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Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“Welcome to Miami”- Long Weekend in Miami, Florida

I have a dear friend that used to live where I do and she moved to Miami several years ago. The last time I went to see her was around 6 or so years ago so I was long over-due for a visit to see her. When I was planning my vacation to Malta, I was curious to see how much more it would cost to go through Miami on my way home. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a single penny more (in fact it was a bit cheaper to go through Miami) so after making sure she would be available in late November (she was) I booked our airfare.

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I’ll admit, I’m a huge planner and always have been. It’s nothing for me to have tentative plans for vacations or races a year or more in advance. It may all be in my head, with nothing purchased, but it’s still more or less planned. However, for my time in Miami, I didn’t plan a single thing. I didn’t go online to check out restaurants. I didn’t go to TripAdvisor to choose things to do. Since we would be staying with my friend and she would be driving us around, I didn’t even have to make hotel and/or rental car arrangements. This is truly unusual for me, to trust another person with all of the details for my vacation.

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I’ll also admit our time in Miami may not be how many of you would choose to spend time there. We didn’t go to a single club or bar. When we went to South Beach, the only things we did were go to lunch and spend the rest of the day on the sand and/or in the ocean. We also went to my friend’s neighborhood pool and my daughter had a grand time there. Most of all, we relaxed and thoroughly enjoy ourselves as my friend went out of her way to make us feel truly welcome.

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So what did we do other than go to the beach and pool? Well, we went on an airboat ride in the Everglades. We wanted to also go to Everglades National Park but because of a recent hurricane, they were closed. My friend has gone on multiple airboat rides in the Everglades over the years with visiting friends and relatives and she likes Everglades Safari Park the best. For $28 per adult or $15 per child you get a 30-40 minute airboat tour, a wildlife nature show, and you can walk along the “Jungle Trail,” observation platform, and exhibits on your own after the airboat tour. There’s also a discount if you buy your tickets in advance online.

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I’ve been on airboat rides before through the Everglades but I had forgotten how much fun they are! My daughter had never been on one and she loved it as well. During our tour, we saw multiple alligators, a few birds, and our guide pointed out some interesting plants in the area such as some so poisonous you would be dead within 20 minutes of touching it. After the airboat ride, we watched the wildlife nature show, where they had a boa constrictor and alligators. You could also get your picture take with a baby alligator after the show for $3 (we didn’t). We finished up our time at Everglades Safari Park with a walk around the “Jungle Trail,” which was nice but we didn’t really see much of anything of note.

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One of a few alligators seen on our airboat tour

Two things of note come to mind when visiting the Everglades: this is apparently an entirely different experience if you come during the warmer versus cooler months. My friend has been here during all seasons and said the mosquitoes will eat you alive during the warmer months (most of the year in Miami) and you may not even see a single alligator on the airboat ride. More reasons to go to Miami during the winter.

This vacation was a nice break after being so busy and active in Malta the previous couple of weeks. Normally you wouldn’t think of a long weekend in Miami as being quiet and relaxing, but like I’ve said many times, my family and I don’t vacation like typical Americans do.

How many of you have been on an airboat ride through the Everglades? What was your experience like?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Spreading the Love for my Fellow Bloggers who Run

During this time of year where we’re surrounded by heart decorations in stores everywhere and commercials filled with products to buy for our loved ones, I would like to spread the love in a different way. I would like to send out some admiration to some bloggers I follow who, among other things happen to be some pretty amazing runners, and they inspire me for different reasons.

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First, Paula at neveradullbling. If you don’t already follow Paula, you should know she’s on a quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states like I am. In addition to all of the half marathons she’s already ran, she’s training for Marine Corps Marathon, which will be her first marathon, in October. What I find most inspiring about Paula isn’t even related to her running, though. Paula also works for a wildlife rescue place and her love and dedication to animals is palpable in her posts. She seems like one of the kindest, sweetest people you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet. Just don’t piss her off though because she also seems like there would be hell to pay if you screwed her over. Just my kind of friend. Follow Paula at neveradullbling.com.

