10 Things Travel Taught Me in 2017

In 2017 my travels took me to Las Vegas,Washington, Utah, where I ran a half marathonZion National ParkBryce Canyon National ParkAntelope CanyonBest Friends Animal Sanctuary in February, and Grand Canyon National Park in March. That’s a lot right there, so what did I learn in the first few months of 2017 from these places?

1). I learned I love visiting national parks even in the winter months (and I don’t like cold weather and snow). Bryce Canyon has a special feeling when you’re admiring partially snow-covered hoodoos and you’re surrounded by utter stillness and beauty.

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Snow-dusted Bryce Canyon

2). It’s possible and fun even to have a short stay in Las Vegas  with children and not spend much money. We had fun just wandering around, going through the massive casino hotels, taking in the views.

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Vegas, baby!

3). Volunteering when you’re on vacation rocks! One of the highlights of our time in Utah was our time at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. I’d love to do more things like this in the future.

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Hiking with our little overnight buddy at Best Friends

After some time at home, we were back out on our next travel adventure, beginning with New Jersey in May. I ran the Superhero Half Marathon  in Morristown, and I finally got to visit the Statue of Liberty in person. From New Jersey we were off to our first visit to South America, beginning in Santiago, Chile. After spending the night in Santiago, we spent a few days in Vina del Mar, which we fell in love with, and spent a week in the Las Cabras Region of Chile. This final place in Chile is where I learned so much about myself in relation to travel.

4). Sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. Not being fluent in Spanish, not having wi-fi (mostly for maps and things to do), and not knowing the area well will force you to interact more with local people and figure things out on your own. I found I was more resilient than I thought I was.

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Chile in all of its splendor!

5). I learned so much during my time in Chile, I made a list of 15 lessons I learned there. Probably the biggest thing I learned was to learn as much Spanish as possible before visiting the country. Don’t expect others to speak English, especially in more remote and smaller towns. This is a lesson for many other non-English-speaking countries as well.

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I loved hiking on this trail in Chile

6). I also learned Chileans are some of the warmest, friendliest, most helpful people I’ve encountered on my travels. We were blessed with the kindness of strangers on several occasions in Chile.

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Our little fox friend in Chile

In August, my family and I headed back to one of my favorite cities, Charleston, South Carolina. We were fortunate enough to experience the total eclipse and that was definitely the highlight of our time there. Even though we were only there for five days, I learned something.

7). Sometimes your family will get on your nerves when you’re traveling. My daughter hadn’t been sleeping well for many days before we even went on this vacation. That on top of not sleeping well because she was in a strange bed in a strange house resulted in one cranky eleven-year-old. She whined, complained, and I lost my cool on more than one occasion. I didn’t let it ruin my vacation, however. I know there will be days like this, even on vacation, when everything’s not all rosy.

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Morris Island near Charleston

In November, we had a little mini-vacation in Huntington, West Virginia when I ran the Marshall University Half Marathon. While we were only here for the weekend, I did manage to learn something.

8). Weekend or long-weekend getaways are a great way to explore small towns. You don’t always have to go away for a week or more and you don’t always have to go to exotic places to have fun. My family and I had more weekend getaways last year than this year and I had forgotten how nice they can be.

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Huntington, West Virginia

For our final vacation of 2017, we headed first to Malta then to Miami. I was very much looking forward to going to Malta since visiting the Gozo Salt Pans was on my bucket list. Malta exceeded my expectations as far as natural beauty of the islands (Malta is an archipelago of three islands), food, and just about every thing we saw and did. I have a series of posts about our time in Malta and there is one thing I learned during that vacation.

9). Mobile WiFi or MiFi can be a relatively inexpensive (roughly $10/day) but truly invaluable way to find your way around and stay connected when traveling internationally, especially if you’re driving a rental car. I have a post coming on this, so stay tuned!

Our time in Miami was spent a bit differently than many people would choose to vacation there since we were there to visit a dear friend of mine who lives there. We didn’t go to a single club or party at South Beach like many people would. Instead my friend took care of all of the planning for us and graciously took us to some of her favorite restaurants, on a tour of the Everglades, and to South Beach for the day to enjoy the ocean, play in the sand, soak in the sun, and thoroughly relax and enjoy ourselves. This brings me to the final thing I learned about travel this year.

10). Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do all of the planning for you and just sit back and relax. You don’t always have to try to cram in a dozen “must-do” restaurants or things to do.

What about you all? Where has travel taken you in 2017 and what have you learned from it?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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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

 

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

 

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?

How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1

Once again Charleston, South Carolina was chosen best city to visit in the United States by Travel and Leisure for 2017. In fact, Charleston often makes the top ten list for many travel companies, whether chosen by the editors or readers. However, to make the most of your visit to Charleston, some planning is involved. Hopefully that’s where I come in.

While I don’t claim to be an expert on all things Charleston, I have been there many times through the years, both before kids and with my daughter so I do have the perspective of what young couples and families might be interested in. When it comes to planning a vacation anywhere you first have to ask yourself what are you interested in doing or seeing there. For Charleston, what you do may be dictated by what time of year you go.

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The walk along Battery Park is lovely no matter what time of year it is!

If you’re not familiar with the weather of Charleston, the summers get quite hot and humid. The average highs in July and August are 91 and 89 F and the lows are 73 and 72 F. For someone coming from a much cooler climate, this might be a bit much, even for relaxing by the beach. You might want to wait until October when the average high is 77 and the low is 57. The water would still be warm enough to swim in the ocean this time of year as well. The average highs in December and January are still quite comfortable, at 62 and 59, respectively, with average lows then 40 and 38 F. This is definitely too cold for most people to swim in the ocean and even relax at the beach in a swimsuit, however.  All that being said, my family and I have taken our annual beach trip to Charleston in August several times and we’ve always had a great time but we are from the south, so we’re used to heat and humidity.

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The beaches are very clean with soft sand and dunes scattered about
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Morris Island, an uninhabited island accessible by boat

What if you’re more of a foodie and are primarily interested in partaking in some of the fabulous restaurants that Charleston has to offer and have zero interest in going to the beaches? In that case, November would be lovely, or alternatively you’ll find near identical temperatures in March (70 for the high, 47 for the low). These times of year would also be great if you’re a history buff and are interested in seeing historical sites in the area.

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USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point

Now that we’ve got time of year down, we can move on to specifics, like where you’ll stay. There are no shortage of hotels and inns, such as the number one rated hotel in 2017 by Travel & Leisure The Vendue. Other highly rated accommodations are Zero GeorgeFrancis Marion Hotelthe Meeting Street Inn, and Governor’s House Inn. There are literally dozens of inns and bed and breakfasts in the area, so if this is where you’d like to stay, there are no shortage of this type of accommodation. Many of the inns are in the heart of the historical district of Charleston, so as you may guess, they are not exactly for the frugal traveler. The advantage of staying in the historical district is you can walk to many restaurants, shops, and art galleries so you don’t  have to worry about parking which can be difficult to find and/or expensive.

If you’re traveling as a family with young children, be advised, some bed and breakfasts do no allow children to stay at their establishments, so a hotel would be a better option. Basically, the further you get from downtown Charleston, the more affordable your accommodations are. However, I do not recommend staying in North Charleston, which is also where the airport and convention center are. North Charleston is very residential (which that alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and the stores and restaurants there are generally not independently-owned so you would be spending much of your time in your car to get to places of interest and the better (in my opinion) independently-owned restaurants. Unless you enjoy eating at chain restaurants and shopping at chain stores, in which case, you’d be very happy here.

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City Market

Personally, I like staying in Mount Pleasant, which is located in-between downtown Charleston and the beaches of the area. I’ve stayed in both hotels and Airbnb lodging and was always happy with my choice. No matter if you’re going to historic Charleston, Sullivan’s Island, or Isle of Palm, you won’t be any further than a 20 minute car ride there, and often it’s only about 15 minutes. However, if you have no interest in going to the beaches in the area, I would stay closer to downtown Charleston. Again, there’s no shortage of hotels or Airbnb properties.

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Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects Mt. Pleasant and Charleston

Now that we’ve worked out the when to go and where to stay, we’ll move on to where to eat and what to do in my next post.

How many of you have been to Charleston or would like to go there someday? If you have any questions or comments about Charleston, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

15 Lessons Learned by an American in Chile

After a recent vacation to central Chile, I can honestly say this place was more of a challenge to me than anywhere else I’ve been. I think the biggest surprise was how few people in Chile speak any English. I’ve been to many places where the people speak a little English (i.e.. Costa Rica, Germany, Greece, Italy, etc.), and with that particular language I had attempted to learn before going to those places, it has not been a problem communicating.

Chile was the first time I’ve been to entire towns where no one (at least that I encountered) spoke English, not even at places advertised as tourist information places. While I don’t claim to be an expert on Chile, I learned many things during my two week vacation there and I’d like to share a few with you so that you can hopefully learn from my mistakes.

1. Learn as much Spanish as you possibly can beforehand. Use Duolingo. Use other apps. Listen to Spanish audio books. Do whatever you can to learn all you can before going to Chile. You will need all the help you can get.

2. When speaking Spanish with Chileans, keep it as simple as possible. The less words you have to use, the better. Also, ask the person you’re speaking with to use fewer words if possible.

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We encountered this little beauty at a national park.

3. Buy a hotspot for internet (also called MiFi). Wi-Fi is spotty at best even in some of the bigger cities. We did not buy a hotspot before we went to Chile and had to go a week with basically no internet. I’m considering renting one from xcomglobal for our next international vacation. If you have experience with them, or with another international mobile hotspot company, I’d love to hear about it.

4. There are no guarantees when it comes to public Wi-Fi. One place where we were staying was supposed to have Wi-Fi but it was down the week we were there. We went to a few restaurants and cafes that claimed to have Wi-Fi for customers only to find out the internet was down and would be down for several days at least.

5. Download Google maps of areas where you will be spending time onto your phone before even leaving for Chile so you will have offline access even with no internet.

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6. Find places to visit and things to do before leaving for Chile and print them out. Don’t wait until you get there thinking you’ll figure it out once you get there.

7. Don’t assume your credit card will always work. We tried to pay for lunch once with a credit card we had been using for well over a week with no problems only to be told the transaction couldn’t go through because of problems with the internet.

8. Make sure your credit card is chip-embedded or it won’t work well in Chile. Our debit card did not have a chip and didn’t work anywhere except banks.

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9. Make sure you always have cash on you. There are many toll roads in Chile that only take cash. You also need to be prepared to pay with cash in case your credit card doesn’t work (see number 7).

10. Most roads are in good condition and are paved but there are of course exceptions.

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Horse-drawn carts are still commonly used in small towns in Chile

11. Driving a rental car is your best option when venturing outside heavily populated areas but in Santiago taking the metro is your best option; in fact, driving in Santiago is not recommended.

12. Drivers in Chile are aggressive. Be prepared to drive above the posted speed limit to keep with the flow of traffic on highways, and don’t drive in the left lane unless you are passing. In small towns, however, stay within the speed limit as it is sometimes checked by policemen with radar (we saw this a few times in various cities).

13. Make sure you have plenty of gas when traveling to a new area. You may drive for hours with no gas station in sight (as we did going from Santiago to Vina del Mar).

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Lunch with a view over Valparaiso

14. Bring a converter and transformer (both) to safely plug in electronics.

15. The people in Chile are some of the most patient and kind people I’ve met. If you are trying to speak Spanish and follow their rules they will appreciate it more.

I hope you have been following along with me for some or all of my posts about Chile. This vacation was certainly an adventure but one I very much enjoyed. I would love to hear any and all comments!

Walking Tour of Santiago- My First Taste of Chile

My husband, daughter, and I just barely made our flight to Chile. We had a connecting flight through Atlanta which was delayed, so we had about 20 minutes to get from the terminal where we had flown into to the international terminal. This was the last flight of the day from Atlanta to Santiago, too, so if we missed the flight we would have had to wait until the next day. Atlanta airport is huge and has trains to connect the terminals because they’re so far apart. As soon as we got off the plane in Atlanta, we ran to the international terminal and were next-to-last to board the plane (one guy was right behind us). With huge sighs of relief, we were off to our South American adventure!

The flight from Atlanta to Santiago is about 9 and a half hours. Since we left at 10:30 at night, that means we arrived the next morning. Despite getting almost no sleep, the plan was to stay awake all day. Chile is on the same time zone as eastern standard time, so there was no time zone adjustment for us, which made it easier.

Surprisingly, our hotel, the fabulous and highly recommended 5 star Regal Pacific let us check in when we stopped by around 10:00 that morning. I was just going to see if we could drop our luggage at the front desk but they actually let us have our room, which was a pleasant surprise.  Our room was spacious, had very comfortable beds, and a great view of the city and the mountains. The hotel is in a great location, right by a metro station, close to restaurants, bars, and cafes, and has one of the most impressive free hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had. There is also a pool and spa. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend staying here. We had enough points through hotels.com that our night here was free!

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View from our room at the Regal Pacific

On our first day in Santiago we took the metro and had our own walking tour. Our first stop was Palacio de la Moneda. This huge building takes up an entire block that was once the Chilean mint now houses the president of Chile and other government offices. Not far from the Palacio de la Moneda is Bandera Street, where you can find many clothing stores.

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Palacio de la Moneda

If you continue down Bandera to San Pablo Street you’ll come to Mercado Central that’s full of fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables. We stumbled upon Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago, truly one of the most ornate churches I’ve ever seen. My husband said he would place it in a tie with St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I didn’t take any photos inside because there were signs saying not to but here’s one of the outside.

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Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago
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Sculpture in Plaza de Armas
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Plaza de Armas

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Not far from Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago is Plaza de Armas, a big square full of street entertainers, a fountain, an amphitheater, and the Museo Historico Nacional. Our final stop on our tour was my favorite, Cerro Santa Lucia, a place that is difficult to fully encapsulate all that it is. Cerro Santa Lucia is a park on a hillside with something new to see at every turn. There are cobblestone walkways, winding and steep stairways, gardens, fountains, turrets, towers, and some great views of the city.

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Cerro Santa Lucia
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View from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia
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Cerro Santa Lucia
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Cerro Santa Lucia

There are free walking tour groups available in Santiago. I thought about going with this group but decided to just go it on our own instead. While I’m sure there’s a lot of historical information we missed out on by not taking the tour, I just wasn’t feeling up to a 4-hour tour confined to a group. We were able to go to these places I mentioned here at our own pace and while I had specific stops in mind, it was fun to just wander around a bit!

One thing to note about Santiago, driving is not recommended. Although we picked up a rental car at the airport upon arrival for the latter portion of our vacation in Chile, we simply drove the car from the airport to the hotel, and parked it safely in the garage until we were ready to leave Santiago. We had no problem figuring out the Metro system and found it to be quick, reliable, cheap, and safe. I can’t say the same about driving in Santiago, as we found out when we came back the day we were flying out of Santiago. Driving in Santiago seems worse than driving in Manhattan (which I also wouldn’t advise to a tourist)!