travel

A Big Change for the Heasley Family

We almost moved to Maryland.

My connection to the company was solid and the job was right up my alley. Well, my old alley. It was an in-house Art Director position; the kind of work I’d left behind about three years ago. I submitted my application. I interviewed for it. I got a second interview and my friend already working at the company was enthusiastic. We started shopping for houses and my kids started imagining living in a place with actual snow on the ground (we told them it wouldn’t be that fun, but Violet refused to believe us). It was time to move across the country, a thing we’d never done before.

After Erin got her Master’s Degree, we were faced with the reality of what a part-time professor at a Community College can make (you honestly wouldn’t believe it) and the fact that the well paying, full-time professor positions are in short supply. We needed to explore options, and not just mine. Erin applied for other opportunities, too. One very close to home was looking really, really good. Until it didn’t and disappeared like a puff of smoke from the cigar of one of those derby-hatted cartoon bankers who is evil and you know that because… cigar.

So, yes, I put myself on the job market. After three years of working in film/video and doing freelance jobs, it was time to introduce a little more stability into our lives. Stability has always been the watchword around our house. As long as we could pay the mortgage and the bills and feed our kids and clothe them, it didn’t really matter to either me or Erin how much money we made. Never, not once, has getting rich been a goal (or even, just like, buying a boat). The goal is to do what we are supposed to do: care well for our family, be where Heavenly Father wants us to be, and do what He wants us to do. That’s how we’ve always conducted our life together, through good times and bad. It has served us well.

So, needless to say, we were stressing. A bit. And while all of this was going on, our friend Chris kept promising we’d have that lunch together that kept getting put off.

Waaaaay back in July, Erin and I were reminiscing about all the traveling we used to do back when travel was a thing we could afford, and we thought about Chris and his business of putting luxury vacation packages together and we hit upon an idea that was both ridiculous and too good to not at least pitch to Chris. Maybe he’d laugh at us, but it couldn’t hurt to at least propose it to him. Finally, in December, when we were trying to figure out what to do about Maryland, the lunch happened.

We told Chris our idea: send us on your vacations. Put us up in your five-star hotels, schedule our safaris and zip-lining adventures through jungles, make reservations for us in the best restaurants–do that and we’ll film it all and give you promotional travel vlogs you can use for marketing. And then Erin said, “And we’ll do it for free!”

And I said, “No, wait–wait a minute. It’s a lot of work for me after we get home to edit and put it all together and–”

And that’s when Chris cut me off and said, “I think it’s a great idea. Yes, I need that!”

And I said, “Y-you do? We really thought you were gonna laugh at us for trying to get a free vacation.”

“No,” Chris said. “And I’d like to take it even further. I’d like you to become my partners in Travel is SWELL, and I’d like Erin to train and become a Travel Designer with me and help me sell custom travel packages to people.”

We were floored. We went into the meeting expecting nothing and came out of the meeting with a spring in our step and promised ownership in a business. (And the chance to go to Machu Picchu. I’ve always wanted to go to Machu Picchu. I was pretty sure I’d now found the means to go to Machu Picchu.) We went home, shell-shocked, and immediately set to praying. And talking. And praying some more. Pros and cons were discussed, friends and relatives were consulted, options weighed.

This wasn’t quite the stability we were looking for. Travel is nice–travel is AWESOME (one might even say SWELL)–and we’d certainly be experiencing a lot of it as we went out to get firsthand knowledge of the places we’d be sending people to and filming our videos, but awesome travel is not a good enough reason to not take care of your family properly. Erin would be working on commission and I’d garner some payments for the video work, but nothing was guaranteed. It was another leap for a family that, evidence to the contrary during the previous three years, was more than a little risk-averse. And then we ran the numbers. And then we made a decision.

Three weeks later, we signed papers making us officially partners in Travel is SWELL.

This week, Erin completed her training.

