Honeymoon Chronicles: AirBnB

For our trip to Europe, we had a lot of decisions to make – such as where to visit, how to get there, and so on. One of the bigger decisions was deciding where to stay. Rather than go with hotels, hostels, or camping, we decided to try something completely new to us – AirBnB.

AirBnB Explained

AirBnB is quite simple – you’re traveling and need a place to stay, but you don’t want to stay in a hotel. Individuals list their apartments, private rooms, or couches on the site and you can browse the listings to find what suits your needs.

Another way I’d explain the concept of AirBnB is to utilize the idea of home-swapping – where you and someone at your destination swap living spaces for a set period of time. The difference, however, is that a full home swap isn’t necessary. The video clip below from the movie “The Holiday” gives a fun (yet not entirely realistic) example of the home-swap concept. Obviously, for more specific information about how AirBnB works, check out the AirBnb website.

Our Criteria

There are a lot of really fantastic places listed on AirBnB by some rather fantastic people. On the flip side, there are also a lot of…well…not so great listings as well. As mentioned prior, listings on the site are for 1) entire apartments, 2) a private room, or 3) a couch to crash on. When it came time for Tammi and I to decide on where to stay – seeking out apartments, mind you – we looked primarily at the following as our deciding criteria:

Pictures / Description – “You only get one chance to make a first impression” and the first thing one sees when searching through the listings are photos. What does the place look like? Is this a place in which we would feel comfortable actually living for an extended period of time? Is it welcoming or does it make us cringe? Are there multiple photos or is it a one photo and floor plan? Additionally, there should be a decent description of the property. Does the description match the photos? What is the neighborhood like?

Amenities
We really weren’t super picky here, but we did have three non-negotiables that needed to be met in order for a listing to move forward.

  • Washer – Backpacking our way through this trip means packing as minimalists. No dryer is fine – clothes can air dry after a wash. No washer, though, could smell…er, spell, disaster.
  • WiFi – Tammi was just offered a new position prior to our departure from the states, so she needs to be able to keep in touch – especially with her school year starting quickly upon our return. Additionally, I’m still searching for a new position myself (higher ed, non-profits, etc). So yes, we should be disconnected for this trip, but it just wasn’t feasible. However, we’ve managed to keep our online time to late evenings and travel days, allowing us to really enjoy our trip to the fullest. Another plus of having access to wifi in the apartments? It has made uploading photos to our Dropbox backup much easier!
  • Bed Size – Honeymoon jokes aside, we wanted beds that we could both easily sleep in without a fear of 1) smothering the other or 2) falling out on to the floor because of a tiny little bed.

Distance from Public Transport – Our travel through Europe is via train, so we needed to find listings that are close enough to public transport to make our trip a little easier. We’ve defined public transport, in most cases, as a metro line (subway). In other cases – such as our stops in Amsterdam & Munich – it was more a question of how far the apartment is from the central train station.

Overall Cost – We could have easily stayed in nice hotels the entire trip. However, by using AirBnB, we actually ended up SAVING money. I’m not going to go into great detail on the particulars, but know that on average, we saved probably close to $50-100/location by avoiding hotels. Plus, this gave us the added bonus of actually living like locals for a few days.

…and finally, Reviews – It should come as no surprise that we looked for places with positive reviews. We wanted to stay in places where people had positive experiences and had great things to say. No reviews at all? Thanks, but no thanks.

Our Experience (so far)

We’re still on our trip – currently on the train from Berlin to Munich – and thus far our experience has been great. Our hosts have been fantastic about responding quickly to our messages and, in some cases, have been good about checking in with us in advance of our arrival. A few of our hosts have even surprised us with a bottle of bubbly in the fridge – their way of congratulating us on our marriage!

Your AirBnB experience might differ from ours, and that’s okay. We’ve enjoyed it and would recommend giving it a shot – even if you just use it for a weekend getaway in the states.

Until next time…

Honeymoon Chronicles: Don’t Be “WiFi Guy”

A few nights ago during our final night in Paris, we stopped for dinner at a cafe that we had enjoyed the first night we were in town – Cafe le Dome. What made it even better was that we had the same waiter again! But that’s not the point of this post. The point is what we witnessed while sitting at our outside table.

A young man, perhaps in his mid-20’s(?), was walking by and fiddling with his phone. He approached a member of the wait staff, as if to inquire about a table for a bite to eat. However, what came out of his mouth instead just kind of shocked us.

“Can you give me the WiFi password?”

That’s it. No request for a table. No please or thank you. Not even an attempt at asking in French. Just a very blunt and arrogant request. Of course, and without losing a beat, the waiter in question responded as one would expect – with a very direct “NO”.

