Category Archives: Photos

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 ūüíĀ) 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. 

Advertisements

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.

FullSizeRender

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!

Narita, Japan

The most beautiful thing about travel, to me, is that it lends itself to you in such transformative ways. It opens these doors that you didn’t know existed, not only in the literal sense but in your mind and your soul. It allows you to have moments of complete and total clarity, unclouded by the chaos that surrounds you.

I just spent the last month in Japan, traveling the country alone and taking in as much of the sights and sounds and culture as physically possible.

On my first full day in Japan, I was anxious to see. I was anxious to get out and explore, so I asked the front desk where the closest shrine was and they pointed me in the direction of Shinso-Ji Temple in Narita, a 4 minute walk from where I stayed.

Since my body wasn’t used to the time change yet, I was at the temple at around 6:30 in the morning and I recommend going at that time to anyone.

15780685_10155642135718135_2241508707125870656_n

It is so peaceful and gives off such serenity that I was taken aback. I was alone, walking amongst these buildings and gardens that were hundreds of years old. The mist of the morning was clouding these pagodas that are so brightly colored and rich.

There were so many moments where I would just stop and stare for minutes on end, transfixed by the history and unable to grasp how many thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life had stood where I was standing, in awe of the same unmoving and unchanging building.

As the morning ticked on, I became more aware of people around me, bustling through the park to get to their job or gliding lazily through on a morning stroll, a couple visiting from South Korea who couldn’t seem to stop smiling and a pair of friends from Vietnam who wanted nothing more than to practice their English with me.

About the time I decided to head back to my lodgings, a processions of brightly colored monks made their way through the main gardens, accompanied by a loud drum and a ringing triangle. I obviously followed as we made our way to the main building.

15781550_10155642135623135_6997755831028819612_nThere, they began a ceremony, at least that’s what I’m assuming from what I gathered from context clues. A fire was lit, chanting began, and those watching with me began bowing at specific times. I was overcome with emotion. Here I was, a girl on her first day of travel alone in a country she knows little to nothing about and the universe was rewarding me with this abundantly beautiful showcase of culture and religion.

As I sat silently crying, thanking anything and everything that would listen, I watched as those around me; travelers, couples, children, families, and businessmen alike come together for a brief moment in time. The deafening drum beat became our pulse and the chanting monks transfixed our hearts. And then, with 3 sharp blasts to the giant drum, it was over.

I sat stunned for a few moments, as those around me clamored to get up quickly. I didn’t know where to go from there. It was my first day of travel, alone, and I had witnessed more than I thought I was going to see in an entire month.

How lucky I am.

What To Pack: Camp Counselor Edition

Camp is one of those places where you feel at home, where an adventure is steps away and where a smile never really leaves your face.

Being a camp counselor is the best job you’ll ever have. Hands down.
There’s something about waking up in the morning and loving what you do. In every sense of the word. There’s something about being surrounded by kids who look up to you unabashedly and that think you’re the coolest person they’ve ever met.

There’s something about swimming and laughing and playing and creating and making and loving and jumping and running and dancing and laughing some more.

I work at a camp in Maine and you can read about that here. But, I have to admit that I was completely lost when I found out I had gotten the job. What do they wear? What should I expect? Do we decorate our own cabins? There were so many questions that wouldn’t be answered until I got to camp, but I figured I’d write about my packing list to make it a bit easier for everyone.

The camp I work at employs us from mid June until the beginning of September so I need to pack enough to last me 2 months, barring small shopping trips. Since I’ll be flying up, I’m limited as to what luggage I can bring.¬†I will be bringing a backpack for my carry-on and 2 suitcases as my checked bags.

My backpack is a Thule Enroute Backpack.

backpackIn my backpack I will have:

  • My Phone with charger
  • Wallet with necessary ID’s, check with your Program Director as to what you’ll need for paperwork
  • Extra pair of clothes and swimsuit, just in case
  • Books for downtime, I suggest “A House In The Sky” and “All The Light We Cannot See
  • Journal
  • Sunglasses
  • My Macbook
  • Pressure Reducing Earplugs – I have terrible ear pain on flights

As for my suitcase, I have the tried and true Samsonite luggage. It’s the perfect size, it’s durable and it’s been to 10 countries with me.

samsonite-luggage

If you’re more interested in just bringing one large backpack worth of stuff, I have a great High Sierra¬†Appalachain 75L that holds everything that I need, barring linens. Your camp might specify that they provide linens, so just ask!

