Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ireland 2017

Have you always wanted to go to Ireland or perhaps you've already been and want to return?  If you are a woman, maybe you are not sure about traveling alone or have a companion that doesn't like to travel.  Either way, Ireland is a place you should explore!

You will be amazed by the exceptional beauty of the country but what will truly take your breath away is the warmth and sincerity of the Irish people.  To say they are friendly is a tremendous understatement.  On my very first visit there I was so surprised and delighted by what I found that I had to return over and over again.

As a woman traveling solo for over 30 years, I found it to be one of the safest and most enjoyable places I've ever been. 

Here are some of my favorites: Dublin, Glendalough, Killarney, Dingle, Co. Clare, Wild Atlantic Way, Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Connemara, Galway, Music and Food Festivals, and visiting some fantastic film locations (Quiet Man, P.S. I Love You, Ryan's Daughter, Brooklyn)

It's the place that I tell everyone that they should see at least once in their lifetime.  I'm a regular visitor so maybe I'll see you there!

SlĂ inte

Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Didn't Know About Ireland

As an Irish American, I grew up thinking that I knew certain things to be true about Ireland.   Of course, I had always heard how beautiful it was and how friendly the people were but I was surprised to discover that there are so many things that as Americans we don't really know about Ireland.

Here are just some of the things that surprised and delighted me during my travels to the lovely green isle.

Top o' the Mornin - I've never heard an Irish person say this in over 12 years of traveling there.

Corned Beef and Cabbage is not the national dish.

The most common or traditional meal I found all through the country is boiled back bacon (pork), potatoes, cabbage and a lovely parsley cream sauce, it's just like the country boiled dinner my grandmother made when I was growing up.  I found out that the corned beef and cabbage tradition was developed in America due to the cost of food and immigrants living in the same communities with some who did not eat pork. 

Irish Bacon is not the same as Canadian Bacon - it a gorgeous slice of pork loin that I adore!

St. Patrick's Day began as a religious holiday to honor their patron Saint.
Until 1970 pubs were required by law to close for the day.  Irish immigrants in America began celebrating in remembrance of their homeland and it has evolved into the green madness we know today. 

The Republic of Ireland (South) and Northern Ireland (UK) are different countries. 

Pubs in Ireland are truly Public Houses - a place to meet, gather and conduct business.  You are as likely to find a hardware store or linen shop in the same establishment.  Yes, there are many that have become more of a bar but you'll still find many true pubs throughout the country.

To say that the Irish are heavy drinkers, is not a fair reflection of the culture.  Drinking is much more of a social activity and many prefer soft drinks over alcohol when they are out.  My favorite was black currant juice mixed with water, very refreshing.

Having said that, there is a very healthy respect for the black stuff.  Many times I saw Guinness mini vans driving through the country to inspect and service the tiny pubs in the towns and villages.  As a woman you are more likely to be offered a glass instead of a pint when you order a beer, just tell them you want a pint and you'll get a smile and a wink.

We've all heard of Irish Wakes but I was very moved to hear the story about families having American Wakes for their loved ones who were emigrating to the US - they knew they would probably never see them again. 

Christianity/Paganism/Spirituality - As I trekked up the Hill of Tara I was excited to see the shrine to St. Patrick.  I was very surprised that all of their history and traditions were honored there.  That is something I found so fascinating that wherever you go there is great respect and reverence for what was.  Just because they accepted Christianity doesn't mean that they disregard their pagan past.  You'll see monuments and sacred symbols all over the country.

That is something very unique in Ireland - they don't remove something just because it is old or seems out of date.  A lovely caretaker I met at the Kylemore Abbey gardens explained to me that anything that thrives there stays there. 

Taxi drivers are more like professional tour operators - they will give you great information about the local area.  It will also be the most interesting conversation you will ever have.  The Irish are very well informed about news and world events and love to chat with travelers about all of it.

How lovely and social they are is not a myth - if they ask you about yourself, this isn't simply being polite - they really want to know.  I was told early on, when you go out to allow extra time to chat with the people you meet and it was a true pleasure.

