How I am Preparing for Long-Term Travel Part 2: Research & Planning

Hi again! I am back to tell you more about how I am preparing for long-term travel, this time focusing on research and planning. As I said in my first post, it can be a daunting task. I am still in the thick of it, but hopefully this post will help make a little more sense of it all!

I have spent countless hours researching travel tips and destinations, and planning my trip. I have read so much information I’m sure it is all going to spill out of my brain any minute and I’ll be left with no travel knowledge. Of course I know this won’t happen, but sometimes the amount of information out there is overwhelming! Don’t let that discourage you, though. The time and effort it takes to truly prepare and do your research will be well worth it in the long run.

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I have learned a lot about budget travel and travel hacking since I started planning my trip ten months ago. Travel blogs, travel books, and Pinterest are all great resources. I have also gotten connected with other travelers and travel bloggers through social media, which I will discuss further in my next post.

There is a TON of information out there about backpacking and long-term travel. It’s amazing how many people there are who have done exactly what I’m trying to do. I’ve learned a lot and have been inspired from reading several travel blogs. It’s a daily reminder that people just like me have sold all their belongings and quit their jobs to travel the world, and that I can do it too. These are my favorites so far:

Nomadic Matt
The Blonde Abroad
Thrifty Nomads
Heart My Backpack
Adventurous Kate

I have read a few travel books – not any boring guide books though! The best one by far is How to Travel the World on $50 a Day by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt. I highly recommend getting this book – I hoarded a copy from my local library for five months (sorry not sorry) and referred to it often through my planning process. The book is divided up into chapters with generalized budget travel tips, and then the second section goes into destination-specific detail for regions all over the world.

And of course there’s Pinterest – I have multiple travel-related boards on my Kansas Girl Travels World Pinterest account.  I mostly find travel tips here, but I also make a new board for each destination and pin activities and accommodations I am interested in, as well as budget travel tips for that specific location.

Above just reading things online or in books, I ask! There are countless well-versed travelers out there who are willing to help you out. Send them an email, tweet them, or comment on their blog. I have found that the travel community in general is very welcoming and open to answering questions from newbies.

Visas

One thing I have done a fair amount of research on is visa requirements in the various countries I plan on visiting. I am not an expert by any means, but I will share with you what I have learned so far for the destinations I plan to visit.

Note that the information below is for US citizens with an American passport. We have an unfair advantage; entry into other countries is typically inexpensive and easy. Citizens of many other countries traveling, especially to the US, are not so lucky. When I first started researching this topic I was shocked to learn how drastically different entry fees and requirements are depending on where you are from.

I have recently booked trips to Colombia and New Zealand. In both countries a visa is not required for stays of 90 days or less.

In Australia you can get a tourist visa or a work visa for up to one year. I got a tourist visa which will allow me to stay up to three months, as well as leave and re-enter the country. I applied online, paid $135 USD, and it was approved within a few days. I also looked at the work and holiday visa, which is $440. I decided against this since I am not planning on staying in Australia for an extended period of time.

I have not visited or applied for any visas in Southeast Asia, so I have no first-hand experience with this. From what I have read online, in most (but not all) countries in this region you can get a 30-90 day visa on site upon arrival, and they range in price from free to $70 USD. Check out this comprehensive post about visas in SE Asia from Goats On The Road for more information.

In Europe, 26 countries are members of the Schengen Area. Basically what that means is that you can travel freely throughout those borders without stamping your passport – similar to traveling between states in the US – and you do not have to enter and exit in the same country. Within a 180-day period you may travel the Schengen Area for a total of 90 days. Note: your time does not start over if you exit and re-enter! US citizens do not have to purchase a tourist visa to travel within the Schengen Area.

There are some European Union (EU) countries that are not part of Schengen, as well as some non-EU countries that are part of Schengen. Check out the map I made of the Schengen Area below. Whatever you do, double check the visa requirements for any country you plan to visit well ahead of time! I have not developed a plan yet, but I will be bouncing in and out of Schengen Area countries to maximize my time in and around Europe.

Schengen Map

It is also worth taking note that most countries require you to have a minimum number of blank pages in your passport, and that your passport is valid for a certain period of time (i.e. at least six months after entry. Some countries even require you to provide passport-size ID photos! Visit the US Department of State’s page on Americans traveling abroad for more information or to look up requirements for your destination.

Vaccinations

If you are able to, start your vaccinations six months before you travel, in case there are any shots that need two rounds six months apart. The one vaccination I got that needs to be six months apart is Hepatitis A – I started five months pre-departure, but fortunately the second dose can be given at a later date, and I am still covered with only one round, just for a shorter period of time. So, if you are not able to get vaccinated that far in advance, do not worry! Most shots only need one round, just make sure you give it a few weeks before traveling to take full effect.

I have found that most travel vaccinations can be received at your local health department. I chose the health department over my doctor’s office because they are set up to do travel vaccinations, whereas a doctor’s office may not be.

The only vaccine I was not able to get locally was Japanese Encephalitis (JE), which I am getting since I will be spending an extended period of time in Southeast Asia. I went to a travel clinic in Kansas City, which is less than an hour from where I live, but was shocked to find out this two-round vaccine costs $740 in total.

I left the clinic, against the nurse’s recommendation, and did more research. I found that I can get the JE vaccine in Australia for about $200-300 USD, in Bali for $120 USD, or in Thailand for under $20 USD – what a difference! It is also worth noting that in these countries they have a newer vaccine that only requires one shot.

The vaccine takes two weeks to take full effect, but the CDC only recommends it for “travelers who plan to spend at least 1 month in endemic areas during […] transmission season” or “Short-term […] travelers to endemic areas during the transmission season, if they plan to travel outside an urban area and their activities will increase the risk of exposure.” I am not yet sure which route I will take, but I am leaning towards Bali or Thailand and staying in urban areas for those first two weeks.

