Sunday, July 19, 2009

Let the shopping begin!

It's been a wonderful weekend in Nashville. The weather has been amazingly mild -- temps topped out in the 70's and dropped down to 60 at night. Great for exer-walking (to get in shape for the trip)! In fact, these are the kind of temps we'll encounter early in the trip; it will only get cooler as the weeks go by. Which is part of the reason why Greg & I went through his closet and dressers to survey his wardrobe and determine what he needs to buy for the trip. The shopping actually started yesterday when Greg ordered a Rick Steves backpack, hanging toiletry kit, and sleep sack (Rick Steves is offering free shipping on all purchases this weekend). I took notes as Greg tried on various clothes he hasn't worn in awhile and started making a list of the things that need to be replaced or that he doesn't already own. I thought we had a reasonable list (ie, he wouldn't need to buy too many new things) until Greg informed me that he does not want to look like a dork and will not wear, for example, a burgundy cotton long sleeve t-shirt with navy Haggar microfiber trousers and tan Columbia suede leather slip-on walking shoes. To my credit, I was just trying to save him some money. To his credit, he's totally right!!! We did some online research this afternoon, just so he could show me what he would like to wear. We decided that a trip to REI is in order tomorrow. Maybe I will post pictures of what his existing outfits would have looked like, versus what he ends up buying. I'm sure we'll all agree that the new stuff will look much better together!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Planning - Phase I

While the concept of this trip has been in the works for several months, the official research & planning really began on my 35th birthday -- Sunday, July 12th. Greg & I spent the day reading our individual copies of Rick Steves Europe Through The Back Door. Rick is well known for his travel series on public television. I actually don't recall when I first encountered his books or his show, but I did use his advice, in conjunction with Let's Go Europe (for the hostel recommendations) to put together my itinerary back in 1998. And I truly believe it made all the difference, as it directed me to wonderful, less-trafficked places like Cinque Terre & Siena, Italy, instead of just Rome, Florence & Venice; Alsace, France along with Paris; Gimmelwald, Switzerland; Bacharach, Germany; the list goes on & on. I've continued to use Rick's books repeatedly over the years, from an 8 day vacation in Portugal a couple of years ago, to England last fall. Of course, I also do a tremendous amount of research online and consult other guidebooks as well, but you can't go wrong with Rick Steves (as long as you're not an overly demanding, must be pampered at a 5 star hotel and need 3 suitcases to haul everything kind of traveler). Ok, enough singing the praises of Rick Steves! Don't you think I should get some kind of kick-back for every person who uses the above link to peruse his website and possibly even buy a book or DVD??? We are now right at 8 weeks before departure. There's so much to do to prepare for being gone for 3 months; you really have to make a checklist to be sure everything gets done in time. So that's what I'm focusing on now -- list making. This includes both Greg & I separately writing down where we want to go and what we want to see & do and then combining those two lists and somehow coming up with one reasonable list that is mutually agreeable and not overly ambitious. Then we have to research where we want to be when (from mid-September to mid-November) based on weather, holidays/events, and seasonal closings. Finally, we have to figure out the most cost-effective mode(s) of travel and create a rough itinerary of our trip. Only then can we determine what we need to buy in advance (e.g. Eurail passes or plane tickets) and if we need to reserve any hotels or hostels if there's somewhere specific we want to stay. I'm really only skimming the surface of all the things to think about, but I think that's enough for this post.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Welcome to my blog!

Hello everyone, Thanks for taking the time to read this introductory post. I've been intending to do this for some months now, but am just now finding the time and inclination to start writing. As many of you know, I've had the travel bug for most of my life. My parents always took my sister & I camping at the many state parks in the Tennessee area, along with an annual extended family trip to Panama City, FL. But I think I really caught the fever during junior high, in Ms. Freeman's French class. My first trip to Europe (a whirlwind tour of France, Switzerland, & Italy in one week) was in 1990 with a small group of kids from my high school. In 1991, I lived with a family in the suburbs of Paris for three weeks. My own family even hosted an exchange student from The Netherlands my entire senior year of high school. But it wasn't until I had graduated from college (with a French degree no less) and was on the back end of a failed relationship and several demanding jobs that I decided to take some time off for a more thorough exploration of Western Europe. So in the fall of 1998 I set out for two months of backpacking & train travel in The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany & Austria. That trip changed my life -- I returned to TN and immediately got a job, but I kept looking for an opportunity that would involve traveling (and getting paid for it)! As luck would have it, Delta Air Lines ran an add in the local paper, specifically looking for foreign language speakers. I secured an in person interview at their headquarters in Atlanta, GA and was hired on the spot. I graduated from flight attendant training on May 28, 1999 and immediately transferred to New York City, where I was based for the entire 6+ years I flew for Delta. For the most part I took full advantage of the free flight perks during those years, and often say I spent more time exploring the world than at home. My most frequent layover destinations were Paris and Brussels, but I was always swapping for something different: Istanbul, Athens, Rome, etc., as well as towns/cities in the US that I may have never visited otherwise: Whitefish, MT, San Antonio, TX, Milwaukee, WI... In addition, my independent travels during that time led me to places like India, China, and South Korea. I had actually made a pact with myself that I would not fly for more than 10 years and after almost 7 I gave it up to live & work full time in NYC. Believe it or not, not once did I ever miss being a flight attendant after I quit. I segued into the 8-t0-5 type routine fairly effortlessly (to my default career of Executive Assistant) and that is what I have done up to now. When I have been able to take time off I've traveled to islands in the Caribbean, as well as Costa Rica, more of Europe, and even places in the US (Hawaii, Alaska, the Grand Canyon to name a few). After a couple of years working many long and mentally draining hours at the office and spending a lot of money just to live in NYC, I realized I needed to rethink my life and refocus my priorities. I started saving as much money as I could with the goal of being able to take at least a year off to travel around the world and do some volunteer work. This is where I am at today. In September, I will begin my new adventures, hopefully with my boyfriend Greg in tow. The plan is to start off easy -- three months in Northern, Eastern & Western Europe. We'll come home (to Nashville) for the holidays to recoup & regroup. I'm not sure what 2010 will bring, but there's no need to make any concrete plans yet anyway. This blog, along with my Facebook updates, will serve as my travel journal, which for previous trips of long duration was always handwritten. I will also post photos & videos, and will solicit suggestions for places to go, things to do, sights to see, amongst other things. I truly hope you enjoy reading and following along on my adventures!