Thinking about solo travel

hot-air

Independent traveling is a thing that, on one level, I did plenty of. Being an only child living in a relatively remote northern Saskatchewan community meant that participating in any mildly interesting (and also legal) activity required at least a 2 hour drive to the south. As such, it was commonplace for teenage me to drive the 3+ hours to Saskatoon for the weekend to visit friends and go to my favourite bookstore.

I also moved away to university where I knew absolutely zero people, and traveled to and from home entirely by myself. I flew from Abbotsford or Vancouver to Saskatoon at least a few times a year (which is, by the way, enough to make flying feel like taking the bus by the time you’re in your late 20s).

Since getting married, almost all of the traveling I have done has been with my husband. And, because Graeme is a fairly experienced traveler who enjoys planning, I haven’t had to do much of the grunt work.

When I was planning to go to Texas for my dear friend’s wedding, I realized that it would be my first solo trip outside of Canada. As it turns out, I actually quite enjoy independent traveling… with, of course, a few specifications.

That said, here’s how I (budget) traveled, safely and comfortably, for a weekend in Texas:

  • Booked accommodations through Airbnb. I booked my trip last-minute (the result of my lackadaisical attitude towards responsibility, and my budget uncertainties post-living in Zimbabwe), so I couldn’t get the hotel discount offered to wedding guests. I had success with Airbnb in South Africa, so I figured it was worth a shot. I limited my options to those that a) were reasonably close to the reception venue, b) had a large number of reviews, and c) were hosted by a woman. My accommodations were awesome, as was my host and the other guest in the house. A big win, even beyond saving me hundreds of dollars.
  • Rented a car with a GPS. The only time I’ve ever used a GPS was when Graeme and I were unexpectedly renting a car and driving through the night from Newark  to Ottawa. And, although I certainly could have planned (and printed off) detailed instructions for all the places I wanted/needed to drive, I couldn’t imagine myself driving and navigating at the same time. Although GPS added a fair amount to my rental car costs, it was 100% worth it for the sake of enjoying my time in Texas. (As an aside, I rented my car through Alamo; they have awesome last-minute deals!)
  • Kept my activities to a minimum. Although I could have traveled to nearby Austin (and I nearly did in the name of Friday Night Lights), I opted to limit my tourism to San Antonio and visit the Alamo and the River Walk, as suggested by a friend from the southern US. Both are easy to get to, free to visit, and can be enjoyed in a relatively short time frame. Predictably, I also went to Half Price Books and Barnes & Noble (conveniently in the same shopping complex). Seeing bookstores is something that makes me feel immediately at home.
  • Planned ahead for possible complications. This is something you should do no matter how many people you’re traveling with. I made sure that my husband had a detailed email of all the locations I’d be staying at or visiting, and gave him contact information for my Airbnb host and my local friend. I also withdrew some American cash and notified my bank of my travel plans so my cards wouldn’t be cancelled.

Anyone have thoughts (or, better yet, experiences) on solo traveling?
As you can tell, I’m a bit of a noob when it comes to this sort of thing!

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Tables in the Wilderness – Preston Yancey

tables-wilderness

(Image source)

There is a moment when, upon reading particular lines in particular books, that I realize ‘this book is going to change me’. And I, a lover of books and literacy and words put onto paper in all forms, I know that all books change us at least a little; that I can’t read the real or not real (or a combination thereof) story of someone’s life without being impacted. That said, I made it only a few pages into Preston Yancey’s Tables in the Wilderness before I realized it was a life changer. And perhaps that’s drama queen of me to say, and perhaps I say that of a lot of books lately, but I nonetheless believe it to be wholly true.

As a bit of an aside, it’s funny that some of the reviews I mean the most are the reviews that end up being less about the book I read, and more about the life that I’m living. (I suppose this is why I felt so comfortable in my English department, whose motto was that the world is made up of stories, rather than atoms.)

