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February 21, 2008

Last one, promise

Enough blah blah blah Rome/food/wine/popes! We will return to the urgent matters of cats, cat poop, knitting and traffic post haste. However, at the risk of completely evoking yawns, I did get several folks asking the same things so here are the answers. Also, I believe I wish I were still on vacation which is why I am still thinking of airplanes.

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Where do you find such cheap airfares?

I knew I wanted to go somewhere anywhere just not on the freeway on my way to work again, please Lord. Instead of planning a destination ahead of time I just left myself open to going wherever the cheap fares took me.

However, this seat-of-your-pants destination bingo may not work for you. You may want to go to England in June, for example, or have your heart set on Australia for spring break. You may only feel comfortable traveling in a cruise setting or to an all-inclusive beach resort -- and that is perfectly 100% A-OKAY. You have to find a travel style that suits your personality. What works for other people will not always work for you. What works for me might make someone else break out in hives.

To find amazing fares all you need is an internet connection. Most people already know about the biggest internet travel websites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. All of these sites are great, and I use them all to check fares from time to time. But the sites I use most often are:

Kayak.com - The "Buzz" feature of this site is a good way to find lower-cost fares. You can select your departure airport, then use a drop down menu to select a general destination (divided up into chunks of the world, like Europe or North America or Oceania/Australia) and then look for all the cheapest fares to that area of the world by month or by certain dates. Keep in mind that you need to click through on the fares to find the "real" price, Kayak doesn't add in the taxes and fees.

CheapTickets.com - Hands-down my favorite way to travel surf. This is where I got my $600 ticket to Rome, and this is where I have found 90% of all my best travel fares. Use their Flexible Search tool to find the best deals on tickets. In the search area on the left-hand side of the homepage, look for the small link that says "Flexible Dates."

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The expanded search page has tons of great options (for example, you can search for weekend trips in June to wherever...) but I like to use the 30-day search matrix, which is option 3. It works for international fares, too:

cheaptickets-flex2.jpg

You type in your departing city, an arrival city, and then look for flights for a trip of 4-6 days (or however long) in any 30-day period and you get a huge search matrix with all the prices for all travel dates in that time frame. IT WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU BUY TICKETS! (Orbitz.com also has the exact same flexible search tool, but I noticed they add an extra $3-5 bucks on top of each ticket price. Same search, five dollars more.)

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How can people afford this?

To me, affording travel is usually a matter of priorities. I drive a thirteen-year-old car with no air conditioning. IN THE VALLEY. Most of my friends and family assumed that once I climbed (slowly, so slowly) (the word "glacial" comes to mind) out of debt I'd be immediately running out and buying a new car. But I saw travel on my horizon and my Jeep works fine for now. I would rather travel a lot (and oh yes, this is only the beginning) than have a car payment and that's where my priorities are.

If you really want something in life, you usually find a way to afford it. And don't let anyone tell you that you're being selfish, or "Ooooh, looky there! World traveler! blah blah blah fancypants!" People don't live your life, YOU live your life. Travel is one of the greatest life experiences ever. When you are sick and dying, I doubt you'll say, "I wish I spent more time in traffic or standing in line at Rite-Aid..." so let people say what they're going to say and you just go on with your bad-ass, world travelin' self.

I'm just tired of living to please other people or making choices so others won't feel bad, or judgy, or whatever. Life is short. My life is short. I want it to be really good and full of pasta.

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What On Earth Do I Pack?

I know there are folks out there who could care less about how they look on vacation, and I am not one of them. There's a thrill in being able to mix in, blend into the crowd of some foreign place. I think it's because you can sit back, observe someone else's city and wonder what life is like, wonder if you could live there ... it's part of a fantasy. Not everyone travels this way but for me part of the thrill of blending in is being able to soak in the new culture. Rather than trying to establish your identity and all that, you're just morphing for a few days, letting the you-ness melt out and letting the new city melt in. It's a great feeling, especially when you love a city. You become a temporary resident!

Enough of that, though. What everyone wants to know about are THE SHOES!!!

The issues that divide us as people are not religion or politics or money. The dividing issue is FOOTWEAR, pure and simple. hee. Everyone wants to know if they'll get laughed at for their tennis shoes.

Once a few years ago I was sitting in an airport waiting to get on a plane to Zurich. I listened as two women who were from Somewhere USA bickered about their shoes. I think they were sisters. Anyway, one woman was irritated that her sister had chosen to wear her Nikes because that made them stand out as tourists. The other lady was pissed off, because she said, and I quote, "These are my damn shoes and I'm wearing them. I don't know why I have to go changing my shoes for a bunch of strangers."

They both had a point, I guess.

