3 travel tips the average traveler MUST know!

Are you planning to fly overseas?  Are you day dreaming about places mysterious and unknown?  Either way, I’ve been where you are.  I’ve had my fair share of international flights but I’ve had more days spent dreaming about so much more – more trips, more countries, more places, more adventure.

Flights overseas are complicated but don’t have to be confusing.

For many, the mere thought of flying overseas is overwhelming. It is true – international travel can be almost discouraging in nature because of all the possibilities. I want to say this in the nicest way possible – Get over it! The pros will out weigh the cons. I promise you will not regret international travel done right. It is life changing!

Be organized, do your research!

Whether organization is a natural strong suit of yours or not – I suggest you do your best to be organized in this one aspect of your life.

Tip #1: Make a folder in your personal email for travel.

The internet is your best tool for planning this journey. Entire journeys can be planned, bought and booked without ever leaving your couch. It’s a beautiful thing – the internet. Throughout this process you will make many subscriptions to various websites and you will need a folder to organize all the information they send you.

While this might seem unnecessary, companies who send “junk mail” don’t always include only junk. Often times, I receive emails which contain real trips, real deals, and more importantly – real ideas that spark my interest into a new trip idea. Yes, there are times in my life when I delete all those emails. If I’m not traveling or planning a trip they don’t have much value to me. They are truly junk to me, in that moment. But if I am itching for a getaway, it is usually an email ad that inspires my brainstorming!

On the other hand, when trips become real and you are booking travel you need an organized place in your inbox to keep all of your travel times, destinations addresses, and confirmation codes. Additionally, it keeps all the receipts in one place so I can budget my trips and know exactly how much I spent and on what I spent it.

I challenge you to add the folder on your inbox now! Even if you have nothing planned, it will stare at you and maybe one day you will finally have the courage to take the trip of your dreams.

Tip #2: Know where you want to go and what you want to see. 

Many people want to see the world but when I ask them – where they want to go and what they want to see, more often than not the answer is something like “Rome, London, Paris, everything!” The reality is: Those places aren’t neighboring cities. You must pass language, country borders, and bodies of water to achieve such a trip. Are you prepared?

I suggest lists! I love lists but especially when traveling. I make lists of cities and countries, sites within cities and countries, travel between cities and countries, and travel between sites within those cities and countries. I have lists created of road trips across the US, backpacking trips through Europe, island hoping in Indonesia, and cruises through the Caribbean. Some of which are ridiculously far-fetched but until I plan them I will never know where my limit of possibilities are.

I recommend a few websites I use to aid me in making these lists. I wish they were like this cute little secret websites that contain hidden places that no one has ever visited but frankly, those don’t exist. These are all pretty popular but also very helpful!

  • Google – I use google maps and googles top sights to inspire my travel in some of the most beautiful places in the world. It rarely forgets a top sight and always contains information about the surrounding area not to mention the travel between areas.
  • TripAdvisor – I like the ranking system that TripAdvisor uses to rank the top sights to see in a given city. I usually cross reference their “sights to see” with googles “top sights”. They balance each other to give me an idea on what is really worth my time.
  • Lonely Planet – I use Lonely Planet for more of the off-the-beaten-path type of activities. They suggest restaurants, festivals, and tours that are top notch.
  • Afar – I use Afar much like Lonely Planet! And, bonus, it is updated by real people on what they real did while in a country.

Tip #3: Print or screen shot everything.

Call me old school but before my husband and I travel, I print everything! I’ve been in a situation one to many times where technology failed me; I was left helpless – a slave to data service or wifi. Once you have booked each step of your journey, it is more than likely you have an email, a URL, and maybe even an app all with the information you need for your trip. How exciting! Now, it’s time to actually travel!

I hope you have planned ahead and taken the time to check what kind of international data your cell phone company offers during international travel. But regardless, I recommend to print or at least write down all of your confirmation codes, addresses, and travel plans so you don’t have to rely on 2G data speeds or finding a wifi cafe to try and figure out train schedules, directions, or confirmation codes.

Another more technology friendly idea is to screen shot all the information so it saves on your camera roll instead of having to load the email or internet page. It’s faster and more reliable. Plus, if you are like me – a control freak, reliable puts your mind at ease so you can actually enjoy yourself during the journey – knowing you are prepared.

