To Splurge or to Save.

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A Disaster in Planning: The hours of misguided hiking with all our baggage (in more ways than one!). Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Summer 2013.

This week, I was talking to a friend who is planning a trip for himself and his family, and he was talking about how hard it is to stick to a budget and he has no idea where to cut corners that will not cause an uproar from the rest of his brood.

In planning any trip, this is one of the hardest questions you will be faced with and, unfortunately, there is really no cut and dry answer – no specific place you can always cut down on.

The question you really have to ask yourself is: what do you want out of your trip?

If you love food, why would you skip out on trying out local foods even if they pushed your budget a bit. If you can’t sleep unless only you are in a single room with all your luxuries, that’s where your money has to go (you cannot not sleep when traveling). And on and on and on.

This in no way means that you shouldn’t have a limit, but it does mean that you need to work on what you will regret giving up.

My friend is currently trying to convince his family that renting an apartment in London is the best plan since most of their budget has been spent on expensive lodging elsewhere. London hotels are so expensive and every flat I’ve rented has been cheaper yet very well maintained – really think about how you can get around those higher prices whenever you can and your budget will thank you.

On the other hand, my sister and I tried to skimp on lodging when we went on out UK trip which led to the disaster that was Stratford-upon-Avon. The hostel we booked was miles outside of city center which meant that by the time we walked there, all the sights were closed down for the day. I’m all for exercise, but I would have much rather have spent more money for closer accommodations that would have let me spend more time wandering rather than marching.

It’s really about what you are going to regret in either money you miss out on or in the experience you don’t get because you are worried about money.

In London, we went to an attraction called The London Experience which (thank god(!) was free) ended up being a bad cheesy historic horror show followed by a bad horror maze filled with all the worst features of horror mazes, including the dreaded, static-filled squeeze machine. Again, we got in for free because of the London pass, but otherwise we would have had to spend money because the description was bad and we assumed it was a real history tour.

Then in Edinburgh, we opted out of going through the castle because it was too expensive and we had plenty of other things to do. Now, however, I regret not just doing it. I’ve heard great things about it since coming home and would love to compare it to all the other castles I’ve explored.

Yes, these are all relatively small things in terms of the great scope of all the things you will do when traveling but you can never guarantee the chance to do these things again and you will have to go back out and pay your bills so the balancing act is an important one. Your best bet in all things is to find a happy medium and really work on the fine points of budget to travel.

It’s all pretty self-explanatory but if you want to plan it out research, research, research. Start with making a list of the things you don’t want to or can’t skimp on; food, lodging, castles, full tours, ect. or pick a theme you can’t miss out on and build from there. Keeping yourself specific and then building your working budget will truly be your best friend. Finally, leave wiggle room and don’t sweat days (as long as it’s not most days) that you go a bit over budget.

So go, plan, budget, research, wiggle and, as always, have fun!

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

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To Splurge or to Save.

Traveling (Comic) Cons…

5 days round trip to Boston Comic Con and the truth of the matter is: I am so tired.

Today is the fist full day back in the California time zone and, as I was barely on Boston time, I feel like my whole internal clock is stuck in Wonderland – time means practically nothing at all to my body right now. Add in some post-travel, recycled air crud, amplified by the ever present pot-con crud, and I’m not in tip-top shape.

But, alas, onto some big points on traveling for any kind of dress-up/costumed cons:

1. Check and double check your luggage

I have definitely pulled brain blanks multiple times in packing for cons and, as a complete detail-oriented freak, this never goes well. For my first Doctor Who convention, I bought solid white velcro shoes for one of my Rose Tyler costumes and, of course, I left the ruddy things sitting in my room. Luckily, we were an hour away from homeand my dad was coming into the area for a class so it was easy to meet up, say hi, and pick up my shoes. You can’t do this, however, if you have flown across the country.