***

Now, before I go any further, let me say that Tammi and I have not been completely disconnected on this trip. She has needed to keep up with things related to her new teaching gig (WOO!) and I have continued my job search. We’ve also been utilizing Dropbox as a dumping ground/back-up for all of our photos. The difference between us and this fellow as it would seem is that the vast majority of our online activity on this trip has happened at the end of our day, when we’re back at our place and about to pass out – not while wandering the streets, possibly missing out on awesome moments.

***

But that’s not the end of the saga, as it got kind of weird after that. The young man, who I will again refer to as “WiFi Guy”, then proceeded to ask the waiter if he could access the WiFi if he made a purchase. He just seemed desperate at this point. The waiter ignored him, I think – my back was to both of them by this point, and the young man persisted once more to no avail. He left soon after, frustrated, mumbling and still in search of his precious wifi. Tammi and I were just dumbfounded by the whole exchange.

Now, in his (limited) defense, “WiFi Guy” could have had a very legitimate reason for seeking out access to the web. It could have been for any number of reasons, but it just seemed as if he had taken an epic selfie and was desperate to post it.

Moral(s)of this story?
Make an effort to disconnect while abroad as much as possible. I say this as I blog, but again – this is during our down time before or after heading out for sightseeing. Enjoy what is happening around you.

Oh yeah, almost forgot – Don’t be a dick to locals in a foreign country over a wifi password. Your selfie can wait.

Until next time…

Honeymoon Chronicles: Our European Adventure

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As some of you might know, I got married (just shy of) two weeks ago to my amazing partner-in-crime, Tammi. The whole weekend was fantastic and the day of the wedding went incredibly smooth. We are truly thankful for the friends and family who joined us in celebration as well as for those who couldn’t join us, but who celebrated from afar.

A few days after the wedding, Tammi and I left the tiny hamlet of Lodi, Ohio and headed toward Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to begin our honeymoon. We decided that we did not want to go on a cruise or even to a location in the Carribean. We don’t see anything wrong with these locations at all and we know plenty of people who have had amazing honeymoons in these places, but they just weren’t for us. Instead, we chose to trek across Europe – which is where I am right now, writing to you from our apartment in Amsterdam.

So far, our travels have included:

  • Cleveland to Detroit to Boston
  • Boston to London
  • London
  • Paris
  • Amsterdam…with Berlin, Munich, and Switzerland up next prior to returning to London and then heading back to the states.

Tammi is, by far, the primary travel blogger for our trip – having composed a series of posts documenting our travels and experiences. If you’re interested in checking those out, go ahead and click here. As far as my own writing, I have a few posts still in the queue – term I definitely look forward to continue using once we get back home – that need to be finished and posted. Some of those are honeymoon related, some are not. But I digress…

As you’d probably expect, we are definitely taking quite a few photos of our travels. To date, we have easily snapped over 900 photos between our DSLR camera and our two iPhones (in permanent airplane mode until we’re back in the states). If you are linked to either one of us on Facebook, you can look forward to seeing a pretty decent chunk of those photos upon our return.

Well, I think it’s time to go find a local watering hole and enjoy the evening sights and sounds along the canals of Amsterdam.

Until next time…

90 in 90 – To Be Continued…

On Thursday (or day 60), I was able to log two more miles at a pace of 8:25/mile toward my personal challenge of running 90 miles in 90 days. This two mile run had put the number of miles completed at 61. I was ahead of schedule again!

And then this happened: Hello foot, have you met the couch leg? Allow me to introduce you. 

Yep. Inadvertently slammed my left foot – my 4th & 5th toes to be exact – into one of the legs of our couch. I’m no stranger to stubbing my toes, but this time was different. It was all over pretty quick, with me hobbling over to an open spot on the floor, laying down, and thinking (and saying) some rather unpleasant things. The worst part was that I was pretty sure I heard something snap or crack when it all happened. Last night’s treatment of said injury consisted of taping my toes together (“buddy taping” or “buddy splint”), elevated my foot and applied some ice, and then went to sleep hoping that it would be fine the next morning – nothing more than a little sore and bruised.

Nope – not so much.

Remember that snap or crack sound I though I heard? Well, I definitely fractured (broke) my little toe, which has become my first ever broken bone in 30 years, 11 months, and 23 days of life. For those of you playing at home, that’s just a week short of my 31st birthday. Ugh.

What does this mean for my 90 in 90? Well, it means that the remaining 29 days and any miles I would have accumulated during them will have to be postponed for about 8-10 weeks. No running until closer to the end of August. I’m very bummed out about this, especially since I was in a position to get a comfortable lead of miles over days.

So for now, and with only 29 miles and 29 days left, I’ll just hit the pause button, save my progress, and come back to conquer the end of my 90 in 90 challenge another day.

90 Miles in 90 Days: Update 2

With my upcoming wedding to Tammi now only 33 days away and since I haven’t updated in a while, I figured it would be a good time to post an update on my personal challenge of running 90 miles in 90 days.

