Pack up and Go Adventures

Pack up and Go has been on my radar for awhile and the timing just wasn’t right. As I was approaching my 45th Birthday and a girl’s weekend trip fell through for March, it was time I pulled the trigger and go on my own solo birthday adventure.

If you have not read my last post Pack up & Go is a surprise travel agency that plans 3-day weekend trips around the US.

It did drive me crazy having my envelope arrive the week before and not able to open it.  I left it sitting on my kitchen counter and tried to forget about it. I wanted to stay true to the essence of the trip and stayed steadfast in not opening until I got the airport.

So many of my friends were trying to guess where I was going and it was fun to have everyone be a part of this adventure.  I did a Facebook live at 7:30am from the airport in my car to reveal the destination with everyone at the same time.  It was true shock and joy when I opened the envelope and saw I was going to San Francisco.

“Holy $hit, I am going to California” I think was my direct quote.

That morning I received an email with all my flight information. I appreciated Pack up & Go putting in the subject line, don’t open until you open your envelope.  Once I did, in the email was all my travel information and boarding passes.  They check you into your flight the day before so you are all set to walk to your gate and start your adventure.

While waiting to board it was the perfect time to read over and look at everything in my packet. In the packet were some cute personal touches – a post card of San Francisco, Pack up & Go sticker and a birthday card.  In the survey you fill out it asks if traveling for a special occasion and I filled out it was for my 45th Birthday.  Also in the packet was my hotel information, tips on getting around, recommendations and estimated times from airport to hotel, facts about the city and then three days of recommended itineraries.

I did not think when I woke up that morning, I would be going on a four hour flight! I flew from Madison, WI to O’Hare Airport and O’Hare to San Francisco.  I was thankful that all flights were great and landed on time.  It was raining a bit when I arrived, but as I started the taxi ride to my hotel the sun came out and  there was a rainbow in the sky.  I asked my cab driver if I could open the window, and I was like a dog hanging its head out the window, breathing in the fresh air and sun rays after living through -45 degrees and 12 inches of snow the weeks before.

I arrived at my hotel, The Warwick Hotel, and it was super cute.  The cherry on top was a bottle of champagne and a sweet happy birthday note from the hotel staff in my room.  I got settled in and freshened up and as luck should have it, on Friday night I was able to connect with a friend who I met two years ago on a different travel adventure in India. Night one, I went off the Pack Up and Go itinerary and did my own thing.

I met Nina at a restaurant called the Rite Spot Cafe. She had a friend that was playing guitar there – Chris Moss.  It was great to catch up with Nina, listen to great live music, good food, drinks and then hang with Nina and her friends for the rest of the night listening to the next band – Lee Vilensky Trio

The next morning, I followed my Pack up and Go recommendations and started my day with a 1.2 mile walk taking in the scenery of the San Francisco streets on my way to the Ferry Building Marketplace. If you have ever been to the Milwaukee Indoor Market, it is similar to that. Lots of people Saturday morning getting their coffee, fresh produce, fish and shopping done for the day. There was also an outdoor farmers market.  I stopped at a local street vendor for a great bagel breakfast sandwich and coffee to kick off the day. From Pier 1 there was a great view of the Bay Bridge and from here strolled the 1.3 miles along the Embarcadero making my way to Pier 39.

I made some stops along the way.  I stopped at Pier 23 Cafe for a bloody mary.  This was a great place right on the water and outdoor dining.  It was a little rainy and windy at this time, so I stayed in the bar area and chatted it up with my bartender. It was early yet, so the place was not crowed at all.

Next stop Pier 33.  This is where you can get tickets for Alcatraz.  I was in San Francisco for a short weekend in 2011 and wasn’t able to get tickets, so I was crossing my fingers I would be able to this time…. NO LUCK.  Tickets sell out weeks in advance and there was no stand by tickets available either.  On to Pier 39. It wouldn’t be a trip to San Francisco if you didn’t stop to see the hundreds of Sea Lions hanging out. I continued my walk up to Pier 41, and that is when I discovered my plan B. Since I could not get “into Alcatraz”, I decided to take the ferry over to Sausalito. I asked around and heard great things about it – a quaint little town with lots of shops, restaurants and beautiful views.  Round trip ticket was $28.00 and it was about a 1/2 hour ferry ride.  They had times throughout the day to go over and return to San Francisco.  I walked around and continue to take in the site between Pier 39 and 41 and at 1pm, I boarded the ferry.

