Be Careful about using a Travel Agent

I’m a huge fan of using a travel agent for international travel. You don’t realize how much they do until you get one and realize how less stressed you are about your trip. Last year my travel agent got out of the business after 20+ years due to her frustration with customer service. I asked her if she could recommend another one. Her response is they are all young and have no idea what they are doing.

I decided to take a gamble and use a young woman who had been my coworker. She had quit her job to become a full time travel agent. The trip was pretty easy to plan. I had given her the destinations I wanted to go to and most of the hotels I wanted to stay at. I would be taking this trip with my husband and father. I mean how hard could this be for her, right?

I had been to Costa Rica 3 times before so I knew the country pretty well. I had a pretty good idea how much the trip would cost. After some back and forth she came back with a price that was $20,000 over the trip cost I had estimated! She had used a local company in Costa Rica that she had little experience with and did not even assess their grossly overpriced trip. It’s unclear who was trying to take me for a ride- the travel agent herself or the tour company in Costa Rica or both- but it was clear I was going to have to plan this myself (more on this in another post).

I contacted the resorts/hotels directly, booked the international air and domestic air, and hired a private transportation company that I had used previously. I worked with the hotel to book the excursions we wanted. I essentially saved $20,000 booking everything myself. This is assuming that you would blindly pay for a grossly overpriced trip.

Our trip is coming up in less than 2 months. I’ll report back on how it went. If you’d like more information on visiting Costa Rica check out my 3 previous trips!

Hiking Shoes

This summer I’m headed to Costa Rica for the 4th time with my husband and dad. I wanted a pair of lightweight waterproof hiking shoes and while I have at least 5 pairs of Keens already, I really wanted something more lightweight for the hot weather. I have a pair of Targhee II Keen’s but they are getting toward their expiration date and are probably not waterproof anymore.

I received an email yesterday that they are having a 25% off sale until COB today (but I’m sure it’ll be revamped for Memorial Day). I bit the bullet and bought a pair of Women’s NXIS EVO Waterproof Shoe in gray. They got great reviews so I’m hoping they will be perfect for hiking in the rainforests of Costa Rica.

If you want a good quality shoe check out Keens!

On another note I’ve added two more trips to my site including my trip to Africa in June 2022 and my trip to Big Bend National Park in November 2022 (below).

Plan Your Vacation Early

You need to plan your vacation early and April is a good time to start! People are booking their accommodations much earlier, even as much as a year in advance. With COVID on the decline, everyone wants to travel and that means more of a demand on hotels, private rentals such as VRBO‘s, and national and state parks.

In response to the increased tourism to national parks, you now have to purchase a timed ticket to enter Acadia, Arches, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Shenandoah, Zion, Yosemite, and Redwood National Parks during peak season (generally April-October). This reservation system is for all or parts of these parks. For some trails such as the popular Angel’s Landing in Zion, you need a permit to enter. The lottery system opens two months ahead of time and sells out quickly. This means you need to plan your vacation (no more winging it)!

Before you travel to any national park, check their website for updated information. The pictures below are from our hike up Angel’s Landing in September 2015. This hike should be on your bucket list!

If you are planning on booking a tropical vacation to Mexico or the Caribbean, I highly recommend Funjet Vacations. I used them for my last vacation to Riviera Maya, Mexico and the price included airfare, hotel, transportation, and travel insurance. The prices were competitive but beware that peak season for these areas is our winter season so you’re going to get better deals in the summer time. The pictures below are from our trip in January 2022 to the TRS Yucatan, an adults only resort.

For more trip ideas check out my blogs here. So what’s the take home message: BOOK YOUR TRIP NOW!

Vacation in Mexico

Vacation in Mexico

Hello and happy National Vacation Day (6 days late)! Apparently I’m still on vacation in Mexico as I couldn’t get this written in time. I just got back from a week long stay at TRS Yucatan all-inclusive resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico booked through Funjet Vacations. Through Funjet, I was able to book hotel, flight, transportation from the airport, travel insurance, and it was all refundable!

The trip was delayed by 2 days due to a massive snow storm that hit us, but luckily I had travel insurance and my travel agent was able to reschedule everything. Anyone that knows me is aware that this is not my normal vacation but I’m starting to think that I could get use to butler service, a private pool, and fancy restaurants!

Our private heated pool

Traveling in the world today is difficult with COVID restrictions. Many countries are limiting which tourists can visit. As an example, Greece only allows European Union (EU) tourists into their country right now. Most countries are requiring a vaccine and a negative COVID test to enter. Some countries allow for non-vaccinated tourists but require a 7 day quarantine once you get into the country. Whose got time for that? What happens if you test positive right before you leave for your vacation? Where-ever you decide to visit, be aware that currently the U.S. requires a negative rapid COVID test 24 hours before your departure back to the states.

One of the few countries that has no COVID restrictions is Mexico which is one of the reasons why we chose this destination. The other was cost and weather. Mexico was the best bang for our buck with less hassles and warm weather.

I’m still working on becoming an affiliate for Funjet Vacations so I can get a commission from referrals so stay tuned. In the mean time if you’d like to support my blogs, then next time you shop on Amazon please visit the site through this affiliate link. It’d be nice to at least get paid for the cost of my website which currently is over $300 a year excluding hours and hours of my time.

To read about my recent trip to Mexico please visit my website. It’s not too late to vacation in Mexico this winter!

Road Trips are Back!

I have been wishfully thinking that international travel would be back and running in 2021. I was wrong. Since the pandemic we have been on two road trips (both to the deep south). Our last trip in February 2021 included Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. We chose the South because of less restrictions and the welcoming nature of the locals. If you’ve never been before, I highly recommend it. The culture is like nothing else you have experienced and the food is fantastic!

Kermit the Frog Museum in Leland, MS

So it seems like road trips will continue into the near future. So how do you plan a road trip in the United States? There are several websites and apps you can use to help. I love For an annual fee of $30 you can map out your road trip and each stop along the way (up to 150). For the free version, you can add 5 stops along the way. The fee is well worth it for even 1 road trip a year. They have a promo code for $5 off using the code BTR5QTP.

Another great app is Roadside America. It tells you unique and odd places to visit near where you are driving. On our last trip, we found the Kermit the Frog Museum, Lynyard Skynyrd Plane Crash Memorial Site, and a beautiful boardwalk park through an old cypress swamp. It’s 100% free!

Sky Lake Boardwalk Cypress Swamp in Mississippi

When choosing accommodations and restaurants, I use TripAdvisor as my bible. I have never had a bad experience at a hotel from reading TripAdvisor reviews.

This year we are going on two more road trips: Utah/Las Vegas and Nevada/Las Vegas. The first trip includes a flight to Salt Lake City driving through Utah’s park system with a final stop in Las Vegas to see Lionel Ritchie and Gwen Stefani. Our second trip starts in Reno, Nevada with stops along ghost towns and old mining towns, Death Valley, and a final stop in Las Vegas. Stay tuned for more information and good luck planning your road trip!

Getting Outside

Every year I get together with friends and do a canoe trip down the Patuxent River in Maryland. It’s always a lot of fun and while we encounter downed trees along the way that require some maneuvering, it’s these obstacles that create the memories. Every year we wonder if that huge tree will still be there or if there will be a new obstacle in our way. It takes teamwork to lift all the rigs up and over these large trunks. After the trip, we sit back and relax over BBQ and beers.

Life is about memories. Yes, it does take a little work to get people together and share an activity but in the end it’s so worth it! I encourage you to find time in your busy schedule to get together with family and friends and make your own memories. If you have an interest in purchasing a kayak and making your own floating memories, check them out here at REI.

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.