584363056be01

When it comes to clothes, comfort takes precedence over everything. You will be running, dancing and composing absolute tom-foolery, so looking good kind of goes out of the window.¬† Think about what you wear to work out in when no one is looking, now think a little grungier and you’re pretty much there.

My luggage packing list goes a little like this:

  • 6 T-Shirts
  • 5 Running Shorts
  • 5 Yoga Pants for sleeping, exercising, etc.
  • 3 Crazy patterned leggings-look here for some ideas
  • 5 Tank Tops- make sure to find out if there’s a dress code regarding tank top strap thickness
  • 1 Rain Coat
  • 1 Pair Rain Boots
  • 2 Pairs of Tennis Shoes
  • 2 Pairs of Flip Flops
  • Shower Shoes (an old pair of flip flops work perfectly)
  • Undergarments, enough for at least 2 weeks
  • Socks (mixed thickness, it can be really hot and pretty cold)
  • Sweatshirts-it can get down to 50 degrees at night in Maine
  • Ben’s Bug Wipes-so much easier than a spray

On to toiletries. Keep in mind that you may or may not have access to shopping during the summer so make sure you know how much of each you should pack. At my camp, there’s a Walmart about 10 minutes away so a few people don’t pack any toiletries and just buy them all when they get there. Up to you.

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hairbrush
  • DEODORANT, you may or may not shower for 4 days at a time
  • Room Spray becomes a necessity especially in the boy’s cabins
  • An abundance of hair ties
  • Shampoo/Conditioner- there are some really great biodegradable ones if you will be bathing in lakes or rivers
  • Lotion

For your cabin, find out what the living conditions will be like. Typically, we stay in a cabin with 3-10 campers depending on age and we have a dresser and a bed to ourselves. While my camp provides bedding, especially for International counselors, I prefer to bring a few things of my own. Most counselors bring their own pictures and decorations from home to showcase who they are and their interests. Contact counselors that have worked there before to get a lay of the land! I will be bringing:

  • 1 Comforter
  • 1 Sheet Set
  • 2 Pillows
  • 2 Tapestries
  • Pictures From Home-it’s always a nice reminder
  • 2 Strands of Christmas Lights-it definitely helps if you have really young campers who might still be afraid of the dark or for “flashlight time”

Obviously each camp is different and depending on where you’re located will adjust what kind of clothes you’ll be wearing but this is just a basic guideline for those embarking on counselor-ing for the first time.

Enjoy your summer!

 

04071

There’s an old saying that goes something like;

Find what you love to do and you’ll never work another day in your life.

This past summer, I did just that. Hopelessly lost one day in January, I was on Facebook dreaming of all the things that I wanted to do this year, all the things I wanted to accomplish. I saw an ad that, for some reason, stuck out to me. It read “Change Your Life This Summer Working With Kids” and had this picture of a counselor smiling and a camper smiling even harder. I made a mental note of it, but didn’t act on it, after all, I was too busy dreaming.

Two days later, the same ad popped up. I decided to check it out. You know how God sometimes opens up doors for us that we didn’t even know were there? This door was a camp called Kingsley Pines in Raymond, Maine and God seemed to have flung open 20 doors at once.

I applied, was accepted after an extensive interview process and made travel plans to start working in June. I was to be teaching Ceramics and Pottery and as the time to leave grew closer and closer, I realized that I physically could not wait. I researched articles on how to be a good camp counselor, I brainstormed ideas for games and I daily checked out pictures of KP. The calm waters and the pine trees and the distant mountains seemed to be calling for me.

I packed, repacked and reached out to at least 6 counselors on what to pack. I felt like I was in such new territory. I had been to camp as a kid but I couldn’t remember what to bring, I couldn’t remember what I wore and as I was to stay there the entire summer, I didn’t know what to expect.

But the day finally came where I took everything I had fit into two suitcases and a backpack and headed towards my new home.

I was greeted at the airport by a guy holding up a sign that read “Welcome to KP Stephanee” and it had a (very well drawn) buffalo. This struck me, I remember. I was born in Montana and there are buffalo everywhere, just roaming and free. Montana is my place to gain clarity, to see things wholly again and having a buffalo seemed to be a sign that this was where I was meant to be and I just remember smiling so hard that it hurt.

sign

I was here. It was beginning.

