Category Archives: Sabbaticals

Travel Money: Bank and Credit Card Travel Notifications

Waking up on the road
Waking up on the road

Imagine that you are just arriving to your dream destination, out-side of your home country.  You are so excited, and you can’t wait to get yourself some food and settled before you go exploring.  It is a totally awesome feeling…until you realize that you can’t take any money from an ATM, because your bank thinks you stole your own bank card.  Gah! That is awful!  Well, at least you have your credit card, right?  But, that is a big negative, as your card is declined the first time you use it.  Oh NO!!!

You forgot to notify your bank and credit card company that you were traveling out of country.  You just also have traveled to a country that has been blocked by your financial institutions.  You now have to call the phone number for each, or you would if you had cash to buy a phone card, and actually had the international phone number….

What a nightmare that would be!

While you are still state-side, call your bank and credit card company!!!  They may also have an on-line way of submitting a travel notification, as well.    I just did this, tonight, for my upcoming trip to Costa Rica.

If you are planning on doing more world travel, consider looking into a credit card that has a chip, and pin combo.  Last year my credit card company automatically sent me a card with a chip that can be used in Europe.  I just have to set up a pin code.  I’ve been to Paris three times, and each time I used my old card, I had to explain that it has to be swiped.  I just annoyed the heck out of the shop clerk.  Yay.  Now, when I go back in 2014, I’ll get to feel a bit more European when I spend my money.  Ha!

Sure, you could bring US dollars, or American Express Traveller’s Checks, but you get really bad exchange rates.  The rate will never be in your favor when you exchange cash at a bank, hotel, or hostel.  Forget about the airport.

Using your bank card to withdraw cash, will usually give you a better rate of exchange, as your domestic bank usually take the best rate of the day, and apply it to any transactions done that day.  Keep in mind that your bank may charge a foreign transaction fee.  I think mine charges three percent.  I usually take out an amount of cash that will last me a while, for things that I can’t use credit cards.  I also don’t take out so much that it would ruin me, if it was lost or stolen.

I try to use my credit card as much as I can.  My card does not charge any fees, and protects my purchases, as well as protecting me against fraud.

All this talk about money, I actually sound like I’m rolling in it.  Not so, but what I have, I plan to use sparingly and wisely.

I’ll be posting, within the next few weeks, about budgeting for long-term travel as well.  So stay tuned!

Magic Contract

San Francisco
San Francisco

Back in 1993 I had started to think that I had to make some kind of change in my life.  I had to shake things up.  Slap some life into my existence.  I had recently purged some toxic friend-ships, and realized that I needed to get to know myself a bit more.  I had read a book about Scotland, and was interested in yoga, so I had to decide between a 3 month yoga retreat, or backpacking across Great Britain.  I chose the back pack.

I remember hearing people ask why one had to travel to “find” one’s self.  Before I had thought of that trip, before I discovered my own motivation, I wondered the same thing.  Why would you have to find yourself, you are right there.

I was feeling like I was just going through the motions, that every day was the exact same.  I wasn’t growing.  Not true, though – I have always been type A, an eternal student, and multiple job holder, but that was how I felt.  I felt like I was in a rut, and kind of numb in the head.  I kept going from thing to thing, trying to find what made me happy.   Perhaps the trip was initially just one more of those things to go onto, at first.  But almost immediately, it changed it’s purpose, and my experience of it.

From that first moment, when I had to convince my Grandmother to take me to the bus station, so I could get to the airport, I had to exist in the moment.  There was no more auto-pilot for me.  I was alone, I had to be alert.  I had to advocate for my wants and needs.  Heck, I had to figure out what I wanted.  I no longer had the creature comforts that I had become accustomed to.  I was surrounded by strangers.  That, in itself is liberating.  I got to recreate myself, and how I wanted to be seen and known.  To do all that, I had to really think about who I was, what I liked, how I wanted to respond to situations.

It became a very zen experience.  I am hungry, I need to get food.  I am exhausted, I need to get to where I will sleep.  Where can I buy food.  Where can I find a bathroom.  How do I make sure my bag isn’t stollen on this crowded train.  There was little time to get lost in my own head about things that didn’t matter.  If a town or hostel was quiet, or if I had a longer than usual hike to a destination, I might get a little lost in my head, but not for long.  Everything was new.  Everything was a bit of a challenge to feel at home.  I felt the challenge to become comfortable in each moment.

