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Confessions of a Broke Travel Points Junkie | BEDA Day 2

I signed up for my first travel credit card this year.

I’ve always been wary of credit cards. The idea of “free money” always seemed attractive, but growing up in the recession, I’d heard so many horror stories of people ruining their finances with them. Considering I had no credit after graduating from college, I figured it might be time to give one a try. A year later, I found they weren’t so scary after all.

Now that I’m settled in NYC, I want to get some more travel under my belt. Which can be pricey. I might not be traveling on The Points Guy’s level, but if I can offset some of the costs of travel with points and miles, all the better.

I started with Amtrak Guest Rewards. I travel home to Philly at least once a month on Amtrak, and with their rewards program, I earn 2 points per dollar spent. They recently changed their redemption system, so it costs less points to get a ticket. I haven’t earned quite enough points, though, and when I do I may just hoard them for a bigger trip or tickets to a show via Audience Rewards.

When I decided to bite the bullet and get a travel credit card, I decided to go for the card with the lowest possible risk (in my eyes). I’m still broke after all. My bank offers a card with a decent point-per-dollar-spent rate and no annual fee. These general travel credit cards let you redeem points for any number of travel costs, from airfare to hotels to taxis. I’ve found this to be the easiest way to earn points as it doesn’t depend on how much you actually travel. Plus, I got a big old points bonus for spending a certain amount of money (and paying it off) within the first 3 months. Win.

I’m not particularly loyal to any airline. I like to go with whoever offers the best fare and flight times for my trip. Despite this, I did recently join the American Airlines AAdvantage and JetBlue TrueBlue programs. This was kind of a “screw it” move. These airlines fly out of my main travel hubs (Philadelphia and New York respectively), and have decent programs with lots of brand partners. If I’m going to fly on either airline, I might as well make the most out of it. It was free to sign up and I’ll at least get a magazine subscription out of it.

How do I keep track of all these points (ha)? My favorite tool at the moment is AwardWallet. This site automatically keeps track of your awards points in a variety of programs (including retail loyalty programs like Sephora Beauty Insider) and lets you know when points are about to expire. No need to log into each site individually to check your point balance. AwardWallet has you covered.

I may be earning slowly right now, but eventually I’ll have enough points to at least fund half of a trip to one of my bucket list locations. What are your thoughts on award travel, friends?

The Incredible Motivating Power of Hamilton

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with running. In elementary school, I dreaded running laps in gym class, and tried to come up with as many excuses as possible to get out of the mile run test. The first time I finished the test without stopping, I thought I was having a heart attack. I avoided running as much as possible from then on. Still, I’d always get a little envious of my friends on the cross country team. A nice run in the woods after school seemed appealing, but at what cost? I knew I was never going to be a runner, so I never actively pursued it.
Until last week.

Last Friday I woke up early and went to the gym, as I usually aspire to do 2 to 3 times a week. As most of my usual cardio machines were taken, I went for the treadmill. I started running. And then I kept running. After a while I realized I had run a full mile, and I didn’t feel like I was about to collapse and die. “Who am I?” I thought. “Are we in the end times?”

This dramatic change of character was all (well, at least 80%) thanks to the release of the Hamilton original cast recording. As I made my way through each brilliantly-written, produced and performed number, I just wanted to keep going. I was involved in the show, reliving each scene and step in my head. Once I finished up my whole walk/run cardio portion, I actually felt really good and ready to take on the day. Weird, right?

There’s something about this show that makes me want to do something. Alexander Hamilton, or at least the version portrayed in Hamilton, was incredibly prolific throughout his relatively short life. He was always working on something, writing like he was “running out of time.” He wrote 51 of the 85 essays that make up the Federalist Papers, over the course of six months. That amount of writing of that caliber blows my mind. I’ll be impressed if I write that many blog posts over the next six months.

