Funny background story here. I was taking a bath on a Sunday afternoon and decided to put on a face mask. That reminded me of a time when my daughter and I were goofing off while wearing face masks on vacation (we often bring face masks with us when we travel). Then I started thinking about how that’s a fun way to relax on vacation and it doesn’t cost anything (at least not while you’re on vacation although you do have to buy the face mask either before you leave home or while you’re on vacation; still, face masks are generally not that expensive). Then I started thinking about all of the many things I like to do on vacation that are free or cost very little.
So now I’m sitting here at my computer post-face mask and bath beginning my list of 50 free or practically free things to do on vacation. I will also add that at one time or another I’ve done every single one of these things while on vacation. I’m always looking for ways to save money, whether I’m on vacation or not, most likely from my upbringing by a single mother without much money. Anyway, here’s what I’ve come up with for my list. I’m sure some will come as no surprise but maybe some things will surprise you. Some things do depend on where you are so you need to make the appropriate assumptions. Here goes!
Go for a walk along the beach and look for cool shells along the way.
When you’re done with your beach walk, put all of the shells you collected into a pile and decide which one is your favorite. Keep just that one as a souvenir.
Go for a hike up a mountain.
Find a small, local grocery store and pick out one snack to buy that you’ve never seen or heard of before.
Find out where the best place is to watch the sunset and do that one evening.
A couple of days after watching a sunset, watch the sunrise one morning then decide which you enjoyed better, the sunset or sunrise. Did they even look different from one another?
Take a blanket or towel(s) with you and lie in the grass to stargaze one night.
Find an antiques store and browse all of the unique finds.
Have a picnic lunch at a place where there’s a water or mountain view.
Find a state or national park and see how many of the trails you can walk or hike in a day.
Go out your hotel or Airbnb property and walk in one direction with no real plan in mind other than to explore the area (make sure you’re in a safe area first).
Strike up a conversation with a local shop keeper.
Find a small local bookstore and browse their section on local books. Bonus if you’re in another country where English is not the first language!
Get a cup of coffee or tea and people watch from an outside table.
Find one of the most expensive clothing stores you can in the area and be amazed at the $4000 pair of wacky pants and $6000 dress you would never in a million years wear.
Eat breakfast from your hotel or Airbnb patio/balcony.
Go for a run with the intention to learn the area where you’re staying better.
If you’re in another country where they speak another language, watch local TV and try to follow along.
Put on a face mask, either one you brought from home or one you bought at a local drug store.
Do your own manicure and pedicure instead of paying someone else.
Go on a free walking tour; remember to tip your guide.
Buy a pastry from a bakery and find a spot outside with a nice view to enjoy your treat.
If it’s a hot day, find a cool stream to dip your feet in.
Play “Pooh sticks” if you have a child, where you each drop in a stick from a bridge over a fast-moving body of water and see whose stick makes it to the other side of the bridge first. Heck, you could do this with someone else even if they’re not a child. It’s still a fun game!
Swim in the ocean.
Find out what the highest point is where you’re staying and hike to the top.
Go shoe shopping but don’t buy any shoes.
Take a series of photos one day with something from each color of the rainbow represented (indigo is hard).
Read a book.
Have your own mini book club if you’re traveling with someone of the same reading ability as you and discuss a book you both read while on vacation.
Find a playground with swings, slides, etc. and play like a child even if you don’t have children.
See how many bridges you can spot in one 30-minute walk through the city.
Have breakfast in bed.
If you’re staying at an Airbnb, make pancakes for dinner and eat them in your pajamas.
Binge watch a show on Netflix or whatever streaming service you subscribe to.
If it’s winter and snowy, go for a walk through the snow.
Savor a cup of hot chocolate by the fire.
Browse the hair care aisle of the local drug store and see if you can find a product you’ve never seen before. If you’re feeling really brave, buy it and see if you like it.
Visit a small local farm and watch as the chickens come running out when called by the farmer (true story; they came running like puppies when the man called out to them. Apparently it’s a thing with chickens).
Walk through the farmer’s market and buy some local produce.
Go to some local art galleries to check out the art work.
Visit an art/science/history museum.
Visit a small local winery that gives free or low-cost tours.
Walk a puppy or dog at a public adoption place that encourages this, otherwise volunteer there for a couple of hours.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
Volunteer at a running/biking/swimming/triathlon race (you’ll probably have to sign up in advance).
Browse a local running store and see how it differs from your own local running store.
Join a local running group for a run (check Facebook or Meetup).
Buy a postcard and mail it from the local post office. See if you make it home before your postcard arrives at your friend or relative’s house.
Practice your drawing skills with some paper and a pencil.
I could probably go on, honestly but that seems like a lot so I’ll stop here. Have you done any of these things or do you regularly do any of them on vacation? What is your favorite free or low-cost thing to do on vacation?
Every year in December I like to summarize my year in travel and what I learned from each vacation. This year was a huge one for me in many ways but mainly because I made some major travel-related mistakes that were costly. I guess the more expensive the mistake, the more it’s reinforced in your head and hopefully won’t happen again. Even though I only took a handful of vacations, I learned many things so this is going to be a long one, so hang on.
My first vacation of the year was the first weekend in April when I went to Washington, D.C. for the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run. Although I have been to D.C. many times over the years, this was the first time I went by myself and it wasn’t work-related. I had airline miles that I cashed in and flew there even though it’s close enough I could have driven there. I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle and chaos that is Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. traffic. If you’ve ever been there, you know.
