Life Lesson #3: It’s a Small World After All

What do you get when you combine six degrees of separation with the song, “It’s a small world after all?” Well, fine readers, you get:

Life Lesson #3: It (really is) a small world after all!

Disney World – one of the most magical places on earth!

A place where kids beg their parents to go on vacation, where newlyweds spend their honeymoon, and where generations of families gather together to take in the magic found here.

There’s so much to see and explore between the various parks that it’s often hard to decide what to do first! Should I go to the Animal Kingdom and go on a safari ride?

Or, should I start with Epcot where I can travel to Italy, France, AND Morocco without ever leaving the park?

Maybe it’s better if I just start in Magic Kingdom, see a parade and some of my favorite Disney characters, ride some timeless Disney rides, and go from there?

Growing up, I was lucky enough to travel to Disney World twice- once with my family and once with my high school band. Both times were wonderful and I can safely say that I was never able to see or do everything that I wanted while I was there. I saw many parades, watched fireworks shows, took pictures with my favorite Disney characters, and rode many rides. Thinking about the rides, the ones that stick out the most to me are: Splash Mountain (awesome, but wet-clearly), Space Mountain (super fun), the Buzz Lightyear ride/game (I rocked that game), and the It’s a Small World After All ride.

If you’ve been to Disney World/Land (or even if you haven’t), you’re probably familiar with “It’s a small world after all.” If you’re not, here’s what you would experience if you were on this ride:

As a kid, I didn’t really understand or appreciate the meaning of the song or the excitement of the ride. Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing all the different cultures and countries represented in the display…although, the song did get a little annoying after awhile. Nevertheless, I didn’t really see how everything was connected or realize how small of a world we actually live in.

 Now that I’m older and yes, even somewhat wiser, I’ve come to better understand how the song and ride is applicable in the real world.

Most of you may be familiar with the theory of six degrees of separation. It’s a theory that asserts that everyone in the world (yes, all 7.2 billion people) are connected to everyone else by six links or people.

Wow.

It’s such a crazy idea when you take a moment to think about it.

When I think of this theory, it’s hard not to imagine I’m back on that ride in Disney World. Is it possible that a girl from a  small town in Ohio can be connected to a random stranger half way across the country? It seems crazy and doubtful.

I’m not saying that I buy into this theory completely, but I can appreciate it in the context of realizing that it really is a small world after all. When you move to a new place, start a job in a city where you know no one, and are feeling completely alone – remember this.

Remember that we are all connected in some way, shape, or form. Maybe not by six people. Maybe it’s a connection through an activity that you participated in when you were in high school. Maybe it’s through a university you attended for undergrad. Or, maybe it really is by a person. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Finding those connections may not even be intentional. You may have to work to make those connections and to put the puzzle pieces together, but I have a feeling that if you look for it, you can find the link.

Here’s why: When my family was in Egypt when I was a baby, we were in the Cairo airport waiting for our flight. From across the airport, someone began frantically waving to my family. From what my parents tell me, they had no idea who this woman was or why she was trying to get their attention. As she approached them, she addressed them by their first names. My parents didn’t recognize her. At all. Literally. It was 2:00 am in an airport half-way across the country from our real home and here’s this woman who knows us. Apparently, she was the sister of the priest of our church in Ohio and had recognized us from a single mass when I was baptized. Connection number one.

In July, Joni and I (and Sarah, too, but she wasn’t there for this part) attended a bachelorette party in Cleveland. As Joni and I were riding in a taxi that evening, we began talking to our driver. We were talking about various topics, when it somehow came up that we had attended the same university for graduate school (not at the same time). It was so random to be riding in this taxi in Cleveland and accidentally find out that we had the same alma mater. Connection number two.

During my first year of grad school, my mom came to visit me. Naturally, this trip involved shopping because what mother-daughter trip doesn’t?! When she was there, we went to Sam’s Club. Shortly after we entered the store, we saw a man who was clearly a Coptic Orthodox priest. So, not to be too creepy or anything…my mom and I followed him and his family to the checkout lane…to talk to them. As we introduced ourselves to the family, we realized that he knew my uncle (who is a priest) who still lives in Egypt. Seriously? In a country with over 80 million people, how could be possibly know my uncle? What are the chances that when my mom and I serendipitously (is that a word?) ran into this family that we would be connected?

