$135 all included in Chicago… blessed

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I decide to head for the first tourist attraction on my list, backpack in tow, after-all, I cannot check into my airbnb until 5pm.  Who cares tho? $18 a night, how can I complain? Airbnb has really changed my life! Goodbye tents, and hello wifi, electricity, shower, and a real bed!


The John Hancock building, where I have read that you can see all of Chicago from the signature lounge bypassing the $20 fee for the 360 deck.  I set off.  Walking in circles looking for the red line.  The map shows its location, but my gps seems confused and the street names don’t indicate which direction in which to go.  This certainly isn’t New York.  I feel the wind bellowing down the avenue towards me, and I decide that that must be where Lake Michigan is.  I proceed to walk in the North with this assumed directional sense.  Three lefts later, I am going the right way.
Distractions!!!!!
Everywhere…
 Tall buildings leaving my head forever tilted towards the sky.  But as my eyes come in for a landing to quickly ensure my safety they find new wonders upon which to gaze.
Old castle like buildings intertwined with the new skyscraper structures.  Beige monuments, standing short against the backdrop of the glass windows.  The contrast taking me quite off guard.  “You never know what you don’t know, and who knew?”  Holy churches and fire stations.
Bricks carefully laid one by one, the pride completely evident.  The tourist leaps out of me, pulling the real camera out and snapping, spinning, snapping some more.  Photo after photo, eager to share my discovery with the world.  I can see Willis Tower ahead of me.  The Sears Tower I should say, or else my local chitown friends will be sure to correct me.  I look at my GPS, which is now cooperating, and continue to walk around the block, looking for the John Hancock Building.  Around and around I walk, skipping a block, “maybe it’s behind the Willis Tower?” I stop to read about the water tower, that now houses and Chicago Tourism center and art gallery.
The water tower was built to draw water from Lake Michigan, and was the only public building to survive the Great Fire of Chicago.  It’s beautiful.  I continue walking, until I have come full circle, and another block before I realize that the Willis Tower is in fact the John Hancock Building.  #tourist
It turns out that the signature lounge has overly priced drinks, and while it may still be cheaper to purchase a $15 mixed drink than pay the $20 to get into the 360 deck, there’s s special for $21 where you cons visit the deck twice within 48 hours.  As a photographer, the chance to see the skyline during the day and at night is totally worth the extra dollars!
  Breathtaking… This is one of those moments that I wish you weren’t reason my blog and looking at my photos.. It’s a moment that if you can get to Chicago and experience this, I totally recommend it, and I’m writing this blog to prove it doesn’t cost as much as you’ve probably assumed..
This is probably a good spot to get a financial breakdown of the cost of this trip so far.
Parking car in New Orleans – FREE (thank you Gloria!)
Flight from New Orleans to Chicago via Southwest Airlines – $44
Bottle of water in the airport (because my waters were more than 3oz I had to pour them out) – $3 (lesson learned)
Orange line train from the airport to the city $3
Dublin Donuts Coolata (don’t judge, we don’t have Dunkin Donuts near where I live) $4
John Hancock 360 – $21
AirBnB reservation $20/night
3 nights booked ($60)
Total so far = $135 and that’s including the next two nights lodging!
As heavy as this tall backpack is, it’s totally worth it!
Can’t beat that! Well, maybe I should tell the next story about my airbnb 😉
To be continued
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Goodnight Day One

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October 3rd 2015 – My first day traveling without my car.. just me, my backpack, and public transportation…

So I woke up in New Orleans, took my $44 flight and spent the day walking miles around Chicago with my backpack.  It’s about 4pm, and I figure it’ll take me about an hour to get to the place I will be sleeping.  Perfect timing since check in is at 5pm and all I really want to do is put this backpack down and get something to eat.  I’ve seen several places but I want to be frugal.  I can cook at the house, I’m sure there will be a grocery store somewhere near.