Paula’s husband James also deserves a spot here. James is on a quest to run a marathon in all 50 states. James manages to run several half marathons a year in addition to the marathons he runs, which is impressive. James had a back injury in 2017, however, that set him back and he was unable to run at all for months, which meant he had to cancel plans for some of the races he had planned. He did end up running a half marathon in San Antonio, Texas, however, in November of last year. I loved how he said it was the slowest, best half marathon he had ever ran. Not surprisingly, James also seems like a kind, caring person who would do anything for a friend. You can find James at 50in50marathonquest.com.

Helly is one of those people who I wish loved near me so I could run in a running group with her. Although she would kick my butt and I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her for long, it would push me to see how long I could run at her pace and would be good motivation for me. Helly is trying to qualify for Boston at the Phoenix Marathon which just happens to be on my birthday, February 24. I have no doubt she’ll qualify for Boston, if not this month then later when the time is right. Send her some love and best wishes for a BQ if you don’t already follow her at hellyontherun.com!

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Elle is the kind of person the more I get to know her through her blog, the more I feel I have in common with her. Like me, she loves to travel and goes to beautiful places every chance she gets. Unlike me, Elle is super speedy and qualified for Boston 2018 at the California International Marathon last December, a race she told no one she was running until after the fact. I always learn so much from Elle’s blog and feel like she’s always two steps ahead of most people. Follow her on her blog afastpacedlife.wordpress.com and I’m sure you’ll learn a thing or two!

Jodi is the social butterfly of the bunch here. I’m always amazed at how many fellow runners and bloggers Jodi knows when she posts photos to Instagram. Then again she runs more races than anyone else I know, so I guess that’s part of the reason she knows so many people, the other part being how genuinely nice of a person she seems to be. Jodi went through a pretty scary time last year and had to deal with some health issues that went undiagnosed for a while. She openly and honestly shared her experiences on her blog and I admire her for that because I know it’s not always easy to share such personal experiences with others. Follow Jodi on her blog if you don’t already at mykindoffit.wordpress.com. She’s the one with the huge smile on her face!

Finally, Mai, the youngest of the bunch here. Mai is a woman on fire and the type of person who can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. Mai is a fairly recent PhD graduate so of course she’s highly intelligent and she’s also a fast runner. I’m always amazed at all of the things she does (and I don’t mean just running) and posts to the blog. In January she completed the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World, which means she ran a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon in the span of four days. Enough said. Follow Mai at if you don’t already at ifijustbreathe.wordpress.com.

Who are some of your favorite bloggers? Feel free to post links to their sites here and of course tell everyone what you like most about them.

I also would like to share the #nuunlove with a code for 30% off through February 11 with code NUUNLOVE30 at nuunlife.com and nuuncanada.com.

Happy running!

Donna

 

Beaches of Malta- We Saved the Best for Last (Maybe)

On our final day in Malta we decided to check out some of the beaches a bit further away than the one across the street from our hotel. Although we had walked along this beach in St. Paul’s Bay a couple of times, we hadn’t attempted to get into the water and it was a rocky beach so it’s not one where you would sit on the sand and relax. Still, it was nice to walk along the water in the evening and watch the beautiful sunsets.

I had read that Ghadira Bay Beach is Malta’s largest sandy beach and that even in November the water could be warm enough for some people to swim in. I also knew that Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gnejna Bay were also worth checking out. Popeye Village, the movie set for the movie Popeye that was left permanently after filming ended on Malta is also close to Ghadira Bay Beach, so I thought we could make a day of it going to all of these places.

