How to Choose Your Own Adventure: 6 Valuable Tips!

7 11 2017

It’s true, we love to travel. A LOT. But we would still love to travel even more than we do. Which begs the question we get asked often, “What’s your next trip?”

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Believe it or not, we actually have SO many places that we want to visit, we need a spreadsheet to keep track of it all. And we are also armed with some very key strategies to help us choose, “Where to?”

 

 

For most people, planning vacation can be pretty easy. Pick a sunny beach in Florida and book a week in January. Done. Rinse and repeat. This is swell for those people, but this just doesn’t cut it for those of us with the insatiable Wanderlust bug. It can sometimes feel overwhelming, knowing that I won’t live long enough to see ALL the places I want to see before I die. So how do we choose?

 

We’re Not Getting Any Younger

Although I’m only 37 1/2, I’m very aware of the reality that, the older I get, the harder it’s going to be to travel. Some of the most vigorous hikes will become too challenging for my aching bones. Long flights will wreak havoc with my veins. It will take me longer to recover from the energy spent simply getting there.

Tip #1: Do the most difficult hiking now. Push your boundaries while your body is at its physical peak, before it declines too far. The older I get, the more I recognize my own mortality, which can cause doubt, and make you shy away from something you wouldn’t have thought twice about in your twenties.

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I can tell you know that I’ve enjoyed several life-changing hikes, and some of them were so physically intense, I doubt that I will ever attempt them again. Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park in Utah, USA is one not for the faint-hearted! At least that hike is only a couple of miles from the starting point. Havasupai in Arizona, USA was not just scary at one point, but also tested our endurance, with 34 miles logged in a 2-night trip.

15492141_1392043570878263_2220117331010704962_nTip #2: Fly as Far Away as Possible! While these longer flights can be tougher to afford when you are younger, your body will thank you for sticking closer to home in later decades. Recently, I spent over 50 hours traveling to Sri Lanka, and when I arrived, both of my ankles were noticably swollen! This has never happened to me before, and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t moving enough while flying. The swelling lasted for 24 hours, and was a bit scary and uncomfortable. This can also be a symptom of another serious risk, Deep Vein Thrombosis. The risk of thrombosis increases on longer flights, and gets worse with age, as well as many other factors (including birth control pills!). This may seem like a weird thing to think about when you are young, but, believe me, blood clots are a serious and deadly risk. This is why you see airline passengers standing and walking around for long periods of time on flights over 4 hours.

So, next on my long-distance list? New Zealand!

The Climate IS Changing… Faster Than You Think

When we add a new destination to our travel spreadsheet, a critical factor is climate change. There are some amazing places on this planet that I may not get to before they are irreversibly changed as a result of climate change. We prioritize these destinations based on the estimated risks.

Tip #3: Prioritize Places at Risk from Climate Change. This is not a hoax. In 2014 I decided to cross off Glacier National Park because I had read about the melting glaciers. I wanted to make it there before Glacier has no glaciers left to see. It was a last minute, 4 day trip, and was not nearly enough to explore all of the amazing sights and experiences to be had there. Now my goal is to make it back before 2020 for some back-country thru-hiking. 10426120_681178748631419_2884749765749576765_n

Here’s my own list of climate-change destinations that I’ve managed to check off:

  • Glacier National Park in Montana, USA. This is one of the most stunning, expansive parks in our country, with an incredible variety of visual decadence to explore! Experts believe we have until 2020 before the last of the monumental glaciers are gone forever.
  • Everglades National Park in Florida, USA. Sea levels are slowly rising, at different speeds across the globe. As the ocean starts to take back Florida and other coastal areas, the unique biodiversity harbored in the freshwater/seawater interchange will be devastated, causing extinction of numerous creatures.
  • The Maldives.  This chain of over 2,000 islands makes up a paradise country located closest to India.  The former president of the Maldives recognized the harsh reality that their entire country- no more than 4 feet above sea level- would eventually be completely lost to climate change. He fought to take the country to being Net Zero Energy to slow climate change, but was since removed from office after a coo. There’s a great documentary called The Island President that can catch you up on their plight.

