Friday, April 25, 2014

How to pay for it?


 How I've managed to get enough money to travel has changed over the years. When I was in college I was the master of odd “jobs.”I gave blood as many times a week as I was allowed, which paid for my trips to New York.  I sold vintage clothes that I would find in thrift shops to vintage stores to make yearly vigils to New Orleans.  I mowed yards, drew portraits, sewed custom dresses, I even had a short stint doing phone sex because it was really easy get my  homework done or clean my apartment at the same time.

The truth is I have never been someone who lives beyond my means. I never pay my bills late and never carry a due amount on my credit cards over to the next month. I have a good grasp of what I spend and I also don’t really need much. I cut my own hair, love thrift store clothes over designer, love to cook, drive a used car and furnish my home with things I fall in love with on my travels. My expenses are low. Even when I was a starving theater artist, making below the US definition of poverty level, I still could save money and, in my opinion, still lived well. In the way the New York Times once described as the “luxuried poor.”

However, when I did decide to backpack through Europe the first time, the $3,000 I had to go was all I had. I couldn’t afford to pay for my apartment and utilities back in Chicago while I was gone. So I gave up my apartment and put my stuff in storage. At that point in my life I didn’t really have that much so my storage space was a closet and I didn’t have a car. I had talked to several of my friends ,who all said I was welcome to live with them as long as I wanted when I got back while I looked for a new place to live. A BIG Thank You to all my friends who gave me that gift! Not knowing if I had a place to stay when I came back could have been one of the things that might have stopped me. Maybe…

Now I own a house and a car but still live pretty simply in comparison to many people’s standards. I prefer spending money more on experiences then I do “stuff”. “Stuff” just gives me more things to clean and put away.  Taking more time out of my day to live it makes me happy. Now when I leave, I turn off all the utilities and I have a house to come back to. My formula for saving, though, is the same it’s been for 30 years. I simply take 10% of everything I make, even if it’s just a few dollars and I put it in a separate account as soon as I get it. I never count it as part of my living expenses, so I live according to what I have in my main account.  I never even miss what I have put away. When I get enough to pay for whatever adventure I am wanting to go on then I start putting into action a plan to go. This has worked when I was lucky if I made $11,000 in a year to making $60,000.
If I can find a job that has travel involved with it, well, then it's Win-Win!

 
I'm actually at work in this photo.

Favorite days at home

 
While we love to travel, it is also wonderful to live someplace that people love to travel to. Travelers come from all over to visit Venice Beach but many never get past the jumble of street performers on the boardwalk.  However, our favorite day in Venice starts at the Venice canals.

There you can put in a small boat to row through the shallow canals that are lined by million dollar mansions, intermixed with the canals original 1920’s bungalows. You will be joined by the thriving duck population and the many visiting herons and other species of birds that come from the nearby Ballona wetlands. When you are ready for a break from rowing, moor your boat at Washington Blvd., then walk a couple of blocks towards the beach for breakfast at Hinanos.

Hinanos is one of the last old school bars left in Venice. A small, dark bar filled with tiki decorations that have been there for over twenty years with sawdust on the floor. It is busy serving beers and flipping “the best burgers in LA” to the locals from the moment the doors open at 6am. There are other items on the chalkboard menu but get the burger.

Hinanos can be hard to leave but eventually you might want to wander out in to the bright sunlight to the beach. You will be at the south end of the boardwalk at Venice pier. From here, you can walk down the pier, rent bicycles, rollerblades or various other modes of transportation to cruise the boardwalk. Or you can just go by foot to stroll along the strip of shops, unique street performances and street vendors. Old and new street artists line the boardwalk daily but if you like something, buy it then. The boardwalk spots operate on a lottery system so there is no guarantee the same artist will be back another day. Take time to walk down to the ocean, build a sand sculpture, join in a volleyball game, try a little surfing, watch the skateboarders practice in the new skateboard park, or just enjoy the rhythm of the waves.

