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LOW TO NOLA – PLANNING SAVINGS

May 20, 2015

Pyra-Danny is travelling solo again! Last week I aired out my frustrations of travelling alone as a young lady- here’s a follow up of HOW I plan to save money while on vacation.

DECIDING THE DESTINATION

3.5 day vacation? Here I go! But where?

With driving costs often lower than flying I searched for destinations near my Floridian home. Savannah… Jacksonville… Atlanta… been there. Then once I decided to combine my decision of driving to my target then flying back, this allowed me to seek further locations yet still return in a timely manner. I settled on virgin territory for me– New Orleans.

TRANSPORTATION

The decision to drive one way and fly back meant I needed a rental car.

Floridian deals ahead! One-way car rentals are mad cheap right now as the agencies try to push away all the rental cars that have accumulated in the state during the winter months from visiting northerners. Example: Through Priceline I secured an economy car for $7 a day (not counting service fees or taxes)

For my return trip I bear a loyalty to Southwest Airlines… and its free, first check-in luggage (necessary for a junk carrier like me). More money saved!

HOUSING

Hotels in my price range (<$80) are often generic, two star places. I love privacy, but I’ll sacrifice when pitted against savings and traveler surroundings. That’s why I’ve decided on a six-bed, dorm-style hostel. Just like hotels, I’ve read and compared reviews on NOLA hostels and settled on one of the highest rated. For only $40/night I’ll be in a historic building with homemade breakfast, kitchen, and WiFi.

Housing from the past

[Left] This hostel from Ft. Lauderdale was a party place. See the Beer box left in the corner? [Right] But this AirBnB in Chicago had an awesome view and location.

For the next night I’m paying more for privacy by staying at a NOLA resident’s AirBnB behind their house. The quirky photos, description and location captured me—naturally it has a kitchen and WiFi as well. At $80 a night it’s still way cheaper than any hotel near the French Quarter.

FOOD

Eating Huckleberry Ice Cream

A small grocery store near Yellowstone Nat’l Park sold Huckleberry Ice Cream Bars… Huckleberry products are EVERYWHERE there.

If you already plan to conquer iconic restaurants (I’m looking at YOU Café Du Monde) not much can alleviate those food costs; just look out for possible specials on their website or coupons in a city brochure. It’s rare to see a Groupon or LivingSocial deal etc.  If their lunch menu is cheaper—go for it!

With my stomach constantly wanting nourishment, buying convenience food often can add up. That’s why grocery stores are always in the plan. Besides, local supermarkets are like subtler tours into an area’s culture… I’ve found unique items there in addition to my lower-cost snacks.

I’ve been a solo traveler before and I’m ready to do it again. Stay tuned for my upcoming road trip to the Big Easy.

Holla to all my lady travellers who are both local explorers and afar. Holla to anyone who’s been to New Orleans. Share your experiences, thoughts, and tips below so we can all learn from you!

WOES OF BEING A LONELY, LADY, WANDERLUSTER

May 13, 2015

With another solo trip looming on the horizon, I’m reflecting on some hints, tips, and what I’ve done to make a vacation by myself easier. Background: I’m a young lady travelling within America.

I typically don’t aim to travel solo. I asked my hierarchy of ‘fun people’… my boyfriend… my sister… my friends… too busy? Work? Can’t? I’ll go anyway! My time is too precious to stay at home from fear of traveling alone. God has (strangely) blessed (?) me with no husband or kids yet—NOW is the time for me to get out.

Van Fleet Trail - 7 mile marker

The road ahead isn’t as empty or scary.

I’m in my late 20’s. I’m a lady. I’m petite. Besides safety concerns my biggest regrets of not having a wolf pack along are the lack of conversations and lower costs. Here’s what I’ve learned of being a lonely, lady, wanderluster.

SAFETY IN NUMERO UNO

Lots of selfies - at Savannah

Travelling solo means lots of selfies because I don’t want strangers touching my camera. Safety in numbers– I’m on a tour!

Remember– better safe than sorry. Thankfully being a solo lady traveller in America gets rid of many social, cultural, and language problems in other countries, but general rules still apply. If you don’t NEED to be at a dark alley or shady neighborhood… then don’t go. Wait—there’s more!

