Posts Tagged With: travel tips

Adventure calls, but when will we answer?

Our sons, Chris, Andrew and Brad in their Balmerino, Scotland school uniforms.

When is the right time to take an adventure?

There are many answers:

When the kids get out of school.

When we can afford it.

When we learn __________ (insert a foreign language).

When we retire.

When we pay off the house.

When the economy is better.

In other words, when it is easier and less risky. There is such a thing as the wrong time, of course. But how often do we keep adventure in the future when we could take the leap at the only time we are guaranteed: today?

The perfect time doesn't exist.

It will be risky. It will be difficult. Mistakes will happen. That is because adventure takes us outside our comfort zone.

When our three sons were in their early elementary school years, Sue was working full time and I was teaching and working a second job on weekends. We were beginning to save some money for the kids' college education and even saving for our retirement. The linear American dream was alive and well!

But then I had a crazy idea: Apply for a teaching exchange. I mentioned it to our friend Kathy and she soon brought me an ad she clipped from a magazine about Fulbright teacher exchanges.

We can't afford it! What about Sue's job? What about the boys' education? What if we get assigned to a country not on our most-desired list? There were many reasons not to apply.

It did not make sense, but we did it anyway.

Our sons at a standing stone in the Orkney Islands off northern Scotland.

I was very fortunate to get the exchange and our destination could not have been better: Scotland. My mother would have credited the luck of my Irish heritage.

Our year brought many challenges, some unpredictable and quite difficult. We took out a second mortgage on the house to finance the trip. Our college and retirement savings plans were interrupted.

There were times we wanted to come home, especially during the short, damp days in winter. As an American teacher in Scotland, I stumbled often. (Our Scottish friends and my former students there are having a good chuckle if they are reading this.)

But, it was the best year of our lives as a family. We made friends we will treasure forever. The old Volvo we bought took us on 30,000 miles of adventures around the U.K. and France. The boys returned with Scottish accents and a love for soccer.

So many highlights. Our sons have all traveled abroad on their own as adults. In fact, the experience influenced our kids so much that we now turn to them for travel advice!

Adventures come in many forms. At BootsnAll, I read about individuals and families doing amazing things with far more risk than we experienced. People quit jobs, sell their house and travel around the world. Some do this with children and without much money. Some find short-term jobs to pay the bills.

We all have limits to how far outside our comfort zone we will go. But, shouldn't life be an adventure? Shouldn't we live it today?

 

Categories: Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Am I a Travel Snob?

 

We prove that taking an occasional selfie is not beneath us, as we pose in front of Yosemite Falls.

“Uh-oh honey,” I muttered as we sipped our coffee and scanned the morning headlines. “I think this might be us.” An article entitled 22 Reasons You Are a Travel Snob had caught my eye. Yikes…the author wasn't cutting me any slack. He wasn't concerned that I “might be” or “could be”…he declared that “I am!” I've been found guilty without a trial.

Item #1 suggests, in part, that real travelers live in the moment and arrange things themselves, something tourists and vacationers don't do. I have to admit that we do try to avoid organized tours, choosing to explore new places at our own pace, therefore allowing us to learn to live in the moment. As I read it out loud to Reg he gave it some thought. “Hmmmm, he said. Travel Snobs…we might be…”

“Well, I don't think we're snobs, I replied a little defensively. I think we're just…really enthusiastic about our choices.” After all, I thought to myself, we don't have the ways and means to be five-star Travel Snobs, expecting and enjoying the best of everything. Nor do we feel compelled to truly rough it, packing a tent and subsisting on freeze-dried beef stew and protein bars, all in an effort to have an “authentic” experience. Happiness for us lies somewhere in the middle

Reading through the remaining 21 Reasons I felt reasonably sure that Reg and I had not yet acquired the unwanted title of Travel Snobs. I think we do have an on-the-go travel style as opposed to taking a plop-in-one-spot R&R vacation, but that is purely a personal choice.

It's taken us thirty years to blend and perfect our travel style, and I'm sure it will continue to evolve. Whether your next trip takes you 500 or 5,000 miles from home, enjoy your experience – your way…and don't let the Travel Snobs get you down!

