“The Earth laughs in flowers.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Tucked deeply in Williamsburg, Virginia’s farm land lies a place where the Earth is laughing; Sweethaven Lavender Farm.
Amid Virginia’s phased re-opening from the 2020 Pandemic, my Husband and I ventured to Williamsburg during a camping trip for supplies, lunch, and to enjoy all things colonial that Williamsburg has to offer–even if it was within social distancing terms. From friends, I knew that Sweethaven was in Williamsburg so on this day, we set the GPS to work and followed it into the country to see if we could get a glimpse. I was delighted by the farm’s charm, the scent of the lavender wafting through the humid June breeze, and the delightful sounds of the industrious Bumble bees as they went about their work.
The prominent public building on the property is the Mercantile, a white barnlike structure that conjures visions of an Amish barn. Inside, are lavender products of every sort and experts to answer questions. Outside though, as is the case with nearly every farm, is where the magic was happening.
Just outside the Mercantile there is a gated garden with flower boxes filled to bursting with flower lover delights. Two of my favorite flowers giggled there, tickled by the passing breeze! A rainbow of button Zinnia where just starting to burst open, tempting Bumble Bees with their showy colors followed close behind by my zoom lens. Swaying in the breeze at the far end of the garden were several beds of sunflowers with their bright faces searching for the sun, ready for their closeups.
As we stepped out of the gated garden area and into the fields of lavender there was a faint fog of deep purple at knee level stretching along the ground in neat rows. The luxurious purple lavender was in full bloom all around us. Other visitors to the farm were bent in half angling for an up close sniff, snapping photos, and collecting bouquets of lavender to take home. Children giggled in the distance, playing together while the grown ups enjoyed a picnic lunch. And, the resident bumble bees were busiest here, totally ignorant of our intruding cameras. They were focused on their task for the day, leaping from one bloom to another, humming and buzzing to each other as they worked. At one point, I put my camera into the fray and captured their song, delighted that they nearly mistook me as a flower as they bustled by.
Enjoy all that the farm has to offer
Only 130 acres and opened to the public in June 2019, Sweethaven is a beautiful, amethyst gem tucked deeply into the emerald Williamsburg farmland. It is a treat for the senses. The farm offers all things lavender including a chance to pick your own bouquet as the lavender blooms in May and June, their own line of organic skincare, and culinary products including pre-made picnic lunches by reservation.
Sweethaven Lavender Festival Days
The Festival Days are how I first learned about Sweethaven initially, seeing ads and knowing several friends that visited the event. The event includes live music, food, local artisans, and the opportunity to learn about the farm and it’s lavender. The event grows from year to year so be sure to watch their website, www.sweethavenlavender.com, for dates, tickets, and other details on their event for 2021.
How to find and visit Sweethaven
I can’t wait for our next visit to the farm! If you’d like to see more, be sure to visit Sweethaven’s website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. If you are in Williamsburg in your travels, Sweethaven is certainly a great place to visit that is outside of the big tourist sites of Colonial Williamsburg and truly a unique experience.
“I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” –George Washington
As a native Virginian and in my humble opinion, Virginia has great State Parks which highlight all of the features that make Virginia a great place to live, work, and play. Virginia has so much to offer. At sea level, we have long stretches of open beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and along the Chesapeake Bay. A few hours away, we have the Blue Ridge Mountains that offer epic views, apples, hiking, mountain climbing, and ample opportunities for checking out local wineries and breweries of all sizes.
As one of the original 13 Colonies, our state is full of history. From Jamestown and the first settlements, Yorktown and the end of the Revolutionary War, to Colonial Williamsburg and all of it’s charms. Our history even extends to the names of our towns that stem from the history brought to the United States from England such as Portsmouth, Suffolk, Isle of Wight, and Norfolk, to name a few.
With our new RV up and running, we have taken it out twice and have fallen in love anew with our State’s parks. Our intention is to explore as many of them in our RV as possible. I hope to bring you along and share our adventures in the parks we visit.
Chippokes Plantation State Park
Just under an hour from home, Chippokes Plantation State Park is one of the closest parks and best known to us of all the parks. When we bought our RV in March, we took it straight to Chippokes for our very first camping trip and despite the Pandemic interrupting our fun, we have restarted our camping adventures at Chippokes again this month. With Chippokes being so close to home, it has been a great spot for us to test our camping ability in our new equipment before venturing too far. My husband has called these our “Shake down” trips.
What is now Chippokes Plantation State Park was founded in 1619 by Captain William Powell, Lieutenant Governor of Jamestown, who lived in Jamestown settlement for 10 years. The property changed hands many times and was willed to the State of Virginia upon the death of it’s last owners in 1967.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Chippokes is noted for it’s continued agricultural production. In fact, it is one of the oldest continuously farmed properties in the Nation and is home to Chippokes Plantation Farm and Forestry Museum.
Situated on the tidal creeks and the banks of the historic James River, Chippokes Plantation State Park has a lot to offer Virginians and our guests from out of state.
Located in Surry, Virginia, and at currently 1,403 acres, the Park offers camping, cabin rentals, a swimming pool, a visitor’s center, trails, a beach, gardens, and a museum. Also offered are costumed interpretations, guided hikes, workshops and ranger-led tours of the historic Jones-Stewart Mansion. An active community park, there are annual festivals, canoe tours, hiking trails, fishing programs, and equestrian facilities.
The Park is easily reached from the Historic Triangle by the Jamestown-Scotland ferry or the James River Bridge. We like it because of it’s close proximity to the Williamsburg area and the abundance of activities in that area.
If you plan to visit the park for the day only, you should be aware that there is a parking fee charged year round at all Virginia State Parks and self-pay parking information is available at the contact stations.
The Chippokes Plantation State Park campground offers two rings of sites. S1 through S18 have blacktop pads, offering water and electric. These are “site specific” sites and require a reservation. Sites S19, S21, S23, S25, and S27 are also site specific but do not have blacktop pads. All other sites are first come, first served, and can be very uneven. The park also offers three yurts by reservation.
The park is quiet, clean, well maintained, and a friendly Camp host has checked on us as we have checked in each time. Park representatives are available and make regular rounds. While we don’t need to use the bath house, we did check them and they are clean and well maintained. Laundry facilities are also available.
Be sure to check the website at email@example.com for additional information regarding fishing, swimming, fires, drone use, camping or cabin reservations, and a list of festivals and events in the park.
The third point of the Historic Triangle, and also along the Colonial Parkway is Colonial Williamsburg. Williamsburg was the Capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780 when it was moved to Richmond. This is where General George Washington assembled the Continental Army in 1781 for the siege of Yorktown. It is also home to the College of William and Mary. The Colonial area and it’s buildings are worth at least a day’s visit with costumed interpretations of life during the time of George Washington. Read more about Colonial Williamsburg at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org
Other attractions of note
Busch Gardens, Williamsburg
Water Country USA, Williamsburg
Sweethaven Lavender Farm, Williamsburg (plan your visit for the lavender bloom in May and June)
Great Wolf Lodge, Williamsburg
Yorktown Battlefield, Yorktown
Yorktown Victory Center, Yorktown
Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que, Williamsburg
And don’t forget to try local breweries and wineries in the area.
