5 Ways to Travel with A Neat Person When You Are A Total Wreck and Vice Versa

Some of us are very neat, tidy and organized. We(or I should say THEY) like to put all of our things in the drawers, hanging in the closet and everything has its own little place.

And some of us are…well….not.

Whether you are neat or chaotic, you can travel with someone who is the opposite in tidiness, if you are willing to give some slack.  Here are 5 ways to help ease the tension on your next trip!

    1.  Discuss your usual level of organization before you leave on your trip, so there are not any secrets left to be uncovered when the floor is covered in dirty laundry.messy+hotel+rooms+are+bad+for+weddings
    2. Go on your trip without expectations and willing to go with the flow. If a mess really stresses you out, be willing to tidy up the room a little yourself. Your roommate will notice and start to clean up after themselves more.  If you are the messy one(like me), try to keep your chaotic nature to your side of the room, so that your roommate can feel more comfortable.clean-hotel-room
    3. Be in your room as little as possible. If you are only there to sleep and maybe a short break during the day, the mess can’t bother you and there is a lot less time for the room to become messy.rome-2374587_1920
    4. Make sure you do let the maid come in to tidy up. Even the little bit they move around and put in piles on the desk or chair can help keep the mess to a minimal.hotel-room-clean
    5. Remember this is vacation. Yes easy for me, the messy one, to say. But seriously vacation is a time to be happy and get along with each other. Respect one another and do your best to keep the other one happy and content. Consideration goes a long way!

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How To Take a Long Weekend Trip to Malmo and Copenhagen

Not everyone has the luxury of taking off on an adventure whenever they get the urge and not everyone has a spouse that will support them to see the world for weeks at a time, so sometimes a long weekend trip is the best kind of trip.

Years ago, the idea of heading to Europe for a long weekend seemed something only the very wealthy could do, but with the new inexpensive airlines, you can travel quite cheaply. One thing you need to remember is on these airlines, you pay for anything extra like baggage and food. They don’t even give you nuts and water for free, but you can pack your own and on a long weekend trip, you can carry everything you need in a backpack or carry-on bag.

My husband and I recently went to Malmo, Sweden which is also close enough to Copenhagen, Denmark and connected by a rail system, that you can see both cities while you are there.  There are many airlines that fly there and I recommend using google flights and planning months in advance with flexible dates to find the cheapest tickets.

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                  click on picture to take you to Google Flights

We flew in to Copenhagen, walked to terminal 3 where the train station is located, took the train to Malmo which is about a 30 minute ride and stayed at the Renaissance Marriott Malmo using hotel points which helped keep the cost down even lower. Central Station Malmo is within walking distance to Lilla Torg(Little Square) where you can find wonderful hotels, restaurants and shops. You really do not need to leave this area as everything you need to enjoy the culture and history is there. And the best part is Malmo is a pedestrian and cyclist community, so no need to rent a car. However, if you don’t feel like walking, you can rent a bike!

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Mornings are odd here in Malmo, especially if you are an American. We are used to waking up at the crack of dawn and getting our day started. Well, Malmo doesn’t wake up until at least 10am. Which means if you need coffee before that, its best to brew your own in the room or head to the train station down the street.

Also, most hotels will offer a deal on breakfasts during your stay, but I don’t recommend it. Their breakfasts are great, don’t get me wrong, but take advantage of all the different cafes, espresso houses and pastry shops while you are there. The prices are all about the same and you get to experience more of Malmo culture.

After breakfast, take a walk to Malmohus,  a castle fortress built in 1434.  This marvelous castle not only houses original furniture, military items and decor from Danish and Swedish history, but also an exhibit on the Roma/ Romani people, or what many people know as the gypsies, as well as an art and textile museum. The ticket price is 40 SEK for adults over 19,which converts to $4.50 per person (FREE for 19 and under). Or maybe you will be lucky like we were and show up on a FREE day.  The walk to the museum through Kungsparken(Kings Park) is beautiful and a lovely way to spend the morning.

You can eat lunch at the castle at The Museum Restaurang Wega. This adorable little bistro is built around a beer fountain and lunch restaurant that was built in the 1910’s, closed in the 1960’s and then donated to Malmohus.

After lunch, keep walking to see more sights of Malmo. There are so many parks and public art that you will never find a loss of things to do. Make sure to stop by the local fish market, head to Ribersborgs beach and get a photo of the famous Turning Torso building.

