Packing List- What’s in my Family’s Luggage

If you follow my blog, you probably know that I’m a huge advocate of traveling light so I don’t have to check a bag with airlines. As a family of three, we haven’t checked a bag since our daughter was old enough to carry her own luggage, many years ago. We’ve gone on multiple 3-week vacations around the world without checking a bag. I’ve gotten asked many times how we manage to do this. The key is to only bring a week’s worth of clothes at the most and do a load of laundry mid-way on your vacation.

There are several advantages to not checking luggage with airlines, the most obvious being the money it saves you from not having to pay a baggage fee with airlines but there are other advantages as well. I’m in the process of running a half marathon in all 50 states, and over the years we’ve flown 3 or 4 times a year for races (in addition to flying to other places purely for vacations vs. racecations). By having all of my running clothes and gear on the plane with me, I don’t ever have to worry about my suitcase getting lost and not having those things for the race. The first time I flew to a race without checking luggage, I remember what peace of mind it gave me to know I would have all of my running things with me and there was no way my things were getting lost before the race.

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My family’s main carry-ons

 

Having your carry-on luggage on the plane with you also has other perks. I remember being on a flight that was the absolute coldest I’ve ever been on in my life. It felt like I was at a ski resort instead of sitting on an airplane. I was able to pull out several articles of clothing to layer-on and keep me warm, and I was so thankful to be able to do that. I’ve also pulled out sweaters from my carry-on in freezing airports on more than one occasion.

But I don’t want to lug around all of my stuff, you say! Trust me, you get used to it. I always tell myself I really just have to carry my bag through the airport and from the airport to the rental car once I get to my destination. It’s really not that bad. Besides, with the size and weight limitations on carry-ons from airlines, it’s not like you’re going to be lugging around 100 pounds or anything crazy anyway. Speaking of carry-on rules, many airlines limit carry-on luggage to 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches ((22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. Some airlines do allow slightly bigger but some have even greater restrictions, so you should always check the airline you’re flying with in advance.

Since most airlines allow one carry-on bag and one personal bag, I always have my Patagonia backpack with handles and a cross-body strap for my carry-on bag and a backpack for my personal bag. I use the cross-body strap so I can still have a backpack on my back. Since my carry-on is a soft (i.e. flexible) material instead of hard-shell, I’ve always been able to stuff it on the plane, even small planes. My daughter recently asked for her own Patagonia carry-on like mine to replace her small roller bag, so she also has that plus sometimes a backpack but sometimes she’s been able to pack everything in her carry-on and didn’t need a backpack. You can buy the Patagonia Headway MLC from eBags here.

My husband recently down-sized from an already small carry-on bag to an even smaller roller carry-on bag. He also has a backpack for his laptop and other electronics, but he’s debated several times if he should leave his laptop at home so he wouldn’t have to lug it around (I doubt he’d ever leave it behind, though).

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My husband’s little roller bag

 

One of my husband’s new favorite things for travel has been a 100% Merino wool shirt I got him from Amazon. Wool is great for travel because it absorbs odor from sweat so you can literally wear it for days without it stinking. He even wore it on multiple days in Charleston, South Carolina in August when it was hot and humid with no smell. That was definitely a test for this shirt! Find the shirt here on Amazon.

I also am a huge advocate of rolling my clothes and using packing cubes. I like the 3-piece set of packing cubes from eBags, which you can buy here.

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The large packing cube unzipped

OK. So you have your carry-on bag and your packing cubes. Now you just need to fill the packing cubes. The great thing about the 3-piece set is you can use the bigger one for shirts, pants, undies, socks, and a small pair of shoes. The medium-sized one is great for when I’m traveling to a half-marathon and I can fit all of my running clothes and gear in that cube. If I’m not going to a race, I’ll use it for my swim suit and a couple of pair of athletic clothes for runs or working out in, or I’ve used it for things like warm hats, gloves, and a fleece jacket for layering if we’re going somewhere cold. The small cube can be used for beauty products or snacks for travel days or undies and swim wear if you don’t have enough room in your larger cube. The point is, you can categorize your clothes and things so that when you reach your destination, it makes unpacking and finding things much easier.