Chippokes Plantation State Park is a great home base for campers who would like to be near the Colonial attractions without staying in the hustle and bustle of town and for a much more reasonable cost.
We love the area and plan to be back again and again.
We hope to see you there or in one of the other Virginia State Parks soon!
“People who love to eat are always the best people.” –Julia Child
We love to cook and eat outside when we travel with our RV. For us, it’s a requirement when we’re camping.
This is especially so in the warm summer months since cooking in our RV makes the rig a bit warm, just like cooking in my home kitchen heats up the house. For us, cooking outside is part of the fun. As someone that likes to cook and eat good food, it’s a “challenge accepted” as we started to plan for our most recent adventure into the woods.
One of the most simple recipes that we love and I think is tons of fun over the fire is Nachos. They are easy to make and customize to your taste. Below, I’ve used ground beef for my protein but you can use chicken too if so desired.
My Nacho recipe
One pound lean ground beef; browned until no longer pink and drained
Any Shredded Cheese you wish. We used a sharp white cheddar. TIP: grate your own cheese. Pre-grated cheese has an ingredient called cellulose–or WOOD PULP–to prevent clumping. EWWW! Having a sensitive tummy, I choose to skip that unwanted ingredient and grate all of my own cheese. (No judgement here if you don’t have time to grate your own.)
Toppings of any kind: onions, black beans, green onions (scallions), jalapenos, sour cream, avocado, salsa, etc…
I haven’t purchased the store packets of taco seasonings for years. To take control of the salt and nix all the preservatives, making my own feels like a tiny bit more of the healthy way to go for tacos, nachos, or anything else I’d like to give a spicy kick to. It only takes a little time and when I make a batch, I double or triple the measurements below and store it in an airtight container so I have some ready to go for next time.
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon of each; garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper flakes, and dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons of cumin
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of kosher salt (to your taste)
1 teaspoon of black pepper
I mix mine directly in the container I will store my seasoning in. With all the ingredients in and top on, just give it a shake to combine.
To the ground beef that you’ve browned and drained and depending on how spicy you want your meat to be, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the seasoning mix to the beef (I usually stick to 2 tablespoons so I don’t set our mouths on fire). Also add 1/2 to 3/4 cups of water and a 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa (again, if you choose a spicy salsa, stick to the two tablespoons of seasonings–or not!). Simmer the meat until nearly all of the liquid is cooked off. At this point, you can make tacos with your meat but this time, we used it for nachos!
Assembling the Nachos
We cooked our meat over the fire in a cast iron skillet. When the meat was ready, we scooped it out into a bowl, wiped the pan clean, and started to assemble our nachos. I’ve seen other recipes that are assembled in disposable aluminum casserole containers, which could work as well.
We started with a single layer of chips, covering the bottom of the skillet. We added an even layer of our meat and other ingredients we like in our nachos. This is the creative part so add any ingredients that you love. Since it’s just the two of us, we stopped here. This was a hearty meal for the two of us since my cast iron skillet is BIG! However, for heartier appetites or big families, you can continue to add layers of chips, meat, and toppings to the top of your skillet or if using one, your disposable aluminum pan. Be sure that cheese is your last, or top layer.
Once assembled, cover with aluminum foil and head back to your fire. We used a bit of a direct/indirect heat just to warm the chips and melt the cheese. TIP: as you assemble, try to leave a little room between your last layer of cheese and your aluminum cover so the cheese doesn’t stick to the aluminum.
We topped ours with sour cream but you can use tomatoes, salsa, avocado or guacamole, lettuce, etc… Think of it as a deconstructed taco and go wild!
YUM! A dash of fresh air just makes it all taste even more wonderful.
I’d love to hear what variations you might use for our next trip into the woods!
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” -James Beard
Travel can expand your mind through art, architecture, culture, and the people that you meet. While all of that is worth buying a ticket and packing a bag, I can assure you that your travel memories will be most firmly cemented in your mind around the food you eat. Some of the most spectacular food we have had when traveling has left us wanting more!
Let’s see if I can get your mouth watering! These are my top ten foodie moments from our travels:
Honorable mention-The Spice House, Chicago, Illinois. Find them at http://www.thespicehouse.com. The Spice House is a vibrant, aromatic shop with rubs, salts, extracts, and spices. They have been highlighted in Eating Well, Taste of Home, Food & Wine, bon apptéit, Condê Nast, and Real Simple, to name a few. The Spice House was a food tour discovery for me. While there, they took us into the store and out into a delightful garden at the back of the property. There, we learned from the experts about the different types of cinnamon. Cinnamon is cinnamon, right? OH NO! With my eyes open to different spices and how they can enhance my cooking, I have faithfully ordered from them since 2012 and I love the quality and freshness of their spices.
Vienna, Austria: Schnitzel at Figlmüller. Find them at http://www.figlmueller.at/en/wollzeile/. Recommended to us by our Concierge on our Viking River Ship, we left our tour for the day and tracked down this cozy, traditional restaurant hidden deep in the city. Figlmüller is referred to as the “Home of the Schnitzel” and since 1905, they have been serving expertly crafted Viennese specialties. Genuine Schnitzel is crunchy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside and serve with a warm, vinegar based potato salad. What a treat!
Maine: Naked Lobster Rolls. When in Maine, I try to eat Lobster in any form, as often as possible! My favorite is a Lobster Roll. I recommend the “naked” version (no mayonnaise). Mainers know how to do lobster right!
Rome, Italy: Gelato at the Trevi Fountain, Il Melograno (my favorite was tiramisu). Find them at Piazza di Trevi, 101, 00187 Roma RM, Italy. Gelato in Italy can’t be beat. Eating it at the Trevi Fountain….was a pure joy!
Naples, Italy: Sfogliatella (Lobster Tail Pastry). This lovely morsel is a shell shaped filled Italian pastry. It’s very thin, leaf layers were delightfully crunchy and they held a slightly sweet ricotta filling. This culinary treat was the courtesy of our guide who took us to a very crowded pastry shop and we stood outside and fell in love with this wonderful Italian treat with every bite!
Scotland and England; Sticky Toffee Pudding at St. Andrew’s Golf Course in Scotland & Eaton Mess in Durham, England. I have a sweet tooth. Being a huge fan of the British Baking Show, I was determined to eat all things British that I have seen on the show. The two I had the opportunity to eat on our Scotland/England trip was Sticky Toffee Pudding and Eaton Mess. Equally heavenly, I dream of these two delectable desserts often!
New Orleans, Louisiana: Beignets at Café Du Monde. Find them at http://www.cafedumond.com. If you are ever in New Orleans, you must try the Beignets of Café Du Monde. A NOLA tradition, these heavenly donut-like pastries shouldn’t be missed. They are covered in powered sugar so care should be taken. No matter what you are wearing, you will inevitably and delightfully be covered in sugar. TIP: wear light colors!
