Wandering Relatives

colorado, europe, France, History, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

Sometimes it feels like a cliché to say such and such thing or personality or idea is in “one’s blood”. At times this attitude has been used for a variety of horrific crimes on humanity. It’s been justified to cause pain and harm, promote superiority, or enhance nationalistic nonsense.

I’m cautious to say anything is “in my blood” when in fact one could consider DNA and relatives as a major contributor to disease, intelligence, talent and skills, preferred foods, and probably more than we even know. Yet it is far from an only determining factor. One’s nurture is probably as much, if not more important than nature. Yet there is no undeniable connection that a part of our existence is determined by genetic factors.

With all of this in mind, and with hesitation, I acknowledge that some part of me loves the sensation of exploration and adventure, and that part is inherited. Inherited from grandparents, and a grandfather that has never set down roots even as he ticks towards 80. Inherited from parents that chose to pack horse ride from Washington state to Colorado for their honeymoon (they had to give up in Oregon because my mom was having morning sickness…thanks to me). My dad’s parents traveled on road trips every chance they got, original weekend warriors before it was cool, between state lines to national parks and camping adventures. These grandparents also camped in the Maroon Bells on their honeymoon, after one night at the Brown Palace in Denver.

My family home was full of National Geographic magazines and picture books from other distance places. Some of them were okay to be books, moments frozen on paper in ink. Some of them my family actively spoke of visiting. For my family, it was escapism in tough times, in poor times, or portals to relive past adventures.

Other aunts and uncles were prolific travelers, other cousins have lived overseas for most of their adult lives in England and Germany and Haiti and Rwanda and Japan. Travel a branch of the tree and someone’s kid was living abroad. Many of them I have never met or spent real time with, some of them are only known from Facebook profiles and stories. Our family tree branches far and wide, beyond oceans, and continents, and to wild places many would dare not visit. Their wonder and excitement was no doubt fuel for my own desire to go beyond and explore.

If I go back further in my family myths and legends, there are great great aunts that took a cruise around the world. There are 400-year-old relatives in the roots that left everything in the Netherlands and England to come to the “New World” to establish Puritan rule. There are Ulster Scots that left British overreach to fight them in the American Revolution. There are poverty stricken Scottish peasants that left to try something better in a new home. All of them have a story on uprooting, all of them faced immeasurable challenges and stories on the way, all of them are connected to me, whether by culture, or something deeper.

I don’t always know how to explain my love of exploration; I just know it has always been a part of me. There are flashes of memories of me reading National Geographic. There are pieces of playing pirates on the backyard picnic table. There are snips of me digging in the dirt for rocks and semi-precious stones. If I remember anything from growing up in the woods, it was that I was always looking for something to do and always seeking out something interesting. This trend has been a true part of my adulthood and I doubt I will ever leave it behind.

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North Country

musings, Travel, United States, wyoming

The drive to my parents’ home is far from a thrilling one. Three and a half hours one sits in one direction. About 230 miles. Northward we go. The car sits in cruise control at 80 mph and we listen to audio books or favorite road trip songs and we go. We travel along swaths of interstate where you can see no one for miles. We pass ancient stone features and the occasional exits that resemble towns. It’s desolate.

Compared to Colorado it’s vast nothingness. It’s open rolling hills dotted by specks if cows, sometimes domesticated American Bison, sometimes horses. This time of year it’s all the color of straw. Last years’ grass turning into remnants before bursting with new life. It’s not much.

Take Time to Enjoy Travel

adventure of the week, europe, France, italy, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

I see this same scenarios time after time in my job:

My client wants to travel overseas and check off some places on their bucket list. They have one week, three kids, and they want to cram as much culture in their little brains as they possibly can. They want to see ALL of Italy in a week.

My client is taking his dad to Europe, his dad is 80 years old, they want to see ALL of Europe in three weeks.

I research their top places and assemble a schedule that I think is ideal. I find options that match their budget, and activities that all extra time if someone needs a break or a coffee or if a train is late. The savvy travelers agree to my suggestions. The wild ones try to break records, or so it seems, on how many countries they can visit in no time.

While a week, or three weeks seems like a long time, the truth is there will never be seeing ALL of anything in a week, or a month, or a lifetime. It is literally impossible to see everything Rick Steves tells you to, or eat at every Michelin restaurant. It’s just not something that can be done. Besides, the best travel experiences are the unexpected, the moments when nothing was planned, and the stars seem to align. It’s when you actually take time to ENJOY traveling that good things come together.

