Sunday, January 26, 2014

travel tips from the girl with a gypsy heart...

Traveling abroad. *sigh* My heart melts just at the thought of it. 

My first thought on having a great time while traveling abroad is to take a journal. I cannot count the times I've gone back and read through old journals and have been so thankful I wrote down my thoughts and observations of that time! You learn things while traveling abroad that you don't even realize until you come to a point where you're reflecting on that adventure or excursion.
Making the most of our train ride to Montreux.

Some of these suggestions could easily be every-day-life suggestions, but they're also very helpful while spending time in another country and culture.

    -Do your best to be 'others-oriented' - meaning, try losing that still-small voice in the back of your head that is so concerned about what others might think of you. When you're more concerned about someone else and their best interest, you pick up on their culture and needs much better. This is easier said than done and something that is a daily struggle, but it's crazy to see how your actions change when your perspective changes! (Not to mention how FUN it is to be carefree!!)

Alberta sharing what she's captured with her new friend in Annecy.

Sillies while waiting for the most amazing fireworks show to start.

    -Take advantage of the exceptionally delicious and simple food and enjoy picnics anytime and everytime you have the opportunity. :)
Weekend picnic by Lac Leman.

    -If a Colombian asks you into their kitchen to help squeeze limes... oblige, the outcome will be worth it. I promise.

Hand-squeezed mojitos... best I've EVER had.

    -On a similar note... make the most of dinner parties! Especially when locals invite you over! If you want to experience and better understand a culture, get to know their locals. Enjoy the conversation. Ask questions. Think about the questions they ask you. Soak up the words that dance across the table. Pitch in and help prepare and clean up after the meal.

Meri and Karen creating pieces of ART for our fresh pasta dinner party!
    -Interact with as many people as you can. Ask for directions, suggestions on where to eat/visit, ask for help if you're confused. Granted, there are a lot of people who would like to take advantage of Americans (and there are a lot of Americans who ask for it, if we're being honest,) but use your best judgement and discernment here... a lot of people really enjoy helping others, but don't know what you need until you ask. :)

Making friends in Athens.
     -While living in France, I also learned what a difference it made when I put forth the effort to try using their language - even though the first many times I tried using the little bit of French I was able to pick up on were phonetically way off, people were much more receptive than when I'd ask for help in English... even though most of the people I came across ended up having a great knowledge of both languages. Buy a cheap dictionary for the language of the land you're traveling to and memorize how to address people, how to ask for the restroom, and how to say 'Please' and 'Thank you'. These are minimal, but your efforts will be greatly appreciated.
    -Try to be out of your comfort zone - push the limits. Intentionally do things that make you feel uncomfortable. That's where the best growth starts. :)

Pairagliding in Nice, France.

Amanda driving on the RIGHT side of the road through O'Connor's Pass!

    -Try the local grub! Even if you're not a food enthusiast, you like to eat... just admit it. Try new foods! You never know what you might find.

Macarons in Lyon, France.

Roasted pig at a medieval engagement party.

Traditional Fish and Chips from Wharton's.

    -Ladies: have a purse that attaches to you. Men: don't carry your wallet in your back pocket. Whether this means you've got something that goes over your shoulder or even under your clothes. I realize a lot of what I've written thus far lends to trusting others, there are a LOT of pick-pocketers in tourist-laden areas... and even if you feel like you blend in pretty well, chances are you actually stick out like a sore thumb. I had a friend lose all of her personal belongings (passport, credit card, carte de séjour/residency card, EVERYTHING) on a train in Paris and her purse was strapped to her back like a small, tight-knit backpack. Be aware of your surroundings!
    -Bring a camera. (Of course.)

    -Recognize when you're getting run down (sensory overload and lots of new people and habits can take a lot out of you!) and schedule alone-time in a local coffee shop or wherever you recharge the best and spend that time sitting in the quiet, jotting down different things that have caught your attention, that you have observed or miss, spending time in the Word, or even just enjoying the quiet, 'people-watching', observing others where you are.

Vin chaude in Geneva after a full day of exploring.

   -Depending on your personality type (I am definitely not a 'type-A' person, so if you are, this may look a lot different!). I don't love having everything planned out... in my experience, nothing ever goes as planned anyway! So, my suggestion here is to have an idea of where you'd like to go/see/accomplish in a day/weekend and try to make it to those things, pack a map, and take advice and suggestions from locals and experience that spot or experience in its truest form. (Hopefully that makes sense!)

