Catherine McGrew Jaime

Author, Historian, Lifelong Learner, Teacher, World Traveler

Category: Travel (page 1 of 2)

Thoughts on travel from a world traveler – based on travels alone, with kids, with adult family members, and with friends.

Remembering Travels Through Journals

Photo Pages and Photo Books

There are several ways to remember a trip. In these days of smart phones with great digital cameras, photos are certainly one great way. As I mentioned in last week’s post on Creative Learning Connection’s website, it’s easy (and inexpensive) to make photo books and photo pages from some of those wonderful digital pictures that tend to accumulate on our phones and computers. (The Croatia page was made using PowerPoint, but Canva.com has become my new favorite way to may photo pages.)

Travel Journals

As a writer, I also appreciate the value of the written word. Travel journals are a great way to record the portions of a trip that seem so “unforgettable” at the time, but will certainly be forgotten in time. Travel journals can include anything we want to remember from a trip:

  • Where we stayed
  • What we ate
  • Purchases we made
  • Where we visited
  • History we learned
  • Maps
  • Photos
  • And so much more…

My First Travel Journal

I wrote my first travel journal when I was nine-years-old. My family was driving from Panama, through Central America and Mexico, and up the east coast of the United States to Massachusetts. As the oldest in my family, I was tasked with recording a vast array of information from that six week adventure. Amazingly enough, my father found my hand-written journal more than 40 years later, and typed it up for me.  Being able to go back after so many years and seeing what we did on the trip is beyond amazing!
 

Lewis & Clark Trail

 Fast forward many decades and I was the parent taking several of my children on a trip – this time to follow the Lewis and Clark Trail. It was time for another travel journal. That travel journal has come in handy numerous times when others have asked us for specifics from our journey.

Returning to Panama

Soon after that I made my next trip to Panama, returning with my siblings, my father, and several of our spouses. From the beginning of that two week trip, I was writing my standard “here’s what we’ve been doing” travel journey.  It is also a great way to go back and look at the fun we had on that vacation.

Horsey and Friends

But then, a fun and different way to write travel journals came to me. My brother was having a great time taking pictures throughout our trip of a small, stuffed horse. “Horsey” quickly became the star of a fun, light-hearted travel journal that soon became the first book in an entire series of travel books starring “Horsey and Friends.”

These are just a few of the fun journals I’ve written on my various adventures across the country and around the world. And in these days of so many print-on-demand options, it is not only easy, but fairly inexpensive to make and print your own travel journal (whether you want one copy or ten!). So the next time you are off to see exciting parts of the world, may I strongly encourage you to make a more permanent record of your vacation. In the future, when looking back at it, you will be glad you’ve taken the time.

Happy traveling (and journaling).

Cathy

History Along the Road

Even in the early 1500s the Colosseum was in ruins.

The Joys of “Being There”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been a history buff for decades now. And while I love reading (and then writing) about history, particularly historical fiction, nothing beats being where history took place. And for any that know us, it should come as no surprise that my family tends to take that concept to extremes. I’ve crossed the Old North Bridge in Lexington where the British and Colonials fought in the early days of the American Revolution more than 200 years ago; I’ve stood in Jamestown where John Smith and the other settlers had been 400 years before; and I’ve walked the streets of Rome pondering both Leonardo da Vinci and Martin Luther having walked those streets almost 500 years before me. (The title photo is from a visit to the underground cities near Cappadocia, Turkey – cities that date back more than 1,000 years. That visit started me off on my first historical short stories.)

Historical Journeys with the Family

Several years ago, seven members of our family followed the Lewis and Clark trail for almost two weeks. It was amazing to be in various places along the route where those men (and the one woman) had stood almost exactly two hundred years before us.

The castle near where we lived in Wuerzburg, Germany.

When my family was in Germany many years before that, my children were quite confident that they had been to every castle in the country, though of course, they had not. But we had certainly seen lots – and every one of my kids had a pretty good idea of what life was like in the Middle Ages in Europe as a result.

Once we returned to the states, we took a family trip along the east coast that involved stops at numerous civil war and revolutionary war sites. Again, the common thought among the kids was that we had stopped at them all, but sadly it was merely as many as we could work into our several week trip. I could certainly have found more, had time not been an issue.

An Unscheduled Stop at Gettysburg

So it should come as no surprise that when we have time to kill on a road trip we often fill it with historic stops. On a recent trip to the northeast my oldest daughter and I had some extra time as we drove from Virginia to New York City. Plotting our route for the day we discovered that Gettysburg was on our way. What a wonderful way to fill a “few” extra hours!

We decided it would be fun to have an audio tour as we drove around the battlefield this time, so we started at the Gettysburg National Park Visitor Center. There were too many choices! We finally asked a National Park employee for a recommendation. After he narrowed it down to his favorite two, we plopped down $30 for the Gettysburg Field Guide (narrated by Wayne Motts) – 2 CDs and a book.  And off we went.

Enjoying the Audio Tour

One of the countless monuments at the Gettysburg Battlefield

We spent an enjoyable two hours driving through just over half of the battlefield (that got us to Stop 9 of the 15 on that audio tour). Even knowing as much as I already did about the battle of Gettysburg, I learned more as we did the drive. I liked the CD because the narrator had a very conversational tone and shared a lot of stories as he spelled out what had happened there over 150 years before. (A note about this particular CD set – we don’t recommend it for a drive through the battlefield with younger children or others who don’t want to hear graphic details of the battle – this narrator very much “told it like it was.” For the two adults listening to it, it was fine.)

Touring Gettysburg Again

Fortunately for our newly revived interest in Gettysburg, we were crossing back across that section of Pennsylvania a mere five days later. When we got back to the area, we made our way across the park to Stop 9 and spent the next hour or so finishing up the remainder of the CD. And we pondered what life must have been like that July for those in the sleepy town of Gettysburg who suddenly found themselves caught in the crossfire of these two large armies.

A depiction of Pickett’s Charge

As we drove, and listened to the stories, I found myself wanting to re-watch the movie Gettysburg. And I found myself reaching for my phone and Wikipedia on several occasions to fill in even more of the details.

Trying to Imagine Pickett’s Charge

No matter how often I watch the movie, make that drive, or stand on the edge of the field where Pickett’s Charge started (or ended), I never tire of thinking about the countless men who gave so much in that bloody conflict.

There are many things we can learn from a study of history, but remembering the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedom should certainly be high on that list!

Please remember, history must be learned in order not to be forgotten.

Happy learning.

Cathy

The Importance of Breaking Down a Task

Preparing for a Trip

Not quite what our rental Jeep looked like, but you get the idea.

My oldest daughter and I were preparing for our upcoming three week trip. We were departing in four days and the list of things we HAD to accomplish before we left was huge! It was very easy to look at the list and be overwhelmed by all that had to be done. But when I returned from swimming the next morning, we took the list and broke it down into what could easily be done at home that first day.  (I was home after more than two hours at the pool and not anxious to go back out again that day.) With roughly 25% of the list, it was much easier to tackle what needed to be done, check it off, and by late afternoon, actually have accomplished everything that we had decided had to be done that day. And looking at each of the next several days’ lists we could more easily face those required tasks as well.

