How I Travel

Oh, how I wish I had a dollar for every time anyone has ever asked/told me any of the following:

I’m so jealous, I wish I could do that!”
Ugh, if only I had the money!”
If I ever had the time, I’d go.”
Don’t you get scared/lonely/tired of traveling by yourself?”
“…yeah, but you’re young and a woman.”

Maybe you, reading this right now, have even thought the same thing about me. You see pictures on Instagram and posts on Facebook: Peru, Thailand, Aruba, etc. and think, how does she do it? The money, the days off work?

Let’s get one thing straight here: I am no different than the average person. I am not rich, “just lucky,” or any of that. And it would make me furious to hear how some people just assumed all of these things about me or the way I lived my life, simply because they didn’t know. I worked my ass off to get to where I am and for the things that I have accomplished. I work a full-time job, take writing classes, pay my school loans, struggle to maintain a social life, go to the gym, etc. and still get a decent night of sleep like everyone else. I am an ordinary girl, who just decided what she wanted and went out to get it.

While there are certainly traveling tips I’ve picked up over the years, nothing will get you there until you can understand and accomplish #1 on this list.

  1. You have to want it bad enough.
    It seems so simple. Who doesn’t want to go on a vacation, explore somewhere new and fun, make memories seeing the world instead of being at work? But it’s more than that. You have to want it bad enough that you are willing to make sacrifices to achieve it. You have to want it more than you fear the unknowns or what-ifs. More than you doubt yourself and your abilities. You have to want it more than you make excuses for the reasons you can’t do it. “I want to travel, but…” No. If you truly want it more than anything, you will find a way or make a way. This goes not only for traveling, but whatever you want in life. A degree, to get in shape, etc. You have the power. Mindset is everything.
  2. You have to be willing to sacrifice. 
    I get it. Money holds us back. Not once did my parents give me money to go on trips. I don’t come from a rich family. I’m still paying student loans (and probably always will be until I die). So what are you willing to give up? I worked a job I was miserable at for a year, but it allowed me to save up money to spend five months in Europe. I don’t get Starbucks every day. I recently sold my car. I don’t buy Michael Kors purses or go out drinking every weekend, because those things don’t bring me happiness. I’d rather spend my money on experiences. If you know that you can cut back somewhere- do it! I also didn’t stay in nice hotels when I went on my first solo international trips. I stayed in very cheap hostels, in dormitories, and ate bread and Nutella sandwiches, and carried a water bottle that I would refill at water fountains so I could have something to drink. I hardly ever went out to eat. Not glamorous, but that’s the truth. I wasn’t dirt poor, but I wanted to save my money for other things. Not eating out for every meal, every single day, allowed me to buy flights to Belgium and Switzerland. And believe me, I’d trade dinner at a restaurant for that kind of adventure any day of the week.
  3. You have to be flexible and open-minded.
    Maybe you’ve been dying to go to Chile, but flights are so expensive for the time you want to go. If you work, can you change your vacation days and go when flights are cheaper, in the off season? If not, can you look into other destinations that are more in your budget? Google Flights has an amazing tool that allows you to view the varying prices of flights over time, and also track when the price fluctuates. I went to Aruba over July 4th weekend. During the summer, my department gives us the option of working flex time (basically working 10 hours days four days a week, and then having a day off). I usually take Fridays off so I can have a long weekend, which is really convenient for traveling. Example: I worked that week Monday-Thursday, 10 hour days. Had Friday (my flex day) off. I left for Aruba Thursday night. Since July 4th was on a Tuesday, I only took off Monday, July 3rd. And there you have it! A five day vacation, only taking one day of PTO. I also was able to pay less for the flight, because I chose one with an overnight layover in Charlotte, where my best friend graciously allowed me to stay at her apartment. I was able to put up with longer travel time because of the payoff. I strategically planned it this way to my benefit. You just have to think outside the box, which leads me to my next point…
  4. You have to be smart and put the effort in. 
    This one goes hand-in-hand with being flexible and open-minded. Maybe you’ve seen an amazing Groupon for Italy, with airfare and everything included! Before you purchase it- consider the small details in print. Is your airport even listed as a departure point? If it isn’t, how much is it going to cost to travel to the next closest airport? How many meals are you really getting, if any? Look up the hotels they’ve listed. How much is the nightly rate, and how much is airfare for those dates? It might actually be less expensive to book it yourself, separately. Vacation packages are usually solely for the convenience of not having to plan it yourself, and if that’s why you want to go that route, then more power to ya! But, if finances are a factor, do your research. Can you stay at a more affordable hotel than the one they’ve pre-selected for you? Is the airfare cheaper if you leave the day before or come back the day after? When I travel solo, I try to be as economical as possible. Where some would normally take a taxi, I go on foot. I walk everywhere. It allows me to be among the locals more, to really get to experience a city and see more of it, and also is great exercise. I also really feel like I’ve earned it, in a way I can’t explain. But the same goes for excursions and tourist sites. Instead of going with a big group or private guided tour, can you pay the minimum of the entry fee, find a less costly way of arriving there, and explore the site yourself?
  5. You have to overcome your fear.
    People tell me I am “brave” or ask how I am not scared to travel alone. I’m never sure how to answer this. I was scared to death before I went on my first trip alone. I still get anxiety over so many things. As a woman traveling alone, I constantly have to have my guard up and be aware of my surroundings. People don’t see or understand that it isn’t fun 100% of the time. It can be so stressful and exhausting. But the reward is all in the rest of the experience. I refuse to be held back from the fear of “what if”. The risk of NOT taking the risk is a lot greater for me. Bad things can happen in the States (or whatever your home country) as well as South America, in any city, to anyone, at any time, whether they are alone or not. I don’t want to be on my deathbed regretting not following my dream because I was worried about what “might” happen. Traveling alone made me realize what I am made of, and to be comfortable with myself, which is something I had to learn. You’re going to be with yourself the rest of your life, might as well start getting to know who that person is. Do I wish sometimes that my family or friends could come with me? Of course. But they would never hold me back from going just because they couldn’t go. The reality is that if you wait for someone else to be ready, you may be waiting forever. It all comes back to #1, a single question: How bad do you want it?

