Costa Rica: Our Travel Hacks, Lo-Fi Style


Our Budget rental car, Costa Rica
Our Budget rental car, Costa Rica

We flew into Costa Rica on a Red Eye, and all we wanted to do is pick up our car and go. “Mom! Feel it!” As the sweat rolled off of all of our foreheads Eli exclaimed, “Mom! Dad! Feel my seat! Seriously, feel the headrest! There is goo all over it!” Eli was correct. Not only was there goo all over his seat and headrest, there was dark colored goo inside the door. Gross!
Thank you, Budget car rental Liberia, Costa Rica. (In their defense, I imagine all the four-wheel drive jungle-exploring vehicles are a little long in the tooth). Because I know Dave speaks Spanish, I asked him, “Will you ask the dude for another car?”
“Sure.” Then Dave asked, and then man immediately summoned another dude to find us a car. As fast as the dude pulled the car out, and threw our luggage into it, we were doing a goo check of the new one.
“Nope. Still gross.”

My guess is that my fatigue and the heat were making me forget my tried and true method of making sure we get a good rental car. And then I remembered and quickly jumped my brain into gear, “Beth, go check the mileage in of the cars.”
Sure enough, the third car the guy pulled up had one-third the miles. We had a winner! The seats were not perfect, but they certainly were not gross. As we (finally) pulled out of the rental car place I said, “Dave, if I were ever going to advise anyone about travel I would say, ‘LEARN FROM ME. Pick a car with the lowest miles.’ Sure, it is not a perfect guarantee of a flawless rental car, but it is close, and that is great.”

Me outside of the Liberia, Costa Rica McDonalds
Me outside of the Liberia, Costa Rica McDonalds

We were hot. We were tired. We were (still) dripping pools of sweat. We had just purchased $35 US of bottled water (yes, that is correct), and with our thirst well accommodated, we realized how hungry we were. We are totally smartphone-dependent, yet had no internet to Google Map or Yelp us somewhere, and that the boys were starving.

“Do you want to find something local?” Dave asked me.
“We have no internet.” I answered, and continued, “How can we check our options?”

Dave knows Liberia has a Burger King, and I know I do not like Burger King. I had seen the McDonald’s across the street and said, “Hey, let’s get the boys some McDonald’s McFlurrys.”

“What? Are you sure?” He asked. ? Dave knows that I often turn my nose up at McDonalds in hopes of finding a healthier alternative.

“Maybe they have free Wi-Fi.” I answered.

In seconds we went from the grocery store around the dusty construction-filled roundabout, turned left and were at McDonalds. [insert a Spanish-styled Hallelujah chorus here]. We walked inside. I pulled out my smartphone. I checked and indeed Liberia McDonalds has free Wi-Fi. [again I heard the Spanish-Styled Hallelujah chorus]. The place was packed. I immediately offered up the McFlurrys. Dave stood in line while we saved seats. Our food arrived. My lovely husband got me my own order of fries. McDonalds in the moment had the best and saltiest, most satisfying french-fries ever; french-fries that are heaven to a stomach after a long international flight. The McFlurrys were a hilarious misstep of deliciousness: not mixed, syrup and cookies on top. Dave thinks they do not have the McFlurry mixing machine working properly. None of us cared, because they were awesome. And then there were the bonus straws. See, when you sip a cold beverage, the straw turns pink. “Dave, hey look.” I said as my Coca-Cola-filled straw went from clear to pink. We were relaxed, well fed and no longer dripping pools of sweat. We Google Mapped our journey and knew where we were headed, and two local security dudes asked us to take their picture. Way to go, Liberia McDonalds! Way to go! I understand why your entire town may have been inside your air-conditioned and free Wi-Fi doors. Honestly, I do not blame them.

Arenal Lake, Costa Rica
Arenal Lake, Costa Rica

We were on our way, satisfied and happily refreshed. Because Dave was able to Google Map us at McDonalds, we knew where we were headed. We drove through dusty towns on the Pan-American highway. We turned somewhere and then along beautiful and gigantic Lake Arenal. Hours passed by and of course we were hungry again. I always travel with a various assortment of bars and with only salt French-fries in my stomach, I desperately wanted one. My Luna Bars were easy to access. I also know the Luna Bars have a yummy coating. I grabbed my Luna Bar and it was a mushy hot mess trapped in its Luna Bar wrapper. As the cool breeze of the air conditioner touched my face, a flash of insight shot through my brain. “What if I hold my Luna Bar up to the air conditioning vents?” It worked. After minutes of holding and flipping from one side to the other, my bar reanimated itself into the bar it was meant to be.

