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Travel Lifestyle

The Hidden Pilgrimage

Travel is an interesting creature. It is always changing. There are always surprises around every corner. Travel can humble even the hardest of hearts and uplift the lowest of spirits. Sometimes when we travel, we don’t always know why a particular adventure has drawn us to it. In fact, it can sometimes seem like we discover the reason why we are on a trip while it unfolds. I happened to find myself in just this situation while taking a classic Mediterranean cruise. Little did I know, I had just stumbled on a hidden pilgrimage.

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Istanbul To Athens

My mother and I were off on a great, relaxing cruise that would highlight the Eastern Mediterranean. We were excited about the itinerary that would take us to quite a few ancient sites. We arrived in Istanbul and would make our way through Turkey and Greece aboard a Regent Cruise ship. It was all very fancy and growing up with Greek connections made it that much more exciting. With ports like Philippi and Ephesus, there was no doubt that I would be calling on my Catholic roots to help me make sense of it all. For the record, I consider myself a cultural Catholic. I don’t always go to church but I’m very tuned in to the culture and traditions of my faith. In other words, I’m not a nun but can hang with the sisters.

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The Saints

In the Mediterranean, St. Paul seems to pop up everywhere. As one of the most travelled apostles, it’s no surprise. He spent a tremendous amount of time spreading the word of Jesus all along the coast line. Paul, Peter, and James all move around the Med and leave their mark in plenty of locales. I had heard these stories my whole life but, as a traveler, there is no substitution for actually putting your feet in the same spot that biblical history occurred. In fact, each port of call seemed to bring more and more connection to the very core of my faith. Let me share some of them.

Ephesus and Mary

Our tour bus wound around and snaked up the side of the mountain that towered over the ancient ruins of Ephesus in the Summer heat. We were headed for the top where the House of The Blessed Mother sits. I was not looking forward to being an inch closer to the sun but, Mary holds a special place for me. We walked a few yards from the bus into a grove of trees and the temperature in the shade was welcome.

There, in front of us, was Mary’s modest home where she lived after Jesus ascended. Here, in the care of John as Jesus had asked, she lived out her years. It was a magical place and it seemed as if a peace like no other fell over the small grove on the top of the mountain. Just then, a little kitty came to greet us as if to say, “yes, you understand, this is a little paradise!”

Down in the valley, the ruins of the ancient city stand tall and proud as it to say, “see how well we did?” The library of Celsius was a masterpiece and we meander our way toward the amphitheater. Here, Paul was supposed to speak to the locals about all he had learned from Jesus. But the vendors who sold little statues of Artemis, did not want to lose any business. They put up quite the fuss about this so called speaker of the word and Paul changed tactics and wrote a letter instead. That letter. A letter from Paul to the Ephesians. As I stood in the place that this letter was read to eventual boos from the crowd, I couldn’t help being overwhelmed.

Phillipi and St. Lydia

The port of Kevala in Northern Greece is the jumping off point for Philippi- as in, “a letter from Paul to the Philippians”. Here, one of the most important moments of Christianity that you never heard of occurred. Paul, moving north from Turkey, met a woman named Lydia. She was a well to do merchant who sold purple material. Paul told her about his time with Jesus and Lydia became quite the believer. Here, in a cool stream by her house, Lydia became the first European to be baptized.

As we pulled up to the tiny but stunning baptistry that sits adjacent to the very stream that Paul and Lydia shared that sacrament, we again felt that feeling of peace and contentment. In the 106 degree heat, we pulled off our shoes and sat on the banks. Our feet in the cool stream, was sat remembering the quiet moment when Paul helped Lydia find her Christianity. Magical.

Acropolis and St. Paul

Our last port was Piraeus. Homebase for anyone wanting to explore Athens. And at the top of the list for most is the Acropolis. The hill that holds the proud Parthenon is a mecca for so many. However, in addition to climbing up to the top, there is another stop for pilgrims: a rock. This three story rock was where the judges of ancient Athenian culture passed down rulings. It was here that Paul faced his critics and defended the resurrection of Christ.

