Monday, August 29, 2011

Travel Tips

J's Photo of the View of Verona

I love travel. There are few things better to me than discovering a new place or experiencing a culture different from my own. Since I often talk travel, many people excitedly tell me about a place and then let me in on the fact that they never managed to make it happen or trip plans fell through once. Why not go? In this post, I hope to motivate you to actually have a plan along with provide you with savvy ways to implement it. I hope it helps people with their next day trip or their dream trip!

Decide. I'm quick to make a decision and most people I talk to know where they want to go, so if you're in that category, great. But, if you don't know where you want to go, do some research and decide. Consider a place a couple of hours away; it doesn't have to be the trip of a lifetime every time. Once you have a decision, write it down, type it up, or tell someone. That way, it's more concrete. I do not advocate traveling solo, but I often do. I say, "When it's in between not going or going alone, go." I find that people will often drop out of the planned trip and then you won't go because you have no one to go with. This world is amazing, go on ...and make 'em insanely jealous.

My biggest obstacle to travel is funding, so most of the remainder of this post will discuss overcoming "I can't afford it." I had shared my story of budget for the sake of travel in a previous post entitled "Just Go." Here is what I said:

Before my trip to Italy, I had been pretty boring. I wasn't going on trips like the ones mentioned above [in that post] because I was saving for Italy, which was so beyond worth it! I also truly enjoy going out to dinner. Before I bought the airfare in October, I would dine in restaurants once or twice a week. The six months I was on a budget, however, I think I ate out once a month, ...that I paid for anyway. I found that I enjoyed it more because it was an occasional treat. Plus I truly splurged, I would go all out on two or three courses and a drink, spending $35. Back when I was eating out multiple times a week, I would choose the cheapest thing on the menu if I were also ordering an adult beverage and spend $20. If I only spent $20 a week for a month, that's $80 and much more expensive than my once-a-month satisfying splurge. ...and I was going out more than 4 times a month! I also didn't go out so much those six months. I would often find myself sitting at home on a Friday night, giving myself a pedicure in front of an episode of What Not To Wear. Again, worth it... Do you think I'd remember sitting in the bar at Friday's as fondly as I would my short, sweet little trip to Italy? I think not. Plus it was only five and a half months. I still had a good time over those winter months. I walk with a friend once a week and don't spend a dime doing that! I've even done girls nights on the cheap. And Miss Independent over here even let the guy pay for the date sometimes!

Going back to Italy was important to me. Who am I kidding?! I hadn't been in four years and had to have it! Talking about travel all day at my old job, talking about other people's trips, it was time for me to have an exciting international excursion of my own. And since finances were my main obstacle with a really low paying job, I made sacrifices to make it happen. I stopped going out all the time. In addition, I designed the trip itself to be budgeted. (J did immensely help me out and add to my trip by paying for so many things.) There are so many people out there who dream of places and never go. I just hope I can help someone out there with my story so they are inspired to make it happen for themselves. Trust me, it's so worth it!
 
I posted that in March and still want to comment on the topic again. I'm kinda appalled that you have to make Americans use their accrued vacation time, which is much lower than what employees get in other countries. Most Italians take off for the entire month of August. With vacation time, you can be paid while traveling. Vacation pay or not, make it happen, people.
 
As with most things in life, the little things seriously build up into something big. You need to work alittle each day toward your goal. Anything worth having takes work. For poor me, that means spending less everyday.
 
And also becoming savvy makes it easier. Thus, I have the following travel budget tips.
 
Budget your Trip. I sat down and examined what everything would cost for my last international excurison, which I highly recommend. My trip to Italy in March was originally conceived as a bigger trip to Prague, Munich, Venice and Vienna. Drawing a line between these cities made up a diamond on the map, all 8 hours apart and each city was located in another country. I always travel to Italy and even though I had to go there, I always said I would visit other countries as well. After some research, I deemed that trip too expensive. I was becoming discouraged. One day my co-worker asked me, "Why don't you just spend five days in Venice?" After I let this sink in, I saw that that was doable and realized I could go overseas afterall. I decided on four days in Italy and two travel days because it was cheaper to fly on those terms. After some research, I saw that it was cheaper to fly into Milan rather than into Venice. Plus, the connections were better. I studied the train line between the two cities and decided to stop in two stops on that very line, Padua and Verona. I highly recommend the European travel guides by Rick Steves, which truly helped me figure all this out. Speaking of proximity, you could also take a trip to somewhere close to where you live. It would be nice to spend the night, but I also love a day trip.
 
