Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Website!

Hey everyone!
We have finally gotten a proper domain name!
So from now on, all updates will be posted at
Please update your bookmarks, as this site will no longer be in use
Everything from now on will be on the new site!
Tara- Hippie Hits The Road

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Georgia On My Mind

I arrived in Atlanta a little after 7pm last Saturday to visit my family. It had been years since I'd seen them (and the dogs), so I was a little bit nervous. I came up the escalator towards the airport exit, scanning the crowd for them. They saw me first, and when my eyes landed on them, they were waiting with big smiles.
As we drove into the city, the conversation was slightly awkward to begin with, but soon it was flowing as naturally as it had always come and we started filling each other in on the huge events of the last couple years. We were soon at our destination: an area called Little 5 Points to go get some food and beer. If there is one thing everyone in my family can always agree upon, it is the importance of good food and drink.

Tables at The Porter. Photo from their site
I was unsure what to expect about the city, but it definitely wasn't this! Awesome street art (check out the Tunnel for some amazing work by local artists), funky vintage thrift shops and record stores, and tons of great looking restaurants, pubs, bars, and microbreweries! I couldn't wait to see where we would go, but I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. We walked up to a crowded, vintage looking pub full of dark wooden tables called The Porter Beer Bar. Perfect!
Shrimp & Grits at The Porter. Photo from their site
Aside from the cool decor, their wine, beer, and spirits selections were HUGE with local, import, and regional selections. Whatever you want to drink, I'm sure you can find it there. And unlike many cities in the US, you can stand in the little square outside the bar with your drink and have a cigarette while enjoying the fresh night air. The service was extremely friendly, but a bit slow. It was a crowded Saturday night, but they still comped us our appetizers to make up for the slow service. I relished the shrimp and grits with mushrooms. It was rich, creamy, and just the type of Southern comfort food I was hoping for. The three of us left happy after the wonderful food and drinks.

Here's their website with their address so you can check it out...

I spent the next two days hanging out with my family, mostly in a tiny little town called Jewell where my parents are in the process of starting a wedding venue at the lovely historic Jewell House. I wandered the beautiful grounds, did some fishing in the pond with my dad (no catches, though),  and even drove a tractor for the first time! I did a pretty good job if I may say so myself...

Indoors I loved taking in the old, dark wood and Victorian style architecture of the place. I jammed with my dad on the bass and me singing along, something I hadn't done in far too long. At night, at least one of the dogs was always curled up in bed with me.

The three dogs (the middle one's even bigger now)

Snuggling with Marilyn

Tuesday morning we went into the city early and dropped my dad off at work, giving my mother and I just a few hours to see a little bit more of the city. As we drove, I admired the architecture in the city, a juxtaposition of old and new. We went for a coffee that was unremarkable, and ran some errands before heading to Fox Brothers BBQ for lunch (also in Little 5 Points).

The service was great, they had a nice beer selection, and the food was outstanding! The collard greens were so good, I inhaled the entire bowl before I could even think to start on the beef brisket. That's saying something as it was perfectly done, smoky and full of flavor, made even better by adding some of their house BBQ sauce. If you are in this funky little part of the city, make a stop here to sit outside and enjoy some great BBQ.
Fox Bros BBQ. Photo from their site

Check out their website for location and hours...

Friday, January 16, 2015

Travel Tip: Finding the Right Stuff on a Budget

As any traveler will tell you, having the proper clothing and equipment is essential for traveling comfortably. What that equipment and clothing is varies a lot based on personal taste and travel style, but high quality items are essential and often very expensive. How does one manage to get really great items and not break the bank? Well, with a little patience, effort, and smarts you can manage it. Last summer I filled my bag with new or almost new name brand items (like my Keen hiking sandals, Prana hiking pants, and Lululemon athletic skirt) for less than $150. 