My favorite meals, or my most loved memories don’t come from the days I planned out hour-by-hour they are finding randomness on this planet we call home. Sometimes it has been a funeral procession or a wedding. Other times it has been making friends with a child or getting lost on a side street. Sometimes it was simply sitting in a train station and people watching while I ate a sandwich. I saw the Queen of England when I just wanted to enjoy being in London in a park. I made friends while hanging out at pubs and hostels. I have always fallen in love with cities I never expected to, or never planned to originally visit.

When one takes time to slow down and breath in their time in a new location, then one REALLY understands the heart and soul of why people travel. It’s a cafe in Paris, or a bakery in Dublin, and taking the time to eat a pastry or drink a cup of coffee. It is a club in Edinburgh or a pub in London that opens up conversation and connection. It’s never when you have museum after museum planned. It’s never when you follow a massive group from sea of people to sea of people. It is always the in between.

As I have seen more and more of the world over ten years I have moved from racing to one place and another, and instead I have craved more of the in between. When I mentally picture a trip back to Paris, I see a mosey instead of a rush. When I mentally picture a visit to China, it’s sitting on the Great Wall and listening to others speak in awe. I imagine crying at finally seeing the Pyramids of Giza and sitting in the sand as I feel the centuries of life in front of and around me. I want the cups of teas and messy foods as much too. I want making friends and photographs of new connections too.

So, dear reader, slow down your plans. See two cities instead of five. See one less museum, and add in a park. Walk everywhere you can so that you can absorb the essence of what is around you. Speak to everyone you can so that you know the people better. Try new foods that would otherwise freak you out. Most importantly, live it all, as much as you can.

Happy Travels!

Planning for the Unknown

adventure of the week, Caribbean, colorado, europe, Florida, France, italy, mexico, Nebraska, new mexico, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States, wyoming

We live in an exciting time of where we have endless information at our fingertips through social media, news sources, books, and endless other methods. At any given second I can go on my phone or online and see what is happening in many areas of the world. In real time I can explore what is happening at a place I plan on visiting.

This is awesome and equally problematic.

From a travel planner perspective, we use the most up to date, thorough and well-researched information at our disposal. Coming from reliable sources like travel guides, national tourism boards, official websites, rail aggregators and other “first hand” knowledge sources. For the rest of the public, their perspective on a new place comes from a video or social media post, perhaps a news article from a well-reputed magazine. Guess what fails to be in the articles and videos? Thorough information on how to get to, explore, or enjoy a specific region.

No doubt this is not a problem that content creators have to fix alone. Because when well-meaning Conde Nast makes a list of places to see before 2020, they don’t expect people to just cherry pick and randomly show up to Machu Picchu. They do think that people research or look into the complexity of getting to Machu Picchu on train, or foot, or bus. But many don’t, because in our world of instant gratification people don’t always understand that other parts of the world have more layers to their exploration.

Like any good history geek I love researching an answer for myself or my clients. I look at the stories that made up a place. I look at train schedules. I call locals to get information on schedules that I can’t find online. I look at sunset and sunrise times to explain to a client when they can get that perfect view. I check weather patterns to explain what they should pack. I love this research. Granted, I get a little more in the weeds than is necessary, thus, I encourage you to find a balance as you set off into the world.

Here are my tips for researching unknown place.