I first saw Hamilton in previews at the Public Theater back in January (#humblebrag). I cried profusely at the end, which almost never happens. It is amazing to watch something come together over 6 years, even if it’s just as a bystander on the internet. But I didn’t know it was going to be that good. More than that, it came into my life at a time when I really needed it. I was just starting out in a new job and wasn’t sure where it was going to take me. When a new assistant position opened up, “My Shot” started playing on a loop in my head and I knew I had to go for it. And I’m incredibly glad I did.

So thank you, Lin-Manuel, for sharing this story. I know I’ll keep coming back to this cast recording for years when I need a kick in the pants, words of comfort, or just something to dance around to in my apartment. And, of course, it will always be in heavy rotation at the gym.

A Weekend in Sutton, Quebec

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little thrown by the cultural shift I felt upon arriving in Sutton, Quebec a few weeks ago. From the French signs to the quaint farms along the main road, I felt like I had just stepped off a transatlantic flight rather than a two-hour road trip from the Burlington, VT airport. It really didn’t help that I had just returned from a trip to California the night before. Not exactly the best travel decision on my part.

Once the momentary culture shock wore off, I fell in love with this little town. It’s a great place for a weekend getaway if you live on the east coast. The beautiful Mont Sutton is open year-round for skiing, hiking, camping, and more. My parents and I hiked up to Lac Spruce on our second day in town and somehow managed to beat the rain. The trail was challenging for someone like me who hasn’t hiked in a while, but definitely worth it. I mean, look at those photos. That’s a lot of green, y’all.

If you’re not into the whole nature thing, Sutton still has a lot to offer. There are a bunch of cute shops and galleries full of fantastic local art. There are also plenty of dining options, from cafes to pubs to more high-end stuff. I personally recommend Bistro Beaux Lieux. The food was fantastic and we had an awesome view of the Sutton sunset.

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IMG_3098We stayed a few minutes out of town at the Auberge & Spa West Brome, which happens to have it’s own farm. It’s really cool to see a hotel growing its own food and I just had to capture the symmetry of the tomato garden. And of course I couldn’t leave without a few shots of the cows. Man, I love cows.

P.S. Oh hey, I have a new blog title and theme. Let me know what you think of it!

The Road to Monterey

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I may have traveled a lot over the past four years but my “vacations” have been few and far between. You know, vacations? Those trips where you have no responsibilities and the primary goal is relaxation? Ringing any bells? Probably not.

Prior to last September, my folks and I hadn’t taken a proper family vacation since 2011. We traveled a lot over those two years, but those trips were always riddled with work meetings and looming schoolwork deadlines, and they were always far too short. When I decided to go out to LA for the summer, my parents decided it was time for another Dow family road trip. I had three weeks between the end of my program and the start of my senior year, so we took one of those weeks to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to San Francisco.

One of my favorite stretches of the journey was our drive between Ojai to Monterey. We stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch and to check out the city. We were only there for two hours, but it was just enough time for me to fall in love with the town. I also may have made some seagull friends.

After that, it was on to Big Sur. Aquatic mammals are kind of my thing, so I just about died when we pulled over to see a bunch of elephant seals just chilling on the beach. I broke out the macro lens and caught a few of these guys in action. We hit Big Sur just as the sun was setting so unfortunately we didn’t get to spend a lot of time in the forrest. It did make for some excellent photos, though.

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Senior Project | One Draft Down, Many More to Go

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There is no better feeling than completing a draft of a project. Even if you know it’s going to need some a lot of revision, it feels really nice to just finish something. I now have a full first draft of my pilot. It may be a hot mess, but it exists in some completed form, and it’s much better than the tons of abandoned projects sitting on my hard drive at the moment.

Of course, I’m nowhere near finished with my senior project. I have another episode to write, then a ton of revisions to do between now and June. Despite the amount of work ahead of me, finishing this draft has really motivated me to keep working to make this project something special. This idea has moved past the brain crack stage and into something real that I can actually show people (other than my professor). Whether or not I actually want to do that remains to be seen.

