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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Ten Tips for Americans Who Travel Abroad for the First Time

The first time you travel outside the United States will most certainly be a learning experience. Things will happen that you never even thought of before hand. Sometimes you get swindled by others taking advantage of clueless Americans. Most of the time, though, there are kind strangers who help you find your way or give you honest advice that ends up saving the day.

Over the years of traveling abroad, beginning when I was a college student, I’ve certainly learned along the way. By sharing a few things here that I’ve learned I will hopefully spare you some grief and stress, making your travels more enjoyable and save you some money while you’re at it.

1. Check out transportation options ahead of time

Depending on where you’re going, driving a rental car may be your best option or it may be a nightmare if parking is at a premium and/or you would be terrified to drive in the area because of overly aggressive drivers or roads so narrow you question whether they’re really even roads. You may want to take a taxi to get around or you may be in an area where walking really is the best option. Buses can also be a great option but can take much longer to get places if they have a lot of stops. To easily compare your options, check out Rome 2 Rio. For example, if you’re staying at the San Theodore Palace apartments in Venice you can see your options for getting there from the airport, factoring in time and cost.

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Make sure driving really is the best option before renting a car!

 2. Check Museum or Sight-Seeing Hours and Buy Tickets in Advance

Don’t make the mistake of just showing up at a place to take a tour without getting tickets or reservations in advance or you may be disappointed. Check the website hours well in advance (sometimes months in advance, depending on where you’re going and how busy it will be) and buy tickets ahead of time. This can also save you time of standing in line, by just walking up to pick up your tickets and being able to skip the line to buy tickets, plus you often get a discount by buying your tickets in advance.

3. Eat Where the Locals Eat

I’ve learned the hard way on this one. The bottom line is if you see that a restaurant has a menu in five different languages, that means they cater to tourists, not locals, and inevitably the food will not be that good and/or the food will be over-priced. There are exceptions of course, but in general, try to find a place that’s not near tourist hot spots if you can. Sometimes just walking a couple of blocks further away is all it takes to find a restaurant full of locals instead of tourists. If everyone turns and looks at you when you walk in and you feel a bit out of place, you’re in the right place. Just be sure to learn a few key food-related words before you go (or use Google translate on your phone) and you’ll be fine. I’ve found that even if your server doesn’t know much English, they’ll know enough to serve you a meal and drink, especially if you in turn know enough key words and phrases.

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A beautiful presentation of a meal in the Canary Islands

4. Paying for Things

Check well in advance to see if you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees; if not, get one because otherwise you’ll end up paying a fortune in fees when you get home and get your credit card bill (that happened to me on my first trip to Mexico many years ago). Visa and MasterCard are accepted at many places around the world but less so in more remote areas so don’t rely solely on using credit cards. When you get cash from an ATM, make sure the ATM is physically attached to a bank and only make withdrawals when the bank is open in case you have a problem (your card is taken for example). Also, use your bank debit card that’s linked to your checking account (as opposed to a credit card), as the fees should be lower through your bank versus a cash withdrawal through your credit card.

5. Learn Some Local Words and Phrases

I’m not saying you have to be fluent in the language where you’re going, but learning how to say hello, goodbye, thank you, please, and some other key words and phrases can go a long way with locals. If you are at least making an attempt to speak the language, it shows you aren’t just another arrogant American who expects everyone to just speak English. A quick and easy way to pick up some language basics is with Duolingo, a free app that I often use for brushing up on my Spanish or picking up other words in other languages.

6. Check Your Cell Phone Plan then Rent a Mobile WiFi Hotspot

Check with your mobile carrier ahead of time to see if you have international roaming included in your plan and make sure you have data where you plan on going. If the fee for roaming internationally is exorbitant or nonexistent where you’ll be going, rent a mobile WiFi hotspot, or MiFi that you can use on your vacation. You can read about My First Experience with Mobile WiFi for International Travel. Since this time in Malta I’ve also used another company for MiFi abroad and was once again happy with my decision. If you’re like my family where everyone has their own phone plus a tablet or laptop and we’re all on different phone plans, it’s much easier to just rent a mobile WiFi where we all have coverage for all of our devices no matter where we are.