  1. Go to the library or book store and buy the most recently published guide on the area that you are interested in.
    • Pro-tip: ask the bookstore clerk if an updated version of that guide is coming out BEFORE you travel and ORDER it so that you have the best vetted information for your actual trip.
  2. READ the crap out of that book. Make copies, take pictures with your phone, make notes. Learn everything you can so you know what needs to be done when you’re boots on the ground in Argentina headed to Patagonia.
    • Pro-tip: I use sticky notes in a color coordinated pattern to mark places of interest or areas I am headed to. That way I know where to get information quickly. For example, I will use a large sticky note to mark a region and write the name above the edge of the page. Then I know green stickies are dining in Delhi, pink are activities, etc.
  3. Ask Around to people that travel and see if someone you know has been to such and such place and ask them for recommendations. This might save you time, money, and stress when you know someone else was able to enjoy the same vacation or trip you were planning.
    • Pro-tip: vet all the information you get to make sure it’s accurate and safe. Make a list of suggestions and then read up on what your friend/family suggested.
  4. Read reviews with a grain of salt. Reviews offer TRUE experience feedback, but remember that people are more likely to complain online versus compliment so sometimes complaints will reflect a slanted view, good or bad, of a company.
    • Pro tip: if you see complaints ask yourself if it matters if “the room is small” “if the restroom only had a small shower” or if “the price was insane” because sometimes what bothers someone else will not matter to you.
  5. Utilize hotels and locals by asking questions on dining, activities, weather, and how to enhance your vacation! No one knows better than locals on where to eat, drink, and enjoy your best life.
    • Email your hotel, tour guide, or organizer well in advance so that you have time to get a response and make arrangements to enjoy the best parts of wherever you are going.
  6. Plan for emergencies and extra time. There is nothing more frightening to me than having someone with a schedule that has no extra time built in. Why? Because if one thing goes wrong, like a train delay or a volcanic eruption (true experience from yours truly) you won’t have any time to make up for time lost. I always suggest having at least one back up flight or one back up train between you and when you need to be somewhere. YES you may have more wasted time, but you WILL be less stressed about your travels. Cool bonus: people watching is always enjoyable.
    • Pro-tip: don’t cram everything into one trip. Pick your favorite options and stick to a simpler plan. You will feel less stressed and exhausted, and when you slow down truly magical things happen! There is a reason why EVERY tour company offers some free time on varying days and afternoons because they need extra time for the unplanned and everyone needs to slow down.
  7. Teach yourself the customs, some key phrases, social norms, and other details before you go. Nothing will make you feel more insecure than thinking you have pissed someone off or that you are awkwardly getting through life. Read up on dos and don’ts and mentally note how to behave.
  8. Most importantly, have fun! Laugh off your mistakes, learn as much as you can, and don’t sweat the small stuff. In my experience, things work out and you always have a phenomenal time!

HAPPY TRAVELS!

Women in Travel

History, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

Even in 2019 I sometimes get a second look when I gush about my love of traveling alone. While it’s no lie that there is an inherent risk to traveling solo, male or female, it is not enough reason to scare me home.

Any and all life is an inherent risk and I know my fellow women travelers have acknowledged this as they have adventured into the world. At the end of the day, it’s more worthwhile to take the risk and fail, than to stay home and do nothing.

Amelia Earhart would not have flown and been the first woman to cross the Atlantic with a plane had she decided to follow the naysayers and stayed home. Sacagawea would not have been immortalized for her lifesaving translation and support to the Lewis and Clark expedition, and they would not have survived without her.

Nellie Bly helped change the face and conditions of mental health but she also broke the notorious record of “Around the World in 80 Days” and did it all in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds to be precise. All of this was accomplished in 1889 before the modern comforts of travel that we know today. Bly traveling by train, ships, horseback, rickshaw, mules, and maybe some luck! She broke a record at the time, and for countless generations she has inspired women and girls to push themselves into records and goals.

Jeanne Baré was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in the 1700s. She did this hiding as a man and with her lover working as botanists as they sailed the world working for the French government. Eventually she was found out, but instead of nasty repercussions the Navy saluted “this extraordinary woman”  with a pension and encouragements.

Countless other women broke the mold to live the lives they wanted. Some simply did work in their home towns and did some travel on the side, like Margaret (Molly Brown).

Let’s not forget Mary Wollstonecraft and her writings on Switzerland in the 18th century. Then there is her daughter, Mary Shelley, who lived abroad for many years, and had her own mishaps and adventures in Europe. They did the best they could in their time to bring their own lives depth, and share their growth with others.

My own love for travel started with books and stories of these such great individuals. They defied everything that they had been brought up to believe they should be. It’s not just for them that they lived their lives but for countless others that they inspired. It is because of them that millions of women have decided to move forward on their dreams, their goals, their fight for rights.

Traveling is not just about seeing the world. It is about learning oneself along the road. It is about finding confidence and inspiration. It is learning that you can in fact do everything for yourself. You can in fact be safe and stable. You can in fact be a solo woman traveler and explore the world on your own.

Happy Travels!

Spring Break – To Be Avoided?

Caribbean, Florida, Travel, United States

Spring break is coming up for most Americans this month or next. Sometimes known as Easter Break, this annual tradition gives students and their overworked teachers a break from each other.

For the rest of us, we scramble to find care for our children and stumble into our jobs. And others of us are lucky enough to escape with our kids to tropical locations.

My advice, stay home.

Why?

Well unless you have a really good incentive for a break, it’s such a busy time of year that running away may not actually be enjoyable.

The Caribbean and Florida are the top locations for Spring Breakers, and if that awful movie sharing the same name is an indication, there is mayhem in them parts. Not that hotels and resorts don’t avoid spring break vacationers, but it’s hard to inhibit.

