Travel – Money- Saving Ideas

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Taking a family on vacation can be a ridiculous amount of money. Even when I’ve traveled alone and stayed with friends, it can sometimes be more expensive than I’d like.

Car travel gives you the space to bring more with you and save money on the other end. These can all be adapted to other forms of travel. The only difference (at the moment) would be liquids on airplanes. Check the TSA website for your specific airport information.

Starting a trip, I always try to eat breakfast at home. Whether that’s picking up bagels at the supermarket and toasting them at home or using up the milk with our cereal, it’s better than getting half an hour into a trip and everyone’s starving. Frozen waffles and home brewed or instant coffee are two other ways to save money before you leave.

Once you’re on the trip, if you’re traveling by car, what can you bring with you? Sure, you can pick stuff up when you get there, but it’s not always practical. I will bring a 12-pack of soda and a bottle of juice for the kids. It really is so much cheaper than getting individual ones out of the hotel vending machines. You can always use the ice machine, and most hotel rooms come equipped with a mini-fridge and a microwave.

The microwave can be a good thing to have if you bring popcorn for snacks or microwavable Easy Mac mac&cheese. Everybody loves mac&cheese.

Other snacks that pack well include Cheerios, pretzels, crackers, and water bottles. Cheese doodles and chocolate are pretty much the worse snacks. The doodles are incredibly messy and the chocolate will melt, even in the winter.

Bring your own shampoo and soap.

Don’t buy anything in a convenience store and avoid supermarkets for anything that’s not food. Stick to Target and Wal-Mart for what you need, if you shop at those stores.

Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up at the water fountain on the other side of security. If you each have your own reusable water bottles, you can buy a gallon of water and share it around instead of buying individual disposable water bottles.

Look around when you’re packing and see what you can bring instead of buying. By the same token, be careful not to overpack. Weigh out what’s worth buying.

Resources for Travel

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AAA – I used to say that if you had a car or traveled by car, you needed AAA, but it really is so much more than for car travel. With membership, they have tour books and maps for free. They have travel agents that can help you plan your trip and reserve your flights and hotels. Some places also have car repair/maintenance shops. Not to mention the discounts on stores and attractions. When I’m in my home area, I always forget to ask for these and often the museums are buy one get one admission free or 10% off in the gift shop. There is also a discount at Payless Shoe Source among many other retailers. It’s defintiiely worth the annual membership fee.

Smartphone/Tablet Apps – In one trip, I will use the map app, the weather app, Facebook messenger, my banking app, browser to look up attractions and check out local news for information. Don’t let naysayers say that technology is bad for us; it is more useful than not and saves countless hours of time in research and planning.

Notebook/Journal app – I tend to use Evernote or Office Suite for my travel notes to use later in my writings.

Travel Hacks – great tips for traveling

Check out the free travel section on Kindle E-books.

Traveler Restaurant – I haven’t personally been there but I’ve heard great things about this place.

What is your go-to resource when you travel? Share below.

Travel – Do I Really Need That?

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As much as I forget some things that are necessary for travel, there are also others that are on the list, they’re always on the list, and nine times out of ten, they are never used. And then I carry them back home, put them away until I add them to the packing list again.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Let’s start with clothes.

How much is too much? Are you going for a special event and need a nice pair of shoes or something dressy to wear? I always wear my Keds. Every day. When I went to England in college, I forgot nice shoes. I ended up wearing my hiking boots everywhere. This is an unusual circumstance. Obviously if you’re traveling for a wedding or some other event, you will need a pair of nice shoes or boots, but that weekend getaway to the beach? Or the city? Probably not. Leave them home. They only take up space.

How many pairs of jeans do you need? Can you do laundry at your destination? Can you re-wear your jeans more than once or even more than twice? Well, maybe not twice, but if you’re trip consists of strolling through the museum or mall, you probably won’t get them too dirty if at all.

Look at your outfits. Can you plan outfits that coordinate with each other? The jeans can go with two different shirts. The second shirt you can re-wear with a sweater or a blazer. You can put a button down shirt over a tee and leave it open or button it up and wear it over leggings if that’s your style. Think in layers.

On to tech.

How many chargers do you really need? Most of them are interchangeable at this point, so bringing them all only increases the chances of losing one. Is there ever a time when you’re charging all of your electronics at once? Almost never. Even overnight, I don’t always charge my phone. The one thing that I do need every time is a surge protector. I use a Belkin mini version that packs easily in my carry-on or personal bag.

