Category: travel

Officially Vaccinated: What Next?

As of about an hour ago, it’s been two weeks since Denisa and I got our second COVID vaccine shot. Which means (theoretically) we can start going back to some of our old routines. It’s surprising to me how many things that used to seem very normal and not that stressful are now giving me low level anxiety (or worse). For example, I used to plan trips all the time. I don’t love flying (a well-established fact with long-time blog readers), but I love traveling enough to overcome my dislike of flying. The lack of travel was a real blow during COVID, and so it was high on my list of things to do as soon as I could.

I’m not one to shirk from doing something just because it’s making me anxious, and it was Denisa and my 20th anniversary just a week ago. So we’re heading to Puerto Rico next Sunday for a five night stay. That’s right! I’m finally using all these free Marriott room reservations we had stockpiled from credit card rewards, and we used up all of the credit I had with American Airlines from getting two trips canceled. We’ll be staying at a resort on the beach in San Juan, and we’ve got tours booked to hike through the rain forest, go kayak in a bioluminescent bay, snorkel, and scuba dive. These are all definitely things we haven’t been able to do in Maine, and so I’m really looking forward to it.

That said, it was still stressful to make out all the reservations and plan a schedule again. You’d think it’d be just like getting back on a bike, and I suppose it is. However, for that comment to make sense, you need to know about the time I was on my mission in Germany and was suddenly confronted with living in a city (Gotha) where the Elders had always used bikes to get around. My new companion asked me if I could ride, and I said of course. But I hadn’t biked since . . . middle school? I don’t know. It had been a while. He hopped on his bike and sped off. I teetered onto mine and tried to catch up. And it was true! I could still maintain my balance on a bike. But then I saw he’d stopped abruptly by a mailbox to send a letter, and I discovered I couldn’t remember how to stop a bike. I tried backpedaling (old habits die hard) to no avail. The bike had handbrakes. And I distinctly remembered being told never to use one of those brakes to stop fast. I couldn’t remember which one. In the heat of the moment, I panicked and chose at random.

I chose poorly.

I jammed on the front brake, and my front tire came to an abrupt halt, launching me up and over my handlebards onto the sidewalk. I ruined a pair of suit pants that day. (Good thing my suit came with two. I’d ruin the other pair a few weeks later in another bike accident. When my companion was transferred a month later, I hid both bikes in a closet and didn’t mention to my new companion that we had them. We walked from then on . . .)

So yes. Planning trips really is just like riding a bike.

In any case, the trip’s planned now, and I’ve got other irons in the fire for future trips. Out to Utah. Down to Boston. Down to Pennsylvania. Over to Machias. Camping. I will wear a mask and follow any social distancing/testing rules I need to when I go to these places, and I’m definitely wondering how stressed I’m going to be flying (with strangers!) after all this time, but I’m very much looking forward to being somewhere farther than an hour’s drive away from my house.

I realize the pandemic is far from over, especially when I look at the horrific things going on in India at the moment. But I still have to celebrate the progress that’s happening locally and personally. Hopefully there’s more and more of that in the days to come.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

How I Scored $22 Plane Tickets to Puerto Rico

I’m not typically the world’s most spontaneous person. When I buy something significant, it’s usually after a long hard look at my finances, and there’s a fair bit of price comparison that goes into it as well. A vacation? I’ll stew on that for months. So if someone came up to me and said, “Do you want to go to Puerto Rico at Thanksgiving?” but said I had to make my mind up that instant, it would be a pretty easy pass.

Except last week I bought plane tickets to Puerto Rico twenty minutes after I first had the idea to go there for Thanksgiving. Why? Because they were $22 each, round trip. I bought tickets for my family of five to fly at Thanksgiving for a total of $110, including tax. (Technically, the tickets were $1 each way. The rest of the cost was airport fees.)

I posted about this on Facebook, hoping some friends might be able to nab the same deal. Within an hour or two, however, the deal was gone. So how did I manage to get such ridiculous airfare?

Honestly, I got lucky. But that said, I did a few things ahead of time to put myself in a position where luck could help me out.

First off, I have a travel deals blog that I check most days. The Flight Deal lists great prices on airfare from a number of American cities. I’ve been watching them for about two years. Boston is the largest close city that they cover, so I just skim the deals for mention of Boston, and then perk up if I see anything good. I’ve seen tickets to Asia for $400, for example. But often the prices are contingent on things I just can’t do right now. With kids at home, Denisa and I can’t just up and go to Tokyo two weeks from tomorrow. (Well, assuming anyone was going anywhere, that is.) So it’s been more an exercise of “someday maybe I’ll be able to buy one of those tickets . . .”

