Category Archives: TRAVEL TIPS

Tips for Your First Time Traveling Abroad

Tips for your first time traveling abroad: how to be safe, smart, and prepared. Most importantly, have fun and don’t be afraid to try something new.

 

1. Don’t be scared

Traveling to another country for the first time is intimidating for anyone, but don’t let your fear hold you back. Think about how many people travel all over the world every single day and have a great experience. No travel experience is guaranteed to be perfect, but being smart and informed as well as open-minded is the best recipe for a great first time traveling abroad. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

tips for first time traveling abroad
You don’t have to eat a scorpion on a stick, but don’t be afraid to try something new

2. Read something about the place you are going before you go.

To many this is probably a no-brainer, but a lot of people just want to “show up and go where the wind blows them.” While this ideal notion of a spontaneous adventure may sound great, the reality can be very different and even dangerous. Pick up a guidebook, and read the general information about getting to your destination, getting around, customs and etiquette of the country you are going to, and basic advice on health, food, common tourist cons, and dangerous animals and insects. Make sure you know what gestures or behavior is considered rude at your destination and act accordingly.

Check up on current events in the country or city you are headed to. Find out if there are political protests, civil unrest, travel advisories, etc. Find out which neighborhoods are unsafe and be sure to avoid them. When we went to Thailand there were protests going on in Bangkok that included some grenades and gunfire on occasion. We followed the stories closely on the Bangkok Post and on Tripadvisor forums a few months before our trip, learned where the protest zones were and what areas to avoid, and we had no issues. Right before we went there was a story online in an Australian newspaper, where an Australian woman was interviewed in Bangkok. She was completely appalled that the Australian government had not warned her about the protests and that she had wandered into an area where people had been killed in a grenade blast the night before and she had no idea that was going on. “There should be signs at the airport,” she said. “Our government should have warned us.” Don’t be that lady. Take some responsibility and read the international news. The internet is a big place with a lot of news resources

3. Apply for your passport a minimum of 6 months before your travel dates, make sure you sign it

Passports take a month or so minimum to obtain, possibly longer if there is a back up in applications. To be safe, don’t wait any longer than 6 months before your trip to apply for one. They are good for 10 years, so applying a bit early isn’t going to make much of a difference. If you wear glasses, take them off for your passport photo, and be sure to sign your passport when you get it.

If you or anyone in your party already has a passport, check to make sure it expires more than 6 months after you plan on returning. Many countries will turn you away at the border if your passport expires within six months of your trip.

4. If a Visa is required for the country you are visiting, apply well in advance

If you are American or Western European, there is a pretty wide range of countries that don’t require visa applications to visit. However, it is always best to check as soon as you start planning your trip to find out. Americans can visit the State Department website for more info on specific countries.

5. Let your bank know where you are going and when

Do not forget to let your bank and credit card companies know that you are traveling out of the country. Call the numbers on the backs of your cards and tell them you would like to give them a travel notification. They will ask for the dates and for all countries you expect to be in during your trip. If you don’t warn your bank ahead of time, you may find your card(s) declined until you call them.

6. When visiting a city, map out the places you want to see and then look for a hotel close by.

Figure out what you want to see the most, and where the nightlife you are interested in is. Being able to walk places at your leisure instead of relying on public transportation is always nice. If you plan on going out drinking at night, you might consider getting a hotel close to the area you think you are going to be going. Public transportation is easier to come by during the day (and cheaper), and being able to walk back to your hotel tipsy at 2:00 AM instead of paying for an expensive cab ride is always a plus.

tips for first time traveling abroad
You can pretty much walk everywhere in town on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

7. Use an RFID money belt or cross-shoulder purse, and use ATMS in banks if possible.

Keep your money hidden under your clothes with a money belt, and if you carry a purse make it small and able to be worn diagonal and not vertical over your shoulder. This will make it a lot more difficult to be snatched or pick pocketed. Use common sense and don’t flash any large wads of cash around.

The best way to get foreign currency is from an ATM (traveler’s checks are a thing of the past). Tell your bank and credit card company about your travel plans prior to leaving the country so that they don’t block your purchases and withdraws. In many countries, it is wise to withdraw cash from an ATM in a bank (preferably during banking hours so that you can get assistance if it eats your card) and pay cash wherever you go instead of using a debit card. Credit card fraud is extremely common in many places, and the poorer the country, the more cautious you should be.

If you need cash and a bank ATM isn’t available, look for ones that are part of the wall of a building and not a stand-alone. We’ve heard of instances of fake ATMs eating your card or stealing your card information and then telling you the ATM is out of order.