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Popeye Village, movie set from the 1980 movie “Popeye”

First we went to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and were blown away by how beautiful the view was. The water is this mixture of turquoise, greens, and darker blues that’s mesmerizing. It’s all surrounded by these huge limestone cliffs that just add to the beauty of the area. We hadn’t packed our bathing suits or towels because we hadn’t planned on doing anything other than taking in the views but our daughter begged my husband and me to drive back to the hotel and put on our swim suits and get beach towels. We agreed on the condition that we could first check out Ghadira Bay Beach and if we didn’t like it as much we’d go back to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.

Ghadira Bay Beach is beautiful but we didn’t think it was nearly as beautiful as Ghajn Tuffieha Bay. Honestly, I don’t have nearly as good of photos of Ghadira Bay Beach as I do of Ghajn Tuffieha Bay, so I’m only going to show Ghajn Tuffieha Bay here. After having lunch at Ghadira Bay Beach, we drove the short drive to Popeye Village. We decided it wouldn’t be worth the 30 Euro it would have cost to go inside the village, especially since we didn’t want to spend more than 20 or 30 minutes there. After admiring the view and snapping some photos, we drove back to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.

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Just look at this water!

My husband and daughter who are both more cold-tolerant than I am got in the water and swam around for quite a while before they both got out to warm up on the soft sand under the warm sun. I kept thinking to myself that this was a very nice way indeed to spend our holiday. I felt very fortunate to be here in this beautiful country with such rich history, awesome scenery, and friendly people.

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One unexpected thing that we discovered in the Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gneja Bay area were all of the trails there. We explored the many paths that wrapped around the bays and were rewarded with some fantastic views of both bays.

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Stopping on one of the trails to take a photo

After leaving Ghajn Tuffieha Bay we went back to our hotel to get cleaned up for dinner (which happened to be Thanksgiving Day for us Americans). So what did we decide to have for our Thanksgiving dinner in Malta you ask? We actually got take-away from a Chinese restaurant and celebrated back in our room. It was our last day in Malta, since we would be flying out the next morning to continue our vacation in Miami, Florida.

As we were driving to the airport bright and early the next morning to leave Malta, I started thinking about what was my favorite part. Usually I have an answer to questions like that pretty quickly, but here, I’m not sure. I loved Gozo and the salt pans there. I loved Dingli Cliffs and the views from there. I also loved Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and the beautiful water. I think in this case, I’ll have to go with my top three.

You can find other posts about Malta here:

Where in the World is Malta?

Rabat/Mdina/Mġarr Area of Malta- Touring a Roman House, Temples, and Catacombs

Valletta Area of Malta- the Capital City

Harbour Area of Malta- A Palace, a Fort, and Temples

How many of you have been to Malta and have been to these beautiful beaches and bays? What is your favorite part of Malta?

Happy travels!

Donna

Running a Women-Only Race

It seems that women-only races are becoming more and more popular and for good reason. For many years women weren’t allowed to run long distances races. To even be typing that seems absurd to me but I remember when doctors would tell women they shouldn’t run. Going on absolutely no real findings, doctors believed running was somehow bad for women and/or that women couldn’t run long distances because we were too frail and our periods somehow interfered with running. If you even attempted to run while pregnant, you would be condemned by everyone you knew.

Flash back to 1967 when Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon with a numbered entry. She registered under the name “K.V. Switzer” and was almost thrown off the course while running by race official Jock Semple. Kathrine is a legend in the field of running and an inspiration to all runners but especially female runners. It took another five years before women were officially allowed to run in the Boston Marathon in 1972.

The field of female runners has increased over the years and gradually more and more women have been entering races but women are still out-numbered by men at most marathons. So why the draw to a women-only race? Well, I can tell you my first-hand experience. I ran a women-only plus “one lucky guy” half marathon in Massachusetts a few years ago. The race organizers allowed entry for one guy (I’m not sure how he was chosen from the other males that entered or even how many males entered for that matter).