And that, really, is why we’re finally telling you about it. Things have changed for us in a dramatic way and we’re excited to tell people, but we didn’t want to do it until we were ready. Erin is looking for clients. We hope you’ll contact her if you or anyone you know is looking to dream about their next vacation. She can help you in a big, big way.

Pretty sweet logo, huh? Designed by yours truly.

Now, if you know us and I were you, I’d have some questions. So, let’s switch formats. Here we go:

What the heck is a Travel Designer?

Great question. I didn’t know either. A Travel Designer is a lot more than a Travel Agent. Erin’s approach is to talk to the client about the experiences they’ve already had that they enjoyed, what kind of experiences they’d like to have, and where they might like to go. Want to go somewhere where the water is crystal clear blue and you’ll be treated like a queen as you laze about on the sand? Then Barbados might be for you. Want to eat like a king and take a deep dive into history? Hello, Rome and all these cool excursions and sites you might not even know exist. Simply put, a Travel Agent will get you to where you want to go, but a Travel Designer will not only get you there but make sure you have the time of your life. There’s even a questionnaire you get to fill out so Erin can best help you. It’s fun!

What about filmmaking? Writing? Comics? Is all that over with now?

Nope! I’m still in post-production on my newest short (in fact, we just shot some new scenes this past weekend), and I’m exploring other film opportunities that I can’t talk about just yet. I’m also actively shopping around a YA novel, Paper Bag Mask, and The SuperFogeys continues at superfogeys.com. That’s the beauty of working with Travel is SWELL: we get to stay here and, though our time is even more at a premium, things largely get to continue as they were.

For Erin, too?

Yep! For Erin, too. She’s staying on as a professor at Clovis Community, even taking on an additional class this semester for a total of three sections. She’ll teach and then, in her off hours, create travel packages for clients.

Sounds like you’re gonna be pretty busy. Wait… you guys still have kids, right?

Yeah. Three of them. They’re cool with not moving to Maryland, so it’s all good. We also create packages for families and groups, so they’re gonna get the opportunity to explore this world of ours as well. After a decade of never going farther than Los Angeles, that’s pretty exciting. Plus, I like to think we do a pretty good job carving out family time. There’s not a whole lot more important than that.

How much does Erin and Travel is SWELL charge for services?

In most cases, nothing! Some packages will require a small service charge, but that’s not common. Travel Designers are paid commissions by the vendors you book with, not by you. I know! I had no idea either until we got into this.

Why should I use a Travel Designer at all? Expedia exists.

Hey, Expedia is great! If all you want to do is get to and from somewhere, I say go for it. But if you want to explore hotels, food, rentals, excursions, and some really cool places to visit that you might not otherwise know about, then working with a Travel Designer is not only a great idea, it’s really the best idea. You know what I hate about vacations? Figuring out how to get from place-to-place. A Travel Designer takes care of all of that for you. Plus, we have access to online portals and vendors mere mortals can only dream of. We can hook you up.

Is Travel is SWELL only for luxury travelers? 

Not exclusively, but we’re definitely all about the package. We’re for people who really want to explore and experience something amazing, not so much for those who just want the cheapest flight to Florida and a rental car. But hey, if you want to know if we can help you with what you have in mind, all you gotta do is ask.

Sounds pretty cool. I’m going on vacation in the next year. How can I check out what you have to offer? 

That’s easy, just go to travelisswell.com, or email Erin directly at eheasley@travelisswell.com and tell her what you’re thinking. She’ll help you explore.

Eh. I’m not really into travel.

That’s more of a statement than a question, but I’ll address it. Over the past few years, a lot of people have asked how they could help us out. A referral would be great! If you’re not much a traveler, tell your friends.

This gonna be a thing now? You gonna sell me this hard on this blog in the future? Because if so then I’m ou–

Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s not what I’m about. Just trying to share and take this one–ONE–opportunity to try to drum up a little business. This is a big, important change for my family and we’re just trying to get a leg up in the world. The blog will go back to normal after this.

Okay, cool.

We’re cool?

Yeah.

You know I think the world of you.

