This week, I find myself yet again embarking on a trip/pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This trip is unexpected, I’ll be honest. While I have been planning a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for quite some time, I was a little worried that the trip would be cancelled, due to the fact that many people are afraid to travel to the Holy Land right now. I don’t blame them–the news makes it seem like a scary place, and without any other information, it’s easy to trust what we’re shown on TV. But I have been in constant contact with friends who have recently made the trip, as well as with friends who live out there, and all of them tell me that I–and other wanna-be pilgrims–should pack away our fear and brave the journey.
If you’re thinking about traveling to the Holy Land, read some of the interviews I did recently with my friend Denise Bossert, who was out there in November (and who is coming to Jordan with me! woo hoo!); with Ikey Korin, who lives there; with Saliba Danho, who organizers pilgrimages to the Holy Land through his company Voice of Faith Tours; with Ceci Triska, who travels to the Holy Land often and who was there in November, as well; with my friend, Habib Karam, who lives in Nazareth and who I look forward to seeing on my trip; and with Carolina Hodali DiMarco, who lives in Bethlehem.
Fortunately for me, a few brave souls signed up for my pilgrimage, and I can’t wait to share with them the amazing land! These pilgrims sound excited and up for whatever we have in store for them. I really look forward to meeting them and to sharing the wonderful experience. As I mentioned in my recent blog post, I was recently invited to join a press tour of Jordan, during which we will be visiting some of the amazing places I got to visit last May, as well as seeing some of the other wonderful places that Jordan has to offer, like Petra, Mukawir (where John the Baptist was martyred), Jerash, and more.
So, how am I preparing for this trip? Let’s examine the aspects: Practical, Spiritual, and Emotional
The first and last thing I always think about when planning a trip is PACKING. I love it and hate it. I love the excitement of travel, but hate thinking I’m packing too much or too little. There’s always something. This is the first time I will be in the Holy Land and not be on camera (at least, not for a production of The Faithful Traveler), so I don’t have to bring a different outfit for each day. It might sound gross, but I am looking forward to wearing the same four pairs of pants during the 18-day trip! HAHA. (I will be washing them at some point…) I don’t have to worry about my hair or my make-up, and I don’t have to memorize anything. This trip is a learning, experiencing trip, and I can’t wait. That said, here some of the things I’m bringing on this trip.
No matter where you go, in the U.S. or overseas, theft is always a possibility. I remember reading recently about Drew Mariani and Dr. Matthew Bunsen having their bags stolen during a recent trip to Tanzania. I felt horribly for them, not only because their laptops and cell phones were taken, but because they lost their passports, as well! Horrible! (BTW, read this page for info on what to do if your passport is ever stolen while you’re traveling.)
I won’t presume to know what Drew and Matthew did or did not do when their stuff was taken, but I can tell you what I do when I travel, and what bags I use to make me feel a little safer.
I absolutely love PacSafe bags (they’re having a 30% off sale this April!), and I always travel with at least one, as well as using their camera straps.
Their bags are light and stylish, and carrying them is always comfortable. Plus, they are reinforced with eXomesh Shalshguard–basically a flexible stainless steel mesh that is hidden among the layers of material that thwarts people who slash at bags with knives or box cutters to get at your precious things. Their straps are also safeguarded from slashers with stainless steel wire that is integrated into the straps. Also, their newer bags have RFIDsafe Pockets and material, preventing thieves from stealing your identity through your bag. Their bags also have little locks that enable you to lock them to a leg of a table or something, if you’re sitting down. You can read all about how PacSafe secures their bags here.
When I travelled to the Holy Land in May 2014 to film A Papal Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, I bought my first pair of Oboz shoes. These are the shoes I bought, the Sawtooth Low in Clover: They were cute and they looked rugged. After walking around in them for days and not having my feet hurt at all, I came home and promptly bought another pair in red. (I love red.) I wore both pairs in Portugal and not only did they keep my feet happy, but they kept them warm and dry, especially during the rain we caught in Fatima. I’m bringing both on this trip. I don’t think I’ll ever travel with another shoe. After I spoke about these shoes on EWTN’s Life on the Rock, I got a bunch of emails from people telling me they bought the shoes and love them, too!
(And no, I am not a spokesperson for Oboz or PacSafe, although I’d be happy to be one! Hello, Oboz and PacSafe!)
Clothes is always tough for me, especially since I always seem to be in between sizes… But, like I said before, since this time I’m not traveling for a shoot but for fun, I thought I’d try to pack light. Here are some of the things I’m trying to keep in mind:
- Packing light means I can bring back more presents. ‘Cause it’s all about the presents.
- It’s not a fashion show. Dress comfortably. Rewear clothes. Most hotels have ways you can wash clothes. Find out before you go.
- LAYERS. No matter where you go or what time of year you travel, dressing in layers is always a good idea. You’ll be walking around a lot, and that raises your body temp. You’ll be walking into air conditioned places or out into the heat. Get ready for nonstop temperature changes.