 

Head back to your hotel in Lilla Torg to freshen up and rest a little, then go enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants.  You can take your meal inside or eat outside under the patio heaters covered up with the blanket each seat has provided.  As someone who hates the cold, I was skeptical of how warm these heaters and blankets can keep you, but after sitting down, I was in heaven. Those heaters put off a lot of heat and the ambiance of everyone sitting closely eating their meals and enjoying each other’s company is amazing!

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We ate many places, but our favorite meal by far was at Steakhouse Lilla Torg.  Compliments to the chef!

 

After a good nights sleep, and a quick breakfast and coffee,  head to Copenhagen for the day. At the train station purchase a 24 hour ticket that gives unlimited travel on trains, metro and buses to, from and in Copenhagen for DKK 120 or 142 SEC which converts to $16 USD. Make sure you set up a FREE city tour through SANDEMANS . The free tour starts at the Dragon Fountain in Town Hall Square and covers all of the important spots; Copenhagen Town Hall, Tivoli Gardens, Danish Royal Palace, The Marble Church, Picturesque Nyhavn harbour, Hans Christian Andersen, Absalon – the warrior bishop, Nazi occupation, WWII resistance, Strøget shopping mile, The Lur Blowers, Nytorv and Gammeltorv, Kongens Nytorv, Danish Parliament, The Royal Danish Theater in a 2.5 hour time period. This tour gives you a chance to learn and see what you want to see more of or spend more time visiting. Of course Nyhavn Harbour is one of the most iconic areas and I recommend heading there to eat lunch.

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After enjoying lunch, make sure you get ice cream for dessert at Vaffelbageren. Not only do they make their own waffles and waffle cones, but their own ice cream as well!

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Don’t leave Copenhagen without seeing the Little Mermaid statue. Honestly, it’s not all that exciting, but it’s one of those things that is pretty much required on a trip to Copenhagen!

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Enjoy your day here in Copenhagen, shop, eat and make the most of it and then head back to the train station for Malmo. One thing to make note of, is to make sure you keep your passport with you at all times. On the trip back to Sweden, the train stops and police come through to check your passports before continuing on the way. I’d hate to be the person who forgot their passport at the hotel that day.

Spend the next day in Malmo visiting all the other spots you didn’t make it to. A quirky little museum to stop at is the Theatre Museum. It costs $3 to enter and is a nice way to support the local arts as well as interesting to see set models, costumes, props, posters etc, from Swedish theatre.

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Make sure as you walk around today, you pick up souvenirs for all your friends and family back home. Who doesn’t want an iconic Swedish Horse?

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And of course, continue trying all the local cuisine. I recommend dinner at one place and dessert at another so you can hit them all. (I love food)

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Enjoy your last evening in Malmo and get a good nights rest. When you wake up in the morning, pack your backpack, check out and head back to Copenhagen. You have to visit Tivoli Gardens, the 2nd oldest amusement park in the world, before going to the airport.  The gardens are beautiful and you can definitely see that the buildings and atmosphere were an inspiration for the Disney Parks.

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 I don’t know about you, but I see It’s A Small World in this building.

After your visit to Tivoli, it will probably be time to get to the airport to go through security and start boarding.

What an amazing trip and a long weekend was just the right amount of time to visit Malmo and Copenhagen. When we booked the trip, I thought we’d spend more time in Copenhagen, but I am glad we stayed in Malmo which is much more relaxing and enjoyable! And I get to color in two more places on my map!

Happy Traveling!!!!

 

 

 

 

The Best Tours to Take When Traveling

There are so many different types of tours out there to choose from and sometimes it can be rather overwhelming., but I am going to give you some ideas on what tours to take when you go on your next adventure!

When I go to a new city, I always want to learn the most that I can about the history, the culture, and what makes this place unique.  I want to experience it not only as a tourist, but also a local and a scholar. I want to leave my trip knowing something about the area that I didn’t know before. Tours are the best ways to do all of that.

There are so many different types of tours out there to choose from and sometimes it can be rather overwhelming., but I am going to give you some ideas on what tours to take when you go on your next adventure!