That covers the larger carry-on. As I mentioned, my husband and I also carry a backpack, and our daughter sometimes carries one. In my backpack, I have my tablet, my camera, cell phone, a paperback book (I’m old-school), medications, my baggie of liquids each 100 ml or less, headphones, snacks, and water bottle. My husband has his laptop, cell phone, sometimes a couple of paperback books, earbuds, snacks, baggie of liquids 100 ml or less, and water bottle.

And that’s it! Nothing complicated, just your basics really with some specifics but nothing crazy.

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Here’s a simple break-down:

  1. Patagonia Headway MLC carry-on for me and one for my daughter, roller carry-on for my husband
  2. 3-piece set of packing cubes typically containing:
    1. 5-6 shirts
    2. 1 pair of pants (if cold) or 2 pair of shorts (if warm)
    3. 6 pair of undies and socks
    4. 2-3 athletic shirts, 1-2 athletic shorts, 1-2 pair athletic socks
    5. Bathing suit
    6. Tank top and shorts for sleeping
    7. Eye mask
    8. Water bottle holder & bottles, running watch & charger, cell phone arm band, Nuun, snacks for race if running a half marathon
    9. Snacks (usually nuts, dried fruit, crackers, sometimes jerky, cereal bars)
    10. Small pair of shoes (slip-ons or flip-flops)
  3. quart-size ziplock bag with liquid toiletries, each 100 ml or less
  4. hair brush
  5. camera
  6. tablet
  7. cell phone
  8. 1 or 2 paperback books
  9. medications
  10. headphones
  11. water bottle

On the plane, I’ll wear a shirt with a lightweight cardigan-type sweater or hoodie, my most comfortable jeans, and my running shoes. If I’m going somewhere cold, I’ll also wear my winter coat and have my scarf, hat, and gloves in the pockets or stuffed in my backpack. I always wear my most bulky clothes and shoes on the plane, to save room for smaller items in my bag.

What about you guys? What do you like to travel with? Anything you’d never travel without?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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My Revised Bucket List- More In-Depth this Time

The first bucket list I posted really just skimmed the surface. Basically I wrote about my burning desire to go to Malta, the Canary Islands, and the Republic of Georgia with several other honorable mentions. For the full post, you can go here. Since then, I’ve come up with a more extensive bucket list with specific experiences listed instead of just listing places. I did want to keep it reasonable, though, since I fully plan on actually doing these things eventually!

These are in no particular order, either (that would be nearly-impossible for me to rank them).

Hike in the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Georgia

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Republic of Georgia. Image credit YourAmazingPlaces.com

Enjoy the parades and music at the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria carnival

Visit the Xwejni Salt Pans in Gozo (Malta)

Climb Mount Fuji

Explore Croatia’s national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, image credit TripAdvisor

Tour the Postojna Cave system and Škocjan Caves in Slovenia

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Škocjan Cave in Slovenia; Image credit: samo_wi/Flickr

Visit the South Island in New Zealand and see if I like it better than the North Island

Road trip around the Isle of Skye

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Isle of Skye, photo credit unusual places.org

Hike up the trail to Machu Picchu peak

Trek through levadas and look for the Madeiran long-toed pigeon

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Madeira levada

Admire the Magellanic penguins in Chilean Patagonia

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Magellanic penguins, image credit aquariumofpacific.org

Watch a sunset at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, California

Sample Uruguayan wine at a bodega

Visit all of the Provencal markets I possibly can in France

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Take Harry Potter tours in England

Climb up Lovcen National Park and Njegos Mausoleum in Montenegro

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Montenegro, image credit getbybus.com

Enjoy a Guinness in the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland

Play with rescue puppies at Potcake Place in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands

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Rescue puppies in Providenciales, image credit Top13.net

I think that about covers it for me- lots of hiking, mountains with stunning views, good food and drink, beautiful water, and puppies! If you know me, you know this list sums up what I love most in the world (besides running of course, which I can do almost anywhere).