The Irish have an incredible, irrepressible, independent spirit that is perfectly displayed on the Painted Doors of Dublin and at the same time have deep love and loyalty to their country, like singing the national anthem at the end of a night of drinking and dancing.  Try that at an American bar on a Saturday night.

They are the warmest and kindest people I have ever met and the countryside is absolutely stunning.  If you've been there then you know what I'm talking about.  If you haven't, then you must see it for yourself to understand the true beauty of this very special place.

To say I was charmed by Ireland would be a tremendous understatement.  It's not only the home of my ancestors but has become the homeplace of my heart. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sailing Solo: What I Learned from My First Cruise Alone

I had always wanted to take a cruise.

Everyone I know who’s ever gone has loved it and had wonderful stories to share. It seemed like an easy and fun way to go to many different destinations and travel with others closer to my own age. I received some great advice from people about how to pick the cruise that was right for me.

First, you need to decide where you want to go and what type of activities or events are important to you. The variety of ships and types of trips is endless. Everything from peaceful, meandering river cruises to the massive, floating cities – the options are plentiful.

Choosing the Right Cruise

For my first time, I knew I wanted something a little more low-key. Perhaps a smaller ship and more casual than the average cruise. I also like to have a little private outdoor space so I knew I would want a balcony. I didn’t need any of the popular entertainment like gambling or the big Las Vegas style shows so I started looking at other types of trips.

It’s like trying to decide between going camping or visiting New York City; choose what appeals to you.

A friend recommended a travel website so that I could start to compare all the different types of cruises available. She had just recently been on one that went to the Dominican Republic and did some volunteer work with the community there. It sounded like something I would really enjoy so I checked into it and booked the trip. It was also very affordable with a low single supplement so that helped keep the cost down.

Embracing a New Experience

As much as I travel it’s not often that I have a totally new experience. I always love visiting new places and meeting new people but the process of booking accommodation and transportation is something I am quite familiar with. Planning for a cruise was all so different for me and really took me outside of my comfort zone; it was long overdue.

I felt like a young novice traveling for the first time and it was so exciting!

I didn’t know what to pack, how to check-in, how to get on and off the boat, whether I would get seasick or if I would like cruising or hate it. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about so many aspects of cruising but I had no idea how it would be for me.

What I discovered is that the same basic travel principles apply no matter where you go. There will always be others who have never done this before and many experienced people there to help guide you. That was apparent as soon as I arrived at the cruise terminal and this immediately put me at ease.

Enjoying a Fantastic Adventure

There are some real benefits that most cruisers will tell you about – you don’t have to pack and unpack for each location, you have the advantage of seeing remote places but still eating and sleeping in your own cabin on the ship. There are so many options for food and activities I can’t imagine ever feeling bored. I liked the freedom and flexibility I had to do as much or as little as I wanted and it was a perfect balance for me.

My favorite experience was meeting the amazing people on the ship and on shore. They were so warm and friendly and happy to share information with me, especially when they found out it was my first cruise.

It may not seem like a big risk to go on a cruise, but for me this was a great opportunity to do something I had never done before. To feel so young and inexperienced was refreshing and rejuvenated my love of travel.

If you think you might like to try cruising, I recommend talking to someone who has a similar travel style to your own and asking them for their advice on what type of cruise you might like. Do your research and don’t worry, it’s one of the easiest trips I’ve ever taken and I will absolutely go again!

Wishing you safe and happy travels!

Have you ever been on a cruise? Do you prefer to travel alone or with others? What questions do you have about first-time cruising? Share your stories and join the conversation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Postcards from a Solo Traveller

Solo Travel Souvenirs 

Cheese and wine from Paris, tea and biscuits from London and a pair of flip-flops from Barcelona when it was simply too hot to wear anything else.

These are the purchases that remind Lynn Clare of the wonderful places she's visited as a solo traveler.

Wherever she goes, she likes to buy something authentic, whether it's something to wear or a local delicacy to treat her taste buds. She used to try to save the latter for the journey back to Denver, but more often than not, she found them too irresistible to resist.

