Six Things I Know About Travel (So Far)

I never had the opportunity or finances to travel on a study abroad as an undergraduate. When I met my husband we put a lot of miles on our car driving from Michigan to Nova Scotia & back through the states one summer, then the following summer, from Michigan to Jasper to Vancouver and then back through the states via countless National Parks.  I didn’t have the opportunity to travel overseas until I was 30. I had started my PhD program and began teaching with the MAET program and had the opportunity to teach in Plymouth, England in the summer of 2006.  Since then, I have had the opportunity to circumnavigate the globe.  As director of the MAET program, I also have the opportunity to provide this chance to others via our MAET overseas program.

There is a common agreement that it takes 10 years to become an expert…so…I’m getting close to having this travel thing somewhat down pat.  I still learn and hone my strategies, but I feel I’ve come a long way over the past 8 years.  This year in our MAET Overseas program, we have a handful of students who like me years ago, are venturing out for the first time. I thought it would be helpful to articulate a few things I’ve been told and learned over the years of travel that I either did very well, or, wish I would have known on that first trip. Experienced travelers coming across this post – please add your wisdom to the discussion!

Here’s what I know:

1. You, and only you, are responsible for getting yourself from point A to point B

My very first time setting foot on foreign soil was on June 20, 2006.  I flew from Detroit Metro to London Heathrow. I had to rent a car and drive four hours from London to Plymouth, England.  In 2006, it was not common to have a GPS unit – it was something silly like over 200 pounds to rent one.  Thus, I had to rely on a road atlas and a print out of MapQuest directions along with hand-written tips from someone who had driven the route before.  Before setting foot over in London I thoroughly researched the route.  I read the atlas every night (ok, not every night, but a lot) before bed so I could build a mental map in my head.  These were the days before international cell phone plans or easy to procure SIM cards. I really had to know where I was going and what to do if I got stuck.  I think this experience set me up for future travel success. Everywhere I have gone, I do the same thing. Now, with international data on cell phones or unlocked phones + a SIM card, it’s easier, but, I never assume that I’ll be able to get online.  I always have a good mental map of roads or transport systems I’m going to encounter on my way to the airport, to the hotel, or wherever I am headed.

I re-learned this lesson last year. I was traveling to India for the first time, and another first, I was going to be met at the airport by a driver. You know the people you see holding up signs? My name was going to be on a sign! It was very exciting – I thought to myself, for the first time I don’t have to worry about where I’m going – the driver will take me right there and I can relax.  WRONG. As we got closer to the area where I was staying I started to notice that we kept circling the same block, several times.  The driver didn’t have the exact address and didn’t know where to drop me off.  Because I was being lax, I didn’t have a print out of the address or the address stored offline on my phone. ALWAYS KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. Have it on your phone, on a back up piece of paper, and in your mental map. This leads me to my next point…

2. Don’t Panic
There is a good chance you’ll get lost. You may get on the wrong train or find yourself circling the same block in a city.  The worst thing you can do is begin to panic.  I recently had lunch with my friend Andy. We were discussing travel advice for newbies (in preparation for this post!) and he said “You can get anywhere with a passport and a credit card.” That is very solid advice.  If you get on the wrong train, you’ll have to pay to get on the right train. If you miss your flight, you may have to pay to get on another one.  Knowing that in advance takes away some of the stress (and also a tip to prepare a cushion for emergencies.)

Additionally, delays will happen.  Getting angry isn’t going to make your connection happen.  My advice here – be on top of alternate plans and have several ways of contacting your airline.  Get those ducks in a row BEFORE you travel.  Follow the twitter handle of the airline you’re flying.  Social media is quickly becoming the go-to tool for customer service.  Program the airline customer service number into your phone.  If you miss a connection – chances are there is a plane full of people that also missed the flight. This means the counter is going to be busy, busy with angry people.  You should be pro-active.  Fire up your laptop (if you have one with you) or browse on your phone and look for alternate flights.  If you’re flying to Europe, main hubs are LHR, AMS and CDG.  A LOT of inter-Europe flights go in and out of there. See if you can find a route that may not come up automatically (you can do this by selecting multi-segment flights) and bring that to the table. They may not honor your request, but, at least you’re trying to get yourself from point A to point B.

If you get lost, completely lost, ask for help.  If you’re in a country where English is not the primary language, very kindly ask for help. It may be advisable to search out a tourist office (if there is one close by) or at the very minimum, have a map out and show that you know where you are and point to where you want to go (another tip from Andy!) I make it a rule to always learn the words “thank you,” “sorry” and “do you speak English” everywhere I go. I do not make assumptions and always do my best to make first contact in the native language.  I’m very happy that I have a working knowledge of French and wish more than anything that I could speak more than two languages.

