Nine days on the road and the travel tips to prove it

Last week I was on vacation. Leading up to my trip, it had been a busy few weeks, at work and outside of work, so I’m pretty darned pleased that my trip went off without a hitch, unlike the Amtrak delay on my trip the weekend before.

From its start in Indiana at a family wedding to its finish in San Diego with my best friend (and some amazing times in Palo Alto and San Francisco in the middle), my vacation was a lot of fun. It was, I think, the longest trip (barring ones to see my family upstate) that I’ve taken since my UK travels in 2011. With two nights in each city and one night on a plane, I was never in one place for very long, which should have made the trip feel choppy and disjointed, right?
Instead, I felt like I spent enough time in each place to feel briefly settled, and I saw so many people (ten friends in California, around twenty relatives at the wedding) that the trip felt full, without feeling rushed. Once I’m settled and have gone through the hundreds of photos I took, I’ll definitely work up some posts about various parts of the trip. But since I’m tired, let me just give you a few tips about how to make a long trip like this one go smoothly.
1.       Go to the library. I knew I wanted to do some sightseeing in San Francisco, but since I was only going to be there for two days, buying a guidebook seemed silly. Instead I bought a laminated map, which was helpful and will be useful the next time I go, and I picked up a DK Eyewitness guidebook at the library. Looking at it before the trip, and on the train from Palo Alto to San Francisco, helped me decide to spend an afternoon in Golden Gate Park – especially once I realized that one of the places I wanted to visit was free on that day of the month.
2.       Loop your friends in about your travel plans. I crashed at four different friends’ apartments in California, which kept things inexpensive for me and gave me quality time with friends I don’t see nearly often enough. I was even able to take a shuttle from the airport to her apartment with one of them since she’d just flow in as well. I saw several other friends in California because I reached out to them, via email or Facebook or text, before the trip and during it, and we were able to schedule time for meals or drinks. I love sightseeing, but catching up with people is the best.
3.       Pack lightly, and pack wisely. All of my stuff fit inside my oversized backpack and a zippered large tote bag, including three pairs of shoes (in addition to the sneakers I wore for most of the trip) and dresses for the wedding weekend. Most important items for the California part of the trip? Sweater, zip-up hoodie, and light jacket, for those cool San Francisco days; socks, because I did a ton of walking; and, of course, lots of underwear. Item I skipped: an umbrella.
4.       Make plans, but be willing to change them. When I was plotting out my time in San Francisco I figured I’d spend a whole day wandering the city – until my friend suggested we drive up to see the redwoods. Best decision ever, or best decision ever?
5.       Build in time to relax. I knew when I arrived in San Francisco that I’d be a little burned out after seeing a bunch of people in Palo Alto, so I scheduled a solo trip to Golden Gate Park to take a break from gabbing and just enjoy being outside. Toward the end of my vacation, my best friend and I spent an afternoon watching movies and reading together – exactly what I needed after all the walking and talking I’d done at the beginning, especially since we spent four hours at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park the very next day.
6.       Unplug.I don’t have a smartphone, so I only had internet through Wi-Fi on my iPod and Nook tablet. I checked email and Facebook most days, but I didn’t have constant access to either, and I never went on my work email. It helped me be focused on where I was and who I was with, and it meant I was more likely to read in my downtime than to mess around on the internet.
7.       But… bring music. Headphones make long flights bearable, as screaming toddlers recede into the background, and music can sometimes worm its way into your trip and become the soundtrack of your travels.

Now that I’m back and staying put for a while, I’ll have more NYC adventures to post about, but in the meantime, any great trips in your recent past or near future? Do you have travel tips to share?


How to spend an hour

Yesterday I had some time to kill in midtown. I’d rushed up to go to a doctor’s appointment (I am finally ear infection-free!) and had a little over an hour before I was meeting my friend for dinner. Sometimes when I have time and don’t know what to do with myself, I wander, especially if it means I can chat with my mom on the phone, or catch up with a friend.

But yesterday I had a book I was knee-deep in and loving (this one, in case you’re curious) and so I needed to find a spot to read. There are a few outdoor public spaces with benches in that part of town, but it wasn’t quite warm enough. Also, I wanted hot chocolate. I peeked into the café at Barnes and Noble, but didn’t see a free table, so I went into the atrium of the building B&N is in and headed for a café.
My cocoa was a little small for the $3.50 they charged me, but it tasted good, and there were chairs nearby in the atrium. I sank into one and started reading, totally absorbed.
Absorbed, that is, until a tiny girl toddled by looking at me. Her parents were walking ahead of her, pushing the stroller and urging her on, but she walked at her own pace and stopped to stare at me and the man at the next table. I smiled and waved at her, and after a few moments, she smiled back, and even looked back to smile again before her parents finally got her to keep going. The man at the next table grinned at me and said something about how I’d gotten her to smile, and I nodded and smiled back and returned to my book.
The next time I came up for air, a different guy was sitting there and the barista from the café was closing up and starting to take the chairs in. The guy and I looked at each other, shrugged, and waited a few more minutes until the barista apologetically told us we needed to move. I still had another fifteen or twenty minutes till my dinner, so I wandered over to another atrium nearby, one with tables that stay out at all times, and I sank back into my book until my friend walked up beside me. I had ten pages left, so I marked my spot and saved them for the subway ride home later on. We went for dinner at a diner and talked work and life and relationships and I was a little too tired and scattered, but with a good friend, that doesn’t matter.
It’s been a busy week for me at work and so I’ve spent a lot of my time at home decompressing – when I wasn’t getting things done.  But it’s nice to know that I can still lose myself in a book, even in the middle of Manhattan on a weekday evening, and then come back to myself to have small, friendly interactions with strangers and a thoughtful conversation with a friend.
And tomorrow’s Friday!