Bottom line: Don’t spend your life waiting and wanting.

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P.S. Check out my article, What Keeps Us, if you want to learn more about getting out of your own way.                                                                           sig2

A Scotland Escape

I’m sure you guys have all heard by now of WOW, the low-budget airline that flies to Europe. I decided to take advantage of their deals and flew to Scotland at the end of September. I had a friend, Kayla, (you might remember her from my Morocco trip) who was living in Glasgow and attending the University there, so it was a no-brainer.

I arrived Friday morning, September 29th and took a bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow to meet Kayla. Once we dropped my bags off at her flat, we set out to explore.

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Stroll along the River Kelvin.

One of the first stops was her school, the University of Glasgow. It was a dream- the architecture reminded me of Hogwarts. I was surprised to learn it is one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world!

Next, we stopped into Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where I was equal parts creeped out and amazed by this display of heads:

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Taking a break at Tantrum Doughnuts   for a sweet treat.

We also saw the breathtaking botanic gardens and made it indoors right before a downpour. Luckily, it passed over us quickly, and we were surprisingly blessed with great weather the rest of the weekend.

Saturday, September 30th- Trying to fit in as much as possible, we opted to do a tour of the famous Scottish highlands, complete with Glencoe, Oban, and castles!

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Lovely Loch Lomond.

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Beautiful grounds of Inveraray Castle

Though I didn’t get a picture, the Highland cattle were also amazing to see!

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Oban- place of the best fish sandwich.

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Kilchurn Castle

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Like a painting.

Sunday, October 1- We took the train to Edinburgh for more sightseeing- Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, The Elephant House (coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote), Greyfriars Bobby memorial, Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, etc. The sun even made an appearance!

 

How magical is this place?!

And that’s a weekend wrap! From the cultural vibes of Glasgow, to the glens and lochs of the Highlands, to the charming,  winding streets of Edinburgh…this whole trip was a dream.

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Living for the Weekend

You do it, I do it, we all do it.

Crossing off the days on our calendars at work, counting down the minutes left in our 9-5, living for the weekend. Ah, those blessed mornings where we don’t have to set an alarm or have anywhere to be for 8 hour time blocks. Or, sometimes, if you’re like me, you jam that open weekend full of every ounce of fun you can possibly fit.

This past weekend, JJ and I headed to Rehoboth Beach, DE.  We started a tradition of going camping every Memorial Day weekend, and this year, we took our trip to the beach.

We kicked the vacation off with spending a day at Cape Henlopen State Park. The sand was hot, and the water was freezing, but we jumped in anyway. We enjoyed lunch on the beach and then fell asleep on a blanket under the sun. It was amazing to just relax.

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Since the park was a former military base, we drove around and climbed to the top of an observation tower to take in the view. Later that day, after we cooled off in the pool back at the campground, we hit the boardwalk. Since no trip to the beach is complete without ice cream, we opted for Starkey’s. My indecisive self was lost when we looked at the menu-  100+ delicious flavors! How would I ever choose?!

A stroll down Penny Lane shops and a sweet treat from Starkey’s.