At this time of the day, it was a little over cast and light rain.  I rode over on the upper deck, and it was very cold and windy, but the views on all sides where incredible.  You had the entire cityscape of San Francisco, close up view of Alcatraz,  a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and as you approached Sausalito, all these beautiful homes built into the cliff walls. If you had a bike you could take it with you on the ferry and they even had a full bar to get a drink on the half hour ride over.

Once the ferry docked I got off and this seaside town reminded me a bit of Fish Creek, in Door County, WI.  On the water, the shops, walk-able ease, the one big difference – Palm Trees! I was grateful the weather cleared as I made my way to explore the area.

I walked in and out of shops and stopped at a place to do a wine tasting. If I was looking for instant conversation with strangers, all I had to do was start talking about my Pack up & Go adventure.  Everyone I met thought it was the coolest thing, many talked about doing it and they said I was brave for going alone.

I recently read in the March 2019 edition of Health Magazine, a recent survey of 9,000 people by British Airways found that more than 50% of women around the world have taken a solo trip, and 75% of women were planning one in the next few years. 

Traveling solo is not for everyone, but I found it very therapeutic, you are able to do what you want, when you want and it is an opportunity to meet some really incredible people.  The key though is to PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN!  Don’t use it as a crutch to not be solo.  Be aware of your surrounding, take in the beauty, make eye contact with people, smile, strike up a conversation, you may be surprised at where it may lead.

“The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. Because no matter what happens, you will always be with yourself.” — Diane Von Furstenberg

I found that people in the service or retail industry are your best bets for pointing out some unique local places. The owner of the winery told me about an incredible seafood restaurant called Seafood Peddler. I had the best clam chowder and the service was impeccable.

After my late lunch, I continued to stroll through the streets of Sausalito and take in the beauty of the homes and the landscape. I got the ferry back to San Francisco around 5pm and I didn’t plan it, but it was perfect because I got to experience the most breathtaking sunset of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge on the return ride.  After I captured my money shot sunset pictures, I just sat back and breathed in the fresh air and was present in that beautiful moment!  I was exhausted from my full day outside and walking 5+ miles, so I got an Uber back to the hotel, a light meal and opened up my champagne to drink in bed and relive the amazing day.

Day three I started off early again by 8am and went in search of coffee. My coffee search led me to the beginning stop on the Powell-Hyde Cable Car route. I waited around for the cable car and hopped on.  I didn’t know where I would end up, but just went with the flow. A one way trip was $7.00 and I road to the other end and got off on Hyde Street. There was a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  By this time I was really needing coffee and I was starving.  As fate would have it, I was next to a restaurant called Beuna Vista, home to the original Irish Coffee! I sat at the counter and had an amazing breakfast, two incredible irish coffees and then went to the bar area and had a Guinness and watched Larry the bartender work his magic making 20+ irish coffees at a time. It was an art! I met some really fun people in this place and could have stayed longer with my new friends, but I had tracks to make to the Golden Gate Bridge.  From this area, it was about a 5-6 mile walk.  I first hit a few more of the recommendations from Pack up & Go: Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Hyde Pier and by this time I had a good 2 miles in and decided to Uber the rest of way to Golden Gate.  It looked much closer than it really was.

The sun was out, not a cloud in the sky and the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the views from the Golden Gate of the city was perfection! This was another great moment of reflection being at the half way point of the bridge and to be in the moment to soak it all in and be thankful for all the blessings I have in life.

I had enough time after visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, to also hit up Golden Gate Park.  I went through the Conservatory of Flowers, and wandered around the park to make the most of the last hour of my trip.  From here I took an Uber back to the hotel and it was time to catch the shuttle to the airport.