So, yes.  Being on the road is a way to find one’s self.  I found my own direction, I found my own way, I found my own peace, I found adventure, history, experiences.  I found and developed my confidence, and my sense of self became more defined.

Not long after I returned from that first extended trip,  I moved, decided to go to school to become a massage therapist.  (No one believed me about this either.  During the first week of classes, one of my work mates yelled at me for not showing up with out calling to let them know I was going to be out.  I had told them that I was going back to school and they had agreed to the change in my work schedule.  They just didn’t believe me.)

There were several years that I pretty much went with the flow.  Always working more than one job at a time, occasionally going back to school for something.

2003 was the year I started to experience another major life shift.  I had just had major neck surgery, and really had to reevaluate how I lived my life.  I had deeply identified myself as a massage therapist.  It was who I was, and all my self value was wrapped up in being a massage therapist.  Who was I, if I wasn’t that?  I felt like a whole lot of nothing.  Cue Angst & gnashing of teeth.  Also, copious amounts of tears.

I then tried a number of different things, for about three years, until one weekend I sat down and created a plan, or contract, of what I wanted my future to be like.  I wrote it as if it was already happening, and I was experiencing it already.  I described how I wanted to feel, that I wanted to travel for free, and to have a bank account that money always flowed into, more than it flowed out.  I declared that this was what I wanted, and what would be.  I thanked the universe, and put the letter away.  Earlier this year I found the ‘contract” again, and realized that everything I wrote in that contract with myself has come to pass.  It seems like magic, right?

I really just changed what I was focusing on, and ignored what wasn’t going to give me what I wanted.  I don’t like quitting, but I am totally into moving on when I have accomplished all I can where I am, and want to do something different.  I took chances when it was something that sparked my interest.  I trusted my gut, and took some chances.  Somehow I ended up in Information Tech.  I never thought I’d work with software and computers, but the way my life and career evolved, and by being clear about what I wanted, I was able to see opportunity when it presented itself.  I grabbed that opportunity, and each opportunity after that first one.  I paid my dues.  I worked my way up.  I learned that if I could do this, I can do more.  I had learned about consulting in healthcare IT, and BAM.  That was the ticket.

Present day, I’ve been consulting for almost four years.  Gone from barely above poverty in 2004 to “a goodly amount” in 2013.  I own my condo and car outright.  I have retirement – some, but could always have more.  I also put aside enough savings to live frugally for a year.

I like what I do for the most part.  I’m good at what I do.  I’ve been feeling that I could do more, or live a more meaningful life.  It is time for creating a new contract with myself.  Time to create with intention.

Early this year I started to flail around again, and was starting to angst about how things were going to happen.  I tried creating a strict road map, but that is hard to do when you aren’t exactly sure about what you really want.  Now I am focusing on the what, and letting the ‘how’ take care of itself, since that was what worked for me the first time around.  Focusing on the present moment, and taking the step that takes me closer to what I want to experience.

Part of my goal is to write daily, and discover my voice.  Write about my adventure, the people I meet and admire.  Explore my intentions.  Write every single day.  So the first opportunity I am grabbing is to do NaNoWriMo this year.  That is National Novel Writing Month, and it happens every November.  The goal is to write fifty thousand words in thirty days.  They don’t have to be good words.  There just has to be fifty thousand of them.  Quantity, not quality.  December is for editing.

Costa Rica Countdown…6 days away!

One of my many flying photos...
One of my many flying photos…

Saturday I fly out from Boston, with a layover in Atlanta to ultimately end up in Costa Rica.  I’m going to a surf camp for 7 days and nights.  Yes, forty-three year old me is going to learn how to surf.  Luckily there are two surf lessons a day.  Hopefully I’ll get up on the board at least once.  And they get a picture of it.

How did this trip come to pass?  Way, way back in August of this year, I had to commit to a certain week for a vacation.  Several friends  only had nice things to say about Costa Rica.

I knew I wasn’t yet to do an extended trip, but I wanted to do something that I could do to gain a sense of  be in awe of myself.  A friend, who I respect and admire, tried out surfing off of Jeness Beach in Rye, NH.  Another friend, who I respect and admire, as well as several others only had glowing reviews of Costa Rica treks and yoga retreats.

I initially checked out Airbnb.com, for inexpensive places to stay, that were close to the beach.  I pretty much just wanted to relax on the beach.  There were some great options.  Then I started to think that if I was going that far away, I should actually learn something.  I can sit around someplace a little less expensive to get to.