  1. Food Tours-  First and Foremost, this is my favorite type of tour! Who doesn’t love food, am I right? And what better way to learn some of the culture than to try some of the foods an area is known for.  Now, there are two versions of a food tour; the tourist attraction food tour, which is great. You know, don’t leave here until you try this place…. Or the local food tour, where you can try some of the restaurants that the locals only know about.  On my podcast Love You a Brunch, I spoke to three different city tour group owners who told me all about what makes their food tours so special. Listen here- http://loveyouabrunch.libsyn.com/love-you-a-brunch-ep-11started-back-in-2006
  2. Haunted Tours- You have to be careful when you are booking these. I love them, when they are done right, but when they are done wrong…they are just…WRONG!  New Orleans has some great haunted walking tours that you can find here- http://www.hauntedhistorytours.com/ . The best parts about these tours are you get to walk around the city in the evening safely in a group, be told not only about the scary ghost stories of the city, but also learn about the architecture, the history of New Orleans and any other little detail the tour guide can think of.  Now, on the other hand, we went on a haunted tour in Las Vegas and it was just WRONG. Instead of telling stories, they created a ghost hunt, a very lame ghost hunt with fake apps and tools, and then proceeded to take us to where the recent murders of children in the area had been. Not my idea of fun! Make sure you read reviews before you book your Haunted Tour._MG_7341
  3. Self Guided Tours- These can be difficult if you don’t have good resources, but with the internet, you can find out just about anything.  Self guided tours are nice because you can go at your own pace, stay as long as you want at one spot or the other or skip over something that you don’t think will be as interesting. My favorite self-guided tour is the Freedom Trail in Boston. It’s easy to follow because of the brick guidelines Boston has laid out for you and you hit every great historical spot and eatery. Plus, it feels like you are on your own “National Treasure” hunt. Check it out here- http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/boston-tours/freedom-trail-map-guide/download (25)
  4. Adventure or Sporting Tours- I love to mix these in on our trips to bring some extra excitement into some of the low key tours and activities on our vacations. Fishing tours like this one http://www.fishbaltimore.com/ , Swamp tours –  http://www.gatorsandghosts.com/airboat/  and Whale watching tours – http://www.pugetsoundexpress.com/tours/  are among the tours in this section. Everyone will love one of these types of excursions, even if they think they won’t. download (24)
  5. Architecture and Fine Art Tours-  Yes, you can visit all the cities architectural wonders by yourself, but it is often better to have an expert tell you about them and take you to the offbeat places you might not have thought of. Chicago has a great one- https://www.architecture.org/experience-caf/tours/?transportation=40  Are you an Art Lover? Well, Fine Art Tours know where all the greats are and can tell you all about ones you’ve never heard of, but should have. This tour group in Philadelphia has some incredible art tours https://www.muralarts.org/tours/experience-cajun-country-swamp-boat-adventure-and-plantations-full-in-new-orleans-125445
  6. Sightseeing Tours- This tour is the epitome of a vacation must-do. From movie sets to iconic buildings and destinations, the Sightseeing Tour is the one to book. Atalanta has a great Walking Dead tour https://www.viator.com/tours/Atlanta/Walking-Dead-Filming-Location-Tour-in-Haralson/d784-16315P1 for those of you who love the show as much as my sisters do. While tours in Los Angeles can show you all the hot spots https://www.adayinlatours.com/  and you can sit back in luxury while seeing them. Chinese-Theater

Maybe you are a sit in your hotel room or stay on the beach everyday type of traveler, and if you are, this post is not for you. Unless….you want to take one day of your next vacation and try out one of the types of tours I just told you about. Use the internet, search your destination, see whats out there and take a trip on the wild side!

Who’s going to watch the pets?

4 Questions to Ask Yourself About Who is Going to Watch Pets When You Travel

We have four dogs, a guinea pig, and a fish until recently (RIP Atreyu, may your story never-end).  Jodi has two dogs, a bird, hamster, and chickens.  Oh yeah and bees.  When we are traveling, someone has to take care of the animals for us.  Obviously the bees will take care of themselves, but the rest of our  broods could turn into an Animal Farmesque situation without some human supervision.

Over the years, I’ve relied on family, friends, co-workers, and paid pet sitters to watch our pack.  I’ve never used a kennel, but have friends who swear by them.  Kennels can be ideal if you have a smaller number of pets who need care and who are comfortable outside your home.  All our dogs are rescue, varied ages, and some have serious medical needs.  Basically, they are high maintenance and in home care is best.  Making certain they have good care is crucial to enjoying a trip away from home.  The last thing I want to be worried about while flying to London is if my pets are OK.

