Day: September 9, 2011

Visiting Middletown

So, on to my trip.  After arriving at Dulles airport I rented a car and drove to Frederick, Maryland (just next store to my ‘hometown’ of Middletown, Maryland.).

My friend Joan Saunders Orchard was nice enough to let me invade her daughters room and stay at her house for the weekend.  She has such a great family. (All of my friends have wonderful families and it was fun to witness their differing parenting styles.  They also nearly all have 2 kids!).

10 years.  It has been 10 years since I last visited Maryland.

My only excuse is that with my parents living in California life has kept me on the West coast for most of that time.  Still, thanks to the internet I have been able to keep in touch with most of my friends and it was so great to see all of them.

Rather than give you a day-by-day travelogue I have put the photos from this portion of the trip below with explanations underneath.

Aside from having a great time visiting with my friends my visit gave me several moments of clarity.

1. Its nice to know that deep down inside I am still the same-old ‘Rachel Wagner’ from high school.  While I hope I have grown wiser and more mature my heart is still the same. In walking my old paths I was reminded of both the good and bad times of my childhood and felt a sense of pride for the woman I have become.

2. I realized why I sometimes feel unique or different in Utah.  It’s because I grew up in a different culture.  I don’t know if I can explain why but I feel like in Maryland people are more accepting of individuals the way they are; whereas, in Utah the emphasis is on perfecting oneself.  Both perspectives are good and I think I am better for having both inside my heart.

3. There is a deep comfort in knowing that once a place is home, it will always feel like home.  While things had changed (lots of new houses in Middletown and the Golden Mile in Frederick was not so golden anymore) at its heart good old Maryland felt the same.   I believe I have 4 homes Utah, Maryland, Indiana and wherever my parents are (currently California)

4.  It is also comforting to see that old friendships are constant and enduring.  There isn’t a photo but when I went to breakfast with my best friend from high school, Meredith Tolley, it was just as if we had seen each other the day before, not 10 years ago.   Growing up my parents would often introduce us to their friends and I used to wonder ‘how can they be your friend when you haven’t seen them in years?’.  As an adult, I understand.  Once a friend, always a friend.

5. I was overwhelmed throughout this trip by a deep sense of how much I am loved.  When I think of the truly lonely people out there I wonder what I did to deserve such an abundance of love in my life.  There are so many people who genuinely care for me- so much so that I can hardly keep in contact with everyone (thank you again internet).

There are literally hundreds of people I could call if I was in need of a comforting, loving voice.  I think of the people I met on my mission who had nobody and I am beyond grateful for the blessing of great love in my life.  Thank you to all my friends.  I love each of you so much.  I’m sorry for not saying it more often.

6.  Finally, it was very interesting to hear how my friends perceived our home.  In talking with them they all had such warm, kind things to say.  I always looked at our house as full of chaos.   With my Mom on bedrest for most of my freshman year and the stresses of taking care of a  toddler and new baby it certainly didn’t seem like a fun hang out spot for my friends.  I was really surprised that none of them remembered such things. Time is an interesting shaper of memories…Hmmm.

Joan and her family (her husband is taking the photo!)
the house I lived in from 92-98. Basically looks the same except for the shutters.
I visited my high school- Middletown High School. It was a walk down memory lane
Visited with my dear friend and old young women's leader Sister Nancy Potter. She made a big impact in my life. We have been pen pals for years. (Although I've been a slacker lately, she always remembers my birthday)
braved my way through DC traffic to visit the temple.
I couldn't find anyone to take my photo at the temple so self-photo it is!
Sunday I visited my friend Natalie. It was so good to see her and meet her kids. I've known here since I was 12 or 13.

On to the next part of my trip! DC!  Thanks to everyone who made time for me. It was a wonderful visit.

Flying for Free

As many of you know I returned from a trip to DC/Maryland yesterday.  It was the first time I visited my old hometown in 10 years!  How does that happen?  I honestly don’t know but I’m grateful that I finally made it out out there. Rain aside, it was a wonderful trip full of visits with cherished friends.

Why no posts during the trip you ask?  Well, I purposely decided to hold off my blogging/facebook photo posting until the end of my trip.  During my recent vacation to Hawaii I had a lot of fun blogging while I was on the island; however, when I came home everyone had heard all of my stories!  It was kind of anti-climatic.  What good is going on a trip if you can’t brag a little about it? 🙂

Anyway, this weekend I will be doing a number of posts describing different parts of the trip and photos.

To begin with the vacation started on a fantastic note.

$400 credit vouchers!

Since 2007 I have flown 6 times for free, 5 of those times have been on United (7 if you include the free credit I just got).

What’s my secret?  Volunteering my seat.