I started looking into the many, many retreats available in C R, and Blue Surf Sanctuary rose to the top.  They had interesting packages, and fantastic reviews.  Billabong sponsors this camp, and it looks clean and safe.

I had to make sure I scheduled the trip for after the rainy season, as the flights don’t go, if rain washes out the landing strip.  Yes, it will be a very, very tiny plane that takes me from San José to the Tambor airstrip.  The flight is only forty-five minutes, but the bus ride would be about six hours.  On badly maintained road ways.  Then Blue Surf Sanctuary arranges a taxi to take me from the air strip to a ferry.  Then perhaps a ATV ride.

About a month ago, I got my flight from Boston to Costa Rica, and just today I found out Delta upgraded me to first class all the way to Costa Rica.  I am so excited!  Before you say, “It must be nice!”.  I will let you know – It really, really is nice.  I also earned it by flying up to Platinum last year.  This year I was lucky to reach Gold.  Next year, I will maintain Gold, but since I won’t be a high mileage flyer with Delta, I will probably lose my status, if I don’t get a new contract that requires weekly travel in July.  I am going to enjoy the benefits of status for as long as I can.  You would too!

Anywho, the flight into San Jose, CR will get in at about eight in the evening, local time, far to late to catch a flight to the coast.  The next flight out to Tambor airstrip isn’t until the next morning, so I am spending the night at the San Jose Intl Marriott, on points.

Once I board the tiny, tiny plane, I have no idea what to expect for the rest of the seven days.  I may only be sitting on a surf board.  I’m hoping not to get hit in the head with the board as I inevitably wipe out.  I’ve watched many videos.  And should probably freshen up my watching.

Speaking of wiping out, I also got trip insurance.  It covers injuries and emergency evacuations.  I’ll be as careful as I can possibly be.  I’m glad to be insured, but I don’t ever want to have to use it.  I went through a company called TravelGuard.  Look them up on-line, especially if you are going on a trip out of the country.  TravelGuard bases the policy on your age, where you live, your destination, and how long you are going.  Oh, and I think the total cost of your trip.  If you get the insurance within a certain period of buying your trip, you can also purchase “cancel for any reason” coverage for a small fee.  I was one day late.  Damn procrastination.

My back pack is still empty.  I have an idea of what I’m going to pack.  Much of my sun-protective clothing will be going with me.  My two spf rash guards, swim shorts, sun cover ups, a couple of bathing suits.  I may only use one, but I’ll keep the spare just in case.  Sunscreen in several different formulations, lotion, stick and cream.  Can you tell I’m afraid of the sun?  I don’t tan.  I burn. In fact, I burn in moon light.  There is no good reason for me to go with out protection.

I also need to nail down the down time outfits I’m be wearing.  Mostly, so I can decide what needs to be hosed down with this special bug repellant I got from Amazon that permeates the clothing, and repels bugs for up to 6 washings.  That is pretty awesome.  I also have to pack my deet spray.  I also don’t like bugs.

Yes, it is kind of funny that the girl who burns in moonlight, and hates bugs (long story, I’ll tell you some time) loves going to places that have strong sun and copious amounts of bugs.  Don’t worry, I don’t understand me either.

How much do you really want to do it?

How much do you want it?

Like magic, twenty years later, I am going to do it again.  Some how my life was easy, and I just made a snap decision to reclaim my youth of care free adventure.

Ummmm…. No.

I returned from that trip, went back to my old job – apparently they were harassing my family a couple of weeks before I got back, wondering when I would return to work.  A few months later I decided to change my career from Human Services to Massage.   I worked and taught in the field of Massage for twelve years, and then transitioned into working with the Electronic Medical Record.  Sprinkled in between all that, I bought a condo, had car payments, accrued and paid off credit card debt (tuition & two transmissions), and had major surgery (my head is literally screwed on tight).

You can travel inexpensively, and on some modest savings.  Before you do that, though, debt elimination is key.  It can’t be cheap travel, if you have to support significant living expenses back home.

It took quite a while for me to be able to do international travel again.  It took quite awhile to pay off the debt I had accumulated.  It felt like forever, anyway.  It took me about fifteen years to pay off debt, including car payments and my mortgage.  Yes, I said mortgage.  Why did it feel like forever?  I lived far below my means, and sent all additional monies towards paying off debt.  Not a whole lot of fun.  There is no short-cut.  There were years where I held my bills clutched in my fist, paced and cried.   I’d look at the bills, then at my nearly empty bank account, wondering how this was going to happen.  I would have a couple of jobs at the same time.  One was for food, the other was for debt.  Many years I made Christmas and birthday gifts, instead of buying things.