So yes, check and double check all the details of every outfit and costume you’ve planned for your weekend and – at least for me – this means packing a few mundane outfits but I’ll cover that in a moment or two.

2. Look carefully at the time/season when you are traveling

Most people going to a con have bulky pieces and that is a major pain no matter what season you travel in, but in the peak seasons, this is just insane. It’s bad enough with more people bringing more carry-ons in lieu of high check-in costs overfilling the regular cabin space, but with clunky cosplay gear, this doesn’t work at all.

If you can de-bulk your cosplay, seriously consider it. Between lack of space, cost of multiple checked items,  damage in the transport process and chance of lost luggage, you may well end up without your gear (at least in any shape to wear proudly). However, if you are going to fight to bring your biggest and bulkiest – costs be damned – you must plan ahead. You should try and check in early as a few airlines will let you on in order of priority and check-in (this is if you are pushing the carry on limit). Secondly, you need to show up earlier than the airlines recommended time; this guarantees a higher chance of your bags getting onto the correct plane. If you are late to check in, only you are responsible for your bags not making it in, especially if you are checking multiple items – law of averages goes way up in a time crunch!

This includes post-con luggage! You may travel to the con with one carry on, but if you over shop, that can easily escalate and as stated earlier, travel space can just as easily become scarce. When packing, remember to leave space the first time around in your checked gear and you’ll be able to really work in souvenirs if you haven’t completely overindulged yourself.

3. Check the weather and make your costume choices accordingly

Just as your con gear can get bulky, generally this bulk also increases the heat of your outfit. While convention centers are generally air conditioned (if they are done correctly!) to the point of needing a sweater, there are always areas inside and out that are disturbingly warm.  If you are in a hot region, watch-out for fleece and layers or else make sure that you take breaks outside of your gear to cool down.

If you are close enough to your hotel, go back and forth from costume to mundane clothing as needed and if not, wear light mundane layers under your clunkier gear that you can take off periodically.

Also, take care of yourself. Drink lots of water and pack snacks; there are days where you will barely have time to use the bathroom let alone any of your other necessities. Speaking of, make sure you can move and do things like use the bathroom without help – no one really wants to be your bathroom friend, no matter how much they love you.

4. Plan your budget to suit what you can actually afford

Cons have all the nerd gear you could ever want – and most that you will never need – and all of it more than your wallet can stand in a single weekend. From gadgets, to costumes, to trinkets, to photographs and autographs, everything at the con has a steep price that can add up quickly when you aren’t paying attention.

If you plan out your costs before heading out – buying what you can ahead of time, having money on hand, ect. – you’re much more likely to stick to your budget. Also, make sure that budget fits your lifestyle. If you have a lower income, you can’t spend your whole rent or food budget on trinkets that you are never going to use. Be sensible, nerds!

5. Make a plan to combat your jet lag

Cons are generally short lived – Boston was a weekend which we extended to five days with travel – and therefore, you will barely get used to the time zone you are in before heading back home, leaving you in a state of weird time-limbo.  You can push all the caffeine (beware of the crash) and fluids you want but you really just need to get yourself out on that first morning and go.

Our first morning, my dad and I were scheduled for a 6:30 50 minute run and, between the adrenaline and endorphins, I felt more awake than I expected after getting through the workout. Just make sure to fuel up after because jet lag, no food, and in a calorie deficit, you will not make it through the day.


 

There are obviously many more things that are vital for you to have a successful con and I’d love to hear some of your top things to remember. This being said, I loved Boston Comic con – small enough to handle but wider appeal than my regular stop – but I’ll probably just be sticking to my local favorite, Gallifrey One, for the foreseeable future.

Many more topics to cover from this quick trip, but until the next time,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Traveling (Comic) Cons…

A Pre-Road Trip Check List…

A bit ago, I wrote a post on my desire to get back on the road. Well, this weekend I will get that chance, though not as I had originally planned.

