learn, move to NYC

When seasons change


My last blog was almost over a year ago. Do you ever have a particular date force you to realize all that’s happened in a year? (Okay, New Years is the obvious one, but this draft dated back to–dare I say–Veteran’s Day.)

Since last Veteran’s Day… I moved back to New York–or as I like to think, discontinued visiting D.C. all the time. I got back to running and racing better than before that fractured femur. I qualified for next year’s marathon, earned my first gold medal, and had amazing volunteering experiences.

Beyond working and running (and not blogging), I traveled to Grand Cayman, Austin, San Antonio, the Hudson River Valley, and Napa and Sonoma–actually those were all for work and included running. I stopped in LA for a friend’s wedding and saw a whole new side of it; Koreatown to be exact. I took my annual trip to Nashville, tried enough new restaurants to counter the running, and have gotten to know Connecticut way too well.

There may have been more than four seasons; it’s hard to say. But seasons have changed. Temperatures and colors and yes, wardrobes, have changed (in the way that I feel one with my down jacket). I’m not an expert on change–I admit I do everything I can to avoid it, but here’s what I learned as the leaves turned:

1. Sometimes change is on you.
Everyone has days at work when they’re ready to drop the mic. Everyone wants to secede from their families at times. Everyone needs a day or season off from all the action or exercise or drama. But it’s your feet walking in your shoes. I ran away to New York once a month until I just manned up and moved back, which reset my mindset. And now I have a life and a job again–not a job where I live.

2. There’s always a bright side.
Or as my pastor puts it: There’s gold in the garbage. As it turns out… D.C.’s not all that bad. I find myself recommending its redeeming value to people who typically respond with, “I thought you hated it?” I’m just more of a New Yorker who chose to treat D.C. like a traveler. (I have a long list of picks, but you can’t miss Del Campo, Bluejacket Brewery, the Dolcezza Gelato factory + coffee lab, or American Ice Co.)

3. We get plenty of takes.
Don’t get me started on videos after a year of hosting (too) many, but if you haven’t heard: Even one- to two-minute video clips take hours to shoot and require tons of footage that doesn’t count and several takes on the script. But that’s so the producer has plenty to work with to tell the best story. While we don’t get outtakes in life, it is okay to try a second and third take. Sometimes that last version of the script you completely improvised is way better (and far more natural) than what you’d planned. And outtakes are hilarious.

I’ll catch you up on the latest ways to give back next, but here are a few ideas from my holiday gift guide, which work for everyday of the year.

unsolicited travel how-to's

How to outdo DC transit snafus

This post was created in partnership with Lyft. Use my code ASHLEYDAY for a $20 credit!

In my first six months in DC, I’ve spent at least five Fridays sitting at a bus stop until I gave up on my plans or opted for an alternate mode of transportation. I’ve tried every option the city has, from driving to transit and transfers to Uber, Sidecar, Car2Go and ultimately Lyft. My first Lyft marked the last time I’d spend half my night complaining about how I arrived and how much it cost.

Three simple reasons to plan on getting a Lyft from here on out:

1. They’re available.

Do your own cross comparison: open every ride share or taxi finding app you have, and you’ll find a little car within reach of your balloon. The longest you can wait is 17 minutes…that’ll beat the bus.

2. You meet [awesome] new people.
Ride shares are like online dating…I imagine. At first the idea of a random person picking you up sounds awkward at best, but my roommate and I have had so much fun getting to know our drivers. We share all of our stories, get their recommendations for the area we’re headed to, and know who to look for next time we need a Lyft.

3. It’s less than a cab.
I’m a New Yorker, we don’t need a formula we can feel how long a ride’s going to cost us. And this is affordable, albeit fair.

Speaking of, you can get $20 towards your first Lyft by using the code ASHLEYDAY! That’s about two rides in The District. Just look for the pink mustache pulling up and your evening will get a little interesting a little early.

To start using Lyft, just download the app for iOS or Android and request your first ride!

learn, unsolicited travel how-to's

How to suppress wanderlust when you must

Our world map dining room
Our world map dining room
It sounds terrible, I know. Why would you even click on such a title? Well, because all of us have things that delay travel–obligations, full-time jobs, family dependence, financial constraints, passport or visa issues, life… At some point, for some reason, we all have to sit still for a bit, and when you must: try these tips on how to not scratch the itch.

