Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes and General Mental Mayhem


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How to Travel By Yourself

How to Travel By YourselfAs you read this, I’m actually galavanting around the UK and Ireland with my friend, Rachel, for the next two weeks. This trip is a #bucketlist item, and since we didn’t merit an invite from Harry and Meghan for the wedding, we planned our own jaunt across the pond. (Follow the adventure on Instagram!)

However, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you may already know that most of my travel is on my own. And I answered the question of how to travel by yourself a few days ago for someone, so thought I’d also share my tips here as well.

Sometimes I forget that not everyone travels solo because so many people in my circles do. As I’ve said before on this blog (many times!), I LOVE to travel. Whether I’m going an hour away from home, or to the other side of the world, it just fills me up the way few, other things do.

Different foods, different culture, different sites and sounds. It’s always a beautiful experience, and shows you that while the little space you occupy in the world is important, it’s not everything. Travel is a big source of inspiration for me, and I know that many others feel the same.

I’ve traveled to many states here in the U.S. by myself, either for a personal vacation or work purposes. And for my 40th birthday, I checked off one of my top bucket list items when I traveled to Spain. And, yes, I went by myself. That trip was sort of planned spur of the moment because I saw a great deal on a flight. I didn’t even take the time to ask anyone to go with me because I booked the ticket within 10 minutes of seeing the deal! I just knew I wanted to wake up in Barcelona for my 40th birthday, and this was my opportunity.

By now, most of my friends are married with kids, and I am single. So, understandably, it’s much more difficult for them to travel with a friend and not with their family. But my philosophy is that I want to see as much of the world as possible, and if I have to do it on my own to make that dream come true, so be it!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve also become an amateur travel hacker, which has allowed me to travel cheaply. Putting the time into learning these tricks has been well worth it to be able to do something I love…with as little money as possible. 🙂

So, if you’re thinking about setting out on a solo adventure, here are my best tips for how to travel by yourself:

  • I love attending conferences, and this really kicked off my solo travel experiences. I think it’s a great place to get started because you’ll already be in a room with people who have similar jobs, interests, or passions. That makes it easier to strike up a conversation, especially for us introverts. And I realize people have limited vacation time or budgets for professional development at work, but I wouldn’t let that stop you. For example, I’m involved in the anti-trafficking and social justice community, so a number of those conferences were taken on vacation time and self-funded. But I made friends at those events that I look forward to seeing every year at the next event, or even making a special trip to see them in their hometown.
  • If you’re on a solo vacation, book tours. I really love Viator and TravelZoo, as well as free walking tours. As I mentioned, I’m an introvert, so I made sure I had these kinds of things scheduled on my solo trip to Barcelona to ensure I’d be around people and having conversations with others. On one day trip, I met some lovely women from Australia, who were also traveling solo, and we had dinner together after the excursion had finished. You can, of course, do the same kinds of things in your home country.
  • I’m “directionally challenged” to say the least, so if you want to see a number of things, but aren’t sure how to get around and don’t have a rental car, buy a hop on hop off pass for at least the first day. Do this on your first, full day to help you get your bearings while someone else does the driving. Honestly, I kinda cringed at doing this in Barcelona because I didn’t want to put a big “tourist” label across my forehead, but it worked out wonderfully. I sat on the whole two-hour ride to see the city at a glimpse and figure out where things are, and how close they were to each other, and then I hopped off to see my top priorities. I only did this for one day out of the five I was there, but of course, it’s an easy method of transportation should you want to continue for a couple of days. And depending on the city, public transportation or ride sharing are other great options.
  • In Barcelona, I also booked a “tapas tour” on the first night. This was not only an effort to meet people and not eat alone, but it gave me a crash course on the local fare so I knew how and what to order going forward.
  • I’m sure no one likes to eat out alone, and I only do it when traveling solo, but it honestly just takes practice. I still don’t like to do it, and feel like everyone is staring at me, but I have to just remind myself that I’m in this wonderful place and this is part of the experience. Bring a book or something to occupy yourself, and you’ll get through it.
  • I love staying in hotels by myself, and I love room service! Just for your own protection, lock your doors, of course, and keep your eyes open, especially if you’re coming back late. 

Additionally, let me bring up one other thing that’s been super helpful for me over the past year or so: Facebook groups and social media.

I’ll soon be traveling to San Diego for a work conference by myself. Outside of hoping to meet people there, we have a Facebook group for everyone in the coaching program that is hosting the event. So, people have been in there making connections, setting up appointments, and even finding people to split hotels with.

