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No to boring travel photo albums

I’ve put off a big trip to Europe for a couple of years now. After having learned that one of my best friends is planning a trip himself this November, I wasted no time and immediately booked a three-week jaunt through a continent I last visited when I was only 13. Needless to say, I’m excited about this trip. Not only will it be a chance to spend some time with my buddy whom I’ve not seen in a while but, it’ll be my first time going as an adult. I suspect the experience will be much different — in fact, a co-worker has already said, “get your lips ready for a lot of action.”

While that is certainly something to look forward to, I’m most keen on making sure this trip is well-documented. I’ve been asking friends and scouring the internet for unconventional ways to document my adventure. As much as possible, I’d like to avoid having to create photo albums with meh pictures of me posing in front of famous places and landmarks. Here’s what I have so far:

  • By now, you’ve probably seen Matt groove his way around the world or this guy move through 11 countries in 44 days. While these require a bit of effort and some skill, they seem to me very doable.
  • A friend documents his travels by creating photo albums he calls “Alphabet City.” Essentially, he takes a picture of an object or a sign or a landmark that looks like each letter of the alphabet until he completes the set.
  • I’m hoping two other friends can join us on this trip. If they aren’t able to, I’m thinking of bringing cardboard cutouts and having my picture taken with it, a la George Clooney in Up in the Air.
Up-in-the-Air-300x126.jpeg
  • Before leaving for Europe, I’m considering asking friends and family to contribute to a checklist of ermahgerd moments. These come to mind: tripping a mime in France, upstaging a singing gondolier in Italy, or grooming some stranger’s mustache in Spain. Ermahgerd, I know.

All too often, people travel the way they think they’re supposed to, rushing past here-and-there. They take pictures the same way, without taking a moment to consider and to consume. While I have nothing against regular photo albums and personal travel scrapbooks, I’m opposed to humdrum depictions and descriptions when you are given a fleeting opportunity to animate the way you document your travel.

I’m still on the lookout for ideas so, if you have any, I’d love to hear from you. Leave your suggestion in a comment here or on our Facebook page!

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Summer Road Trip Fun Kit for Kids of All Ages

My sister is taking my five-year-old niece on a road trip this week, and she made the most awesome Fun Kit to keep her occupied during the long stretches of time in the car. Here’s what it includes:

Map of the trip

  • Major destinations are highlighted so my niece can follow along with their progress.

Road trip scavenger hunt

  • This has been completely customized to the specific route (e.g. Look for the “Welcome to Oregon” sign), and divided into three phases. It also features items specific to my niece’s interests like cars that look like the characters in the movie Cars.

Road Trip Tickets to be “cashed in” during the trip

  • J gets to choose the next three songs on the iPod
  • 20 minutes of sing-along songs
  • J gets 20 minutes with mom’s iPad (which has been pre-loaded with kid-friendly apps)
  • J watches a movie on the portable DVD player
Don't forget the teddy bear! By Flickr user -Snugg-

Don't forget the teddy bear! By Flickr user -Snugg-

Games and activities:

  • Etch-A-Sketch
  • Lite Brite
  • Coloring books and crayons
  • A travel journal! Lined notebook, pens, stickers of things they’ll see/do on the trip
  • Disposable camera

Car came catalog:

  • Alphabet game – spotting the letters on signs,  license plates, etc.
  • “Little Johnny” –  My sister and brother-in-law will post hypotheticals like: Little Johnny is eating crayons – do you tell the teacher or not? Or Little Johnny is climbing out the window. Little Johnny is making faces at me, etc. My niece learns when it’s appropriate to tell an adult and when it’s tattling.
  • Grocery List – The first player names an object available at a grocery store that starts with the letter A. The next player has to repeat what the first player said and then add another grocery item that starts with a B. If you forget a grocery item, you’re out, and the game continues until the player with the best memory wins.
  • Who Do We Know? - My sister and brother-in-law will pose questions such as, “Who do we know who used to be a skydiving instructor?” or “Who do we know who was born in another country?” or “Who do we know who worked at a fish and chips restaurant?” and then my niece gets to guess which one of our friends or family members the statement applies to. It’s a fun way for her to learn a little family history and personal biography.

