I quit work, packed 2 bags and haven't returned for 4 months (with 2 more to go). Here's HOW I made it happen....so that you can too!
Step 1: Save Up & Budget Wisely
Travel costs money which is often what keeps so many from doing it. Prior to my trip I wanted to ensure we would be able to afford a 6 month jaunt from reality. So I did a lot of research into getting my $$$ in an un-stressful situation prior to taking this leap. My 401k has always been contributed to, my savings account has the recommended 3-6 months of safety bucketed away, my debt was paid off (I will post later about how to achieve this)...so my next step was mapping out what I expected our trip to cost us.
When creating your budget be sure to account for all of the below:
Next, I investigated the best credit cards for travel. I started to use this card for EVERY purchase. For every part of my budget. Then I pay it back with my trip savings every other week. It allows me to rack up rewards for spending money on what I was planning to.
Once you've reached your needed $$$ and have your trip budgeted...its time to start booking...
STEP 2: Booking the Cheapest Options
If you fly at all, be sure to sign up for the airlines frequent flier programs. Even if its only been 1 flight- sign up! You will be amazed how quickly awards can accumulate, how many of these airlines are partners with each-other (and with hotels), and how many options you will have for savings by joining these programs. I made the mistake of not signing up until years after I was travelling and it has costs me a plethora of savings, upgrades, and free flights! Do it. NOW!
When booking flights I either use my Chase cards "award" search so that I can use my rewards to book free (or reduced cost) flights, Kayak, or SkyScanner to find the best choices. Do NOT jump on the lowest number! Often these great deals are with airlines that then kill you on baggage costs- so read the fine line about baggage fines (and pack as lightly/efficiently as you can!). Once you calculate these additional fees, if the cost is still the best...awesome! Also keep in mind that if 2 or 3 flights offer similar costs but one of those airlines is linked with your frequent flier group- book that flight! In the long run, its worth spending $5 more, than on an unaffiliated airline. By doing this exact thing I was able to book a flight from South Africa to USA, typically >$1200, for only $250!
To save cash on eating out, I prefer to stay in a home environment so that I can use a fridge and cook the majority of my meals. There are hotels that offer these amenities but the warmest, most genuine to an area, and cheapest is using AirBnB. By staying with people who live in the area I am provided with suggestions as to the best things to see, avoid, and best ways to get around in that neighborhood. All provided sincerely, verse the often pushy hotel slander. Although I check out search engines for hotels in the area to see if any have specials, AirBNB almost always ends up being the most affordable option. Especially if you are staying for more than a week, because weekly discounts get applied to more residences!!!
STEP 3: Getting Around on the Cheap
Once settled in a new area getting around is critical. Most of the time I google the bus and train options in that town. Google maps literally has a public transit button to push- it couldn't be simpler! Most countries have public trans that is much more reliable, cleaner, and efficient than what you find in America. The trains in Japan tell you how many minutes until the next will arrive and rolls up to the second. The buses in Germany provide frequent options to the same places so your wait time is typically ten minutes.
When public transit is sparse or the distance is further I always rely on UBER to ensure the cheapest fairs. In Europe another good app is TAXIFY. Both options provide locals who are looking for cash on the side but TAXIFY also includes local taxi companies vying for more work. I have found that even during price surges, that UBER tends to cost less than walking up to a taxi on the side of the road.
A great resource to compare costs when you are in Europe and hoping to country hop is the website www.GoEuro.com which compares the costs and time it would take via bus, train, plane to travel between countries. This is an asset that I wish I had used prior to leaving- so you are welcome in advance!
By PUTTING A BUDGET in place, saving to the budget, sticking to it, UTILIZING REWARD CARDS AND FREQUENT FLIER MILES, booking with AirBnB, using the areas PUBLIC TRANSIT and UBER....you are guaranteed to travel without the stress of money burdening you.
In fact, if you do it often enough- you will find yourself flying, sleeping, and riding for free!
So where to? What do you want to see???? What is stopping you...get going!