 

  I plug in the address and use some city transport app I found in the App Store.  It doesn’t really help me out too much, so I check my reservation for directions.  Sure enough, catch the pink line and a few blocks from the Kedzie station I’ll find the place.  Should be easy.  After walking completely the wrong way, and finding navy pier, a lady walking her dog eyes me at the bus shelter looking completely lost trying to figure out if any of the buses that stop here are going anywhere closer to somewhere that will help me.  By this time I am tired, and walking isn’t feeling so much fun.  She asks me if I need help, and I tell her what my goal is.   She kindly directs me to the red line, and then tells me she’s walking that way so she’ll walk with me.
  As we walked we talked.  She asked me where I was from, and what I was doing in Chicago.  I told her my story about fighting cancer, and mental illness, and how now I just want to live, which for me means seeing the world.  She tells me about her son who is fighting prostate cancer.  She tells me that they aren’t supposed to outlive their children.  She’s already lost one child to suicide, and now her son is fighting for his life.  She’s happy to hear there is hope, and thanks me for my story.  She seems positive that he will win his fight tho.  She asked me if I’d thought about becoming a motivational speaker, and I have,  but when I think of them, I think about people traveling to rooms full of people, place to place, now trying to sell a CD, or a book, or something.  How whatever brought them to be the inspiration has probably taken a back seat, and spreading the message, and profiting from it has probably become a full time job, once again propelling money to the front of the goals list.  It’s so easy to fall back into that trap. I don’t think that’s for me.  I’m content with writing these blogs, and hopefully touching some other people’s lives that are struggling in their own fights, or living inside their 9 to 5 boxes, dreaming of the day, but never allowing it to be today.  I remember that feeling.  It was “normal” everyone did it, because after all that’s what we are supposed to do.  Get a job, take care of our family, create a safe home, and fill it with things that show we are successful.  I am so deathly afraid of falling back into that lifestyle.  Motivational speaker is certainly not for me.  I thank her for confidence in my message, and we part ways at the corner, next to the red line.  I felt emotional.  I felt that my soul had connected with this stranger, sent to me in a time of frustration and fatigue, to guide me “home” for the night, and in return I gave her the gift of being heard.  I thought about how personal the things she told me were, and I felt the release of some of that weight leave her.  I smiled, entering into the subway.
  Once I got into the train, I checked the map to figure out what stop I needed to get off and transfer to the pink line.  I was almost there.  Pretty proud of myself for handling the first day out of the pen so well.  20 steps up to the street from the red line, a block or two to walk and I’m at the pink line.  It’s amazing how much further you can go when you think you are done.  I got to the foot of what looked like Mount Everest, up to the train line overhead.  36 steps later my legs felt they couldn’t go any further if I needed them to.  I board the train and offered a seat.  I take the seat and count the stops until mine.  Counting down I get to “3 to go” and there’s a young man a little ways down the cart? (Is that what they’re called?)  He starts talking to a kid standing next to my chair in the doorway.  His dad is sitting with his little sister on the other side of me.  “Hey shorty, you still doing good in that school?”
“Yea” he says, looking tough, as his body language seems to prepare for what might come next.
“Don’t mess it up, that’s a good school.  My boy went to college from that school.”
“Nah, I’m doing good. “
“Aight, don’t make me run up on you to check your homework” he said, stepping off as the train came to a halt.  I smile to myself.  I notice that the neighborhoods are starting to deteriorate.  I’d been informed that “oak park” was a “good” neighborhood, a safe neighborhood.  I get to my stop, and step off.  The houses are boarded up, graffiti everywhere, and just an all around run down looking place.  I check the map again to make sure I’m in the right place.  I’m not in oak park.  I’m in Little Village, which looks mighty close to my original reservation, that I thought I had changed to Oak Park.  I think about what my friend said about my safety, check in with myself, and feel very present and capable of taking care of myself.  It’s right around 5pm, and still light outside.  This is the adventure right? I’m not going to know people in Europe wherever I go to guide me to the good neighborhoods and keep me safe from the bad.  It’s pretty typical that the cheaper places to stay are in the poorest of neighborhoods.  The reviews looked good.  “The Europeans seemed to make it work, I can too” I think to myself, and start walking the few blocks to the house.
  After two, I find a convenience store.  I decide to go in and see if they have a can of soup or something easy to heat up.  I’m sure I’ll go to sleep early.  As I approach the door, two men are leaving.  They’re Latino and dressed in wife beaters and jean shorts.  They feel familiar.  One holds the door and instructs me to enter first since I’m a woman.  I thank him but insist that they leave first, as I am carrying a huge pack and probably can’t fit past them without taking a shelf out.  I smile to myself, recalling the love on the train, and the love at this door, and the realization that I’m allowing stereotypes to create fear inside me, and all of these people are humans.  “They’re just humans trying to make it like the next person.  Has the south really segregated me that much? ” I get a little pissed at myself that this is even an issue.  I’ve never been raised with racism in my heart, and I don’t consider myself racist, but the fact there is fear within me that I may be robbed or taken advantage of, certainly pisses me off.  I check my automatic thoughts and reprogram myself.  I am safe.  I’m not hurting anyone and no one is targeting me.  Just be your loving self and the same will be returned, just like anywhere else.  I hate that I don’t know this instinctively anymore.
  The store doesn’t have anything to really heat up besides ramen noodles, and a can of beans.  I keep walking and see a couple of Mexican restaurants.  I’m sure the food in them is probably really good.  Little mom and pop shops usually are, no matter what the nationality is.  I get up into my room, set the backpack down, finally, and sit.  Harrison gives me a quick tour and I sit once again.  I don’t want to move.  Two hours go by, and it’s gotten dark outside.  My stomach is rumbling, and I know I should probably go find something to eat.  The Mexican restaurant is closed, so I hit another little shop, pick up cereal, milk, peanut butter and bread.  “This should tie me over.”
  I spend the night talking to Harrison about his wild ideas to expand his airbnb, and share some of mine.  He has the same excitement as I do about it.  A group of us hang out on the rooftop patio, listening to the trains and the sirens.  We share stories about who we are and what we are doing in Chicago.  I meet a new German friend, a new airbnb host friend, and a woman staying long term trying to make it in the big city as an accountant.  This is what it’s all about.  Human connection.  Expanding the limitations of what I know, and have learned so far in life.

