Twelve Travel Tidbits To Remember

IMG_0673Over the past ten years, I’ve done more than my fair share of traveling, both foreign and domestic. With a husband who travels weekly, I often have my pick of getaways; and all the frequent flyer mileage adds up, meaning I can travel with Ken on business as well as travel on my own or with friends and family. I’ve learned a lot about traveling, sightseeing, and staying sane when all plans seem to go awry. Here are the most important things I’ve taken away from my experiences.

Plan for the unexpected. We used to laugh at my grandmother who always carried an extra pair of underwear in her purse in case she was stranded somewhere. And an extra pair of shoes, but that’s another story. We might have thought she was crazy, but she was on to something. More often than they’d like to admit, airlines screw up. Twice in the past five years, I arrived at my destination without a bag. Both times, I had a carry on with enough clothes to get me through a couple days. Included in the bags were my essentials – reading glasses, contacts (when I wore them), camera, device chargers, and any medication I might need. This past week, I spent almost three days without my luggage. No need to panic. I had just about everything I needed and could easily obtain the rest. Okay, the thought of losing all those souvenirs almost killed me, but I had to let the worry go and have fun. Thankfully, everything showed up just when I needed it.

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Checking off lists in Scotland

Plan your itinerary. Last week, Katie and I met a mother and son traveling from Florida. Maru had an extensive list of everything she wanted to see on their trip. As they traveled, she checked off the items one by one. Katie and I also had a list, but ours was a daily itinerary of what we should see each day. We checked the list each night to see what we did and what we missed. The key to doing this right is to research ahead of time, and know what you want to see and how much time it takes to do each thing. But in the end, you must be willing to….

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Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Be flexible. Not every day goes as planned. Waits in line can be longer than anticipated. An unexpected visit from the queen might cause the palace you planned to tour to be closed for the day. Or, like Katie and I, you might meet others and decide to switch things around so that you can all do things together. While in Canada, we completely shifted gears and gave up our second night in Halifax after falling in love with the smaller coastal towns and opting to stay in one of those instead. While planning can save you a lot of headaches and heartaches, being flexible can make the entire trip go more smoothly and be more enjoyable.

Know your money situation. What is the currency? Does your credit card charge fees for international use? Does your debit card work overseas? Do you really need to use foreign currency, or are US dollars better? In some countries, particularly in South America, they are. Research before you go. Know if you’re visiting countries that are more expensive than than others. How will this affect your travel? A word of advice: if you’re going to Iceland, plan on eating a lot of hot dogs and drinking water; and in Copenhagen, know where the McDonald’s is. Or be prepared to allot a hefty sum for food and drinks.

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Seljalandsfoss in Iceland

Know when you need a camera and when you don’t. When Ken and I visited the Holy Land, it was impressed upon us to not worry about taking pictures because it’s more important to concentrate on being in the moment in the holy places. While we did take pictures, we took far fewer than we normally would, and we tried to really soak up everything around us before worrying about snapping the shots we felt would be the most meaningful. Sometimes, I take my camera with me, but other times, I rely on my phone. If you’re climbing a mountain or walking behind a waterfall, leave the camera behind. Reach for your phone only when you know that you, and the phone, are safe from harm. Are you going biking on an island off the coast of Australia? Then the phone is sufficient. Riding a tour bus with several historic and scenic stops? Then the good camera is a must. Be wise, and know which is the best option for the type of photos you want or the logistics of the place you’re visiting.

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Stonehenge

Take the bus. Most often, you visit someplace where you want to explore every alley and corner. Other times, you just need enough time to see the highlights. And many times, there’s just one particular thing to see. Whether it’s a ride to Stonehenge or a twelve-hour manic race to see everything in a thirty mile radius of Quebec City, don’t be afraid to join the tour. Bus rides provide so many opportunities and benefits – you can see multiple sights in a day without having to rent a car or read a map; you have a built-in tour guide (and they’re usually fabulous); you can meet other travelers along the way and get ideas for other places to visit; you learn a lot about the culture, history, and landscape of the place you’re visiting; and, though you may be disappointed that you can’t hit every shop in each town you go to, most of the time, the driver has the timing down to a tee. He or she knows exactly how long it will take for you to climb to the top of the waterfall, take a boat ride on the Loch Ness, or visit the black sand beach.

