Finding the “tour to die for” when you are planning an international trip can feel like a coin toss. This is especially true if you are not traveling with a large group under the guide of a large company. While there are certainly advantages to the “just show up we’ve got everything planned” types of trips, there’s something really rewarding about planning your own tour. Here are some ideas for helping you get out there are really SEE your destination.
1. Be honest with yourself. If you are a high energy person, you aren’t going to want a tour that moves slowly and is lower activity. On the flip side, you are more introverted you want to choose something more suited for your ideal pace. Sometimes when we travel, we imagine ourselves different than we really are and capable of things that normally overly tire us or drive us nuts. Stay true to you and there’s no way to go wrong.
2. Search all types of places for tour options. Online, trip apps, blogs, traditional tour sites and hotels suggestions (and then steal them), Facebook, etc. This process shouldn’t be rushed or you’re likely to regret it. You never know what you’ll find if you spend a little extra time doing your research.
3. Once you decide on your tour or day trip, call them in person. Don’t let all your communication be digital, even if you live in a drastically different time zone. Make time to call the tour and ask to speak to a guide/driver. You learn a great deal about how your day will go from speaking to someone whose boots are on the ground. You might even discover that the language barrier might be too great to ensure a nice experience.
4. Read the reviews, and not just the top three. Scroll down in trip adviser, or on the website to get a well-rounded sense of what went right and wrong for other people. Knowing that can help you fine-tune the tour by asking to skip or amend parts, know you need to bring your own water or snacks, and other little details that might ruin an otherwise great sightseeing day.
5. You are in control. If things go poorly, you feel unwell, your tour guide seems untrustworthy, you can end the tour at anytime and return to your hotel. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself in any situation that leaves you feeling unsettled.
Jodi and I immensely enjoyed the tour of the Bishnoi Village we took with our guide Chhotaram. We were both interested in meeting local people and learning about the culture of the Bishnoi. They offered both full and half day tours which gave us the ability to go at a pace that suited our energy level. Chhotaram was a knowledgeable guide about both the local wildlife and culture. In fact he and his family are still members of the community and are weavers by trade. He was willing to answer every question, stop by any roadside, and explain any custom we didn’t understand in perfect English. THis was one of the many great tours we took in India.
When I plan a road trip, I like to make it as silly as possible to keep it entertaining for the other passengers in the vehicle. I’ll plan stops at supposed vampire or witch grave sites, silly vintage statues or art works, or landmarks that you’ve always heard about, but have never seen. To me, these are what make a road trip worth taking and makes lasting memories to talk and laugh about for decades.
A few years ago, while my mother was battling lung cancer, my sisters and I decided we needed a Mother/ Daughter Road Trip to make some lasting memories. We hadn’t done anything like this for decades, since we all are married, have children and moved all over the country. Of course, I took on the task of planning the trip! I used two great websites and apps called https://roadtrippers.com/ as well as http://www.roadsideamerica.com/ . Our plan was to go to Cape Cod to take my mother on a real clambake, but we decided to see a lot more while on the road.
On Sept.2, 2013, we began our trip to New England by trying for a photo op at The Sloppy Giant with Ill Clad Clothing in Phoenxiville, Pa. We couldn’t find it. However, we did find Jode Rd and a random globe for the first pictures of the week.
Our second roadside photo op was at the Giant Steel Hockey Player in Newark, NJ. Mom and Jami were too afraid of the “ghetto” to get out of the car, but that wasn’t going to stop Jen and I. I mean we had driven all this way just to take a picture with it…. http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/23432
After a few attempts at seeing Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse, otherwise known as The Little Red Lighthouse, http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/fortwashingtonpark/monuments/810
taking a bathroom break for Jami(again in the ghetto) we decided to leave NYC and find something to eat.
We chose the old road trip standard, Cracker Barrel, where we were joined by the Mileys and the Short Bus Mileys. (Note- this was right after her tongue exposed VMA award performance)
Midnight Mary in New Haven, Ct, was our next stop. Mary Hart was a woman who was buried alive and thought to haunt the cemetery at midnight. We left her a penny, took some pictures and went on our way. http://www.damnedct.com/midnight-mary/
While in New Haven, Ct, we decided to crash a wedding at Lighthouse Park. We took some silly photos and searched for seashells. (photo to the right- Get it? I’m the little mermaid?!)
