Mom was a traveler. She loved to go. So she made sure that every summer, if not more often, we went. Of course, Florida was a favorite destination, but we also enjoyed time in Wisconsin Dells, Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago (we lived in Detroit then) New Orleans, California and Washington DC. My childhood was filled with family trips and family meant sisters, brothers, Aunts, Uncles, cousins, neighbors and anyone else who said “Can I go?”

As a child, I loved this family tradition and couldn’t wait to see what kind of trouble I could get into. Here are just a few of my memories:
  • Almost giving my Aunt a heart-attack when I brought a frog from the pool into the room.
  • Learning that I really couldn’t swim by jumping into the deep end of the pool and being rescued by the life guard (My Aunt immediately enrolled me into swimming lessons when we got home so that we wouldn’t have this problem again with her “little fish”).
  • Swiping the tips left on the table for the waitress every time we left a restaurant (What? I didn’t know why change was constantly being left behind!).
Ahhhhh yes. Those were the good old days!

Recently I read a study conducted on behalf of the U.S. Travel Association and I realized that my Mom was on to something. According to the study:
  • Adults remember vacations from a young age: the majority of adults surveyed (62%) say their earliest memories were of family vacations taken when they were between ages 5 and 10.
  • Half (49%) of adults describe their memories of childhood family vacations as “very vivid.” These memories are significantly stronger than their memories of school events or birthday celebrations (34% and 31%).
  • Travel experiences are not only remembered, but also passed on to younger generations: 77% of youth respondents report that their parents have told them stories about their childhood family vacations.
Who knew? Pssst – my Mom did!

Now that I have children of my own, I try to follow in my Mom’s footsteps by making sure we hit the road (well, the sky) at least once a year. And just like then, anyone is welcome to join us. Last year, I took my daughter, her friend, and my niece to New York for a long weekend. We also crashed my Uncle's family trip to Atlanta.  This year, my daughter and 2 friends are heading to Ft. Lauderdale with me. Three years ago, we embarked on a true family vacation with 2 Aunts, my Sister and her crew (2 daughters and 1 grand son), and a cousin. My kids still talk about that trip!

And there’s more! Not only does travel bring your family closer; it also strengthens the U.S. economy and puts us a step closer on the road to recovery. Check out these facts:
  • Since 2010, the travel industry created jobs at a pace nearly 16 percent faster than the rest of the economy, adding 296,000 American jobs (as of October 2012).
  • The total number of American jobs supported by travel is 14.4 million.
  • 4 million travel industry workers earn a middle‐class income or higher.
  • Traveler spending directly generates $124 billion in tax revenue for local, state and federal governments.
  • Direct spending by resident and international travelers in the U.S. averaged $2.2 billion a day, $92.8 million an hour, $1.5 million a minute and $25,778 a second.
WOW!

So get out there and do your part. Grab the spouse, the kids, Grandkids, Grand Parents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Neighbors and friends. Hit the open road. Sing some goofy songs. Take over half a plane and watch an in-flight movie. Get lost in a new place. Disconnect. Make some new friends (or re-connect with some old ones).

But most importantly, make some memories that will be talked about long after you’re gone.

That’s the Travel Effect!




*All statistical data provided by the The U.S. Travel Association. For more information, click here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Monday Mornings


Every Monday morning when I walk into the office I have the same conversation, but with a different person than the person I had the conversation with the Monday before.  It goes like this:

Me:  Good Morning
Them:  Good Morning Angie.  How was your weekend?
Me:  It was cool.  I didn’t do anything.
Them:  Nothing?  That’s hard to believe.  You didn’t go out?
Me:  *deep breath* Nope.  I didn’t go out.  I never go out unless it’s a special occasion, like a friend’s birthday.
Them:  I see….

Sigh.    It’s always a struggle to explain to someone that spending unnecessary money on the weekends just isn’t what I do.  Why?  Because it isn’t a priority for me.  And after years of being “about that life”, it just got old. 

You see, it took some time, but I finally realized that I wasn’t spending the weekend doing all of the in
things to do for me; but rather for other people.  I wasn’t showing up at all of the hot spots for myself, but so other people could say “I saw Angie last night at…” or so I could be tagged in pictures, or so I could be seen with the "right" people. 