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Ireland

Don’t be afraid to drive…on the left. When Mom and I went to Ireland, I admit that I was pretty nervous about renting a car. But  our plan to see every single part of the country in eight days would not have worked otherwise. So I bit the bullet and rented the car. Though it felt a little strange at first, before long, driving on the left side of the road become natural. A year later, when Ken and I visited New Zealand and decided to take a drive up the coast, I actually offered to do the driving. Just like riding a bike, the skill came back to me. Would I be nervous to do it again? Sure, I would. It’s not the way I learned to do a task I do every day, but I wouldn’t say no.

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The Colosseum in Rome

Know when you need a guide. Most of the time, you can see everything you want without help. We have the Internet to teach us history before we go. We have the Maps app to keep us from getting lost. And there’s a City Pass for almost every major city in the world that cuts your cost or saves you the wait in line. However, there are times when it’s best to hire a guide. Some examples: the only way to avoid the three to four hour wait at the Vatican or the Colosseum, is to have a guide. Not only is it well worth the time you save, you will learn more about the Basilica and museums than you ever could on your own. Likewise, if you really want to get know the city of Florence, with hundreds of years of history, a guide is your best option. And those kooky nighttime ghost tours you can do on your own with the online guide – forget about it. Only a guide will really make the stories come to life. By the way, that City Pass I mentioned? I highly recommend them. But do your research. We found them to be a total waste of money in Madrid, and depending upon your schedule, choosing the right length of use can be tricky. But I wouldn’t visit New York or London without one.

Be alert. I have never felt unsafe when traveling, and so far, I’ve never had anything stolen or taken from a pickpocket, but those things do happen all the time. Know your surroundings. Keep your distance from people or situations that don’t look or feel right. Always know where your money, credit cards, phone, etc. are at all times. I sacrifice my purse for a smaller cross-shoulder bag whenever I’m traveling. It keeps everything close to my body and keeps my money and cards stored neatly without the need for a wallet which can be easily lifted from an open bag. In Barcelona, last summer, a woman walking near us on the sidewalk kept steering uncomfortably close to me. Bells went off, and when she reached for my purse, I was ready. Firmly holding onto the bag with both hands, I looked right at her and said, “No, go away.” She quickly darted through the crowd without looking back. When my family asked what happened, I told them. I knew my instincts were right, and it was a good lesson for my girls. If I had been one to pay more attention to my phone than to those around me, that story could have had a very different ending.

Keep a check on your items. While I’ve never had anything taken, we have had the unfortunate lost article or two. Twice on this last trip, Katie left something behind in her haste to pack up and move out. One was a tube of posters she had bought in London for her dorm room. The other was the blue and purple tartan scarf we bought in Scotland that so beautifully matched her eyes. If you’re changing planes or trains, or grabbing a quick meal somewhere between destinations, always pack up before it’s time to leave, check your area, and then double check that you’ve gotten everything. A coupe posters and a scarf can be easily replaced and don’t present a large monetary loss. A piece of art, a hand-knitted sweater, or a one-of-a-kind purchase, would be another, tragic, story.

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Good friends made in the Holy Lands

Make friends. I know, that sounds crazy. How can you make “real” friends while traveling? Believe me, you can. Some of my closest friends are people Ken and I met on a ten-day pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. While that is a little different as it’s an emotional and spiritual journey rather than just a vacation, the same general rule applies when traveling. While you can’t fully let your guard down with strangers, you can make friends. On a cruise, several years ago, my girls joined the kids’ clubs offered onboard. To this day, they are still friends with a number of those kids and keep in touch via social media and email. Rebecca even went to a senior prom with a boy with whom she became friends. Katie and I had so much in common with the mother and son that we met in Scotland last week, that we’re trying to make plans to get together again. You never know where a chance meeting might lead, what long-lasting friendships may develop. As I’ve said many times before, I don’t believe in coincidence. Everything happens, and every person enters our lives, for a reason.

