Everywhere I Roam

How To Take Your Own Passport Photo

By April 24, 2017 Uncategorized

Getting a passport isn’t cheap. The government charges about $140 just for the privilege of having your passport paperwork processed. Many people don’t realize that the cost does not include getting your passport photo taken. Passport application centers will charge anywhere between $10-$20 for that service, in addition to the $140 processing fee. This extra charge may make you want to learn how to take your own passport photo. Luckily, It’s easy and cheap to do. All you need is a camera, a friend, photo paper, and access to a computer with a color printer.

  1. The first thing you want to do is take the picture. A digital SLR camera would be best, but the cameras on smartphones are of a high enough quality for this photo, since it will be printed very small (2”x2”). Stand or sit on a stool in front of a white or off-white background in a well-lit room. No shadows may be cast on your face, and you may not wear sunglasses, scarves, or any other head covering  in your photo unless you wear it daily for religious purposes. Prescription glasses may be worn, given that they do not create a glare in the photograph.
  2. Your friend must take the picture from a straight angle. No side views or high/ low angles are allowed in passport photos.
  3. This is important: You may not smile. No matter how happy you are to be planning your trip abroad, you must maintain a neutral expression in your passport photo.
  4. Have your friend snap the picture. In fact, they should take a few, just in case you look funny in one of them (or you smile on accident because you’re so excited to learn how to take your own passport photo!)
  5. Transfer the photos to your computer.
  6. In an image editor (I use the Apple Photo App for this kind of basic project) crop your image to a square that includes just your head and shoulders. Your face should take up between ½ and ¾ of the frame, and there should be about ⅛ to ¼ inch of empty space above your head.
  7. After you have cropped your image, resize it. In your image editor, look for the ‘image size’ option. Change the image size to exactly 2 inches by 2 inches.
  8. Print 2 copies of your image on photo-quality paper.
  9. Take the photos to your passport application center. They will attach them you your passport application.

Now that you know how to take your own passport photo, you can spend that money you saved on a gorgeous souvenir while you’re traveling!

Bon voyage!

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Paris for $50 a Day

By April 23, 2017 Culture, Travel, Uncategorized

One of the primary reasons that I’ve never been to Europe before now is because of money. I teach high school English (which is not making anyone wealthy) and I’m still paying on pesky student loans from college. So, like many people, I’ve always assumed that I couldn’t really afford a luxurious European vacation. And depending on how you see “luxury” I  was right–expensive hotels and restaurants are definitely out of my price range for the most part. But what I failed to realize, (and what you have probably failed to realize too) is that travel doesn’t have to be expensive to be luxurious. I’m staying in Paris in June (their most expensive time of the year) for $50 a night.

I’ll repeat that for those who weren’t listening: Paris for $50 a night!!

You might ask how I worked such magic. Well, first of all, I’m not staying in a hotel. This is a decision that I made not for the expense, but for the experience. The price just turned out to be the icing on the cake. I found an Airbnb studio apartment (meaning its all mine for the week, with a small kitchen and bathroom–no sharing with anyone else) for $50 a night after fees. This blew me away. I had no idea that something so cool could be so affordable.

Now, my apartment isn’t in the center of the city–it’s in the Montparnasse district. But it has a nice view of the Eiffel tower from the window, and it’s just a couple of blocks from the metro stop, so that is perfect for me. I’m excited to share photos once I’m there in just 2 short months.

A lot of people are afraid of Airbnb because they either get weirded out by the idea of staying with strangers, or they are afraid they can’t trust the people renting out their places. The latter concern is unnecessary, because Airbnb lets you see reviews of all the other people who have stayed in that room or apartment. The more good reviews, the better.

As far as staying with strangers is concerned, I personally think people should get over it. While I’m staying in the Paris apartment solo, I’m staying for 2 nights in Verona in a room in the owner’s house while she is there, and I’m even spending a few nights in Nice in a hostel with roomates (I’ll talk about hostels in a later post).

The fact is, one of the most beautiful parts of traveling is getting to know people from other cultures, and there is no better way to get to know them than living in close proximity for a few days.

But if you’re still squeamish about the prospect of sharing your space, Airbnb has lots of whole houses and apartments for rent, where you can have all of the privacy you crave–and some are even as low-priced as the one I found in Paris for $50 a night. So what are you waiting for? Get to Airbnb and start planning your getaway!

Bon voyage!

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3 Books About Travel that you Must Read Right Now

By April 22, 2017 Culture, Stuff, Travel

Yesterday, I was discussing the joy and/or necessity of traveling alone, which I wholeheartedly believe in, but recently, I finished reading a book on the subject that I thought was really useful Time to Take Flight, by Jayne Seagrave.

As a younger woman, I found Seagrave’s tone to be endearing. She speaks with the authority of an older sister, or college professor, making suggestions without getting preachy or didactic as she discusses her own travels and also provides advice for other women–young or old–looking to begin venturing out into the world on their own. Seagrave’s book is full of great advice and packing tips as well as information on specific cities both stateside and abroad, that would-br travelers may like to visit. I actually can’t wait to loan this book to a student who wants to venture forth in the wild, because Time to Take Flight is an excellent companion for female travelers of any age.

