Category Archives: Travel

Tips for the Aspiring Traveler: Go. See. Do.

Travel is my lifes work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’d love to travel, if only ________.”

Have a long list of ways to fill in that blank? Here is the thing, all of them are invalid. Why? Because you’re looking at travel entirely wrong.

As a kid, the longest trip we ever took was the trek from our home in California to visit family in Illinois. Not exactly an exotic safari. Though, my Uncle Jeff had me convinced “Big Game,” lurked in the wooded area behind Grandpa’s farm.

There’s a Squatch in them woods!

I’d hem and haw about how we never went anywhere “cool.” Wasted endless afternoons daydreaming about setting out on Hemingway-esque adventures in Paris or Spain. In my mind, the journey had to be epic or it wasn’t worthy. Then I ended up living in Spain.

My time in Spain opened up a whole new world. Take a road trip, catch a ferry, and you’re in Morocco exploring the Kashba (nearly getting sold for two camels, a monkey and an iguana – a story for another day.)  A day jaunt to Portugal meant tasting the best clams ever to pass human lips. The World’s Fair in Seville, art, and architecture in Madrid, wine at the little bodega down the street. My wanderlust was ablaze.

I was a Traveler.

In retrospect, what I was doing in Spain wasn’t all that different from traveling with my family as a kid. Road trips, weekend excursions and exploring the world nearby. Sure, I was collecting stamps in my passport, but the basic concept was the same; Go. See. Do.

When I talk to people about travel or travel writing the conversation often turns to the statement above. Their “If only,” is then followed by a packing list of the reasons they can’t travel; the kids are too young, money is tight, I just don’t have the time. Pick a reason, I’ve heard it. My answer is always, “You can. All you have to do is; GO. SEE. DO.”

travel defThere isn’t anything in Webster’s definition that says your trip must be an extended, expensive sojourn requiring months of planning, or an extensive itinerary. Here are my favorite tips for the aspiring traveler in us all;

  • Fill up your tank and drive as far as half of it will take you. Explore what’s there!
  • Hop a train. Or any other form of public transportation, and get off at a stop you’ve never been to.
  • Be a tourist in your hometown. Go do all the things people from out of town flock to.
  • Follow a cause. Pick a way to give back in the town next door. You’ll see a whole new side of that city.
  • Let your taste buds transport you. Discover the exotic at ethnic eateries. Do a Gastro Pub Crawl.
  • Escape down the street. Make a reservation at that luxury hotel downtown. Do it in their offseason and you’ll save money and still get the five-star treatment.

As you explore you’ll be expanding your horizons without breaking the bank or using up all your vacation days. Trips like these are great ways to acclimate kids to travel. On top of that, you’re building a lifetime of memories.  Plus, when it comes time to plan that epic adventure, you’ll have the time, money and travel chops to do it.

Redefine what it means to be a Traveler by changing the way you define travel, and you’ll change your world.

 

 

 

Shopping, Sake and Pixie Dust: Disney WITHOUT the Kids

Is it any wonder that Disney –World, Land or any other incarnation–  is truly the most magical place on earth? After all, they’ve cornered the market on Pixie Dust and all the world’s Imagineers hang out there.

Just when I thought I knew my “Disney Magic” inside and out, they go and hit me with a “Jasmine” and show me a whole new world. A world with no strollers, where nap time is a choice rather than a self-preservation tacit and you can become a kid again with out a kid in tow.

Recently Disney hosted my family and I at the Disney Yacht Club Resort and in the parks at Disney World as part of the annual Animal Kingdom, a wondrous place transports you to several exotic locations around the globe all without having left Florida.

Here are a few of my favorite KID FREE things to do at Animal Kingdom;

  • Shop. Shocking I know, but not having a child begging for their 10th pair of Mikey Ears leaves you the freedom to really explore the shops and in the case of this park, the Bazaar-like kiosks and treasure filled outposts. Stunning holiday ornaments were on clearance! Tip: If you’re staying at a Disney hotel property, you can have your finds sent back to your room and not have to lug them back to your room.
  • Ride anything you want to and nothing you don’t. Expedition Everest… did that!
  • Slow down and enjoy the scenery
  • Eat, drink and be merry. The food choices when you don’t have to make sure there are chicken nuggets (obviously I’m used to this culinary caveat) are amazing. I recommend the sushi and sparkling Sake at Yak & YetiTip: Find out what time the parade hits the streets and make an advanced reservation with a table on the second floor near the windows. Here you can take in all the sites without being stuck in the crowd.
  • Let yourself go. Dance with the drummers, ride that ride three times in a row and really enjoy the magic!

 

Beautiful architectural details on a door in "Asia"
Beautiful architectural details on a door in “Asia”
Sushi at Yak & Yeti
Sushi at Yak & Yeti

 

 

Be a kid again and let the wonder take you over!
Be a kid again and let the wonder take you over!

 

A great video to embarrass the kids with when you get home is the BEST souvenir EVER!!