I’ve done my reading/research on the internet.  I have seen people doing the things I want to do, and others criticizing, or complaining, saying some of the following:

Well, it is easy for you, because:
•    You are getting support from another family member/mate
•    You have/had a great super well paying job
•    You don’t have any debt, you must come from money
•    It must be great to have a job you can take such a long break from, and get back into with no problem.

I can’t do it because:
•    I don’t have the money
•    I have too much debt
•    I can’t take that long off my job, and expect to be able to get back to the same work.
•    I have kids
•    I’m not in shape

How much do you really want to do this thing?  How much do you really want to do extensive travel?  Think of any major goal of your life.  What did you sacrifice to achieve that goal?

There is never a good time to do anything of importance.  If something is important, the best time to do it is now.  Identifying a goal, and then figuring out what you need to do to achieve it, and then DO IT.

 

Note: This is for NANOWRIMO, and will probably get edited later.

20 years ago: 1 back pack, 2 months, $33/day and me

Exeter graves
In honor of the recent Samhain & Halloween.

I’ve always wanted to travel.  Always.  Once I graduated from college I started to save aggressively for two years, and was able to do a two month backpacking trip around Great Britain, Scotland, Shetland, Orkney and Wales.  I stayed in youth hostels mostly, traveled by train, walking, rare busses, and once or twice hitch-hiked.  I carried everything on my back.  One backpack, two months, thirty-three dollars a day.

I had been planning for a few months, talking about it with family and friends, gave a month’s notice at work (Me: I am planning a two month trip.  I totally understand if you cannot hold my job for me, but I’d be glad to come back if the position is still available.).  Two days before I go, work apparently didn’t think I was really going.  Yep, I really, really was going.  The day before my trip, I have to convince my family that I really was going away for two months, and someone needed to give me a ride to the airport shuttle.  Really?  Yes.

I had only my first night or so of lodging booked when I got on the plane from the USA, mid-June of 1994.  Yes, I was going to be traveling for two months.  I honestly don’t remember landing or how I got into London.  Jet lag is a real thing, and it had set in.  I vaguely remember my first meal in London…Burger King, wandering through St. Paul’s Cathedral, and getting to my hostel, finding my bunk, and then nothing for a few hours.  I woke, feeling slightly hungover, and went to find food.  It was broad daylight, at eleven at night.

I had a general idea of where I was going to go, but reserved the options to change at a moment’s notice.  I find out that an event isn’t happening till a certain date where I was originally heading, I immediately checked to see where else I could go in the meantime.  I get to a place and find there is no vacancies, I hopped on a train to another city that can put me up for the night.

I had no one to go with, but I wanted to go.  So I went.  I learned the joy of solo travel.  I wanted to sit, so I sat.  I wanted to see a certain sight, so I went to see it.  I was hungry, I found food.  I was cranky, usually a nap helped – more later on being able to sleep anywhere.  I was up-beat, I enjoyed myself.  I had to deal with my own self.  I really believe that traveling distills and reveals who you are  as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

Traveling solo also makes it easier to meet people on the road.  A solo traveler is more approachable.  I’ve been invited to lunch by an elderly Scottish couple, and their Australian brother-in-law, an elderly gentleman shared his tea on the train, because the cost to buy was “too dear”.  I traveled for a week with a handsome Israeli man.  I cooked dinner with two young Italian boys, and taught them to make potato soup.  (Me: “Have you ever cut potatoes?” Cute Young Italian: “No, Mama always does.”  Me: “Well, you are going to learn today.”).  One of them wrote such beautiful poetry, comparing me to the jealous Sun…I swoon to this day.  I met a seventy-five year old woman, who just climbed Ben Nevin, a tall Scottish mountain.  I want to be like her when I grow up.

I was invited to visit Paris, as I was cutting through a cow paddock, on a small Orkney island, by a sweet French fellow.  Cows, by the way, are very, very large creatures.  Also very curious.  The cows were stalking us.  I was happy to reach the far side of the enclosure.  We went to cross the island, and we found a mansion in the middle of “nowhere”.  I regret having a non-changeable flight home.  I would have gone to Paris.  Lesson learned.  Just sayin.

Oh, and a sight that I have yet to match, from Bath, England…acrobats, in g-strings, one wore socks, doing handstands on raised hand supports, clenching lit sparklers in their butt cheeks.  I have photographic evidence.