No doubt, at about every resort, will be those having too much fun and puking in the pool. No doubt. And on top of that rates are insane at most places in March and April, at times they can be almost double due to popularity.

At some point the vomit inhibits the fun. And let’s face it, do most college and high school aged people REALLY know how to hold their liquor?

If you do have a longer break, or decide to make it longer, there is a chance to hit the road to Europe or further afield. My only suggestion is to remember the travel time to get to and from, and how that can eat into time on the ground. A “week away” quickly can turn into only five says doing anything. And for around $1,000 a round trip plane ticket, you want to make sure it’s worthwhile.

This isn’t to say that fun can’t be had. For instance, many other locations are divine in spring, such as the Carolinas or the Bay Area. These places may not offer the surf and sand, but they can offer an enjoyable escape.

While I know all of you are itching for warmer weather, remember that sometimes good things come to those who wait.

Don’t Be An Ugly American

Caribbean, Cruising, europe, History, italy, musings, Photography, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

One of the things I hate most when I travel is seeing people be an “Ugly American”. Well really you could insert anything after “Ugly” (but for a magical reasons Canadians aren’t on this list). Regardless, my point is that the world was not designed and created to make Americans more comfortable in moving through it. AND if you want to move through it, then you owe the world some respect and humility.

On my travels I have seen numerous moments of “Ugly” in Scotland to Mexico and Haiti and in between.

On my first trip there was an American couple with a bus tour sitting at the cafe and museum at Urquhart Castle complaining that the castle was “too ruined to enjoy”. Mind you this castle is in one of the most picturesque places along Long Ness and that most people would give their right arm for such a trip. But no, because this castle was not up to their expectations, they were bitter about this excursion.

On the cruise my husband and I took in 2015, some of my favorite people truly ended up being the staff that were from all over the world. One server was from Poland, the head chef was from Trinidad, the housekeepers were from Venezuela. All of them were lovable and funny and smart and made the experience absolutely fabulous and luxurious. Guess who didn’t? A lot the “Ugly Americans”. Some people got so drunk that they attacked a vintage Aston Martin that was on board. I heard others berate the staff over petty things like not more dessert or sushi or whatever else. At stops people would complain that locals asked them about money or to take them on tours. Others complained when a location was not Americanized enough with sidewalks or marked roads etc. Mind you we stopped at places like Haiti, Jamaica, and Cozumel, Mexico. News flash, the world isn’t built for Americans.

This is not to say that all Americans are bad travelers or malicious in their journeys. It is to say that if you are lucky enough to travel outside of your hometown, be on your best behavior. Unless someone is seriously threatening you, or REALLY harming you, there is no need to be angry or bitter or cruel.

In fact, most of the people that work on cruises or at resorts or in industries along the tourist trail work six days a week or more and maybe have a break once every six months. Imagine if you had to work those many hours or did not get to see your family but once or twice a year.

Other stories are endless that you hear. When I did my study abroad in Italy students (some from my school) did things like urinate on the Duomo in Florence. In the years since, there are stories of students breaking a priceless statue trying to take a picture, and others till flipped a police car for shits and giggles.

Another point, especially if you are new at traveling, don’t hold onto insane expectations of how the world will be. Read some of the history of a place you are visiting, ask locals for stories, read signs in the museums you visit. See, if the Americans had taken some time in Scotland to understand why Urquhart Castle has seen better days they would know something on the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell. They would know that most castles from that time were destroyed because of a Puritan regime, and then they might know how that connects to their own American history.

At the end of the day, be grateful. Be so very grateful that countries and people and ancient ruins open their doors each day to millions of foreign visitors. Be grateful that there is money put aside by governments to preserve these places and reduce entrance fees so you can see the Uffizi and the Colosseum. Be grateful that we live in an age when it’s cheaper than ever to travel between countries. Be grateful that you are well enough financially and physically to go to these places. Be grateful.

Dog Sledding Colorado

colorado, Colorado Events, love, Travel, United States

I’ve realized the older I get that the whole point of life is to try on hats and see what fits. Maybe not the point, but part of what you do.

I try on hats for work. I try on hats for spots and health. I try on artistic hats. Some fit some don’t. Some just like BAD.

It’s not so much what the hat is, but how it works with the person.

Dog Sledding fit really well.

Like most kids in the 90s we saw the movie Balto and Snow Dogs and thought Alaska was a place of dog sledding. When one dog sleds, one is in Alaska. Alaska.

So growing up it was a distant land thing. As an adult I realized one could do many “distant land things” closer to home as we become a more globalized society. Dog Sledding is no exception.

