Inspired by family trips as a child, Michelle has found a way to balance a full time job with frequent international and domestic trips. After following her passion for travel as a flight attendant, she eventually changed careers, but still manages to spend plenty of time on the road. By allocating much of her vacation time to trips, she’s able to see the world but not empty her bank account.
You can read about her adventures on her blog, The Travel Wench, where she offers advice, tips, and general stories about her experiences.
What initially inspired you to begin traveling?
I don’t think I ever had one moment that inspired me to begin traveling. My wanderlust grew over time. When I was younger, our family went on road trips, mostly to visit family, and along the way we would stop to see National Parks or Monuments. I also enjoyed photography, so as that interest grew, so did the desire to travel to different places.
About six years ago, I got a job as a flight attendant. I took some fun trips abroad with people who shared the same travel passion, which made traveling so much more enjoyable. I was able to finish visiting all of the United States by making the most of my long overnights. While I could design my own schedule, flight attendants don’t make much money, so that put a crimp on the travel budget. Plus after working the flights, exhaustion limited my travel desire, and the only place I wanted to go was to my bed and order room service! Also with vertigo being an issue, my flight attendant career didn’t last very long. Now I’m home every night and when I travel, I am well rested and ready to hit the pavement site seeing!
What are some of the most unique and interesting places you’ve been?
The most unique place I have been to is Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza. Cairo is a great city and it is so unique to see the pyramids on the outskirts with the hustle and bustle of the city whizzing by right in front of something that was built so long ago. The pyramids are the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World, so you can’t cross any more off of that list! They are so precise and amazing to see up close, as well as inside!
How far in advance do you plan your weekend trips?
It depends on if I’m driving or flying and who I’m going with or meeting at the destination. Driving trips can be done days before since I will only need to book a hotel room, but I usually already have an idea of what I want to see. If I’m flying, then I have to plan about a month or so in advance. We set up a weekend that works, check and book flights and hotels near what we want to see. I will usually add a day or two to the weekend so I have enough time to enjoy the trip.
When do you recommend booking plane tickets to get the best deal on a weekend flight?
Mid-week is supposed to be the best time, but you can sign up for fare alerts for your destination and watch for sales. If you just need to get away and the destination isn’t as important, then you can just check for last minute deals. Usually about three months in advance to two weeks prior to your trip, otherwise you will need to be flexible for last minute fares.
How do you balance work, life, and travel?
Since I’m not a full time traveler, work and my regular life come first. Work pays for my travel fun! So I’m just traveling when I have the vacation time. My husband is very open to me going on trips to see family or weekend trips with friends. So he can stay home and take care of the pets while I’m gone. The bigger trips get planned out about a year in advance, for budgeting, getting time off and planning activities. I get a lot packed into a week, but there is also enough down time to relax. Since I only have a limited amount of vacation time, I have to make the most of it. There will always be more to see, but I’m usually not regretting how I spent my time by the end of the week.
I go through my DK Eyewitness Travel Guides a lot before I go on a bigger trip. I flag pages and make notes. If I’m traveling with someone else, we agree on what we want to see before we go. Or if we want to be spontaneous for part of the trip, then we make a note of what is important and fill it up when we get there with whatever we feel like. When my friend and I went to Ireland, I checked out hostels in my guide and had prices written down and a timeline with how far we could go in one day and what we would see. I planned on seeing Dublin the first day, that way if jet lag hit, we could end the day early. We went to pick up the car rental and my friend was looking at the map, and she said, maybe we should just get out of the city now and see Dublin before we leave. So that’s what we did, and no, we never stayed in a hostel! My friend found a wonderful bed and breakfast near Waterford, then we ended up at The Clarion in Limerick, right on The River Shannon. Very nice and we didn’t care what it cost. That was my last overseas trip before I quit my flight attendant job and it was worth every penny.
What’s the most surprising place you’ve been so far and why?
With all of the guidebooks and the internet, I have an idea of what I will see before I get to a destination, so I’m not usually surprised. What the books can’t show you in photographs is the massive size of things, that when standing next to them, you are just in awe. The Grand Canyon, The Pyramids of Giza, The Eiffel Tower, The Palace of Fine Arts and many castles are some examples.
What are the benefits of shorter weekend trips over a longer vacation?
Shorter weekend trips are a nice get-away from work, yet they aren’t long enough to break the bank. It’s enough time to see the highlights of a destination so you know if you would like to go back and what you want to see when you do. They feed the wanderlust, don’t hurt the wallet, and re-energize you until your next trip.
What’s the craziest story you have from your travels so far?
Fortunately, I don’t really have a crazy story. So far things have gone as planned. I guess one story that I find crazy is about a friend’s poor planning and attitude. She picked the destination of Amsterdam for her birthday trip, and planned a bike tour and dancing at a club. She had the time wrong on the bike tour, so we missed it, and then the club was also a restaurant and bar and they didn’t have dancing the night we were there, which was her birthday. My other friend and I were flexible, after all, we were still on vacation. So we shopped, browsed the flower market and then had a nice dinner. But the one with the poor planning, instead of admitting she made a mistake, decided to take it out on the waiter instead, who had no control over which nights the club was open. I was pretty appalled at her behavior, she was being very rude to a very nice man just doing his job.
Do you have any advice for other travelers?
Give in to your wanderlust! There is so much to see and experience; if you want to travel, get out there! Plan ahead and have an idea of what you want to see. Be flexible in case something is closed, under renovation, at capacity, weather, etc. Have fun and enjoy the world.
Laurie is happiest on the road and has visited over 50 countries. She dreams about meeting tribal people, hiking through rice paddies, and driving longtail boats through crystal-clear waters. She enjoys photography, social activism, and helping others quit their jobs to travel. Laurie co-founded Budget Your Trip, and lives the life any nomadic soul would yearn for.