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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Every aspiring travel writer's packing list must include a journal.  Whether you choose a notepad, a tablet, or a fancy bound book with a lovely cover doesn't matter as much as having a means to record your notes and impressions about your trip.  Even more than the photos, your journal brings back each day of the trip in vivid detail.  Photos capture a bit of what you see, but the journal can include all of your senses, as well as your thoughts and emotions during the trip.

In fact, when Rob and I travel, our senses are so overwhelmed by all of the new sights and experiences that we often have trouble remembering what we did two days ago, much less remembering the entire trip!  We keep a record of our trips on a blog, Travels With Robby.  But that website is just a personal journal.  Each post is a record of one trip...a diary of our own experiences, so it is probably only of interest to Rob, myself, and family members and friends who want to share the experience with us.

It's a great beginning, but as the aforementioned aspiring travel writer, I wanted to learn how to mine these personal stories for the little gems that could be cut into polished travel tales.  For help with this, I turned to an  award winning travel writer, master travel blogger, and great writing teacher, Dave Fox of Globejotting: A Home for Global Storytelling.

I "discovered" Dave while searching the web for help with travel journaling.  He had an older website with pages of good advice, including strategies to help with the biggest problem we travel journalers face - how to find time to journal when we are busy enjoying a trip.

Over the years, Dave expanded his services.  He turned his good website advice into a thoroughly enjoyable book, Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!)  Dave is also a humor writer, winner of the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop Book Proposal Contest for his book, Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad, and he put his humor to good use in his Globejotting book.

Dave also offers online travel and humor writing classes and these classes resulted in some of the best writing I have ever done.  Dave provides thorough and thoughtful feedback to his students in a tactful, friendly, but honest way.  He also hosts a forum for his writing students where they can share and critique their stories.  I am currently taking his new class, offered through Udemy, on creating publishable travel tales, "Travel Writing and Publishing: Globejotting 2.0."

For those of you wondering about his own travel "credentials," Dave is a world traveler with years of experience.  He lived in Norway as a high school exchange student and used his Norwegian and journaling skills to become a guide on the Scandinavian tours with Rick Steves.  He has led travel writing trips to Vietnam and Botswana, and he currently lives in Singapore with his wife Kattina, a science teacher at an international school there.

I encourage those of you with travel writing aspirations to check out his website and other services.  With Dave's help (and good advice from my Writers of Kern critique partners), I hope to turn some of my own travel journals into true travel tales that will bring the joy of traveling to a wider audience.

(If you are interested, you can also check out my two stories that have been published on Globejotting!  My Husband's Other Wife and Quetzal Quest.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fatu Hiva

Fatu Hiva
April 14, 2006

If you ask me to pick my favorite trip, I just can't.  Every destination has its own unique charm.  But I have found certain locations that will always hold a special place in my heart.  One of these is Fatu Hiva, the southernmost - and most gorgeous - of the Marquesas Islands.  We were traveling on the beautiful, small cruise ship, the Paul Gauguin.  On the morning of our arrival to Fatu Hiva,  I woke at dawn, threw on my pareu and went up on deck to see the small island come into view. It was quite spectacular and reminded me strongly of the Na Pali coast of Kauai, with the sides of its tall volcanic peaks eroded into sharp ridges and deep valleys. We anchored in the bay near the tiny town of Omoa, one of only two towns on this remote island which has a total population of only about 500.

It was quite exciting to be one of the few to visit a spot that is still relatively “undiscovered” by most of the world. Visitors are still rare here…although there are regular visits by the supply ship from Papeete.

There was no dock big enough for the tenders, so we took little zodiac rafts from the ship to the tiny dock. It was a challenge to step off the zodiac onto the land, as the waves bounced us up and down, but there were helping hands extended to help those of us who were athletically challenged. We were greeted at the top of the stairs with beautiful leis, warm smiles, and singing voices.

Due to the infrequency of visitors, our arrival was a big day for the village. The entire population seemed to be gathered for the event. We headed first for the craft building where the Marquesans had set out their handmade crafts…lovely wall hangings of tapa painted with intricate traditional designs…tikis made of rosewood, sandalwood, stone, and coral…various other wooden carvings, spears, and knives…and umuhei, aromatic bouquets of sandalwood and flowers. Rob and I bought a two tikis - one wood and one stone - to join the one of coral which we had purchased on Mo’orea on a previous cruise, then we joined our new friends, Bryce and Karen, and took a walk through the village and up the one road into the valley.

