Day Trips – to go or not to go?

Caribbean, Cruising, europe, France, Ireland, italy, mexico, Scotland, Throwback Thursday, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

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!

  1. Start 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.
  2. Review 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.
    1. For 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.
  3. Read up 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.
    1. 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”.
  4. Read as 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.
  5. Ask your 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.
  6. Ask an 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!
  7. 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.
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Do a Lot With a Little

Allergen-free eating on the road, europe, family, food, France, geek, Ireland, italy, Travel, United Kingdom

I have never had what I would consider a lot of money or resources. I grew up in my grandparent’s house. My family lived below the poverty line. Since moving out of my childhood home I have been in school and/or working in jobs that don’t pay more than $34,000 a year. I sometimes do some work as a photographer or web designer to make ends meet. It has never been a lot. I have never had excessive means.

However, even with a little, I make it stretch. I take the advantages that have been given to me and make it work. This is, of course, been an immense lot of luck, and stubbornness, and sacrifice. However, it has meant that I have been able to do more than many at 27.

For my first trip to Europe, I lived at home and worked almost seven days a week for $8 an hour, at a crappy little fossil shop with sketchy owners. I did that for eight months, and then cheaply wandered around Europe crashing with friends, old and new, and hosteling when I needed to. I ate apples for lunch, and cooked in dingy kitchens to save cash. I walked instead of taking taxis and buses. I made it work. I took the advantages of free places to sleep and turned it into a longer trip, another museum, a nice meal.

In 2013 on my study abroad I headed to Italy on the most economical program I could find. I ate at the apartment for the most part, picking up in season produce at the markets. Savoring every sweet little strawberry and succulent squash. I bought $2 gelato on my way to classes for my “lunch” and euro store (same as a dollar store) nuts for a snack. I would scour the city for food deals on dinners. €15 three-course meals meant I could eat and drink on the cheap, street vendors served €2 polenta for a real treat. I bartered to cut down on souvenir costs. I stubbornly walked away to save another €5. I took advantage of every meal and treat that the study abroad program offered, knowing it would save me money.

2015 was the start of my M.A. and I hosteled, while others stayed in hotels. I packed lunch or ate cheap soup in the cantina at the college instead of eating a sandwich nearby. I traded books at the hostel and did my laundry in the basement. In an extra three weeks of travel I only stayed three nights in a real hotel, a 3-star Ibis. I was gifted gluten free bread from a fabulous bakery in Dublin. I bought few souvenirs and savored toast and tea and packets of oatmeal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love food. I LOVE food. However, I love seeing the world more. I love diving into museums and cathedrals and tours. I love eating cheap food that locals love, from chippies and markets, and food stalls. I like finding fresh veggies and fruits to suck down locally. I like fancy things, and fine meals, but if it means I can try three restaurants for the price of one, I’ll take more over the one.

I find this philosophy trickles into everything I do. I shop second hand clothing stores so I can afford a better quality item for much less. I shop grocery store sales, and closeout items for a better deal. I coupon and wait for deals to get the items I need. I scour for off-season travel deals and seasonal items to hit the clearance sections. Some find this cheap. I find it a means to live a fuller life.

I don’t hoard this bounty either, I gift to others, and donate like crazy. Monthly I probably get rid of at least one if not more trash bags of stuff. It consists of clothes my stepdaughter has outgrown, shoes we are bored of, and books we have read. I recycle and reuse, I pass it on and upcycle. I take a little and make a lot.

End note: I have been extremely lucky and I am fully aware not everyone can do this.

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!

Travel Is More Than Checklists

France, Ireland, italy, musings, Scotland, Travel

In my work, and my passion, there is a lot of talk about “bucket lists”. Bucket Lists, for those unaware, are lists of things and places one wants to go to before they “kick the bucket” aka drop dead.

While it’s great to have lists and goals, dreams and wishes, it’s also important not to lose track of all the other reasons one should travel.

No doubt I have my own goals I want to accomplish, and a bucket list a mile long, yet I know in my heart of hearts I travel for much more than checking off places.

When I was 19 and I took off to Europe by myself, I kept thinking “if I die now I will feel fulfilled”. I felt this when I saw Paris. Then again in London. Again in Edinburgh. Once again in Ireland….and I have felt it so many more times in eight and a half years. Yet I have not run out of places I want to visit, things I want to experiences, beauty I want to absorb. This is because the act of traveling is much more than coming home and saying “I have been here” it’s the stories, the people, and the moments that make traveling whole.

Some of my more vivid memories have nothing to do with making it to a place I always wanted to see. While seeing the Eiffel Tower was spectacular. I remember the same wonder at a funeral procession in the Orkney Islands. Something about those moments connected me deeper to humanity that I was witnessing, and the glory that was our existence. I laughed as much at a comedy show in Dublin as I did a little girl in a park in Blarney who was trying to talk me out of my crackers as I ate a picnic. I have wept seeing the Mona Lisa and the Birth of Venus, surrounded by hundreds of people, because of the connection we all felt through time and to ourselves and those around us in awe. I have also cried sitting alone on mountain tops, flabbergasted at the insignificance of my own size and existence.