It’s one on my college friend’s final recital up at Sonoma State University, so this weekend my best friend and I will be taking a familiar 6 hour road trip that I haven’t taken in just over 3 years.

We’ve made this drive many (many!) times, but on each trek I was always the one driving…. faster than I probably should have. But this time around, I’ll be sitting in the passenger seat and doing my very best to stay awake… which is more than my regular passengers can say!

While there are definite must-haves when you decide to take off (your favorite snack foods, drinks in a cooler, you know, sustenance!), there are also things to negotiate between your party. Some of these just deal with cost – who covers gas or food and what your manageable and agreeable budget is – while others are just to make sure you and your companions aren’t bored out of your minds.

So budget is really first since that’s the hardest thing to talk about, and if you don’t have the conversation, one person will always be left holding the bag. You and your companions will have to figure this on your own but you must have this talk before going! Trust me, it will save you many headaches.

While I am a fan of fashion and style, if you are in a car for an extended period of time, fashion should take a back seat. Skinny jeans don’t have great stretch or give and shorts or small skirts make your legs/leg sweat stick to your seats. I’m opting for some easy leggings and a long shirt, throw in some boots and a hoodie of warmth. Again, like prepping for an airplane: easy, comfortable, and movable.

As long as there is more than one person, you should have “games” on hand. I’m not talking games like punch-buggy – I’m not allowed to play this game as I’ve been deemed to competitive and aggressive… – or the license plate game.

My best friend and I are total nerds so we’ve recently gotten to highly academic debates over nerdy topics – the most recent was: which would you rather have the Doctor’s (of BBC’s Doctor Who) TARDIS or psychic paper? Can you guess who won?

I like these fun nerd-offs because you can pull from all over the logical spectrum and note episodes if you want. It not only tests your knowledge but gives you quite the lively conversation as well – this helps with the not falling asleep thing. Also, unlike all the purchasable games available now, debates are free! Just steer clear of topics that will cause animosity more than fun whether this be politics, your favorite Doctor, or Marvel/DC.

The other thing that can help you in the case of falling asleep – or better yet, not falling asleep – is a killer playlist. Just like everything else in this situation – you are trapped in a tiny space with other people with no real way of getting out – music must be a mutual decision. Whether this is a mixed playlist that pulls joint or a few of everyone’s favorites or just a rotation of everyone’s favorite radio stations, keep the tunes peaceable.

Just remember, if you opt for radio, if you are going any sizable distance, the radio will eventually cut out the stations you know and you’ll be flying musically blind! Never fun.

So clothes, games, music, money, and food… so the only thing left to consider (along with money) is planning for sleep on journeys lasting longer than a day. This ends with deciding if you want to plan ahead going from point A to hotel B to motel C and so and so forth, or if you want to go as far as you possibly can in a day and then see what’s around when you are able to stop. Either way, it’s good to talk this all out before leaving home to make sure everyone in your party is comfortable.

That’s all and I can’t wait to feel the wind in my hair!

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

A Pre-Road Trip Check List…

Cheating or Smarts?

Some quick tips to visiting the Greenwich Meridian.

VIew from the top. Greenwich Observatory hill, Greenwich, England. Spetember 2015.
View from the top. Greenwich Observatory Hill, Greenwich, England. September 2015.

There are so many things to do in Greenwich beyond just standing on a line marked inthe ground (not that that isn’t reason enough for some visitors). From visiting universities to the maritime museum to wandering the cute streets and shops to boat trips to the observatory, this area can easily fill a weekend(+) or a quick day trip given your availability.

But—as covered constantly—you always have to consider some money factors when traveling through pretty much any area.

While the usual wandering around town is sure to save you quite a bit of money—as well as packing a lunch that you can enjoy out on Greenwich Park—here are a few more tips of the money saving variety.

