About Me

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I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Meet, Plan, GO!

On October 18 I took the opportunity to go to the Meet, Plan, Go national event.  Meet, Plan, Go is an organization to support people in taking career breaks.  A career break being defined as a month plus break from your job.

Back in 2003 when I took my first Contiki tour, I never thought 6 days could change my life so much.  I met people who were taking 3, 6, 12+ months off from work to travel the world.  WHAT?  It was crazy, I had heard about people taking a gap year after college and before going back to work.  But your company was holding your job while you were traveling the world?  Between that and the experiences on my trip (and in hindsight I wouldn't even call this my best Contiki trip) I came back and started to look at my life from the outside and was horrified.  Ok, it wasn't that bad, but I wasn't in love with my life either.  I did make some adjustments in my life, but it's a process.

8 and a half years later I'm still processing those emotions and considering my options.  For 8 years of processing I haven't gotten that far...  That is why I decided to go to the Meet Plan Go national event, to help get a push in the process.

What did I get out of it?
No one who has done a career break has regretted it.
My concerns about health insurance are real (check out my other blog at http://creatingabeautifulmouth.blogspot.com if you want more information on that.)
I need to start saving more (or cutting out more spending), maybe both ;)
There are companies that already support sabbaticals, and many others will even if they don't know it right now.
You should incorporate volunteering or learning in your trip, it will give a better justification for the trip and improve your resume when you come back and want to find a new job.
Have a purpose for you trip.


What are my next steps?  I work for the government so a sabbatical will be harder then it might be for someone in private industry.  BUT, I do get 5 weeks of vacation time, which is FANTASTIC for an American and a reason I do stay at my job.  So, after I finish all the work on my teeth I will take a month long career break - that should be in about a year or so.  I'm still trying to decide where, but it will likely be either Australia or New Zealand.  I'm open for opinions on that, as long as you don't get offended if I don't choose your choice of destination.

I can retire from my government job in about 7 and a half years.  I would like to make it that long at my job, but I'll have to see what the future holds.  But once I retire I fully plan on taking at least a couple months to travel.  Knowing that I plan my shorter trips to hit places that I would be less likely to visit on a 3+ month trip around the world.

All of this is a rough plan, but gives enough structure to allow me to start making choices in life.  Do I really need a new car with a hefty monthly payment?  Or would a used car be ok with a smaller payment?  Do I really that stupid thing in the store that's just going to collect dust?

On a completely different note, a reminder about my giveaway that is ending on October 30 for a copy of My Memories Suite 2, digital scrapbooking software.  You can find out more about this here.

If you're interested in a career break here are a few websites that you might want to check out (I originally made a list, and then got a better list via email from Meet, Plan, Go so I copied that):

CAREER BREAK/RTW TRAVEL SITES

MONEY/BUDGETING SITES/BLOGS


ACCOMODATIONS

Hostel/Hotel Sites

Apartment/Condo/House Rental Sites

House Sitting

Staying with Locals

Homestays

Home Exchanges

Working Abroad/Exchanging work for room and board

VOLUNTEERING/VOLUNTOURISM


PACKING
http://alittleadrift.com/rtw-travel/rtw_packing/ (includes a female packing list)
http://www.aswetravel.com/rtw-gear-list-our-2011-packing-list/(male and female packing lists for two digital nomads) 

AIRFARE SITES AND DEALS

INSURANCE - MEDICAL/TRAVEL
TRAVEL MESSAGE BOARDS
 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stirling and a Big Giant Hill

This is the last planned post about my trip last year on a Contiki tour of England and Scotland, my visit to Stirling.  It's a fitting last post, Stirling had a giant hill, and I feel like I've finishing climbing up a hill writing this last post about the trip!  

Our visit at Stirling started with a stop at the Wallace Monument.  Normally, I'm game for an adventure to see a monument like this, but with limited time and it being located at the top of a steep hill, I decided pass on this one.  See, I have a fear of climbing downhill - slipping and breaking my leg.  It's not a rational fear, but since it only impacts me once in a while, I choose not to address this issue.  But you can read more about how this fear affects in this post on visiting a glacier. 

The good news is that there is a nice visitor center with food, drink and shopping. 

Our next stop was Stirling Castle where we were given an hour or two to have lunch and explore.  THIS is the big giant hill, Stirling Castle is at the top of a hill in Stirling.  It's the type that you could easily walk down while exploring the city without realizing how much of a climb back up it will be.  I'm not a wimp when it comes to a good walk, but if you don't leave yourself enough time you wont be able to pace yourself going back up to meet the bus.  And for what?  A few minutes to see the town?

What's a savy travler to do?  Look out the window on the way in and the way out so you can "see" the town.  Then walk half way down to a pub (Nicky Tams) and have a nice lunch.  After lunch you'll have some time to see the castle, visit the gift shop, or just enjoy the sceanery.

