Tag Archives: travel

Traveling Alone as a Female and on a Budget – My Solo Road Trip from Virginia to Maine

Almost five years ago to the day, I embarked on my first real road trip from Virginia to Maine. And I did it traveling alone. If anyone tells you that you can’t travel alone as a female, they’re wrong. It was a very liberating experience. At the time, I owned next to nothing and was living paycheck by paycheck. Do we live in a dangerous world? Yes. There is going to be danger wherever you go. There are dangers where you live now. As long as you have a good head on your shoulders, take proper precautions and use a little common sense, you can have a safe and successful trip.

In a previous post, I discussed travel safety tips. Here, I’m going to share with you my experience in traveling alone all those years ago when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Back then I had no credit cards (Smart, though I had applied for one through my bank before the trip…it arrived in the mail the day after I left. Probably for the best.) Being tight on budget, I didn’t even own a smart phone! Instead, I spent my nights in the hotel room planning my next day by looking up things to do on my laptop and programming addresses into my TomTom.

Leaving Southeastern Virginia

Though it wasn’t the first time I’d left home, I hadn’t done that much traveling in the past. Previously, my family had taken me on road trips to visit an older brother in Arkansas and New York. I had even been to Canada on one occasion, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and to Pennsylvania for a funeral. So it wasn’t that I hadn’t been out, it was that I hadn’t been out on my own for my own reasons.

I made everything up as I went with certain interests I knew I wanted to see. Mainly, the goal was to reach the state of Maine (no pun intended). I’m not sure what was pulling me towards the state but I felt compelled to go.

First, I traveled west towards the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once I reached the Natural Bridge Caverns, I toured them to stretch my legs, then continued up the scenic route of Skyline Drive.

Skyline Drive

No pictures can ever fully capture the beauty of this place. If you ever have the chance to view the beauty of the mountains, the western part of Virginia and the state of West Virginia are the best places to view them in the east. With that being said, I will leave you with these:

This photo was actually taken years earlier at the top of Molly’s Knob. Every year my high school cross country team ventured to Hungry Mother State Park and Molly’s Knob was the final ascent. From the top you can see into 5 different states. It is part of the same mountain range.

The vast openness of the rolling hills and white, puffy clouds were peaceful and captivating.

Luray Caverns

After adventuring down Skyline Drive, I made my way towards the Luray Caverns. Far more vast and commercialized than the Natural Bridge Caverns, the rest at the northern tip of Skyline Drive. I was determined to get there before they closed for the day (Yes, so far this has only been one day…and a lot of driving).

Once again, pictures cannot do this place justice. If I ever go again, I vow to take none and instead, enjoy the beauty and splendor of seeing it with my own eyes. Sometimes when we go on trips we spend so much time taking pictures that we forget to take in the experience.

Some formations look like they were taken straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.

I believe this formation was dubbed “Mammoth.”
Would you believe me if I told you that half of this picture is a reflection? In some places, the water beneath is so still, that it’s almost impossible to tell while standing there, looking at it.
Can’t tell where the water stops and starts? This is another reflection shot.

A Random Motel in Luray

After I left the caverns, I found a place to settle in for the night. Since I had been “winging” it, I hadn’t booked any place in advance. This was long before the days of being a Hilton Honors Club Member. I checked into the last room of a motel that was $50 a night. This night was one of the moments that I realized how spoiled and privileged I was during my childhood.

The room had no wi-fi, millions of dead beetles in the window sill and bug traps/poison hidden in corners and behind the furniture. I’m not even sure what kind of bug they were trying to kill and I didn’t want to find out. That night, I refused to shower or even undress at all. After sitting on the bed and having a good cry (realizing how naive I had been all my life and how easy I’d had it), I dead-bolted the door (yes, the motel had dead-bolts), I put the desk chair up against it and my heavy luggage on top of that.

I refused to leave anything on the floor because of bugs and for the same reason I slept on top of the covers, fully clothed and with the lights on. Exhausted, I didn’t even bother to watch the television. Instead, I was thankful to have a place to sleep even with the fear of bug infestations and possible intruders trying to break down my door. After all, I had seen enough horror films that took place in motels out in the middle of nowhere.

Crash Diet

Not that I’ve ever been large (I’ve never been more than a size 2), but I had a small belly before I started the trip. Yes, even size 2’s get bellies. Throughout the course of this trip, my diet consisted of yogurt, granola bars and water. Once a day I would try and stop for a plate of pasta or a slice of pizza (a far cry from our now seven-course meals at modern sushi joints in DC, thank you, honey!) If you’re ever looking to lose weight (I’m not a doctor so you probably shouldn’t listen to this), one week of eating like that made any pudge I had vanish almost overnight.

