Saturday, December 17, 2011

Draft: Why you Should Travel with Your Kids

Seeing Mickey Mouse at Disney World can be an enchanting experience for your little one(s).  Beyond the vacation there is much more to experience with your family.  I see a difference between a vacation and travel.  With traveling there is a global awareness that begins to occur.  You no longer go somewhere because you want to relax, but because you want to absorb. 

Draft: Making the Most of your Travel Journal

Clothes, check.  Shoes, check.  Journal, check.  Travel journals are a staple in many travelers' suitcases. 

Draft: Common Mistakes to Avoid with Travel Photos

You shot 1,218 pictures, but you only found a few that justify what you saw or how you felt at that moment.  We spend so much time taking pictures on our trips, yet they tend to disappoint when we get home and review.  By following a few easy steps, you can create images that capture the essence of the subject.

People Pictures

Landscape Pictures

Night Pictures

Draft: 10 Items You Wish You Packed

Sure you've packed enough underwear to last twice your stay and your liquids are all stored appropriately, but what should you pack beyond the basics?  There are many items we could do without, but here are some items you should consider for your next trip.

Travel Alarm Clock
Poster Tube
Audio Recorder
Swiss Army Knife (Checked Luggage Only!)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Forward, Together Forward

I became most connected to my hometown the day that tragedy united us.  It was Valentine's Day and I was at work. It didn't seem to be so bad; at least I was around people.

I was bonded with the eighth graders, but there was a shortage with the sixth grade students, so I moved to that room for the day.  I did not know the kids or the supervising teacher.  While the teacher was sitting at her desk working on her computer, I was wandering from student to student to help during homework time.  Math seemed to be the challenge of the day.

Another sixth grade teacher walked in and whispered to us, "turn on the radio, something bad is happening."

We turned on the radio just loud enough that we could hear it, but the students could not.  There was news that there was gunfire heard at the NIU campus.  We checked the website to see if there was more information.  The alert confirmed our fears. "3:20 p.m. There has been a report of a possible gunman on campus.  Get to a safe area and take precautions until given the all clear."

I had friends on campus so I tried to text them to see if they were okay, but nothing would go through.  DeKalb had never experienced this volume of cell phone network usage.

With uneasy staff, the teachers decided to let the assistants go.  As I left, I tried calling anyone that I could think of, but the calls would not make it through.  I became dependent on the radio to find out more. 

"The shooter is dead from self-inflicted gunshot."

"Students, call your parents when you have reached your residence halls." 

The helicopters flying overhead competed with the sound of the radio.  Some were media, and some were transporting the victims to the hospital. 

When I got home I found my parents in a trance, glaring at the TV.  As time passed, more details were shared, but the news never got any better. Five students were murdered.  Each individual with their own story.

I did everything I could to reach closure.  This kid came into my hometown, at my school, and killed people that had no affiliation with him.  My community came together for candlelight vigils, services, and ribbon making.  I don't think anyone had been so proud to be a Huskie.

A week later, it was time to return to school, and the feeling of safety did not return.  I trekked across campus, passing the building where the lives were taken.  I saw footprints in the snow and I remembered the images on the news of blood in the snow a week earlier.  When I reached my building I was greeted with a man and woman.  The man shook my hand.  The warmth of his hand welcomed my cold bare hands. They offered me a bottle of water and asked how I was doing.  All that week counselors came into our classes asking if we wanted to talk about what happened, but we never wanted to talk.

"Forward, Together Forward " were the words expressed so many times.  Each Valentine's day I wear my ribbon.  February 14th has no other meaning to me anymore.  It should be a time to celebrate love, but how can one do that on such a date?

Going Back

Winter in Northern Illinois can lead to hibernation.  The 16 hours of darkness and rare sunny day even when it is light invites lethargy.  Nonetheless, we must all venture out for entertainment to sustain us through the cold months, so that is what I had planned.

It was a Mike and Joe night at Starbusters.  This would probably be the 14th time I've seen this cover band, but it made for some solid entertainment. 

