Look… and Listen.

“Music is everywhere, if you know where to look.”

I once read this in some book or magazine. Whoever wrote this, however, was not speaking about New Orleans, because much looking is not necessary. It doesn’t matter where you are. I don’t care if you’re strolling the Mississippi, out on Bourbon on a Friday night (or any night, really), or outside the St. Louis Cathedral in 100 degree weather. It will sing to your ears, pulling you into this direction and that, leaving you yearning for this thing called jazz, something we don’t really hear much of within our bustling in the Northeast.

The music, which sifts about, can obviously be mostly found within the French Quarter. I really didn’t know much about New Orleans before my visit, but I (most ignorantly) thought of long-stemmed roses and elegant architecture. AHA. No. Don’t get me wrong, it is no less wonderful. But wandering the streets are a little more fitted to the Knight Bus in Harry Potter, which flits noisily throughout tiny streets. The brick, age-worn cafes, shops, bars, psychic lairs, and even home are cradled upon one another like old friends. Within this little homey square you will find dive bars next to art shops, voodoo dolls next to coffeeshops.

Jackson Square is a pretty little garden that overlooks St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest active cathedral in the United States and looks like it is straight out of Disneyland. It marks the spot where the Quarter sprang and behind it lies a usually locked garden that onlookers can peer through, where a statue of Jesus sits with a missing thumb, the only part of Him damaged by Katrina.

Cruising along the streets, which like many Southern places, gets hit by a torrential downpour in the afternoon (wish I knew that the first day), it’s easy to find hidden gems hiding in nooks of NOLA. After visiting an especially lame Mardi Gras museum on the upstairs of Antoine’s, a swanky restaurant on St. Louis Street, my mother and I found ourselves on the abandoned upper decks, overlooking Bourbon as the sun went down and people began (okay, already were) flooding the streets.

And then, the animal becomes unleashed. In the summer, I find it hard to drag myself out of my cozy room, get all dressed up, then drive to some lame bar in the middle of nowhere to sit on a barstool and get drunk in the dark for six bucks a drink. Nobody in New Orleans has this problem. Before the sun is even down, people are pouring out of wherever the hell they were all day and spilling onto Bourbon. The homey bars, like the Cat’s Meow, the Famous Door, and the Funky Pirate, all have their own live music seemingly fighting for air, the music pouring out of the absent doors and walls and into the party that already exists on the street. Grandparents, 21ers, kids, hookers, moms, businessmen, artists- no one is left without a drink.

At least at Bourbon, and probably all of NOLA, maybe you don’t have to look for music because it already found you.

Steal This Blog

In the exact spot I am sitting, there are an endless amount of free resources, ones that are at your disposal as well as mine, and I’m quite sure you don’t even realize it.

As you may or may not know, this summer I have taken a liking to living out of my car. Don’t get me wrong, my home is a perfectly nice place. A perfectly nice place IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. So when I get bored (i.e. every week) I head off to wherever I am invited.

When you live out of your car, you often find yourself needing things, such as showers, gyms, food, bathrooms, beds, etc. Now what kind of magical place exists where you can get all these things FOR FREE? You may be thinking, “Well, nowhere! Everything costs money?” I’m here to tell you otherwise. As a matter of fact, it is a University that so elegantly provides all of these services.

Nor am I the first person to recognize this noble place. According to Abbie Hoffman in his 1970 how-to-get-everything-fo’-free Steal This Book, universities provide a ton of free services, and even if you’re not a student, you can get away with snagging them. Although security seems to have gotten a little bit tighter since 1970 (who knew?) don’t be afraid to use your own university (um, you pay tuition, don’t you?).

Got friends who are taking summer classes in the dorms? Ask them if you can crash and don’t be shy about it. But always be appreciative and do some favors for them; buy them dinner, clean their rooms, the works. You want a place to sleep, right?

Gotta stop and use a bathroom? Obviously there are 8 million at a university. Don’t be shy about brushing your teeth in here too.

Need a quick workout? Go to the gym and use the track, the pool, the weightroom. And it’s kind of gross, but use the shower while you’re there. Changing in the car is okay too.

And always remember…

The only reason you should ever be in college is to destroy it. -Abbie Hoffman

You Better Make a To-Do List.

As soon as July hit, I made a pact with myself- it was time to kick my studying abroad planning into first gear and stop being such a baby and actually accomplish something besides playing with the cat all day and making late night visits to Friendly’s ice cream window. Being that I was supposed to be on vacation July 22-27 and again from August 3-13 but I would be leaving for Italy the 28th, I figured this would make the sense.

