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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Don’t Plan Too Much

Travel

As a follow up to my last post, Plan Ahead, Avoid the Headache, I wanted to share the opposite problem for travelers to ponder, planning too much.

Flash to January 2010 and I am a nervous 18, almost 19 year old, planning their first trip to Europe. I was working in a small gift shop in Manitou Springs, and while the day was slow I would plan out, step-by-step how my trip was going to go. I mean step-by-step. I had the time I woke up, map directions and times to get to the first spot I wanted to see, approximate times for a lunch break, and what area or grocery store, or park bench I thought I should stop at.

This was a classic case of a bored mind finding mazes to run, and a nervous first time (solo) traveler trying to figure out how to maximize time in other countries. I had no freakin’ clue.

I landed in Germany in April 2010 and within a week everything had gone to hell. I was luckily staying with friends outside of Stuttgart, but the next part of my trip was delayed an entire week as all flights were grounded due to a certain Icelandic Volcano. When I say everything was grounded, I mean this volcanic ash cloud left 10 million stranded, cost airlines 1.7 billion in revenues…etc. etc. Thank you Eyjafjallajokull volcano! 

On a personal level it meant my two months of planned travel was also interrupted and I played a fast game of cutting out places in England and Ireland that I had planned to see. I split London into two chunks. I cut out the Lake District. I spent less time with friends in Diss. Then I met a Scottish guy and changed my plans for matters of the heart (this was also a flop). 

However, the lesson was that all my hours and hours and days of planning meant that I had failed to see that life, especially in traveling, gets messy and disruptive, and REALLY hates strict rules. I learned hard and fast that on long journeys you often just don’t know how your desires may change and that your heart may find a new path. 

I learned this again in 2013, when my funding for my study abroad was late and I was staying with family with no money. That same trip meant I would catch whooping cough and be bedridden for a week instead of going to Istanbul. 

Since then I have become wise to these tricks, or so I pretend, and I try to find a happy medium. A set of “plans” maybe a few tours, maybe some reservations, but ultimately I let things happen and I stay open to opportunity. What I have learned more than anything is that it’s important to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. 

Happy Travels!

Camping- The Magic Land in the Backyard

Allergen-free eating on the road, colorado, Colorado Events, musings, Travel

First I should say we don’t actually have a backyard. BUT we are only an hour and a half away from one of the most famous and well loved National Parks in the United States, Rocky Mountain National Park.

2015 marked 100 years of Rocky Mtn. being a National Park, and over 100 years of tourists coming to marvel at its glorious mountains, wildlife and plants! It also was the first time I ever explored the park. That is not to say I haven’t spent a fair amount of time outdoors and in National Parks, but I had never actually made it to Rocky. Even though I lived so close!

My first encounter was in August with my parent’s for a quick drive around the park. In summer glory it was just warm enough and everything was very green and vibrant. There was also thousands and thousands of tourists, as the park has grown in popularity over the past few years, with 2015 having over 4 million people! That’s impressive considering just a decade ago they had half as many. If you want to look at more nerdy stats, go here.

2015-08-20 15.48.592015-08-20 15.52.17

This massive amount of people made it hard to see everything and park and get through the gift shop etc. etc. It was still really neat to see and I’m glad we went. This also meant that we came out on the Western side of the state, something I had never done. This means a drive through more mountains and getting home late, but it was well worth the adventure.

Fast-forward two months and the lovely cool of Autumn is upon us. I decided to pack up the family and go camping in Rocky for the last weekend of the camping season at Moraine Park. It was also Elk rutting season!

What is Elk-Rutting you might ask? When all the male elks and their harems get it on and Males fight over females, as big dumb animals do. They are also really elegant animals, that have captivated people for eons. Their mating call also sounds like that of some alien species…the native americans used to think of them as spirits. Regardless, it actually makes for crap sleep, but beautiful photos.

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The camping part was an absolute blast, it was the first time Lily, my 8-year-old stepdaughter had been tent camping. She camps with her grandparent’s frequently but they have a camper on their truck and us mountain girls call that cheating ;).

Lily loves helping set up the tent, and using new camping gear we bought such as little camp pots and a foam mattress pad, queen size, for us to all snuggle onto. We used a combination of a gas camp stove and a fire for marshmallows, hot dog, vegan dogs for me, oatmeal, sandwiches, and a variety of chips and such to snack on.

Lily got the cool honor of getting to fill out a packet and search for animals through the 24-hours we were there. She saw deer, chipmunks, elk, squirrels, some rabbits and plenty of plant life to keep her busy and occupied. The best part was that we had no service so it was an unplugged weekend to talk, laugh, do some photography, and enjoy the little things.

We also drove to the top of the mountain to see all we could see….at the Alpine Visitor Center. Where we hiked up to 12,005 feet and it almost killed us….

The views on the drive were truly spectacular and Lily loved the chance when we stopped to run around and be blown away at the vastness of the world in front of us! Ryan almost had a heartattack. After almost 5 years together, I learned on that trip he had a hatred of heights.

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The biggest struggle was getting the campfire going, because I had a stupid attack and we didn’t pack enough kindling and paper to get it hot. WHOOPS… luckily someone else was there selling wood and kindling so we got to enjoy our fire pit eventually.2015-10-03 19.13.33

For a simple 24-hour getaway we got a lot out of the adventure. We problem solved, we laughed, we had fun, and we learned new things about each other and the world around us. For $50 I bought an annual pass, and we can’t wait to go back. The campground was $18 for the night. A few souvenirs and coffee was another $25 or so, but the photos and memories were priceless.

Get out and explore!

 

Best,

Rebecca Lee Robinson