Saturday, December 6, 2014

Not This Time

I have been to Paris four times, yet somehow I never found the time to make the day trip to the palace at Versailles.  Sometimes travel goes that way.  Some places are so wonderful and filled with sights to see and activities to enjoy that you have to make choices.  Of course, you can choose to run frantically from sight to sight and do every fun activity offered, but you lose many of the other benefits of travel like immersing yourself in the daily life of the people, sitting in the sidewalk cafe slowly sipping your latte and observing the passers-by, standing in front of a great painting and soaking it in.

To get the most enjoyment out of a trip, sometimes we have to say, "Not this time...but I'll come here again!"  It's nice to know that Paris will still have new treasures to offer when I return some day.

Sometimes life goes that way, too.  We can hustle our way through the days, trying to accomplish everything we set out to do and running ourselves ragged, or we can prioritize and choose between the many happy options that life offers.

That happened to me this year as I tried to keep up with this year's Blog Challenge.  Maybe it is the fact that I just retired, and I haven't quite learned to organize my new-found time.  (In fact, I'm sure that played a part!  It has been so lovely to not have deadlines hanging over my head all the time, and chores that I used to have to do in a weekend can now take several days.)  So I have to say, "Not this time," and accept that I didn't meet the challenge this year - but look forward to giving it another go next year!  I do not at all regret starting the challenge.  I enjoyed the chance to look at my own travels in a new way.  Even more, I enjoyed getting to know my fellow bloggers through their wonderful posts.  Your posts have made me laugh and cry and feel very connected to all of you.  You have shared your inner thoughts, triumphs, and tragedies so beautifully.

I don't plan to stop my A to Z exploration.  More posts will be coming, and by the time our annual Blog Challenge starts next year, I should be finished with this round and ready to start the next!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Married With Luggage - An Inspiring Story

Imagine selling EVERYTHING but a laptop and a few clothes...from your house and your car right down to the little knick knacks on your shelves...then setting off for two years of around the world traveling.  Betsy and Warren Talbot, of Married With Luggage did just that.  But those two planned-for years became five years of travel, staying - and often settling in temporarily - everywhere from Equador to Antarctica to Chang Mai, Thailand to a yurt in Mongolia and to the more familiar countries of Europe.

Of course, they didn't do this on a whim.  They planned and saved for a couple of years,giving up all of their "extra" expenses - the Starbucks lattes, haircuts, dinners out, anything and everything that they could do without - and saved every penny until they were ready to sell everything they owned but those few clothes, a backpack, and a laptop and finally set off on their adventure.

It is an amazing story, which they tell in their newest book, Married With Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World.  They used their adventure to learn, not only about the world, but about themselves and their blog evolved from a simple travel narrative to a relationship instruction manual.  They added to their travel fund by writing books about the lessons they learned.  The first was Dream, Save, Do, a useful manual for setting and meeting your goals, whether they be to travel the world or to buy your first home.  They went a bit deeper into the story of their beginnings with a book on how to go about de-cluttering your life with their book, Getting Rid of It: Eliminating the Clutter in Your Life.  And Betsy tackled the issue of "good girls" not following their dreams in Strip Off Your Fear: The Good Girls Guide to Saying What You Want.

Betsy and Warren are remarkably upfront about their relationship, telling not only about the romance and freedom that comes from traveling, but also about the tensions and even the fights that occur when you are bound to your partner pretty much 24/7 for months at a time.  But they use this to share the insights they have had and the ways they have learned to adjust their own behavior.

As the years went on, Betsy and Warren expanded their blog to include, not only the posts of their travels and link to their books, but a fascinating podcast in which they interview interesting fellow travelers and relationship experts around the world about everything from fitness to sex to stupid mistakes.  It is amazing to me that they were able to turn their travel adventure into a thriving business that allowed them to continue the journey for so long.

Just a few months ago, they found a place that felt like home - a little village in Spain - and made the decision to finally come to rest in one spot.  They have bought a lovely little home and fill their blog with stories of their life in the village, learning a new language, becoming accepted (and loved, I think) by the local population.  And Betsy has just set off on a new adventure - writing a series of romance novels called "Late Bloomers."

I am delighted to share their adventures with my readers.  Visit  Married With Luggage and come along for the journey!

Monday, November 17, 2014


It's always a temptation to go go go when you are traveling.  You spent all this time and money getting here and who may never be here again, right?  So you want to see all the sights and take advantage of every activity, museum, hike, ethnic restaurant, and on and on and on.