Categories: Reflections | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Experiences pale with bucket list

During a bike ride to Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe, California, we took an unscheduled gondola ride up the mountain to a surprise lunch spot.

What's on your list?

How about New Zealand, Italy, Machu Picchu? Or sky dive, bungee jump, climb Half Dome?

If you are having trouble with your bucket list, visit a bookstore or look around online and you will find almost limitless suggestions. Or visit the App Store.

Why do we compile bucket lists of must-sees and must-dos to accomplish before we die?

I have read about many people who are tossing their bucket lists in favor of a more live-in-the-moment approach. If you are a traveler, think about one trip at a time, they advise. Who knows what is next? Does it really matter if you never see Machu Picchu?

Can a bucket list keep a person from some of life's great discoveries?

Last year, Sue suggested that we walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain. “Definitely not on my list,” I thought to myself.

“Why not?” she asked when I questioned why we should walk 500 miles.

It turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. She was right, it was a matter of one step at a time. And this year we are going to Scotland for more long-distance trekking. We will also visit friends we have met from Scotland, England and Denmark during our travels. So much for Machu Picchu.

So, taking a more micro view of travel actually helped me see a more macro view.

There are also bucket lists within bucket lists.

While in Rome, you have to see the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps…or should the list be your top priority? How about wandering the narrow, meandering streets, pausing for coffee or beer at a sidewalk cafe to watch Italian life go by?

It is not just where you go, but how you see it. Shall we be travelers or tourists?

One traveler advised us that the first thing you should do when you arrive at your destination is sit down and have a cup of coffee. You don't need to rush out to see the world. Relax and watch it go by. As a boss once told me, “Take time.”

Sure, there are times we want to book a place, such as the Vatican Museums, because we know we will wait in line for hours without a reservation.

But, for every iconic place, there are many hidden treasures that will remain that way unless you take risks and explore without a plan, and, perhaps, by leaving the map in your pocket. Or at home, if you dare.

For our trek this May in Scotland, we had to book accommodations because there are few available and they tend to book up. This journey won't be as open-ended as the Camino was.

We have been asked many times about the wisdom of a two-week walk in a country famous for wet weather. It reminds me of what a Scottish friend told me when I asked him how he could play golf year round in such a climate.

“Why, Reg,” he said. “It never rains on the golf course.”

 

Categories: Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Yurts!

Oregon has the most beautiful campgrounds and we have some wonderful memories of past trips…so when Reg suggested we camp on this trip, I was tempted. Until I gave it some serious thought. Camping for us (even for one night) is never simple so in a desperate attempt to find a compromise for the nature vs. comfort battle, I found Yurts!

Our first Yurt was located on the north coast of Oregon at Cape Lookout State Park (center). The top left photo is our home for tonight, located just south of Newport, Oregon at South Beach State Park.

These ingenious little dwellings are located in many State Parks throughout Oregon (and other places in the country). We checked in and were handed a key…it was that simple! While we needed to bring sleeping bags, pillows and towels, we got a relatively comfortable bed (up off the ground), heat, electricity and use of the campground showers. Each yurt has a picnic table and a fire pit, so you won't miss the fun of toasting marshmallows.

Yurts might not be for everyone, but I think Reg and I agree that they offer us a relatively comfortable, and economical solution (we paid about $40 each night) for Road Trip accommodations.

 

Categories: Road Trips | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Shoes Are Everything: The Camino de Santiago

When I was still working, the Bunco Girls used to marvel at my shoes. I always arrived straight from work, sporting a spiffy pair of heels and claiming to be able to walk in anything! I love heels; partially (yes, I'll admit it) because I think they make my feet look smaller.

Since everything looks great in a size 6, and I haven't worn anything that small since 5th grade, purchasing clunky hiking shoes created some personal anxiety. After trying on numerous sizes and styles, I heard Vanity whispering in my ear, “Take the size 8! They'll be fine.” However, Reality was shouting from behind, “You better buy the 9 or you”ll be sorry…”

Fortunately common sense won out, and I purchased the larger size…a smart decision! Reg and I have put over 150 practice miles on our shoes and have we have yet to experience a blister. I can only hope that our good luck will continue as we put our shoes to the test!