I left for the drive to my hometown around 6:30 pm and it was dark.  Luckily I had some music prepared to help me stay awake and get pumped for the night. 

We would begin with dinner.  We were supposed to go to Fatty's to get their tangy, spicy cajun fried potato salad, but an under-aged guest would prevent us from that plan.  Instead we headed to a local standby, O'Leary's.

"I've never seen this place so busy," said my friend's boyfriend.

It was unusual, this was generally a pretty vacant place.  "Have they changed something here?"  I asked.

Nothing was different, but for some reason the cold weather had others escaping the cave.  Once we finally got a table, the eight of us ordered our food and drinks. Everyone around the table worked together, so I was just along for the company.

"They gave us $2 bills as a bonus to spend at local businesses," my friend told me.  "Why not spend it on food and drinks!"

We prepared for the night ahead by filling our stomachs.  No success could be had unless we were well fed.

Finally it was time to get ready, so we ditched the guys and headed to a friend's apartment.  The prepartions entailed a hair curling session and pre-show drink.  I was ready, so I mostly sipped on my libation.  Since the girls were a little slow moving, I volunteered to go start the car and get it ready.  As I walked out a bunch of college kids were partying it up.  Apparently they had plenty of alcohol in them because the cold did not seem to phase their bare skin.

The girls came out, ready to go.  The two minute drive to the bar was scored by a little "Grease" music.  Before the song was over, we were parked and ready to go in.  We took our coats off and dashed for the door to reach the warmth. 

The initial smell when you walk in is a signature of this bar.  It is a combination of stale vomit and beer.  Once you are in there for awhile, your senses seem to forget all the unpleasentries.

The band started shortly after our arrival.  The crowd continued to push their way to the front.  When I looked around I saw kids.  It wasn't that long ago that I was in my early twenties, but I don't remember acting like that.  Drinks were being spilled, people were bumping into me, and some couples needed to find a more private setting to show their affection. 

2 am finally came and I was ready to go.  I took the crew home and then began my own journey back to my apartment.  The 45 minute drive made me think about how I have changed.  When I go to my hometown I am so thankful that I have moved on.  But as I drive to my current residence, I wonder where home is. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Draft: The Forgotten Ward: New Orleans Today

I am a passenger as I ride in an air conditioned car with the window down, viewing the devastation that still remains.  I see houses so exhausted that it is surprising the moisture in the air is not enough to bring them to the ground.  Each house bares a spray painted X with information about the date of entry, identification of the rescue team, possible hazards, and number of deaths.  Almost six years later, the signature stains the deteriorating home.  I was hoping to see these symbols, but the amount left on the homes leaves me uncomfortable.

Earlier that trip I was drinking my hand grenade on Bourbon Street as I watched the shoppers and drinkers around me.  I bought a hand-crafted flower headband at the French Market from a quiet young woman with her book in hand.  I even sucked head as I ate crayfish for the first time.  This is New Orleans, right?

New Orleans relies on tourism to survive, and engaging in these activities is a major part of the fun, but travel should impress more than a good time.  Traveling creates awareness and a better understanding of our world. When I return home I have a sense of fullness from the knowledge I have gained, and I feel thankful.

I was disturbed.  Almost six years after hurricane Katrina, and devastation still hangs in the humid air off the well tread path.  Efforts are being made to rebuild, but why is the process so slow?  The "Make it Right Foundation" is one group trying to do just as the name implies.  Sponsored by Brad Pitt, this group is working to build new homes that are green and ready for the next storm that comes up the gulf.

I get out of my car to take pictures of the old and the new.  As we drive up and down the empty streets, I find a home that is not empty.  Beyond the unkempt, weed-infested grass I see a door-less, windowless house filled with piles of debris.  Most of the items are unrecognizable; primarily wood that may be suitable for kindling.