Often I won’t empty my tech pouch and end up bringing a flash drive. I can only use this with my computer (or someone else’s) and I almost never bring my computer anymore.

Do I really need to bring my camera and mp3 player when I use my Kindle for both of those? On retreat, I don’t use my phone except as an alarm clock, communicating with my family through Facebook, so I should probably leave that at home as well.

I’ll often bring my sketchbook and colored pencils, but I don’t use them unless I’m at a specific workshop/retreat. More thinking about my destination, less random packing of things.

Now for those toiletries.

Are you staying in a hotel? They have shampoo bottles. Are you staying at your cousin’s or your in-laws? They probably have shampoo too. I almost always bring a brush, but because my hair is so short and I usually finger style it, I never use the brush. Same for hairspray. What about that bar of soap? Unless your skin is sensitive, you really don’t need to bring your soap from home.

Will you really wear those slippers? Or will your socks do?

Reusable water bottle? I end up forgetting it. Sometimes, it’s better to buy a recyclable/disposable one on your way.

Pocketbook. How big do you think you need it to be? Can it be smaller? Can you travel with a personal bag that will be good for the trip itself and then pack a smaller bag for daily use at your destination? Can you put the smaller bag inside your carry bag for doubling its usefulness.

What do you pack that you never use?

Day 1 of Lent – What to Give Up

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Ash Wednesday is here. It feels much earlier than usual, although I guess it feels that way every year. I’ve been contemplating what to give up this year, and it’s a real struggle. I feel sometimes that my choices are too easy, but while it shouldn’t be impossible, it should be a little difficult. I should be able to notice that something is missing and then give pause on why I chose to eliminate that from my life for the next forty days.

I thought bacon. But I don’t really eat that much bacon. Mostly on cheeseburgers when we go out to eat. We almost never buy bacon on its own for our house, although I have had cravings for BLTs in the past. Maybe we should give up eating out for Lent.

I thought Netflix. Well, at least the rerun parts of Netflix. The repeated binge watching of television series over and over and over again. The TV is constantly on in our house (less now but it’s still an issue; my habit). Netflix has taken the place of constant cable news that I gave up after the last election (2012). The problem with giving this up is that Supernatural reruns are my go-to white noise. I can do almost anything else while Supernatural is on, especially the early seasons. It’s a comfort thing. Supernatural was there when my depression returned and I needed another med adjustment. Supernatural kept me from being listless and lethargic.

There’s always the internet, Facebook and/or Kindle. I know several people who give up either the internet or Facebook for Lent. This doesn’t make sense for me since that is my family and primary school communication, I do most of my writing online in the clouds and on my kindle, so it’s much more than a crutch. For some of my family, this is the only place they get to see pictures of my kids, and I theirs. Used well, Facebook is a G-dsend.

Ice Cream? Uh, I don’t know.

Chocolate? Been there, done that.

Diet Coke? Ditto.

McDonald’s Breakfast Burritos? But I love them! I would eat them every day if I could.

Starbucks? That goes so close with my writing that I’m not sure that I could do without it for forty days. Maybe…

These are all things on my maybe list. I’ve given up some of them before. Some were harder than others; much harder.

On Monday morning, I began to read The Little Black Book. I’ve enjoyed these “Little” books seasonally, both in paper format and e-book. On Monday, it talked about fasting and abstinence (which is much different from the Yom Kippur fasting that I was used to.) One of the things mentioned was that “the church no longer attempts to prescribe Lenten practices in detail” and “choosing practices that are adapted to one’s own circumstances.” This implied to me that I was not expected to give something up if it didn’t fit with my other “penitential season” practices.

I’m not sure my priest would agree, and after the initial burst of wishful thinking, I went back to the list in my mind. It also felt a little like when I was a kid and didn’t want to stop writing on the High Holy Days because they weren’t really work. For me it wasn’t something to meditate on the meaning of; it was a cop-out. Again, that’s for my personal feelings and perspective. We all need to come to our own place this Lenten season.

Choosing an item isn’t just about the item itself; it’s about the introspection, the prayerful thoughts that go into the choosing, what makes this item important enough to make the giving up a sacrifice?