Yeah… I know…

Be sure and check out travelisswell.com ASAP!

There you go again!

Sorry.

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Why Going on Vacation is Necessary

My wife I just got back from Italy.

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Needless to say, it’s a bit windy in a bell tower.

Now that is, of course, insane. While I’ve settled on how I’m going to make money for the forseeable future, it’s not exactly like I’m making a ton of it at the moment. So, a jaunt across the pond for 10 days in the historical, beautiful country of Italy seems like a terrible idea.

I know it seems like a terrible idea because pretty much everyone who we told about our trip beforehand reacted pretty much the same way: total silence followed by… “Oh.”

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Looking out over Florence

Recognizing their discomfort, I’d try to explain why we were going despite everything else going on. At that point they’d usually back off and say something like “Hey, you don’t have to explain yourselves to ANYBODY. You guys have had a rough year. You deserve it. Bring me back a gelato.”

After explaining that an ice chest is not my carry-on of choice, I had to admit that–you know what?–we have had a rough year. But I still didn’t think that would be reason enough to take a vacation to Italy. It just seemed so indulgent. “Deserve” is not a word I ever find easy to associate with what fortunes and good blessings I may have.

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Florence again. We couldn’t have asked for a more gorgeous day.

Once we got there, Erin and I didn’t hide what we were doing at all. We posted on Facebook at the end of each day, sharing with our friends and family the trips we took to Verona, Vicenza, Vinci, Luca, Florence, Pisa, Venice,Rome, and more. When Erin and I danced in the streets of Venice, we showed off our moves in video form. We were public about it all. We just never shared why we were there.

So, naturally, the question we got when we got back from this amazing European vacation was “So, how’d you swing that?”

Now, only a few people dared ask this, but I take those people as representative of a rather large population who were privately screaming “HOW’D THEY SWING THAT?!??!?”

It’s a great question, and one most of you have probably figured out by now: it turns out my wife is a previously unknown descendant of William Randolph Hearst and she just this year received her time-released inheritance on the occasion of her 34th birthday.

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Rome. What was incredible–and oh so foreign to us–was the way the centuries just stacked themselves next to each other in the buildings and ruins.

No, in fact we paid for the vacation before we lost our jobs. In further fact, it was just two weeks before we lost our jobs that we bought the tickets. How’s that for an extra sticky stab in our fragile, unemployed hearts?

Like most big decisions we make (and we consider leaving the country to be a VERY big decision), Erin and I bought the tickets after prayerfully considering the matter. Nine months is a long time between purchase and use. Anything could happen in nine months and a little plea to He for whom the past, present and future are all one doesn’t hurt.

And, of course, it did. Happen. Something happened two weeks later that left Erin and I looking askance up at God and saying, “Really?”

The timing seemed horrible. And the timing was crucial as we knew Pete and Lisa were moving to Belgium the following Summer. No offense, Belguim, but I don’t really know much about you. But Italy? I’ve wanted to go to the Colosseum since I was in the sixth grade and built a replica out of cardboard as part of a school project. Setting my feet on that previously quite bloody ground was never going to be so cheap again. Ever.

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I’m not going to pretend we didn’t buy trip insurance because we did. We could have gotten refunds for the tickets due to our job loss, but we simply didn’t do that. We kept the tickets and the jar of extra cash we’d saved for spending money while abroad (though we did dip into that now and again when things got rough).  We kept it because, after all, we prayed about this trip. We got the green light. It wasn’t like God didn’t know we were going to lose our jobs.

So, at the end of March, we left for foreign shores and spent 10 days galavanting through Italy.

So, how did we swing that? Well, first of all and most obviously, it helps to have paid for tickets months and months in advance–and you have no idea how cheap a trip to Italy can be when you fly a Russian airline with an 8-hour layover in Moscow.

Second of all–and this was always the plan anyway–we stayed and traveled with our friends Pete and Lisa who have been living in Pisa, Italy for the past three years. The expenses that little jar of cash was supposed to cover were less than half what they would have been otherwise. You eliminate hotels almost entirely and most of the food budget (Lisa was kind enough to cook for us every day) and things get easier.