Heading Towards Vermont

I knew that it would still take me more than a day to get to Maine, even without stopping and sight-seeing anywhere. Since I didn’t have wi-fi the night before or a smart phone with any kind of data plan, I stuck to the road the next day and rove through Pennsylvania and the country-side of New York. By the time I reached Vermont, I was exhausted and determined to find a place to stay that had internet.

I found a quaint motel in Bennington, Vermont that charged $100 a night. It was well kept and I felt safe showering and sleeping in my pajamas unlike the night before. It’s amazing what small comforts can do. Having internet, I took the time to plan the rest of my trip to Maine and figure out what I would do once I got there.

The place I stayed in Vermont was just around the corner from a legendary haunted house as well as the cemetery where Robert Frost was buried. As a total taphophile, I couldn’t help but take pictures in the graveyard. And no, I don’t remember the name of the house but it is there!

Making it to Maine, “The Southern North”

Maine is often called “The Southern North” because the people there have southern hospitality despite being among the northern “Yankee” states of New England. Up here there are no Cracker Barrels, lots of wine and jam is made from blueberries and you can buy lobster on just about every corner. I’d go back in a heart beat.

I ventured to the Botanical Gardens which were filled with plants and sculptures of all kinds. Inside, was an interactive map where visitors were encouraged to add their zip codes. There was one other visitor from my zip code…and I have yet to track them down and find them!

I was lucky enough to miss the rain but you can see the remnant of it darkening the letters of this stone. “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” Words to live by!
Three friendly Maine frogs, sharing a rock in one of the botanical garden’s ponds.
This was probably my favorite sculpture in the park, the porcupine. So creative!

Cellardoor Winery and Maine Desert

After leaving the gardens, I ventured out to the desert. Yes, there is a desert in Maine. Didn’t know that? Neither did I and it’s getting smaller and smaller each year so you might want to go see it while you can.

Headed towards the Cellardoor Winery located in Lincolnsville, ME, I was originally under the impression that it was named after a scene in The Lord of the Rings. In both the book and movie versions, there is a scene where the fellowship comes across a large door where they must “Speak ‘friend’ and enter.” While this is not the case, the actual story isn’t far from that.

According to the Cellardoor Winery Website, the story goes as follows:

A Symbol of Welcome and Friendship

As the story goes, a hobo, a traveler looking for work nearly 100 years ago, visited our farm in Lincolnville. He was welcomed. He felt safe. Upon his departure, he carved in the barn door a “hobo symbol” to let fellow travelers know they would find hospitality here.

All these years later, we have proudly embraced, are motivated by, this story and the spirit of welcome meant to be offered to guests. While the door with the fabled hand carving is treasured, we have adopted a current day artist’s interpretation of it as our logo. It is our inspiration to beat our guests’ expectations, to offer a respite from busy lives.

When you see our Hobo symbol, know that you are in a safe and friendly place. We invite you to our Cellardoor properties with open hearts, generosity, and camaraderie. Whether you join us for a tour of our winery, a wine tasting, a food and wine pairing, or one of our big events, we hope you enjoy your time with us.

A view from the balcony of the winery where I ate a late lunch.
A motto found along a lot of their merchandise.

Inside the Winery

While I didn’t see any offerings of tours, there were two tasting bars inside. At the time, they offered a free tasting of four wines at each bar on Sundays (which happened to be the day I was there!). You could pay a little extra to sample 8 wines at the first bar. The second bar featured meat and cheese accompaniments. It was well worth the trip!

Ogunquit Beach, Maine.

On my last night I stayed two nights in Bath, Maine before heading back south towards Ogunquit Beach. Staying my last night there, I found the only place I could with a vacancy, which happened to be within walking distance to the beach.

It was incredibly peaceful to walk along an uncrowded beach with low humidity in the middle of August. (Something you’d be hard-pressed to find in Southeastern Virginia.) It was my last moment of peace and solace before making the 13 hour drive back home to an area that I consider to be filled with toxic and close-minded people.

Arriving Home

When I got home, the excitement of my trip was quickly squashed and squandered by co-workers. You see, all of my jobs have been “male-dominated” and by that I mean that I was always in an environment where I was surrounded by men. When I would excitedly tell them about all the fun I had on my trip, I was often met with responses like, “You went alone!?” “You didn’t take your man with you?” (At the time I was either fresh out of a relationship or just starting a new one, can’t remember). “Why did you go by yourself? You should’ve taken your boyfriend.” “Women shouldn’t travel alone.” And the list goes on…

There’s also a lot of men out there who like to deny that men who would say such things exist. I started to fire back with my own questions. “Why do I have to have a man with me?” “Do you not think a woman can survive without a man?” “Yes, I went alone and I’m still alive. I wasn’t mugged, raped or kidnapped. So your point is?”

Take a Stand Against the “Norm”

While my parents didn’t speak against it, my aunt and older cousin were for some reason in awe of me. They think I’m cool because I  packed a bag and went to Maine on a whim. I never understood why, at least at the time, I didn’t. I see it now. My aunt and older cousin were from the same upbringing as I was, along with my mother.

