Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to Research and Plan Your International Trip: Researching It Out

This is a four part series where we'll explore:
1.  Choosing Your Destination
2.  Researching it Out
3. Budgeting for your Trip
4.  Building a Rough Itinerary

Researching it Out

Once Scott and I decide whether the length and season of our trip is a good match for our ideal destination, we jump in the car and head to the bookstore to check out the travel book section.  We almost always end up going with the Lonely Planet guide books- they are well-written, organized, give a great overview, and they cover the topics we care about:  Getting there and away, budget to high end accommodations, things to do, things to see, and food to eat.  I would say to just stick with Lonely Planet, but some locations in Europe and elsewhere have travel specialists who write a really great book about that region.  Explore your options in travel books, but I don't think you can go wrong with Lonely Planet.  Then, I leave the book on my nightstand and spend my nights reading away.  I highlight, sticky note, write in the margins... this book is my manual. 

Next, I read blogs, join online forums, explore destination-specific websites, and best of all: talk to people who have been there! All my best restaurants, activities and hotels have been recommendations from people who have already traveled there.  Don't be shy in asking for help, people are excited to talk about their experience with someone who cares, and I know I get a thrill from giving a friend a good tip.  I have also started listening to podcasts on specific places, my favorite of which is Amateur Traveler where host Chris Christensen gives you a great flavor of each destination and generally gives more "off the beaten path" advice than others I know.  He interviews people who have spent a bit of time in the location and asks great questions to his interviewees. 

During this researching phase, I often post a large map of where I'm going to kind of get my head around the region, and be able to visualize places in relation to each other.  I make a giant list of things to see, do and eat and try to group them together based on location.  

The researching phase can take anywhere between 1 week to 6 months or more!  Decide how much time you have and plan accordingly!  For me, learning about each destination is almost as fun as going there!
Just remember, once you've arrived at your destination all the seemingly-endless planning will be worth it and you'll be anxious to start over again!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bellingham with the Bastians

Noelle and Phil are awesome hosts!  They waste no time in getting us to Bellingham's best!  
Whatcom falls, Lake Padden, even a fish hatchery (we have a thing for fish hatcheries)...
When we'd finish up at one place Jake would ask, "Which park are we going to next?"  Our weekend was definitely park hopping!
And playground playing:
This girl has a mind on her own. She is very brave and adventurous!

The watermelon was a hit for T!

Bellingham is REALLY gorgeous.  It feels like you are out in the islands, when really you're on the mainland!

It was so refreshing to show up in a new place and not have to figure out the geography and plan our "must visit" list.  We were taken around to all the best spots, without doing any of the work!

Thanks Noelle and Phil for a great visit!  We'll be back :)

Friday, June 21, 2013

How to Research and Plan Your International Trip: Choosing Your Destination

You want to travel, but don't know where to begin?
(Photo in Budapest, Hungary)

This is a four part series where we'll explore:
1.  Choosing Your Destination
2.  Researching it Out
3. Budgeting for your Trip
4.  Building a Rough Itinerary

Choosing Your Destination:
We have a never-ending list of places we'd love to go, so choosing a destination depends on the
1. Time allotment we have available
2. Season of travel
3. Our current mood, if you will.

If you are just starting to feed your travel bug, you may find one of those "101 Places to See Before You Die" books helpful to spark your curiosity.  We subscribe to National Geographic's Adventure Magazine, which has inspired more than one of our trips.  (That magazine is the reason we ended up in Montenegro and Hercegovina. Don't know where that is?  I couldn't grasp it until I got there either...)  Pinterest boards get my wheels turning, as well as talking to friends and family about travel highlights. Having your "Travel Bucket List" of places, or things to do is a great way to start!

1.  Time Allotment

It is tough to make time to travel when you have (The traditionally American) 10 days off, and you're expected to use 4 of them for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is really tough.  But once you make travel your priority, I guarantee you can find a way.
Negotiate more time off when starting a new job, take a break between jobs, volunteer to take unpaid days off, schedule your trip over a holiday weekend...  Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July are all good times that have worked for us.  If you can travel around/on the holidays, you'll get Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, and New Years Day off, you can count 4 days of weekend, and only take 4 days paid vacation to = 12 days you could be on an international trip!
Try to maximize the time you have off to make your long, expensive flight worthwhile.
(I half joke about my primary goal each year being to "Ride in a BIG plane." This is one of my first BIG plane rides to Europe as a 14 year old.)

2.  Season of Travel

Something to think about when choosing your destination is to determine what exactly you hope to do there, and if/when a fun event is going on.  We were in Vietnam for Chinese New Year which made our experience so much richer!  Fresh flowers and kites everywhere, even more street food than normal, and heaps of exercise groups in the park!
I am waiting for a 10-14 day window during the end of April to plan my trip to Holland, so I can go to the tulip festival.  My point: Consider the season before planning your trip.