El Coloso, La Fortuna, Costa Rica
El Coloso, La Fortuna, Costa Rica


We finally reached or destination, La Fortuna, Costa Rica. And yes, we were hungry (again – dudes, I have two giant and still growing teenage sons). Our drive from Liberia was a long and pleasant. Now at our lovely little lodge (El Silencio Del Campo), Dave quickly looked up a few restaurants. We left, and once we are on the road, nothing made sense. We could not find any of the Spanish named eateries. We drove and drove. The boys told us, “We are hungry,” and we drove some more. We did not want to pay unnecessarily high tourist trap prices. Then, out of the corner of our eye of our eye we saw all these people sitting in an open-air roadside café (El Coloso). “Hey, they look like locals.” I said. We stopped. We ordered. We devoured. Sure enough, the food was delicious, and not expensive. Dave is certain this place is the place to go and here is why. Dave observed, “See, the steady stream of locals coming in to buy fried chicken and tortilla chips to go.” He is correct. I ordered the pechuga de pollo. It was awesome and seasoned like nothing else.. You can ask for platanos (plantains). Yum!

Deet melts nailpolish (and I told you my big toe was big)
Deet melts nailpolish (and I told you my big toe was big)

Our dinner was finished and we were back at our lovely little lodge, (El Silencio Del Campo). As I took my sandals off I noticed black marks all over my foot and that something sticking to my (unusually big) big toe. I leaned over and touched my toe. My toenail polish was gummy, smudged and had bled onto my foot. At first I thought it might be the heat and humidity. Then I remembered. Right before dinner I sprayed my ankles and feet with bug spray. Bugs love me and this time I was going to be prepared. Little did I know that Deet melts the feet, or better, that Deet melts nailpolish. Of course it does. So if I can save you any heartache, I will. Next time you are in the Jungle, or Minnesota, for that matter, and you are spraying for bugs, watch the pedicure. You are welcome [wink wink].

We had been up for nearly twenty-four hours. Our fatigue melted into satisfaction. We were safe, well fed, and cool. And as I wet wiped the nail polish off of both feet, Dave and the boys were already in bed. I would call our day great, and our simple out-of-the country hacks (travel solutions) a success.



Our Learn-from-our-mistakes List of Travel Hacks

1. Look for low car miles to avoid a rental car SNAFU
2. Do not Turn Your Nose Up at McDonalds, especially in a foreign country. They probably have free Wi-FI
3. Remember Alternative Uses for a Car’s Air Conditioner: reanimating power bars
4. When you do not know where to eat, look for the locals.
5. Deet melts nailpolish

Moab, Utah’s Corona Arch in The Rain

Corona Arch, Moab, Utah
Corona Arch, Moab, Utah

Sleep-deprived and feeling claustrophobic I woke Friday morning and saw the rain.  Dread set in. I looked over and saw Dave, who was ready to ride. He noticed the rain too, and quickly fell into a feverish (for dramatic effect) text exchange. He popped his head up away from his phone to say, “There is too much snow up high. The shuttle called. The ride is canceled.” He made another phone call and then asked, “Kyle, the guys are eating breakfast in town. Want to go?”

“Sure.” Kyle said.

I assumed the bike group would go on another ride. This is Utah. Rain is light, and quickly dries. The phone rang. It was Dave. “The rain isn’t stopping. Want to go on a hike?”

“Sure.” I said.

We gathered our things, checked out of our hotel, met the bike guys in the lobby, and were on our way.

Corona Arch and Bow Tie Arch, Moab, UT
Corona Arch and Bow Tie Arch, Moab, UT

So Friday afternoon the boys, Dave and I found ourselves back in Moab hiking to Corona Arch in the cold Spring rain. Because their Porcupine Rim shuttle had been canceled, we were joined by Dave’s San Francisco-based mountain bike group. Instead of biking one of the most epic rides known to man, these San Francisco dudes found themselves hiking the 1.5 mile round trip Corona Arch hike with their biking companion, his surprisingly fit wife [wink, wink], and their two spastic teenage sons  — an epic adventure indeed.

