Monday, September 11, 2017

My Cruise Experience: Tips, Tricks, & Ideas

I love to travel. However, going on a cruise was not travelling. It was a vacation.


travel (v) - make a journey, typically of some length or abroad


vacation (n) - an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home


Going on vacation may involve travel, but travel does not always equal vacation.


In high school and college, I spent several months working and living in a different place (once in Hungary and once in South Dakota). Both locations offered plenty of tourist attractions, but in both instances I spent a good amount of time building a community and making friends (not just sightseeing). I had a job and a purpose in my presence. I did not just receive but I was able to give to the community. This is how I prefer to travel.


Last week, my husband and I went on our first true vacation. We went on a 5-day cruise stopping in Cozumel and Progreso, Mexico. The whole purpose of the cruise was to relax, have fun, and enjoy ourselves -- to escape reality. This is a pretty foreign concept to us. We have gone on trips "just for fun", but never one where we were waited on hand and foot. A few times a year I will get a pedicure or a massage or try to find a way to treat myself, but those instances are always short and few and far between. Our past travels have always involved family and were not nearly so "luxurious" as a cruise. This was definitely a new experience for us!

I wanted to take some time to write out my thoughts and top tips for any other newbie cruisers.

Tip #1: If you are going to cruise, work to get into relaxation mode before you get to the boat! Prepare ahead of time, do breathing exercises on your way down, and get in the right mindset.

It probably took me 24 hours after stepping on the ship to feel relaxed. After all the stress of whether or not we were even going to have a cruise and get to the ship due to hurricane issues in addition to just not being used to being on vacation mode, I struggled to unwind and relax. I was also leaving behind my daughter overnight for the first time which made me feel guilty.

A cruise involves nightclubs, bars, pools, hot tubs, comedy clubs, casinos, music shows, being waited on, not having to pick up after yourself, having photographers constantly trying to snap your photo, and food (lots and lots of food!). And that's just what is on the ship! Once you get to port, excursions can include day passes at resorts (which means more food, alcohol, and pools) or more adventurous excursions such as horseback riding, ATVs, or other tours. Nothing about a cruise is "normal" (at least not in my life). So getting in the right mindset before you begin can help you take advantage of every minute of the cruise.


Tip #2: Even if it is not your usual scene, try some alcoholic beverages and study up on casino games and etiquette. Those two activities are how a lot of people spend their time on the cruise. I did feel like I was "missing out" a bit by not being a part of that scene.

I'm pregnant so alcoholic drinks were out for me. Drinking by the pool is a big part of a cruise so if that's what you like, a cruise is probably a good choice for you! In addition, people who love to gamble were having a great time. We have never been to a casino so we tried a few slot machines but were honestly so confused and had no idea what we were doing so we did not spend much time there. I wish we had studied up a bit more regarding casino games before getting on-board.

Tip #3: To reduce spending, look for deals, ask for discounts, or just wait till you get to your port of call. Going on a cruise does not have to break the bank, but you need to be prepared to shop around a little.

The two things we spent the most money on was a couple's massage and on photos. (If we were into gambling and drinking, those probably would have made up most of our on-cruise spending.) As it turns out, there were several places in port to get a great massage at a fraction of the price we paid on the boat. In addition, we probably did not need every single photo we purchased. So if you do not want to get caught in the trap of over-purchasing photos, I would suggest just not getting so many of them taken. Once you see them, you feel an attachment because those are your photos. If you decide you do not want the photo, they have you put it in a recycle bin. So you are literally throwing away perfectly good photos of yourself. The cruise line has a monopoly on everything so services like spa treatments and professional photos are not cheap.

Tip #4: Take advantage of the food and order as much as you want. There was more than one day where my husband had steak at both breakfast and dinner. I also ordered multiple appetizers at dinner more than one night. If it sounds good, try it. If you don't like it, don't eat it, but a cruise is a fun way to try new foods. The food is part of the price of admission so enjoy!

