What’s In Her Bag: International Conference + Honeymoon Edition

At various points along your PhD journey it can seem like life ceases to exist beyond your pile of papers, monitors full of code, or wall of caffeine. Sometimes it may be hard to find the time to venture outside your office, let alone your town, state, province, country, etc. In this and many other regards, the academic life is not without its stresses and pitfalls, but the opportunities to travel for conferences and research are some of the best parts. The bi-annual International Statistical Ecology Conference (ISEC) has been on my radar for some time, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity  to extend a trip to St. Andrews, Scotland into a full fledged honeymoon around the Scottish highlands. According to my twitter profile, I’m often a traveler, and I think I’ve developed a few good packing practices I would love to share with all of you.

Me and Darling Husband

Nearly five years after my last European adventure, I’m once again packing my trusty 60L pack and jetting off, only this time with my darling husband accompanying. When packing for this trip there were several considerations at the forefront of my thought process. I knew how I packed for my 3 month long European trip 5 years ago thanks to this previous STS post. While I ended up packing a few of the same items (!!), this trip has a different focus and thus different packing needs. First, I needed conference clothes as well as clothes for hiking and exploring and I wanted to look super cute as often as possible because I am a proud fancy scientist.

Luckily, since I am so used to packing for research/camping related trips, I am not disappointed by the lack of space for super cute clothes. ~ Meridith circa 2013. My, my how I’ve changed.

Next, I wanted to pack a few things to help reduce my carbon footprint while traveling (even though flights are a big one! Two quick links about carbon offsets: why and Rachel’s recommendation for where to buy). Finally, while we aren’t truly backpacking, I did need to consider weight. Admittedly my packed ended up way heavier than I anticipated, and as I’m writing this post I’m noticing some areas where I could maybe, sort of, perhaps packed less. A thought I will not admit to my husband. Ever. My pack is perfect.

What’s in my Gregory bag? Continue reading “What’s In Her Bag: International Conference + Honeymoon Edition”

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Making Time for Nature

One of my favorite environmental quotations goes as follows:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive…”  ~Edward Abbey*

These are the words of wisdom I try to remind myself of when I am having a moral crisis over what sort of salad dressing to buy at the grocery store (Plastic vs. Glass??  High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Palm Oil??  Too many decisions!).  While I absolutely want to work as hard as I can to understand and conserve the natural world, I also want to take time to walk around in the woods!  When I am working out in the field, I try and remind myself to stick my toes in the water or gush over a particularly adorable weevil.  This helps keep the balance in my life.  

Lett Lake, Snow Mt. Wilderness Area, 

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a job that requires as much outdoor time as mine does.  Heck, even for those of us that work outside, having unstructured outdoor play time is really important.  Remember, just because you are playing, doesn’t mean you aren’t learning or growing.  How do you think kids learn?  Through play, naturally.  Playing in nature, whatever play means to you, is a great first step to exploration, questioning, and eventual understanding.  The question becomes, how do we fit hours into our busy schedules for outdoor recreation and soul-feeding fresh air?  I am currently on a quest to answer this question in my own busy life.  In an effort to make it happen, my partner and I (editor’s note: Meridith and her partner, too!) have committed to hiking once a week every week.  The life experiment is set to run for the summer (May thru August).  For us, there are no rules aside from “get outside and walk!”  I’m hoping to see some new places and explore spaces nearby that I have under appreciated or overlooked.  As of today, we have gone on a walk-about all but one of the weeks we intended! Not bad overall, and we are only getting started! Would you like to get your outdoor adventure one?  Here are my strategies for making it happen!

     
STS Guide to Making Time for Nature

Schedule Your Nature Time
You schedule your classes, your work week, and time to hang out with friends.  As busy people, most of us know that if an activity doesn’t merit a spot in our calendars, it isn’t likely to happen.  So, pick a time and place and pencil in your next outdoor adventure now!  