Another thing, I have incredibly better travel experiences when I go with a purpose.  For example, my goal on our Peru trip was to pet a llama at Machu Picchu, and to paraglide over the Sacred Valley. Mission accomplished!  Having these goals gave our trip structure, and it gave me a starting point in my planning.

3.  Our current mood.

Travelling and Vacationing are two very different things.  We love both.  Having just returned from 3 months in Costa Rica and 10 days in Peru, we are looking forward to making our next trip a "vacation."  Decide with your travel partner what the goals are for your trip. Do you want a relaxing, possibly romantic, sunny beach experience?  Ko Hai, Thailand is my recommendation for you!  Are you looking for an adventurous, full-on, explorative trip?  New Zealand is your place! From my experiences, vacations are much easier to plan.  Pick 1-2 spots, relatively close together, pack a single suitcase with a swim suit and some dinner attire.  I have yet to try an all inclusive, but I think it sounds lovely.  Trips require planning multiple events for each day, navigating transportation, and they require strategy in allotting your time and money.
What are you in the mood for?

Stay tuned for the next installment: Researching it Out!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend

Grilled veggies and flank steak were served on the deck just as we walked through the door from our road trip.  Noelle + kids were here along with my parents, and it wasn't long before Heather called from Spokane (4 hours away) saying she'd wasn't about to miss out, and would show up with her gang the next morning.  It was a fun, whirlwind, family weekend!

Autumn and Tatum.  
We affectionately refer to them as "Frienemies."

Cousin breakfast!

Mom took part of the crew to play pickleball, while the rest of us ventured to Farrel McWhirter Park, a log-time favorite.
Cosmo the new Labradoodle puppy!

The tire swing was wet, resulting in this:

Thanks for coming Noelle and Heather, it was so fun to be together at last!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Top 10 travel Items (For Women)

Friends often ask me "So, what should I pack?" or "What Christmas gift can I buy for my niece who travels a lot?"  These are such tough questions because every trip is a different length, to a different climate, with different goals.  But with all this in mind, I have compiled an overall Top 10 that are some of my favorite things while I'm on the go!

(Photo in Mostar, Bosnia)

1.  This is my travel hair dryer.  It's the BaByliss Pro Nano Titanium :)  It costs $25 on Amazon now, but I'm fairly positive I paid $15 for it about a year ago.  It is very small (Watch used to show true sizing) it folds, is super light weight, has dual voltage, and this dryer packs a punch!  It is powerful and dries hair fast, which sets this dryer well above others of its kind.  I sometimes use this dryer at home for everyday life because it is just that great.  Love it!

2.  My headlamp.  (Or it may be my husbands... tough to tell!)  I bring this on every. single. trip. no. matter. what.  Backpacking Peru, Car/Train travel through Europe, Exploring New Zealand, Beaching in Hawaii, Tour group in China... you name the trip, it is with me.  And I make sure to put in new batteries before every trip.  I have tried a lot of headlamps, including a Petzl and several from REI, but my personal favorite is this Energizer Headlamp from Walmart.  It is simple, no fuss, has a strong light with a red light option.  The elastic is snug but not pinchy, and it's thin enough that it feels a bit less intrusive to wear.  Some of the occasions where this has saved my life are:  Looking for the restroom in a new hostel where I can't find my way, exploring bat caves in Malaysia, to get a good look up inside a wheel well, or to read/journal write on a late night bus.  Truly, I use this about 3x/day while I'm abroad.

3.  This fake moleskin is a life saver.  I use it as my travel journal, recommendation recorder, hotel info log, and I always come home with a handful of new facebook friends to add from all around the world.  At the start of my trip, I dedicate 1 page for each day of the trip.  I decide to write just that one page each day to stay up on the details and funny stories, but not get overwhelmed.  Sometimes just bullet points are good to jot down so you remember what to tell your mom about the trip once you get home.  So, I write "Thursday, June14, Day 1" at the top of the page and so on.  It is such a good reference to have later on.  Then, I write pricing, hotel addresses, names of restaurants and any other recommendation a fellow traveler gives me.  I couldn't find a link to this online, but you can get them at Target, Walmart, any drug store or bookstore.  The key is for it to have that elastic strap so your pages don't get wrinkled and ripped out.  I also love to have the pocket in the back to store business cards and slips of paper.  (This book measures 3.5" x 5.5")

4.  It's nice to have a travel alarm clock with you.  I don't particularly love mine, so I won't link it here, but I do love something with big numbers, LED backlight, with an alarm function, you know, so you don't miss the morning bus to Machu Picchu. I have started bringing my iphone with me which I have grown to love.  It is a risk to bring something that valuable, so if you don't want to risk it, bring one of these instead. (I love my iphone for being a calculator/currency converter, stopwatch, alarm, and I often get a local phone card to make calls, and of course use free wifi to stay in touch with family.)