As I shamefully take pictures, I try to imagine this being my home.  Truthfully, I can't imagine this because I have never come close to losing everything and having to abandon all that is familiar.  Someone lived here.  I wonder where the owners are and why there house was left this way.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Journeys Within

My alarm goes off at 5:03 am, and the snooze seems the only option.  With my current timing, I only get two snoozes, and then I face reality: it is time to get up.

I drink my glass of water because it is what the French do, and it is supposed to help with my complexion.  I check my e-mails, but nothing exciting catches my interest.  The rest of the routine goes according to schedule, but a thought remains cemented in my mind.

It is the anniversary.  Four years ago today, my granddad passed away.  The remembrance causes me to see my mother collapsing to the ground in our hallway.  She was incapable of communicating other than the sounds that escaped as she had to breathe between the releasing of her heartache.  I remember not knowing how to console her and also deal with the loss of someone I loved too.

As I take my pug for her walk, I lose control of my thoughts.  The darkness of the early morning reminds me of the late night drive to my grandparents' house, or rather, my grandmother's house now.
The ride was quiet as the news began to settle in.  It is after 10:00 pm and one hour passes.  Traveling lost its appeal.  The destination was not promising.  Another hour had been donated to the road.  The silence led to thoughts that seemed to be unable to be uttered.  Finally the third hour passed as we began to approach my mom's hometown.  On the way to the house, we passed the hospital.  I thought of my granddad and wondered where his spirit was; it was in that hospital a few hours ago.  Death always reminded me of the incomprehensible thoughts of what happens next.  Thoughts that I repressed because I didn't know how to take on the weight of the answers.

We reached the house, and my dad and I dropped off my mom.  The hour was late, and my grandmother was sleeping, though I don't know how.  The car headlights shined on the garage as we backed out of the driveway, and began the return journey home.

As I sat in the passenger seat, we covered the tracks that were just made on the trip down.  The fact that the rest of our lives didn't stop amazed me.  I would be back at work in a few hours and I must teach as though nothing has happened.  Somehow student teaching seemed to be the only logical thing to do.  I felt like everything in my world should have stopped because my granddad's life did.

My brain became worn down as the adrenaline wore off from the emotional toil.  The drive home became more treacherous than we expected.  Both of us were falling victim to drowsiness and staying on the road seemed impossible.  We switched drivers several times, but the road ahead seemed long and ruthless.  Beyond our understanding, we made it home and went to bed around 3:00 am.  Two hours of sleep would not be enough, but the rest of the process would have to wait until we were awake.

Just as I went to work then, I must go to work now.  For some reason, facing this day seems more challenging than the previous year.  I miss my granddad.  As I continue to try to figure out who I am, I realize how much we had in common.  The very subject that I teach was a close passion of his.
I go through work and nobody notices my internal battle of the day.  I drudge through the day, trying to avoid interactions.  Working with 137 students makes this task challenging.  The time comes where I can pack up.  As I grab my coat and purse, the phases of the moon poster I have hanging up comes into view.  Rather than finding strength in the memories, I feel an overwhelming sense of loss and wonder what influence he could have made on me with more time.  I close my door in my classroom as I leave.  Although I wish I could close the door on my worries and fears, I don't know that I should.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing Markets for Beginning Travel Writers

Getting published is the biggest challenge that beginning travel writers face.  The ideas are flowing and the words are appearing on the screen, but without the acceptance of blogs, websites, or travel magazines, the stories remain uncredited and limited in potential.  What a feeling it is when someone wants to pay you for your ideas.  The pay may be low, but experience can lead to future success.  Of course our goal is to earn an income for our stories, but aren't we also trying to give advice to future travelers and give them the opportunity for the best possible experience ever?

So the journey must begin.  The list below includes five possible writing markets that may be interested in your work.  It is time to take the next step and see where your travel prose can take you.