Waco, Texas: Lavender Donut Holes, Magnolia Table; Grilled Cheese, Cheddar Box, Gourmet Grilled Cheese Food Truck on the grounds of Magnolia Silos; Brown Butter Ice Cream, Heritage Creamery. There was no shortage of yummy things to eat when we visited Waco. Of course, the main focal point of our trip to Waco was the Magnolia Silos so the wonderful food was a delight.
**BREAKFAST: We started one of our days at Magnolia Table. Find them at http://www.magnolia.com. They only serve my favorite meal of the day. Breakfast. For me, the highlight was the delicate and complex Lemon Lavender Donut Holes. Don’t wrinkle your nose! (I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too). They did not taste of potpourri or soap at all. They are lemon, floral, and sweet all at once. Try them! You won’t be sorry!
**LUNCH: On the campus of Magnolia Silos, you can choose from any number of food trucks for a quick bite to eat. For us, that was the humble Grilled Cheese at the Cheddar Box Food Truck. Find them at http://www.cheddarboxwaco.com.Crunchy and cheesy, it met our expectations of one of our favorite comfort foods and we paired our sandwiches with Iced tea from another food truck, Alabama Sweet Tea, which was served ice cold in a reusable mason jar. Very Texas!
**TREATS: I hope that it goes without saying that the Magnolia property is best known for it’s bakery. Serving cupcakes, cookies, and cinnamon rolls…we wanted them ALL! But also, not to be missed is the small batch, hand made Ice cream at Heritage Creamery that you can find not far away just off the campus of Baylor University. Find them at http://www.heritagecreamery.com. This ice cream is creamy, flavorful, and scrumptious! As an ice cream enthusiast, this is top notch, hand made ice cream that you will fall in love with when you take your first spoonful. You can’t get ice cream like this from a grocery store. We loved it so much, we visited twice while we were in Waco. Heritage Creamery sources their ingredients locally and their flavors reflect the season and ingredients available to them. They have unusual hours so be sure to check them out on line as you plan your trip. Don’t miss it if you have a chance to visit Waco.
Galway, Ireland, Rathbaun Farm: home made Irish Soda Bread, Salad, and Hot tea. Find them at http://www.rathbaunfarm.com. An Irish Sheep Farm, Rathbaun Farm was a chance to see the art of sheep farming in Ireland first hand. It was also a lunch stop. We were served the simplest and most delicious of lunches. It was a damp, rainy day so the fresh, warm Irish Soda Bread and tea were soothing and delicious. We felt welcomed and at home. Proof that a simple meal is often all you need to sooth your soul. Time spent on the farm was a wonderful addition to our trip and we did not go away hungry.
Key West, Florida: Glazed Donuts. Find them at http://www.glazeddonuts.com. Saving the very best for last and speaking of soothing the soul…Glazed Donuts is the Southernmost donut shop that makes fresh delights that this Travel Addict adores. We have been known to plan a trip to Key West around as many visits to this delightful place as possible. “Right in the heart of Old Town Key West, Florida, ” Glazed Donuts “is the donut shop you dreamt of as a kid.” I would say that this adult dreams of it often! Be aware that when they sell out for the day, they make no more for the day. For that reason, we always go early. They are also closed on Mondays so be sure to plan appropriately so you don’t miss out!
So. When you travel, how do you know where the yummy eats might be?
Take a food tour
Think of a food tour as just that, a tour. An excursion of sorts. It can be a fun way to meet people, immerse yourself in the local culinary scene, and give you an idea of great places to go back to eat if your tour is early in your trip.
We took our first food tour in Chicago. Our friends that live outside the city wanted us to have a taste of all things Chicago and this tour was not for the faint of heart! We had deep dish pizza, Rueben sandwiches, chocolates, oils and vinegars, and an introduction to my favorite supplier of spices, The Spice House (if you like freshly ground spices, this is the place! I have bought nearly all of my spices from them-through the mail-since 2012). Thank goodness this was a walking tour!
A few months later, as we planned a trip to Ashville, North Carolina with friends for a long weekend visit to The Biltmore Estate, we decided to try another food tour. In Asheville, we tasted Devils on Horseback, local chocolates and wines, Gourmet popcorn, and Italian main courses. Again, thank goodness for the walking part of the tour!
Our most recent food tour was while visiting Bar Harbor, Maine. This tour included local blueberry soda, gourmet French fries, blueberry and caramel pop corn, lobster rolls, coffee, several Irish pub appetizers, and a vinegar and oil tasting.
A food tour vendor will have relationships with some of the best restaurants and shops in town. We have observed that the food tours have been small businesses supporting each other and it gives you a great community experience. A great food tour will offer some really great food and drinks (some offer adult beverages) mixed with some sight seeing between the biggest food items. We used Trip Advisor to find our food tour in Maine and based on some delicious bites on our tour, we went back to one of the restaurants for dinner later that evening.
If a food tour sounds like fun, I would recommend planning one at the beginning of your trip. Finding a yummy place to eat early on can give you spots to return to for subsequent meals and if you enjoy supporting local businesses when you travel, which I recommend, this is a great way to do just that.
Ask a local
Who better to ask for recommendations on the best food and drink in town than a local? A native will likely steer you to an eatery that is frequented by locals and might be a bit off the beaten path of the tourist mobs.
On more than one occasion, we have eaten where the locals have pointed in Key West, Florida. One specific local was a U.S. Custom’s Agent that had come on board the cruise ship we were getting off of to check our re-entry into the U.S. He lived in Key West and was kind enough to recommend El Sibooney Restaurant on Catherine Street which serves traditional Cuban home cooking. Delish! Thank you to our Custom’s Agent friend!
We’ve never had a local steer us wrong.
Research before you go
Sometimes knowing what the local specialty might be for your destination is a great place to start. When in Rome, right? Trip Advisor, locals, and just simple web searches can point you to good local food or specialties that you might want to try.
One very memorable research that we took advantage of was during the same cruise mentioned earlier that stopped in to Key West. Before getting off of the ship, my husband did a quick search on places to eat in Key West. He found an article that had a list. Of course, the one listed spot that jumped out at him was Glazed Donuts on Eaton Street. OMG!!! If you love a FANTASTIC donut and you’re in Key West or thinking about going that direction, this has to be on your list of places to go. God bless Glazed Donuts! Since that discovery, we have been known to plan a trip to Key West around grabbing a donut (or two) at Glazed Donuts. They ARE that good!
My Husband and I are always afraid that we’ll fall in love with something yummy in our travels that we can never have again. And while that is likely to happen, eating with the locals or trying a regional cuisine has always enhanced our travels, given us great food porn (what we call it when we photograph our food), and given us another experience to remember. Each trip has had it’s own distinct food that has made us story tellers!
“There’s no place like home!” -Dorothy, Wizard of Oz
The thrill of travel includes many components but the two that I love most are JUST GOING and coming home! As much as we love to pack and go, our travels have always made me appreciate the comforts and blessings of home. I think everyone that travels can relate to that, just a little.
We live where the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay converge and there are a lot of names for where we live; Hampton Roads, Tidewater, “The 757”, and sometimes, “The Seven Cities.” “The Seven Cities” of our area include Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth, and Suffolk. When we travel and we’re asked where we’re from, sometimes it’s easiest to say, “Virginia Beach,” because that is usually the local city that most people can identify in our area.
