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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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How to Stop a Delay from Ruining Your Day

As a frequent flier I should know better than to make plans for right after I land, but last week I got ahead of myself and made that and other rookie mistakes I’d like to save you from. Even on the shortest or most routine flight, unexpected delays can arise, and here’s a few ways to keep your cool and get where you’re going no matter what mode of transportation.

  1. Plan ahead.
    Whether your flight’s in the middle of your work day or at the crack of dawn, it’s easy to be distracted by everything you’re trying to finish first and lose track of the trip you’re about to start. Knowing it’s an expected number of hours, you can under prepare for long-term setbacks. The key: don’t depart hungry or empty-handed–pack or plan to pick up food and bring something to occupy yourself whether work, reading or music. That way if you spend hours on the tarmac or at the gate with touch-and-go updates, you won’t starve or go crazy.

  2. Don’t be a diva.
    What makes delays even worse? People reacting to delays. Be conscious of the people around you and the crew by showing patience and courtesy. It doesn’t help anyone, including yourself, or speed anything up to complain. And continually badgering the staff won’t change the status of your trip. They’ll be much more likely to help with re-bookings or hotel stays if you’ve been cooperative. The key: the Golden Rule.

  3. Cushion your schedule.
    Every time I plan a dinner or outing directly upon arrival, I end up letting people down after arriving too late to follow through. Sometimes you can’t avoid this, but when you can, let the first few hours be designated for rest, exploration or family time depending on your destination. Most importantly, when you’re traveling for an event you absolutely can’t miss whether a wedding, funeral or work obligation, plan to arrive with plenty of time to spare. The key: try not to make promises and set expectations by saying when you’re expected to arrive, but that you’ll update along the way.

  4. Use benefit of the doubt.
    It can be really frustrating to not know what the hold up is. Between bad weather, medical emergencies, mechanical issues or crowded runways, oftentimes there’s little warning of a delay–and little control over it. The best way to prolong your own patience and deal with others’ impatience is to be reasonable. The key: remind yourself you’re safely on the ground and not falling out of the sky. That’s more important than arriving on time.

  5. Exploit the situation.
    I have had the best conversations and most entertaining rounds of drinks with other passengers during delays—from my flight attendant to a family returning from their reunion. Laughing with others in the same situation can relieve the stress and panic cancellations and hours of waiting create. The key: follow the first four steps and you’ll be at ease and approachable leaving room to meet new people. Even non-social butterfly’s will break the ice with their seatmate after two hours stalled on the runway.

How do you cope with delays–any ideas for hours in the airport or on the runway?

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How to Travel with an Injury

My doctor describes my running injury–a stress fracture of the femoral neck and labral tear–as a saga, because it has seemed never-ending, to both of us. When something went terribly wrong and felt incredibly painful on a run in late January, I never thought I’d still be using crutches and getting MRIs, CT scans, ultra sounds, injections, and physical therapy five months later (and counting).

In the ideal response, I would take a break from travel and rest my stubborn hip, but with this prolonged saga, it’s nearly impossible to put my life on hold. As difficult as crutching (we’re way past accepting I use this as a verb) in the city is, traveling is an outright obstacle course. Whether you’re in a boot or cast, have a walker or crutches, here are the five habits I’ve adopted to make traveling solo as painless as possible.

  1. Leave early. You have to plan for the extra time it takes to bring more than just your body and suitcase, and for how much slower you move while injured. For once, frequent fliers, don’t allot only enough time to make it on the plane before it takes off; add enough time to not be stressed or frustrated and to board early. The last thing your body needs while healing is stress, and if your injury can be irritated by running or rushing, prevent this ahead of time. I can’t really crutch any faster, so cutting it close is setting myself up for frustration, and airlines and airports provide enough of that on their own.
  2. Follow doctor’s orders. First, don’t shy away from asking the doctor for recommendations, and second, follow them. Anyone who’s seen me walking holding my crutches in one hand knows this is harder than it sounds. We all want immediate results, but your body is on its own schedule. Talk to your doctor about how far you can push it: whether you can exercise, what risks are involved with traveling or walking, and how much activity you can comfortably take on. Then take their advice.
  3. Don’t worry about strangers. I spend way too much time worrying about everyone staring at me on crutches, trying to explain myself to skeptical questioners, and rushing to accommodate others. This is another way to add frustration and risk to travel. Move at a comfortable pace, respect your body’s limitations, and don’t let complete strangers affect your mood for a more peaceful trip.
  4. Have a plan. I recently flew with crutches, a suitcase, and my dog-that requires a bit of planning. I needed my roommate to help me get my suitcase downstairs, my cabbie to get it to the curb, an airline representative to help me inside, and a TSA agent to assist me through security. The more you anticipate any obstacles, the less challenges will make you panic. Lifting that suitcase at all could completely set my stress fracture back, and I had to know in advance how the heck I’d get it to the plane. Then warn whoever’s picking you up to park so they can help lift or assist on the other end. My dad planned ahead by waiting with a wheel chair when he knew I was too embarrassed to request one (see No. 3).
  5. Ask for help. Anyone can empathize with an injury, and travel professionals have seen every ailment in transit. It’s ok to board early, request a wheel chair, ask a fellow passenger to grab your crutches from the overhead compartment, or use that cane security keeps handy. Put your injury first, before your pride or hesitance, to travel while healing.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It’s not going to be fun and it’s not going to be quick, but travel can be painless and manageable with the right attitude and expectations, and a little help from others.

Have you ever had a neverending injury? Share your funny stories to make me feel a little better.