Fatu Hiva would certainly match most people's vision of a perfect tropical isle. There were coconut palms, papaya trees, (Rob's favorite), drooping with fruit, huge breadfruit trees, bananas, noni plants (which are a big cash crop for the islanders because of the supposed health benefits in noni juice)…even a pineapple growing by the side of the road! You could actually live off the land here. Add a few fish and it’s a feast! It would have been wonderful to spend a bit more time here. The road winds over the mountain about 10 miles to the one other town of the island, Hanaveve, but we were given only the morning in Omoa.

At noon, we returned to the town square for a dance performed by the children and teens of the village. It was not a polished, professional performance like those on board the ship or in Papeete, but in some ways even more charming, as it was so authentic. 

We stopped in at the little village church with its beautiful wooden carvings, then returned to the Paul Gauguin and began a leisurely cruise along the west side of the island.

As always, there were several activities going on around the ship. Some of the local vendors had joined the ship to sell more handicrafts, the Gauguines were showing off the beautiful (and expensive) Polynesian quilts called Tifaifai, and there was more basket weaving, but it was so gorgeous outside that I just had to stay on deck where I had a nice chat with Mark Eddowes, the ship's anthro-pologist. 

Soon we turned into the most gorgeous spot of the entire trip…the Baie des Vierges. (There is an interesting story about this name. The sailors who first visited here noted the rather phallic pillars of basalt standing guard over the bay and dubbed it the Baie de Verges, or Bay of Penises. As you might well guess, this did not sit well with the Catholic missionaries who followed, and the addition of one little vowel turned the name into the more wholesome Bay of Virgins.) I will rely on the photos to describe this scene, but they don’t do justice to the breathtaking beauty of the place. Sometimes wishes do come true because I was snapping pictures like crazy, wishing we could actually spend some time and explore when the announcement came from the Captain that, because of the perfect conditions, we would be given the opportunity to go ashore. Naturally, Rob and I hurried right down to take advantage of the offer!

Our arrival was greeted with great excitement from the children of Vavapepe. As we had not been expected to land, the village had not prepared for our arrival, so they were just going about their normal lives. It was Good Friday, and most of the village was just getting out of church. The children spotted us heading for the dock and came running down to the dock en masse to gape at us. We wished we had brought little gifts for them…pencils were an especially popular item…but alas, we had nothing to offer.

The women of the village also went running…but away from the dock to lay out their wares on blankets in front of their homes. Rob and I took another beautiful walk along the road that led back to Omoa. All too soon, it was time to depart this beautiful island, but we were not too hurried to enjoy an impromptu soccer match with a little boy from the village.

While waiting for the tender to pick us up, we enjoyed visiting with the funny, fat tiki god who stands guard over their harbor like a Polynesian Buddha.

Even our return to the ship was magical. We floated back at just the right moment to catch the sunset behind the Paul Gauguin. 

The "lesson" for the day?   There are rich rewards in seeking out the more remote spots in that are still relatively untouched by the modern world.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


From the late entry of this post for the letter E, you might reasonably assume that I am a bit of a procrastinator.  You would be right.  I returned a week ago Sunday from a board meeting of the educational organization I serve on with good intentions to immediately open up my meeting notes and begin compiling and working my way through the to-do list.  I actually accomplished that goal yesterday...eight days after returning home.

But, oh, did I get a lot of housework done in the meantime!

Of course, if it actually is housework on the agenda, then I am likely to find myself in the garden pulling weeds instead.  I don't quite understand this tendency to do alternative activities rather than the ones I should be doing, though I do manage to get a lot of unplanned work done that way!

When it comes to travel planning, however, Rob and I could be in the running for the "Early Bird Hall of Fame."  This week, when I should have been doing my association's tasks, we spent hours researching and booking a tour that won't even take place until November, 2015.  As often happens, we are actually too early to book our airline flight or our hotels.   Many airlines will not take reservations prior to eleven months before your trip, and hotels often adjust their rates each year and are not willing to make a reservation until they are able to provide their customer with accurate information.  No matter!  The hotel was happy to put us on a waiting list and promised to notify us when reservations for our requested dates become available.  (And I added a note to my calendar to check again after the first of the year to follow up in case their waiting list goes astray.)