Breaking Down a Big Task

That simple concept – breaking down the bigger task (in this case – getting ready for our next trip) made it easier to set our goals and not be intimidated by the longer list that had loomed out in front of us.

Planning for Mock Trial

I try to approach my upcoming travels that way, my teaching that way, and even my writing.  One of the teaching responsibilities I have yet to give up is coaching high school Mock Trial (though after more than twenty years that time is probably fast approaching). One of my parents from last year called recently to get some information on this year’s practices/teams. It was easy to feel overwhelmed at her request – I was preparing for an upcoming trip (see above!), and I knew I had two more trips in August/September that were going to require my time and attention.  So I not only hadn’t started to think about the fall Mock Trial, I hadn’t even thought about WHEN to think about it!

But once I broke down the task into smaller pieces, I was able to tackle it. I had to determine when (around those next trips) we were going to hold our Open House, when we would need to put teams together, and when I would actually be able to start practices. In this case, I had to first determine what information I needed to work out, and then break out the calendar and decide where each task best fit. Looking at the whole of “When and what will we be doing?” was frustrating. But taking each piece one at a time simplified what I needed to do.

Writing My Next Book

And I’m about to do the same thing with the next book I want to write. I completed book five in my da Vinci series (Leonardo: A Return to Painting) in March 2017. But I want to finish the series by the 500 year anniversary of his death (May 2019). In order to accomplish that I’ve already determined that I will need to pick up the pace, and get at least two books written each year between now and then, rather than the one per year I’ve been averaging.

I’ve been focusing on other important things in my writing career this spring and summer (getting both of my websites going, starting and keeping up blogs on both of them, and trying to market my new Audible books: Leonardo the Florentine and Failure in Philadelphia?). But the time has come to start the next book.

Writing My Previous Novel

 To put this in perspective – my last da Vinci novel covered the time period that Leonardo was painting the Mona Lisa, working on his ginormous Battle mural, and trying to divert the Arno River. So the outline of that novel was pretty easy to write, and it was fairly easy to weave in the details I wanted to include. But for novel number six, I’m currently looking at a blank Word file. I know I will pick up the story soon after the Battle mural failed and Leonardo walked away from the project. But I haven’t determined much more than that.

Breaking Down My Writing

Rather than feeling completely overwhelmed by how little I have to work with at this point, it’s time to break down the task, set some reasonable goals, and get started. (And the beauty of those kinds of goals is – I like to set them, but I know I can always move them if life gets in the way.)

So for now, I need to get beyond the blank page and start a story. I find that I can generally write at least 1,000 words a day on a story I’m working on, often even more than that. (As a comparison, most of my blog posts come in at about 1,000 words, more or less. – this one is about 1200 words) And with writing, it’s always easier to have words you end up not needing, than not having words at all.

So, it’s time to begin. I’m going to be attending a Shakespeare camp for adults this week, with a fairly full schedule. So I’m fairly sure 1,000 words per day this week would not be a reasonable goal. But I should at least be able to start making some notes and start thinking about what directions I could go with this next story.  So, this week’s goals will be to make some notes for the novel every day. No particular amount for this week, because I know so much else is going on, but at least a little movement in the right direction.

My Upcoming Writing Schedule

Starting next Saturday (July 15) I will be aiming for at least 1,000 words per day on the story itself.  I’ll still be on the road at that point, but the schedule shouldn’t be quite as hectic once the camp has ended.  Since I will be starting to write in mid July, and my novels are on the short side, it should only take me six weeks or so to get the rough draft written. So my current goal for the completion of the rough draft is the end of August or the beginning of September. (I’ll let you know how that goes!)

Then I have to spend some time on rewrites and get it to the lovely women who proof and edit for me.  Maybe by the end of September I will be moving towards publication. (Somewhere before then I’ll have to have a title and a direction to go for the cover, so that my cover designer can design another fabulous cover for me. But I’m nowhere close to that now.)

Finishing a Book

Maybe, if all goes well, Leonardo da Vinci book number six will be available for sale by the beginning of October. Do I really expect that to happen? Oh, probably not. But it gives me something to aim for. I like deadlines, particularly self-imposed ones. I try not to get particularly upset if they are missed. I just make new ones and keep plugging away. But by having stated goals, I am generally moving in the right direction.

So, whatever task it is that is looming over your head, what can you do to break it down? Is it something you need to accomplish in the next several days (like our current trip), or something that may take you months to do (like my next book project)? However it breaks out, taking it in smaller chunks, with reasonable deadlines will likely do wonders for what you can accomplish (and lower your stress level significantly at the same time).

Happy goal-setting!

Cathy

Update on Visiting Venice

I wrote a previous post, Upcoming Visit to Venice, a few weeks before my latest trip to Europe. I thought it only right to give an update now that the trip is over.  In case it’s not already clear, Venice is one of my favorite cities to visit!

Housing

Rialto Bridge

I’ve now made four trips to Venice (I do get to count before and after the cruise as two times, right?).  On my first trip there I found a reasonably priced hotel recommended by Rick Steves; it was right off the Grand Canal, fairly close to the Rialto Bridge.  On my second trip there we stayed in a hostel on Giudecca, across the Venetian Lagoon from Venice. (I didn’t have anything to do with setting that one up, but considering we had a dozen or so women in bunk bends in one room, I can’t imagine the per person cost was very expensive there.)

Struggling to get into our San Polo Airbnb the first and second time was one of its downsides!

And on this trip we rented two apartments through Airbnb – one in San Polo, very close to the Grand Canal, and one on the mainland, in Mestre. Each different one had its own advantages.  The San Polo one cost a bit more, but was conveniently located near the stop for both the San Stae ACTV water bus and Alilaguna water bus (more on those in a bit). The second one was easy to get to on the #2 bus  (which we were happy to find out was covered by our passes).

Before you make your final decision on where you want to stay, it’s a good idea to determine how you will get there. What looks like a good deal may be more trouble than it’s worth if getting there is a pain. Or that great deal you thought it was may not be so good if transportation turns out to be more expensive than with other options you turned down.

Another view of the Grand Canal

Case in point, my husband had to fly into Venice the day before the rest of us. After some searching I found an inexpensive hotel on the mainland. But when I investigated the transportation requirements of him getting from the airport to the hotel, it was actually easier, and almost exactly the same total cost to put him up that night at the hotel closest to the airport. So I cancelled the first reservation and made a new one. With the hotel next to the airport he was able to get there quickly with their shuttle bus. Then he shuttled back to the airport to meet us the next morning. Simple, and not more expensive when hotel AND transportation were considered.

Transportation

One of our many views of the Grand Canal

As I mentioned above, the airport is on the mainland. Once there you have several options to get to the city itself – train, bus, or special water buses being the three cheapest. (These are Alilaguna water buses, not the ACTV Vaporettos discussed below). A train or bus is a cheaper way to get to Venice, but arriving on an Alilaguna, and approaching by water is certainly more fun and seemed more poetic. (My third time in Venice was actually the first time I arrived in Venice that way, the first two times I had come by train.) You will have the option of buying a round trip ticket, but we knew we would be getting back to the airport a different way, so we only bought one way tickets. (Most of us purchased them when we arrived at the airport, but I think we could have saved a euro for each ticket if we had ordered them online.)