I decided not to visit the castle.  I had already seen Edinburgh Castle and quite honestly, these sites in England and Scotland are expensive!  And the Pound is not a friend of the Dollar!  If I had enough time to really explore the castle I might have gone, but I didn't think 30 minutes was going to be enough time considering the cost.  The good thing was that there was an ice cream truck and a few statues to explore outside the castle.  It was also a beautiful day and the views from the parking lot were quite nice as long as you didn't look at the parking lot. 



But on my walk halfway down the hill, Stirling struck me as a nice little town.  It was kind of quiet, but there were cute shops and pubs and some old world charm.  You really can't go wrong visiting anywhere in Scotland, and certainly not in Stirling. 

Just a reminder about my giveaway that is ending on October 30 for a copy of My Memories Suite 2, digital scrapbooking software.  You can find out more about this here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Photo of the Week: Egypt

From:  Khan el Kalili Market, Cairo

Just a reminder about my giveaway that is ending on October 30 for a copy of My Memories Suite 2, digital scrapbooking software.  You can find out more about this here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Digital Scrapbooking with My Memories



I recently accepted an offer to review a digital scrapbooking program from My Memories.   As part of this offer I received a free copy of the My Memories Suite 2 to review.  But, I also get a copy for one of my readers and discounts for everyone else.  How could I say no?  If you're interested in the giveaway, I'll have information on how to enter below my review.  The program is available for both Mac and PC.  My $10 discount code is: STMMMS64297.

For me, the exciting thing about this offer was that I have several scrapbooks, but recently gave up on them because it became such a hassel to do.  Getting the supplies can be a struggle, especially if you've traveled to a more exotic destination (anything outside the US that isn't London, Paris or Rome).  It takes up a lot of room and then when you're halfway done you realize that you have too much of one thing and not enough of another thing and you're back to the store.  So I decided to go the way of the digital photobook.  But now, I have the option of a digital scrapbook that I can print out or share electronically - the best of both words.

Like anytime you start to use a new program I did feel a bit overwhelmed at first.  I kept hitting the same button and expecting it to do something different, that didn't work.  But after playing around a little bit I started to get the hang of it.

You can use the program to make full scrapbooks or single pages.  The program allows for a several different sizes of paper and has a wide variety of backgrounds for free.  You can also purchase nicer backgrounds through the website.  There is also a variety of shapes and sayings that you can add to each page to customize.


This is a screenshot of a page I put together in just a few minutes while playing around.

My favorite thing about this software is flexibility, there is so much flexibility in how you design any given page.  This page above originally only had 3 photos in a totally different layout, in seconds I was able to change the layout so that I matched the photos and then I was able to add another photo that I saw after I initially set up the page.  You can't do that in a photobook.  Of course you could drive yourself crazy making the page perfect, but that's a good problem to have.

Sharing your albums and pages - you can send your pages digitally to friends and family or you can upload to a variety of websites for printing.  You can also print out pages on your home printer.

I haven't had a chance to use all of the power of My Memories, but from what I have used this program seems like a fun and easy way to make a digital scrapbook.  You can get a $10 discount on the My Memories Suite 2 using this code:  STMMMS64297


Entry for a free copy of My Memories Suite:

To enter:  
Either comment on this blog post, send me an email to thetravelinggiraffe (at) gmail (dot) com, or Tweet to me @Travelingiraffe about what you want to make a digital scrapbook of, and it doesn't just have to be your last trip/vacation/holiday!

Entries must be received by Noon on October 30.

After Noon on October 30th I will use Random.com to pick a winner.  I will contact the winner via email or Twitter to make arrangements for them to get their code for the software.

Good Luck!


If you would like more information on My Memories:
Blog- http://blog.mymemories.com/
Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/mymemoriessuite
Twitter- http://twitter.com/#!/mymemoriessuite

YouTube- http://www.youtube.com/user/MyMemoriesSuite

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Interesting things in Barcelona

While in Barcelona I got to experience 2 unique things - Protests and a Football Match.

Before I arrived in Barcelona protests had started up. It seems there is a high unemployment rate in Spain with the rate for young people reaching 45%. I guess when 45% of your age group is out of work it's a bit easier to protest! I never experienced an actual protest there, but it was hard to miss the tent city in Playa Catalona and the groups of youth there - it was a very busy place.

The other thing going on in Barcelona was a little football match between FC Barcelona and Manchester United in the Champions League. I'm not much into football/soccer, but WOW they were into it in Barcelona. Before I went on the trip I had heard about this game and it was described as the Super Bowl of soccer. I never saw Las Ramblas so quiet, aside from the cheering that would happen when Barcelona would score the city was a ghost town with everyone inside watching the game. The unfortuante thing about traveling alone in a strange city is that it wasn't a good idea to go out and enjoy the revelry when they won, but I could hear it and the city certainly did enjoy itself! I actually watched the game with a group of people from my cruise, but went back to my hotel before the end of the game. Based on the police presence, it was a good idea. And I hear they were out until late at night celebrating.

These are the little things you can't plan for on a trip. Ok, you can plan the football thing, but protests often happen unannounced.  It's all part of the adventure.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Changing my format

I've been considering a change to my publishing schedule ever since I went to 2 posts a week.

