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I saw this article the other day, and I couldn’t stop thinking about whether (or how) the results applied to me. The authors of the study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology write:

Residential mobility, the very factor that allows Americans to pursue their individual desires, ironically facilitates the uniformity of American landscapes.

They found that cities with a highly mobile population had more chain stores, and that students who have moved a lot prefer national chains. Honestly, I have some issues with the series of studies, particularly confounding variables, the scenarios, small sample size, and generalizing from college students. But I still wondered about how my choices might fit into the authors’ theory.

I definitely am very mobile so I started thinking through where I shop and eat and how my dollars contribute to the American (and other countries’) landscape.

Eating is the easier category for me. I figured that I probably eat at independently owned restaurants about 9 times out of 10. I know that plenty of cognitive impairment might affect that figure so I pulled up my online account, which showed that I was very close. It’s more like 8.5 out of 10 restaurants. (An aside, it was interesting to see what chain restaurants I go to even though there weren’t many repeats in the past few months. They included Panera, Chipotle, Au Bon Pain, Corner Bakery, Subway, and In-n-Out. There’s clearly a trend that when we decide to have soup and sandwiches we go to chain restaurants. Almost all ethnic food, which is mostly what we eat when going out because it’s dishes that I can’t (or won’t) cook, is from independent restaurants.)

Shopping is another matter.

For clothes and household items, I stick fairly closely to thrift stores or online, and in an emergency or for something I can’t find elsewhere, I go to Wal-Mart followed by Target. Part of this is because of cost and the rest is convenience.

As for groceries, it varies quite a bit. I pick up basic items from Wal-Mart, followed by Trader Joes, farmer’s markets, and ethnic stores. Each week varies depending on what I need and what part of town I’m in.

I will say, along these same lines, that upon moving to a new place like LA, I am much more likely to eat somewhere new while shop somewhere I know.

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The past couple of weeks have been a dizzying array of logistics from sending notarized documents, researching pods and movers, moving vehicles, booking transport for household stuff, getting boxes, and packing. Most of it has been rather labor-intensive. I am constantly fighting my inner voice. Remember when I talked about planning trips? I’m a maximizer in making all of these silly decisions. [I came to terms with this a few years ago, when I read The Paradox of Choice (here’s good video summary of some of the points of the book), and I have some some strategies to minimize the effect, but that isn’t what this post is about.]

Through the process, there has been one logistic that I thoroughly enjoy taking care of – actually planning the cross-country trip that we will be taking from Texas to California.

I took 2 road trips “out West” about 10 years ago; both were out to the Grand Canyon with other stops along the way and back to AR. But, this is the first trip that I am planning myself. I’m excited to revisit places like the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Window Rock. And I’m really looking forward to checking out some new places like Santa Fe National Forest and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks.

I’m also excited about packing up the car, putting ice in the cooler, and doing a traditional road trip. It’s possible that it has been 10 years since I’ve done this. I’ll have podcasts, audio books, and music to help make it through the first 2 legs of the trip (to Amarillo and then to Santa Fe). 

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And for those of you wondering, the apartment confirmation finally came through!

I’ve been taking advantage of a lot of online tools as we begin thinking through the process of moving away from Dallas. There are some pretty fantastic free tools to enable researching all phases of moving (or traveling). Check some of these out:

Hipmunk allows you to easily sort through available options for flights (using even swaps idea) with great visuals.

Padmapper allows you to pull craigslist ads, apartment.com, and rent.com into an easily sortable map. And the best part is adding the heat map overlay of walkability and mass transit options. This is great for large cities that you aren’t familiar with (and you can even use the heat maps for booking hotels in good locations).

TaxiFareFinder calculates what you should expect to pay for taxis (making it easier to compare with Super Shuttle or a rental).

Zilok allows you to search for anything you might want to rent (great for people who don’t want to buy items seldom used). Need a ladder to take down drapes or wall hangings? A great alternative to Craigslist, which focuses on owning items.

Homestyler allows you to create a 2D and 3D visual layout of your home (or to-be home) based on dimensions, furniture, and colors. It misses a few elements (like good office chairs), but this is a great way to think through home design issues.

Add your favorites in the comments.

If you want to travel, it’s easy to get fixated on finding cheap airfare, but as soon as you find a good deal you’re left wondering where to stay. One night at a typical hotel can easily cost more than your great airfare deal! (And don’t get me started on B&B prices!)

Luckily, there are tons of other options.