For the flight plans, I know I can count on Rob to be on the phone to the airline the very first date that seats are made available for our preferred flight.  His diligence has a lot of benefits.  By being early, we are assured of the flight we want, but even more importantly, we are also assured of getting the seats we want.  Any of you who have flown recently know that the airlines have been quietly scooting their coach seats closer and closer together.  Our local newspaper just ran a story on airline travel, stating that the minimum amount of space between seats to ensure passenger comfort is 34 inches, but the norm lately is 30 inches...far too small for my tall husband.  Rob has become a master at looking at the airplane charts and selecting the exact seats that will allow him to stretch his long legs.  Yes, we do have to pay a bit more for Economy Plus, but on a long flight, the cost is well worth it.

We are not only early in planning our trips..we are even early when taking the trips.  For international flights, airlines request that you check in two hours prior to the flight, but it is not unusual to find us through the security line and sitting in the terminal three hours ahead.  Some might think that sitting in the airport terminal for three hours is a terrible waste of time, but there are lots of ways to fill the hours.  In the last several years, many airports are recognizing our need to be "plugged in," and provide outlet stations where waiting passengers can plug in their iPads and smart phones to charge them up for the upcoming flight.  We can read, check emails, play Sudoku, browse in the airport shops, and people-watch.

Waiting for our journeys is not my favorite part of travel, but being early eliminates so much of the stress and hassle that it is worth the long wait at the gate.  Now if I could only learn this lesson when it comes to work and chores!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dreams and Destinations

“The world is so full of a number of things,  I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

I've always loved this quote from Robert Louis Stevenson.  And when it comes to picking destinations for our travels, the "number of things" and places is almost overwhelming.  One of the most difficult parts of traveling for me is just finally settling on which of the 1,001 (or more!) places I want to visit this time.  

It all starts with the dreaming.  On the wall of our home is a large world map filled with red pins showing the places we have visited and, more importantly, green pins for the places we want to explore.  As we read, watch travel shows on TV, talk to other travelers, the number of green pins keeps rising.  

I love browsing through travel brochures and tour pamphlets.  Rob and I have taken organized tours, and there are advantages to this method of travel.  (More about that in an upcoming post!)  When possible, though, we prefer to arrange trips ourselves, and I find that the tour brochures are very helpful for finding places I might not have discovered on my own or for seeing the itineraries that others have set up. Tour companies pick their destinations for a reason, so they give me hints about the highlights of a country or region.

As you can see, coming up with ideas for future travels isn't the big issue. Our list of future travel dreams is probably too long to fit into our lifetime and our budget.  The hard part is deciding where to go next!

It helps to consider the time of year you have available to travel.  If you have a nice long winter holiday, isn't it convenient that the southern hemisphere is enjoying the summer?  It's the perfect time to visit South America, New Zealand, or even Antarctica.  Summer in the northern hemisphere is the best time for experiencing the land of the midnight sun, Norway, and her sister Scandinavian lands.  Spring and Fall are the best for the Mediterranean countries, East Africa, or Australia where summer heat may sap your energy and enthusiasm.'ve picked the season.  Now, what kind of experience do you want?  Are you looking for a rich cultural experience in a completely unfamiliar environment?  A world capitol city filled with great architecture, art museums, and fine dining?  A remote location surrounded by natural beauty and miles of hiking trails?  Or just a completely relaxing week on a quiet beach?  

Truth be told, if you are like me, you want all of these experiences.  I don't know of any 'best" way to pick the next trip.  Rob and I just start talking and dreaming, and when we come up with a trip where we both say at the same time, "That's the one!" then we know it's the right one.

So start dreaming!  Make your "Destinations List," close your eyes and stab your pin at the map.  In a world so filled with wonderful places, you can hardly go wrong!  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Carry On Only!

My husband and travel partner, Rob, introduced me to the joys of carry on luggage on our first trip together in 1999.  Like many other travelers in those pre-9/11 years when bags were checked free of charge, I was used to lugging around a big, fat, heavy suitcase stuffed with outfits for any and every contingency, four to six pairs of shoes (heels, hiking, sandals, slippers, rainy weather), coat, sweater, raincoat, hairdryer, set of hot rollers, make-up and toiletries, laptop, books to read during the flight.  I was certainly ready for anything...but at the end of the flight, I had to elbow through the big mob at the baggage claim carousel, hoping that my bag was joining me at the end of the flight.  Most of the time, it did.  Twice it did not.  The first time, it just meant sitting in the airport for an extra two hours waiting for the next flight to arrive.  The second time, my suitcase went to the land of lost luggage for a little week-long vacation, while I got spent my first days of vacation shopping for a replacement wardrobe.