 At the opposite end of the boardwalk there are a variety of cafes, wine bars and a couple of old beach bars. Stop at the Waterfront at the very end. You can enjoy local musicians playing in front of the oceanfront patio or enjoy the beer garden in the back if you want to get off the strip for a beat. The Waterfront has a large European clientele so you can order up German lagers and foods like Andalusian style gazpacho and Swiss fondues that you won’t find at the other beach places for a reasonable price.

 If you are like me, by now the sun is already getting low. If it’s a weekend, listen for the sound of drumming and follow it to the drum circle. There you can join in this sunset celebration that has been going on for over twenty years. Find something to drum, even a water bottle will work, or just dance, sharing the joy, until the sun disappears below the horizon.




The walk as you head back to Washington will be quieter,
stiller. The stretches of umbrellas and blankets are gone with only casual strollers enjoying the sunset to disturb the sand. When you arrive back up to Washington the previously overflowing restaurants will now have seats where you can get a drink to watch and enjoy the sound of the waves. 





                               Don't forget your boat!




 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Not everyone runs a hospitality business

 
The Barcelona Cozy Rooms. They can be found lurking on every booking site from airbnb, hostels, guesthouses, and booking.com. These rooms might have been mentally survivable if they had been under $20 a night and the people who ran it had been remotely pleasant or helpful in any way. Neither was the case.

The airbnb host we were going to stay with cancelled on us the day we were going to arrive. In a pinch, we used booking.com in to find a place quick. The descriptions and pictures made it appear like a charming guesthouse. It was more than we had paid anywhere else in Europe but we decided to splurge a little.

From the moment we found the street it was a disaster. First, we drove around endlessly trying to find the building which was completely surrounded by construction. So much for a view unless you like gazing at cranes.

We entered into a dark, dingy stairwell to find that the “ground floor” room was actually on the fourth floor. The timed light was on just long enough for us to get to up one flight, leaving us stumbling up three more in the pitch dark, dragging our bags while trying to carry and calm our 8 year old, who is scared of the dark.

When we managed to get ourselves into the apartment we were shocked. Guest house? This was a  bad hostel at best; flop house was really a better term. The only common area was the kitchen (or was it a hallway?).  The tray table and 3 stools made it instantly overcrowded. There was no heat in the bathroom or kitchen and minimal in our room. Flys and their splatted remains were all over the walls. It seemed odd for late December. Then we looked out the window and saw the moldy, rotting piles of fallen laundry on the rooftops. Now it made more sense.

We emailed management immediately, which was the only contact method we had. We asked to be released from the other nights we had booked because it was so uncomfortable for our family. Their reply? We were welcome to leave but they would not refund us a dime. Since we had already splurged for this room, we certainly couldn’t afford to pay for another too. We were stuck. Nor did they do anything to try to make us more comfortable. We asked if they could at least bring in a heater and they ignored us completely. They didn’t even offer to send an extra blanket.

The bed was a futon on a rickety loft that creaked and shook whenever you moved. Not that we could sleep anyway since the walls were so thin that you could hear everything going on in the building. I never got to meet Nate but I really hope he can get his grades up and work out his dating problems!

 I can’t say that it was because of the room conditions that my daughter came down with a 103 fever the last night we were there but I certainly believe that the cold and lack of sleep definitely contributed.  I can’t describe the relief when we were able to take our daughter to a clean, comfortable place to get well!

For Note: Reports were filed with Consumer Affairs and BBB. This is the only time I have ever asked to leave a place early or felt that they should be reported for their business practices.
A room with a view
 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mindful of the Simple Pleasures



The world is so full of wonders and excitement that it’s hard not to be passionate about just the act of living. Sunrises and sunsets, the warmth of the sun or cool rain on our skin. The delight in a steaming drink coming out of the cold or something icy when the day is hot. I am passionate about finding the simple pleasures each and every day.