There are some things that other people can’t understand unless they have been there–really been there. And, despite reading his blog for quite some time, I was startled to realize how many of Preston’s words were my words too. Many of the things that brought him in (and out) of silence with God are also my things. Preston’s deep love for his alma mater is akin to how I feel about my own.

And sometimes I feel like a phony, leading churchy things when I distinctly don’t have my churchy stuff together. But I’ve correctly guessed, many thanks to Preston’s writing, that this is God, as all things are God, and God is building and setting and preparing a table for me in the utmost of my wilderness. That God comes to us even when we aren’t sure that we believe it.

I will say that, at times, I thought “Preston, you are too young for this.” But of course I did. This is a thought I have about many people all the time; that we are too young for our hardships, too hard for our existential crises; too young to be so wildly enraptured by love.  But the living of life doesn’t wait until we’re ready, and the writing of books sometimes takes us by surprise.

And so I’m grateful that Preston Yancey wrote this book. I’m grateful that he’s adding to the canon of spiritual memoirs that I (and I’m sure other readers) find so encouraging. Because, as I know I’m writing all the time, it is good to know that we are not alone. So go pick up a copy of this book (when it is released in late September), will you? It is definitely worth the read.

* Full disclosure: I received an advance reader’s copy of Tables in the Wilderness, but the above thoughts and opinions are fully my own.

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Thinking about what I’m into in June 2014

llc-gala-2014

The husband and I at the fundraising gala, aka: pretending to be fancy adults. 

June (and especially the first two weeks of it) was pretty much bonkers. There were so many things going on at my workplace, and still so many things going on in my life that the past month feelings like a bit of a blur. But hey, good thing I keep track of all these things that I’m into so I can remember something amid the chaos, right? :) That said, I am once again linking up with the lovely Leigh Kramer for this month’s round of What I’m Into.

Books I’m Reading

  • Hacker – Ted Dekker: This is a lie. I’m not really reading this book. I’ve been uber-distracted by the immense pile of X-Men comics that I received from the library, so I don’t really have any additional thoughts to share about this book. Oopsie. Bad reading habits.
  • The Word Exchange – Alena GraedonI’ve been reading this book in fits and starts, but every time I pick it up I like it a little more. It is the obsessive-compulsive lit major’s dream book, as–for example–each chapter is named for a letter of the alphabet. If you love language and conversations about where our world is going, I imagine you would enjoy this book. The reviews on Goodreads are totally mixed, so this could be a hit or a miss for people… I’m betting it will be a hit for me in the same way that Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair was.

Books I’ve Read

  • City of Heavenly Fire – Cassandra Clare: I really enjoyed the first few books in this series as guilt-free guilty pleasure reading, but my interest somewhat fizzled out with the last few books. If you like YA lit (which you should; Slate magazine be damned), you should read at least the first book of this series. It is a half-step above Twilight, which doesn’t even bother me anymore.
  • The Orenda – Joseph Boyden: I started reading this book last fall, got distracted, and then moved to Zimbabwe without it. And when I finally got around to finishing it, I was really pleased. The pace is a slower than most of what I usually read, but it was an excellent portrait of how immense change sneaks up on us. A major must-read if you’re interested in aboriginal history.
  • Sailor Moon 1 – Naoko Takeuchi: I confess that I once loved Sailor Moon (so much so that I have the made-for-TV movie specials taped on VHS, and have an action figure or two). So I figured I should finally get around to reading the manga, instead of just watching the Americanized TV show. I can’t say that I love it as much as I did when I was in my early teens, but it still a fun read. I am, however, still equally annoyed with Usagi. Ugh. She drives me bonkers.
  • X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga – Chris Claremont: I grew up watching the X-Men cartoon series, read a few of the comics in my later life, and then filled in my knowledge of the rest of the X-Men universe by means of the internet. Thanks to the library, I am finally getting around to reading the comics, and this is one of my favourite story arcs. Plus I met Chris Claremont at Comiccon last year, so reading this felt extra special.