My point is that travel is an emotional experience. Travel is a humanitarian experience. I travel to be more in love with the people I share earth with. I travel to be humbled at the beauty of nature. I have traveled to get closer to family and friends. I have traveled to escape family. Traveling means pushing my comfort levels to a breaking point. Traveling means eating food I never would try otherwise (hello escargot). Travel means drinking and eating at totally bizarre places and falling in love with it. Traveling means looking other people in the face and feeling connected to them, even if they are a complete stranger.

Because checking off lists holds you to a form, and the earth is far better explored in its natural chaos.

Travel is to live your life to its highest value.

Travel, in its pure form, is magic.

Happy Travels!

The Best Lessons Have Been My Mistakes

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I have been traveling internationally for 8 1/2 years. Mostly by myself. Always on a budget. And with a few struggles along the way. Some have been all my fault. Others I can blame on fellow travelers. All of them are important.

Here are 10 of the best/worst lessons to learn on the road.

  1. Carry a phone-
    A part of me hates this but it has saved my butt more times than I can count. For instance, when you forget to learn out to read bus schedules, you can call a cab.

2. Buy good maps

    I don’t know how many tines having a bad or outdated or confusing map has messed up a day, turned me around, or got me lost. So, investing in a good map is an important way to preemptively save the day.
  • 3. self care!
    • I have become sick 2 out of 3 extended trips. If I had used more hand sanitizer, brought some vitamins, and got more sleep, I would have had an easier time with everything.

    4. Pack Light/Buy light

    • I have always made this mistake on longer trips. I pack too much, and immediately regret it. The other side is buying too much. When my aunt went with me to Europe in 2015 she bought so many souvenirs that we had to mail two large boxes home AND a suitcase. Because of the weight and international shipping fees, she spent almost $800 to mail home about $3,000 worth of merchandise. The moral of the story is that it’s better to buy the few things you REALLY want, leave room in your suitcase to bring it home, and consider purchasing some items when you get home. Pro tip- many companies get GREAT shipping discounts if you buy say $100 of merchandise.
  • 5. Eat Well
    • Don’t eat expensive, eat well. Eat your veggies like mamma told you. Don’t drink too much. Make sure you drink plenty of water, and enjoy delicacies in moderation.

    6. Say no

    • Say no to people that annoy you. Say no to drunk guys in bars. Say no to pushy “tour guides”. Say no to flirtatious Italians. Say no when it seems wrong, sketchy, scary, or if your gut tells you so.

    7. Ask Questions

    • So many mistakes and mishaps could have been prevented for myself and others if I had asked more questions, asked for directions, asked for a better map or bus schedule. See 1 and 2.

    8. Bring a Towel

    • It sounds silly, but if you have read Hitchhiker’s Guide (or seen the movie) you know towels are helpful. Truth is having a good towel on the road is also helpful.

    9. Bring a Sweater

    • Weather conditions can change in most places without warning. The times I have needed a sweater I have been so grateful to have one. When I have forgot one, boy did chattering teeth regret it.

    10. Make sure you are physically ready

    • Travel can be thoroughly miserable if you are not in shape. Being tired from long walks, or just carrying luggage can make the trip a miserable time. See 4 for extra help!

    What have you learned on the road?

    Packing for the Unpredictable

    Caribbean, Cruising, Florida, Ireland, italy, mexico, new mexico, Scotland, Travel, wyoming

    Colorado winters overlap with spring in an unusual way. This week has gone from 70° to 25° and everywhere in between. Today it is snowing. It’s April 6, 2018 and it’s snowing.

    I try to not get discouraged on these wintery days, after all we need the moisture and the snow has a charm to it. Yet, I do wish it was rain instead of the ice and freezing cold. It also reminds me of the importance of clothing with unpredictable weather patterns. While I have lived my whole life in the Colorado and I am fully aware of wacky weather, I have also been the victim of my own poor planning.  Therefore, it’s imperative that one puts together smart outfits for the unpredictable.

    Here are the things I never leave home without:

    • Long pants or jeans
      • You never know when the weather will get cold, especially in the evening, even in tropical areas. Also, if you plan on any outdoor sports of hiking, long pants help with mud, cuts, and other facts of the journey.
    • Hoodie/Sweater
      • Every trip I have taken, whether a warm or cold climate, my hoodie comes in handy. I may not use it everyday, but when airport air-conditioning is too high, or a cold snap hits in Mexico, I am so thankful that I have it.
    • Sandals
      • Depending on how you travel, I have found sandals are a must have. For instance, going through airport security is easier when shoes slip on and off. If I want an impromptu visit to a swimming pool, I’m covered. Finally, if you are hosteling or staying at a number of places with a shared bathroom, sandals make trips down the hall much easier. My personal favorites are Birkenstocks or Chaco’s
    • A nice outfit
      • maybe someone will ask you on a date, or to a club. Or maybe you will want to dine at a fine restaurant. Research what seems appropriate for where you may go, and pack for it. I strongly believe it’s hard to be over dressed (okay maybe a ball gown is too much) so bring something pretty, easy to keep clean/wrinkle free, and a good pair of dress shoes.
    • Boots/Water Resistant Shoes
      • Rain, mud, and floods happen. Maybe I have bad luck, but I have always have had a need for something water resistant on my feet. Make sure you research what you may need, because warm monsoons in India are going to be far different from Spring showers in London.
    • Umbrella
      • I have lost, broken, and bought endless numbers of umbrellas. My biggest issue was not buying a high quality umbrella to deal with the torrential downpours that sometimes hit Scotland in January. My advice is that you should buy the best umbrella you can find and treasure it. Also, sometimes it’s better to just get wet than fight with gale-force winds.
    • Jogging pants, not pajama pants
      • If you don’t plan to do a normal workout routine, then I suggest you bring some warm and comfy jogging pants. These make life more comfortable, and are warmer when evenings get cold. While pajama pants are nice, jogging pants create much needed warmth, especially in winter and spring. Same goes for them as the hoodie, sometimes air conditioning and cold snaps freeze one out. Extra plush makes the day better.
    • Leggings
      • This rule is maybe not for men, or maybe, you do you. Leggings are my go to for flights, and extra layers in the cold. On flights they are more comfortable if you swell like I do with flights. Leggings are also great backups if your other pants are dirty, and they are usually easier to clean in a sink than a pair of jeans.
    • Reusable Shopping Bag
      • It sounds silly, but seriously invest in a shopping bag that is easy to fold up and stuff in a pocket or purse. This is a major convenience as more and more countries have moved from giving out plastic or disposable bags. So having a bag for shopping, or even just to lug around laundry, water bottles, snacks etc. is worth it.
    • Backpack or larger purse
      • Now don’t bring a small suitcase, but a day bag or day pack is what is needed for the day to day travels around the city or town. This can hold your water bottle, sun screen, camera, phone, snack, money and other necessities. Ladies, make sure you get a bag with an over shoulder strap. Backpack lovers, maybe carry it in front in busy areas.

    What do you not leave home without?

    Happy Travels!

    unpreditable

    There are a ton of videos and blogs on this subject. But welcome to my take on the situation. I have only found a few things to be true when travelling and the rest to be crap.

    I don’t put necklaces through straws so they don’t get tangled, because I only take one set of jewelry with me so I lessen the risk of losing something (or having it stolen). I don’t take much shampoo in little bottles because it’s far more logical to “buy it when you get there” and in small quantities.

    Perhaps this sounds a little rugged and I know we have favorite hair products, BUT the reality is that one exploded bottle of shampoo or lotion in your suitcase can make a mess that’s way worse to deal with than messy hair. And unless you are going somewhere where you know they won’t sell cosmetics, then just buy something when you get there. You often can find better products in places like Europe, that will work better in the water/sun/humidity in that location.

    For instance, a pharmacist in Rome noted how pasty I was, and insisted I buy some SPF50. “Blanca, blanca, come here” she told me and shoved the bottle in my hand with some tampons. This was the best sunscreen I have ever used and I wish I could find it here in the states! It didn’t cause me to break out, it was light and it worked to keep “blanca” from being “rosso”.

    Travel Hacks No One Actually Tells You

    Cruising, Ireland, musings, Photography, Travel

    Gluten Free Gem of Dublin

    Allergen-free eating on the road, Ireland, Travel

    note: this bakery closed in 2017

    A little over a year ago I reported that in Dublin, Ireland a small group of celiacs would be opening a bakery to serve the Dublin community with gluten free, homemade goods. It was my dream from hearing about them on to visit! And I did!

    2015-02-02 08.10.11

    In February I took some extra time before going back stateside to get some gluten free treats from Antoinette’s Bakery in Dublin. Oh boy were they amazing! Which has left me feeling there is a void in my life because Antoinette’s is nowhere near Colorado.

    Some may have VooDoo Donuts in Portland and Denver, well I have Antoinette’s in Dublin, a treat that is only attainable when I’m passing through. A place that is iconic, delicious, welcoming, full of Irish charm and friendliness and  a total gem of a place for celiacs and non.

    2015-02-02 08.10.04

    I went not only one afternoon, but the next morning as well for their cinnamon donuts, brownies and other miscellaneous goodies. Not only was the food good, but their array of coffees and lattes were warming in the rainy Dublin February, and the atmosphere of the bakery to die for. Based on a Maria Antoinette, meets punk “Let them eat cake” mash that I wish my own kitchen could compare to.

    So if you are in Dublin, or Ireland, or needing an excuse to go there, this is it. You Won’t be disappointed, and make sure to pick up a souvenir or two to remind you to plan a next time.