Within the islands that make up Venice you have two general options for getting around – by foot or by water. Walking is great, but you will likely find yourself crossing lots of canals, which means crossing lots of bridges – something I don’t recommend doing with luggage. (Which of course means we did lots of that as we waited to get into that first Airbnb!)

Water buses (ACTV Vaporetto) are a great method of traversing Venice and the surrounding areas. As a general rule you DON’T want to buy single time tickets (at the time we were just there a single ticket was 7.5 euros, a 24-hour-pass was 20 euros, and a 48 hour pass was 30). We decided in advance that we wanted to do the 48-hour-passes for our first 2 days in Venice. We had actually thought about going with just a 24-hour-pass when we returned a week later. But, after refiguring it, we went with the 48-hour pass then too. It only takes 2 trips each day to break even, and we did considerably more than that on each of the 4 days we were in the city. If you have the time and energy to do LOTS of walking, you may not need the water buses as much as we did – though I personally think they are a great way to see the city!

Gondolas

When people think of Venice they almost always think of gondola rides. And we did take a gondola ride this time (which because there were six of us wasn’t outrageously expensive). But, honestly, it’s not something that I feel like I had missed out on by not doing before. It does take you into some of the smaller canals, which is part of the reason we wanted to do it. But, again, the price is fairly steep, especially if you have a small group. (Oh, and be sure you know where you’re getting dropped off. There was some miscommunication there and we were not dropped off where we thought we were going to be. Which led to even more walking.)

Restaurants and Food Options

One of our many views of the Grand Canal

One thing to keep in mind in Venice is that almost EVERY restaurant will add a cover charge just for sitting at their tables. The amount is per person and should be listed at the bottom of the menu. On this past trip we spent everywhere from 2.50 to 5 euros for cover charges (again that’s per person). But, on the other hand, tips are not expected, so it sort of evens out.

One of my favorite things to buy in any city in Italy is gelato! Be sure to check it out as quickly as possible. (If you’re not familiar with gelato it’s sort of a cross between ice cream and sherbet, only better!) I recommend buying it as often as possible when you are in Italy. Even gelato stands will charge you more if you want to eat at their tables – they don’t charge a cover charge per se, but they generally have “eat in” prices that are higher than their “take out” prices. Because I was traveling with a knee injury, sitting regularly was important to me, and I wasn’t opposed to paying those extra fees.

One of the oddest sights we saw on the Grand Canal

Our first night we ate at a fairly fancy restaurant overlooking a canal. It was an interesting experience – we bought a large fish that had been covered with salt and then baked. Sold by the kilo it was a pricey dish, but it was a different experience and the only time in Venice that we spent that much on a meal. It’s okay to splurge once in awhile. (Okay, there was one meal after the cruise that we dined at a restaurant near our apartment in Mestre that was slightly more expensive – but we were coming off the cruise and ordered several courses – so we actually ordered and ate more at that restaurant, and did pay a bit more, but for just an appetizer and a main dish, the restaurant in Venice was considerably more expensive.)

Close to the Airbnb apartment we rented in Venice we had no difficulty finding a nearby bakery to order pastries for breakfast, a coffee shop for the coffee drinkers, and even a little ice cream shop that sold amazing popsicles and shakes.

We did find one little restaurant near the Rialto Bridge water bus stops that was self-serve and didn’t have a cover charge.  Decent food, okay restrooms, and cheap. Sadly we found it on our last day in Venice, or we would likely have eaten there more than once.

Toilets

Bell Tower near St. Mark’s

Not a usual topic for a blog post, but something to keep in mind when you’re traveling in Europe. Toilets can be tough to locate when you need them. When we were in Venice, waiting near St. Mark’s for family members who were on a tour. I actually found the closest public toilet on my map app. It was kind of tucked away, off the main section, so I was glad I had searched for it electronically before searching for it physically.  Oh, and did I mention, public toilets cost money? We spent anything from half a euro to two euros for a public restroom. Again, money well spent if you ask me.  To avoid having to spend too much money on public restrooms, be sure to use the ones that are available at any restaurants you eat at or any museums you visit!

Things to See and Do

St Mark’s Basilica

Doge’s Palace

As I mentioned in my first post about visiting Venice, the “must sees” include the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Basilica, and the Doge’s Palace. Since I had already seen all of those, I was hoping to make it to a couple of new places – Murano Island, where they’ve been making blown glass for generations, and the Jewish Ghetto (either the first or second ever such ghetto, depending on which history you believe).

Because of some issues getting into our first Airbnb, we lost several hours on the first day, and our trip to the Jewish Ghetto got bumped from the itinerary. (That’s okay, it gives me something to have on the top of my list for the NEXT time I get to visit Venice!)

Glass Blower in Murano

We did make it to Murano. We took a free water taxi out to the island to see a glass blowing demonstration. It was impressive – the prices at the attached shop not so much. But we walked up to some other more reasonable shops and did find some nice Murano glass to purchase.  When we were done shopping we had lunch at a reasonably priced restaurant before taking a water bus back to Venice proper.

After the fact we read a review of the free taxi that said it wasn’t a good idea. But we liked it. It took us through some smaller canals, was less crowded then the water buses (just the six of us), and we got some good pictures. Once we got to the factory/shop who had sponsored our ride we didn’t feel obligated to make purchases there. We enjoyed browsing and moving on.

Burano

Another outer island I visited for the first time was Burano. Burano is known for its lace and for the pretty colors of its buildings. I really hadn’t thought of how few bright colors we were seeing in Venice until I saw the brightly colored buildings in Burano.  The only difficulty with going to Burano was getting back to Venice – it was late in the afternoon by the time we got out there, so the water buses were really crowded going back! The worst lines we ever stood in to get on, and the absolute most crowded, standing room only, water bus we rode on, was that return trip.

But I was still glad we went.  We had no idea what in particular we should do when we got there, so we started by following the crowds. Everyone seemed to start down a narrow road running perpendicular to the canal, so we started down it also. Lots of kiosks and shops along both sides as we headed into Burano.  We had actually found the few little souvenirs we wanted by the time we had headed back just 15 minutes or so. But I’m glad we kept going a bit further. There we encountered a small canal and along it the truly beautifully painted buildings. (That’s where I took the picture shown just above.) So if you can handle the walking, be sure to go back a little ways and do some exploring. There may be even more to see, I’m not sure, but that was as far as we made it.

The entrance to the Arsenal

The fanciest ship in the museum

Another place we got to see a bit of was the Arsenal, an important part of Venetian history. As far as  I know tourists aren’t allowed into the Arsenal itself, but we spent some time in the small, but packed, museum of Venetian Naval History that is right outside the Arsenal. Well worth the time, in my opinion.