Now to see about actually making some of these places a reality for me!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Sorry but I Just Didn’t Love Athens

I had high expectations when I visited Athens, Greece on my way to Crete. I had seen photos of the Acropolis and many other ruins. As a kid, I had read about the Greek gods and Greek mythology. As an adult, I had heard other travelers rave about Greece. Athens had been touted as a thriving city full of history and good food. I couldn’t wait to see it for myself, so of course I planned on spending a few days in Athens en route to Crete, where I would be spending a week.

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Just try to ignore all of the construction and scaffolding all around

Alas, Athens seemed dirty, overly-crowded, and noisy upon first impression. Yes, I understand that Athens is a large urban city, but I don’t think other cities of comparable size are all like this. Some parts of Athens didn’t seem safe and were definitely sketchy. It was also unrelentingly hot, which didn’t help any.

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One of the not-so-great ruins sites in Athens

Some of the ruins were a bit disappointing, too. The Parthenon was covered in scaffolding and the ruins of the Ancient Agora were a bit difficult to find because they were so nondescript. The Acropolis was pretty cool but had crazy-long lines, which isn’t cool when the sun is beating down on you.

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Crowds and scaffolding in Athens- check and check!

We did stay at a nice hotel with a rooftop pool and bar, Melia Athens, so it wasn’t all bad. The food was really good as well and we especially enjoyed the light and flaky pastries from the abundant bakeries around Athens.

Overall, I’d say Greece has much more to offer than what you find in Athens. I felt like when we reached Crete after leaving Athens, it was like being in another country. Crete was full of beautiful scenery, well-maintained historical sites and ruins, and the food was delicious everywhere we went. My daughter fell in love with the yogurt with fresh honey drizzled on top while we were there and still talks about how great that was. Probably my favorite part of Crete, though, was the beaches. We went to several beaches in Crete and loved Elafonissi the best.

Although we didn’t go to any other islands in Greece, I’d happily go back to explore them. I think I’d skip Athens, though!

What about you guys? Have any of you been disappointed in a place you’ve visited?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Five of my Favorite Places for Racecations

To me, an ideal racecation is a place where not only is the race a good one that’s a nice course and is well-organized but also has plenty of fun things to do after the race either in the same town or within driving distance. I’ve only ran races in the United States and so far have ran in 40 states, so although I haven’t been to every single state, I’ve been to most of what I would call the more popular states, with the exception of Alaska, which I plan on running next summer. Here are some of my favorite racecation places so far, in no particular order.

1).  I thoroughly loved Vermont and even though the course was pretty challenging I even loved the Covered Bridges Half Marathon. The 27th annual Covered Bridges Half Marathon will be June 3, 2018, so obviously it’s been around for a while for a reason.  I see there’s still a big hill in the course around mile 8, but don’t let that deter you. I’m not a big fan of hills unless they’re going down and I still loved this course when I ran it. You can find the race website here.

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Elevation

There is a race cap of 2300 runners and the race typically fills up within minutes of opening registration. After the race, you can tour maple syrup and cheese farms, and of course see the Quechee Gorge. There are tons of cute little Bed & Breakfasts where you can stay, most of which are in Woodstock.

2).  Another place I highly recommend for a racecation is South Dakota. The Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon was one of my favorite races and I remember feeling so lucky to be running on such a beautiful course. Part of the reason this race holds a special place in my heart is probably because I also set a PR on the course, not something I would expect to do during a race in July. It is truly a downhill course with no big uphills to off-set going downhill, so that helped. It’s also not so steep that your legs are trashed by the end. Link to race website here.

