Holiday Travel 2021

Holiday Travel 2021

Travel is back!

We were some of the odd people who traveled last Thanksgiving…during the pandemic. I just couldn’t take staying home anymore. Call me reckless, but when we got home, we didn’t have the virus…all my teenage daughter’s friends did, because they had gathered with local people. Travel was pretty easy back then, because the airports simply were not crowded. Same in February, when we flew to New Orleans over Presidents’ Day weekend, and we were still unvaccinated. Again, the airports weren’t crowded, and we got lucky and avoided the virus. When Spring Break rolled around in March, I was half-vaccinated, but I was determined to try to enjoy a vacation with our daughter and some of her friends in Miami. Success…we came home illness-free.

Soon after that, the whole family got vaccinated, and we moved around all summer. Sure, we were careful to wash our hands and wear masks indoors, but we lived life again. And it seems lots of other folks are doing the same.

We just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to California, and the airports were packed again. We flew out of Charlotte the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and the Charlotte airport was wall-to-wall people. Same thing when we flew back…wall-to-wall people in the Los Angeles airport. But most people were wearing their masks correctly in the airport and on the flights. I had some concerns before we traveled, because of recent airline issues. I was afraid our return flights would be canceled, so I purchased some one way refundable tickets on another airline for the return, just in case, before I realized I could stay an extra few days and enjoy more vacation for the amount of money I was spending on those tickets!

We ended up having no issues during our travels. But I planned things carefully. To avoid issues, here are some tips for Holiday Travel 2022:

  • Book Early. This advice goes for airline tickets, hotels, and even rental cars. As availability decreases in each of these areas, prices increase. You can thank supply and demand for that. So book early. I just realized today that I had not booked a rental car for our Christmas trip, and when I looked, I knew I had made a big mistake. I will likely use Uber while we are there, because I refuse to pay ridiculous prices for a rental car. If you are going to need a rental car and haven’t booked it, book it now.
  • Try to travel on off-peak days. Everything I have read says the peak days around Christmas for air travel are December 22 and December 28 this year, but I’m guessing the 26th is going to be a busy day for those who have to get back to work on Monday. Try not to book your flights for those dates. I’m guessing December 24th will be a little crazy too, since Christmas is on a Saturday this year. My family will be traveling on Christmas Eve, so if you see us in the airport, we can commiserate.
  • Arrive at the airport early. You have likely heard it for years when you were traveling during the holidays: arrive early. Well, this year, you absolutely need to arrive early. There could be personnel shortages at the airport, causing a backlog in so many different areas of the airport. While the usual recommendation is to arrive two hours before your domestic flight, I recommend arriving three hours before, especially if you’re flying out of a busy airport. Obviously, if you’re flying out of somewhere like Pensacola, Florida, you don’t need as much time, but I flew out of Birmingham recently, and even with my TSA PreCheck clearance, I was in line for a while at security…longer than I’ve ever waited in Charlotte. I know, some will call arriving that early excessive, but what is it going to hurt for you to get there and relax for a little while before your flight boards? I can’t relax till I’m through security, but once I’ve cleared TSA, I feel so much better. A long security line gives me anxiety, if I’m pushed for time. Save yourself some anxiety…arrive early.
  • Do not check bags. I say this with a little hesitation. When I say “do not check bags,” I mean pack in appropriately-sized carry-on bags. Do not carry on the kitchen sink. My daughter and I each had a carry-on bag and a backpack for our recent trip to LA. We didn’t want to risk losing our luggage, and we didn’t want to have to wait in baggage claim forever when we got there. In the past, we have waited a long time for luggage in LA and Charlotte, so we avoid it now. Again, with personnel shortages, wait times could be longer. But whatever you do, please stick to the appropriate size limits and number of bags…that means one carry-on bag and one person item. Check airline websites for size restrictions. Obviously, if you are traveling with gifts for friends and family, you will likely need to check bags, unless you consider shipping everything (keep reading).
  • Pack medications and necessities in a carry-on. If you do opt to check luggage, make sure you have all your medications and any necessities in a carry-on bag. It’s always a good idea to have a change of clothes and a toothbrush/hairbrush in your carry-on, as well. Things happen. Connecting flights cancel, and bags are not accessible. Bags get delayed or lost. Trust me on this.
  • Consider shipping luggage and gifts ahead. To cut down on the amount of “stuff” you carry with you, ship any gifts, and possibly your luggage, ahead of time. That way, if you want you can wrap them ahead of time too. Otherwise, wrapped gifts will need to go in checked bags, and if TSA decides to open them, they can. You can ship via UPS, the United States Postal Service, or FedEx, or you can use a luggage shipping service like ShipGo. See their website here.
  • Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. If you’re traveling domestically, make an appointment now to get TSA PreCheck. It will save you lots of time and stress at the airport. You don’t have to take off shoes (unless your shoes cause cause the metal detector to “beep”). You don’t have to go through the body scanner. The lines are shorter. And if you’re traveling internationally, Global Entry can save lots of time on re-entry to the US. To make an appointment for TSA PreCheck, click here. In most cases, you’ll have your Known Traveler Number within two weeks after your appointment. For international travelers, Global Entry appointments can be made here.
  • Download MyTSA App. On the MyTSA app, you can store favorite airports and see up-to-the-minute wait times at various checkpoints at different airports. The app also includes a list of things you can bring onboard aircraft in checked bags and carry-on bags. There are also ways to request passenger support for travelers with disabilities and/or medical conditions. The app is a great place to get lots of information.
  • Carry snacks. December is prime time for weather issues. Be prepared. Always have some snacks (including some with protein) to keep you going when airports are full of people and it’s difficult to get food. You don’t want to get hangry.
  • Traveling by car? If you’re traveling by car, check your tires and oil before you leave. And if you’re traveling in cold climates, have a couple of blankets in the car, just in case. I used to think my daddy was crazy when he made me keep blankets in the trunk of my car, but I have friends who have had to sleep in their cars when they got caught in ice storms and/or snow storms. One was even caught in torrential rains/floods and had to sleep in her car. Having some bottled water and a few snacks on hand would be a good idea too. You might think it can’t happen where you are, but a few years ago, my daughter and I made it back to Charlotte from Birmingham, Alabama, just ahead of an ice storm. And be patient. The roads are going to be crowded. Have some backup routes in mind too. One year, when I was coming back from Atlanta, I realized it was going to take twice as long as it should if I stayed on the interstate, so I opted to take some “back roads.” It was quite an adventure, but I got home more quickly…and on less crowded roads. I wasn’t jockeying for position the whole time.