Here are some examples of things I screen shot, print or write down before I travel.

  • Travel dates and times – This may seem like a no-brainer but a lot of people rely on the technology at the location of travel to know when they are supposed to be where. Often, bus and train stations have travel times posts online but then on-site they don’t have live screens updating you on when they next train, bus, or boat leaves. Save yourself from the stress by making a note about timetables of transportation you are planning on using.
  • Lodging information – I highly recommend writing down the name and address of the place you are staying! In additional, include your confirmation code, the price you paid when you booked it online, the check-in and check-out times, and the contact information in case you have trouble finding it.
  • Keywords – If traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language, I recommend jotting down a few common phrases. Yes, while almost everyone in the world speaks English nowadays; I find that it greatly enhances the experience of travel if you have a few words or phrases ready to whip out and surprise the natives. Words like: Hello, Goodbye, Excuse me, Thank you, Please – go a long way when trying to get the help or attention of those around you.
  • Maps – Pretty much everywhere in the world now has some form of public transportation. It might not be stellar but they do have something! If you are like me, you don’t have a private driver picking you up from the airport. Rather, you have to catch a bus, train or taxi. Don’t rely on your phone to load the information for what train line or subway station or bus number you are suppose to take next. Document the routes of public transportations and maybe add notes about which lines take you where – lodging, city center, airport, bus station, car rental property, etc.

I challenges you to fight through the complications – it’s worth it. There may be times of confusion but following these simple tips will help you a bit along the way. Best of luck as you plan your adventure.

 

Prepare emotionally for marriage with these 3 tips that unfortunately – all to often – get overlooked

I have heard horror stories about the first year of marriage. I have heard many people say, “the first year is the hardest.” I have heard about the cheaters, the annulment, the liars, the frauds, and the thieves.

Our story isn’t anything like that, thank God. However, we prepared well to take this step in every possible way. Today, I want to talk about the preparation we took before we jumped off the commitment cliff. I will elaborate on three major things that were enormously helpful to us: flexibility, counseling, and prayer.

BE FLEXIBLE!

Flexibility is key to any relationship – whether you are planning on standing at the altar or not. I would consider both my husband and I pretty laid back people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a self-admitted control freak. However, I’m not rattled easily and react to change well. My husband is also pretty go with the flow – that is, as long as you don’t hit any of his buttons. Everyone has a limit.

Why was flexibility so important to us? Well, my husband and I got engaged on April 3rd, legally married on April 17th, married in the church on July 9th, quit our jobs, sold our cars, vacated our houses, put everything in storage and moved to Europe on July 14th. So yes, flexibility was not only important, it was vital to our sanity.

Communication was a big part of our flexibility. Both of us were willing to be flexible in numerous areas but without actually telling each other what we need or want; it doesn’t actually help. Also, it’s a give and take. You have to be willing to think past the want or need of your spouse and realized why it is a want or need for them. I’m all about logic over emotion when it comes to decision-making. But weddings can’t be all logic. It is an emotional time. For some, there are parts that were planned long before you – the spouse – were even in the picture. You will run into decisions of wants or needs which for some reason – that might be insane to you – are very important to your spouse. On the other hand, balancing emotions with logic can be a good way to keep checks and balances within your wedding planning.

Weddings are stressful. The wedding industry in America is a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on freak outs. Think about it, there is a TV show called “bridezilla” for a reason. So often, decisions are made simply to keep their spouse from losing their mind. While that probably isn’t healthy, it is reality.

We planned everything – and I mean, down to the details. We then accepted this fact: there is no way it goes down exactly like we just spent hours planning for it to go down. We then took steps and choose not to get rattled because we had already discussed there would be changes and compromises all the way through the process.

SERIOUSLY CONSIDER COUNSELLING! 

In my world, pre-wedding counseling is assumed. Some folks do it because they need real counseling for real problems. Some do it because it’s required by the venue they chose. Some do it because one or both sets of parents put on pressure based on tradition or religion. And some – like us – do it because we honestly wanted an outside opinion about us. We wanted someone who didn’t know us well to listen and give insight into the decision we were making.