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Travel is Getting Riskier

Turkey, Istanbul, Haghia Sophia Mosque interiorIt’s a scary time in our world right now. The number of terror attacks had rapidly risen compared to just 10 years ago. I’ll be honest- it’s terrifying to think about. I don’t want to let terrorists win by becoming a fetal position shut-in, but I also take this risk seriously. When we booked our flight to Sri Lanka last year, I debated about whether or not to take the cheapest fare, which took us through Turkey, with an 8 hour layover in Istanbul. I researched heavily before deciding whether or not we would leave the airport to see some of the city while there. The day we flew out of Chicago, we were delayed 4 hours in a snowstorm, and my phone started blowing up with messages from friends on Facebook asking if we were okay. There had been a bombing in Istanbul that we had just missed.

While the optimist in me wants to hope that we will win the ‘war on terrorism’ globally, my gut tells me otherwise. I see such a rapid increase in radicalized groups and violent attacks, that I fear it will never be safe again to travel to some parts of the world. Would I love to see Pakistan? Sure! Do I think I will ever feel safe enough in my lifetime to go there? Nope. 2E81B6E900000578-0-This_table_documenting_the_increase_in_terror_attacks_in_recent_-a-67_14477001334622E893C6400000578-0-image-m-13_1447774752237

Tip #4: Don’t Ignore Political Shifts. If a country that is on your list appears to be getting less safe, pay attention! I wish I had gone to Egypt a decade ago, and don’t know if I’ll ever get to go now. I’m incredibly grateful that I got to visit Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, however briefly, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back. I’m actually flying through that same airport again next April, and have zero interest in leaving the airport next time, due to safety concerns. Before you book your flight, do your homework and know your risks. 

There are many amazing, world-renowned world heritage sites, but some of them are at risk due to wars. UNESCO catalogs all of the official World Heritage Sites, and color codes them to highlight ones at risk of being destroyed. If it’s safe to go there, don’t wait.

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Make a Plan, But Don’t Stick to It!

I’m all about research, spreadsheets, and lists, but I do not recommend you treat this as a commitment. In my Wanderlust spreadsheet, I collect links and jot down places I’ve never heard of when I read an article about someplace new. For those that I’m serious about, I actually put in a target year for traveling there, and sometimes I actually get there that year. Other times, it may get pushed back, or some new destination takes higher priority. And that’s okay. When my friend Raina moved to Sweden 7 years ago, it got added to my list, but I’m just now finally making it over there to see her!

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Tip #5: Be Flexible, and Jump at New Opportunities! When your high school friend joins the Peace Corp and moves to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso for 2-3 years… don’t be caught kicking yourself at her welcome back party because you never made it to visit her while she was there! Knowing someone in a foreign country is a perfect excuse to travel, and a great way to get a local experience!

Tip #6: Make Your Own Opportunities! If you have the travel bug, and you know this will be a lifelong need, don’t waste time wishing you could travel more… build the life you want! Do you have a dream job that would help you to travel? Apply relentlessly!

While I love my job, my travel is limited to the state of Indiana, so I only get to travel on my own time. But, I chose to combine career advancement and my love of travel, and started applying to present at international conferences. This strategy has taken me to Split, Croatia, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Kandy, Sri Lanka! I go on my own dime, using vacation time, but now I can proudly list on my resume “International Speaker” for 3 very prestigious conferences in my field of expertise. Win-Win!

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Do you have a natural ‘break’ in life, like going back to school or moving across the country? Take advantage of it! I actually delayed starting college after high school so that I could travel the U.S. for 3 months, and it’s the best thing I could have ever done. I made that choice when I was a sophomore in high school, and started saving up for my epic graduation road trip.

Are there volunteer opportunities that you can get involved with and get to travel? Do it! There are a number of ways to give back while sharing another culture. Build a school with a community, dig a well in Africa, or raise money for a good cause through travel sports! My first trip to Hawaii was done for ‘free,’ by fundraising $4,500 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by running my first Marathon in Honolulu!

Bottom line, if you want to travel, there are a myriad of ways to achieve your goals. 