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Erin was a particular fan of the lighting in the one hotel we stayed in.

So, there were some real, practical, spiritual, and timing reasons to go to Italy right now. Great reasons. But the real reason we went?

We friggin’ needed a vacation.

Lisa and Erin in Florence. This guy made like a statue and wouldn't let Erin's hand go.

Lisa and Erin in Florence. This guy made like a statue and wouldn’t let Erin’s hand go.

Our friends were right to some extent–we needed to take a break because of everything that’s happened. Yes, things are looking up for us now, but the stress of unemployment and not knowing where the next paycheck will come from ever looms and are not set aside so easily. Selfishly, Erin and I wanted a recharge. We felt like we kind of needed one.

Ah... Venice.

Ah… Venice.

And we got one. When we set foot back on American soil we got just a huge rush. We were excited to take on the new life ahead of us and get to work. That is, duh, why we go on vacation. But I don’t think I’ve ever really seen the necessity in fun like I do now. The necessity of relaxation. The need to step away, see anew, and experience a perspective shift that can only come with removing yourself entirely to another place and then coming back.

You see things differently. You see how small even the biggest concerns can be when viewed from far away. It’s nice to know they can shrink like that. And that Italian pizza is the best pizza.

Because, duh.

Lisa, Erin, Myself and Pete eating in Florence.

Lisa, Erin, Myself and Pete eating in Florence.

* * *

In other news… I know I don’t update too often anymore. I hope that trend can stop, but I have to tell you… I been busy. Doing projects. Settin’ meetings for those projects, etc. This is a period of great creativity for me and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

More on that in another update coming soon.

Road Trips and Dragons Who Want to Eat Me

This one time, I was driving down the road at night when a gray, mossy cave rose up in the middle of the highway. A dragon emerged and opened his jaws wide to receive my vehicle. I could see its tongue flicking around its sharp teeth. I was pretty sure that if the dragon failed to swallow me up then his giant wings would envelop and trap me and everyone else in the car with me.

Then I shook my head and the dragon and his cave disappeared. I should have known better than to try to drive home at midnight after spending the previous fourteen hours at Six Flags Magic Mountain, but I’m an insomniacs and insomniacs think their lack of sleep give them superhuman powers.*

*We don’t like to brag about this to you ‘normals’, but it’s true. We’re amazing and we know it.

The View from Vern’s Driveway

Ever since that night the road has an adverse effect on me, no matter the time of day. I get hypnotized by the painted yellow strip far, far to easily. Couple days ago I drove my Grandma up to Pilot Hills, CA to see her friend Vern. After dropping her off, I drove right back home. It was 10-hour trip, all during the daylight hours, and, sure enough, I nodded off.

I’m smarter about it now. I’ll pull off and grab a cold drink or some candy to stir me. If I’m really desperate, I’ll buy some Diet Mountain Dew. This is a HUGE deal for me. For religious reasons, I don’t drink caffeine. Caffeine is not technically forbidden by my religion, but addictive and mind-altering substances are so I’ve always figured caffeine was part of that. I’ve now come to believe it is better to drink half a bottle of Diet Mountain Dew* than die in a ditch with a car on top of you.

*A half bottle is MORE than enough when you you’ve gone 30+ years without caffeine of any sort. I’m a friggin’ coked-up rodeo clown after half a bottle.

So, no dragons after dropping off Grandma. No hallucinations of any sort. It’s shame it’s come to this though. I find highway driving relaxing and enjoyable when I’m lucid enough to enjoy it. I particularly enjoy night driving. But when I get sleepy, it’s just misery. Lots of slapping my face, turning up the air conditioner and ruining my diet.

Okay, so ruining my diet is kind of fun. Have you guys tried the Hershey Air Delight? Man, that’s a good candy bar.

How do you stay awake during road trips? Doesn’t being a trucker seem like one of the hardest jobs ever?