Multitask (sort of)
Meridith likes to multitask by visiting
 Joshua Tree NP AND looking fabulous.

No, I don’t mean you should be checking your email while you are out on the trail.  I do mean you should make this time do double duty in your life.  Have you been wanting to read that novel, but cannot find the time?  Bring along an audio book and headphones on your next hike. Heck, you can even listen to a sweet science podcast! Have a friend with whom you need to have a life update?  Bring them with you on your evening walk!  Been meaning to find quiet time alone for yourself?  Do a little yoga or meditation by the lake, or, you know, just sit and watch the bugs on the grass.  I think this could be an especially useful tactic for the busy parents in the crowd.  Spend time with your kids and get them tuckered out simultaneously!  Your time in nature can be just nature time, but it can also be friend time, family time, personal development time, or just you time.

Don’t Get Preoccupied with Exercise
I am 100% completely guilty of this sometimes.  I think this is obvious based on my own personal goal to “hike once each week.”  Exercise keeps me centered, and this is often how I multitask my nature time.  And, sure, getting out into nature can be a wonderful way to get some exercise and breath some fresh air.  Is hiking to the top of a mountain superior to driving out to a lake and having a picnic?  I don’t think so.  It really depends on what you like and what you are trying to get out of this time.  Importantly, you can get different things out of nature at different times.  Sometimes it’s a calorie burn and sometimes its a peaceful nap.

Our local spot:  Stebbins Cold Canyon, UC NRS
Think Local
National Parks are amazing, and there is a reason that Ken Burns called them “America’s Best Idea.”  I’m sure Ken would agree that America has had some other really good ideas, like these cookies,(most) of these famous internet cats, and the numerous state and regional parks across the great ol’ US of A.  Just Google “State parks of (your state name here)” and you will be well on your way!  You can also go straight to Google Maps and type in “State Park.”  Don’t forget to do a little internet sleuthing about regional parks, open space areas, land trust zones, wildlife areas, or Bureau of Land Management Areas (BLM Areas).  Meridith and I particularly love finding new BLM areas because these are public lands, meaning when you find one designated for recreation, you can camp for free!  You might find a gem you didn’t even know about within your 20 mile radius.  That is totally within striking distance, even for the most over-committed weekend warrior!    

Expand Your Concept of Nature
Take the suggestion above, and go even further.  Sure, nothing really beats being in a large natural area like a park (national or otherwise).  However, the green belt running through my town is beautiful, and I love walking and running along it.  Does your town have a green belt?  Do you even know what a green belt is?  You can also check out local arboretums and botanical gardens.  Find a local green space and play some Frisbee or lay in the grass!  Don’t get me wrong, if I could, I would be at Olympic National Park every single day, but I can’t.  I can, however, take a walk through the restored riparian area along the local drainage ditch anytime I want.  Even if you live right down the road from some great regional, state, or national parks, I would encourage you to take a little bit of time to explore these non-traditional nature experiences.

Build to Something Bigger
Point Reyes National Seashore, CA

Maybe it’s just my personality, but I am super goal oriented.  For me, setting a goal encourages me to do things I would never have made time for otherwise.  For example my 10-year goal to see all the US National Parks has resulted in numerous adventures that I’m not sure I would have facilitated otherwise.  Just two weeks ago, our household goal to hike once a week this summer lead us to take a short detour to Point Reyes National Seashore after attending a family graduation.  Giving your everyday actions context in the larger picture of you life gets you jazzed and propels you out the door.  And that, really, is what it’s all about.


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So there you have it! What are your plans for getting outside this summer? Any big outdoor oriented goals you want to share?



*Emphasis is my own

Why Choose Between Hostels and CouchSurfing?

When I arrived in Dublin on Thursday, my plans for the summmer were very loose.  I’d used many styles of accomadation during previous travels and had great experiences with with CouchSurfing and hostels. When planning for this summer, I had a hard time choosing which to rely on. Luckily, since I have three months to travel and I can take my time wherever I go, I don’t have to choose! Before arriving, I had booked two days in Isaac’s Hostel and confirmed two days with a CouchSurfing host. The rest of the summer I would plan as I went. 