Disclosure: My family and I were provided accommodations and park admissions free or at a discounted rate as part of my participation in the Disney and Chevrolet sponsored Traveling Mom retreat . As always are my opinions are authentic and my own , because you deserve nothing less!

Dublin, Ireland: Pints, Passports and The Blue Oyster Cult

Sure I’ve traveled quite a bit, but most of the best destinations came BC (Before Kids).

Though, there was this one time in Dublin.

Temple Bar District, Dublin, Ireland

Actually our trip was an Italian escape. A week in Tuscany. Shopping in Florence. Stopping to see family in Rome, a day trip to Lucca and enough wine to float us home. So where does Dublin factor in? What I’d done was book our flights so that the layover in Dublin was more like a day trip. Bonus, it saved me money too!

Travel tip: Long layovers can save you money AND get you an extra destination in your itinerary too.

After one of the best flights I’ve ever been on* we touched ground is sunny Ireland, my ancestral home. All the lucky holders of EU passports got swiftly ferried through the fast line, whist Hubby and I had to cue up with the snails. It was still great, after all we were kid free and about to hit Temple Bar for an early morning pint. Gotta love that you can get a proper stout at nine in the morning served in with a frothy head and no judgment.

The fine gentleman at the customs counter asked us the usual questions, “Where is your final destination?”, “How long do you plan to be in Ireland?”, nothing out of the ordinary. Passports stamped, hand-in-hand, we made our way towards the throngs of travelers exiting the inspection area. All was right with the world.

Until the guy in the supervisors booth stepped in front of us and said, “Come with me please.”

Wholly crap! My heart climbed into my throat and started to do a jig. Couldn’t this guy tell I was Irish? I mean, I belong here. What was going on? I’d never even been stopped at a border. Not even as a slightly inebriated teenager returning from Mexico on a Saturday night. What the heck is going on?

Naturally. It was all my husband’s fault.

As the Supervisor lead us out of the crowd and towards his booth he introduced himself. Then he proceeded to ask my husband if he wouldn’t mind posing for a picture with him. Good looking as my man is, he’s never been mistaken for a movie star. Ah, but he did have an association with one. See he was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of Will Farrel in his classic SNL parody of  The Blue Oyster Cult skit in which we are all told that,  “It Needs More Cowbell!”

I’d nearly had a heart attack because the guy wanted a picture of the SHIRT??!!!

Oddly enough we’d later be stopped on the streets of Temple Bar so that the shirt could be admired. I guess Will Farrel is a big deal in Ireland.

Temple BarStay classy Dublin!

(this post is in NO WAY sponsored by anyone. That said, mad props to Aer Lingus for great service… a rare thing in air travel these days)

2013 Lexus GS 450h: A Backseat Review

Life happens in cars, enjoy the ride. That tagline from She Buys Cars pretty much sums up my life. Between ferrying the kids to school, running errands, getting stuck in traffic here in the DC/Baltimore metro and our frequent family road trips a good portion of my time is spent in a car.

The same is true for the Little Nuggets. We are a family on wheels. My kids have become quite the car experts along the way. With each car I review, they put in there two cents all well. They like leather seats, aren’t fans of seat-belt air bags (too stiff and bulky). In their opinion every car should come with a rear seat entertainment system and wireless headphones. Shocking, I know. Their favorite color, oddly enough isn’t red or black, but silver.

We recently spent a week with the 2013 Lexus GS 450h. While shooting video for my review, Little Nugget #4 interjected that she thought she should be the one talking about the backseat, after all when was I ever back there anyway? I suspect that part of this was a desire to be on camera, the kid is a total ham!

The biggest “wow” feature for me was the Lexus Enform App Suite. I make no bones about it, I am a wired mom. I have been known to go through mild withdrawal issues when finding myself in a WiFi dead spot. This car was designed for drivers like me! With the App Suite I was able to make dinner reservations, find the cheapest gas and even check the weather. You can also order movie tickets on the fly, connect to Facebook and more, all using the industry’s first available 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen multimedia display. Cool huh? It gets even more cool. The GS 450h has it’s own mouse. Yep, you can navigate your way through the plethora of features in this car using a mouse, much like the one on your desk.

Lexus_mouse

While the mouse and all the tech features are very intuitive, I did also find them a bit distracting. This could be because my car is virtually a covered wagon in comparison. Whatever the cause though, I did feel that I spent an excessive amount of my time with the car trying to figure out all the features. There is a tutorial feature, but I didn’t find it very helpful. That said, I’m sure that, were I to purchase this car, taking advantage of the one-time free setup at the dealer would make a world of difference.

