How to Use Google Maps to Plan Your Next Vacation

I work with someone who I believe has a slight addiction to Google Maps. Often, after he and I discuss a place either he’s never been to or neither of us have been to, he’ll open up Google Maps and start “looking around” that place using the satellite view and street view options. If you’ve never done this, I encourage you to choose a place where you’ve never been and check it out. This can give you an idea of what a city, street, or neighborhood really look like. That’s just a fun aspect of Google Maps, but that’s not what I’m going to focus on here.

Beyond just being able to visualize a place and of course the main reason people use Google Maps for directions, you can also use Google Maps to help you plan a vacation. To begin with, open Google Maps and navigate to Menu (at the top left with 3 bars) then open “Your places.” There are four options:  labeled, saved, visited, and maps. Under maps, you can click on Create Map then start creating a new map. Type in a city, restaurant, hotel, or other place. If you see a place of interest on the general Google map for that area, you can click on it and then click on “Add to map.” You can add labels, add directions, add a marker, and calculate distances. You’ll also need to name your map. All changes are saved in Google Drive. If you already have a Google account, you should be good to go, otherwise you’ll need to set up a Google account to save everything. When you’re done, you can share your map with other people.

You can also create a map using the “Saved” option. This is a bit easier to navigate in some ways, in my opinion, so you may want to start with this option, especially if you have trouble with the “Create Map” option. For example, when I went to Wyoming, I saved a bunch of places that we would be traveling to there and sent my saved map to my husband. That map that I called “Wyoming” had 16 places on it, with everything from where we would be staying, the airport, places where I wanted to hike, hot springs, and packet pickup for the half marathon I ran there. I’ve created maps this way and shared them with my husband when we went to other places on vacation as well.

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Screenshot of some of my saved maps in Google Maps

I’ve already started a map using the Create Map option for our upcoming summer vacation to Spain and Portugal. Let me tell you, it’s already ridiculously full of places where I want to go plus the places we will be staying. I think there’s something like 40 places including beaches, restaurants, shops, historical sites, and other places of interest on there. When I’m done with it, just before our trip, I’ll share it with my husband so he has it too.

There’s also a feature some of you may not be aware of that you may either love or hate. If you click on “Visited,” you can see everywhere Google Maps has record of you going to. Obviously you have to have had your phone turned on and you need to be logged into Google in order for the places to be recorded. I checked and mine goes back about one year. I’ve had my Google account for longer than that so I’m not sure if it’s just a default to just keep data for a year or what. Some people may not like the idea of being “tracked” by Google, but this can actually be a good thing. Say you’re trying to remember the name of that cute little cafe by the water you ate at on vacation three weeks ago. By using this feature, you may be able to figure that out. What may also surprise you (it surprised me), if you also use Google photos, any photos you’ve saved to Google photos will show up in your timeline for those days.

Have you ever used Google Maps to plan a vacation or create a map before a vacation? What’s your experience been like?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Running in My 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s

Although I feel like I’ve been a runner since I was a young child and I was on my school’s track team in elementary school, I just ran for fun mostly until after I had finished graduate school in my mid-20’s. I didn’t run on my high school’s track or cross country team nor did I run other than for fun during college. I ran my first 5k race when I was 28 years old. Looking back on it now, while I did know a little bit about running, I knew absolutely nothing about racing.

My first 5k race was under hot, humid conditions on the 4th of July but it sparked something in me and I wanted to race longer distances. You might think after the 5k I would gradually work up to longer distances like the 10k or a 10-miler or even a 15k, maybe eventually running a half marathon. But you would be wrong. I went straight from my very first 5k to signing up for a half marathon four months after that.

My first half marathon kicked my butt as I was woefully under-trained and under-prepared in many ways. I could barely lift my arms above my head after the race (my arms were too weak, which told me I needed to start doing some weight training) but one of the first things I said when I crossed that finish line was that I could do better than that and I wanted to sign up for the same race again the following year. It’s the only half marathon I’ve ever run more than once. True to my word, though, I finished the same half marathon the following year almost 16 minutes faster than I had the previous year. I was hooked on half marathons.

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One of the first races I ran in my 20’s. Sorry about the poor photo quality!

I eventually did run a 10k, 10-mile race, and 15k, but I mostly focused on half marathons. While still in my 20’s, I ran a total of three half marathons including one that’s still one of my favorites, the Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii. I don’t even remember why I signed up for this race to be honest. If I recall, I was planning a trip there for a vacation and happened to see there would be this half marathon going on while I was there and I thought, “Why not?” and signed up. It turned out to be a great decision and I have fond memories of that race. I still remember watching the sunrise on race day, running up some steep hills and running past houses who had their sprinklers going to help cool us runners off on that hot day in June.