Since the last update, I was able to stay on pace fairly well. Every day or every other day, I’d get out there and run maybe 2 miles at minimum just to stay on pace. However, then I took a personal vacation across the country and while I fully intended to run during this time, I slacked. I dropped off pace and it’s been a gradual up-hill climb to cut down the, at one time, almost 10 miles that I was off pace.

So, here’s the update: I’m officially back on pace.

Tonight, I completed a two mile run that puts me at 57 miles over 57 days (or 63% complete). My average distance is hovering around 2.5 to 3 miles per run, with my average pace per is right around 9:45/mile. Running a little further per run as of late and just a hint faster on average. I’d say that’s progress, even if it’s slow going.

Keep in mind, I had said the following in my last update:

“…this goal could be completed by running one mile, every day, for 90 days. Personally, I would much rather get ahead and stay ahead.”

So yeah, I dropped off pace and fell behind, but I’m right back in it and set to get ahead again. Lesson here? Simple. Just because you fall behind, doesn’t mean your goal is out of reachit just means playing catch up will suck. And catching up DOES suck, but it’s not impossible.

Going for 90 miles in 90 days might not be the biggest goal in the world, but it’s MY goal. And with just over 30 days left to go, I can’t wait to crush it in the next few weeks.

Sidenote / reminder: if you need motivation to start running or to keep running, get on Twitter (or Instagram) and search #nikeplus and keep up with my journey to 90 by searching #90in90. 

90 Miles in 90 Days: Update #1

Two weeks ago, as a result of being inspired – or kind of freaked out – by being 3 months out from my upcoming wedding and not really in the shape I want to be, I set a personal goal to complete 90 miles in 90 days. That’s it. Whatever else comes with it – changes in diet, workout routine, etc – is secondary. I’ve made many attempts over the last year or so to re-establish my running routine and this (so far) is working. With that said, and since today is 14 days in, I thought it would be a good time for an initial progress update.

Keep in mind, this goal could be completed by running one mile, every day, for 90 days. Personally, I would much rather get ahead and stay ahead.

With that said, I’ve completed 18 miles over the last two weeks, which means I’m 20% of the way to my goal and 4 miles ahead of schedule. What helps make that stat even better is that I’ve only run 8 times over 14 days with an average distance of 2.25 miles/run with an average pace of 9:50/mile. Any run around 2 miles has been completed in under 20 minutes, and any run around 3 miles right at the 30 minute mark. All good things that can only get better.

Thank you to those who have cheered me on in person or online. It’s always great to get that cheering noise from the Nike+ app! In addition to tracking via Nike & RunKeeper, I also upload progress after every run to Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram – usually with the standard “#dropNgimme20″ that I borrowed from the amazing Malinda Matney as well as from my wife-to-be, Tammi.

Sidenote: if you need motivation to start running or to keep running, get on Twitter (or Instagram) and search #nikeplus. There is an amazing community of runners out there. 

I’m not going to be winning any 5K’s any time soon. However, I am rebuilding my endurance and running on a more regular basis. While it would be great to crank out a sub-20 minute 3 mile like I used to, that’s not the primary goal.

The goal is 90 in 90 – and I’m on my way.

Kappa Kappa Psi SED Convention – Convention Recap #1

With the Southwest District Convention of Kappa Kappa Psi happening this weekend in Texas (no, I’m not there), I figured it’s time to share my reflections on the Southeast District (SED, from here on out) Convention that I attended March 21-23 in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve had more than enough time to process and reflect on the experience! What follows is the first in a three-part series of convention recaps posts covering two fraternity conventions, one professional conference, and assorted experiences in between.

This being my first time attending an SED Convention, I will say that I was very impressed with how the host chapters from Georgia Tech and district leadership worked together to present a well organized and enjoyable event. While there were many great take aways I could talk about, my recap of SED 2014 will touch on two main points:

  1. planning for the future (strategic planning)
  2. re-evaluating traditions

Planning for the Future (Strategic Planning)

Kelly Nellis, Kappa Kappa Psi National Vice President for Student Affairs, delivered a great presentation to a packed house on how chapters might approach chapter goal setting sessions in the future, but with the ultimate goal of helping chapters run more efficiently and effectively. It was interesting to hear why students chose to attend this particular presentation:

  • “Our chapter is a mess”
  • “The chapter needs to improve”
  • “We need to clarify our goals”

The list continues, but those seemed to be the underlying issues. Many of the students who chimed in, as well as a VAST majority of others in the room, indicated that they have chapter meetings that go for an HOUR or more. Suffice to say that those are (probably) not the most productive, nor pleasant, chapter meetings to sit in. Ugh. A few issues might contribute to this: 1) no clear-cut plan of attack for the meeting (an agenda) and/or 2) allowing for free-for-all conversation/commentary throughout the meeting. Rectifying these issues will help chapters move towards achieving their overall goals.

