Travel horror stories…

This time I’d really love to know yours!

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The Garden. Kensington Palace, London, England. October, 2014.

In honor of All Hallows’ Eve week, we’ll be looking at some travel horror stories and maybe things to do to avoid them.

Part of the reason for this week’s post is my sister. In the past few weeks, she traveled out to visit me in London, before heading back home, only to leave – days later – for a friend’s wedding in North Carolina.

The basic story goes: after being invited to the wedding, Ki booked the cheapest flight she could find online – she went with an airline called “Spirit”. She took the cheapest options available which meant she had a quick layover in Chicago, coming and going. On the way home, Ki’s flight into Chicago was delayed, meaning she missed her second flight which was set to take off 30 minutes after her other flight landed – needless to say that wasn’t going to happen. Then, Ki was stuck in a ‘strange’ city without plans and a connecting flight set for the next morning (6 am).

So a breakdown:

Trouble 1: She booked a flight on an airline she didn’t know anything about (except for prices).

Trouble 2: She didn’t consider the weather when planning the time between connecting flights.

Trouble 3: She got stuck in an unexpected city on her own dime.

When one looks at these factors, it’s easy to see where things went wrong and planning was only he tip of the iceberg.

When booking a flight anywhere, you have to do your research. While you want to look for cheap flights that let you get where you need as cheaply as you can, you need to look at the reviews (with a grain of salt of course – people only review when anything was really bad or really good, and usually the former wins out) and what you get for that investment.

It’s better to look for deals with airlines you are familiar with as these will be less surprises – you’ll be a little more familiar with what’s normal and can leverage your history a little if trouble occurs. It’s even better if it is one whose policies you know (ie. missed flights, lost luggage, ect.) just in case something goes wrong, you’re covered.

Next, when you are booking a flight, don’t just take the cheapest layover because it’s cheap, especially in an area where weather tends to be an issue – Chicago is not called the ‘Windy City’ because of the occasional breeze! Never schedule a layover where you may have to sprint from one terminal to the next, and always check the weather forecasts when available to know if you’re going to have to make different arrangements.

If that should happen, you have two options (that is if your delay – like Ki’s – is longer that the few hours you’re supposed to be at the airport before your flight): 1. Complain and complain loud enough that maybe someone will listen to you (it’s not too likely but who knows); or 2. Make the most of your stop. See what arrangement can be made through your insurance (which you should always purchase) and the airline for staying overnight (if need be), or if there are places nearby that will store your luggage. If you can manage it, take advantage of your misfortune and explore where you have ended up. Go get food and think of all the spontaneous travel possibilities! Silver linings and all that.

Basically, plan well, research well, and roll with the punches.

While this ‘horror story’ isn’t too bad (mostly poor planning), it is one horror of a headache you don’t want, or need, on your vacation.

In an earlier post, I talked about other debacles like lost luggage and 4 days in Ireland with only one outfit per person, and Colin’s very drunken night in Dublin (quickly followed by his day in jail). There are all kinds of trouble, and travel troubles come in all shapes and sizes.

So what was yours?

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

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Travel horror stories…

The Juggling Act…

New town, new school, old relations.

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Warwick Castle. Warwick, Warwickshire, England. October 2014.

The last month and a half have flown by faster than I ever could have guessed they would as is a common case when you are moving and settling into a new place. Between juggling the responsibilities of your day to day—new and old friends, school, work, and finances (to name a few)—and getting to know your new home is a lot to work with. When you throw in the added predicament of friends and/or family coming in from home to see you, it can feel nice to be surrounded by the familiar as well as test your already taxed time management skills.

This past week and a half, my mom and older sister were in town as my first set of visitors and, while they understood my responsibilities here and could easily do things without me, finding as much time as I could to run about exploring with them and introducing them to my world felt like it should be a priority—within measure.

The great thing about having people (especially family) visit you when you are living abroad is the chance to do more than you would otherwise make time for—and if this is a parent, it can make these adventures much cheaper. One thing to remember to save everyone some cash, however: if you are planning to do a lot of things with your guest who are traveling with travel deals like the London Pass, think about getting yourself one as well. Not only will this save money on attractions but can come with a travel card for a bit extra.