Whatever you do, speak with your healthcare provider about where you are going and what vaccinations are right for you! I am not a medical professional and you should not base your vaccination decisions solely on my or others’ advice online!

Travelers’ Insurance

Also coinciding with your health is travelers’ insurance. No matter what you do or how long (or short) your trip is, if you are traveling overseas, get travel insurance! The general consensus I see online is that World Nomads is a great choice. Experienced travel bloggers I trust, such as Nomadic Matt, use World Nomads and have for years. There are other companies, but I have not looked into them much.

World Nomads allows you to customize your plan based on how long you plan to travel for. Over the last several months I have searched for prices from one to twelve months a few times, to determine the cheapest per-month option. Each time I have come to the same conclusion: buying travel insurance for six months at a time will give you the lowest cost per month. See the graph below for a breakdown of price-per-month costs.

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I recently purchased the six-month Explorer Plan for $483 USD. That’s $80.50 per month, not too bad! Since I plan on traveling for one year, I will simply renew my plan at the end of the first six months.

Buying Gear

Another part of long-term travel prep is making sure you have the right gear. I am not going out and buying all new clothes, but there are some key things I did not already have. Here is what I have purchased for my travels:

I already have an iPhone 5 that still works well, so I am not investing in a new phone at this time. I also figure that if the flip flops, sunglasses, or clothes I’ve been wearing here at home give out on me, I can buy some new ones wherever I am!

Planning – Destinations and Activities

I have not yet done a lot of research on specific activities I want to do in certain areas, but the resources mentioned above are a great place to start for this type of planning as well. Most travel blogs have destination-specific sections, and there are a slew of destination-specific travel books available.

Whenever I see a post on Facebook or Twitter about a place I plan on visiting, I always like to check it out for tips and information on things to do. There are certain activities I definitely want to do; at the top that list is snorkeling. I have never been and can’t wait to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and other tropical destinations!

Like I mentioned previously, experienced travelers and travel bloggers are a great resource. Another surefire way to get information and advice is to ask locals! I like to follow people (travelers or not) on social media who are from where I am going. I also follow tourist accounts for those specific locations. Don’t hesitate to engage with others online: tweet them, message them, email them, etc. The worst thing that can happen is someone doesn’t respond. Then, if you do build a relationship with someone online, you may just be lucky enough to have a friend to meet up with on your travels!

I have started to research transportation options in various locations online, but have not dug deep into this yet. In general, I like to do a simple Google search to find local websites pertaining to public and national transport systems in various locations. Again, travel blogs are also a good resource for information on transportation.

I have always been a spontaneous person, especially while traveling, so I will not be planning itineraries and booking flights or other modes of transportation months in advance. Even though I have a rough idea of where I want to go and when, plans change and I am always open to new adventures!

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How I am Preparing for Long-Term Travel Part 1: Finances

In exactly one month I leave my job, and the next day I begin my journey of long-term travel, so this seems like as good of a time as any to share with all of you how I have been preparing for this upcoming adventure.

I have written a three-post series on long-term travel prep for Nomadapp.co. This is an updated version of my first post for their blog. NomadApp is a start-up company that is developing an amazing travel app. Learn more on their website and sign up for their beta program here!

Preparing for long-term travel is a daunting task. I am currently planning to backpack for at least one year through Colombia, Australia, Southeast Asia and Europe. I have a good job, I had a nice apartment, and I have family I love nearby, and next month I plan to leave everything behind to see the world. I began thinking about long-term travel in October 2015, and over Christmas I officially announced my plans to my extended family and started aggressively saving and planning.

Over the last ten months I have done as much as possible to earn extra money, sell all of my belongings, bought needed travel gear, and worked on planning my round-the-world (RTW) trip. Oh yeah, and I have a full time job in a management position in the disability services field!

As soon as I leave work on September 7, 2016 I am basically going to hit the ground running and start traveling full time. To get an idea of just how busy I will be, take a look at my September Calendar below:

September Calendar
You can click the link above to open the calendar PDF file if the picture is too small to read.

Preparing for extended travel is an overwhelming combination of anxiousness excitement & anticipation. I am completely changing my lifestyle, coping with being far away from my friends and family, and frequently questioning if I can really pull this off (I can!).

So how exactly am I preparing, you ask? There are many components of long-term travel prep; in this first post I will tell you how I have been saving and earning extra money to fund my travels. Be sure to stay tuned for more posts about my preparations in the near future!

Working Multiple Jobs

I am aggressively saving money. My goal is to have $20,000 by the time I leave, and I currently have saved about $15,00. I have sold almost all of my belongings, work as much as possible, and bring in extra cash in any way I can.

At my job, I am able to earn a monthly $200 bonus for completing a set of tasks with zero mistakes (i.e. if I forget to do one thing I do not earn the bonus). I have made these tasks a number one priority and put the entire $200 into savings as soon as I get paid.

I also starting doing internal assessments, for which I earn a $300 bonus each. I have completed three so far, and am signed up for four more, totaling $2,250 with the $150 training bonus, before taxes.

I have a part-time evening and weekend job at which I get paid $10/hr. I work anywhere from 5-20 hours per week, and the best part is I can basically set my own schedule.

I became an Uber driver in March and average about $20/hr. Since Uber does not withhold taxes I transfer 20% to my “regular” savings account and 80% to my “adventure fund” savings account. Because I live in a college town and I have been so busy selling my belongings over the summer, I have not driven since May, but I made a little over $500 during the two months I was actively driving. Now that I have moved out of my apartment and students are beginning to come back into town I do plan on driving again before leaving Lawrence, KS in early September.

Side Gigs & Other Money-Making Endeavors

Another great way I have earned extra money is through AirBnb. I rented my apartment out less than 15 nights in the calendar year, so I don’t have to claim my earnings as income on my taxes. Because of this I transferred 100% of the money into savings; I earned $813 in 14 nights.  (Fun Fact–I met Kelli from the NomadApp team when she stayed at my apartment through Airbnb!).

