If you read that title and are asking yourself, “Why would I do Disney World as an adult?”, I want you to know that you are asking a fair question. Disney is not for everyone and if the idea of visiting the ‘happiest place on …
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Recently, I was asked to be on a panel at work to discuss work-life balance. Apparently, the organizers felt my tendency to travel whenever possible qualified me for the position. I was skeptical and not anxious to participate. However, I did not want to be rude, so I reluctantly joined four other coworkers to answer questions and discuss how we balance our personal life with our professional one.
The reason I was skeptical about being part of the panel was that I did not feel qualified to offer insight and provide advice. Most of my acquaintances have a job, spouse and children. Every day, they struggle to meet the demands placed on them. Although I have a lot of hobbies and interests, I am not pulled in nearly as many directions. It seemed rude to talk about travel when some of my coworkers are barely keeping their heads above water.
Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. The panel went well and I think I was able to provide some useful insights. Best of all, I learned some tricks myself. R suggested I share some of those insight and tricks. Of course, like everything we write here at Jane Sees the World, it will focus on travel. But feel free to apply it to any part of your life you feel needs a bit more balance.
What does work-life balance mean to you?
That was the first question asked of the panel. To me, work-life balance means I am content both professionally and personally. That does not mean I am not facing challenges and trials. That does not mean I am not stressed or worried. There are so many things in this world we cannot control. But I have control over where I work and I have control over what I chose to do in my spare time. So as long as I am content with my decisions concerning those two things, I feel like my life is balanced.
Not surprisingly, my biggest priority in life is to travel as often as possible—and my job affords me that opportunity. Luckily, I love my job and the company I work for. I am content with the professional side of my life. Sure, I get stressed and annoyed with certain coworkers. But I also gain a lot of satisfaction from the work I do. In addition, I am blessed to work for a company (and boss) who supports my need to roam and use up all of my vacation hours.
Be honest with yourself
It would be easy for me to say that I am not content in my personal life. Ever since that darn travel bug bit me, I have not been able to get my fill of trips and adventures. There is definitely a part of me that longs to travel full time and continually explore this big old world. I suppose I could quit my job and teach English in a foreign country somewhere. But upon further introspection, it is not that simple. As much as I enjoy a fun trip overseas, I also enjoy health insurance, a retirement plan and Christmas bonuses. My profession provides a level of security and satisfaction that is difficult to measure, but is very important to me nonetheless. So for now, I work to travel and I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Perhaps that will change in the future. But for now, I am content to go to work and travel whenever possible.
What do you do if work and life are out of balance?
If you do not feel content either professionally, personally or both, it is time to do some soul searching. If you are content professionally but not personally, could it be that you are spending too much time at work? It amazes me how many people do not use their vacation hours (to the point of losing them). That was one piece of advice I offered as a panelist: use your vacation hours! On the other hand, if you are not content professionally, could it be that you are not being challenged enough? The only person who can answers these questions is you and taking a hard look at your life is the only way to identify what may be off-balance about it.
What advice would you give to others about balancing work and life?
Much like a trip, finding work-life balance starts with a good plan. First, you have to have that hard talk with yourself and do some prioritizing. Next, you have to set some goals. You will never achieve that balance you are looking for if you just sit around waiting for something to change. I recommend setting small goals. They help keep you focused and make you feel good when you accomplish one. You do not want to go too big too soon. That will lead to feeling overwhelmed and you will probably quit.
If you want to travel more but just do not know where to start, then start small. Take a road trip over the weekend. Fly to a neighboring state and visit their capital city. Book a cruise (by far the easiest form of travel). The trick is to just do it—make a reservation, put a deposit down, ask for time off. Do something. Waiting around for the right time? Yeah, that will never happen. You control what you do in spare time. So take control.
Find your tribe
Another key tip to work-life balance is finding your tribe both professionally and personally. R and I enjoy many of the same activities. We have similar tastes. We are at the same place in life. Most importantly, we both make travel a priority. The other panelists talked about their spouse and kids and the activities they enjoy doing together. Find those friends and family members who enjoy the same things you do and then go out and do them! I promise you’ll feel better.
On the work side of things, it is just as important to bond and make friends. You spend a lot of time at work and studies show that fostering relationships at work lead to happier, more productive individuals. I enjoyed this article about why having friends at work is so important and suggest you read it. I am lucky enough to have an excellent group of work friends. So great, in fact, that we sometimes hang out outside the office. If you feel out of balance, take a look at your relationships. Some discontent at work may be solved by fostering a friendship or two.