Amanda documenting our travels from the week on our last visit to the Bulman in Kinsale, Ireland.

The previous thoughts are mostly experiential suggestions... I'll try to make the rest mostly practical... not exactly my strongest suit, but I'll try to give you the best info I can!

    -Try to have an extra roll of toilet paper/tissue on you... many places either charge you to use the toilet or do not have any bath tissue for you to use.
Sion, Switzerland

   -Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on. I would try to pack as much as you can in your carry-on as it's just simply less of a hassle, but if you're traveling with others that will be checking bags, you'll be waiting regardless. Just know that bags do get lost and misplaced and it can be a mess trying to get them back.
    -Dress comfortably! I would even consider packing Tylenol PM or Melatonin or something to help you maybe sleep on the way over there... that flight kills me! Do the movement suggestions they share at the beginning of the flight. Jet-lag sucks regardless, but it can suck less if you're not dehydrated, cramped, and completely exhausted.
    -When you get to your destination, do your best to stay awake until the sun goes down. It is SO hard to readjust going east, you lose nearly a day in your travel! If you can get on their time quickly, you'll enjoy your explorations a lot more. My first time over to Europe, I honestly felt extremely drunk the first three days (THREE DAYS. If you're going for a week, that's half your trip!!) Everything was foggy and spinny and the family I was working for would later tell me of things I said in that time and I have ZERO recollection of it. Oiy.

The sun setting over Lac Leman.

Hannah after her 'jet-lag' nap.

    -Pack wholesome snacks and a water bottle. One of my worst faults in traveling is that I dehydrate super easily. By packing a water bottle and a baggie of almonds or something, you're less likely to gorge yourself with a plate of pasties from the first shop you see! Having a water bottle also allows you to fill it for free rather than spending a €1.50 each time you're thirsty, just for water. Water's the best thing to hydrate with too! Always! Obviously you want to experience all of the wonderful things that a place has to offer, but you also want to ENJOY all your experiencing! water will keep you alert and help you to recognize true hunger, that way you won't be lethargic from over-indulging. 

    -Travel with someone/people you just can't get enough of... travel doesn't always bring out your most attractive personality traits...

Hannah is my BFF and probably the only person who could still make that face after all my less-than-attractive qualities that reared their ugly heads during our adventure from Geneva to Zurich. 
    -Bring a charger/outlet adapter. I recently bought one at Target for not too much, $10 tops. If you're going for a while, I might splurge and buy a hair dryer with the people you'll be rooming with while you're there. One of my friends blew an outlet trying to use her American hair dryer while mine didn't work at all because the voltage wasn't high enough...  it was super annoying.
-PHONE CARDS. If your phone doesn't have international capabilities (mine doesn't) buy a bunch of phone cards before you leave and maybe a local phone while you're there depending on how much time you'll spend there.
-Get guidebooks. (I suggest Rick Steves' books - sometimes there are even special discounts that destinations will honor if you have the most recent of his published books.) Guidebooks will have maps and suggestions on where to visit, his have things listed in rank of expense. I would suggest reading through these before you go so you're not engulfed in them while you're there.

    -If you're visiting Europe for a while and are looking to cut cost somewhere and are planning to be out sight-seeing for most of your time, look into staying at a hostel. It's a great way to meet people and cut down on unnecessary expenses. Trip Advisor is a great place to find reputable places to stay - find one that has plenty of reviews.

Athens, Greece

-Research events going on while you're there. If you're already going to be spending time with locals while you're there, you probably will have more than enough events already planned for you, but something might strike your fancy that they haven't yet heard of!

Annecy, France

'Lil Lance Armstrong with all his paparazzi.

    -Walk to destinations and try your best to use the local transportation if it'savailable. If you're relying on taxi's for your every excursion, you could be spending lots of valuable money that you could be spending on food or another ticket over to visit your new friends. ;) Again, obviously do your research, but most areas in Europe especially have exceptional trains and tram systems. Plus, it's a quick satisfaction to find that you're able to navigate yourself in a foreign land!

Public transportation in Switzerland is exceptional. They're clean, efficient, and nearly always right on time.