Post reflection: The entire Pack up & Go experience was incredible. Yes, it was nerve racking not know until the morning of my trip where I was going, but we try to control so much in life, that sometimes to let go and let someone else do the planning (for me anyway) was a welcomed relief. I checked off quite a few attractions on their itinerary and some I didn’t do because I was here once before. If doing a solo trip, I think this was the perfect amount of time; 3 days and 2 nights. My advice to anyone on the fence of traveling alone — just do it. This was a perfect way for me to reflect on the first half of my life and plan what amazing adventures I want to do in the second half.  Cheers!

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” — Albert Einstein

Pack up and Go for 45!

Monday, February 11 will be my 45th birthday! I have never been one to hide my age or shy from it, but I must admit, I am struggling with this one.  Maybe because it is only 5 years from 50? Maybe because I still feel around 32 and thank goodness most people don’t think I look my age.  (Thanks Mom and Dad for the good genes.) I can’t put my finger on it……

To help me “get a grip” I have decided to give myself the gift of travel, adventure and excitement for my birthday.  A few years ago, I saw online information about the company “Pack up and Go“.    What is Pack up and Go??

Pack Up + Go plans 3-day weekend trips around the United States. All you have to do is tell us your budget and fill out a quick survey.  We’ll take care of your travel + accommodation arrangements – all while keeping your destination a surprise.

For my birthday I am doing a solo Pack up and Go adventure!  I have no idea where I am going and as someone who is a planner there is a sense of anxiety and total excitement not knowing anything about where I will be going in two weeks. (I did pick someplace warm on my survey). 

I will be sure to write about my solo journey and can’t wait to rip open that envelope at the airport to find out where I am going on my birthday adventure!  CHEERS.

 

Final Two Days in India!

We left our hotel at 9:00am and headed to our last fort of the drive – Mahrangarh Fort.  We pull up to the park area, and who do we see, but they guys from Swiss and Chile.  Seriously, this is now getting weird – Amberee starts talking to them and turns out they went to the restaurant we were going to go to last night, and then we never showed. That’s sucks, it would have been fun to hang out with these boys. 

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I started talking to the guy from Switzerland (we never did get their names) and he asked were I was from and I said, American and I live in Wisconsin.  He asked where in Wisconsin and I said Madison.  He asked me if I know Kohler and I said yes. Turns out he works for a company that works with Kohler and he was in Kohler, WI a couple years ago for a week. Small World!!!

We left the fort and loaded back in the car for the six hour drive back to Jaipur. We got back to Jaipur about 4:30pm. Plenty of time for Emily to catch her ride at 6pm to Delhi to fly home that evening. The week of travel was amazing but so exhausting from so much driving time. It was good to be back at the house.

While we were gone three more people came. John, from the US (Illinois). This is actually his 4th time back. He is retired and was spending a few months traveling around India.  There was also a women from France and from Canada. We had a full house for dinner that night. 

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After dinner Luna, Olivia and I walked around the shops near our place.  I wanted to get some silver plates and cups like the ones used in India.  Luna knew of a shop not far from our house.  I guess I never explored the shops near our house and there were some really cute ones.  I got my plates and we also stopped in this super cute cup shop where Olivia and I bought little cups that are perfect for tea. The shop owner was the cutest older Indian women. It was a very nice last night out exploring.

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Today, Friday January 6th, was my last day in India. It was bitter sweet.  Everyone by 9:00am was off to school and Amy, Nina and Olivia went to Hyper City (the mall).  I stayed back at the house by myself to pack up and took some time to reflect back on my time.

 Everyone was home by 1pm and Puni made a wonderful last lunch with all of us together.  Luna, Amberee, Amy, Nina and Olivia after lunch were getting ready to go to the market and I saw them off and we took selfies outside by the tuk tuk and Shakeer’s brother joined us for pictures.

 I will miss those five young ladies. I knew I would probably be one of the older ones in the house, and I was by 15-20 years. To be that young and going on a journey of this size is huge. They are very brave. They all have such a positive spirits and good souls. The nice thing about social media is we can stay connected and I look forward to following them through their life and see the positive impact they continue to have on this world.