Tools and technology, use them
Another piece of advice I offered up while on the panel was to use the tools that will make your life easier and/or help you accomplish your goals. The example I shared was about saving money for Australia. I set up an automatic deposit into a separate savings account in order to save the money I needed for that trip. It was the single-most important thing I did to save money and it worked like a champ. After I shared that example, two of the panelists shared similar examples. Although their efforts were not focused on travel, they used similar tools to save money for a specific purpose. With all of the technology available today, it is stupid not to let it work for you and help you accomplish your goals.
What advice about work-life balance did I take home?
- Try not to think of work and life as separate, competing things. The more you enjoy your work and the people you work with, the happier you will be. The more time you spend outside of work doing the things you enjoy, the happier you will be. Find a way to do both. One does not have to trump the other.
- Do not compare yourself to others. You really have no idea what is going on in either their professional or personal lives. You might know some of it, but you don’t know it all. Envy is toxic and the more you compare yourself to someone else, the more unhappy and discontented you will feel.
- Set boundaries. This is especially important if you have trouble saying no.
- If you are not getting the kind of assignments you want, maybe you just need to ask. One of my fellow panelists is a manager and he said it is important to communicate your needs and desires with your boss. Otherwise, they might just assume you want a particular type of assignment when in reality, you wanted to do something else. If you do not speak up, you are doing yourself a disservice.
- Finally, recognize that you cannot have and do it all. You will have to make sacrifices. That is why it is so important to prioritize your needs and wants in life. Work toward those top priorities. You may not get everything you want out of life, but you will get a lot more than if you tried to do it all.
Work-life balance is a tricky thing. And it is different for everyone. The key is to find what makes you happy and go for it. For me, that is travel. As long as I have an adventure or two around the corner, I can deal with just about everything else.
A few weeks ago we had some out-of-towners come into the office for a business meeting. To get the introductions rolling, we each told our guests our favorite thing about living in Idaho. Most of the responses revolved around the outdoors (not surprisingly), but this …
Travel with parents, grandparents, first-timers and other novices is a different experience and requires a little different preparation. A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, with my parents. My dad has Lyme disease and we were told a specialist there might …
Have you ever got back from your vacation and thought, “Man, I need a vacation?” B and I like to pack as much into our travels as possible, but it’s important to remember that a key part of a vacation is relaxation. One way to make yourself relax on your vacation is to schedule in some vacation pampering. As a bonus, you will most likely be forced out of your comfort zone and experience something new while you are are being worked on. Most countries have a specialty when it comes to spa treatments.
So next time you are heading out on a vacation, check out what they offer and book a session or two. Here are some of the treatments we’ve partaken of on our adventures–all memorable in their own way.
Panama Chair Massages
I thought I’d start out tame. You’ve probably all seen the massage chairs at airports where you can get the knots worked out of your shoulders between flights, right? Well, in most Panamanian malls, you will come across these little gems whilst you are shopping til you drop. Word of advice: throw down a dollar or two and enjoy.
During one of the greatest months of my life, I chilled in Panama City and got several of these massages. The massages at our airports cost about $20 for 15 minutes. But in Panama (and most other countries with low GDPs, I’d reckon), you can get these massages for a fraction of the cost. I was serious when I said one or two dollars. At that price, frankly, there is no reason not to stop and get your shoulders rubbed.
Lesson learned: great things come in simple packages.
At the end of my vacation in Peru, I waved goodbye to my friend who was traveling on to Ecuador and found myself with about six hours to kill before I had to be at the airport. What to do? Well, after learning my lesson about how inexpensive spa treatments can be (compared to U.S. prices) in Latin America, I found a swanky spa and headed on in. I can usually get by with my primitive Spanish skills, but my 200 level Spanish class I had taken five years prior to my trip didn’t really cover the vocabulary I’d need for words such as facial, microdermabrasion, body scrub and aromatherapy wrap. So, I did my best to pick a treatment, and when the Peruvian lady came up to me with a scary looking metal machine, I decided to trust that she knew what she was doing.
When I had to get up to use the restroom and saw my reflection in the mirror with all sorts of weird stuff smeared all over my face, I figured everything was going to be fine. And guess what…everything was. By the time I left the spa a few hours, later I felt like a new woman.
Lesson learned: trust in the sisterhood of women.