 

Categories: Camino de Santiago | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

If You Are in the Neighborhood: Going Up in Yosemite

Half Dome and Cloud's Rest, on the far left, frame this photo with Vernal and Nevada falls. This was taken at Glacier Point.

On the way up, we got many great views of Yosemite Falls.

A series of posts from our travels.

The next time you are enjoying a spring or early summer day in California's Yosemite Valley, the Four-Mile Trail is a great way to get to the high country while experiencing views of the park and its waterfalls that change as you turn every corner.

The trail begins near Sentinel Beach in Yosemite Valley. There is about 3,200 feet of elevation gain, so we wouldn't recommend it on a hot summer day. It is a vigorous trek. This was the original way to get to Glacier Point before the present road was built.

At the top (Glacier Point), the views are unparalleled. There are snacks and hot food in the store and restrooms nearby.

A warning: the trip down can be tough on the knees, so take your time.

If you are not game for the walk up, catch the shuttle bus at Yosemite Lodge, which will take you to Glacier Point, then hike down. The bus sometimes books up, so you may want to reserve seats.

The vast majority of Yosemite visitors never venture to the park's high country. But those who know the park say, “go up!”

Our sons Brad and Andrew along with some friends came along to take in the views.

 

Categories: Neighborhood series | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

If You Are in the Neighborhood: Glens of Scotland

A series of posts from our travels.

Ah, Scotland! Indeed, it is a magical place in so many ways.

After a year living there and two return trips, Scotland has a special place in our hearts. We are drawn by great friends as well as the good times and many laughs we always share with them. Another attraction, as Sue likes to say, is you never know what surprise awaits around the next corner.

Our friends Malcolm and Barbara, who live in Dundee, took us on a wonderful hill walk from Glen Clova when we first moved to Scotland. Malcolm showed our three sons to roll down the hill in the heather.

The glens, or valleys, of Scotland hold unique opportunities for walking and picnics. Two of our favorites are Glen Clova and Glen Esk, both a short drive north from Dundee. They are easy to access, but are on roads less traveled (especially Glen Esk).

Just pack your picnic (we like sandwiches made from “bap” rolls that we buy at Tesco) and the trails from the parking areas will lead you on adventures. Hike for an hour, or for days if you choose.

 

Up the hill to a loch, along a riverside or lochside path. At Glen Esk, we stumbled upon a small tower castle (Invermark) on our way to Loch Lee.

Water cascades down a hill at Glen Esk.

As we drove to and from the glens, we treasured the detours. At Glen Esk, The Retreat near Tarfside offered tea and scones that were alone worth the drive. And, we had to visit Edzel Castle just down the road.

Along the narrow, winding roads of Scotland, we often found ourselves pulling over to take in the view. Or, to take a short walk along a wee brook.

We eagerly await our next chance to experience Scotland's magic!

 

Categories: Neighborhood series | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

If You Are in the Neighborhood: Ancient Beijing

A series of posts from our travels.

One of the three Black Lakes near the Forbidden City.

A hutong, or narrow alleyway, in Beijing.

Beijing is a sprawling city marked by rapid modernization that has led to the leveling of many ancient courtyard homes (siheyuan) and narrow alleyways (hutongs). The destruction and resulting displacement of people has been controversial and there is an effort to preserve and renovate homes in areas near the Forbidden City. Guidebooks highlight walking and rickshaw tours and both times I was in Beijing, our tour groups were offered a luncheon in a family's courtyard home for a reasonable extra charge. If you have the chance, don't miss it. It was the best food of two trips to China.

A popular so-called hutong neighborhood is near the Black Lakes area about a mile from the Forbidden city. There are many bars and cafes around the lakes. Tourists and locals stroll and bicycle around the lakes.

Our group, in photo at left, enjoys a tasty lunch in a Chinese family's courtyard home.

 

 

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The Ziplock Method

Our luggage is designed to both roll and carry as a backpack.