I was picked up by my driver to take me back to Delhi at 3:45 and got to the airport around 8:30pm.  My flight time was Saturday at 00:45. Thank goodness all on time. I landed in Toronto at 5:30am Saturday, next flight to Chicago was 7am and now I am on a bus home to Madison.

Final Reflection: 

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Travel is an amazing thing. It is good for the soul to experience other cultures and it is exciting to meet and make friends with people all over the world. Travel also makes you appreciate more of what you have in your life back home.  I am very blessed in my life to have a great family, amazing friends, and the means to travel…… what more do you need in life? As I said when I started this journey, Wisconsin is my home, but the world is my playground! 

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Last day of School

Friday, December 30 – Last Day of School

Today was my last day of school with the kids. It was bitter sweet knowing that I wouldn’t see these sweet little faces anymore. When I was in Africa five years ago, I brought a pair of new TOMS Shoes and I had the children I worked with write on my shoes, pictures, their name, scribbles and they are something I will always treasure from that trip. I did the same thing for this trip. I ordered a new pair of cream TOMS and I had Amberee translate to the older students that I wanted them to write their name or general words in Hindi. My shoes look amazing. I simply love them.

As we wrapped up the school day and we got back in the tuk tuk, it was hard not to get sad as you see all the children running after you “Bye Dee Dee” “See you tomorrow” and they wont.

We came back to the house and at 1pm, a new girl arrived in the house. Amy is from Melbourne, Australia and is a teacher. She is here for the four week program. While she was dealing with her lost luggage, the original five of us went to Hypercity Shopping center in Jaipur. Yes, they do have malls here.

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We walked around and I got a good coffee from Cafe Coffee Day (the “Starbucks” of India.) Olivia got a new kurta and I got a new shirt and scarf for the week of travel.

We came back to the house around 6pm, and then I just vegged out for the rest of the night, trying to prep and repack for our week of travel starting on Sunday.

Here is our itinerary:

Sunday – Leave to drive to Pushkar at 9am (4 hour drive), check into our hotel and then have rest of day to shop at the markets.

Monday – Drive to Jaisalmer from Pushkar (7 hour drive) and arrive around 5pm and visit Jaisalmer Fort and markets.

Tuesday – Visit to Gadisar Lake and site see in Jaisalmer and Patwa Haweli and then we drive to the desert. At 5pm we take a camel ride and have dinner, live folk dance and music and we sleep in the desert that night.

Wednesday – We leave early and head to Jodhpur for sites seeing and markets.

Thursday – Travel back to Jaipur and arrive home around 6pm.

Friday – At 3pm they take me back to the Delhi airport and then I fly out Saturday at 12:45am.

This morning, we had another new girl come, Nina. She is from California. It will be Amberee, Emily, Olivia, Amy, Nina and myself going on the week of travel. Luna already did her week.

Tonight is New Years Eve and we will be having a celebration on roof top with food, drink and fireworks.

As I reflect back on 2016, its been a year of lots of first – My first half marthon (and only), my first trip to India and still so many first in Madison as I am going on a year and a half living there now.

Cheers to 2017!!!

My Travel to India!

India Adventure – Day 1

I am sitting in O’Hare Airport, terminal 2 waiting to board my first flight to Toronto on Air Canada. I have to say, I love airports. The mix of so many people from so many different places and all with a different story on where they are going and why.

The first leg of my journey was fantastic! Anyone living in Madison, and if you are looking to go to Chicago (Airport or Downtown) I highly recommend the bus. I took an Uber from my house to the bus pick up location (800 University on the UW Campus) and it was only $10. I boarded the bus at 8:30am, and I was dropped off right at my gate by 11:15. Round trip bus ticket is $60.00. You can’t go wrong for that price.

I checked in at my gate flying Air Canada, and I loved how the attendants interchanged english and french. Madame Meyer would be proud that I could understand bits and pieces of what they were saying.

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First stop, magazine shop – air travel is the time to allow myself the guilty pleasure of buying trashy gossip magazines, grab a giant bottle of water and find a quite spot to charge up and reflect on the journey I am about to begin.

Am I nervous? Not really, it is more nervous excitement. I think my mother is worrying enough for me, but then again, no matter what age you are, that’s what Moms do.

