5 Travel Apps & Sites for Creating a Unique Trip

Five Unique Travel Apps and Sites to help you plan your next tripLet’s face it, there are a ton of travel apps out there that do pretty much the same thing. After you’ve found the app that houses all your itinerary info, one for translations, safety and maps, why not look for travel apps that help you go deeper and create a truly unique trip. Here are a few of my favorites. 

Findery

Findery is a treasure map for travelers looking for hidden gems, off the beaten path destinations, and insider info.  Travelers leave little gems, in the form of notes about places they’ve been. Then geolocation wizardry takes over.

Who knew that convince store with the dusty windows was open, let alone that Nepalese family that owns it is cooking up amazing Momo (Nepali meat dumplings)  in the back? Somebody on Findery did – and they left a note which showed up in an alert on my phone when I walked by.

Findery is also great for those of us who love to share our travel tips, but don’t have enough time to get every detail into… say… a blog post. (cough. cough)  I created this Findery note while at an event – and noshing the best warm olives this side of Sicily.

Findery Note on Warm Olives from Fleet Street Kitchen - Baltimore, Maryland

Vayable

Ever found yourself wishing you had a Bestie in every city you visit? That perfect companion to show you around the place? Vayable may be the next best thing.

Locals put together tours that let you dig deeper into the destination. Hit Manhattan for a midnight street food experience. Explore the art scene in Berlin. Get insider info from a member of the White House Pres Corps. 

Spotted By Locals

Want that “Like A Local,” experience but not quite ready to hang out with strangers in a strange town? Spotted By Locals is the way to go.

This site is built of blogs penned by locals with great insights, tips and up-to-date info on the hot new spots in town. Spotted By Locals is a great place to start with your trip planning. Once you’ve built your itinerary and hit the road, the app will be there with helpful city guide maps on the go.

Cookening 

Food is the only universal language. Sharing a meal is sharing of cultures, our sustenance and selves. Cookening is your invitation to the table.

Here you’ll find locals hosting dinner parties for friends and travelers. The food doesn’t get much more authentic than this, but it’s the conversation that makes the meal. Where better to hear about the places you’ll see, the history and future of a city than gathered around the table for a meal.

Dining in the homes of locals has always made me fall deeper in love with a place.  How much different would our world look if we all just shared a meal? 

Creating your own unique trip with Vayable - Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom Spinlister

Getting out and enjoying the outdoors is another great way to connect with a destination. I personally love a bike ride. But it isn’t always easy (or inexpensive) to find a bike to ride. That’s where Spinlister comes in.

I liken Spinlister to the AirBnB of bikes. Owners list their rides on the site and you shop for the right one. They also feature skis, surf and paddle boards too. Beyond getting equipment that isn’t generic rental stuff, you also get to pick the brain of the owner. Where is the best trail for taking photos? What lifts should you avoid after 10:00am? Where is the best beach for avoiding Kooks? Spinlister is like two apps in one when you look at it this way.

Do you use apps when you travel? What’s your favorite site for travel planning? Do tell! I’m always on the lookout for something new – like any good traveler I know there is always so much more to see.

 

As a Verizon #VZWBuzz  Lifestyle Blogger I’m a member of a pretty cool team of Influencers who share information about mobile living. I was provided a device at no charge, from Verizon. No additional compensation was provided.  There has been no editing by a third party, nor any promise of positive feedback.   All opinions are my own – because you deserve nothing less.

 

2015 Lexus GS 350 F Sport – The Ultimate Road Trip Ride

The Road Is Life - Jack Kerouac - Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom

Kerouac may have elevated the road trip to a metaphysical awakening, but no matter what kind of ‘trip’ you’re seeking the journey begins when rubber hits the road. 

Idling in the pick up line at school, I often find myself daydreaming of the days when the rubber beneath me isn’t attached to the family taxi. It matters not if you call it a ‘swagger wagon,’ the fact is the family car just isn’t that cool – or mine isn’t. 

