The Road Less Traveled: Natchez Trace

In October 2020, my husband, myself and our two dogs drove the Natchez Trace Parkway from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS. It took us 14 days, 60 hours and nearly 2,800 miles from Maryland.

The original Natchez Trace Trail dates back to the 1700’s and winds in and out of the parkway with historic markers along the way. It was historically used by Indians, traders, and civil war soldiers.

Cypress Swamp along Natchez Trace Parkway
Cypress Swamp along the Natchez Trace Parkway

During the trip we stayed in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia. It was not always easy finding accommodations for two large dogs but for the most part we stayed in some really unique places. You really stand out traveling with two large white fluffy dogs. If it weren’t for them, we would have never met so many amazing people along our way. Check out our trip here.

We loved the south so much, we decided to visit again in February-March 2021. Stay tuned for my upcoming blog about this trip which included Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The highest point in Alabama at Cheaha State Park

I highly recommend a road trip especially since international travel is so up in the air right now with COVID. When planning your trip, try to explore areas outside your comfort zone and places you’ve never thought of visiting. There is something unique about each and every state in our wonderful country whether it be the natural landscape, culture, or food! Check out my Road Trip Packing List to help you plan your next road trip.

Staying Motivated and Sane

So its been a while since my last post. I’ve been working from home and essentially had more time but have been finding myself less motivated. At the start of the pandemic I was cleaning out the house per Marie Kondo’s advise on Tidying Up. I had all my shirts folded just right and threw away bags and bags of stuff.

As the pandemic lingers on, my motivation started to come to a halt. No longer was I cooking healthy foods and going to Pilates. Who wants to wear a mask when you work out? I gained the “COVID 10” or maybe it was 15 but whose counting? I mean the world was in chaos and who knows what tomorrow might bring so why not eat chicken wings and binge on beer?

In October, I decided to foster a dog, Garth, through the National Great Pyrenees Rescue. We increased our herd from two dogs to three dogs and our house now has 300 lbs of dog running around in it. I suffer from moderate anxiety and Garth has been a great support dog. Garth has a higher energy level than we’re used to so my husband and myself now walk all 3 dogs everyday. Getting outside is a great stress reliever! At least once on our walk one of our neighbors driving by stops to chat. Being able to talk to others and that human interaction is what we are all craving right now.

So I guess my message is try to stay motivated. Turn the news off and get outside. And if you must work have some companions to help! By the way Garth is up for adoption!

Staying Positive During COVID-19

Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the future and stay positive when the present is so scary. I am choosing to focus on the past and the future. It helps me get through the day as the present is not looking so good. Today I am reflecting on a trip I took with my husband to Panama in late February 2020. I am looking through all the photos I took and tweaking them in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Some of them are simply getting deleted. Looking at all my attempts at that perfect shot and realizing most of them bombed makes me have more appreciation for photographers ‘back in the day’ that had to shoot with film.

Staying positive looking at howler monkey picture
The sun hit this howler monkey just right for this great shot.

One way you can get into a happy place is by creating a photo book from a past trip. I’ve done several in Shutterfly and they’ve turned out well. It is very easy to navigate and for a small fee they will even create one for you! I share them with my family, friends and coworkers.

I hear about people cancelling upcoming vacations and hesitating to plan new ones. The worst thing we can do is to not look ahead. While the immediate future is not rainbows and butterflies, in a couple of months, the future will look much more positive. My advice is: don’t cancel vacations, postpone them. This provides you something to look forward to and also helps out the tourism industry which is greatly suffering right now. Not only are the airlines, hotels, and excursion companies losing money, but many countries such as Costa Rica rely on a large majority of their income from tourism.

Staying positive looking at toucan picture
I took this pic while lounging by the pool outside Uvita, Costa Rica

And if you don’t have any trips planned, start planning one! I wouldn’t suggest you book it right now, but you can start all the legwork, from researching where you want to go, what to see, looking at hotels, flight prices and options, etc. If you’ve never been out of the United States before, I highly recommend Costa Rica as a first international experience. It’s very tourist friendly and easy to navigate. I have found that Costa Ricans are one of the friendliest people in the world.