For those of you who don’t know I am going to India to do volunteer work with the organization Sankalp Volunteer. Five years ago, I did an international service trip to Swaziland with the organization Heart for Africa. It was one of most amazing trips of my life. I have been searching since then to find other organizations with a program similar to Heart for Africa. I love the fact that I can pay a flat fee (some people do fundraise for their trips, but I do enough of that in my day to day world) and everything is taken care of when I get there. Place to stay, meals, travel within the country and I have people that can speak the language and help me navigate this new land. The best part of these types of trips is getting to actually experience real people and day to day life. You are not just hitting the “tourist” parts.

Getting to experience different cultures, meet new people and see new corners of the word is why I continually have a wanderlust for travel. Wisconsin will always be my home, but the world is my playground.

Day 1 – Extended

My first flight out of Chicago to Toronto went well. We had a slight delay in boarding, and in that time while waiting, I struck up a conversation with a cute guy from London, all from saying “Bless You” when he sneezed. I must admit, I think the British accent is one of the sexiest accents out there. I was hoping by fate, we would have been sitting next to each other, but, he was 5 rows up from me. He did look behind at me as he was exiting the plane and gave me a little smile and wink. Swoon!

The Toronto airport has a very weird set up when you get off the plane. You are confined to this long glass corridor, that you keep walking until you are escorted by an airline worker to a customs area and then you are allowed in the main gate area to find your connecting international flight. I had to pee so bad when I got off the plane, and when I asked the lady, who was going to escort me to the next area where the bathroom was, she said not until your gate, half way across the airport. She then said, let me take you to this one downstairs for staff. She was so nice. I don’t think I would have made it across the airport.

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I finally got to my gate for my flight to Delhi. We had a 30 minute delay. Instead of 9:20, boarding was at 9:50. As I looked around, there was people from all ethnic backgrounds waiting to board. In this one area we have people that speak many different languages, but the one thing that transcends in any language is a smile. By just smiling at someone – being a flight attendant, fellow passenger, gate attendant, you can see their mood and face change.

We board the plane, and there is some weather in Toronto that delays us on the tarmac. Our plane has to be de-iced. We sat on the tarmac waiting for takeoff for an hour and 20 min. I didn’t really notice the time because thank goodness we have a tv screen in the headrest of the seat in front of us. I was busy watching Bad Moms! Finally in the air – total flight time is 12.5 hours and my eta to Dehli is now 11:00pm.

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From Day 1 to Day 3 –

It is now 7:45am on December 23 – I made it to my new home for two weeks in Jaipur. It reminds me of the youth hostels I stayed in when I was in Scotland and did the whole backpacking thing. It was a little bit of an adventure to get here. I got off the plane and got through customs, exchanged some money, got my bag and then walked toward the exit and I was never so happy to see a middle aged Indian gentlemen holding up a piece of paper with my name on it. He was my driver to take me to Jaipur.

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It is about 280 Kilometers from Delhi to Jaipur. After 14+ hours of being on a plane, I had another 5+ in a car. We left the airport about midnight. The city was still jammed pack with traffic and as we hit the highway I couldn’t believe how many vehicles where on the road at that time of night. My driver told me his name, but I don’t remember what it is. He barely spoke any english, so it was a quite car ride besides the Indian music playing. I was amazed at all the little open “roadside” shops along the highway. We got about an hour in and my driver stopped to eat, I was not hungry so I stayed in the car while he ate at a roadside stand. I didn’t know if I wanted to be that adventurous only 2 hours being in India. We get back on the road and a little while later stop for gas. Navigating the Indian traffic was insane. There is no way in hell I could EVER drive in this country. No one uses the lanes, people are darting in and out of switching imaginary lanes and I think a few times there was only inches between us and the next vehicle with the tailgating, oh, and lets not forget all the honking.