It’s a small world.

So, why am I telling you this? I think it’s as much for you as it is for me. I think it can help you realize that no matter how far you go from home that you’re not alone. You’re not disconnected. The connections are there, you just might have to look for them. You might think you know no one. You might think that there’s no one around who can possibly understand the uniqueness of where you came from. But, in some way, the connection is there. It may be unexpected and not in the way that you had anticipated, but I have confidence that you’ll figure it out.

Now, go forth and enjoy the ride! Find those connections.

Who knows, maybe you’ll discover how you’re connected to your favorite actor, musician, or politician!

Summer’s (Almost) Over, Time to Plan Your Next Beach Vacation

I love summer. I love the warm weather, the thunderstorms, swimming in the pool, bonfires, picnics, and generally being outside. But most of all, I love going on vacation.

Now, you can go on vacation any time, but summer is vacation season and I look forward to traveling every year, even if it isn’t to a new place. I drive my family crazy because as soon as one vacation is over I start thinking about and planning the next — even if the only planning I’m doing is inside my head. Haha.

The bottom line is that I am a planner, and I feel that in order to have an awesome, relaxing, and fun vacation you have to be organized and plan ahead. An added bonus is that when you plan ahead, you often are able to get some great deals and save money.

I love all kinds of vacations. I love to go to big cities where you can walk around, see the sights, visit museums, and shop. As a history person, I like to go to places that have historical value too. I also have a childish love for Disney World.

But, for me, two of the best kinds of vacations are 1. going to the beach and 2. going on a cruise.

Because there’s so much information on both kinds of vacation, I’m breaking this up into 2 posts — this one about the beach and the second about cruising.

So, here’s my advice on planning and booking the best beach vacations. Hopefully, I’ll help you save a little money too.

Hitting the Beach

The beach is one of my favorite places on Earth to be. I love the sand, the ocean, the sound of the waves. There is something so relaxing about sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella, closing your eyes, and just soaking it all in.

The beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Picture from hiltonheadvacation.com)

Ohio doesn’t have a beach, unless you count the shores of Lake Erie. And, although a lot of my fellow Ohioans spend time on Lake Erie’s shore during the summer months, to me, there is nothing like the ocean. This makes the East Coast and the Atlantic Ocean the closest beach to visit.

My favorite beach to go to on the East Coast is Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Located at the southern-most part of South Carolina, Hilton Head is a boot shaped island that boasts 12 miles of clean and beautiful beaches and an overall subdued atmosphere that is the opposite of commercial and bustling beach destinations like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Other great East Coast beaches are Wilmington/Carolina Beach, North Carolina; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Outer Banks, North Carolina. There are, of course, countless more. Do a simple Google Search and discover other beaches to travel to. And, don’t forget the wonderful West Coast and Gulf Coast beaches too!

Whether you’ve been to the beach a million times or have never gone before, here are a few things to consider before you start to plan:

Some Things To Consider

  • What’s your budget?
  • Who are you traveling with? How many people are going to be in your party?
  • When are you going to go? How many days vacation are you aiming for?
  • How far do you want to travel?
  • Are you going to fly or drive?
  • What kind of accommodations do you want? Hotel? Condo? Rental house? On the beach? Off the beach?
  • Do you want your vacation to be jam-packed with fun non-stop or do you want a primarily relaxing vacation where you make your own fun?
  • Do you need a lot of attractions and shopping close to where you are vacationing?

Budget, Driving vs. Flying, and Picking a Destination

A beach vacation can often be less expensive than many other types of vacations, depending on where you travel, where you stay, and how you spend your time while on vacation. However, beach vacations can quickly become very pricey.

What’s great about the beach is that the most money you will spend is on the journey from your home to the beach, on your accommodations, and on food/drinks.