Similar to the lessons of Luxembourg, Estonia also dealt with the issue of a small country - therefore it needed solutions to its limited numbers of interested competitors. They also embraced the idea of not being a club snob. There were days where every and any judoka from all of Estonia was invited to open mat, so that the country could improve cohesively. Working together was seen as an advantage to elevating everyone's abilities. At these practices the mats were filled with a slew of sensei's and Olympians, all taking part in aiding people in need.
Practices tend to be very focused and focused on a specific thing. A throw was shown. Then live drills were taught that directly correlated with the thrown taught that day. This ensured that students were practicing the throws taught in live situations. Once Randori occurred, these skills were then easily implemented when those scenarios appeared.
Start Them Young & Keep it FUN! Estonia had huge kids programs. This was partly attributed to relationships built with area KINDERGARTENs. After having some showcases and play events at the schools, kids wanted to try judo. The kids classes were all game, agility, motion, and play focused. No judo moves were actually taught until the kids were in first grade and the students are only offered two classes a week until they are 13. This pressure-free, fun-focused program ensures that the kids are not burnt out once they are teens. Once they are teens, these kids WANT to work hard. They stay late, lift multiple days a week, and all push each other. I was in awe of this seem-less transition. The 12 and 13 year-olds seem to idolize the older kids and really look forward to being allowed to train more seriously. It was a very different take to what many clubs in the US do, but seemed to work well and kept numbers steady in the teen age range, when numbers seem to plummet in the USA.
So what I learned in Estonia- welcome everyone, keep it focused, and keep it fun!
Always walk to the last stall!
Many times in Asia, Africa and Europe the first few stalls in a bathroom house traditional holes in the ground . DO NOT BE FOOLED. Keep walking. Do not admit to yourself that you will have to squat.
80% of the time, the very last stall will be your savior...and will house a toilet.
Obviously you will occasionally visit areas where this is not the case, but it is always worth checking prior to assuming the deep squat position.
Check the last stall before you commit.
A lesson I learned the hard way.
the trip thus far:
Heading to Estonia for a tournament I had little expectation or knowledge about the Nordic country. Much to my surprise as I posted to facebook about heading there, many of my friends sent me notes about what a great place it was and immediately my interest was peaked. The second that we landed in Tallin I was hooked- this is the BEST airport, full of story telling and enchanting scenery, that I have ever seen (designers seeking inspiration- take note - go hang out in this airports lounge for an hour or two)! We stayed in an area of Tallin known as Old Towne, which pretty much meant living within the walls of an old castled village. The air bnb that we stayed in was from the 13th century, whose high ceilings and old walls often made for ghost jokes. The hidden fortresses beneath the castle grounds and dungeon tours added to the creepy allure of the old town. The city was filled with adorable shops and cafes, all of which are lit up by fire at night which is warm and enchanting. Lining the outside of the castle walls are lush greens and areas for weekly staged events. We were lucky to be in town during a Russian festival, marathon race through the city, and multiple musical events. The area is filled with events and activity which is surprising for a country of only 1.5 Million people.
I was completely intrigued with the area and its history. It's still lingering link to Russia hangs overhead. There are many Estonians who have passports aligned with NO country because of the gray area that lies from Estonia's separation from Russia. The Russian festival was extremely interesting to see, as Estonians seems to hold a bit of anger towards the Russian culture.
Additionally intriguing about Estonia is its history of tourism. Starting in the 70's it was decided that sex would sell the city. Because of this you still find nightclubs and sleezy-esqe shops amidst a town that is now focused purely on its historical value and beauty. Most interesting (and not surprising) is that in the 90's when the country decided to shift its tourism pull to the majestry of the area, that the tourism more than doubled. Although some shady men seem to linger in the area, I am sure due to the lust-filled past, the majority of tourists today seemed to be older couples.
On a personal note, my husband's favorite thing about Tallin was learning that someone with his surname- El Idrissi- was praised as the cartographer that put Estonia on the map originally. This fun fact led him to walking the streets exclaiming that he discovered the land. Not embarrassing at all.