The oldest Nugget is now out on his own, the next one in line will be driving this year. It won’t be long until I can start shopping for a car I want to drive, rather than one that has room for four kids and all their accoutrements.  To be honest, I’m already researching what comes next.

glaming roadtrip in the Lexus GS 350 F SportEarlier this month I had the chance to indulge in daydreams made real when Lexus invited us to take their GS 350 F Sport along on a road trip to go glaming in Upstate New York. I fear that Violet Beauregard (the given name of the deep blue crossover I drive) may never recover from the envy.

So what’s to love about this car? Certainly not how it looks on the outside. In fact, I’d say it looks much like any other slightly sporty sedan out there. The front grille is even reminiscent of the Toyota Camry. Not surprising considering Toyota is the parent company of Lexus.  Judging a book by it’s cover is rarely a fruitful endeavor, the same holds true with the “cover” of a car. 

The GS 350 F Sport interior has a cool, almost vintage 70s luxury muscle car feel to it. Sporty touches –chrome plating on the foot board, a sleek clock in place of the typical digital,  a cockpit-style console-  play the perfect background to a suite of tech (Lexus Enform) that compliments the power residing under the hood.

2015 Lexus GS 350 F Sport Review - cockpitPut simply, this car was just fun to drive. It took the steep climb into the Appalachian mountains like it was parking lot flat. The drag on the engine felt minimal. It handled like a dream on the  winding turns down the two-lane highway into the Finger Lakes region.  With the turn of a knob I could take it from gas-conserving ECO mode into Sport mode, giving me extra control of the driving experience. The kids were overly impressed with the switch in dashboard lighting colors and the schematic readout on the heads-up display when modes changed. Hey, if it keeps them from whining about weather we’re there yet or not, it’s a luxury feature in my book.

Lexus GS 350 F Sport ModeAs much as I’d love to pick a car based solely on how much I like driving it, the sad truth is there are other factors that weigh more heavily.

Does It Get Good Gas Mileage?

29 mpg on the highway is good for a family like ours who spend most weekends on the road. It’s great for a car with 306 horse power.

Can I Get The Groceries In it?

Yes. The trunk is spacious. We fit three carry-on sized suitcases, 2 fully packed SCOUT bags, and a small cooler in it and still had room for our road-side shopping hauls.Lexus GS 350 F Sport Review

Is It Safe?

While it’s packed with the typical safety features (air bags, lane departure warning, car seat tethers) Lexus goes above and beyond here. The Pre-Collision System available on the GS includes a Driver Attention Monitor that is designed to know you’re ogling the offerings displayed in front of that cute little road-side antique shop. It can tell if you’re facing away from the road when an obstacle is detected ahead and warn you, potentially helping you avoid disaster, it can even automatically begin braking a full two seconds before impact. Then thee is the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system that employes radar technology to sense the speed of any vehicles in front of you. If your vehicle gets too close to the vehicle ahead, the throttle is automatically reduced and the brakes are applied. As soon as the road ahead clears, it brings you back up to speed.

Is It Worth The Money?

This IS a Lexus, and luxury in any car tends to come with a hefty price tag. The GS 350 F Sport starts out at around $53,500. For that though you’re also getting some cutting edge tech in the form of a fully integrate suite that includes a 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen multimedia display. Though I’ll admit that I find the mouse in the console a bit distracting. Plus you do get a car that hugs you… seriously, it hugs you. There are what seems to be endless options for adjusting the driver and front passenger seats. Pump up the lumbar and side supports, and hug it out. Add these features, to the safety suite, respectable gas mileage and that price tag doesn’t seem too far out in left filed. Would I pay it? I’d have to sleep on that.

 

Disclosure: I was provided the opportunity to drive this vehicle for one week as an extended test drive. I received no compensation from the manufacture, nor incentives or directives to provide a favorable review. All opinions are 100% my own – because you deserve nothing less!  

B&Bs of Ireland: Hounslow House

Ireland's Most Charming B&Bs - Hounslow House, Fore, Castlepollard, County WestmeathRoom service, concierge, spa treatments, there is no denying the attraction of a good hotel. That said, the one thing that even the hotel with an in-room cappuccino machine will never have is the feeling of being welcomed home that you get from a great Bed and Breakfast (B&B). Our recent return to Ireland uncovered some of the best B&Bs we’ve ever stayed at.