  • Don’t flash your wealth
  • Be strategic in how you carry your wealth
  • Be aware of your surroundings (don’t stare at your phone or dig in your purse for keys too long)
  • Don’t get intoxicated… why anyway? (If you do, stay in that location until you get better)
  • Carry wasp spray (Farther reaching than pepper spray)
  • Check in with family / friends occasionally

CONVERSATION WITH MYSELF

I like discussing experiences. Did that mural remind you of…? Did you see what that person was wearing? While museums and tours are immersive experiences easily completed alone, enough articles have been written about the ultimate solo travel fear: dining out. I like discussion while I chew, but I refuse take outs because dining in is part of the destination experience. I try not stare at my phone or read a book… can you scream “I’m alone and unaware!” Instead I use this time to write in my journal or write post cards.

WHERE’D THE MONEY GO?

Selfie at Busch Gardens

More selfies! At a theme park now… apparently I like this Blue Hat.

Gas money, housing, car rental—I can’t share any of those costs! Depending on your trip’s location using public transport or shared rides can save you on transportation costs. For Floridians (like me) one-way car rentals right now are mad cheap as the agencies try to push away all the rental cars that have accumulated here during the winter months from visiting northerners. Housing—hotels are sooo unnecessary. For the same price or less just use AirBnB—I always search for whole places instead of just a room so I also get a kitchen, internet, and privacy close to my destinations. On the other spectrum, hostels aren’t scary. If you don’t mind sharing a room, kitchen, and living room with like-minded travellers you can often find a very clean, quirky, and friendly hostel—housing with the lowest prices.

As for dining out- I like eating a variety of food in one sitting. Normally my party orders different food and I try it all—not when solo! I have to commit to eating one dish only not only because it’ll be pricey trying many food but I’ll also get full anyways from that one dish. Argh.

EASY IN THE BIG EASY

The reason for this article—I’m solo trekking my way to New Orleans soon! While I mourn the loss of companions… really! Now I’m left taking Selfies since I don’t trust my camera with strangers… I’m already prepping the way to make this a safe and memorable trip.

Stay tuned for my upcoming read on how I’m making this trip cheaper without sacrificing fun as well as trip reports! 

Holla to all my lady travellers who are both local explorers and afar. Share your experiences, thoughts, and tips below so we can all learn from you!

ZOOMINATIONS ILLUMINATIONS

May 5, 2015

Colorful, glowing replicas with a Chinese twist? Strolling through darkness surrounded by exotic animals? Que romantico!

Okay—Zoominations wasn’t exactly an evening stroll on the beach but it was still an unusual and exciting experience to stand close to these art works shining against the shadows. What is it about bright lights inside colorful figures that render us happy and child–like? Deep red flowers as tall as me lined a pathway while we gazed up at a slinky dragon towering above us. The park’s carousel was bordered by playful pandas in a bamboo forest.

Pandas at a bamboo garden

Pandas playing in a bamboo garden with the carousel in the background.

Zoominations was created by Chinese artists from the Sichuan Province and is coming to an end as a temporary exhibit at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. These sculpted lanterns collect into dozens of scenes spread throughout the zoo. While some can’t be touched, I delicately brushed one on the path and felt colored fabric against a strong skeleton.

Our Saturday visit provided chaos from the moment of parking. Although there were ample spaces, the lots were a battle of cars trying to weave past ignorant families. But the large, looming Chinese Gate greeting guests prior to entry assured us of the shining treats waiting within. Ticket lines were long, slow and didn’t provide ample signage allowing those holding print-at-home tickets to skip ahead.

Chinese Gate

This Chinese Gate greet guests before they even enter the park

But the crowds… WOW… the crowds! And I thought the Zoo’s annual $6 days were bad. With only half the zoo’s space in operation, sidewalks sharing space with some displays, and everyone turning into photographers, all of humanity was further crammed. The wanna-be photog in me still cringed as people stopped in the middle of the crowded sidewalk to take photos of the trees… or worse… using FLASH to photograph themselves in front of light displays. Noooo.