So when Rob told me that he would be traveling with only a carry on bag and small backpack on our three-week-long trip to Paris, I was interested, but skeptical.  How could I possible carry everything I needed in such a small space?  I pulled out every item I would normally have packed and started sorting.  This first attempt took several hours of planning, rearranging, tossing out, negotiating with myself...but by the time we left for France, I had successfully packed a 22" x 14" x 9" suitcase and the backpack with a complete travel wardrobe.

After fifteen years of traveling with our carry on bags, I can't imagine ever going back.  We never have the worry of lost luggage.  There is no more waiting in long lines at baggage claim.  Best of all, walking through the cobblestone streets of Europe and tramping up and down the many steps of the charming older hotels that we prefer is so much easier with a small suitcase.

With the new baggage check costs imposed by many airlines in the past few years, Rob and I have been joined by many other travelers who rely on carry on.  In fact, our biggest luggage challenge now is finding enough space in the overhead bins on the airplane.  Yet I still have many friends who insist that they could never fit their travel wardrobe into a such a small suitcase.  To them, I say, "Yes, you can!"  In fact, on my last two trips, I found that I had over-packed!  Here are some photos of the wardrobe I packed for a trip to Maine this month.  When I unpacked, I discovered that there were two blouses I had never even worn.

Tip #1:  Wear your heaviest items and your bulkiest shoes on the plane.  The airplane tends to be chilly, so an extra sweater or your jacket may be a blessing while you travel.
Tip #2:  Mix and match!  (I focused on black, brown, and blue on this trip.)  Every piece of clothing should go with at least two other pieces.  Stick with a neutral color palette and use scarves to accessorize.  Use skirts instead of dresses.  Layer thinner items rather than relying on thick, bulky clothing.  And remember, if you travel from place to place, no one you see except your traveling companion knows that you have worn the same item four times on the trip.
Tip#3:  Minimize the amount of underwear you take.  Invest in some quick-dry underwear and simply wash it out every few days.
Tip #4:  Reduce the number of shoes you take.  Unless you are traveling "upscale," you don't need fancy shoes.  In fact, one pair of good walking shoes can get you through almost any situation.  In the summer, a couple of pairs of comfortable sandals can serve for both casual and dress.
Ziplock baggies are essential!
Tip #5:  Ziplock baggies are essential for carrying the liquid items that must be visible to the NSA staff in the security lines, but they are also handy for organizing many other items.  I use one bag for all of the cords needed to recharge my phone and iPad, as well as the little camera accessories.
A daily pillbox and a small cosmetics bag takes care of most of the other small items you will need.

These were all the items in my small backpack.

Tip #6:  A tablet or iPad replaces a myriad of other items.  It serves as a notebook and journal.  It stores your travel documents and photos of your passport.  It carries your music library, your downloaded movies, and dozens of books.
Tip #6:  Experiment with the packing method that suits you best.  Some people swear by rolling clothes, but I find that I can pack more by laying items flat.

All packed and ready to go!
If you are already a master of the carry on bag, give us your tips on packing light!  If you have not yet taken the plunge, let us know your questions and concerns.

Monday, September 15, 2014


As I write this post, my husband, Rob, and I are enjoying a week in Maine.  This morning, we successfully completed a journey that we had begun over two years ago...a hike up one of the "Bubbles," a pair of rounded hills that sit side by side at one end of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.

This is the story of our first attempt to climb the Bubble...and with it, my Travel Lesson #2:  You can't do anything about the weather, so just relax and enjoy whatever Mother Nature blows your way!


We really could not have timed it worse if we had tried.  Rob and I were on the last few days of our drive up the Maine coast and had finally reached Mount Desert Island, home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.  The guidebooks for the region included vivid photographs of trees glowing red and golden under the autumn sun, cerulean ponds shimmering under sapphire skies, rocky islands dotting the many bays and inlets along this glacier-gouged coast.  As we drove into town, the anticipated vibrant colors were considerably muted by the grey drizzle that had followed us up the coast, but we held out high hopes for the following day.