Now Lynn prefers to buy gifts for others. “I love to bring back gifts for my family,” she says. “I usually keep the bag the gift came in as a souvenir; I use it for my future travels, and it always reminds me of the trip where I got it.”

“My grandchildren love hearing about all the places that I visit,” she says. “We try to Skype so they can see a little of it.”

Her passport is full of stamps from New Zealand, Canada and Italy, but her most treasured memories are from her many trips to Ireland.

“The first time I visited, I found that the beauty of the Irish countryside is only surpassed by the kindness of the people,” she says. “I was so touched by the warmth and generosity that after my first visit, I came home and quit my job, so I could spend more time there.”  “That was 10 years ago, and I still go once or twice a year,” she adds.

Lynn's first solo trip outside of the US - over 30 years ago - took her to Mexico. “I did have quite a few reservations initially, but my desire outweighed my fear,” she says. “I planned as much as I could, which helped to alleviate some of the anxiety around things like where I would stay, learning a little Spanish and understanding currency conversion.”

Any concerns that Lynn had previously harboured about travelling alone quickly evaporated. On the flight home, she was already thinking about her next adventure.

With each trip, Lynn grew in confidence, gradually venturing further afield. “I kept having such a fantastic time that it gave me the confidence to travel alone anywhere in the world,” she says.

Anyone who has travelled alone will likely recognize the newfound confidence that Lynn describes.

It can be an intoxicating feeling, but Lynn has been careful not to let this feeling turn into overconfidence, particularly when visiting countries where the culture is very different.

“Some destinations are not what you are expecting, and that can be challenging,” she says. “I have to reset my expectations very quickly, so I can enjoy whatever environment I find myself in. That can be great fun as long as I stay flexible.”

“It's very important for women to stay safe while travelling,” she adds. “You must stay aware of your surroundings, protect your personal information and belongings, and always let someone know where you are.”

For peace of mind, Lynn always chooses to stay at a hotel with a restaurant on site. When eating out, she's careful not to become easily distracted, and whenever she feels uncomfortable about booking a table for one, she simply orders room service.

That's not to say that Lynn feels uncomfortable very often. Having found a way that works for her, the experience of dining out in a restaurant on her own is now one of her greatest pleasures.

Now, she always allows herself at least one night to dress up and indulge in the local cuisine, sharing pleasantries with her fellow diners or simply enjoying some peace and quiet.

The whole experience of travelling alone is one that Lynn finds to be liberating. “I have travelled solo most of my adult life, and I just love the freedom of it,” she says. “I have always enjoyed seeing new places and meeting new people, so I take trips near and far at every opportunity.”

See the full article at https://www.staysure.co.uk/postcards-from-a-solo-traveller/