* A note about my reading habits: if you want the super detailed version of what I’m reading, what I’ve read and what I want to read, you can add me on Goodreads, aka: the form of social media made for people like me.

Films I’ve Watched

  • The Fault in Our Stars: Ahhhhh the tears. I am not a movie crier (with the exception of Harry Potter), so I managed to make it through 3/4 of this movie before I more than teared up. Thankfully, I went to see this movie with a dear friend who gets my grief, and we had a good cathartic cry. That said, a pretty solid adaptation of the book. I liked Shailene Woodley more than I thought I would, and I can deal with the handful of inconsistencies.

Television I’ve Watched

  • Game of Thrones, Season 4: I know I posted this is my last What I’m Into, but (obviously) the season just wrapped up this month. Despite the fact that I have read all of the books that Martin has released thus far, I am still surprised by things in this show. I think this comes from reading really fast, and thus not retaining too many details. Anyway, I loved the last two seasons, but I am quite concerned for how things are going to transpire for the adaptation of book 4. Because: ugh. It just can’t compare to book 3.
  • Hannibal, Season One: Hot pot of coffee, this show is blowing my mind. In case you weren’t already aware, this is the series about Hannibal Lecter, so it should have a billion trigger warnings for super violent things. And it gets worse as you progress through the season (as in I’m telling my husband to cover his eyes). That said, it is also totally fascinating. And, though I think I’ve managed to guess a few things that will likely happen, I am bamboozled with how those things will come about. Thanks to Andrew (as per usual) for the recommendation.
  • Orange is the New Black, Season 2: My feelings about this show are dramatically different since having read the book on which it is based. I don’t dislike season 2, but I do watch it through a very different lens. I strongly dislike V, and I strongly like Black Cindy. Also, amazing epiphany that Red is Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. #nerdcred

gala-collage-wiim

Things I’ve Done

  • Doors Open: This is one of my favourite Ottawa things! At the start of June every year, businesses, embassies, and all sorts of places (literally) have their doors open for a few days. My workplace generally participates, as it was built in 1909 and is a heritage building inside and out. The husband and I also visited the Canadian guide dog training facility, which meant we got to spend some quality time with dogs. Sigh.
  • Filming: Summer (meaning after the winter/spring semester ends) alternates between very slow and totally bonkers at my workplace. So, in addition to a week-long conference and a gala (the latter of which you can read about below), filming also happened where I work. This has happened a few times before, and this experience was comparably minor, but–of course–it was the day before our fundraising gala. 10 hours of overtime in 2 days is all I’m going to say.
  • LLC Fundraising Gala: Every year, my workplace holds a fundraising gala, and every year I feel like I scramble around in a panic to be prepared for it. This year was mostly an exception, as there was a huge team of alumni of our program doing a lot of the work. Sigh of relief. And I also finally had an excuse to wear my favourite awesome vintage cocktail dress that I bought last fall, which is pictured above.
  • Ryan and Sara’s wedding: And so begins the summer of 3 weddings! These friends have been in a relationship almost exactly as long as the husband and I, and it was rad to celebrate with them.
  • Visit from Phil and Hilary: Two of our dearest friends (and their son) were in Ottawa over the last weekend of June, which was awesome. Graeme and I were seriously busy already, but it was excellent to have brunch, evening drinks, and all you can eat sushi with these dear friends from British Columbia.

* Full disclosure: I received an advance reader’s copy of The Word Exchange and Hacker, but the above thoughts and opinions are fully my own. Also, there are Amazon Associate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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Thinking about July goals

goals

I stumbled upon this thing via The Tiny Twig called Goals with Grace. And, considering how utterly bonkers the month of June has been for me, Imma go right ahead and get on the goals train. Because certainly I need some grace when it comes to getting things done. Plus, one of my nearest and dearest was recently writing about goals, and I’m always keen to connect with her in whatever way possible!