From a travel writer who took a travel editor job that somehow put my travel on hold, these tricks might just calm your anxiety or at least divert you from any rash decisions for a bit. They may even help you give where you are a chance.

  1. Embrace the staycation. I know it feels like you’re selling out. You wrote a staycation piece about a place you didn’t even live to inspire locals to see all you saw in their home. Find that hidden beauty in yours. Seek out the unknown, or finally try the very well known. There’s something in that city you haven’t done yet and you can explore without packing, going through security, spending a fortune, or sleeping in communal sheets for once.
  2. Make an adventure of anything. This goes beyond a staycation; this is about your attitude. With my most recent move, I’ve found every time I’m lost is a time I’ll never forget directions again, and every time I find a parking spot, I’m going to find something near there to do or go home. Practice being up for anything — it’s the best possible way to travel and will change how you live at home. If your park day’s rained out, take cover in a restaurant or cafe you’ve never tried. If you don’t know anyone, take a run or find a bench to read on. You never know what you’ll discover, but it will be more than if you sat at home watching TV.
    Where we're from

  3. Get bigger maps. Hell, set that beachy screensaver. Whatever it takes to carry you away from where you are — buy, post, hang or frame it. You have a billion photos from wherever you’ve been — print them! You love maps or globes or skylines or sunsets — surround yourself with them even from here. We bring photos of the people we love on our travels, tucked in journals or wallets so we can feed a longing. Now you miss the travels, so hold them close or display them visually. There’s no question when you enter our home where we each moved here from…and likewise, no question that we’re not done moving when you see our map.
  4. Let yourself be inspired. You may be used to instilling the inspiration, but any true traveler knows there’s always more to learn. Dive into other travelers’ books, blogs, sites, mags, Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown…I know you want to be telling the stories, but feel these, learn from these. That’s what they’re told for as you know. And ideas will spring up that may not have occurred to you otherwise. That secluded island bar you found, the secret bakery in an Italian alleyway, those gardens no guidebook had covered…someone’s sharing similar secrets for your next trip. Read, watch, follow, listen.
  5. Take this time to plan. I know, I know. You fly by the seat of your pants and have the best stories from the situations you went into blind. But at least make a wish list, get a sense of where you have left to go and what you don’t want to miss. Study that language you love but put off learning; play the CD when you’re in the car or on public transit or working out. That will truly carry you away.

Most of all…push yourself to be open to the concept of home. I know roots aren’t a wanderer’s thing and investments or commitments make you gag, but there’s something about these novelties that a million other people have found meaning in. Let people in; go back to the same restaurant; develop a laundry lady or deli guy. They may know someone who knows someone whose foreign couch has your name on it.


Three months after moving

My DC familyMy inactive blog speaks for itself on the subject of busy-ness. I’ve never heard anyone say moving gets easier every time, but I think we all hope so deep down inside, then hope we never move again when we’re in the middle of it. I start to reconsider permanency and the price of hiring movers in the moment–the moment when we were re-assembling the entertainment center for the fifth time and the moment I was loading a U-haul in the pouring rain, again.

Sometimes I look back on my first blogs when I moved to New York without a plan (or a plan, but no strategy rather) and gain perspective on process and patience, and I’m proud of how far I came in three and a half years and pleased I recorded it all. But this move didn’t warrant writing; this move is better left unsaid.

While God did grant me the most perfect possible roommate and we found an apartment we’re already attached to, the rest has been what I can only call a learning process. In tribute to all we’ve learned in a ton of trial and error, I pass on our wisdom for anyone else ever moving to DC, or moving at all…but I don’t recommend it.

1. You can’t rush it. No matter how badly you want to be moved in and settled, you don’t want to settle on the place you’ll be living for a year. When the rest of the “adjusting” doesn’t fit like a glove, you’re going to want your home to.