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After the race, there are plenty of things to do especially if you’re an outdoor enthusiast. South Dakota is home to the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Missouri River, Historic Deadwood, and Mount Rushmore (all of which my family and I visited and recommend). Travel South Dakota link

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3). Hawaii is one of those states that people always ask “Have you ran a race in Hawaii?” when I tell them I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states. Not only have I ran one there, it was one of the first half marathons I ever ran. The Kona Half Marathon is a race I still fondly remember even though it was many years ago. The 25th annual race (website here) will be held June 16, 2018 so it’s almost been around as long as the Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Vermont. The marathon starts at 5:30 am and the half starts at 6:00 am so you at least have a good chance to be off the course before things really start to heat up. Being Hawaii, however, there always seems to be a cool breeze so it’s never unbearably hot.

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For things to do on the Big Island, there’s something for everyone. If you just want to relax on the beach, there are plenty of gorgeous beaches to choose from. You can go snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, biking, and even bike down from Mauna Kea Summit after watching the sunrise over the volcano. One of my favorite US national parks is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is large enough you could spend a couple of days here.

4). Rhode Island is a state many people may not think of when they’re deciding where to go on a vacation, which is a shame really. Although it’s the smallest state in the United States, Rhode Island is full of beauty and things to do. Further, the Newport Half Marathon is a great race that I highly recommend and I’m not the only one raving about it. The 2016 Amica Newport Marathon was voted as the “Best Half Marathon” and “Best Race Swag” in the Northeast by Competitor MagazineHere is the website for the race.

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After the race, you can tour one of many mansions in Newport and walk along Cliff Walk to take in views of the ocean. Rhode Island is small enough that you can take several day trips to other quaint little towns from Newport. If you’re a history buff, you can tour Fort Adams. For the outdoors-lover, there are all kinds of trails and 400 miles of coastline to explore. Discover Newport site

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5). The Kiawah Island Half Marathon is a race that came recommended to me early in my running days. It was my 4th state for running a half marathon and despite strong winds that day I was finally able to break the sub-2 hour barrier for the first time. The course is pancake flat, as you might imagine, based on the fact it is a barrier island in South Carolina, 25 miles from Charleston, and takes you past golf course communities and beaches. Most of the course goes through a private gated community so while you can’t see the course before the race, you feel like you get an insider’s view of an area you normally wouldn’t be able to see when you’re running on race day.

You can arrange for a variety of accommodations through the race website, ranging from the 5 star luxury hotel, The Sanctuary Hotel to villas and private homes. Of course you can also arrange your own accommodations either through Airbnb or at the Charleston Kiawah Island/Andell Inn. After the race, you can drive the short 45 minutes to Charleston and take in the sights and more importantly the delicious food in this hugely popular city. You can read about my family’s recent stay in Charleston here and here. If you’d rather go further south (about 2 hours), Savannah, Georgia is also a fun city with tons to do and some great restaurants that will satisfy any serious foodie.

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There you have it- my top racecation destinations! Did any of them surprise you? Are you surprised I didn’t mention a place? What are your favorite places for racecations?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

14 Practical Tips to Save Money Before, During, and After Traveling

I’m an American who works full-time with a husband who also works full-time and we have a daughter in school, and we all manage to travel as a family about six weeks out of the year. My husband and I aren’t wealthy, but we do manage our finances tightly and keep an eye on our budget. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to help keep travel expenses under control. We don’t stay in hostels or live in a van when we travel, but we don’t stay in 5 star hotels either. I’d like to pass along a few tips for saving money for travel I’ve learned and share them with you.