My mother would often tell me growing up, “You don’t do that. You’re a woman and women don’t do that.” “Women don’t pump their own gas, that’s a man’s job.” “Women don’t take out the trash, that’s a man’s job.” And while all of that “was a man’s job” never once did she clarify what a women’s job was. She herself was big into microwave cooking and she never forced me to sew or learn any sort of “home-making” tasks. So what she really left me with was a blank slate.

Nothing was Specifically My Job

But that meant, I had to choose a path for myself and honestly, I enjoyed mowing the lawn. And I really didn’t mind pumping my own gas, much to her chagrin. My aunt and cousin thought I was awesome because I was woman willing to go against what she’d been taught by her upbringing. I continue to do this to this day which pisses some people off.

While the gender dynamics at my work place are changing, that is a big can of worms for an already long post. I have been asked on more that one occasion, “Why can’t you just do as your told?” “Why can’t you just fall in line and be like everyone else?” Because I’m not meant to be. It’s not in my nature.

I challenge anyone reading this, whether you’re a man or woman, it doesn’t matter, to challenge the status quo. Question why you do the things you do. Is it because someone else told you that’s what you’re supposed to do? Or is it because you want to do it?

Women, it’s OK to travel alone. Men, it’s OK to show emotion. Women, you don’t have to shrink yourself or blend in. Men, you don’t have to always make the plans. Be different. All of you 🙂

Thank you for reading!


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25 Safety Tips for Traveling

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We live in a beautiful and vast world filled with all sorts of amazing sights and flavors. Thankfully, since the invention of the internet, it’s become much smaller and easier to experience other cultures first hand. You can do just about anything nowadays at the palm of your hand. The world is literally at your fingertips. However, we also live in a dangerous world where many love to prey on the unsuspecting and vulnerable. Don’t let the fear of that happening stop you from traveling the world, if your heart so desires.

Whether traveling solo, with a partner, or in a group, traveling can be very liberating and enjoyable. As long as you remain alert and take proper precautions, you will find that most people are friendly. Modern day media frequently highlights all of the bad going on in the world. While traveling anywhere, it’s important to be aware of possible dangers but please don’t let “possible dangers” deter you. Below I’ve composed a list of 25 safety tips I find helpful whenever traveling.

1. Don’t keep all of your cash in one location.

When we travel, I hold some of the cash, he holds some of the cash. It’s never all on one person. If you’re alone, keep some on you and some in your luggage back at the hotel room. This way a) you’re not going to blow all of your cash at once and b) if you’re robbed or you leave your wallet/purse at a restaurant on accident (cough* it’s happened to both of us), you’re not completely stuck. If you’re in a larger group, split it up in other ways.

2. Watch the alcohol.

If I’m alone, I don’t even touch the stuff since I’m such a lightweight. If I’m with someone else, I drink with dinner and that’s about it. Know your limits. If your in New Orleans, they make their drinks STRONG. Boy was I glad I wasn’t alone then because a few sips and I was already feeling it (I’m not THAT much of a lightweight!)

We all know that alcohol can slow our reaction time and blur our senses. Be careful, even when in groups.

3. If driving- keep an eye on your gas tank.

Whether you’re renting a car or driving your own and heading out for a road trip, keep an eye on your fuel. The last thing you need is to be stranded in the middle of Arizona, miles from the nearest city. It’s generally a good practice not to let it dip passed a half-tank. Also keep an eye on your tire pressure and make sure everything looks good before you enter your vehicle.

Maybe I’ve watched too many horror films where holes were poked in tires…or is that my imagination? Bottom line is, you don’t want to be stranded. Check your vehicle and always make sure it’s in working order.

Hilton Hotels 

4. If flying, keep valuables in your carry-on.

As a minimalist, I never check baggage. However, I understand that not every one in the world is a minimalist. If you have valuables with you or important documents, keep those on you. Tuck them away in your carry-on luggage or in your purse. This way if you’re baggage gets lost, the stuff that really matters (like your identity) will be with you.

5. Don’t be too quick to trust strangers. (Chicago Kid)

In general, most people are nice but if something feels off, go with your gut. We’ve been lucky in that in our travels together we’ve avoided serious danger.

Once, when I was in Chicago after Christmas, I was visiting the Navy Pier which was extremely crowded inside despite the cold and icy conditions outside. While headed for the exit, a young man stopped me and asked to use my phone. I hesitated for a split second. My brain works a lot faster than any other part of me so I started running through all the different scenarios in my head.