In the way of travel, you’ll probably find yourself burning through your funds faster than you normally would while people are in town due to farther and more frequent trips on public transportation. I ended up using over twice as much money for bus and tube fare in 10 day than I had in the month prior because my travel companions weren’t used to the long walks from place to place and were more worried about the ache in their feet than the funds in their purses. If visitors aren’t helping out with the travel funding, these expenditures are something to keep a close eye on.

What I loved, however, was the chance to go out and explore more freely than I had been able to in the weeks prior. While I had been one convenient excuse to jump the pond, if you will, the real reason my family came to visit when they did was the reenactment of the Battle of Hastings. Not only had I never been to (or even really thought of visiting) Hastings, I had no idea the reenactment was taking place until my mother announced the visit. For anyone who hasn’t been to a reenactment of this sort, part of its appeal is not only the historic battle you get to witness, but an engagement with a way of life long passed—it’s like visiting a historic literary fair, renaissance fair, a battle reenactment and  a tourist destination in a picturesque location all at once.

In the span of 10 days (including making trips back to school), we visited Hastings, Canterbury, Hampton Court, Windsor and Warwick Castle, and Kensington Palace, not to mention other various spots around London Town. Another thing to note if you believe you’ll have other visitors coming though out the year is that some places (such as Windsor Castle) have deals where is you buy a ticket on location and get it stamped, you’ll have free admission for the whole year if you bring the ticket and your ID with you on any other visit in the time allotted.

But don’t spend the whole of your visitors’ trip going from tourist spot to tourist spot. If you are having visitors, you are probably staying for a while and therefore probably have your own version of the town than the average tour book will. Let your family and friends experience that with you! Show them your version of that world that they’re there to get a glimpse of. Take them to the tea house you’ve found with the really cool timer or the tasting bar you stumbled upon when you were lost with a schoolmate or even something mundane like the school building you sit in for hours at a time when the sun is actually out (sigh).

Let them see your world but don’t worry about not knowing everything about it yet. It’s okay to tell your mother that, yes, you have lived here for a month but you don’t know how to get from school to that castle or which bus will get you to that train station off the top of your head. It’s okay to be new and figuring it out. Let them figure it out with you.

The thing you have to remember while planning and going on these adventures, however, is that when you are living abroad, it probably isn’t just for the hell of it or a long vacation; you probably have responsibilities. Whether this is work or school or both, just because you have visitors doesn’t mean that those responsibilities go away.

For me, this was school and the huge stacks of reading that comes with a master’s degree. And while I had tons of fun running about and exploring while I had an excuse to do so, I have to accept the consequence of spending the rest of the week in the library catching up on any neglected work (and the essay due at the end of it!). It’s finding a balance and knowing what you will need to get done before your guests come, when they are present, and after they leave and leaving enough time to actually do it.

The last major help that comes with having visitors is they can bring you things you left at home and/or haven’t had time to shop for local replacements (thanks for the sweaters, coats and boots, mom!). Not only does this help bolster your winter clothing options without spending money you may not have, it grantees they have the space in their suitcases for any souvenirs they pick up during their visit.

So bring on the guests but be ready for the juggling act!

Until next time,

I’m Leave on the Wind, Helping you soar.

The Juggling Act…

Just your everyday separation anxiety…

Homesickness with the strangest timing.

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Walking toward home. Southwark Bridge, London, England. October, 2014.

It’s a funny thing, but I haven’t really thought about homesickness until I have some family in town. That’s not to say that I haven’t had moments before that were hard, ‘i miss home’ moments.

The day i arrived, my sister sent me a message about crying all the way back to her house after saying goodbye to me and then a few weeks later, I received a link to her wedding picture album. I got to the father-daughter pictures (the first dance and the first time my dad saw her in the dress) and, as with the earlier text, found myself blinking back tears and a deep wanting for home comforts.

I’ve never been one to experience homesickness–I guess I was usually one of the people comforting those feeling it instead.

But now I feel it in little boughts. It’s not a bad thing– I’ve had friends talk about bursting into tears for unknown reasons spontaniously and needing to skype with friends and/or family immediately–I’m just more of a take a breath, keep clam carry on breed. And with my travels, I’ve had a lot of experience with being away from family (a month isn’t that long for me).