Corona Arch is not located in the National Park, which means the hike is free. It is easy to get to, and is located not quite two miles off of Utah 279. And really you get two for the price of one because adjacent to Corona Arch is Bow Tie Arch, or what Dave likes to call, “God’s Toilet Bowl.” You will get it when you are standing underneath the big, cavernous hole. It is a great hike for all ages, and our boys have been hiking it since the time we hiked them up to the arch in a jogging stroller. True story. We hiked them up to Delicate Arch the same way, by the way. When we go to Moab and don’t make it to Corona I feel like I am missing something – always.

October 16, 2002, Moab, UT Delicate Arch Hike with our Double Jogging Stroller
October 16, 2002, Moab, UT Delicate Arch Hike with our Double Jogging Stroller
Me and Easy E. October 16, 2002. Kyle and Eli's first trip to Moab
Me and Easy E. October 16, 2002. Kyle and Eli’s first trip to Moab
Corona Arch Hike, Moab, UT
Me and Easy E, Corona Arch Hike, Moab, UT, 2015

“I have never hiked to Corona Arch in the rain,” I happily exclaimed, as I looked around to a Southwestern desert exploding into an oversaturated, misty, speckled sage and slippery looking red rock wonderland. The terrain was new to these San Francisco-based lowlanders, and I felt their awe as we headed up the cairn-marked path. “This hike never gets old.” I blurted.

The cold rain and new company only made it better. We promised the men they would not slip on the wet slick rock when one by one they asked if they would.  “I know. It looks slippery. And even though I know, I think I will slip too. Trust us. You will not slip.” No one did. We rounded corners, climbed a metal ladder attached into the rock, and as we climbed up and the rock curved round. In the distance, there it was. No. It never gets old.  Beautiful, massive, lonely Corona Arch pushing itself out of the Entrada sandstone.

Now standing under the arch, the rain was coming down hard.  My dry-down jacket was soaked through. I thought if I stood directly under the arch somehow I would be protected. I wasn’t.  After talking to some other hikers, we found our way to a patch of dry under an overhang.  As I shivered, I thought survival advice I have heard. You know the advice.  Get naked and huddle. No way.  Sure, my fingers were turning blue, but I was not that cold, at least, not yet. Instead I took my bright purple dry down jacket off and snuggled up close to Dave. We all talked San Francisco. The bike dudes talked about the girl they were flirting with at a local bike shop  – of course. We ate a Powerbar, drank some water, and were on our way.

Sea of Karins, Corona Arch Hike, Moab, UT
Sea of Cairns, Corona Arch Hike, Moab, UT
Corona Arch Hike, Moab, UT
Corona Arch Hike, Moab, UT

Kyle, Eli and I somehow got ahead of the men. We rounded the corners, climbed back down the ladder.  Eli and I waited for them in a little cave while Kyle added rocks to the sea of cairns. The men caught up, only for us to lose them again. A stream had formed in the minutes since we last crossed its path. The boys skipped rocks while we waited again. The red rock desert anytime, and this day, in the rain, I promise, it never gets old.


Corona Arch Hike, Moab, UT
Corona Arch Hike, Moab, UT

To be continued.

Moab Tips:

Corona Arch Hiking Trail

Though Moab is swamped with tourists during the busy summer months, it is much better to visit in the spring and fall, spring rains notwithstanding. Even the middle of the winter is a good time, since the days are cold and crisp but bright and dry.

There are two national parks in the Moab area: Arches and Canyonlands. Arches is much closer and more accessible, with natural wonders just a short walk from the road. As always, the more you get out of your park and walk around, the better your experience will be. Canyonlands is divided into three districts. Island in the Sky is the closest to Moab, and has some great hikes. The most striking of the three districts is probably Needles, to the south of Moab, but most of its wonders require longer hikes into the backcountry. The most remote district is The Maze, which lies on the other side of the Colorado and Green rivers, a long drive from Moab.

