We get a lot of tourists to our part of Colorado and for good reason. We’re neighbors with Rocky Mountain National Park, we have some fabulous white water rafting, and we’re enroute to many other natural wonders. That being said, many people hit the Rocky Mountains without much knowledge or understanding of safety and comfort. Here are some tips and tricks to keep you safe, and happy when you hit the woods.
Many times we are reminded that theme parks are for kids. They are money sucks of candy and cartoons and memorable characters and wild rides that make many adults queasy. We are reminded to take our kids to this and that so they have fun and memories and pictures. But I say, hold up, theme parks are as much for adults as kids, and you damn well can have a great time.
This year, if anything, is becoming my year of theme parks. For a long time I shied away from the parks. Well, I didn’t actively shy away, but I didn’t try to go to theme parks. I had not been to anything since 2015 on my last trip to Florida, and I decided to change that.
The last eight months have been a stressful, but mostly positive experience in my family. My husband had a job change, I am having two surgeries this year (more on this later next week), I have had promotions and job trainings. It has been crazy, an emotional roller coaster (pun intended), and stressful. I decided that my stepdaughter and I needed some fun on a day we had free together and that’s what we did.
We took a whole Saturday, grabbed Lily’s friend Josiah, and spent a whole day eating junk food, riding rides, and weaving through crowds at Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado. It was silly, it was fun, we made goofy jokes, we laughed at the rides, we got dizzy on the tea cups and we had an overall great day.
We enjoyed it so much we are looking forward to going next week with our Girl Scout Troop! There is even a new ride based on Meow Wolf, the Kaleidescape, which is an amazing art installation! It’s classic fun, in a local setting, full of all the grease and Dippin’ Dots that made a 90s childhood amazing.
So, fellow adults, and adult adjacents, get off your ass and enjoy the insane stupid fun of your local theme park this year. You will blow off steam, you’ll get some sun, you’ll walk like five miles so don’t stress about the calories, and you will make some memories.
There are times in life where preconceived notions have to
be put to the test and nothing has challenged me more than the subject of day
trips (in regards to travel anyway). Well before I started venturing into the world
on my own I had in my head that the best way to travel was to travel with no
rules, no script, and no one telling you where and when to do things. I thought
of all the school trips and family vacations I had been dragged around on and
knew that there was no way I wanted to travel in a massive bus with less than knowledgeable
guides trying to sell people on things. No, I wanted to explore on my own and
find the best things without rules. I wanted to wander and forge my own path
and take the path less taken and be amazing! All without any knowledge or experience!
In 2010 I obsessively made my own plans and scheduled in times to pee and blow my nose and shove an apple in my mouth. Read more here. Which in reality all went to shit within one week, because of nature, thank you Icelandic Volcano. The truth was that I had no idea how to plan or manage two months, let alone a week, or a day traveling because I didn’t have a clue. My trip went okay, I saw plenty of things, but I also learned where to worry and what to forget, and how to get help when I needed it.
Fast forward to 2013 and a study abroad trip opened my eyes
to the value of guides in foreign countries, especially when you don’t speak
the language. What I realized is that no matter how many signs or guide books
or snippets I read, I was missing valuable information whenever I looked around
at the world, the castle, the street, the odd carving in a wall. I missed the
stories, myths, and legends that made different corners of the world
remarkable. It was then that I realized that, in fact, guides are invaluable
and important people when visiting a city for the first time.
Even in a day of endless information and content, guides
offer insight, and an intimacy that no amount of paper and signs can ever give
to an experience. Having a guide walk you around Florence will allow you to
truly experience the details of the experience, versus aimlessly wandering
trying to make sense of everything that is around you. Having a guide takes you
to the best gelato, or the tastiest lunch in a town, and it lets you better
understand the people that are hosting you in their home. Since 2013 I make
sure every trip has at least one tour, but I am very selective on how and where
I take these tours. Here are some of my fast tips on selecting the best tour
for you and your travel companions!
with researching and finding as many tour providers as you can that will
cover what you need. This includes group and private tours, and companies like
Viator, or independent companies that you find.
all of the itineraries and inclusions, then figure out what seems like a
reasonable price for the tour either for a large, small, or private tour and
then decide what is friendliest for your budget.
private tours you will likely need to email guides, and explain what you want.
However, they will be able to fully customize your adventure from the locations
seen, the time spent in each place, and the routing taken. This is definitely worth
paying extra for, if you can afford it.
on the vehicles being offered. This seems silly, but sometimes something
will be listed that won’t actually work with your family of six, and two car
seats. Read up, email with questions, and call if you have any concerns.
My husband can attest to the discomfort of small
Mexican vans for 5 hours of driving to Chichen Itza, I majorly failed on
researching that one. My short self is now much more mindful that 6’4” doesn’t
fit in cars as well as 5’2”.
many reviews as you can, either through TripAdvisor, Facebook, viator, etc.
this will give you a better idea of what to expect and what to watch out for.
Remember, most people will complain before they complement, but it’s important
to check all the resources for consistency and safety.
travel companions about their preferences. Sometimes they won’t care, but
brain storming may mean they think of unforeseen issues, or other ideas to make
the trip better.
expert for advice! This is especially important if you are working with a
travel agent for your trip. They will likely have direct connections to some of
the best guides and experts in an area, and if they don’t they will know who to
ask for help.However, experts can
be other people like friends that know the region, a hotel concierge, or your
credit card concierge and travel departments!
Make a choice – yes you have to pick. It’s
far better to pick SOMETHING and not have the best tour, but get to SEE
something versus never going at all. I say this because so many people hesitate
to take a tour and then they don’t ever get the experience they should have
tried for. It’s scary to put trust in another company or guide, but I promise
that it’s worthwhile more than staying behind.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.