We are a military town, surrounded by every branch of the military and home to Naval Station Norfolk, the headquarters and home port of the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Forces Command. I might’ve been a Marine brat as a kid, but I am born and raised in Norfolk which makes me a Unicorn of sorts! If you’re ever in the area and you have the opportunity to check off, “find a Norfolk Native,” on a scavenger hunt, come find me! Being a native of the area is a badge of honor for me.
We might also have the designation of “Seven Cities,” but there is even more to our area. While I grew up in Norfolk, for the early years of our marriage, my Husband and I have lived in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, finally moving out to the country to enjoy small town living and some wide open spaces in Isle of Wight County, a rural community just outside the “Seven Cities” boundary and just minutes from “town.” When we want to “go for a ride,” we like to jump into the truck and go across the James River by bridge, tunnel, or ferry and explore Williamsburg. We go often. My Husband’s favorite restaurant, Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que, a longtime institution in the area, is nearly always the primary destination.
Our area is a tourist mecca in it’s own right, even if we don’t think of it that way. While we marvel at sunsets and beautiful churches in the spectacular European cities that we visit, we wonder if the people who live there truly appreciate where they live. I’m guessing that they are a lot like us and take their home towns for granted. Tourists come here from all over to spend a week at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront or to explore the nearby “historic triangle” of Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg. We have the joys of the beach and many opportunities to enjoy time on the water along the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, the Chesapeake Bay, and the James and Elizabeth Rivers. Then there is the seafood! I’ve always loved the easy access to fresh seafood including my favorite crab boil for my birthday.
Some of the other well known visitor areas of our region include:
-The Cape Henry Lighthouse
-The Virginia Zoo
-Norfolk Botanical Gardens
-False Cape State Park and First Landing State Park
-The Jamestown Settlement
-The American Revolution Museum
-The Virginia Beach Board Walk
-Museums such as Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth, Virginia Air and Space Museum in Hampton, Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, and the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach
We live in a beautiful part of Virginia that bursts into color in the spring, celebrates Harbor Fest and July 4th like a small town, revels in festivals and wine tastings in the fall, and becomes a local’s town again for a little while during the winter.
It’s a place where we spend time with friends and family; where we make our home and go to work so we can travel again, and where my Tempur-Pedic is always waiting for me! (I always miss my bed!) Some people think of where we live as a vacation spot. We just call it home.
“The greatest legacy we can leave our children is happy memories.” -Og Mandino
**Please forgive the photo quality for some of the following photos. Some of them are very old!
When I pack my suitcase for one of our adventures, I rarely acknowledge where my addiction to travel started. Since I’ve been missing my suitcase during the 2020 Pandemic, I’ve been reflecting on how my passion came to be.
On Mother’s Day, I was happy to visit with my parents. In the times of “social distancing,” we were quite frankly, tired of being apart so we threw caution to the wind and spent the day together–big hugs and all! As we made our plans for the day, I asked my mom if I could look through our old family photos. She has piles of them and as I browsed the yellowing pages and flipped through loose, printed photos, I took note that there were no fabulous pictures of foreign lands, no campy cruise photos like the ones that photographers insist you pose for as you board a cruise ship, no old boarding passes, and no travel post cards like the ones we collect when we travel. This wasn’t really a surprise and knowing my parents, I wasn’t really expecting those types of photos anyway.
Instead, as I sorted through the pictures, I was looking for something else; memories! In my search, I realized that my Mom and Dad sparked my love of travel! My Dad worked hard to support his young family and my Mom made it her priority to ensure that my brother and I had a secure and memorable childhood. I was a happy kid and for that, I am eternally grateful. And while I know that world wide travel wasn’t in the budget back then, what I do know is that my parents didn’t hesitate to load us kids into the car for endless road trips.
With family and friends living well above the Mason-Dixon Line, we took countless summer trips to the Upstate New York countryside. This is where I learned to drive a tractor and then a car, rode horses, milked cows, laid down in grass so tall that I disappeared from view, crawled into hay lofts, swam in bone chilling spring pools and streams, marveled at the birth of a calf, and ate corn on the cob freshly out of the field. We loved going to the weekly farm auction, eating cheese curds and curly fries, and watching horse and tractor pulls at the summer fair. I learned to love the small town farm life and appreciate the people who live it.
While in New York one summer, we headed to Niagara Falls, venturing into Canada and looking back toward home from a foreign country for my first time. That was back when Canada wasn’t so foreign–you didn’t need a passport to cross the boarder. Although I distinctly recall the Boarder Patrol questioning everyone in the car. As a kid, of course I didn’t have anything to declare except my favorite stuffed animal but the forceful questioning left an impression. And then, there was the unforgettable, perpetual roar of the falls that we explored from above and below as well as from both sides of the boarder.
My parents took us up and down the East Coast from Maine to Florida. Our family adventures have given us memories that we often laugh about as a family. The most memorable include the perennial apple that my Mom packed as a snack for every road trip–never a cookie to be found! Then there was the odyssey to Florida around my 13th birthday. I think that trip’s main destination was Walt Disney World but for me, the lasting memory of the trip was the journey with four very tall people (and our luggage) packed into a two door hatchback Ford Pinto with no air-conditioning in late June/early July. Needless to say, when my brother starting touching me, my Dad stopped the car with traffic whizzing by along the interstate, seats were exchanged and the touching definitely stopped!
I watched my Dad valiantly attempt to fish in beautiful mountain lakes with only little nibbles or tiny fish not fit for eating as his prize. I have vivid memories of a very hot evening when my Dad and one of our dear family friends hand cranked ice cream on the porch of a State park cabin while sweat poured down their faces. I recall horseback riding and looking for “Fairy Stones” in other State Parks, watching my Mom eat lobster in Maine with a bib around her neck, observing while my Dad packed our cars with military precision, making use of every inch, visiting the ducks at The Peabody Hotel, and an endless afternoon in a hotel pool in Nashville with my brother while my parents ventured off to the Grand Ole Opry (everyone was happy).
Then there are the sweet memories of our favorite family activity, camping. It is amazing to me that we loved it so when our very first camping trip was in a Pop up tent camper and just after setting up, the rain that Noah must have experienced came down leaving us stranded inside with nothing to do. As teenagers, it was torture! Eventually, even my steadfast Dad gave up and we took the contraption down and went home. Damp but not discouraged, we went out again and again. Over time we graduated to newer and bigger campers and disappeared as a family into what my Husband calls the “deep dark woods,” as often as possible, sometimes for weeks at a time.
As I got older, travel also included the addition of Mission trips with my Church Youth group and summer camps as a counselor. That meant that our summers would go something like this: we would come home from New York, wash clothes, pack, and head out for a week of camp, come home, wash more clothes, pack again, and head off on a Mission trip. The summers of my teenage years were busy, glorious and some of the most formative of life. As a camp counselor, I worked with a woman named Rose Mary, helping her as she cooked in the camp kitchen and worked on craft projects with the campers. Little did I know that she would one day be my Mother in Love! I made lifelong friends as we sat around the camp fire late into the night telling jokes that we thought were funny but turned hilarious as we eventually had to explain them to the most innocent of the group who, after each joke stated, “I don’t get it!”