Finding a good – let alone outstanding – B&B can be challenging. Do you trust the reviews on Yelp or Tripadvisor? Who exactly are you sleeping with (um..  rather who’s running the place you’re sleeping at?) Having the right tools at hand can make all the difference in finding the perfect B&B for you.

Wait, I have to share a bathroom with strangers?!

If you happen to be heading to Ireland, the best tool to have in your search is Bed and Breakfast Ireland. Their search feature goes so much deeper than location. You can search by activity, amenities, room types, and so much more. Including ensuite bathrooms you won’t have to share.

Homemade Scones & Jam at Hounslow House B&B Fore, Castlepollard, County Westmeath IrelandThe site has a “Short List” feature so you can save potential locations, saving time and sanity in the process. The Irish Tourist and Northern Irish Tourist Board also certify the B&Bs found on the site and most have profiles of the proprietors as well.

The Best of The Best…

Some places you stay leave such an impression that you’ll undoubtedly carry that memory with you. Hounslow House in Fore, Castle Pollard, County Westmeath is one such place.

Nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling hills of deep beryl green, Hounslow House is a gem. The resident welcome party – in the form of a very friendly Irish Setter – eagerly awaits disembarkation from your car. Equally as welcoming (though I might not suggest trying to pet them) are proprietors, the Healy’s.

The Fore Crosses stand sentury on 10km of roadway, beared witness to religious persecution during penal timesGrainne Healy is a veritable expert in local history, which serves her well as a teacher at the are primary school. She also whips up amazing scones – until her’s I’d always thought of a scone as sawdust in the shape of a biscuit. 

The front of the house features a huge picture window that overlooks the countryside as well as the ruins of Fore Abbey below. Resident equine ambassadors – Orlando and Zsa Zsa – were always game for a photo, while the chickens provide excellent fresh eggs for the outstanding full Irish breakfast you’ll enjoy included in the price of your stay – which can be as low at €70 (or around $80.)

Ruin of Fore Abbey sight of the 7 Wonders of Fore Castlepollard, County Westmeath, IrelandTake tea with Grainne and let her fill you in on the history of Fore Abbey, regale you with the tale of the 18 ancient stone crosses that dot the roadside near the B&B, and be sure to ask her where the best hiking and fishing can be found. She and her husband are quite the outdoors people and a priceless resource for getting the most out of your time in this breathtaking region rich in natural beauty and history that you’re not likely to find in typical travel guides.

Yes, it’s off the beaten path but that’s part of it’s indomitable charm.

Official Ambassador of Houndslow House

 

 

Summer Squash White Pizza

Easy Summer Squash Pizza

Aaaah, summah! I simply adore this time of year when the days are longer, schedules flexible, and our garden is laden with delicious dishes just waiting to be plucked. 

Admittedly part of this adoration comes from the fact that I can cook outside and leave the clean-up to the hubby – the yard is his job. Something about growing your own food also lets itself to picky eaters actually consuming vegetables. It’s MAGIC!

Then again it could be the pizza rather than the garden. My whole family scarfs down pizzas cooked in our outdoor oven like they’ve been paid to do this. (for a blog post or something) I use this to my advantage – conducting endless culinary experiments on them.  The latest big hit was a super simple, scrumptious pie topped summer squash, bell peppers, garlic and just a little cheese.

What You’ll Need

The first thing is a good pizza dough recipe. I’ve found that this one by Liza over at (cool) Progeny is easy and very versatile.

 