Searching for More Information

As I usually do when planning such trips, I did lots of research. Even when I got home I was continuing to search for information for the next time I get to visit Venice.  Along the way I found several informative websites, but one of the most comprehensive ones I ran across was Venice for Visitors. I especially liked their suggestion that to really see the city, a visitor should try to spend a week there – not this time, but maybe next time!

Happy traveling!

Cathy

Update on Global Entry

I love to travel, I really do! And I want to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. But, when I have to fly somewhere, the journey becomes more of an endurance than an enjoyment. I’m not afraid of flying, I just don’t particularly enjoy it. The seats are getting smaller and closer together. And then there’s the “fun” of the airports themselves – with the long walks between terminals (give me Atlanta over Charlotte or Philadelphia any day!) And let’s not forget the ongoing security headaches.

Airport Security

If, like me, you are old enough to remember the ease of pre-9/11 flying, these headaches feel all the more real (and painful!) While we all have some understanding of the importance of the increased airport security, it is easy to long for the “good old days” of flying when all of this didn’t take so long or feel so intrusive.

Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

Since I was renewing my passport last January, I decided it was a good time to apply for one of the programs designed to reduce some of the hassles of flying.  Since I generally fly overseas at least once a year, it wasn’t difficult to spend an extra $15 for the more encompassing Global Entry than the solely domestic TSA PreCheck ($100 for 5 years versus $85).

In a previous post, Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart, I spoke a little about my decision and the process of applying for Global Entry. At that point I had obtained my “Known Traveler Number” but I had only had a chance to use the TSA PreCheck portion of it.

But now that I’ve made my first overseas trip since getting Global Entry, I just have to share! I had been under the impression that having Global Entry would save me some time reentering the country when I flew. Oh my, it was better than I had expected.

First Experience with Global Entry

Four of us from our group were traveling back to the states together through Philadelphia – two of us had Global Entry and two did not, so we split up to go through the various security portions. The two without Global Entry got in the back of a very long line and the other two of us walked up to the section with several kiosks and very few people. Within minutes we had processed through those and were on our way to the Baggage Claim section to await our luggage. More than twenty minutes passed before the other two caught up with us there.  I was already happy with my decision to spend the time and money on Global Entry, and we weren’t even done yet.

Full Disclosure: Most of the time we saved going through the kiosks instead of the longer line was then spent waiting for the bags we had chosen to check. Had we just had carry-ons that would have been a true time savings. But the real gain for me was the ability to sit and wait on the bags, rather than standing in the crowded lines – a painful experience for me with my injured knee.

With luggage in hand we headed to the next lines, again splitting between those with and those without the special privileges. The lines there were closer in length, so we probably only saved 5 minutes or so going through the passport check portion.

From there we had to return our luggage to American Airlines for our next flight, and our special status didn’t save us anything – though again, by then the lines were moving quickly, and none of us waited long to get through that portion.

TSA Pre-Check Perks

But then it was time to pass back through security – this time the lines split being TSA PreCheck and non-PreCheck. Two of us were off to the PreCheck line. At first glance the PreCheck line actually seemed longer than the other one, but when we turned the corner we discovered that the non-PreCheck line was significantly longer. This time we probably saved an additional five – ten minutes, possibly more.

To say nothing of feeling like I’m being treated like a real human being when I go through the PreCheck line – the shoes and the sweater stay on, and the CPAP machine and liquids stay in their bags.  Small, but important improvements to my security line experiences! (And since Europeans don’t make anyone take their shoes off going through security – I actually traveled both directions on this trip without that hassle – what can I say, sometimes it’s the little things in life!)

All told I probably saved a half hour or more on my first international trip with the Global Entry perks. And while that may not be a huge time savings for some people, the fact that I was traveling with an injured knee made me appreciate every minute I wasn’t standing in a line.

Luggage

One last comment on this recent trip. Of the six of us in our group, five had been on numerous cruises, and one was a first timer. Amongst us we had five carry-on size suitcases and one much larger suitcase (want to guess which member of the group that belonged to?). As we dragged our luggage through Venetian streets and across canals, both before and after the cruise, and on and off buses and water buses, we were glad that no one had brought two suitcases, and that our bags were generally small.

Carry-On versus Checked

I had planned to bring my bag to Europe as a carry-on, and then check it on the way home. That is my preferred method for international travels – since it ensures my luggage joins me on my trip, but makes things a little easier on the way home. I don’t buy alot of souvenirs (see examples from two of the cities I visited) but I buy enough that it’s nice to be able to expand the bag a bit to accommodate them. On this last trip, American Airlines had other ideas – instead of gate checking my bag on my second small plane of the day, they insisted on checking my luggage all the way to my final destination – convenient – until my bag didn’t show up with everyone else’s in Venice. (It finally did arrive, but not until all the others had long been there, and my stress had risen more than it should have.)

What do you like most and least about flying?

Happy traveling!

Cathy

Upcoming Visit to Venice

Venice, Again!

A View of Venice

Have you had the privilege of visiting Venice before? There is no shortage of amazing places in Italy to visit, of course! But if I had to pick one of my favorite cities, Venice would appear high on my list (maybe even the highest!). This trip will include my third and fourth visits to Venice (since we’ll spend a couple of days before and after our upcoming cruise). Even so, it’s hard to believe I’ll be back in Venice soon!

Another View of a Venetian Canal

Note: With one exception, all the pictures in today’s blog are from my first trip to Venice. I have some from the second one – but where they have disappeared to, that is the question! The only picture that’s not from that trip is the public domain picture of the equestrian monument. My photos of the monument are among the missing photographs!

View of the Grand Canal

Like so many other places in the world, there is really too much to see and do, even with several days available at a time. So once again, we will follow my uncle’s advice and “Leave something for the next time.” I’m pretty sure if I visited Venice as many times as I’ve visited Washington, D.C., I would still not be lacking for things to do in either place!

The Grand Canal

My favorite part of the city has to be the water everywhere – small canals that seem to appear at every turn – and, of course, the Grand Canal. And like so many of the other cities I’ve visited, Venice makes it easy and relatively inexpensive to buy a one or two day pass for the public transportation (in this case, the water buses), so I like to make traveling along the Grand Canal a LARGE part of my visits there!

Traffic on the Grand Canal

A Palace along the Grand Canal

The first time I visited Venice I found a small book, Grand Canal: A History of Venice in one of the local bookstores. I had fun learning the history of the many, many palaces that line the Grand Canal, both before and after seeing them.

And then it was fun to incorporate some of their stories into my third da Vinci novel, Leonardo: To Mantua and Beyond – when Leonardo visits Venice to give the Venetians advice in his role as a military advisor.

Venice Must Sees

St Mark’s Basilica

Doge’s Palace

Of course, every tourist in Venice has to see St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. I did the tour of the palace the first time I was there and saw the inside of the church the second time.  While the first timers with me this time around see those I may cruise up and down the Grand Canal a few times!