Here are some questions I ask and things I consider before asking someone to pet sit:bremen-town-musicians-1651945_1920

  1. What am I capable of and willing to pay? It’s best to get this question out of the way in the beginning.  Sometimes a pet sitter will have an established fee and other times, you need to negotiate one.  I recommend a daily price point that includes a set of expectations the sitter will meet each day.
  2. Will the sitter stay in my home or only visit during the day?  I always prefer and will pay extra for round the clock in home care.  I don’t mind if the sitter has a day or night job, just so they come home and spend time with my pets during their off hours.  I don’t even care if they bring their families to stay at my house with them.  Jodi’s chickens might not notice if anyone is around all day long to pet them, but I know for a fact and from personal experience that her Beagle wants to sleep with someone at night.
  3. Is the sitter able to understand and meet my pets medical and health needs?  I have both older and infirm pets who need medication administered during their meals.  It’s important that any sitter you choose will be able to take care of medication but also the health needs of your pet.  Daily exercise in the forms of walks, outdoor or indoor play time, and lots of love are part of a pet’s health needs.  Health needs can also include food preparation.  One of our dog’s has heart disease, and we cook all the dogs food fresh once a week in a crock-pot with low sodium chicken, green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, etc. to make sure he never gets anything in his mouth that will hurt his heart.  Basically, knowing how to take care of a dog and a chicken aren’t necessarily the same skill set.
  4. Is the relationship with your pet sitter worth losing?  Let’s face it.  Sometimes people let us down.  People who love us might say “yes” when they really mean, “Do I have to?”  It’s not worth losing a friend or straining a family relationship if you can find a good sitter somewhere else.

A few final thoughts for choosing a professional pet sitter.  If they have one, visit their website or social media page to get a feel for their services and personality.  Ask for references and then CALL THEM.  If your state has pet sitting licenses, ask to see theirs.  Ask them to explain in detail their contingency plans for inclement weather, illness, or other unforeseeable events that might effect their ability to provide care.  Finally, ask to see their contract before you sign or agree to anything.

Travel with peace of mind by finding the best possible pet sitter for your pack.  As for your kids, just let them run wild while you are gone 😉chicken-918418_1920

Should You Take Your Kids to an Indoor Water Park Hotel?

So, should you take your kids to an Indoor Water Park Hotel? Is it worth it?

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There is something to be said about the excitement of watching your little ones experiencing something magical for the first time.  You are young, your children give you a fresh new outlook on being playful and even a new outlook on life in general. Everything you take them to; museums, amusement parks, even just a playground is fun for not only them, but you as well. It’s like you are allowed to be a kid again, well, a big kid with responsibilities, but a kid none the less.

I remember the first time my husband and I took our little guys, maybe 3 and 4 years old, for a weekend adventure to the Poconos to visit the new craze in hotels; The Indoor Water Park, Great Wolf Lodge.  As soon as you drive into the lot the experience begins. The lodge is built to resemble the authentic lodges out west and has carvings of wolves all over the building.  You step inside the lobby and you are greeted with a huge stone fireplace, more wood carvings and an atmosphere built right out of a childhood fantasy. And the rooms! The rooms and suites match this childhood dream perfectly. Some rooms are basic, but most of them have little log cabins, tent themed areas or a wolves den built into them where the kids can sleep in their own little fort. It’s almost like getting a little bit of the Disney experience for just a few days.

Of course, what everyone comes to GWL for is the indoor water park. It, too, is themed with forests and wild animals carved into the walls, slides and pool areas. It’s perfect for families with little ones as well as older kids who like the more adventurous slides. And it even has an adult only hot tub for when mom or dad need a quiet break.

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The GWL in the Poconos (and many others) also has an interactive game throughout the hotel, so when your kids get waterlogged they can take a break, but still not agitate you with boredom in the room. Wands are bought at a little store at the hotel, your quest is chosen and off you go on an adventure around the hotel to talking trees, stars that light up in the ceiling, wall carvings that move and then finally ends in a fight with a dragon. It’s awesome….when you are young and have little ones brimming with bright eyes and smiles.