I got scared a couple of times – one of them I call it my Scooby Doo night.  As a kid, I remember watching cartoons where the cartoon character has to cut the fog with a knife, and eats it with a fork.  Always thought it was so silly, cuz it is just water vapor, just fog.  Silly cartoon. But, you know…I have experienced fog that could have cut with a knife, and eaten with a fork.  It wouldn’t have been so scary, if it had not been eight at night, after just getting off a train, in adark town, the whole platform and station cleared of people, five minutes after the train arrived.

I walk through a very dark town, all closed up, a mile or so to an inn.  The only inn that had space available.  As I approach the building, I seriously consider going back and sleeping at the train station.  It is a huge stone building, and I am totally convinced that a Lurch-like being would open the creaky door, and croak out, “Yeessss, Come in.  We’ve been waiting for you.”  Luckily I hadn’t seen many slasher flicks, so was soothed by the warm glow coming from the upper windows.  As I approach the front door, a jolly man opens it, light and life burst from the entry way, and I’m so happy I could cry.  I asked for the least expensive meal, and then up to my bright cheery yellow room to collapse in relief.

I learned useful skills on my trip.  I learned how to do “hair-wraps”, using embroidery floss wrapped tightly around a tiny section of hair, in different patterns.  This skill actually made me a tiny bit of money once I got back from my trip.

I learned how to let go – especially of things in my pack that I was not using. About a week into the trip, I divested several pounds from my pack, sent home what I didn’t need, but couldn’t leave behind, and was much happier about carrying my life on my back.

I learned how to shop in charity shops, slap together simple meals from fresh ingredients purchased from the market the same day.  I learned patience.

I learned how to read bus and train time tables.  I learned how to sleep anywhere.  I learned how to hitch-hike (don’t worry, only did it twice in Shetland).

I did not learn to Scottish-square dance on the Island of Unst.  The fellow was so sweet, he really wanted to teach me, and still smiled when I trod upon his toes.  He let me go back to being a spectator.   Good man.

Half way though my trip, at the one month mark, I make a collect call home.  You know, just to check in, let them know I’m still alive.  I was, at that time, on the furthest northern most island of the Shetland archipelago, a little lonely and tired, and was looking forward to a quick exchange of I’m goods, and I Love you.

My Grandfather answers, and replies to the the international operator, “Naw, we don’t want any!”  And hangs up.   The Universe had decided that I not have any contact with home.  I was a little shocked.  A little sad, at first.  I had a cup of tea, and went to bed.  The next morning, I felt as if I had experienced a transformation.  It had taken a month, and the catalyst of a  refused call to create this change.  I woke up feeling free.  Not ecstatic, no high emotion.  I felt suddenly clear and clean, a sense of satori that decided to hang around for a while.

So why the retrospective?  Why recount my glorious trip from almost twenty (holy crap – this actually just hit me) years ago?  Because I basically gave my notice, (if an acceptable contract doesn’t surface) to an extremely well paying job, to travel abroad again for about six months starting in January.  I’ve changed, both in good ways and bad.  The world has changed.  Technology and my use of it has changed, which will require a balance of the burden of carrying, cost & security, as well as the benefits of connectivity, and productivity.  The world has changed, with the unrest of the last decade, travel is more challenging, prices are higher, severe weather has changed the face of many places.

I want to see places as they are, before they are gone.  I want to breathe the air, walk upon the distant soil, and make myself a part of each place I visit.  I love the sense of belonging I get when I spend time in one place.  I am a person, and I belong here.  I am real here.

My sense of expansion grows with every journey I take.  My sense of what is important changes, and distills.  I love the entire process of travel.  Hatching the plan, researching the journey, destination, experiences.  Don’t tell the TSA and gate agents, I even love all the hassles of travel.  I grouch about it, complain, whine…but secretly, at the end of the day, I love it.  My feet hurt, and I’m nasty sweaty…I love it.  I’m starving, and I don’t recognize the food items for sale…Love it.  Asking for directions in a foreign language, and not really understanding the answer…Yep, Still love it.  Standing in front of history, a world class museum, experiencing how other cultures live – I love it all, with a deep, almost painful, burning joy.

This isn’t an Eat, Pray, Love thing.  I pretty much love my life.  I’ll be using this time to do things I don’t normally have time to do.  Intensive travel, language learning, writing and photography.  And, who knows…I might just create the Field Guide to Awesome!