Iceland Geothermal Healing
When B, C and I went to Iceland for a long weekend, we visited the Blue Lagoon first thing. If you missed the post on Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is a big hot pool that is heated by geothermal activity that Iceland is oh-so known for. As part of our entrance into the Lagoon, we each got a pack of frozen algae to smear on ourselves. This was in addition to the silica mud that you can find at regular intervals as you are soaking in the pool. It doesn’t get more natural than this, people. If given the choice, B and I will both usually buy products that have the fewest six or seven syllable words in the ingredients list. It just makes sense, right?
Well, we didn’t have to worry at all about extra chemicals in our algae or mud. All of us ended up with skin as smooth as a baby’s bum (our hair, on the other hand, was a different story which I’ll save for another time).
Lesson learned: go natural when you can.
B had done some excellent research prior to us heading off to Morocco and discovered a thing called a hammam. A hammam is a steam room where people soak and scrub each other down and it is very traditional to the Moroccan culture. Obviously, we felt like needed to experience this. Since Morocco is a very conservative country, we were prepared to wear sports bras. But our ladies (we each had our own lady to work on us) gesticulated and spoke in French indicating we should take our tops off. They smeared something on us, turned up the heat, dumped some water on the logs and left….for what seemed like the longest 30 minutes of my life. I have never been so overheated!
At just about the breaking point, the ladies came back and scrubbed us down with special scrub cloths. I gotta say, this felt pretty amazing. And super exfoliating, since we had just steamed all of the dead skin cells out. After a quick cold shower, we went on our way. The 110* weather of Marrakesh didn’t seem quite so unbearable after the hammam.
Lesson learned: beauty is pain.
Prior to S, B and I visiting Bali, I hadn’t had many full body massages. Since I was a little nervous, B (who is a massage enthusiast) reassured me that you can undress as much as you feel comfortable and the massage therapists work around what you have on. Well, that might be how things happen in the U.S., but the Balinese clearly have different levels of modesty when it comes to spa treatments. We were each given a little piece of mesh, which turned out to be disposable underwear. At this point, we each had a decision to make. We could roll with whatever was about to happen or head back to the hotel and wait for the others.
We all decided to let whatever was going to happen, happen. Was it uncomfortable being sugar/salt scrubbed EVERYWHERE? Sure. Was it awkward standing in a shower and letting a lady rinse off the yogurt that she had just smeared on you? You bet. Was it strange that S and B soaked in a hot bath together (luckily I got my own bathtub)? Yes. Yes it was. But, we were in Bali, so we decided to go with it. And it is still super funny to think back on.
Lesson learned: go with the flow.
It feels awesome to be pampered. Especially when you have been traveling hard and are sunburned, wind-chapped and/or sore from all the walking. Next time you travel, squeeze in some time for a new experience and relax the way the locals have for centuries.
When choosing a backpack to travel the world with, there are many things to think about and take into consideration. My first backpack was a lesson in what not to buy. We went on a couple of good trips together, but I learned some important things about what I do not like. My next backpack was chosen with a lot more care and it served me well for over 10 years (I suppose I have the first backpack to thank for that). Now I am embarking on a new chapter—a different type of backpack that is more in tune with my current travel style.
What to think about when buying a new backpack
Regardless of where you are at in terms of travel experience and travel style, below are five things you should think about before purchasing a new backpack…or any bag for that matter. This is especially useful for first-time buyers.
We are big proponents of packing light over here at Jane Sees the World and having the right-sized bag is the first step to packing light. The smaller your bag, the less likely you will over pack. Backpacks are easy to carry, leave your hands free and come with cool pockets. However, regardless of whether you are looking for a backpack, a typical roller suitcase or another style of luggage altogether, the important thing is that you pick a bag that is not capable of holding the kitchen sink.
Nowadays, we usually prefer to check our bags. With today’s technology, airlines are better than ever at tracking bags. Heck, you can track your own bag if you want. So losing your luggage is a rare occurrence. Sure, you have to wait a bit longer for your luggage at the baggage claim area. But we have found that the wait is usually worth the hassle of lugging luggage around the terminal and trying to find space in the overhead bins.
Regardless of whether you check your bag or carry it on, I still believe in packing light. (Looking for tips on how to pack lighter? Check out our posts on tips and trips and gear for packing light.) Your best bet is to have a bag that fits carry-on standards, even if you plan to check it. I definitely recommend something under the 50 liter range.