Travel During the Off or Shoulder Season. The off season, in most cases, is winter and the shoulder season is spring or fall. Your destination will not be nearly as crowded in its off or shoulder seasons when compared to its high season. I really wanted to be in Italy for my April 15th birthday, which is during the spring, thus shoulder season, but flights were $250 cheaper during mid-March, so I decided to go then instead. Not into extreme temperatures myself, I love traveling in fairly pleasant 50-70 degree weather. Why would you want to go during the dog days of August? Plus, Europeans leave the cities for the seashore for the month. It wouldn't be an authentic experience there.

Do your Research. As a former Art History student, I love my research. Reading up on a dreamy location is fun research to me. It is my recommendation that you do a substantial amount of research. That way, you have a ton of ideas and you don't look at your travel partner(s)  while there and both of you are dumbfounded as to what to do next. You would have a list of options ...at that time. Creating possible itineraries helps because then you can include what's open or closed or happening when. These itineraries also put close friends and families at ease if you're traveling alone; they could generally know where you are on a given day and know that you've thought it out. Just a resource, I usually don't follow these on the trip, and simply do what I feel like doing at any given moment. For flights, hotels, car rentals, and more, I love kayak whose motto is "Search One and Done." It searches many travel sites for you. You may not have heard of my other love ITA Software. Please bookmark it now because you might not remember its name! It provides all the travel sites with their flight information. I love how you can see the lowest round trip fare per passenger for an entire calendar month. As a big fan of the Roaming Gnome, I like travelocity. In the past, I've set up alerts so that I'm emailed when my desired flight falls below a certain cost. I love books, both travel guides and travel narratives, too! Towards the back of the magazine Budget Travel, there are many vacation deals. These usually include a guided tour, which is especially nice when it's the first time you've visited a particular place or country. I've also read that the best time to shop for flights is Tuesday afternoon. Set each of your travel dates on less-traveled days of the week like Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday; it's often cheaper. Plus, the airport'll be less busy.

Stretch Your Dollar. I am well aware that the dollar is weak, but there are still many countries from Argentina to Turkey where it can buy a lot of the local currency. Live like a King or Queen. The September issue of Budget Travel just named Ireland as the Number 1 European country where inflation for American tourists isn't so bad (13).

Take the Train. I adore AmTrak. I signed up for their loyalty program, GuestRewards, so I earn points with every trip and hope to eventually take a free ride. Trains are the way to go in many countries throughout the world. If you're travelling to Europe from the US, you may want to consider flying into say London and then taking a cheaper train to your destination(s). (Or fly from London using the discount airline over there Ryanair.)

Take The Bus. I've used Megabus for a couple of trips. These buses are not only a good price, but a good value. It's a pretty nice bus... You can book way in advance for fares as low as a dollar plus a 50 cent booking fee. Their drop off points tend to be city centers, which is convenient. Plus, I always see that they're adding new routes. Megabus' competition is Bolt Bus and you always have Greyhound.

Stay in Hostels. Going to Europe? Stay in hostels instead of hotels. Book on or simply research from http://www.hostelworld.com/. If you've graduated from hostels, you could also consider renting an apartment, which may not only be more economical but more local as well.

Stay with a Friend. I took that trip to New Haven, Connecticut in July to visit an old college friend. It was so great to visit her and to get away as well. I also found more of the local experience with her. I still think that three days should be the maximum in most cases though. Even if you're the most grateful guest ever, you do not want to wear out your welcome. I stayed three days and three nights in New Haven and it was perfect.

Carryon. Airlines are being ridiculous with their baggage fees. When I worked in a luggage store for 21 months, it was one of the my guests' biggest complaints. To escape those fees while flying, pack as lightly as possible and consider only packing a carryon bag. Plus, when you carry on, after you arrive, you're not waiting at baggage claim (hoping your bag isn't ripped to shreds (yeah, you just paid them to (mis)handle your luggage!)), you can start your vacation, which might be all the more important if you budgetted your trip and limited the number of days gone. And my carryon is usually only tightly packed on the way back when it's filled with souvenirs. Loosely pack going so you have the space. The golden rule of packing is to lay out all the clothing and all the money you plan to take on the bed. Then, take half the clothes and double the money. Read my plea for packing less here.
 