Sounds like a road trip I’d like to go on! What would you add?

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Merrymakers: Adam Seper, World Traveler

Merrymakers: Adam Seper, World Traveler

In 2007 Adam Seper and his wife Megan were living a perfectly happy life in St. Louis. He was a high school English teacher; she was an attorney. One evening, while walking their dog, Megan casually brought up an idea that ended up changing their lives. Within a week, they were hatching a plan to uproot their lives and spend a year traveling the world. Within two years, they hit the road. Hannah recently had the opportunity to talk with Adam about how they did it.

Everybody’s Invited!: What made you and your wife decide to drop everything and take a trip around the world?

Adam Seper: You know there are a lot of people who do something like this because they hate their jobs, or they’re not satisfied with their lives. That wasn’t true for us. My wife was an attorney, and while she didn’t love her job, she certainly didn’t hate it. And I did love my job. I was a high school English teacher. All our family and friends were here, so we were super happy in St. Louis. But there was something missing, and neither of us could put our finger on it. We had talked about moving so many times. We’d talked about moving to Colorado. We kicked around the idea of moving to South Korea to teach English. We had all these ideas, but they always kind of fizzled out.

EI!: So when did you first consider a round the world trip?

AS: My wife Megan came across a blog about an American couple who did this year-long round the world trip. She was telling me about it one night as we were walking the dog. She was like, “We should totally do that.” And I completely dismissed her. It’s not something I’d really heard of. I didn’t know anyone personally who had done it. This was back in 2007, when there wasn’t this huge glut of travel blogs yet.

The next day I started getting emails from her with links to blogs and message boards. And I thought, “Oh, was she serious?” I started reading into it a bit. It certainly piqued my interest. The key was we found this blog by a couple who seemed similar to us – they had regular jobs, they didn’t have trust funds, they were around our age. And they just decided to do it. So I really clicked with them, just by reading it. It was like, “If these people can do it, why can’t we?”

It was within a week of that initial conversation that we started going over our finances and came up with a number of what we thought we could be saving each month.

EI!: How did you find out how much money you needed?

AS: That was tough. I emailed the people who wrote the blog. And that became my reference point. And I found forums on sites like Bootsnall, Lonely Planet, and Thorn Tree. We saw a wide range of numbers, but the numbers we saw didn’t scare us. We didn’t have a mortgage payment yet.

EI!: Would you say the mental or logistical hurdles were harder to overcome?

AS: For Megan, I know she would say mental. For me, once we sat down and crunched the numbers and realized how much we could save per month just by cutting down on bars and going out to dinner, a lightbulb just clicked. We had always let those other ideas about moving to Colorado or South Korea fizzle out because we were a lot more nervous than excited about them. But this just felt right. It just made sense. After that first week, I was all in. 

EI!: You said it took a couple years to save up?

AS: I think it was about 20 months.

EI!: Did your interest wane during that time?

AS: It was tough at times, but there’s so much to do to prepare and learn about. It did get difficult those last six months because it was so close, and yet so far. We had the major stuff figured out, and we were just in a holding pattern. All we were waiting for those last six months was just to save the last bit of money.

EI!: Where did you go on your trip?

AS: We spent about six months in South America, five weeks in New Zealand, three and a half months in Southeast Asia, and about six weeks in India.

EI!: Sounds dreamy. Was your route figured out in advance?

AS: Not really. What we did was pick a handful of must-see places. Ours were Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Patagonia, Angkor Wat, and the Taj Mahal. Since three of our must-sees were in South America, and since South America is cheap, it became one of the backbones of our trip. The Galapagos Islands were originally on our list, but we ended up exchanging that for New Zealand. New Zealand was a place we wanted to go, but we weren’t sure we’d be able to afford it. When we decided to nix the Galapagos, we did that in favor of New Zealand. We’d found a cheap flight. Those are the benefits of buying one-way tickets, instead of a Round-the-World ticket.