(Me: “Dad, PLEASE let’s go on vacation earlier. I can’t only have two weeks and some to get ready to live in another country for four months.”

Dad: “No way. Life is hard.”) End of conversation.

Anyway, point is that I figured I would start getting ready in July. First off, I made a to-do list of all the things that I had to do (there were like thirty things. frick). and then I just very slowly yet steadily ebbing away at them until now I only have the super hard stuff left (what a surprise). Here is a condensed version of a few things that you may forget (and should definitely do) while venturing across the pond.

1. Make a list of places you want to go. It’s a little scary at first to go through the endless lists of things to do and places to see, but this is’t a concrete list. It’s just nice to get you thinking and get planning (just a little) of what you want to do. All childhood dreams are welcomed. Example: I have always wanted to go to Transylvania. No one I know has ever been there and I don’t even know of any cool sites. But I want to go there. So it made the list. After naming a few other general sites and cities, I felt a little more settled in my own adventure. This also makes it easier for step two (see below).

2. Call the damn bank. I WANTED to go in and speak to them myself about the places I would be visiting (kind of like what grandparents do) but apparently Bank of America doesn’t do that, although Wells Fargo does. Whatevs. I called the bank and told them the countries and dates I would be visiting. WRITE THIS DOWN. Because if you end up going to a country you didn’t name (which you probably will) you’ll be up the creek without a paddle once the ATM takes your card because it thinks you’re a thief. When you call, they’ll also give you an international number and a collect call number for once you’re away in case you run into problems. This is a beautiful thing.

3. Buy a guidebook. I love Amazon– I live 30 minutes from civilization and buying online is almost always cheaper, plus you can sell it back later. Utilize the “look inside this book” feature to make sure the book is what you thought it would be- are the maps comprehensive? Does it cover the countries and cities you want to hit? Is there detailed information about the sites (so you can give tours to yourself)? Are there nifty traveling tips that aren’t common sense? Getting the book early will also give you something to do when you get bored on the plane (i.e. read). Highlight and make some notes of the must-see sights.

4. Make copies of all your stuff. Your plane tickets. Credit cards. Student IDs. License. Passport. EVERYTHING. Make two copies- one to leave at home with fam or friends and another to keep with you in case something gets stolen.

5. Buy a money belt. They look super lame (like a small fanny pack) and they hide under your clothes where you can keep some money and your passport in case you get pickpocketed. They also have ones that are like a cross body bag (but als0 go under your clothes). Cheap and worth it.

6. Get some ear plugs. You’ll be glad you did once you’re on that 12 hour bus ride.

7. Exchange your money at the bank. Don’t you dare count on those exchange stations unless you HAVE TO. You’ll get the best rates at your own bank and you’re better off arriving with cash, since many European destinations aren’t huge on debit and credit cards.

8. Get an iPod converter. I love my Mac and my iPhone dearly, plus they’re the only things I own of value. So I’ll be damned if I waited this long to get this stuff (thanks Dad!) and then it blew out when I got there. Do yourself a favor and get the real Apple converters. Apple makes a World Travel Kit with all the adapters for all the continents, but it’s $40 and you don’t need them all. Just get what you need on eBay and save some dollars.

9. Send out a mass text and gather everyone’s addresses. Write them down or put them in your phone so you can send out postcards (way better than receiving or having to carry a magnet all day).

10. Credit card. Boom. If you’re like me, no one will give you a credit card. And even if they do (God bless) the limit is probably like $300. Get a co-signed one with your parents if you’re a young’n so if you need an emergency plan ticket or something, you can buy it and pay them back later (like over five years throughout the course of your life). You’ll be glad you did when you don’t have to spend Christmas in an airport because your flight got delayed.

There. That’s it. I think I have carpal tunnel now. THANKS. Anyway, please comment if you have any questions or suggestions to add to this list!

…Bye?

There has rarely been a summer where, at this point in time, I didn’t feel the same as I do now. Midway through, I’m a little bored and antsy, I’m sick of working and being cooped up in my house and I am ready to move on out and go back to the water and go to class and live with my best friends. I go on Facebook and talk to my friends and I know that I’m not alone in this– most feel the same and are ready to go back to the place that we now consider home, even if it is in a dorm room. Only this time, I won’t be returning.

On August 28, instead of heading back to the Jersey Shore, I’ll be getting on a plane to Italy with a bunch of people I don’t know, only a few of which I have ever spoken with, and I will be living with them for the next four months. I will be on another continent with not one person I really know, and I can count the ones on one hand that can speak English. I will not see my best friends, my mother, my father, my cat. Even a simple phone call will be a project.