Thursday, September 8, 2016

How to Stay Organized While Traveling

After all of the years of traveling, I have grown to appreciate the art of packing light, no matter where I go or for how long, it is critical for me to take only what I need but not feel that I have to do without.  I use my tried and true packing list, carefully color co-ordinate my wardrobe and have learned how to roll and stuff like a pro.  What I haven’t been able to master is how to stay organized while I am away, especially on extended trips.  By the time I arrive at my first destination, that lovely packing job I was so proud of becomes an unruly, tangled mess.
This summer, I embarked on a fantastic downsizing adventure, and traveled to Florida to look for my new home.  I was determined to only take my one carry-on bag for the entire trip.  I put everything else in storage and off I went.  It was pretty easy to accomplish that because I knew I wouldn’t need much for the warm weather and that I could easily pick up anything else I wanted along the way.
This was a multi-faceted journey, different cities and different accommodation
By the time I was at my first stop, I was already feeling a bit unsure about how to keep my one little bag organized.  There was no room to put my clothes away and because it was such a short stay it didn’t make sense to have to unpack and repack every day.
It was then that I was contacted by the Co-Founder and President of EzPacking http://www.ezpacking.com/, a small travel accessories company in California.  They asked if I would try out their Packing Cubes and give them some feedback.  Timing could not have been better.  I asked them to ship them to my next destination so I could try them right away.  I have talked to many people who love packing cubes but I really wasn’t sure if they would be right for me but I was willing to give them a try.
The starter set was perfect for my carry on
They sent the starter set https://www.ezpacking.com/collections/all/products/starter-set and it was waiting for me when I arrived.  Even as I opened them I was a bit skeptical, wondering if these would really help.  I did like the design and that with clear tops you could see the contents.  It wasn’t until I actually started packing them that I was truly impressed. 
I started my standard rolling process and then decided how I would organize what went into each cube.  Slacks and blouses in the largest, shorts and dresses in the next, swimsuit, undergarments, sleep shirt in the next – that was everything and I still had one left to use for toiletries or miscellaneous bits that I carry in my tote bag.  I was really surprised how much they held and that I still had room for more. 
Versatile and Easy to Use
Something I really like about them is that I don’t have to pack and repack my bag while deciding what I want to take on my trip.  All 4 cubes fit easily in my bag, so I know if it fits in the cube it will fit in my luggage.  I don’t have to worry about a zipper breaking and strewing my laundry all over the airport or TSA rummaging through my bag, it all stays visible and organized.  It also really helped me when I stayed at a very small B&B that had almost no drawer or closet space at all.  I kept my clothes in the cubes and just took out what I needed for the day. 
Now, after several trips, many different destinations and adding to my collection it all still fits in my one carry-on bag.  They are so easy and convenient with so many ways you can use them either at home or away. 
I appreciate EzPacking sharing their product with me and was happy to provide a review for this site.  I really enjoy using them for all of my travels!
Have you ever used packing cubes?  What are your favorite travel accessories?  What is your biggest challenge when it comes to packing for your trips?  Share your stories and join the conversation!

Disclaimer – I received the EzPacking Starter set in kind for my honest review of the product and all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My Magic Wand

Years ago when I was working and encountered any sort of problem or difficulty I would tell my team that I would just bring in my magic wand and that everything would be fine.  I actually had one that I purchased from a local Renaissance Festival - it was beautiful twisted metal wand with a gorgeous crystal attached, but that is not what held the magic.  It was the attitude that I had about the situation.

Somehow, I always knew that something good would happen and it would always work out for the best.  Call it serendipity, happenstance or just plain luck, whatever it was I understood that the more positive expectation I had, the faster it would come.  This was a belief I held in all areas of my life.  It seemed as though, as soon as I joked about it and let go of any attachment then - poof, it would appear!

Easy Does It

Recently as I was traveling from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers, Florida I had scheduled a shuttle from the airport to take me on the short 2 hour trip.  It seemed like a great option, I love land journeys, they are very relaxing and you get to see areas that you miss by flying.

As always, I arrived extra early because I don't like to rush if I don't have to.  That is another bonus of being retired, I can take my time and set my own schedule.  So, while patiently waiting at the airport, I felt very fortunate to not be getting on a plane, I had fun just wandering around and visiting with some of the nice people there.  

As the pick-up time approached, I went to the designated area and waited there.  When the shuttle did not arrive on time I rang the office to check on the schedule and they said they were running a few minutes late.  No worries, I was fine standing in the fresh air just watching the people go by.

When Things Go Wrong on the Road

While I was waiting I met a lovely young couple from Australia who were traveling to visit family in the area.  I love meeting new people wherever I go so it was very nice to chat to them while we waited for the shuttle.  I am a very patient traveler and know that delays happen so I was not concerned until over an hour passed and still no sign of the shuttle.  The office was no longer answering our calls and my phone had completely died.

After almost 2 hours we began to get a little anxious that they may not be coming at all and we needed to think about what we were going to do.  We all needed to be on the other side of the state that evening or we would have to make plans to stay where we were for the night and try again tomorrow. 

I don't like feeling trapped, I'm sure no one does, but my response is to get creative and see what other choices are available. 