3. Be Aware

If you read travel forums you will read lots of warnings that pickpockets are everywhere.  And, they are. It doesn’t mean you should freak out and look over your shoulder every 5 minutes.  It DOES mean that you should be very aware of where and HOW you keep your passport & money.  I personally have a messenger bag that goes over my shoulder and I keep the bag towards my front.  It’s really hard for anyone to get their hand in that messenger bag.  If you use a backpack, do not, under any circumstances, put valuable items in the outer pockets.  If you have a backpack I suggest a lock or twist-tie for the large zipper pocket as some one could come by and unzip and spill the contents of your bag.  While you’re trying to pick everything up, the pickpocket team will be there waiting to pick your things up too.

You should only need your passport a few times when you travel. You will need to show your passport at the airport coming to and from your adventure.  Also, you frequently have to show your passport at a hotel.  At all other times, your passport should be in a place that is hard to reach. Do not let anyone keep or take your passport.  Once I’m done showing my passport, it goes in an inner pocket of my bag that is not easy to reach.

As far as carrying money/credit cards – I keep those in my wallet, also in the messenger bag.  However, when I’m in a train or bus station – I keep the small amount of money I need to pay for the ticket, or my single credit card if I’m paying with a card, in my front pocket. (I know how much to expect because I research ahead of time.) This way, I’m not fumbling around taking money out. When I get to the ticket window or machine I take the small amount money out of my pocket, pay, and get on the bus/train.  I can put the change away later when I’m safely in my seat.  If someone is sitting next to you, it’s wise not to flash your money or wallet there either. It’s the moments of vulnerability that the pickpockets are watching for – just be confident and know where your money is AND how to use the machine.  If you’ve never used a ticket machine, google it! (Here’s an example of all of the amazing help at your disposal.) Even better, look up the transportation site for the country or system you want to use – they all have FAQ/help guides. Get those in your head BEFORE you leave so you don’t have to stress, you’ll have an idea of what to look for as you encounter new systems.

4. Do Your Research
As you’re preparing ask yourself, what questions should I be asking myself? When you formulate those questions, Google them! What type of power adapters do they use in X country? How much is my overseas data plan? Just like you need to get yourself from point A to point B, a lot of your preparation can be done with research. You can certainly ask others for help, but, a wise man once said “Don’t ask me questions that can be answered by Google.” This is not meant to be off-putting. A lot of travel advice is just that, advice…you shouldn’t just take my word from this blog post – Google around, what do other people say? There are lots of people with lots of opinions – triangulate them to make your own rules of the road.

5.  Pack Light & Pack Smart
It’s almost a challenge for me now to see how light I can pack. It’s liberating.  Just travel with a carry on if you can, however, for my summer travel where I’m staying in a country for over a month, this just isn’t possible.  I still try to pack as light as possible, making sure I have climate appropriate clothing (Google it if you don’t know what to expect) and lightweight layers. I use the bundle wrapping method for my clothes. If you’re staying for a long time that means you’ll have access to coin laundry or a laundromat.  I have recently found it less expensive to use a laundromat, especially in Europe as the washers just don’t seem to dry things out.  If you do send your clothes away, understand that they may not take the same care and attention that you do – so any special garments that you don’t want to shrink, hand wash those. I purchased a very inexpensive hairdryer for Europe since voltage conversion can be messy with devices like hair dryers or curling irons.

I’m a techie traveler – and this is where the “pack smart” comes into play.  I make sure I have the cables to charge all the devices.  Also, since technology is the core reason I often travel, I make sure to have a few back-up cables. (Since it’s super high stakes, I even have a back up laptop for my summer work.)  I keep everything as neat and tidy as possible, so, if I need to go into my laptop bag when traveling I don’t have junk falling out all over the place (see “be aware”). I love to look at “what’s in my bag” posts (like this one I always learn a new tip or trick.

6. Document Your Journey
I have found it extremely valuable to use social media to document my journeys – it started with Flickr and has moved on to twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. Here too, use common sense – I don’t publish the name of the hotel where I’m staying (at least not while I’m there.) I frequently contribute to TripAdvisor and Yelp because I find those sites very valuable when I travel, so, I’m giving back and offering my opinion as well. Plus, by documenting all of my trips, I can help others who are going there as well and fondly reminisce about all of the incredible adventures I’ve been able to experience.