I am passionate about food from vine to table, wherever it may be. I love watching the bees dancing from bloom to bloom in my vegetable garden. Fresh cherry tomatoes and snap peas can be picked and popped straight to my mouth as a snack. I love bringing fresh food back to the kitchen and finding new recipes to share. I love going to restaurants to try new combinations to figure out at home. I love trying new foods, even if I don’t know what it is, from street vendors to something that is being offered from the heart from someone I have met on the road. I love the wines and spirits that go with each dish. Each locale having developed something unique and special that goes with their food that is unmatched. There is nothing as wonderful as breaking bread and drinking wine with a friend or a stranger. We need to eat for our health and survival so why not make that something wonderful each day.

I love the beauty of nature from storming lakes, towering redwood cathedrals to glaciered mountain peaks. Nature and the millions of species it nurtures never fail to take my breath away. Daily, I try to be mindful about how I take care of the world I share with so many other living things.  Small acts can often go far to help protect this fragile little world. Something as simple as planting flowers can feed hundreds of honeybees……

I am passionate about art in all its forms. From a song that can lift you out of sadness on a bad day, a play or movie that can help you release tears, to a beautiful piece of art work that makes you feel blessed. Sometimes I see that piece of art in a museum but just as often I see it painted on a wall of an alley I just happened to walk down or just being finished by an unknown artist someplace they happen to be working. I collect music from musicians that will probably never be heard on the radio but bring my family to their feet to dance under the stars, full of memories.

Passions give us the power to act, to live a rightful life, to feel deeply. In Buddhism they speak of finding a rightful livelihood. I think our passions help us find that and give us something we can give back.  We can live and share our passions from small to large acts, even if that is just by planting some flowers or sharing a meal.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Car Karma

 
“Come camping in Mexico with me! “Toni begged. Usually I don’t need to be asked twice for such an invitation but it had been a rocky summer. Funds were scarce. Toni loved this trip to a certain surf spot that she did yearly with a group of friends. Her enthusiasm finally won me over.  Then the catch. “You need to drive.”

Really? I had terrible car karma. My road trips usually ended with me broke down on the road somewhere. Just the year before I was driving cross country for a wedding. The car broke halfway. I missed the wedding but did end up spending 4 peaceful days in a cabin of a ranch hostel in the Rockies.  I ignored the red flags that went up.

The rattling started past Rosarita. Too late to turn back.  It turned into a loud clunking that we knew was not going to end well. Slowing down, I pulled over to the side. A loud sound of metal hitting concrete, the car shuttered and stopped. Outside the car we looked around this long stretch of hot, dusty highway. The sides of the road were overgrown with arundo cane. Nothing could be seen beyond that except one small gravel road just ahead that disappeared into jungle-like foliage. It looked like it was going to be a long walk.

A few feet down the road it made another bend out of sight into some palms. We walked around the bend to find ourselves looking out over a sea of colorful tents on a gently sloping, sandy beach. We started laughing in relief that we weren’t going to be walking for hours.

Fortunately, the campground manager, Luis, spoke perfect English. Our Spanish was definitely limited to the basics, not figuring out how to get a car repaired. A couple of boys that worked there pushed my jeep down to the campground. Finding help so close was just the beginning of our surprises. They pushed it into a garage that had a mechanics pit and then one of the boys took off to get his dad. He was a mechanic.

It didn’t take his dad long to let us know that this was no quick fix. Back on PCH were parts of my transmission. It was going to take a few days and cost more than I had brought on this trip. Ok, keep moving forward. I gave the mechanic what money I had to start working on it.

I would have stayed at this truly inviting campground but Toni insisted, “We can’t stay here, people are expecting us, they will be worried if we don’t show up!” In a matter of minutes she had used her minimal Spanish to talk the mechanic into loading all our stuff into his pick-up. We piled in with his three kids and a dog to go to the other campground.