Happy Holidays and Happy Trails!

Sweet Escape

Sweet escape…

Sometimes, I just need to get away. It’s not that I have a miserable life. I love my life. But I like to roam sometimes, and last week, I was feeling the need to get away, so I did.

Last Friday, I started dreaming of the food at Nobu. If you’re not familiar with Nobu restaurants, you should be. To say they are Asian fusion restaurants does not do them justice, but that’s what they are…except the food is exceptional. The service is always outstanding, and the atmosphere is incredible. There are 16 or 17 of the restaurants in the United States (and even more worldwide), but I’ve only been to four. I’ve been to those four multiple times, but I’ve only been to four. I’ve never been disappointed…I’ve almost always been overwhelmed by the level of service and the fabulous flavors they meld together! I have some favorite dishes that show up in my dreams sometimes. That’s how much I love it.

Since I was craving it, I decided to check airfares to Miami, where there is a Nobu, and when I checked, I was shocked to find a $90 fare between Charlotte and Miami! I promptly called my friend, Meg, who is always up for an adventure, and asked if she wanted to go to dinner in Miami soon. She was totally up for it, and we made dinner reservations, hotel reservations, and airline reservations within 10 minutes! Our airline tickets ended up being $96 each, because of availability, but we were happy to pay that! Done!

We flew out Monday morning, and we had upgrades on the flights, so we found ourselves in first class on an American Airlines Boeing 777, which offers lie-flat cubicle-style seats between Charlotte and Miami. Yay us! We were so comfortable for those two hours that we hardly knew we were on a plane at all! Upon arrival, we grabbed a taxi to Eden Roc Hotel, and when we checked in there, we were offered a generous upgrade to a lovely oceanview suite with a big balcony. Woohoo! After putting our bags in the room, we dashed out for some nearby shopping, then came back to the hotel for some cocktails at Malibu Farm, an oceanview restaurant that has some great specialty cocktails. She had a watermelon cocktail, and I had a pineapple cocktail…both delicious. Yes, we were drinking our calories, but we at that moment, we didn’t care.

We arrived at Nobu just in time for our 6:15 reservation, and the real fun began! We both have some favorite dishes at Nobu, so we ordered a lot of food! Our server was incredible, guiding us through dishes we were not familiar with and making suggestions. That’s one of the great things about Nobu. In my experience, their servers know all about their dishes and can make recommendations about what dishes work well together. We started with a baby corn appetizer. Sounds weird, right? That’s what I thought the first time a server told me about it. As it turns out, it is one of my favorite things ever…baby corn in truffle butter topped with curry powder. Nobu serves small plates to share, so I think we probably had eight or nine different dishes, and that didn’t include our dessert…Miso Cappucino…one of those dishes I dream about on the regular. By the time we were done, we almost needed to be rolled out of the restaurant! Chalk that dinner up as a huge success! We were happy!

We flew home early Tuesday afternoon (less than 24 hours after arriving) after lots of great laughs and great food! I didn’t sit next to my friend on the flight, but I sat next to a nice lady who had an interesting job…giving me an idea about something my daughter might be interested in doing one day! We were home by dinnertime!

It was a getaway worth taking, and for $96, we couldn’t have driven to Miami! A sweet escape!

Two Friends on the Road, Part 2

Two friends on the road, part 2.

At the end of Part 1, we were leaving Daytona Beach, headed south on Highway 1. To see Part 1, click here.

After making a quick trip over to Daytona Motor Speedway for a photo op…just because it’s a landmark…we’re not race fans, we were moving south toward Merritt Island, where we thought we might be able to see some manatees in the wild. We were on a wild manatee mission.

Mary Ann actually swam with manatees four years ago with a friend in Crystal River, Florida. I hate I missed it, because her stories from that trip are quite amusing. Apparently, a big male manatee was partial to Mary Ann and decided he would be her boyfriend for the day. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say he almost drowned her as he held onto her leg!