Driving is one great way to save money, especially with the price of airfare today. Now of course, this only works if you are within driving distance to the beach you want to visit. For example, from where I live it takes at least 7-8 hours to reach the Atlantic. But to get to a “good beach” I need to drive at least 10 hours. It takes 14 hours to get to Hilton Head and I’ll admit that while it is a long drive, it is worth it in the end. So, you need to determine how long you’re willing to sit in a car, and whether such a distance is worth it if you’re only heading to the beach for a couple days.

Also, remember that flying to the beach isn’t always easy. It’s a pain to take beach chairs and umbrellas on a plane. Some destinations allow you to rent them and some condos/beach houses have them available for guests. But not all do, and renting/buying them can be pricey and inconvenient.

One of the most important things to decide is which beach you’re going to go to. Consider whether you want a busier, more crowded and lively beach destination or one that is quiet and relaxed. Also think about what else there is to do at that destination. Do you want someplace with a lot of nightlife, clubs, bars, major shopping, and other attractions? Or are you okay with a place that is more low-key, essentially a beach destination located in a small town with some shopping (both major and locally-owned), restaurants, and very few other attractions.

When to Go, How Long to Stay, Hotel vs. Rental, How Many People Traveling

One great thing about a beach vacation is that in order to travel to one, you often travel south which gives you a longer traveling season. Know that beach vacations will always be the most expensive in the summer because it’s the peak beach season. This doesn’t mean you still can’t get a good deal, but it does mean that if you’re looking to travel on the cheap you should consider going to the beach shortly before or shortly after the peak beach/summer season. (Also, pay attention to the weather as those later summer months run into peak hurricane season.)

Another thing you have to decide is how long you want to stay at the beach. When going to the beach, I have almost always stayed for a full week (Saturday – Saturday). Going for 7 nights might seem like a long time to some, but it can also be great for your wallet. Most beach destinations have plenty of hotels or inns to stay in. But they can be extremely pricey at $150-$300 or more per night. Instead, consider renting a condo or (if you have a lot of people) a house at the beach. Whereas you might spend upwards of $1200 to $1500 for 5 nights in hotel (double occupancy), renting a condo for 7 nights is a great bang for your buck.

Depending on how large a condo you want, 7 nights can cost you as little as $600-$1000. When you factor in that most beach condos have multiple bedrooms, direct beach access, a kitchen, living room, and various other amenities I’m a firm believer that a condo is the way to go.

Plus, the beach is equally as fun in large groups as it is for couples and small groups. Condos and beach houses can sleep a lot of people, so one great way to defray costs on rentals is to divide the expense amongst a bunch of family or friends!

Best Way To Start (and Finish) Your Beach Rental Search

Check out Vacation Rentals By Owner to browse vacation condos and houses all over the world (and not just at the beach). I’ve had great luck in finding vacation accommodations off the VRBO website. Even if you don’t want to use the VRBO site to book your vacation rental or contact an owner, it’s still a great place to see what each destination has to offer.

My VRBO advice (and advice for any vacation rental):

1. The more photos a listing has, the better!

2. No price is set in stone. If an owner is desperate to rent, they will negotiate.

3. If the description is vague, ask for more detail. If you want to walk out the door and have your feet in the sand in less than a minute, make sure the rental is truly on the beach. Ocean Front generally means that the rental has immediate beach access. Ocean View generally means the rental is at least yards away from the beach and may not be “on the beach” at all.

4. Are there any hidden fees? Is cleaning included? What about taxes?

5. Remember that most vacation rentals do not provide the same amenities that hotels do. You may have to bring your own towels and/or sheets. You most certainly will have to bring paper towels, toilet paper, soaps, etc. Pots and pans, silver wear, dishes, etc. are almost certainly provided. Ask what is included to be safe.

6. It’s never too early to start looking at vacation rentals. The good ones always sell out fast and one rental can sell out for the entire summer long before the season begins. Often owners will run specials and/or give discounts for early bookings.

7. Look for last minute specials too, sometimes owners who have one or two weeks remaining or a cancellation will slash prices to rent the unit.

Well, I hope I’ve given you some great advice about planning your next beach vacation. Remember, planning is a great way to ensure a fun and relaxing vacation, where you can then throw the need to plan out the window and just enjoy life.