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Gullfoss in Iceland

Enjoy every moment. Don’t lose sight of why you’re there and with whom you’re traveling. Put down the phone (I know, you all get tired of hearing me harp on that), talk to your companions and to other travelers, savor your meals, rise with the sun, and go to bed when everything shuts down. Do that late night ghost tour. Eat that local delicacy you never thought you’d try. Visit the museums, the parks, the beaches, the out-of-the-way overlooks and grueling hikes. You will never regret having done those things, but I guarantee that you will regret what you don’t do. Life is short. You might never get back to the same place twice. Take advantage of everything you can while you’re there.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 12.20.12 AMBe inspired. Traveling has taught my children to reach beyond their own worlds and eat new foods, learn about other cultures, and dare to try something new. This sense of adventure can often lead to new experiences even after returning home. After discovering foreign foods that we like, we often go home and attempt to recreate the recipe. More times than not, it works! Reeling at the expense of the Icelandic sweaters, Katie bought a kit with yarn and a pattern and is planning to knit one for herself. Ken’s cousin, Crista, came home from traveling and began brewing her own craft beer. We all took up kayaking after Ken and I paddled with the penguins off the south coast of New Zealand. And I’ve won two literary awards for my book, Whispering Vines, inspired by a trip to a small, family-owned winery near Verona. Be open to learning and to doing. Every trip has the potential to lead to something bigger in your life.

Finally, share your love of travel and your experiences with others. Some may only see these places through your eyes. Others may be inspired to follow your lead. It’s both a large and a small world out there. See all that you see, and let others know how easy it is to do the same.

What I was writing about one year ago this week: No Place Like Home.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy’s most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017)

To All of the Muses in My Life

IMG_1118I was blindsided last night by the outpouring of love and support that I received from so many people.  I held a launch party for my newest release, Whispering Vines, available today in print and ebook.  The large reception room at Scossa’s Restaurant and Lounge was standing room only with friends, family, fellow writers, and even strangers who all came to purchase my new book.  By the end of the event, I was completely sold out of that book and had sold numerous copies of my earlier books.  It was an evening I will never forget.

I often hear it said that the life of a writer is lonely and depressing.  Many writers spend their days in isolation, writing at home, locked away from the world.  Many of the world’s greatest authors lived painful lives of solitude, often turning to drugs or alcohol, with many committing suicide.  I’ve never been able to reconcile that type of existence with my own life.  I’ve been asked many times how I find time to write, and I’ve had several people tell me that I have to slow down, stop volunteering, and curb my social life and family trips.  It seems that now that I am an author, I am expected to close myself off from the world and spend twenty-four hours a day with my fingertips glued to the keys of my laptop.  Last night was a reaffirmation that becoming a hermit is the last thing I should do.

I thrive on relationships.  The more time I can spend with my family, the better. The times I’m able to sneak away with friends are blessings. Everyday interactions with other school parents and volunteers are essential to my well-being.  Leading a week-long volunteer camp is crucial for my happiness and feeling of self-worth.  And it’s from these many people and moments that I find my inspiration.  Most of my characters are based on people I know.  All of the settings are based on places I have visited.  And the storylines are always inspired by experiences I’ve had or stories I’ve heard from others.  Where would I be, where would my writing be, if I didn’t have such a strong connection to other people?

So I would like to thank everyone who has supported my writing, all of those who have bought my books, those who were at the party last night, and every person who has touched my life in some way.  You are all my inspiration, my muses.  They are your faces that I see when I am describing characters, your homes and your families.  They are our conversations that I recreate, and it is your friendship and love that resonates in the stories that I tell.  The success of my writing can be contributed to every one of you, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her latest book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books:  Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016)

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Unbound

DSC05175Standing in the Academia Museum in Florence, Italy, in all his glory, is Michelangelo’s David.  Said to be the perfect depiction of the human body, this sculpture is visited by approximately 3 million people each year.  But just around the corner from the statue of the perfect body stand Michelangelo’s non-finito sculptures, the Slaves.  For many years, it was thought that these four pieces of marble were simply unfinished works, but many scholars now believe that the great master purposely left them the way they are to portray man’s struggle to break free of his bondage – perhaps his own internal or perceived shortcomings. slaves-bearded-atlas-760x6422