We picked up another girl who was a newbie just like me and we could barely contain our excitement in the backseat of that van. As a 23 year old woman, I have never been more giddy. It was like we were the kids on our way to camp.
We talked about our goals for the summer, how we were both searching for something, anything to give us direction. Both of us had reached a point in our lives where we lacked not a purpose, but a passion. We had high hopes that this place would be the answer to that dilemma.

IMG_0279As the van pulled onto that gravel drive and we drove past the greenest grass and the thick woods blending and swirling into this beautiful landscape; it was like an oasis for the weary, a jolt to the heart of everyone who felt lost.

That first day, no, that first week was a blur. We were in and out of meetings and orientations and trying to sleep whenever possible.

 

Session 1

The day came when our first campers came, and I honestly don’t know who was more excited; the campers or the counselors. I was assigned to Hatcase with 7 girls who were all 13. At first, I was intimidated. That’s a whole lot of early teenage girls but the second they hatcasearrived, all of my worries were dispelled. They were goofy, charming, sweet, and even more goofy.

They were at this age where looks and what everyone else thinks are starting to matter but they’re not quite ready to let go of their childhood and they recklessly abandoned their worries. It was 3 weeks of laughing and giggling and dance offs while cleaning the cabin and absolute tom-foolery. They were my nuggets.

Some memories will always stay with me and others add to the memory of camp as a whole. One memory in particular sticks out about this session. The cabin, as a whole, has to come up with a way every morning to show unity within the cabin and we seemed to be running late that morning (no surprise there…) and I was in charge of cleaning the shower. When I came back out, there were all 7 of my girls sitting on the floor in a circle writing things about each other that they appreciated.

They had, on their own, created an idea together and had governed themselves to do this act of writing out how they felt. And not just “You’re really nice” or “You clean good”…they were things like “The way you try new things at camp makes me want to try new things too” or “I really like having you in my cabin because you’re my best friend”. It’s amazing what a few words strung together can do for a teenage girl’s self esteem.

I honestly have to say my favorite thing about Session 1 and Hatcase was the absolute gut-wrenching laughter that happened every day. Whether it was laughing at the girls being silly, laughing with the girls at a camp fire skit or laughing at myself, it brings a smile even thinking about it.

Session 2

Opening Day was always hectic for me. It’s moving 200+ kids into cabins scattered all over. It’s lugging trunks and suitcases and bags. It’s airport runs,¬†It’s integrating campers into their new environment and affirming parents. It’s teaching and learning and absorbing. It’s a beautiful chaos that runs effortlessly well.

This Opening Day was no exception, I had come back from an airport run of picking up 8 campers in Portland and I learned that I would be with the OGC that session. I was excited, scared, nervous, and thrilled all at the same time. The OGC is the Older Girl’s Circle and it’s for the campers that are 14-16 years old. I would be in Androscoggin and I loved that little caandrobin, I think the most of any I stayed in.

I would have 3 campers staying with me and 3 that would reside in the one next to it. I had the oldest of the older girls. They were bright, they were smart, they were gracious, they were beautiful, truly, inside and out. They had these big ideas and a tenacious love for life.

The wonderful thing about Older Girls is you don’t need to keep track of 6 different schedules because they know where to go and when to be there. You don’t have to constantly check up on them because they’re little mini-adults and they want to figure out how camp works on their own. I learned that the more you stepped back and let them thrive, the more they wanted to flourish. My co-counselor and I often to referred to this group and our time together as “3 weeks of bliss”.

Every night you would close out the evening with Embers, which was a time for reflection on your day and things you wanted to accomplish in the future. The articulate and graceful talks we would have during Embers took me aback. Here were these 6 teenage girls, 2 of which spoke Spanish and 1 who spoke French, revealing their goals and insights on the world. I often went back to the counselor whom I shared the ride with that first day and we marveled at how much we were changing because of these kids, how much we were growing and learning thanks to these campers.drwaing

This session’s favorite memory was a night spent on the beach. I decided to do a star-gazing Embers and I had each girl pick a song that was near and dear to their heart that we would play and they would get to talk about why the song meant so much to them. When we got down to the beach, all bundled up in sleeping bags and blankets and sweatshirts, we looked up to see the crispest night sky. The stars looked like they were shimmering in the sky and on the lake and there wasn’t a cloud in sight.

