Monthly Archives: March 2017

Living At The Foot of the Rockies

Grandeur. Jagged. Raw. Unforgiving. Relentless. Awe-inspiring.

These are some of the many words that come to mind when I think about where I live. I work seasonal employment and so I am lucky to live in some of the most beautiful places in the US and it allows me to afford to travel the world (read about that here). I am currently living in Estes Park, Colorado at the YMCA of the Rockies and our campus sits at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. We are surrounded by all sides by these incredible peaks, and as a friend lovingly refers to it as “our cereal bowl of mountains”.

I wish that I could put into words what it feels like to be encompassed by these mountains, by these unrelenting and absurdly large creations. These mountains, they’re like something bigger than you can imagine, bigger than you can grasp. You stand at their base, you stare up at them and think about all those who have summited and how incredible that is but also…how tiny they are in comparison. These lives of these people, while great and mighty, are so infinitesimally small compared to the mountains that have stood, watching for generations and generations and generations. Years and thousands and millions of years, they have stood, just watching.

It’s only when I’m climbing them, do I become finely aware of their grandeur. Living within walking distance to over 12 peaks, I hear so often, “Oh yeah, the mountains, you kind of forget they’re there.” To which I’m always stunned. How? How on earth do you forget about these beautifully raw souls. When I see these mountains, I see their peaks and crevices and their hills and their rocks and their boulders and their outlines sharpened against the sky. I see a being. A being greater than I can imagine, a living soul that is calling out to me.

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The longer I stay here, the more I find others who hear that same call. The Rocky Mountains speak to you in a way that I’ve never been able to replicate elsewhere. I don’t feel the same pull as I do when I think of Eagle Cliff and CCY. Even when I’m thousands of miles away, I can still see their outline, I can still feel the rocks sliding beneath my feet as I scramble my way to the top. I can feel my lungs burning as I climber higher and higher.

And once you get to that peak…I can’t even explain the serenity and calm that comes over you. Being able to sit atop that mountain and see further into the park and to see just the scores and scores of mountains, layered upon one another. It’s unearthly and at the same, I never feel more connected to the earth than I do at that moment. I feel my breath coming in and out of my lungs, I hear my heartbeat in my ears, drumming to a song that I’ve known my whole life, and I feel steady. Clarity encompasses me and the peace that I find within myself in all-powerful.

I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but here at this current moment. These mountains, they’ve become my family, my home, and I’m appreciative every single day.

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How I Afford To Travel The World

Probably the number one question I get asked when it comes to my travels is, “How do you afford it?!” Since I work seasonal employment, it’s not exactly the most profitable field, and therefore I shouldn’t be traveling as much as I do. But, the answer lies in the details. As a former travel agent, I have a few tricks of the trade that have helped me throughout the years and as I travel more, I have gained a few tricks of my own. 

RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH. I scour websites like Momondo and Skyscanner and STA travel and Student Universe, and I’m not picky. When I bought my ticket to Japan, I originally had no idea of where I wanted to go. I used the “Take Me Anywhere” feature on Momondo, and found my $378 round trip ticket to Tokyo. I didn’t really have any interest in going to Japan, but at a price like that, I couldn’t say no.

Being flexible allows more doors to open and better flights to pop up. If you have one particular place in mind, chances of finding the “perfect” flight at a stellar price are pretty slim. But, if you go into it with no expectations of where you’re going, there are some absolutely phenomenal flights out there to places that are super up and coming.

Save. Everything. Since I work seasonal jobs, my bills are almost non-existent. Most of my contracts offer me food and housing, so I can save nearly everything I make instead of having to pay for rent and utilities and car insurance and car payments and and and…While this isn’t the case for a lot of people, when I worked a “normal 9-5”, I was putting 20-25% of my paychecks away for future travels.

Because I’m committed to traveling as much as I can, I was willing to sacrifice a few nights out with friends or going out to dinner or splurging on a new outfit if it meant that I could take a helicopter ride in Iceland or order an extra bottle of wine in Venice or stay in the hotel that I had been looking at for years online. While 25% is steep, you can always adjust that to whatever you’re comfortable with.