Just one month after turning 30, I ran the Gold Rush Half Marathon in North Carolina, one of the hardest half marathons I’ve ever run to date. It was hot, hilly, and humid, which I’ve since then dubbed “The 3 deadly H’s.” This race taught me to do a little more research into race locales and race courses instead of just picking a race and signing up for it. Had I known how hilly the race was and given that it was held during the summer, I most likely wouldn’t have run it. This was before I had the goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states, and it was my third half marathon in North Carolina.

Truth be told, my 30’s were when I really “grew up” as a runner. I ran a whole slew of half marathons in my 30’s, especially once I decided I wanted to run a half marathon in all 50 states. My daughter was born when I was in my 30’s and this was the longest hiatus I ever took from running half marathons after she was born. I actually ran a half marathon, Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Arizona when I was just barely pregnant. My doctor said I should be fine since I had already run several half marathons and to just take the race easy. When my daughter was little, she used to love to hear the story about how she “ran” a half marathon in mommy’s tummy before she was even born.

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Finishing the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Arizona when I was pregnant

During my 30’s, I began to discover all things “proper” when it comes to running, such as proper running attire and shoes. When I was in college, I would just wear whatever athletic shoes I happened to have when I would go out for a run. A bad case of shin splints in college taught me that wasn’t a smart idea but I still didn’t really educate myself about running shoes until I was in my 30’s. I also began to invest in shirts and shorts made of technical fabrics and socks made specifically for running rather than those made of cotton. I wasn’t yet aware of Nuun hydration products but I began to buy Gatorade and drink that on long runs although not consistently. I began to experiment with different Gu’s, Gels, bloks, and Powerbars.

I also ran a marathon in my 30’s, the Long Beach Marathon in California. What should have been cooler, comfortable weather for a marathon turned out to be a nightmare. The temperature on that October morning quickly rose into the 80’s and the red flags were out on the course although the course was still officially open. All around me runners were literally passing out from the heat. I began to experience tunnel vision, where I had no peripheral vision, presumably from heat exhaustion. My husband was waiting for me at the finish, and I called him sometime during the race to let him know I wouldn’t be finishing until much later than I had originally anticipated. I alternated between walking and a slow jog but no matter what, I knew I had to keep moving forward for as long as I physically could. If I stopped for even a second, I knew that would be the end of the race for me. People around me kept asking me if I was OK, so I assume I must have looked really bad, but I just told them I was fine. As soon as I crossed the finish line and saw my husband, the first words I told him were that I never wanted to do that again. It was my one and only marathon.

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All smiles at the start of the Long Beach Marathon!

My 30’s were also when I first experienced anemia. Prior to this, I had never experienced anemia so I didn’t know what to look for. All I knew was I had slowed down considerably when I tried to run and I was becoming more and more out of breath even during simple everyday activities like walking up a flight of stairs. Finally, I went to my doctor, was diagnosed with anemia, and began taking supplements with high doses of iron along with folic acid and Vitamin C. In hindsight, I most likely was anemic for some time before I went to the doctor, and it took several months before I truly felt like myself again and even longer until my running times fell.

In my 40’s, I feel like I finally became an educated runner. I discovered Nuun hydration and Honey Stinger fueling products. After trying so many different hydration products, Nuun was such a revelation for me. I love how it’s low in sugar and has all natural ingredients. I have a picky stomach and have had trouble with so many different things I would try to eat on long runs but with Honey Stinger products, I’ve never had any issues and am so happy to have discovered their waffles, bars, and chews.

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My 40’s have also been a time to read books on running, which I’ve devoured. There are so many well-written, educational books on running out there. Some of my favorites so far have been Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor and Michelle HamiltonRun the World by Becky WadeEndure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance Book by Alex HutchinsonRunner’s World Race Everything: How to Conquer Any Race at Any Distance in Any Environment and Have Fun Doing It by Bart Yasso, and Roar: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life” by Stacy Sims and Selene Yeager just to name a few. All of the above links are to reviews I wrote on the books.

Anemia reared its ugly head once again in my 40’s but this time I was more aware of the signs and symptoms and caught it earlier than I did when I was in my 30’s. Despite going to multiple doctors, I never got a straight answer about the cause of my anemia. I had an endoscopy to rule out anything major and some other tests were done but nothing definitive was ever determined. I suspect mine is from foot strike hemolysis (you can read about that here) combined with the fact that I was not diligent about taking a daily supplement with iron. After round two with anemia, you’d better bet I take a multivitamin with iron every day now!