I will also have several days on the back end to hang out in the area. I’ve been to San Diego a couple of times before, so I want to use this extra time for networking. So, I jumped into several of the Facebook groups I’m a part of, and asked them who might already be in that area or who I should meet while there. Because I work with nonprofits and social enterprises, these are potential clients. But, of course, it never hurts to just expand my network regardless. I’ve already had several responses from people who had recommendations or would like to meet up, so that’ll be another great way to fill my time—and get a tax deduction. 😉 

Obviously, we women should be careful when traveling solo, so I’m cautious not to include specific locations or dates in public spaces. But posting on personal or business social media accounts, or in Facebook groups can be a very easy way to find new friends or clients.

Pretty much of this just takes some time, practice, planning, and patience. But if you love to travel, don’t let anything stop you. Empower yourself, and go for it!

And if you have other tips, or want to tell me how these worked out for you, I’d love to hear!

Happy travels!

 

Update 4/4/18: Just read this article, and about the term “microadventures.” If some of this feels expensive or overwhelming to you, give microadventures a try!

 

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

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The Impact of Planning a Personal Retreat

Personal retreat

Photos by: Valerie Denise Photos featuring The Created Co. mugs

I’ve talked several times before on this blog about my personal and business retreats. I’m actually out on another one this week, but more on that later. They are incredibly valuable to me, and I recommend them to everyone.

In fact, I even shared specific tips on how to plan one for this guest post for The Yellow Conference last week. Take a look, and let me know what you think.

A few quotes:

  • “Anxiety was growing. Stress was building. My head was swimming. And I had more questions than answers. This was December 2015 for me.”
  • “Until that time, I’d always considered retreats a luxury. Something wealthy people did. Something people who were offered sabbaticals did. I thought, a retreat wasn’t something ‘regular’ people did—but there I found myself.”
  • “It was during this intentional, introspective time that I resolved something huge—I needed to start my own business.”
  • “Of course, I didn’t leave with all the answers. But this time did, however, become a catalyst in taking my next steps.”

Read the full post: THE IMPACT OF PLANNING A PERSONAL RETREAT


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5 Things I Love (Right Now)

mayur-gala-487There are a few things lately that have become regular facets in my life. And I think they’re pretty awesome, so I wanted to share them with you. Maybe they’ll improve your day as well!

  1. This small, portable kettle – I’ve been obsessed with this thing lately. I don’t make coffee regularly or tea regularly, so I don’t have a full-sized system or kettle. And I’m single, so I have to also take that into consideration because I wanted something that would make small quantities. Finally, I live in an apartment, so I don’t have a lot of counter space. This thing checked all the boxes!
  2. TravelPirates – I can’t resist a good travel deal. And this is my newest newsletter. It has some crazy, awesome deals. If you aren’t really into travel hacking with credit cards or scouring the internet for the deals, this is a great option.
  3. Perrier with Grapefruit – Ever since I returned from Barcelona, I can’t get enough sparkling water. I also love this because it’s curbing my soda craving. And having it delivered by Amazon is a great way to get larger quantities for a lower price without having to carry them through the grocery store. And I dig these smaller cans.
  4. Evernote – I initially purchased this for my trip to India, when I knew Wifi would be spotty and I’d still need to have easy access to lists and trip info. And, of course, I knew I could find plenty of other uses for it as well. Well, I certainly have! Since I started my business last summer, I use it most every day. I keep my To Do list there, notes, lists, client work and all kinds of things in it. It’s a great productivity and organization tool!
  5. Canned pumpkin – I’ve been fond of ordering from Amazon for many years, but its really only the past year that I’ve started ordering more groceries. And at the end of last year, I read Jenna Wolfe’s Thinner in 30, which talked about adding fiber to your morning protein shake to make the full feeling last longer. Pumpkin was one of the ways she suggested, which I thought was really smart. Of course, it’s mostly a seasonal item in grocery stores, and like the Perrier, it can get heavy and bulky fast. So, it’s another great item to have delivered in bulk to your home.

What’s on your love list as of late?

 

(Amazon links are affiliate links.)


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My Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips

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Hogsmeade Village, Orlando

I just returned from Orlando a couple of weeks ago—after seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, of course. The company was good, the weather was perfect, and Harry Potter was all around!

I first visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010 with some girlfriends, two of which were fans of the movies, and two (including me) were complete Potterfiles who had read the books and seen the movies multiple times each. We were all completely wowed by the park! So, now that they’ve opened Diagon Alley, I had to see it! These are some of my favorite books and movies of all time, so to see them come to life in a theme park was simply . . . MAGICAL!

My two girlfriends that accompanied me this time weren’t huge Harry Potter fans, but they enjoyed the movies and were up for a road trip. And that’s all I needed!