This campground was beautiful in a different way. A dry, arid bluff on sheer cliffs that dropped to a gray pebble beach with turquoise waters.  Toni’s friends were convinced my car would be gone when I went back for it. I trusted my car was safe but it had seemed like it would have been easier to have stayed where I could be in contact with the mechanic. The universe had other plans.

 Toni and I borrowed a car to drive to Ensenada to get money to pay the mechanic. We discovered that the banks would only let us withdraw specific but random amounts from each individual bank.  This seemed to average about $30 a withdraw. We wandered the streets looking for banks, stopping for spicy tacos and icy Tecates to get us through the day.

The mechanic was at our campground when we got back. Without Luis we were at a loss at what he was trying to tell us. One of the guys in our group came over to translate. Not only did I need a new transmission but when it fell off the car it took some other parts with it. The money I had managed to scrounge up was not enough. Well, it’s not my way to despair. Nothing could be done that moment; so I did what I came to Mexico to do, enjoy.

Around the campfire that night I sat with the guy who helped earlier.  We talked for hours in the glowing firelight. Everyone in this group was from different places but he also lived in LA, worked in the film business and loved punk rock. My concerns drifted away in the moment as we watched fireworks being set off over the ocean.

Despite my broken down jeep, I enjoyed cheap lobster and margaritas on the sun-warmed terraces in nearby Puerto Nuevo.  I met many kind locals that I would never have encountered if I hadn’t needed to find every bank in town. I fell for that guy while we listened to the ocean crash on the cliffs. What I hadn’t been able to do was get enough money out of the banks to pay the mechanic.  I would have to stay longer to go through the process of withdrawing again when the banks reopened.

Then that wonderful guy came over and handed me the last of what I needed. “I always carry extra money in case of an emergency,” he smiled, “now I know you have to see me at least one more time.” Twelve years later we are still exploring the world together, now with our beautiful daughter.  Thanks to that jeep that broke down on that hot, dusty road.

Btw, after we got back I got rid of that jeep and Greg helped me find a new car. Amazingly, I’ve never broken down on the road again. I seemed to have finally worked through that car karma.

 

An Opportunist




A Shameless Opportunist

The young man in a deep red uniform with glittering gold trim hands me another class of champagne. Another one hands me an hor dourve as Jodhpur’s Maharajah, all in white and gold and his family dressed in a brilliant array of colorful saris, enter.  They have graciously extended the use of their ballroom for a birthday party for one of the actors of the film we are in Jodhpur for.

Fast forward 24 hours.  A young gentleman in military fatigues, who speaks only Hindi, helps me with my backpack and to find a seat in third class passage of the train. I sit next to an elderly Indian woman who offers me a samosa from her lunch. I spend that night with an Indian family in Bikaner. The mother tries to teach me how to make chapattis and some kind of lentil dish that she is preparing us for dinner. In the morning I wake in a small room which consists of a wooden bench covered with thick, hand dyed comforters to the sound of the temples loudspeaker.

Fast forward another 24 hours. I am warm and cozy under a mound of blankets layed on the sand, watching the sunrise stain it’s vibrant colors over the sky and desert dunes.  The camel, that will be taking me soon to the famous Rat temple of Karni Mata, snorts nearby.

Fast forward, a couple of days later. I settle myself down in my comfortable room of the 5 star hotel that I am fortunate to have as a home base. The young gentleman who takes care of our room comes in and says he hadn’t realized I was leaving for few days. He had wanted to invite me to his wedding. I have a message waiting for me that the fabric merchants I have become friends with are waiting for me to come have chai tea when I get back.