It never occurred to me, until years later, how much money that weekend ritual was costing me.  I mean, I had to stay suited up in designer wear complemented by the latest it bag and shoes.  Not to mention the costs of just being out and about:  parking (I live in Chicago where free parking is like unicorns.  It doesn’t exist!), cover into the club, food, drinks, tips, etc.   Those weekends out were eating up a large chunk of my disposable income!

But once I re-prioritized my life and realized that I wanted to do more, see more, experience more; it was easy to give up the $100 weekends.  It was actually very easy to give up the designer clothes, the expensive dinners, the gourmet drinks and the $20 valet.

But I gained so much more.  I had more disposable income, which meant I could pay off some credit card balances and other debt, which meant I had more disposable income.  The more bills I paid off, the more disposable income I had.  It was a vicious cycle, but I liked it. 

I began purchasing flights with cash, prepaying for hotels with cash, paying for all of my meals and activities with, OMG, cash.  It was completely unheard of, but I was traveling to the places I chose and coming home completely debt free!

Now, I’m not side-eyeing anyone who enjoys his or her weekends to the fullest by going out.  I’m just saying that for me, the money I’ve saved by forgoing expensive weekends here at home, has financed lots of weekends elsewhere!

Happy Traveling~

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Confession

I have a secret.  It's not a big secret (well, maybe to some) but it's a secret none the less.  I have been keeping this secret from most of you for quite some time.  Some of you already know my secret, but now it's  time to come clean to the rest of you.  So, here we go:  I have never been to Puerto Rico (dramatic music, gasp). *hangs head in shame*

Shocked?  Most people are when I reveal my secret.  Many simply assume that I have been to San Juan, the oldest city on U.S. territory and known for its beautiful beaches - especially since I am a beach lover.  But nope, I can't say that I have.

When I make this confession, the first response is "Really?  That surprises me."  and the second, of course, is "Why not?"  and this is where it gets tricky.  The truth of the matter is that San Juan always seems so expensive to me.  From the airfare to the beachfront hotels, it all seems overpriced and other destinations always seem to be a better value.  So the other destinations, which also involve acquiring a new passport stamp, always win out.

For instance, if I do a quick airfare check, using May 30th - June 3rd as my dates of travel, here is what I get:
  • Chicago to San Juan - $404.87 (with a 10 hour layover in Miami on the return)
  • Chicago to Cancun - $422.61
  • Chicago to Montego Bay - $516.09
  • Chicago to St. Maarten - $583.90
  • Chicago to Curacao - $578.90
  • Chicago to Barbados - $591.40
If I were looking to book something for that time period,  even though 4 days isn't nearly enough for any of these destinations, which do you think I would select?  

Well, other factors would come into play like what is the purpose of my trip:  explore or relax, am I looking to experience something new, exactly how long are the flights and layovers especially since this is basically a long weekend trip (that San Juan flight has a 10 hour layover in Miami on the return and the Barbados makes 2 stops - YIKES), what is the cost of an average hotel stay, food, etc.  

Based on airfare alone - Cancun would win if I were simply going to relax and Montego Bay would be my choice if I were looking to explore and experience something new.  Why, because for the extra cost of the plane ticket. I can either visit my favorite destination (yes, AGAIN.  I'm an addict remember?) or explore a destination that is higher on the "must see" list than Puerto Rico.

Don't get me wrong, Puerto Rico is on my list.  I want to visit its historical sites, hike in El Yunque National Rainforest, swim in Mosquito Bay, and take a day trip to Culebra or one of the other islands off the coast of Puerto Rico (there are roughly 100 of them); but PR just never seems to win the process of elimination even though there are times that I am actually rooting for Puerto Rico to win.  Crazy, right?

SIGH...there it is.  My deep rooted secret.

This confession brings me no joy.  I know that this favorite Caribbean destination for hundreds of thousands should have made it to my "been there" list by now.  I am ashamed and I promise to rectify this situation ASAP.  Ok, maybe ASAP is a little too soon, but I will get done in 2013.

I wonder if I can piggy-back it on a trip to another destination?!

HMMMMMMMMM.........