What if this kid steals my phone? I’ll be stranded! My plane tickets are on my phone. I’m alone right now and it’s night time in Chicago, the crime capital of America. Am I about to make a stupid decision by letting this kid use my phone? What if he runs for it? I’ll lose him in the crowd. Surely with all these people, someone will stop him. He can’t run outside it’s too slick and icy. Wait… what if I were in this kid’s situation? He can’t be more than 14 and he’s alone, stranded. Wouldn’t I want someone to help me? I can reprint my plane tickets at the hotel. Oh gosh, how will I hail an Uber without my phone? Fuck it, I’ll walk back to the hotel if I have to. If a criminal wants some I’d be so angry by then I’d put up a worthy fight…

Yes, all of that went through my head in about 1-2 seconds. I handed over my phone and the kid stood right next to me and made his call. Once he was done, he handed it back to me with several sincere Thank Yous.

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6. If you’re traveling alone, don’t tell anyone.

Fibbing to a stranger won’t kill you. If you’re a male traveling alone, you may not feel as threatened as females. Unfortunately, we live in a world where females are often seen as targets not just for muggings but also atrocities like human trafficking and rape. Not to say that men can’t also be subjected to these crimes. Either way, it won’t hurt to lie to a gas station attendant that you’ll never see again. Sometimes people are genuinely trying to start friendly conversation. However, if you don’t feel comfortable, follow your instinct.

7. Research your destination.

I’m a stickler for researching an area before I travel there. I’ll go as far as searching Google for crime maps of the city and pick a hotel that is close to the attractions worth visiting so there isn’t extensive travel involved once the primary destination is reached.

Take some time before your trip to research the area. It doesn’t take long. While you’re at it, you may discover cool new attractions to see.

8. Know your taxi cost before you get in.

For some countries, especially down in the Caribbean, tourists are warned to determine their cab fare BEFORE they get into the taxi. Apparently drivers there take advantage of tourists. Be wary.

Also, not all American towns have Uber believe it or not. If that’s the transportation you plan to use, make sure they have it where you’re going. England sticks to their black cabs. Look online first to see if your destination has a metro or any kind of train system you can use to get around.

9. Try not to look like a tourist.

There are tons of posts online regarding the clothing you should and should not wear while traveling. I may write one myself in the future (a minimalist wardrobe would be ideal here!) Nowadays, taking pictures isn’t as tourist-only as it used to be. With everyone taking selfies for their social media accounts, even locals do it. However, your wardrobe can cause you to stand out. The idea here is to blend in.

If you’re an American traveling abroad, ditch the baseball cap. Also ditch the hooded sweatshirt that says ODU on it. Instead opt for comfortable clothing that’s plain and blends in. There is nothing wrong with jeans and a nice sweater.

10. If it costs extra to stay safe, do it.

If you’ve got to pay extra to get a hotel room in a safer neighborhood or extra cab fare from the airport to safe destination, do it. Don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger. A few bucks could make the difference between a nice holiday and a traumatizing event. Your  safety is worth splurging on.

11. Keep an eye on your surroundings.

Be aware of what people around you are doing. I used to think I was an observant person. However, my partner immediately spots the exit routes of a building as soon as he’s inside. I don’t know if that is something he developed naturally or after years of military combat but he is very cognizant of exit routes and people. It can be annoying at times but I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else if something bad happened.

Hilton Hotels

12. Write down your emergency information.

Your phone could be lost, stolen or damaged. The battery could die. Have a handwritten back up of important numbers and emergency information. What’s that saying? Expect the worst, Hope for the best.

13. Learn about common travel scams.

Again, this is another one you can do online. Research common travel scams or recent scams in your destination area. Don’t let what you read deter you from traveling and seeing the world. As stated before, we live in an amazing world but there is danger everywhere. Just know the possibilities of what could go wrong.

Traveling to Chicago, I knew I was venturing into the most crime-ridden city in America. Before leaving my father said to me, “Lots of crime there…” I came back with, “I work in downtown Newport News, the most dangerous part of Virginia.” He shrugged and nodded in agreement. “This is true,” he said. Even though Virginia isn’t know for it’s high crime, I do live in the most dangerous metropolitan area and have spent years walking over a mile to and from my car in the ghetto of downtown Newport News.

I’ve heard stories of the crimes that happen there through out my whole life, but have been lucky enough to not experience anything. Being aware of potential dangers, I know to stay alert and what to avoid. Apply that same tactic here and know the risks of where you’re going. Every place has them, even your own backyard.

14. Invest in a slash-proof backpack or purse.

Investing in an anti-theft purse or book bag is a great idea if that’s something that you normally carry with you. I’m one to leave my hings at the hotel but many people like to carry backpacks. Amazon has a slew of anti-theft products. Some of them can be quite pricey. May I suggest Anti-Theft Travel Daypack Backpack with USB Charging Port? It’s one of the cheaper models with great reviews. I like that the zipper to get into it is against my back so I can’t be pick-pocketed, so to speak.