I wasn’t interested in that type of encounter! I just wanted to see some manatees in person…in the wild! According to one website, there was a chance we could see some at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, so we headed in that direction. According to one website, we would likely see them from an observation deck. We drove deep into the wildlife refuge, but when we arrived at the observation deck, it was closed for COVID. What the what?!? I don’t understand the logic behind that, so I was really disappointed, but then we read that some people had seen them at a boat launch nearby. We drove down a long gravel road, all the while praying I wouldn’t get a flat tire! When we arrived at the boat launch, a few other cars were there. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any manatees, but we did see some dolphins and got some amazing pictures of the sunset, so it was worth our while! We also saw some Roseate Spoonbills, lovely pink birds in the area. To learn more about the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, click here.

Leaving the wildlife refuge, we headed south on Highway 1, stopping for gas and more lottery tickets and scratch-offs, and we also stopped at an ice cream stand called Frisbee’s…it was shaped like an actual ice cream cone! We didn’t even bother to get ice cream, because we hoped to have dinner soon…but we did get a photo!

Soon thereafter, we got back on I-95, and our next stop was Vero Beach, Florida. We were driving down the interstate trying to figure out a safe place to stop. Mary Ann was reading off the names of cities on the map, and when she said, “Vero Beach,” I knew it would be safe to stop there. I have a friend who has a home there, and I know she has high standards. As we drove into Vero Beach, it was approaching 9pm, and we were looking for a restaurant for dinner. Mary Ann found one that was open till 10…Waldo’s at The Driftwood. We called ahead to make sure we would be able to get a table, and we were thrilled when they seated us outside, overlooking the Atlantic! We both had grilled fish with roasted veggies, and I texted Linda, my friend who has a home there, and told her we were at Waldo’s. She immediately texted me back, saying, “Waldo’s is an institution in Vero!” I will say the place had character. It also has quite a history. We highly recommend a visit to Waldo’s if you find yourself in Vero. To learn more about Waldo’s, click here. I was driving, so I didn’t have a cocktail, but Mary Ann ordered something called Voodoo Juice that was served in a bucket! She drank it down quickly and then said her head was tingling! Yes, she had a little buzz, but we later discovered she was also having a slight allergic reaction to something in the drink! Nothing serious…an antihistamine took care of it.

We ended up staying in a local Hampton Inn that night. If we had realized The Driftwood was right there, we likely would have tried to get a room there, but we were tired and just took the first option we came across. Even though we didn’t stay at The Driftwood, I would recommend staying there at least one night if you’re looking for a little, local place…just because it’s legendary, and the location is fantastic. You can see info about The Driftwood here.

After a good night’s sleep, we had some coffee and called Linda to get some tips about things to see quickly in Vero Beach. We went to the beach for a little while, and we were impressed by the boardwalk! It truly is a lovely area. She also recommended we spend some time checking out the town and look at some of the beautiful homes, and most importantly, she reminded me her brother had died in Vero Beach four years ago. He was an actor and had just closed his show, Ring of Fire, a show about Johnny Cash, at the Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach. In fact, the theatre has one of his guitars on display as a memorial, and I was determined to get into the theatre for a photo of it. When Mary Ann and I arrived at the theatre, however, it was locked. I left Mary Ann in the car and walked around the side of the building, where I could see the guitar display through a window, and I was fortunate to see a young man working. Yes…I knocked, because well, that’s just who I am. He came to the door cautiously, and when he cracked it open, I explained to him why I was there. Lucky for me, a woman behind him heard me and said, “Absolutely. Let her in.” As it turns out, she knew Linda’s brother, Jason, and she said to me several times, “He was a lovely man.” I thanked her profusely, took the photo, and texted it to Linda. If you find yourself in Vero Beach when there is a show at the Riverside Theatre, get tickets…I hear it’s a beautiful theatre. See more about the theatre here.

From Vero Beach, we traveled south a few miles to Fort Pierce. Again using the Roadside America app as a reference, we decided to visit the Fort Pierce Manatee Observation and Education Center. We certainly didn’t expect to see any manatees there, because it appeared the center offered kayaking tours for that, but we thought we’d make a stop anyway. The center, of course, was closed. Ugh. COVID. However, it was located on a marina, and there was a very nice gentleman there who told us he had just seen a manatee mama and calf in the marina that day. We were excited! It became our mission to find those manatees! We waited and waited. And then…we got lucky! The mama and calf surfaced together for air, and we ran along the footbridge to that part of the marina for a closer look. We were able to watch them surface several times and even got videos! I couldn’t believe how big the mama was, but Mary Ann told me the male manatee that molested her in Crystal River was much larger…yikes. I definitely don’t need to swim with manatees, but I was thrilled to see them! My husband and I used to hear them in a marina near Miami, but it was always dark, and we could never see them. At 53, I finally saw manatees! I was absolutely giddy!

Mama Manatee in Ft Pierce!