2. There’s a reason pink tools are pink, resist the urge.
2b. Save your receipts.

3. You can never have too many command strips. But you’ll be back at Target 10 more times anyway.

4. Don’t be afraid to dumpster dive. See 2b.

5. Comcast never gets it on the first try. Go ahead and get to know that phone operator.

6. Carpet is as good as grass for dogs. Nugget’s saved us a lot of trips outside.

7. DC charges five cents for plastic bags, just invest in reusable ones now.

8. Parking is never free, and if it is, you will never forget that location.

9. DC has quarantined the worst drivers imaginable with the most complicated driving laws in America. Our only advice is to learn to read five signs at once in the smallest print possible. A GPS is non-negotiable, but only half as confused as you’ll be.

10. Within walking distance is a relative term, but at least there’s green and flowers on the way. (And no, I am not talking about the freakin cherry blossoms.)

We’re going to give it a year, and by then I’ll have a list of 10 things we’ve found and loved, and I’ll include directions for getting there.

Think you know something in DC that will win us over? Tell us here!

learn, move to NYC

A thank you to my favorite things in New York

a motley crew

My job…that sounds very glamorous and obnoxious out loud…is to see the world and somehow articulate it on paper. I have the responsibility of fitting unforgettable experiences and indescribable destinations into a number of paragraphs to convince others to follow in my footsteps for a lot more money. While I haven’t seen everywhere or experienced everything, every small perk of my job has been as glamorous as it sounds. But while that sounds very lucky, I worked my ass off to get it.

When I came to New York I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t really know what I was going to do professionally, I had no idea how much it was going to cost, and my college experience did not prepare me to write 500 cover letters. While I was blindly following the general concepts of making money however I could, taking any job remotely related to writing or travel (including a fishing and hunting magazine), and taking advantage of the fact that I lived in New York City, every step of the way has been so different from what I expected.

I was hit by an Escalade on my third day here. I worked at a diner with the most bitter customers alive ever for a full year. And then I spent six months crutching around the most walkable city on earth. Things never go as planned, especially if you plan.

What I also didn’t expect was to have the most incredible group of people around me through it all, and none of you were in my plan. I never thought the day I pledged a stupid sorority in college that four of the girls in misery with me would still be by my side six years later. I didn’t expect my brother’s high school girlfriend to let me stay on her couch for two weeks or be a constant source of inspiration and support in adulthood. I didn’t expect to fall in love with the guy training me on the phones at my stupid diner job, to bond with another waitress so closely we would sneak Kahlua into our coffee together and eventually become roommates, or to take a trip to another continent with my first real intern.

I didn’t expect to meet one of my best friends on a night I felt hopeless and alone in church, to become friends with my sisters sort of ex years after they dated and even love his wife, or to be in a city with my brother’s best friend for the third time. And I certainly didn’t expect my boss’s daughter to be by my side through an entire day of surgery years after we met in a different city where we were no more than coworkers.

The truth is that I thought New York itself was enough for me, and even if it is, God gave me you all anyway. And as much as I’ve learned about the unexpected, I am still surprised that He is taking me to a much lesser city, away from you all. The truth is that I went back and forth with this decision so many times, because I wasn’t positive the choice wasn’t between my own selfish gain and my much more meaningful relationships.

But my passion and my desires very obviously put on my heart by Him, are to travel for a living, and if for no reason than to have adventures with the ones I love. When I look back at the last three and a half years here, those adventures are too numerous to name, and they’re what make my heart swell when I think of New York. It wouldn’t have been what it is if I’d done it alone.

I will never forget sledding in Central Park with Kristin, running a half marathon untrained with Josh, golfing for the first time with Mahaffey, riding roller coasters as adults with Jessica and Mamoona, moving into my first apartment with Lauren, the summer of the Yates, weekly lunches with Cali, and the ridiculous things I can’t even admit from dates with my three sisters. Most of all, I will always cherish everyone’s help and support before, during, and after my surgery.

When Katie first moved back and the guy I was dating met her, it drove him crazy how much we talked about our memories from college and studying abroad. It’s probably driven all of you crazy at one point or another. And it’s no secret that it brings back the feelings that I came here to forget. But he always told me that it was only a matter of time until we made enough memories here in New York to replace all of our old stories.