How did I pull that off? The biggest money saver is second hand shops. Those hiking sandals and pants I mentioned (both retail for $100 new), I found for $8 each in almost new condition. And the skirt was only $5 (retails for about $60). It takes patience and many trips to find all of these high quality items in great condition, but it usually can be done. I go to different second hand shops about once a week trying to find the perfect items, and my patience is almost always rewarded with cheap, high quality goodies, as well as the satisfaction of more eco-friendly shopping. 

Some days I go into the second hand shops and don't find anything I need (although I almost always find a cool skirt that I want, I'm totally obsessed with hippie skirts). That's ok. I'll try a different one, or try again next week. I have been on the hunt for a jacket. Not just any jacket, but jacket that will keep me warm in Sweden in February, while also keeping me dry and not overheating as I'm working around the farm in Ireland in the spring rains. I wasn't too hopeful about finding this very specific type of jacket, but I looked often anyways. Two of the last times I went I didn't find a single thing I needed, but I went yesterday and completely scored! Among other things, I found the perfect jacket- waterproof, breathable, wind resistant, warm, and with the armpit zippers it fit all of my criteria (and fit me quite nicely)! I was planning on having to buy one new at a discount retail store and spend $60-$70 (still a great price for a really high quality jacket), but my patience paid off and I found the perfect jacket for $15. With the money I saved from just that one item I was able to pay for most of my flights to and from the #TBEX Europe conference, and the combined savings on all my other items probably adds up to well over $1,000. 

One can't always find everything for their trip in a second hand shop, however, so how does one go about getting the rest of the items for less? I shop at discount retail stores like Ross or Burlington Coat Factory, or online at places like Groupon.com, Zozi.com, or my personal favorite the REI Outlet. REI has really high quality products (plus a generous one year return policy. Bought some hiking shoes, wore them twice and didn't like them? They'll take them back!), and on their outlet site you can find discontinued or overstock items at a great discount. You can make it even cheaper by waiting for additional sales or opting for membership. The REI lifetime membership costs $20, and gets you get a 20% off coupon plus 10% of most purchases back at the end of the year. I bought my backpack when I saw a 10% off sale at the outlet, and combined with my membership discount, I was able to get a backpack that retails for almost $200 for about $100.

With a little patience and effort, you will likely be able to get all of the high quality travel items you need for 50-90% off of the retail price, and then turn around and use the money you saved to have some great adventures on your trip. There may still be a couple of items that you have to pay full (or almost full) price for. I couldn't find a good discount on the hammock I needed, but I bought it through REI and because of my membership I still got 10% off (and sometimes stores or sites have 10-20% off store wide), which is better than nothing. If you plan ahead and stay patient, you will probably have plenty of extra beer money for your travels. I hope these tips help you get the most out of your money and your trip.

Peace out and adventure on! 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

How A Language Exchange Request Turned Into New Years With A Great Friend

Before we get too much farther into the new year, I wanted to share a story about how coincidence has blown my mind so many times this year, and some of the crazy things that led to me bringing in the new year in Seattle with a friend from Greece... as well as how opening oneself up to letting these things happen can bring so many wonderful things into one's life.

It all started with Couchsurfing. My (then at the time unknown) friend was searching for native English speakers with whom he could practice his English while they were in Athens, or who may be willing to talk on Skype and look over some short essays. I just happened to be the first person on the list of travelers, and I also happened to be from Seattle, Washington. His goal was to attend a university in Washington state, and after speaking we learned it was the same university I attended for some years. What are the odds??? (We learned later he was the only Greek applying for that university that year.) We chatted a few times on Skype, I corrected some essays, and we arranged to meet for a coffee a few days after I arrived in Athens.

Kostas and I arranged to meet at the metro station in Peristeri, a suburb of Athens in which he lived. We got a coffee, and shortly thereafter I ordered a souvlaki... well, Kostas ordered me a souvlaki (the cafe workers here didn't all speak English as they do in the center). I was still so jet lagged I could barely eat half of it (for which I later got teased mercilessly), and after I choked the souvlaki down, we wandered through a little park nearby his home. His dog was at his parent's house, so we stopped by and got her to come walk and enjoy the park with us. And enjoy we did! Walking, talking, and playing with the dog consumed our afternoon until my jet lag had me feeling so terrible I had to go home and rest a while. Despite feeling like crap, I had truly enjoyed my day. 