Equestrian Monuments

Equestrian Monument of Bartolomeo Colleoni

As a huge da Vinci fan I was surprised that it took me until my second trip to Venice to go see the statue that his mentor, Andrea del Verrocchio, had designed – the equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni. It’s kind of in an out of the way place in the city, and our tour guide had never heard of it before I asked him about it, but for me, at least, it was worth the detour. Verrocchio had started working on the designs for the monument while he and Leonardo were both in Florence. Watching (and possibly helping, before Verrocchio moved his work to Venice) undoubtedly influenced Leonardo’s later work on his own equestrian statue in Milan (for the Duke’s father, Francesco Sforza).

Wandering through Venice

The Rialto Bridge at Night

Street Sign in Venice for St. Mark’s Basilica

Even having visited Venice twice already, I still like to continue my research of what we want to see and do while we’re there. I found several blogs (here’s a great source of information) about visiting the city, with lots of good suggestions. I think my favorite suggestion was to just wander around and “get lost.” It’s tough to get truly lost, because on the corners of many, many buildings you will find signs pointing in the direction of St. Mark’s and/or the Rialto Bridge (the other “must see” for any Venetian tourist). So you can always find your way to one or both of those. And since the city itself is strictly off-limits to cars, wandering through the streets and alleys can be lots of fun!

Flexible Plans

Another View of Venice

We’re still compiling our list for priorities for this trip, and even when it’s finished, we’ll be sure to be flexible. I’m a firm believer in having “flexible plans” when I travel. I find it generally keeps the stress way down!

If we can work it in, I would love to go to where they make Murano glass, and to go to the Jewish ghetto (which sadly has the distinction of being the first Jewish ghetto in Europe). But if we don’t make it to either or both of those, I’ll have something to aim for on the NEXT trip to Venice!

Happy traveling!

Cathy

I had to share just a few more of my favorite Venice pictures:

Enjoying the Journey – In spite of the D.C. Metro Management

I have traveled alone, with friends, with family, and with students. Traveling to D.C. is something I have enjoyed often with one or more of those groups, even though I live almost 700 miles away. And on almost every of my sixteen or more trips (spread over the last fourteen years) I have taken the D.C. metro in and around the city.

Until this last trip (April 2017), our metro experience had been pretty flawless. Park at the end of the Orange line (since our friends live closest to that), buy our tickets or our passes at the machines at the station, and take the subway into the city. (I’ll use the terms “metro,” “subway,” and “train” interchangeably here, since, at least in these contexts, they are fairly synonymous!)

The Library of Congress

But the metro took on a whole new meaning of difficulty on the second day of our recent trip. On Day 1 (a Friday), things were about like I expected them to be. The friends we were staying with are now about 15 minutes closer to the end of the Silver line than the Orange, so we parked at the parking garage at Wiehle-Reston East and took the Silver train straight to the Capitol South station. Easy, direct, relatively fast – pretty much what I expect when I take the subway in D.C. The ride in took us about an hour, but it was an easy hour.

The girls walking through the tunnel on the way between Library of Congress buildings.

Fortunately, when we were exiting the subway, we noticed the signs in the Capitol South Station that spoke of a closure on Saturday and Sunday. At first, we thought it was only that station that would be closed. And since we weren’t planning to be in that portion of the city on our next two days we originally thought the closure wouldn’t affect us. Boy, were we wrong.

Fortunately, Friday evening/Saturday morning we studied the “Disruptions” portion of the “DC Metro transit” app (an app that no one should be traveling the DC subway without!). So, with the forewarning of the signs on Friday and the app on Saturday morning, we were at least prepared for some of the craziness that Saturday’s metro mess brought us. (Though there was no way we could have been prepared for all that awaited us on that crazy day!)

On Saturday, we drove back to the end of the Silver line. As we boarded we realized that the announcements about the various closures for the day were catching lots of the other riders off guard and we were glad that we had at least known some things were going to be amiss.

When we boarded the Silver train we already knew that we could only go as far at the Ballston-MU stop. Why there, you might ask? Because the Metro powers-to-be had decided to close the Silver line past there for the weekend. (Reportedly for repairs, though for the life of me I don’t know how or why they could be repairing as many different places as were closed that weekend.) And, the next section we were on was the same one we would have been on had we been able to stay on a Silver train – so I’m still not quite sure what they were repairing that entailed that first change. (The trains themselves?)

So off we went at the Ballston MU stop to transfer to the Orange line. No problem, the Orange line could take us to where we wanted to go. Well, normally, yes. But that day the Blue and Orange lines were only going as far as Foggy Bottom. More repairs? Apparently.

Inside a Metro Station

Inside another Metro Station

But have no fear, the Metro folks had it well in hand – they were providing free shuttle buses from Foggy Bottom to Federal Triangle. (Too bad for those who just wanted to go to one of the several stops in between!). So, after standing in the sun for 15 minutes or so, we were crowded onto a shuttle bus to stand for the majority of the 45-minute drive to the Federal Triangle stop. (Later we determined there were less than two miles of roads between those two locations. But between traffic and road closures for that day’s protest march, those two miles took a full 45 minutes to drive.  (Had I been up to the walk, we could have hiked between the two spots quicker than that; but alas, not on this trip.)

The shuttle bus driver didn’t seem particularly keen on getting us the entire way to the Federal Triangle stop (more construction issues?) but seemed to just drop us off when we were in the vicinity. In our case, it was fine, because we had decided not to get back on the subway, but rather to just walk the few blocks to the Reagan building where we had decided to lunch in the Food Court. But for any who were planning to get back on the subway at Federal Triangle, they were left to figure out where they were and which direction the subway station was from where they had been dropped off. (So much for a station to station shuttle!)

Leonardo’s portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci – the main reason I take students to the Art Museum!

After enjoying our overpriced meals in the Reagan building (we miss the food court in the Old Post Office building), we went off to enjoy the afternoon plans. (Well, there was a delay in going to see the White House that involved a run in with the weekend’s protest group, but that’s a story for another day.) Suffice it to say that we enjoyed the remainder of our afternoon – at the National Archives and the National Museum of Art. We had originally considered going back up the block to the Natural History Museum, but our travels into the city had eaten up so much of the day, that when we exited the art museum at closing time, we were ready to start our journey back out of the city – though not particularly anxious for what the experience would hold for us.

We walked up 7th Street to the Archives Station. From there it was a short hop down to the L’Enfant Plaza Station where we would normally have been able to hop on a Silver train for the ride back out of the city. But, of course, it wasn’t so easy on Saturday. We took an Orange train to the Federal Triangle stop, where we had to go back up to the mass of Shuttle Buses that were waiting to take us back to Foggy Bottom. The wait for a bus wasn’t particularly long this time, there were actually a large number of them lining up by the street. The problem was that they were once again crowded and we were looking at another long ride of standing up. When we realized that, we stepped off enough from the line to let others on who could handle the standing go ahead of us. Once that bus was full, a gentleman graciously let us back in line, thus ensuring our ability to sit this time around.

We were thankful for the seats for that portion of the trip, because when we got back to Foggy Bottom we were forced to stand again, this time while we waited for an Orange train that was in no hurry to get there. And of course, we could only take the Orange line back to Ballston-MU, where we got to stand yet again for another lengthy wait. (I am fairly certain that wait was almost 45 minutes.) When the Silver train came at last there was actually cheering in the station, something I’ve never heard during any of my countless trips on the subway.