However, our chapters need to know who they are before they simply lay down a list of goals. One way to do this is to conduct a chapter SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. By doing so, chapters can learn what they do well, what they could do better, where there are opportunities for success, and what might hold the group back. It is important though that this process be a full chapter project, not just something done by the executive board. By incorporating the entire chapter, it helps to paint a more accurate representation of the organization.

Once a chapter has a basic idea of who they are, then it is time to start looking at goals. What is it that the chapter wants to achieve? What would the chapter strive for if there were no limits on what was possible? Start with a large end goal and then work backward – this will help define what needs to happen along the way in order to make the large goal come to fruition.Regardless of the goals, chapters should ensure that the goals are SMART. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound. Following this format, chapters will lay down a framework for how the goals will be achieved, any deadlines, and how they will assess if they make sense to even pursue.

Re-Evaluating “Traditions”

After a chapter identifies its strengths, weaknesses, and so on and then establishes their goals, the next challenge may come in the form of chapter traditions. Christine Beason (current KKPsi National President), Kelly Nellis, Dr. Kirk Randazzo, and Dr. Malinda Matney (past KKPsi National Presidents) engaged the fraternity delegation in a candid discussion on how members might work to re-evaluate their chapter traditions. But where should a chapter start? With the leadership.

Before I proceed though, let me be clear – my definition of leadership (picked up while working in the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke) is that leadership is actionnot position. Leadership is when a group of people who are able (and willing) come together to influence positive change. These are those chapter members who motivate, take on the tasks that aren’t popular, hold themselves accountable, and influence others responsibly to execute a shared vision.

  • “…but this is how we’ve always done it.” Nope, I call bullshit.

As a leader, your primary objective is to help inspire the group towards achieving the shared vision and goals that were just established. Where does the existing “tradition” fit in? If the answer is that “it doesn’t”, then it might be time to re-evaluate that tradition. If your chapter’s goal is to win best organization on campus, then some of the more questionable traditions might need to get the boot. Remember: just because you have traditions doesn’t mean they aren’t incredibly stupid.

  • How do we navigate re-evaluating / changing our traditions?

First and foremost – and this cannot be stressed enough – start small. You have an idea of what should be based on your organization’s vision/goals/etc. Share this vision with other members, particularly those who are of a similar mindset. This will help to develop buy-in later as the idea progresses to the whole chapter. Also, remember that changing a tradition takes time and will likely not happen overnight. Your fellow members (hopefully) want the best for the organization, regardless of how they feel about certain traditions.

  • Okay, we’ve made some changes, but our alumni aren’t as thrilled about them…help!

Your alumni are an important link to the past of the organization. They have great stories about their own individual experiences as well as of the organization as a whole. They may have participated in some of the traditions that you’ve recently re-evaluated/change and they some alumni might be okay with the changes, some might be upset, and some may not even care. What is important to remember here is that their time as an active member has come and gone. The local chapter was, in most cases, founded before they were even born, evolved multiple times before they even joined, and will continue to do so long after the current members join the ranks of alumni. What might have been relevant to an active member in 1985, might not be to an active member in 2025. The current organization should reassure alumni members that they, as individuals, have a place and are always welcome back. However, they should also be made aware that visions and goals change over time, and some traditions may just need to go.

The Take-Aways

Planning for the Future / Strategic Planning

  1. Meetings that go an hour or more are no fun. Establish an agenda or some other plan of attack and stick to it.
  2. Allow each person who wishes to speak have their chance before allowing repeat speakers.
  3. ALSO, keep a running list of interested speakers. When someone wants to talk, acknowledge & add them to the list, and then have them put their hands down – it’ll keep the focus on the current speaker.
  4. Figure out what makes your chapter tick - conduct a SWOT analysis.
  5. Establish the END goal first when goal planning then figure out the smaller tasks to get you there.
  6. Make your goals SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Bound

Re-Evaluating Traditions

  1. Leadership is action, not position. Leaders influence positive change in the organization.
  2. Line up your traditions with your vision and goals. “This is how we’ve always done it” shouldn’t be the justification.
  3. Establish buy-in. Get a few other members on board, then a few more, and THEN go for the large group.
  4. Alumni aren’t active anymore – you are. The organization needs to reflect the people who are in it NOW.

Leaving ATL

As stated before, the 2014 SED Convention was a fantastic event. The content of presentations was incredibly relevant and seemed to flow nicely together, especially the two sessions that I chose to review. These sessions made sense and hopefully these take aways made it back to the local chapters.

As always, it was great to visit with friends from all over the region/country that I haven’t seen in some time. Between enjoying a humorous brunch at Babs’ and getting to visit the World of Coca-Cola, I would say this was a successful trip to Atlanta – a city that I would normally avoid simply for the traffic woes alone. It’s actually a great city to visit and I look forward to visiting again.