This is where this post changes…. We recently found an old gift card we had been given to  “the Lodge” ten or so years ago. One nice thing is they never expire. However, our family dynamic has changed a bit since we had visited the Great Wolf. We are now a family of 6; 3 of which are teenage boys. Our youngest is an 8 year old girl, so I was very excited to take her to this magical place.

We drove into the lot. Yep, still the same. Carved wolves and all. We entered the lobby and again, same ambiance. My daughter loved it. My sons-not so much.  They were surrounded by parents in their beginnings with loads of toddlers and elementary age kids running around with wolves ears, pointing wands with the occasional scream of laughter or tears from exhaustion. Pure chaos.

My husband checks us in and we decide to change into our suits and hit the water right away.  My husband and the boys grab my daughter and they introduce her to all the fun that is Great Wolf Lodge; the wave pool, the slides, the huge bucket that dumps. Everything! I, immediately, head to the lazy river as I’m much more of a “take it easy” type of guest.

As I’m laying there in my tube floating down the man-made waterway, I look around at all the young families. The happiness in their faces, the joy of experiencing this as a child along side their own little ones and it makes me a little sad. I’m old. My kids are old and soon instead of being grumpy while hanging out with us, they won’t be hanging out with us at all. My oldest will be going off to college in a year and a half and then the second will follow the year after. And then they will be off to their own lives getting to experience this kind of thing for the first time with their kids…. and maybe they will even drag me along so I can once more experience it through the eyes of my grandchildren and maybe even turn me back into a kid once again, at least for a few days.

So, should you take your kids to an Indoor Water Park Hotel? Is it worth it?

Well, with all the extras, it can really add up to be an expensive little weekend, but YES! You should! Become a kid again! Enjoy your little ones while they are young and you aren’t too tired from life to hop on that tube and slide down that slide. The memories you will make will last a lifetime! And memories are what makes life worth living! And who knows? Maybe it will become a tradition for generations to come!

The Order of Comfort and Quality of Hotel Does Matter!

Creek n Crag Hotel, India tourism destinations

When you are going on a long touring trip where you will be changing hotels on a regular basis, believe it or not, the order of quality and comfort does matter!  It could make or break your trip!

Now, you are saying to yourself…”Order of quality and comfort? What does she mean by that?” Well, I’m going to tell you…

Before leaving for India, I spent a week booking all the hotels, resorts, and accommodations for our trip. I had access to my in-law’s time share for the “extra vacation” feature, so I booked those first in three different parts of the country. In fact, those were the only places we were going to stay in the beginning. One week in Rajasthan, one week in Mumbai and one week in Delhi. Resorts included in time shares tend to be of pretty good quality and comfort, so we weren’t too worried about them.

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After thinking about the trip more, we couldn’t pass up this once in a lifetime experience to see every thing we could, so we started looking in other locations around the country. I went to work searching online on various travel reservation sites and found what looked like awesome Indian resorts and booked them. One in Gowri and one in Varanasi. I was very excited about these. Their websites looked awesome and the reviews were pretty good as well. We knew these were not a “resort” per se, the Gowri Resort looked like little cabanas and had all the amenities listed to please a guest and the hotel in Varanasi had a photo of a very nice bathroom and bedroom and was right on the ghats.

We had our stays booked and it was almost time to go. We psyched ourselves up and prepared ourselves for holes in the floor bathrooms, not being able to use the local water and knowing that we may be roughing it. Hey, I’m a girl scout leader and a hiker and am used to roughing it. I could handle it!

Our first stay was at Fort Chanwa. An 1800’s fort converted into a resort  You can read more about it here: Fort Chanwa- Luni, Jodhpur, Rajhasthan . It was beautiful, and exactly what we were expecting as far as comfort goes.

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After spending most of the week there, we decided we wanted to see more of Jodhpur and be in the city, so we looked online and booked a new hotel for the last 2 nights on that leg of the trip. This hotel was a bit of a downgrade and made us very happy we had prepared ourselves before hand, but we were still doing great!

Soon we’d be moving to Mirasol near Mumbai for the next time share resort. This one had always worried us a little as getting there required a plane and then a train or car and then after the stay we would need to do it all again to get back to the airport to take us south. Now, our spouses did not want us on the trains, so we decided to forego the time share and had my husband book us a hotel in Mumbai close to the airport using his travel points. He booked us at a Renaissance Marriott.  He upgraded us to concierge level. It was HEAVEN! So much more luxurious than the last two places we had stayed. We were happy for the little vacation from our vacation.