 

The next day, we got to Rehoboth Beach early and watched the fog roll out. After walking along the beach, we sipped some strawberry wine and got the biggest bucket of fries we could find- Thrasher’s original boardwalk fries, of course. I am still craving that salt & vinegar goodness.

Boardwalk fries & patriotic swimsuits for the win.

While we didn’t make it to Dogfish Head, we stopped by Rehoboth Ale House for a couple brews and listened to some live music before going to Zogg’s for dinner- a raw bar & grill with a million different kinds of rum. I was more than pleased with my Key West grouper taco & signature rum punch. After such a long day of eating, sunbathing, and wandering, we were more than ready to spend our last night taking it easy.

Dinner on the boardwalk and back to the campground to relax around the fire.

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Apple pie moonshine & s’mores!

 

Minus the traffic on the drive back home Monday, it was truly a wonderful vacation.

So, are you thinking you’re in dire need of a weekend escape? 

Here are some getaways that aren’t far from Pittsburgh, PA:

  1. Presque Isle State Park, Erie, PA
  2. Ohiopyle State Park, PA
  3. Deep Creek, MD
  4. Cedar Point, OH
  5. Put-in-Bay, OH
  6. Washington, D.C.
  7. Chautauqua, NY
  8. Cleveland, OH
  9. New River Gorge, WV
  10. Gettysburg, PA or Hershey, PA

 

Have more suggestions, or don’t see your favorite listed? Comment below! I’d love to hear more.

Also, I will be working flex time during the summer months (meaning I’ll work four 10 hour days, and get an extra day off) so I will be looking for easy, fun trips to take within a 3-4 day time frame! Anywhere from big cities to hiking trails to amusement parks to beaches, I’m open for it all.

Until next time, weekend warriors.

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E.T. Phone Home

Tuesday, July 2. 2013

We set off for Marineland early in the morning. It reminded me of Waldameer‘s water park (in Erie, PA). We first went to the dolphin show, and then stayed in the kiddie pool the rest of the afternoon. I went down a couple water slides with Jordi and Mar. For lunch, we had ham sandwiches (“bikinis”) and also got gelato before making the trip home. It was an exhausting day for all. Once back home, Jordi put together a more traditional Mediterranean meal. This was interesting… Sonsa? I believe it was called- very skinny fish that were ingested whole. Except…the eyes were still there. Now, I am not a particularly picky eater, and I will try anything once. And it was good! But I could not get past the fact that I was eating this fish with its eyes still there. I swear it was staring at the back of my throat as I swallowed it.   Next, I talked with JJ for quite a while. (For those of you unfamiliar, he is the man in the picture on my post The Foundation. We were friends from college that kept in touch the entire time during my five months abroad, and are now dating!) It was so good to hear his voice! He always makes me laugh. Here’s our conversation about my dinner:

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Later on, Jordi and I went to the supermarket. He told me I could pick up whatever I needed. Embarrassed, I put tampons, shampoo, and a razor in the cart. I said a silent prayer thanking God that I would finally have a razor- because I needed one more than life! And I’ll shamelessly admit that I couldn’t read the labels on the bottles in the shower, so I am not entirely confident what I have been washing my hair/body with these past couple days…

At the supermarket, it was shocking to see the switch between fresh and processed foods. Jordi took me walking through the weekly food market downtown where you can buy local fruit and vegetables. “This is how you know it’s fresh,” he said, motioning to an insect crawling through a head of lettuce. “It’s straight from the garden because these are still there.” He also showed me what the good price of meat is and some esteemed fish markets in Costa Brava. I felt like…I needed to not eat so much processed crap. And that I really should learn to cook, like him. He also made gazpacho, which looks like a delicious smoothie, but is made with with raw vegetables.

After we returned to the house, the kids and I went to the pool upstairs at their grandparents’ house. I don’t think that Jordi’s dad likes me too much. He seems very uptight and is not warm to me. Perhaps he thinks that having a stranger be an au pair here is a mistake, and that I am just another mouth to feed. Or, that I am just a young American girl that is incapable of being any help as a teacher to the children because of my inability to speak Catalan, and their young age. Whatever the reason, I can’t deny that this stings.

Now it is late, but I just got off Skype with my mom. She is sending me a package with more toiletries, necessities,and iPad accessories (since I fried the other ones). I am so grateful! Who would have thought that I’d ever be so happy to have such simple items? (Now, I was far from destitute, and I had saved up plenty of money from my first job after college to buy whatever I did need, but I just hadn’t had the chance to go to the store to replenish my own items, or didn’t pack them in the first place for other reasons.) Cliche as it sounds, the one thing I have learned quickly is that the things I truly need in this life are few, and plain and simple. I have neglected to remember that, but was reminded when my mom drove to Pittsburgh to help me prepare for this move.