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It is about 3am now, and my driver asks if he can pull over to sleep an hour. I don’t want him falling asleep, so I say ok. He pulls over along the highway, and puts his seat back and is snoring in 2 minutes. By this time, I am exhausted as well, so I do the same. A little cat nap off an Indian highway at 3am with a strange guy that just picked me up….. Brave or stupid… not sure, but all turned out ok. Back on road by 4:30. At about 5:30, my driver says stop for tea? I think he says stop to pee, so I am all for it. Lost in translation there. Either way, we accomplish both. About half hour out of the city, we stop at this open roadside shop/cafe and we order chia tea. It was surreal — here I am in India, at 5:30am drinking tea from a road side stand off the highway taking in all the sites and sounds around me.

imageI get to the house at about 6am, just as the sun was coming up. I was greeted by Puni, who lives here in the house and is also our cook for our lunch and dinner. She helped me to my room and made me coffee. The house is still asleep so I am taking this time to reflect and document everything while it is fresh in my head…. speaking of that, along the road while driving, I saw people leading camels and as we got into town, sure shit — cows everywhere wandering the streets. Looking forward to what the rest of this day has in store for me.

Day 3 – Continued…. I met the rest of the girls in the hours. Emily, who is one year away from her nursing degree is from Liverpool and also on the two week program like me. The rest of the girls have already been here for awhile and have their work placement. The four of them went off by 9am to the school to teach and work with the street kid program.

I had to keep moving or I would have crashed hard and I didn’t want to sleep my first day away. Finally I got a chance to shower after leaving my house at 8am on Dec 21st! Pure heaven. Emily and I decided to take a tuk tuk into town and find an Indian market. Let’s just say thank goodness I have a chiropractor appointments scheduled first thing when I get home because I will need it!!! It’s crazy – darting in and out of traffic, the honking, speed bumps, rough roads, cows in the middle of the road, people everywhere, camels used for travel….. those are just a few of the sites and sounds from my first tuk tuk ride.

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We eventually found a market and went into a few shops. I did end up getting two scarves. One for myself and one for a gift. We came back to the house for 1pm lunch and it was very delicious. After lunch we went up to the roof top to soak up the sun’s rays while we waited until our 3pm orientation with Amita.

She went over how Sankalp started, the history of the organization and the programs that they support. Based on our length of stay, we are going to be teaching street kids in school. Emily and I are going to team teach the kids 4-6 building upon their current knowledge and work with them on  colors and words to go with the colors, basic body parts and math.  We start that on Monday, Dec 26 for one week.

Sitting during the orientation I was starting to hit the wall. I almost fell asleep during it. After we got done going over our program, house rules and other basic information we should know Emily and I walked to the grocery store so she could get a few items. Got back to the house at 7pm, had dinner, cooked by Puska, and then I was ready for bed. It was 7:30 and I was out cold… and now it is 10:30 and I am wide awake writing this.

Tomorrow I am super excited for our overnight trip into Agra and to see the Taj Mahal.

I am going to India!

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Five years ago this month I went to Swaziland, Africa to serve on an 11 day mission trip with the organization, Heart for Africa! It was such an amazing experience and the children I met in Swaziland are forever imprinted on my heart. I knew when a similar opportunity came again, I had to go.

An opportunity presented itself last month. A few years ago, I was looking at going to India with Sankalp Society. After doing some research, they seemed like a legitimate agency, there was a mix of service and travel built into the program, I even messaged someone that went through this program, and they said it was amazing, the problem, most of the trips where for extended periods of time.

The literary meaning of the Hindi word ‘Sankalp‘ in English is Take a Pledge… A pledge to make with people from all parts of the world by ‘Sankalp’ and in turn a promise with Sankalp by the people to create a unique and different world by way of turning the entire population harmonious and helpful to each other.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, I am on Facebook, and I see an invite event for “Christmas Volunteering” with the Sankalp Volunteer. I click on the link and I see the trip is for two weeks over Christmas and New Years. Because I have already done my home work on this organization, I check out my schedule and think, I can do this!

I run it past my boss about taking two weeks off, tell my parents I won’t be home for Christmas, but I will get you all presents from India, and I submit the online application. Two days later, I am accepted to the program, and I submit my application fee of $210 and boom – I am going to India for Christmas and New Years!

Now to decide what area I want I want to volunteer in — English Teaching Program, Orphanage Work, Street Children Education Project or Women Empowerment.

More to come on this amazing adventure!