Another fun way of earning an extra few bucks here and there is with the app Field Agent. It is a secret shopper’s app that lets you earn typically $2-$8 per job. Jobs are not always available, but I check every day and do them whenever I can. They usually entail taking a few pictures and answering a few questions about a product or display in-store. It’s no get-rich-quick scheme, but if you check regularly and complete as many jobs as possible, it can really add up; I have earned $128 which has been safely transferred into my PayPal account (with zero fees!).

I also use a website called InboxDollars. I have earned just shy of $100 total in the last eight months by confirming paid emails (I set up a separate junk mail account so my real inbox isn’t flooded), doing surveys, and completing “cash offers.” Again, not a get-rich-quick type of thing, but it does add up.

At the end of March I signed up for Digit, which tracks your checking account balance and automatically transfers money into an FDIC-insured Digit savings account based on your spending habits. Their tagline is “Save money, without really thinking about it.™” I haven’t even noticed because they just take a little here and there, and I have saved over $250 in about four months.

Digit has no fees and you can transfer the money to your bank any time. You can control how aggressively Digit is saving, pause savings, transfer money back to your bank account, and view your Digit balance via text message. You can also log in online to view more details about your account.

Selling Everything I Own

Yes you read that right, I am selling everything I own. Actually, at at this time I have already sold almost all of my belongings. Besides a few sentimental and family heirloom items, and the stuff I’m taking with me, it’s all got to go. I have made over $2,500 selling stuff and I still have some things to get rid of, including my car.

I mainly use Facebook to connect with buyers. I am in several buy, sell, trade groups where I post and bump posts daily, and I even have my own garage sale Facebook group. I typically have people pick up items at my home.

When I first started selling I would always meet in a public place. That got tiring, so I started giving people my address and building letter and would meet them outside. I was afraid of someone seeing my TV and coming back later to rob me. I now just give people my full address and have them come to the door most of the time. The travel community and sharing economy have taught me to believe in the good in others and follow my gut feelings about people.

The last several weeks I lived in my apartment I had actual moving sales for three weekends, making about $800 total. I just did a Google search of “garage sale ads” and found several sites to advertise my sale for free, as well as advertising on Craigslist and Facebook. I learned that another key factor to a successful sale is lots of signs pointing the way, and having everything at your sale well organized.

Other Financial Preparations

Another way I am preparing financially is with travel rewards credit cards. The first card I got is Bank of America’s BankAmericard Travel Rewards Signature Visa card. I get 1.5 points per dollar spent, there is no annual fee, and there are no foreign transaction fees. I received 20,000 bonus points for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, which equals $200.

I also have the Capital One Venture One card. This card allows me to earn 1.25 miles per dollar spent, and also has no annual fee or foreign transaction fees. This is another card that lets you earn 20,000 bonus miles for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. The miles on this card translate to dollars the same way points do on the Bank of America card.

I use these cards for almost everything in order to rack up as many points as possible and pay off the balance each month as to not incur interest charges. Points can be used for any travel-related expense, such as flights, hotels, attractions and more, and if you don’t have enough points to cover the entire cost of say, a flight, you can use the points you have to pay for a portion of it. I have already used travel rewards points to book a free trip to Washington, DC in September.

I have also opened a Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account because the debit card has no foreign transaction fees and you get reimbursed for 100% of all ATM and currency exchange fees. You just can’t beat that! This will be my primary checking account I use to withdraw cash during my travels.

I will keep my old Bank of America debit card (which I currently use) and one of the credit cards locked in my backpack at the hostel or wherever I am staying at all times. This way if my primary cards get lost or stolen I have backups and easy access to my money while get my other cards back in order. Bank of America and Charles Schwab also allow for transferring money between external accounts if necessary (for a fee).

Saving Money

Of course, with all the hard work I have put into earning extra money, I am saving that extra cash aggressively. Other ways I save are by not going out for food, drinks, or coffee, shopping sales at the grocery store, and putting any extra cash I have into savings.

Every time I want to hit up happy hour or Chipotle, I remind myself that that money could be much better spent traveling the world. You can read in more detail about my saving strategies here.

The above tips may not be for everyone, but this is what has been working for me. Take what you like and leave the rest. If you have any suggestions for other ways to earn or save extra money, tell me about it in the comments!

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July 2016 Update

Hey guys! I am well underway in my travel preparation and planning, and thought I would go ahead and give everyone a little update on what has been going on and my plans over the next couple of months!

In case anyone didn’t know, I have been writing guest posts for NomadApp on how I am preparing for long-term travel; check out the first two here and here. NomadApp is an amazing start-up that is getting ready to launch an awesome travel app, so everyone should check the out!

Last Friday, July 22nd, I submitted my letter of resignation at work. I gave 6.5 weeks notice, and my last day will be September 7th! I was worried they would be upset and mad that I had been deceiving them all these months, but everyone was super excited for me and very supportive! It was such a good feeling and a huge relief!

I have now had three weekends of my indoor moving sale, making about $800 (my total from selling stuff is over $2,200!). I move out of my apartment this week. I will gradually start taking things to my friend’s house where I am staying for the month of August, and on Thursday and Friday (July 28th-29th) my parents will help me get the last of the furniture and any remaining boxes moved out.

On September 8th, the day after my last day of work, I am flying to Washington, DC to visit my best friend who just moved there from Houston, TX. I will spend five days in DC, then drive to my parents’ house in Wichita, KS the day after flying back to Kansas City. The next day I head to Winfield, KS for five days for the Walnut Valley bluegrass music festival!

The weekend after Winfield I plan to do a Lawrence/Kansas City weekend to see all my friends and family and say goodbye before I head out on my international travels! Then, the following Thursday, September 29th my mom and I fly to Los Angeles. We will spend three days there before my late night flight from LA to Melbourne, Australia on Sunday, October 2nd!