I am an opportunist and I am fortunate that I get to travel in all kinds of ways. Not every trip I take is like what I just described, where I get to experience someplace on so many different levels. However, I do try to seize all the opportunities that present themselves to me through work or circumstance. On my own, I am usually on a limited budget. I stay in hostels, guest houses, camp, couch surf, even an occasional train station. I enjoy wandering the streets, meeting locals and artisans and sharing dinners and wine around community tables at night. However, I also love the unique opportunities that I get to have when I travel for work situations that I might never get to have otherwise.  Like attending that birthday party at the palace. In these situations I get to stay in luxury accommodations and can get in to places that are often off-limit to the general public. There is a beauty and something to be learned from all ways of travelling. I don’t think one way is better than the other. It is simply just the door that I got to go through at the moment. Sometimes it takes me to places that I hadn’t even thought about seeing. Sometimes it makes me realize that there is more that I need to see and will need to come back to view it from a different perspective.

 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

It's just who I am


     There has never been a time in my life that I have not thought about travelling the world. My grandparents were world travelers and they would come back with long slide shows of France, Egypt, China and the list of places they had gone just kept getting longer and longer. My uncles would be sneaking out to grab another beer as the hundreds of slides clicked by on the projection screen but I could have watched them over and over.
     From each country they would bring me a doll dressed in a beautifully detailed traditional folk outfit. Year by year it grew into a full cabinet of elaborately colorful dressed dolls that I would see from my bed when I woke each morning, beckoning me to come see the cultures they came from.
     I filled scrapbooks of pictures of places I wanted to see someday. My games of "just pretend" were always of running away to join a travelling circus or to be part of a gypsy caravan. I imagined myself to be a cross between Brigit Bardot and Jeanne Moreau in one of my favorite movies, "Viva Maria." Every book I read or song I heard that was referenced seeing the world always pulled at my soul to just go and to keep on going. One day in my high school art class all my friends were talking about where they wanted to go on their honeymoons. One of my friends said he was going to travel the world but when anyone asked he was going to tell them he just stayed home. That was it, I knew it. My desire was to travel the world because that was my home, I could skip the honeymoon.
     As soon as I went to college and had complete control of my time and finances I started finding my way to get to new places. I would sell blood at the local blood bank so I could book a flight to New York. Sell my clothes to second hand stores so I could jump a train to New Orleans for Jazz fest. Each summer I would find a job in a costume shop at some summer stock theater company in order to get to spend some time in a new place. I became a theatre gypsy, travelling from one place to another to work at different theaters, then I moved into film so I could travel to work on location and make enough money to spend time backpacking somewhere new on my time off.
     As I reflect back on the question, I realize that unconsciously the desire for me to "travel the world and just stay home" has guided me my entire life. I am eternally grateful that I have I got to see so many places, in so many different ways and that I am now getting to share it with the man I love who has chosen to live this lifestyle with me and my 8 year old daughter. I never see putting my backpack up for good. I never see not wanting to go down one more narrow, winding street just to find out where it leads. I am content being home.

"May your Mocassins make happy tracks in many snows, and may the Rainbow always touch your shoulder."
~Cherokee blessing   

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Take a Deep Breath....and Just Let Go.....

    