From this perspective, I couldn’t be more nervous. It makes me so scared sometimes that I have trouble making the preparations, trouble talking about it, trouble leaving my house.

On another hand, it makes me kind of sad. I know that I planned this. I know that I made the arrangements. I have high hopes for what I will find, and hope that it is what I am looking for. But even still, I am jealous of those who will be returning to my home the first week of September, who will jump in the ocean in their clothes late at night, who will stumble into class the next morning, who will drink cheap beers at happy hour at Jack’s and will sit in their rented king beds and do homework with their own best friends. It saddens me that even upon my return, I will only share a short four months more of this life before college will throw me out of its nest and shove me into the real world (because, as God knows, I won’t go willingly).

However, there is one more perspective that exists here. When I get really bored (as I am most days here) I think of what I could be doing in Florence right now, at this moment. I think of how newfound friends will invite me for a walk alongside the river, how we will order beautiful meals in Italian, how we will explore the Tuscan countryside on a whim. I think of the cheap planes we will take, of the dreamlike Amalfi Coast, of Oktoberfest, Sicily, Naples, Rome, of my already planned trip to visit my family in Bergen, Norway. I like to consider the prospect of feeling alive again and feeling like I am doing something important, instead of rotting away in the same room I slept in when I was fourteen years old and had braces.

When I signed up for this, I was scared then, too. But when I get an idea in my head, it doesn’t just fade away. I have to finish what I started. I have to do it all.

All it takes is twenty seconds of courage, and good will come. 

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Soon, there will be pictures of me on these pages, instead of photos of Italy I find on the Internet.

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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Pack the Car, Mom

I have a confession to make.

As much as I love to wander, I also love my house. My house on the hill with my dear animals and blonde mother feels like a battery pack in which I can stop in between wherever I have to be and I can eat some food (for free, mind you) pet the cat, sit on my awesome bed, read a magazine, and change my clothes (again). However, a major problem is presented when you opted to spend your summer working an hour and a half away from where you live.

You end up with a new home. And that is your car.

At first, I was a little anxious about having to literally pack up everything I could possibly need (gifts for happy hosts, cooking utensils, sports bras, clean underwear, stuffed animals) and stuff it into my dear Ford Focus, since I often forget things and end up having to make some pitstops. But there’s something raw about living out of your car. As I drove out of the wilderness where I live for the first time to embark on one of my many journeys, I realized:

I don’t need anything. 

Yup. That’s right. You don’t need your running clothes, because you can run barefoot down the boardwalk. You don’t need clean clothes, because you can wash them in the sink. You don’t need water bottles, because there are water fountains in the local department store. You don’t need anything. You can relax.

And with this came a freedom. For once, I wasn’t worrying about how I was going to stop home and run these silly little errands that don’t really need to get done anyhow (Read the mail? Why bother). I didn’t worry about anything. Instead, I put the to-do list away, left my phone in the console, and went about my merry way. Having nothing solid to do is refreshing, wonderful, new. Stay out a few extra days? Who cares. Miss the Saturday morning workouts? Whatever. I would rather spend my time with the ones I find, the books I come across, or the scenery I stumble upon anyway.

The Price of Adventure. No Really. You Need a Job.

We would like to think that we are free travelers with the endless opportunity to run amok, living out of our vans and eating what nice passerby hand us. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As with all things, travel and adventure has a high price, even when you’re just trying to get to the next town over.

Where I live, in the middle of nowhere, every place that you go costs you a fortune in gas. I feel like I find myself filling up my tank yet again every three days. However, on those days where you’re groaning in the car and handing the nice man every dollar that you made the other day from behind the desk, consider this– what else would you be doing with this money? Buying some beers? New t-shirts? No. You didn’t. Instead, you spent it on something that you will have today, tomorrow– hell, the rest of your days. You have the great times that you spent with friends, or maybe even alone, going somewhere that you love (or somewhere that you escaped and then went back home, yet again somewhere that you loved).

One thing that a friend pointed out to me the other day was the app Gas Buddy (which is free!) which compares both the distance and prices of gas stations all around where you are. You don’t have to make an account, either– just enter your zip code and you can see the varying gas prices around, all posted by other irritated travelers, just like you. You would think this self-sustained app would be a bit unreliable, but surprisingly, it seems like some people are really committed to posting gas prices.

Another tip that I found in a magazine or something was to fill up your tank in the morning, when the air is cooler. This will allow you to get a little more bank for your buck because the gas will be denser and you’ll really be getting that “full” gallon.

So be proud, soldier. Drop a couple bucks on gas and get in the car. Make sure you put a pillow in there, though, in case you end up sleeping in the car again. Image