So there you have it. Things are moving along at a pretty fast pace at this point, and I am super excited! Thanks to everyone who has been supporting me throughout this crazy process!

Houston, Texas

This post is going to be short and sweet because I didn’t really do much in Houston!

In June I went on a nine day road trip through Texas. I visited Fort Worth (outside of Dallas), Houston, Austin, and went back to Fort Worth on the way home. I also stayed a night in Wichita going there and back.

The reason for this trip was to visit my best friend in Houston. He ended up getting a job out in Washington, D.C. (my next destination!) and the timing worked out so that the day I left Houston for Austin, he left for DC. So, I mainly helped him move out of his apartment and get his car packed up for his trip!

We did spend part of one day, however, exploring some of the street art Houston has to offer. We saw some really cool large-scale murals, as well as smaller tags around town.  Check out the photos below!

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There were a few buildings and alleys on one block with huge murals!

 

 

Las Vegas Part 3: Beatles Love

The Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil show at the Mirage is the reason I went on this most recent Las Vegas trip. When I heard my parents had tickets to this show, two weeks before they were going to be there, my reaction was something along the lines of “Oh. My. GOD. I’m soooooo jealous, I want to see that SO BAD!” My parents agreed to letting me meet them out there and crash in their hotel room. We figured I’ve been saving money to travel. I might as well do some traveling now!

First of all, when we went to get our pre-purchased tickets at will call the day before, I was entranced by this glorious hallway. Walking down it was like being transported to Beatles dreamland. I also felt very lucky that there was practically nobody there and I was able to get this great pic! (Thanks dad for putting up with me wanting to take multiple shots!).

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The show itself was so incredibly cool. The costumes, the talent, and of course, the music, were all over-the-top amazing. The stage was in the center of all-around seating, and there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

I realize this is a professional Vegas stage show that has been on for over five years, but as each song was performed, I grew more and more impressed with the costuming and the talent of the artists. Some songs’ costumes were 60s-era mod clothing, others were very avant-garde creature-like creations. I imagine watching these crazy looking characters jump, flip, and dance on and above the stage is comparable to tripping acid, but I really wouldn’t know.

There were stilts, roller skaters, umbrellas that shot confetti, and real full-size Volkswagen Beetles. Of course, there were also aerial artists wowing the crowd during just about every piece. They would fly across the space above the stage, passing each other as they twirled in the air, making it look effortless.

The stage would move so that it was in the shape of an X, a square, a diamond, and other wonky shapes. The characters would be running and dancing around the stage, then suddenly dive into one of the open spots. Large props would also come up from these open areas.

There are so many details I could share with you, but you really just have to see it for yourself. I would 100% recommend that you see this show the next time you are in Las Vegas. In fact, I insist that you see it. I am a penny pincher, and I would pay the$120 I spent to see it again, no doubt.

Have you ever seen Beatles Love or any other Cirque du Soleil shows? Tell me about it in the comments!

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out parts 1-2 of this post series!:
Las Vegas Part 1: The Basics
Las Vegas Part 2: Street Art Tour

Las Vegas Part 2: Street Art Tour

Checking out everything on the Vegas strip is great fun, but I also love going downtown. There’s the famous Fremont Street, but I urge you to wander away from the crowded downtown tourist attraction and check out the amazing street art in the surrounding blocks.

On Saturday afternoon my parents and I ventured to the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada” sign and then downtown. I opted to stand off to the side and snap a quick pic and a selfie instead of waiting in the silly line, while my parents waited in our cab (there surprisingly were not any Uber cars near us when we checked).

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The main reason for roaming off the strip, however, was to see the street art downtown that I had been reading about online. In 2013 Life Is Beautiful, an arts and music festival, was started in downtown Las Vegas. Above being a music festival, dozens of street artists are invited to create incredible works of art around the downtown area.

Instead of coughing up the nearly $400 for a general admission festival ticket, we walked around discovering some of the pieces that were created for Life Is Beautiful, and are now a permanent part of the downtown scenery.

According to the information I had found online, we would be able to find street art around 7th & Ogden and the surrounding area. We hopped in our cab and asked the driver to take us to that intersection. When we pulled up to 6th & Ogden I spotted a gigantic snail with a skull shell and called out “this is perfect, you can let us off here!” I was so excited I practically jumped out of the car.

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“Ever After” by Lakwena, left; Snail-skull mural by Alexis Diaz, right
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Close up of a doorway at the bottom-left of “Ever After”

The gate dividing the parking lot from the alleys pictured above stretched all the way to the sidewalk of the next street. We walked across the large parking lot to check out the huge and realistic horned lizard squirting blood from its’ eyes across the street, created by Belgian street artist ROA.

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Next we turned right and walked along the opposite side of the fence. First we took pictures in front of the two-part XOXO mural, with an enclosed alley-like area in between.

This forbidden alley, as I like to call it, was unfortunately behind a locked gate. It had two floors of smaller-scale pieces, including a silhouette of the Las Vegas strip (not pictured).

Finally, we turned the corner into the massive alley that houses the epic mural, “The Cycle of Civilization,” by Zio Ziegler pictured below.

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Full image of “The Cycle of Civilization”, mom taking in the view.

This stunning work of art is so detailed, I could have spent all day taking it in; I was so in awe. Check out the slideshow below for semi-close-ups of some of the incredible detail.

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Through the alley to 7th street and around the corner to the left was this fun and funky wall by The Apexer:

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Across the street is a super cool two-story mural by Doze Green:

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We continued down 7th towards Fremont Street, which was only a couple of blocks away.

A small wall one block down from the “fun and funky” wall.

The pictures below are two murals by D*Face. The first one reads “I gave her my heart, and she left me for…” The second work of art is about one block down, on the opposite side of the street.

