Itinerary Ideas for First-Timers to the United States- East Coast

As an American who has visited all but 8 of the states in the United States, take it from me, the US is a huge country. The entire continent of Europe is roughly the same size as the United States, to put things into perspective. Imagine driving from one end of Europe to the other end or even half of Europe in a week or two. That’s crazy, right? But yet some people come to the United States for the first time with the intention to drive across the United States, only to wind up spending most of their time in the car. There’s got to be a better way.

Here are some of my recommendations for a week-long itinerary in the United States, east coast only. If you have more than a week, add on days to either or both destination, according to your interests.

1) For the city-lover:  begin in New York City. With a population of over 8.6 million people, New York City is definitely a city with a lot to do and see. I’m not going to give recommendations for things to do and see in New York City, but I recommend staying here 4 or 5 days, depending on what you want to see and do. The noise and traffic can be a bit much for some people, so if you know you prefer to move on to a smaller area, I’d cut the time spent in New York to 3 days but wouldn’t go any less than that.

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Statue of Liberty- book your ticket several months in advance if you want to go to the top!

If you are a history buff, you can fly, drive a rental car, or take a train to Washington, D.C. There is an Amtrak train that will get you there in an hour less than it takes to drive (3 hours via train vs. 4 hours driving) and flying isn’t any faster, so I would recommend taking the train. Parking in both New York City and Washington, D.C. is expensive and difficult to find, not to mention the headache of simply driving in these hugely congested areas.

I suggest spending 2 or 3 days in Washington, D.C. As in New York City, public transportation is the best way to get around. The metro in Washington, D.C. can take you to the Smithsonian museums quickly and easily. I highly recommend spending time at the Smithsonian Museums, which are made up of 19 museums, galleries, gardens, and a zoo, all of which offer free admission. There are of course also the monuments and memorials you can admire on the National Mall. Most of the monuments and memorials are free or have a nominal fee. Check online to see if you need a ticket and if so buy it in advance.

2) For the history and nature-lover:  begin in Boston, Massachusetts. Boston is considerably smaller both in land mass and population than New York City and may be an easier transition for some people, especially those that don’t like large crowds. Boston has around 700,000 people but still has plenty to do and is also a great choice if you enjoy history. Again, I would recommend just using public transportation and walking to get around Boston. Although you could easily spend more time in Boston, 3 days would be a good amount to see the highlights.

From Boston, rent a car and drive up the coast to Maine. It’s a pretty long drive, at about 4 hours, 45 minutes. If you want to break up the drive, stop at Portland and spend the night here. Portland is full of great restaurants and nice places to stay. Your ultimate destination will be Bar Harbor, home to Acadia National Park. You could easily spend a week just in Acadia National Park, but if you’re only spending a week total in the US, you’ll have about 4 days here if you spend 3 days in Boston. You could also fly from Boston to Bar Harbor in about an hour, but honestly, the drive along the coast from Boston is worth it in my opinion.

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The beautiful coastline of Maine

3) For a beach experience and party scene:  fly into Miami, Florida. Miami is famous for its beautiful beaches, great food, and bar scene. If you like to hang out at the beach all day and party all night, Miami is the spot for you. Everglades National Park is also nearby if you want to take a ride through the Everglades in an airboat for a unique experience. Spend 5 days in Miami before heading to your next destination, Key West.

Key West is about 3 1/2 hours by car from Miami, although it could take longer if you stop at the many other little “keys” along the way. You can fly from Miami to Key West in 45 minutes if you are in a hurry, but if you want a memorable road trip, drive the Overseas Highway across a 113-mile chain of coral and limestone islands connected by 42 bridges, one of them seven miles long. Key West has a laid-back kind of feel, which may be a relief after the more upbeat party scene of Miami. Chill at the beaches and bars in Key West for 2 days before heading back home.

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One of many gorgeous sunsets we saw while in the keys!