We arrived early the day after we disembarked to get a head start on the heat and crowds. After enjoying the splendor of the Parthenon and the Carytids of ancient times, we made our way downstream against the morning rush and climbed the metal staircase that led to the top of the Areopagus. Here, Paul made it clear that he was on Team Jesus. He spoke eloquently to the judges who didn’t quite buy the whole thing but at least didn’t order his death! Not much is on the top of the rock but a sign to tell you a quick history and the feeling that you are stepping onto literal history. Just wow!

Lesson Learned

Our cruise was over and I walked away with an amazing experience that history found in books is all around us in real life when you are willing to look. While my path had me stepping into the stories of Christianity, there are plenty of moments regardless of the faith or interest you may have. More importantly, a traveler’s first experience with these kinds of magical moments allows future travel to have those magical memories too! As I continued to travel after this cruise, I found myself adding experiences to my pilgrimage. I’ve included some of them here.

The Vatican and St. Peter

By far, one of the most iconic pilgrimages for anyone in the Christian world is the Vatican. As Paul traveled, Peter on the other hand, went to Rome to face the Emperor and all of his might. He, along with others, was eventually crucified on Vatican Hill. Years later, Constantine legalized Christianity and Vatican Hill became the epicenter of the Catholic world. While the cathedral is amazing and the museums are world class, it is the religious significance of the Vatican that gives you the goosebumps.

Jesus said to Peter ” You are Peter, you are my rock and upon this rock I will build my church”. So powerful. It only holds true that underneath those words in latin painted by the incomparable Michelangelo, lies the bones of the very St. Peter Jesus spoke to. You can visit his crypt beneath the church by arranging to be part of a tour of just a dozen people per visit. By planning and booking months in advance through the Office of the Scavi, you can have that incredible moment to see Peter, the Rock. After, climb the dome to see those letters from the great artistic master up close for the full experience.

Auschwitz and St. Maximillian Kolbe

In another corner of Europe is a fascinating story of courage and sacrifice. While the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, is most notorious for the final solution: the rounding up and killing of anyone who wasn’t Hitler’s ideal. While the Jewish population was the primary population that was targeted, quite a few other groups found themselves as part of the Auschwitz population. Among them was Father Max.

The humble priest wore the same rags as the others, and witnessed all of the horrors of the camp. His story is singled out because he begged to change places with a man who had a wife and children. The man was set to be starved to death in basement of cell block 11. He died from this sacrifice and the man, years later, attended his canonization at the Vatican. a miracle indeed.

The cell is still there and many who pay their respects at Auschwitz stumble upon his story rather than go to just see the shrine in the basement. A true hidden pilgrimage!

Look For The Moments That Speak To You.

Travel is such a fickle thing. One moment it tires you and yet another exhilarates you beyond your expectations. Travel excites, informs and brings peace. I am thankful for it everyday: even when I have no idea that I’m experiencing something life changing. It happens to us all the time. Don’t believe me? Check out the amazing David Suchet (most famous for his portrayal of Christie’s Poirot) on his journey to unexpected pilgrimage.

Pilgrimages can happen to anyone. It may seem like they only stand out to a select few but, with an open mindset, every corner of the world offers a pilgrimage of sorts. Regardless of your faith (or for that matter non-faith) a spiritual adventure could be the next amazing experience in your passport!

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Travel Lifestyle

Passports 101

So, you’ve done it! You’ve thought and thought for years about it and now you’ve decided to take the plunge and make the commitment! Hooray for you! You are going to get your passport! It will open you up to a literal world of experiences and you won’t regret it. TGC is here to walk you through the whole process with a couple of facts, a couple tools, and, as always, a couple of stories. So, sit back with a glass of wine or a cup of tea, let’s get to traveling!

anonymous tourists showing us passports on street on sunny day
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Listen in to our conversation about passports on our podcast! Babcia and Yia Yia Travel The World is a great way to get all kinds of travel tips. Click here to listen to this episode and more!