Ummm...maybe not such a good idea.  You can end up so tired that you end up not enjoying any of it, or worse still, getting sick.

Costa Rica 
I'm going to advocate in today's lesson for the virtue of laziness...taking the time to really relax and just BE during your vacation.  You can find ways to both enjoy the experience of being in a new location and of taking it slow.  Of course, in tropical or beach locations, this is easy.  What can beat the relaxation of lying on the beach soaking up the sun and listening to the waves?

Watching the waves
Whenever we can, Rob and I try to find hotels with a balcony.  It encourages us to take life a little slower.  We often cook our own meals and enjoy them while watching the sun go down in the distance.

But even when you are not in oceanside locations that just call for relaxation, you can find ways to take part in the slower pace that is the way of life for many people throughout the world.  In Europe, one of the greatest pleasures of the day is sitting in a sidewalk cafe, sipping your coffee and enjoying the parade of people going by.  This is also a good way to connect with the locals who are often happy to engage in conversation with visitors.  I also use these little breaks in the day to jot observations down in my travel journal.

Rob and I also try to limit each trip to a smaller number of locations.  For example, rather than trying to tour the British Isles, we explored only Ireland for three weeks, which gave us the opportunity to take the time we needed to see much of the country AND have time to hang out in the pubs or discover a Celtic musical program or just chat with the charming people.

Americans tend to live our lives at home at a busy pace.  Our work ethic sometimes affects our "play ethic" in two ways.  Some of us are so driven by work that we just don't take the time to play, while others of us throw ourselves into recreational activities just as frantically as we work...going from one activity to the next all weekend long, putting our children into numerous different lessons, sports clubs, school activities, etc.  Most of us handle this well at home, but don't feel you have to run a marathon when you travel!  You will get far more out of your trips if you take time to relax, connect with people, and really explore the places you visit, rather than zipping from one sight to the next.

What are some of the ways YOU find to relax on your travels?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Koalas and Kangaroos and Kookaburas

My first koala!

There she was...nestled in a crook of branches high in one of the trees in the fragrant eucalyptus forest!  My first look at a really truly in-the-wild koala.  

My grandparents had brought me the gift of a stuffed koala from their trip to Australia many years before.  I loved that little stuffed creature and kept it for years, until its fur was worn and shabby. For years, I had longed to see a real koala, and finally, I had made it to Australia, the land of some of the weirdest - and most appealing - animals on our planet - koalas and kangaroos, wallabies and wombats, duck-billed platypuses, frilled-neck lizards, peacock spiders. The list of exotic creatures goes on and on.  Over 80% of the animals in Australia are found nowhere else on earth and I had come to try and see them all.  So naturally, the first thing I did when we arrived was to sign up for a wildlife tour.

Our bus rolled out of Melbourne into the green rolling hills and little farms of the countryside. The first stop was at the Serendip Sanctuary where we spotted our first kangaroo, a large male hopping right alongside our bus. We walked through a gate into a large field containing two large mobs of kangaroos. One mob was rather shy and immediately bounded off into the distance, but the other seemed quite unconcerned about our presence and continued to graze and lie in the sun nearby while we gawked and snapped photos.
A mob of kangaroos

We continued on the bus around the sanctuary, spotting our first emus. Tim, our guide, hopped off for a moment then returned with two large black emu eggs. The egg had been "holed" - a hole drilled into it to control the emu population. 
The next stop was by a lake that was home to hundreds of birds...emu, pelicans, ibis, a large variety of ducks, the pretty grey Cape Barren geese, and the Magpie geese, named, I presume, for their resemblance in color to the Australian magpie, a large crow-like bird with large white spots over its back and wings.

We were served tea and biscuits by a very cheery Aussie named Margaret, then we continued on to a National Park in the You Yang mountains. The hills were covered with eucalyptus trees, and two "spotters" had been out scouting the locations of the koalas for us. They only found two this morning, but were able to identify them by name. The spotters had a little booklet with descriptions of all of the known koalas in the park, who were identified by the various white spots under their noses. Our first koala was quite unimpressed our intrusion, and continued her snooze.  She may have been calm, but my heart was pounding with excitement at a long-time dream come truel

Can you spot her?  Right in the middle in the "V" of the biggest branches
We found the second koala very high in a tree. Without the spotters, I never would have seen her nestled in the very center of the big "gum" tree (which is what the Aussie's call the eucalyptus).  I kept my eyes up looking for others when suddenly I spotted two bright pink birds on a branch nearby. I asked Tom, "Do you have parrots here?" and he replied, "Oh, yes!" I pointed them out and he identified them as galahs, which we know as rose-breasted cockatoos. What a thrill to see cockatoos in the wild! 