I do like the ceilings in some of the underground metro stations.

By the time we finally reached the end of the Silver line, we had been traveling back for almost three hours (yes, that would be almost three times as long as the longer trips in and out had taken us the day before). And since most of the subway stations have a deplorable lack of benches, way too much of the time traveling to and from downtown D.C. had involved way too much standing. (A bigger problem for my injured knee than the walking we had known we would be doing.)

Late that night we started working out details for how Sunday was going to look. Thanks to my daughter Maria, we made a couple of key changes to our transportation plans. (Because, yes, the subway issues from Saturday were all still prepared to plague us on Sunday.)

The first change we made was the decision to make the drive to the end of the Orange line – Vienna/Fairfax instead of going to the closer Silver line. The extra drive added about 15 minutes to our drive time and another $5.00 to our toll fees, but it saved us from having to make what had been the longest of our transfers the day before (from the Silver to the Orange).

Union Station

Union Station

The next change we made was to our route, so that we could skip the bus transfer portion. (The least favorite part of the previous day for most of our group.) It made for significantly more subway changes, but overall it still seemed easier! We took the Orange Line to Rosslyn, where we picked up the Blue line. Two stops later we were changing to the Yellow Line at Pentagon. We took the Yellow line three stops to Gallery Place where we picked up the Red line for our last leg – two stops to Union Station. (Had we made the same trip on Friday, we could have taken the Silver line to the Red line, and done all that with one transfer!) But we still managed all that in an hour and a half instead of almost three hours!

Hard to get lost on the Mall – which way to the Washington Monument?

After lunch at the Union Station Food Court (much cheaper than the previous day’s) we made our way to the Mall and spent a few hours touring the monuments and memorials there. By 4:30 we were ready to face the Metro yet again. We were only about half a mile from the Smithsonian Station, so we made our way there. Had the subway system been fully operational we could have gotten on the Orange or Silver line there and traveled straight to the end of either – in 45 minutes or so.

But again, not this weekend, that was not the case. Instead we had to get on the Orange line heading away from our destination. Then we were reversing our earlier route: Yellow line from L’Enfant Plaza to Pentagon, Blue line to Rosslyn, and then the Orange line back to Vienna. And, at an hour and a half, while the the trip was probably twice as long as it should have been, it was still barely half of what a similar route had taken us the day before.

So, all in all, we can certainly say that we survived the madness of the Metro. But I’m not sure how many of the city’s first time visitors will be in any hurry to return. While I fully understand the powers-that-be not wanting to cause this much disruption on work days,  do they risk driving away significant numbers of tourists (and tourist dollars) in the process?

Choosing a Good Carry-On Bag

In the last post I talked about the importance of packing light and promised to talk more about my journey to find a good carry-on. So, here we go with my latest suitcase search!

Carry-On Luggage vs. Checked Bags

In the last decade or so of travel, the luggage I use has become more and more important to me. With the growing hassle of checking bags – the risk of having a bag lost, the wait time at the baggage claim area, and generally higher cost (though not on Frontier Airlines I recently discovered), I almost never check a bag anymore.

I occasionally make an exception on the way home from a trip, if I won’t be paying for it (i.e. international flights) and when a delay in getting the bag won’t be so detrimental. (Though even then a carry-on makes me the happiest.)

One of "Horsey's Friends" preparing for a trip.

This inexpensive (read CHEAP) bag held up for very few trips!

On a recent flight home from Denver, I had considered checking my bag so I wouldn’t have to mess with it on the plane. But when I got to the airport, there were literally 100 or more people in line at the counter, with two agents to check them all in. There was no way I was standing in that line! I was glad to have the option to just carry it on. (I had chosen to purchase Frontier’s “The Works” package when I had made my reservations – giving me a better seat option, and the ability to do a carry-on suitcase and/or a checked bag – all for a price I was happy with.)

So, I walked by the insane line and made my way straight to security. I had downloaded my boarding pass onto my phone the night before when I checked in, and had chosen to add the carry-on option, “just in case” I didn’t have the time to check my bag (or in this case, the desire to check it!)

Choosing a Good Carry-On

Speaking of suitcases, with all my travels, I’ve gone through several in the last few years. My first splurge on a carry-on was when I bought an American Tourister over ten years ago – and used it until it was falling apart. It was a great bag, the first carry-on I had spent any significant money on (probably $100 at the time). Had I been able to find another bag just like it, my search for another suitcase would have ended right there.

Unfortunately, the store I bought it in was no longer selling luggage, and I’ve never been able to find the same bag. (And my research into luggage has shown me that with companies like American Tourister, not all their bags are created equal, so I’ve not convinced myself to purchase another one of theirs.)

As my search for a replacement bag continued, I decided a couple of years ago to try a Rick Steves bag. I went with the Rolling Backpack – thinking the ability to wheel it or carry it might be worth trying. I took the bag on my second trip to Italy, and did use it as a backpack occasionally as we traveled from city to city. But after using it on several trips, I decided I didn’t really care for the bag – I had difficulty putting something on top it (a totebag or my CPAP bag – both continually tried to slip off). So when I had the chance to pass it off to one of my children, I willingly gave up that bag and moved on to another attempt.

View from the cruise ship in Alaska

One of my most recent trips with my SeatKase was a cruise to Alaska last summer.

My next attempt at a good, useful carry-on bag was the SeatKase. Like the Rick Steves’ bag, the SeatKase is small enough to be used on international flights (not all carry-on bags are). And I liked the idea that you can actually sit on the SeatKase without messing up the suitcase or having it roll away from you; an option that I have used on several trips. (It’s amazing how often there are not enough seats in international airports, or how long one has to wait in line at some cruise check-ins.) So, that feature, which was the primary reason I had bought that particular bag, is really nice. However, the main downside to the SeatKase is the lack of a handle on the top of the bag. While I understand the design issues a top handle might cause, the lack of a handle there is a constant headache. As soon as I get a good replacement, this bag will be the next one to be passed on to a child or someone else in need of a bag.

Meanwhile my husband has purchased an eBag carry-on, the Mother Lode 21” Wheeled Duffle. He has been very happy with it on numerous international trips in the last year and I almost got myself one of those. But I had really hoped to go back to a bag with four wheels, so I kept looking. (My American Tourister bag had four wheels, but the Rick Steves and the SeatKase bags each only had two.)

View of Alaska

Pack light so you can enjoy your travels more!

During my search I was very impressed with what I read about the Eagle Creek line. They have a great, life-time guarantee and their prices are more reasonable than the highest rated brands.

I liked the looks of their Eagle Creek Expanse Awd International Carry-on. Everything about it sounded great. When it came in, I was definitely impressed with its quality. I can see how they can afford to give a lifetime guarantee. But, when all was said and done I made the decision to send it back. I want to pack light. However, this bag is just a bit too small. I was able to pack 4 days worth of clothes into it, but that left NO extra room. I certainly could make use of it several times a year for my long weekend trips. But I don’t see being able to use it for my international trips.