Do As the Romans Do. Tourist traps are often overpriced and expensive. Venture out from the city center for cheaper prices and a more authentic experience. Hit the restaurant or bakery which has a long line of locals outside it. You can even choose to visit a less popular town or city. Also in America, lunch is often cheaper than dinner, so eat a bigger lunch. However, this is not always the case; lunch is often the main meal in other countries. For example, in Italy, businesses close from 1 to 4 in the afternoon for this important meal.

I hope this is a more helpful list than what's out there. Please, just go. And enjoy!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

...waiting...

is currently in Washington, DC.

The Latest Countdown:

 7  days until my daytrip to DC!
13 days until my Moving Day!
28 days until my apartmentwarming party!

I move in 13 days, days I'll have you know, not weeks. I am so excited! I think I packed most of my stuff my last day off on Monday. I could pack alittle more, but I should really wait until the last couple days to pack up the rest, as to not inconvenience myself. Anymore than I have already anyway... You should see my big pile of labeled cardboard boxes smack in the middle of my bedroom! In addition, I am buying things I want and/or need bit by bit. Since the couple moved out yesterday, the woman showed me the apartment; it was actually the first time I saw it. It'll be nice to move and unpack over the long Labor Day Weekend. Score.

I know that I haven't posted much this month, mi dispiace ("I am sorry"), but I am so impatiently waiting to move! To live on my own in a one bedroom apartment with a balcony. Most things simply pale in comparison.

Passionate as I am about travel, I'll soon have a good post detailing my next trip, so stay tuned. I'm looking forward to my daytrip to Washington, DC and this may be the last trip I can afford for awhile! In the works for a month now, I mentioned this excursion in this post. I will see the sculpture pictured above. And I couldn't ask for better company. (And I'm totally not just saying that because they're my most avid readers! :) )

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blog Birthday

I created this blog on this day one year ago. ...and I've been loving it.

Cin Cin!
An Italian toast that is pronounced 'chin chin!'

It all started here.

This is an excellent opportunity to talk about my blog itself, and in particular, a new direction it is taking. You see, I originally wanted to wait and start this blog after I moved into my own place when I was truly making my own choices and living my own life. That's not too far off now! I move into a beautiful one bedroom in just two and a half weeks. (I move sooner than anticipated during Labor Day Weekend.) I don't have any regrets in beginning before that milestone though. In fact, I am thrilled that this blog documented a trip to Italia, which you can read about here. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have taken in the beauty there this year. Anyway, keep reading because this blog will get even better! More as I daydreamed it to be. I plan to document more of my daily life in order to appreciate my life experiences even more! Look forward to more frequent posts, more than the ten a month that I've been averaging. In my first post, I mentioned regular feature called "Style Sunday" which I plan to continue soon after I settle into my new place. I hope to cultivate a sophisticated, classic style both in my wardrobe and home, and you'll witness that very evolution. In addition, I hope to further develop my photography skills!

I'd also like to sincerely thank my readers for staying with me the last year. Grazie. I really appreciate it. I hope you guys have enjoy it as much as I do.

Furthermore, I love being a small part of a blogging community, that I'm in on the fun. Have you checked out my blogrolls entitled Italy-Related Blogs and My Fourteen Favorite Blogs? Do. They are truly fabulous and inspiring.

More than that, I love this little journal of mine. I've kept some sort of journal most of my life. Before this, I had a livejournal for years, which basically chronicled my college years and I consistently kept diaries prior to that. My Aunt S gave me my first one when I was like in the third grade. It had a gumball machine with a white background on the cover and pink lined pages. Even though I am well aware that I have a wider audience this time around, rather than giving unsolicited advice in a straightforward manner like on so many blogs I adore, I intend to document my life, my choices and preferences, and lead by example, if you will. This blog is personal and I prefer it that way. Still, I hope you like it and feel inspired! I invite you to comment if you like a particular post because I love to read them.

