On your last trip, you shot 7,218 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 even if you just have a point and shoot. Remember: as with anything in life, rules are meant to be broken, but only on special occasions.
Da bears, famous mobsters, hot dogs, the Mag Mile, and blues conjure images of Chicago (sometimes pronounced cheecago). I live less than an hour away, yet I will have spent more time in Paris after this summer is over. I love having a great city nearby, but it is one that I am still exploring. Since I have started to realize the neglect that my own city has experienced, I thought it was time I investigate what is so great about it.
This Sunday I will go on a free tour of the city. If you are visiting and want to get a taste for more than just deep dish, I recommend checking out Chicago Greeters. I will write a post about my experience with them next weekend, but I already love the service. First of all, it is free. Second, you can tailor it to your wishes. If you want to visit the touristy spots like the Willis Tower (used to be Sears Tower), the Bean, or other top sites you can. If you want to battle it out with a Cubs fan in Wrigleyville, they’ve got that covered too. I love the personalization that can come with these tours.
Chicago is also known for its architecture. If the season is right, you might want to take a river cruise to gaze up at the buildings reaching for the sky. I was planning on a trip in the fall, but the weather went cold fast. I know people who have loved it, so you may want to think about it.
I just came across a site tonight that I am really excited about. Not only is it useful for Chicago, but other cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. The prices aren’t bad and it provides a unique view of Chicago. I think this can be a great source for those wanting to learn something from their travels.
If you are trying to figure out what to do with your time in Chi Town, here are some ideas:
Old Town, Wicker Park/Bucktown, Wrigleyville, Lincoln Park, Evanston
French Market, Lincoln Park Zoo, Cubs/Sox/Bears/Bulls/Blackhawks Game, Finding Festivals, Walking in the City, Riding the “L”
Frontera Grill (or any Rick Bayless Restaurant), Quartino, New England Seafood and Company
Clark, State, Wells, Michigan
Museum of Science and Industry, Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum
I can’t wait to share my tour with you next weekend. I’m hoping to see a side of Chicago that I didn’t know about.
You’ve got your passport ready for its first European stamp. Perhaps you’re feeling a little nervous about the unexpected elements that come with traveling abroad. Although you may be experiencing some fear, it really is not so different from visiting other states. With some knowledge going in, you will be a pro as you step onto my favorite continent. Here are some things you may want to consider before you go:
Not only are the outlets visually different, but the voltage is different as well. We’ve lost some hair dryers and straighteners because of this. Another thing to consider is the difference between European countries. If you are traveling to England and France, you will notice a difference. To cover all of my needs in one shot, I use the Travel Smart by Conair. Then, I don’t have to worry which adapter and converter I need, it is all together in one convenient package.
If you know that you will be traveling to these countries again, you may want to consider purchasing the necessities over there. My aunt and I share a hair straightener that we bought in Paris. It is something I use everyday, so the small investment is worthwhile since I don’t have to worry about my straightener going on the fritz.
Most countries in Europe use the Euro, but not all. Make sure you research what currency you will need. I typically go over with about 100 Euros and then I get the rest from ATMs. This seems to be the best deal.
Besides having the right currency, you might want to consider where and how you spend it. This past summer I realized that Switzerland is really expensive. I bought minimal items there and only purchased souvenirs that were quintessential Swiss.
English is spoken widely across Europe, but you shouldn’t go in expecting everyone to speak English. Make sure you take some time to get the basics down. Even if you are in a major city, and you think someone might speak English, start by saying hello in their language and asking if they speak English. This is a courtesy that is appreciated. Some key phrases you may want to work on are:
Do you speak English?
How much does this cost?
Rain, wind, snow, hot, cold. You name it, they’ve got it. You can sometimes experience almost every type of weather on one trip. Look up the climate for the areas you will be visiting, but only take this as a suggestion. I have been to Paris when it is steaming and frigid (all in the same month).
Decide if a rain coat is best for you or if an umbrella will do the job. I’m an umbrella kind of gal because I can stow it away easily.
I drink tap water. I have never been sick from the water in Europe. I generally buy a bottle of water and refill it throughout the day. Obviously this is a personal preference, but know that the water is about the same quality as we experience at home.
One fun thing to try is the water with gas. We have it here in the states, but it is much more popular in Europe. If you ask for a bottle of water they will respond with gas or no gas. Give it a try if you never have. The Europeans love it. I am starting to appreciate it.
Getting around Europe is much more practical than getting around the US (especially without a car). Flights are affordable, high speed trains make trips quick, and public transportation within cities makes every sight accessible. Make sure you know what kind of public transportation is available. I like to cut out the metro map from the guidebook to carry with me. Be cautious though since they do change.
One thing you may want to prepare for are strikes. I’ve noticed it most while traveling in Italy, but it is a way of life for them. Luckily, they typically post strikes in advance so you can plan accordingly. As with any cities public transportation, be prepared for issues.