Since KP is far away from any big cities, there’s no light pollution and the night skies are breathtaking. That night we talked about everything we could think of, showcased our hidden talents, giggled about the going-ons of camp life and every now and then, the entire group would fall silent just to marvel at the sky.

Session 3

Everyone was starting to become aware that camp was ending soon and this being the last session of campers, we all wanted to make the most of the time we had left. I was again placed in the OGC and was so grateful; I had found my niche. I was in the cabin trio of Brandy-Nubble-Crystal and resided in Nubble. I had 3 quirky, fun and awesome girls. We had this tradition of saying one thing that you liked about someone else in the cabin before bed. It honestly made my heart swell each and every night.nubs

Here are 3 teenage girls who know little to nothing about each other but every night they consistently found something about their bunkmate to compliment. With this particular group of girls I never knew what to expect. The compliments towards me ranged from, “You’re the chillest, most swaggiest counselor that works here” to “I honestly want to grow up to be like you.”

My two co-counselors and I this particular session decided we wanted to do everything in our power to knock things off the girls’ bucket lists. Since we had 9 girls, this was no small task. Our first Embers, we came up with a Cabin Contract and a Bucket List. The Bucket List was at least 15 items long with things ranging from; star gazing to climbing a mountain at sunrise.

But, we did it. We did it all. We star-gazed the last night of camp in the middle of the common field, all squeezing on a much too small blanket. rattlesnakeWe climbed Rattlesnake Mountain before dawn to catch the sunrise, or the “Sun Ball” as the girls called it. We built a human pyramid on Quaker Ridge and may or may not have stolen snacks from a certain camp photographer.

The greatest thing about this group of girls,though, was there were no two that were even remotely similar. You could not have picked 9 more different teenagers. But as the two weeks drew to a close, we realized that their differences made them a stronger unit. They were helping each other and joking about how diverse they were. They were making each other friendship bracelets and talking about past camp memories.

The one memory that resides with me the most from this group was an Embers we did on one of the last days of camp.quaker We got a huge assortment of beads and each girl picked out a bead for every other girl. We then went around the circle and told the girl why we had picked that particular bead for them. Although it was a small gesture by each person, when you have a bracelet full of beads with stories behind them, it amounts to so much more. I still wear mine around my ankle and I received a snapchat from one of my campers and she was still wearing hers. It made my day.

Ceramics

Teaching Ceramics was like a dream. Every day I woke up and walked to this shack that was lined with handprints and names written in clay. Where the sound of the pottery wheels drowned out the noise of the radio. It was this place tucked away into the woods where campers could build anything they could think of. They could build pots and bowls and cups and animals and plaques.

Some of the funniest and most honest conversations I had with campers happened in the Ceramics Shack. We taught 3 periods that lasted 50 minutes long and each one seemed to be like a party. We had music and dancing and we were creating these works of art.

I loved literally every second of it.

I can’t put into words what this past summer meant to me. There are too many memories, too many people to thank, too many smiles and laughs, too much fun, too many moments that took my breath away. It all adds up to this beautiful, chaotic, wonderful and sometimes crazy thing we call camp.quaker2

Related: What To Pack: Camp Counselor Edition

Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks

This out of the way, middle of nowhere gem is one of the places you literally stumble upon and then you wonder how the hell to get out.

If you’ve ever seen The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, it looks exactly like the shop where they go to die. With fish and shells and sponges in every size, shape and color imaginable. It’s a quaint little street with restaurants and gift shops and it’s bordered by fishing boats that have been there for generations.

It’s obvious it’s inhabitants are proud of where they come from, and they’ll tell you everything there is to know about what they do and how they do it. And it’s oh so fascinating.

There’s an air about these streets. It’s like being in a coastal town in 1950’s Greece. The old men are sitting on the benches puffing away on whatever is in their mouth and making gestures towards anyone whom walks by. The women are huddled, talking, while simultaneously getting chores done.

Tourists walk about but no one seems to be in any kind of hurry. There’s a saltiness to the air. The shop’s bells all ring in chorus and the conversations of those who walk past create this harmonious symphony.

You could easily spend a whole day here even though it’s only 4 blocks long and all the shops seem to be carrying the same things. But there’s something about it. Something wonderful.

spongedocks