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Some of the fall foliage from the All Women and One Lucky Guy Half Marathon

The All Women and One Lucky Guy Half Marathon I ran in Massachusetts was one that sticks out in my mind, of all of the half marathons I’ve run. Yes, the course was beautiful with all of the fall foliage in peak season and running past farms along country roads was lovely but that’s not what makes the race memorable. The race stands out in my mind apart from the rest because of the camaraderie at the race simply because it was an all-women race. It’s difficult to explain but it had a different kind of vibe than the usual male/female mixed races. You can read my full race report here.

I know there has been some backlash from some women’s only races, namely some of the Diva races, which include the half marathon and 5K in many cities in the US, Puerto Rico, and Canada. These races are all about the stereotypical feminine bling like pink boas, tiaras, tutus, and pretty much all things pink. I think it’s all meant to provide a fun atmosphere and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Personally, I’m not a diva in any way, shape, or form, but I feel if some women want to be, that should be their choice. I have a friend who has run in some of the diva races and she said they’re “kind of silly” but also “kind of fun.” I say if it takes that kind of thing to encourage some women to run a race, so be it.

One important note, not all women’s only races are like the diva ones or the ones you hear about firefighters handing out jewelry to finishers at the end. The race I ran wasn’t handing out chocolates, roses, or anything frilly. The medal did have a pink ribbon but it wasn’t anything too over the top. In general this race was like any other race, except it happened to be all women and one guy running the race, and like I said earlier, there was a different kind of vibe.

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Women in the All Women and One Lucky Guy at the start- not much pink here!

Finally, my thoughts on men running in women’s only races. While these races are geared toward women and providing a safe, encouraging space, sometimes men will sign up. Sometimes their wife/girlfriend/friend/sister will ask them to run the race with them, and sometimes they just want to sign up and run it on their own, although I think both cases are pretty rare. There’s nothing to stop them. I don’t think we would ever have a role reversal like the Kathrine Switzer attempt to throw a man off a women’s only course. I think most men understand that women enjoy having their own space to run a race and they’re fine with that.

Want to try your own Women’s Only race? Here are a few to try:

See Jane Run Women’s Half Marathon & 5K – San Francisco Bay Area

Her Madison Half Marathon & 5K- Wisconsin

Bridge of the Goddess Half Marathon & 10K- Oregon

Queen Bee Half Marathon & 4-Miler- Cincinnati, Ohio

Unleash the She 5K & 10K- Minnesota

Phoenix Women’s Half Marathon, 5K, & 10K- Arizona

Cocoa Half Marathon, 5K, 10K, & 1 Mile Family Fun Run- San Antonio, Texas

Savannah Women’s Half Marathon & 5K- Georgia

Thelma and Louise Half Marathon & Relay- Utah

National Women’s Half Marathon & 8K- Washington, DC

Disney Princess Half Marathon, 10K, & 5K- Florida

Tinker Bell Half Marathon- California

Shape Women’s Half Marathon- New York City

Diva Running Series- multiple locations

How many of you have run in a women-only race? Any you’d recommend? Please share your experience here. Do you hate the very idea of women’s only races? Share those opinions as well!

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

The Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, and My Favorite Temples in Malta

For our exploration of the southern area of Malta, we decided to go to the Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, Hagar Qim Temples, and Mnajdra Temples. Since it was late in the year, I thought it would be too chilly to enjoy a boat ride, but there were a few other boats going out for tours while we were there. I would definitely do it during the warmer months- next time! Still, it was fun to just walk around and look at the beautiful water for a bit and snap some photos. There are a few small restaurants where you can get a quick snack but it’s a pretty small undeveloped area (which is a good thing).

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The Blue Grotto

To get to Dingli Cliffs, we started in Buskett Gardens, an area with woodlands dating back to the 16th century. There are historical sites nearby such as prehistoric cart ruts and Ghar il-Kbir (a complex of caves that were inhabited up to 150 years ago). Although there are numerous trails you can hike around Buskett Gardens, we just walked straight from Buskett Gardens to Dingli Cliffs although we could have just driven straight to the cliffs. If I would have had more time, I definitely would have spent more time hiking around Buskett Gardens since it seemed very pretty in the area.