4) To skip the bigger cities for a smaller-town feel:  fly into Atlanta, Georgia. Although Atlanta is a fun town and you could spend a few days here, for your first time to the United States, I suggest renting a car and driving the roughly 4 1/2 hours to Charleston, South Carolina. You could also fly into Charleston but flights from Europe will be cheaper if you fly into Atlanta. If you don’t have a driver’s license or can’t rent a car, by all means fly into Charleston instead. Charleston has consistently ranked number one city by Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, and for good reason. Charleston is a foodie destination, has beautiful beaches with soft, powder-fine sand, is full of historical sites, and has quaint bed & breakfasts as well as the usual hotels and Airbnb offerings. Spend 5 days in Charleston before moving on to your next destination, Savannah, Georgia.

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Powder white, soft sandy beach in the Charleston area

It’s about a 2 hour drive from Charleston to Savannah. To me, Savannah is like the little sister to Charleston, in many ways. Savannah is a foodie destination, has beautiful beaches at Tybee Island, has many fun historical sites, all of which Charleston has, but Savannah hasn’t quite reached the level of “stardom” that Charleston has, for some reason. I suggest spending 2 days in Savannah before heading back and flying back out of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, about 3 1/2 hours away by car.

Those are my top east-coast destinations for first-timers to the United States. There are of course many more but I had to draw the line somewhere!

What about my American east-coasters? What east coast travel destinations would you recommend to first-timers coming to the US?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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A Bit of History and Nature in Charleston, South Carolina- Charleston Sole Walking Tour and The Center for Birds of Prey

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Charleston, South Carolina many times. It’s a city I’ve grown to love as I’ve explored in an ever-expanding radius around the historic area of Charleston. I’ve been to all of the main beaches including Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Edisto Beach, and Kiawah Island. Last year I went on a nature boat tour to the uninhabited island Morris Island, which I highly recommend checking out. I’ve been to numerous historical sites, but I had never been on a historical walking tour of Charleston, that is until recently.

I chose Charleston Sole Walking Tours for a historical walking tour. I’m just not a big fan of carriage rides, which seem to be over-priced and just skim the surface if you want an in-depth explanation of the architecture and history of an area. Our guide was Fin, a retired teacher, and he did a great job explaining everything along the way of our 2-hour tour that covered about a mile and a half.

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The Huguenot Church, also called the French Huguenot Church or the French Protestant Church

Our walking tour began outside the Old Exchange Building, which I highly recommend going inside and taking a tour inside on your own sometime. Along the way we learned about Dock Street Theatre, the Old Slave Mart Museum, St. Michael’s Church, the Nathaniel Russell House garden, waterfront mansions on the Battery and Rainbow Row. We learned why Charleston is nicknamed “The Holy City” and were given an account of how President Lincoln’s “safer” decision to go to the theater instead of the battlefield in Charleston ended in his demise. In short, if you like history, Charleston is steeped in it, and this is a great way to understand some of the history behind Charleston.

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Pink House is the sixth-oldest building in South Carolina by year built (1712)

I also discovered a new area of Charleston, Awendaw, just north of Charleston, and a short drive from Mount Pleasant, where I’ve stayed many times. I was with a group of people so we needed to rent a large house, and the one I found in Awendaw was perfect for us. I bring this up because had we not stayed in Awendaw, I might not have learned about The Center for Birds of Prey.

We chose the guided tour and flight demonstration at The Center for Birds of Prey, but they also offer private educational programs, an annual musical event called Bird Songs, an annual gala, and an annual birding festival. The guided tour was led by a volunteer who said she had been volunteering her time there for the past 18 years, and she was obviously very passionate about the center. Almost all (I’ll explain this later) of the birds at the center are ones that were rescued either because they were injured or had imprinted on humans and thus were unable to function in the wild.