Close to Island in the Sky is Dead Horse Point State Park, home to one of the most striking views in all of the United States. It’s less than an hour’s drive from Moab, and worth visiting, especially if you’re not a hiker, since the view is only a short walk from the parking lot.

Moab’s true claim to fame is it’s world-class mountain biking. Even if you’re not a hardcore biker, you might want to consider renting a bike or signing up for a tour with one of the many local outfitters. One of Moab’s dozen or so bike shops will set you up with a bike and recommend a trail to match your skill level. The other major local pastime is “rock crawling” or exploring the local trails and sandstone hills in a tricked out jeep. We wouldn’t recommend taking your rental SUV on most of the trails, but you can easily book a tour with a local company that will drive you around in a Jeep or even a Hummer.

Another favorite Moab Hike: Negro Bill Canyon Trail. It is two miles each way to Morning Glory Bridge. Like of the desert hikes, make sure to wear sunscreen. Bring and drink lots of water. Be sure  to make it to the bridge. It is totally worth it!

PS. We realize that our Moab Tips merely scratch the surface of all the Moab, Arches and the Canyonlands areas have to offer. Enjoy!

The CrazyUs Hotel Rubric of Hotel-ing

Part One.

I am often asked to share my travel secrets, like what are some tips on getting a good hotel deal? I often reply, “what do you mean by a good hotel deal?” Here is my first post on choosing a hotel. It is an overview that will explain the basics of our hotel rubric.

Kauai 2007
Kauai 2007
Oahu 2014
Oahu 2014

My hotel Rubric of hotel-ing is the answer to their question. Yes, it is kind of like a Rubic’s Cube. Match all of the colors together to form the most cohesive result. Ok. Seriously. Before I launch in any farther, let me explain what I mean by rubric and why I use the term here. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia:

rubrics include one or more dimensions on which performance is rated, definitions and examples that illustrate the attribute(s) being measured, and a rating scale for each dimension. Dimensions are generally referred to as criteria, the rating scale as levels, and definitions as descriptors.”

Yes, my brain hurts too. I promise the definition will make sense. Meaning if you apply (score/measure) your tailored list (a rubric) of requirements (attributes) to your hotel search, you will not only get you the best deal, you will also have the most satisfying stay. Hey and that is nothing to sneeze at.

Here is how I compile my rubric. I score each hotel on specific criteria: price, brand (points availability and my current status with hotel brands), TripAdvisor reviews, reviews compared to TripAdvisor reviews, and reviews, availability (of course), cleanliness, and the wild card (for instance, you can make a close guess about what hotel you are bidding on, and safely roll the dice. Dave and I did that in Chamonix, France and our wild card paid off). That is the first layer.

After scoring a hotel on specific criteria, I consider the specific situation. Remember, every travel adventure takes on new factors and considerations, and those factors and considerations need to be addressed and you criteria adjusted (hence a rubric). Consequently, our hotel choice varies depending on what we are doing, who we are with, how old are kids are, where we are staying, how long we are staying, and the cost.

Easy E Waipouli Beach Resort Kauai 2007
Easy E Waipouli Beach Resort Kauai 2007
Easy E Oahu 2014
Easy E Oahu 2014

Let me give you an example. When we first went to Hawaii, Kyle was seven and Eli was five. We went to Oahu for a few days and then flew to Kauai. We stayed in Kauai for almost three weeks. Because of the length of stay, I knew a hotel would get pricey. Additionally, because of the boys were young and squirrely, we knew we would need some breathing room. Kauai was also a new destination. We were traveling on a lower peak time, and saw that vacation rentals were less expensive than on peak times. I also accessed reviews, looked for the newest construction, and highest rated place. Considering these factors, we opted for longer-term lodging, and found a condo for rent on at Waipouli Beach.

Waipouli Beach Resort Hotel 2007
Waipouli Beach Resort Hotel 2007
Hyatt Place Oahu 2014
Hyatt Place hotel Oahu 2014

In early 2014 the same family was traveling to Hawaii. Could we apply the same criteria to our vacation? No. Our Rubric had changed. The boys were older and crabby not young and squirrely. Meaning we could consider sharing a hotel room with them. We were staying for a week, not three.