A Few Tips & Tricks for a Smooth International Travel Experience

Waiting for the taxi - I'm coming home!!


Summer travel season is upon us and I’m fielding quite a few questions from friends and thought – this is a great outlet for a blog post so I can just send people here! My comments are mostly geared towards someone who is going on a study abroad program or working/living overseas for a few weeks at a time, though I’m sure some of the advice may be helpful for short trips too. Please feel free to leave your suggestions, comments, tips & tricks!




Essentially, that’s what you’re doing, getting from here to there.  I have learned quite a few habits of mind that help me with the travel experience.  First and foremost, I am the one responsible for knowing how to get from here, to there. Before I head to a foreign location (domestic or international) I memorize Google maps, research transportation, how to get to and from the airport, etc.  In my recent trip to India, I became too lax and (re)learned my lesson.  Upon arrival in India I was told I would be met by a driver who would take me to my housing.  Flights to India arrive at about 2am, so I was already exhausted and was relieved to see the driver with my name. Since I was told transportation was arranged, I didn’t bother writing down the address of my accommodation or trying to look it up on the map ahead of time.  After a long drive, I noticed the car was circling and circling around a block.  The driver did not have the exact address of the house.  Luckily I had my phone and data to pull up my email (more about phones in a bit) and eventually was able to find phone numbers and an address.  IF I was as prepared as I SHOULD have been, I would have had all of that info right at hand.  Moral of the story, take responsibility for knowing where you are and how to get there.

Also, I have made the decision to remain as calm as possible on my travel day – getting on flights, delays, all of this is stressful, and much of it is beyond your control.  If I’m on a flight and a couple or family has been split, I offer to switch seats.  I make sure I can manage my carry-on and that everything fits neatly into where it is supposed to go.  Just go with the flow as much as possible.


Pack light.  I have to carry a lot of technology for our summer program, but I try to keep it as small and light as possible.  I get the really large Ziploc bags to organize the stuff in my suitcase. Clothes go in one or two bags, tech in another, etc. This is extremely helpful if you ever have to open your bags at customs, then you’re not seen as the yahoo with all sorts of stuff flying and falling out of your bag.  (Normally I travel carry on only, but have to check a bag when going over for that long.)

I prefer the flat packing method for my clothes – I lay all of them on top of each other and then fold the big bundle over once.  Some people swear by the rolling method. Whatever works for you.  If you’re staying for a few weeks you will have access to a laundry facility so pack light.  For 5 weeks overseas I usually bring 5 pairs of pants, a few dresses and then shirts/tops/sweaters to mix and match. I wear my heavy shoes (usually tennis shoes) on the plane and pack a good pair of walking shoes/sandals and maybe one more lightweight shoe. I always leave room so I can bring back a treasure or two from my explorations.


I made this video a few years ago that you may find helpful.

Beyond technology, because I travel so frequently, I purchased a small UK hair dryer.  Hair dryers and curling irons tend to have high power demands on adapters, so, I found it more worthwhile to purchase a “native” inexpensive one for my travel.  If you are not going to return, you could always donate your purchase to a local shelter or thrift store at the end of your travel.


I think this is the question I am asked most often.  When I first started traveling it was tricky, but things have become much more easy to manage.  I have an iPhone and my cell phone carrier is AT&T. On their online account management site you can easily add international capability to your phone.  Because of my job, I need to add data, but, if you don’t need to be connected all the time, you can add an inexpensive roaming plan and bulk purchase text messages.  SO many places overseas offer free wifi that you may not miss your data at all.  If you need to be more connected, it has also fairly easy (at least in European countries) to purchase a SIM card that you can plug into an unlocked phone or a “disposable phone” that has prepaid minutes and texts.  (Info on this can easily be googled so you can find out your options ahead of time.)  I have found that for my short trips, it’s much more cost effective to use my US phone and just turn on/off the international features when needed.

If you are going to take a US phone overseas, the important thing to remember and learn on your phone is how to turn off data.  This is where the crazy charges can rack up.

Hopefully this helps – safe travels!

Reflections on India: Working towards a just, equitable, humane and sustainable society.

Now that I’m back home and fully readjusted to the Eastern Time Zone, I have a minute to sit and think about my recent trip to India.  I had the amazing opportunity to travel with Punya (and a few other MSU colleagues) on his latest trip to Azim Premji University (APU) in Bangalore. (You can read & watch more about the project here.) Punya and I ran a workshop on motivation for students in the MA in Education and MA in Development programs (along with a few other folks associated with APU.)