Across from the LOVE Forever wall is the El Cortez parking garage with “Robot Portrait” by Pixel Pancho. The girl looks human, but if you look closely you can see gears exposed on her cheek. Around the corner is a piece that tells onlookers “Good rooms, good food, a good gamble,” of the El Cortez Hotel & Casino, with “Life is beautiful” across the bottom.

Past the parking garage on the wall of the casino is this small Abey Road piece. According to the website, “Abbey Road crossing celebrates the legacy of English music in the entertainment capital of the world…Las Vegas.”

We continued toward the main drag of Fremont Street and saw these colorful fish by Sush Machida and Tim Bavington on the Emergency Arts building.

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Around the corner was another piece on the Emergency Arts building.

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Finally, we made it to the famous Fremont Street, which is a giant art collection itself if you ask me.

We could have walked around downtown looking at street art all day and still not seen it all. In just about every direction we looked for the four block walk we took we could see murals. The street art scene in Las Vegas is bustling and I highly recommend checking it out. I would love to see pictures of art that I missed!

Read Las Vegas Part 1: The Basics here

 

Las Vegas Part 1: The Basics

I love Las Vegas, and that is coming from a budget traveler. I’ve been there twice, both times with my mom and dad. The first time I went was five years ago as a broke college student. My parents took my best friend and I for my 21st birthday. I think I brought about $100 cash with me and felt like a high roller.

This time I brought even less, and my parents didn’t hand me money like it was going out of style (although they did each slip me about $20 at one point – thanks mom and dad!). In a series of posts I am going to tell you all about how I had a great time without breaking the bank.

Accommodations

Okay, I crashed on a roll-away bed in my parents’ Bally’s hotel room, so I stayed free. However, I now there are ways to find budget accommodations, on and off the strip. A traveler I hosted on Couchsurfing recently got a hotel room on the strip for under $50, so apparently it can be done, but I don’t know that from personal experience.

Couchsurfing can be another great option. You can find a host who lives nearby – I actually met up with one for a night out – and stay for free. You won’t have a luxury suite in the Bellagio, but you will have a local on hand for advice on where to go and what to do.

Gambling

I’m not a big gambler. I don’t know how to play any poker games, and I don’t like feeding all my money to slot machines. However, I do play a few slots here and there while in Vegas. My mom and I will find a 25¢ Wheel of Fortune Machine while my dad plays at a table. She’ll put in up to $100 in, and I usually stick with $5 and play slow until a waitress takes my drink order, then watch mom once I lose all my money.

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On this trip, though, I actually won! The first night I was there I put my usual $5 into a “Wheel of Fortune” slot machine. I was down to my last credits and hadn’t won a thing. I thought “well, that was fast” and pressed the max bet button, expecting absolutely nothing.

I hit a Triple Crown symbol along with two other symbols that were similar to each other, and all of a sudden the numbers on the screen showing how much money I had started going up, up, up! It took a while and we had no idea when it would stop.

When it was finally done I had $226.50! I went straight to the cashier’s cage, cashed in my ticket, and put the money in the hotel room safe. In the end I came home with $270, which was promptly deposited into my Adventure Fund savings account.

A note about “free” casino drinks

Yes, you can get a complimentary drink if you are playing on the casino floor. First of all, tip $1 every time, no matter what. I recommend sitting close to the bar or nearby a waitress if you see one. For slots, sit at a machine and wait to start playing until you see her close by. Play slow to stretch out the number of drinks you can get per dollar. If every time you want a drink, you blow $10+ on gambling, you might as well purchase one from the bar.

Food

Las Vegas has some incredible food. I have not had a chance to not dive deep into great cheap eats or high-end restaurants in Vegas. On this trip I hate to admit that I mostly ate orange chicken and pizza from the fast food restaurants at my hotel, but I do have a few suggestions outside the cafeteria.

The best food I had on this trip was at Tacos El Gordo. It is on Las Vegas Blvd., but it’s off of the main part of the strip, and was recommended to me by a local. This is a chain restaurant, which I am typically vehemently against, but it’s a small chain and it started in Tijuana, Mexico.

When we walked in, it was clear that this place was not a tourist attraction, and it was completely packed. You had to stand in different lines for different kinds of tacos – why my parents and I didn’t divide and conquer, I do not know. We got three each of three varieties of tacos: Adobada (spicy pork), Cabeza (beef head), and Asada (steak). They had other stuff on the menu too, but the tacos were no doubt the main attraction.

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Each taco was very unique, and the ingredients were extremely fresh. Highly recommended!

Another great cheap option is the 7-7-7 deal at Mr. Lucky’s 24/7 Café at the Hard Rock Hotel. For $7.77 you get a 7-ounce sirloin steak, four medium sized shrimp, salad, and mashed potatoes (when I was there five years ago it was three jumbo shrimp and you got a roll).

You won’t see this special offer on the menu, but ask and you shall receive. And if you don’t accidentally order four shots of patron to go along with it (if you don’t specify what kind of tequila you want, they’ll bring out the good stuff) you’ll have a full belly and a full wallet.

There is one high-end restaurant experience I can recommend. When I was there the first time my dad won about $600 so we pretended we were high rollers for a night and had the most fabulous dinner at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, overlooking the Bellagio Fountains.

We had cocktails, appetizers, wine, dinner & dessert – the whole nine yards. Everything was expensive and came in small portions, of course, but it was all delectable. I specifically remember my dad tipping our waiter 25% with a $100 bill. So, if you have $500 to spare for dinner for four, I would definitely recommend the Eiffel Tower Restaurant.

 

Check back soon for “Las Vegas Part 2: Downtown.”

Mother’s Day Gift From a Nomadic Child

Mother’s Day is upon us. It is a day to celebrate the women who brought us into the world, but for anyone who is living abroad or traveling long-term, especially on a budget, gift giving can become a challenge.