In light of all the garbage happening in the world right now, I’d stopped even looking at the blog for the last while. Then last week I saw a news story in the morning about how cheap airfare was right now, and how now was the time to buy. It was enough to make me curious. I poked around on Kayak some for European fares. They were low ($450 at the right times), but none of the times worked for me, and it wasn’t as if I was going to pick now to plunk down $2,500 in plane tickets for something six months from now.

I shrugged off the idea and moved on, but when it came time to check my daily blogs, the article was enough for me to check my travel blogs again. And that’s when I saw the rate: Boston to Puerto Rico for $20.

It had to be something weaselly, like you could only fly on the third Wednesday of a month on a red eye. Or maybe it was with some sketchy carrier. I checked it out, though. Jet Blue. And when I checked the travel dates, it was for anytime until the end of the year. Summer still seems like it might be iffy for travel, so the next window my family could go would be Thanksgiving. Surely that would be more expensive.

I checked. It wasn’t. I read the fine print. The tickets are fully refundable, meaning if the world hasn’t settled down by then, I could get my money back. I sent the price to Denisa, we talked about it for a couple of minutes, wondering what the angle was we weren’t seeing. How in the world could it be that cheap?

We bought the tickets.

As I said, a few hours later, the deal was gone. Those same tickets I had bought for $110 now would cost $3,800. I waited for JetBlue to contact me and explain it had all been a pricing error. A week later, the trip is still good to go. All signs point to yes, assuming flying is allowed by then.

So like I said, I was lucky with this airfare. But if I hadn’t been checking travel blogs, I wouldn’t have gotten lucky. Will I do it more often? Probably about the same as I’ve always done. There’s only so often I can pick up and head out on a big trip.

But it never hurts to check . . .

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Heading to Aruba

In my continuing credit card churning escapades, I managed to kind of accidentally end up qualifying Denisa for Southwest’s Companion Pass for a year. This means that for this entire year, anywhere Denisa flies on Southwest, I can fly with her for free. (If I’d been doing this the right way, I would have qualified her at the beginning of this year, which would have meant the free flights would have gone through this whole year and then all of next year, but . . . I goofed. C’est la vie.)

That’s a pretty great perk, and after talking it over some, Denisa and I decided to see just what we could do with all these points we’ve been accumulating. At first I wanted to go to Hawaii, but getting to Hawaii on Southwest when you live in Maine turns out to be more hassle than we were willing to deal with. So then we turned our eye to the Caribbean. Why not someplace that needed a passport to get to?

From there, it was a matter of finding out which flights were the easiest to manage all along the way. For example, Southwest technically flies to the Grand Caymans or Costa Rica, but actually getting there from Portland was going to be a beast, so I crossed the off the list of potentials. This narrowed my list of candidates to the Bahamas, Cancun, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Aruba.

The next step was to figure out where we might stay. I’ve got a war chest of Marriott points, so I decided to focus on Marriotts for now. Ideally, I wanted a place that felt luxurious. Like we were really living it up. Flying off for a romantic getaway at a Residence Inn? Not quite what I was going for. But I also didn’t want to blow all my points at once. I wanted value luxury, if that existed. Cancun and Jamaica either had hotels that were Fairfield Inns or Ritz Carltons. Nothing in the sweet spot. The Bahamas had a nice candidate, until I realized taxes for the room were going to be $556. Paying that much in taxes doesn’t really make it feel free, you know?

At that point, it was down to Puerto Rico, the DR, or Aruba, and in the end, we went with Aruba for a couple of reasons. First, this is going to be a trip with just Denisa and me. Puerto Rico was really appealing, but we might head there with the kids sometime. It’s pretty easy to get to and navigate. Why not try something a bit more adventurous for this trip? In that case, Aruba sounded more exotic than the Dominican Republic, and it’s technically part of the South American continent, which means I could cross an entire continent off my “visited” list. Sold!

