Let's Just Go

Traveling with no regret

There’s No Place Like the Travel Addict’s Home — May 31, 2020

There’s No Place Like the Travel Addict’s Home

“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. 

Norfolk; The City of Mermaids

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.

There is nothing like the homecoming of an Aircraft Carrier at Naval Station Norfolk

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.  

Sailing the Elizabeth River on The American Rover

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:

-Fort Monroe

-The Cape Henry Lighthouse

-The Virginia Zoo

-Norfolk Botanical Gardens

-False Cape State Park and First Landing State Park

-Colonial Williamsburg

-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.   

King Neptune on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk

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.

Come see us when you can!

The Travel Addict’s Benefactors; A Love Letter — May 24, 2020

The Travel Addict’s Benefactors; A Love Letter

“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.   

1970: Christina and her Dad aboard the U.S.S. Constitution, Boston Harbor

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. 

1984: Christina visits the U.S.S. Constitution in Boston again

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.  

1980: Niagara Falls

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).

1984: Mom eating Lobster!

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!”

1987: The Goofy Tourist (Me, my Dad and my brother), Opryland, Nashville, TN

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! 

Thanks Mom & Dad!  I love you both!

Travel Addicts in Training; Practicing to be Perfect in our RV — May 18, 2020

Travel Addicts in Training; Practicing to be Perfect in our RV

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. 

Trying to back up in a straight line

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?

Getting it between the lines

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. 

I can’t believe that I did it! (With my expert spotter)

“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. 

A Chronic Travel Addict — May 11, 2020

A Chronic Travel Addict

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.  

Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Uplash

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!

Check and double check

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.

Which girl is in pain and which one is feeling great? I hope you can’t tell but I know!

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.  

A great Travel Agent: The smart Travel Addict’s best travel tool — May 6, 2020

A great Travel Agent: The smart Travel Addict’s best travel tool

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.   

Courtney caught a quick selfie of us on the Grand Canal in Venice

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. 

Me and my Travel Agent exploring the beautiful Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

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. 

Ready to see Budapest

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.

Another quick selfie at Buckingham Palace. Smile like you mean it Christina! (I think she caught me off guard!)

 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. 

Having a good time in our of our favorite places, Key West

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.

All of us in Scotland: Courtney and her husband Michael in front & Roger and me in the photo bomb position!

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! 

Safe travels!

Travel Addicts in quarantine, Part II — May 2, 2020

Travel Addicts in quarantine, Part II

Quarantine week 6, day 46.  The Travel Addicts torture themselves! 

A few nights ago, we entertained ourselves by looking through photos from past adventures.  We love to do this but it’s just a little bittersweet right now since we know we can’t travel.  As Roger flipped through each picture, he started saying, “I can’t believe we were there!”   As he said it again and again, I started to wonder which “pinch me moment” places were my favorites.  The list is long and picking favorites is as impossible as picking your favorite child!  We have had some wonderful trips in fantastic places so it’s been hard to pick just a few. 

These are just a few of my “pinch me” places that I will remember when I am old and I will smile because I was there!

Venice.  Just the name is a complete sentence to me.  In my mind, there is no other place on the Earth like it and I fell in love with a place that is magical, romantic, and beautiful from nearly every angle. There was so much to see and so little time.  I don’t know of any other city in the world where you can take a water taxi to the airport!  Somehow, it felt wrong to get on a boat with my giant suitcase!   What an experience that was!  We loved the food, the artisans who make the famous Venetian glass, the food market, the magnificent buildings full of history and works of art, strolling down back walk ways that opened to grand Piazzas, and the Gondolas!  We were enraptured.  Our trip to Italy was a bucket list check off, for sure!  In fact, I have never taken it off!  My hope is that we can go back again one day and immerse ourselves in all things Italian with lots of time to enjoy the charms of Venice.   

