Free Writing Workshop

Cafe Hugo 3Travel writing comes in a variety of forms.  Maybe you are a travel blogger, or perhaps you jot down ideas on a coffee-stained receipt.  If you are looking for some advice to improve your writing, you might want to check out Dave Fox’s free audio workshop.  Dave Fox used to work for Rick Steves.  I bought his book a few years ago, and I still revisit it from time to time to refresh my perspective.  The first 20 minutes are about journal writing and the last half is about publishing travel writing.  Check out the blurb below for more information.

 

“Free Audio Workshop: From Personal Journaling to Professional Travel Writing

Writecamp is a series of casual, half-hour workshops offered each year at the Singapore Writers Festival. Speakers present fast-paced talks on writing-related themes. Attendees can choose from a couple of different topics in each time slot and are encouraged to drift from room to room to see what they like.
 
This year, I talked about travel writing I initially debated whether I should cover travel journaling or more polished travel writing. In the end, in the frenetic spirit of Writecamp, I decided to cover both – scrunching what is usually several hours of material into 30 high-energy minutes.
 
I recorded the session and I’m making it available for free! You can download it from iTunes or listen to it on Globejotting.com.”

Calendar Art

Calendar ArtIf your traveling on a budget or trying to eliminate baggage weight, you might want to consider the versatility of a calendar as a souvenir.  Calendars typically don’t take up much space, and the right one can become inexpensive art.

I found a calendar in the Cinque Terre that reflected the vibrancy and color of the coast.  Not only am I enjoying each month, but I have started to frame the scenery.  It is not complete yet, but when I am done, I will have a great gallery of art prints that cost me about $40.

Do you have any souvenirs you’ve bought that have served more than one purpose?  I’m all about purchasing souvenirs that can be constant reminders of memories.  To discover other meaningful purchases, check out my video on making the most out of souvenirs.

Taking Better Photos Through Glass

Champagne RegionHave you ever been on a bus or train and you see the perfect view ahead of you, but when you try to take a picture, it is a disaster?  Maybe it is blurry, or that oil smudge from someone’s head is not only gross, but also now captured in your photo.  If you are on a tour and spending a portion of your time on the bus, or traveling by train, you will want to make sure you’ve got some tricks to get past the issues.

Montmartre 1Selecting a Seat

Many people fight for the first seat on a bus so they can see out of the front window.  This is nice for seeing a greater area, but not so great for taking photos.  Several obstacles can get in your way such as raindrops and bug juice.  A better option is to find a seat near an unobstructed window on the opposite side of the driver.  For example, if I was riding a bus or train in Italy, I would pick a seat on the right side so I can avoid getting all of the traffic in my pictures.  Sometimes I will ask the tour guide or bus driver which side is more scenic.  If I know the Leaning Tower of Pisa is going to be on one side, then I will make a point to sit on that side.

CowAiming Your Camera

You look out the window and see a cow that you must have a picture of.  The train is moving at 50mph and you need to think fast.  How do you catch the cow?

1-Have your camera out and ready if you think you will want to take pictures.

2-To avoid blur, place your camera at an angle.  Do not shoot the cow straight on (haha).  Doing this will result in a cow smearing across your photo.  Instead, position yourself to to create about a 45 degree angle between you and the scene.  It will also be important to have a faster shutter speed to capture less movement.

3-Place your camera as close to the window as possible.  If there is a little scratch or piece of dust, it will be easier to focus on the background rather than the imperfection if the camera is closer toLouvre it.  Another option is to set your camera to manual so that you are in control of focusing.  Just remember, time is limited and the train will not stop for the cow, so be quick.

Secret Tips

  • Carry a cleaning wipe/towel to help get rid of smudges on the window.
  • Make sure your flash is turned off.