As far as Oahu hotel choice and pick, we the landscape had also changed. Our first visit to Kauai and Oahu was in 2007. Since then miles and points have exploded. We knew we wanted to stay near Waikiki Beach. We also knew we like the Hyatt Place Waikiki. We also knew we had saved up Hyatt Points from credit card deal. Of course, I backed up my finds with TripAdvisor and reviews. Ultimately, we were able to use points. And because we also had Platinum (now Diamond) status at Hyatt, we knew a room upgrade was likely.

Additionally, we were traveling to Oahu, not Kauai. Oahu is more populated than Kauai, and consequently has more hotel options and deals. It was our third visit to Oahu, and our eighth visit to Hawaii. Since our first visit, we have traveled back to Kauai, twice, Maui, the Big Island twice, and Oahu. Our Hawaiian travel has demonstrated that Oahu is the easiest to fly to, and is considered the less desirable and most crowded island. Because people bad-mouth Honolulu all the time, I assumed Oahu would not be as special. I was wrong. After traveling all over Hawaii, we have grown to love and appreciate all that Oahu has to offer. We’ve experienced the relative remoteness of Kaui (the garden isle) and the wide open spaces of the Big Island. Instead We enjoy the no-island-fever, cultural melting pot feel of Oahu. Oahu does not seem over crowded. Instead, it is accessible. For starters, there is a Whole Foods, a fresh flower-filled China Town, the best Shave Ice I have ever had (Shimazu Store), a Target, Pearl Harbor, The North Shore, and The Dole Pineapple Plantation.

The Dole Pineapple Plantation Oahu 2007
The Dole Pineapple Plantation Oahu 2007


The Dole Pineapple Plantation Oahu 2014
The Dole Pineapple Plantation Oahu 2014

Bottom line. Make your own hotel rubric. Figure out what you want. Do not take someone else’s dream vacation, or book their hotel. For instance, once I recommended a hotel to my sister. Because it was winter, she was leaving in the morning for the airport, had kids, and the hotel had an indoor pool, I was certain she would love the price, the pool and the convenience. I was wrong. I should have vetted her more thoroughly. What I did not consider was that she didn’t enjoy a bargain as much as we do. She actually prefers five-star pampering instead of indoor pools. Do it your way.

Decide what works for you. That is the best deal. Vet yourself. Once vetted, use reviews to back up your assertions, and then decide. Do you have a pet? Do you travel with your pet? Do you have allergies? Do you want all-inclusive or off-the beaten path? Are you hotel-brand devotee? Are you a hotel snob? Do not be afraid to own it. Would you prefer a vacation rental? Are you a five-star traveler, or are roadside motels your thing? How many rooms do you need? How old are your kids? Do your kids need to sleep in the same room as you? Are you a smoker? Are you a germaphobe? Do you want to be in walking distance of your destination?

Finally, communicating your expectations clearly is how you will get the best deal. Use my hotel-rubric to facilitate that communication. Survey the area, compare, read reviews and decide. Oh, and remember, if you arrive and things are not as promised, you can always make a change. Remind me to tell you about Mexico!

Look for hotels that are under renovation. They usually have specials.

When reading TripAdvisor and reviews, make sure the review is current. I have noticed that “recently renovated” can actually mean “recently renovated ten years ago.”

Room upgrades with hotel status can save you money. Book the lower price room. Usually you will receive an upgrade, especially during off season.

Tagged : /

Brace For Impact!

“Brace for impact.” That is what I thought as Kyle screamed, “WHY DID WE HAVE TO LEAVE SCHOOL?”

Frisbee in Moab
Frisbee in Moab

And by leave school Kyle is referring to what his parents did to him earlier this year.

This past January, after the boys finished their first semester, we withdrew them from school. We withdrew Kyle from both track and his favorite activity, Ultimate Frisbee. The best he could do is buy and then play frisbee along our way. Because I am not a fan of creating a homeschool curriculum and because the law requires my boys to stay in school, I enrolled them in online school. We ripped the boys out of school because our living conditions were tenuous, and I wanted an opportunity to travel with them before they got any older. As of today, our living conditions are definitely better, but are still tenuous, we have crisscrossed the globe, and we’re not nearly done. . Doing school online has afforded us this crazy, road-less-traveled life, but it hasn’t been without its heartache and frustration.

