Friday, December 26, 2014

To Book Ahead, Or Not To Book Ahead?

Before I took my trip to Greece last summer, I planned everything out. I booked flights for the whole trip, knew where I wanted to be on what days, and Couch surfing requests were sent out as soon as I knew what city I would be in (most of them sent months in advance). About 3 weeks into my trip, I was scheduled to fly from Athens to Istanbul (and had a whole itinerary arranged for my month traveling around Turkey). I also had flights booked from Istanbul to Bucharest, then Bucharest back to Athens... Aaaand I did not make a single one of those flights!

The night before I was supposed to leave Athens, I went out with friends for what ended up being a spectacularly epic night... We were drinking and partying like it was our last night on earth... and last morning, too! I woke up shortly after noon (after perhaps an hour of sleep), thinking I had plenty of time to make it back to my host's place to pack, eat, maybe grab a nap, and hit an internet cafe before I was scheduled to meet my first host from Athens at five, so he could help me get my glasses from customs (another story for another time) on the way to the airport. 

I arrived at my hosts home, looking forward to a bite to eat and a short nap before I continued my travels. But, the first thing my host told me when I walked in the door shortly after one, was that I was meeting my friend at three, not five, that afternoon. Oh shit!!! Shower, inhale a little food, throw everything in my bag and out the door! Exhausted, rushed, but still pleased with the wonderful time I had had in Athens, I ran out the door to meet my first host, and then onto Turkey!

Because of the time change for meeting my friend, I was unable to stop by an internet cafe to get the contact information for my host in Istanbul. After a couple hours of running around, I had my glasses in hand, and was on the bus to the airport. My flight was supposed to arrive in Istanbul at around ten thirty that evening. Aaaand I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. The thought of landing alone at night in that city with no contact information for anyone was terrifying, especially after my crazy first night in Athens (another great story for another time), which was a much smaller and safer city. 

I was completely in love with Athens, and extremely reluctant to leave the city, but I was determined to continue my adventures in Turkey. It would be silly to let a whim ruin the rest of my plans. Hmmmm... what to do? Give up on the next part of my adventure and stay in a city I loved, or travel to a more dangerous city, alone, at night, with no information? I knew there was a Couch Surfing meet up in Athens that night, and I knew where some hostels were if for some insane reason I failed to find a host at the meet up. Well, I am brave, but not stupid. I decided if I couldn't get any information, I should postpone Turkey. I could always fly out next week.

When I was unable to connect to the internet in the Athens airport (as expected), I joyously made my way to the metro to get back into the city and head to the meet up to find a host (which I did with no trouble). 

So that is the story of my first missed flight. In the next few days, I booked a ticket to Izmir, and a round trip to Prague from Romania (why not add another stop?). I certainly wasn't going to just throw away the rest of my trip because of one missed flight... or so I thought! 

 My first day in Izmir was terrible, and I instantly decided I needed to leave the country for a while. I had to get back to Greece, I hated this place! I could still make my flight to Romania if I went to a Greek island for a few days or a week... Two days later, I caught a bus to the port town, and arranged a round trip ferry ticket. I was NOT going to miss the rest of my trip! 

Buuuuut I was on an island. And I was in heaven. White sand, clear waters, kind people, and big parties... Totally stuck. I stayed for two weeks on that little beach, wasting away my days in a paradise of beach bum bliss. After my island dream, instead of going back to Turkey (and onto the rest of my destinations) I made my way back to Athens by ferry. It was suggested by a number of people that I buy the cheaper ticket to Mykonos, and just stay on the boat until Athens, so I did that. It turns out that they check tickets after Mykonos, and I had to pay for a ticket from Mykonos to Athens (almost the same price as getting there from the island I left from, so I ended up paying an extra 20 euros)...  Learn from my mistake on that one if you are ever island hopping. I will never again book a Greek island ferry round trip, or in advance. These prices are stable, and you don't save more than 2-5 euros booking round trip.

I had soooooo many wasted tickets! Sooo much extra money on things I didn't use! I vowed never to book my in-between tickets in advance again. 

Now here I am, preparing for my next trip in February. My one way to Stockholm is booked. I plan to visit France, make a stop in Greece, then spend my spring in Ireland before I spend my summer in Greece again. Because this is such an extended trip, I have to be careful of how many days I stay in each place, and may be in a position where I have to leave by a certain day. So, sometimes last minute flights are cheaper. But sometimes they are significantly more expensive, and I can't afford to be put in a position where I am spending twice as much as I need to for a flight that I have to take. To book ahead, or not to book ahead?!?!  