This may have been the only thing that guy was ever right about, but it has served true with each of you. I have adventure upon adventure with all of you that will soothe my soul when I am lonely or discouraged in my next big city. They are the memories that inspire more success to fund more travel. And while I am choosing to further my career in the decision to move, it is and always has been with the purpose of adding adventure. And I’m confidently anticipating the ones to come both in DC and around the world with each of you at different points.

You always have a place to stay, wherever I go, and you will always have a place in my heart as I go. For now, I at least want a place on your wall…or nightstand or wallet…and have provided the means to make that happen. I have photos from my favorite adventures with each of you as a keepsake and a few more sappy feelings if this wasn’t enough.

Never, ever hesitate to call, write, email or text. I owe you all the world and I promise I am here even when I am not here. I just ask that you don’t forget about me and that you keep adventuring. There is nothing like leaving New York City knowing you took full advantage of it while you could. Thank you for making it the best years of my life. I may not ever get it all down on paper, but I will never forget it.

find a little good, learn

13 Ways to Do a Little Good Today (or in 2013)

loveMy traveling philosophy is to change the world as you discover it, and that is even easier in your own world at home. If you’re not convinced you can make a difference in every place you visit and actually enhance your trip on the way, start right where you are. There are more ways than you think to take a little good a long way, and that doesn’t always mean donating to a cause.

The biggest, but sometimes hardest, donation we can make is usually time…but once you form a habit of scheduling giving back and see the effects you can have, it won’t seem hard at all. Try any of these 13 easy acts of humanitarianism today and watch them change your year in 2013.

  1. Clean out your closet
    I find few people who don’t need to do this anyway. You’ll be surprised how many clothes and shoes you never wear that someone else could use. Find a second hand store, shelter, or drop box near you rather than throwing them away, and you’ll feel lighter and accomplished.

  2. Recycle
    Hopefully you already do, but if your neighborhood, building, or county doesn’t have a program, find a recycle drop off center and do your part to save the planet. Going a little out of your way can do some good for the environment and promote preservation.

  3. Let go of old books and magazines
    Once you’ve given up those clothes you never wore, this should be easy. In tiny apartments in NYC this is more relieving, but journalists and writers want to save every good thing we’ve ever read. Either recycle that stack of old mags, or donate those and used books. There are services that pick them up and redistribute or you can give to a second hand store, hospital, nursing home, or other housing for those in need.

  4. Provide food
    Clean out the cans or dried goods that have become permanent fixtures in your pantry and donate to a shelter rather than letting them expire. If you don’t keep food in your apartment like me, pick up a few to drop off when you go by. Those cans are less than a dollar and can make all the difference for people less fortunate.

  5. Visit someone lonely
    Not to make these people sound sad, but this covers a broad spectrum. Whether you’re more comfortable entertaining children in a hospital or listening to the elderly in a home, this little bit of time goes a long way for those who can’t get out like you.

  6. Volunteer
    Research volunteering in your community; opportunities can range from yard work, serving meals at a soup kitchen, painting or repairing homes, playing with kids in after school programs, tutoring students or job training adults. You can give your time once a week or help with a one-time activity to support local programs and serve others.

  7. Shop intentionally
    Look into what local stores support. From chain retailers that give profits to national campaigns like RED to boutiques selling local products like beer, wine, crafts, or artisanal foods, the shopping you’d do anyway can make a difference. This is great for meaningful gift giving. One of my favorite little goods this year was Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Bargain Boutiques where you can pick up a souvenir or gift and support the hospital’s research. How simple is that?

  8. Thank service workers
    If anyone needs to be served, it’s service workers. Whether you over tip a waitress or cab driver, or have a Gatorade ready for your maintenance man, you can change a person’s day by showing you appreciate them and all they put up with. Thank the troops you know with a letter, leave your super a card of encouragement, or make cookies for the janitor at your office. Everyone wants to feel noticed and appreciated.

  9. Pack something extra
    Throw an extra sandwich in your bag lunch for a coworker or have a granola bar ready for someone on the way. If you pass a lot of homeless people when you travel, like New Yorkers do, keep a change purse with coins. It’s so easy to give away a dime or breakfast bar and know you did some good and made an impact.