A little frisbee in Carcassonne, France
A little frisbee in Carcassonne, France

Case in point:  days like today. They are often Mondays, the grace-period-day, before all of the week’s homework is due.

Kyle has been pacing and screaming: “Mom, I hate online school. I can’t do this!” I know his screams do not have as much to do with online school as they do our crazy, current life.  “Mom, I need to run. I can’t stand it. Can I run up and down the stairs?”

“Sure. Sure.” I said, “But take your phone. I am worried about you.”

(I took his phone away last night. He gave it to me this morning.) Both boys are behind in school, and today I insisted they finish.  I know why they are behind. Last week we checked out of our hotel, moved into a temporary apartment, and the next day, moved into another temporary apartment.  We did this all while Dave was many miles away. We were up late and eating off of leftover, plastic take-out silverware. Now, in our current landing spot, we were sleeping on mattresses placed on the hip, urban, loft-style, but nevertheless, cement floor. Adventurous, right? Vagabond – for sure. Nomadic – most definitely.  I knew it would not be easy. It has not been easy.

Kyle ran the stairs, came back and continued right where he left off, “Mom, why did you do this to us?”

Fallout. I knew our decision to tear the boys out of school would have consequences. I knew there would be days like today, days when everything seems wrong; when what we have gained seems lost.

“Kyle, just give me ten minutes.” I pleaded, and moved on to the next thing.

And somewhere between 3:43 and 4:30PM Kyle calmed down. He is currently sitting behind me with headphones on, working on his English.

From the other room I hear, “Mom. I can’t. I do not know how to write.”

“Eli, give me a second.” I responded.

I went into his room. “Mom, I do not understand your notes.” Yes. It is true. I helped Eli outline his paper. “Mom, your notes do not make sense. I do not think the way you do.” And in his defense, he is correct. My notes are all over the place, and really, who thinks like me?

I was caught up in fixing when I forgot to listen. Instead of reading what he had written, I jumped in, editing and adjusting. I saw his tears. I felt terrible. I started to read, “Eli, you are an excellent writer.” He is an excellent writer. He is clear, thoughtful and well spoken. In fact, I wish I could write like my son.

“Mom.” I get up, turn around and Eli is standing there. Kyle is now lying in my bed, and thankfully, doing homework. “Mom.” Eli continues. He reaches his arms out and gives me a hug.

Kyle and Eli playing frisbee at the Bonneville Salt Flats
Kyle and Eli playing frisbee at the Bonneville Salt Flats

Somehow we push through this cold and rainy day. We must.  And then things like the following happen. In the midst of stair running, and screams from every corner,  Brodie Smith (@brodiesmith21) favorited my Tweet of Kyle and Eli playing Frisbee atin the Bonneville Salt Flats. Because Kyle loves ultimate Frisbee I asked him, “Kyle, do you know who Brodie Smith is?” According to Kyle and Eli, Brodie Smith is the most famous Ultimate Frisbee player in the world. He has over a million Youtube followers, and more than eighty-four thousand Twitter followers. His tagline is, “I throw Frisbees all around the world.”  I did not know he was a famous traveling Frisbee dude until he favorited my Tweet. Kyle’s hard edges turned into excitement as I told him. Yes, it is the little things.

Of course this Frisbee neophyte had to respond. I posted another picture of the boys and of course it was a picture of them playing Frisbee in Costa Rica earlier this year. Here is our how conversation went:


Kyle catching a frisbee in Costa Rica
Kyle catching a frisbee in Costa Rica

Kyle is done with his homework now. Eli is almost finished too. My guess is now that the pressure is off their perspective is coming back. Yes, their lives are different. Yes, it can get really lonely, and online school also sucks. Not knowing where we will land is the killer. In the past twelve months, my awesome sons have also played Frisbee in the following places: England, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, The Salt Flats, Northern California, Big Sur andalong the Pacific Coast Highway, Southern California, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Provo, and Costa Rica. And I bet if I asked them now they would tell me it was totally worth it.

And when I ask Kyle if it was worth it, he says, “one-hundred percent.”

I agree, and think, “Who gets to do this?”