A Few of My Favorite Things

  • Combo moon/sun roof.
  • For a sedan, the cargo space is great.
  • Lexus Enform with App Suite.
  • 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen multimedia display.
  • Mark Levinson® Premium Surround Sound Audio System. (Rocked the tunes in the pick-up line at school, adding to the features by making the kids cringe.
  • Heads Up display. (This displays your speed and the direction you’ll need to turn when using the navigation system right on your driver’s side windshield.)
  • Rear-seat climate and audio controls. (available with the Luxury Package, which the car I drove had.)
  • Rain-sensing intermittent windshield wipers with mist cycle. (This was a great feature during the soggy trips we took.)
  • Drive Mode Select with Normal, EV, ECO, Sport S and Sport S+ modes.
  • Power rear sunshade. (this was such a thoughtful touch. I can see it being perfect for long sunny, summer road-trips. It also automatically goes down when you put the car in reverse.)
  • Cousins to the power sunshade, the rear windows have two-part manual sunshades as well.
  • Lane Departure Warning.
  • Intuitive Park Assist. (Which admittedly, I need.)

Things You Need to Know

  • You are buying a luxury motor vehicle. The total “sticker price” of the model we tested: $71,407.00
  • The EPA estimate for MPG on this model is 29 city/34 highway. I drove a combo of both and average around 33 MPG.
  • All the tech features are going to take a nice chunk of time to get used to.
  • The “mouse” can be distracting.
  • The manual rear sunshades tend to be hard for little hands. They also “snap” back into place with a force that might not stand up to repeated use by little folks.
  • The front spoiler is very low. Several times I had to park well behind parking bollards to avoid bumping them or having them scrape the undercarriage.
  • The front cup holders have a tension bar in them that can (and did) puncture some take-out cups.
  • While the rear passenger features, like climate and volume control are nice, they may not be good for families with younger children.
  • The rear leg room could be bigger.

The kids’ favorite thing? I think we covered that. Though they would like me to ask Lexus to consider that whole entertainment system with wireless headphones thing.

(Want to read more of a “Grownup” review of this car? Visit Traveling Mom)

Lexus provided the vehicle featured in the review, with a full tank of gas. No form of compensation was provided. As always, all opinions in this review are my own -in this case Little Nugget #3’s as well.  

Toyota Prius V: Remaking the Road Race?

Remember those cheesy 70’s car flicks? You know, like Cannonball Run or Smokey And The Bandit? Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in one of those damn things.

“We’ve got long way to go, and a short time to get there…” come on watch this mommy run (errands, pick up kids and get crap done!) Plus there is inevitably a “Smokey” (or red light camera) just waiting to nab me. Not that I speed or anything, not me, never.

The other part of 70’s car-lore I seem to be stuck in is the gas wars. Sweet cheeses gas prices are unpredictable and HIGH! When I got offered a role playing alongside the star of the MPG saving screen, Toyota Prius V, I was in.

The first thing that you notice about the Prius V is it anything but “American Heavy Metal”. This isn’t a bad thing. With a compact, yet hip, design you can tell right off that this car is built for efficiency. Think a quiet, broodingly cool James Dean rather than a Steve McQueen.

While you won’t find all the bells, whistles and “Fine Corinthian Leather” of a luxury car, this car does have a lot to offer. You also aren’t in for a muscle car ride either. The best part, you guessed it… gas mileage!

Back to the Cannonball Run analogy. I hit the road to school twice a day, ran errands like there was a trophy for it and even rallied for a few short road trips. Nearly two weeks after she pulled up in my driveway, the Prius V still had petrol to spare. I averaged a whopping 49 miles per gallon. Droolin’ aren’t ya Burt Reynolds?

A Few of My Favorite Things

  • Did I mention 49 MPG? I did? Well that’s because I am still amazed by that number.
  • Huge cargo space.
  • Hybrid Synergy Drive System
  • 6.1 inch touchscreen for navigation and entertainment systems.
  • 12V power outlet and USB port.
  • Panoramic moonroof with power sunshades (my second favorite feature, this really makes you feel like you’re driving in the open air without messing up the hair)
  • Advanced parking system. Yes, I confess I need this sometimes.
  • 60/40 split rear seat recline. This feature was great for both long drives and loading gear.

Things You Need to Know

  • Total “sticker price” of the model we tested: $36,555.00
  • If you’re used to a car that has some get-up-and-go, the Prius V will take some adjusting to.
  • This car is SUPER quiet. In fact, so much so that the only way I could tell it was on was if the “Ready” indicator was on. I found this a little unnerving at first, but I got used to it.
  • At the time of this test drive the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had yet to rate this car.
  • The ground clearance borders on, “low rider”.
  • And now onto the most important part of any She Buys Cars/Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom/ Traveling Mom review… where did I put my purse? Toyota knocked this one out of the park! There is a very roomy “cubby” below the dash and in front of the center console that is perfect for everything from that cute little Judith Leiber to the biggest of the Boho bags.

Over all the gas milage was the winner for me. I doubt I’d ever hop in a Prius V for an epic road race, but for everyday adventures, sure. Or maybe I should shop the studios a script about an epic, all Prius road race flick? Does anyone know if Affleck is available? After that Oscar snub we might be able to get him cheap!