Staying positive looking at Galapagos tortoise picture
Seeing Galapagos tortoises is a must see if you travel to the Galapagos Islands

I currently have a family trip to Namibia and Botswana planned for this summer. Needless to say, we are getting a little nervous. We have a wait-and-see attitude right now. I am hopeful that things will be better by summer, but if we have to, we will postpone it to later in the year. Regardless, I am looking forward to our trip in the future and staying positive.

Staying positive looking at elephant picture
We went to Kenya and Tanzania in 2018

One tool that always gets my excitement up and helps me learn more about the destination in advance is wildlife guides and books. I always buy wildlife guides and books before a trip. My latest book Mama Namibia is about a young girl trying to escape German soldiers. Namibia just recently gained independence from Germany in 1990. Some Namibian women still dress in Victorian era clothing influenced from the original German colonists.

I also highly recommend watching videos from YouTube bloggers. This is a great way to see if you really want to visit the area and get ideas on what to do. So, while we are riding out this negative chapter in human history, start living for the future and look at happy moments from the past. And if that doesn’t work, grab a drink and watch Netflix’s Tiger King.

Vacation: Defined

I’m here in Pittsburgh for a long weekend visiting a very good friend of mine. I was telling her about my upcoming vacation plans. Her response was “We haven’t gone on a vacation since our honeymoon five years ago”. I knew that was incorrect as her and her husband went to the keys recently. That comment got my thinking. What is a vacation?

A vacation is getting away from life, work, and stress. Sure, some vacations are traveling to far away lands. Places that require a passport and maybe even some vaccines.

But, some vacations are just driving an hour or two away, renting a VRBO, and chilling out for the weekend. A vacation is what you make of it. Can you go back to work and brag about what amazing things and places you visited? Maybe not. But you can go back to work with a better attitude and a sense of renewal. Don’t underestimate the power of relaxation.

For some reason as I am writiting this blog, I remember that old saying “Every destination is like a vacation when you’re traveling in your RV.”

So…… pack your bags, get in your car (or RV) and get out of town!

Me and my dog at Shenandoah National Park
My dog and I taking a break while hiking at Shenandoah National Park

Holiday Gifts for Travelers

Tis the season to write a blog about buying gifts for the travelers in your life. Every year I struggle to find the perfect presents for my family. Sometimes my gifts are hits, sometimes duds. For the last two years my husband and I have taken one trip every year with my dad. So the past two years my presents to my dad have been fairly easy. They usually consist of books about where we are going the next year and guides for the wildlife we will be seeing. Plus I always get a couple ideas from the last trip – like the importance of packing cubes. Here are a few gift ideas and “must haves” when traveling.

Luggage Tags

I just discovered these cute luggage tags and had to order one (for myself).  They are a bit pricey but who doesn’t want Lionel Ritchie’s face attached to your luggage? They also have other travel related themed gifts.

Packing Cubes

These things are great! I got some for myself a couple years ago and it really helps you pack and think about minimizing your suitcase. With the packing cubes, I spent more time thinking about outfits for each day and how I could make them go farther (read wear twice). Basically if it didn’t fit into my cubes, I couldn’t bring it! I separated the cubes into pants/shorts, dresses/skirts, shirts, undergarments, and toiletries/medications.

Books

I like to get books about the places I’m traveling to. Reading about where I’m going gets me excited about traveling there.  If you happen to be traveling to Africa this book of short stories about a guide in Botswana is an easy read. It’s a fun read even if you’re not!

I’m also famous for my laminated wildlife guides. These can easily fit in a daypack or a travel vest for a quick guide. My friend in Panama was making fun of me for them until she spotted a bird and asked to borrow it. They also fit into the inside pocket of my travel vest (see next idea)!

Travel Vest

I invested in a travel vest for our African safari. First of all who goes on a safari without a khaki colored vest with tons of pockets? I wore it on the plane in lieu of bringing a purse and had it on when we were out on our 3-4 hour safari treks. I put camera lenses, chapstick, sunglasses, tissues, sunscreen, cell phone etc. in all the pockets. And of course I stashed my laminated guides in the inside pocket! Make sure the color matches your destination (i.e. don’t want bright colors for a safari). You can find cheaper versions here on Amazon.

Passport Holder

Sure, they’re kinda cheesy but they fit around your neck and allow you to put credit cards, passports, money, yellow card (for Yellow Fever vaccination proof) and other items. This is perfect for going through an airport or crossing the borders where you have to show passport and other documents frequently and don’t want to be fumbling through your bags to find all the paperwork.