$220 all expenses paid Chicago vacation.. How?

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So here it is!!!  This is the number one question that I get asked, and I finally have a day where I am not having a million adventures, and I can sit and write the financial side of everything I just did, as promised.  This will blow your mind, and I’m not just saying that to keep you reading. Trust me, I did it, and it blows my mind!

New Orleans to Chicago – $220
Income from my Airbnb + $0
Chicago to NYC
NYC to DC
DC to New Orleans in $

It all started with an email. Southwest Airlines had a special going on and was kind enough to let me know about it.  Usually I never open spam email, and in fact I have changed my email address to start over on the masses of spam email I would get in a day, and have to fish thru to retrieve personal emails… and yes.. I still use email.  It’s my preferred method of contact with my therapist.  It respects boundaries, isn’t time sensitive, but keeps the communication open.  Since I am traveling, it is hard to maintain my therapy, but it has been a vital part of my recovery, and it feels safer the more doors I have open where I can be open, honest, and real about where I am at.  It is too easy to get caught up in the adventures, and before I know it, none of my basic skills to manage my mental illness are in place, and I am once again spiraling out of control, heading for depressed and suicidal fast! Which reminds me, I should see her while I am in town.. I love how that works.  BRB

ok email sent!

Soo.. cost breakdown.. Southwest Airlines email.. so I click on my departure airport; New Orleans, and ciew the flights.  A list populates and I scroll down the results to find the cheapest flight, and where it is going.  “Midway Intl. Chicago $83 one way”

well, I know that Chicago is a major city, and I can only imagine how cheap the flights to various places out of there might be.  I have many friends in the windy city, and I’ve really never visited Chicago on my own, as a tourist with a camera, and just let myself go wherever the wind blows.  I’ve always been there with an alternate reason, and a time constraint.  So I go my list of “what do I need to survive if I go to Chicago” list.  Shelter, food, a way home.  Next step, I load myAirBnb app, switch to a traveler (from a host.. for those who don’t know, after I discovered AirBnb I listed rooms for rent in my house so that others could travel for as little as possible, therefore promoting and inspiring more people to travel) “Where am I going?” Chicago! I type in the info, drop my $ range to $0-$30 and look at what comes back.  Scroll, scroll, scroll.. $20 a night, a bunkbed in what looks like a hostel type of environment (hostel as in a place to sleep, not hostile) I check the calendar and it has 2 nights available when I get there.. booked. Flight… booked.  Holy shit I’m going to Chicago! $79 for the flight, $20 to sleep, shower, change, charge my phone and camera, and the ability to eat for next to nothing… I am in!