Finally, we drove to the top of a high hill for a great view all the way back to Melbourne, then rode back to the city. Tim found out that I had learned the song "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree" years ago in the Girl Scouts, so he and I led the bus in a rousing chorus of that song, and, of course, "Waltzing Matilda."  

So what is the travel lesson for K? Sometimes travel makes childhood dreams come true!

Monday, November 3, 2014


Crossing the street.  Nothing to it, right?  Look to see that no one is driving down the road and then step on out.  I had done it successfully for years.

The first hint I had that crossing the streets in foreign countries might not be quite so easy was when the little old man grabbed me by the arm, pulled me back on the sidewalk, pointed his finger at my face, and proceeded to lecture me sternly - in Swedish.

I had been living in Bergen, Norway for several months as a foreign exchange student in the University of California Education Abroad Program.  Crossing the street in Bergen was even easier than it had been in California where I obediently waiting for the light to change to green.  Bergen in 1969 was still a small city with very little traffic.  There were a few traffic lights in town, but I followed the lead of the locals who checked for cars and then crossed when it was safe - even if the light was red.

The Swedes apparently took a different approach.  A group of us American students from Bergen took the ferry over to Lund, Sweden to visit our compatriots studying in the program there, and I had my memorable encounter with Herr Svenskacop.  Red-faced and bewildered, I turned to my American friends from the Lund program who were laughing uproariously.  In Sweden, one follows the rules!

Could crossing the road be a clue to the cultural norms of a country?  I'm not sure if it is that cut and dried, but there is no doubt that the rules of the road vary depending on where you are.  In Great Britian, of course, the greatest obstacle to safe crossing is remembering to look to your right instead of to your left to see if any cars are coming.  Happily (or is it unhappily, because so many tourists got a painful surprise?), some of the sidewalks in London have this helpful reminder.
London Sidewalk

In big cities, crossing the street is often an adventure.  European cities often have few traffic lights, relying instead on traffic circles, which keeps the traffic moving along constantly with few opportunities to leisurely stroll across the street.  

In Naples, a red light is "just a suggestion."  Young teens on Vespas zip through helter-skelter whether the light is red or green...and if they are really impatient, they just drive up on the sidewalk and scatter the crowds into the street.  In Italy, Rob and I discovered the "schooling method" of crossing the street.  We either joined a large group...and tried to stay in the middle...or we walked side by side with a lady pushing a baby carriage or a nun, as these two types got a little more respect from the drivers.

Many cities in Europe have solved the competition between pedestrians and cars by turning some of their shopping streets into pedestrian malls.  These streets are some of my favorite destinations on our travels!  I love wandering down the middle of the street or sitting in a sidewalk cafe watching the parade of tourists and locals enjoying their city.  Two of my favorite cities have taken this even a step further.  Venice, Italy and the old walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia have no cars at all!  What a joy to be able to jaywalk to my heart's content!
Markets below the Rialto Bridge, Venice

Dubrovnik Street

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Internal Journeys

When my daughter Libby turned 16, my mother and I took her on a five-day cruise from San Pedro to Ensenada, Mexico.  We had a great time together (although Libby probably had her best time in the teen club on the ship, dancing and hanging out with some of the other kids on the cruise.) We make several stops along the way, including a day on Catalina Island where we took the glassbottom boat ride and oohed and aahed at the bright orange garabaldi that swam between the giant kelp stalks.  It was just a fun and relaxing little cruise.

But my biggest memory of the trip was Libby's response to our walking tour of the town of Ensenada.  I had enjoyed the day.  It was a seaside town filled with tourist shops, a good lunch at a restaurant with an lovely outdoor patio and entertainment of mariachi musicians and folklorico dancers in bright embroidered dresses.  When we returned to the ship, however, Libby was quite solemn and silent.  I asked her what was wrong, and she said, "Mom, did you see all the little children who were begging?"

Libby experienced one of the most important reasons we travel...the internal journey.  We don't travel just to check off countries on our "wish list."  What is the point of going just to say we have been there?  We go to learn about other ways of life, other cultures.  Sometimes the things we learn cause a shift in our own world.