In the Know Traveler

Submission Guidelines:
    • They are looking for bloggers focusing on the following subjects: travel photography, international music, adventure, family, and working with a travel agency (experience not considered)
    • Send a story and/or photographs (450-600 words in length) for Features
    • If your submission is accepted, you retain all of your rights
    • They retain the right to publish article/photography on their site
    • Send stories to
    • Should promote travel
    • At least 150 words
    • Avoid profanity

Response Time: N/A

Pay: $10 per story, $3 per blog


Submission Guidelines:
  • You MUST pitch an idea before submitting your work
  • Work should be submitted using the submission form found here
  • You can only submit articles not yet published
  • All forms of articles have a picture requirement (does not have to be taken by you)
    • Seeking articles related to travel, which appeal to a wide audience
    • Articles can be about one specific destination, as long as the theme or topic might interest a broad group of people
    • If you pick a well-known city, show a different perspective
    • Smaller places will not reach a large enough audience 
    • 1200-1600 word count
    • Between 600-2500 words
    • Must include 3-4 photos
    • 1200 or more words
    • Must include one image
Response Time: N/A

Pay: $50 for feature article, $20-$40 for travel essay, $30 for travel expert article

World Hum

Submission Guidelines:
  • Paste your submission or a short pitch as well as a brief bio into the body of an email—they will NOT open attachments
  • Send it to 
  • Writing submissions should be no more than 1,500 words
  • Do not send multiple submissions
  • You must choose to submit for travel stories, speaker's corner (rants or raves), travel interviews, lists, or audio slideshows (includes photos and narration)
  • Designate choice in the subject line of the e-mail

Response Time: ASAP, be sure to note if the article is time sensitive

Pay: Determined Once Accepted

Transitions Abroad 

Submission Guidelines:
  • They are looking for articles about cultural travel, the working traveler, living abroad, and student travel
  • The articles should be information-based
  • Avoid destination pieces
  • Visit site for current needs
  • Manuscripts should be sent electronically and addressed to
  • The author's name, address, phone and fax number, and email address should appear on at least the first page of the manuscript of the attached document
  • Attach only Microsoft Word documents
  • You may send photos which illustrate your piece electronically as attachments after acceptance of your piece
Response Time: 1-2 Weeks

Pay: $50-$150

Go World Travel

Submission Guidelines:
  • They accept only stories from trips taken within the last year
  • If accepted, the managing editor will contact you
  • Submit articles to and include the following: article title/location in the e-mail subject line, completed article, word count and state whether images are available
  •  Over 50% of the audience is American with an income higher than $50,000
  • An "If You Go" section at the end of the piece should include address, phone and website info of destinations covered
  • Feature articles should be 800-1200 word count
  • Department articles should be 500-900 word count
  • Let them know if you have photos to accompany the story
  • Include metric conversions in your article
Response Time: N/A

Pay: $35-$50 for Feature Articles

Take the risk of sharing your work and trying to reach a greater audience.  Your experiences could be valued by others and getting your name out there may lead to new opportunities.  Give it a try; the pros greatly outweigh the cons.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

5 Steps to Moving Beyond the Beaten Path

"Move beyond the beaten path.  Experience the culture.  Avoid the tourist traps."  I've heard this on most shows and guidebooks, but branching out can be scary to the novice traveler.  Usually when I begin to plan my itinerary I immediately dart for the places that are a "must see."  Perhaps it is climbing the Eiffel Tower or visiting Versailles that entices my presence, but when I think back to the moments, or hours I spent in line at these places, I do not see them as highlights.  Not to mention that all that time in lines resulted in a crowded space of rude tourists cutting in front of the line and butting in with their cameras.

To build a trip that is more rich and filling, follow some of these simple guidelines.  You can begin with one piece of advice and expand from there, or try it all.  Consider trying these tips in a local destination for practice.

Step 1: Plan Sparingly
Having a plan can be very comforting for the anxious traveler.  It can also be beneficial for saving money and making the most of your time.  Last summer I saved BLANK euros by purchasing a museum pass in Paris.  This is a great idea, but be cautious.  I made the mistake of trying to plan everything.  I ended up with a trip that was overfilled with museums and lacking in authentic experiences.  My time felt limited so I wanted to do everything, but I eliminated the opportunity for spontaneity.  When I reminisce about the highlights of my trips, I find the most fond memories take place during my interactions with people.  You can't plan the people you will meet, so make sure you leave room for it in your schedule.