I have not yet started my round-the-world adventure. I am on a tight budget and I wanted to give my mom something meaningful for Mother’s Day, so I decided to create Travel Vouchers for her! She can redeem them any time she is traveling with or visiting me in any foreign country. We have done a lot of traveling together and always have a great time.

Some include activities I will pay for, such as one tourist attraction (up to $20 USD!). Most are freebie things such as a day at the beach or an off-the-beaten path adventure. Of course I tailored these to my mom and our travel style when we are together, and they could be tweaked to fit you and your moms’ travel styles!

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We love to eat good food and have cocktails. Some of the best foods I’ve tried have been while traveling with my mom. We love the coasts and seafood; we have eaten fish & shrimp tacos on Venice Beach, CA, fresh-caught lobster in Maine, and cheesy crab dip in Washington D.C. We have also enjoyed some great drinks on our travels together, from the hotel room to a sailboat in the harbor to hole-in-the-wall dive bars.

Travel Vouchers (food & drink)

We also love anything outdoors and off the beaten path. Whether it’s a day at the beach, hiking through a state park, or sitting around a camp fire chatting and drinking late into the night, we have done it all.

On a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri last fall we set out to find my great uncle’s old lake house, both by boat – to spread some of my grandmother’s ashes in the cove- and by car. It had been over 20 years since my mom had been there and the landscape was completely different. There used to be only a couple houses in this cove, and now it’s lined with dozens of new homes and docks.

We had a strict two hour time limit on a boat rental, and we barely found the cove in time before we had to turn back. We then hopped in the car and took old unmarked un-maintained back roads up to the old house, because she wasn’t familiar with the new paved roads of course! The next day we found the stunning Ha Ha Tonka State Park and took a breathtakingly beautiful hike. It was a trip I will never forget.

Travel Vouchers (outdoors & offbeat)

Of course, we don’t always go off the beaten path, and have seen our fair share of tourist attractions. Together we have enjoyed views from the Seattle Space Needle and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, visited the monuments in Washington D.C., and watched the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas.

On these well-worn travel paths there are also plenty of silly and touristy photo opps. We even got a selfie stick on our trip to the Ozarks, and have been known to take silly pictures now and then.

Travel Vouchers (tourist attraction & photo opp)Travel Vouchers (up early, sleep in)

Last but not least are the vouchers for trying something new and having a live-like-a-local experience. These will be new for both of us, and who knows what we will do. Eating bugs, snorkeling, and meeting up with a local family for an authentic home-cooked meal are all within the realm of possibility. I can’t wait for my mom to visit me abroad so we can create some awesome new memories and share new experiences together!

Travel Vouchers (try new, local)

Places I’ve traveled one-on-one with my mama:
  • Southern California
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Eureka Springs, Arkansas
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

 

Make Your Own Travel Vouchers:

To download the Word document with the travel vouchers listed above, click the link below. You will be able to edit the document to put in your own names and customize it in any way you wish!

Travel Vouchers Template

 

rocket mortgage

How American Consumerism and Resort Destinations Limit us From Seeing the World

As I slept with my four pillows the other night – two under my head, one my arms were wrapped around, and one between my knees – I started to think about the little luxuries I will not have on the road and how I will adapt. I don’t foresee letting the small comforts of home go being a problem. I am happy to give up my four pillows, comfy bed, apartment, and other luxuries to have the adventure of a lifetime exploring the world.

It also got me thinking about the American culture of owning lots of stuff and having the mindset that things like houses and vacations have to be extravagant and expensive to be “good.”

Americans & All Their Stuff

Are you at home? If so, I want you to look around. Can you easily count the number of items in the room? How many are items you actually need, vs. items you like or want? Could you live without anything? Could you live without all of it?

I’m going to take a guess and say your answer to that last question is an absolute “no.” My answer, however, is “yes.” I currently have a 600-square-foot apartment jam-packed – in an orderly sense, this is not an episode of Hoarders! –  with material things that I am working on selling. The further along I get in this process, the more I realize how unnecessary owning so much stuff really is. Sure, we all need a certain amount of stuff, but sometimes I think we take it too far.

Letting go of everything is hard for a lot of people to comprehend. Minimalism is not the American way. Every time my mom visits she finds a new thing she can’t believe I’m selling. “You’re selling that…won’t you need it when you get back?!”

The truth is, probably not, and I probably don’t even need it now. Sure, there are plenty of things I will have to re-invest in later, but I don’t see myself going back to the lifestyle of accumulating – and being tied down by –  a household full of stuff.

There was a Super Bowl commercial this year for Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans that really got my attention – you can watch it below. The premise is simple: use a smartphone app to get a mortgage and fill your home with stuff, which will stimulate the economy and result in more home owners buying more stuff.

When I saw this ad a light bulb went off in my head. “Yes!” I thought, “this is exactly what I’m talking about! This is the problem!” 

The statements “need to fill those homes” and “necessary household goods” especially stood out to me. American society teaches us that owning lots of things is good and is a measure of success, while minimalism is bad. We are in a constant state of keeping up with the Joneses. We believe the more stuff we have and the newer and more expensive it is, the better.

Advertisement agencies have developed the perfect strategy to get you to buy into their scheme. We don’t even realize that it’s happening or that most of what fills our homes are things we can live without.

Our lives are flooded with advertisements like the one above, persuading us to buy the latest and greatest version of everything under the sun. If a company can make an “upgraded” version of something and convince you that you’ll be happier, cooler, and better off all around, it takes just money out of your pocket makes them richer.

With online shopping it’s easier than ever to blindly make purchases without really thinking about it. We can simply go to any store’s website and, with just a few clicks, fill our virtual shopping carts with new clothes, furniture, home appliances, and more. I’ve done it myself, and it’s an easy trap to fall into.

Think about it, though. Do you really need a new smart phone every year? I’ve had my iPhone 5 for three-plus years and it’s still going strong. Is that state-of-the-art name brand kitchen appliance absolutely necessary? Sure, it’s prettier and shinier than the hand-me-down you got from your mom, but when it comes down to it, doesn’t the old one still work just fine?Do you have to buy every video game, book, and DVD new? Can you get these things free from the library instead?