As we checked out of our San Baronto apartment this morning, our host commented (again) on our lack of luggage. She couldn't believe that we each brought just one piece of luggage for a three-week trip. With a roll of her eyes, she described the “other American couple” who had checked in three days after us with what must have been a cartload of baggage. We couldn't help but feel (maybe just a little) superior!

Would we do it again? You bet! How did we do it? I scoured the Internet for tips on traveling light. With some thought, planning and a wash-and-wear wardrobe, you can do it too!

You can spend a lot of money on actual packing bags and envelopes, but simple Ziplock bags were the secret to our success. I bought a box of super-sized bags at our local grocery store (I love Raley's in Oakhurst!). These were great for Reg's clothes (which are larger than mine) and worked well for my pants. The regular size bags, that you probably all have in your kitchen drawer, are perfect for socks, underwear and worked well for my T-shirts.

 

 

You'll fit a lot more in a bag if you roll your clothes.

 

 

 

 

Roll everything! I really did roll everything, sliding each piece into a bag with the same type of item. Pants in one bag, shirts in another, socks and undies in a third. Stuff them full.

 

 

 

 

It's surprising how flat your Ziplocks can be.

Once your Ziplocks are packed, zip them closed nearly all the way, leaving about an inch open. Then, find a hard surface (a wooden chair works well) place your bag on the chair and promptly sit on the bag. Once all the excess air is out, and before you stand up, zip your bag closed. You should have a perfect vacuum-sealed bag ready to fit neatly in your suitcase!

 

 

Most hotels and apartments offer an iron and ironing board if clothes need a quick touch-up.

 

You may develop your own technique, but we found this to work well for us. The Ziplock Method allows me to find exactly what I need without rummaging through my entire suitcase; something that has always driven me nuts! Happy Travels!

I love a tidy suitcase!

 

Categories: Italy, travel light | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Learning Any New Language Is Foreign to Us!

Conventional wisdom says travelers should learn a few basic words in the native language for convenience and to show respect. I think this is true, so here are some Italian terms we found useful:

First, I found many Italians spoke English as soon as I tried my Italian. My theory was that they were proud that they knew English. Sue disagreed; she thought they wanted to avoid hearing any further assault on their beloved tongue.

Unmini (men's room): Sue learned this on our last day, after-the-fact.

Per favore (please), grazie (thank you).

Buon giorno (good morning, good day), buona sera (good evening). I had trouble here because I could not figure out when sera began. I once said something like buon giorno and was greeted with (I hope!) buona sera at 3 p.m.

In Italy, this pizza and calzone are each meant for one!

Arrivederci (goodbye), ciao (hello or so long, familiar)

Stazione (train station). Centrale (central). In big cities that have several stations, such as Florence, it helps to know which station is best for you. Stazione Centrale put us in the right place most of the time, but not in Florence.

Autobus (bus).

Parli Inglese? (Do you speak English?)

Prego (Our book says it means “you are welcome,” but it is used for more basics. Servers used it to tell us they were ready to take our order, for example.)

No need to know: Sono Americano (I am American.) They know that before you speak, whether you are in London, Beijing, or Rome.

Mi scuse (excuse me)

Si and no.

We didn't know many of these, but it would help to know some food words. Kinds of meat, sauces, vegetables, milk, juice, salad, etc. Or have them in your phone or on a cheat sheet. Many menus have English, but stores usually do not. Some menu items are not traditional American fare. Or, be adventurous! A few times, I wasn't sure, but it all tasted good.

Dov'e il bagno? (Where is the bathroom?) In cities, carry some change for public restrooms. Prices usually range from 50 cents to one euro.

You can see this is a very short list. We got by with these and often did not need to know them. We welcome your suggestions.

We try to remember to be ready to laugh at ourselves. Sometimes sense of humor is the most difficult thing to pack everywhere. We often tell each other that we will never see these people again, so it is alright to make mistakes. This did not work so well in Scotland because we have great friends there who remember our miscues, and they still get a good laugh at our expense! Don't worry, I won't mention any names, Trish!

 

Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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