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!

Adventure of the Week- Amtrak Train Journey

adventure of the week, family, Travel

Earlier this month I took a road trip to Iowa to attend a cousin’s wedding. The first half was spent on the never ending drive through Nebraska with my great aunt Jayne, her granddaughter Ivy, and my stepdaughter Lily. We stopped at the Omaha Zoo and made a comfortable adventure of the journey.

To return from the wedding, since I needed to be back to work before Jayne planned to return, my stepdaughter and I could either fly, rent a car, or how we decided – take the train.

CALIFORNIA-ZEPHYR.jpg

The Amtrak’s California Zephyr runs through Iowa, and we caught it about an hour south of Des Moines. From there one journey’s overnight before arriving in Colorado around 7:00 a.m. making the train journey approximately 12 hours depending on delays.

The train was only around $130 for the two of us one-way in basic economy seating. We sat on the top floor of the double decker economy cars and with ample leg room and the ability to walk around it never felt particularly cramped on the journey. No it was not luxury accommodations and a bed would have been nice, but for one overnight journey it was a reasonable price and journey.

I would say if you were to journey much longer, then a sleeper car of some sort would have been ideal. If only to be able to stretch out properly and have some privacy. Amtrak offers Roomettes and Family Rooms, depending on one’s budget and preferences.

Naturally, train travel is not the fastest or most efficient, but the experience is worth having and it’s an economical means for some routes. Additionally, trains are not nearly as crowded as buses I have traveled on or even planes, meaning you feel less cramped and trapped by everything.

Here are some of my tips for making the journey more comfortable:

  • Pack light
    • Most train stations will not have the ability to check your bags, so you will have to carry on suit cases and they need to be small enough to fit overhead. A larger carry-on bag is ideal
  • Keep comfortable items closed
    • Have a smaller personal bag with you to have by you and your seat, here it is ideal you have things like books, phones, laptop, and a toothbrush or any night creams and other items you may want handy. This includes snacks.
  • Keep the kid(s) happy
    • I brought the Nintendo Switch from our house to keep Lily gaming until I felt we should sleep. She also had books, snacks, and other items to keep her comfortable.
    • My emergency kit for all kid-related items includes wet wipes, chapstick, lotion, hand sanitizer, and a game of some sort.
  • Wear comfy clothing
    • Like with a flight, wear items that are comfortable to sit in for 12 hours + and that are stretchy or okay for swollen feet, and other discomforts of travel.
  • Keep medicine handy
    • Sometimes aches and pains happen, as well as the inability to sleep, keep your medicinal items handy for easy treatment.
  • Walk around
    • The journey will be much longer if you don’t move around, so make sure you check out the dining car, observation car, or simply journey the aisles to get some legs stretched.
  • Avoid the food
    • This may be a no-brainer, but food on flights, and apparently trains, are not like the Hogwarts Express as I had hoped. Everything was overpriced, greasy, and lacked flavor. For my next train adventure, I plan on bringing my own oatmeal and other noms
  • Stay hydrated
    • The train offers water bottle/cup refill stations, take advantage of this to avoid buying bottled water. AND it’s ore environmentally friendly. (For other tips, check out Ditching Disposables.
  • Have Fun!
    • Travel can be hard, no matter the means, make it a time to enjoy things you don’t usually. Watch the sunrise, have a glass of wine on a train, talk about silly things with your kiddo, or write in your journal. Sometimes just being is the ultimate treat.

HAPPY TRAVELS!

Packing for Kids

family, Travel

My mom and I used to fight about who got to pack bags for trips. My mom and I are both type A personalities, and stubborn, and sometimes control freaks (just being honest).

Thus, when stubborn preteen me took a trip, she would argue with her mom about what was packed and what made sense to take.

Mind you, I have never forgotten more than like a toothbrush on a trip. I have maybe broken many chargers, sunglasses, tubes of shampoo and more, but it usually makes it in the suitcase first!

Anyway, fast forward 17 years and I have a step daughter that doesn’t care what goes in her bag. Which helps so much when we travel! The down side is that she doesn’t end up helping in the planning stages as much as I would like.

Thus, I put together this handy guide on what kids need for a summer car trip with a train return. Making it an easy and simple way for adults and kids to know what to plan when hitting the road.

Side note: I totally forgot shoes, which are usually attached to the kids feet.

Orkney Islands – Adventure of the week

adventure of the week, Scotland, Throwback Thursday, Travel

I’m doing a bit of a throw back Thursday since the snow ruined my hiking + cat adventure at Lori State Park in Larimer County, Colorado on Saturday. No doubt, I had a great time on the weekend with friends over brunch and lunch, but it wasn’t quite the adventure I wanted to share.

So instead of Wednesday, here is my Throw Back Thursday in the Orkney Islands about 8 years ago.

I should start by saying that every intent for heading to these remote islands off the coast of Northern Scotland to see puffins.

Yes puffins.

Because they’re adorable. Check out these faces:

Here are some of my journal entries from the time:

May 4, 2010
Stromness, Orkney, Scotland, United Kingdom

Anyway about yesterday I started to feel better after being up a while and had to make a train at 10:38 a.m. to Thurso. I made the train no problem and rather enjoyed the 4 hours of scenery and rural towns I got to take in. I did find it amusing to have the birds watching so intently from their rocky perches in the sea. Almost as if them acted as if they were totally blown away by some human made contraption.