What was equally surprising was the great tech advances that the country has, despite the exposure to such an old city. Every citizen has a card that enables them to do just about everything- pay for groceries, sign paperwork online, file taxes... imagine Minority Report where retinal scans are used, this card is one step behind that. It was explained to me how much time and energy is saved because of the great tech used in Estonia. Since the country is so small much of the political bureaucracy works well together, which allows for lots of usual paperwork to be taken care of at home, simply and efficiently. DMV stuff can be done at home- on your computer you log in, and it gives you a time to show up, no waiting in lines! This made me so jealous! More time for what matters for Estonians.
The one thing we wish we had been able to do was take a ferry to Finland...or Russia...as many told us that both trips were thuroughly enjoyable. Unfortunately we didn't have time but would be sure to do it if we ever returned!
If you find yourself in Tallin- be sure to grab some tours in old city, enjoy some mexican at TACOs, grab a ferry ride, attend a free show, grab coffee in the town center, and ask questions to locals about the fabulous cards that citizens use.
Being so small - with a population of a million people and only 600 judoka, the national team had to be crafty with how to become successful internationally. To do so, they open up the national team practices to ALL teen/adult judoka as to maximize the number of bodies at practice and to increase the skill level of the sport overall. This lack of caring about who is from where, but the pure desire to improve & share abilities amongst one another is often lacking amongst places where ego is more important that then sports growth.
Another lovely thing about judo in Lux was the focus on strategy. Knowing that they lack numbers for randori and therefore will never be comparable to powerhouses like Japan & France, instead practices are focused on perfecting strategy, motion, escapes, and positioning. This focus has allowed their top players to become experts in theses areas and has enabled success at the elite (Olympic, Grand Prix) level despite ideal resources.
Leaving Luxembourg I truly felt that both the lessons of sharing resources/bodies at open practices, optimizing minimal training time, and focusing on strategy are areas that could not only greatly aid growth and success in Judo in the US.
The next time you are in a new city pick one day and set your alarm clock for 6:45 am.
Get up, curse me, brush your teeth...then get on a light jacket and get out the door.
Some of the best things that I have seen while traveling have been in the quiet of the morning.
The city workers driving street sweepers to clean up the sidewalks. The morning light glistening over the quiet buildings. This is the best time to really breathe in the architecture, the adorable little shops, and soul of the city. The bakeries just opening have the freshest bread at this time - so treat yourself to a fresh coffee and a hot baked good as a reward for your early adventure. Sit outside and notice if there are birds and squirrels or cats and dogs wandering the streets. Walk along the river. Smile at the shop keepers unlocking their doors. Marvel at the early morning joggers. Admire the dew on the bright grass and dazzling flowers native to the area.
Breathe in the essence of the area. Admire it when its quiet and at peace...
Then (if needed) you can take a nap.
But I guarantee, one morning of exploring is worth the early alarm.
One of the best things about this venture has been the last minute change of plans....without going with the flow, we never would have found ourselves in the tiny country of Luxembourg following camp in Germany....
Luxembourg takes about an hour to drive across and houses about a million people. Positioned between France and Germany, it houses an eclectic mix of both cultures. While there we not only were exposed to picturesque French architecture, a German based festival (Luxembourg's yearly huge festival was reminiscent of a fair in the USA), French cafes, German schnitzel, and lovely overlooks....my favorite thing was its innate ability to mix old architecture with new needs.
Within the center of the city their are two tiers. The upper tier not only overlooks that lovely city but also showcases how massive the trees are, really making one aware of how old the area is. The upper level houses the building where the European Union have all their meetings along with old castles and adorable shops. As you walk to the lower land you are engulfed with a great mix of the 14th century buildings integrating with the newly developed structures.
We crossed bridges from 1300, ate pretzels, and wandered the streets in amazement of its history, beauty, and ease of traversing. Bicyclists and wineries overran the hilly landscape. Minimalism is huge here as the cost of living is rather high in this tiny yet overtly beautiful country.
It was a quick bus ride from Germany...and where we stayed was on the border of both France and Germany. If you find yourself near the border- give yourself 2 days to explore this adorable and luscious land.
Old & New.
City & Country.
For a true mix of all that's wonderful, in a miniature size.....Luxembourg.
Feel stressed? Overwhelmed? Sad? Heavy?
Having quit my job and left my 9-5 behind, here are the biggest lessons that I have found bring lightness, smiles, and happiness to life.
Give them a try and let me know what I am forgetting!