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Next we’d be moving to Gowri, the resort I was really excited for. The little cabanas were surrounded by rice paddies and looked just like the cool experience I wanted. We had them send us a driver and rode a very long  8 hours. It was the drive from hell, but more about that in a later post. We arrived at Gowri and enter what looked like a rustic campground. The electricity they boasted on the site… out, the hot water they advertised- only available 2 hours in the morning, (The fact that they advertised should have warned me) the comfy beds…More like cardboard on plywood.

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That night we got absolutely no sleep and when we got out of bed the next morning, we were bruised on every location a bone hit the cardboard mattress.  After two weeks into this long trip and especially after staying in luxury for a couple days, this was not the best way to continue the trip for two forty something year old women. There was no way we could stay here longer. We were exhausted, frazzled from the “drive from hell” and not willing to go back to being uncomfortable after laying in soft cushy beds, bathing in a jacuzzi tub and having fresh water bottles and room service brought to us every day.  We were lucky. We were able to use my husbands travel points and get a hotel in Hyderabad for the rest of the stay which would be closer to the airport for our next leg and also be back up to par to the hotel in Mumbai.

We know we could have handled Gowri if it would have been before the Renaissance Marriott. We had prepared ourselves for roughing it, but once you get that taste of comfort, it is hard to go back.

My suggestion: Either stay with the same level of quality the entire duration of your trip, or even better start with lower comfort and build up so by the end of your trip you are in a magnificent hotel and you leave your vacation refreshed, with a great feeling about where you’ve been and what you’ve done on your travels. Its always a good idea to finish with a bang!  Don’t do what we did and have to “start over” half way through our trip convincing ourselves going home was not the answer and if we just endured, we could do better.

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Plan Smart and Travel Wise!

5 Items to Keep you Healthy and Germ Free in India

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In a previous post, I told you the 12 OTC medicines you need to pack on your next trip, but there are other necessities you MUST bring with you in order to stay healthy and germ free when traveling to a foreign country.

  1. Toilet Paper- Even the standard hotels will not have a large supply of toilet paper, or perhaps will have none available at all. In India, water is used to “clean up afterwards”, so if you are accustomed to good ol’ TP, you are going to have to bring it with you. I found the easiest way to pack it was to cut the cardboard out from inside of the roll and smash the roll of paper as flat as possible, then shove it in a ziplock bag full of the other necessary bathroom items.
  2. Bar of Soap– Again, this is not something that you will find readily available. The custom of spraying with water and using only the left hand for unsanitary “jobs” makes for unhealthy  hands. Make sure you pack a sample size bar of soap or two so that you can not be touching your face with germ infested hands. Keep it in a smaller ziplock bag with the toilet paper so the paper stays dry, but the soap is always available when you are in a bathroom.
  3. Baby Wipes– After much experience, I would not travel anywhere without baby wipes. These are helpful in so many ways. India (really, anywhere with a lot of people and animals) is not a clean place and you would not want to spend the entire day touring a village or city without have someway to wash your hands before you grab a bite to eat. They are also perfect for those times when it has been a few days since you’ve seen a shower, bathtub , or in India, a bucket and spout. What about washing that fruit that you just purchased from the little stand?  You wouldn’t want to spend the rest of the trip trying to find holes in the floor(toilets). Westerners are not used to the water in India and can get sick from eating fruit, raw vegetables, and even using glasses and straws- *Yes, they reuse straws, so always ask for one in the wrapper, so you are the first to have your mouth on it and it hasn’t been rinsed with water that will make you sick.  **If ordering a soda or water bottle, it is best to ask them to give you the whole bottle or can, and not have them pour it in a glass. ***Also- Do not eat salads if you want to stay healthy. It is very tempting when you are served curry for every meal, but that lettuce can be filled with lots of diarrhea causing bacteria from the water that is used to wash it!         Stay Safe and forego it!
  4. Sheet Sleeping Bag Bed Liner- Ok, lets talk about bedbugs and lice. They are nasty little critters that can be anywhere especially in locations where washing bedding may not be a top priority. This was something we still talk about as being one of the best things we brought with us. It is much easier to sleep at night knowing that you have a barrier between yourself and bedding that maybe dozens or hundreds have slept on since the last washing.