Something I’ve found out in this last writing push is that I can actually write to music with lyrics. Usually I find music with lyrics too involving and I get sucked into the story of the song. This time around, I kind of tailored my playlist around the content of my script. I used those lyrics as inspiration for certain scenes or as a way to better get into the heads of my characters. One song I’ve been listening to a lot is “The Woodpile” by Frightened Rabbit. I had it more or less on repeat as I wrote the last scene of the pilot between my main character, Lily, and her overwhelmed boyfriend Jim. I don’t want to give to much away (ugh, I know, I hate me, too) but the song is kind of perfect for that scene. Who needs a music supervisor when you have Spotify? Just kidding, music supervisors are brilliant humans. I’ve included a Spotify playlist of some of the (non-embarrassing) songs on my writing playlist if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

I also strayed a little from my treatment in this draft. I made certain characters more pivotal to the plot, which means I may need to go back to the drawing board for this next episode. Sure, it’s more work, but I feel a lot better about where the story is going than I did when I wrote the first treatments. Things are looking up!

Senior Project | A Balancing Act

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Sometimes I look at my friends and wonder how they’re still upright. They do so much more than I do and I feel like I’m about to collapse into a pile of creative project-induced stress. This could also be because I’m fighting off a cold and I walked a 12k for the first time in…a while yesterday, but I do have a lot going on at the moment. On top of my senior project (which should be commanding most of my attention), I have 18 credits worth of classes, a play opening in a week and a half, and my own creative endeavors to worry about. Oh, and my social life and health. Those are important, too.

What I think may be the key to doing my best work on this is blocking out time every day in my crazy schedule to put all the other distractions away and just spend some time with my story. The first deadline for my project was last Friday and I’ll be honest with you all, I was not prepared. I came up with a pretty detailed treatment and bio for my main protagonist, but I definitely need to spend some time creating the rest of the ensemble and tweaking my treatment before I’m ready to write. Luckily, I have a little more time for development.

“Why does that document you’re working on look more like an English essay than an actual script?” you’re probably [not] wondering. That, my friends, is a treatment. A treatment is essentially a detailed outline in prose of the script. I find them to be very helpful because they help me figure out what I want the tone of each scene to be, which doesn’t always come across in an outline. Prose helps me fully flesh out each moment before I actually write it. Plus, I enjoy writing prose. Makes me feel smarter or something.

My goal or this week is to keep working on my characters and outline my second episode. It’s going to be a tough week as I’m just a few days away from Godzilla’s tech weekend, but if my crazy friends can still do all that they do, I think I can make it out alive. As a wise Tumblr post once said, “You have as many hours in the day as Beyonce.”

P.S. If you’re in Philly, come see Godzilla. We open on Halloween!

Los Angeles | Rose Bowl Flea Market

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I have yet to meet an Angeleno who isn’t totally obsessed with the Rose Bowl Flea Market. One Sunday a month, people from all over Southern California descend on the parking lot of the historic stadium to shop for antiques, furniture, vintage clothes, handmade soaps, and more for a few hours in the sweltering Pasadena sun. The sheer volume of items available is totally overwhelming and I barely scratched the surface during this trip in August. Next time I have to bring a flea market pro with me. I’ve met some people who’ve furnished most of their homes with stuff from this particular flea market. I want to hang out with them.

Since I couldn’t exactly ship an entire couch back to Philly, I settled for some smaller items this first time around. I walked away with a maxi skirt that was missing a button and a pink flask engraved with a tennis racket. You can take the girl out of the Main Line, but you can’t take the Main Line out of the girl.

If (or when) I move to LA, I will probably go back for that couch. And a headboard. And a samurai sword. Basically I will buy all the things. The Rose Bowl Flea Market is just that awesome.