Enter a few months ago and we are talking with my stepdaughter about going to Alaska on a cruise, a future dream. Asking the 11 year-old what she would LOVE to do in Alaska, she says Dog Sledding. Dog Sledding.

Some googling later and a chat with my in-laws and we’re booked for true experience. Then more of the family books. And 18 of us are scheduled to dog sled outside of Breckenridge, Colorado at Good Times Adventures.

It was amazing. No words can describe the magic of snow, the perfect lighting, the happy happy happy dogs, or the feeling of gliding on a wood sled through the wilderness. If magic exists it’s in the snowy woods. Watch the video below to hear my pure joy. 💖

Saying it’s amazing is not enough, however, all of the joy makes me crave it. Maybe that’s how snowboarding feels for others (something I won’t try, it’s a thing) an urge to leap into the joy of it all over and over again, the rush, the sound, the smells. So I’ll be back, and probably more often, because this fluffy warm hat fit well.

Make Sure You’ve Got the Docs

adventure of the week, Allergen-free eating on the road, Caribbean, colorado, Colorado Events, europe, Florida, France, Iowa, Ireland, italy, mexico, Nebraska, new mexico, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States, wyoming

So many times I hear this classic “I didn’t know I needed a Visa”.

Here is the truth, you ALWAYS need a Visa.

“What?” You ask. Because in London they stamped your book and you were free to go as a US citizen. This is totally true, but that stamp, at customs and border, was your visa. No pre-registration and paperwork needed. Just the stamp.

Here is the thing though, sometimes the stamp doesn’t happen. And a big reason is that your passport may not have at least 6 months left on it for you to enter a specific country. Or more depending on where you are headed. In fact, many airlines won’t even let you board the plane if your passport is low on time. Meaning that week in Paris may be thrown away if you’re not prepared. This happens a lot.

Now for countries where you need advance permission, it’s vital to learn who needs what and what is needed. Meaning: countries like China may take longer and need you to buy plane tickets before you travel. Vietnam only takes a few days to process. Some countries only need a form when you land and a $50 fee. Just make sure you find out and find out at least a month or more in advance so you have time to plan.

Where do you find these details? Embassy websites and through the US state department’s website on travel: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages.html

Don’t forget to also check warnings on places you are traveling to. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/

Even consider registering with the state department in case you go missing. https://step.state.gov/step/

Other needs? Check with a travel agent or specialist that can at least point you in the right direction. Read a travel guide on your preferred country and ask around to others that have been to such locations.

Most of all, plan ahead, and have fun!

Happy Travels!

I’m Thankful, but not for Thanksgiving

History, musings, United States

I have mixed feelings around Thanksgiving. Those in Native American communities, justly, feel its a day of mourning over colonialism and genocide that followed earlier settlers in North, Central, and South America. I can’t deny their right to that, in fact I often think we need a day of mourning and honor to that time. Not just natives suffered from chronic colonial policies, but also those stolen from their lands in Africa, subjected to horrific treatment for centuries and even to this day.

I hate that we embrace Thanksgiving in a patriotic way without thorough discussion on the problems associated with romanticized notions around our colonial past. If you talk to many they know a romantic quip on the Mayflower, a largely 19th century fabrication that is about as historically accurate as Shrek. It leaves out vital context on the idiotic behaviors of early colonists. It leaves out the open gates that natives had forced open, establishing a trade that largely left people ripped from their lands, dying drone disease, and massacred at every turn.

In ways it feels as if we celebrated the election of Hitler but ignored everything he did after that. Or celebrated the ships that brought trade and the Bubonic plague to Europe, because trade, and ignored the deaths that followed. At the end of both scenarios, thousands to millions died, and the world was never the same afterwards. Even if we pretend that most colonists were innocently involved, it still doesn’t make the behavior right.

It’s comfortable for people to want a sweet and easy story to share with kids, to celebrate. We want to believe all of those in our past are goodly and had good meaning. Yet, to be honest as a society and people, we must face our mistakes and we must talk openly of what was wrong. This means acknowledging truth to share with our children and friends.

While I am very thankful for all that I have in this world. For my family, friends, education, community, cat, home, car, food, and so very much more, I know that it should be celebrated with more awareness. And this awareness means that we acknowledge our past sins and work to the future.

So maybe Thanksgiving should be celebrated without pilgrims and false narratives, and instead be a time to truly focus on all we have. A time to not try to find the best holidays shopping deals and a time to connect with family and friends. I am lucky that my little family has joined this trend, I hope to see more in the future.