The Golden Rule of Traveling is to Stay Flexible and be Open to other Possibilities

When problems arise you have to decide how you want to handle it and it never helps to get upset or to be rude.  Calmly assess the situation and then decide how you want to proceed.

Fortunately, we were at the airport so we had many options for alternate travel.  We could rent-a-car and drive over, we could hire a taxi to take us or we could fly.  All reasonable avenues, and more if we wanted to check into coaches or the train.  Literally the moment we began to decide what option we would prefer, the shuttle pulled up to collect us.

The driver was brusque and clearly had been having a very bad day, much worse than ours.  The bus was loaded with passengers who seemed very tired and frustrated as well but now we were on our way.  At a short fuel break, I talked briefly to the driver and asked cautiously how he was doing.

It had been a very long day for him, he was actually the owner of the company and had a driver that didn't come in so he had been driving since 4 am and was trying to get all of his customers to their designated locations throughout the state.  He was so warm and friendly and immediately the atmosphere changed for the entire journey.

Sometimes the Best Things come from the Strangest Circumstances

After arriving safely, having a great dinner and good night’s sleep I thought about what a great day that it had been.  I met some wonderful people and got to see some lovely parts of the state and everything worked out perfectly.

Perfect does not mean that everything goes to plan.  It means that it works out for the best, usually in a way that will surprise and delight you!

I no longer have that magic wand but its power is always with me as long as I remember to expect the very best outcome possible and know that that it will happen.

What experiences have you had while traveling?  Do you expect something good or something bad when things go awry?  Join the conversation and share your stories.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Best Travel Memories Come in Orange Plastic Bags

As I was packing for a short work trip recently, I pulled out a bright orange plastic Sainsbury’s bag that I had from my last trip to London. It brought back such a flood of great memories that you would have thought it was a priceless memento.
Something as simple as this little bag represents a special place and time and I can instantly recall all of the wonderful experiences I had when I was there.

Building Travel Memories and Watching the World Go By

I stayed at a great hotel right at Paddington Station, which is one of my all-time favorite places. This is not just because of the trains – with all of the shops and restaurants right there it feels like a little city unto itself.

The hotel has a fantastic lounge, overlooking the train platforms and some of the shops. I loved to just sit and watch all of the passersby coming and going on their daily commutes. It felt like I was sitting at the window of the world and just imagined all the stories and lives that were intersecting there.

Wherever I Go, I Feel Like a Local

Wherever I go, I love to shop at the market or grocery store, it always makes me feel like I live there and am not just visiting. Just browsing through the aisles looking at all of the interesting and unfamiliar products is so much fun.
When I’m in England, I always buy biscuits, tea, fresh fruit, cheese and crackers to take back to my room. I used to try to save some for the journey home, but, very seldom did they last that long. That said, I always ended up with a bag or two and found that just that small reminder was enough to relive the entire experience.

My Favorite Keepsakes

When I travelled, I was so excited about all of the new experiences that I would save almost everything from my trip. This included bus tickets, boarding passes, maps and, of course, the required tourist souvenirs of all sorts. Sometimes, I would actually buy a tote or bag from my destination to make sure I had room to bring it all home.

Now, wherever I go, even when I buy gifts for friends or family, I always save at least one small plastic bag from every trip. Each one has a special memory attached. One reminded me of being stuck at the Barcelona airport in the sweltering heat and buying a pair of flip flops. Another brought back memories of the fantastic French wine and cheese I had in my hotel room. Then, there was the bag that once held the lovely scarf I bought for the train trip to Italy. Another bag took me back to the wonderful bacon sandwich I had for breakfast in Ireland. There are too many memories to list!

The Gift I Give Myself is the Memory

I love that I can recall exactly how it felt to be in that environment – who I met, what I did, the food I ate, the places I went and the things I saw. It all becomes part of that special experience I had along the way.

Something as simple as seeing one of those cherished bags instantly transports me back to that moment in my life and I will always remember my wonderful journey.

What are the most meaningful mementos from your travels? What are your favorite travel memories? Do you like to buy traditional souvenirs or is there something special that evokes a memory for you? Share your stories and join in the conversation.