Monday, June 27, 2011

Why is there still so much stuff?

Okay, I am taking a little break here from packing.  We'll be out of our apartment on Thursday (or Sunday, assuming there will not be a renter for July.)  It's strange... I get this great feeling when a load leaves, but then when I return to my apartment, all I can think is, Why is there still so much stuff?
I'm posting some pictures so you all can see the progress.  I'm bringing a load up to my folks' house tomorrow after we move the couch to Katie's house.  Best get packing so I can play outside tomorrow for at least part of the day.  I can do this.  I can do this.  I can do this. 

 Justin's Den of Music and Wonderment... we are getting there.
Our living room looks naked without our rug from Agra.  That rug really tied the room together, did it not?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How can I find cheap airfare?

This next post is travel-related, yet not so Austral-specific.  Yet maybe you guys will read it and then get the urge to come and visit me!
I quite often get the following question: How can I find cheap airfare?
I hear the answer that question so much, that I've decided to post the answer.  Spread the love around a little bit, if you will.

1.  Start looking at least five months in advance, if possible.  Paying attention to the fares will give you an idea of what an average price should be.  I cannot stress this strategy enough.  I would honestly look at least three times everyday.  It might seem tedious, but I assure you it pays off in the end.

2.  Choose a travel search website that will give you flexible dates to search.  My personal favorite is, with coming in second place.  However, they are not all that different.  My favorite British site is  When I am in Europe and I'm looking for fares to visit different places on the continent I like ebookers.  Sometimes, ebookers can find fares on carriers such as British Airways and Air France for the same price as low-cost, no frills airlines, such as Easy Jet and Ryan Air.  Another great place to look:  Note:  If you'll be paying for a flight in currency other than your own, notify your bank ahead of time so that the charge will go through.

3.  Check point-to-point fares, versus the intended round-trip.  I'll give you a couple examples from my own experience.
Example 1: Minneapolis to Windhoek-
When I was looking for round-trip flights from MSP (Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport) to Windhoek (Namibia), I noticed that a) it would be hard to make this journey under $2500 USD and b) pretty much every single flight either had a layover in London or Frankfurt (Germany).  I remembered that I maybe had enough frequent flier miles for London.  I had 35,000, but most flights to Europe from Minneapolis were 45,000 miles and up.  I must have pleased St. Christopher, because after a week of watching, I nabbed a round-trip ticket to London for 30,000 miles.  I immediately booked it, as I knew that mileage-redemption would probably not get much lower (and they never did.)  So, I had my round-trip flight to London.  After a couple of weeks of watching London to Windhoek fares, I noticed that the average roundtrip price was $1600 USD.  I still didn't want to pay that, and I still had a couple months before my departure.  One night, I looked and noticed that the price went down to $800 USD.  The price had been cut in half!  I called my bank and explained that there would be a transaction in British pounds to ebookers, got the green light, then bought those cheap tickets!  Amazing how my airfare "started" at $2500 USD and I only paid $800 USD for the exact/near exact flights.
Example 2: Minneapolis to Delhi
On a travel site, I found the price from MSP to Delhi to be $1800 USD.  Again, I didn't want to pay that and risk losing my thrifty backpacker street cred.  I noticed the stopover in Chicago.  Exactly a minute later, I checked the fares from Chicago to Delhi and the price was $1200 USD.  That's a difference of $600 USD, and I knew that there was no way that a round-trip ticket from MSP to CHI cost $600, as I've typically never paid more than $125 for this journey.  I booked the CHI to Delhi flights for $1200 USD and then bought a MSP to CHI roundtrip flights for $100, separately.  Yes, you will need to re-check-in and all that, but to me, that's worth saving $500 USD.

4. Find out where the major airlines are based (United: Chicago, Delta: Atlanta, etc.) and check international fares from those domestic cities.  Use a cheap carrier like Frontier or Sun Country to get to these destinations.  It also can't hurt to look into flying into international major cities and then taking regional carriers.  For example, when I went to Vietnam, I noticed that tickets from the U.S. to Hanoi or Saigon were still too expensive.  Instead, I booked a roundtrip flight to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) then booked my flight into Vietnam through Air Asia (cheap carrier for the Oceania region.)  Plus, I got to spend a day in KL, which is actually a pretty cool city.  I probably wouldn't have ever made it over there without this itinerary.  I'm hoping to go back eventually!