15. Ask for advice from locals.

Hotel staff are especially helpful in this regards. They are most likely local to the area or have been there a while. Ask them where to go and where to stay away from. If you stay at a Hilton, there is most likely a concierge. That’ll be your new best friend during your stay. They can help you decide the best restaurant to dine at and the best theater to catch a show.

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16. Tell someone back home where you’re going.

I always tell my friend, Kelsie, where I’m going when I’m traveling. In addition, I make Instagram posts to a number of followers but I usually wait until I am back home before I post too many pictures of my journey. Why? Look at #17.

17. Don’t give TMI.

Many of us live on social media nowadays. It’s really easy to see when someone’s home is going to be vacant for two weeks because they’re in Barcelona. That’s why in the previous point I mentioned telling a friend, not the world.

A friend of mine once told me that his grandfather’s house was broken into once while he had been traveling. What did the thieves take? An extremely valuable coin collection that was hidden in an upstairs closet. Nothing else had been messed with. So the thief knew exactly where to look because the thief knew the family. Many crimes occur between people who know each other. So be wary.

Hilton Hotels 

18. Get a neighbor to take your mail in.

Going along with the previous point, a house with a full mailbox or with packages stacked at the door is a clear sign that no one is home. Even newspapers can stack up in a driveway, letting passersby know that the owners aren’t there. If you can, get the post office to hold your mail and have a neighbor bring in any packages.

19. Copy Important Documents.

Make copies of important documents that you may have on you such as your license and your passport. Keep a copy at home, a copy with you as well as the originals. This way if your passport gets lost or stolen, you have a picture of it on your phone or a paper copy in your luggage. It’s better than nothing if you need to contact authorities.

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20. Be extra careful at ATMs.

Anytime my partner goes to the ATM while we’re traveling, I stand at his back like a puppy dog guarding my post. Not that 120 lbs of me could do much if someone really wanted to grab a hold of him but at least I can alert him to incoming danger. Besides, thieves like easy targets. While you’re focused on the ATM screen, it doesn’t hurt to have somebody watch your back. And common sense suggests avoiding ATMs at night time.

21. Learn to read body language.

I’m not sure if it was something I was born with or if it’s even something that can be taught but I’ve always been good at reading people. Naturally, I’m an excellent judge of character and can tell when someone is being insincere by inflections in their voice or small expressions on their face. If you’re not naturally gifted in judging people (that sounds wrong) there are books and YouTube videos that can help you understand things to look for when detecting deceit. May I suggest, What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People?

22. Register with your embassy (travel abroad).

This one is a bit self-explanatory. If you’re traveling abroad, register with our embassy. Better to have all bases covered on the off chance that you need them.

23. Be alert. Don’t pull out your phone to look for directions in public.

One of the other ways you can appear as an easy target is looking lost. Granted, a lot of people look like that naturally. All jokes aside, be aware of where you are and who you’re around. Put your phone away while walking down the street and be present. If you desperately need to look something up, I’d advice popping into a local shop so as not to draw attention to yourself looking at a map.

I’m being a bit hypocritical here as we’ve done this before in DC. People with their faces glued to phones isn’t an uncommon site. They are however, easiest to take advantage of because they aren’t paying attention. Catch my drift?

24. Check State Department Website (U.S.)

While they may be OVERLY cautious, the State Department Website has to alert you of any potential threats. Knowledge is power. It doesn’t hurt to take a look.
Hilton Hotels

25. Trust your instincts.

Above anything, trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, chances are, it isn’t. Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do. It’s OK to say no. Telling a white lie to a stranger about meeting some friends or having to be somewhere won’t kill you. If you get stuck in conversation, it’s easy to just say “no” or keep walking.

While in New Orleans I frequently made the mistake of making eye contact with a local and smiling. HUGE MISTAKE. They would bee-line for me and my partner would walk faster, dragging me along and blocking me from the lechers. If you’re alone, pretend you got a phone call and walk away…just make sure your phone is on silent so it doesn’t actually ring mid-pretend-conversation.

I hope these tips help! If there is anything I’ve missed or you have other safety tips worth mentioning, please do so in the comments below.

Stay safe. Have fun. Happy Trails!

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5 Essential Items for the Traveling Minimalist

It may sound like an oxymoron to say that there are essential items you must have while being a minimalist. To clarify, being a minimalist doesn’t mean only owning a specific amount of items. Yes, there are people out there who only own 51 items or fewer. But that’s not what it means to be a minimalist. Ultimately, the goal is to only own things which bring you joy or serve a purpose. As a traveling minimalist, keep in mind that you don’t need to bring your entire home with you on a two week long trip. Just a few items will do. You’ll be surprised with how much you can live without!

Lately, we’ve been traveling a lot more than usual. In those travels, which I will be posting blogs about soon, I have learned how to pack and to travel as a minimalist. Below I’ve created a list of items that I never travel without. They are the only items that I pack other than my clothes and occasionally my laptop. However, I don’t consider my laptop an essential item. It’s something I can do without if need be.