1. Plan your vacations waaaaaay far in advance. I’m a planner so this one’s easy for me. By purchasing airfare several months in advance, you not only will pay less, you also have better opportunities for choosing your seats. You’ll also save on rental cars by making reservations in advance, but I personally haven’t seen a huge drop in prices for hotels or on Airbnb by reserving in advance. You will have a bigger selection of available accommodations the further out you look (within 11 months or less out usually), however, so you’ll have a better chance of getting more reasonably-priced accommodations rather than getting stuck with whatever happens to be left at the last minute. I know there are websites and apps out there for last-minute deals on hotels but I’ve never had a need for them since I plan well in advance.

2.  Fly to popular destinations during the off-season or even shoulder-season. For example, we’ve gone to  Colorado in June, Utah in February (but not to ski areas), and Italy in October. Each and every time I was thrilled we chose to go when we did. Not only was the weather great, the crowds were fewer, and prices were lower.

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Colorado in June was lovely

3.  Flying during the mid-week (Tuesday-Thursday) is usually cheaper but not always. Always check to be sure. Sometimes flying into a city like New York City may be cheaper on a Saturday because of all of the business travelers during the week.

4.  Watch what you spend on food and drinks when you’re at home. The more you eat out, go out for coffee, spend on drinks, etc., the less money you will have for those things when you travel. My family doesn’t eat out at restaurants that much when we’re home except for special occasions like birthdays so we can eat at restaurants when we’re traveling and don’t have to worry about how much we’re spending on food.

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Restaurant with a view in Valparaiso, Chile

5.  Eat at your hotel, Airbnb place, or wherever you’re staying whenever possible. If a hotel offers free breakfast, by all means partake in it. If they don’t offer free breakfast, buy some groceries so you can make your own breakfast. Depending on what you have in your room or apartment you may be able to have dinner in your apartment a couple of times too, which saves even more money. My family also likes to pick up sandwiches and snacks from the deli at a grocery store before we go on a hike when we’re traveling. That way we don’t have to cut our hike short, go back to find a restaurant and have lunch, then go back to the trails. We get to have a picnic lunch while overlooking some gorgeous scenery, all while saving some money- bonus.

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We recently had a picnic lunch at this gorgeous national park in Chile

6.  If you’re in the United States, look for deals at restaurants through GrouponRestaurants.com, or Entertainment mobile app. While you won’t be able to find every single restaurant that exists, using these three apps together should help you find some good restaurants and save you a ton of money. I’ve gotten many free meals through the Entertainment app, after buying one meal at regular price, or I’ve also gotten deals like 20% off our entire bill pretty commonly.

7.  Seek out free things to do. Be creative! When my husband and I were in Sedona, Arizona, we opted out of the touristy pink Jeep tours that cost starting around $100 per person and decided to go it on our own in our ordinary rental car (not 4 x 4 or anything special). We kept coming to spots where the pink Jeeps had just been or were just leaving and laughed to ourselves. While we may not have had 100% access to every single trail, we certainly had no problems hiking around the area for a few days just using our rental car to get us to trailheads and never once did we get stuck or not be able to go where we wanted. The best part- we didn’t pay a single penny extra and we could go where we wanted when we wanted without relying on someone else.

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San Diego is expensive but hiking in most areas is completely free

8.  Play the credit card game and collect frequent flier miles. Many cards give a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus, which is pretty significant. Make sure you’re earning miles every time you buy airfare, pay for hotels, eating out, and all of your every day expenses as well such as buying gas, groceries, and everything else you can put on your card. Just make sure you pay off the card in full every month, otherwise what you pay in interest could wipe out any potential benefits. Also check to see what airlines are affiliated with the card you’re getting. If you always fly with a certain airline but your miles aren’t redeemable with that airline, find another credit card that is affiliated to your favorite airline.

9.  Be loyal but up to a point. I’m a loyal Delta flyer but only because it’s the most convenient airline for where I live and where I fly most of the time. I recently flew with Southwest, however, simply because the flights for my family were cheaper and direct flights (versus Delta’s more expensive flight with a layover). I have the Delta credit card, so I did at least earn miles with Delta by buying my airline tickets with my card, just not as many as I would have if it would have been a Delta flight.