In the end, it cost 38,000 Southwest points (plus $180 in taxes) and 135,000 Marriott points (plus $25 in taxes) to book a five night stay in Aruba at a hotel with its own private island. It’ll cost more than that to go, of course, once we pay for parking and food and activities. But considering the flight and hotel have only going to set me back a grand total of $205, I think we can spend a bit on living it up while we’re down there. What will we do? Maybe scuba diving? Snorkeling? Horseback riding? If any of you have been and have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Still very glad I started churning. It takes some coordination and some research each time I need a new credit card (which I need to do again now), but I love how it’s been giving me the extra push I’ve needed to go out and try doing some different things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. Money and time well spent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Tropical Vacations

Maybe it’s because I just finished one vacation and I have a second one lined up for the end of this week. Or maybe it’s because it was just above zero this morning when I headed into work. (Not that I was cold. I had my nice LL Bean coat on, so the cold doesn’t bother me much.) But one way or the other, I’ve got vacationing on the brain, and I’d like to ask you lovely people for some advice.

I’m debating going somewhere tropical. I’ve toyed with the idea of Hawaii, but that’s like . . . over 5,000 miles away from me, which seems a bit much. Slovakia is only 4,000 miles away, after all. I want to go someplace tropical, but not “farther away than Eastern Europe” tropical. That said, I’ve been to Hawaii. It’s lovely. I’d love to go back.

But I haven’t been to the Caribbean (unless you count the many voyages I went on to see the Pirates there over the years). I’ve been looking into different islands. Puerto Rico (no passport needed!), Aruba (I’ve already got a passport, so what does it matter?), the Bahamas, Jamaica, etc. What I’d really like is to hear from people who’ve been to these places. I’ve talked with a friend who went to Puerto Rico recently and loved it. I’d like that kind of experienced feedback on other places.

How hard is it to get around? What do you do with your time there? How expensive was the food? Favorite experiences? Places to avoid? When did you go? Any general tips? Have you been to Hawaii? How did it compare to there?

Anyway. I’m all ears (or eyes, I suppose, though I’d be happy to discuss this in person as well.) If you got suggestions/thoughts, please share!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Hero’s Journey and Travel

I jetted down to San Antonio for Thanksgiving last week, taking some time away from the frigid tundra this November seems to be like in Maine to go enjoy some sun and 85 degree weather with family. Of course, that also meant I had to get on a plane to get there, and faithful readers know just how I feel about planes. (Hint: it’s not a fond relationship.)

But today’s post isn’t about my hatred of planes. Instead, I’d like to focus on a positive aspect of travel. I love being at different places: exploring and discovering things I haven’t seen or done before. This trip had plenty of that. We went to a number of delicious restaurants. (Mi Tierra, The Magnolia Pancake Haus, Torchy’s*, Duck Donuts, and we explored the vastness of HEB (pronounced H. E. B., as opposed to “heb”), a San Antonio grocery store named after Howard Edward Butt. I tried to argue he should have called it “Howard’s End.” Talk about a missed opportunity.) We checked out the River Walk and the Alamo. We did a scavenger hunt downtown. We ate guacamole by the bucketful. San Antonio is a lovely city (though I was glad to get back to some winter and snow when we returned. Because Christmas.)

But instead of focusing on all the things we did on the vacation, I want to center in on the act of returning after the vacation is done. I know that’s often the saddest part of the trip, but in many ways, it sometimes feels like the most interesting to me.

Whenever I leave home, there’s a fair bit of stress that goes into it. The packing and the plane, but also the process of learning the ropes in the new city where you arrive. Where do you get the rental car? How do you get to where you’re going? Where can you eat?

When you’re on your way home, you’ve got that all figured out. You know the area. You pass stores you recognize. Places you’ve been. Maybe I did one too many papers in college on the Hero’s Journey, but that’s what it always reminds me of. You come back to the place you left, but you’re different than you were before you left it. Wiser? Who knows. But definitely more experienced.

A trip changes everyone on it in different ways. Seeing new places and new people opens your mind up to ways of thinking that might have been closed to you if you hadn’t seen or met. And that’s one of the biggest reasons I continue to travel as much as I do, even with my intense loathing of airplanes.

Anyone else out there do any traveling over vacation? Got any cool stories to share?

*Torchy’s Tacos did lead MC to proclaim it “the worst dinner ever” after she had an unfortunate run in with some jalapenos that led to her spitting her food out faster than Regan in the Exorcist can spew out pea soup. The rest of the family found it quite spicy. I loved it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

%d bloggers like this: