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Appeasing the Travel Gods

Winning an award for my blog at the NFPW conference with Marianne Wolf-Astrauskas, President

The Independence Day holiday couldn’t have come at a better time! While lots of people are taking this time to travel, the break is just what I needed to recuperate from my recent trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

I’m just back from the National Federation of Press Women’s (NFPW) annual conference, an event I look forward to more than anything - maybe even more than Christmas. Getting together with these spirited, inspirational friends gives me just the juice I need to keep going. I’ve traveled all over the United States, from Pennsylvania to Alaska, with these intrepid adventurers and we’ve seen a thing or two.

To say I’ve made some friendships over the 12 conferences I’ve attended doesn’t come close to explaining the relationships I have with these people I only see in person once a year. The emotions run deep and feel like a family reunion. In a way, it is. My mother has been in this organization, attending conferences much longer than I have. One of my favorite things about these trips is the bonus of spending time with her.

The conferences themselves are always great, with amazing speakers and topics. We geek out about writing, media, storytelling, and the First Amendment. This year we voted to sign a resolution in support of the Fallen Journalists Memorial. I love that we always start our conference by reciting our Code of Ethics. Being in the room with people who are dedicated professionals, with a passion for excellence in communication is a powerful place to be.

I always learn a lot from the other people attending too. The credentials and accomplishments of our members blows my mind, especially when we give the Communicator of Achievement award to a member who has “distinguished themselves within and beyond their profession.” Listening to what the nominees have accomplished always makes me feel like a slacker. These are strong, opinionated people, who have worked hard to give voice to things that need to be said, no matter how unpopular.

But the best part of all are the tours. The affiliate putting on the conference organizes tours of the area that people can come in early or stay after to see the local sights. Since our local members are well connected in their communities, we get to go places and see things we’d never have the chance to experience on our own. I’ll always remember our visit to the Hopi reservation in Arizona, our adventures following Route 66 in Illinois, and meeting Harper Lee and Truman Capotes’ childhood friends in Monroeville, Alabama. Never a dull moment; good friends are made over long bus rides.

I’ve been super excited about the pretour to New Orleans this year, looking forward to hanging out with friends on tours of the National WWII Museum and Mardi Gras World, hanging out in the French Quarter, and dinner at the historic Antoine’s Restaurant. Although it’s only one action-packed day, I love New Orleans and couldn’t pass up the chance to soak up the flavor of the Big Easy, especially since I’d be right in the neighborhood in Baton Rouge.

While travel is good for the soul, it sure can be tough on the nerves. Things go wrong. Hopefully nothing too big. To appease the travel gods, here are the things I try to remember when I travel:

It doesn’t help to get upset.

Rather than flying into Baton Rouge, I could fly into New Orleans and meet the tour there. Genius! I was able to book the flight through Chicago, but before I could even look for a hotel, that flight was canceled due to the weather in Houston. Arrrgggg! So close.

When I get my mind set on something, I am tenacious. I found a red-eye flight out on Wednesday, arriving in time to make at least part of the tour. This plan ended up working perfectly. I took a taxi from the airport to Mardi Gras World, put my luggage on the bus, and had a fantastic, very long day.

Take in the characters. One of my favorite things about New Orleans is all the colorful characters you’ll see there. Being odd seems to be revered and expected there. Since I was a child, I’ve always watched for and loved these people, who aren’t afraid to stand out from the crowd in how they present themselves to the world. They feel magical, fascinating, and alive to me. I see the sparkle in their eyes and know they have great stories.

Perhaps my love of colorful characters is why I feel right at home at the NFPW. Our organization is chockful of eccentric, imaginative, bigger-than-life individuals with a strong spirit of adventure, fearlessness, and joy of living. They have fantastic stories!

Reach out for wisdom. I’ve found that most people are quite friendly, especially when you’re visiting their city. Usually, they’re happy to share information, inside tips, and local history. Asking around about fun places to go, the best restaurants to visit, and what the locals like to do is the best way to get a real feel for a city. I ask for tips in locally owned businesses and have been known to go into music and bookstores for more recommendations. The places I’ve found this way weren’t in any guidebooks.

The conference is another place I reach out for wisdom, not just in the sessions I attend and the speakers I hear. I think about what I want to learn more about and try to find the answers or connections I’m seeking. Sometimes just talking through ideas can be helpful.

Meet new people. While I’m at the conference, I make it my mission to welcome all the first-timers. It can be daunting to break into an organization with so many longtime friendships and history. I want them to feel welcome and helps me be less cliquish. I met several new friends that way this year that I’ll be staying in touch with.

Go local. I’ve never understood why people travel to other cities, just to eat at the same chain restaurants and shop at the same stores they can go anywhere. Of course, I try to spend my money, all the time, with locally owned businesses anywhere I am. It’s good for the community and is more interesting. I understand people like to know what to expect. There are so many ways to find out what to expect, that I’d rather gamble to get something amazing over the safe bet of the mediocre.

Savor the time we have with the ones we love. I’m so happy to have spent time my NFPW family and feel tired but refreshed. I got to spend five days with my mother, without the rest of the family, which is always a special treat.

Our time on Earth is so limited, and the time we have to spend with the ones we love is even more precious. Several times during the week, I took a break from everything to appreciate and concentrate on the feelings of being together, and to commit the emotions to memory and savor the moment. Recalling that feeling will keep me refreshed until our paths cross again.

Happy travels!

Headmistress Jill

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