The other day, as I was getting into the shower, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  As usual, I started thinking about how inadequate my body is with its scars and rolls, far from the perfection sought by the great masters or by society.  Then it hit me.  The scar that runs along my lower abdomen represents the 3 beautiful children I brought into this world.  Without that scar, there would not be Rebecca, Katie, or Morgan.  Those rolls, that I work so hard to get rid of, are a result of a combined twenty-seven months of carrying my children.  The lines and shadows on my face trace the many joys and tears of a good life.

slaves-awakening-young-760x628I worry about my girls and how they see themselves in this world
where girls are expected to be pencil thin and have perfect, unblemished bodies.  I’m pretty sure that when the Bible said that God created us in His image, it didn’t mean that God looks like Channing Tatum or Naomi Campbell, so why are those the types of bodies that we all worship? Do three million people stand agape in front of the David because they recognize the bodily perfection or because they are seeking it and can’t find it in the real world?  Is there truly a “perfect” body?

What have we done to our youth?  Most girls and young women don’t have childbirth scars, wrinkles, and the like, yet everyone expects them to have absolute perfect bodies no matter their genetic makeup or body type.  We actually had a doctor prescribe dieting and extra workouts for a child who is a year-round athlete and eats nothing but healthy food.  I don’t know whether to worry about her becoming overweight or spiraling into bulimia.  The idea that all girls should look like a Kardashian is ridiculous.  And we mothers, grandmothers, big sisters, and aunts – in fact, all women –  need to stop contributing to that fallacy.  Being healthy is good, being overly conscious about our weight and bodies is not.  Stop talking about being “fat,” and posting memes on Facebook with complaints about your body, and most of all, stop putting down other women for the way they look.  Let’s rejoice in who we are and we have to offer this world.  slaves-bearded-atlas-760x642

When I look at my friends who have multiple children, I see true beauty, inside and out.  When I look at my friend who suffered from anorexia, I see someone who is brave and strong and can do anything she puts her mind to.  When I see girls trying their hardest on the field or in the classroom, I see young women learning where and how they belong in this world.  When I see girls scantily dressed, showing off body parts that should only be seen in the shower, I wonder what they will do someday when faced with body fat, wrinkles, age spots.  How will they adapt?  Do they not know that their bodies will only look like that for a short time and that there is so much more that they can and should be proud of?

So I ask each of you females to make a pledge today to become unbound.  Stop complaining about the way you look.  You are beautiful.  And if you don’t like it, change it, but do it right. Let your daughters or those other young women in your life who look up to you see that you like yourself and that you are living a healthy lifestyle, looking out for your body’s best interests but not trying to be something that society says you have to be.  Do it for you, not because you think someone else believes that you should look a certain way.  And point out the good in the women you know, not their flaws.

slaves-awakening-young-760x6282I ask each of you males – husbands, boyfriends, fathers – tell the females in your life that you love them just the way they are.  Don’t just tell them that they are beautiful because beauty is fleeting and subjective, and eventually, they won’t believe you anymore.  Find the very best things in them and help to make those parts shine for the world to see.  We must get past the superficial and start appreciating each other for who we are and what we have to give.

There are very few Davids in this world, but there are many Slaves.  We are all slaves to our bodies, to the demands of society, to the inner voice that tells us we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, sexy enough.  It’s time to break out of the marble that encases us and be slaves no more to the warped idea of perfection.  It’s okay to aim for perfection, but know that we are human, and humanity is far from perfect, unless of course, it’s carved in stone.  And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather lie in bed next to a warm, soft, imperfect body than a cold, hard, perfectly chiseled piece of marble.

Amy Schisler is the author of two mystery / suspense novels. Her first book, A Place to Call Home is in its second printing and may be purchased in stores, online, and through ibooks. Amy’s newest mystery, Picture Me, was released in August of 2015 and is available in stores and online. Her children’s book, Crabbing With Granddad, may be purchased in stores and on Amazon.

You may follow Amy at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.