If you didn’t take every upgrade, kept those old hand-me-downs, and shopped second-hand you could save hundreds of dollars per year. We are so caught up with maintaining our status, we don’t realize that it’s not necessary and we can actually let go of a lot of our material possessions, and still be okay.

So what does all of this have to do with travel, you say? How does American consumerism limit us from seeing the world? Not only are we led to believe that bigger, newer, and more stuff is better, but we also think travel has to be bigger and better, and that round-the-world long-term travel is unattainable, and even silly.

Some of you may be thinking that you’re doing just fine with your house full of stuff and you can even manage to take a luxury vacation every year or two, and what the heck is wrong with that?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you are okay with spending exorbitant amounts of money on high-end resort vacations where you never interact with locals or truly experience another culture.

The bottom line is, the more we spend on stuff – especially stuff we don’t really need – the less money we have to do cool things like snorkel in Australia, hike Patagonia, and backpack through Europe, Southeast Asia, or wherever else your wanderlusting heart desires.

Resorts: The Great American Myth That Travel Has to be Extravagant & Expensive

Budget travel – have you heard of it? I hadn’t until a few months ago. I was never told that travel could be affordable, or that I could slowly travel the world with limited funds. “Vacations” were always reserved for trips to exciting or exotic locations with expensive hotels, attractions, and restaurants.

Advertising and media again have a lot to do with this way of thinking, in many ways, but I am going to focus on all-inclusive resort-style vacations.

We are shown commercials for resorts like Universal Studio Orlando and Sandals, and this warps our perspective and convinces us that travel can’t be affordable. Going on extravagant all-inclusive vacations is yet another way to keep up with the Jonses. See the commercial below for an example.

I have noticed since I began making my plans is that Americans “vacation” while it seems people from other countries “travel.” We don’t believe in budget travel, and long-term travel is practically unheard-of.

Before I read an article online about a 20-something traveling the world full time, a life of travel was a far-fetched dream which held no place in reality. I used to wish I was independently wealthy so that I could travel and see the world.

If a person is only exposed to travel as a luxury and only sees ads like the one above, his or her perspective will naturally be skewed. Travel agencies and resorts aren’t going to let you in on the secret of budget travel – their revenue is on the line! They are going to push as hard as they can to get you to believe that places like the resort highlighted above are the best way and the only way to vacation.

Not only does this kind of advertising make us believe that travel has to be expensive, it becomes so deeply ingrained that long-term international travel seems taboo. Outside of these resort destinations, where nothing is really foreign even if you’re out of the US, we assume the world is a scary and dangerous place, especially if it is drastically different from what we know, especially for solo female travelers. Places like Paris & Madrid are okay – for a lavish two-week getaway – but visiting more foreign or off-the-beaten-path destinations are frowned upon.

Our culture’s attitude is why would you want to schlep a heavy backpack around a bunch of countries where (eep!) the people might not even speak English, and stay in dirty hostels when you could enjoy a perfectly comfortable all-inclusive vacation at a luxury resort with all the comforts of home, and more.

In Conclusion…

Do not let mass media and America’s “go big or go home” mentality cloud your judgement. Long-term travel is possible. Budget travel is a thing! And it’s not even a bad thing! You don’t need overpriced all-you-can-drink luxury resorts to have the time of your life. If you want to travel more, whether it’s more frequent trips or long-term travel, remember this: if you don’t automatically buy into the hype of fancy new products and vacation packages, affordable travel can be a reality.

And if you too are thinking about dropping everything to see the world, I have two words of advice: do it. People won’t understand. They will question you. They will warn you of all the dangers out there, as if the US is perfectly safe and harmonious. But you will also have plenty of friends and family members who are thrilled for you – and jealous. And you will find a community of like-minded people all over the world, from all over the world, who will support you.

 

Disclaimer: The featured photo is a still shot from the featured Quicken Loans Rocket Mortgage ad. I did not take and do not own this photo. 

 

 

Top Ten Restaurants in Lawrence, KS

One of the things I love most about Lawrence is its support of small local businesses. High quality local restaurants thrive here. There are plenty that I still need to try – there are many qualified restaurants not included here for that reason – but for now I will share with you a list of my personal tried & true Lawrence local favorites. You will notice similarities throughout – great service, atmosphere, and food – but take note also in the fact that this list has a wide variety of cuisine types, which I believe represents the diversity Lawrence has to offer. 

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1. Free State Brewing Company

Free State is my personal favorite, and I’m not alone; it repeatedly wins multiple categories on Best of Lawrence. It was founded in 1989 as the state’s first legal brewery in over 100 years! Literally everything on the menu is good…no, outstanding. The locally brewed craft beer is top notch and never disappoints. I especially love trying their seasonal brews. With daily food specials and $1.75 select pints every Monday, Free State is always a great choice.

My Top Picks: Fish & Chips, Mushroom Gorgonzola Gnocchi, Stormchaser IPA
Pro Tips: If you take advantage of the great Monday beer special be aware it will be crowded. Go at least once during March for March Mustard Madness.

2. The Burger Stand

The Burger Stand is a Lawrence original and a local favorite, known for its gourmet burgers and fries. Whenever old college friends are back in town they almost always want to hit up Burger Stand.

Burger toppings include habanero-cactus jam, chipotle-cocoa ketchup, truffle butter, and more. There are several gourmet fries to choose from as well – truffle, duck fat, and Cajun to name a few. The restaurant also boasts a large selection of French fry dipping sauces to choose from. If you’re not feeling adventurous but still want to taste the excellence of Burger Stand, fear not – they also offer a classic burger and regular fries. 

To maintain honesty and transparency, I will tell you there have been a few times when my burger has been under cooked. It does not always happen, but to be on the safe side I recommend ordering it slightly more well done than you actually want.