Tip #5: Try something new on-board. The gambling was not the only new activity we tried out. One of the things we enjoyed the most as far as on-board entertainment was the comedy club. We have never been to a comedy club so we went to multiple shows and laughed until our bellies hurt! Now that we know how much we enjoyed it, we will be looking at comedy clubs in town for us to visit for date night.

Tip #6: Consider booking excursions through a third party. The cruise line offers interesting and fun excursions for when you are in port, but so do a lot of great local companies.

For our time in Cozumel, I booked a dune buggy tour of the island which included an amazing local lunch and snorkeling. My husband and I had a tour guide all to ourselves. After tipping our amazing guide, we paid about the same as we would have paid through the cruise line for a similar excursion except ours was completely private. We talked to some other cruisers who booked third party and they agreed that their experience was wonderful and their group was very small and intimate for typically a better price than the cruise line offered. Some people get nervous about booking an excursion third party because they have to be back at the boat by a certain time. However, the third party companies know the rules and will help ensure you get back in plenty of time.


Pro-tip: don't go on a cruise when you are as far along in your pregnancy as I am! If possible, I would recommend not being pregnant at all so that you can also drink as much as you want. However, if you do go on a cruise pregnant, it can still be a blast. But as your belly gets bigger, sleep becomes less comfortable. I slept fairly well but did struggle at times. Because of weight gain, I also just felt like I had less stamina than I otherwise would have had.

On a similar note, I would not recommend bringing very small children. As much as I missed our daughter, the cruise would not have been a good experience for any of us if she had joined. She needs a lot of sleep -- she sleeps 11-12 hours/night and usually takes two naps during the day. This is awesome at home, but not conducive to a vacation. If she had come with us, we would have been confined for more than half of the cruise to our cabin due to her sleep schedule. We would have missed out on the evening entertainment (or had to take turns watching the baby while the other spouse went alone). There is on-board babysitting but that is an added expense plus you are leaving your child with a stranger (not a comfortable experience for you or the child). I would also have been constantly worried about her well-being and making sure she was entertained. It would have made the cruise the opposite of relaxing! As kids get older, there are more activities for them to do. But toddlers and babies (basically any child requiring a nap), should probably stay home.


I consider my husband and me to be very normal, down-to-earth people. A cruise is certainly an easy way to feel like you are living the life of wealth and luxury for a few days. There are not even any trash cans on board because the crew is constantly picking up after the cruisers. You didn't even have to throw away your own trash!


I am not sure if or when we will cruise again, but it was definitely a unique experience. If we do cruise again, I feel better prepared to enjoy myself even more and spend my money more wisely.


Have you cruised? What is your top tip?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

100 days of blogging -- I did it!

When I logged into my blog and wrote that post about considering daily blogging, I was honestly not even sure I would log in the next day and make it a two day streak. Before this daily blogging challenge I do not think I ever blogged two days in a row, much less 100. Not to mention, it had been over a year since I put out a blog post... where had my inspiration to write gone?



In the past month alone I have had over 1,100 page views which is pretty crazy to think about. There are plenty of posts I write that I do not feel are all that worthy of readers. Other days, I am extremely proud of my content. Every day, I am thankful that I live in a place where I am free to express myself and in an age where it is so easy to spread ideas.



Writing/blogging is 100% free. I do not pay google for space on the internet. I already own my computer and pay a monthly subscription for internet. There is no added cost, except my time, to blogging daily.



But what it has given me is incredible. I have learned to be creative every day, I have been forced to feed myself something each day to inspire me, I have learned to discipline myself daily.


Two days ago, I wrote my 100th consecutive daily blog post. Yesterday, I skipped writing on purpose. Although I could continue to write daily for an indefinite amount of time, I did not want to get glued to the number. I did not want to keep writing every day for the sake of making it one more day. Perhaps because I had the number 100 in my mind or perhaps because I have gotten lazy, I feel like some of my recent posts were not that great. But still forcing myself to write daily has been an excellent exercise for me.


I hope anyone who has read one post or all 100 posts from this challenge have gained some value. Maybe you're even inspired to come up with your own creativity challenge.