8. Take a copy of your passport and a secondary ID with you, packed separately from your passport

It’s a common notion to keep all your important papers and documents in one place, but you’ll want to keep a xerox copy of your passport in a separate place than your actual passport. It’s a good idea to keep your driver’s license or another form of ID along with it separate from your passport and money as well. If your purse or passport is stolen, it will be helpful to have a passport copy and extra identification to obtain a replacement from the nearest US Embassy.

It is also a good idea to have your credit card numbers and bank phone numbers written down somewhere separate as well, so that you can quickly call and cancel your cards if they are also stolen.

 

9. Avoid the tour buses if possible.

Yes, it’s easy to do a pre-packaged tour. In some places, it might be your best option. If it involves 40 other tourists from resorts in a huge tour bus though, try to avoid it. We managed to avoid a tour and take a shuttle to Chichen Itza in Mexico and it ended up being a fabulous trip. We got a photo of the pyramid with no one in it. Don’t be afraid to find your own transportation and see it on your own schedule. If it’s a big tourist attraction, get up early and get there when they open. The tour buses and crowds always start flowing in around 10:00 or 11:00, and if you can get most of the sightseeing done and move on to a less touristy location by then–bonus.

tips-for-first-time-traveling-abroad
Chichen Itza before the tour bus crowds hit. So worth getting up early for.

10. Don’t spend all your time in resorts.

Resorts are always enticing–huge beautiful swimming pools, beaches, fancy rooms and foo-foo cocktails. However, if you spend all your time at a resort you’ll miss out on a lot. We’ve stayed at a few and we always get annoyed with the fake, pre-packaged tourist show put on by the resort employees, and annoyed with our fellow resort patrons who are often rude to the staff and self-important. When we look back at all our trips, some of the best experiences were the mom-and-pop hotels and bungalows we stayed at where we met some locals or like-minded travelers and learned more about the culture and community.

Thai street food
Paddy wouldn’t miss out on the Thai street food for all the swim-up bars in the world…

11. Read reviews on www.tripadvisor.com before you book.

That fabulous deal on that hotel on Expedia? There’s often a reason it’s so cheap. Tripadvisor is a great way to read about other people’s experiences at a hotel or restaurant. You can tell when someone is being uppity (“there was a stain in the corner of the curtain”) vs. reporting a legitimate issue (“bedbugs!”). It’s also a good way to find out more information about the location of the hotel and what is nearby. We booked our resort in Bora Bora based on it’s walking distance to a convenience store and local restaurants to help us save money on food while we were there, and we learned all of that information by reading reviews. We’ve also discovered some really cool small hotels on Tripadvisor that we wouldn’t have seen as options on travel booking sites.

Another great thing about Tripadvisor is it’s forums. Ask a question and get answers from fellow travelers who have been there. Read other people’s questions and see answers. We’ve received a lot of good advice from fellow travelers on these forums and it really helped a lot with our planning. When you get back, post your reviews and photos and tell everyone what you thought about where you stayed.

tips for first time traveling abroad
Awesome B&B we stayed at in the Aran Islands, Ireland. Thanks TripAdvisor!

12. Check with your cell phone carrier about using your phone outside of the country

More and more cell phone carriers will allow you to use your phone in certain countries outside the US. Some will allow you to turn on an international calling plan with unlimited data and texting in certain countries, with an extra fee per minute for phone calls. Always check with your carrier before traveling, you don’t want to end up with crazy cell phone bills when you get home.

If your carrier doesn’t have an economical international option for your phone, you can always put it in airplane mode and use hotel wifi to communicate back home.

13. If you have medications, be sure you have enough to cover your trip and a little extra. Take copies of your prescriptions from the doctor.

Some countries/customs officials may be strict about certain medications being brought into a country. To be on the safe side, take your prescriptions in the original prescription bottles with your name on them and get a copy of your prescription list from your doctor’s office. Always bring more than you think you might need in case your flight home gets delayed, but don’t bring too much more or they might think you’re trying to sell it. I have a couple common prescription drugs that I travel with, and I’ve never had a problem. It’s always best to be prepared for questions though.

14. Pack comfortable shoes suitable for the climate.

Bad shoes will absolutely ruin any trip. If you are able to walk a lot, then you will be doing some major walking. The best way to see sights is on foot. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes with good support. If you are going to a tropical climate, you may want to invest in some athletic water sandals that are good for hiking or water use. If you are traveling to Iceland or planning on being outdoors in a cold, rainy climate, waterproof hiking boots are a life-saver.