Coincidently, I also had another friend who was going the week after me, so I made sure to take some mental notes for her. And I thought I’d share them with you too:

  • If you haven’t been to this resort property before, there are two full theme parks, collectively called Universal Orlando Resort. The individual parks are Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Islands of Adventure is where the original Harry Potter stuff is, complete with Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade Village. The new section is in Universal Studios and focuses on Diagon Alley.
  • If you have to choose, I’d say the original area in Islands of Adventure is still better. I mean, how can you top the castle? Simply put: You can’t. But please try to make it to both lands. They’re fantastic!
  • To do both HP areas, you’ll need a park-hopper ticket. You can take the Hogwarts Express between the two. But, even if you decide you want to check out some other lands or rides, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure only take a few minutes to cross between them, very much unlike Disney World.
  • Speaking of tickets: My two friends got theirs through AAA. It only saved them about $5, but hey, that’s a bottle of water. 😉 I paid for mine with Chase Ultimate Rewards points thanks to the reminder on this blog.
  • Download the Universal Studios Orlando App. It’s really helpful, especially for wait times. I also favorited all the rides/shows/shops/restaurants I wanted to see and do for easy reference, and then un-favorited them as we went along like a to-do list. Tackle the longest lines first, if possible. They usually grow throughout the day.
  • If you have a birthday in your group, go to guest services when you arrive to get birthday buttons. Sometimes the employees let you use it like a fast pass, but nonetheless, it’s really fun for the employees (and sometimes other guests) to wish you happy birthday all day long!
  • The are more fun HP drinks at the Leaky Cauldron in Universal that aren’t available in Three Broomsticks in Islands. But you can get Pumpkin Juice and Butterbeer (regular, hot, frozen) in both. And the Pumpkin Juice comes in bottles, so you can get it to go. Since we were driving, I picked several of those up as gifts for friends who couldn’t come. The Butterbeer has a butterscotch taste, and is very sweet to me, so like the Pumpkin Juice, I can’t finish it by myself. But the Butterbeer Ice Cream tastes kinda like a vanilla custard, and is only at Universal. You can also get Butterbeer fudge in Islands at Honeydukes, which is where I got the Pumpkin Juice to go. It tastes more like white chocolate with a hint of butterscotch. If you get Butterbeer, either get it with your meal, or at the Hopping Pot in Universal or Hog’s Head in Islands. Those lines are MUCH shorter than the main Butterbeer line in Islands that’s out in the middle of Hogsmeade. #amateurs Other than with your meal, Hog’s Head is at the back of the Three Broomsticks, and will have the shortest line.
  • And I’d suggest one of you getting the Butterbeer in the collectible cup because you can use it for water fountains and tea/coke refills in restaurants, and share it, so you don’t have to buy bottles of water if you don’t want to. There’s a water fountain by Three Broomsticks and a few other places too. I think you can also take refillable water bottles into the park, but check the website.
  • With all the fun foods and specialty drinks in both lands, I suggest splitting them when you can. A lot of the portions are pretty big, and that way you can try more without spending your retirement fund.
  • The restroom by Three Broomsticks is also where you can hear Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom. Totally worth it.
  • I think the castle ride (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) is my favorite theme park ride ever. I LOVE that one. If you do the single rider on that one, you miss part of the castle tour, FYI. When I went before, we did the regular ride all together to see the whole castle, and then went through as single riders to do it again faster. But if anyone has motion sickness issues, they need to stay off this ride and the 3-D ones! Please trust me on that.  
  • I always send my mom and a couple friends post cards when I travel. And because we were there, I also sent post cards to some friend’s kids. If you do this, get the post cards at Islands because I think they’re better. However, they don’t sell single post cards anymore, so you have to get a pack of 10. Bummer. But you can also get special Hogwarts stamps. And, they’ll put a Hogwarts post mark on them at the spot where you drop them in the mail! Get the post cards and stamps in Flourish and Blots, and you mail them right outside the Owl Post.
  • One of my best pieces of advice is to take drawstring backpacks rather than big bags or purses. And, of course, they also work for both males and females. It was so nice to not have to carry anything like a purse, hold something with your hands, or situate anything as you walked over your shoulder. And since they are small, you can share the same lockers for any rides they don’t allow you to take your bags on. The weather was pretty cool for us, so I kept my cardigan on all day, but having the drawstring backpack gave me an option to stow it if I’d wanted to. And my friend who got the Butterbeer mug kept hers in there too. They’re also smaller and less bulky than regular backpacks. Definitely worth the small investment.
  • Along those lines, if you plan on taking lots of photos or using the app a bunch, it’s wise to bring an external battery along. This one is compact, this one is a little more powerful, and this one charges multiple devices at once.
  • I don’t know what your experience will be, but late afternoon when the sun started setting, the park got much lighter, so the rides and restaurants weren’t crowded at all. We were there the weekend before Thanksgiving, so the sun sets much earlier. I know that won’t be the case during the summer, but was awesome for us and we were able to ride several things very quickly at the end of our day.
  • The nighttime show at Universal is back by the Harry Potter area as well. It’s not near as spectacular as Disney’s, but lots of fun movie montages and lights in the water. But, if you decide to miss it, not a really big deal. If you want to do it, however, I’d say to start in Islands so you can finish in Universal and see the show rather than having to go back and forth between the parks twice.
  • I’ve been to Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure before Harry arrived, and then as I mentioned, with only the one HP park open. This time, I only wanted to do the two HP parks. And it did take us an entire day to do them both. So, if you want to fit in any other rides or shows not HP affiliated, you’ll have to cut down on the HP stuff or plan on going for more than one day.