Vowing to be with one person for the rest of your life is one of the biggest decisions of any humans life. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. How does that look in reality? For us, counseling was one way to take it seriously.

There were many steps in the process. One in particular we found very cool. We took a test that showed us strengths and weaknesses. It showed the good and bad of our personality traits, positive and negative behaviors, emotional and logical reactions, realistic and dreamy expectations and much more. It was awesome! For us, it show us literally that we complete each other – literally. His positives were my negatives and his strengths were my weaknesses. It felt poetic looking at that piece of paper, like a movie.

What I didn’t realize was exactly what that meant. People always say, opposites attract and that was true for us in a lot of ways. What people don’t say, adjusting to someone who thinks exactly the opposite from you is tough. While over time it becomes something beautiful, the growth pains are real and strong!

This time of counseling took us through scenario after scenario of things that could/would happen in our marriage. Some of the scenarios were things we had already talked about but got to dive deeper together, others were scenarios which hadn’t occurred to us to discuss.

I’m not saying we solved all our problems in pre-martial counseling. But I am saying that it was a tool we equipped ourselves with as we took on this massive commitment.

Pray!

My husband and I are active followers of Christ who do our best to take our problems and lay them at God’s feet. Often, we find ourselves being more reactive than proactive when it comes to our prayer life. It is easy for us to remember to pray when something bad happens, we have a problem, or we need something. It doesn’t quite come as naturally when there is a decision coming up to ask for guidance. Frankly, who likes to be told what to do? Or more so – who likes to be told no? The reality with praying about decisions is that God could say no. That’s scary. Why? Because what the heck do I do with my boyfriend that I’m in love with?

As a couple, we decided to take that leap of faith and really ask God what to do about our relationship – fully knowing what this meant and fully intending to obey God’s voice.  It was March 2016.  We decided to take an entire month to pray about what to do about “us”. Get engaged or not? Get married or not? Quit our jobs or not? Move to Europe or not?

Everyday of the month of March we asked different people to pray for us – specifically the future of our relationship and these life changing decisions. It was magical. It was the best month of my life. In a months time, my future became very clear to me and the hardest decisions of my life felt like a breeze. Not to mention, the people who came out of the woodwork to bless us was inspiring.

I’m not standing here saying it was all just that easy. I can imagine if that month went differently and God had steered us apart I would have a different opinion about what we did. But I believe God is a God of clarity who does not confuse and He was exactly that for us in that month!

I challenge any of you couples who are facing “the big commitment” to really take your preparation seriously, to invest time and effort into your relationship, and to face your problems head on in boldness!

How I went from Brewster to Karagyaurov

April 17th, 2016 I sat in the lobby of my home church in a suburb of Kansas City Missouri. I, along side my new fiancé of two weeks together with my parents, waited for a meeting we had set with our head pastor. We attended a large church. Weekly attendance is upwards of 4,000 people. Facilities are state of the art. The pastor is a middle aged, tall and very physically impressive man named Phil. Even shepherding a flock of over 4,000, he still manages to hug everyone (who isn’t freaked out by it) and calls them by name. My family and I had moved homes and churches the summer before my junior year of high school which had landed us in that church. We loved the church. It was “hip” and the people were nice. As a punk high school kid, the music was loud and that’s all that mattered. I hadn’t truly appreciated the knowledge and leadership of this said pastor until my junior year of college. But once my eyes were opened to just exactly how much I could learn from this guy, Phil, I was obsessed. His knowledge of theology, history and religions of the world is astounding.

Phil wasn’t late for the meeting but we were early and surprisingly calm for the adventure we were about to take off on. My fiancé, Nasko, and I had come straight from the soccer field where Nasko had been working all morning. We were wearing athletic clothes because of the busy and rushed nature of our day. That was the usual. Nasko was a program director in a local youth soccer club at that time. We spent most of our weekends going to, coming from, or at one soccer field or another.  We had only been engaged for two weeks exactly on that April day (The engagement story is a beautiful one, one I will tell you some day.) but today was an even more special day. Today was the day we got married.