Here’s the situation- airlines typically oversell their flights by 10 to 15%.  This is done because a certain percentage of travelers, particularly business travelers, don’t show up for their flights (the more frequent flier you are the more lenient the airlines are on refunds, and rescheduling of tickets).

Different airlines are more comfortable with overbooking then others.  From my empirical observation United and Delta seem to overbook a lot whereas Southwest, Frontier and Jet Blue rarely do (According to Smart Traveler.com “JetBlue only bumped 10 passengers out of the more than four million travelers who flew the airline during the first half of 2003, so good luck volunteering with them!).  Perhaps being a larger airline with longer routes makes United and Delta more willing to take the risk of overbooking?

Most of the time this system of overbooking works out for the airlines; however, when more passengers come then there are seats they are required by law to offer reward to volunteers before they can bump anyone off of his or her flight.   They will ask if anyone is willing to give up their seat in return for a free plane ticket or a credit voucher.  The amount of this reward depends on the length of the flight and the amount of time they ask the volunteer to wait.  Typically it is not more then 2-3 hours of waiting.  If an overnight wait is asked then the airline must provide a hotel accommodation for the traveler.  The same is true for meal vouchers eaten while the volunteer is waiting.

My situation for volunteering is particularly attractive to the airlines.  Typically I fly alone and they usually only need 1 or 2 volunteers (finally, a benefit to being single! Most of the time I get penalized- taxes being the prime example).  I also specifically plan my trips with wiggle room for my arrival.  This gives me the flexibility to spend more time at the airport without inconveniencing family or friends.  When I have a mind to volunteer I also schedule a shuttle to take me home because then I do not have to worry about contacting rides or checking with them before going up to the desk.  As soon as they make the call for volunteers I sprint up there and offer my name.  Some times I (as I did this time out in Chicago) I will go up to a busy looking desk and offer myself as a volunteer before they make the call over the PA.

Another factor in my favor is I carry my laptop with me wherever I go and with my back up hard drive and high speed internet (available usually for free in most major airports) I can work from anywhere.  There have been days where I have put in a full day of clocked time while waiting for flights.  This means I am making money in 2 ways- one from the airlines, and one from my employer!.  It is a pain to take out your laptop for security but I find it is well worth bringing on any trip for a variety of reasons including use at the airport.

The other key to volunteering your seat is to actually plan connecting flights.  Nearly every time I have given up my seat it has been on a connecting flight.  Why?  Well, the airlines usually connect through their hubs.  If you think about it which are they more likely to overbook on- a flight from DC to Salt Lake or a flight from Chicago to DC?  Adding that connection can be a royal pain and it is a risk but I have found (especially with United) it is worth while.  In the San Francisco airport I have gotten 4 of my free tickets while connecting.

Another key tip is to arrive at the airport as early as possible (or to give yourself as much leeway time at the connecting airport).  This ensures you won’t be waiting in security when they make that appeal for volunteers.  Plus, I find I am more relaxed and ready for travel when I can arrive at my own pace and am not rushing.

I also try to book my trips at a rush time such as on a weekend or Thursday nights.  According to Smart Traveler.com, “Planes also tend to be more crowded on mid-morning and early-evening flights. In short, take all the advice you’ve read about avoiding hassles and delays and do just the opposite.”

So, just think what would make my flight more enjoyable and do the opposite!  That’s when you are likely to volunteer.  It may sound like a glutton for punishment but I look at the flight as the price to pay for an enjoyable trip.  The vacation is the prize and the more I volunteer, the more vacations I can take.  To me, it is well worth the sacrifice and risk of an uncomfortable afternoon.

What was particularly exciting for this trip is I received a $400 credit voucher in return for waiting 3 hours at the Chicago airport.  Not including the work I was able to do I made $133 an hour to wait and get a free dinner to boot! In addition, it is a credit voucher as opposed to a free ticket which United has given me in the past.  This allows for me to use the $400 on any United fare where the tickets are usually good for only the continental United States.

My hope is that I can continue to volunteer and get free airfare.  According to Smarter Travel.com “Planes are fuller not just because more people are traveling, but also because many airlines have cut their schedules due to weak demand, so there are fewer available seats.”

With United I have had 4 years of continuous flights free (meaning I am already flying on a free ticket and get another free ticket).  I had one day where I got 2 free tickets and got to spend the evening with my sister and fly out the next day! It was great!  I have also been asked to volunteer, been given the reward, and then found room on the plane after all.  It is worth offering if you have the time and flexibility in your schedule.

Let’s hope the streak of free travel continues with whatever I decide to use my $400 voucher for!  I’m so excited to embark on more travel in the year to come (most free tickets expire in a year- that is the ticket must be purchased, not necesarily used, within a year from the issue date).

Happy Free Traveling!