Eventually, we decided we needed to move on, so we got back into the car and on Highway 1, driving toward Tequesta and Jupiter. Any self-respecting Bama fan (me) knows Joe Namath lives in that area, and I had just read an article about a new restaurant he’s opening with a partner. It’s called Charlie and Joe’s, and I knew it was scheduled to open mid-January, so of course, I had to try to find it. Maybe we would get lucky and arrive at the Grand Opening, and I could finally meet Joe Willie?!? We Googled the location and drove right to it. There were lots of cars in the surrounding parking lots, so we thought we had arrived on the right day! I even checked my hair and makeup before we got out of the car! We walked across the parking lot and came to a sidewalk that had signs on both sides saying “no trespassing.” I thought that meant we couldn’t walk on the grass beside the sidewalk…right up till the cop stepped out of his car and asked if he could help us. Eek! I asked, “Are we trespassing?!?” “Yes, ma’am.” I said, “Oh my goodness! We saw the signs, but we thought they were for that area.” He laughed…fortunately. I thanked him for being nice about it, and we walked back to the car…after I got a quick picture with the sign for Joe’s new restaurant! I’ll meet him one day! For info on Charlie and Joe’s click here.

From the Tequesta/Jupiter area, we set out for West Palm Beach, because we were hungry, and Linda had recommended a Cuban restaurant there…more on that next time!

Two Friends on the Road, Part 1

Two friends on the road, Part 1.

I’ve recovered now. Wow. About 11 days ago, I embarked on a road trip with my friend, Mary Ann. We were long overdue for some fun, and frankly, we had discussed the possibility of a road trip without kids for years. It was high time we just got into the car and went. So we did. My husband stayed home with our 17-yr-old daughter, and my friend left her three kids with her mom…and off we went. We didn’t plan anything in advance. We didn’t have hotel reservations. However, because of COVID, we decided we needed to travel to places that were actually open, so we headed south…toward Florida.

We had used an app called Roadside America before, so we decided to use it on this trip too…and using the app, we decided our first stop would be at the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, South Carolina. Crazy, right? It’s not an official welcome center; a gentleman built it in his yard, but it’s rather impressive. We knew when we had arrived, for sure. It’s shaped like a flying saucer and it cast a rather large shadow on the road as we approached from the east. Wow! Someone had spent a lot of time building this! I have to admit it was pretty amazing…an unusual photo op, to say the least. For a $20 “tip” you can go inside the massive structure, but since the sun was setting, and we weren’t sure the structure was “up to code,” we opted out of the grand tour. And soon, we were back on the road.

It wasn’t long before we were on I-95 south, and we stayed the course for several hours, till we decided it was time to stop…in St. Augustine, Florida. We got off the interstate and headed toward town, looking for a restaurant where we could grab dinner. We found a lovely place called Green Papaya, which offered Asian Fusion, but it was nearing closing time. We quickly ordered online and opted to eat it in the car, because we didn’t want to cause the staff to stay late. (My husband would be upset that we ate in my car…but he wasn’t there!) We were impressed with our ability to find a great restaurant, as the food from Green Papaya was just what the doctor ordered! If we find ourselves in St. Augustine again, we will return!

After dinner (in the car!), it was time to look for a place to stay. As I mentioned, we hadn’t made reservations ahead of time, and we wanted a small, locally-owned inn for the night. After checking ratings online, we headed toward a place called Magic Beach Motel in Vilano Beach…just outside St. Augustine. When we rolled into Vilano Beach, it was easy to spot Magic Beach Motel, because it was aglow in neon! It was exactly what we were looking for…a charming little beach motel from days gone by. (See feature photo!) For more info on the Magic Beach Motel, click here. Here’s where I should mention we purchased lottery tickets (it was at $950 million!) and scratch-offs every time we stopped for a bathroom break or to gas up the car. Scratch-offs added some mindless entertainment when we checked into the motel (and every hotel thereafter), and won more than we spent! We got a good night’s sleep, and the next morning, we decided to check out the area. We walked around the village, a tourist/beach area that boomed in the 1940s and 50s, situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Tomalato River. For more information on Vilano Beach, click here. I read there was once a drawbridge that directed traffic to the area, but when a new bridge was constructed in 1995, traffic was diverted away from the area, having a negative impact on the area’s businesses. It’s still a charming area, and it appears to be having a bit of a comeback, as a couple of hotel chains are building there. We strolled from the beach park on one end to the pier overlooking the Tomalato River on the other end. It was at the pier that we found the Bluebird of Happiness statue…another great photo op.

We had fun exploring. Lots of the old motels/restaurants are closed and falling into disrepair, and Mary Ann and I mused about what could be done to revitalize them…if we won the lottery! We also learned there is a Saturday flea market and a cute little Airstream shopping village on weekends. Too bad we were there on a Tuesday/Wednesday. We would have enjoyed it. Good info for next time, though!

We also learned the sign for Haley’s Court, an old beach motel, is an icon of the “beach tourism boom of the 1940s and 50s,”and it has its own historical marker, according to hmdb.org. When we drove into town, the sign was not illuminated, but the next morning, we were able to see it clearly. The sign is a great example of mid-century modern design.