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Following our guided tour at The Center for Birds of Prey, we watched a flight demonstration in a huge open field that included hawks, falcons, owls, eagles, and vultures as the stars of the show. We learned about the birds’ hunting and flying techniques and watched in awe as a kite, a bird I wasn’t previously aware of, flew around without landing for the duration. Apparently kite birds can regularly fly all day without landing, soaring and gliding in thermals in search of food, eating dragonflies in mid-air.

We were free to explore the Exhibit Area after the flight demonstration, but only after getting to see newly hatched baby owls, which was an unexpected surprise for me. The center sometimes will breed owls to use for the flight demonstrations or to send to zoos around the United States who are searching for owls.

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The grounds are designed as a campus where visitors follow paths accentuated with aviaries housing more than 30 species of birds of prey. Although we would have liked to have spent more time exploring the grounds after our tour and flight demonstration (and checking out the baby owls), we were ready for lunch, so we decided to cut our self-led tour of the grounds short. We booked the morning tour, thinking it would be a bit cooler, but had we booked the afternoon tour, we probably would have stayed a bit longer to check out the grounds. There are tours every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 10:30 am and 2 pm. The Center for Birds of Prey is only about a 30 minute drive from downtown Charleston, so if you’re in Charleston, it’s easy to get to, and I highly recommend going here.

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Baby owls!

I was happy to get to see and do some new things on this visit to Charleston. It’s a city I never tire of, given all of the options here. In addition to going on the historical walking tour and The Center for Birds of Prey, I also went to the beach, the historical market, and ate at some outstanding restaurants, so I blended some of my old favorites with some new places.

Is there a place you find yourself returning to year after year for vacations? What do you love about the place? Do you discover new places every time you go or stick to the “tried and true”?

Happy travels!

Donna

Beautiful Boise- There’s so Much More to Boise, Idaho Than Just Potatoes!

My first glimpse of Idaho was when I drove through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho from Spokane, Washington several years ago on my way to Missoula, Montana and parts of Canada. I was in awe of the natural beauty of that part of Idaho and I couldn’t wait to go back and actually spend some time in Idaho. I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states in the United States, and for my race in Idaho, I chose to run in Boise based on some race reviews of Boise by other runners. If you’d like to read about my half marathon, The Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon, just click here for the link.

When I arrived in Boise, I immediately thought of Missoula. Boise and Missoula are both in valleys surrounded by beautiful mountains. I loved Missoula so of course I also loved Boise right away. The first thing I did when I reached my Airbnb house was go for a run. I always love running in new places because I really get a feel for the area and it helps me get my bearings quickly.

The next day we went to the Idaho Botanical Garden and this is probably one of the best botanical gardens I’ve been to anywhere. At first glance, my daughter was a little disappointed, so when you drive up to the garden, don’t be put off by first impressions. When you get further into the garden, the beauty of it unfolds before you, so just keep walking.

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Idaho Botanical Garden

As is the case with most botanical gardens, the Idaho Botanical Garden is divided into several sections, like the English Garden, the Herb Garden, Firewise Garden, and Meditation Garden, just to name a few. Words really can’t describe this place, though. You really have to see it for yourself. We spent a little over an hour and a half here but you could bring a picnic lunch and spend a few hours here easily. There are plenty of seating areas, restrooms, and a gift shop. Pets are not permitted. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for kids ages 5 to 12.

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Idaho Botanical Garden

Boise is an outdoor lover’s paradise. There are trails and greenways everywhere for walking, running, and cycling, or hiking up mountainsides. During our time in Boise, we went hiking several days and each time the scenery just kept getting better. One of my favorite places to hike in the Boise area is Hulls Gulch. Hulls Gulch has several trails and you can spend days on end here if you hiked all of the trails. We chose a couple of trails here, including Red Cliffs Trail and were rewarded with these views.

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Hulls Gulch Hiking Area

Another place we went hiking that was incredible is Bogus Basin, where we hiked the Around the Mountain trail, or at least a portion of it. This is a ski resort during the winter months but they have trails for horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking during warmer months. There are some other summer activities like a toboggan ride and the lifts are open for quick access to the top of the mountain. We were there a few days before they opened for the summer season, so the cafe, lifts, and everything else was closed, but that just meant we pretty much had the trail to ourselves except for a few mountain bikers we passed.