As many of you know, I’m starting grad school in September. So wow, that means I need to (I’d like to) get a whole bunch of things done before I am faced with the potential onslaught of both work and transition to a new season of my life.

So, I’m making myself a reasonably achievable (translation: short) list of goals that I’m hoping to accomplish this month. We’ll see how well this goes and re-evaluate once August rolls around.

Goals for July 2014:

  1. Read and review at least two books.
  2. Write in my journal at least once a week.
  3. Complete one non-walking to work physical activity per week.
  4. Send snail mail to my besties.

Both reading and writing ultimately contribute to my overall mental health, so I definitely need to prioritize those two activities. And, although I’m really not so great at the actual doing of physical activity, I know it is important. And I just plain love sending snail mail, plus I have a full drawer full of blank cards waiting to have nice things written in them.

Here I go!

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Thinking about 100 blog posts

100-posts-later

My goodness. 100 is a large number. (Large enough that I felt inclined to use a photo of space at the top of this post, apparently.) I find it a bit hard to believe that over less than two years, I’ve actually managed to churn out 100 blog posts in my little corner of the internet. Despite my disbelief, I’m really happy that it has happened. For me, more writing = more better. I’m all about storytelling and memories, so having a blog has been a real good thing for me.

That said, I figured now would be an appropriate time to review some of the notable things that have transpired since I started writing this blog less than two years ago (it has been a crazy few years):

Wedding anniversaries: The husband and I have been married for almost four years now (crazy), and I’ve actually taken a fair bit of blog time to write about it. Because, despite my not being a sappy person, thinking about my marriage is a writing topic in which I can’t avoid the sap. I married a really good dude. I feel half like I know nothing besides being married to Graeme, and half like we just got married yesterday. It is a strange and wonderful juxtaposition.

India: I went to India (along with the husband and two friends) right around the start of this blog, which was something I never really thought I would do and I loved it more than I could have imagined. India is a big deal for me because it is pretty damn far away, and because our non-profit organization does work in a place called Bandanpally. We survived a 26-hour train ride, the husband consumed a lot of Gravol in order to avoid hurling, and we found a crazy country that was also crazy beautiful.

Reviewing books: My interests are broad, and thus there are a lot of things that I want to do in my life. One of those things is professionally reviewing books for a well-known publication, like a major newspaper (The Globe and Mail) or magazine (Quill and Quire). So I stumbled into volunteering to write reviews for the Ottawa International Writers Festival. And then I stumbled into receiving advance copies of books from NetGalley. And then I stumbled even further into reviewing books for Random House of Canada. You can check out a handful of the books I’ve reviewed by (surprise) clicking the Reviews tab at the top of the page.

Surprise vacation: In what appears to be a move to one-up all other husbands on the planet, Graeme planned a surprise vacation to Central America last June. I knew a vacation was happening, but had zero idea of where we were going. It was, predictably, amazing. As a result, Guatemala has become one of my favourite places that I’ve traveled (of about 15 countries), largely because of the sheer awesomeness of seeing Tikal with virtually no other people present. It was a history-loving introvert’s dream.

Grad school: I’ve been writing about grad school for quite a long time, as I applied and then somewhat immediately deferred my acceptance. At this point, however, I’ve actually registered for courses and have been accepted to a collaborative master’s with the women’s studies program at the University of Ottawa. So this is the real deal. I officially get started at the beginning of September, and I’m liable to write a lot more about this in months to come.

Zimbabwe: Moving to Zimbabwe for 3 months is a thing that I’ve written about a lot, partially because I had plenty of writing time while I was living there. This first legitimate move overseas is likely to be one of those big things I tell my hypothetical children. Zimbabwe is a fascinating country, and I am delighted that I got to call it my temporary home for a few months. Because what else could be better for me and my travel-loving spouse but to live in southern Africa?

Here’s to another 100 blog posts!

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