My parents were supportive and proud of the steps we had made as individuals and as a couple.  His parents lived seven hours away and actually didn’t even know this was happening at the time. I remember thinking how can you not tell your family! But he knew his family and it seemed normal to him. Phil pulled into the parking lot and walked into the lobby. A round of hugs was quickly followed by a, “okay, lets do this!” The paperwork was pulled out and looked over by Phil as the rest of us waited somewhat awkwardly. Before long, like any good marriage day, a hiccup occurred. Pastor Phil pointed out that our marriage license couldn’t legally be signed in our current location. You see, Kansas City straddles the border of two states, Kansas and Missouri. Nasko and I lived on the Kansas side and that’s where we had picked up our marriage license. However, since we now stood on the Missouri side, the license would be considered void by location.

You might be wondering, did I consider asking a pastor to lie and just write a different location than we actually were… yes. I considered it. But instead of actually asking that of him, we asked him what he would suggested. Quickly he jumped in and said, “There is an easy fix. It’s a 20 minute drive to the state line. I have another scheduled appointment coming up but what about all of us meeting just across the border at, say, 7pm tonight?” With a laugh, we thought briefly about our schedules of the day and agreed. It was set, we would be legally married that night.

Now, I will say. We aren’t cold hearted. We want a big party style wedding. We want all of our family and friends to be there. But because of some extenuating circumstances, we were pressed for time and I needed my name to change ASAP.

Before we knew it, around rolled 7pm.  Because of the delay caused by our location hiccup we were able to clean up a little bit and look more presentable than we had earlier in the day. We still wore nothing special. We dressed in our Sunday clothes, which for American undenominational mid-westerners consisted of jeans and a “cute” top. That day, “cute” top meant a Kansas City Royals baseball 3/4 length tee-shirt for me. As athletes and coaches, we didn’t spend much time in outfits nicer than what we had on. We were calm for the most part. A little anxious but for Nasko and I, this was a legal step, nothing more. The severity of this commitment didn’t really hit us until later.

Why a pastor? Our faith is very important to both Nasko and I. We are both very active in our Christian faith. In additional, we are traditional or a little bit old-fashioned, if you will. Don’t get me wrong, with it being only the legal step we had thought about going to the court house but that was a short lived thought while something about it felt strange. We had then asked Phil to do it and he had willingly agreed.

The first thing across the border from Missouri to Kansas was a barbeque joint called Gates BBQ. Wow, how romantic – huh? There we pulled off the highway in the parking lot of a BBQ joint on a Sunday evening. While we were in Jeans, my mom who took a 30 minute break from work was in her nurses scrubs, my sister who volunteered to take a photo was in gym clothes, and that left my dad who had put on a polo with a collar for the special day. Phil pulled in shortly thereafter and repeated his statement from earlier – this time with a humorous  look on his face, “Okay, let’s ACTUALLY do this now!”

We practically had pen in hand ready to sign the paperwork and let everyone go home. The day had already been more of a hassle than we had wanted. But Pastor Phil quickly took charge – telling us to take each others hands, took a very serious look at us and paused. In that moment, it hit me – oh my gosh he’s going to freaking marry us for real right now! And that’s exactly what he did. Phil performed a beautiful ceremony all the way down to the rings, vows and kiss. We felt stupid. We didn’t even have the rings. We were in converse for goodness sake. But as the sun set, the smell of BBQ in the air, the prayer of blessing from a spiritual leader, and looking into the eyes of my future it felt… accidentally perfect. After a short interruption of someone needing to back out of the parking spot we were blocking, the service was over. Simple, stressless, and natural – it was us.

Phil hugged us good bye with a short comment about this being the coolest wedding he’s ever done. We shared a good laugh and I pondered whether or not to tell him – uh we weren’t planning on a wedding today, just the legal paperwork! I didn’t. At that point, we did what was only natural, BBQ for dinner.

About an hour later, Nasko and I were in the car and headed home. It didn’t take long for both of us to turn to each other and practically scream, “Okay, I was NOT planning on that being such a big deal! Did you?” We agreed and I felt a little better knowing we were both underprepared for our wedding day.

Nasko then dropped me at my apartment, kissed his wife goodnight and drove home to his place.

Wow what a day.

And that’s the story of how I went from Brewster to Karagyaurov.