After spending the morning exploring Vilano Beach, we loaded up and drove to The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine…a tourist trap, for sure, but a fun one. We had lunch at a barbecue spot there, and it was surprisingly good! The park itself is interesting and informative, having begun as a tribute to Ponce de Leon’s landing in the New World. It has since become an archeological park, after several Christian relics were unearthed, positively identifying the area as the location of the settlement of St. Augustine in the 1500s. In the park, we found lots of information about the history of the area and even a planetarium! To learn more about The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, click here. We didn’t feel any younger when we left, unfortunately.

From there, we revisited downtown St. Augustine in the daylight…and it was just as stunning by day as it was when it was illuminated at night! The town square! The marinas! The fort! The beautiful, historical architecture! It’s definitely worth a visit! To learn more about St. Augustine, click here.

On our way out of town, we visited the lighthouse for a quick photo op, and we drove past the Alligator Farm, a place I visited as a child and loved. We needed to get a little farther south quickly, so we didn’t visit this time, but it’s also worth your time. I love a good alligator farm. Having lived on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay in Alabama, I’ve seen lots of gators…fascinating creatures. You can see lots of other animals at the Alligator Farm too. To learn more about the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, click here.

As we drove out of St. Augustine, we made a quick stop at a food truck park and grabbed some macróns before getting on A1A to head south on the beach road. We opened the windows and the sunroof, cranked up the 80s tunes and cruised the beach road through Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, and Ormond-by-the-Sea. This stretch of A1A felt like old school beach road…we enjoyed it and put our toes in the sand at several beaches along the way, searching for Right Whales every time we stopped. Right Whales can be spotted off the Florida coast between the months of December and March…something I didn’t know before this trip… so we hoped we might be able to spot one. We didn’t, but it was fun looking for them…and we got to enjoy the beaches in the process! We spoke with some local folks along the way…asking if any of them had ever seen Right Whales off shore…none of them had, but they knew people who had.

At Daytona, we hopped off A1A to take advantage of a photo op at Daytona Motor Speedway…a landmark, for sure. We then followed Highway 1 south to Merritt Island. I’ll pick up with that stop next time. At this point, we were having a great time, and the fun continued!

Outside Daytona Motor Speedway

Retro Road Trip

Retro road trip!

I’m 53. I don’t hesitate to tell people my age, because I don’t really care how old I am. I’m just happy to be here. At 53, though, I have accumulated a lot of life experience, and I have a lot of memories.

I don’t remember my parents ever being big on staying in little roadside motels, but I do remember a few occasions when we stayed in them in small towns. I remembering seeing lots of little locally-owned inns and motels in the late 1960s and 70s. There were lots of them lining the beach roads in the Florida Panhandle, a place we frequented. Panama City Beach was full of them, and a few are still there. When I was a little girl living in Spanish Fort, Alabama, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, there was a cute little locally-owned motel near the entrance to our neighborhood. Anyone who lived in Spanish Fort in the 70s (and probably the 50s and 60s) remembers the Spanish Fort Motel, and they likely remember the Malbis Hotel Courts too, which had a swimming pool shaped like the state of Alabama. I know, because when I was a little girl, locals would purchase “memberships” to pools at both places. We spent lots of hot summer days swimming there. Both places had great restaurants for breakfast, and they both were on old Highway 90, which was the coastal east-west highway before the interstate, I-10, opened. After I-10 opened, of course, lots of those little places closed. Hotel chains built hotels near the interstates, and travelers opted for those instead.

Lots of those little roadside motels are gone now. But in some parts of the country, you can still find them.

This week, I am going on a retro road trip with a friend. We are leaving the kids behind and hitting the road…in search of every cute, little, retro, roadside motel we can find. We aren’t looking for luxury. We are looking for cute, quaint, old-fashioned fun. We haven’t put a lot of thought into where we will go, but we know we have to go somewhere that’s actually open during the COVID pandemic. We know we don’t need to drive into snow. And we know we need to go somewhere that there are still roadside motels. So, we are headed to Florida.

Originally, we had booked a five-night stay at a nice resort in south Florida, but then we decided to make this more of a retro adventure…a step back in time…and that’s what it will be. Plus, we felt like we would likely be more exposed to COVID at a large resort. Trust me when I say we are going to be careful. My travel buddy has already had COVID and still has antibodies. I don’t want to catch it, so I will be extra careful. But we want to have some fun and make new, silly memories.

Now don’t get me wrong. We don’t want to stay at any roach motels, and we don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to drug deals going down around us, so we have done a little research. And we will check reviews and ratings before we stop anywhere.

While we are on the road, we also will check out every cheesy roadside attraction we can find. All those roadside attractions the kids would grumble about? We are stopping! And we are going to take lots of photos! So stay tuned…the fun starts Tuesday.

I’m wondering if we should wear clothes from the 60s and 70s…maybe we will find some thrift stores along the way!

We are stepping back in time! Retro road trip!

***The feature photo is from a postcard from the Spanish Fort Motel. It features a photo of the entrance/check-in area.

***The photo below is a postcard featuring the Malbis Hotel Courts…and that pool shaped like the great state of Alabama.***

Holding Out for Puerto Rico

Holding out for Puerto Rico.