I’m a big fan of staying at hostels.  They are particularly great when you are traveling alone, want to swap stories about things to do, and/or are interested in meeting other people from around the world. However, some places don’t have good hostels (e.g. Spain). Many US cities have hostels (e.g. I stayed in the one in DC before I moved there for my job), but there can be a lot of exclusions (such as requiring that you live more than 100 miles away or that you meet certain age requirements). And you may simply want to stay somewhere with more than a bed.

Using an RV or camping have always been available for people willing to be off the beaten path. In the past 10 years, the marketplace has exploded with other options for whatever path you’re looking for.

Craigslist has more than one section to check for vacation housing. Just go to the city that you will be visiting and click through housing swaps, sublets/temporary, and vacation rentals. This is a great option if you’re going to be in town for a special event. For example, tons of people flooded into DC for the last presidential inauguration, while many residents were looking to get out of dodge (to avoid the traffic, road closures, security issues, and take advantage of the long weekend). That’s the perfect time to find a temporary residence or do a housing swap.

For an average vacation or weekend getaway, I think that sorting through Craigslist is time-consuming, especially when there are better options. If you’re just looking for a place to sleep, try Couchsurfing. This allows you to meet locals, who are likely to have quite a bit of knowledge about their area. While it may only be a bed, couch, or futon, you can select other features you want, and you have access to the kitchen and livingroom. The real advantage of this site is that you can read reviews from other travelers who have stayed at these homes.

Another site with similar options is airbnb. I really like the search options for this site, including a map to find places in just the right neighborhood, the type of room (shared, guest room, or entire home), etc.  There are pictures and a description (particularly helpful when they describe the parking situation, where the home is with respect to sites or public transportation, and even if there is a pet or if animals can visit). Some places even offered breakfast in the morning or toys for children to play with during your visit. Again, you can read reviews to find out if the place met other travelers’ expectations.

Last night I booked 3 nights at 2 different homes through airbnb. The prices varied quite a bit by location and amenities, but looking through the website was substantially easier than sorting various hotels on different webpages. Also, you can send the owners a message if you have any questions. The only drawback is that the system may say that a place is available, and then after you book it, you may get a message that it was just taken. This happened to me, but I’m not sure how often it happens.

So even though you may not have friends or family to crash with, you might stay in a reasonably priced home with some new people.

And who doesn’t feel good about their dollars going directly to another person/family (plus a fee to the website) rather than some corporate hq?!

Do you have a plan in place in case someone close to you (but living far away) suddenly falls ill or dies? Many of us have family and friends who we cannot reach simply by jumping in the car. Where are your grandparents, parents, siblings, close friends, god children, or any children who you are designated guardians for?

Spend some time thinking about the unthinkable now.

 

This is much more than just knowing the major airports for flying.

 

Research what airlines you might fly, both major and minor carriers. The airlines you fly for well-planned visits may vary substantially from what you select in the event of an emergency. Airlines may be booked, or last-minute flights may easily cost 6xs the normal rate.

Look at the policies of those airlines. Some airlines still offer some form of bereavement tix. For some situations, these will be a great deal (because they offer things like no change fees) or they may be much more expensive (because you have to buy directly through the published airline instead of through discount travel sites).

Other airlines don’t have any discounts (e.g., British Airways), or discounts may only apply for domestic fares.

Ensure your situation (compassion fares vs bereavement fares) fits the stipulations of the airline and that you can get the required documentation (e.g. copy of death certificate, name of hospital).

Consider other options. Don’t forget to check with any discount programs that you are a part of. Buying tix through your corporate account, AAA, airline miles, or perks with your credit card may save you a lot because their rates aren’t set in the same way as published fares. Knowing what your options are ahead of time may save  you from needless time calling programs that won’t work or easily forgetting to check others.

Create a basic plan. Have a plan in place for which airport you should fly into, where it’s convenient for family/friends to pick you up, or where it makes the most sense to drive, taxi, train, metro, or bus. Consider a couple of different scenarios depending the nature of the emergency or whether there are family/friends nearby.

Have a place where pertinent info of your plan is written down. You’re likely to be in shock if you get a call in the middle of the night and having a document that details what you know and steps to make can really help. You aren’t likely to have a complete plan, but ensuring you have guidance to narrow down your search when the time comes will help a lot. You may have to make quick decisions on little sleep, and a general plan written down can help in keeping costs as low as possible while getting to where you need to be expediently.

Also, since you have to call for these fares, it’s best to have the airline numbers on hand and be prepared to be on the phone for awhile just to speak to a rep and sort out the options.

 

Here are some links to get you started:

American Airlines 800-433-7300

Delta/NW Airlines  800-221-1212

United Airlines 800-864-8331

 

I wish I had thought to do this months before trying to figure it out at 4 am after a very sleepless night. I hope you learn from my mistake.

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