I keep track of different prices for the flights I want, and check them regularly. Some of the flights I want have varied in price up to about $30, depending on the day. One day, I saw that the ticket I wanted from Stockholm to Paris had dropped $15 in price, to only $30! So I booked it. I am looking at some other flights (Paris to Athens, and Athens to Dublin), and am so torn if I should book them when the prices drop, or if I should wait. I know, I know... I said I would never book in advance again. But this is a little different... I am on a long trip and have to be in certain countries on certain days and can only stay for so long in each place. I think I will book my flights through Dublin before I leave, and wait on my flight back to Greece until the time gets closer. 

I will keep you posted on how the booking ahead works this time... Maybe I will actually be able to stick with a schedule! I am learning every time I travel. I learned not to book in advance, but I also know what it is like to have to leave somewhere, need a flight, and end up paying way more than I could have. Flight prices change a lot, but if I wasn't traveling for so long on such a strict schedule and budget, I would not book ahead. But I am, so one more time, I will try booking some flights in advance. Wish me luck, we will see how it goes! 

Peace out and adventure on! 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bring it on, World!

So some events of the last week (both mine and those of some friends) have led me to reflect on some of the bad things that have happened in my life. I will be the first to admit, I have not had the worst life and I am grateful for everything that I have had in it because I know it is more than so many others could even dream. But I am no stranger to pain, heartbreak, bad luck, and generally shit hitting the fan for me. And I am a very sensitive and emotional person... but guess what? Pain happens. Trust gets broken. You get put in shitty situations, which you may or may not have inadvertently led yourself into. We get beaten up and broken down in so many ways.

The great part about all of this bullshit happening is that it gives us a chance. A chance to learn, grow, strengthen ourselves, and maybe become a person so much stronger than you ever thought you could be. The bad things that happen to us make us weak, or they make us strong. The choice is yours.

On Friday, a friend said to me "You have an amazing ability to get yourself into bad situations. You should try to fix that." To which I replied, "But, why? I live, I learn, I grow. I get my ass kicked regularly by life, but it brought me here, and here is the best place I have ever been. And if nothing completely disastrous happens and I learn and grow, then: bring it on, world!"

 But I wasn't always that person. I used to deeply and genuinely hate myself. I was so insecure I could never be myself, I was only the person I thought whomever I was interacting with wanted me to be. And I am not perfect. Sometimes, life gets the best of me and I get grumpy, upset and downhearted for a while.

Feel the pain. Get upset. Be hurt. It is okay to do that. Just remember that you will be alright. No matter what happens or how bad things get... You will be okay. There is really no other choice. Be broken forever or be okay.

So to those people out there who are having a hard time, who feel broken and beaten and destroyed...
You are broken. But you are not beaten! You can put yourself back together, and create a form stronger than the last. You will become a more beautiful person because bad situations can breed strength of character in a manner unmatched by more gentle circumstances. 

The point of all of this rambling is to encourage you to have a little faith in yourself. Find your strength, one step at a time. And also, to remind myself when I need it (as I'm sure I will).

Peace out and adventure on! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Have a Little Faith... In Humanity

This morning on my way to work, my car decided it wasn't going to go into gear. I was stuck on a hill, almost blocking an intersection and about to panic. It was dark and rainy, and I had no idea what I was going to do. Within a couple minutes, a really nice car pulls over and a good looking guy in a sharp suit gets out and asks if there is anything he can do to help. We chatted as I explained the problem, and there was nothing really to be done by him, but he suggested I get my car down the hill to park it and he would drive me back up to my house (he offered to drive me to work, but didn't have time to go an hour plus out of his way to take me that far).
So I am a dumbass sometimes, and missed the parking lot that he suggested, ending up instead in the middle of a car dealership parking lot. Oh shit. So I get out of my car, push it into an open spot and walk back up to my house because I lost the guy... Luckily for me, one of my best friends who happens to be a mechanic had stayed the night at my house, was still there, and was able to help me figure out what I needed to do to get it working and get me on my way to work.

But the guy getting out of the car reminded me that there are good people out there willing to help a stranger, and it made me think of my horizon-expanding hitchhiking trip a few weeks ago...

It was a Sunday, and I woke up with an itch for some adventure. I have a friend in Pullman (about 500 km away), and I didn't have to be at work until Wednesday. So, I had a cup of coffee, threw some clothes in a bag and hit the road with my roommate. The people we met on that trip were such genuinely kind and generous people! The first person offered to drive us all the way to Pullman and back if we paid for gas, although we didn't end up taking that offer. Then we met a guy, Kyle, who drove us probably 400 km, and the drive absolutely flew by as we had amazing discussions about literature, music, and philosophy. 
When we arrived in Kyle's town, we had planned to take the bus into a larger city nearby to find a ride from there to our destination, but missed the last bus. Walking down the street, we ran into a guy who asked where we were heading. It was 30 km (in one direction) out of his way, but he gladly drove us, despite being busy and in a big truck that I'm sure took a lot of gas. 
He dropped us off on the side of the highway; we were only 80 km from our destination in less than ten hours! But it was getting late, after 9 PM, the temperature was well below freezing, and the road was so iced over we could barely walk on it. Still, within a half hour, an older gentleman stopped and picked us up, saying that he couldn't leave us out there because he didn't think anyone else would stop due to the road conditions. He ended up giving us dinner, and after a lovely evening playing music together we stayed in his home that night, and he drove us the rest of the way in the morning (again, about 30 km in one direction out of his way). 