My 2020 vacations, so far, are a bust. I haven’t left the city of Charlotte since January…well, except for a brief drive into South Carolina just to see what an open economy looked like earlier this month. Just like most of the people in the United States, I’ve been stuck at home since March. I was supposed to go on a spring break trip with my daughter and some friends, but we cancelled two days before our departure date, because of the coronavirus. It was the right thing to do, but dang! I miss going places! I miss travel!

Different people have different things they miss about “normal life.” What do you miss? I know lots of people, including me, miss sports! The world just isn’t the same without live sports! Sometimes I get my sports fix by watching an old game or turning on an ESPN 30 for 30, but it’s just not the same. I know lots of people miss their coworkers. My daughter misses her school. Yes, she misses her school. There was a time, when she was in 8th grade, that she thought she wanted to change schools. She has gone to the same school since transitional kindergarten, and I get it…she thought she wanted to change. I think 8th grade is a time when kids want more independence and control. I took her to visit a couple of schools, and I let her make the decision. Sometimes kids need a change, and sometimes they just think they do. She decided to stay where she was, and earlier this school year, she told me she knew she made the right decision. She said, “I go to the perfect school for me.” It was like music to my ears! I think she just needed to know she had some control of her own destiny. In just two short years, she will be a proud graduate of her school, but right now, she misses her school…and her friends there…and her sports there…the staff there…her coaches…and yes, her teachers too.

I miss all that, but I really miss vacations. Our first couple of trips for summer have cancelled, simply because they were in coronavirus hotspots. I don’t know if I’ll even get on a plane this summer, and that’s heartbreaking, but yes, I know it’s a first world problem. I know. I am thankful my family is healthy. I am thankful we live in a place that we have been able to go outdoors during all this. But it’s OK if I miss vacations. We all have things we love that we are missing, and I’m missing vacations…new experiences…new people…even familiar experiences and people.

Sure, we are going to the beach a couple of times, and we will have lots of fun, but I will miss the bigger trips.

I have a vacation planned for the middle of July with a friend from college and our teenage daughters. We planned a trip to Puerto Rico months ago. My friend’s daughter just graduated from high school…she’s one of the the high school grads of 2020 who didn’t get to have a real graduation ceremony…or a prom…or lots of other special memories. When we planned the trip, coronavirus was barely on our minds, and while we haven’t worried about our trip, because it’s entirely out of our control, we are constantly saying to each other, “I hope we can go.”

My daughter and I went to Puerto Rico in 2017 with some friends from Ohio, and we loved it. As it turned out, Hurricane Maria hit the island a couple of weeks after we left. We know it’s not the same, but we want to go, because we know the people are wonderful. We know it’s a beautiful island with lots of friendly people, history, and great food. Honestly, I remember telling my friend, “I’d come back just for the food!” No joke…the food is the best! And the people! Without making this piece sound like an advertisement for Puerto Rico tourism, I can honestly say it is one of my favorite places ever. It’s easy to get to, and there are no long lines for customs and immigration, because it’s a US territory! The historical sites on the island are incredibly well-preserved. The beaches are beautiful. There’s a big city and a beautiful rainforest! The bioluminescent bays are natural wonders. And did I mention the people and the food?!?! I have met lovely people there, and they love their island; they want other people to love it too! To learn more about Puerto Rico, click here.

And now, we have plans to go back. We might not get to go to some of the destinations we wanted to visit this summer, but we’re holding out for Puerto Rico. Plus, their economy was ravaged by the hurricane in 2017…now this pandemic. Let’s support our friends in Puerto Rico!

Fingers crossed.

 

I Lied.

I lied.

I said we wouldn’t cancel our spring break trip to Miami, but I canceled today.

We ended up canceling, even though I really didn’t want to. I’m stubborn. I hate to give in. I didn’t want the stupid coronavirus to beat us. I wanted to win this battle and enjoy a week in the sun. It simply wasn’t meant to be.

I was still planning to go. In fact, I finally canceled this afternoon. I hated to do it, but some of the people we were traveling with were coming from Ohio, which has been hit hard, and some of the kids were getting anxious. Ugh. I was actually in a store buying a few things for the trip when my daughter texted me that she was a little scared to go.

When I first got her text, I responded, “Let me think.” And then, I remembered something that happened 17 years ago. In 2003, I was pregnant. I’ve always loved to travel, and pregnancy didn’t slow me down. So in the summer of 2003, I met a friend in Florida for a weekend of fun. We had a great time, and I boarded the plane for my flight home. Everything was normal till just after takeoff, we took a bird in the right engine of the plane. I was a flight attendant for a little while after college, so as soon as it happened, I knew what was going on. I also noticed we stopped climbing. I turned to the lady sitting next to me and said, “We just took a bird in the right engine. This could be interesting.” Sometimes, taking a bird in the engine isn’t a big deal, and sometimes it is. Since I could hear that one engine was still operational, I wasn’t too concerned, but since we had stopped climbing, I was a little concerned. Finally, the captain came on and said we were going to land at a nearby airport, so I knew everything was OK, but the incident did make me think. No, it didn’t make me afraid to fly, but at the time, I thought, “Wow, if we had taken birds in both engines, my baby might have died before she was born…for a stupid vacation.”