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Bogus Basin

My absolute favorite hiking place in the Boise area is Lucky Peak State Park. The park was the start for the Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon, where we wound through the canyon for the first few miles and I ran my 44th half marathon in my 42nd state. A few days after my race, my family and I drove to the park and hiked up Cervidae Peak, which is 4.4 miles out and back, 1883 foot elevation gain, with views of two rivers and the marina directly below. This is a hard trail, pretty much straight up and straight back down but it is worth it for the incredible views.

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Lucky Peak State Park

If you’re not into hiking, downtown Boise is also a cool place with many great restaurants and shops. We discovered Freak Alley and all of the murals there and took a ton of photos while we walked around and admired the art work. We also popped into some of the unique shops and a small bookstore. Boise Art Museum looks like a great place, but we chose to hike instead of go there so I can’t speak from experience. Another cool place you can tour is the Old Idaho Penitentiary with its 19th-century prison cells and gallows, plus historic military weaponry.

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Freak Alley Gallery

Idaho has to be one of the most under-rated states in the United States in my opinion, especially by east coasters, many of whom don’t even know for sure where Idaho is and all they relate it to is potatoes. It is one of the most beautiful states I’ve been to, and is full of outdoor activities year-round. Most importantly, everyone we talked to, whether while hiking or in town was friendly and helpful. I’ve often said I tend to judge a city by how runner-friendly it is, and not only is Boise runner-friendly, it’s also outdoor-enthusiast-friendly with all of the options available. That’s my kind of town! 

Have any of you been to Idaho? If so, where did you go and did you love it as much as I did?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Running While on Vacation

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to 42 states in the United States where I’ve run a half marathon in each state. I’ve also traveled throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, several countries in Europe, Chile, and New Zealand for vacations. Since I’ve often been training for a half marathon while on vacation, I’ve tried to squeeze in a run whenever I can. This hasn’t always been easy to do, especially if you don’t speak the language fluently and don’t know the area well.

I’ve tried many different approaches to running while on vacation, some have worked over and over again and others not so much. I’d like to share some of what has and hasn’t worked for me here and would love for you to share some things that have worked for you when running on vacation.

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Running in the Canary Islands was great once I figured out where to run!

Probably one of the biggest things that ensures I’ll actually run while on vacation is to make it a priority to follow my training plan. For example, if I’m supposed to run for 4 miles on Tuesday while I’m on vacation according to my training plan, it almost always works best if I go out first thing in the morning to run. I’m not a morning person but I can manage to get up and out the door around 7 am even on vacation (later if it’s not going to be a hot day). That way my run is out of the way and it’s not looming over my head for the rest of the day until I run.

I always run with my phone when I’m on vacation as well. If I get lost or a sudden thunderstorm comes on for example, it gives me peace of mind to know I can call my husband to come and pick me up. I’ve never actually had to do this, thankfully, but it is better to be safe just in case.

I’ll look for running routes on Strava and MapMyRun. Heck, I’ve even looked on Google Maps to find running routes using the street view. I’ll also check local running stores and local running communities to see if they have running routes posted online. In the past I’ve asked the concierge or people at the front desk of hotels for running routes, but that’s been so unproductive I’ve stopped doing that. If the person you’re asking isn’t a runner, you’re wasting your time asking for running routes.

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Even though it’s usually hot and humid when we go the, I still have fun running in Charleston, SC and love all of these huge old trees!