5.  This knife saves us so so often!  We do a lot of picnicing to save money, and so we can enjoy a nice lunch at our waterfall destination or the like.  It is so great to have a sharp knife with you to cut into that nectarine or even a pineapple!  We've used it to open packages, work on our backpacks, and various other things, but we use it most often for food.  You can buy it on Amazon, but I often see them at Ross or TJ Maxx if you want to save a few bucks.  Be sure it has the sheath- that way you won't stab yourself when you reach in your backpack or lunch sack!

6.  The Belkin Headphone splitter.  They cost about $3.  We love to listen to music and watch movies together.  Even just for the looooong flights it's fun to use this during the in-flight movie.  In Southeast Asia, the only electronic we brought was an ipod, so we'd both hook in and listen together.  On our two most recent ventures (To Costa Rica, and Peru) we had an iphone and an ipad with us, which enabled us to watch movies on busses and in public places together.  Just a convenience that is fun to have.  If you anticipate having lots of hotel time (Beach vacay!) or you stay up late playing cards, it's fun to pack a mini speaker.  It totally depends on the nature of your trip.

7.  My backpack.  It's an REI brand 40 Liter pack (Green).  My husband's is the same, but I think it's a 50 liter.  If you ever talk to me about packing for travel, you will probably leave scared to death and hopefully, you will go home and unpack half your bag.  You simply do not need that much.  I pack the same amount for a 10 day trip as I do for 6 weeks or even 3 months.  The secret is to just wash your clothes.  I definitely think/care about looking good in photos, so I bring tops that I feel comfortable in and look great in pics and then a pair of neutral shorts, a skirt and a swim suit.  It IS that easy :) Throw in some cosmetics and a credit card- you're set to go :)  I always feel so bad for the "Backpackers" I see stumbling in to a restaurant, sweaty, and worn out with sore shoulders.  Being a "backpacker" doesn't mean you have to suffer.  And even travelling with a car doesn't mean you should pack your wardrobe with you either!
(Some features I love about this bag is the compartments in the front pouch- lots of pockets for easy organization.  There is a zip pocket on the top that is really handy -you can see it on the black bag pictured, I use this for my notebook and a pen- and there are side zip pockets too. There is a hip strap to carry the weight, with a zip pocket there -for my camera and chapstick- and tucked up and underneath the pack is a rainproof cover, only to get out during a torrential downpour.  That has saved us more than once!  These are just some things to consider when shopping for a backpack)

8.  A mini bottle of dry shampoo.  I just barely learned about this trick, and desperately wish someone had clued me in long ago!  On our most recent adventure in Peru, I showered almost every day, but only washed my hair every 4 days or so.  I just sprayed this in every morning, or at night before dinner out on the town, and I was set to go!
I've heard great reviews about this brand "Batiste" but I use "Got 2 Be" from CVS. Try this out before you leave and make sure it works for you! 

9.  My skirt/dress/sheet is one of my favorite travel accessories.  I wear it as a skirt (Honeymooning in Ubud, Bali) or as a dress (That day I fought with a dog in Thailand).  It's sold as a skirt with the roll over waist band.  I've worn it hiking in the jungle, exploring cities, to church, at the beach... everywhere!  It also rolls up nicely as a neck pillow, and I've laid it out on bed to use as extra padding or to add another layer between me and a gross hostel bed.  It is the most all-purpose, best thing around!  I got mine at Sports Authority- so I'd check athletic places like that. 

10.  And last but not least, the trusty nike bag!  This is my purse/ to go bag.  We usually leave our backpacks at the hotel during the day and just bring this nike bag with us for the essentials:  Passports (on us at all times), camera, water bottle, sunscreen.  The drawstring feature is so convenient, and we have found it's the best way to prevent getting pick-pocketed or stolen.  Its so light and easy you forget you're wearing it, and then when you sit down, you just throw a string strap around your leg so nobody can swipe it.  Win.
Dont forget to notify your bank of the countries you'll be in, and HAVE FUN!
Let me know if you have any questions!  What are some of your favorite travel items I should know about???

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day 2013

We love our Dad.  
There are no two ways about it.

He really makes us feel good about ourselves,
and he always wants to have a good time with us.
I'm pretty sure his greatest desire is to make memories together,
and mostly just BE together.
 And because this photo is so cool with Heather's red pants:
 (We so wish Bryan could have been here with us!)

My dad has worked really hard to provide for our needs and even a lot of our wants.
He's taught us how to work hard, save money, and do our homework perfectly :)
He is hands down, the best listener I know.

He is a man of his word, and my dad keeps his covenants.
He loves our mother.

I can speak for all us kids in saying that 
we know he loves us, no matter what!

Happy Father's Day Dad!  
Kick your heels for us in Ireland this month!

And, Scott.  Where do we begin.  Pretty sure I sing his praises often, but today:

He exposes our baby to new, wonderful experiences
 He is teaching her to adore hot water:
 He changes a lot of dirty diapers.  Even blowouts, and even when it's inconvenient.
 And he packs that girl around, rain or shine!

He is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, 
thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
(Basically, If I were getting an Eagle Scout award, I'd award a pin to him!)

Love you Scott!