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Dingli Cliffs
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Looking down Dingli Cliffs

Hagar Qin Temples were my favorite of all of the temples we went to (and we went to a lot). I thought the preservation of the temples were some of the best in the area and the location of the temples by the Dingli Cliffs just added to the experience. Mnajdra Temples were within walking distance from Hagar Qin, just a bit closer to the water but not quite as extensive. First excavated in 1839, the remains of Hagar Qin suggest a date between 3600 – 3200 BC, a period known as the Ġgantija phase in Maltese prehistory.

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It was nice that the last temples we went to were my favorite ones; we saved the best for last. After all of this history, we were ready to see some other things, so we decided to see some beaches in the area. Join me for that upcoming post!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Shaking Things Up a Bit

Last winter when I was training for a half marathon in Utah in February and I had to run my peak miles during some of the worst weather where I live in North Carolina, I was cursing my choice of a race in February and vowed to not make that mistake again. If you want to read about my race in Utah, the Dogtown Half Marathon, you can find it here. For those of you that aren’t aware, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 United States and ran my 41st state in West Virginia last November, the Marshall University Half Marathon.

I should state that my husband and daughter always go to races with me and since my daughter is in middle school now, I plan my races around her school schedule. She’s currently in a year-round school, which means she’s basically in school for nine weeks and out for three weeks throughout the year. One of her current breaks is during February, hence my decision to run a half marathon in February last year. I’ve ran all of the southern states except New Mexico, if you consider that a southern state, and I refuse to run in a state like Minnesota or Nebraska in February.  Call me crazy or call me a wimp, but I’m done running races in February and all other winter months for that matter.

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Photo taken last January. For a southern gal like me, this isn’t good running weather!

This all means I’ll go from running a race last November to my next one which isn’t until May. That’s a pretty long time to go in-between races, but that’s the way it’s going to be as long as my daughter has this school schedule. When she’s in high school, she will no longer be in year-round school, so I’ll have the option of running during the early spring again, as long as I can find a race during her spring break, which should be possible.

Sooooo, what have I been doing during this long break between training plans? Well, I’ve still been running to keep up my fitness level, but it’s been more “run for fun” kind of thing. I haven’t been doing any speed work of any real kind although I’ve done a little bit of playing around with increasing my speed on some treadmill runs and doing some sprinting here and there. I’ve also bought some new shoes in preparation when I do start my next training plan next month.

As I mentioned in a post last year, I tried some new shoes in a completely different brand and style than I had ever ran in before and that worked out well for me. They were Newtons and while I definitely like them, my next pair of new shoes aren’t Newtons. See, for years I had been running in Asics Gel Nimbus shoes and really liked them so I kept buying them for many years. However, after reading Jonathan Beverly’s book, “Runner’s World Your Best Stride: How to Optimize Your Natural Running Form to Run Easier, Farther, and Faster–With Fewer Injuries,” I began to re-think some things. My full post on Beverly’s book can be found here.

For 2018, I plan on incorporating more of the concepts from Beverly’s book such as not always wearing the same shoes, not always running on the same routes, not always doing the same stretches, etc.. In other words, shake things up a bit. I know many runners have the mentality, ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it’ but for me, I think I need to mix things up. My 20-something and even 30-something body didn’t need much variety and got by just fine without switching things up, but I feel like my 40-something body needs variety if I intend on running forever (which I do).

My last few years-worth of training plans have been the same, namely running three days a week, cross-training twice a week including cycling and yoga, strength training one day and core work one day. On the days where I ran, there were no easy runs but every run was either a tempo run, hill repeats, speed work, or long run. This next training plan I will start in a few weeks includes running five days a week, so I’ll have to double-up and go to yoga class for example after running earlier in the day to fit it all in. My plan is to at least try it and if it’s too much for my body (i.e. if I’m getting injuries) I’ll cut back to four days a week and try that.