5 Items for the Traveling Minimalist

1. Proper Luggage

This one may seem pretty obvious but you’d be surprised at how many people insist on having to check their luggage. I’ve been told that I’m not like most women in that I can pack for two weeks in a single carry-on. Whether that’s true or not is beside point. The point is, you can fit essentials in a carry-on no matter what your lifestyle or fashion sense.

As with many things, I purchased my luggage from Amazon. That being said, if you go to Amazon and type “luggage” into the search bar, you’re going to be greeted with thousands of results! Some of them are 5 piece sets…who needs all of that!? When selecting my perfect luggage I took price and reviews into consideration as well as carry-on size measurements. In the end I settled upon this:

And I usually only take one, not both! For less than $50 (click on the picture above to be taken to the Amazon page for more details) I got two sizable and durable pieces of luggage. I never have to worry about someone else taking them because they are never checked – always with me.

2. Smart Phone

It’s true. In today’s day and age there are still people without smart phones. I thought I was the last one to jump on the bandwagon! Smart phones are a great device to have with you during a trip. If you’re traveling abroad, you may need to invest in a travel phone or a separate SIM card for the country you’re going to. However, that is a whole different post. For domestic trips, a smart phone can hail you an Uber/Lyft, it can be used as your boarding pass (as opposed to having to track more paperwork), it serves as your camera, and you can book flights, hotel rooms and rent cars all from the palm of your hand.

We also use popular apps such as Yelp! to find great local places to eat, and Groupon to see if there are local deals for a date night. I often wonder how I ever traveled without a smart phone in the past. They truly make traveling that much more convenient. Not sure about a place? Check TripAdvisor for reviews. The pros to this one are endless.

3. Solar Charger

No joke. This little device saved me in Chicago. When we landed in Chicago this past Christmas, it was -2 degrees and I was naive enough to think that once the weather is below freezing that cold is cold and it all feels the same. Boy, was I wrong! After standing in the sub-zero temperatures waiting for an Uber that was on an entirely different level of a massive and foreign airport, my phone battery went from 53% to dead.

I panicked. That was our lifeline. Rushing back into the airport and embracing the warmth of the indoors, feeling rushed back into my fingers and all I could feel was pain. Early signs of hypothermia? Probably. Not being able to find a spare outlet, I pulled the solar charger out of our luggage and plugged the phone in. Immediate battery life= immediate happiness.

I’d love to be one of those people who can survive off the land…or at least I say things like that. But the reality of it is, I love the convenience of technology. Solar chargers are also great for camping trips if you need an emergency power source. Seriously, it was the best $20 I’ve ever spent. Spending the few days after Christmas in Chicago and Philadelphia, the cold temperatures took their toll on my phones battery. It was nice to know that I always had this back up with us.

4. Headphones

There is nothing quite like a good pair of headphones to drown out the noise of the plane’s engine, the screaming baby a few rows back or the city traffic outside of your hotel room window. Investing in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones is worth it. If you’re like me, you have trouble focusing on your work or writing in noisy, crowded places. I get distracted easily by busy airports, contented with watching people and eavesdropping on interesting conversations. (I know that sounds creepy but my play-writing professor in college said it’s the best way to get realistic dialogue.)

When it comes to noise-canceling, no one does it quite like Bose. They have the most superior sound technology by far and it’s the only brand I trust. But I’m kind of a brand snob now-a-days. Yes, they are a little on the pricier side. The wireless ones are almost double the price of the wired ones! But of the few things I recommend dropping a large sum of money on, I highly recommend these for avid travelers.

5. City Pass

This one is optional depending on where you are traveling to. Applicable to some major US and Canadian cities, the city pass saved tons of money and hours of time! In Chicago, the line to Chicago 360 and Chicago Skydeck had wait times of over 2 hours! I’m not kidding. However, with City Passes, you get to skip the lines. Instead of waiting 2-3 hours in line, you can be in the door, up the elevator, see the main attraction and come back down within 30-40 minutes…while others are still waiting in line and paying more money.


When going on any trip, it’s important to plan ahead. If you can find anything like this that gives you package discounts and lets you skip the line- WORTH IT! I seriously felt like royalty being able to breeze past everyone in line. While traveling, there were very few others in the City Pass/Express Lines. Take advantage of it! And no, I’m not getting any kind of freebie or commission for sending you to them.

Those five essential items (along with underwear) are things that I never travel without. Even as a traveling minimalist, there are certain things I need for my own travel pleasure and peace of mind. Is there something that you can’t travel without? Please let me know in the comments below! I would love to hear your essential items for travel!

Happy Trails!