5. Steri-Pen UV Water Purifier– You will need this for those times when a bottle of water is not available. It could be for drinking or even tooth brushing. The nice thing about this is that it is small AND destroys over 99.9% of bacteria Viruses and protozoa, like Giardia and Cryptosporidium.  One important thing to note- put the batteries in BEFORE you leave your home country. Do not travel with a full brand new pack of batteries bought at the last minute and shoved in your bag. Eventually during one of the many bag checks on your trip, someone will decide that this item could make them some money and decide to not allow you to keep it. However, batteries in separate baggies or in the items will typically be fine.

Keep yourself comfortable and healthy and you can have the trip of a lifetime! Forget a true necessity and you could be spending your entire vacation from the inside of a bathroom! Pack Well and Happy Traveling!

Getting to the Ganges

It was dark as we entered into the city. The people, cars, bicyclists, cows, and dogs were everywhere. To make matters worse there had been a water main break so the streets were flooded up to our ankles in most places.

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The Ganges or Ganga River is the most sacred river to Hindus. It is believed that if your ashes are put into the Ganges, your soul will no longer be reincarnated and moksha will be achieved. To Hindus, the waters in the Ganges are both pure and purifying therefore pilgrims flock to Varanasi to the banks of the river and the ghats (stairs) that lead down to its edge.

Of course, this was a must see on our tour of India.

We were scheduled to arrive in Varanasi during our second leg of the trip and after many long drives, hotels and experiences(good and bad).  We were looking forward to a cultural experience that would refresh us for the rest of the trip.

We flew into Varanasi from Hyderabad via Spice Jet and arrived at 6:10pm. The hotel sent a car to pick us up. They drove us into the historic part of the city. We knew once we got to a good dropping off point, we would be led on foot by “porters” from the hotel through streets where vehicles were not allowed. We were ready. We had our backpacks ready to go and our walking shoes on.

It was dark as we entered into the city. The people, cars, bicyclists, cows, and dogs were everywhere. To make matters worse there had been a water main break so the streets were flooded up to our ankles in most places. There were random high spots on the roads that were just mucky and everyone was trying to stand or step on these places to keep as dry as possible, including the dogs and cows.

Horns are blowing, people are yelling and every car stops facing each other from every direction. Traffic Jam. Now, this isn’t your normal American traffic jam where everyone is orderly but not moving. No, in India there is no order on the streets. If you want to get somewhere, you go. You don’t care if there is another car facing the opposite direction or there is a crowd of people. You push your car in and force your way out. Unfortunately, there was no easy way out of this flooded traffic jam.We sat there listening to more horns and more shouting for a good ten minutes while inching our way furthet into the mess. I’ll be honest, it was so overwhelming, I don’t remember how we even got out of all that, but eventually we did.

The car pulls over, two young men meet us and we quickly get out into the frenzy and grab our carry-ons while the men grab our backpacks. They say something to us about staying close to them and they take off. Jen and I look at each other, I grab the back of her shoulder and she weaves through the crowd trying to keep up with the porters as I try to keep a hold of her and all the while trying not to step our Croc covered feet into the sewage filled water flowing in the streets. It was a madhouse. The only other time I have been in such a self important, shoulder to shoulder crowd was in my early twenties at the Limelight Club in NYC. And I was enjoying this experience about as much as I enjoyed the previous one.

Now I know as you are reading this, you think you can picture it, but I want to ask you to triple the crowd in your head, double the cars and bikes and quadruple the cows and dogs. There. That’s what it was like.

We force our way across the road to keep up with the men leading, bumping into people with each step. Do you think the crowds stopped the vehicles? Absolutely not! In the middle of the road a car shoving its own way through the mob is stopped less than a foot away from me. I’m still holding onto Jennie’s shoulder and shuffling my feet through the massive amount of feet around me and I feel a nudge on the side of my calf. THE CAR HIT ME! It was not an accident! He was actually pushing me out of his way!  We take a few more steps and a motorcycle rams through and DRIVES OVER JENNIE’S FOOT! We were flabbergasted!  Three more steps and we are back on the sidewalk still hand to shoulder and trying to keep up with the men in front of us.