I have to confess that as I looked through the photos with my Mom, I was a little disappointed that there are so few photos of most of these sweet memories. On the other hand, I am equally relieved to have grown up during a time when we didn’t have a camera or electronic device readily available to expose all of our shenanigans!
I cherish my childhood memories and credit them with my spirit of curiosity, love of fun, adventure and exploration. My love of travel is an affliction for which my parents are to blame and from which I never wish to be cured. It is also a condition that I still love to share with my parents when we are able, with friends as often as possible, and that I hope to pass on to anyone willing to come along. As an adult, I am so very blessed to have a partner who loves to travel as much as I do, if not more so and that together, we have been able to go to places that I never thought I would see. And to think, it all started long ago with a road trip to New York!
We are finally preparing to head out in our RV at last! Our State parks are about to open for camping and they have started taking reservations again so we snapped up some spots for June and July.
In anticipation, we decided to go ahead and hook up and head out this weekend! Where to? Promise you won’t laugh!? We took our new RV out to do some practice driving. There. It’s out there! Commence the giggling!
While we are admitted Travel Addicts, we are also RV Newbies and with this new moniker comes some anxiety. Our trepidation is primarily around the chore of backing up our rig. Having camped as kids we aren’t total newbies to the actual camping and as part of our pre-purchase research, we rented an RV to make sure that this was something we wanted to do. However, as kids, we didn’t drive the RV and our rentals were Class C’s which is a very different driving experience.
We bought our new Grand Design Imagine XLS in March, just prior to being quarantined, so we only had time to squeeze in our first ever camping adventure before travel was put on pause across our State and Nationwide. Right away, we discovered that backing into our driveway was going to be our biggest challenge. Our driveway is a dog leg shape and not ideal for Newbies trying to back in our 26 feet plus the truck (we are not huge and happy about that). When we brought our RV home for the first time to load up, we managed to get it backed in on the first try despite the awkward bend in the driveway and a few obstacles to be mindful of. We know now, that this was just Newbie luck for sure. Semi-confident in our new abilities, when we came home, we thought it wouldn’t be a problem. This time, we got it in on what had to have been the 50th try! This left us frustrated and with our newfound confidence totally diminished. Not to mention, we found ourselves trying to figure out how to manage our future camping trips by NOT bringing our rig home from storage at all!
Since we didn’t feel assured in our skills as a team to back up, we went back to our favorite source of anything we want to know, YouTube. After watching “Keep Your Daydream‘s” episode on Sunday, May 10, we thought it was a great idea to take advantage of a bright, sunny day to find a large, unoccupied, unobstructed space in which to practice. Appropriately, we used a high school parking lot in which to learn. While our YouTube pros make it look relatively simple, we know that isn’t our reality behind the wheel right now. So, armed with advice from the more experienced, off we went.
Now for those of you who might be RV veterans, I know you’re probably having a bit of a chuckle and thinking to yourself, “These two!” However, I’m betting that in some point in your RV career, you might’ve scraped tree branches or come within inches of running over your spotter when going backwards. Right? I’m hoping those are the least of your mishaps! As newbies, we are very aware that even in our cars, going backwards is the most dangerous time and with an extra 26 feet to maneuver, we are taking some sage advice and making time to learn how our RV responds when we make the slightest of adjustments at the wheel. Safety first. And, with both of us having been musicians early in our lives, we know that “Practice makes perfect!”
When we were done with our practice session, my Husband asked, “What did we learn?” I suspect that he might’ve asked because he knows that our hijinks are fair game for my blogs these days but it was also a good question and a time for us to review together what we had learned. So, what lessons DID we learn?
Backing up is hard. Even away from our awkward driveway, what would seem to be an elementary task of keeping the truck and trailer in a simple straight line takes practice. While we really prefer pull through campsites, that is not always going to be an option. Not to mention, backing into our driveway or our storage space is a necessity. Going backwards is probably our hardest challenge and we know it will take patience and practice.
The steering wheel. When backing up, it’s best to hold the 6 o’clock station of your steering wheel to turn. If you want the back end of your RV to go left, point the 6 o’clock position to the driver’s side. To go right, point the 6 o’clock position to the passenger side. I bet it sounds easy and pretty basic. I thought so too but it takes some practice to train your brain to remember this simple maneuver.
Go slow and make small adjustments. This is our new mantra. First, this is not a race. While we might hold up traffic and annoy our fellow campers, and for this we are eternally apologetic, there is no time limit in getting backed in. Taking our time will prevent mistakes or an accident. Small adjustments are key. Whirling the steering wheel too far in one direction or another totally changes the trajectory of the back end of our trailer. So, small adjustments are the way to go.
Perspective, team work, and trust. This was our biggest lesson of the day. First, I actually drove the truck with the RV in tow for the first time. Honestly, it’s not as hard as I was anticipating. Although, I am trying to remind myself that my first attempt to drive was in the empty parking lot of our local high school with no traffic. In real life, I drive a zippy high performance machine and I have never pulled anything so my goal was to get a feel of the extra weight behind us and to understand where my new back end was and where I needed it to be. Our truck may be a high performance machine in her own right but she is not zippy with that RV attached and rightly so! My lead foot will need to take a break! While my plan is to let my husband do most of the driving, in my mind, it’s always a good idea for me to know how to manage our rig by myself in the unlikely event that I have to. We also plan for me to be the backup driver when he needs a break so, at the minimum, I need to be comfortable in pointing the rig straight and keeping it all safely between the lines.
As part of the whole lesson, I also practiced backing up. THIS was where we both started to learn. With my husband out of the truck and acting as my spotter for his first time, we learned how to speak the language of “backing up the RV.” We learned that what the driver can see and what the spotter can see are two very different perspectives and for us, that included different focuses. The driver and spotter need to be able to clearly communicate when in reverse and apparently, I was not giving the best of direction. I was focused on where the trailer was and where it needed to be while Roger was focused on the truck. We agreed that this approach would not work.
When I was behind the wheel, he could see what I had been seeing and why I gave the directions that I did. He now also understood how the truck needs to be maneuvered to get the trailer to be where we want it to be. Now, as husband and wife, we also started to understand that there have got to be spouses or travel buddies out there who have had a few shouting matches over this particular part of their RV experience. While we did not have said shouting match, we can totally see how that could happen. The key for us was not to get frustrated with each other, listen, and talk to each other. This meant learning to speak trailer. A new language for us, for sure! Now that both of us understand how to communicate left and right to each other, we have probably, saved our marriage and will likely enjoy our camping adventures for years to come! Saying, “go left” or “go right,” for us, is no longer providing accurate direction. Instead, we use, “driver’s side,” or “passenger side.”
After learning this, when we were done for the day, I was able to almost expertly get our rig backed into it’s storage space with the superb direction of my spotter. This last and final lesson of the day left us feeling like our time of practice was time well spent. I know to trust Roger’s direction and carefully listening, along with going slow and making small adjustments got the job done.