EI!: Any big mistakes?

AS: We thought India would be the hardest, so we saved it for last, thinking we’d be well-seasoned by then. But actually what happened was we were tired. By the ten and a half month point, I was tired and ready to come home. And India is not the place you want to be when you’re ready to come home! I would put it in the middle of our trip if I had to do it over again. India was the place I liked the least during our trip, but it’s the place I want to go back to the most. I want a do-over!

EI!: What were the highlights?

AS: Walking through the sun gate and seeing Machu Picchu for the first time. That was one of the highlights of my trip and, honestly, of my life. It’s burned into my memory. It was awesome. We did a little volunteering at an orphanage in Cambodia. That was amazing. And we rented a camper van in New Zealand for five weeks. That was really, really cool. It was almost like a vacation from our trip.

Adam and Megan at Machu Picchu

Adam and Megan at Machu Picchu

EI!: Since you’ve been back, you’ve taken a different career path. How else has your life changed?

AS: Seeing a lot of poverty for the better part of a year really gets to you. So waste really bothers me now. The thought of throwing away perfectly good food. When you see literally starving kids on the side of the road, it has an effect. It’s become second nature to me now. When I see waste now, it pisses me off.

EI!: Do you have larger travel goals, like to visit a certain number of countries?

AS: Well, we want to start a family soon. If money was no object, we’d live in St. Louis for three years, and then go travel a year with kids. I want our kids traveling internationally from the get go. I wouldn’t do another round the world trip where you’re constantly on the move, but maybe living in three or four places for a few months at a time. That’s in our minds and in our plans. That’s something that’s changed in me as well – the confidence to know that that’s something we’re going to do. I’m going to live my life how I want to live it. As long as we’re fortunate enough to have jobs and not live paycheck to paycheck, then we’re going to do everything in our power to be happy and not just do what we’re “supposed” to do.

Adam Seper is the Editor of travel website Bootsnall.comEverybody’s Invited!highly recommends checking out the site, especially the Round the World trip planning section. It offers step-by-step decision-making help for anyone planning a round-the-world trip.  

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On Ice: An Interview with an Antarctic Adventurer

I’ve been obsessed with the idea of going to Antarctica for awhile now. I can’t actually pinpoint when it started or why, but it’s one of those ideas that I can’t get out of my head. So I was super excited when I learned that my former co-worker, Morgan Seag, was going to spend three months working in the McMurdo Research Station as a dining attendant. Morgan is a fantastic writer, so I followed her blog, oniceonice, closely while she was there (I especially recommend her last post about the scientific research going on in Antarctica). When she returned she kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about her experience.

After learning more about life on the ice, I am more excited than ever to get to the edge of the world. Your dose of inspiration is below.

 Everybody’s Invited!: What made you want to spend three months in Antarctica?

Morgan Seag: There were a lot of factors here. I wanted to test my limits; to spend some time off the grid; to see one of the last true wildernesses, spectacular and untouched. But I guess I could say that my fascination with Antarctica began in the third grade, when I stumbled upon a book about the Titanic in a public library in Kansas. I became fascinated by that big iceberg, which was followed by an obsession with tornadoes, then natural disasters, and then any large-scale natural phenomena. I think even as a child, I felt a sense of awe – and maybe, ironically, comfort – around big, powerful, beautiful things that made me feel small.

I initially thought I’d end up an Earth Scientist, but ended up in the humanities – so long, Antarctic pipe dream. Then a few years ago, Warner Herzog’s documentary Encounters at the End of the World gave me the idea of trying to get a job in Antarctica as part of the McMurdo Station’s support staff. It took a while for me to get the guts to apply, but here I am.

EI!: What was a typical day like at the station?

MS: It depends completely on what your job is, and what your shift is (the station runs 24 hours). The station is a lot bigger than most people expect: there are about 1200 of us at the peak of the summer season, and with that many people, the station has as many jobs and characters as you’d expect to find in a small town (in fact, people aptly describe McMurdo as a cross between a college campus and a mining town). So your day will vary pretty drastically depending on whether you are a hairdresser, a helicopter pilot, or an overnight cook.