7. Bread and Water May Not Be Free

In the United States, most people are so accustomed to getting bread and water for free they assume that’s the case around the world, but not so. In fact, when I’m traveling, I assume the restaurant will charge for bread and/or water and decide ahead of time if I really want it. If you don’t want the bread or bottled water, by all means say so as soon as you sit down. In some areas of the world, tap water is unsafe for travelers so everyone drinks bottled water, and you can assume you’ll be paying for that, but in places where the water is safe to drink from the tap, just ask for a glass of water instead of bottled water. By all means do your research ahead of time so you don’t end up getting sick from the water (including ice cubes, fresh fruit and vegetables, and anything that might have been rinsed off).

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I carried my nuun water bottle all over the Canary Islands with me so I never had to buy bottled water.

8. Pack a Few Health Items

If you have an upset stomach, one of the last things you’re going to feel like doing is finding a pharmacy and trying to find medicine, most likely speaking to someone who doesn’t know much English. Pack some Immodium, Tylenol or Ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, Tums, and band-aids in your carry-on and you’ll have a good start to a small first aid kit perfect for travel.

9. Don’t Pack Too Much

Do you really think you’ll wear all four pairs of shoes plus the 20 different outfits you packed for that 7 day trip to Barcelona? Maybe a better question is “Do you really need to pack all of that stuff?” Don’t fall into the “just in case” trap, packing clothing or shoes just in case you decide to wear them. When you’re packing, choose tops and pants or shorts that all match each other and pack one pair of shoes that go with everything (you’ll be wearing your second pair of shoes for your trip). Packing cubes are amazing in that I can always put way more into my bag with packing cubes than without them, plus they keep everything more organized. Finally, roll  your clothes. I have a whole post on packing, Never Check a Bag with an Airline Again so please check that out for more information on packing.

10. Dress for the Weather

When you check the weather forecast before you pack, look at the daily highs and lows and chance of rain or snow for each day. This might seem like a silly thing, but I’ve traveled to places where I never thought I’d need anything more than short sleeves and shorts, only to find out the nights were much cooler than I had expected. Now I always wear a jacket or light sweater on the airplane for three reasons:  1) It’s almost always freezing cold on airplanes,  2) Even in the summer, many places get chilly at night or restaurants or other places that are indoors are often really cold to me because of air conditioning and 3) I always wear more bulky clothing on the plane like a jacket so I don’t have to pack them. If you’ll be hiking up a mountain with a big increase in elevation, you should know that even in the summer there might be snow at the top, so you’ll want proper clothing and shoes for that. Again, just do some research in advance to check the conditions.

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Learn from my mistakes- I had to buy that pullover I’m wearing because I didn’t pack a warm jacket for our day trip to Mount Teide, the highest point in Spain!

Those are my top ten tips for Americans who travel internationally for the first time. What about you all? What tips would you pass along?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

How to Plan Your First Vacation to Europe

If you polled average Americans and asked “Where would you most like to go in Europe?” I’ll bet London, Paris, and Rome would be in the top ten percent. Many Americans even go so far as to try to cram all three places into one vacation, leaving them exhausted by the end. Is that what you really want or would you rather just pick one place and explore that area? There are many questions that should be explored to make the most out of your first visit to Europe. Do you even know where in Europe you want to go?

First ask yourself why you want to go to Europe. Is it because a friend or relative went there and said it was awesome? Or do you have something more specific in mind, like visiting St. Peter’s Basilica or The Eiffel Tower? Do you simply want to go somewhere different than the usual Disney World? Do you enjoy history and want to check out some historical sites?

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Want views like this? Go to Austria.

If you’re more flexible on where you’d like to go, you can look around for good deals on flights. As I mentioned previously in my post A Simple Way to Save Hundreds of Dollars on Airfare, Google flights is a great search engine for gaining insight on airfare. If you put in a city in the US and type in Europe, Google flights will generate a map with prices for major cities in Europe. You can even put in Eastern Europe or Southern Europe, for example, to zero in on a more specific region of Europe. Or, if you have a specific city you want to fly to but are flexible with your dates, you can check Google flights calendar day-by-day to see how prices fluctuate. Even if you’re locked in to only June through August for travel, prices often differ by at least a couple hundred dollars and sometimes several hundred dollars, depending on which dates you choose.