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Travel Today: Washington DC PT 2

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In my previous travel post about Washington DC, I discussed some of the places to see and things to do. However, this post will focus mostly on some of our favorite places to grab a delicious bite to eat. I will say, most of the restaurants we venture to are on the upscale side of things, especially when we travel. That being said, if you’re traveling on a budget, you might want to look a bit further into some of the places I suggest to you today.

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The Source by Wolfgang Puck

We stumbled upon The Source located at 575 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington, DC 20565 by merely roaming around the city. We had no idea that they offered a five course dim sum brunch on the weekends (I believe it was a Saturday) until we took our seats. Of course that’s what we ended up getting!

While the restaurant itself had a long wait to be seated, we graciously took our seats at the bar so that we wouldn’t have to wait. This is a tactic that we often use to avoid the long wait of a popular restaurant. So take that with you as an added travel tip: if you don’t have reservations, sit at the bar!

The award-winning Bloody Mary of The Source in Washington DC.
On the left are the pork and cabbage dumplings and on the right are tiger shrimp and carrot dim sum.
Our five courses of Dim Sum included a steak and egg dish.

BreadSoda is not easily seen from the street as it is located below street level. I suggest finding a spot to park and walking around as there are many other nearby restaurants in the area. Located at 2233 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007, it has a down-home pub-like feel. The setting is small, intimate and includes pool tables! Unfortunately for us, the pool tables and the Battleship game were being used but there are others to choose from.

For lunch, we both split a bowl of soup and ordered separate sandwiches. The food was delicious and the establishment as a whole wasn’t overly pricey. They also had a decent selection of brews to choose from.

The start of the Scrabble game at BreadSoda in Washington DC. I let him win…
Sushi Hachi

Located at 735 8th St SE, Washington, DC 20003, Sushi Hachi has been open for less that a year. When we visited, word hadn’t spread too much about the venue but it still drew a small crowd. We ordered a seven course meal that included sashimi, wagyu beef and dessert. Every course was exceptional and presented a unique buffet of flavors.

The wagyu beef came out sliced and raw, accompanied with a searing hot stone to cook it with. Oh, and if you order sake, they let you pick which sake glasses you’d like to drink from…

The Wagyu Beef portion of our 7 course meal at Sushi Hachi.
Jinya Ramen Bar

We discovered the Jinya Ramen Bar thanks to a popular smartphone app called Yelp. We use it often when traveling to discover places to eat. As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, we are a big fan of Asian cuisine. Good ramen can be hard to come by. Where I’m currently living we have to fight tunnel traffic back-ups and drive at least 30 minutes (if there is no traffic) to get to the nearest ramen joint. With traffic it can take over an hour to get there. Frankly, I’d kill for a good ramen joint in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.

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Jinya has two stories but was  a packed house when we arrived that night for dinner. As before, we circumvented the long wait for a table by opting to sit at the bar. Just like with the popular Vietnamese dish, pho, ramen is all about the broth. Located at 1336 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005, this joint is worth a stop.

Our sake from Jinya. The ramen is delicious.

On the next trip to DC, I plan to eat at only Vegan restaurants. Stay tuned for more posts on traveling tips, things to do and places to eat.

Happy Trails!


Travel Today: Washington DC Pt 1

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My entire life I have longed to travel. I want to travel the world! However, I kept putting traveling off on my to do list because of various reasons (or rather excuses). You see, I was the person who often said, “I can’t afford it” or “I don’t have time.” But here is the kicker, wanting to travel and see the world doesn’t have to start with an international trip to seven different countries. It can start in your own backyard.

There are so many towns and cities across the world, within your home country and within your home state or providence that offer things to do and see. It doesn’t have to cost your life savings. I didn’t realize that until about 2-3 years ago when we started exploring our own town and traveling to other states. Then I realized that even though I wasn’t on a beach in Tahiti, I was still traveling. While lying on a beach sounds fun, there is so much more to explore!

So if you think you can’t afford it, think again! My partner and I are by no means rich. We are typical working class folks. We both still hold day jobs where we have to get dressed and drive into work. However, we didn’t let that stop us. And neither should you! Thus, here begins my travel blogs where I will share will all of you where we went, what we did, where we ate and where we stayed. With suggestions on what to see, what to avoid and what to pack, I certainly hope this entices you to explore these destinations.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Washington DC, America’s capital.

Washington DC

Washington DC is about a  2.5 hour drive from where we currently live. We usually leave early on Saturday morning and head home on Sunday afternoon. Our stays are never long but you could stay in Washington DC for a month and never drink at the same coffee shop twice. There are so many things to see and do that it can be overwhelming… especially considering that many of them are free! Overall, here are some of our favorite stops.

The National Zoo

The Washington DC Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the country and is part of the Smithsonian Institution. While admission is free, parking is not. It cost us $22 to park for the day but it was worth it. While it was a bit chilly outside, the park wasn’t crowded or cramped. Since it was the off season, amny of the concession shops were not open but we were happy to walk around and see what animals we could find.