Tagged : / /

You Can Always Find Your Way!

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost
Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost – JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Until tonight, I never realized the phrase actually comes from a poem, which is quoted in The Fellowship of the Ring.

My brother Bill has read all the books, and so has Dave. Dave, Kyle and Eli have watched the Lord of the Rings Trilogy many times, so have I. In truth, I have slept through them many times. A while back, I was in my local Staples looking for a college notebook when I found this particular one. It was beyond appropriate for my very delayed college return. I bought it, and as I sat in my English classes, I proudly displayed it to my much younger classmates.

Now sitting in class with my well-suited notebook I began taking notes on the poet Elizabeth Bishop, who was also a traveler. She spent much of her life living in different countries and writing about her travels. Our class discussion on Bishop prompted my professor to mention how much he loves travel. A travel poet and a professor who loves travel were firing my imagination. And then with some disdain my professor mentioned that he was not into going to the “usual” travel spots such as say Disneyland or the Eiffel Tower. “Everyone does that. I like to go off the beaten path,” he continued. “Am I a complete loser because I love Disneyland,” I thought.

Because off-the-beaten-path travel is an idea that speaks to me, I opted to push my I-am-less-than-because-I-like-Disneyland self-doubt away and remain engaged. I am glad I did, because his words helped me find myself, and own my own. I spoke up. First, I said, “Disneyland is awesome!” I was not surprised when I saw his eyes roll in horror. Then thinking I could connect with his idea of off-the-beaten path I said, “I love The Lonely Planet Books. They have taken me on some most excellent adventures.”

Us Disneyland July 2014
Us Disneyland July 2014

I saw my professor’s eyes roll before I noticed him clearing his throat. And with a disdainful laugh he quickly interjected, “The Lonely Planet book series is a published book series.” He cleared his throat another time. “Someone is actually telling you how to stay on their path.” Completely defeated I sat silent. I decided I would wait to read her poems that evening and instead was imagining how I could defend my comment. Still contemplating, I left class.

Later that day Dave and I were finally able to discuss why The Lonely Planet books support the concept of off-the-beaten path. Dave and I both agree that yes, The Lonely Planet Book series is technically not off-the-beaten path because (you are correct, professor), someone is telling you what path to take. Alas, we also agree that these books are great starting points. They point you in the direction of something maybe you would not consider. And once there, there are so many new paths to take.

Having a starting point, like a well-revered travel book, is most definitely a way to wander. And here is where my travel tip becomes more direct:

If you are creating a new route for yourself, YOUR NEW PATH is off-the-beaten path for you. If you have never been to Disneyland, and you chose to go to Disneyland, Disneyland is hip, alternative, crazy, cool, and maybe for my professor’s sake, even a little aloof, because it is your adventure. If you have been to Disneyland before, then make your next time different. I am certain what my professor was trying to say is, “make it new.” What I think he may have missed is that you do not have to be in an exclusive group to make your journey special. Wandering can be familiar. Losing yourself in the prescribed and familiar does not mean you are lost.


Sidebar: You are not a lesser person if Disneyland is your dream destination. Do not doubt yourself. Even if you go to Disneyland every single week, the place does not decide how outside of the lines you are. You do. Try the Jungle Cruise blindfolded next time, or leave your phone at home. Even Disneyland can be off and it is definitely beaten.

Sidebar: To preserve the authenticity of their experience, The Lonely Planet books are written by unpaid travel experts. These experts give you recommendations for places to stay, eat, and visit that you may not have considered yourself. I found their England and Ireland books pointed us toward many worthwhile treasures, and in finding those things, we found others.

Sidebar: And of course I had to include an Elizabeth Bishop travel poem. It is called, “The Map.” And because I love the word liminal, here is what says about “The Map:”

This poem appeared as a preface to Bishop’s first volume of poetry and as a preface to every volume of poetry thereafter. It is therefore a good introduction to Bishop, and lays out many of the themes she wrestles with in her poetry. Some of these include liminal spaces between the land and the sea and between the real and the imagination.

The Map
by, Elizabeth Bishop

lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves’ own conformation:
and Norway’s hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
-What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.
More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.