Let’s say you’ve decided you want to go to Rome, Florence, and Venice in Italy. This is certainly do-able if you’re going to be there more than 7 days. If you have 10 days to spend in Italy, you could spend 3 nights in Rome, 4 nights in Florence, and 2 nights in Venice or even 4 nights in Rome, 3 in Florence, and 2 in Venice (either would be great options). You can easily get from one city to the next by train. The rail system in Europe in general is pretty reliable and easy to navigate. I don’t recommend driving in any of these cities the first time you go and not even on subsequent times, as it’s just easier to get around in town by taxi and a lot less stressful, at least in these Italian cities.

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Don’t get me wrong, Italy is great, but why not go to Malta instead? There are less crowds and it’s cheaper but still filled with history and great food.

Let’s go back to the London, Paris, Rome example I brought up previously. To get from London to Paris can take up to 9 hours on a bus, a little over 6 hours by car, just over 2 hours by train, or a bit over an hour by plane. Taking the train seems the obvious choice to me, given the hassle with airports and the time difference between flying and the train isn’t that great. From Paris to Rome is a bit more of a stretch since the distance is much greater. One good option is to take the night train from Paris, on the Artesia sleeper trains from Paris to Italy. You must reserve a sleeping berth in either a sleeping-car or more economical couchette car (4 or 6 bunk-style beds) in advance. However, you can fly from Paris to Rome in about 2 hours for under $200 (usually much less) on Air France or one of Europe’s many discount airlines.

Putting all of the above together, let’s say you have 10 days total (9 nights) to spend in London, Paris, and Rome and you’re going to spend the first 3 nights in London. From London you’ll take the train to Paris and spend 3 nights there then fly to Rome and spend 3 nights there before flying back home to the United States. This is a bit tiring because of moving around such great distances, but the most you’ve spent in actual travel time in Europe is roughly 2 hours at a stretch, which isn’t bad. This of course doesn’t include any time spent at the train station or airport, but still isn’t terrible. I’d say it’s not as bad as it may seem at first, when you do the math and calculate the travel time.

By no means am I supporting the London-Paris-Rome first trip to Europe plan, however. Personally, I like to explore one country at a time, starting in a bigger city simply because they’re always cheaper to fly into, then branching out into smaller towns and villages of a country. For example, when I went to Austria, I flew into Munich, Germany and spent a couple of days here before I moved on to some of the small towns of Austria like Bad Gastein, St. Johann im Pongau, Werfen, and many others that most Americans have never heard of. I enjoyed the scenery, food, and activities much more in these tiny towns than I did in Munich. I know, technically I did explore two countries in my example here since I was in Austria and Germany, but other than Munich, I didn’t see any other parts of Germany other than driving through to get to Austria.

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Crete is not nearly as crowded as some other Greek islands but is full of beautiful beaches, gorgeous hiking trails, and ruins!

I guess my most important points in all of this would be the following. First determine how much money you can budget for this European vacation. Then figure out why you want to go to Europe and what specifically you want to see and do. Next look at travel times and how to get from one place to another if you want to visit multiple cities and look at the costs involved. Finally, factor in accommodations, dining out, drinks out, museum costs and other entertainment costs and leave some money for souvenirs and any unexpected costs. I’ve found that by choosing places that are a bit different than where some people might choose, they’re usually less crowded and cheaper, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box when choosing where to go!

By figuring these things out in advance, it will greatly add to your peace of mind, which should help you enjoy your vacation more. You will also find that it’s not so complicated after all to plan your first vacation to Europe. Given all of the information available online on destinations, you should be able to put together a package that includes your airfare, accommodations, transportation, and some ideas for things to do.

Some general planning websites I like:

Conde Nast Traveler

Frommers

Fodors

For figuring out how to get from point a to point b:

Rome 2 Rio

For flight information:

Google flights

Seat Guru

For putting all of your travel plans in one place:

Trip It

So go ahead and start planning your first vacation to Europe! Just don’t make the mistake of going there in August. Many Europeans take the month of August off work to travel so many restaurants and other businesses will be closed in August and beaches and other hotspots where Europeans like to vacation will be packed. Instead, travel during the shoulder season in September and October (with the exception of Paris, which tends to be quiet in August but crowded in September). Finally, I would be happy to give advice on anything travel-related if you have a more specific or personal question. Just send me an email @runningtotravel (gmail).

Happy travels!