Many of the exhibits have both inside and outside areas that you can view. This way, if the animal is cold you don’t have to worry about missing out. The indoor exhibits are heated and in some of them the animals roam free, like the one pictured below! But don’t worry, it’s completely safe.

The zoo’s address is 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008.

The best spot:

My favorite exhibit was the Lion exhibit. Part of me wished I had recorded the event on camera and part of me is glad that I saw it with my own eyes instead of watching it through a screen. The “alpha” male lion was separated from the others and for whatever reason was putting up a huge fuss that morning as we strode by. Hearing a full grown lion’s roar in real life is nothing compared to hearing it on a television special. Let me tell you, if I had heard that sound in the wilds of Africa, I would have peed my pants. To this day, it is one of my favorite experiences in a zoo and I try to visit every zoo in every city I visit!

We also met a very friendly porcupine. I think he thought we had food. Lastly, don’t miss the seals and sea lions. They are wondrous creatures!

Animals roam free in certain indoor exhibits! When my partner found out there was a sloth on the second story of this one, he vacated quickly. They give him nightmares. Luckily for him, he never spotted the little guy.
The National Museum of Natural History

Located at 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560, the NMNH is phenomenal. Free of admission, you could easily spend all day here. There is so much to see!

Favorite place: It’s a toss up between the Narwhal Exhibit and the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. Narwhal’s are among my partner’s favorite creatures so I list that mainly for him. And let’s be honest, they are unicorn fish… that’s pretty fascinating!

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I was personally entranced by the Hall of Human Origins. In one section they have a display of human skulls found around the world during different times. It’s astounding! Even though I did take a picture, I encourage you to go see it for yourself. The exhibit itself is huge and it’s truly amazing to see how far we’ve come as a species. As a writer, it opens my mind to so many possibilities and that’s why I love it.

Cave art replica in the Hall of Human Origins.
Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is a military graveyard that spans over 600 acres. Climbing to the top of the hill, there are graves as far as the eye can see. There is a small museum at the top which has free admission. However, if you go here make sure to schedule a viewing of “The Changing of the Guard.” It should be every 30 minutes in the summer time and every 2 hours in the dead of winter. The Changing of the Guard is a ceremony in which soldier’s switch places in their watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Located at the top of the hill, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, marks the grave of an unnamed soldier from World War I. His grave is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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There are many notable graves here such as President John F. Kennedy and Hyman G. Rickover. As someone who has worked for a US Defense Contractor, as well as my partner who is US Navy, it was very important to us that we find Rickover’s burial site. If you visit around Christmas time, you’ll notice wreaths on every tombstone.

Tombstone of Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear navy.
Walk the streets!

While I would highly suggest booking an Uber for longer distances, we were happy to walk from our Hilton Hotel room to many of the sites we wished to see. However, we also got a little lost. The unexpected detour turned fruitful as we found unique homes and alleyways painted with local art. There are plenty of other people walking around in the daylight so you can feel safe in the city.

A row of homes in Washington DC
Art Museums

Did you know that there are over ten art museums in DC? There are! You could spend a week in art museums there. Best of all, they are free! I normally don’t make it a huge habit of taking pictures in art museums. After all, no photos can ever do them justice.

If you like to have your mind stimulated, some exhibits are interactive! Check out the National Portrait Gallery, The National Gallery of Art, or the Smithsonian American Art Museum. There are literally so many to choose from you’ll find yourself coming back for more.

An exhibition in one of the many art galleries scattered around DC. Photos will never do these works of art justice.

Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum

I’m already itching to go back here. I was so exhausted by the time we ventured in that I didn’t last but 2 hours. We toured the ground floor and watched a 45 minute video in the domed theater (it’s amazing to have a screen that spans the entire ceiling!)

Space is another topic that can get your creative mojo firing if you’re an artist or writer. We’ll be sure to stop by this place again on our next visit. It’s a reminder of how truly spectacular human beings can be and how far we’ve come.

The National Air and Space Museum is free of admission and located at 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560.

An exhibit from the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
Don’t stop there!

Lastly, don’t stick to just my list. Explore! Washington DC is a wondrous place filled with history. There are Presidential Monuments, parks, fantastic restaurants (post to come Thursday and will be linked here), and alleyways filled with art! The White House even gives tours. Need a place to stay? There are Hilton Hotels at every price range you can imagine and most of them are within walking distance to some of DC’s finest sights.

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Why do we choose Hilton? Because there is always a high level of cleanliness and hospitality no matter where we go. This way, we always feel taken care of and know what to expect. That’s why we love Hilton Brand Hotels. It’s our safe haven and home away from home.

Fear not, if you’re not a Hilton fan there are many accommodations in the area. I encourage you to explore Washington DC in all it’s glory!

Happy Trails!



Artwork found in an alleyway in Washington DC.