Here’s what a typical day is like for a dining attendant (“DA,” my job) on the “PM” shift:

The Dining Attendants at McMurdo. Morgan is second from the right.

The Dining Attendants at McMurdo. Morgan is second from the right.

9:45am: Wake up, throw on my uniform, brush my teeth in the women’s bathroom down the hall, and stumble toward the galley at the other end of the building.

10:00am: The workday begins. Frankly, the work of an illustrious dining attendant can be grim. Our day is split into five or six tasks lasting one to three hours each, which is meant to prevent us from overusing any one of our muscles and getting a repetitive motion injury. Our responsibilities include tasks such as washing dishes, scrubbing pots, sweeping and mopping, monitoring and stocking the all-you-can-eat buffet, and generally attending to the community’s needs.

The work day in many departments, and especially in the galley, is also broken up by the shenanigans of the fantastic people you work with. DA’s are allowed to listen to music in the dish and pot rooms, which you can imagine leads to a fair amount of singing and dancing.

The people you work with are unbelievable… there’s the guy who biked alone across South America; the woman who hitchhiked across Africa; the guy who sailed across the Atlantic; the guy who thru-hiked both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail; various PhD’s; Peace Corps alums; amazing men and women in their 60’s and 70’s…

8:30pm: The workday ends. In terms of after-hours, there’s a ton to do at McMurdo – at least, relative to what you might expect – so it’s hard to say what a typical evening would be like. A lot of people spend their off-hours hanging out, playing board games, chatting at the bars (yes, there are bars – plural – at McMurdo). There also are all sorts of community-organized classes and special events like weekly bar trivia and concerts by McMurdo’s many live bands.

And then, of course, there is Antarctica itself, beckoning those with energy left at the end of the day out toward one of the four hikes near station. Usually three times a week I’d head out with a friend to hike, look for penguins and whales, or go snowboarding. It’s pretty incredible out there; like walking into a painting. Or being on another planet.

EI!: What surprised you the most about being there?

 MS: The biggest surprise was how disconnected I felt from the U.S. Antarctic Program’s research. I had assumed that researchers would be like rock stars on station; instead, their presence is hardly felt. My impression was that the average “townie” respects and appreciates science, and perhaps is even proud to support it, but that what makes McMurdo such a special place to most of the support staff is the common spirit of its adventurous proletariat. There are weekly science lectures and tours of the main research building, but other than that, you do have to be proactive to get involved with science. I wrote a couple of blog posts about research in Antarctica, one about how separate it feels from the everyday functioning of town and one about some of the unbelievable projects that researchers are working on – ironically, things I had to learn from researchers I happened to chat with at the bars. It’s oniceonice.blogspot.com if you want to check it out.

EI!: What’s something most people probably don’t know about Antarctica?

MS: Wow, good question. A lot. Here are some fun facts that most people probably don’t know:

  • Much of Antarctica is actually a desert. In fact, it’s the driest continent on Earth, as well as the highest, windiest, and coldest.
  • There are no polar bears in Antarctica. Polar bears are in the Arctic; penguins are in the Antarctic.
  • No nation owns Antarctica. The U.S. is one of 49 signatory countries to the Antarctic Treaty, which sets the continent aside as a scientific preserve, banning military activity, mineral extraction, etc.
  • There has never been an indigenous population in Antarctica – but there were dinosaurs once! In fact, it’s possible to find dinosaur bones and other fossils at certain places on the continent.
  • Spending a summer at McMurdo is probably a lot more pleasant than you think, in terms of weather. I have friends who felt temperatures of -80 F in August, but we also felt temperatures in the mid 30’s in January.

EI!: How can you possibly top Antarctica? What’s next for you?

MS: I don’t know if it’s possible to top Antarctica. It’s a pretty spectacular, and spectacularly bizarre, place. Which is why what’s next for me is hopefully another summer in Antarctica.

(All photos are from Morgan’s blog.)

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