So, those are my tips! I hope they help. Universal really did a tremendous job in designing these two lands, and both of my friends also had a great time. One just starting reading the books as a result!

And if you make it to either Orlando or LA for a Harry Potter visit, I hope you have a magical time too!

View all of the photos here.

(Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.)


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Travel Hacking: An Introduction

165476132I travel as much as I can…but never as much as I’d like. I love it. I love new people, new foods, new cultures, new sites and new experiences. It never gets old. It fuels me and fills me up.

And over the past couple of years, I’ve been able to travel a lot more. Most of that is due to travel hacking. I stumbled upon the concept by accident, and am so glad that I did! It has allowed me all sorts of opportunities that I might not otherwise have, and many of my friends have asked for guidance in trying to get started as well. So, I thought I’d explain it a bit here.

To start, if you are unfamiliar with the term, travel hacking is simply finding ways around the typical travel system—traveling for free or very cheap. This is typically done through credit card offers. You sign up for large bonuses, use the bonus, then dump the card before the annual fee.

For the best explanations and introductions, here are a few introductory posts from the pros I follow:

Additionally, here are some of the other resources I use:

  • http://www.secretflying.com: crazy low error fares *
  • www.travelzoo.com: This is an awesome weekly email with deals from your nearest large city. They have deals for all over the world at any time. Their packages are absolutely the best! This is also a great recommendation if you simply don’t want to do any of the other travel hacking work.
  • http://faredealalert.com: Good deals out of ATL, but you can find these for all major cities, I’m sure. *
  • www.fly.com: cheap flights and easy App
  •  TrustedHousesitters.com:  Stay in people’s homes for free all over the world in exchange for taking care of their pets.
  • Gate1 Travel: A weekly newsletter for packages.
  •  Travel Pirates: Another great, weekly newsletter.
  •  www.awardwallet.com: They have a really helpful blog, and this is where I store all my accounts for easy reference. It’s super helpful to be able to see all of my accounts at once.

*For Secret Flying and Fare Deal Alert, you have to jump on them quickly to get the deals since many are error fares, meaning the airline made a mistake in the pricing and will change it as soon as they notice. So I get Twitter alerts via text to stay on top of it. It’s worth getting a Twitter account for these deals! Once you’re logged in, just click the gear on the profile page and select “Turn on mobile notifications.”

I am by no means an expert at this, but here are the things its afforded me over the past two years:

  • Four night’s stay in Chicago (free)
  • Flight to Chicago (free)
  • Two night’s stay in Irvine (free)
  • Two flights to NYC ($30)
  • One night’s stay in NYC (free)
  • Flight to DC ($30)
  • One night’s stay in DC (free)
  • One night’s stay in North Georgia (free)
  • One night in a suite in Fort Myers (free)
  • Car rental in Fort Myers (free)
  • Two night’s stay in Austin (free)
  • Flight to Austin ($75)
  • Flight to Barcelona ($250)
  • Three nights in Barcelona (free)
  • Flight home from Barcelona (free)
  • Two nights in Nashville (free)
  • Two nights in Orlando (free)
  • Ticket to Universal Studios (free)

I should also note that my key to making the minimum spends is that I can pay my rent via credit card. So, for example, many cards require you to spend $3,000 in three months to get the initial bonus points. If that isn’t something you can do, then you’ll need to stick to error fares and travel deals rather than relying largely on points.

If you are interested in getting started with a rewards card, the one everyone recommends to begin with is the Chase Sapphire. Here is my referral link. These are by far my favorite points! I kept this card rather than canceling before the renewal because it’s so awesome. Give it a try!

I hope this helps you a bit as you start your travel hacking adventures. And happy traveling!

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(Some links are affiliate links.)