I’m cognizant of what I eat before going for a run. Once when I was spending time with my husband’s family out of town, I ate bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast and then went to go run about 45 minutes later. Big mistake. I’ve never done anything like that since then. If it’s a cooler day and I’m going to run around early evening, I know better than to have a big, rich dessert that won’t sit well in my stomach before a run (I’ll save that dessert for after I run!). I’ll pack snacks or buy some when I get to my destination that I know I can eat as soon as I wake up and eat before I go run. Speaking of snacks, I’ll also pack Honey Stinger bars to eat before or after I run and I always bring Nuun tablets to put in my water bottles during my runs. The point is, pack whatever it is you like to eat and/or drink before, during, and after you go for a run so you’ll have it with you on vacation.

Another big thing when running on vacation is to be flexible. I’ve mapped out runs before only to find out the street suddenly was closed due to construction so I’d have to make up my own detour. I’ve also been unable to find places to go for a long run based on what I’ve found on Strava or other places online because what was online was only short distances, so I’ve just gone out on my own and made it up as I went along. Sometimes the places haven’t been the most scenic but I’ve made it work.

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I ran in the bike lane here in Williamsburg, Virginia recently. At least it was shaded!

If you’re going to be in an area for more than a couple of days, look for possible running routes when you’re out driving around, especially if another person is driving. I did this when I was in the Canary Islands. The first day I went for a run, I ended up running along a fairly busy road and it was not ideal running conditions. Later that evening, I saw people walking along what looked like it might be a running path so the next time I went for a run, I ran in that direction and struck gold! It turned out to be a fabulous pedestrian path along the water that went for just the right distance for me.

Do any of you enjoy running on vacation or do you tend to just relax or spend your time with family or friends instead? What tips do you have for running while on vacation for those of you that do run on vacation?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Why I Love Trail Running and How it Can Make You a Faster Road Runner

I grew up in the southern part of West Virginia and since the Appalachian Mountains run through the entire state, pretty much the whole state is full of mountains, hills, and nature. I remember spending a lot of my childhood at state parks and walking on the trails with my mom, brother, or friends. My childhood friends and I would ride our bikes through trails and we would go for walks through the many wooded areas around where I grew up.

In other words, trails are nothing new for me. As an adult, I now live in North Carolina and have access to numerous trails near my home. If I get tired of the trails that are within walking distance of my house, I can always drive 30 minutes or less and get to many different trails at several different parks that I can run, walk, or ride my bike on. You should know when I say trails here, I mean everything from dirt trails that go past ponds, lakes, or creeks and have tree roots sticking out in random places to mulch-covered trails in wooded areas of parks that are less “technical.” I also run on asphalt trails, but that’s not what I’m referring to here.

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About 2 or 3 years ago I decided to do more trail running and I have to say it did not go well. I was running along a very thin dirt trail that was lined with giant rocks on either side. From the beginning, I didn’t have a good feeling about running here and I should have listened to my gut but I kept going. After some time, I fell and hit my face just below my right eye on one of the rocks. Fortunately I didn’t hit my head or do major damage to myself but it did scare me and I had a nice scar on my right cheek for quite some time. I couldn’t help but think if that would have been just a fraction higher, that would have been my eye. I haven’t been running on that trail since then and I backed off running on other trails after that happened. I have to add that I recently had a pretty bad fall when I was running on an asphalt trail and I got bruised and cut up much worse on the asphalt trail than on this dirt trail.

Last year I began getting my courage back up to run on dirt trails and began incorporating about one trail run a week into my weekly runs. This year I’ve found myself running on trails or portions of trails about 2 or 3 times a week and I’ve gotten more comfortable running on trails. I’ve found trail running can be a great way to beat the heat, as they’re usually very shaded and feel several degrees cooler than running on the roadways.

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A trail without much mulch but more gravel and dirt.

I also started noticing that when I would run on asphalt trails or on roads, my times seemed to be getting better; I have been getting faster. Maybe it was because I started a new training plan but maybe it was because I have been running on trails through the woods. Without changing where I run and not running on trails at all, there’s no way to know. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

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One of the mulch-covered trails I sometimes run on.