That trip completely restored my faith in humanity. There were so many kind strangers doing so much for us! Every time we would get a little concerned about what to do next, or how we would get through the next steps, someone came along and offered to help us. It showed me that there are so many people willing to help if you ask, and reminded me to always keep paying it forward. Always be kind and help people when you can, because at some time someone helped you, or someone will help you.
Putting myself in a position where I needed help and then receiving it from so many people was a genuinely joyous experience. The kindness that was shown to me completely warmed my heart and filled me with gratitude so deep that this mindset will carry through in my life for a very long time. I can't wait to help more people when I can, and to put myself in the position of needing help, because I know it will lead to some amazing experiences. 
Pay it forward, peace out, and adventure on!

Friday, December 12, 2014

How Did I Get Here?!?

As 2014 is coming to a close, I can't help but think back on the last year in complete awe... A year ago I was married and planning my life with my husband in Seattle, where we were both born, raised, and wanting to settle down. I was starting my first nursing job and ready to focus on my career and marriage...
Then in February it happened.
My husband laid his hands on me in anger. Not for the first time. But for the last. Something in my mind snapped and I knew our relationship was over. I was through being abused. I was done being beaten up and belittled. I straightened up and walked out the door with nothing but the clothes I was wearing and never looked back.
I had nowhere to go, but I went anyways.

I had lost touch with most of my friends during my relationship with my husband, but I have some amazing friends. People I hadn't spoken with in a long time came out to help when I asked, and I always found a place to stay and a shoulder to cry on. It was my first time being really on my own. But I survived. And I more than survived. I realized that I was strong enough to leave an abusive relationship with the only person in my life who had genuinely supported me, and if I could do that I could do anything.
Bring it on, world.

So one day I was hanging out with an old friend, and she was telling me about her trip to Greece and Turkey the summer before. I thought that sounded really nice. I had always loved to travel, but hadn't since before I graduated high school, when I used to travel with my family quite often. I thought for a day or so, checked some airline prices, signed up as a Couch Surfer, and the rest is history. Two months later (3 months almost to the day after I left my husband), and I was at the airport checking in for my flight to Greece.

I had quit my job, given up my apartment and car, and was setting off on an adventure. I felt so strong and free!!!! I would figure out life here when I returned, after I had done some soul searching on my trip. I had a whole intense itinerary for my trip, and it did not go even remotely according to plan... which turned out to be just what I needed.
In the ten weeks I traveled, I had more life experiences than I could have imagined possible. I learned a new language, met amazing people, made a city across the globe my home, wasted tons of money on unused/extra tickets, fell in love, hitchhiked, slept alone on a beach, and grew in so many ways I couldn't possibly describe them all in this post. And all of this happened because I took that first step of setting out to travel on my own, and then the second step of letting my adventure take me where it would take me. I let go of all of my expectations and just soaked up the experiences as they happened.
I did what I wanted, when I wanted, with whomever I felt like spending time with. It opened a whole new world to me, and that Pandora's box will never close again.

Around week 8 or 9 of my trip, just as I was seriously considering not taking my flight back to Seattle, I got a call offering me my old job back. And my ex offered me the car in exchange for our gun. So I dragged myself back to the US. It took months for me to get back to feeling like myself again. I missed Greece so much, and missed the spirit of adventure I had found in myself there. I had decided before I left Greece that I was going to be working towards getting back to Europe, and transferring my nursing license to Sweden. Spring was my goal for getting there and starting work and a new life.

Buuuuut once again, adventure is calling. I have decided it is time to take my life into my own hands. I have spent my entire life living to become what society, my parents, etc expected of me, thinking that was what I expected of myself. Well, I am done with that. I don't have to have a career right now. We are all only given one life. I am going to use mine and experience everything I can. I am going to adventure and explore and see where my life takes me.

So this is a chronicling of my experiences, poetry, songs, and lessons I learn as I set out on this amazing adventure that is life. I don't know where my life will take me, but I am sure I will learn, grow, meet amazing people, and have some crazy adventures along the way. I am looking forward to reading your comments and sharing my stories with you.

Peace out and Adventure on!

Oh, and just for fun here are some pics from my old life...
Photos by Kinzie (I think, I'll double check) at Taylored Photo Memories