10.  Speaking of flying, you will save hundreds of dollars, especially if you are part of a family for just one round-trip flight if you can pack minimally and not check any bags. My family and I have flown to multiple places around the world including two weeks in New Zealand, three weeks in San Diego, and two and a half weeks in Chile without any of us checking a bag for years now. At $50 for a suitcase for each flight segment, which is a pretty common fee charged by most airlines, that adds up.

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Flying to New Zealand is expensive but we saved money by not checking any bags

11.  I use Hotels.com. For every 10 nights you stay, you get one free, with no blackout dates or restrictions. There are also different tiers and once you become a higher level tier, by more stays, you are eligible for deeper discounts than those available to everyone else. I’ve saved thousands of dollars by using this website. No kidding.

12.  I also use Airbnb. Sometimes it’s cheaper in the long run if you can rent an apartment with a fully furnished kitchen rather than stay in a hotel room with no cooking facilities so you’re forced to eat out every single meal. Many times you can also wash clothes, so you don’t have to over-pack, and can save money by not checking bags. You can sometimes negotiate the price with your host as well.

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Dinner one evening at our Airbnb in Chile

13.  When you do eat out, eat where the locals eat. Not only will the food taste better, it will be a fraction of the price of a meal targeted at tourists. If a restaurant has menus in English but English isn’t the native language, say no thank you and find another place.

14.  Shop around to find the best market in the neighborhood where your rented apartment, condo, or house is. Each of the small markets will have different varieties of foods and other items they carry so try multiple markets to find one you like best. We had the good fortune of finding a supermercado in Chile that had their own baker in the back of the shop. We quickly learned to pick up hot, fresh bread straight out of the oven for dinner most days. Luckily we did a lot of walking to counteract all of that bread!

How do you all save money when you’re traveling? What tips do you have?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Travel Meltdowns

Similar to my Racing (Running) Mishaps post, I started looking back to travel meltdowns I have had over the years. One of my biggest travel meltdowns happened many years ago, before all of the security that happened as a result of 9/11. I was flying to the small Bahamian island, Harbour Island, and missed my flight, completely unaware of a time change by the airline until I showed up at the ticket counter.

So let’s go way back to the early 90’s when this travel meltdown happened. This was before smart phones or even cell phones, before everyone checked in online before their flight, when you were issued a paper ticket then just showed up at the airport to check in and check your bags. Continental Airlines, which doesn’t even exist any longer, changed my flight time, moving it up an hour earlier, unbeknownst to me. When I cheerfully told the ticket agent I’d like to check in for my flight to Harbour Island, and she said they just closed the gate and no one could board, I started to panic. “What do you mean I can’t board?” I asked, tears starting to form. I knew flights to this small island were extremely limited so it’s not like I could just wait an hour and board another flight there. In the end, the extremely nice gate agent booked me on a flight on a different airline entirely, which meant I would get to Harbour Island, but instead of arriving around 11 in the morning, I would arrive around 9 pm that evening. It meant I would pretty much miss an entire day on the island, and I was only going there for 3 nights, but still, it was better than waiting until the next day, so I took it.

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Harbour Island; photo credit meteoweb.eu

Many years later, my husband and I had a destination wedding on the island of St. Kitts and we were on the ferry to the island of Nevis for our honeymoon. We had just received a very nice camera as a wedding present from my mother-in-law, which we had used while were at St. Kitts. Pretty early in our ferry ride, my husband was going to take a picture of me when a nice man offered to take a picture of my husband and me together. Just as my husband was handing the camera to the man, the camera slipped, hit the boat, bounced, and never turned on again. It was broken. We wouldn’t have our camera for honeymoon pictures and we didn’t know if the memory card was still intact. I couldn’t help but give the man on the ferry dirty looks the rest of the ferry ride even though I knew it was an accident. When we reached Nisbet Plantation, where we were staying on the island, one of the workers offered to go into town and buy us a disposable camera. So yes, all of our honeymoon pictures were taken with a disposable camera, but at least we have photos!