Don’t just take my word for it that trail running can make you a faster runner. Runner’s World has an article on this very topic that you can read here.  In addition to helping you increase your speed on roads, running on trails has many advantages such as helping to make your ankles and legs stronger, helping with balance, and helping to strengthen muscles that often get neglected with road running. Running on trails is also great for those runners such as myself that are over the age of 40 because the softer surface is easier on your joints.

If you’re a bit nervous about running on trails, you can gradually ease into it both in distance and trail difficulty. Find some nice wide trails near where you live that are pretty flat without big tree roots sticking out or big rocks on or along the trail and run there for a short run. Gradually increase how long you’re running on trails like this until you feel comfortable. Once this seems easy, branch out and try a bit hillier trails.

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My daughter actually built and hung this bird house as part of a Girl Scout project in a park where I run trails!

Another thing you may be concerned about when running on trails is encountering wild animals. If you live in an area where there are bears or mountain lions or other large wild cats, I strongly suggest you run with a friend (or a few friends), a big dog if you have one, and talk to other runners in the area about where the safest trails are. Fortunately for me, snakes are the worst I have seen on a trail when running. Last weekend in fact, I came across what looked like a juvenile copperhead snake crossing over the path. One time I remember seeing a giant black snake lying across the trail and it wasn’t moving in either direction. I certainly wasn’t going to jump over it even it was a nonpoisonous snake, so I just waited for it to slither off the path before continuing on my way. Generally if you leave snakes alone, they will leave you alone.

The funny part of all of this is, I’ve never run a race on a trail. The closest I ever came to a trail race is when I ran a race on loose gravel and dirt along a river in Nevada. It was perfectly flat and more what I would call a small dirt road than a trail. The race was one of my least favorites, though, because it was so hot, not scenic at all in my opinion, and I was just ready to be done with that race. You can read about the Laughlin Half Marathon in Nevada my 11th state of my quest for a half marathon in all 50 states. Not that I’m necessarily planning on running a trail race but I guess you never know. It seems like most races on trails are ultras and believe me, I have no intention of running one of those!

Do any of you run on trails but consider yourself a road racer? Have any of you run a trail race and if so which ones are your favorites?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

An Interview with my Daughter About Travel

My 12-year-old daughter is by no means a “world traveler” but by most American standards for children who travel, she’s seen her fair share of the world, especially the United States. She’s been to all but 9 states in the United States and outside the US to 9 countries on 4 continents. Her first flight was when she was about a year and a half and by the time she turned two years old she had flown to three states including from the east coast to Hawaii . While there are of course American children who flew at an earlier age and have flown further and to more countries, it’s fair to say she’s a pretty well-seasoned traveled for her age.

When she first mentioned to me that I should interview her for my blog, I dismissed it. But then I started thinking about it and realized it could be really useful, especially for parents with young children who might be on the fence about traveling with their children. This is actually my second time interviewing her; the first interview was about her experience with Girls on the Run, which you can find here.

Q1. What are some of your favorite places you’ve been and why did you like them?

A1. Niagara Falls because it was so amazing to see falls that went over two countries, and I really liked when they were lit up at night. I liked Greece because the culture was so different and it was interesting to see the ruins and try their food. New Zealand was cool going to the Hobbiton movie set plus so much more there. I also liked Arizona because of Antelope Canyon.

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Boat ride in New Zealand, one of the highlights of our trip

Q2. What are some places you’re dying to go to?

A2. I want to go to France, Italy, and the Caribbean.

Q3. What are some things you’ve done because of traveling that you otherwise would have never done?

A3. I probably wouldn’t have tried some of the foods I had in Greece if I hadn’t gone there. I also got a camera because of all of the traveling I’ve done. Now I like that I can take my own pictures.

Q4. What are some places you’ve been to that you didn’t care for?

A4. None that I can remember.

Q5. What are some ways you’ve learned to occupy yourself during long flights, car rides, etc.?

A5. By listening to music, doing puzzles and games on paper and on my tablet or phone, playing games, audio books.