New Haven was also the home of the rather scary, gross Econo Lodge Motel where we spent our first night, I would not recommend it. The next morning, we got up early and headed out to visit Gillette Castle http://www.friendsofgillettecastle.org/which is gorgeous. The castle was the home of the original Sherlock Holmes and was quite eccentric which makes the tour very entertaining. We arrived too early, so stopped for some chai and coffee at Two Wrasslin Cats https://www.facebook.com/TwoWrasslinCats and toured Jami’s new favorite town, East Haddam, Ct
Once we arrived at Gillette Castle, Jami was a gracious host at her estate, inviting us in, doing some gardening and taking photos of forbidden closets.
After a brief stop at a Life Size T- Rex in Oakdale, Ct, we stopped at the Mohegan Sun Casino to spend some money.
Mystic, Ct was the next stop on our trip. We, first, stopped by Ford’s Lobsters, a Mystic Pizza Filming location, for some lobster rolls and a lobster stuffed avocado in the pouring rain.
After a drive by photo of the Stonington Lighthouse in Stonington, RI, we stopped by a Vampires Gravesite. Mercy Brown was thought to be a vampire, so was exhumed and her heart was made into a drink for her brother to drink to keep him from dying of the TB plague that was happening in Exeter, Ri in 1888. http://strangene.com/cemeteries/vampire.htm
The Fighting Seabee Statue in North Kingston was next on the photo agenda, as was the Warwick Neck Lighthouse and an attempt at seeing the Conimicut Lighthouse.
The Comfort Inn in Warwick, RI, was the best hotel on the trip. It was clean and had a bar downstairs, where Jami and Jen, in their infinite wisdom kept the drinks coming. Not only did mother not appreciate it, apparently neither did Jodi’s histamines.
The next morning we drove by TAPS(ghosthunters) for a photo.
The next morning, we intended to take a tour of the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, but only did a quick drive by of the front. We, then, headed to Battleship
Cove to look at the water “and wait for our long lost loves to come home”
Finally to the “tip of the Cape”!
We found some stones lying on the beach and enjoyed a meal before going to bed for the evening in rooms that smelled of cat pee and had splattered blood on the curtains. Ahhh the memories! Just a tip- You get what you pay for!
The next day was a rather gloomy day in February, but we were heading to Plimoth Plantation anyway! http://www.plimoth.org/ Luckily, we had the whole place to ourselves, so we could act as goofy and obnoxious as we wanted. We had some great conversations with some natives and also got to meet our 11th great grandfathers. Ok, well, actors who portrayed them! As a huge genealogy buff, I’ve traced us to 7 of the original settlers in Plimoth. We had a fun time talking family with the actors who never broke character, even when we brought up things that would happen to them in the future.
Next we went to see Plimoth Rock which at one time had been quite larger, but people kept chipping parts away for souvenirs, so now it is enclosed as well as take a picture of Governor Bradford’s statue, which has a crazy resemblance to our father.
Last on the agenda, was touring the Mayflower, where again as the only people on, we were able to take some funny pictures and annoy the actor.
Finally to our Clambake, the reason we chose New England! It was a rather cool, gloomy evening and mom was not feeling too well, but it still was an awesome experience. And if you ever decide to go, I would not recommend trying to save money by choosing the vegetarian option.! http://bostonsbestcruises.com/clambake-at-sunset
We visited a few more places before heading back to Pennsylvania; The Salem Witch Museum http://www.salemwitchmuseum.com/ and the House of the Seven Gables http://www.7gables.org/. Both were interesting tours.
Overall, our trip to Cape Cod, Boston and Salem was an awesome Mother/Daughter Road Trip with lots of laughter until tears streamed down our faces and we were doubled over in pain. We will always have lots of memories of our awful hotels, sneaky facebook pictures of each other and of trying to push the darn wheelchair.
Remember your road trip is only as fun as you make it!
Until the next one….