Kostas' dog (she wasn't a puppy when I met her)

First meeting at the Peristeri Metro station


I was leaving Athens in a couple days, but we arranged to meet for one more coffee before I left. This time we met near the Acropolis and wandered around for a few hours until I had to leave, again enjoying the conversations immensely. There was a connection between us, and it felt like we had known each other for months as we chatted animatedly until the last possible second before I was leaving for Nafplio. I was excited to see him and continue our adventures and conversations when I returned to Athens. 

Over the next 9 weeks, I spent a good portion of my days and nights with Kostas. We met his friends (and eventually I met his family), went to hidden little tavernas, partied at cool rock bars, wandered around the city's parks and alleys, ate and cooked wonderful food, and became practically best friends. We discussed family and dreams, and joked about everything. He saved my ass when I had nowhere to stay (repeatedly), sent me to an island paradise where I got voluntarily stuck for two weeks, as well as introduced me to many of his friends that became close friends of mine. You probably wouldn't even believe me if I told you about all of the crazy experiences and coincidences I have had with Kostas.

Chilling in Parko Tritsis

During my last week or so in Athens, Kostas learned that he had gotten accepted into the university in Washington. Although I didn't have a home at the time, I assured Kostas before I left that I would meet him at the airport, find somewhere to stay, and get him to his university (about 275 miles (450 km) from Seattle) to help him get settled in. 

When I arrived back in Seattle I was seriously stuck in some post-travel depression. Luckily I had found a car and somewhere to stay for a few weeks while I waited to start working again and get my own place, although I still spent the majority of my days drinking copious amounts of beer and staring at the wall while listening to music I had discovered on my trip. Kostas arrived in Seattle less than three weeks after I returned only to find a completely different girl than he had met in Athens. I had turned from a positive, open, very happy person without a care in the world into a stressed, miserable, grumpy lump of a girl. 

We spent ten days together, and we were both unhappy and stressed for most of this period. I was depressed, Kostas was stressed about starting school and finding a place to live in time, and neither of us had any money. We were so lucky that we happened to find an AMAZING Couchsurfing host who took us in at the last second, and provided us with beer, food, and great company for five days. There was money on its way to both of us, but it was late. Had we not met that unfailingly kind and generous couch surfer we would have been reduced to fighting over dollar store biscuits that we bought with change scrounged from the depths of my car, as well as being beerless and out of tobacco.
Being taken out by our amazing host in Pullman

So, we survived the ten stressful days, both of us coming out the other side feeling slightly better, but still quite frazzled (when I had to leave to go back to work, he still hadn't gotten his money from Greece, nor a found a place to live). The important part was we were still friends, and still there for one another, even though we may have been slightly sick of each other.

Time marched on (or flew by, as the case may be) and we talked usually several hours a week on Skype. One weekend in November, I decided to hitch hike to go visit him (you can read a bit more about that story here). It was not until after this trip that I finally came totally back to myself again from my post-travel depression. We had a great time and it was nice to see him when we were both back to being in a positive place. I had to leave too quickly, but we assured each other we would meet again sometime over the holidays. 

Kostas arrived the Monday before new years, and we had a really nice week together. We spent the days relaxing or exploring, and stayed up until almost dawn every night drinking wine and talking. Talking about things that have passed, and things yet to come. Talking bullshit, and having serious discussions. The one topic we spoke on perhaps most often, however, was how neither of us could believe the situation we were in. Who could EVER have imagined the hippie girl and this random guy who met at a suburban metro station in Greece 7 months ago would become great friends and bring in the new year together on the other side of the world?

These amazing coincidences, and the great friendship, only came about because I opened myself up. I met the stranger. I let whatever was going to happen, happen. And some amazing experiences came out of it. So I hope this inspires you to take a chance, and let life happen for you, so that you, too can have some wonderful stories to share.
Dorky picture that almost perfectly summarizes our friendship