Not only is traffic awful in the entire Northern Virginia/Maryland/Washington, D.C. area, parking is outrageous and hard to come by, even if you just drive to the city and leave your car in the hotel garage then take the Metro. You can expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $50 per day for parking at a downtown hotel.
I already knew about the traffic and parking, so what did I learn? Well, I learned no matter how many times I visit this city, I discover new places. I had never been to the International Spy Museum or ARTECHOUSE DC and I loved both places. I wrote a post on the spy museum, which you can read here: The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.- Is It Worth Going To? but I didn’t write a post on ARTECHOUSE DC. It’s an immersive art place, similar to the Van Gogh immersive display that was touring a couple of years ago. The art surrounds you and is displayed on the walls, floor, and ceiling. Since opening in 2017 in D.C., another ARTECHOUSE opened in Miami and another location in New York City recently opened. I did experience motion sickness once or twice while I was there but when that happened, I just closed my eyes for a moment or looked somewhere else until it passed.
April was a busy travel month for me because just a few days after I got home from Washington, D.C., my daughter and I flew to Portugal. This trip was a huge learning experience for me. I learned so many travel-related things, some the hard way, meaning I had to pay (literally) for my mistakes. Where do I start here? I suppose I’ll start with some positive things I learned.
I learned that for the most part, driving in Portugal from an American point of view isn’t that difficult of a transition. The highways are in good condition and I had no problems getting from one city to another. I should say I was only in the southern part of Portugal, known as the Algarve. Only when I ventured to some of the city squares in the Algarve did I have any issues with driving, mostly with parking and the lack thereof. I didn’t think the drivers were overly aggressive but again, parking was another story. I got yelled at not once but twice by locals over parking spots (I know, not a positive but overall driving in Portugal was a positive experience).
Another positive thing I learned in Portugal is the food is every bit as amazing as everyone says. An array of fish is commonly seen on menus, along with a plethora of fresh vegetables. I also learned the grilled fresh sardines in Portugal (and I’ve heard in Spain as well) are NOTHING like the tiny, stinky sardines sold in tins here in the US, but they’re enormous compared to ones here and are about a million times tastier. The desserts are also some of the best I’ve had in any country, including their famous pastel de nata (little custard tarts).
One negative thing I learned in Portugal is the people weren’t as friendly as I’d heard they are. I don’t know if it’s a difference between northern Portugal and southern Portugal or it was just me but the vast majority of people I encountered were not friendly beyond being cordial. I’ve traveled to many places in Europe and never have the people come across as so unfriendly as the Portuguese I came across. Even the Germans, who are not known to be especially friendly were more friendly than the Portuguese I met. First Impressions of Every Day Life in the Algarve (Southern Portugal) from an American Point of View
Now the biggest and most costly thing I learned in Portugal is that if you miss your flight and it’s not the airline’s fault, don’t count on TAP Portugal to help you out. When I spoke to someone from the airline and explained that my daughter and I had missed our flight from Faro to Lisbon (and consequently to the United States), I was flat-out told I would have to purchase return tickets on my own to the US. Not only had I lost the money for the return tickets from TAP Portugal, I would have to purchase same-day flights from Faro to the United States, and I would not be reimbursed or even given vouchers from TAP Portugal.
I’ve missed flights before that weren’t weather-related or airline-related in the United States and every single time the airline put me on another flight for no extra fee. I even missed a connecting flight from Barcelona to the Canary Islands and Iberia Airline put us on the next flight at no extra cost, so I don’t think it’s just a European rule. TAP Portugal just sucks. Lesson learned.
Finally, the last thing I learned in Portugal, and the reason I missed my flight back home is because of the strange fluke that happened to my phone and GPS-enabled watch. Both my phone and watch had reset a couple of days before we were to fly home, to what I thought at the time was the local time in Portugal. For some reason that I still have not figured out, both my phone and watch reset only partially, going ahead not the full five hours like it should have but only four hours. So when I looked at my watch and thought it was 5 am the day we were flying back home, it was really 6 am. We had missed our flight by a full hour because of this mix-up. Only when I looked at a clock in the airport after we missed our flight did I realize that both my phone and watch had reset to the wrong time. Going forward, when I travel to another time zone, I will always Google the local time when my phone and/or watch reset to what seems to be the local time. A Couple of HUGE (and Costly) Travel Learning Experiences For Me
Although I’ve shunned guided trips for the most part before, other than multi-day hikes to Machu Picchu in Peru and in Yosemite National Park, I was unsure about driving conditions in Costa Rica especially during the rainy season so I thought having a guide would be the way to go. I learned just how valuable a guide can be in Costa Rica. As I mentioned, we were there in the rainy season when it’s not uncommon for roads and bridges to be swept away by strong currents from flooding. Our guide knew all of the safe roads and alternate roads to take so I never had to worry about our safety. Nor did I have to learn any of the many intricate little nuances involved in Costa Rican driving (two quick toots of the horn mean one thing, one long toot another, if you flash your lights that means something else, etc.). Christian, our guide, also explained some important history and other tidbits about Costa Rica and I learned so many things from our conversations with him. Insider Information As Told To Me By a Costa Rican
I also learned how much I loved quirky San Jose. My daughter and I would take Ubers from our resort to the city and just walk around, popping in whatever stores looked interesting, and that was utterly fascinating. I learned San Jose is also full of museums, theaters, and so many other things to do in addition to the Sodas, or local restaurants that serve delicious and affordable meals where you can just point to what you’d like and they’ll put it all on your plate. I learned my Spanish isn’t half-bad (although I’m far from fluent and not bragging at all) and with the help of Duolingo I was able to brush up on my Spanish enough that I could understand people when they spoke to me and they could understand me. Don’t get me wrong, it was simple, short sentences so we weren’t discussing anything complicated, but it was good enough to get by. Why You Should Spend Time in San Jose, Costa Rica.
One final thing I learned is not to let the rainy season scare you away from an area. If you bring weather-appropriate clothes, you’ll find it’s usually not as bad as you build up in your mind. It rained every day we were in Costa Rica but we didn’t let it stop us from getting out and doing the things we wanted to. A good rain jacket and waterproof shoes go a long way.
In September, I went to Asheville, North Carolina, a place I’ve been to many times over the years but like Washington, D.C., I learned there are still new places to discover even in a place you’ve been to multiple times. I also learned I had been stuck in the hiking and/or Biltmore House rut, two things that Asheville is best known for. When I branched out and did other things, I discovered a new botanical garden, an enormous antique place, and some new restaurants. Digging a Little Deeper Into Asheville, NC
Discovering new places in a city where you’ve been many times should be my theme for 2022. In November, I went to Charleston, South Carolina, another place I’ve visited many times over the years and I learned there’s an enormous tea garden just outside the city. I love tea so this was a place I was looking forward to visiting and thoroughly enjoyed tasting all of the samples in the gift shop, admiring all of the unique tea pots, and of course touring the garden. Charleston Tea Garden, America’s Only Large-Scale Commercial Tea Garden
I also learned it’s a terrible idea to try to strap an inflatable paddle board to the roof of your vehicle without straps made specifically for this or a roof rack . My daughter and I both have inflatable standup paddle boards, which we took with us to Charleston. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to pump up one of the boards in the hotel room so we’d only have to pump up the other when we arrived at the drop-off point at Shem Creek, where I had paddle boarded before on previous vacations. I used bungee cords to secure the board to the roof and less than 10 minutes later, I saw it fly off the car and land squarely in the middle of the road behind me.
Fortunately it was a quiet Sunday morning so no one was right behind me and I was able to pull over, jump out, grab the board, deflate it in a parking lot, and throw it in the back. Of course I had to pump the board up again when we got to Shem Creek, only to discover I had left the fin back at home. Not at the hotel, but back at home where I live. I knew this because it wasn’t in my board bag and I knew I hadn’t left anything back in the hotel room. We took turns on my daughter’s board and it all turned out in the end but it was a big lesson for me that could have turned out much worse (my board was fine).
If you actually made it to this point, thank you for sticking with me and I hope you enjoyed reading about the crazy travel journeys I went on in 2022! This has to be one of my longest posts so far. It was a huge year for travel for me and one where I learned so many important things in life.
Care to share something you learned from travel in 2022? Were there any mishaps that happened when you were traveling this year?
Towards the end of every year, I always like to go over how my year in running went and take a look at not only the good things but also some bad things that happened. I was coming off a high from 2021, that being the year I finally ran a half marathon in state number 50, New Mexico, in November of last year. How do you top that? Well, in my case, you don’t.
I originally had two races scheduled for 2022, the Krispy Kreme Challenge in February and the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in April. The Krispy Kreme Challenge was canceled and we had to option to run it virtually or defer to 2023. If you missed my post on the Krispy Kreme Challenge, you run 2.5 miles, eat a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts, and run back 2.5 miles, preferably without throwing up. I’m sure it sounds like the last thing many of you would like to do but the uniqueness of it caught my attention and the fact that the proceeds go to the UNC Children’s Hospital, a place that holds a special meaning to me was the real reason I wanted to run it. Of course I deferred to 2023, because really, the attraction is in participating in this challenge surrounded by others, not doing it virtually. Having that race canceled was a low because I was looking forward to it but there will always be next year!
The Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in Washington, D.C. is by lottery only and when I saw I had gotten in, I was excited. This race coincides with the blooming of the cherry blossom trees in early April, as you may infer from the race title, and they were most definitely a sight to behold. The prettiest spot along the race course was the Tidal Basin area, with the water and some of the monuments all lined by cherry blossoms. I loved running this race and found it well-organized and one of the most scenic races I’ve run. Getting to run this race was a high for sure. Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run
In May I ran my first night race, the Catching Fireflies 5k and loved it. It was local’ish, which isn’t common for me. Of all of the approximately 60 races I’ve run, only four have been near where I live. It was about 45 minutes away and was only the third timed 5k I have run (the other one I ran with my young daughter, so really this was my second real timed run). I was anxious to see what I could do and was pleased when I came in first in my age group. I also had friends that were at the race, plus my daughter, so it was fun to talk to everyone before and after the race. This was a high for me. Catching Fireflies 5k- My First Night Race!
After the Catching Fireflies 5k, my racing schedule kind of went downhill quickly. At the beginning of the year I had hoped to start running some half marathons in Canada, with my first one in June. Multiple reasons stopped me from doing that race (for one, Canada still required a covid test) but I still hoped to run a half marathon in Quebec in August, only to see that for whatever reason it was not meant for me to go to Canada this year. My goal of running a half marathon in all of the Canadian provinces got pushed back to 2023, so we’ll see how that goes next year. That was a low not being able to start on my Canadian running quest, but I know it’s for the best and eventually I’ll get there.
Since it’s so hot and humid during the summer months here, there are pretty much no races from June through August (or at least not any that appealed to me), so I waited until September to find my next race. None of them sounded fun or unique to me until I saw the Pups and Pastries 5k. This was a race that benefited a local rescue group, a cause near and dear to my heart, and the pastries part was just the icing on the cake for me (pun intended).
Since I had barely run any 5k’s but did well at the night race in May, I was curious to see what I could do at that distance, after spending 22 years focusing on the half marathon. Everything was going great and I was getting faster, only to start getting stabbing pain in my right shin. It got so bad that I had the pain when I wasn’t even running. I would just be lying in bed and my shin would suddenly start to ache. In college I had experienced shin splints so I knew what could happen if I didn’t stop running.
So I stopped running completely and even had my leg checked out twice, once to confirm it was indeed shin splints and nothing worse and the other time to make sure my bone density is good. The doctor confirmed it was shin splints and not a stress fracture and my bone scan came back normal. I took a few weeks off running completely and had FOMO while I watched others run races. I decided to make lemonade out of lemons and volunteer for the Pups and Pastries race and that was fun watching all of the cute dogs running with their owners. My Very First DNS (Did Not Start) for a Race EVER
When I tentatively went on a short run to test out my leg and saw everything was fine, I gradually began running again, careful not to over-do it. Unfortunately it meant I had missed my window of opportunity to run any half marathons in Canada this year. I made the most of things and signed up for my first turkey trot, also my first 8k with my daughter. We had fun and declared we should make it a tradition to run a turkey trot together every year. It was a good way to close out my racing for the year. Two Firsts in Running For Me- My First Turkey Trot and My First 8k!
Overall, I would say there were more highs than lows when it came to running in 2022. Although I wasn’t able to run any half marathons in Canada, there will always be next year. I’m just happy I was able to take time off running early enough that my shin splints didn’t turn into something much worse that required me to take months off from running. Even though I only ran three races, they were all unique and memorable ones so it was a good year for me when it came to running.
How did your running go in 2022? Any highs or lows you care to share?
I saw an article by Fodor’s Travel about the most overrated tourist attractions in the world and it made me pause. For the article, see https://www.fodors.com/news/news/the-most-overrated-tourist-attractions-in-2022. For a quick summary, there were places mentioned ranging from The Grand Canyon, The FRIENDS Experience New York, cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, but apparently the most popular places listed were Disney World and Disneyland. The reasons listed shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been to Disney- too crowded and too expensive. Rounding out the poll’s top 5 most overrated tourist attractions were The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, Times Square, and The Louvre.
I’ve never been to The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, or The Louvre so I can’t comment on my personal feelings about those places but I have been to Disneyland and Disney World, The Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Times Square. I agree that Disney is hugely expensive and crowded so I can see where people would rank those places as overrated. There wasn’t a reason or reasons listed why people thought Times Square was overrated but I can also understand how it could be a letdown for people expecting some sort of magical experience or inflated expectations.
I started thinking about what I would list as the top 5 most overrated places I’ve traveled to. Travel can be a subjective subject so I understand that places I may have hated or just generally disliked are places that other people love. Likewise, I’ve been to places that I loved that others have hated. For example, I’ve heard people say The Grand Canyon National Park is nothing but a big hole in the ground with a bunch of rocks and trees around. I thought the Grand Canyon was an amazingly beautiful part of our country and loved hiking there. Not everyone likes being out in nature, though.
Probably my number one place that I would list as overrated is Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m not a gambler and both times I went there I didn’t gamble even once, not even to play the slot machines. I really could care less about gambling. The first time I went to Las Vegas I was in nearby Laughlin, Nevada for a half marathon and thought I should see what all the fuss was about in Vegas. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Sure, the enormous themed casino hotels (The Venetian, Paris, Bellagio, etc.) are cool but I wouldn’t go there just for the hotels. I’m also not a big drinker or partier so you could see where Las Vegas would not be a great choice for a person like me.
The second time I was in Las Vegas was when I was running a half marathon outside St. George, Utah and it was cheaper to fly into Las Vegas and drive from there. Since we landed in the evening I thought we should at least walk through some of the hotel lobbies and watch the fountain displays with our teenage daughter to show her the sights. Would I ever purposely go back? Maybe to watch a Cirque du Soleil show but that’s the only reason (I’m a big fan of their shows).
Next on my list of overrated tourist spots is Gatlinburg, Tennessee (not including Great Smoky Mountains National Park). Like Las Vegas, I’ve been here twice, once as a teenager with a friend of mine and her family and more recently to go hiking in the park with my daughter last summer. On my more recent visit, we skipped all of the super-touristy places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Guinness World Records Museum, and the Salt and Pepper Museum. I didn’t hate it here and there were some shops and restaurants I enjoyed but it’s definitely not a place I would go out of my way to go to. See my post: Gatlinburg, Tennessee “Myrtle Beach in the Sky”
If you read my post on Gatlinburg, Tennessee, it may come to no surprise that next on my list here is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Like Gatlinburg and Las Vegas, this is a place I’ve been to more than once, the first time as a child and later as an adult. This is also a place I personally know many people go to every summer with their friends and/or families and love it here. I find it crowded with people and traffic and touristy shops and restaurants full of fried seafood (which I don’t like). The water is murky and there is often trash littered around the hotels and beach areas. I would hands-down rather go a little further south to Charleston, South Carolina, which in my opinion is about 1000 times better in every way imaginable than Myrtle Beach.
Next on my list is a place I’ve only been to once: Los Angeles, California. I went here during my trip to Long Beach, California, when I ran a marathon and explored the area afterwards. Personally, I found the Hollywood Walk of Fame to be a complete waste of time (it’s exactly what you think it will be, a bunch of famous people’s names on gold stars on the sidewalk) and the tour of celebrity homes was also a waste. What I remember from that tour is driving around in a van, going by a bunch of huge fences and shrubbery while the host talked about the celebrity who lived in each of the homes we couldn’t even see. Maybe I just chose a bad tour or maybe they’re better now since that was several years ago. Sunset Strip, the Hollywood Sign, and every single other thing I saw or went past was entirely a waste of time to me.
The final place on my list of overrated places is a city I was surprised I didn’t like it as much as I did and I found it disappointing overall- Athens, Greece. For all of the details, you can read my post: I’m Sorry but I Just Didn’t Love Athens. In short, I found it to be hot, crowded, and dirty and many of the ruins were in such a poor state you could barely even see anything there. That being said, it might be more pleasant during the spring or fall when it’s not so crowded or hot. It’s also a place despite the fact I found it overrated, I would still recommend everyone go there just once to experience it for themselves.
In fact, I don’t want to imply that I think no one should go to any of these overrated places. Like I said earlier, I know many people who go to some of these places year after year and love them. Also, with the exception of Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg, these are unique places that I encourage everyone to see for themselves for the experience. There truly is no other place (at least not that I’ve been to or heard of) like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, or Athens, each of which has unique qualities that some people are drawn to.
What about you? Do you love any of the places I listed as overrated? Do you have your own list of overrated places that you’ve been to?
I’m a science geek; always have been. As a kid, I always loved going to science museums, even though my parents didn’t really take me to that many. I remember being in awe at Epcot Center, which really is just a big science museum, much of it hands-on. As an adult, I’ve had the pleasure of raising a science-loving child, so I’ve taken her to many science museums all over the world in our travels. We haven’t just stopped at science museums, though. We also love art museums and history museums. I’d like to share a few of some of my favorite museums here.
The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois has so many impressive displays you can spend all day here if you like science and natural history. I really enjoy the Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet, Meteorites, Hall of Birds, all of the dinosaur exhibits, the hall of gems, Plants of the World, and those are just some of my favorites! There are two restaurants, a seasonal outdoor grill, and a picnic area open to all museum visitors on the ground level near the Sea Mammals. There is also a gift shop, coat check, wheelchairs (free), strollers ($3), a private nursing room, and free wi-fi. You can also get discounted admission if you have a City Pass or Go Chicago Card. Another great museum in Chicago is the Museum of Science + Industry and I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention it. There are of course many other great museums in Chicago as well but these are two of my favorites.
Balboa Park is a museum-lover’s paradise, with 17 museums and cultural institutions in San Diego, California. I highly recommend the Explorer Pass if you plan on going to several museums in Balboa Park. A really cool and different museum within Balboa Park is The San Diego Museum of Man. Here you can see displays about monsters, our relationships with animals, the history of beer, take a California Tower tour, and learn the truth about cannibalism. Tickets to the Museum of Man are $13-$25 for adults or $10-$22, depending on whether or not you purchase just museum tickets or add on tickets to the cannibals exhibit or tower. I have a post on Balboa Park with more details that you can read here.
If you like museums, you can find plenty of them in New York City. Some of my favorites are the American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum but there are nearly 100 museums in and around New York City, so there’s definitely something for everyone. The American Museum of Natural History has 45 museum halls, The Rose Center for Earth and Space, a giant-screen film, special exhibitions, and a space show. I recommend figuring out what you want to see before you go or you could get so overwhelmed you don’t know where to start. General Admission to The Metropolitan Museum of Art includes exhibitions at The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters and are valid for three consecutive days. The Guggenheim Museum general admission is $25 for adults and $18 for students and seniors. For these museums plus many others and other places as well, you would save a ton of money on admission prices if you buy a City Pass if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing and will be here for at least a few days.
Washington, D.C. is filled with museums primarily because of the Smithsonian Institution, comprised of 17 museums, galleries, and a zoo. And even better- it’s all free. Some of my favorites include the National Air & Space Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Freer and Sackler Galleries. These museums and galleries are enormous, too so you could spend hours in just one of them. If you only have one day in D.C. the tough part will be deciding where to spend your time because there are so many choices. Washington, D.C. is also a great place for children and is extremely family-friendly. I don’t recommend driving around the city but the Metrorail system is easy to navigate and affordable.
For something a little different, on the North Island of New Zealand is the Waitangi Treaty Complex, part of the Waitangi National Trust Estate where events that led to the Treaty of Waitangi are presented. You can experience kapa haka, a live Maori cultural performance and Maori artifacts and weapons. If you follow a short trail outside the visitor center, you’ll come to a Maori war canoe. This huge canoe is named after the vessel in which Kupe, the Polynesian navigator, is said to have discovered New Zealand. The canoe was built in 1940 to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Malta is a country that I fell in love with when I went a couple of years ago and part of that reason is how it’s absolutely steeped in rich history. That and its stunning beauty. For my family and me it was a no-brainer for us to get the Heritage Malta Pass which includes access to 22 sites and museums plus the Malta National Aquarium and the Citadel Visitor Center and is good for 30 days. Some of my favorite museums in Malta are in Valletta and include the Palace Staterooms, Palace Armory, and the National Museum of Archaeology. You can read more about these museums in Valletta here.
Of course I have to include Italy here because it is also filled with some impressive museums. I had the pleasure of visiting Rome, Florence, and Venice some time ago and loved not only the history of the area but also the art everywhere and of course the food. My favorite of the three cities we went to is Florence so I’ll start there. The Pitti Palace is absolutely enormous and houses several museums and galleries and the Boboli Gardens outside. The Uffizi Gallery is the oldest museum in modern Europe, dating to 1581, and yes, it is impressive and definitely worth going to. You can find Michelangelo’s David (along with many other prestigious work) at the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Probably some of the more famous museums near Rome are technically in another country, Vatican City. The Vatican Museums are an enormous collection (about 7 kilometers) of museums and galleries and include the hugely famous Sistine Chapel. I was surprised to find the Sistine Chapel was smaller than I expected, but there’s a definite aura of tranquility that surrounds the space. Finally, in Venice at the popular St. Mark’s Square you’ll find Doge’s Palace. The combined entrance ticket to the St. Mark’s Square Museums grants access to the Doge’s Palace, Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Monumental Rooms of Biblioteca Marciana.
Honestly, that just touches the tip of the iceberg for me but I should probably leave it there although I could easily add more places.
What are some of your favorite museums in the United States or elsewhere? Have you been to any of the ones I listed here or would you like to go someday?
I don’t really think of myself as a foodie but I can appreciate a good meal. One of the reasons I love visiting Charleston, South Carolina so much is the staggering number of excellent restaurants in the area. I don’t know if I’ve ever truly had a bad meal there in all of my many years of visiting Charleston. Charleston is well-known as a foodie town. I’ve also visited Williamsburg, Virginia many times but for some reason I didn’t really think of the area as a foodie place, that is until I recently went there.
My family and I visited Williamsburg in May and spent four nights there. Over the span of that time, pretty much every meal was outstanding. We had brought our two dogs with us and wanted to get them out of the hotel room as much as possible, so we were limited to dog-friendly restaurants with outdoor seating areas. Still, for each and every meal, we walked away feeling like it was one of the best meals we’d had in a while.
Here are some of my recommendations for restaurants in Williamsburg, Virginia, all of which are dog-friendly:
Aromas Specialty Coffee & Gourmet Bakery. Aromas actually has three locations in Virginia: Williamsburg, Newport News, and Swem Library. This wasn’t our first time eating at Aromas; last year we went there and the food was just as good as this time. We’ve been for breakfast, brunch, and lunch and each time the food was excellent. This time I had a chicken salad sandwich on a freshly baked croissant, my husband had a huge and very filling Cobb salad, and our daughter had a peanut butter and banana sandwich on a bagel; we all throughly enjoyed our meals. They have tables outside in the front where you can sit with your dog, or just sit outside if the weather is nice. Many people sit outside to enjoy a cup of coffee or a baked good and people watch. Aromas serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner and has a kids’ menu and even fondue and nachos in the evening.
The Hounds Tale. Only open for dinner. My daughter said they should have named it The Hounds Tail (get it?). My husband and I both got the Wagyu Beef burger and it was delicious, as were the fries, which were perfectly cooked and seasoned. Our daughter got the house-made cavatelli pasta, which was also very good. The server brought us out popcorn in a dog bowl before our meals came, which our pups also enjoyed with the inevitable pieces that fell to the ground. There are only a few pub-style tables in the front the restaurant, so if you’re going to eat outside, you may want to come early to beat the crowds, especially during the busier times of year.
3. Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill. Open for lunch and dinner. Actually two separate places, we ate at the outdoor Taphouse Grill, which is open April through October. The Taphouse Grill is more casual than the historic Berret’s Seafood Restaurant across Duke of Gloucester Street. The menu features seafood, chicken and beef, highlighting Virginia specialties such as oysters, crab, and fresh produce. I had the crab cakes and they were just as good as ones I’ve had in Charleston, which is saying something. Live music is featured Tuesday through Sunday (weather permitting). Every Thursday is Flight Night. A different brewery, winery, distillery or cidery is featured each Thursday with 4 unique selections. The service was top-notch and our server even brought out a water bowl full of fresh water for our dogs.
4. The Cheese Shop.Way more than just cheese, The Cheese Shop has made-to-order sandwiches, packaged sides (my husband had pickled brussels sprouts but there was also potato salad, macaroni salad, and a few others), potato chips, sodas and beer, a plethora of cheeses as you would expect, and even a wine shop in the cellar. This is one cool place. I loved just walking around looking at all of the unique foods for sale in the store and if I would have had more time, I would have liked to check out the wine downstairs. There are many tables with umbrellas in a shady spot in front of The Cheese Shop, so once you go inside and get your food, you can enjoy your food outside if you have pups with you. If you’d rather eat inside, there are also tables inside. Everything we ordered tasted very fresh with high-quality ingredients.
5. The Virginia Beer Company. I drove by here on my way to pick up something at the grocery store one evening to take back to the hotel room and decided to check it out for dinner the next evening. Although they don’t serve food at the Virginia Beer Company, food trucks are here for dinner during the week and lunch and dinner on weekends. Check the schedule on the web page ahead of time. When we went, Capt’n Crabby food truck was there and we got the Korean BBQ chicken sandwich, Ahi Tuna Bowl, and a fresh mozzarella cheese and tomato sandwich with fresh basil. My daughter didn’t care for her cheese and tomato sandwich, but my husband and I were really happy with our choices. Our beers were also very good and there is a good selection of year-round, seasonal, and experimental IPA’s on tap. There are picnic tables to sit at, a fire pit, corn hole, and board games so it’s a good place to hang out with friends and/or family. There is also an indoor seating area for those not bringing dogs or just want to sit inside.
I love that we were able to find so many dog-friendly restaurants in Williamsburg with truly excellent food. This is definitely a dog-friendly town so if you’re ever in the area and are fortunate enough to bring your dog(s) with you, by all means, do so!
Do you all ever travel with your dog? What are some of the most dog-friendly cities you’ve been to?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I told some people I was going to Malta, the first thing they asked is “Where is Malta?” The truth is many Americans haven’t even heard of Malta let alone know where it is, but I realize for some Europeans Malta is a popular destination for relaxation and sun. When I first heard about Malta, I was fascinated by the independent nation’s rich history. Over the centuries, Malta has been ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, and Arabs, just to name a few and these have all influenced Malta in one way or another. The wikipedia page has way more info than I’m going to go over here, but I truly found it fascinating.
So where is Malta? Malta is an archipelago of three islands off the coast of Sicily; the main island is simply called Malta, and two smaller ones are Gozo and Comino. For this vacation, we were going to spend a couple of days in Gozo then a week in Malta. Upon arrival at the Malta airport, we picked up a rental car and drove to the ferry terminal to take a ferry to Gozo. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the greatest for sightseeing on our first day. It was chilly, very breezy, and kept spitting rain off and on. We braved the cold and took our positions on the top deck of the ferry, snapping dozens of photos and thoroughly enjoying the ride despite the less than ideal weather.
The ferry from Malta to Gozo was extremely easy logistically. We just parked our rental car in a queue, went inside the terminal to get some sandwiches, and by then it was time to pull the car up onto the ferry. You are only charged upon return from Gozo so we didn’t even have to buy tickets. After the 30 minute incredibly scenic ferry ride, we pulled the car off the ferry and were on our way!
After getting settled into the apartment we rented through hotels.com (they don’t just have ordinary hotel rooms; you can also find apartments, condos, farm houses, and other less conventional accommodations sometimes) we went out to get our bearings, pick up some groceries for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning, and get a snack from a local bakery. The buildings in Malta are mostly beige or tan in color and the landscape is very different from anywhere I’ve ever been. It reminded me in some ways of Crete but it seemed much greener in Gozo.
Since there wasn’t time to go to any historical sites (they all close at 5 pm) that would have to wait until the next day. We took a walk and popped in a couple of cute shops while we were out then went back to the apartment to cook dinner, take some much-needed showers, and just relax for the rest of the evening.
We mapped out our plans for the following day and watched the beautiful deep blue water from the living room. The best part about where we were staying was the view. You could see water from both of the bedrooms and the living room. There was also a balcony that wrapped around from the living room and both bedrooms. We discovered there was access to the rooftop but it was disappointing in that it was designed as purely utilitarian for drying clothes rather than for enjoying the view since it was blocked by parts of the roof.
My first impression of Malta was a positive one. I liked the landscape and scenery a lot, the people seemed friendly and helpful, and the food options were good. I was excited to spend the next week here exploring the islands.
Next up- historical sites and one of my bucket list places! Have any of you been to Malta? Did you love it as much as I did? Or do you want to go now after reading about it?
Although I’m American, I thought the title sounded a bit more clever written that way. Are Americans the only group of people who use the term “vacation?” Anyway, last year I spent Thanksgiving in beautiful San Diego, which you can read about here, here, and here. Even though I wasn’t visiting family in San Diego, my husband and daughter were with me, so I wasn’t spending the American holiday by myself. We found a restaurant that was serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Honestly, spending our holiday in San Diego was even better than I thought it would be, but then again I absolutely love San Diego.
We’ve spent a few Thanksgivings away from home and extended family, so this wasn’t the first year for that, not to travel to see family but to travel for half marathons. This year, I spent my Thanksgiving in Malta. That was the first time I was in another country during an American holiday. We had Chinese food for dinner on Thanksgiving although we could have had just about anything we wanted other than a traditional turkey dinner.
My husband, daughter, and I have also traveled during Easter. I was running a half marathon in Eugene, Oregon the weekend of Easter recently, so my daughter joined an Easter egg hunt in Eugene. The Easter bunny also brought along her treats and placed them in the container for the ice machine from the hotel. We had loads of fun hiking around Bend, Oregon after we left Eugene.
We’ve also been on vacation during more minor holidays like the 4th of July. We were in Montana during Independence Day one year and just completely missed all fireworks and everything. It wasn’t a big deal, though. One year we spent Valentine’s Day in Atlanta, Georgia when I ran the utterly miserable Run the Reagan Half Marathon. It wasn’t exactly a romantic way to spend the day but my husband and I made the most of it. We were in Virginia Beach, Virginia during St. Patrick’s Day when I ran the half marathon portion of the Shamrock Marathon, which was pretty fun. We didn’t drink green beer or party since the race was the following morning after St. Patrick’s Day, but it was still a fun atmosphere to be in.
There are of course some downsides to traveling during major holidays. Hotels in the Caribbean and airfare to/from there will be more expensive during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s. In fact, travel to many destinations costs more during Christmas and New Year’s. I’ve found for many other destinations, however, prices even in the United States aren’t any higher during Thanksgiving or Easter. There may be less places open or less availability, though (i.e. restaurants may be closed, hotels may be fully booked).
Many people also look at being away from extended family during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter as a down-side. My extended family is so far away and in colder climates, my husband, daughter, and I usually only see them during the warmer months anyway. For us, it’s not worth risking our lives getting in a car accident on slippery snowy or icy roads to see them on Christmas day. We hope they understand.
Overall, I have enjoyed traveling during holidays and think it’s been a good thing. It’s fun to experience how people from different parts of the country celebrate the holidays. For instance, I really enjoyed the Christmas decorations all over San Diego and Malta. Seeing Christmas decorations in beach areas is very different from seeing the same ones every year where I live.
If I were a solo traveler, I’m not sure if I would feel the same way about traveling during holidays and being away from my family. That’s hard to say, though without going through it first-hand.
How do you all feel about traveling and being away from extended family members during major holidays? Do you always spend the holidays with family and couldn’t imagine not being with them for the holidays? I’d love to hear what you all think about this!
I spent the first 22 years of my life in West Virginia. I grew up in the southern part of the state and got my undergrad degree in the northern part at West Virginia University. It’s fair to say I’ve seen quite a bit of the state and spent my fair share doing mostly outdoors activities.
I’ve gone skiing and/or tubing at Winterplace Ski Resort and Snowshoe Mountain (I hate skiing so I am not a skier now but love tubing). I’ve gone whitewater rafting many times down the New River. I’ve gone hiking in most of the state parks throughout the state. I’ve been to the capital, Charleston, for many different occasions. I’ve gone camping throughout the northern and southern parts of the state. However, I had never spent any time in the second-largest city in West Virginia, Huntington, until recently.
Even though Huntington is the second-largest city by population in West Virginia, it’s still pretty small by most standards, coming in just under 50,000 people. The entire population of WV isn’t even 2 million but it does have more people than 12 states and the District of Columbia. I’ve mentioned all of the outdoor activities I’ve done throughout WV, and it’s no surprise since outdoor activities are what drive most tourists to the state.
I was going to Huntington to run a half marathon, though, as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. West Virginia would be my 43rd half marathon in my 41st state. I didn’t think it would be a great idea to go hiking all over the place the day before a race. What on earth is there to do in Huntington besides go to Ritter Park, the number one thing to do on TripAdvisor? There’s also the Huntington Museum of Art, but again, I didn’t really want to spend a lot of time on my feet before the race. We were heading back home after the race on Sunday, so it’s not like we could go after the race.
Heritage Farm is a good way to spend a couple of hours especially if you have kids and/or are a history buff. In early November it was beautiful with all of the trees in full display of yellows, reds, and greens. There are eight museums, a blacksmith shop where you can see a blacksmith in action, an artisan center full of skilled tradespeople such as a quilter and a potter, Maker Space is full of hands-on activities and pop culture trivia displays through the years, a homestead site, a hands-on outdoor play space where kids can learn about simple machines, a cafe, church, gift shop, and petting zoo. Being a huge animal lover, the animals were my daughter’s favorite part of the farm. She especially loved the bunny who had a rooster friend with her. Apparently this rabbit and rooster were best friends and the rooster watched out for the rabbit. We also took a wagon ride around the farm and saw lots of unique animals. Although we didn’t stay overnight at the farm, you can stay overnight in one of a few log cabins or even a train caboose.
Besides finding things to do that didn’t involve tons of time on my feet, finding a hotel was a bit difficult as well simply because of the limited options. I wanted to find a pet-friendly place but the only one I could find was Towne Place Suites with a $100 non-refundable pet fee. For just a weekend, I could board my dog with a sitter near my home for less than that and she already knew the people who would be watching her. My new puppy was going to be watched by her foster mom who rescued her. Still, this seemed like pretty much the only “decent” hotel in the area, so I made reservations at Towne Place Suites. When I looked on Airbnb, there weren’t great options near Marshall University, where the race was, but if you’re not limited by that, there are definitely more options. Towne Place Suites turned out to be quiet and in a good location, not more than about 10 minutes from most things in the area, so it was a good choice for us.
Unless you’re driving into the area, it’s not very easy to fly into Huntington. There aren’t many direct flights into/out of Huntington Tri-State Airport. Unless you’re coming from Charlotte, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Orlando, Florida, or St. Petersburg, Florida, you’ll have to make multiple stops to get to Huntington. In some ways it’s easier to just fly into Yeager Airport in Charleston, which has considerably more flights than those into Huntington, get a rental car, and drive one hour to Huntington. I would venture flights into Yeager are cheaper than flights into Huntington as well but I haven’t priced them. This is of course no different from transportation to/from any small town in the US. Any time you can fly into a bigger city and drive to your destination, it’s cheaper and Huntington is no different.
Dining options are about what you might expect in a small town in West Virginia. There are tons of fast-food and chain restaurants, but it is possible to find local places to eat. We had lunch at River and Rail Bakery, where we planned on having lunch and getting something from the bakery to take with us for later. While our lunches weren’t bad but nothing great, the options for dessert were flat-out disappointing. My daughter and I didn’t get anything for dessert and we were given our money back for the cheesecake my husband bought because it was so bad. We later had dinner at La Famiglia, which was by far the best meal of our weekend in Huntington. My daughter and I had handmade pasta and meatballs and it was delicious and the perfect pre-race dinner. After the half marathon, we had lunch at Surin of Thailand, which I later found out is a small chain in the south with six other locations. It was standard Thai fare so it was good but not the best Thai food I’ve ever had.
After our lunch, it was time to head back home. For others looking to extend their stay a bit in West Virginia, there are several places within a relatively short drive from Huntington. If you want a bigger city with more options, Lexington, Kentucky is only two hours away and is filled with fun things to do. This would also be an option for flights into the area, but you would have a bit longer of a drive than from Charleston. There are also many state parks around the Huntington and Charleston area great for hiking and camping.
When is the best time to visit West Virginia? Really anytime, depending on what you’d like to do. You can go skiing in the winter, hiking and camping in the spring, fall, and summer (of course you could go in the winter as well; that’s just not my thing personally), and whitewater rafting and zip lining in the summer. Another interesting place to visit is The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, about three hours from Huntington. You can just go here for the day but really there’s so much to do here it would be better to spend the night if it’s in your budget. There’s everything from a golf course, spa, casino, tree-top canopy tours, fishing, afternoon tea and other fine dining options, bowling, off-road tours, and even a declassified bunker tour, just to name a few. If you’re interested in planning your next vacation to West Virginia, this website is a good tool to help you get started. I’d also be happy to answer any questions any of you might have.