5.  If possible, try to have some space in your journey if your airline overbooks.  As you may have noticed in an earlier post, I received an airline voucher for $1000 USD to spend an extra night in London.  Now, this might not help for your initial journey, but it's a good feeling to have that voucher tucked away for next time.

6.  From my own experience, the cheapest days to purchase airfares are on Tuesday or Wednesday.  Pay attention to the individual airlines too.  Sometimes, airlines will compete with each other to have a lower price.  Often, they seem to go back and forth, several times a day over a course of several days.  As I've said in the beginning of this post, paying attention to prices will serve you well in the end.

Happy hunting, kids!


Saturday, June 18, 2011

I feel so warm and fuzzy. I wish I could give the whole wide world a hug!

My head is getting a little more in order, so that's pretty awesome.  Am definitely feeling better than several days ago.  The kindness of my friends and family has overwhelmed me.  So many people are helping us by buying our furniture and by storing a few things for us.  Really, when I think of all the love coming our way, I get all choked up.  People are so wonderful and beautiful.  Life really is great!  I feel so warm and fuzzy.  I wish I could give the whole wide world a hug!
This week, I have managed to move some more furniture out of here (thanks, friends!) so this makes me feel a little more accomplished, and definitely less neurotic.  This entire week has been filled with cleaning out closets and organizing items for the garage sale that my mother-in-law is generously hosting for us.  I want the signs to say "Moving to Australia, so please come and buy some of our s***!"  J thought that this might cause some people to become upset.  I dunno, I guess if I were in the neighborhood and I saw that sign, I would have to check it out!  Anything that provokes a giggle has got to be worth looking into, right?  Thoughts, blogosphere?
So far, I have dropped off ten bags of donations to the Salvation Army and have managed to sell forty percent of selected "good" clothes to consignment.  I know that there will be more... This is like, the third round of going through my closet.  I managed to launder every clothing piece/bedding that I am storing... I have to keep all the wonderful quilts my mother has made me... and my purple corduroy French Connection jacket, 'cause I love it and refuse to part with it.  Rock and roll!
The goal for next week will be to move some of my stuff into storage at my parents' house and to stop into Half-Price books.  We have seven boxes of books to get rid of, and this is just what we narrowed down.  I want to hang on to some of my books (my hardcover Harry Potter books, my guidebooks, my collection of Salinger, etc.)  Thank goodness I have a Kindle now!
Oooo... gotta go.  Time for J's homemade pizza!  This very well may be the last time he makes pizza in this apartment!  Ugh, I need to stop being so gushy.  Guess I am sensitive at heart and thank goodness, this is a trait to be honored.
It's cool.  I'm cool.  Feeling great!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What an incredible blessing that I know what to expect and how to feel.

Why is this so much harder now than before?

I look around my living room and find myself in the slow process of deconstructing our little apartment that has been our home for the past five years (almost seven years for me if you count the years I lived here with my dear friend Katie).  The pictures on the walls are slowly finding their way into one of the many, many boxes that are lying around everywhere.  I find myself agonizing as to what items should be kept and what should be tossed.  It's hard to let go sometimes.

My first extended stint abroad was in 2001.  I was in Melbourne, Australia for five months.  It was so amazing that I've built my life (and eventually my husband's life too) on the idea of returning.  Here we are ten years later.

Back then, I was a college student, so my folks stored every earthly possession I owned.  I should also mention that back then, like most college students, my bedroom in their house still existed.  This provided ample closet space.  I even had two closets, if you count the closet in the attached bathroom.
My second extended stint abroad was to Scotland for six months in 2004.  This time, my parents helped me sell my furniture.  I stored all my stuff in boxes in their pole barn.  For some reason, I don't vividly remember going through this process of packing and storing.  I think I pretty much threw all my stuff into boxes and didn't give it much thought as to what I should keep or not.

Upon returning from Scotland, Justin and I began to establish our careers and really set-up our home.  We eventually were able to buy nice kitchen and home items.  I began traveling more and bought essential items like a drum from Tanzania and a nón lá (cone hat) from Vietnam.  Oh, it is so amazing how things pile up!  I do need to keep the perspective that at the end of the day, material possessions are just that: things.