Zoomination - Palace

But as the crowds thinned in that final hour I began to fully appreciate the art. My favorite area was the koi pond—built over a real pond—with suspended fish, lily pads, and flowers creating a sea of color and light. Its almost-magical presence became further disjointed from reality by the dinosaur lanterns nearby. Further entertainment included performances at the center stage (we passed two ladies performing Chinese Yo-Yo tricks) and a dancing dragon weaving around the park held aloft by multiple people.

Zoomination - Flowers

It wasn’t exactly a quiet romantic stroll nor a thought-provoking art exhibit, but Zoominations was still a fun viewing and colorful evening.


Whisk me away into the light. Zoominations. @LowryParkZoo #BrightLights #Illumination #EastMeetsWest #FollowMe #Dancing

A photo posted by Pyra-Danny (@pyra_experiences) on

Zoominations

Lowry Park Zoo
Tampa, FL
Date of visit April

FINDING THE STORY OF JESUS IN WAUCHULA

May 1, 2015

Low expectations can self-dampen an experience. My trying Catholic-Christian self was skeptical walking into the volunteer run, stage production The Story of Jesus. With many emotion-churning movies and books on Jesus’s life, how could a stage production with its one visual angle, sound, and acting limits possibly top them? In Wauchula, FL of all places? Who drives this far to watch a non-Tony nominated play?

The full stage

The full stage– there’s still more to it than I could show. 250 feet long.

Even the 250 feet wide stage featuring multiple backdrops wouldn’t impress me (yet). Early in I caught a Jerusalem royal with a Southern accent and downright stiff and scary angels scrolling along a rig (“Like Halloween Horror Nights,” Sis Melk whispered.) Apart from the expected claps at a scene’s end, the audience appeared to have been plucked from a Revival church. It seemed every time Jesus preached a Bible verse, the audience would explode in cheers and support. “I say no one can get to the Father except through me.”or “Blessed are you for having faith…” Billy Graham himself wouldn’t have gotten more responses.

But slowly the Story grew on me. We caught glimpses of Jesus’s earth life but lingered on familiar moments; his miracles of allowing a cripple to walk and the blind to see. To a group of children Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan while the parable played out on the side. A boat, fog, and flashing lights brought a storm at sea to the stage which Jesus calmed.

The Good Samaritan

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to a group of children

Sure enough by the 2nd act neither audience commentary, awry accents, nor questionable acting could interrupt my attention. From the Last Supper the Story of Jesus grew in the same intensity and grip as if I’d been watching The Passion of Christ. Even acting, there was no way the Jesus on stage was spared pain. The jeering crowd, the sound of a hammer hitting nails… and suddenly a flash back to Mary and Joseph caring for Jesus as a baby to adulthood. Sis Melk said she cried.

The Last Supper

The powerful 2nd act opens with the Last Supper

The whole production moved me. Seeing my Christ’s love and death play out made me feel like a witness to the history. The soundtrack—all original sounds and songs—intensified all emotions. It’s even more impressive when you learn this production has been around for 20+ years and everyone involved is a volunteer. Every year since January 225 actors and 150 animals dedicate time because they believe in that story.

My biggest criticism was the ending. Following a very powerful crucifixion scene was the too-long segment of dancing and krumping demons (I joke not) getting defeated by angels. The Story of Jesus should have ended after the Resurrection scene with the voice telling the disciples to preach and make believers of all. The end! Instead we’re taken to heaven with joyous angels (not bad), the creepy flying ones (dolls have come alive), and Jesus the King sparkling like a glimmering Edward riding a white horse (sigh).

Soldier looking on

Afterwards the audience is invited to pray at the cross. An actor in soldier garb looks on

Still– after movies and books of Jesus it was refreshing to see the story live. That one visual angle made it more shocking and real. I was a witness. I was there. And next year when the Story makes its limited run around Easter time… you should be there too. I strongly encourage you to put aside any skepticism and watch this show. My own skepticism had faded.

Have you watched the Story of Jesus? Share the experience in the comments below.

The Story of Jesus

at the Cattleman’s Arena
Wauchula, FL
April 24, 2015

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