Rick Steves, another of my favorite travel gurus, is known for his travel guide books and tours of Europe.  He lives in Europe at least four months of every year, doing research for his books, filming his PBS travel show, and visiting with the many friends he has made in Europe during his many years of working there.  But when he travels on his own time, he goes to Central and South America to learn and write about the social conditions there, or he visits India, which is the place he feels most "rearranges his furniture."  Conditions there are so terrible for so many people, and yet many of them find ways to live happy lives in spite of their poverty.

The internal journey does not always come from observing how good we have it relative to other less fortunate people.  Rob and I have traveled mostly in Europe, and our perception was changed by observing so many things that we found to admire in the European way of life.  The public transportation, the systems of health care, the new infrastructure, and the more balanced approach to work and leisure are often superior to what we see at home.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my country and am very happy living here.  I think we do lots that is right, but from seeing life in other countries, Rob and I understand that the United States is not the "best" country in the world.  It may be the best for us because it is home, but as Rick Steves says, "Many of the world's people may like Americans, but they don't want to change passports with you."

Have fun on your travels.  Enjoy the new sights and sounds and smells and societies...but don't be afraid of "rearranging your furniture," of learning about your own world by observing someone else's.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Sometimes the best journeys are very close by.  Last week, I went "home" to my parents' home in Pacific Grove.  This house was never my full-time home.  My parents didn't move into it until about eight years ago.  But it has been my "second home" ever since my grandfather bought it as a little weekend beach house when I was about 14 years old.  Pacific Grove is the place I am happiest and most content.

I don't have a "home town."  I was born in Van Nuys, California (a fifth generation Californian), but lived there for less than a year when my parents took me on the first of many moves throughout my childhood.  My dad put a list of all of the addresses we lived in throughout my childhood in the front of my baby book (hidden in a box of memorabilia at the moment), but I can summon up many of the locations.  Van Nuys was followed by student housing at UCLA as my dad finished his M.A. in geology.

Dad's career as a petroleum geologist led us around the western United States.  By the time I started kindergarten, I had already lived in Vernal, Utah and Casper, Wyoming.  Kindergarten and first grade were in Ojai, California.  Second grade through the first half of fifth grade were in Lakewood, CA, while the second half of fifth grade and the first half of sixth grade were in Farmington, New Mexico.  (Shell Oil Company did not plan their employees' transfers to coincide with the school year.)   The second half of sixth grade and the first half of seventh grade were spent back in California - this time in Long Beach.  And the second half of seventh grade found me standing self-consciously in the quad of Jane Long Junior High School in Houston, Texas.  I finished junior high in Houston, then we returned to California one more time where I actually got to attend the remainder of high school right here at Foothill High School in Bakersfield.

All of our moves really didn't bother me.  In fact, when I got to Foothill High, I met girls who had known each other since kindergarten, and I was genuinely shocked.  I didn't realize until that moment that people actually grew up in one town.  Most of my parents' friends were also oil company folks, and we all moved frequently.  As far as I was concerned, home was wherever my family was.  Mom and Dad and my sister, Barbara, and brother, Rob, were the constants in my life.  In fact, all that moving around gave me a wanderlust, and, I hope, the ability to make friends quickly and to adapt to new situations pretty easily.

Life was always an adventure.  My parents didn't have the money to take us on exotic trips overseas, but we explored every new landscape with eager eyes.  We called these little adventures "Family Outings."  On our nature walks, Dad introduced us to the basics of geology as we explored the canyons and cliff dwellings of the American southwest.  We squealed at the sight of dozens of crabs trying to escape from a big tub in the back of our old station wagon after a day of crabbing in Galveston, Texas.  Our explorations of the tidepools on the rocky cliffs of the Monterey coast instilled a love of the seaside and marine biology that is still with me today.

And that love of the sea leads me back to Pacific Grove.  My dear Grandpa bought the little cottage almost on a whim.  We had family roots in Pacific Grove back to the late 1800's when it was a Methodist church summer camp, so my grandparents frequently visited relatives and friends there.  One fateful day, my grandmother, Nanda, was enjoying a card game with her best friend and was not finished when Grandpa came to pick her up for their trip back to their home in San Jose.  He went out for a walk and found a little home for sale right across the street from Lovers Point beach.  By the time they left for San Jose, he had bought the house - and often said that it was the best decision he ever made.  My family used the cottage as a vacation home through my high school years.  It was a weekend retreat for me and my friends during college years, I took my own children there for many vacations.  When my grandparents passed away, my mom and dad added a second story and made this house their permanent home, which makes it even more special to me.  It is the home of my heart and, as much as I love traveling the world, I am always happiest when making the drive to Pacific Grove.