  10. Exercise for a cause
    See how often your city hosts runs, walks, yoga-thons, or bike rides for good causes. All you have to do is show up and work out and you’ll be surprised how many people want to support you. Raise funds and support, especially with a team, to unite your friends or coworkers in doing a little good. Many cities now have charitable intramural leagues for adults from kickball or bowling to softball or soccer.

  11. Sit
    Offer to pet sit, house sit, or babysit for a friend free of charge. You can give someone a break, time for a date, or simply save them money while multi-tasking and/or spending quality time with a little one.

  12. Foster a chore
    When you have a friend that’s sick, see what they need at the store. See a neighbor’s trash in the hall? Take it downstairs for them. Taking over a small task to save someone else time is a painless, considerate random act of kindness. My favorite: show up with wine and a movie when someone’s had a bad day. If we all better the very small world around us, we really will change the world.

  13. Join #26acts
    Speaking of random acts of kindness, kick off the year with #26acts, the 26 random acts of kindness in honor of every victim at Sandy Hook. Participating with other people and photographing all you do to share the love on social media will get you and everyone watching excited about doing some good.

For ideas of how you can help specific destinations, see where I’ve found a little good in my travels.

learn, unsolicited travel how-to's

How to Gift A City

NYC in a BOXIt’s no secret that I love New York City so much I try to force everyone else to, from over-planning visitors’ stays to over-gifting I “heart” NY shirts. While NYC is one of those things you can’t fit into a box—both because it’s overwhelming and something you have to see for yourself—several occasions have prompted me to try to. I’ve been working on compiling New York City-in-a-box for locals moving elsewhere and friends who’ve hosted me in their respective cities, but in these cases people have or will visit, and the impression in person is difficult to replicate.

The ideal opportunity to try gifting the experience comes this Christmas as I’m spending the holiday with my grandparents who are afraid to fly and are no longer able to travel anyway. While both not traveling and never seeing New York are heartbreaking concepts alone, I hate most that I can’t share my home and one of my favorite things with two of my favorite people whose home is my favorite place in the world. So in an attempt to repay all the love and hospitality they’ve poured out, I’m stuffing everything that remotely represents the New York City experience into a box: the quintessential, trademark elements of the city in a deliverable format.

Here’s my take on how to package that city you love into a take out box for someone that’s missing it, hates flying, or can’t afford to visit, even as a preview for whenever they can.

  1. Make a list
    It sounds obvious, but there’s a difference between raiding the airport gift shop, and compiling your own gift set of a city (refer to number three). The biggest challenge is how many stores this project requires going to, so planning in advance will go a long way toward not going a long way. Think of everything you love about this city including where you take visitors and where you go with friends—landmarks, restaurants, parks, shows—then brainstorm how to transfer those places into gift ideas. What’s the tangible takeaway from these events or experiences? I can’t deliver Central Park, but I can include photos or a book on it, and I can’t replicate a Broadway performance, but I can include the DVD or tickets to the traveling version of a show.

  2. Think broad spectrum
    With major cities like New York it’s easy to cover the obvious icons, but opening your list to every interest can make your box more diverse and accessible. Instead of just “touristy” things, try to cover sports, food, history, art, music, theater, the outdoors, everything. If I wanted to send Orlando in a box, I wouldn’t just fill it with Disney memorabilia; I’d represent the Magic, the Science Center, the Museum of Art, popular local Bar-BQ, Islands of Adventure, maybe even I-drive. Then…

  3. Translate into practicality
    No one knows what to do with little figurines, snow globes, or more random Christmas ornaments, especially if they’ve never been to the place represented. Sure you can get a pen, shot glass, coffee mug, the things you’ll find in every gift shop, but if you find items people can actually use, the box is less of a burden and a lot more fun to watch someone open considering there’s a lot inside. An easy shortcut is logo printing, best for covering local sports for example. I went in one sports store to look for a Yankees trinket and found ponchos, umbrellas, gloves, headphones, you name it. If the recipient is not necessarily a fan, go for practicality on their terms—you wouldn’t believe I found Yankees sunscreen for my grandparents who live on the beach. If they were die hard fans, I could’ve gone with the Yankees ear buds or speakers. Think bottle opener over pointless key chain.