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After 4 hours on the train where I read, listened to music, and watched the world go by I arrived in the sleepy little town of Thurso. Where upon arriving I had simply had enough of some of the junk I was carrying around, that I decided that I had to mail some home and this is how I met Karen.

I was asking the lady working the booth at the station how to get to the post office, and another local popped in insisting she would give me a ride. Going with what I consider, a healthy intuition, I agreed. Karen was right, I really needed someone to show me where it was because it, was more or less hidden in the grocery store. Of course I got the average rundown of where I was from, what I had been doing? Was I homesick? Is the weather too cold for you? How cold is it in Colorado? The typical questions that I have been kindly asked over and over again with.

Karen dropped me off and we said our goodbyes and I went into hassle with mailing something home. Now this I was rather unaware of but a package going to the states from the U.K. cannot exceed 2kg. So I was only able to mail home about half of what I wanted and will again have to mail some more stuff home today. 
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After all t of hat I felt a coffee was in order and that’s where I met Keelie at a small bakery in Thurso. I ordered my stuff, and after a while asked which taxi service to use to get to Scrabster for the Ferry. A
fter I had said the first thing, we struck up a great conversation on what I’d been up to. When I said Colorado she thought of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” and told me she was going to go there one day and find and meet him. Then she asked about Forks, Washington in reference to Twilight and a couple other things. She actually surprising me that “South Park” wasn’t brought up. Oh and she told me when I first came into the shop she had thought I’d run away from home, another blow to me trying to at least look my age, hey I wasn’t even wearing my glasses which make me look younger! Ah well I can’t win everything.

After the coffee I called a cab and popped up to Scrabster. I can’t remember my cab drivers name, but he was truly a great laugh from the start. First, calling me Beverly just to torment me, then talking about how much he hated the English and the French! He was just hilarious and a lot of fun to talk with for the quick ten minute drive. 

Finally at the dock station,  there was a couple of hours wait until I left. Thus, I worked on reorganizing my schedule. About an hour before departure I got onto the ferry and settled myself next to the window inside and warm. No outdoor freeze your ass off ferry but a really nice, more luxurious type for the hour and a half trip.

I found a TV and watched Scrubs and Friends, comforts of home which truly I was missing. I really haven’t sat down and watched TV since before I left Colorado. So in truth, it was nice to veg out on old comforting shows, and ignore the somewhat nauseating rocking of the boat. 

I arrived in Stromness a little after 8 p.m. and was immediacy confused as to where I was due to my crappy bing map that I took a photo of on my camera. (THIS WAS WAY BEFORE SMART PHONES AND INTERNATIONAL CALLING PLANS)

So, instead of directly making it to my hostel, I went all over until I found another map in town, explaining it all. I was honestly a bit furious at this and have now learned not to trust bing maps either, after issues with Google maps! But I got to the hostel okay and only a little wet from the sea mist, and settled in for the night. The lady that owns this Brown’s hostel is very sweet and understanding and put me in a room by myself for the dorm rate. 

Part II this weekend 😉

Little Fish, Big Pond- from country girl to world traveler

musings, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

I grew up in the Pikes Peak region, very rural. Where the closest neighbor we had for many years was about half a mile away. Where the roads were dirt for three miles back to my childhood home. Where you could hear traffic from a mile away if you listened hard enough. Where big horned sheep hung out in their back yard and mountain lions were a real threat.

When going to school as a kid we literally lived at the LAST stop on the school bus route, for either school we went to either in Cripple Creek or Woodland Park. Both of which were a 30 minute drive in either direction.

When I was 19 (in 2010) I decided, while taking a gap year and a half, to take a trip. By myself I would go to Europe. I started in Germany and France with some dear friends that lived in Stuttgart. By the time I got to traveling alone I was in the UK and that meant a wakeup call on public transportation and how much of the world lives.

In London, I rode on my first subway, real subway- not one at an airport.

Out of London I rode on my first public train, not just a touristy trip through the Royal Gorge, to Diss in East Anglia.

In Edinburgh, I rode in my first cab, EVER….I kid you not.

Out of Stirling, Scotland I took my first public bus to Dirleton, Scotland, which quickly turned into a mess because I didn’t understand bus schedules…anyway.

Out of Holyhead, Wales I would take my first ferry and land in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.

As a trip of firsts in public transportation and seeing the world it was a wonderful experience and preparation for moving to the city for college.

In January of this year I took a third trip to the UK with my aunt, from Kansas, who had:

  • Never been in a cab
  • Never been on a commuter train
  • Never been on a subway
  • Never been on a public bus.

It was strange to think that someone in their 60s could just be experiencing these things for the first time. Yet, when I think about how strange the mid-west and western United States could be for people, it’s kind of a weirdness that is unique to that part of the world. Growing up in rural environments means that we have some experiences with raising farm animals, or hiking hidden trails. Yet we miss out on more urban pursuits. Which, when traveling have an interesting way of sneaking in. All part of the experience.