Your passport photo will follow you around the world for 10 years. Consider carefully what kind of day you are having before you get that picture taken. It easy for everything to become just one more item to check off on the travel planning to-do list and then you show up for your photo without any makeup, hair barely brushed (like a normal day at my house) and your comfy but ratty sweater that looks like the cat was chewing on the collar. 10 years. That’s a long time to be showing immigration staff around the world your less than best face.
So, it’s been a while since you’ve take a vacation or you’ve never traveled very far from home before and you have NO IDEA where to start? Listen, we have been there.
I went on my first vacation the last week of summer before sixth grade. We borrowed our neighbors small pickup truck, put a carpet in the back, put the cap on and along with my parents and two sisters, drove to Niagara Falls and through the New England States, very quickly, might I add. Two of us would drive hours on end laying down to fit in the bed of the truck (This was in the eighties when driving in the back of a pickup truck was perfectly acceptable) while the lucky one for the day would get to ride between my parents in the front. We had no reservations. We stopped at any $30 or so a night motel that had vacancy. Sometimes we would all sleep in the King Size Bed, my mother would end up in the bathtub sleeping on those nights, but other nights we would share two queens. Listen, it wasn’t glamorous, but riding Maid of the Mist under the Falls and touring Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower made it all worth the fighting and bickering for space in our cramped quarters.
We didn’t take another vacation until seven years later when my sister graduated from bootcamp. That’s because only rich people could take vacations, or so I thought.
Maybe it was difficult to take the trip of your dreams ten or fifteen years ago without bundles of cash, but today with all of the internet planning tools and deals, you can travel for the cost of a couple of outfits at the mall. It would be more like 10 or more outfits for myself because I’m a cheap skate and a consignment shopper at my very core, but for normal people, a couple of outfits from the mall.
The first thing you need to do is decide where you want to go. Or don’t, that’s even better. If you are willing to go anywhere if the deal is right, you have a better chance of finding something exciting and within your budget.
Then you need to start scouring the internet. There are so many travel blogs, sites and apps devoted to travel deals and you need to find as many as you can and sign up for notifications. Liking the facebook pages of each is extremely helpful as they often post a new travel deal everyday.
For me, the next step is to figure out when the deals I find fit into my schedule and financial planning. Hey, I dont have a huge lump sum at one time to pay for a vacation, so I piecemeal it together so by the time the trip comes along, it’s paid off and I’m free to enjoy the sites. If you find a great flight price, book that first, if its a great hotel or rental price, book that. The rest will fall into place. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to raise the funds and find the next part you need.
Here are some of the travel sites you should check out-
And don’t forget cruiselines-
And my favorite inexpensive airlines-
AND don’t forget Google Flights, one of the best new travel tools available!
What is a Common Ass Traveler? Well, it’s anyone of course, but in this case, it’s two women in their 40’s who met up after 20 plus years apart, found out that they were both going through their own midlife crisis’ in different parts of the country and decided traveling would be the surefire cure to the doldrums of life. Did it matter that neither of them had ever left the country before? Heck, no! They jumped right in and took a 21 day self guided tour of India by themselves and lived to tell the tales.
And where did the horribly uncouth name “Common Ass Traveler” come from? Well, one of these women is terribly hard of hearing and when driving in the car heard an NPR journalist say it. Well, it happened that she actually said Conde’ Naste Traveler, but the phrase just stuck. Besides, its clever, if I do say so myself! (I’m that said woman)
They must have great supportive spouses and lots of money. Well, yes and no. Our spouses are incredibly supportive, but seriously, come on, we also are great at bribery to get them to agree to our hair brained ideas. And I’ll tell you- I’m not ashamed! We have an honest trade and barter system…..
Lots of money? HAHAHAHAHAHA Now, that is funny! No not at all, but two women who grew up relatively poor and worked for everything they have, know how to get things done cheaply, find deals, make do, beg, barter and trade!
So why should anyone read this blog or listen to the podcast? Because with every go with the flow trip there are bound to be hilarious and unbelievable stories that make your day or drive go by faster. There will also be tons of ideas and itineraries that you can use for your next trip and travel tips to help you save money and have a better experience overall!
So what’s holding you back? Join us and become a Common Ass Traveler!