  4. Non-perishable is possible
    You know you can’t send a Nathan’s hot dog or Grimaldi’s pizza in the mail, but that doesn’t mean you can cut food out, especially in a city centered around it. See if Nathan’s sells ketchup or if Grimaldi’s sells sauce or a recipe book. Then explore local craft foods that are generally made to gift like chocolate, coffee, tea, popcorn, beer, wine…these are definitive elements of so many cities. If all else fails go for a cookbook whether from an artisan shop or local chef.

  5. Cover the senses
    We have taste and sight, but what about touch, sound, and smell? Throw in a DVD or soundtrack of a local performance, the CD of a homegrown band, soap or lotion from that one-of-a-kind boutique, and even clothes with a logo or landmark store represented. I highly recommend the books of museum exhibits and movies that inspire travel or celebrate your city. New York is easy with Broadway shows, concerts, sporting events, and even ballet dances all on film. Plus, almost every landmark has a gift shop with a dozen ways to re-live the experience. These are gold mines for your city-in-a-box.

  6. Personalize it
    I have to admit this is already a pretty thoughtful gift because of how much time goes into it, but so far it’s only been about you. Think about who’s on the receiving end and a few more ideas may come to mind. My grandma’s devil dog is getting an I “heart” NY shirt, quite possibly because I’m running out of humans to force them on. My grandpa’s getting a statue of liberty 3-D puzzle, because he’s house bound and now one icon serves a dual purpose. This goes back to practicality, and almost anyone can appreciate a deck of cards, koozie, hat, umbrella, you get the idea.

This is a big project, but a fun one and great therapy for remembering all you love about a city—particularly one as harsh as NYC. Allot plenty of prep time, aim for lots of small and affordable items, and go all out with related tissue paper or a themed box if you love your city as much as I do. Then take pictures and share the idea, you might just inspire someone to visit. You can give the gift of travel and guarantee no delays, crowds, costs, or packing, and you get to do some exploring yourself in the process.

Check out 40 more travel gifts I recommend on Go Overseas.

learn, live

Why I got on the plane anyway

Iguassu Falls

The last time New York City had a hurricane on the way all the panic and grocery store raiding turned out to be a big waste of time, as expected from we Floridians. So when I left for Nashville in October and heard murmurs of a maybe, could be follow up, I thought nothing of it. Even when the airline got antsy and rescheduled my flight a day later just in case, I thought nothing of it.

A week later I was still in Nashville, crying over photos of my neighborhood flooded, and panicking about missing my flight home which was the means to an end…my next flight to Brazil. I still had to get my visa between 2 and 4 pm in midtown with subways not running, I caught a cold, I needed to change my packed clothes from winter to summer attire, and I had guests arriving to rent out my room while I’d be gone. Not to mention I had a new roommate moving in the second bedroom.

When I finally got a flight back with 24 hours left before the next one, the pilot discovered mechanical problems as soon as we’d boarded. I can’t articulate how a plane full of New Yorkers who’d been stranded from home in the south reacted to the possibility of another day, but no better than I did thinking Brazil was off.

When we fortunately made it on another plane, I finally got in at 11 pm and experienced lower Manhattan’s black out firsthand. Much like I Am Legend, there were people to be found, much less cell phone service, power, or traffic lights. My cab from the airport was my only way out, so the driver gave me five minutes to run inside before he would drive me to a friend’s to stay. I used my cell phone flashlight to climb the stairs, examine my apartment, dispose of a dead mouse, and pack whatever felt like what I wanted to bring to Brazil.

After a fortune fare, I stayed 120 blocks north on the Upper West Side, where I would wake up to find my new roommate had backed out the day rent was due. I now had 10 hours to get my visa, secure another roommate, finish the work I’d gotten behind on, and get to the airport. I still had to meet my renters and let them in my apartment downtown during the fiasco, while going through a hundred tissues an hour with my cold.