Paris Metro 101

CiteThe Paris Metro is like arteries hidden under the city skin.  These tunnels take you all over the city.  I love rising from the Metro to find unexplored territory, or a grand sight right before me.  Some people may be intimidated by the system, but it really is efficient and much more affordable than a taxi.  I do have to warn you that it is not handicap-friendly.  If stairs or some walking are challenging for you, it may not be the best mode of transportation.  If you are looking for a how-to or some simple tips, read below for more information.

paris vacation 101Getting Ready for the Metro

Finding a Metro is typically easy unless you are away from the city center.  It can be handy to pick up a map that contains city streets and the Metro plan.  Even if you aren’t staying in a hotel, you can probably sneak in to pick one up.  If you are going soon, make sure the Metro map is updated.  They recently expanded some of the lines, so it is important to have an updated map.  You can always download a copy from the website as well.

Once you reach the Metro, you will descend to purchase tickets.  There are some machines that only take cards.  If you have a chipped card, you can use this, otherwise you will need a machine that accepts cash.  Make sure you have bills less than 50 €.

If you plan on using the Metro more than a couple times, I recommend purchasing a carnet.  This is a package deal containing 10 tickets for a little over 13 €.  Some Metro stations have a person working if you need to ask questions, but don’t rely on that.

Your ticket will be good until you pass through an exit.  You do not need a new ticket to change lines or go back if you made a mistake.  You could technically explore all of Paris underground if you wanted to.  Personally, I prefer the view above ground.

How the Metro WorksTurnstile

You’ve got your ticket, and you made it past the turnstile (sometimes this is more challenging than you would think), now what?  This is where having a metro map can be helpful in creating a plan ahead of time.  If you don’t have a map, there are maps posted on the walls.  Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the metro map, but you can click the map below to be linked so you can follow along.  Let’s do this step by step:

1. Find the Metro stop you are currently in.

2. Find the Metro stop you want to go to.

3. If it is on the same line (color/number), then this will be really easy, but that doesn’t happen very often.  Simply look in the direction you want to go until you find the last stop.  You will use the last stop to help you determine which direction you will go.  For example, if I was at Georges V and I wanted to go to Saint Paul, I would look for the sign that points to Chateau de Vincennes.  Then I would follow the signs until I reach the tunnel where I wait for the train.  Get on, and watch for your stop.

4.  If you need to change lines, don’t fret.  Do be prepared for some walking though.  Some stations are small, while others may have you walking close to a half mile.  Let’s say I’m at my home Metro stop of St. Paul and I want to go to Canal St. Martin.  I look at the map to see how I can make the fewest connections possible.  I notice that I will take line 1 to Chateau de Vincinnes to get on line 5 and exit at Bastille.  Then I will determine what the last station is in the direction I want to go.  I see that it is Bobigny Pablo Picaso, so I follow the signs that point to Bobigny Pablo Picaso.  When the train arrives, I’ll hop on and get off at Republique to make my way to Canal St. Martin.

Want some practice scenarios?  Check these out and look for the answers at the bottom of the post.  Remember, there is more than one way to get where you want to go, but typically we want the most straightforward approach.

Metro Map1. Hotel de Ville to Gare de Lyon

2. Abbesses to Châtlet

3. Opera to Tuilieries

Important Reminders

After going through the turnstile, make sure you put your ticket in a safe place.  I have never been on the Metro when they check your tickets, but I’ve heard from others that they do check.  Hold onto it to verify you paid your way so you won’t be paying more later.

One of the most important points to remember is to watch your valuable items.  The Metro is a mecca for pickpockets because we are easily distracted and the trains can become quite packed.  Try to keep your hand over your purse or pocket with your wallet, or wear a moneybelt.  Zippers and buttons are no match for pickpockets.  To learn other tips, check out my blog post about the topic.

Using the MetroWaiting for the Metro

Now that we have a better idea of how to use the Metro, we will be ready for the first installment of Paris by Metro tomorrow.  The first post will feature the Cité Metro stop and all of the wonderful sights within a kilometer.

 

 

Answer Key

1-Look for Line 1 and take the Metro that goes in the direction of Chateau de Vincennes.  Get off at Gare de Lyon.