And today, when that same baby…now 16 years old…expressed a little fear about traveling during this stupid coronavirus outbreak, I thought about that trip, and I knew what I needed to do.  I knew I needed to cancel. It’s just not worth the risk of coronavirus. We can go to Miami later.

Now we’re home in Charlotte for spring break, and while I’m not thrilled about it, I intend to make the most of the situation. I’ve decided we will contribute to our local economy and encourage others to do the same…in a safe manner. Here are some ways I plan to do that:

  • Visit local restaurants at off hours, when they’re less crowded OR order takeout from local restaurants. Tip generously.
  • Shop local. Visit local stores and shop! You can avoid crowds and still shop. Since we’re not going shopping in Miami, we will shop here.
  • Post on Facebook about places we visit and encourage others to do the same.
  • Enjoy a little staycation at a local hotel.
  • Go on a little road trip to a place where I know there is little light pollution; it’s the perfect place to sit outside and stargaze at night. Plus, there aren’t other people there…no coronavirus.
  • Buy gift cards. I can’t go to Miami right now, but I know that when I do, I will dine at certain restaurants. I can purchase gift cards online for my future travel. We have several vacations planned for later this year, and it just makes sense to purchase gift cards from restaurants and stores now that I can use later!

Yes, this stupid coronavirus is changing the way we do things right now, but we can’t let it get us down! I’m putting on my happy face and doing everything I can to make the most of a bad situation.

Coronavirus be damned!

What a Motley Crew!

Over the holidays, I traveled to the Los Angeles area with my teenage daughter, her friend, my 20-something nephew, and his friend. So that’s five travelers, ranging in age from 16 to 52…that highest number being mine.

We came together for meals while we were there and just a few other activities, but we did our own thing a lot. During the final dinner of our trip, I asked my fellow travelers to go around the table and tell what their favorite part of the trip was, and I expected to hear lots of different answers, but they surprised me.

They all answered the same thing…our day in Malibu. The day we were in Malibu was also the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death. It was the one day we all spent together, and I was thrilled to know everyone enjoyed it. While we were in Malibu, we dined at my very favorite restaurant…on the deck, right on the beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Those of us who were old enough had some fun cocktails. We drank a toast to Mother, and we took lots of photos. After leaving the restaurant, we walked down to Malibu Pier…a favorite landmark and another great photo op. The walk was only about a half mile, but we laughed and talked all the way to the pier.

Like I said, before I asked, I thought they would all have different answers. Throughout the trip, we had seen lots of celebrities! We had eaten great meals. We had shopped till we dropped. My nephew and his friend had never been there before, so they did more sightseeing…I thought that might have been their favorite part of the trip. But nope…they all enjoyed the day we were all together. As a mother and aunt, it made me very happy. And knowing it was the second anniversary of my mother’s passing made me more grateful for the time we all spent together. She had to be smiling down on us as we laughed and ate and drank and walked and laughed some more.

My daughter is 16, and I always think she just wants to be away from me. She loves me, but I remember 16…I remember wanting to have more independence. She certainly enjoys any independence she has, but it warms my heart to know her favorite day was the day she was with her old mom and her cousin and their friends. We were a motley crew…the conservative-looking 52-yr-old mom/aunt, the two 16-yr-old girls who are too cool for school, and my 20-something hippie-looking nephew and his girlfriend. No one would have put that group together in a million years, but that motley crew had a great time!

It was a great way to celebrate my mother’s life, and it was infinitely better than the first anniversary of her death. It’s much better to spend days like that with people who are important to you…people you love…people who always have your back. So if you ever find yourself facing this kind of “anniversary,” remember to spend it with people who will wrap you in love. Avoid people who won’t.

It warms my heart to know they all enjoyed being together. I can hardly wait for the next trip!

Practicing My Spanish! (¡Practicando mi Español!)

Practicing my Spanish. (Practicando mi Español.)

When I was in ninth grade, I took Spanish. I don’t remember if a foreign language was required then, but I took it because I knew the Spanish teacher took students with her to Mexico every year, and I wanted to go on that trip. What I didn’t know is that I would love the language and the people of Mexico.

Of course, in the 1980s, we had no way of seeing the future. We didn’t know Spanish would be a hot commodity in the 2000s. Back then, everybody was telling us we needed to learn Russian and Japanese, because it appeared as if Japan would be an economic superpower. Maybe it is. I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that Spanish is something we can use every single day in this country.

So in 1982, I took Spanish just so I could do the Mexico trip with some of my classmates. I’ve written about it before. Five girls from the class went with our pregnant teacher and a friend of hers as our chaperones. The teacher was an awesome Spanish teacher, but we ran pretty unsupervised through Mexico City for days. Mexico City was our first stop, and to this day, I still love that city. After Mexico City, we visited Taxco and Acapulco…back when it was safe to visit Acapulco. I took more Spanish classes as a result of that trip.

I have visited Mexico City (and other cities in Mexico) numerous times since then, and I love it every time. I find that every time I visit, after a few days, my Spanish improves by leaps and bounds. I have friends in Charlotte who are from Mexico, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries, so I get to practice my Spanish some, but it’s a lot of fun to visit  other countries and speak Spanish.