Reading up on the political news is both smart and a safe move. It is important to know if tensions are building between the country you are visiting and another group. It is also important to understand how the public handles politics they disagree with. It is possible that you may be in town when there is a demonstration or riot. Know what to expect. Our government has a great resource to check before you go: International Travel Information.
I love American History, but European history is so rich and multifaceted. Their history extends millennia before we were a country. Read up on a little bit of the history. Determine what is most intriguing to you. Perhaps you find the ancients fascinating. If so, make sure you visit the sites containing this history. Maybe you get a kick out of the military. There are museums for you. Europe is so full of history that it is probably impossible to know it all. Going in with some basic knowledge of the history allows you to delve into what will mean the most to you.
I approach art the same way I do history. I try to have a grasp on the different styles and how they have evolved. Then I figure out what style I enjoy the most, and make a point of visiting places that support that style. Art is history, so for those of you that don’t typically enjoy the art scene, view it as visual history; a form of storytelling.
I will speak about this more in the future, but make sure you are thinking about it. When I say safety, I am mostly referring to pickpockets. Violence does happen in Europe, but the main crime you might experience is theft. Consider purchasing a money belt or buying a bag that is anti-left. I love the PacSafe bags.
–What are some things you wish you new about Europe before you went?–
Accommodations have been arranged. Transportation has been taken care of. Now it is time to get ready. Planning, and the anticipation building up before the trip can almost be as exciting as actually traveling. Get your escape from the everyday by researching before your trip.
1. Check out the Library
Guidebooks, fiction, nonfiction, they’ve got it all. When I first decide where I’m going, I raid the shelves. I typically check out 20 or more books to start the investigation. What do I want to see? What do I want to do? Who can I live through vicariously until my own departure date?
Beyond researching through nonfiction, you may also want to consider browsing the fiction section. Reading a story about the setting you will be visiting can spark an interest in something you may not have considered. I loved the novel, Sarah’s Key. Although it is historical fiction, it made me wonder what kind of deportation memorials exist in Paris.
2. Pop Some Popcorn and Watch a Movie
Watching a movie is a little escape. Why not visit your destination in a movie? Midnight in Paris is a great example of a movie I watch, and feel as though I am there. Don’t count out the visual as a way to learn and see what is out there.
3. Hover Over Forums
Most likely, others have traveled to where you want to go, and are sharing their experiences. TripAdvisor, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, and Rick Steves have great discussion boards ready for comments and questions.
4. Follow Blogs
I have learned about markets, events, and other happenings through the news on other blogs. There are so many resources. I love following expat blogs. They typically have a similar perspective to mine, but are living where I am visiting. As you know, wordpress has some great blogs.
5. Take a Class
I would be a professional student if I could, so I’m a little impartial to taking classes. Community education courses can be an affordable way to learn more without going back to the loan days. I’ve taken writing and photography classes before traveling. I also see value in language and art history classes. The more you know about a place before you visit, the more you can comprehend.
6. Call your Credit Card Company
It would be quite a bummer to finally reach your destination, go to a restaurant to grab some dinner, and after trying to pay with your credit card, realize that it has been blocked. Even if you are traveling in your own country, I would recommend calling to notify about travel dates. The more you can prepare ahead of time, the smoother your journey will go.
7. Contact you Cell Phone Provider
This is very similar to the cell phone. I had a friend who traveled to Indiana and her cell phone went kaput. I’ve also had issues with going abroad and it not working right away. Talk to your cell phone company to see what your phone is capable of. Warning: data charges can be outrageous. Make sure you are clear about all charges when traveling.
Shoes are probably the most important item to evaluate for your trip. Sore feet are no good. I take at least two types are wear them before I go. This is an area that I spend a little more on since it greatly impacts my ability to explore.
Besides your kicks, also think about your clothing. I check out the climate to have an idea what to expect, but also bring clothing that is warmer and cooler than necessary. Think about foldability and flexibility. Will it wrinkle like crazy? Can you wear it in more than one way? Worse case scenario: you have to go do a little shopping.
If you are hoping to sneak into the culture a bit, markets are open for business. Markets are great for getting some exercise, mingling with the locals, picking up a bite to eat, or saving some money on souvenirs. Since we typically rent apartments when we travel, we take advantage of markets to find the freshest foods for our dinners when we eat in. Even if I am going somewhere for a day trip, I try to plan on visiting during a market day to make the most out of my visit.
Going to markets has changed how I eat at home. I am now looking for the produce that is in season to take advantage of the fullest flavors. Let the lessons you learn while traveling trickle into your life at home.
Some of my favorite markets include:
-Reading Market (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
-Madison Farmer’s Market (Madison, Wisconsin)
-Pike’s Place Market (Seattle, Washington)
-Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market (San Francisco, California)
-French Market (Chicago, Illinois)
-Centrale Market (Florence, Italy)
-Arles Market (Arles, France)
-Aix en Provence Market (Aix en Provence, France)
-Rialto Market (Venice, Italy)
-Rue Cler (Paris, France)
What are your favorite things to shop for when you travel?