The Grand Canal, Venice

Paris. For us, Paris is truly a “pinch me moment” with the emphasis on moment!  Our first trip to England was our first trip to Europe and we planned it all on our own.  We used Gray Line Tours to see the sights and in our planning, found a tour that took us by train from London through the Channel Tunnel into Paris for the day.  The entire day was 12 hours long so our actual time in Paris was 8 hours at the most.  At the time, we didn’t think we’d ever be that close again so we grabbed the opportunity to see everything we could.  Part of the tour took us onto the Seine River, giving us the opportunity to see Notre Dome from the water.  In light of the 2019 fire, I lamented that we didn’t have the time to go inside!  The tour shifted back to land at the base of the Eiffel Tower and while the bulk of our tour group went on to The Louvre, which is where we eventually reunited with them, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Paris from the Eiffel Tower.  Now, you need to know that I am not a fan of heights but in instances like this, I risk a panic attack and go anyway!  I’m so glad I did.  The elevators alone are an experience as they creep sideways up the leg of the tower to the first level which is as far as I ventured while Roger went all the way to the top. What a spectacular view!  In separating from our tour group, our tour guide told us that all we needed to do was grab a cab at the base of the tower and she told us how to find her.  RIGHT!  This left me as spokesperson, in PARIS, trying to remember my high school French lessons to get us, as politely as I could manage, to the Louvre.  I guess it worked but I told Roger to make sure to give the taxi driver a good tip!  I know!  Typical American!  I did my best!  That in itself was adventure enough!  Returning to Paris, and visiting other parts of France, remain BIG on my bucket list.  We can’t believe that we were there for less than 8 hours and saw what we saw.  It was a tiny taste of all things French and it was magnifique!

The elevator going up the leg of the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Westminster Abbey; London, England.  We’ve all seen Westminster Abbey on TV during Royal weddings and funerals but let me assure you that in person, it is magnificent!  It took my breath away!  When I stood in this building, I felt the history all around me.  Kings, Queens, Prime Ministers, Poets, Scientists.  They are all there!  From the black and white tile floor to the soaring cathedral stained glass, it is a sight to see.  We’ve been lucky enough to be awed by it on two occasions now and I will go again and again if I am so fortunate. 

Westminster Abbey, London

The Hungarian Parliament Building; Budapest, Hungary.  We took a Viking River Cruise down the Danube from Budapest to Passau, Germany as an anniversary trip.  For me, the biggest highlight was Budapest.  My beloved Great Grandmother was Hungarian and I have wonderful memories of her, the wonderful food she cooked, and of a sweet children’s song that members of my family sang in Hungarian when I was young.  I thought a lot about her when we were in Budapest even though the Hungary we saw was likely very different than the one she left in 1912.  The Hungarian Parliament Building is fantastic from every angle and is an iconic figure in many of Viking’s ads.  We stood on the top deck as we left Budapest for our next port and my friend that was traveling with us captured this fabulous shot that I cherish!  What a fabulous place! I was so grateful to have been able to see just a glimpse of where my family came from.    

The Hungarian Parliament building, Budapest

Giant’s Causeway.  Our visit to Ireland was almost one we did not make.  My Travel Agent friend was planning an escorted trip and while we hadn’t considered going, we told Roger’s Dad about it.  Visiting Ireland had long been on his bucket list and we told him that if he wanted to go, we would go as well.  It turns out that Ireland is beautiful and full of wonderful people and we were so glad that we decided to go.  For me, my favorite parts were in Northern Ireland.  Specifically, Giant’s Causeway.  I have to admit that I knew nothing about the place before we went so when we arrived, I was, and still am, fascinated in the oddity and expanse of the location.  We gingerly climbed the rock formations and marveled at their shapes all around us.  We lost Roger’s Dad in 2017 and we are so glad that we were able to see Ireland with him. 