Not only that, but how is the giving up part of the larger idea of what Lent is all about – the penance and the getting ourselves ready for Christ’s sacrifice for us? Certainly, whatever we give up doesn’t compare to His sacrifice for us. It is but a small imitation, but it’s all we can offer.

So how do we continue to give.our Lenten experiences meaning year after year?

I could give up brussel sprouts. I don’t hate them, but we almost never eat them. Does that count?

The truth is, the only one who can tell me if it counts is me. Trying to get out of it doesn’t hurt anyone or change the meaning for anyone but me. Who am I observing Lent for in the first place?

The responsibility is on me because the benefit, whatever that might be spiritually is also on me.

I’ve decided to give up the breakfast burritos and ice cream. Tuesday morning was my last burrito until after Easter and Tuesday night was my last bowl of ice cream (black cherry chocolate chunk). Something from the morning and something from the night to remind me each day right after I wake up and right before I go to bed that these forty days are different.

How else will I make them different? And how will they change me for the rest of the year?

Time will tell.
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Travel – Forgetables

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I’m an expert packer. I even wrote, published and sold a travel organizer that was advice to packers and lists of what is most needed to pack for a trip, regardless of length.

One of the things that I’ve found over the years is that whether I’m going on a retreat for a three day weekend or a week abroad or Thanksgiving at Grandma’s, there is rarely a change in what I need. I still need my things, whatever that might be no matter the location or the length of time or even, believe it or not, the season.

My clothes don’t do a lot of switching around. I’ll add a coat in the cold months, and wear pants/jeans more than capris and cullotes, but overall, my outfits are universal to the seasons. I almost always wear a sweater, and my jewelry rarely ever changes. I wear the same sneakers every day unless I want to shake it up a bit and put on my black boots, but that’s a style choice, and not out of necessity.

One thing that I’m almost always guaranteed of is that I’ll forget something. I don’t forget to put it on my list, but I’ll prepare it, and then forget to grab it. It’s not a successful trip unless I’ve forgotten something necessary. In this day and age, however, 98% of the traveling we do takes us to places somewhat like where we live, and so forgetting something isn’t the end of the world; unless of course, you’re traveling to the end of the world. Prescription medicine is probably the only exception, and yes, I’ve forgotten this once on an emergency trip for a death in the family.

Still, it can be annoying as well as a waste of money to continually replace something that you already have at home, sitting on the bed or dresser waiting for you to return and scowl at your forgetfulness. And after a few times, you have a collection of them mocking you.

My top ten items that I’ve forgotten. I call this list My Forgetables.

1. Laundry bag. I have several laundry bags that I’ve bought for just the occasion of traveling, and half the time Iend up needing a grocery store bag.

2. Camera. I think Iforgot this one Thanksgiving. I had to use my cell phone, which at the time was horrible.

3. Cash. There are ATMs nearly everywhere, but the fees in airports or out of state are ridiculous. Outrageous might be a better word.

4. My poncho/scarf. I loved this poncho. I bought it for my Halloween costume, and it has several colors and a pattern that I’m not normally drawn to, and so I wanted it for a retreat as part of the mood and inspiration I was looking for. Needless to say, it stayed home. On the sofa. Within eyesight of the front door. I was going to wear it, and then forgot. Ack!

5. Boots. Same as the poncho. These are knee high black leather-looking boots that set the tone for my day. They give me a boost and almost feel like I’m another person with confidence and talent.

6. Eyeglass case. I’m always afraid that I’m going to knock my glasses to the floor when I’m sleeping in a strange place. These are always on my list and more than half the time, I forget them.

7. Water bottle. Cold. On the table next to the door. Or an empty one to fill up on the other side of security. Airport water costs upwards of $2.50 or more. Absurd.

8. Tylenol. If you need it, forgetting it is tragic.

9. Phone charger. I have a friend who always forgets his phone charger at his destination, so he never has it when he returns home. It takes about a week to ship it or buy a new one.

10. An extra bag or pocketbook. One of the things I’ve recently discovered is that carrying a bag for travel to a destination is not the same and doesn’t work as well while you’re on the trip itself. I either have a large bag that’s mostly empty with its contents strewn all over a hotel room or retreat center or I carry too much because I have no place safe to leave it. Now, I bring a bag to use on the trip that is different from the bag that I use to travel to and from the trip with.

What’s the one thing that you always need and invariably always forget on your travels?