We were finishing packing my backpack and boxing the rest of the stuff into storage when she said, “You have two boobs and there’s seven days in a week. Why do you have so many freaking bras?!” I love that woman.

But in all honesty, she’s right. What is it all for? I don’t need two closets full of clothes. I don’t need the latest technology, designer handbags, or more items that clutter my life. You can’t take these things with you when you go.

Just give me the sound of my mother’s voice (and maybe some clearly labeled shampoo) and I’m golden.

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The strength of this woman is unmatched. She didn’t want to let her baby girl get on a plane to Europe alone, and she certainly didn’t understand it, but she still stood by me. She’s my backbone.

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Beaches, Bathroom Accidents, and Bread Making

JUNE 29, 2013

Today, I slept until about 9 a.m. Had bread with Nutella (my staple breakfast) and went to watch the kids take a youth yoga class at la platja. Hilarious to watch but then I realize, as I’m watching them bend and thinking about how exhausting it has been to chase after them these past couple days, how extremely out of shape I am. These children actually can do a hell of a lot even if they’re just mimicking butterflies and trees.

It took me a while to understand what “platja” meant. In Spanish, beach is “playa,” so obviously, though it seems subtle, there is quite a difference. Welcome to my confusing, sort of trilingual life.

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Sa Palomera, Blanes.

As Roser packs up the towels, beach toys, and bags, I take Adrià’s hand and lead him near where the beach meets the sidewalk to stand under the fountain and rinse the sand off his body. The kid has it in every crevice of him, I swear. All of a sudden, I hear another stream of water coming from somewhere. Confused, I look down, and to my horror, Adrià has pulled himself free from his swim trunks and is casually sending an arc of golden pee into the air and straight onto some poor middle-aged woman’s legs and feet. I don’t move, or speak. I just froze, and stared, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, my feet rooted to the spot, because my brain can’t register what to tell my body to do. What could I do?  I mean, how do you say, “Holy shit, I’m so sorry this child who is not mine is currently peeing on you” in Catalan?! So I just panicked, grabbed his hand, and ran away. Real smooth, Kara. I said a silent prayer thanking God that the lady didn’t follow us, or shout after me, and that Roser didn’t see the whole thing happen, and wished with every fiber of my being that I could disappear under a rock. I mean, he wasn’t my child…why did I feel so mortified and responsible? Because you couldn’t apologize to her, or even explain to make Adrià realize what he did was wrong. Because you don’t speak Catalan and can’t understand anything. Sigh. As we made our way back to the car, I made a mental note to apologize to my mother for all that I must have put her through. Whatever stuff moms are made of, I don’t have that in me. In summary, I am majorly failing at being an au pair already…

I also forgot the beaches are topless here. I see young girls with better boobs than me, and I can’t help but stare in jealousy- both from their tan, curved bodies and the fact that they are at the beach with their friends. I am an outsider, and though I have this wonderful family, they are not mine- so it’s lonely. I am a strange mix of being too old to be Jordi and Roser’s child, but too young to be Adrià and Mar’s mother. I almost feel like their older sister, but I am still isolated because I don’t understand the language or how to care for them. (Note: I’ve never had younger siblings or even cousins that I’ve been around and had to care for.)  Adrià holds my hand and gives me besos sometimes which honestly melts my heart. Being with them is an emotional roller coaster- good days and bad days. My mother once told me that kids will break your heart and then mend it over and over again. How right she was.

unnamed (8)  The kids and I spent a long time at the pool when we got back…they swam naked (why are children always naked?) and I tried to teach them the word “Jump!”  They love my camera and are fascinated with what my iPad can do. I know I will have to get some good photographs of the kids and I before I leave. They are starting to take up a huge place in my heart… We went to Sa Palomera, the huge rock at the beach down by the town (pictured above), and climbed to the top.

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I carried Adrià everywhere, which actually made me feel so good that he wanted me to pick him up and hold him. We saw the locks that countless couples put there to lock their love. I just kept thinking, ¿Dónde está mi amor? For dinner later that night, I was introduced to pan con tomate. It’s bread, but on the bread we take a tomato cut in half and rub it so that it moistens the bread, then pour olive oil and sprinkle salt over top. It was amazing. I don’t care about carbs, I will forever fill up on bread. I love it! After dinner, I taught the children “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in English as we danced. Mar loves to dance as much as she loves to swim. It makes me so happy to see them learn… I hope it is working.

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Pan con tomate- A.K.A., the best thing you will ever taste.

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