Wish me luck! How often do you guys shake things up with your running?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

My First Experience with Mobile WiFi for International Travel

Based on a recent visit to Chile and going without WiFi  for a week, I started investigating mobile WiFi options for an upcoming vacation to Malta. I’m an American and my cell phone is locked and doesn’t offer me the option of putting a sim card into it from Malta, so I knew I had to find another way. In my mind I pretty much had three options- 1) buy a cheap phone in Malta for my time there and share it with my husband and daughter (not really an option), 2) rent a GPS for the car but possibly not have WiFi or have limited access (again, not really an option) or 3) rent a MiFi or mobile WiFi.

First off, what is mobile WiFi? Unlike WiFi which provides internet connectivity to wireless devices through fixed WiFi hotspots, mobile WiFi or MiFi provides connectivity when devices are on the move. The MiFi router acts as a mobile hotspot. In other words, you can have internet connectivity anywhere you are and have the MiFi  device, whether going down the road in a car, on the beach, in an apartment, etc. Anywhere you can pick up a signal, I should say. We never had problems getting a signal no matter where we tried in Malta.

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Many roads like this aren’t one-way in Malta!

There are many options for Americans who travel to Europe (which includes Malta) so I began comparing them. You can buy a device or rent one. I knew I didn’t want to buy a device at least at this point in my life so I looked at companies where I could rent one.

Skyroam seemed like a good option at $9.95 per day to rent plus $1.95 per day to upgrade to 4G LTE and includes up to five devices. You can have the device delivered to your house before you leave on vacation and return it upon arrival back to the States. Xcom Global also seemed like a good option at $7.77 per day plus an option of $1.50 per day extra for LTE upgrade for $9.27 total per day so I went with Xcom Global. I also paid $19 to have the device shipped to my home before I left for Malta and returned it at a FedEx facility upon arrival back in the US for no charge. After I returned from my vacation, I learned that Xcom Global closed their US facility mid-December of 2017. Since I was planning on using them for future international vacations, I’m sad this happened, but I’m willing to try Skyroam and see how they compare the next time.

More importantly how did the MiFi work? So well that we’ll be renting a device the next time we travel internationally and probably every time we travel internationally. We could have gotten by with just renting a GPS for the car but then we wouldn’t have had WiFi for all the times when we were in little public squares and needed to find a restaurant, cafe, pharmacy, or just where the historical site we were going to was after we found a parking spot several blocks away and getting thoroughly turned around.

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I personally wouldn’t want to drive a big car in Malta with so many narrow roads

The roads in Malta are not well-marked or in some cases aren’t marked at all. Without the verbal turn-by-turn directions from the MiFi (or a GPS), we would have gotten lost pretty much every day we drove somewhere. The one time we only had printed directions to a place with no address, we were only able to find it after stopping to ask someone for directions. The roads are fairly well-maintained in the more populated areas, but when you get out in rural areas, they pretty quickly get worse, meaning narrow, winding, completely unmarked, and sometimes downright insane. On a couple of occasions when the GPS said to go on a road, we looked at it and said no way in hell are we taking that road and circled around until the GPS found us another way.

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Road, sidewalk, or both? It’s actually both.

Beyond using the MiFi for driving and finding our way around Malta, we had the device at both the Airbnb apartment in Gozo and the hotel in Malta. Fortunately the WiFi at both places was sufficient that we didn’t need the MiFi but it was nice knowing we had it if we needed it. We’ve stayed at hotels before that advertised WiFi but it turned out it was only in the lobby, which of course isn’t ideal. I wasn’t 100% sure if this was going to be the case at our hotel in Malta and didn’t really want to take the chance.

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Look closely at this hillside- there are actually roads here. Yep, they can be like that in Malta.

After having MiFi for our vacation in Malta and being so pleased with it, we will absolutely rent another device for future international vacations. It makes the vacation so much less stressful and to me that’s worth every penny.

Have any of you used MiFi devices for international travel? Are there any ones you recommend?

Happy travels!

Donna