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Beautiful St. Kitts

Not long after my wedding, I was planning a trip to Italy and realized my passport was still in my maiden name so I would need to change my name on my passport. There was no way I would have time to get it updated and there were no regional passport agencies near where I lived. Again, this was before 9/11 so you didn’t have to put in your passport number when you purchased an airline ticket, like you do now. I had already bought our airline tickets and it was only a couple weeks before our departure when I realized this about my passport. I started to panic, but then I remembered something. Lucky for me, we just so happened to be going to Philadelphia for a half marathon, The Philadelphia Distance Run, and Philadelphia also just so happened to have a regional passport agency. I went there and updated my passport on the spot, and breathed a sigh of relief.

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Beautiful Italy

Over the years, my family and I have also gotten hurt or injured (nothing life-threatening), forgotten items in hotel rooms (we discovered this after getting home), had to run through airports multiple times to get to the gate on time because of delayed connecting flights, gotten stuck at airports because of bad weather, gotten lost driving in strange places more times than I can count, gotten swindled by a taxi driver in Italy, and probably swindled by others more than I realize, and I’m sure there are more incidents that I can’t remember. We’ve been in countries where we barely (and pretty incoherently sometimes) spoke the language and have had to muddle our way through. While none of these experiences were exactly pleasant, they didn’t cause a meltdown either.

My daughter has had so many meltdowns on vacations, I could write a whole book about just that. I remember once when we were standing in a TSA line to go through security at an airport, my daughter was crying (I don’t remember about what) and a nice agent gestured to me to come through another area she just opened up, so we essentially got to go to the front of the line. Sometimes traveling with children can have its upsides even when things look down!

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One of my daughter’s not-so-happy moments. Just look at that face!

In the end, even with all of our travel mishaps and meltdowns, things have always worked out although not exactly what we had in mind originally. We certainly haven’t been deterred by all of this. On the contrary, the more we travel, the more we want to travel. We’ve been shown over and over again, we are resilient and people are generally helpful and honest.

What about you all?  What travel mishaps or meltdowns have you had that stand out in your mind? Please share them!

Happy traveling!

Donna

How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina, Part 2

In ““How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1” I went over how to decide when’s the best time of year to visit, based on your interests. I also went over some of the best places to stay, also based on your interests. Now I’m going to dive into some of the best places to eat and things to do.

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To say there are no shortage of top-notch restaurants in Charleston would be an understatement. Charleston must have some kind of record for most “foodie-friendly” restaurants per capita or something. If you want southern classics like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits, Hominy Grill is a popular choice. I personally had some of the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had at High Cotton. There’s also the ever-popular Fig, Husk, Poogan’s, Magnolia’s, and I could go on and on. For something a little different on our last vacation to Charleston, we went to Leyla and had some truly delicious Lebanese food.

Many of the restaurants in Charleston are upscale but there are also some great casual restaurants. The Grocery is great for brunch and lunch, with a wide array of meals to choose from. Brown Dog Deli  has great chili, hot dogs and sandwiches, and you can try She Crab soup here if you’ve never had it before. If you want to try chicken and waffles go to The Early Bird Diner.  This is just a sampling of some casual fare in Charleston. On our last visit to Charleston, we had milkshakes at Kaminsky’s and they were some of the richest, creamiest milkshakes we had in a long time.

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I’m a big fan of staying in Mt. Pleasant when I go to the Charleston area, so I would be remiss to not mention some of my favorite restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. It seems like every year there are more and more great restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. One of my favorites on my last visit there was The Obstinate Daughter. We also had some great BBQ at Home Team BBQ, which has locations in Sullivan’s Island, downtown Charleston, and West Ashley but we ate at the one in Sullivan’s Island.