We’ll start off more traditionally and say planning! Plot out your travel including times to find the best and cheapest way to Greenwich. Depending on where you are coming from, you may be using multiple types of transport which (depending on how you are paying for it) can start to add up. Luckily, if you are using an Oyster card, this maxes out relatively quickly on trips like these, so you aren’t spending too much compared to the distance traveled.

Also, if you do have an Oyster card, you can get discounts for the cable car, if don’t mind the heights and spending a little money, that is.

If you are trying to stick with the free model for this visit, however, you should try visiting The Maritime Museum, The Queen’s House, and Greenwich Naval College. These are all right next to each other and run along Greenwich Park.

On a less traditional route, let’s consider why most of us head out to Greenwich in the first place: visiting the Greenwich Meridian Line. The main space where this line is mapped out is held inside the Royal Observatory and this area is chalk full of things to go and see… but they also cost you.

Therefore, if you want the official picture, this also costs you.

If you want to see everything that the admission ticket gives you and you have the time for it, it is definitely worth a look. If you don’t, however, but don’t want to miss the photo op, there are two less conventional options to save that cash:

First, if you can find Park Vista Street—near Park Row Gate—and take a careful stroll down it, you’ll come across a row of large metal dots and a little plaque nearby: these are denoting the Meridian just as much as the one in the courtyard but for nothing more than the time it takes to stroll down the street.

I walk the line. Greenwich Prime Meridian Line, Greenwich, England. September 2015.
I walk the line. Greenwich Prime Meridian Line, Greenwich, England. September 2015.

The second way in is a little sketchy but easier. When you are at the top of the hill looking at Flamsteed House (the building with the big red ball), look to the left and you’ll see a black gate where people (who paid for the ticket, mostly) are exiting. You can open this gate from the outside and walk a few feet and there you will find a smaller but still very real golden line marking the path of the Meridian line.

While this feels sketchy, there is no sign telling you not to enter, no security stopping you, nothing. Basically, it’s an honor code or as my friend decided “a savvy traveler test.”

This is just a judgement call: if it bugs you too much, don’t do it; if it doesn’t, go for it. I still recommend subtly and taking the picture quickly, but, hey, do what you need to do, right?

Anyway, hope you find this useful and travel well,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Cheating or Smarts?

Book Nerd: The Strand, NYC.

A different kind of book store.

A tiny glimpse. The Strand bookstore, New York City. March 2015.
A tiny glimpse. The Strand bookstore, New York City. March 2015.

If you end up in New York City, there really isn’t a shortage of sights to see and things to do. But as a book nerd, you are also spoiled for choice when it comes to really interesting bookshops to check out (and there are tons of lists to check out for ideas).

When it comes to beauty (at least form the outside), the Strand won’t stick out much, but if you have an afternoon to wander the stacks, you won’t be disappointed.

Upon walking in, the atmosphere makes me feel almost as if I’m walking into a book version of Ollivanders—a magical place where you could wander for hours waiting for the right book to find you. However, I also felt a bit like Belle walking into the Beast’s library—I could wander here forever and never run out of new worlds to explore.

What makes the Strand really unique is that it’s more than just a book store for the new, but a place you can go to buy or give used books a chance to be discovered and turned into someone else’s favorites through the Book exchange on the first floor; this supplies the cheap and used book carts that surround the store on the outside.

The floor map. Strand Bookstore, New York City. March, 2015.
The floor map. Strand Bookstore, New York City. March, 2015.

If you are looking to get in and out of a store with exactly what you want quickly, efficiently, and without much fuss, this is probably not the store for you. This isn’t to say you couldn’t manage the task, but you’d probably have to go directly to one of the help stations and have them find and retrieve the book for you. Why?

The stacks of the Strand are so tall and close, at times it was hard to see what books lied along the very top shops, let alone get to those books if the one you want is up there (and unlike the Parisian stores I’ve been to, there aren’t any public access ladders to make use of).

However, even though the store sometimes feels like an overwhelmingly large maze, everything is pretty neatly laid out with a clear and handy map next to the stair case. With four floors (more like three and a half nook) of books to wander, it’s a good thing too.