One unexpected thing that happened in my 40’s is I set a PR (personal record) at a half marathon. Most people think they’re well-beyond a PR in their 40’s and I was no different, especially given the fact that I’m not new to running. However, at the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming, all of the stars were aligned perfectly for me on that day and I ended up finishing the fastest ever at a half marathon. Needless to say, I absolutely loved this race and highly recommend it to anyone that wants to run a fast half marathon in a small town with the beautiful mountains of Wyoming around you.

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Standing under the world’s largest collection of elk horns after the Star Valley Half Marathon

You may be wondering about other things like cross-training and how that’s changed over the years. When I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s I would ride my bike quite a bit, but after my daughter was born, I found myself on the bike less and less. In my mid-40’s I began to ride my bike once again and remembered how much I enjoyed going for a bike ride. I didn’t do much strength training in my 20’s but I definitely made that a priority in my 30’s and have continued that into my 40’s. I discovered standup paddle boarding in my late 40’s and have been loving that as a form of cross training. Yoga has always been a high priority for me and I’ve been faithfully going to one yoga class or another since my late 20’s.

I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had that many running injuries considering how long I’ve been running. Sure, I had shin splints in my 20’s, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) in my 30’s, and minor things here and there but nothing major. I’ve been diligent about listening to my body over the years. When I’m running, I do a mental body scan to see if there are any aches or pains. If I have a sharp pain that doesn’t go away on its own, I’ll end the run and try to figure out the root cause. For me, often a knot in a muscle will cause pain and if I can work it out either by myself or with the help of a massage therapist, the pain will go away. Just about the only time I’ve had to take extended time off from running because of running injuries is when I didn’t stop running when I should have, early on when I began experiencing pain.

So now I’m looking forward to the next decade of running in my 50’s and beyond. I hope to be one of those people who’s still running as long as I live!

What about you? How has your running changed over the decades or are you a relatively new runner?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Travel in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?

When I was in college in my 20’s, I feel like I barely traveled anywhere. I won a free trip to the Bahamas, which you can read about here:  How a Free Cruise to the Bahamas Changed My Life. Like I said in the post, I feel like that trip to the Bahamas opened up my eyes to the world and whet my appetite for travel. Nonetheless, I was a poor college student through my mid-20’s and I just didn’t have the money to travel nor did I have the time when I was in graduate school.

Other than the free trip to the Bahamas in my 20’s, I went to Ocean City, Maryland for a beach trip for a couple of days one summer, I drove to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania a few times to go out with friends, went to New Jersey for a weekend with friends, and some other random places like that when I was in college. These were all low-cost, low-frills, short trips of 2 or 3 days at the most.

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A fun trip to see a friend in New York City in my 20’s

When I finished graduate school and started working, I branched out a little more and went to places like Jamaica, Mexico, and Harbour Island in the Bahamas (a far cry from Freeport in that it’s about a thousand times nicer plus it’s perfectly safe). I also went to Hawaii, and Napa Valley and Yosemite National Park in California, and some other places in the United States like Charleston, South Carolina, a city that’s still one of my absolute favorite places in the world.

Still, I don’t feel like I traveled that extensively until I was in my 30’s. My boyfriend and I went to Costa Rica and this was such an eye-opening vacation for me. So many of the people we came to contact with only spoke Spanish or very limited English. This was before the travel boom happened in Costa Rica, before it was more common to travel to the country, so things were a bit more rough and rugged. Still, we were at a nice resort where all of our meals were provided and we didn’t have to worry about figuring anything out on our own so we were a bit sheltered in that sense.

After Costa Rica came vacations to Miami (I had been to Miami in my 20’s as well), Ft. Lauderdale and Everglades National Park, a few places in California including San Francisco, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Napa Valley; my wedding in St. Kitts and honeymoon in Nevis and St. Martin; Philadelphia; several cities in Italy; Phoenix, Sedona, and Grand Canyon in Arizona; and Colorado. Then we slowed down a bit when I was pregnant through the first year or so after my daughter was born and just traveled to places a couple of hours away by car.

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Napa Valley when I was in my 30’s

When my daughter was not quite a year and a half things picked back up for us travel-wise, and we flew to Naples, Florida, then shortly after that to Vermont, and a few months after that to Hawaii. This was when I was well into my quest to run a half marathon in every state and was running about four races a year, one in each season basically. We also went to other places during my 30’s like Disney World in Florida, Disney Land in California, Key West, Marathon (Florida), Miami, Aruba, Banff and parts of Alberta, Canada on the west and Niagara Falls and parts of Ontario, Canada on the east.