I don't discourage planning because it makes the wait for the departure date more manageable.  Knowing that I will be immersing myself in another place helps me make it through the day to day drudgery.  So don't cut out planning, but stick with a tentative itinerary.  When you are building an itinerary, understand that it is a guideline, not the requirement.  Be open to changing plans. 

On the same trip to Paris, we also went to London.  We boarded a tour of the "English Countryside in One Day."  The tour had a picture posted of the Cotswolds, which was an area that I wanted to spend some time in and take a lot of photographs.  It turned out we were just driving through, we never got out.  If I was not held to such a rigid schedule, my interest could have been pursued. 

Step 2: Carefully Consider your Base
Deciding on sleeping quarters can greatly affect your ability to seek adventure.  When I am visiting a big city, I like to stay in a neighborhood downtown that has easy access to public transportation, restaurants, and sights to see.  A few years ago during my beginner traveler days, I was booking a hotel in Savannah, Georgia.  The price was great and so were the reviews, so I booked it.  Unfortunately the hotel was located just off the interstate many miles from the city center.  Luckily we had a car, but it definitely limited our chance to explore. 

Just recently I had to book a hotel in Paris for a solo night.  Since I knew I would be alone, I wanted to pick a safe place with a lot of options for activities.  I decided to go with Rue Cler because it is a pedestrian street with many restaurants.  The metro is also very close which will be important for traveling to the airport, and it makes the city very accessible.  The location is also great because I am within walking distance to the Seine and Eiffel Tower.  In other words, I would recommend considering your travel companions, what you want to see and do, and how you will get around.  Selecting the right accommodations can provide you with the confidence and opportunity you need to experience the unexpected.

Step 3: Spend Some Quality Time With Yourself
One of my favorite moments in my travels took place alone.  I was tired of waiting for my travel companions to finish getting ready, so I decided to go for a walk. As I weaved across the canals of Venice, I stumbled upon a special service for Palm Sunday.  Outside a church I found a band of young men playing a song that still lingers in my mind today.  I do not know what it is about, or even the name of the song, but the memory is so strong that it plays on repeat.  I think one of the reasons that I am so fond of this memory relies on the pride in being the only one to have this experience out of my travel group.  I felt like I got a little treat and was privileged to be a part of this private concert.

During solo travel, it is important to stay safe and feel comfortable while on your own.  My recommendations do not differ much from going on a blind date.  Go out during the day, stay in populated areas, and be aware of your surroundings are all examples of ways to stay safe.  If you can follow this advice early on in your venturing out independently, you will become more savvy for future adventures on your own.

Step 4: Ask Locals for Advice
This tip is one that is stated so often, yet so many do not follow it.  The turistico menu seems so appealing and before you know it, you are sucked into mediocre food that lacks tradition.  Another culprit of staying on the beaten path is internet forums.  Sure the convenience of the internet may lour you into finding suggestions, but it lacks the personal connection that can occur through conversation with locals. 

If you are nervous about asking locals on the street, there are many respectable opinions out there that are within easy reach.  One of the best places to start could be your hotel host or concierge.  The more detail you can provide about your interest, the more likely they will be able to provide a good match.  I found a great Indian restaurant in London this way.  Other great resources include store employees, bartenders, and visitor information desks.  Don't forget, the danger spots are usually close to the major tourist attractions. Beware.

Step 5: Go During the Off-Season
Avoiding tourist season offers many benefits.  One of  the primary reasons people avoid booking deals during peak times is based on the cost factor.  Flights and sleeping accommodations can be far less expensive during time periods that are less common with vacationers.  Besides saving some money, we can also bypass the stereotypical tourist behavior. 

One of the best ways to get out of the mold is to immerse yourself in the culture.  This task is much easier when there are fewer tourists around.  You are naturally being placed in an environment that encourages you to interact with locals rather than a larger pool of visitors. If you have the time available, definitely consider this option.