- Dress for your itinerary. Are you going clubbing? Attending fancy dinners? Then, by all means, bring clothes that suits those occasions. But if you’re going on pilgrimage, remember that most sacred sites like you to be covered up. That means no shorts or sleeveless shirts. I don’t remember the last time I wore shorts or a sleeveless shirt, but if you’re in the habit of doing either, consider getting something that zips off. Nowadays, there are loads of awesome pants and shirts that have legs and arms you can roll up or zip off. Bring those.
Communicating with Home
When you travel abroad, there are usually people you leave behind. This time around, I’ll be traveling without my husband David, and as much as I will miss him, I plan to speak with him every night. Here are some ways you can communicate with friends when you’re abroad:
- Skype is the best, easiest way to chat with people anywhere, and it’s free. Use the wifi in your hotel and access Skype on your cell phone or computer.
- SIM Cards: some people get SIM cards to use their cell phones abroad. I’ll admit, I tried doing it this time, but couldn’t figure it out and ended up just adding international features to my phone from my cell phone provider. It’s not that expensive nowadays. But if you want to do the SIM card thing, here’s a good article on it.
- WhatsApp is another way to communicate with people without having to pay for it.
Airline travel can be extremely stressful these days. The best thing to do is get ready for it beforehand, both practically and emotionally. Whether you’re going on pilgrimage or not, it’s always good practice to prepare yourself for the worst. Delays, layovers, lost luggage, crazy passengers–it’s all possible. If you prepare for it mentally, you won’t flip out when it happens. Because, really, what does flipping out do anyway? It just makes you annoying. Plus, when you’re nice, sometimes good things happen to you. My mom recently got a nice fat voucher when her airplane was delayed due to mechanical issues. While everyone around her was freaking out and being a jerk to the poor airline people, my mom was nice and said please and thank you. And that got noticed. Anyway, at the end of the day, God sees how you behave and you have to live with yourself. Would you rather be calm and nice or crazy and agitated? I pick option A.
When I was younger, I used to be able to sleep anywhere, but when I flew to the Holy Land in 2011, I experienced an inability to sleep on the plane for the first time ever. I was exhausted (and sick) when we landed, and it took me some days to recover because I hadn’t expected it to happen. Now, I prepare myself for a sleepless journey.
Here’s what I do:
- Bring something to read: an entertaining audiobook, a prayerbook
- Bring something to watch: the movies on the plane might stink, or you might not even get any! Bring your own.
- Bring snacks. The food on the flight might stink, or you might not even get any. (Yes, I placate myself with food…)
- Bring stuff to make yourself as comfy as possible. I have a neck pillow, blanket, foot rest, earplugs, eye mask, nose spray (it gets dry in the plane), noise canceling earphones, and something smelly that makes me happy. (I love Narayan gel, which not only smells amazing, but which feels great when I rub it on sore muscles.)
- Brink a rosary.
- Buy a big ol’ bottle of water to take on the plane. Flying is dehydrating. I can never get enough water.
Spiritual and Emotional Preparation
Preparing spiritually and emotionally for any trip, whether it be a pilgrimage or not, is a must. And look, don’t see this as my telling you I am always a happy, kind, and peaceful person. ‘Cause I’m not. I get cranky and moody like everyone else. That’s why I try really hard to get ready for a trip before I go, and do my best to prepare for every day whilst I’m there. My husband and anyone else who has travelled with me can easily tell you many times when I blew my cool and freaked out.
But! I start every trip hopeful that I won’t. A girl can pray, right?
Before every trip, I pray like crazy. I ask God to allow me to approach the trip with trust in Him, and to help me to not be a bother to my travel companions. (Cabin fever is real, people!)
On my trip, I try to start each day with prayer. I try to pray the rosary, and I dedicate my day to God. I try to end each day with prayer and I try to examine my behavior during that day and envision how I could be better the next day.
I try to imagine what could go wrong in every possible situation, and I try to imagine the best way I could handle that situation.
I try to remember that I am not always in control of what happens to me or around me, but I am in control over how I respond to those circumstances. My goal is to be relaxed, calm, and kind.
I try to read as much as I can about wherever I am going, so I get the most out of my trip. (If you’re going to the Holy Land, our series, The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land is a great resource to prepare you for and help you remember your trip! You can watch it online here or buy a DVD here.
Does that sound like a lot, or does it sound simple? I think it’s both easy and complicated, but I think that’s what makes travel interesting and exhilarating. You never know what God has in store for you, who you might meet, or what yummy food you get to eat. I hope you find some of these suggestions useful.
Keep up with my travels online, at this page I created to share my experiences with you, or follow me on social media. I will be taking pictures and videos like a madwoman, so if you want to see what it’s like out there now, be sure to follow along.
And please keep us all in your prayers!