Incurable Curiosity

In-cur-able: (adj.) Not likely to be changed. Cu-ri-os-i-ty: (n) A desire to know.

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Tips From A First-Time Traveler: Top 3 Items Packed

At the end of May I had the privilege of  being a first-time visitor in Scandinavia, going on an 11-day mission trip to Denmark and Sweden. Researcher that I am, I spent the preceding months researching every travel website and Pinterest tip on long-haul flights, language navigation, and living out of a suitcase. Meaning to take only a carry-on (this Ebags model that I have named The TARDIS) and small backpack (a well-worn Baggalinni), I was pretty concerned about taking only necessities. Here are the top 3 things I was glad to have brought:

  1. Good walking shoes that didn’t look like walking shoes. These Keen shoes were a lifesaver. I wore them half the time in Denmark and exclusively in Sweden, doing everything from biking city streets to climbing around a rocky island. They held up like a dream, and you’d never have guessed that I hadn’t had time to break them in before the trip. Bonus: I didn’t stick out so much as a tourist with these as I did with my hiking shoes.
  2. A pocket-sized notebook. Blank when I started and half-full when I came home, my notebook held flight info, short lists of common words and phrases in the languages we’d be encountering, daily commentary, and scattered notes on just about everything else. It was a quick-reference in airports that also kept my passport and boarding passes handy. A small pocket in the back held everything from metro passes to business cards and receipts.
  3. A feel-like-a-human-again kit. My first long-haul flight left me feeling slightly less than awesome, but I had already prepared by packing a non-liquid toiletry kit in my backpack and keeping an extra t-shirt in a front pocket of my carry-on. The kit included things like ear plugs and an eye mask for the long flight, and deodorant, hairbrush, toothbrush, and facial cloths to use between flights. Yes, it took up some space in my personal bag, but it was very much worth it. Once we got to our destination city I added all my liquid toiletries and it became an all-in-one kit.

Since these are universal items, I’ll definitely be packing them on all future adventures. What are your top 3 travel necessities?


A Week in Maine: Things Learned

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I recently went on a week-long visit to the pine tree state. It’s absolutely beautiful in the fall, and I can see why New England is so popular with artists and authors. There are some things you need to know before going to Maine, though. Here are some of the things I learned on this trip up the Downeast coastline:

  • Trust your instinct before you trust a GPS.
  • You can follow the North Star up Route 1.
  • When traveling to Maine, prepare for a variety of weather possibilities. It can snow there in June, and it can be 95 degrees in October (although both are incredibly rare).
  • It is possible to walk almost a mile out to sea.
  • Butterflies are meant to be chased.
  • The ocean can sound like thunder.
  • It is possible to get into Canada without a passport, but you do need documentation to get back over the border.
  • An American president kept a summer home on a New Brunswick island.
  • When offered a history lesson served with tea and cookies, take it – especially if the lesson ends with homemade birthday cake being served.
  • Not all beaches are made of sand.
  • Tombstone carvers make mistakes too.
  • ‘Set in Stone’ does not guarantee legibility 100 years later.
  •  The best hot chocolate is made when you order it and is topped with freshly-whipped cream.
  • Sunlight can fall like rain.

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A Taste of Flight

We had been waiting at the gate for over an hour, having followed advice to get there at least 90 minutes before takeoff; it actually took longer to purchase coffee and a newspaper at the airport Starbucks than it had taken to get through security that morning. At least we could watch the sunrise over the neighboring terminal…. and all the people coming and going. Speculating about the lives of the random group you’ll be stuck with for the next few hours is an interesting way to pass the time. I wondered about the young couple who were taking two very small dogs as carry-on items, whether the little girl in a stroller being entertained by her mother would remain so well-behaved for the duration of the flight, and if the man sleeping with headphones on would hear the call to board.

Finally, just when I was ready to break out the copy of Lemony Snicket’s Horseradish sitting in my backpack, the boarding agent began calling out instructions to board the plane according to lettered seating assignments. Like Titanic in reverse, first class, women, children, and the disabled were called first. Due to the relatively small number of passengers, it didn’t take long before our own coach class was announced over the loudspeaker. We stepped over the the line, hesitating at the sight of the carry-on size checker – would we have to check our bags after all? No, the boarding agent didn’t even glance at our large backpacks (solid black and lime green, respectively) as she stamped our passes.

The reality of our adventure hit as I walked through the elevated tunnel between the gate and the door into the 747: I would soon be experiencing my first flight, traveling in a way faster and more complex than I had ever traveled before, and all I had to do was sit back and buckle in – after securing my luggage in the overhead compartment, that is.

When I saw many passengers stuffing bags considerably larger than mine into the small compartments, I wondered if I could have made use of my backpack’s expanding feature. Oh well, nothing for it at this point. We settled into our seats (I got the treat of being seated next to the window) and explored our limited personal space: royal blue vinyl-covered seats worn from a few decades’ service, small armrests, white plastic fold-down trays, flashing signs ordering the fastening of seat belts and the powering off of electronic devices, and yes, authentic Skymall catalogs in the seat pockets. A little more vintage than I expected, but not terrible at all.

As flight attendants slammed luggage bins closed, the plane was slowly guided out of the hanger onto the runway, following multicolored lines that I could only guess the meaning of. Our flight attendant was competing with the pilot’s announcements as she attempted – three times – to explain emergency exit protocol to passengers seated in the row ahead of us, succeeding once weather conditions for both departure and arrival cities were reported.

Waiting for the runway to be cleared seemed to take an eternity. How could my brother seem so relaxed as he perused the bizarre and overpriced items in the outdated catalog? Ah, but his voice betrayed the slightest hint of nerves as he pointed out the subscription to Cheese of the Month. As we waited, we watched other planes as they bent the rules of gravity. If that giant airbus could make it off the ground, our smaller craft could too, right?

And then we began to move forward. The pilot advised passengers to prepare for liftoff. I waited for a jolt of acceleration, sure that liftoff would be dramatic. Instead, it was really as if we were simply being driven into the air as one would drive a car onto an interstate entrance ramp. A sharp incline was followed by leveling out, then angling toward the sky again in a pattern of gaining altitude.

The weather was pleasant that day, a bit foggy, but we were low enough that larger roads and buildings could be guessed at. Every once in a while the plane would bank to one side or the other, changing the angle of view, and about a third of the way through the flight I got to see the interior of a cloud for a few seconds. Other than that, there was nothing much to write about – very minimal turbulence, no crying children, no crazy passengers or predatory reptiles; we even landed a few minutes ahead of schedule. And the landing was so smooth that I believe I wouldn’t have noticed if I’d had my eyes closed. All in all, a lovely first-flight experience that I won’t soon forget.

When I was little I would look up at the Carolina-blue sky overhead and wonder how far you had to be off the ground to officially be ‘in the sky’. Now I have my answer, and I heartily agree that it is the only way to travel. I think Leonardo put it best when he wrote, “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”