Wrist wallet

This cute little wrist wallet is great for holding spending money and a credit card while shopping. I’ve gotten lots of compliments on this. I’ve also used it at concerts or going out with friends so I don’t have to bring a purse (which I tend to lose).

Fun Shirts

Every vacation needs a fun shirt (or dress). My dad had a fun shirt while we were in Galapagos and it brought us good luck seeing whales! Fun shirts should be some sort of bright colored floral or tropical theme (think Tommy Bahama).  I love the Exofficio brand. One of my husband’s fun shirts is below (in blue not tan). It doesn’t wrinkle much and is lightweight/moisture wicking. Another cheap resource for mens’ fun shirts is Sierra Trading Post. I got a fun shirt for my husband there for $20. They are kinda hit or miss with sizes and selection but they have some great deals!

My fun shirt when we went to Africa last year was a take on Las Vegas and read “What Happens on Safari Stays on Safari”. I didn’t get as many comments on it as I hoped for but not sure that saying is popular anywhere outside the U.S.

I also have fun dresses. I love Prana dresses. Most of them have a built in bra which is super comfortable when you’re out all day and provides surprisingly good support. Plus they come in fun colors and patterns.

In New Orleans wearing one of my favorite Prana dresses.

Compression Socks

Not sexy but great for long flights due to the increase risk of developing blot clots. They do come in fun colors now so they’re not so much like your grandma’s brown and black compression socks. I wore them on our 18 hour flight to Africa and after talking with a coworker who went on an equally long flight to Nepal and had some leg issues, I’m glad I did!

Hats

I need to get a new hat for traveling. Hats are a necessity on any vacation to keep the sun out. The Real Deal Brazil Hat is great for men. It’s kinda like a Crocodile Dundee meets Indiana Jones – kinda sexy.

I like hats that are foldable and I can pack in my bag.  Now that I think about it. I should have added this one to my Christmas list!

Underwear!

After having to pack only 30 lbs for a 2 ½ week trip I learned to pack lightly. This includes washing your underwear. I love Exofficio underwear. They are super comfy and quick dry. You can wash them in your hotel sink and they will be dry in a couple hours. They also make them for men (who doesn’t want underwear for Christmas?). They are on sale right now (as of December 5, 2019) for 40% off which is a deal! My favorite are these.

Travel Scarf

I love my travel scarf. It has a hidden pocket in it which fits a surprisingly large amount of items while still going undetected. I bought mine from Waypoint Goods. They have a huge amount of patterns and are well made (not thin).

Not my best fashion forward ensemble but this scarf was great for hiding money and credit cards while walking in Cusco, Peru.

So there are so many more products that I use when I travel but these are my must-haves.

Travel vest, bugs away hat, fun shirt, and Real Deal Brazil hat shown in this pick from a visit to the Maasai Village in Kenya.

Photographing your Memories

As I finish up another page (Costa Rica 2017) I come to the realization that most of my pictures just aren’t very good. I had a point and shoot camera that I paid $250 for and at the time I thought “Wow! I really have a good camera.” This was before my purchase of my Canon EOS Rebel T7i in 2019 (much more than $250). How could I have spent all that money on travel expenses to see my favorite animal, the anteater, and not have gotten one good shot? How can I tell a story of my adventures with only mediocre and blurry pictures? The pictures are a big part of the story.

I am planning a big trip next July to Namibia and Botswana and you can bet I will have the pictures this time to match the magnificence of these countries. I recently purchased a new lens for my camera (Tamron 18-400). I never thought I’d be a “shutterbug” as my husband calls me. I find myself trying to increase my knowledge and capabilities. I even took a photography class at my local community college and signed up for a monthly subscription of Lightroom and Photoshop so I can make my photos look amazing.  

As I have become mildly obsessed with getting that perfect shot I have also realized that I need to take a step backwards. This means putting down the camera and enjoying the moment whether it be the sounds and sights of the macaws in Costa Rica or just observing rhinos drinking from a watering hole in Tanzania.

Whatever your next adventure leads you, don’t forget to take those unforgettable photos but remember to step back and enjoy the moment as well.