Then, my mom and sister came into town and they’ll be here for the next week. I’ve been so busy with them running that I haven’t thought about much else (besides classwork I have to schedule in)

Until they went back to their apartment and I chatted over google+ with(part of) the family back home. Having one third of the family here is reminding me of the ones who are not and while I loved joking with them, it left me wanting more.

The last straw was a request I shouldn’t have made: they brought my dog to the computer screen (and even now the next day, typing this in the school cafe I’m getting teary eyed!). That was the hardest part of the chat for me and after signing off I had to cuddle with my stuffed animal (one of my essencial must pack items) before getting back to my homework.

Everyone has a different trigger and you can’t plan when homesickness is going o hit or how badly it will effect you. There’s no bracing for the impact–it’s blindsiding.

It is also, however, managable.

It’s a sudden bout of seperation anxiety. Some solve it with a cry, others with distraction, some with contact with the source.

How do you deal it?

This was a quick post for a long, busy  week and next week I’ll talk about this week’s juggle between school/responsibilities and visitors/adventure but until then,

I’m Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Just your everyday separation anxiety…

Everyday Culture…

Learning in baby steps.

IMG_3457View From the Top. London view from the top of the Monument, London, England. September 2014.

I am beginning my fourth week in London now and I still feel like I am negotiating space. My space in relation to my new city, my knowledge in the space of my international studies and (more than anything else) the room for my stuff in the fridge.
If the significance of this is strange, I guess I’ll blame a kind of culture shock but one I was aware of (on theory at least) before I arrived. Storage space in UK kitchens (or at the very least, in its college housing) is a lot smaller than I have dealt with long term before.

And I still find myself struggling not to shop like an American—namely, in bulk. The two biggest problems with this is the space available between four girls from very different walks of life (and cultures that have all their own upkeep regimes…) in both the pantry and fridge and the fact that food here doesn’t last nearly as long (read: a whole package of sliced bread, while convenient, was a really bad choice for a single person).

The first you would think easy to solve: communication. And you, dear reader, are correct. Talking about shared space and seeing about individuals needs for personal storage in public spaces (read: tall girls please stop taking the only places we short girls can reach!) is a very important part of sorting out new living situations. It’s a problem when the only time you see your roommates, however, is when you either pass each other leaving and coming into the residence or when they are having a gathering of friends. After all, post it notes can get passive aggressive and the wars they start are really not appropriate during college let alone in life after it.

Anyway, so it’s all about relearning habits.

As an American who shopped every week for an American family, filling in the gaps while replacing large items when needed, I am used to buying in bulk. For me, this wasn’t like Costco or saving for the end of the world bulk, but I generally didn’t leave the store without 3 or 4 sturdy, reusable bags worth of food to replenish the sizable pantry, fridge and freezer (and I still tended to forget things people wanted). This was after I checked things like available storage space.

Now it’s all a matter of timing. When others are getting low, you stock up to get what real estate you can because, while they (roommates) may rearrange, they can’t really remove your perishable items from the fridge once they are in there (I will admit to keeping slightly off products in a fridge as a place holder—not for long term!—until I can replace it…space is THAT valuable!).

But it’s also a matter of teaching yourself to shop for the place you are in. If you have a smaller fridge (a usual predicament I hear from my fellow Americans) than you are used to, look at how locals shop. There isn’t much long term shopping. Like I said, products don’t last as long (less chemicals) and there isn’t space for more than a week’s worth of food.

So tips?

1. Shop smaller and more often (self-explanatory, right?)

2. Check your freezer (from what I can tell from these first weeks, the fridge is coveted space—quick and easy heating—but the freezer is deserted even though food that is stored properly can last you longer!)

3. Be selective (look at the price to usability/expiration ratio before shoving it in your basket)

4. Ask yourself whether you are buying a product—this can be more than food shopping—because of price or because of need. Buy one get one deals, for example, can bite you in the butt more than it can generally save you!).

5. Remember, both space and money disappear quickly because of impulse buys and eating at home (even dealing with space hurtles) can last longer for cheaper than going out.

In these last few weeks, I’ve learned it’s a juggling game where you’ve got to keep all your balls in the air and be ready to be thrown another one in the mix when you don’t expect it—both at home and life in general.

This is why we move and travel, though, isn’t it? Go off and have adventures and learn new things about the world and ourselves?

Well, at least we can say we’ve tried.

I’m Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Everyday Culture…