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Italy, one of the places on my daughter’s travel wish list that I went to before she was born

Q6. What are some travel tips for kids you’d like to share?

A6. If you’re in a foreign country, give the food a chance. It may not be what you’re used to, but it’s usually pretty good. Bring things to occupy yourself. Pack for the weather, so bring pants if it’s going to be cold where you’re going. I only brought shorts once and froze even though I was told before the trip to pack pants.

Q7. Is there a place you think is more special to go to as a child versus if an adult were to go for the first time?

A7. Disney because the rides are more meant for kids and they can meet the characters like Mickey Mouse, which wouldn’t be as special for adults.

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Hobbiton in New Zealand

Q8. Are there any life lessons travel has taught you?

A8. Give everything a chance because a lot of times it can end up being worth it.

Q9. What would you say to parents who say their child is too young to appreciate a place?

A9. That’s not true. Even if they don’t remember it later, they’ll still enjoy it in their own way when they visit it.

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Antelope Canyon

Q10. Do you think you’ll still travel as much as an adult as what you do now?

A10. If I have the money to, yes. If I can get a job that pays enough I could make traveling my life.

That’s it, for the interview. It looks like we have a world traveler in the making!

How do you all feel about traveling with kids? As a parent, I’d say it’s much easier in many ways to just leave them behind with a trusted family member or sitter but the experiences they gain from travel is priceless. I realize not everyone can afford to travel with their children, especially people with 3 or 4 children, but I encourage you to consider it if it’s feasible, even if it’s only for every other vacation you take.

I’ve seen how traveling as a family has brought my family together. We’ve seen and done things that have permanently bonded us, in ways that every day life would never have done.

Happy travels!

Donna

Book Review- Footnotes How Running Makes Us Human by Vybarr Cregan-Reid

I have to start out by saying this book is one of the most unique books on running I’ve ever read. Unique isn’t necessarily bad, just different. Cregan-Reid is a literature professor and runner who decided to write a book about biomechanics, psychology, and the environment in the context of running and literature. I’m quite sure I’ve never read another book that combined all of those things together before.

The book is divided into four parts:  sensing, reasoning, earthing, and roaming. I’ll discuss some of the things that stood out to me from each part. In the first part, Sensing, the author describes how he became a runner and his experiences with the early stages of running. He spends a great deal of time discussing running shoes and the history of running shoes. He also goes into detail about barefoot running and how he became to be a firm believer of barefoot running.

There is also a large section of part one of the book about Cregan-Reid’s visit to Boston to meet with Dr. Irene Davis at the Spaulding National Running Center. The author has an assessment of his running biomechanics and there is a lengthy part on ‘natural running’ and how shoes effect that. One quote that stood out to me from part one of the book is, “Running changes who you are and how you see, feel, and sense the outside world- how can you still be you if you run?” I like this quote a lot and think it sums up how much running changes a person.

Part two of the book, Reasoning, like the other parts of the book is filled with literary references and detailed personal runs by the author. One quote from this section I liked is “Put simply, running makes you smarter,” and he continues, “If performed in a softly fascinating (more on this later) and natural environment, running can make you better at your job, more independent, a more attentive friend or partner, care more for the environment, enhance your concentration levels, improve exam reports, and feel more attractive to whoever it is you want to attract.” Cregan-Reid backs up these claims with numerous references, which I’m not going to get into here but it is a weighty quote!

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Also included in part two is a discussion on “runner’s high,” with scientific studies and the author’s personal experiences with it. The author even has specific requirements for runner’s high:  the run will be longer than 40 minutes and the run takes place in a green space, plus some others mentioned in the book. Cregan-Reid also discusses a meeting he had with environmental psychologists from the University of Michigan, Dr. Avrik Basu and Dr. Jason Duvall. They discuss how distractions negatively effect our attention spans, among other things. Dr. Duvall has a study on the effect of ‘awareness plans’ on outdoor exercise. Basically, the groups that were aware of their senses had significant improvements in their well-being.