2-Look for Line 12 and take the Metro that goes in the direction of Mairie d’Issy.  Get off at Concord.  Find Line 1 and head in the direction of Chateau de Vincennes.  Get off at Châtlet.

–or–

Look for Line 12 and take the Metro that goes in the direction of Mairie d’Issy.  Get off at Madeline.  Find Line 14 and head in the direction of Olypiades.  Get off at Châtlet.

3-Look for Line 7 and take the Metro in the direction of Villejuif-Louis Aragon or Mairie d’Ivry (the line branches off, but this time it doesn’t matter which one you take).  Get off at Palais Royal/Musee de Louvre.  Find Line 1 and head in the direction of La Defense.  Get off at Tuilieries (and enjoy the gardens :).

Thoughts on Solo Travel

Mwah Solo travel is often portrayed through idealistic eyes.  I know that was my original perspective.  After being on my own for nearly a month, my view has become a little more realistic.  Every person will have a different perspective because we are all in different situations.  I am a young female who is not terribly harsh on the eyes.  My experience will be much different than a sixty year old male.  Here is what I experienced.

My Story

When I dreamed of solo travel, overarching themes came to mind like freedom, destiny, growth, and self-actualization.  I would be like a pioneer of my own life.  It is odd how sometimes thoughts become realities, but in a different way than you mapped out.

My first day and night alone were a little embarrassing.  I questioned what I was doing and wondered if I made a horrible mistake.  The fight vs. flight set right in, and my first reaction was flight.  I even considered calling the airline to see if I could change my flight.  After the initial panic (and sleep), I realized I was being ridiculous (especially the reoccurring thought that I might choke to death because no one could save me).  I told myself, “this is what you’ve been counting down for.  This is your dream.”  I decided to make a plan, because that is my coping mechanism.  I created a calendar and brainstormed everything I wanted to do.  Then I mapped out the days.

Once I knew all of the adventures I had planned, I felt better.  Routine started to set in and my photography really took off.  I was busy learning, seeing, and doing.  I even started to think, “what will I do when I get home?  Life will be so boring.”

Then, bad news came from home.  I thought my anxiety level was high in the beginning, but knowing that I was needed at home and I couldn’t get there was awful.  I feared that I wouldn’t make it home in time.  I’ve never had to make such important decisions on my own.  When is the right time to come home?  How will I get home?  How will I take care of all the “other” details like checking out with my landlord and getting everything done in time?  I’d like to say I kept my cool the whole time, but I’d be lying.

Through this experience, I have learned a lot about myself, what I want, and what I can accomplish.  This was the goal of the trip, but I didn’t realize this is how it would all happen.  I love travel, but I also love my family and friends.  I do need them.  I don’t think I can just move across the globe, but I sure can visit as many places as my heart desires as long as I have a home waiting for me.  Even as I wait for the dust to settle here, I dream of where I will be going next.  Perhaps I am a chronic sufferer of the grass being greener on the other side.  Talk about a paragraph being full of cliches…

So, what are my overall thoughts on solo travel?  There is good and bad.  I think if it is approached the right way, it can be a very liberating experience.  Here are some benefits and downsides to traveling alone, plus some tips to make it the best experience possible.

Pros to Solo Travel

-Freedom of Choice

-Create your own schedule

-Move at your own pace

-Greater growing experience

-No compromises have to be made with others

-Typically we are more approachable when we are alone

Cons to Solo Travel

-Loneliness can set in

-It can be more costly

-Sometimes paranoia can take over when too much time is spent alone

-Extra cautions need to be taken to remain safe

-If we are uncomfortable, we may be less adventurous and miss out on opportunities

-It can be challenging to trust others because we can become more guarded

Tips

-Select your destination carefully.  There are some places that are much more comforting to solo travelers than others.  I felt so much more comfortable and at ease during my layover in Dublin than I did my entire month in Paris.  Language barriers do make things more challenging.  Different cultures have different values and customs.  Perhaps it is best to find one that is more similar to your own for your first trip alone.