Thursday night conversation

Despite all of my talk about all the great things to do in New York, I have to admit, I really like having quiet nights at home. Tonight was one of them. It’s been a busy week, and I have a busy weekend ahead of me, so it was nice to get home, have an unhealthy but delicious dinner, and talk on the phone.

I used to say I wasn’t a phone person – I even got anxious sometimes when I had to call someone – but my first job cured me of that. I still don’t talk to most of my friends on the phone all that often, but tonight, after a nice chat with my dad, I had a long catch-up with one of my best friends – who is also my oldest friend. We grew up across the street from each other, so technically we’ve been friends for just over twenty-five years.
I called her because we’ve been texting about a trip to see me she’s planning to make over the summer with a few others, but we had a nice long rambling conversation about everything from my ear infection to our jobs to books we’ve been reading. This was great, because we hadn’t talked about any of this stuff in our recent texts.
Why? Because most of our texts are about two things: Castle and Once Upon a Time.
Being obsessed with TV shows is a fairly recent thing for me. My family didn’t have cable till after I left for college. I discovered binge watching when I got a Gilmore Girls season 4 DVD my senior year of high school, and I did watch TV some in college, but I spent the little leisure time I had on movies and pleasure reading. My roommate and I did get into watching Pushing Daisies, though, and I started watching Castle with friends in the very first season. I used to guess whether they’d caught the real killer by how many minutes we were into an episode.
My TV viewing has gone up since graduating, partly due to Netflix and streaming episodes, and partly due to having more free time. But I’ve only gotten into the ritual of sitting down to watch shows I like as they air recently, and mostly in the last few months, after I finally got a TV that gets local channels.  It’s a nice, relaxing routine for me, and since my Castle- and Once Upon a Time-loving friend also often watches these shows when they air, Sunday and Monday nights have become an opportunity for us to connect over the trials and tribulations of our favorite characters. It’s become one of my favorite things to do each week, because our text exchanges make watching the shows more fun and keep us in touch on a regular basis.
Look, nothing beats hanging out with friends in person – I love going to shows or museums or dinner or the park, all those New York things I keep doing and writing about. But long-distance friendships require nourishing, too. Sometimes you just need a Thursday night at home in your pajamas, when you can eat a Hostess cupcake while your friend laughs on the other end of the line, and you don’t hang up but procrastinate writing your weekly blog post, because talking is just so much more fun.

Thanksgiving thank-yous

Here’s the thing about life in New York City: Sometimes it’s a little lonely. It’s exciting to live in a place with so many people, and so much to do, but it’s easy to feel lost in the crowd. People don’t always talk about it, but it’s there—and it’s hard to deal with without a great support network. So on Thanksgiving, the perfect time to reflect on the things in our lives we’re grateful for, I want to say thank you to all the people I’m lucky enough to have in my life.

In the years I’ve been at my job, I’ve gotten to know a lot of my coworkers really well. They’re a great group of people—kind, thoughtful, smart, and the right amount of snarky to keep things interesting. My life in the city would be decidedly less awesome without them. The same is true of all the friends I’ve met through my job—we’re a pretty tight-knit community within my industry, and I love that.
My friends in the city from college (and my friends in the city from college who I met after college, and my friends in the city who college people introduced me to, and my choir friends, and anyone in the city who doesn’t fit into one of these categories…) keep me sane, come along when I come up with random things to do (thanks to everyone who’s ever come contra dancing with me, you’re the best), and give me much-needed perspective.
My long-distance friends (from home, from college, from awesome summer programs in Minnesota) are also great for sanity and perspective, and for being there when I need to rant about something, or geek out about something, or overanalyze everything. They’re also always ready and willing to hang out when I show up at home a couple times a year, or when I schedule a trip to visit them, or when they come to New York City to visit and I make them eat Italian food and pizza all weekend. Thanks for dealing with the fact that I am sometimes inconsistent about calling or emailing, and to any of you reading this who don’t hear from me that often—I’m sorry, and let’s be in better touch.
My family is amazing, and I’m so lucky to have had such support from them, for every choice I’ve ever made and will make. Thank you for everything. I love you guys so much! And, thanks for getting a new puppy for me to play with when I come home to visit.
Thanks for being here, friends. And if you ever need anything, I’m here for you—and I’m always happy to share my support network, too. The asking is the hard part, so consider this an open invitation.
Happy Thanksgiving!