In case you haven't seen the Jim Carey classic 'Yes Man', here is the main idea- Carey starts to say YES to every opportunity and offer thrown his way. This is a concept that while traveling the world I am embracing more. Sometimes we are so caught up in what we think is our style or liking that we turn down opportunities that could turn out to be quite enjoyable.
While on this trip my husband really wanted to go see the infamous Barecelona Soccer Stadium. I on the other hand, being an American raised baseball watching lady had zero interest in seeing a stadium, expecially given the 20 minutes total time I have ever put into watching soccer. However being supportive, I said yes and much to my surprise found the day to be one of my favorite sites in Spain. The incredible infrastructure, along with its historical museum, and fancy fixtures not only gave me a 2 hour walking workout but also peaked my interest in going to a live professional soccer match. I got swept up in the excitement and fervor that the tour gave.
While finishing up a camp in Germany we had a few free days left on the docket. We had the option to stay in the town that we were in, head to France to train with friends, head to a major city in Germany to train with the national team, or to head to Luxembourg with their National teams coach. We didn't know the coach well but being intrigued by a country we had yet to visit, Luxembourg was the route we picked. Because of this we got to see one of the most beautiful and peaceful countries yet, we got special treatment at the facilities because we were the coaches guest, and we made a new really good friend.
Going the route that is least known or least comfortable can stretch you to learn new things, find out new interests, perk up hidden talents, and lead to lots of great stories and relationships.
By forcing my husband to say YES he found out that symphonies are really calming to listen to, that yoga may look easy but its a great workout, that art museums can be not only gorgeous but enlightening, that walking cities is a much more enjoyable way to spend time than relaxing in a hotel, and that skateboarding may be a new sport of interest.
Next time that an offer is laid in front of you that may not sound like your typical cup of tea, release your inner Jim Carrey. Face the fear of different. Say YES. Give it a try. You may stumble upon an adventure. You may stumble upon a new love. Life is too short to not say YES.
As I travel the world one attribute that I continue to see dominate so many peoples lives is a deep sense of loneliness. Its not always obvious. Its often hidden under false smiles and loud personalities, but if you listen attentively, you can see the pain of loneliness in so many peoples lives.
The reasons can vary drastically. She lived too far from her family to visit. He travels so often that its hard to make friends in his new city. She works so many hours that she never had time to go out with friends. He is always so busy its impossible to grow a deep connection with others. She is busy with the kids so seeing other adults becomes nearly impossible. He lost his significant other and it haunts his soul in a way that he won't admit, because "too much time has passed for him to still be in pain".
The causes and reasons may vary but the feeling of solitude in a world full of people can be so painful to deal with.
I can remember a period in my life when I was traveling a lot for judo and because of this missed weekend after weekend of friends gatherings. When the summer came around, and my travel had decreased, I found myself not invited out and feeling too distant from my friends to reach out to see what they were up to. I felt unwelcome and unmissed. Out of the circle. I realized at some level that had I been brave and just reached out more my days would have been filled with more adventure and laughter. But I couldn't overcome the anxiety of reaching out. The sadness of solitude got to me and instead I basked in the darkness. Facebook stalking whatever I was missing out on and furthering my spiral of self pity. It was easier to just think that something was wrong with me than to dig out of the loneliness.
As I have met people from multiple continents, staying with strangers all over the world I am learning that nothing was wrong with me. This sense of alone-ness is maybe the most common human sensation of all. I am not the only one that feared reaching out to distant friends. I am not that only one that hated having to awkwardly make new friends when moving to a new city. I am not the only one that felt empty after a painful breakup. I am not the only one that had travel inflict my relationships or that felt that sadness of family living distantly away.
Given this new insight as to human nature, I have a brand new appreciation for strangers. So many are hurting, just a layer beneath what you can see...and rarely do people look for it.
So here is my challenge for you... Listen more deeply to what people are really saying. Reach out to that friend that you may not have heard from in a while. Share a smile or a small conversation with a stranger who looks like they are in need of one. Compassion and support can go such a long way in making others feel less alone.
We've all felt it...so we can all do our part to aid others who are dealing with it.
Believer that everyone is special.