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Go grab the world by the mountaintops!

Remember, not all those who wander are lost.

 

 

 

 

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Crossing Croatia

30 01 2014

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I flew to Croatia four days early so that I could adjust to the time zone, not be rushed if we were delayed, and have a bit of time to explore the country beyond the conference site in Split. The conference, OnSustainability, is an international gathering of academic scholars poised to share research and insights into sustainability with their peers. I’m not sure how I got accepted to present at this 10th annual, but I was very excited about the mix up. My absolute favorite travel companion, my wife, Bethany, joined me for the journey. After all, she is the one who convinced me to submit in the first place.

I arrived at the tiny airport in Split alone. I had been separated from Bethany in Dulles, when a late flight forced me to run, 30 pound pack on my back, a mile through the extensive airport to catch separate connections to Germany. We never had a chance to get them to switch us onto the same flight, as I heard, “Paging passenger Kelly Weger,” being urgently called over the airport speakers. I was out of breath and sweating when I saw her standing at the ticket counter trying desperately to change her ticket to join me. I kissed her goodbye and boarded the plane for Munich.

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When Bethany’s plane from Frankfurt finally arrived in Croatia, two hours after my prop plane, we were picked up by Jani, our host. He and his wife, Ojdana, rent out a two bedroom apartment on the ninth floor of a communist-looking, concrete housing complex. The group of residential towers sit back on a hill overlooking the Adriatic coast and the Old City of Split. Within 30 minutes, we could walk to the Old Town, and it’s Diocletian stone wonders. When the rain held back, this was a wonderful walk past bus stops, “caffe bars,” and the ordinary, daily wonders of ‘real’ life in Split.

We desperately needed a night to recover from 24 hours of unrestful travel. My flight to Munich involved Russian school boys emphatically playing video games on the touch screen directly behind my headrest; Bethany’s flight was punctuated by a screaming baby across the entire Atlantic ocean. The apartment was chilly, but a good size considering where we were. The cold concrete floors were meagerly furnished with heavily worn and mismatched objects, minimalist yet functional. We forced ourselves to stay up, fruitlessly search for restaurants with vegetarian fare, and then we bought groceries to survive the week on a budget. By 8pm, we fell hard asleep and slept like freshly rescued soldiers.

Our Croatian hosts met us the next morning to give us advice on what to do with our limited time in their country. I had researched it a lot, but Bethany only found out that she was coming three weeks prior, on Christmas day. Lucky for us, Ojdana is actually a travel guide during the high season. This time of year, however, travelers are rare. Croatia is plagued with rain 5 days out of the week, with highs in the 40s to low 50s Fahrenheit. After our morning meeting, we gathered our things, walked down to the Old City to rent a car, and off we went!

villageBethany got another international drivers license before we left, so my role was as navigator and photographer. We drove the slower, national road down along the coast to head South toward Dubrovnik. We left our plans wide open, and had hopes of making it to Montenegro to do an amazing hike up to the old castle overlooking the bay. Besides, when else would we ever make it to Montenegro? We never made it that far, but we made plenty of memories elsewhere.

water coastThe coastline itself is simply gorgeous, reminiscent of the familiar Route 1 along the coast of California. It was filled with winding, twisty two lanes, with the road tumbling down to our right into the ocean. To our left, the mountains climbed upward, lined with steeply graded paths and cascading fruit orchards. Unlike California, the coastline is dense with small villages, one after another. They do not shy away from building on such steep terrain, with houses often disappearing from view below the guard rail. We stopped several times to admire the vista, and take in the charm of the small towns. We were very lucky to have sunshine most of the way, but then the rain started about 3 hours into our journey.

dubrovnik stoneWe arrived in Dubrovnik after dark. The rainy streets glistened, highlighting the individual stones that made up the paths. We followed signs to the Center, and found a highly coveted parking spot, backing our rental car right up against the towering stone wall to the Old City. The wall, made up of two tiers, must be at least 50 feet tall.

dubrovnik city wallOnce we parked and loaded our packs onto our backs, we made our way back up to the North Gate. We walked into this protected UNESCO World Heritage site, raindrops falling softly, and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Although it was a Saturday night, the gentle rain kept most people cowering inside stone arches. The

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Old City is a living, breathing town, filled with homes, little shops, churches, and courtyards. It is also not shy about stairs! Upon entering, we looked down a narrow passage filled with stone steps that led down another 40 feet to the next main passage. We had no idea where we would sleep this night, so we started walking down the steps.