I have a Round-The-World trip planned for this September and just about everything I’m making is going towards tickets, hostels, excursions, food, drinks, etc. It’s sometimes hard to debate with yourself as to whether saving is worth it when there are so many things going on right now, but it always pans out well. 

Be Diligent. Once you’ve found an area or a location that has captured your heart, and clouded all your daydreams, sign up for fare alerts, check up on the price when you can, and check fare predictors. (Skyscanner and Student Universe both have pretty reliable ones.) Word of Caution: a lot of these third-party sites that offer lower rates usually use cookies, and if they see that you’re checking the same flight over and over, they’re likely to raise the price solely because they know you’re interested. To avoid this, turn off your cookies while browsing or browse in private mode. 

Travel on Tuesdays. If you’re traveling internationally, try to book your flight for a Tuesday and search for your flight Tuesday or Wednesday. Airlines tend to lower their prices to match competition on Monday nights, so you’re going to find cheaper flights on these days. Try to avoid searching for flights on weekends, as the prices are usually inflated. As for traveling on Tuesday, fares are usually less expensive than say, Sunday afternoon. 

Book Your Trip During The Shoulder Seasons. Shoulder seasons are the month(s) before and after peak travel times; think April, September, October. While you might miss out on the best weather, shoulder seasons are much cheaper both airfare wise and expenses during your stay. Hotels and exclusions are usually less too. And shoulder seasons tend to have less crowds, which is always a plus. 

Think Outside The Box When It Comes To Lodging. Hotels. They can be so, so expensive. Think about staying in hostels, Airbnb’s, or couch surfing. If you’re dead set on staying in hotels, try hotels.com, they have a fantastic rewards program where for every 9 nights you book through them, you get 1 night free. Which adds up so quickly. Plus, once you sign up, they “unlock secret prices”, which is usually $5-25 off the listed price. 

Pack Light. Luggage fees are getting more and more exorbitant. Airlines like Spirit and Frontier make a large majority of their profit from fees and last time inchecked, luggage fees for Frontier were upwards of $65. That’s as much as a ticket! Try to pack what you can into a carry-on and your personal item, not only are you saving on luggage fees but you’re also saving yourself from having to schlep around a ton of luggage. 

Don’t Be Intimidated By All-Inclusive. I have to admit, I was not at all keen on the idea of any trip I took to have the words “all inclusive” anywhere near them. I felt like it was cheating, or there had to be some sort of catch. But, when I found an all-inclusive trip on Living Social to La Fortuna, Costa Rica for $250, I was intrigued. It included lodging, food, drinks, and an excursion (I went ATV’ing on a volcano 💁) and it was so worth it. I didn’t have to worry about constantly having money with me, and I was still able to leave the lodge and walk around the town and get a sense of the local culture. 

Honestly, traveling is as much of a priority as you make it. If you’re bound and determined to see as much of the world as possible, you want to make it happen and you’ll do what it takes to see it come to fruition. If you’re okay with a vacation a year, that’s awesome too, we all have different priorities and it’s your life to live. 

I travel as much as I do because it’s probably my number one priority. It’s what I’m always thinking about, it’s what I save for, it’s my therapy and my escape. I’m so very lucky to have such an incredible and supportive family who lets my wanderlust take over and they’re there for me every step of the way. 

Travel is as achievable as you want it to be. Go forth, my dears. 

What To Pack: A Month in Japan Edition

I decided one day that I needed something, anything to distract me from the seasonal lifestyle. I’ve been jumping job to job to job with no break for over 2 years; mind you, I’m not complaining in the slightest. I work in the most beautiful locations, I meet incredible people and I have some of the most amazing experiences, but I just hadn’t had over a week of in 2 years: I needed a vacation.

I searched for the cheapest flight to anywhere in the world and I managed, somehow, to find a round-trip ticket from LAX to Tokyo for $378. How? I got so very lucky. And once I found that fare, I kept a close eye on it until I was ready to buy. Here are the sites I normally scour to find great deals. I had never really had an interest in traveling to Asia whatsoever, but I can’t turn down that price tag.