Tagged :

My Travel Advice: Learn From US

Us The Coliseum Rome November 2013
Us The Coliseum Rome November 2013

I am often asked how we make travel work.

Here is what I say, and honestly, I cannot say these things enough.  First, please learn from my dumb.  I sincerely hope my own experience can prevent any undue pain in your own life.  Know that these words come from every misstep, impatient move, miscommunication, inconsiderate choice and completely unnecessary fight I instigated. And because I am so slow, it was only recently that I got it.

Where it happened will stay with me forever. We were standing on Rome’s Palatine Hill.  It was an unusually warm late November day. Instead of looking at the amazing Roman structures, Dave and I only notice our anger. We stood shouting at each other while boys slowly backed farther and farther away. I am sure they were bowing their heads, rolling their eyes, and saying, “can you believe those crazy loud people? I wish they would stop.”  Consumed, I actually did not see the boy backing away.  Instead, I was transfixed with my fierce rage. I was screaming, “Dave, shut up! Stop it!” He was mad at me for something I cannot even remember now.  Isn’t that how it often goes?  And somehow in that utterly consuming moment I stopped myself. I started connecting the dots. And in my mind I said, “Beth, come on.  Stop. Think. You are in freaking Rome! You are standing on Palatine Hill. You are with your family. You are with Dave.”  My lovely and controlled thoughts are not as glorious as I make them sound. Nevertheless, they were there. The clicks and connections continued. And as we stood on the birthplace of Western Civilization, I got it. Life does not escape any of us. And somehow the simple knowledge that life-continues-no-matter-what moved me past my rage.

Dave and I were looking down here when we were having our epic fight.
Dave and I were looking down here when we were having our epic fight.

Staring at Dave, and listening to him yell, I began seeing every single trip we had ever taken together. On Palatine Hill, he was mad, and I understood. I shut up.  I stood motionless.  And as remembered all of our travels, I also saw our home life. It was all making sense.  I wanted Dave to see it too, and that is when I blurted out, “Dave, stop saying that we cannot travel anymore! Stop saying you will not travel with me!  We will fight here! We will fight in Moab! We will fight in Hawaii! We will fight at home. It is not the trip. When we are mad at each other, we fight. The end. And I love you because you fight for me.”  Ah-ha, it is not the trip, or even the place. It is the “us.” It is not what we do; it is how we do it.  I am still crossing my fingers, but our travel has never been the same.

Me Standing in the Coliseum Rome November 2013
Me Standing in the Coliseum Rome November 2013

My advice continues, and if I can save you any discomfort now, especially while traveling, please remember this.  This is your trip, not mine, or anyone else’s.  It is not what you do; it is how you do it. Remember that every personality is different. Do the things you like to do. Do not stress about making your trip perfect. If you are traveling with other people, remember their needs will be different.  They always are. Communicate and compromise. Do not assume  — no matter what. This is a big one. It is also what I like to call it-is-too-late-to-do-anything-about-it-but-nevertheless-I-am-still-going-to-punish-you backend guilt. Instead, remember to measure expectations ahead of time. People love knowing what to expect, especially when traveling to a new and unexpected place.  Bottom line is this. We are not mind readers, especially under the duress of jetlag or a new culture.  Ask when you need to ask. Be patient. Forgive yourself and forgive your fellow travelers. I promise that forgiveness will move you quickly past the uncomfortable moments.

Mostly, remember this. Even when you are far, far away, and even when you are on your fantasy vacation trip of a lifetime, lower your expectations. Seriously, lower them right now! Do not fall apart when we do not live up. I promise you we won’t. You will fight.  You will get hungry. You will be tired, and I will have PMS.  No matter what, we will let you down. It is ok.  Seriously, do not let the humanness of humans ruin your trip. Don’t. Instead, make these unexpected moments delightful, the fights on Palatine Hill an epic tale of love and learning, getting lost in Kowloon a hilarious and most bizarre memory. Laugh. Breathe it in and enjoy.

PS And we loved Rome so much we went back a year later.


Side Bar:  The Forum and The Coliseum tickets are purchased as a package. The secret short line is at the Forum. Not the Forum entrance close to the Coliseum, but the one up the street from the Coliseum. I will find more accurate directions once Dave wakes up 😉

Tagged : /