Did you know?

  • Only 25% of Americans make the effort to apply for a passport so you are in quite an elite group of travelers now.
  • Passports really expire 90 days before the date in the book. Be prepared to reapply early!
  • Passports are held by the bursar on cruises. He or she has the responsibility of getting your passport stamped and legal in every port.
  •  The Real ID Act which looks to take hold in October 2021 requires you to have your personal documents updated and reviewed by your state. Once done, you get a star on your driver’s license. If you are looking to travel and haven’t done this yet, know that your brand new passport will work just as well (even when flying domestically).

The Basics

Everybody who gets a passport has to start with that same first step: applying to The State Department! For most, applying is pretty straight forward. Simply use the online application, gather your documents, get photos taken, and make an appointment at your local post office. The cost is about $165.00 in a check made payable to The State Department. A few weeks later, you will have your fancy new passport in your hands.

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Birth Certificates

There is one part of the application process that scares me. One of the things you have to send along with your application is your official first copy of your birth certificate. To set you at ease, be sure to look in on how the USPS has been faring and opt for an upgraded method of delivery if the post office machine seems to be lagging at all.

My best friend applied for an expedited passport in order to enjoy some time at Niagara Falls. She would up missing all of her Canadian time because her birth certificate was not accepted by the State Department! It turned out that the birth certificate she had been using for decades turned out to be an unofficial copy from an area notorious for giving the State Department fits. Finally, she got her passport 4 months after she had first applied.

Your Passport Choices

A standard passport has plenty of pages to gather stamps around the world is works perfectly fine. There are a few other options including a double thick book and a passport card. I’d leave those to the business travelers!

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Global Entry?

First, evaluate whether you need global entry or TSA precheck, keep a few things in mind. As technology develops, lines in smaller airports are usually less than 20 minutes. Use this app to check in on the airports you are going to use to see if TSA precheck is really needed. Global Entry includes the TSA pre-check service. Global Entry is basically the passport version of the Fastpass.

I once raced my mother through ATL customs. She was on Global Entry and I was using Mobile Passport (the link is below). We both emerged from the process at the same time. The only difference? My option was free. All in all, it could be money better spent in other areas of your trip.

Passport Safety

One option to keep you connected is the STEP program. By registering with the Bureau of Consular Affairs, you can keep up to date on any advisories related to your destination and have a direct connection to the government if you are in need of help. It can be handy especially in more “exotic” locations.

Don’t put your passport in the pocket of your airplane seat! In fact, I was once in Dubai connecting to a flight to Greece. Sure enough, just as I took my last step off the plane, I realized that my passport was back in the seat pocket of seat 34D! Unfortunately, it was too late to backtrack and I had to wait for everyone to disembark then hope that a nice flight attendant would be kind enough to go check. I almost missed my connection! Lesson learned! Never-ever put that passport down when you are gathering your things!

Never hand over your passport! I was crossing the border between Zambia and Botswana. So, our driver had gotten us right to the Zambezi River and then turned around and asked for our passports. A sticky situation! While not wanting to offend, I also didn’t want to hand over my official identification to a complete stranger. What to do? I politely asked what he wanted to do. It turned out that he simply wanted to cut the line by going to the back door of the passport office. I asked if I could walk with him. He was delighted! Issue avoided. Lesson learned! Look for the polite way out.

Check out these fun passport resources!

Travel Lifestyle

The Great Packing List

As we all take a pause to dream about travel, I hope we are thinking about all of the different facets that make travel so exciting. Much like an artist approaching a blank canvas, travelers approach a blank itinerary and to-do list. The anticipation of travel is, sometimes, more complex than the act itself. Moreover, preparing for travel with a packing list can be quite cathartic. Even packing your bag can be a ceremonial start to a trip. I think I may need a little of those cathartic, ceremonial feelings in these grounded times. I think I need to think about planning….

What’s in your bag?