Fortunately, while I was ordering the Eagle Creek my husband was ending up with a second eBag Mother Lode. The airlines managed to snap the wheel off his almost brand new bag and had to repair it. But, with a trip coming up too quickly, he had to order a second bag, rather than wait for the damaged one to be returned.

All that turned out to be providential, since the repaired bag showed up about the same time as the Eagle Creek bag. So, when all is said and done, I am now the proud owner of a gently used eBag Mother Lode. I look forward to taking it on many, many trips, starting with my trip to Washington, D.C. this past weekend. But on loading the car Thursday morning I was saddened to discover that there is no side handle on this bag. While that is not as big a pain as not having a handle on the top – it does make me wonder if my search for my new favorite carry-on is actually over, or just delayed for the time being.

Any thoughts on a reasonably priced, quality carry-on that I’ve missed are greatly appreciated.

In the meantime – happy traveling!

Cathy

Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart

Travel Fun

There are plenty of blogs out there already offering travel tips (I know, I’ve read many of them), so I hesitated to add another one to the collection.  But since each travel blogger offers hints from their own experiences and perspectives, it occurs to me that I might have a few tips to offer as well.

As my last couple of blog posts mentioned (Travel, Travel and More Travel on here and “Traveling along the Lewis & Clark Trail” on my other website), I am a big fan of traveling. It’s been something I’ve been doing for pretty much my entire life.

Dan, Sonia, and I on our horse and carriage ride across Florence, Italy.

Okay, so we don’t get to travel THIS way very often.

I have ridden as a passenger (my favorite), I have driven (I can manage that too – as my 4200 miles in February and March of this year can attest), I have flown (something I endure for the sake of who or what I am flying to), I’ve occasionally traveled by train (I would be happy to do more of that), and I have traveled by boat (mostly on cruise ships – by far my favorite way to travel!).

I’ve traveled alone, I’ve traveled with one or more friends, and I’ve traveled the most with family. I actually enjoy any or all of those options. Here I will share my tips based on my experiences on those various types of travels. Maybe one or more of them will be helpful to you.

Enjoying Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

When I got to the security area, I happily made my way to the somewhat shorter line for TSA PreCheck. This was my second flight since receiving my “Known Traveler” number the previous month. At $100 for 5 years, my Global Entry application is one of the best travel purchases I’ve made in a long time! It guarantees me TSA Pre on all my domestic flights for the next five years, and should make coming back into the country from my international flights easier. (I won’t get to test that portion until June.) But I do have to say getting to leave my shoes on, not having to take any liquids out, and not having my CPAP machine taken apart (all of which happened when I flew in January without TSA Pre), is amazing! I had experienced the TSA Pre options a few times when traveling with my husband, but to now have it guaranteed makes me very, very happy!

A church bell tower in Italy.

From my first trip to Italy. I hope to make good use of my Global Entry on more international trips.

From what I’ve heard, getting just the TSA PreCheck is less complicated. (My sister was able to do it while stuck in the Charlotte airport on one of her trips, and I’ve seen walk-in offices in several other airports I’ve traveled through.) Whereas the on-line application for Global Entry probably took an hour, then I waited several weeks to hear back from them about setting up my interview. Which is where the fun really began – trying to find an appointment time in a place I could easily get to – even though I live in Northern Alabama, I ended up with an appointment the following month in Houston, Texas. Fortunately I was traveling to Austin and could work in an appointment on my way home from there. Otherwise, I might have been looking at months before I could get an appointment for my 5-minute interview.

The Usefulness of Packing Cubes

My recent trip to Denver was for ten days and I easily packed in my small carry-on suitcase. Since my goal is to always fit in a carry-on, regardless of the length of the trip, that wasn’t particularly unexpected. The real surprise was coming home – my sister had given me a pair of jeans, five tops, and two pairs of shoes – all of which I managed to add to my carry-on along with everything I had brought! That was a real feeling of success. The three packing cubes I had originally packed in were much fuller, of course, but I managed to squeeze it all in.

My 3 Youngest World Travelers

My 3 Youngest World Travelers

Packing cubes have become a big part of my packing/traveling strategy. One of my sons and his wife introduced us to them almost seven years ago – and we have become quite fans, with eBags being our favorite brand. Most carry-on suitcases can easily hold a set of the packing cubes – a large, a medium, and a small cube, though I had actually used one large and two medium cubes on this last trip.

Packing Light

Beautiful sunset

Even on our 15 day cruise (where I saw this beautiful sunset) I only took my carry-on.

At this point I had planned to talk about the importance of choosing the right carry-ons, but I’m still in the process of making the decision on my next carry-on purchase, so that portion of the post will have to wait a week or two.

One of the reasons my carry-on is so important to me is that I take it with me everywhere! It doesn’t matter if I’m traveling for an extended weekend or a two-week vacation, I pack in a carry-on. In fact, I no longer own a large suitcase (the last one I owned went home with one of my children when they were moving several years ago – and I haven’t missed it since).

I read on at least one other blog the idea of never packing more than a week’s worth of clothes, regardless of how long the trip is.  That pretty much works for me – in fact I’ve been known to pack less than a week’s worth of clothes. No matter where I’ve traveled, I’ve had the ability to wash clothes – often in a bathroom sink or occasionally in a laundromat. (On our 15-day cruise I even sent laundry out to be washed a couple of times – it still cost me less than checking a bag one direction would have cost me.)

My Top Travel Tips

  1. If you want to make traveling easier, and not spend a ton of money, my first suggestion is to buy some packing cubes. There are lots of sizes, colors, and brands to choose from. If you haven’t tried them yet, I can just about guarantee that they will make your packing easier. They make it easier to be organized, and to fit more in.  And if your suitcase gets searched going through security, you will be very thankful! I was going through security last summer with a friend who hadn’t flown in awhile. Her bag got pulled because she had forgotten about the “three-ounce” limit for liquids. While the TSA agent pawed through the suitcase looking for the contraband shampoo, I cringed watching her clothes going everywhere. I hope before she flies again, she adds packing cubes to her packing list!
  2. If you’re planning to do much flying, seriously consider signing up for the “TSA Pre” program or the Global Entry.  There’s only a $15 difference between the two ($85 versus $100, each for 5 years). Traveling is much simpler with either of these!
  3. Invest in a good carry-on if you don’t have one. My youngest traveled to school in Boston last fall in a vehicle. She was effectively moving there, so she only took a large suitcase. But this spring she will be traveling home for a wedding. It was cheaper for us to buy her a cheap carry-on for the trip than to pay for her to check the large bag both ways. (Of course, since she should be traveling more in the future, it was also worth getting her a not-so-cheap one.) And again, more on that investment in a future post.
  4. And, last but not least, pack light! On dozens of trips across the country and across the world I have never regretted bringing too little – though I have regretted bring too much on a couple of occasions! I have seldom forgotten something that I either couldn’t live without, or could purchase somewhere away from home.

Happy traveling!