Giant’s Causeway. County Antrim, Northern Ireland

The Canadian Rockies.  Roger will tell you that he didn’t want to go on this trip and that he had no idea what to expect.  Now, I’m pretty sure that he would be willing to go back.  While I knew what to expect, it was a trip full of awe.  Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Jasper National Park, The Columbia Ice Fields, Peyto Lake, Moraine Lake.  To us, these are some of the most beautiful places we have ever been.  The crystal blue glacial water makes you think you’re in a tropical locale for just a split second but the cathedral Mountains around you remind you that you aren’t.  The Rockies are a place to be admired and their ruggedness respected.  For me, it was humbling to look at the mountains around us.  I get the same feeling at the edge of the Ocean.  We hope to return to the Rockies with our RV one day to be humbled again. 

Banff National Park

We are so blessed to have been to some really cool places, many of which we never thought we would ever see with our own eyes. What lucky ducks we have been! Our bucket list continues to grow and I can only hope that we are fortunate enough to find more places that we can add to this list.

Today, we continue to look through our photos and get them organized and properly backed up.  We might not be able to pack a bag and go but we are not letting a virus keep us from enjoying our travels.

Travel Addicts in Quarantine — April 20, 2020

Travel Addicts in Quarantine

For us, January and February 2020 were clipping along as planned but in general, March just fell down with a big flop!  Did that happen to you too? 

For the last week of February, Roger and I were lucky enough to squeeze in a wonderful cruise to Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.  At the time, COVID 19 was out there but really, not a concern and far away. 

Walking the pier; February 2020

The week after we got home, we picked up our new RV and off we went on our first official camping trip.  Again, COVID was out there and we were listening to reports but especially since we were in our own vehicles in the woods, we weren’t terribly concerned.   

Our first s’mores over our first fire!

However, within three days of returning home from our camping trip, my job as a Student Nurse Recruiter saw massive cancelations in on campus recruitment events as Universities started implementing social distancing and sending their students home.  Within the next week, my office started social distancing which quickly shifted to working from home full time amid the growing concerns.  Looking back, it is just stunning at how quickly our normal life was disrupted.     

Thankfully, we are well and in our safe place.  On the rare occasion we watch the news, I feel the anxiety sneak up on us after a particularly hysterical news story prompts Roger to ask me, “do you think we need to get some groceries?”  All we can do is make smart decisions and stay home as much as possible.  Luckily, we have masks in the house because Roger wears them in the yard due to his allergies.  I always have gloves in the house and as a germaphobe, I always travel with individually wrapped  hand sanitizing wipes so we feel we have the gear we need to safely step out on the rare occasions that we need to.  We have chosen to go grocery shopping late at night, just before the store closes, when there are very few people in the store.  With masks and gloves, we look like bandits robbing a train, but there we are!  God bless our local grocery store staff!

Now, we are in week 5, day 34. 

In September 2019, B.C. (Before Corona), I started a habit of listing 5 things that I am thankful for each week.  I make my lists right on my calendar each Friday and it has been a positive addition to the end of each week and a great way to start the weekend.   Over the last 5 weeks, this has been a practice that has helped me to focus on the positive.  That along with limiting my exposure to the news and it’s toxicity.

This little piggy needs to stop making banana bread!

This week, I was thankful for:

  1. Working from home. B.C., I worked from home three days a week, which is a true blessing.    Now working from home full time has eased the anxiety of going out to possible exposure.  As an asthmatic and  someone who is immunosuppressed, limiting my exposure to any illness is paramount to my health, in the best of times.  In this pandemic, I am mindful of this in the extreme.  
  2. I was thankful that bad weather passed us by earlier in the week.
  3. All family and friends are reporting healthy.  BORED, but healthy!
  4. I am thankful for being home which reduces my stress, thus helping my body to be well.  My particular illness is made worse when I’m stressed and despite the stress of the world outside, being safely at home has seen my symptoms all but disappear.  A real plus for me and a surprising benefit of all this!
  5. Time.  The time at home has given us the ability to focus on things that need doing around the house.  We tend to put many of these things off so having no excuses has made us happy to get some mundane, long awaited projects completed at long last.  We are also reading more with our time.  We are hoping that this becomes a habit we hold onto when quarantine is over. 

What are you thankful for?  I am hopeful that you have at least 5 things this week that are blessings in your life.