“G.O.A.L.” and the multiple point turn. From our YouTube friends we learned “G.O.A.L.; Get Out And Look.” When we get to a campground this will be our go to maneuver before we ever put the rig in reverse and anytime we feel we need to assess the situation during the positioning process. This practice starts as soon as you get to your campsite. Every campsite is different so it’s wise advice for the driver and the spotter to get out and look together at the layout of the site before pulling in. The purpose here is to scope out the campsite so you know where the hook ups are, where you might want to have your RV positioned to accommodate slides or for the optimal enjoyment, and to be on the lookout for obstacles like tree branches, picnic tables, or uneven ground. G.O.A.L is also a highly recommended pause at any point in the back up process if the driver needs a first hand look at where he/she might be. I think Roger would agree that he understands the premise even better after getting out of the truck while I drove.
The first try might not be perfect. I mentioned before that as the spotter, I was focused on the rear end of the trailer in hopes of getting it to where “X marks the spot.” However, Roger needs the truck to be straight and lined up with the trailer to easily unhitch. To achieve this, we learned that backing up our RV will not be perfect on the first try. In fact, this means that pulling forward and backing up several times will eventually get us where we want to be, along with the small adjustments noted above. We had to make peace with this new understanding. Our favorite YouTubers even mentioned this in their recommendations as well so we feel like we came to understand that lesson clearly during out training session.
We think we learn something new every time we hook up. We try to move slowly, methodically, and check behind each other so we are sure that we don’t forget any piece of hooking up before moving our rig. We are confident that we will get better with more practice. Practice does indeed make perfect.
We are counting down the days to be on the road again! We wish you safety and pleasant travels.
**Note: For those of you who are avid fans of all things RV, these are some of our favorite families on YouTube that we follow and watch religiously. We look to them for tips, tricks, ideas for places to add to the bucket list, and the reality of RV’ing: Keep Your Daydream, Less Junk More Journey, Finding Our Someday, Eat See RV, Embracing Detours, The Chick’s Life, Traveling Robert, and RV Lifestyle with Mike and Jenn. There are a lot of others as well so check out YouTube for some great resources.
Is it over yet? Where did I put my suitcase? Let’s Just Go!
We have RESERVATIONS!!! That’s right! Reservations to take the RV out in June and July. We are probably more excited than usual because we’ve been shuttered in the house for so long but regardless, we have reservations and we are going! At last! Plans to make, bags to pack, and blogs to write!
But wait a second! Is it safe to emerge from our safe havens or not? It’s unclear which crazed voices we should believe with mixed messages swirling around us.
While we’ve sadly watched the confirmed cases and death tolls rise in places like New York and in our beloved Italy, here in my home town, this period has had the familiar feeling of preparing for a hurricane that never materializes. You know. The news channels are talking none stop, prescribing their best advice of “stay home” and the grocery stores have been ravaged like no hurricane we’ve EVER had! However familiar the feeling, it is now enhanced by the devastating loss of jobs, the awkward dance in the aisles of the few stores that are open for essentials, and the actual shock of someone we know who has had some they know get sick and pass away. It is all just unbelievable.
As a natural introvert, I feel like I’ve been in training for this quarantine experience all my life! However, even an introvert wants to get out and go somewhere once in a while!
I can only laugh at myself when I think that in only 7 weeks, I have happily gotten used to living in my tee shirts and leggings everyday. Going back to the bra required dress code is going to be a huge adjustment, for sure. I love working from home and not having to schlep to the office. When summoned, the drive will, no doubt at first, feel more of an odyssey because I’ve gotten out of the habit of driving 45 minutes one way, on a good day. I love having three hot meals at home every day but I am conflicted with the constant flow of dishes in and out the dishwasher. Only a few weeks ago, I used to HATE going grocery shopping but over the last 7 weeks, I have found myself almost giddy about going! For me, it’s all about the list making and the hunt for the illusive toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins. With face masks and gloves, the whole shopping experience feels like some strange scavenger hunt.
Really? Is THIS the new normal and how long will it last? Will we ever go back to what was once our normal? This whole period in quarantine has obviously become a love/hate situation for me. After the constant shift from one “new normal” to the next since all this started, I don’t know what to think about this next stage of “reopening.”
As we step out, what will the world feel like? How will we interact with our friends, coworkers, and strangers in line at Target? Somehow, I envision us acting like kids that have just been let out of school for the summer. In fact, living close to the beaches, we are already seeing this. Yes, the main tourist beaches remain closed here but our Governor can’t have patrols on all the beaches. We recently walked along a riverside beach, bobbing and weaving to stay clear of others. There were people EVERYWHERE! This is all so bizarre! We haven’t been released back into the wild officially and we went to a spot we felt would be pretty remote. Wrong! If anything, it proves how much we all WANT OUT even if it might not be entirely safe to do so.
As those of us who yearn to pack a suitcase start to emerge, there are even more questions. How will the airlines keep us from violating each other’s personal space? I can’t imagine having personal space on a commercial jet. Being packed in like a sardine in a flying tin can is all I know! We have plans to fly in September so stay tuned.
In our exuberance to be free, will we remember to respect each other’s space? Somehow, I’m not that confident as I watched a Mother and her son head right for me and pass within inches in the grocery store recently, all while not a mask and consideration for my space in sight! It seems that there are a lot of folks out there with a different attitude than mine. Being a chronically ill patient, I am very careful when we go out and while I have always been uber sensitive around others who are coughing and sneezing, I am supremely cautious now as I step out and watchful for how others respect (or don’t) my personal space.
Regardless, the world is starting to open up. Pants with waistbands and bras will be donned along with the new addition of masks. In the summer heat, that should be loads of fun!
For now, The Travel Addicts of Let’s Just Go plan to head for the woods first and continue to self isolate but this time, enjoying the out of doors in our RV. But then, there are the Murder Hornets to consider! Oh Good grief!
Be safe out there and take care of yourself and others!
I wish travel therapy was covered by my health insurance. –Anonymous
Traveling with illness is really not fun. If you’ve ever traveled with a nagging headache, or worse, you ate or drank something you probably shouldn’t have, you know what I mean. Being sick on the road can zap the fun right out of wherever you might be.
Imagine then, that you are chronically ill and a travel addict like me.
As a chronically ill patient, I can have good days and bad days. It is a not-so-simple fact of my life and has been since 2005 when I was finally diagnosed. The catch is, I never know from day to day, or even hour to hour, how I will feel. I can wake up feeling great and be down in bed and in pain by lunchtime. Luckily, over the years my body’s bad behavior has only threatened to keep us from flying one time. In the meantime, I have taught myself to live with my condition which means I carry on with life, as undeterred as possible.
Whether you have migraines, asthma, MS, diabetes, or any illness that can threaten to slow you down, here are few things that work for me as I prepare to travel as a chronically ill patient:
In the planning stage
As you prepare to travel, have you ever had to ask yourself, “Should I stay home?” That’s a tough question when your trip is planned and paid for. It’s important for me to take care of myself so I can travel. That means seeing my doctor regularly, taking my meds on schedule and as prescribed, and making sure I am rested and have as little stress as possible (Ha!).