My Top Picks: Black & Blue Burger with blue cheese, granny smith apple chutney, and assorted greens; Truffle Fries with guajillo-chili dip
Pro Tip: Get all of the dipping sauces, and get two of the garlic aioli and guajillo-chili dip

3. Johnny’s Tavern West

Johnny’s is a local chain with two locations in Lawrence (north and west) and eight more around the Kansas City area. Even though I happen to live the closest to the west location, it is my top pick regardless; I have just had really excellent service here.

With great service, food, and beer selections, and TVs galore, it’s a great place to watch a game. It gets crowded during sporting events and is a fun place to watch – I have given hugs and high fives to plenty of strangers during March Madness – but is still family-friendly and never out of control. The menu has something for everyone: nachos, burgers, pizza, salads, sandwiches, and more. 

My Top Picks: Espi-Nacos with beef, Simmons Wings
Pro Tip: When going to watch a game arrive about one hour early to get a good seat.

4. El Potro Mexican Cafe

Three words: Free. Cheese. Dip. Yes, you read that right. Along with the classic complimentary chips and salsa, El Potro also gives each table a glorious little bowl of cheese dip. This place is always busy, but it is huge and can accommodate lots of people. I order something different every time and have never been disappointed. 

My Top Picks: Queso Potro Especial (aka free cheese dip), Steak Fajita Quesadilla
Pro TipServing sizes are huge. If you’re a cheese dip freak like me, order from the Ala Carte and Sides menu – you’ll have plenty.

5. Mad Greek

The Mad Greek is a family-owned-and-operated local restaurant bringing old family recipes from Greece and Italy to Lawrence. Every time my family visited me when I was in college they would request that we go to “that Greek place” to eat. My favorite time to go is for the Sunday lunch buffet, which includes the most popular Greek and Italian menu items. You can also enjoy drinks and appetizers at a discount during happy hour every Monday-Thursday 4-6pm.

My Top Picks: Roasted Feta Cheese, Gyros Dinner, Falafel Dinner
Pro Tip: Take advantage of the 11am-2pm Sunday lunch buffet for $11.99 to sample and enjoy the restaurant’s best dishes.

6. Yokohama

Being the first place I ever dared to try sushi, when my best friend made me go there because it was his birthday, Yokohma holds a special place in my heart. I don’t come from a family of very adventurous eaters (no offense mom, I love your cooking!) so I didn’t experience Japanese cuisine until college. Once I tried it, Yokohama quickly became one of my top choices for places to eat out. The decor of the main dining area is very modern, but the restaurant also has a room with a low table and cushions where diners can get a more authentic experience.

My Top Picks: Jayhawk Roll and Hungry Roll
Pro Tip: 
Rumor has it the location on 23rd Street is never crowded and they sometimes give customers free appetizers. Disclaimer: I have never tried this myself…but should! 

7. Aimee’s Cafe and Coffeehouse

Aimee’s is a wonderful little cafe on Mass Street. It’s primarily a coffee shop, but I like to go there for the food. The coffee is good, but doesn’t stand out from the crowd. The food, however, is outstanding. The people who work there are also extremely friendly and customers are treated like family. Local artists’ work is displayed on the walls and changed out regularly, so there’s always something new to see. The atmosphere is cozy and relaxing with  comfy couches and chairs mixed with the regular cafe tables.

My Top Picks: Biscuits & Gravy with Hash Browns, Club Sandwich
Pro TipEverything is made from scratch so you may wait 15-20 minutes for your food. If you don’t want to sit and wait call for carryout about 20 minutes before you want to pick it up and eat at the nearby park if it’s a nice day. (This was my go-to hangover cure when I lived within walking distance in college).

8. Terrebonne

Terrebonne is a tiny hole-in-the-wall Cajun & Creole restaurant in downtown, Lawrence. A counter splits the restaurant in two sections: a small dining area with four tables, and the kitchen. From the deviled eggs and hush puppies, to the jambalaya and po’ boys, you can’t go wrong with this menu. They also make shakes with home made ice cream! Everything is cheap, but the quality of the food is far from it. Don’t be fooled by the fact that I only have one “top pick,” I am really stuck on this one. Everything here is amazing – I can narrow down the main dish easily enough, but as far as sides go you just have to go multiple times and try them all!

My Top Pick: Shrimp Po’ Boy
Pro Tip: 
Get a main dish, a side, and a dessert. Take advantage of the small patio seating area during nice weather.

9. Biemer’s BBQ

Biemer’s is the kind of place you go on a Saturday afternoon when you can go home immediately afterwards and take a long nap. The food is out of this world and comes in huge portions, of course, and the beer is cheap. It’s perfect if you’re hungry and on a budget. I love that you can get a single rib  – I like ribs but I’m not one to eat a slab, so having one or two to munch on the side is awesome.

My Top Picks: Pulled Pork Sandwich, Ribs, Cole Slaw
Pro Tip
Biemer’s is closed on Sundays

10. Limestone Pizza

Although Limestone has been open since April 2014, it is the newest restaurant on this list. The Owner and Executive Chef was previously the Executive Chef at Free State (#1 on the list) so you know the food is good. Limestone supports local farmers and does everything it can to be green and protect the environment.

The restaurant has a fun yet laid back atmosphere, which includes a wood-fired oven that can be seen from the dining area. Even though it seems to have a minimalist menu the choices are all unique and sure to please. I try to order something new each time I go, once you find your favorite that can be a challenge. They also have a spicy-sweet red sauce on each table that is to die for. I highly recommend slathering it on your pie, or at least using it as a dipping sauce for the crust.

My Top Picks: Mushroom Pizza, Farmer Pizza
Pro Tip: 
Order something different every time. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Have you been to any of my top ten Lawrence restaurants? Do you have any faves not listed here? Tell me about it in the comments!