To anyone who is really into traveling alone, I would also recommend the book Wild, of course, by Cheryl Strayed. At this point it has really become a classic must-read for women looking to test their limits against mother nature, as well as those who simply wish they had that kind of courage (like me!). Far from an instructional manual, Wild is the compelling memoir of Strayed’s real-life hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. (In my part of the US, we do the Appalachian Trail). What I love about this book is that the narrator is imperfect, and thereby completely relatable. She screws up throughout the memoir over and over again, and somehow that process of screwing up helps her to find a piece of herself that she needs. If you need strength and courage to tackle any obstacle (travel-related or otherwise), Wild is definitely an empowering, uplifting read.

These two books are both extremely accessible, easy reads, but if you’re looking for something more challenging, you might want to check out Travel as Transformation by Gregory Diehl. This relatively unknown book is a Kindle-only read. It amounts to a collection of essays kind of like those you were assigned in college, but the upside is that these essays are all about the way travel and experiencing culture changes our worldview. Diehl believes that we have many selves, and it is foreign places that unlock the doors to those parts of us that are hidden. Travel as Transformation is one of the more thought-provoking reads that I have experienced as I consider the role of travel in my own life.

The truth is, there are as many books about travel as there are places to visit, but I love reading them just the same. If you have any recommendations for must-read travel books, please share your ideas in the comments. It will be nice hearing from you. Until then, bon voyage!

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Why Travel Alone?

By April 21, 2017 Family, Travel, Uncategorized

Most of the traveling I have done throughout my adult life, I have done by myself. This is primarily out of necessity–it is not as easy as you might think to find a friend who has leisure time and money at the same time that you do. But in 60 days, I am traveling alone purely by choice. My boyfriend offered to go with me (even though, I think he was secretly hoping I didn’t want him to) and I asked him not to. Not because I don’t want to spend time with him; I do. But for a million other reasons.

Firstly, I would not wish the pressure of travel on any relationship. My guy and I have taken a few road trips together (which I will likely talk about in later blogs) and I know him well enough to know we approach vacation very differently. He likes to be always on the go with a plan, and I like to be leisurely, and get lost if the situation calls for it. So, inevitably, if he went on this trip with me, we’d end up fighting, and it would ruin the whole thing.

But my reasoning is bigger than that. I am selfish. Not always, mind you–I can be very generous with gifts and whatnot. But when it comes to how I spend my time, I like to make the choices. Traveling with another person is all well and good, but at some point, you are inevitably faced with the need to compromise, and that’s something that I don’t want to do on this trip. I have literally been planning it for two-thirds of my life; I’m not about to let someone else’s  desires mess with my plan now.

The last time I took this kind of time for myself was before I became a mother. And even then, I remember how self-affirming it felt to be accountable to no one else while I was away. I can only imagine that since my responsibilities have grown tenfold since that time, that the abdication of them will be all the more sweet. I will wander. I will get lost, and somewhere along the way, I will find the self that I buried ages ago.

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Traveling to Paris on the Cheap

By April 21, 2017 Family, Travel, Uncategorized

I began studying French when i was 11. I did not stop until I graduated college. I have wanted to visit since that very first day in Ms. Schmidt’s French 1 class so many years ago. But each time the opportunity presented itself, it was not the right time. Either, I didn’t have the money, or I couldn’t take the time off from work, or some other equally mundane reason got in my way.

But this year, I am turning 35. And we’ve elected a madman as our president here in the states. And for those reasons and others, I have realized that life is fucking short, can end at any moment, and so you have to do the things you want before it’s too late.

My grandmother died several years ago. Her whole life, she had wanted to go to Las Vegas. But she never had the money, never had the time, and so she passed away without ever having seen the neon garden. I will take her with me on this trip in my heart. She would be so happy to know that I am finally making this happen.

That said, I am not a rich girl. I am an English teacher at a public high school; it’s not really a get-rich plan. So, the fact that I have planned and paid for all of the travel and lodging for my summer trip feels a little miraculous, I have to admit. But with the help of the internet, I was actually able to keep all of those big expenses at about $1500, which is not bad for a 19-day excursion. I am very proud of my penny pinching skills, so over the next few days, I’m going to be sharing some of the cool tricks I learned. All that’s left to do now is to count down the number of days (61!) to my departure.

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Ticket to Ride

By April 19, 2017 Culture, Family, Food, Travel, Uncategorized

The travel bug bit me young. Money was tight in my family, but when I was 9, my mom scraped together some money (and pitched in some sweat-equity work, I think) to send me to 4-H camp for a week.

This was not my first vacation. We had taken several road trips as a family, and even at the young age of 9, I had already visited more states in the US than many people do their entire lives. But camp was a special time, because it signified a certain amount of freedom. At camp, there were no overprotective parents telling me what to wear or stopping me from staying up late reading with a flashlight in my bed. I got to make the choices. And to me, that was a big deal back then.

So my mind was set–away from home was good, routine was not. And I continue to take as many opportunities as possible even now (25 years later!) to escape. So, for a couple of reasons–not the least of which is that I just got my passport for the first time for a trip to Europe this summer–I want to share these experiences with others, in the hope that perhaps I can help you to disconnect and find the joy of roaming wild in your own life. Because, to be honest, it’ way easier than you might think.

In this blog, you will not only find tales of my adventures, but, you will also find helpful travel tips, and my advice on everything from airlines to lipstick–because, let’s face it–both have the potential to ruin your day!

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