I highly suggest you take some time to read Anurag Behar‘s writings on Anurag is the Vice Chancellor of the University and his reflections are much more eloquent than I could ever hope to construct. They give you deep insight into the incredibly brilliant minds behind APU and the Azim Premji Foundation and their work towards their mission of creating a just, equitable, humane and sustainable society.

I feel so incredibly fortunate that I had the opportunity to work with educators in our workshop who work in contexts completely foreign to anything I have ever experienced.  As is always the case, I learned much more than the students may have learned from me. In addition to our work in the motivation short course, I was able to participate in meetings with the web and publications team responsible for the Teachers of India portal.  I had entirely too much fun “geeking out” with the team (RamG, Nithin & Mujahidul.) It has been a while since I’ve been in such a state of excitement and flow, talking social networking, open source and creative commons – it was my most cherished moment of the trip.

On a side note, I had the opportunity to get to know Jack and Sharon Schwille on this trip as we were all staying at the guest house.  Jack and Sharon had amassed a large collection of books on India during their travel and were a wealth of knowledge and stories about the history of India.  I was particularly intrigued by A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur and have ordered a copy – can’t wait to read it. They certainly did not teach the history of India in my high school so I have a lot of catching up to do.   I have also ordered India After Ghandi by Ramachandra Guha.  (Prior to my visit I did read the MSU One Book One Community selection Beyond the Beautiful Forevers.)

In short, during my week in Bangalore I had an amazing time. I returned energized, inspired and thankful.

And yes, I did love the food.

Go with the flow

Room with a view

While we were on the DCU campus yesterday evening, we stopped in at “The HUB” – the campus pub/coffee shop.  We were the oldest people by about 30+ years, but, the locals were very welcoming and interested in chatting with us.  We met a nice young woman who is a communication and media studies major.  After talking about her (very cool) interests in researching Irish media (in the hopes of changing and promoting it on a wider scale) we asked her for recommendations on where to visit in Ireland.  While the first few days of my trip were strictly business – I also have a few days off the clock for vacation (though I’m happily using that time to scout out places around the country for potential side trips!) She told us we must visit her home town, Clonakilty in West Cork and we *must* stay at Inchydoney Island Lodge. We purposely left a few days completely free of plans (which we never do) to explore and go where the wind takes us…so we let the wind take us to Inchydoney!

I can say, without much hesitation, that this may be one of the most relaxing places I have ever been.  Since it’s low season (pretty sure we may be the only people staying here right now…) and we stopped in late, we got an amazing rate.  The hotel has a heated pool filled with sea water, a huge lounge with big comfy chairs, and a room with a view of the Atlantic Ocean.

So, all of this is to say – one thing I’m learning about the Irish is that they’re a lot like Michiganders. We LOVE to help people, talk to them, and share our beautiful state – and the Irish (at least the ones we have met) have the same passion for their country.  I’ve also (re)learned how much fun travel can be when you don’t worry about reservations, Yelp ratings, or a time table.  Can’t wait to continue the journey tomorrow….

Meet Lafayette

Lafayette is a small and curious elephant from metro Detroit and the brain child of Amanda and Brad Davies.  He travels around the world meeting famous people, trying exciting foods and learning about culture and architecture in all the cities he visits around the world.   Each year Leigh writes a book and shares his adventures with nieces, nephews and friends.

update and advertisements

Back from another lovely summer abroad.  This was was great…but a little soggy. Had some faboulus food adventures as usual.  Here is a random list of things you may like as well!

If you are ever in London, you MUST visit Borough Market.  It may very well be one of my favorite places in the world. 

Almost every morning I ate a bowl of Dorset Cereal.  I tried the following flavors:
berries & cherries
super cranberry
fruit nuts & seeds
really nutty muesli
simply delicious muesli
super high fibre
organic fruit, nuts & seeds
toasted spelt 
pomengranate & cherry 

Keep your eye out at Whole Foods Market…they’ll be carrying the cereals starting at the end of this month!!

I did visit the London Whole Foods store…it was ok.  I was very disappointed that you could not take pictures in the store. 

I also went to the Taste of London festival.  What a treat! Here is a list of some really good things I tried there…unfortunately, I don’t think I can get anything in the US :(

Dress Italian
Gu Puds
Innocent Drinks
Kenzai Green Tea
M. Chapoutier, Rhône
Rachel’s Organic
The Serious Food Company
The Garlic Farm

Finally, on the home front – you may want to visit the following farmer’s markets:
Sunday – Birmingham or Howell
Wednesday – Allen Street (Lansing) and Meridian
Thursday – Northville
Saturday – Eastern Market or Farmington