I occasionally do product and book reviews, but I don't want that to become what my blog is about.  But when inspiration strikes I like to write about it, whatever it might be.

So here is my plan:

Monday - Photo of the Week

Wednesday - Travel stories/tips/advice

Friday - Product reviews of website/blog/podcast recommendations.

Let me know what you think.  Or if you have recommendations on products, blogs, podcasts, websites or anything else travel related.

You can find me on twitter @Travelingiraffe
or you can email me at thetravelinggiraffe (at) gmail.com

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Liverpool, home of The Beatles

On my last Contiki tour we had a half day stop in Liverpool, that was either plenty of time, or not nearly enough time.  In that half day, the city did not call to me, though it was fun to see some of The Beatles sites.

Liverpool is more of an industrial city, which like many other industrial cities, struggled as the industrial revolution ended.  The city has gotten a bit of a face lift recently, it was a cultural capital a few years ago.  It does have some nice spots, but other areas were kinda blah. 

I'm not a big Beatles fan, though I do enjoy their music - but the Beatles connection was the highlight of the city.  Driving down Penny Lane and seeing the Magical Mystery Tour (didn't take it), Sgt. Peppers, Cavern Club, their homes, schools, etc.  It brought the Beatles songs to life.  After looking at my pictures  a friend commented that the places from the Beatles songs really existed!
White Star Line

There is a new shopping area in Liverpool (near the Cavern Club), it looked very nice.  I wish we had more time to explore it.  Unfortunately some politician, Nick LeClegg, was in the city which disrupted our parking and ultimately our time table, leaving us with just enough time for a quick lunch on the go and to see the Cavern Club.

With just a few hours in the city it struck me as a good city for a day or two, maybe a long weekend.  There are lots of Beatles sites, the White Star Line (see where people checked to see if their family survived the Titanic), and shopping.  But compared to other cities in England, Liverpool doesn't have as much charm. 



Reminder: I can be found on Twitter @Travelingiraffe

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My first time on Delta Internationally

For my cruise in May I flew, for the first time, Delta (or any US carrier) to Europe.  I generally avoid US carriers when I fly internationally, they're simply not as good.  While Delta was fine, my thoughts did hold true.  The reason I chose Delta was because it was one of the lowest prices, and my other choices in that price range weren't much better (Iberia) but more importantly it was a non-stop flight.  While I often don't mind a stopover, I don't want to pay an extra $400 and have to deal with the stress of a stopover.  So Delta it was. 

My flight out was at 6pm, but took off 2 hours late.  The flight staff did keep us up to date, we were waiting for passengers transfering to this flight, then they had to do something else.  It wasn't a big deal, I just read my book and since we took off later I probably slept more.  The food was standard hit or miss airplane food.  The entertainment system was pretty good, I like on demand movies for long flights, which they had.  And the selection wasn't too bad either.  I managed to watch 1 movie I had already seen on the flight out (didn't want to get sucked into a movie and not sleep), and 3 new movies on the flight home. 

I did notice though that everyone on my flight was flying to Barcelona for either a cruise, or they were Spanish and going back home (or to the US).  It was funny to see people talking and realizing they met someone on the flight that they knew who was going on the same cruise as them.  In addition to the Norwegian Epic, the Liberty of the Seas and a Disney ship were sailing out of Barcelona that weekend.

Where I really noticed that Delta wasn't as good as some of the International airlines, the amenity kit, there were none.  You just got a blanket and a pillow.  Every International airline I've been on has had some sort of amenity kit, including a tooth brush, toothpaste, and eye mask at a minimum.  For the overnight flights, this is definately handy, and I could always use another addition to my eye mask collection ;). 

For my flight home I booked an Economy Comfort seat for an extra $80.  Compared to Economy discomfort I'm not totally convinced it was worth the extra money.  I think I had another 2-4 inches of leg room, I'm thinking more like 2 inches, and I was in the front of Economy, but I'm not sure what the other benefits were.  Ok, I did get a better boarding section.  Otherwise, movies are already included, as are drinks.  My best frame of reference for this was when I flew in Virgin America's version of Economy Comfort - I got free drinks, food, movies and got a lot more leg room - but it also cost closer to $150 for the upgrade.  I think if you're tall and every inch makes a difference for your legs, $80 would be worth it.  Otherwise, I'm on the fence about this.

I'm not sure who does the check-in for Delta in Barcelona, but they were terrible.  Maybe what they say about the Spanish work ethic is true, or maybe they're not well training, but unless you were checked in, had a seat and just wanted to drop luggage, you could have died waiting.  I saw the staff and the supervisor flipping through the manual for quite some time.  I suggest to anyone flying Delta out of Barcelona to give themselves plenty of time.

Would I fly Delta Internationally again?  Yes.  Would they be my first choice? No.  I treat every airfare booking seperately and often look for something different, maybe it's schedule, or price, or amenities.  I try to keep an open mind and pick the best fit for the trip.

Incase you're wondering, I slept a good 4 hours on the flight to Barcelona, which is a success in my book.

Reminder: I can be found on Twitter @Travelingiraffe

Monday, October 3, 2011