For years, R and I have traveled together with basically the same size of backpack. However, our backpacks were shaped differently. More often than not, R was asked to weigh and/or check her bag while I stood to the side with an equally heavy pack that no one noticed. This happened enough times that we could only conclude it had to do with the shape. While my backpack was wider, R’s was taller. Because it stuck up and could be seen over her shoulders, it must have looked bigger. This was frustrating when we did not want to check bags. Since we prefer to check our bags these days, the shape is not as big of a concern. But if you are looking to carry on, then you want to think about the shape of your bag and how heavy that shape makes your bag look.
You also want to think about the fit. We are all shaped differently and that means a backpack that feels comfortable on my back will not necessarily feel comfortable on R’s back. Even if you plan to buy your backpack online, I would recommend you head to your local outdoor store to try on different styles and shapes. Keep in mind that there are backpacks out there specifically designed for women.
Top loading = no good. Trust me on this one. My first backpack was top loading and it was one of the main things that made me buy a new backpack. Our friend S also had a top-loading backpack. The quality, size, shape and everything else made for a great bag. But since it was a pain to get into and keep organized, traveling with it made for a less-than-ideal experience. On her last international voyage, S actually borrowed my backpack instead of using hers.
Pockets, hooks, hidden compartments, etc. all contribute to how functional a bag is. Of course, these things are subjective and really a matter of personal preference. It is up to you to decide what you really need your bag to do for you. Think about it for more than a day. I know I spend a lot of time thinking about what color I want my bag to be. That is all well and good, but I should be spending just as much time, if not more, thinking about whether I really need a laptop sleeve or a place for my water bottle.
What kind of travel do you do? Trekking up mountains? Cruising around the Caribbean? Exploring Europe? All of the above? If you find yourself doing a certain type of travel, you may want to consider that when choosing a bag. Someone who prefers hiking Kilimanjaro might need a different backpack than someone who goes on a cruise and just leaves their bag in the room for five days.
We tend to do many different kinds of traveling so our bags get used in a variety of ways. I used the same bag on a five-day hike to Machu Picchu that I used on a group tour through Morocco (with really nice hotels). Honestly, my bag was not perfect for either occasion. But it did well enough for both. You just have to think about what kinds of trips you go on and which type of bag will work the best.
Another way to say this: think about cost. Like anything in life, when it comes to purchasing a backpack, you get what you pay for. If you plan to use your bag once every couple of years, then you probably do not need to invest in it too much. It you want it to last for dozens of trips, you are going to have to fork over some cash. Traveling puts a lot of wear and tear on your gear and cheap buckles, snaps, wheels, fabric, etc. are not going to last very long.
Most of the big names out there (e.g. Osprey, Eagle Creek, Deuter, North Face, Kelty, etc.) make excellent, high-quality bags. They also usually provide some sort of warranty. Quality and warranties come with a price. If you cannot afford to walk into a store and purchase a quality brand backpack right off the shelf, check out an outdoor consignment store. A quality, lightly-used item is just as good as a new one in my opinion.
Okay, so I have talked about what you need to think about when choosing a backpack. Now let us look at some specific examples.
Backpack pros and cons
Kelty Redwing 2500
- At 40 liters, carrying it on an airplane is not a problem. Plus, the size helps with packing light.
- A short and wide shape as opposed to a tall and long shape meant it looked smaller than other bags of the same size. I never got asked to weigh or check my bag.
- Front loading with a decent selection of pockets, keeping things organized was easy.
- Given the wear and tear I have put this bag through the past 10 years, there is no denying the quality is good.
- This backpack is comfortable…or as comfortable as 20 lbs can be on your back.
- There was never a good place to hold a water bottle. The mesh pockets on the side were a little too shallow.
10 years ago, I purchased this backpack. I chose with care and consideration and the bag treated me right for the next decade. The model I own is no longer for sale, but you can purchase a newer (and possibly better) model. I have no qualms recommending this backpack. The pros far outweigh the cons.
Gregory Serrac 45
- Very comfortable. The back had serious molding that made it easy to carry the bag for a while.
- Full-length zipper for easy access and packing.
- All sorts of straps and gadgets.
- Small pocket on the waist band that was easy to access while carrying the bag.
- Long and skinny makes for raised eyebrows when checking. At the end of trips, R has usually acquired a plethora of new items, which inevitably means the bag is fully expanded. The top of this bag would reach mid way up R’s head, so check in agents could clearly see she was hauling something around.
- Strange V-shape loading. When fully packed this bag was wider at the top than at the bottom. If they added a few more inches to the sides the tall topper wouldn’t have been an issue.
R had this bag for a few years and it saw some good miles. Overall it is a great bag, but probably not made for how R was using it. Did she really need that ice pick holder? Probably not. This is solidly a better backpacking backpack then a traveling backpack. That being said, R really did like it and would have kept it if it distributed space differently.