What frustrated me more than all of this stress hitting at once, were text messages asking if I was sure I should go and if these weren’t a bunch of giant signs I should back out…the day of a free trip to Brazil. First of all, a merely proud person wouldn’t cancel a two-week vacation to South America, but travel writers legitimately do not have the luxury of backing out. You simply can’t tell all the people who’ve made arrangements for you that you’ve changed your mind. But there are other reasons you know better.

When you’ve had that one experience on each trip that makes you stop and forget about being lost or frustrated or tired or dirty and realize why you came, you know the feeling, and you crave it over again and everywhere else. It’s the feeling that made you realize you had to be a traveler, by profession, and as a lifestyle. And when you’re chasing that, you’d never settle for staying home and being responsible or practical or careful.

The truth is, it would have been much easier to stay, rest up, feel better, and sort out the mess that is my life, but I knew what was coming. Having never been to Brazil, I knew somewhere in there that moment was waiting, and I needed that high to get through everything else. And when we arrived at Iguassu Falls and gradually approached the Devil’s Throat passing the over 250 waterfalls on the way…it happened.

The giant cascading monstrosity came into view, but it took over more than the view. The crashing sound and ricocheting mist and fresh smell encompassed me and hundreds of other people in awe. My shoulders relaxed and I closed my eyes and felt the breeze and took in all the surroundings captivating my senses, and I knew this trip was worth it. As my face and hair were soaked and I struggled to use my camera without killing it, the moment outdid the attraction and the whole experience exceeded that idea we had of stopping by to see a famous waterfall really quickly. And even when I would be back in the giant mess of my life, I would have this in my memory and be able to feel it again from a photo or mention…or the mist encompassing the city today.

And the moment came over and over again in the amazon chasing caiman, in Salvador dancing to African drums, in Rio looking over the city through the clouds…I felt it. And if that doesn’t sound familiar to you—and maybe moreso if it does—you have to hit the road. Plan that trip in your head, book the tickets, map your route, pack your bags. You need it, more than you know, especially if you don’t have the time. And I promise it will put that giant mental list of reasons you can’t go into perspective, much like everything else in your head.

learn, live, unsolicited travel how-to's

How to Be a Traveler and a 9-to-5er

Hiking with associates while working in Phoenix.

I know, I know, how dare I? To many an adventurer, the full-time cubicle gig is a slap in the face to wanderlust, but you can do both, I promise. And even afford it. I’m not a miracle worker, but I take simple steps that you too can use to turn a few of your daydreams into reality on the road. Here’s how I travel year round while maintaining a career:

  1. Stick with one mileage program
    It’s easy to look for the cheapest flight every time you need to go somewhere, but dividing your travel between multiple airlines wastes valuable rewards for loyalty. Even if you can’t avoid bargain shopping, use a credit card that earns miles every time you book. Then unexpected flights are a little less painful knowing you’re working toward a free one.

  2. Take advantage of obligations
    We don’t hesitate to book travel for weddings, family reunions, sporting events or visiting friends, but we forget to explore the destination while we’re there. Whether you work the best restaurant into your stay, make time for an attraction or experience, or just instigate a self-guided driving tour, see where you are, make the fare worth the trip. Even on long layovers.

  3. Capitalize on work trips
    How often do you hear someone say they’ve been to a city but only for a meeting or a conference? Walk outside! Play hookie if you have to. At the very most, tack on. Add exploration days to the beginning or end of the trip while the airfare’s covered. At the very least, look for (or ask a local about) real local digs and stop on your drive to or from the airport. You’ll feel much more accomplished no matter how work went.

  4. Never miss a long weekend
    I’ve been guilty of this since college—getting so overwhelmed with busyness leading up to a break I either never make time to plan something and/or use the extra day to rest or “catch up on errands.” Unacceptable dreamers. You only get so many of these a year and I’ve heard you complain about your limited vacation days. Go somewhere, even if for a day trip nearby. Save your staycation for a regular, two-day weekend.

  5. Always plan for your next trip
    Planning ahead to the next place you’d like to go makes your goal attainable with enough time to budget, save, ask for recommendations, and research. Not to mention it gives you a little motivation to keep working and maybe a little distraction when you need to take five. Where are you dying to go? Make it happen, get googling.