Cathy

Travel, Travel, and More Travel

Sometimes I forget that everyone doesn’t have the opportunity (or desire) to travel as much as I do. It’s been such a part of my life for so long, that it seems normal. Sort of like having a big family – it’s what my life looks like, and I seldom think of it as unusual, until someone else points it out.

Now granted, travel, at home or abroad, is certainly not an absolute requirement  for fulfillment in one’s life.  But for me, it is hard to imagine life without traveling – a lot of traveling, in fact.

Oftentimes it’s fear of the unknown that keeps people from choosing to travel, to try something different. I am fortunate to have grown up in a family that made the choice to travel, and to travel often. And since it was a family that “thought outside the box” even before people were talking about such a thing, our travels were often unusual, and yet relatively inexpensive, at least as much as traveling with a family can be.

Early Travels

Since I feel like I was born with gypsy blood, I don’t remember my earliest travels: I was born in the Panama Canal Zone when my father was stationed there the first time. Apparently my mother and I stopped in Cuba on our way back to the states at the end of that tour (this being long before our Cuban Crisis and subsequent Cuban Embargo).

Over the next five years or so we traveled across the United States, living in California, North Carolina, and Michigan, before returning to the Canal Zone. But my earliest memories of travel come from our time in Panama that second time, including flying with my father out to the San Blas Islands.

But until that point, our travels were not necessarily unique for families with a parent in the military. (Well, maybe the flights to the San Blas were unusual.) But the real travel fun began when my father was reassigned to a base in Massachusetts. What did most people do in that situation? They packed up their families and flew back to the states. Not us. My father ordered a Land Rover from England and purchased a kit from somewhere to build a tent trailer. And remember, this was in the mid-60s,  before the internet made such things at least a bit simpler.

When the time came, the six of us (Dad, Mom, and four kids from a nine-month-old to me, the nine-year-old) drove and camped our way through Central America and Mexico, and then up the east coast of the United States to Massachusetts. I wrote my first (of many) travel journals (Stars Over Central America) during that trip.

Since I was nine-years-old and missing six weeks of school for the adventure, my assignment was to track our travels, including purchases we made, places we stayed, and even the seemingly-never-ending flat tires that plagued us for much of the trip.  And remember, this was in the mid-60s, before cell phones.

A few years later, when my Dad was about to be sent to Vietnam, we drove from Massachusetts to Michigan, via Alabama. There was family to be visited in Alabama, and so we stopped for a visit “on the way.” (As my good friend Dee and I like to say, we can make just about anything on the way on a road trip.)

Road Trips

As a parent, my lengthy road trips have continued. We made trips up and down the east coast, and from Texas to Montana and back, in a converted 15-passenger van. (We maxed out at 13 people in that van.) After more than 200,000 miles on that vehicle, we traded down to an 8-passenger minivan. We broke that one in on a 7,000 mile trip along the Lewis and Clark Trail. (There were a mere 7 of us on that trip.)

The Lewis and Clark trip was the only really big trip in the 8-passenger van, but we still managed to put more than 200,000 miles on that van as well.

I’ve traveled with friends as well as with family. My good friend Dee and I have made several trips to Jamestown and D.C. (each about 700 miles from our homes in northern Alabama), as well as many other places – sometimes for teachers’ workshops, sometimes just for fun!

And in between those longer trips, there were the numerous shorter trips for soccer, football or lacrosse games and tournaments, and the countless trips to Montgomery (at least twice a year for Youth in Government events).  And so that list goes.

Suffice it to say, I like road trips!

Flying

Flying is actually one of my least favorite ways to travel, though I’m hoping my recent acceptance into the Global Entry program (which includes TSA Pre on every domestic flight!), makes traveling by plane a little less painful. (I’ve enjoyed the TSA Pre benefit twice so far -and am loving it!)

But in spite of not absolutely loving to fly, it is often the best way to get where I’m wanting to go.  In addition to countless domestic trips from Alabama to one side of the country or the other, in the last decade I’ve managed to fly to Panama,  to and from Germany several times, to Italy and Albania twice each, once to Turkey, and last summer to Hungary for the start of our first European River Cruise. (I’m definitely holding out hope that we will get to do that again!)

Cruises

Cruising has quickly become one of my favorite ways to travel/vacation.  My  sisters and I took our first cruise together to Alaska in 2010. Since then I’ve managed to cruise seven additional times (with two more scheduled for later this year). So far our cruises have been primarily with various family members, though the most recent one was a group of our college buddies. My shortest cruise to date was the 4-day cruise I took to the Bahamas and the longest was the 15-day cruise we took through the Panama Canal.  So, suffice it to say, I also like cruises!

The Pleasures of Travel

For me, travel brings lots of pleasure: The pleasure of being with family and/or friends; the pleasure of being somewhere new (or somewhere again!); the pleasure of seeing history up close and personal.

As a writer, traveling keeps me in the midst of new ideas and new material.  Since history is everywhere, I am constantly bombarded with new things I want to learn more about, in order to write about.

Volcano at Night

Volcano we saw in Hawaii

But it isn’t just the history that excites me. The whale we watched in Mexico, the volcano we viewed in Hawaii, and the sunsets we saw in Alaska, excite me just as much. In fact, high on my “still to do” list is a visit to the Galapagos Islands – a trip that is much more about the animals there than its history. (Though I did learn it had a fascinating history when I was doing some research a few years back.)

Travel and Retirement

The year before I retired I got a lot of questions about what I was planning to do with myself when I was no longer running my business (a homeschool resource center I had owned for almost fourteen years). I always had the same answer, “Travel more and write more.” For those that knew me at all (and knew even a portion of what I described above), that answer often stumped them. Since I was already doing quite a bit of both, how was I going to do more?

Well, I’m less than four months into my first year of retirement, and I would say I’m off to a good start – I’ve flown to North Carolina and Colorado (on two different trips). I’ve also driven to North Carolina two other times, and taken a road trip to Texas. My road trips in the first three months of the year totaled more than 4,000 miles behind the wheel.

If all goes well, I’ll be heading back to Washington D.C. for a few days at the end of this month (another road trip) and then I’ll be heading back overseas in about six weeks (for the next cruise on the schedule). That will just about wrap up the first half of my first retirement year (with an average of one trip per month).  And plans for the second half of the year are still a work in progress!

As of a couple of years ago, I have finally visited all 50 states (with Alaska and Hawaii being the last two), and I’ve lived in or visited at least 28 countries. When I filled out my  Global Entry application at the beginning of 2017 I had to indicate how many countries I had visited in the last five years, not counting the U.S., Canada, or Mexico. By my count I had been in 14 other countries during that time period (cruising definitely helps that number, though I had flown in or out of almost half of those!).

God willing, I still have many trips to do in the years ahead – trips to learn on, and to share with family and friends. There are so many amazing things to see and do in this big, wide world of ours – I hope I manage to marvel at even a small percentage of it.

In one of the next couple of blog posts I will share some of the travel tips I have gleaned from years and miles of traveling the country and the world, with and without children.

Happy traveling!

Cathy

 

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