Just like there is a long list of great restaurants to choose from, there is a long list of activities in Charleston. If you enjoy history, Patriot’s Point is home to the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, USS Laffey Destroyer, USS Clamagore Submarine, Vietnam Experience Exhibit, aircraft, and a museum. You can even sleep on the USS Yorktown, like my daughter’s Girl Scout troop did one year.

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USS Yorktown

The Old Exchange is another great historical site to visit. My daughter enjoyed being able to handle replicas of historical money thanks to a volunteer who gave us a bit of information about each piece.  She also got to sign a replica of The Declaration of Independence. We all thoroughly enjoyed our guided tour of the dungeon and learned quite a bit about the area. If you have younger kids (around 4-6), the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry might be a better fit for your family. America’s first museum (from 1773) is also in Charleston, The Charleston Museum, with a focus on the Lowcountry’s cultural and natural history.

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are great options for families as well.  Although Fort Sumter does not charge a fee for entrance to the national monument, it is only accessible by boat and there is a fee for that.  Fort Moultrie is accessible by car at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island and you can buy a family pass that covers up to 4 adults for $5, with free admission for children 15 and younger.  See more information here National Parks Service.

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If you’re interested in seeing a historical plantation, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Included in one fee ($24 for adults, $12 for children), you get a presentation about the Gullah culture, a house tour, plantation coach tour, black history exhibit, slave history presentation, butterfly pavilion, and garden tour. There are also special events throughout the year such as for Christmas, a strawberry festival, and oyster festival to name a few. There are several historical homes you can tour, such as Nathaniel Russell House and Edmondston-Alston House.

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There are also many different tours to choose, from carriage rides, walking food and/or drink tours, ghost tours, and general walking tours. One of my personal favorites is a nature boat tour offered by the company Sandlapper. We took their guided nature tour and cruise of Charleston harbor recently and it was a highlight of our vacation other than the total eclipse. You can read more about our nature boat tour here if you’re interested in more details.

If it’s shopping that interests you, you can shop for everything from jewelry at Crogham’s Jewel Box, shop for unique gifts and sign up for a candle-making class at Candlefish, or browse fine books and gifts relating to Charleston’s history at the Preservation Society Shop.  To meet with locals and shop their wares, stop by Charleston City Market, which is busy day and night.

Finally, the Charleston area has some beautiful beaches. Two of my family’s favorite beaches are Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. They are completely free and open to the public.  Another option for a beach near Charleston is Folly Beach. Lifeguards are on duty mostly during the peak summer months of May through part of September. Check out more info at Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.  A word of warning about the waves, as they can be quite rough.  We found the water to be considerably calmer at an inlet we were able to walk to at Sullivan’s Island going through neighborhoods to the far end of the beach.

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There are also some options for side trips if you have several days in Charleston. If you’re a runner like I am, the Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon is a great race that I’ve personally ran (read more about that here if you’d like) and I have friends that have ran it multiple times. It’s only about a 45 minute drive to Kiawah Island from Charleston. Another fun city full of fantastic restaurants and southern charm is Savannah, Georgia and it is about a 2 hour drive from Charleston.

Well, I think that about covers the highlights anyway!  I once heard a podcaster talking about Charleston and she said to allow two days to spend in Charleston, and I couldn’t believe it.  There’s so much to see and do in Charleston, there’s no way you could even scratch the surface in two days. I would recommend spending 4 or 5 nights in Charleston, adding another day if you do a day trip. You wouldn’t have to have a rental car especially if you’re staying in the historical area, but if you want to be able to get out of downtown Charleston and explore on your own, a car is highly recommended.

Hopefully I’ve piqued some of your interests about Charleston and you’ll see for yourself why so many people voted it number one city in the United States by Travel and Leisure.

How many of you readers have been to Charleston?  Do you love it as much as I do? How many people have never been but would like to go now?