It’s that simple. Before you know it you will have incorporated travel into your very busy, stressful everyday life and built up points to continue doing so. You don’t have to break the bank or dramatically quit your job to see the world, but be careful because you’ll want to, trip by trip.

How do you balance work, life and travel?

find a little good, live, unsolicited travel how-to's

How to Get to the Getaway

The only thing that flew by faster than this summer was Labor Day (seriously, did it already happen?) and if you missed this free vacation you have to hold on to that regret the next time a three-day weekend creeps up on you. Guilty (and shameful) of working on the 4th of July, I determinedly made it to Niagara Falls and the Finger Lakes this day off around, but after a ridiculous course of events in the week leading up to it—the kind that threaten all of us in the trip planning process.

To me, the biggest challenges with every weekend getaway opportunity, particularly when an extra day comes into play, are getting there and getting over being back. While not knowing what day it is for the rest of the following week is inevitable, I can help with making that trip happen in the first place despite the life/stress/work/obligation/budget obstacles that are bound to arise. If you’re a friend of mine, you know that by help I mean text message, tweet or IM you the entire week before to encourage (peer pressure) you to commit. But with or without this endearing persistence, here are the keys to ending up far from the couch all on your own.

  1. Try to realize it’s one weekend. As many excuses as your commitments will provide, your world will survive without you for two to three days. Think of it as the rest of the world only getting those couple days. You know when you lose or forget your phone for a few hours and you have overwhelming anxiety about how much information you’re missing and who must be worried sick you’re out of touch, and then you finally get a hold of it and you don’t have a single message? Or the only one you have is from your mom? Putting your chores off, ignoring your work email, or rain checking rain-check-able plans for a few days away can be just like that. And usually better.
  2. Use your bucket list. Whether you’re OCD and have a thorough list or simply continually pass things by or hear about places and remember they’re on your to-do’s…now is the time; let those motivate you. Travel lovers know if you want to see the whole world, you better get started, and every long weekend is a little bonus. I couldn’t make it to India or Australia this weekend, but I could certainly see the things that are lower on the list, but closer and less expensive. When the day off was approaching, I went through my endless wishes to see what was feasible—whether that referred to funding, proximity or group appeal—and saw Niagara Falls for the first time, plus tasted Finger Lakes wine, all in two days.
  3. Be up for anything. On this particular trip I had to be up for third-wheeling, borrowing a friend’s car, staying in a very scary but cheap motel, cutting the time down from four days away to two, and driving seven hours each way to make it work, and those waterfalls were completely worth it. On the other hand we were also up for attending a family’s annual picnic even though they were complete strangers, taking an impromptu winery tour from a brand new employee who wanted to share his version, and settling for pizza when every restaurant we’d wanted to try closed early. For these settlements, we got small town charm, local history, an intimate and personal tour complete with grape tasting, and really good pizza. Simply agreeing can lead to so many memories that outdo what you had planned.
  4. De-emphasize sleep…and money, for once. When we think of an extra day off, we think of more time to rest and one less day of waking up for work. But we lose sleep for work and responsibilities every day of the week, why not lose it for travel? When you squeeze a 14-hour trip into two days, the only way to really take advantage of that little time is to forego sleep in favor of driving. As tired as we all were Tuesday, I’d rather stay in for a night than have missed out on all we saw and did. Similarly, money limitations don’t have to hinder or prevent travel, try to make your budget work. Save on gas and hotels by bringing more people, look for free events or activities, be up for camping, grab fast food when you have to or pack snacks.

The truth is, you can’t always get away, but when you can, determine how conquerable the obstacles are. Our country hands you TEN free days a year, that’s 10 extra days to see the world, and when you’re determined, you can take those a long way. And when you can’t go far, apply these steps to your weekend at home. They should still get you off the couch.

  • a little good here: The Finger Lakes’ annual wine competition (FLIWC) is the largest charitable event of its kind on this continent! Proceeds benefit Camp Good Days and Special Times, a getaway for families affected by cancer and other life challenges.
  • a long way: While the camp can always use volunteers if you have extensive time in this area, they’re currently accepting used books in a partnership with Great Lakes Book Buyers who are making donations for every book collected. They’ll even come and pick them up. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Where have three-day weekends taken you?