As we’ve talked about, there are tons of different kind of book nerd nirvanas and if you are a wanderer with a taste for in a mix of new prints and books with character and storied pasts and no shortage of time and a desire to wander and explore, the Strand is the place for you, my book nerd.

I’ll be honest, I had originally not planned to visit The Strand—my trip was so busy, time wasn’t really my own with the amount of people with us, and the store didn’t really stick out among any of the lists I was looking at.

Beautiful Classics. The Strand, New York CIty. March, 2015.
Beautiful Classics. The Strand, New York City. March, 2015.

But thank goodness it ended up along our path between destinations on a relatively empty afternoon (as I’ve mentioned, the people I was with weren’t really seasoned for the long walking/exploring days needed to get the feel of a city that never sleeps—most ended up sitting around as my sister and I explored the shelves only to hop in a taxi to the hotel to call it a night—in the middle of the afternoon!)

Anyway, despite what you may see in the picture lists that talk about the NYC bookstores ‘you must see when you have the chance’, the Strand is a great stop to go and explore the world of new and old books—and unlike the library, you get to keep the books! So go for it, Book hoarders, and explore. I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed in your afternoon among the shelves.

I know I wasn’t.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Book Nerd: The Strand, NYC.

Almost There…

Planning on packing.

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The Shard and London Bridge. London, England. Summer, 2013.

No banking today as I am waiting for a letter that will let me start setting up my account…. So, what to write about?

I’m less than three weeks out, my visa answer should be in tomorrow, my passport and paperwork should be back a few days later, I’m finalizing housing, have selected my classes, and am about to set into cleaning and packing mode. It’s an interesting experience, moving all by myself and further than a car ride away. In the next week, I’ll be going through everything I have to decide what I’m keeping, what I’m packing and what I’m giving away—but I’ll get to that as we go along.

But as I sit here, all I can think about is what I’ll be ABLE to take.

A few weeks ago, the school’s countdown blog did a post on buying vs. bringing. It advised only bringing things like prescription medications that you can’t get (making sure they are legal in the country you are traveling to) and enough for the entire time of your trip (if not a permanent move); and plug adaptor kits as buying them at home will mean they will work for you appliances like computers and chargers, while the kits will give you options as you travel from place to place—if you are able to work extra travel into you time away.

Buying on the other hand was a larger list. Things like hair driers, straighteners and curlers (as the voltage difference from country to country can cause serious issues); and bulky or heavy needs such as towels, sheets, toiletries, and books (with the exception of the one or two you take on the plane!), which just fill up suitcases or boxes which cost you just as much to ship as they do to replace.

I’m sure there will be plenty of other items to go on either of these lists as the packing gets under way and I would love to hear any of your suggestions. What would you take or buy that others don’t think about? Do you have an argument on taking one of the suggestions rather than buying?

No matter what you choose, there will always be things that you have to buy right when you move whether because your boxes haven’t arrived yet or starting from scratch, and you’ll need to budget a little wiggle room into your start of year spending.

Well, that’s all for now as I’m swamped and still figuring out the details.

Two weeks and five days; I think I can make it!

Thanks for reading and I love hearing from you,

Thins is Leave on the Wind, Helping you soar

Almost There…

Girls just wanna have fun…

My adapted how to for my girls’ weekend away.

palm desert

Margarita in the pool. Palm Desert, California. June 2014.

In a little less than a month, my sister is getting married and, along with all the other stresses and pleasures this event inspires, this means one very specific per-ceremony event has to take place: the bachelorette party.

What, one may ask, does this have to do with travel?

Well, my sister’s bridal party (plus additional guests) spans 10 people from 50 years old to 14, so this is more than just a one night affair in Vegas.