I’m thankful for the time that I would otherwise be spending on my commute.  This has also saved us big money in tolls and gas.  I have enjoyed having more time to dedicate to reading, kicking off my blog, and working in my own office where I can make it as warm or cool as I’m comfortable with (my other office is one of those offices where you wear a coat inside even when it’s 90+ degrees outside in August). I am thankful for banana bread, my favorite comfort food that I need to stop baking!

I miss jumping in the car and turning up the tunes.  I miss an impromptu trip to Target, Hobby Lobby, and Home Goods.  I miss our usual Friday night dinner with friends and visiting with my parents.  I miss texting my friends during a meeting to set up a lunch date. 

Pretty accurate!

Of course, from a travel blog perspective, there is no question that I am missing my suitcase! I miss packing a bag and catching a flight or crawling into the truck and heading off on a road trip.  We’ve had to cancel two camping trips and our Easter Family Reunion in Mississippi.  Not having travel plans on the horizon is unusual for us.  We do hope to be able to venture off to the Gulf Coast in September and sneak off to the woods with our RV soon.  Fingers crossed!

 I hope that if you can’t pack a bag, you aren’t limiting your travel.   Follow a travel blog (there are tons of them), get on YouTube and travel with those who have travel Vlogs (there are lots of good ones out there), or research a trip you want to take when this is all over.    

No matter what, we are thankful and blessed.  When I hear myself start to complain or I get frustrated by being “stuck at home, ” I go back to my gratitude list.  I remind my self that, you know, this could be a lot worse! 

I hope you all are well and finding things you can be thankful for.

Use those vacation days! — April 8, 2020

Use those vacation days!

The saddest conversations I often have with friends and co-workers starts with “Where are you guys going next?”  They know that we always have something next on deck to talk about.  Are they asking because they are looking for ideas or just living vicariously through us?  I know it’s polite conversation but I know they aren’t packing bags and having an adventure.  It makes me a little sad. 

Falling in love with Italy!

Worse, I recently had a friend tell me that she wanted to “grow up to be like me,” after asking me where we were going next.  I loved the sentiment but I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and tell her that she IS grown and she CAN be like me. 

We love to travel.  Anyone who knows us, if asked, would tell you this about us if that is the only thing they can say about us with certainty.  

We sort of joke about it, but my Mom once even stated that we “travel more than most.”  I guess that’s true, but again, a little sad!  We love to travel.  It’s our “thing!”  We love to watch other people’s travel vlogs on You Tube (yes, we love to see other people’s vacation photos).  I read travel blogs enough that I wanted to start one of my own.  We study and dream.  Heck, we have a bucket list and it is totally based on where we want to go. 

A Wikipedia definition of travel that I just love states:

 “Travel is the movement of people between distant geographical locations.  Travel can be done my foot, bicycle, automobile, train, boat, bus, airplane, ship or other means, with or without luggage and can be one way or round trip.  Travel can also include relatively short stays between successive movements, as in the case of tourism. 

To us, the term “travel” fits that definition in every way. 

Golden Hour in Venice

Did you even know that there is a National #PlanForVacationDay?”  Yes!  It’s January 28!  THIS should be a proper National Holiday!

I love it but to us, every day is plan for vacation day!

Start now!  Open a savings account and put a little in it each month.  Talk to your friends that travel.  Ask them where they go or better yet, go with them!  If you don’t have the time, just take a long weekend somewhere within driving distance. (Of course, my advice is–make the time!)  Go to the beach, rent a cabin, buy a tent and go camping, get a hotel room in a place you’ve never been and explore for the weekend, visit a friend in another state and let them show you around.  The options are endless. 

If you have some extra time and money, (HA!  Lucky you!) call a Travel Agent that you trust or that a friend might recommend (I can connect you to a great one!) and plan the trip of a life time!  Go to Alaska, go on a cruise, visit a National Park, GO. TO. ITALY! 

Just GO!  Use those vacation days.  Enjoy your life!  Make memories!  You won’t be sorry!