A Changing World View Indie#30


     The ways that travel changes your world view and who you are is as vast as the universe. You probably will encounter many people who will have the same and similar reflections on how travel has changed them and their lives and you will encounter others that find entirely different truths in their travels.
     While I could create a long ongoing list of what I have gained and learned from traveling, the one that is at the top of the pyramid is to take a risk. Until I met my husband almost all of my travels at least started out with me traveling solo. Every time I board a bus, train, plane, ferry, rickshaw, etc...to some place I have never been before there are varying degrees of nervousness that goes along with the excitement. I rarely know anyone at the next stop and usually don't even know where I am going to stay. How does it work out? I don't know, it's a mystery. Yet somehow how it does. Not to say that I haven't had nights where I have had to sleep in a train station but usually I find a place. Occasionally that has even been staying in someone's home that I met in a chance meeting, waiting in a queue or someone I started talking to at a nearby table in a cafĂ©.
     I have found that most people in the world, when given the opportunity, love to give you the best of who they are. I try to travel with an open heart and a smile and I have been rewarded with the same all over the world. Don't get me wrong, I do try to exercise good common sense and instincts, especially from the viewpoint of being a solo female traveler. I'm not afraid to stay firm and say no to unwanted "guides" and aggressive behavior. However, sometimes I find that taking that risk and letting myself be vulnerable as a person can be a strength. One that can put you in a position where the women you just sang with in a temple in India are fighting over who gets to have you over to their home for lunch.  I, also,  always do an immense amount of planning before I go on a trip. I might not do any of it but at least I know where the train station is if I need it ; ).
     The best part of learning to take risks is that it doesn't end with traveling. It becomes a part of who you are in your daily life. After I backpacked across Europe in my late twenties I came back to my home in Chicago. I felt like I needed to do something different with my life so 6 months later I took one suitcase and flew to LA, not knowing a soul. I didn't know if I would stay or fly somewhere else in a couple of weeks.  Years later I happily still call LA home.
     Taking a risk can be so many things, from initiating conversation with a stranger, trying to speak a new language even though you know your pronunciation is terrible (people still appreciate your effort), trying a food that the merchant offers you to try in the Medina, going to that village, whose name you can't pronounce and have no idea where it is, on the advice of someone you met in a park, or helping out that backpacker that looks lost on the streets of the town you live in and offering them a cup of coffee. After all, next month it could be you.
     Even though traveling makes your comfort range bigger there is still always room to stretch past it. I find new risks daily, while traveling, while raising my daughter, in my everyday life. My mantra whenever I come up to something that feels a little bit like I'm at the edge of a cliff  that I'm about to drop off is to...
Take A Deep Breath.....and Just Let Go......................................................................................




"Listen, Make a way for yourself inside yourself. Stop looking in the other way of looking."
Rumi


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Serendipity

     I am a big believer in Serendipity. So much so that sometimes I set myself up with a serendipity "challenge." For example, "I need a drawing table to do my work on and I would like it to be an old school wood one that will fit in my bay window space." In that particular challenge I found exactly what I envisioned that same week. Out on a bike ride in my neighborhood I stopped at a garage sale that had a lot of art supplies out. The guy didn't have anything I needed but he asked if I was looking for something particular. Well, a drawing table. He went back to his garage and carried out the exact one I had imagined. Price? $10. Crazy, right?
     Serendipity has changed the course of my life often. I have found myself on wild adventures and in places I hadn't imagined being in simply by following serendipitous events.  My husband and I often text each other when we see it around us. It makes us smile to share these moments with each other. Probably because our own meeting was it's own unique series of serendipitous events. That is a whole story on it's own!
     What does serendipity have to do with what is intended to be primarily a travel blog? It's not because serendipity has led me to travel but because it has led me to giving writing about it a try. My family and I just recently got back from backpacking a couple of months around a few countries in Europe. Lots of people have done that and then some. Solo travelers, couples, families, indie travelers, luxury, people who just love to shop......they are out there and blogging about it. Really, why bother? Yet, somehow,when I was researching information there still seemed to be gaps in the information I was looking for.  But still, who needs another blog........?
     Then comes serendipity. A good friend comments out of the blue how she knows that I secretly am a wanna be travel writer. My inbox is suddenly flooded with emails from travel writing programs and emails with questions from other travelers who have seen my reviews on Trip Advisor. An opportunity comes up that has my family going to Rabat, Morocco for a couple of weeks. Then the final push of encouragement came. The BootsnAll Art challenge! Did you catch earlier how I love a challenge? And I love BootsnAll! I found BootsnAll not long after they started their site and over the years have used their site for resources and the amazing traveling community they have gathered together every time I hit the road. That was the last bit of serendipity needed to start out on this particular journey. So over this month of April I am jumping in on Bootsnall's Indie30 Art project to get started and see where it takes me.
     After all, sometimes the hardest part is just taking the first step out the door.

"Action has magic, grace, and power in it." W.H. Murray, Scottish explorer