The 10 of us will be staying in a rented house for two full and two partial days with the bill (minus the house) split between 8 of us. In this way, as well as the event planning, this weekend get away—though very specifically themed—is a lot like planning any other travel experience… most specifically a road trip.

So go through the list:

Housing: rented a house—check

Cars: carpooling 8 of us furthest away in two cars—check

Budget: …

The simplest way to say this is have one. Most of the time, you aren’t taking one of these trips on your own and so your budget not only has to fit everyone involved but account for their spending. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Paying as a group. This is easy in the moment but can take a lot of post work. You really have to talk out affordability beforehand. Be frank on what people can chip in and what items are and aren’t on this list of group expenditures—some things are for everyone and others are personal—only one of these sets goes toward the group spending. You can even go so far to assign only one or two people (who you can rely on for their model spending habits) as shoppers but the key to this type of budgeting is recite collection and calculating while you go. The receipts tell you exactly how much one person spent which then can be divided. It’s not that I don’t trust people to tell me how much they spent, but seriously, just get all the receipts.
  2. Pay for things individually. This keeps everyone separate money wise which avoids the awkward “you owe me money” down the line, but also means everything from food to entertainment has to be parceled out right there and then—and that’s not even considering how you decide about things like the gas for the car. You have to really plan out what you are doing and where you are going—some restaurants won’t split the bill (at least for larger parties) and everyone will have to think about any pre-bought tickets, possibly paying more for none group rates.
  3. Break down of type. This means that one person (or one group) pays for gas while another pays for food and another for entertainment and so on and so forth. This can keep things simple and reduces the math but can be a serious game of monetary Russian roulette—you don’t necessarily know what is going to cost the most on any given trip.

For our trip, we’ve gone with option one. Two of us are the spenders and in the end we’ll be gathering our receipts and hashing out the numbers. We had a meeting before we did anything else to discuss what we wanted to do and the cost range we thought we’d be able to afford and still stick to while accounting for the number in our party. This is the option I usually recommend for larger groups of travelers.

Plans: …

Just like I talked about in my post about staycations, a weekend away can be just as low key or top speed as you want it to be. You’re not going very far (usually) and are usually trying to keep you costs low. For my trip, this means we’re bringing our food and drinks with us and eating at home. Making your food at home and packing lunches for when you head out—eat in a park and enjoy the day!—will save you a lot of money and can be turned into an event. What you chose to do can also determine costs for a weekend trip just like with any vacation.

Our basic plan is to stay around the house for a good chunk on the trip with an at home (and DIY) spa and pool day and a bachelorette themed movie and game night. We have one day where we’re going to go out and explore the area, do a scavenger hunt, have dinner and go drinking (away from the minors). These trips tend to be more about relaxation than anything else, so take it easy and have fun!

Packing:…

Just like any other trip, packing comes down to paying attention to where you’re going (the weather), for how long, and what you’ll be doing. I have almost always been a chronic over-packer but I’m trying to cut the habit, while still keeping my style intact.

For this trip, that means:

Your travel outfit (ie an oversized shirt, shorts/pjs/sweatpants, slip-ons or sandals [x2 if you can’t rewear it on the return trip])

Your pjs (something comfy for the night in)

Your day out outfit (something easy like jeans and a tee shirt to an easy dress that can transition to …)

Your night out outfit (through on a blazer and some heals/booties over your day wear and up the makeup)

Swim suit (and sunscreen and all other pool essentials)

A robe if you have/want one

Add one Bachlorette themed soundtrack and that’s it. Something easy you can roll and throw into a duffel or backpack with you toiletries, makeup and essentials.

So, that’s my weekend (and next week of last minute prep). What did any of you do for your last weekend away or what did you pack/see or not pack/see that you wish you did or didn’t?

Anyway, this seemed like an odd post and I’ll be sure to be back on track next week, but I hope you enjoy.

As always,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

PS. Exciting news on the horizon so stay tuned and wish me luck!

Girls just wanna have fun…