I have a few theories as to why this whole process is more difficult this time around:
1. We've collected things of more personal value and they aren't small things (tons of photo albums, rugs from India and Morocco, etc.)
2. We will be gone for a much longer period, this time around.  Plus, I am experiencing some anxiety in regards to leaving... don't get me wrong, I am VERY excited!  However, transitory periods are never fun for me.  I hate the "in between" phase.
3. Our home is in total disarray.  I loathe messiness and thrive on extreme organization.  I look around at everything that is now all over the place and I cringe.
4.  Five years (or seven, depending on how you see it) is a long time to stay in one spot and it's rather easy to become attached.  We really love our neighborhood too!

Bottom line:  I'm doing okay.  I'll be okay. Hopefully this post isn't too much of a downer and you'll continue to read my blog! Ha ha ha!  I want to be as candid as possible in my experiences and feelings.  The interesting thing about all these feelings is that I have experienced them twice before.  What an incredible blessing that I know what to expect and how to feel.  The constant flow of ups and downs during this transition are inevitable.  I just need to continue to remind myself that no matter how hard things get during this period, it is always worth it in the end.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sometimes you can really surprise yourself.

Two major accomplishments were achieved last week.

1. I made it through the last day of school.  It was so bittersweet, but I have definitely made peace with it.  It felt "right" and I wasn't nearly as weepy as I thought I would be.  Sometimes you can really surprise yourself.  I am getting closer to that next chapter.

2. I managed to pack up most of my school supplies (some I just gave away) and stored them away at mom and dad's place.  My classroom is officially free on my personal affects and I now feel a little less overwhelmed.  

Next step: My home.  Originally, I was pretty pumped to have an entire month free before leaving for Australia.  However, I now realize that this notion was completely foolish.  Free is hardly the word I would use to describe how my time will be spent... packing, tossing, attempting to sell, donating, repeat.  I am beginning to think that Justin, who will be working for the next month, is the lucky one.  At least he has a job to escape to.  He may just come home one day and find me unconscious under a pile of boxes.

I am waiting for that moment when I will just say "forget it!" and drive an entire carload of untouched/unlooked at things over to the Salvation Army.  Hey, at least the Salvos is only four blocks from my house and the Camry has got some serious space to hold everything.

To quote Project Runway's irrepressible Tim Gunn, "Make it work."

Oh, I will make it work.  No one should be holding their breath as to when this will happen though.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Such a lilla gammal!

Here we are: four days of work left after this weekend.
Do I tell people I am student now?  It would break my heart to say I'm not a teacher.  I think I will say I am a "teacher on leave."  I like that better.  Being a teacher really is such a huge part of my identity.  I venture to guess that most teachers would define themselves partly as their job.  It's unavoidable, but at least it is something lovely.
I finally told the children yesterday that I would be leaving.  Some had questions, but most had stories and tried to relate, which I love (that's a child's way of processing, for you non-kiddo folk.)  I told the kids about how when opportunities come, you have to take them.  I explained that if they have opportunities to visit other places, they have to take them because different experiences are what makes life so amazing.  One of the children told flat out exclaimed, "Wow!  You really are a world traveler!"  Such a lilla gammal! [Swedish term for when a child acts/says things like a adult.  Literally, it means "little old."  I picked up this great phrase from some Swedes that I became friends with while traveling through Cambodia a couple of years ago.]
Another student told me that she knew just how I felt... her family will be visiting Iowa for a couple of days this summer for a soccer tournament and she was excited to visit a new place.  Had to smile at that one.
Perhaps the best advice I got was, "Planes can be hot inside, Ms. Courtney.  I think you better bring some water to drink in case you get thirsty."
Man, if only you could bottle up all that sweetness and caring that is generated from first graders.  They are amazing little people!!!
Anyway, suppose I better wrap this up.  I have some storage tasks to complete today.  Unless you've taught elementary school (or know someone that has) you have no clue how much stuff we accumulate for the classroom.  I don't want to toss it either.  Honestly, if I had to estimate, I reckon that I've spent about $2,000 of my own money on my classroom.  Luckily, my parents are awesome and are willing to store my stuff.  I have probably happily given away half of my teacher belongings to other teachers, which is totally cool.  However, there is just some stuff I want to hang on to, like my books, easel, classroom posters, etc.  You just never know when you are going to need that stuff again.
So yeah, today I will go out to their place for some of that storing fun!  A gallon of iced tea should be enough motivation for me to complete today's task in the sweltering heat of the rafters.  Here we go!