Cregan-Reid also discusses how running should be neither work nor exercise but more like play. He traces the history of exercise back to the 18th century and notes author Jane Austen’s references to exercise. By the 19th century, exercise is more commonly seen in what the author calls “leisured classes” of society. Poor people were working in the fields and doing other types of manual labor so they had no time nor need for exercise on top of this. Finally, the author says, “Running, like literature, like art, helps you to remember and re-experience some of the impossible strangeness of what it means to be who and what we are, of what it means to be human.”

Part three of the book, Earthing, discusses humans need to connect physically with the earth for our well-being. There are parts where the author discusses running in the fir and redwood forests of California. From this, he segues into a discussion on a review paper from 2010 that concluded forest environments lowered blood pressure and pulse rate among other things compared to city environments. Other studies have concluded that forest time “improved nocturnal sleep conditions for those with sleep complaints.”

Also in part three is a discussion on the treadmill as a torture device beginning in the 18th century. William Cubitt invented the treadwheel or ‘Discipline Mill,’ which soon became known as the treadmill. Beginning in 1818, prisoners of ‘Her Majesty’ who had committed more serious crimes were sentenced to hard labor, including put to work on the treadwheel. Oscar Wilde is one of the most famous victims, who spent as much as six hours a day on the treadmill in prison and was basically physically broken because of this. One interesting claim by the author is that he says he remembers nearly every outdoors run he has done in the last 12 months, but only a couple out of a hundred runs on the treadmill.

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Part four, Roaming, is basically about how exploring new places by running can be exciting and wonderful or it can be frustrating and disheartening. Cregan-Reid of course gives personal examples of this in this section, along with other sections of the book. There is also a discussion on wildness, freedom, and trespassing. Possibly the most famous author on this subject is Henry David Thoreau, who wrote Walden. The author visits the replica of Thoreau’s hut at Walden Pond but is disappointed to find the area fenced off in places and finds the area not so natural but rather touristy.

The final chapter is about the author’s experience running the London Marathon. This was the author’s first race since school, so there were no 5k’s or other distances leading up to this marathon. Cregan-Reid, who is an asthmatic, applied for a charity spot, was accepted, and began raising money for Asthma UK. Four days before the race, Cregan-Reid’s asthma worsened after he caught a cold. Concerned about running a marathon when he was ill, he told everyone he wasn’t able to run. When he went to formally withdraw from the race one day prior to the event, he had missed the deadline that would have allowed him to run it the following year.

The morning of the 2012 London Marathon, Cregan-Reid awoke before 6:00 and debated whether or not to run the race. He decided to wear his heart-rate monitor and run so slowly that his heart rate wouldn’t exceed 130. He walked the mile from his apartment to the race start with his partner. The author made his way to the back of the 35,000 people at the race start, with the agreement that he would check in with his partner along the course to make sure he was OK. Ultimately, he finished the race and says that “at mile 26.2 I find that, almost by accident, I have run a marathon.”

There are several references to the author running in cities around the world, including the places I’ve already mentioned, as well as Venice, Paris, the Cotswolds, California, and Boston. Being a runner who loves to travel, I found these sections interesting, as I too love to explore new cities by running. Finally, the author states that running has made him more “self-reliant, resilient, and free.” I would concur with this statement about myself personally.

While this book may not be for everyone, especially if you’re put off by the many literary references, I found it refreshingly different and enjoyed it. At 293 pages, it’s not what I’d call a “quick read,” but it’s not meant to be. If you enjoy running and would like to read a book about the history of running, biomechanics, and psychology involved in running, written in a unique way, I recommend checking this book out.

You can find this book at your local library or on Amazon here.

How many of you have “accidentally” run a marathon? Do you enjoy reading books about running that aren’t full of advice but more about the history of running and other aspects of running like psychological effects?

Happy running!

Donna