    -Contact your bank and let them know where you're traveling. Nothing feels more debilitating than knowing you have money and not being able to access it. If you're traveling to Spain, take cash out in Euros before you get there... there's enough fraud in Spain that American banks will not do business there. In other words, try as you may, your credit/debit card will not work there at all.
    -Check the country's entrance/exit fees. Some countries require travelers to pay in order to enter or leave their country. These fees are not included in the price of your airline ticket, and can range from $25 to $200.
    -Try to always have local cash on you. Some important places (like taxis and trains) often do not accept credit.

-Go to a bank or ATM in the country you're visiting. The conversion centers in the airport or around the city are generally huge rip-offs. You won't get charged as many fees at the ATM or the bank, and the conversion will be exact.
-You can save money by purchasing tickets now for places you know you want to visit or see. By buying in advance you'll be able to skip more lines, and find more deals targeted toward you. HOWEVER, my dad and I had this bite us in the booty when he pre-planned and paid ahead for everything on our last trip in Europe... A volcano erupted in Iceland and disrupted every airline for nearly a week. We got stranded in Amsterdam for four days and never got to see Ireland or Norway together. We're in the process of rectifying this nearly four years later, but all those hotel and plane tickets are gone. So, again, use our discretion. If you'll be there for a while, get a feel for what you enjoy about their culture and what it is you think you want to experience and/or see. Also, take into account how much energy you have! Iw as pretty exhausted while I lived in France, so a lot of my travels looked a lot different than my American adventures look.

Looking over Lyon, France.

Okay... I think that's all I've got, but if there are any specific questions, please don't hesitate to let me know! While I'm no expert, I am happy to answer questions or research to find more information at the least!

Happy Travels!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

We Have Our WINNER!!

This beauty received a maternity photoshoot and copyrighted disc as a response to her sister's selfless, kind, loving words about her and what an incredible mama she'll soon be. Congratulations Amy! And, thank you Elise, for  nominating your sister! 

(See more of the photoshoot here!)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Isla Mujeres #tbt

This cold weather has gotten to me... BAD. 

I've been daydreaming about traveling somewhere far, far away... and possibly never coming back!

While daydreaming, I got to thinking of my last tropical vacation... FAR TOO LONG AGO... in Isla Mujeres. It was quite possibly the best vacation ever. I started and finished five books while we were there... that's a lot of beach time, a lot of relaxation, and a lot of words. :) I love words.

EVERYTHING about this trip was so gorgeous. We'd wake up in the morning and sit out on the porch with our feet in the pool and be surrounded by these gorgeous flowers. We'd then stroll down the street and buy huge mangoes or grapefruit or avocados from this beautiful little old woman who sold fresh produce on the side of the road. 

Here's Tina with a softball sized avocado. It was the best avocado any of us had ever had. 

Our days consisted of laying on the beach, oodles of photos, reading, strolling the streets of town (it's a pretty small island, so this didn't last too terribly long), playing in the waves, scuba diving, snorkeling, EATING, drinking cold coco-loco's, exploring the different beaches and waves and rocks, and hunting down cheap tequila! (Apparently there isn't any if you're a woman, but Tina's uncle was able to find quite a steal!)

Tina's my right-hand-woman when it comes to any and all things creative. I've lost count of how many photo shoots she's joined me on and they've turned out so much better than they would have without her thanks to her creative eye and driven nature to jump in and adjust things without being told to. She's seriously so wonderful. I wish I could tell you how much fun we have together and how crazy the creative juices get when conquer projects together.

Book #1.

Paradise, I tell ya.

One of my favorite things about traveling with other families is how they interact with each other. The Hackbart's are a true team. They're all always up for an adventure and ready to go at a moments notice, but they also know how to kick back and just enjoy the moment. 

It was tooooooo hot not to oblige when the cabana boys would offer us drinks... plus, look how pretty they are!
(Book #2.)

Sharkbait, OOH AH AH.
At night we usually made a habit of finding a good restaurant and enjoyed the local eats... and mango margaritas. When in Rome, right?

During one of our explorations, we came across this incredible building... Tina and I decided that we could easily run an interior design and photography company from it... maybe even a yoga studio! I wonder if it's still available...
What's not to love?! Corner lot, SO MANY WINDOWS, gorgeous everything, my favorite color...
There's not one thing that would give me reason not to go back.

This lil guy actually wasn't so little... he was the size of a small or medium dog! 

Washed up coconut.

Island of sunbathing iguanas.

¡Viva Mexico!

¡Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay!