I spent two days in the Cinque Terre, and it is a place I know I will return to. Hopefully you can see why after looking at my photos.
Cinque Terre in Photos
Midnight Dip in the Mediterranean
Last year I took a memoir writing class for fun. During our course, we had the opportunity to participate in a 91 word memoir contest. I didn’t win, but writing this piece allowed me to really focus on what made a particular moment so great. Now when I read my 91 words I go back instantly. What would your 91 words say? Here are mine:
Was it the abundant wine, late hour, or vast sea that made us abandon care? We surrendered versions of ourselves that rarely escape. Some removed constricting clothing. Others seemed forgetful after wandering in with money belts still on. We embraced the opportunity to be liberated.
Sounds of simple pleasures filled our little piece of the beach. Laughing, conversations, and the splash, splash of the skipping stones (or sometimes plunk) teased our ears. Some people drifted off to sea, while others got to know hidden fragments of new friends. Life is good.
Finding the Right Tour
Sometimes a tour is the right choice. Perhaps you want to consider a tour if it is your first time abroad. Maybe you can’t find travel partners. A tour is an easy way to travel with others. It is also possible that there are sights you want to see, but you’d feel more comfortable going with the experts. There are great tours. The trick is to find one that fits your personality and style of travel. Some things you may want to consider include:
Some tour companies are great at offering low costs…up front. I’ve seen some tours that don’t include entrance fees, food, or other basics necessary for travel. It is great if you can go on a 20+ day tour for around $2,000, but investigate what you are paying for. That budget trip may become a credit card buster in the end.
Spending a vacation on a bus is not traveling. It may seem like a great idea to see a lot of new places, but if a major chunk of your time is spent getting to those destinations, then you may not return home with much more than a sore rear end. On my tour last summer, we never spent more than 2 hours on a bus at a time. Look at the specifics. Some tours require you to sleep on the bus. Imagine how tiring that would be.
There are a few items to consider when looking at the itinerary.
-Number of nights in locations: Spending only one night in each location can be exhausting. Make sure you have some time to truly visit a place.
-Balance between city and country: The city can wear you down after awhile. Having some time along the ocean or in the countryside can recharge your batteries.
-Amount of free time-If you are paying for a tour, you should take advantage of the guides. Sometimes it is nice to explore on your own. Having a good balance between time with the group and time on your own is important.
-Visited Sights-Make sure the tour is visiting sights you actually want to see.
Sleep is very important while traveling. Tours book accommodations ranging from campgrounds to 5 star hotels. I prefer family run hotels. Some people are fine with hostels, and others want to stay in Americanized hotels. Some groups stay outside of the city. This a major limit for exploration. Determine what works best for you and be sure to see what tours offer.*Do try to immerse yourself in the new destination when possible.
Many tours have approximately 40 tourists on one bus. A 1:40 ratio is not good for a tour. I am a teacher and the same idea applies in a school. The bigger my classroom, the less effective I can be. With smaller groups, the tour guide can provide a more individualized experience. It is also beneficial for gaining access to sights that may not be available to large groups. I’ve been on both types of tours, and I have noticed much stronger bonds between the travelers in the smaller groups.
You’ve probably noticed that I am a Rick Steves fan, but I know there are other great tour companies out there. Have a recommendation? Please share!
Paris in Photos
Venice in Photos
5 Steps to Moving Beyond the Beaten Path
Move beyond the beaten path. Experience the culture. Avoid the tourist traps. We’ve heard this from most travel experts, but branching out can be scary to the novice traveler. When I first started traveling, I immediately darted for the places that were a “must see.” Perhaps it was climbing the Eiffel Tower or visiting the Champs Elysees that enticed my presence, but when I think back to the moments, or hours I spent at these places, I do not see them as highlights. I went, I saw, I moved on.
There are some sights that should be visited, but determine that yourself after doing some research. To build a trip that is more rich and filling, follow some of these simple guidelines. You can begin with one piece of advice and expand from there, or try it all. Consider trying these tips in a local destination for practice.
Step 1: Plan Sparingly
Having a plan can be very comforting for the anxious traveler. It can also be beneficial for saving money, and making the most of your time. On a previous trip, I saved some considerable euros by purchasing a museum pass in Paris. This is a great idea, but be cautious. I made the mistake of trying to plan everything. I ended up with a trip that was overfilled with museums and lacking in authentic experiences. My time felt limited, so I wanted to do everything, but I eliminated the opportunity for spontaneity. When I reminisce about the highlights of my trips, I find the most fond memories take place during my interactions with people. You can’t plan the people you will meet, so make sure you leave room for them in your schedule.
I don’t discourage planning because it makes the wait for the departure date more manageable. Knowing that I will be immersing myself in another place builds anticipation. So don’t cut out planning, but stick with a tentative itinerary. Consider options. When you are building an itinerary, understand that it is a guideline, not the requirement. Be open to changing plans.
Step 2: Carefully Consider your Base
Deciding on sleeping quarters can greatly affect your ability to seek adventure. When I am visiting a big city, I like to stay in a neighborhood downtown that has easy access to public transportation, restaurants, and sights to see. A few years ago during my beginner traveler days, I was booking a hotel in Savannah, Georgia. The price was great, and so were the reviews, so I booked it. Unfortunately, the hotel was located just off the interstate many miles from the city center. Luckily we had a car, but it definitely limited our chance to explore.
Just recently I had to book a hotel in Paris for a solo night. Since I knew I would be alone, I wanted to pick a safe place with a lot of options for activities. I decided to go with the Rue Cler neighborhood because it is a pedestrian street with many restaurants. The metro is also very close which will be important for traveling to the airport, and it makes the city very accessible. The location is great because I am within walking distance to the Seine and Eiffel Tower. In other words, I recommend you consider what you want to see and do, and how you will get around before reserving accommodations. Selecting the right accommodations can provide you with the confidence and opportunity you need to experience the unexpected.
Step 3: Go for a Walk
One of my favorite moments in my travels took place alone. I was tired of waiting for my travel companions to finish getting ready, so I decided to go for a walk. As I weaved across the canals of Venice, I stumbled upon a special service for Palm Sunday. Outside a church I found a band of young men playing a song that still lingers in my mind today. I do not know what it is about, or even the name of the song, but the memory is so strong that it plays on repeat. I think one of the reasons that I am so fond of this memory relies on the pride in being the only one to have this experience out of my travel group. I felt like I got a little treat, and was privileged to be a part of this private concert.
During solo travel, it is important to stay safe, and feel comfortable while on your own. My recommendations do not differ much from going on a blind date. Go out during the day, stay in populated areas, and being aware of your surroundings are all examples of ways to stay safe. If you can follow this advice early on in your independent ventures, you will become more savvy for future adventures on your own.
Step 4: Ask Locals for Advice
This tip is one that is stated so often, yet so many do not follow it. The turistico menu seems so appealing after a long day of sightseeing, and before you know it, you are sucked into mediocre food that lacks tradition. Go with some ideas of cuisine you’d like to try and ask a trusted local for suggestions.
If you are nervous about asking locals on the street, there are many respectable opinions out there that are within easy reach. One of the best places to start is your hotel host or concierge. The more detail you can provide about your interest, the more likely they will be able to provide a good match. I found a great Indian restaurant in London this way. Other great resources include store employees, bartenders, and visitor information desks. Don’t forget, the touristy danger spots are usually close to the major attractions. Beware.
Step 5: Go During the Off-Season
Avoiding tourist season offers many benefits. One of the primary reasons people avoid booking trips during peak times is based on the cost factor. Flights and sleeping accommodations can be far less expensive during time periods that are less common with vacationers. Besides saving some money, we can also bypass the stereotypical tourist behavior.
One of the best ways to get out of the mold is to immerse yourself in the culture. This task is much easier when there are fewer tourists around. You are naturally being placed in an environment that encourages you to interact with locals rather than a larger pool of visitors. If you have the time available, definitely consider this option.
I’d love to hear your favorite “off the beaten path” stories. Feel free to share in the comments!
Step up to the Cicchetti Bar in Venice
Food is good. Food in Italy is divine. This seems to be as true as the sun setting and rising.
Cicchetti is the tapas of the Italian world. Savor samples of the freshest dishes by hand selecting your personal desires. Suppress your hunger or make it a meal; cicchetti is an affordable way to sample several local dishes in one place.
My recommendation for a great Venetian cicchetti bar is Osteria al Bomba. I learned about the restaurant from a Rick Steves’ guidebook. A couple of friends and I worked as a team to navigate and wind our way to the osteria found off the main street in an alley a little wider than our shoulders.
We were a bit shy since we were cicchetti newbies, but Giovanna was welcoming, and guided us through our first experience. There were some items on the menu that I was familiar with, and some that looked interesting, but I wasn’t actually sure what they were. One of them was baccala (salt cod) in a ball. I do not care for fish, but this was so creamy and did not taste fishy at all. The tomatoes in Italy must be grown in the tastiest dirt on the planet because they are so flavorful. Adding a tomato sauce to green beans was a new recipe to me, but something I have tried to replicate at home because the flavors paired so well.
Since returning home from Venice I have experienced symptoms of withdrawal. I cannot find seafood so fresh where I live, and the produce has limited taste. I know where I will be eating the next time I visit Venice. Perhaps I’ll go on a cicchetti bar crawl.
My travel companions were amazed at the number of items I could pack in my little bag. On my trip I heard comments such as, “Is that another new outfit? How did you fit so much in there?” Yes I can stuff a bag, but planning strategic outfits before leaving is important as well. I like to look nice when I travel (no sweat pants in my suitcase). Packing right can greatly impact the success of your trip, especially if you are going to be visiting multiple destinations. Here are some tricks I use to make the most out of what I pack.
Bring Versatile Clothing
When I am trying to decide what to bring, I consider the colors and types of clothes I will need. I try to find colors that go well together so I can create a variety of outfits from the same clothes. Perhaps I will wear a black shirt with a scarf one day, and jewelry another day. I can wear jeans with flats when it is a little cooler and wear them rolled up with sandals when it is warmer. Having a versatile wardrobe is crucial while traveling. Here are some examples of ways you can alter your look with minor changes
Dress-by itself, with cardigan, with leggings, with a scarf
Shirt-by itself, with cardigan, with necklace, with dress pants, with jeans, with skirt
Look at the Label
Most likely you will be washing your clothes at some point. Sometimes I like to go to a laundromat, but most of the time I use my bathroom sink. Don’t worry about bringing detergent or soap, pick it up abroad.
Every piece of clothing I consider buying is carefully analyzed since I have started to travel more. I never buy dry clean only items. I look for materials that resist wrinkles (or look good wrinkled) and will dry fast. I took a dress on my trip that was made of polyester and it was ideal for traveling. It dried in a couple hours after washing, didn’t fade, and looked great even if I threw it on after it was rolled up in my bag.
Roll it Up
I don’t know if it can be scientifically proven, but I feel that I can fit much more in my bag if I roll up my clothing. Look at my packing list below to see what I could fit in my carry-on bag and day pack.
Rather than taking twenty different shirts to vary your appearance, take advantage of smaller accessories to change the look of an outfit. For the gentlemen, this could be a scarf or tie. For the ladies this could be scarves, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, etc. They take far less space and can make plain outfits look nice.
When I pack, I consider when I will be wearing something. If I put my pajamas underneath all of my clothes, I am going to have to pack all over again when it is time to go to the next destination. Make items like this accessible. I also organize my clothes by category, just like I would in a drawer. I place my pants together, my shirts are in a different area, and my dresses are in another area. I place undergarments in the zipped areas since I will need to grab some each day. I also like to take a plastic bag along to keep my dirty clothes in. I don’t like to mix the clean with the dirty, and sometimes I can’t wash my clothes before the next stop.
Leave Space for Souvenirs
Sometimes we take items that are consumables and will deplete as we travel. Consider some of this as part of your souvenir space. Even though some space may open up, don’t over-pack your luggage. Most likely there are some things you can leave behind, and it will save your strength for the fun activities.
Plan Your Flight Outfit
Dressing right for the flight can save you some space in your suitcase. I layer on the plane for a couple reasons. One, I don’t know what the temperatures will be like on there, so this provides some flexibility. Two, I can wear the things that may not pack well. I typically wear my larger pair of shoes/boots on the plane. If I need to take a jacket, I carry it on the plane and wear it, or store it. Your jacket can double as a blanket or pillow if necessary.
- 3 Jeans
- 1 Dress Pant
- 4 Dresses
- 3 Tank Tops
- 4 Shirts
- 2 Cardigans
- 1 Pair of Yoga Pants (pajamas)
- 2 Necklaces
- 3 Pairs of Earrings
- 2 Scarves
- 1 Pair of Sandals
- 1o Pairs of Underwear
- 2 Bras (light/dark)
- 5 Pairs of Knee Highs
- 2 Pairs of Socks
- Hair Brush
- Eye Shadow
- Eye Liner
- Face Wash
- Deodorant (placed in smaller container)
- Little Shampoo
- Little Conditioner
- Plug in Adapter
- Travel Alarm Clock
- DSLR Camera
- Video Camera
- Audio Recorder
- Extra Batteries
- Extra Cards
- Inflatable Neck Pillow
- Eye Mask
- Money Belt
Items I Buy Abroad
- Currency (ATM)
Have packing tricks of your own? Left with questions? Please share in the comments!
6 Days in Provence
Lavender, garlic, and sun all conjure up memories of Provence. Last spring I spent six days in Avignon, France with day trips to other areas in Provence. Below you can see our itinerary and photos from the trip. Stay tuned for travelogues about the trip and the benefits of market days.
Sights to See
Isle Sur la Sorgue
Pont du Gard
Aix en Provence
Van Gogh Walk
Maries de la Mer
Making Travel a Priority
“I’d love to travel, but I don’t have the time or money.” I hear this a lot. I’m a teacher, so I don’t really have a lot of money, but I am fortunate enough to have time. I could easily say I don’t have the money, and just surrender to my fate, but I’m not being honest with myself if I choose this route.
Once I considered travel to be a true priority, I cut back on spending that really wasn’t a priority. Yes Starbucks chai tea lattes taste really good, but they are expensive over time (and not exactly healthy). I’d love to have beautiful nails, but manicures and pedicures cost too much. Do I really need 450 TV channels? Probably not. I cut back on the nonessential items, and I have found some money available for travel. I won’t be staying at the Ritz, but I will find decent accommodations in a new place to explore. I realized what was important to me, and decided to make a change to work towards that goal.
I went to a wake yesterday for someone that was taken far too young. I know it is said so often, but we are not guaranteed any time in this life. I always say that I am going to live to 100, but that is in my fantasy world. Deep down I am becoming a realist. The realist inside me says to live now because that is what I have. Although travel is my first priority when it comes to personal interests, I encourage everyone to pursue their top personal interest. Yes we have to care for our family and friends along with balancing work, but it is important to do something for yourself. Figure out what you want, and create a plan to make it happen. If you haven’t been able to achieve it yet, then a change will have to be made. There are countless inspirational quotations and stories out there to guide you along the way.
I may be a late twenty-something that uses travel to escape and learn now, but maybe there will be a day when it won’t be my priority. Until that day, my sights are set on new destinations with new experiences.