This summer, we are taking several vacations, but the only place I will visit where Spanish is the first language is Puerto Rico. I’ll practice it some, but usually, I find that, in Puerto Rico, when I ask a question in Spanish, they answer me in English. I continue speaking my terrible version of Spanish till they usually humor me by speaking some Spanish back to me. So I have a long list of Latin American countries I really want to visit in the next few years. I’ve been to Costa Rica and Peru, but I have other countries I’d like to visit: Argentina and Panama top the list.

But for now, I’ll get to practice my Spanish in Puerto Rico and just hope some folks there will cooperate. I know a few words I will definitely use while I’m there. I’ll exchange the regular greetings, and then, pretty soon after we arrive, I’ll use this word: churro. Yes, you know that word, and if you don’t, you’re missing out. The hotel where we will stay has some fabulous churros, so I’ll be saying that word really early in the trip when I place my first order! Next word? Alcapurrias! Actually, I’m not even sure that’s a Spanish word, but I’ll be using that word, because I know the pool bar serves great alcapurrias. Not familiar? They’re beef-filled, fried fritters. I can’t make them, but I can eat them! And only one more food word: mallorca! Pan de mallorca is actually a sweet bread made in Puerto Rico, modeled after a bread made in Majorca, Spain. Restaurants make sandwiches with the bread, and my very favorite thing to order is a mallorca con huevo, queso, y jamón (egg, cheese, and ham).

Seriously, I don’t just speak Spanish to order foods. When I’m visiting a country where Spanish is the first language, I try to use my Spanish as much as I can, and I try to learn new words. I love to come home with an expanded vocabulary.

I’m excited about Puerto Rico waaaaay to early, and next year, maybe I’ll make it to Argentina!

 

 

 

We Save $$$ Traveling with Friends

We save money traveling with friends…and make some great memories at the same time!

I’m always thinking about the next vacation. My husband just rolls his eyes every time I say, “You know where I want to go next?” He rolls his eyes because he does not have wanderlust, and I do. He loves being home, and he loves visiting the beach where he grew up. That’s fine, but I like to go to different places. That doesn’t mean I don’t repeat places, but the places I like are different than what he likes. No, it’s not a problem, because he doesn’t care when I vacation without him, and I don’t mind when he vacations without me. We’re married, but that doesn’t mean we have to be together 24/7.

My daughter and I travel with friends quite often, and we love it for so many reasons!

Our 16-yr-old daughter is an only child, and I have a cousin and several friends who also have “only children,” so it’s fun to travel with them. I get to catch up with my friends or my cousin, and my daughter has fun with their daughters.

Aside from the fun factor, it saves money for all of us, and we get to do more! How does it save money? Well, we always travel with friends we love…people we enjoy sharing space with. For example, this summer, we are going to a Caribbean destination with a friend from Alabama and her daughter. When we both had daughters, we joked that they would have to be best friends whether they wanted to or not…and fortunately, they love each other! As for the money savings, we share a hotel room or suite. Because we are sharing, we are splitting the cost, making it much more affordable for both of us. It doesn’t save us anything on airfare, but we manage to save a lot anyway.

In fact, this summer, we will do trips with three different friends and a cousin, and it’s all possible, because we aren’t spending a fortune on the rooms/suites, even though we will have beautiful, top-of-the-line accommodations! But we don’t just save on the room. We also save on rental cars, taxi rides, Uber rides, and gas costs. Seriously, it all adds up, and at the end of a five day trip, we are usually amazed at how much we saved by sharing the costs with friends.

Another way to save on travel? Consult a travel agent. I used to work at a travel agency, so I know they often are aware of specials the general public might not know about. Planning a trip to the Caribbean? Let an agent help you. Planning a cruise? Let an agent help you find the perfect one!

Maybe you want to book your own hotel reservation? One quick thing about hotels: when you are making a reservation, always check the special offers. Sometimes, they offer a fifth night free. Sometimes, they offer suites at a discount, but if you don’t check into it, you might be paying the same thing for a room that you could be paying for a much larger space. And always…always…always…continue to check the rates even after you book your reservation. Last year, after I booked our hotel for spring break, I kept checking, and the rates kept going down. I ended up with a rate that was $500 less (total) than the original rate I booked.

Other good ways to save when traveling? Some credit cards offer extra points for dollars spent while traveling, and you can get cash back. I have a credit card that gives me cash back for every dollar we spend, and we get a greater percentage if we apply it to travel. In fact, we try to pay for everything we can on that credit card, and the savings add up fast! I pay for two vacations a year with the points from that card! And don’t forget your frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards programs. If you haven’t signed up for the rewards programs of hotels where you stay, you are just throwing money away. Registration is always free for the programs, and you get points that can add up to free hotel rooms. Seriously, last year, we had 12 free nights in hotels. That’s real money.

And anyone can check out The Points Guy’s website here. The website has a plethora of information about travel savings, but one of the first points he makes is one of the points I’ve already made: get a credit card that will maximize your cash back or points for travel. He says, “By using your debit card [instead of a credit card with rewards], you are spending money and getting nothing in return.”

Travel doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, and it’s a lot more fun when you make memories with people you love! So if you want a surefire way to save on travel, grab a friend and split some costs! That’s my favorite way to save on vacation costs!