Favorite Super Bowl 50 Ads

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There didn’t seem to be a huge variety of commercials. Maybe it’s getting too expensive. I found the Amy Schumer, Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd commercial funny and the Hulk/Antman was also a good one. Esurance was also unexpected and funny. I’ve included my three favorites below.

Clever and unexpected from a local company in Upstate New York, Death Wish Coffee:

What I thought was the funniest ad, from Doritos:

This ad about Native Americans was touching and poignant, and thought-provoking. Please watch and share, Proud to Be:

50-1 – Turning Fifty

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This is the second week of the second month, and I had anticipated being so much far along in my reflections. I’m still not sure how I want these to flow; I just feel that my fiftieth year deserves something a little special; a little different; a little more.

My age has always been one of those oddities for me. Between not caring at all and caring too much, I can never remember how old I am without doing the math. Being born in December, I was always the youngest in high school and college, having just made the cut off to attend school in my year. My middle son is usually the youngest (October birthday) in his class and my daughter is usually the oldest (January).  One of my closest college friends was born in January, so he and I were quite literally one year apart. At my first job in the early childhood field, I remained the youngest or at least close to the youngest for most of my tenure there.  Things evened out a little bit after my first son was born with colleagues and other parents in school, but I still tended to be one of the oldest in any give group. Even now I am either the youngest (at church or the Red Hats) or the oldest (at any other school or friend function.) My closest friends are in their mid-twenties/thirties.

I don’t know how I feel about the whole age thing.

I already feel adrift, falling somewhere between baby boomers and gen Xers, a forgotten generation of sorts. Too old and practical for my twenty-something friends, and too flighty and culture savvy for my aged peers.

People laugh and think it’s vanity that I can never remember my age. It’s not intentional; it’s just never been important enough to stay on my mind. Oh, I knew 18 and 21, 25 and 30. Forty didn’t bother me like I was told it would, but 41 made me cry, pretty much all year. Forty-one was tragic. I looked forward to 42 – my Douglas Adams birthday as I called it, and I expressed my age that year every chance I could. But after that….it feels like a countdown, and I don’t like to dwell on it or that I’m not quite where I wanted to be at 49. It didn’t help that 45 came with the baggage of a heaping pile  of a previously unknown and undiagnosed severe  case of depression and anxiety that is finally beginning to stay on the track it’s supposed to be on.

One thing that I do enjoy lately is that we’ve have hit the moment pop culturally where most of my favorite television shows have actors around my age: Misha Collins-ish,Jensen Ackles (at least they’re not twenty), Norman Reedus, Alan Cumming, Robert Downey, Jr, John Barrowman. (Notice the obvious lack of women/actresses in my age group to look up to, though.)

At the end of the year, I will be 50, and I wonder what that means. I’m beginning this series of reflections. My aim is to do about fifty of these, originally planned for one a week, and I’m not going to worry about it being the second week of the second month. I’m going to go with the flow. Some of the time. This is the year of positive thinking. I’m just going to trudge on, and make my way through this year, paying attention, noticing, writing, and moving forward.

Always moving forward.

I am in good company, however:

This past weekend, the Super Bowl turned 50.

In September, Star Trek, one of my most formative childhood and adolescent guides to my world will also be 50. Star Trek formed and inspired my creativity, my writing, my thoughts about the future and space travel (I was born during the Apollo age), and my never-ending love of science fiction, which begat fantasy. Star Trek was very important in my life.

NOW (National Organization for Women) was founded.

Batman: The Movie was released and was soon followed by the television show.

UFWOC (United Farm Workers Organizing Committee) founded.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas aired for the first time.

The first Kwanzaa was celebrated.

Nolan Ryan made his debut in the big leagues with the NY Mets (my favorite team. I grew up near Shea Stadium.)

The SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) was formed at author Diana Paxson’s graduation party at UC-Berkeley. The name was created by author Marion Zimmer Bradley. Like Star Trek, the SCA was a tremendous influence and inspiration in showing me new worlds, new people, and new skills like costuming and jewelry making. (It’s kind of amazing how many of my life’s influences were born the same year as I was.)

Days of Our Lives premiered.

The Supreme Court case that brought us the Miranda warning to our collective vocabulary and basic civil rights was decided.

The start of Medicare.

The Department of Transportation was created.

The Black Panthers formed.

Pampers creates the first disposable diaper, and I for one, can’t thank them enough.