-Balance city and country in your itinerary.  City life can be harsh and sometimes we need to be able to let our guard down a little.

-Don’t be surprised when fear steps in, but have a plan to combat it.  If you know how to calm yourself down, you are a step ahead.  If not, try different strategies to cope.

-It is okay to be homesick.  Fill your needs with skype, home comforts (whether it is food or entertainment), and connections with other travelers.  I spaced out my English-speaking interactions with fun events like a cooking class, champagne tour, and guided walks through the city.  Even though I didn’t make long lasting friendships, I did have conversations that helped me fill my social quota.

-Do what feels comfortable.  If you don’t feel safe alone at night, enjoy each daylight hour.  I imagined myself exploring the night scene, but after being followed for almost a mile by a man and then approached, I realized that I would have to change my plans.  I received a lot of unwanted attention that made me realize being out late at night would make me feel uncomfortable.  It is unfortunate, but I will have to enjoy those moments with friends while I travel.

-Eat out at lunch.  I found that I could really enjoy my lunch on my own.  Eating alone at dinner seemed to draw more attention that I didn’t want.  I must have been sending off some serious pheromones because I’ve never gotten so many “I love you baby,” whistles, or looks in my life.

-If you want to avoid unwanted attention, whether they are gypsies, hagglers, perverts, drunks, or homeless people, you have to be harsh.  At home, I am the kind that smiles as someone walks by in the grocery store, or will say hi to the hiker walking past me on the trail.  In Paris I found that making eye contact more than once was not a good idea.  When I talked about this with my tour guide, she said that to avoid unwanted approaches, simply look through people.  You gaze as though they are invisible.  Eye contact in the states is different than eye contact in other countries.  Perhaps I am a little paranoid, but when I am on my own and have to handle every situation by myself, I find that caution is what feels best to me.

To Sum it Up…

Will I ever travel alone again?  You betcha.  Will I do it the same way I did this time?  No.  A big part of traveling alone is learning about what works for you.  After getting to know myself, I know that my next solo adventure will look a little different.  Sure there will be struggles again, but there will also be growth and unforgettable moments.  What a life…

The Life of Travel

Europe 2011 1432My tour guide last summer said that there are good days and bad days in travel.  Sometimes I have this idea that every day will be perfect and unforgettable.  But she was right.  There are ups and downs just as there are in “real” life.  Most of the time, all is wonderful, but there are also struggles, frustrations, and fears.  Get through those moments.  Do not let your mind dwell, or think that you are now stuck in a bottomless pit.  Hiding behind those dark curtains are luminous moments; opportunities to view the world in all of its brilliance.

My favorite French phrase is c’est la vie–this is life.  I interpret the saying in a variety of contexts.  Sometimes I use it as a way of saying oh well, it happens.  Sometimes I use it in moments when all I can do is stand back and take life in; almost a “this is the life.”  Travel is life.  It is every emotion that can be evoked.

I wrote this while in a stupor after my robust meal and wine at a brasserie.  I feel obligated to share what I am learning as I go.  Perhaps some of you can relate.

Get ready for some amazing pictures later because today was a very good travel day.

Travel Stubs in Photos

Day-9One of my favorite artifacts from my travels are the ticket stubs and other memorable documents.  I use it for memories, but also to help me remember names of restaurants and hotels.  Do you collect ticket stubs?  What do you do with them?  Here are the paper mementos I collected last summer.

Travel on a Budget

paris vacation 103Being a teacher makes me a budget traveler.  I cut back in other areas of my life so traveling can be possible.  I may not own a house anytime soon, but that is not my priority.  Besides watching my spending carefully, I have some tricks to save on the expenses of the trip.  I’ve broken it down to before, during, and after the trip to save money efficiently.

Before the Trip

Carefully consider your destination(s).