Donna

 

A Simple Way to Save Hundreds of Dollars on Airfare

When I first started this blog post, I thought I was going to write about planning your first trip to Europe (written for Americans), but it evolved into something else. Perhaps I’ll have to write another blog post on planning a trip to Europe, but for now, I’m going to focus here on buying airfare. I’m not going to get technical and talk about credit cards, using miles or points, or anything remotely like that. This is actually a pretty simple way that can save you hundreds of dollars for just one airline ticket.

One place I like to start is Google flights (flights.Google.com). The thing I like most about Google flights is how flexible it is with searches. You can put in any city in the US and for example, “Europe” for destination and see how much flights cost to some of the most popular cities in Europe. A map will be generated with prices for around 15 destinations in Europe. For example, a flight from New York City (JFK) to Dublin the end of June is as low as $671 round trip, but on that same day, a flight from New York City (JFK) to Rome is $1475. If you’re flexible about where you’re going, you can end up paying half or less for your flight.

Again, being flexible can help save you money if you’re flexible with your dates. You can scroll through Google flight’s calendar and see how prices fluctuate over time. That same flight to Dublin that cost $671 the end of June drops to $360 for a few dates in August, or goes to as much as $1088 for a four-day vacation the week of July 4th. I suggest you play with the dates and it could easily save you hundreds of dollars per ticket.

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Thanks to Google flights, I discovered it didn’t cost a single cent more to add on a stopover in Miami from Malta before flying home!

It seems like there are a dozen websites where you can compare airfare. You could spend hours going to them all, but in the end I’ve found they all pretty much give you the same information as Google flights, and I just prefer the platform Google flights uses. If you like Hipmunk, Momondo, or Expedia (or something comparable) better, by all means use them along with Google flights, but I really don’t feel you need to go to six different comparison sites like these, so choosing one will save you time.

Once you have a specific flight, go directly to the airline to make sure it’s the same as what you’re seeing on Google flights. So that flight to Dublin that’s $360 in August is with Wow airline, a budget carrier based in Iceland, which is notorious for adding extra fees. When I clicked the link through Google flights to purchase through the Wow Airline website, that same flight cost $199.99 to get there and $179.99 to get back for Wow basic ($379.98 for round-trip), which includes your flight ticket and one personal item, slightly more than $360 shown on Google flights. One carry-on bag costs $49.99 each way if purchased with the ticket or $69.99 if purchased at check-in. Each checked bag costs $67.99 each way in advance or $79.99 at check-in. Let’s go with one carry-on bag, so that adds another $99.98.

If you want to choose your seat, that will be another $4.99-$6.99 for each segment of your flight for budget standard seats, $9.99-$19.99 for standard plus seats, on up to $99-$249.99 for the “BigSeat- Extra wide seats with plenty of legroom and WOW premium service” with price variances based on if you’re flying to/from New York or Reykjavik. The main thing here is you’re paying extra for that seat from New York to Reykjavik, from Reykjavik to Dublin, from Dublin to Reykjavik, and from Reykjavik to New York. $4.99-$6.99 might not seems like that much, but when it turns out to be $23.96 for each person for all four segments, just to be able to choose a budget standard seat, it adds up. Meals are also extra with Wow airlines, with most ranging around $12-$14 for lunch items (salads, pizza, sandwiches).

Not even choosing seats or buying a meal onboard, your ticket will be $629.96 after taxes and fees with just one carry-on bag. This is a far cry from the $360 that showed up on Google flights. Still, it is cheaper than the next-expensive flight with Aer Lingus for $984 round trip. The Aer Lingus “smart” fare does include a carry-on and checked bag, complimentary meal, and seat selection.

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Google flights helped me plan my vacation to Antelope Canyon (shown here), Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas

I love playing around on Google flights and often check flights around the world (domestic and international). If I have specific dates in mind to a specific place, I’ll set up a price alert through Kayak to track the price for a flight so I can wait until the price drops and buy my tickets then. Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic date you should buy airfare before flying somewhere. Generally speaking, if you buy international airfare (especially more so than domestic) several months in advance, you will pay less than if you wait a month before you want to fly. Airfare is one of the most volatile things I’ve ever seen when it comes to price increases and drops, which is one reason I like Google flights calendar so much, because you can see that volatility in pricing day by day.

What about you all? Do you use Google flights or some other search engine to research airfare prices?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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