For me, it’s a great practice to see my doctor before I travel, if at all possible. Am I well enough to hit the road safely and in good health? I also try to be wary of any pain or potential side effects I might be experiencing and talk with my doctor before I go–best to address something beforehand so it doesn’t become a problem while I’m traveling.
For our major trips, we always purchased travel insurance. Our thinking is that it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and wish we had it! This is a bit of security for us in the event that my body rebels and I can’t travel or worse, if I get sick on the road and have to seek medical care. Ask your travel professional about travel insurance if you think you might need a safety net but before you purchase, make sure you understand how it works, what it covers, and how to use it.
Traveling with medication
When we travel, I am a walking medicine chest! While most people check and double check their travel ID’s, tickets, boarding passes, and pass ports (which we do as well), I check and double check to make sure I have all the medication I need, both prescribed and over the counter. My symptoms can often be managed with medications so I will always bring more than I need, just in case I need it or in the rare case that there are any hiccups in our travel plans (i.e. no plane in Salt Lake City!). Since my illness can be unpredictable, I go prepared for anything. I would rather bring home unused meds than not have enough to manage on the road. I always consider how I will travel with my meds. Do you need a written prescription to get you through TSA checks or customs? If you travel with sharps like me, do you know how to do that properly? One of my drugs needs to be kept cool so that can be a trick!
I always make sure that my precious carry on space leaves my meds within reach. Never, ever put your meds in your checked bags in the event that your luggage gets lost in Chicago and you are looking for it in Stockholm! (My poor husband! He had no luggage for several days and had to attend a formal dinner in the clothes he traveled in!)
Self care when I travel
When we travel, I try to practice self care which can sometimes be even more important that my actual meds! Some of our travel lends itself to rest like our favorite form of travel, cruising (I love an occasional nap between lunch and dinner!). However, some travel is fast paced and we are moving non-stop all day. Those can be the trips that I physically struggle with the most. For example, we traveled with a group to Italy in 2016. While it was the trip of a lifetime and we fell in love with Italy, I struggled with pain on and off throughout the trip. One evening, some of the group went out for dinner in Florence. I chose not to go. I knew that I needed to rest my body. I needed to drink water and sleep. I went to our hotel room and got in bed. The culprit for me is usually the medication that I am on. It works best if taken at the same time of day, every day, so traveling through various time zones can prove troublesome for me. As a result, during nearly all of our travel in Italy, I was in pain of varying levels. Going to bed early that evening and resting my body was helpful and I felt much better the next day. Late nights, early wake up calls and long, strenuous travel days can put stress on my body. While I want to see it all in the time I have, I’ve discovered that rest and pacing my travel is important for me. It’s taken me a long time, but knowing my body and understanding these triggers has helped me to take care of myself better on the road so I can enjoy where I am.
Being sick doesn’t always mean you can’t travel
I try to be smart and pay attention to my body. When I travel, I do what I can to balance new foods, rest, the stress of travel on my body, and taking my meds as prescribed. I also try to remember to drink lots of water to stay hydrated. That one is the hardest ones for me, even at home! I count myself blessed. We’ve had some great trips and my body has thankfully behaved. I am not afraid to travel but as we near our departures, I have to manage the anxiety of “what if.” The most important thing for me to do then is to try not to worry about something that might not happen and instead, just be prepared.
My illness has quieted now after some very difficult times. (I hate to say that kind of thing out loud. It’s like my body hears me bragging and says. “Oh yeah? Take this!”) In fact, the simple act of writing this kicked my body into a slight rebellion and you might’ve seen me mention a tough 48 hours recently on Instagram. I have been determined not to be defined by my body’s bad manners and even after a major hospitalization, I was well enough to be on a plane to Scotland two months later.
I want to go, do, and see! I don’t want to be sick! I do know my limits though and while I might push them from time to time, I do know that traveling is ultimately good for my soul.
I know there are other fellow sufferers out there that love to travel. If you have any tips or tricks that you use before and during your travel that you feel comfortable sharing, I’d love to know how you manage.
I hope that if you suffer physically in any way, that you can travel in whatever capacity you are able.
I always wish you safe and healthy travels, where ever you might be heading.
I have collaborated on parts of today’s blog with my Travel Professional and I am not being compensated for any endorsement. The advice provided in today’s blog should be verified with a travel professional of your choosing.
A smart traveler’s best travel tool can be an experienced and trusted Travel Agent.
However, before I get going too far, and in full disclosure, not all of our travel has been with the assistance of a Travel Agent. In fact, our earliest travels were ones we pieced together and planned on our own. In fact, we’ve even traveled without reservations in the past. (GASP! I know. We were young…but it was sort of fun!) Now, in hindsight, some of that travel might’ve been even better with the help of a Travel Agent.
In 2010, I met my dear friend and fellow Travel addict, Courtney Roggmann. She has owned her own travel business, Solutions Travel, for 15 years and she is a dedicated, passionate travel professional. We first met on a trip she planned and escorted and we hit it off! Since then, Roger and I have traveled with Courtney and her Husband, Michael, just us four, to places like Key West, Maine, and on a Viking River Cruise through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. We’ve also traveled together on some fantastic trips that she has escorted under the umbrella of her business. In the 10 years we’ve traveled together, I’ve watched her up close and learned a lot about what she does. This week, she has been kind enough to sit with me as I blog so I can share insights with you about how a Travel Agent can be a tool for your travel.
Consider travel an investment
Food for thought; when you invest in a home, most people will seek out a real estate agent. When you invest in a new car, a lot of people do so with the help of an Automobile Dealership. For us, the biggest purchases in life are usually made with the help of careful research and the use of an expert and for us, the purchase of major travel is no different. No matter what kind of travel you enjoy, you are spending your hard-earned money and possibly using precious vacation days. If you’re like us, you want to know that you got the best return on your investment. In my view, a Travel Agent can be a wonderful resource.
In addition, invest your own time as well as your money as you plan your trip. I always recommend that you do your research. We live in a wonderful time with the internet providing information on every topic easily and quickly at our fingertips. Seek out any and all information about your destination that you can. Know where you want to go, what you want to do and see there, and when might be the best time to travel where you plan to go.
A Travel expert can be the best place to turn
An experienced and trusted Travel Agent can help you plan your trip, give you an estimate(s) on what your trip might cost, do their best to stick to your budget, and will have resources that could upgrade your trip in ways you might not have known about on your own. Travel Agents have resources and relationships with travel vendors that can enhance your trip and a great Travel Agent can take your broad travel plan and fill it in with great ideas that make it a trip to remember.
How much does a Travel Agent’s services cost?
When you speak to an agent, a good first question would be regarding what the fees for their services will be. Know that the answer could vary from agent to agent. Courtney charges nothing. That’s right! Nothing. I’m betting that might be a surprise for you if you’ve never used a Travel Agent before or maybe even if you have used an Agent that charged you a large fee. Perhaps, the unknown cost of an agent might even be why you’ve shied away from calling a Travel Agent for help. Is that a fair guess?