I remember an article I read about finding cheaper flights after a flight is booked, and two days later I check out cheaper times to travel to Chicago, if there are any? Sure enough there’s a flight for $44!

I log on, change my flight and receive a credit of $35.  I price tickets from Chicago to NY, and find a flight for $59.. I use the credit and pay the remaining $24… I guess I need to start planning for NY TOO!

At the airport, I am packed into one backpack that weighs about 60lbs.  Three outfits, camping cooking equipment, camera, journal, chargers, and toiletries.  Two bottles of water, couscous (just in case) and a determined mind to do this! First lesson… bottled water can not go through the security check if it is more than 3 oz, so there went my waters!  I paid the $3 at Subway for a new bottle once I was on the other side.  I have to drink all of the time.  When I get dehydrated, my body panics and panic escalates quickly into an attack where I am unable to function to just get a drink.

Once at Midway, I pay $3 for a train ticket into the city.  I have no idea what I want to do first, but time is ticking, so the city it is.  Besides, that’s where I need to be to take the pink train to the general area of where I am staying.  I later realize that if I had done more research on the metro payment system, I could’ve saved that $3 and just bought the weekly unlimited travel card for $28 (there is a $5 fee for a new card, but by filling out a form on their website, it is refunded… yes I am that frugal! $8 in savings is groceries, cereal and milk, or almost half a nights stay at another hostel, which means a whole new perfect day I can add to my travels.  Trading time for savings gives me more time before I ever have to actually go to work.  (Which has now been 10 months since I actually clocked into a job anywhere)

This blog is taking forever to write! I feel my concentration slipping, but I want to get it done because I have been wanting to write it, knowing that so many of you want to know.. so yea day one.. I find a list of things to do in Chicago for free, and I start doing them.  $12 in groceries when I get to the airbnb. (Thank you Harrison!)  

Unexpected expenses included filling prescriptions – $12 and I lost my transit card, so I had to pay another $28 for a weekly travel pass.  I did treat myself to a nice formal dinner, and ate at cheaper dine in places a lot more than I anticipated.  It is exhausting walking all over a city and seeing everything, not to mention I had pneumonia and didn’t know it, so it’s not surprising I didn’t have the energy to be conservative about food, and preparing my own meals.  I also paid $21 for the 360 observation deck.  It’s $19 for one visit, and was $21 for two visits within 48 hours.  As a photographer, who doesn’t want a night and a day time experience?

After the two nights at Harrison’s place, I found another airbnb to keep me for a night at $35 – a little more than I’d like to spend, but it was a private room, and tho I attempted to find another traveler thru the nomad facebook groups, and various other travel friends groups I interact with, it was short notice, and I had the room to myself, which given I didn’t know I had pneumonia, was probably for the best.  Over the counter meds and cough drops, thermometer etc $25 Two days in bed at a friends house (free lodging and amazing company, Thank you Annette!) An amazing free raindrop technique using Young Living oils, and I was up and running for another couple of days!  Lincoln Park Zoo, skyline pictures, a free guided walking tour, and before I knew it, it was time to fly to NYC!

Total expenses for a week in Chicago, flight, lodging, food, attractions, and medicine = $220!

Stay tuned for an even cheaper week to and in NYC!!!

$19 flight to Miami anyone? 

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Me:”I wish flying within America was cheaper” – ✔️
The power of manifestation at work… 
While traveling Europe, hopping from country to country for $10-$20 a plane ride, I wished it was Iike this in America. Then I started wondering.. Why isn’t it like this in America? 
In Europe, has is about $6 a gallon.. Here in America it is now a buck fifty. What other excuses could there be but greed? I thought about a friend of mine that was training to become a flight attendant, and just how many times I’ve read about flight attendants lately. I wouldn’t mind being a flight attendant with the perks they get!  
Today that wish came true! Go ahead .. Click the link.. Put your departure airport and see where you can go.. Chicago to Miami for $19 anyone? Christmas has come early!