Not only did the amount we traveled increase in my 30’s, the variety of places we went to also started to increase. Because of running a half marathon in all 50 states, we went to many places in the United States that we never would have otherwise. More often than not, we ended up falling in love with the area but regardless we were always glad we went because of the experience. We also began to stay in nicer accommodations in my 30’s, going from the cheaper places that my husband and I might have stayed in before our daughter was born, to nicer places in safer neighborhoods after she was born.

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Hobbiton in New Zealand

My 40’s are when I feel like I became more of an educated traveler. After planning my family’s vacation that began in Munich, Germany and had stops all over tiny little towns in Austria like Werfen, Bad Gastein, and Fusch without any trouble at all, I felt more comfortable planning our vacations in other countries. In addition to the states we were going to for half marathons, we began going to a different country about once a year (sometimes two a year) in my 40’s.

I’m still in my 40’s and in addition to the countries I listed already, we’ve gone to Greece, New Zealand, back to Canada to go to Montreal, Chile, Malta, the Canary Islands, Grand Cayman Island, and Peru. Although New Zealand, Montreal, and Grand Cayman Island were all very easy to communicate with others there and easy to get around, the other places were more difficult. However, by branching out more and more, I felt like it kept getting easier to get out of my comfort zone.

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One of my favorite places in the world- the salt pans in Malta

Our two weeks in Chile was especially a time when we were pushed out of our comfort zone, since we came upon numerous people who didn’t speak any English at all and we had no cell coverage or even Wi-Fi at times. There was no guide to help us, no one to tell us what to do or where to go. In other words, we had to figure it out on our own, and of course we did. The people were extremely patient with us and helpful and kind. I think this vacation in particular showed me that I am resilient and most people in the world are helpful and nice although there are bad people everywhere of course.

Peru showed me that the world is so much more than checking off boxes to see the “Wonders of the World,” like Machu Picchu. Not that I went there solely to check off a box, but what I mean is the experience of the trek leading up to seeing Machu Picchu was actually more special to me than the “grand finale” of seeing the ruins. As special as Machu Picchu was, it was the icing on the cake after the trek. This was the first time I ever took a several-day-long hike so it was my first time experiencing something like that.

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Machu Picchu in Peru

My 40’s is also when I started staying at properties through Airbnb. By now, I’ve stayed at Airbnb properties throughout the United States and around the world. More often than not, I’ve had exceptional stays, but there were one or two that were a disappointment. One place reeked of cigarette smoke but we stayed there anyway and I didn’t say a word about it. I re-read Airbnb reviews while we were there to see if I had missed something and sure enough, someone had complained of cigarette smoke. However, the owner rebutted by saying no one had ever smoked in the house and the person basically was too sensitive and didn’t know what they were talking about. If you’re reading reviews and come across something like that, you can either believe the person who wrote it or you can believe the owner. My lesson learned was to believe the person who wrote the review in a case like this so now I pay more attention to the reviews and don’t just skim the top couple before I make reservations.

One advantage to staying in a property through Airbnb is you have a kitchen so you can cook some of the meals and not have to eat out all the time. Not only does this save money, it also saves time of sitting in restaurants waiting for your food to come and then for the check to come. If you don’t feel like cooking, there’s always the option of picking up something from a grocery store deli. We’ve had some delicious meals this way and they’re quick, easy, and cheaper than eating out.

Now I’m looking forward to visiting some more countries, some of which my husband and I are considering retiring early to, like Spain and Portugal. I’d also like to check out some countries in Central America and maybe Ecuador as potential retirement spots. Also high on my list for places where I want to visit but not live are some places in Eastern Europe like Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro. I’d also like to finally visit some countries in Asia. Who knows if I’ll be able to go to all of these places while I’m still in my 40’s; most likely not all of them but definitely some of them.

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Croatia- eventually I will get here!

One thing that’s changed over the years for me is the amount of travel has gradually increased. We currently take about five to six weeks of vacation each year. That’s not going to change from now until I retire since that’s the maximum I can take with my job (yes, I’m extremely fortunate in that sense). The diversity of places we go to has also changed over the years. We seek out some of the more off-the-beaten path areas even in more popular areas we go to.

What hasn’t changed is my love for travel. No, I take that back. My love for travel has changed over the years because it’s continued to increase. When I was in my 20’s, I feel like travel was something I wouldn’t even give much thought to. In my 30’s, travel began to feel like it was becoming a part of me, and now in my 40’s, I can’t imagine not being able to travel because it’s such a huge part of what I do and what I enjoy. So I can’t think of anything that hasn’t changed with me when it comes to travel from my 20’s to present day in my 40’s. I guess it’s true what they say that travel truly does change your life.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

How has travel changed for you over the years? Or should I ask, how has travel changed you? That’s probably a topic for another day!

Happy travels!

Donna