- Wider base. This bag is shaped similarly to my beloved Kelty. When fully packed, the load is much more broad than tall and R can sneak through questionable bag checking situations.
- Straps can zip into a special packet so the bag looks more like a duffle. This is useful when checking so you don’t have to worry about the straps getting caught on anything. Otherwise you have to tie the bag up tight with the straps.
- Shoe/dirty clothes pocket at the bottom of the bag is useful for keeping gross things away from the non-gross.
- Padded area for electronics (e.g. ipad). Not to be confused with the padded area for the laptop, see below.
- Really good materials and construction, removal of laptop sleeve was a challenge.
- This bag is geared more towards educational endeavors, so there is a sleeve for a laptop and an area full of slots to shove pencils and other items (kind of like by Jansport R rocked throughout high school). This stuff isn’t super useful for R and takes up space. She actually took scissors to the bag and cut out the foam protective sleeve that would protect a laptop, just to free up space.
R researched and found rave reviews for the Osprey Porter 46, but when she went to REI and tried it on, it didn’t feel as comfortable as the Ozone, which was sitting on the next shelf over. This bag has two trips under it’s strap and so far it is looking good.
- “No matter what warranty” which is a lifetime warranty that includes repair or replacement due to damage…regardless of the cause.
- The day pack is a great size and has a good selection of pockets. Also, it attaches three ways. No matter which option you choose, your hands are free.
- The size, at 40 liters, is carry on approved and exactly what I was used to in a bag.
- Front loading and easy to open wide. There are not a lot of pockets on the main bag, but there are plenty on the daypack. The main bag was made for packing cubes, of which I am a huge fan of.
- The wheels make it heavier than a typical backpack. Given that I wheeled it most of the time, this is not a problem. But if you primarily carry it on your back, you’ll want to keep the extra weight in mind.
- Color options are limited and black is boring. It does look a little sleeker when it comes to business travel, but the lack of color on the day pack is a con for me.
- This version requires you to use the same straps for the both the main bag and the daypack. They are not hard to switch, but it does take some effort and that means no switching from a rolling suitcase to a backpack while on the move.
Given my love for my Kelty bag, I was not in the market for a new backpack. But two things happened on my trip to Australia:
- I noticed a rather-large hole/tear in the side pocket. It did not affect the functionality of the bag too much, but I did wonder if it was even worth fixing, or if I should start looking at new backpacks.
- My time in Oz made me realize my travel style has evolved since I first purchased my Kelty bag. I started wondering if there was a bag out there that fit my new travel style.
Given these two events, I started researching immediately. After all, it had been 10 years since I even looked at backpacks. I was curious what was available. One option I read about that caught my attention was a backpack with wheels. I knew I did not want to give up the convenience of a backpack, but they can get awfully heavy after a while. I also felt it would be nice if I did not always look like I was headed out on a trek to the mountains whenever I traveled. A backpack with wheels seemed like the perfect solution. The market for this type of bag is not big, but there are a few options.
For me, it came down to two brands: Eagle Creek and Osprey. Both make several versions in various sizes. But what I liked most about these brands is that they made a version that included an attachable day pack. Ultimately, I decided to go with Eagle Creek. The reviews were slightly better and I found one on sale on Steep and Cheap.
Recently, I tested out my new bag out on a work trip. Normally, I pack a larger, wheeled suitcase for work trips. But I wanted to see if my new bag would work. It performed fantastically. I carried it as a backpack twice (to try it out), but mostly I wheeled it around. The all-black color looks sleeker than a regular backpack and I did not feel self-conscious walking into the hotel. I have no idea if this bag will hold up for the next 10 years the way my Kelty did, but I feel confident enough to give it a try. I do wonder what backpacks and travel and myself as a traveler will look like in 10 years. It will be interesting to find out.
UPDATE: I am still loving the Eagle Creek Switchback. It has been on several trips including an international voyage to the Azores. The size is perfect and it is holding up nicely. I mostly wheel it around and rarely use the backpack function, which I find interesting. I am still not a big fan of the all-black coloring, so I added a travel patch to spice it up. At this moment, I have no plans to replace it anytime soon.
Travel gear and technology are always evolving. Along with that, we as travelers evolve and grow. Your bag says a lot about the kind of traveler you are. That might be one reason there are so many options available. If you are making a new choice, hopefully, the things we discussed above will help you in choosing a new, perfect-for-your backpack.