I'll continue writing, just not daily. Please know I am thankful for each and every person who takes the time to read.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

If you want to help, give cash

Link to photo source
The coast of Texas is certainly suffering in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. And the damage is not done. The Houston area is expected to have as much rain in the coming week as it did this past week. The flooding is bad and will likely continue to trap people in their homes and damage property in the coming week or two.

There are a lot of companies and individuals gathering up supplies to send to those in need. Their hearts are in the right place -- the people on the coast need help. But sending truckloads of clothes, water, flashlights, and canned food is honestly not the best move right now for a couple of reasons.

First, it is an extremely inefficient use of resources. All of those items will have to be sorted and distributed by somebody. This takes an enormous amount of man power.


Second, it does not allow for relief organizations to take advantage of economies of scale.


Instead of donating a couple cans of food, the people in need would be much better off we all of us donated a dollar or two to relief efforts. With one dollar, the food bank can purchase seven dollars worth of food because putting all those dollars together allows them to buy in bulk. That way, they can buy fresh food that is exactly what they need plus it is already sorted. This saves time, money, and man power. The same concept holds true for all of the other supplies that is needed on the coast right now.

In addition, a lot of people just need to get out of the area. Bringing them supplies will not make their house less flooded. Getting people evacuated takes resources. Bringing them some water and boxes of mac and cheese is good, but getting them to dry land is better.

In an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, he makes the case for discontinuing in-kind donations and most of our volunteering. Here is a snippet from that episode about canned goods.

The reason we continue to give in-kind donations instead of cash is because it makes us feel better. It makes us feel good to give a can of beans and think someone in need will open this can of beans and be oh-so-thankful. Or to give a package of socks and think someone in Houston who has wet socks is going to be so happy to open up this package of socks and have dry feet again.


While those in-kind donations will hopefully get to  people who need them, cash is always king. Cash always fits, it is always the right color, it is always the right flavor. Cash allows relief agencies to allocate resources efficiently and get exactly what they need to aid the people in distress.

If you want to help people in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, donate money. This New York Times article gives links to both local and national organizations you can give to. It is not guaranteed that all of your cash donations will be used for relief efforts. It is not a guarantee that none of those funds will get used for administrative needs or could possibly be mishandled. However, there is no guarantee that your in-kind donations will get to the people who need them either. Your cash donation has the best chance of helping someone who needs assistance right now.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Expectations can change attitude

Living in San Antonio, TX, we had an exciting weekend starting Thursday afternoon. Everyone rushed to the grocery stores to stock up on supplies as we were concerned Hurricane Harvey would cause us to have up to two feet of water in the city. San Antonio is prone to flash flooding. It does not take a lot of rain or time for our roads to become unsafe. In addition, we were all geared up for power outages. My family even bought some candles and matches just in case. We were all geared up for having to sit at home all weekend and possibly into Monday and Tuesday.

And for most of the city, nothing really happened. No power outages or flooding. No missed work.

All of those expectations for road closures and power outages definitely affected people's attitudes. I went out to get bloodwork Saturday morning (when things were supposed to get pretty bad). The main receptionist kept asking the people coming in why we were getting out in this weather. Most had the same reply, "I really needed to get this done today" but inside we were thinking, "We've seen worse rain than today."

This morning, I drove through to get my breakfast. Although the employees were reasonable and kind, I still felt like there was a looming disappointment that the weather wasn't too bad for them to stay home.


I'll admit that I was kind of let down as well. Instead of thinking about the people who lost their homes, I was disappointed that I didn't get more "action" -- or at least enough action to warrent cancelling work for the day.


Expectations really do affect attitude. If we had gone into the weekend thinking that this was probably all for nothing but better safe than sorry, then there would be no disappointment when we did end up having to go to work as normal. But because we were all hyped up and ready to take it easy, wrapped up in blankets in the house and watching Netflix (assuming we had power), there was a change in attitude.