There are two modes of packing: the “everything in” trip and the “carry-on” trip. I mean, let’s face it, you can take everything you want for a road trip or that extra bag that’s included in a cruise package. Conversely, practically every other type of trip you are taking has you shrink wrapping your things to fit in a plane-sized carry-on. Additionally, I don’t want my trip to be overwhelmed by my belongings. It’s important to me that, and I bet for you too, to keep my eyes on the travel and not the distractions. After all, I’m traveling to be globally literate, not to be a bag handler! I want to easily get my packing list in my bag and out the door with minimal fuss regardless of where I am. So, how do you pare down smartly for easy travel?

I have a confession.

I do not follow the masses of people who insist that the only way to travel is to lug their carry-on for the 17 miles it takes to get in and out of an airport. It seems that we all have to worry about so many things when we carry-on! Weight, liquids, battling for overhead space, check ins, oh my! Additionally, I’m plus sized.

Let me break down what that means. My bathing suit does not take up the space of a Christmas ornament. In fact, it probably takes up the space of a pair of shoes. Five of my tops do not fit in the same amount of space as a pair of shoes, in fact they take up about one quarter of a standard sized carry-on suitcase because I also use tank tops to layer. The list goes on. However, I’ve learned to adapt and overcome and pack into one suitcase (with a little room to spare). Over the years, I have narrowed down my packing method to create a balance between being prepared and not over packing. So how does one not over pack?

The Necessities…

1. I use several pieces to gather my things. For example, like a hard shell suitcase, a small, under the seat carry on, a good purse that holds my electronics well, and packing cubes. I am a true believer in the check in and I don’t fight the overhead bins. My purse does double duty as a secure spot for my electronics and I use packing cubes to corral things like swim wear, formal clothing and unmentionables. This makes it easier to sift through my luggage daily.

2. Laundry supplies… if I’m going for more that 5 days. I bring a tiny bag with a tide stick, some downy spray, a few pods, a laundry bag and some dryer sheets. Where ever I will be on day 6 is the spot I look for a decent laundry place. Usually, the hotel knows of just the right spot. This little baggie goes right in a packing cube and is out of sight and out of mind until needed. If my trip is less than 5 days, I just pack enough to get there and back with a laundry bag and don’t worry about any laundry supplies. One way or another, I’ll have clean clothes. I’m a little obsessed with the travel laundry situation. Click here for more.

3. Electronics. That includes my iPad, my travel adapter, cords, a portable charger and my phone. This normally all fits in my purse. And it covers all of my translation, travel, and communication needs. Check out this article on great apps to get tips on really helpful picks.

4. Travel extras. Things like my travel guides that can’t be digitized, a journal, my travel wallet, a reusable bag that folds down. I admit it, I try to digitize as much as I can but sometimes a book is just that much easier! So, I take exactly what I need to make my trip successful.

5. Clothes. I don’t believe there is any one piece of advice that works for every traveler. Pack what you think you need for the events that you plan just don’t pack more than what can fit in your suitcase. I take flats, sneakers, sandals that go with maxi dresses, and jeans. For most travel, I settle on one or two dressy things and casual mix and match.

6. Care products include a travel curling iron, hair and skin care. I have been taking stuff that’s almost done so I can ditch the bulk before I come home. But I am turning my attention to plastic free beauty bars. Hair bands because it will never last, light makeup, a bit of jewelry that won’t break my heart if it gets lost.

Share the load…

One of my first conversations with my fellow travelers is “Who has the laundry stuff? I’ll bring the curling iron! Do you have the travel guides covered?” While I need these things, it is far easier to collectively share and lessen the load. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Lessening the load? No one says, “gee! I wish I had lugged more stuff with me during my trip! It would have made it so much better!”

My list is for a typical trip that’s a few weeks long. There is no doubt at all that if you were headed to an African Safari or Game Drive or to a South Pacific Island, your list would be quite different. Just check out this post about my trip to Zambia! But, for most of us, the standard packing list is just enough. Check out this packing list freebie to help you on your next trip!