Flights to San Fransisco, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver and more .. Starting at $15
Don’t forget to follow my blog for all the latest frugal travel tips! If you’re departure city isn’t listed.. Check out skyscanner.net .. Frugal travels everyone! P1000618

From one New Orleans refugee to another: I LOVE YOU

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November 8th I wrote about the high terrorist alerts in countries you wouldn’t expect. We are all aware of the events that took place in Paris a few days later. Since then MASS hysteria circulates about refugees in NOLA so the media writes an article stating there are only 14. If you believe that you’re a fool.  Here is the breakdown of alleged refugees by state.  

Syrians have been fleeing for their lives since civil war broke out in 2011. Here are the facts as of September 4th 2015.

  •  7.6 million people are currently displaced internally in the country of Syria. 
  • 2 million refugees have fled to Turkey
  • 250,000 refugees have fled to Iraq.. This one blows my mind.  How many people do you know would prefer to be in Iraq than at home?
  • 1.2 million refugees are displaced in Lebanon 
  • 800,000 refugees have fled to Jordan, and onto Iraq. 
  • More than half of the refugees are under the age of 18… That’s almost 7 million children… What would you do if this was your child?   
  • The lucky ones live inside camps. Tent camps with no electricity, no clean water 
  • The lucky ones make it to places with medical assistance   
  • Over a 1/4 million have already died.
  • Fleeing the country is as dangerous as staying, the only difference is that fleeing has a ray of hope.  That ray of hope is that somewhere out there, there is a world with a heart. 
  • 436,000 refugees have applied for assylum within Europe, according to the United Nations. 

The neighboring countries cannot meet the needs of the masses.  Meeting the basic survival needs of the refugees does not support corporate western countries.  It’s simple mathematics.  Some claim the ISIS beheadings were photoshopped. As a photographer who uses photoshop and Lightroom, I can believe that, and after looking closer at some of the footage, id have to say it was poorly done, but it was convincing enough to stir panic, and if there’s one thing that will cause an American or any person to back its military it’s panic, followed by revenge.  This was clearly demonstrated following the September 11th attacks.  Before the attacks, there was heavy pressure to bring our troops home after years of war in the Middle East.  Immediately following the attacks there was a record number of people enlisting to fight for our country.  Back to the refugees…

It was only ten years ago that New Orleans had 300,000 refugees of its own.  Hurricane Katrina came thru, and survival of the fittest kicked in. Looting occurred.  Food became scarce.  People lined up for hours for a bag of ice, a box of MRE’s, military rations, that gave you the worst stomach aches.  Water was unusable due to the flood and failure of water stations. Electricity was non existent for weeks and months in some cases.  Military moved in and out home looked like a war zone of its own.  People that stayed behind did whatever thy had to do to survive and protect themselves and their families.  Assistance was limited if at all. Help didn’t come for days.  Imagine if 4 years after Katrina, refugees were still walking and riding on top of whatever could float to get to a place of safety.  Imagine if we were turned away because of the select few ignorant people that were looting TVs and non surivaval items.  Imagine if those who made it Houston and acted an ass caused Houston to start bombing us on  top of trying to survive.  

The way I see it, if ISIS was responsible for the recent attacks and we turn on all refugees for it:

  • 8 people continue to terrorize these people on our own soil as well as the countries that are housing them. 
  • They prove that we are heartless western greedy people, as their beliefs teach.. The very reason they believe we should be exterminated
  • We enable their goal or fear and terror by spreading the fear via social media 
  • We ignorantly continue spreading more hate than ISIS ever could
  • there will be an additional 436,000 people willing to fight against us pretty soon.

 If you think your random share of ignorant posts and comments don’t make a difference, they DO!  Think about the ice bucket challenge, and how fast that spread world wide. Fear spreads like wild fire. Fear of the unknown is the worst.  

Smart move ISIS.

Today I change my profile picture to one of the 7 million faces that could’ve been mine.  One of the 7 million faces that is living in worse conditions than any hurricane Katrina victim ever faced, because I remember, and I wanted the world to care about us, the people of New Orleans.  Not just the black people, not just the white people, the PEOPLE, the humans, the beautiful individual lives of each and every one of us because we are one.  I’ve never felt shitty after a random act of kindness, and it’s always come back ten fold. 

How can you help?  Post a comment of an accurate fact about the humans of Syria. Change your profile picture to one of the 7 million faces.  Open your heart and mind.  Pause before mindlessly passing on ignorant social media content.  What would you want if it were your child? Your mom? Or grandma?