We woke early, filled with anticipation for our drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which sits inside Acadia National Park just behind Bar Harbor.  At 1,532 feet, the mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, and the summit is the first place in the United State to catch the rays of the rising sun.  Somewhat to our dismay, the rays of the rising sun were totally absent, still hidden by thick grey clouds.  Ever the optimists, we drove into the park and wound our way slowly up the mountain.

As Rob drove, I took the role of perky minute-by-minute weathergirl.

“Oh, look, honey, I can see a little light shining through a little break in the clouds! -  I think I see a little blue over there! - I’m sure it will burn through any minute!”

The "view" from the top of Cadillac Mountain
We reached the parking lot near the top and walked up the trail to the very summit for the guidebook’s promised glorious views of the coastline.  We saw an ocean all right…an ocean of grey fog swirling around us, obscuring even the other tourists peering into the gloom.  We hiked around the trail for a half hour or so, vainly searching for a glimpse of the coast below, but finally admitted defeat and headed back down the mountain.

Determined to salvage the day, I dove into my Acadia National Park guide.

“Here’s another great hike, honey.  We can walk to the back of Jordan Pond and hike up the South Bubble.  It’s also supposed to have some great views, and I’m sure the weather will clear up by the time we get there!”

The Bubbles
And, in fact, the weather did appear more promising as we reached the trailhead at Jordan Pond, a lovely tree-lined lake.  At the far end of the pond sit “The Bubbles,” a pair of rounded mounds that rise to about 800 feet.  The walk along the very edge of the lake was a pleasant stroll along a well-maintained trail.  The frequent rains of the past few days had caused a number of little rivulets to flow over the path here and there, but I carefully hopped over them, keeping my new walking shoes warm and dry all the way to the fork in the trail that would take us up to the top of the South Bubble.

My husband has a very cute rear end.  I know this because the minute we start an uphill hike, that is the view I get as he charges effortlessly ahead while I huff and puff my way up the trail.  I quickly came to terms with the fact that I will never get to walk with him on the up hills but I get the advantage of the nice view, and he has slowly come to terms with the fact that he has a hopelessly out-of-shape wife but he gets the advantage of a nice rest when he reaches the top and waits for me.

We started up the South Bubble trail and, as usual, Rob forged ahead so quickly that I soon found myself walking alone.  I didn’t mind the solitude.  The forest was dark and cool and quiet and I was quite happy to amble slowly along enjoying the beauty of the surroundings.

About ten minutes into the climb, it started to sprinkle.  The leaves above me were so thick that I barely felt the drops but I could hear them tapping out a little rhythm.  I joined them with the little ditty from Disney’s Bambi.

“Drip drip drop, little April showers,
Beating a tune as you fall all around.
Drip drip drop, little April showers,
What can compare with your beautiful sound?”

About twenty minutes into the climb, it started to rain.  I sped up a little…trying to catch up to Rob.  The trail was no longer a nice tidy dirt path but had become a steep minefield of granite boulders and tree roots.

About twenty-five minutes into the hike, it started to pour.  I met a man coming rapidly down the trail and asked hopefully, “Am I almost to the top?”  He laughed and shook his head, “No, you’re about halfway.”

I cursed Rob under my breath for being so fit as I had to keep fighting my way up the trail to find him, but a few minutes later, he came down to me.

“Joan, we have to turn around. This is getting too dangerous.”

Soaked through!
I didn't know if I was mad for making it this far and just missing the target or happy that this torture was about to end, but Rob was right – it was pointless to go on.  We turned around to start our descent and gasped in dismay.   The heavy rain was being funneled right down the steep trail, which had become a raging waterfall.  We carefully picked our way along the edge of the boulder-strewn trail, grasping tree limbs to keep our balance.  The dirt on the boulders had turned into a treacherous slick surface that threatened to send us tumbling down the mountain.  Slowly, slowly, we made our way down to the flat trail back around Jordan Pond.  We looked at each other and burst out laughing.  Hair and clothing completely soaked through, we might as well have jumped in the lake and swum back.

Our search for gorgeous views that day was a failure, but the return hike held one consolation.  I did not have to jump over the rivulets that criss-crossed the path…I just marched right on through!