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I have a feeling I’ll be doing a few of these LA photo dumps in the near future seeing as I have a ton of photos and adventures to share with you all. A few weeks ago I went to the Getty Museum, one of the largest collections of art in the city. They have pieces from every area of the world and period in history, so you’ll probably see something you like. I was particularly excited to see Van Gogh’s Irises, pictured above. The campus itself is stunning and admission is free, so even if you don’t like art it’s a fun trip. We hung out for a bit in the gardens before we realized that the sun was ridiculous. The Getty sits up in the hills so it has some amazing views of the entire city. If it wasn’t so smoggy we could probably have seen the ocean. Or at least downtown. I would totally go back to the Getty whenever I’m back in LA. I think we missed a few rooms on our first go-around and I obviously need to see EVERYTHING.

IMG_0391 IMG_0396Before and After the Storm

My grandparents live on Long Island, just a fifteen minute drive from the beach. It takes us about four hours to get there from Philadelphia, but my parents and I try to make the trip as often as we can. We had the great luck of planning our latest trip the weekend before Hurricane Sandy hit, devastating most of the greater New York area. Though we were worried about the storm hitting before we could make it back to Philly in one piece, we decided to take a pretty ballsy walk on the beach as the storm was coming in. The photos I took that morning don’t really do justice to the force we could feel just walking near the waves, but I felt like sharing them anyway. Mother Nature is a scary, scary lady. It’s incredible to think that these waters would go on to nearly drown entire neighborhoods just a few hours later. The people of New York, New Jersey and all the areas affected are strong, though, and they will be back on their feet and better than ever soon enough.

For the record, my grandparents (and other Long Island-dwelling family members) made it out of the storm relatively unscathed and I am incredibly thankful for that.

If you’d like to contribute to the relief efforts, check out some of these links for more information:

The Robin Hood Foundation:
http://www.robinhood.org/rhsandy

New York Cares:
http://newyorkcares.org/volunteer/disaster/

Jersey Cares:
http://www.jerseycares.org/jc_sandy_relief

Occupy Sandy:
http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/
http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/wedding-registries/

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IMG_0740 IMG_0850 IMG_0849 IMG_0844 IMG_0843 IMG_0830 IMG_0827 IMG_0738 IMG_0740 IMG_0752 IMG_0753 Oh, hi blog. It seems I’ve forgotten about you again. You know how mad life gets when you’re traveling and working and studying and trying to have a social life all at the same time. You get me, right? No? Okay. Well, this is embarrassing.

In case you couldn’t tell from all of the other content I’ve posted on the internet since last April, I made it back from England in one piece and with a boat-load of miles on my personal odometer. I only logged more miles when I returned by shuffling between two internships in the fall at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia and BUST Magazine in New York City. I’ve learned so much about myself and about the worlds of indie publishing and professional theatre and I’m incredibly grateful for the experience. To be honest, though, this is one of the first truly free weekends I’ve had to update you all. Oh, the life of an occasional overachiever.

Along the journey of the past few months since my last update, I got a DSLR camera (a Canon EOS Rebel t3i to be exact). I’ve been breaking it out whenever I can to hone my photography skills and capture the world around me. I figured this would be a good place to share some of my photos as well as the stories that go along with them. Eh? What do y’all think?

I’ll start with a few shots from my weekend in New York earlier last month. For one of my Christmas gifts, my parents took me to see The Book of Mormon and Once, two musicals I’d been dying to see but couldn’t afford to get to on my own. We had a lovely hotel room on one of the higher floors of the Marriott Marquis where I tested out my new macro lens on the East Manhattan skyline. On Sunday, before the matinee of Once, we headed over to Bryant Park for some brunch. It was absolutely gorgeous out and the light was pretty perfect, so I got some nice shots of the fancy buildings that surround the park. Someday I’ll win the artistic lottery and be able to afford one of those apartments. A girl can dream.

P.S. If you want to read my review of Once, you can check out Standing Room Only, my theatre blog. I hate to break it to you, blog, but I’m a blog polygamist. We can make this work.