So I left my job in Lake Tahoe when my contract ended, and I knew that I would be alone in Japan for a month, what the hell was I going to bring?

My itinerary was a rough outline at best. I had plans on stopping to see two friends and I knew I was flying into Tokyo, but other than that, I had no idea what I would do. With that in mind, I stated doing some research. My friend, Miranda lived in Tokamachi, which is in the Northern region of mainland Japan. As it was November/December, it would be cold, if not snowing. My other friend, Moose, lived outside of Hiroshima in Ube, which is in the Southern region of mainland Japan, a warmer climate.

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So I needed to pack for all seasons. Neat.

I was using my High Sierra Appalachian 75 L bag that I had gotten on a season’s end clearance. I knew it could hold as much as I needed to but I didn’t want to over pack in case I was to find something I wanted to bring home.

In my bag I ended up packing:

  • 3 pairs of pants (2 black leggings, 1 pair of jeans)
  • 5 shirts (1 long sleeved, 1 t shirt, 1 “nice” shirt, 2 tank tops)
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • Toiletries (dry shampoo, mascara, moisturizer, deodorant)
  • So many socks. So many.
  • Eno Hammock with straps (in case money ran low and I needed somewhere to sleep)
  • Leather-bound journal (which I wrote in every single day, really helped me remember small details that I may have otherwise forgotten.)

As I traveled through the country, I tried not to buy too many souvenirs until my last day because I knew I would have to carry everything on my back. It was the perfect weight for me personally, I think at it’s heavies it was 28 pounds, but I knew I could go heavier if I needed to.

Japan is still one of the most diverse and culturally rich places I’ve ever been to and I know that I’ll go back someday, I hope this packing list helped!

Why You Should Travel To Japan For Your First Solo Female Trip

I took my longest solo journey to Japan this past November and I have
to say, it was more than incredible. I never felt unsafe, everyone was
so respectable, and getting around (once you got the hang of it) was
surprisingly easy.

I did little to no research before I left for Japan and hit the ground
running, I wanted to see as much as I could and experience as much as
I could fit into a day. I landed in Tokyo and stayed in Narita a few
days before heading North to Niigata. After Niigata, I took the
Shinkansen to Kyoto, then onto Hiroshima, Fukuoka and finally Okinawa.

At first glance, the rail system in Japan is terrifying. There are
usually no English characters and most people don’t speak English
whatsoever, so asking for help can be tricky. There were definitely a
few times when I got onto a train and just hoped for the best, not
entirely sure of where I was headed. But, to be fair, it is fairly
straightforward and everything is conveniently color-coded with routes
that overlap, so if you do happen to get onto the wrong train, you’re
usually only a few stops off.

There was one day in particular in Kyoto where I felt I finally
“mastered” the trains. Having only ridden the trains for about a week,
I was nowhere near mastery but I felt confident, and that’s what
matters, right?

Traveling alone as a female, safety is always a concern. In Japan, in
the month that I was there alone, I honestly and truly never felt
unsafe. Even carrying all of my worldly possessions on my back, I
never felt that gripping sense of fear. There was a night, waiting to
catch an overnight bus to Hiroshima, and the bus wasn’t set to depart
until 10:30pm, so I was wandering around alone for a few hours while
it was dark and if anything, I felt like I was more respected than
anything. Men would bow their heads and make eye contact as if to say,
“nothing to worry about.”

What’s so wonderful about traveling alone is dictating your own
schedule. You can wake up when you please, you can do whatever suits
you during the day, and you can go to bed as early or as late as you
want to. There were days where I packed so much in, I was dizzy by the
end of the day and then there was a day in Ueno, where I had no energy
and so I stayed in my hostel, drank coffee, read books and watched
netflix. You can do whatever you want, and it’s so freeing.

All in all, Japan is a great place to start your adventures as a solo
female traveler. The food is iconic and delicious, the sights are
historic and stunning, and the people are warm and respectful. So, go!