Month: June 2012

How to See the World Before 65.

In my closet, you will not find a sparkly Juicy Couture handbag or chic dresses by Michael Kors. You won’t find leather Coach wallets or Gucci sunglasses. But instead, you might find some piles of maps, an old purple suitcase, and some postcards.

This is because I would much rather spend my hard-earned cash on trips to Rome, London, Paris, the Bahamas, or Oslo than on a pile of fabric from the Monmouth Mall.  Unfortunately, when traveling, I’m still on a student’s budget, also known as the budget of someone who asks for ten dollars of gas at the Exxon on Second Avenue. Even with an $8.25 hourly wage, however, it is still possible to see the world while you’re still young enough to enjoy it. That is, if you know when to save and when to scrape as you go about planning your next big excursion.

If you’re planning a big trip across the pond, a travel agent is a great tool and starting point that many wrongly see as a silly luxury. According to “When Using a Travel Agent Might Be a Good Idea” from preferredconsumer.com, “While they may use many of the same web sites as the ordinary consumer when planning a trip, they do have the added advantage of having access to the latest sale and promotional information.  Travel agents generally have a cache of upgrades and other perks at their disposal that they can offer to their clients. This is especially true if you are a repeat customer. And, many of these perks are not advertised or available to those booking their trip via the Internet.”

Budgettravel.com suggests making sure you book an agent that is certified by the American Association of Travel Agents and is one who works close to you so you can meet face-to-face rather than over the web. This is also helpful when the time comes for your next trip: you want your travel agent to be your friend and want to help you get the best deals down the line.

Also, you have to figure out what’s worth the extra buck when traveling and what you can save on. For example, you shouldn’t be taking taxis unless you absolutely have to. Always search out the bus and subway stops when you hit a new city. It cost $28 to get from New York Penn Station to LaGuardia Airport, when in comparison it would cost $2 by subway. And, if you can, walk to that museum a few blocks down instead of getting a ride at all. This is also a great way to experience the hidden gems of a city while saving money, too.

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Another thing that you can save on is city tours. How many times have you sat through a boring, unenthusiastic tour by a kid about your age? It’s much more fun (not to mention time-efficient) to give yourself your own tour. “Frommer’s New York City 2012” guidebook, consistently given five stars by Amazon.com users, cost about $15, while the price of an “All New York Tours” guided walking tour is about $100 per person. Who wants to be led around like a bunch of third-graders anyway?

Rick Steves, author of several European guide books, said on his website, “Before buying a book, study it. How old is the information? The cheapest books are often the oldest — which is no bargain. Who wrote it? What’s the author’s experience? For whom is it written? Does the book work for you or for the tourist industry? Does it specialize in hard opinions — or superlatives? Is it readable? It should have personality without chattiness and information without fluff.”

Everybody likes getting new stuff. Everyone likes funny t-shirts, cheap jewelry, and cheesy magnets… right? You’ll be doing your wallet, and your friends, a favor if you scrimp on the lame souvenirs and send out some handwritten postcards with what you’ve been up to instead, even if you’re only gone for a few days. Postcards are much more friendly and personal than yet another shot glass. Postcards will cost under $5 for quite a few, while souvenirs will cost more than $10 per item and they will take up space, and possibly break, in your bag when it’s time to journey back home. Donna Roth, frequent recipient of my own postcards, said, “Getting postcards makes me smile and laugh and they’re something nice to look back on as the years pass, while souvenirs tend to be kind of useless and just collect dust in our house.”

Sometimes when looking forward, going on trips and seeing what the world has to offer can seem like an impossible dream in the face of tuition, rent, and bills. However, if you do a little research before you embark with your travel agent and think outside the box in order to score some great deals, you’ll have much more to show for your summer than a pile of tank tops in the closet.

The Joy of Nothing.

While living out of your car, you are sometimes faced with an odd predicament. Most of the time, I find that my time is taken up by the people that I have to see, running, eating, working, or driving to somewhere else. However, sometimes the hours pass where I realize, Damn, I have nowhere to be and I have an hour to kill. 

While at my own house, I would probably sit in my awesome bed, watch some nick toons, Facebook creep… you know, the usual. However, these are not activities that are easily accomplished while in the backseat of a Ford Focus. And, as any other overachiever feels, we can’t just sit here and do nothing, can we?!

Yes. Yes you can.

The other day, with an hour before a barbecue started, I said to myself, okay, what can I do now? I can go to the mall. I can call up some friends and see if they want to grab some food. I can run down the boardwalk (again). Instead, I said to myself, you know what? The beach is looking awfully nice today.

So I took my throw blanket (towels are for moms) and a book and I camped out on the beach in my leggings and t-shirt. No swimsuit over here. I let myself enjoy the warmth of the sand for a bit and just DID NOTHING. At first, I felt antsy, checking my phone every minute to try to figure out when I should leave. But the joy of summer is that you don’t have to DO anything (while you’re still a wee one, that is).

I’m still getting used to this whole free-time-thing. Sometimes, I feel my muscles throbbing, aching to do something, anything. But doing nothing takes a surprising amount of courage- it is the time that you are forced to spend with yourself, with just your thoughts. There is no one or nothing to distract you from who you are and what you have done. So if you can handle that- being in the company of yourself, of the quiet- then you deserve it. You deserve it to enjoy the nothing and then get up and do something else, again.

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Let’s Go Home.

Today in the car, after an unfortunate visit with boring and expired family members, I had a thought–

I just want to go home. 

Yet curiously enough, when I thought of the “home” that I wanted to go to, I didn’t think of my house nestled in Morris County, the house that I have lived in for most of my life, where my family is, my childhood friends, my blue room, my dumb animals. Instead I thought of a different place– the beach house I rented at school and the room that I lived in for a measly three months, which I shared.

When I am old and gray, the time I spent in that house compared to the years that I have will be incredibly inconsequential. A few short months in a house that I had only seen once before, a house where I owned nothing inside it but my clothes and my bed sheet (and yes, just one, because the other one was my roommate’s). Yet, that will always be a time that I remember, in a room that I shared with my best friend (and a room stuffed with beds so I ended up sharing it with a lot of other people too). It was a house where we threw parties and danced on the same countertops that I learned to cook in. Where my friends would light fireworks in the front yard and try to jump in the closed pool and spray the fire extinguisher for fun. It was where we stumbled home a countless amount of times, and where we tried to catch kittens in the backyard and poked around through our landlord’s endless amount of stuff hiding in the damp basement.

It doesn’t matter how much time you spend in a place. It doesn’t matter if it’s your car, an apartment you spent a weekend camping out on the couch, or an otherwise forgettable house in an ordinary neighborhood. What makes a place home isn’t how much of your stuff that you can jam in there. It’s the significance of the people that you get lucky enough to be shacked up with.

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