Along the way there were countless doorways to private apartments, some with signs that said “Sobe” or “Zimmer” which means rooms to rent. I tried knocking on a couple of them, but nobody answered. It was dark, well after 8 pm, in the off-season. We began to get nervous about finding a room.

Bethany suggested we go ask at an open restaurant, so we continued on towards a more brightly lit street. Inside the walls, only carts and pedestrians are allowed, and the widest streets are still tiny roads in the outside world. We walked into the first place we saw, and nobody was there. No guests, no staff, nobody. Bethany walked further into their tiny establishment and called out. A woman came out and, between our minimal Croatian and her mediocre English, we managed to explain what we needed, and establish that she could not help us. However, she pointed at another restaurant, called Ragusa.

Ragusa is actually a larger restaurant, but you cannot tell this at first. It encompasses five or six little storefronts, discrete and disconnected. We peeked inside the first doorway we came to, and saw another empty dining room with just a few tables. We wandered to the next door, and eventually found a person inside. She spoke good English, and said that they had a room available.

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After a few minutes, the woman explained that they have three apartments, with three prices. She said that the man next to her would show us the places, and if we liked it we should give him the money, but he spoke no English. We asked to only see the cheapest room, since 50 Euros was already more than we wanted to spend for one night. We followed the man, a short but smiling gentleman in his 60s or 70s, up the narrow steps in another nearly hidden passageway.

The room was actually very nice. Not in a clean, modern, fancy hotel sort of way, but in a rich, cultural, historic way. It was furnished with old wooden furniture that has probably been in their family for generations. There was just enough room to get around the double bed to reach the open tread stairs leading up to the other spaces. It felt a bit like being on a boat as I walked up and looked down upon the thick, ornately red comforter. Up the steps was a small kitchenette, a bathroom, and a living space with a loveseat and a desk against the window. The walls indicated a longstanding leak in the roof, which had created a mold spot the size of my head. Still, it smelled clean enough for one night, and we were exhausted.dubrovnik room

Bethany and I accepted the room, and the man continued to show us how to turn everything on. He kept finding things that were not quite up to standard, and then he would run out to get something to repair it, and come back a minute later to fix whatever was needed. First, a light bulb was out; then the space heater wasn’t working so he grabbed another one; then something else that was not important to us. We smiled at his eagerness to make everything perfect for us.

When he left, Bethany pointed at a painting on the wall and said, “That looks like my friend’s paintings. It could be his, since they have family somewhere near here.” I laughed, and thought to myself, “Sure. Might be.” If someone said they knew an American artist and then stayed at a hotel in NYC, I would say the chances are pretty slim that the art on the walls would be that of their friend, the American artist.

As we settled into our new room, Bethany and I plugged in and checked on our messages from back home. While I cleared out any important work emails, and then got to facebooking, Bethany gasped and chuckled. “You’ll never believe this,” she says, “My friend Tanja finally emailed me back about our trip to Croatia. She says her uncle owns a restaurant in Dubrovnik called Ragusa, and we should stop by and say hi if we can find it!” I laughed in utter disbelief. Perhaps she was right about the painting after all. In fact, the nice man who showed us to our room, could very well have been Tanja’s uncle. It’s a small world, after all.

Side note: Moments after arriving to the room, I went up to use the bathroom, where the floor was still soaking wet from recent cleaning. As I made my way back down those sailor stairs, I slipped, fell completely on my ass, and whacked my knee on the windowsill. Not a bad start to a city with a million steps! This was part of the reason we never made it to Montenegro. Bethany got ice from the restaurant, and we took it easy. I made a full recovery the next day.road sign bosnia
dubrovnik wall 2 dubrovnik road dubrovnik road 2 dubrovnik courtyard








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