We weave through like a snake as we are trying to see this city for the first time, the little shops we are walking through and yet still maintain some sort of direction of where we are going.  Finally we are through the crowd and into back alleyways of old stone buildings. It was dark and we had no idea where these men were leading us, but we persevered.   Finally we turned a corner and the men entered a glass door. We arrived at our Hotel.

the-streets-of-varanasiNow, after our recent experience at a Hotel in Gowri, we were ready for anything. (This will definitely be a future post) We got to the front desk as we were bombarded by flying gnats, mosquitoes and who knows what else. Yes, we were by the river.

I pull out our confirmation paperwork. The man behind the desk shuffles around and finally says, “I am really upgrading you tonight. You will have to change tomorrow to a lower grade room.” At this point, it is after 9 pm and we just want to get to a comfortable bed. Fine. He hands us the key and we head upstairs to our “Premium” room.

Now, before we left on our trip, we read to bring our own mosquito net because hotels would have them, but they may have holes and we’d want to be protected. Up until this point, we had not needed the one we packed, but I am so thankful we had it. We enter this room that is a total dump with no mosquito net, dead bugs all over the floors and try to start figuring out how to get the mosquito net attached to the ceiling fan that is very high above us.  Jennie managed to figure it out as I took the sides of the net and stuffed them under the mattress to block out any openings. We change, lay down exhausted and lay on what felt like a thin futon mattress for another rough night of sleep.

We had scheduled a sunrise ride on the Ganges for the next morning, so needed to be up and ready to go at 4 am.

As Jennie falls asleep, I start trying to figure out how NOT to stay at this hotel for the next 4 days and to get to somewhere a little more comfortable. This hotel would do for one night as it was right on the Ganges and we would get that experience, but we did not need that much culture after 13 days of it!  Yes, I am a princess, but I also felt the need to fix what I had reserved and make Jennie comfortable on this trip as well.

Hubby to the rescue!!! My husband had been our personal concierge from America on this trip. He came through anytime we needed a new comfortable hotel.  All I would have to do was text him and he would work his magic and book us using his hotel points into the closest nicest hotel he could find.  Within an hour he had us scheduled at the Ramada near the airport until we flew out to Delhi.

Finally things were fixed, the madness of the day was over and I was off to sleep to begin our next adventure with our Sunrise on the Ganges tour.

If you want to read about our tour and the interesting place that is Varanasi, please come back for my next post!

Staying sane on road trips with kids (No, it is not impossible)

Every trip we take isn’t going to be international and sans children.  In fact most trips Jodi and I go on in our lives includes our kids in the backseat of a car.  Let’s all just take a moment to remember what it was like the last time we went on a road trip with children . . . horrors.
You can only play the license plate game so many times before you want to leave your precious offspring along the side of the road by that sweet little farm house and hope someone else will pick them up and care for them so you can just enjoy scenic ride through the country.

Next time you start packing for another joyous family car trip, add these to the list: kids activity bags.
Activity bags are easy to adapt for each child’s interests and age using things you already own.  Let’s hear it for being cheap!  No really, I love cheap.

Here’s how it works:

1. Gather a gallon ziploc bag, paper lunch bag, or pencil box if you are really “Matha Stewarty”, for every hour of the car ride.  If it takes you 8 hours to drive to Grandma’s house, each kid will need 8 bags.

2.  Fill each bag with the following: one coloring page, five crayons or pencils or markers (or switch these up per bag), one book, one toy, one snack and small juice box, one game (the games can be paper or not; puzzles count, paper mazes count and so does origami for older kids.  Be creative or just steal other peoples ideas from Pinterest).

3. For older kids you can substitute the coloring page for a craft.

4. Every three bags, add in a music cd, playlist, or movie dvd (if your car has that capability) for the kids to play.

The activity bags help reduce the whining and impatience that inevitably ride along with your kids in the backseat by giving them something to look forward to every hour.  For every young children, reduce the time between bags to 30 minutes.  It also takes the pressure off of you to entertain them for 8 hours straight and reduces the number of times you threaten to turn the car around “right this minute.”

Happy road trip!

Photo: 1. Children and dogs in a car: Tomoka River Region, Florida by State Library
2. Joseph Kearns Jay North Billy Booth Herbert Anderson Dennis the Menace 1962

The "Tour to Die For"


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.