-Some places are much more affordable than others.  If you want to avoid high currency rates and an expensive lifestyle, avoid Switzerland and Scandinavia.  Eastern Europe, South America, and Thailand are all examples of places where money can be saved.

Stay in an apartment.

-If you are planning on making a city your home base, consider renting an apartment.  This summer I will be paying less than 60 Euros a day for my month-long stay in Paris. If I was traveling with others I could save even more money.  If you are going to be mobile on your trip, then this will not be a money-saver.

Book your flight in advance.Sunset

-I hear about people saving money on booking flights last minute, but I have never pulled this off.  I bought my flight for June back in January.  If I were to buy it now, I would pay over $300 more.  I also like to buy my flight directly from the airline.  I use sites like Skyscanner to get a feel for prices, and investigate more on the airline’s website.  If you are visiting multiple cities, fly into one city and out of another.  This will save you time and money.  Finally, be creative.  I am flying through Scandinavian Airlines even though my destination is not in Scandinavia.  It was the best bargain.  Aer Lingus is another source I turn to frequently for European flights.

Consider passes to save money.

-Museum passes and city passes can offer some savings if you know you are going to hit a lot of major sights.  Just make sure you don’t overload yourself on museums.

During the Trip

Salad3Eat out for lunch and fix something for dinner.

-Eating out is cheaper at lunch than at dinner.  I don’t know what it is about travel, but I am typically starving a lunch.  I need a substantial meal to give me the energy I need to explore in the afternoon and evening.  I fill up at lunch with cheaper prices and then fix something for dinner.  Even if you don’t have a kitchen where you are staying, you can make this work.  Pick up some fruit and veggies at the market and some meats and cheeses to make a sandwich. Even if you don’t do this for every dinner, cutting back on a few will help you out.

Obtain currency from the ATM with a debit card.

-I have made the mistake of getting money from my bank and the airport.  This really limited how far my dollar could go.  The most efficient way to acquire money abroad is from an ATM with your debit card.  I take out the limit provided at the ATM (usually between 200-300).  I try to use my credit card when possible for other purchases because there is no fee. 

Be stingy with souvenirs.  Mask-2

-My first few trips were quite costly.  When I look back it was mostly a shopping trip.  Not just for me, but I love to buy gifts for people I care about.  Over time I have realized that it was costing me a lot of money and really weighing down my bag.  Perhaps a postcard isn’t such a bad thing.  If you are insistent on buying gifts for some, pick affordable options that are easy to pack. Here are some of my favorite souvenirs.

Use Skype or e-mail to communicate back home.

-Cell phones are so expensive.  The cost per minute really is not conducive for sharing your never-ending adventures with friends and family.  Make sure you have a data plan abroad or turn off your data roaming because fees will skyrocket before you know it.  This summer I will be staying in touch with my family with Skype and e-mail.  Skype is free as long as you are contacting someone else with Skype.  Many hotels and apartments also have computers available for you to use if you wish to send an e-mail.

CiteUse public transportation when possible.

-Taxis can be very expensive both here, and in other countries.  I love using the subway or buses to get around.  So many cities have a great infrastructure built for getting around.  Look to guidebooks to figure out the best ticket or bundle for your needs. 

After the Trip

Monitor your bank and credit card accounts.

-When I get home, I watch carefully for stray charges.  This is also a way for me to consciously acknowledge what I have spent, and learn more about my spending habits so I can save even more for the next trip.

Don’t convert your currency back to dollars.

-I always know that I am going to travel again soon, so I never exchange my money back to dollars.  As long as you were planning carefully, there shouldn’t be that much currency left over.  It is nice to have a head start for the next trip.  If you aren’t ever going to return, perhaps a friend will, and providing some currency can be a great gift.

Day 74-1Remember, the goal is to save money where you can so you can see and do the most on your trip.  There are some things I don’t cut back on because it is worth it to spend a little more.  I just can’t feel that way about everything I spend money on or my trips would be few and far between.

Do you have any strategies to help you save money?