Summer Squash Pizza
Serves 8
Summer squash takes center stage on a pizza that leaves out the heavy cheese and overly rich sauce.
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
50 min
Ingredients
  1. Pizza Dough (see link in post for recipe)
  2. 1 Summer Squash - medium
  3. 1 Bell Pepper - orange
  4. 1/4 c Shallot
  5. 1 Clove Garlic
  6. 1/2 tsp Thyme
  7. 1 tbsp Olive Oil
  8. 4 tbsp Cotija Cheese
  9. Sea Salt
  10. Cracked Black Pepper
Tools
  1. Pizza Peel
  2. Spiral Slicer or Mandolin
Instructions
  1. Measure out dough into a ball approximately the size of a large grape fruit. Shape dough into a sphere by pulling the sized down and under the ball, turning a quarter of an inch as you work. Place onto a floured surface, cover loosely with a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a cool dry place for 20 minutes.
  2. If using an oven, place pizza stone on center rack. Preheat to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The stone will need at least 30 minutes to heat through.
  3. Slice shallots into thin, half-moon shapes. Cut bell pepper into long, thin strips. Finely chop garlic and remove thyme leaves from their stalks. Using a spiral slicer or mandolin, thinly slice squash and pat dry with a paper towel.
  4. Once dough has risen, flour your work surface and turn dough out onto it allowing the flour to coat. Add extra flour as needed to avoid sticking. Press dough ball into a disk shape using your fingers. Roll dough out with rolling pin into a circle approximately 12-16 inches round.
  5. Sprinkle pizza peel with corn meal. Place dough on peel. Brush with olive oil, leaving a 1/4 inch edge. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Place vegetable toppings, drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with thyme leaves, garlic; salt and pepper to taste. Top with remaining cheese.
  6. Place pizza on stone in oven. Bake for 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and toppings are as well.
Notes
  1. Dough should be refrigerated prior to starting this recipe. Cold dough is easier to work with. If using a wood-fired pizza oven, cook time is approximately 3 to 5 minutes depending upon temperature.
Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom http://chickennuggetsofwisdom.com/

Wellness, Travel & The Brooklyn Bridge

The Journey of a 1000 miles begins with 1 stepThere wasn’t a ‘bucket list’ back then. Just a kid in a small desert town who dreamed of seeing the world beyond the craggy outcroppings of cacti and monolithic boulders standing sentry on the winding road to civilization. Perched atop the endless list of places I longed to go was – New York City. 

It wasn’t so much a siren song of skyscrapers, iconic skyline, or the bright lights of Broadway that called to me. It was a bridge – the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d doodle its arches in the margins of my American History book, and snip photos out of magazines and books.  Something about this 1870 ‘modern’ marvel spoke(speaks) to me.

We’ve all got that something(s) we’ve longed to see and do. I longed to walk the foot path of the Brooklyn Bridge. It took a decade (or several – gulp) but – after a marrying a native Brooklynite and taking countless trips to Manhattan – I can now say I’ve walked the footpath of the Brooklyn Bridge.

So how does Wellness play into this story? Spurred by the inspiration that’s come from watching my friend and fellow wanderer, Elena of Live Do Grow,  evolve on her wellness journey, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I am on that path.  To be honest, I’ve pretty much been sitting in the car in the parking lot when it comes to my wellness journey. Walking the bridge got  me out  of the ‘car.’

Brookyn Bridge - New York CityStanding at the halfway point it wasn’t just the slight rumble of the cars zooming past beneath my feet, or the Statue of Liberty looming in the haze down the East River, that took my breath away. It was the walk itself. How did I get to a place where walking got me winded? Okay, so maybe the how doesn’t matter as much as where I ended up on the other side of the bridge.

My feet may have been in Manhattan, but my mind was back in that proverbial parking lot plotting a journey.  I have to find my way onto that path.

I’ve been wearing a Garmin VivoFit off and on (okay, more off than on) since the Verizon Buzz team sent me one in February.  The first week or so I was super excited about it, then… well… life. Something about having it track that fact that I mostly sit on my tail and type for hours on end just wasn’t motivating.  Go Figure.

When we stepped out of our hotel in downtown Brooklyn, it didn’t even register that I was wearing it.  Dozens of photos, lots of laughs, a bit of winded breathing, and maybe a blister or two (seriously, why did I wear sandals?!) later, a blinking beacon from my wrist told me I’d walked over 9,000 steps. I’d had fun and felt great doing it too – blisters not withstanding.

Brooklyn Bridge Foot PathSo much more than fulfilling that childhood longing to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, that walk brought be to the first real step on that journey. There is room in everyday, no matter how busy, what city or country I find myself in, to take at least one more step.

 

 

 

 

I have four kids and an opinion.