Anyway, bring comfortable shoes that you like. Everyone that I saw was wearing high-end jeans with boots or Euro-tennies (I saw more silver D&G tennis shoes on this trip than I have seen in the entirety of the Beverly Center.) And yes, you can bring your jeans. Euro-jeans are different, and might I add the guys wear them tighter? Butt-huggingly tighter? I am not objecting is all I am saying here.

No one wears sweats anywhere but America as far as I have been able to discern. In my desire to be helpy and also stalkery, I took pictures of random representative Rome fashion. The look everywhere was something like this:

rome-fashion.jpg
Yes, I take pictures of people's clothes. Is that weird?

And this look was everywhere, little miniskirts or short tunics over opaque tights and knee boots... oh yeah, and lots of fur coats:

rome-fur-boots-mom.jpg
That is one chic mommy.

So aside from the fur, of course it's basically the same stuff you see in L.A. during the winter (except thank God no pajamas, what is this trend in Los Angeles with people wearing their pajamas to Starbucks? Really now.) (Carson Kressley would JUST DIE.)

I do recommend you bring two pairs of shoes. You walk more than you ever dreamed possible while on vacation and you will want to switch it up in the shoe department. I brought some black suede boots that are so comfy & cute (no link anywhere, they were discontinued, I think) and I also brought my Naot boots which I love. I have weird shoe tastes.

More Roman fashion:

roman-couple.jpg

rome-gold-tennies.jpg
My Grandma used to have some like this, only they were not Dolce & Gabbana like these and they did not cost a car payment.

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I couldn't hear their conversation, but I think it was, "I like sitting here enjoying the sun on my gorgeous self. And you?" Other guy: "Yes, I love being an Italian guy. I can wear my jeans tight and wear this fur hoodie and it only makes me MORE masculine." Other guy: "Amen, brother."

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Other stuff ...

• I like to travel in the off-season when it's cheaper and less crowded. This also means it can be COLD! A basic black or dark-colored wool pea coat will take you everywhere. Puffy coats were also in this year (especially ones trimmed in fur) and real fur was EVERYWHERE. I wish I would have taken another coat with me because all my pictures have me in one outfit but my suitcase wouldn't have closed. Ah well.

• I tried to do the carry-on only thing but after about five minutes of packing I sighed, got out the suitcase and it was fine. I am not a light packer. I'll deal with it. I am certain I will one day be reincarnated as a sherpa.

• Oh, and I was wary but it worked -- the dual currency hairdryer from Brookstone (along with one of those cheapy two-prong outlet converters from Target) worked awesome! (Sadly, bangs are way high maintenance.) (Also, the hotel had a hairdryer but ... it had issues. It looked like I could see actual flames inside it. NO WAY JOSE.)

• My over-size spy sunglasses were $14.99 at Target. While Drew was out here in January we were in the car and the sun came out and we were sans shades so they were an impulse buy that I love. I have to have my dark big sunglasses on vacation! They hide my eyes and let me people watch in peace.

• Moolah
Call your credit card provider and your bank (for your ATM card) to alert them that you will be traveling and where you'll be. If not, they could block your transactions for suspicious activity. I changed a little money into Euros before going, and used plastic for everything else because my exchange rate was better that way. If you are on the dollar, be prepared that the exchange rate is just dismal. I just made the decision to go with it and not cry too much, but dear economy: please improve. Love, laurie.

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Finally: Yes, you can.

I suspect I am not the only gal out there who wants to go off and see the world. I can't be the only human on the planet who has found herself without a current travel partner. Or perhaps there are plenty of folks to travel with -- I have several friends I could have easily sweet-talked into this trip -- but your schedules don't sync up or you have different travel styles or maybe you just want to try something new all by yourself. You're itching to go somewhere, anywhere, and you're wondering like I did... can I really do this alone?

Yes! Yes yes yes you can!

Listen, I'm a big baby. I get lonely, I get scared, I am prone to being maudlin, I'm not superhuman. I have an overactive imagination and a tendency to be um, a little thin-skinned. I get upset when some stranger leaves a mean comment for chrissakes. So if I can do this, anyone can do it. Seriously, anyone. You may not start in some foreign country, but maybe you always wanted to see Denver in the snow or Miami in the heat of summer. Or Banff... I really want to see Banff one day.

The very best things about traveling alone are that you get to move fully at your own pace and it's easy to meet people if you get lonely. You're on no one's timetable but your own, maybe for the first time ever! I spent one entire day in Rome just people-watching, walking around and having good meals. I did not take a tour, learn anything useful or apply myself to history and context on that day. It was probably one of my favorite days in my entire life.

And don't worry, I won't be blabbering on about it forever. Surely next week it will be the normal cat hair, poop and knitting. But it was nice to walk outside my life for a while. It was really really nice.

I hope your trip is lovely, too. Wherever you may decide to go!

Posted by laurie at February 21, 2008 2:54 PM