Hope for the best but expect the worst. In my experience, this can prevent a lot of disappointment. Instead of being disappointed, I am going to work hard on being productive today and this week. There will be time to rest during another natural disaster. I still have my family, my home, and my job. Therefore I should be thankful, instead of dissatisfied, with how things turned out for me during this hurricane.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Listening to my little one hum

My daughter is just over a year and a half old. Although she certainly understands many of the words we speak to her -- banana, cheese, water, outside, shoes, cup, yes, no, the names of certain people -- she does not ever speak very many words back to us.

Instead, she prefers to make soft, sweet little noises. Sort of a mix between humming and singing.

hum (verb) - make a low, steady continuous sound like that of a bee

I love listening to these little noises she makes. It will not be much longer before she starts speaking many words and then full sentences. She will soon learn how to yell, scream, demand, and talk back. But for now, even when she is demanding something or trying to refuse and tell us "no", it comes out in mostly soft hums and sweet noises. It is music to my mama ears.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Another case of my fragility

Hunger is a reality for most of the world. Food insecurity (waking up in the morning and not being sure of where you will get your food for the day) is prevalent in many societies and is even an issue for some Americans.

For myself, I am rarely hungry unless I just want to be because I am restricting my food intake.
This morning, I went in for bloodwork. I knew I had to arrive fasting, but I did not realize I would not be able to eat for several more hours as they conducted testing. Between being pregnant and not being prepared for the fact that I would not be allowed to eat, I was frazzled at first. I felt somewhat faint, to be honest. By the time I even started the testing I have usually eaten once and halfway through the testing I normally would have had a snack by then. Being completely unable to eat but knowing I had to get through that testing today made me feel tied down against my will.

Again, my fragility showed. So I have to wait a couple of hours before eating breakfast? Big deal. A lot of people go weeks at a time with barely enough food to keep them alive. I have to go a couple hours, and I even know that the end is in sight.

Many of us are so fragile, though, that we throw little fits when we can’t fulfill this basic need at the exact moment we want to. In addition, Americans spend a lot of money eating out. We love quick hits of energy and sugar bursts. We get upset when we don’t get to eat immediately. (Sure, this isn’t everyone… but for my fellow fragile people it’s true!) 

When these situations arise, I get stressed and upset. But I am trying to change my mindset. As soon as I can convince myself to think clearly and rationally again, I remember that this is just a test and that training myself to handle the stress now will help me handle more severe and stressful situations in the future.

Friday, August 25, 2017

What kind of provisions would you stockpile for a 48 hour emergency?

I live in San Antonio, Texas and we are supposed to experience some flooding over the weekend due to the hurricane hitting the gulf. Although the most we may get is some heavy rain, it is possible we could end up with some power outages.


Since we normally grocery shop on the weekend, I decided to at least stock up on a few things last night in case we could not get out of the house. I grabbed some water bottles, almond butter, bread, fruit, protein bars, baby food, some almond milk, a few veggies, and some frozen foods (assuming we have electricity to warm these last items up).


I was quite entertained to see what other people were stocking up on. For example, one couple was exiting the grocery store with about 10 liters of Pepsi. Most people were stocking up on cereals and milk, bread and peanut butter, and other shelf-ready food. Although the produce section was busy, there was still plenty of fruit and vegetables remaining. The bread aisle, on the other hand, looked quite bare.


As I left the store I had mixed thoughts. On one hand I felt like if there is a true emergency with power outages that lasted more than a couple days we might not have enough shelf-ready food. On the other hand I felt like this was probably a lot of scare for maybe short power outages or not being able to get out of the house for a whole day or two.


Standing in the long line at the grocery store, it reminded me that I wish I had my own stockpile already prepared at home so that I was not running around last minute in this type of situation. I googled and found a great article with some ideas for creating a two week emergency stockpile. This article pointed out not only the importance of water and food but also on reducing the need to clean. Paper plates and plastic ware are two good ways to reduce the need to clean -- plus these items never expire so you can have them on hand for years. Having sanitation wipes available can also be handy. In addition, having a light source is helpful, especially with small children as they can be scared or bored in the dark. Basic tools and a first aid kit are never a bad idea either.


What would you stock up on in case of a short-term emergency?