As mentioned in my previous post, it is very easy to meet fellow travelers while staying at backpacker’s hostels. KC, SC and I hung around together for the duration of our hostel stays. We explored Chester Beatty Library Museum, a place pointed out to us on our free walking tour, and enjoyed three floors of exhibitions, all containing pieces collected by Chester. Fellow backpackers understand the importance of exploring and eating on the relatively cheap. The museum was a free stop and we had a group ‘dinner’ to prepare our tummies for the night’s pub crawl. Dublin has lots of cheap convenience stores. Also, if you’re lucky enough to be a science geek, you can also unexpectedly lose five or six hours at the Trinity College science gallery. KC and I did as much, resulting in my receiving top accolades in balloon pop guessing and Texas Hold ‘Em. That place is heavily indebted to me for some serious science. I do wish we’d been playing for cash, I was that much of a shark at poker. Plus, our subsequent pub crawl with the hostels would’ve be VIP all the way. Kinder eggs for all.
The boys planned a trip to Galway, but I was set up with a CouchSurfing host so we split up the Dream Team and I went to meet up with Stijn. My luck continued with my host selection, as I ended up with a great guy that involved me in his entire weekend. With him, his CSers are his guests instead of just strangers on the couch. It turned out that Dublin had a pretty active and diverse CS community with some of the friendliest people ever. Stijn and I had both gone out late the night before so we started out with a stroll around Phoenix Park, the largest urban park in Europe. He was quite knowledgable about the area and told me all about the deer wandering about. I’d never seen such color variation in a herd of deer! Once we had some food in us we were able to perk up for a night of fun. Started out at the birthday party for fifty year old Irish twins at a back room of a sushi restaurant with free sushi and a rad DJ. Honestly, I dont know how I can top that event for the rest of my trip. I did mention the free sushi, right? Stijn introduced me to some other CSers and we kept the night going with loads of dancing. 
Depending on your style of travel, quiet days where you spend most of the time at a table eating and drinking tea can be a major advantage of hanging with a CSer over other hostel travelers. Since I have 3 months of traveling, I welcome the occasional low key day. Plus, a nice meal and tea is tops after a late night. I even splurged on what ended up being an adorable and delicious chocolate mousse dessert served in a baby Guinness glass! Seriously, look at that picture and tell me that isn’t the cure to anything that ails ya. 

Another big advantage of a local host is their knowledge of events around town. Yea you can ask the front desk at the hostel for recommendations, but often they have a select list of places/tours/events that they promote. My host knew about a FREE comedy show in the basement of a pub. One that I’d actually eaten in with KC and SC (Stag’s Head). We got there just in time to snag some of the last seats right up front, just to the side of the stage. Not only are there five acts for no charge, but they also handed out chocolate candy treats during intermission. Allegedly, they usually pass out ice creams. I highly recommend trying to hit up a show there on a Sunday or Monday evening. I had actually planning on leaving the next day, but Stijn told me about a group that was heading to Dun Laoghaire for a day by the seaside. He graciously agreed to let me stay an extra night and got me all of the information I’d need for the next day’s event. It turned out to be a fantasticly sunny day, perfect for the trip. There were a few people from the previous nights out in attendance, but loads more new faces that were eager to be friends. I was not actually brave enough to jump into the water, but a handful of the group actually went in. When there are swimmers wearing thick wetsuits to get in, thats usually my cue to simply enjoy the view. 
All in all, I think I saw most of what I wanted to see around Dublin. The two approaches both covered some really fantastic experiences and I definitely want to keep up with my trend of exploring different areas with travelers and locals. It also seems like the weekends are the best time to hit up a CSing host, as they are usually free from work to show you around and the hostels are sometimes pricier then. Next stop, Belfast!