You should know that Travel Agents are paid a commission on the products they sell by the vendors they are working with such as a cruise line or an all-inclusive resort. That commission may be paid to them directly or through a host company. Some Travel Agents, like Courtney, will not charge you for their services. She does however, help her clients that need assistance with the purchase of airline only tickets. For this assistance, she will charge a nominal fee. This is because the airlines do not compensate her for the sale of the tickets. She does waive that fee when booking airline tickets as part of a travel package.
However, other agents could charge a consultation fee which could run up to $250. So, if you need help planning a trip, I recommend talking to friends who have used travel professionals for their travels. Word of mouth recommendations could lead you to a great travel professional. Always be a savvy consumer and ask lots of questions.
Before you call your travel professional
A great Travel Agent will be a busy person. So, before you talk with him/her, it’s a good idea for you to have done your research and be able to answer these basic questions:
—When and where do you want to go? How do you want to travel? Do you want to go on a cruise or land based vacation? If it’s land based, are you driving, flying, or considering an all inclusive? If it’s an all inclusive, are you looking for a family friendly or adults only resort? Do you want to sit on the beach and catch up on your reading or do you want to go to Italy and to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Try to have a something in mind so you can get your Travel Agent working quickly on a plan for you.
—What budget do you have in mind for your trip? You can do some research on line and get a feel for what type of budget you should be prepared for. Know how much you are willing to spend and how much, if any, you can bend with that amount.
—How many people will be traveling with you? Do you have kids traveling with you and how old are they? Do you have anyone traveling with you with special needs?
—What do you want to do or what do you want to see on your trip?
—Have an open mind. A Travel Agent might make suggestions for your trip that you had not yet considered.
Why should you consider seeking out the help of a Travel Agent?
A Travel Agent is, or should be, an experienced traveler and ideally, have first hand knowledge of where you want to go. On top of that, a good Travel Agent will know the trends in travel and will have a working knowledge of travel vendors and resources that a travel lay person, like you or me, would not otherwise have knowledge of or access to.
What if you opt to plan without a travel professional? Sure, you could do it. You might even find a “really cheap” price for your trip on line somewhere but what are you getting for that cheap price. Roger and I always agree with the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” What if something happens during your trip? Will your on line source be there to help you? Is there even a resource to reach out to if you need help? Maybe. Maybe not. If you planned on your own, you will also be on your own to figure out a solution if your travel plans are interrupted. For us, it’s a security thing. We know that our Travel Agent is there if we need her from start to finish.
For a real life example: we traveled with Courtney on an escorted tour to The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks. The night before we were to head home, she got an alert that there would be no plane waiting for us the next morning. With the first leg of our trip home badly delayed, it meant that our entire group would miss our connecting flight. Courtney sprang into action and pulled from her resources to get us home. By the time we made it to Washington, D.C., there was a motor coach waiting for us and we were driven home. We were a few hours late as a result but Courtney got us home, at her own expense. We have the luxury of actually traveling with our travel professional but if that had happened to us without her, I know she would’ve been there to help us make it home.
A great Travel Agent is your advocate. When you plan your trips with a Travel Agent, you have someone who can be your resource and someone you can reach out to when something unexpected pops up (be sure to ask your travel professional about his/her availability while you are traveling). If your travel results in a missed or canceled flight, no room to go with your reservation when you get to your hotel, or your friend’s room is not next to yours when you get to the resort, you need only reach out to your travel professional. When your travel professional has a relationship with a vendor, your concern may be easily fixed if there is an issue.
Do you need travel insurance?
A good Travel Agent will recommend travel insurance. Again, travel is an investment. What happens if you have an accident on the way to the airport to catch your flight? What happens if you are sick and hospitalized and can’t travel? What do you do if you get sick and are hospitalized in a foreign country? What happens if your trip is two days away and you have a death in the family?
Many travel vendors have strict policies about refunds. Be sure to understand what those might be up front. No matter the reason that you might be prevented from traveling as planned, the purchase of travel insurance could result in some, if not all of your expenses being covered.
As an example: you are on a cruise and you don’t feel well and you seek out the service of the ship’s doctor. Courtney had a client who received a medical bill for $4,200! $4,200!!!! That’s surely an unexpected expense. Wouldn’t you agree? I’ve seen cruise guests helicoptered off a couple of cruise ships for serious medical reasons by the U.S. Coast Guard. I don’t want to know how much that might cost! Luckily, Courtney’s client had purchased Travel insurance which kicked in to help with this out of pocket expense. I can only hope those folks that left by helicopter are well and had insurance!
Travel insurance is something Roger and I always purchase, without question. Life happens and you never know when a curve ball could derail your travel plans. We consider travel insurance an investment to guard against the unknown.
When should you travel and how far out should you start planning?
Spring break and summer vacations are huge travel times, of course. When you start thinking about travel, depending on the time of year you plan to go, you could be vacationing with thousands of your closest new friends. Roger and I like to travel in the off season. We don’t have kids so we can take off in February on a cruise or in the fall after all the kids are back in school and the bulk of the tourists are done with their vacations. Consider too that traveling during the off season, depending on where you are going, might be a bit cheaper. Finally, if you’re like us, we don’t like to travel when it’s blazing hot or freezing cold. We are “Goldilocks” travelers. We like the temperature to be just right! If that’s you, consider the time of year and what the weather might be where you are heading.
Understand, that some vacations require planning and reservations so calling a Travel Agent and asking for a trip to Disney in two weeks during spring break season might mean that there are no reservations to be had. Courtney recommends planning 8 to 12 months out or longer whenever possible. Doing so also allows for making payments on your vacation, if needed. Courtney states that depending on your trip, to help you in planning, reservations could be open as follows:
-Nearly all cruise lines will post their cruises 1 to 2 years in advance.
-Resort vacations packages with airfare take reservations 10-11 months in advance.
-Group tours such as Trafalgar or Globus start planning 18 months in advance.
-Disney Vacations are released in June for the next calendar year. You can book a Disney hotel 1 year out but can’t book other trip components until 6 months out. Give yourself time and plan in advance when looking to go to Disney. Your travel professional will know tips and tricks to help you.
**this timing is always subject to change so be sure to consult a travel professional.
Today is Wednesday, May 6, 2020: National Travel Advisor Day!
We are very blessed to have a Travel professional that we trust and consider a dear friend. Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, every facet of travel has been affected. Those of us who love to travel miss our suitcases and are starting to twitch just a bit! I just want to thank my friend and travel professional for her enthusiasm and love of travel that she shares with us and all of her clients. She works so very hard to make every trip memorable, comfortable and just what all of her clients hope for. Courtney’s special personal touches are a feature of her business that sets her apart and her client family loves her for it. 2020 has been a tough year for her as she’s had to work with her clients to make difficult decisions about their travel. Do we cancel or postpone? Courtney is doing everything she can to give the best advice possible as the situation has twisted, turned, and drug on and on. As always, she is doing an outstanding job! Much love to you, dear friend and Travel Agent on this very strange Travel Advisor day!
If you already have a travel professional, don’t forget to reach out to them today and share some love with them, especially this year!
I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked, “Can you recommend a Travel agent?” Of course, if you can’t tell, I can recommend a great one!
If you need an outstanding Travel Agent, please find Courtney’s contact information below:
I hope we can all pack a bag soon and get back to our adventures!