I like how this thing's turning out so far. I like that italiagal is public but a bit anonymous and not too huge. On one hand, I am a private person, but on the other, I do love sharing my passions with others. Even though I am naturally optimistic and idealistic, I still make it a point to stay positive on this online format. You will not read too many rants here. Plus, my scattered college friends often email me about my blog posts, as it helps keep them up-to-date on my life. I also hope to gain like-minded friends in life, and who knows, this may possibly help.

Here's to another year! Cheers! Cin Cin!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Botched Yet Better

In the last week, my plans have been turned upside down ...but then they turned out anyway.

Two of the wrongs gone right:

I planned to have a pool day on my day off Thursday and go with my mom who loves herself a beach or pool. But we wake up and it's overcast and 75 degrees out. (Yeah..., during this summer.) So during the afternoon, we go out to lunch to this place I discovered a couple of months before. There, we had the most delicious pit beef and pit ham sandwiches! Pit beef is my favorite sandwich ever. (I know! It's not even Italian...) My mom loved this local restaurant as much as I did. I preferred the lunch to having an afternoon at the pool which is just something I feel like I should do because it's summer. I'm just no beach bum.

I had plans for this very pool.

Tonight my two girlfriends from high school came over to go to the carnival. Sunny all day at work and then it consistently drizzled since 5. So since I had an ancient $50 gift card to Carrabba's Italian Grill, we decide to dine there. Their food is something else! And the wine was good. And then the bread! Ah, the olive oil mixed with those herbs... Mm. Way better than weaving through the crowds at the carnival, another summer obligation. Anyway, after that, we munched on Doritos (which takes us back to high school) in front of The Tourist. Johnny Depp was delicious as well! ;)

...and now to dreams of Johnny...



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book Review: The Gospel According to Coco Chanel

I finished The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo in pretty much exactly 24 hours. It's such a great read. Not as serious and therefore fabulous as Chanel herself, but very much worth the time. I would give it four out of five stars.

My Borrowed-from-the-Library Copy 
and Some of My Own Pearls which is very Chanel.

It was so enjoyable for two reasons. First, because of the amazing Coco Chanel. I've always been attracted to people who are not afraid to be themselves, even if those identities are not so mainstream. Chanel was completely confident in who she was in the present. I adore such strong, independent women as she. I also admire the woman for her sense of style. Her clothing was practical and actually looked good on a woman, and became classic. She also did not change her style so much through numerous collections. She remained who she was, even when her style was out of favor. And anyway, she knew she'd always win out. In that success, she brought women into modernity. I learned that Chanel was responsible for so much more than the Little Black Dress. So many things that always look good on someone may be attributed to Chanel. This wealthy woman even promoted costume jewelry. I personally love my perfume, Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere, which is a re-do of No. 5. What is more classic than No. 5?

Secondly, I like the author's style of writing. It read like a very casual conversation with an expert. She used modern references like "Brangelina" for example, alittle too much for my taste. Some of her foot notes are hilarious though. I suppose this style contrasts with all the biographies and other books she researched. In addition, she indulged in some girl talk about wanting to acquire a vintage Chanel piece for herself throughout the book. I liked how the book was organized by a series of life lessons such as "On Self-Invention," "On Embracing the Moment" and "On Cultivating Arch Rivals" rather than being strictly chronological description of the subject's life. It was simply fun. Such a great summer read.

Elegance to Chanel is all about luxury. Of course beautiful well-crafted artisanal goods are a part of luxury, but it's much more than that. She completely redefined the term luxury for me. Not interested in making oh-so-much money myself, I can actually have luxury, thus elegance. It's not about saving up money for nice things and services in life. It's about dressing appropriately for any situation. Chanel feminized menswear which is easier to move in, not restricting a woman to do what she needs to do in life, which was revolutionary in the 20s. It's about becoming independent by making a living oneself by being true to oneself. Most of what Chanel did was work. She never happened to marry. It's also about achieving simplicity. Chanel rebelled against the big, frilly look of the day, particularly when she started out in the 20s. She often arrived in a simple black suit.

Don't laugh if I host my apartmentwarming party in a little black dress and several long strands of pearls! I'm inspired by my latest style icon and her life.