Personally, I gave up on high heels and uncomfortable shoes in my 20s. Now I’m all about quality, not quantity. I’ve found that with shoes, you get what you pay for. It’s worth the extra money to be comfortable and ready for any adventure.

what to pack for a trip to Iceland in the winter
Waterproof boots are essential for a trip to Iceland. At Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

15. Be an eco-conscious traveler.

Recycle whenever possible, and take all your trash with you when you leave a beach, park, or other destination. Don’t patronize restaurants that serve shark fin soup (more about this here). If going somewhere where animals are part of the attraction (such as riding elephants or whale watching), read up on companies and choose the ones that treat the animals well. Patronize tour companies that give wild animals their space and don’t encourage feeding them. Leave a small footprint, and don’t buy souvenirs consisting of animal parts such as ivory, shark jaws, or fur.

tips for first time traveling abroad
http://icewhale.is

16. Pack light.

Yes, much easier said than done. I’ve kicked myself for not following this rule a few times. It’s always more difficult with cooler climates as well, because clothes are bulkier and take up more space. Take everything you think you need and then put half of it back. Tide makes great little travel-size packets of laundry detergent that are made for doing laundry in a hotel sink and we’ve used them quite a few times. Going for two weeks? Take one week’s worth of clothes and plan on doing some laundry when you get a hotel stay that is two nights or more. Trust us, it sucks lugging around a bunch of stuff and keeping track of it. If you can fit everything you are taking with you into a hiking backpack with some extra room for souvenirs to take home–you’ve done it right.

tips-for-first-time-traveling-abroad
Lugging around a bunch of luggage isn’t fun. You probably won’t even need as much as you think you will.

17. Learn how to say “Hello” and “Thank you” in the language of the country you are visiting.

No one expects you to speak Swedish or Thai, but learning these basic  courtesies in the language of the country you are going to will win you brownie points with the locals. It is also often polite to ask “Do you speak English?” to a stranger before you start rambling off your questions. If you’re going to a country with a more common language such as Spanish or French, try to learn a few more basic phrases. If you know some of the language, use it. Even if you’re embarrassed about your pronunciation or grammar, locals will appreciate the fact that you are trying (except for people in Paris, but I digress….).

18. Don’t be the guy with no shirt on in a restaurant.

You don’t need a sign that says “no shirt, no shoes, no service” to tell you that this is rude in most places. While in Thailand, a country that dresses fairly conservatively and tank tops are uncommon among locals, we visited a restaurant on the side of the highway for lunch. There we saw a fat European tourist in tiny short shorts, with no shirt on and his huge belly hanging over his waistband which looked like it was about to burst. The icing on the cake: black socks with sandals accompanied his outfit. Don’t be that guy. Just don’t.

 

With a little preparation and research, your first time traveling abroad should be a fun and exciting experience. Keep an open mind, and remember that you are a guest in the country you are traveling to. Don’t be afraid to venture out and learn about the world. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

 

 

Wine Tasting Tips for Beginners

Wine tasting tips for beginners: what to expect and how to have a great wine tasting adventure

 

Paddy and I love wine. We also love food, and the two go hand in hand. We are lucky to live in one of the top wine producing states in the US, Washington State. Wine tourism has boomed in Washington over the last 20 years, with new wineries and vineyards springing up all over the state. The highest concentration of Washington wineries are on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, and there are so many to choose from that it can be quite overwhelming. Wine tasting is one of our favorite tourism activities in our home state, and we’ve been on several wine tasting adventures.

We know a considerable amount about wine, but not a ton. We are by no means experts and there is A LOT to learn. We really enjoy drinking wine and pairing wine with food, but we don’t always know what we’re doing.

Here are some wine tasting tips for beginners based on our experiences:

1. You don’t have to know anything about wine

If you don’t know anything about wine, except that you kind of like it and are curious to know more, wine tasting is the best way to learn. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t feel like a failure if you can’t taste all the “notes of fig and honeysuckle” like the wine description says you should. It can take a while to develop your palate. Concentrate on finding out what you like and don’t like in a wine–reds or whites, sweet or dry, fruity or spicy, light or robust and smoky. Remember the types of the wines that you liked, and remember that not all types of wines are created equal. Some wineries might make a chardonnay that you love, while others may have ones that you aren’t so into. Just taste and learn. Don’t be afraid to ask the winery questions.

2. Wine tasting is a daytime activity

Wine tasting rooms are typically open between noon and 5:00 PM, with some opening as early as 10:00 AM and some closing as early as 4:00 PM. It’s generally not an activity to do after dinner, and will monopolize your whole afternoon, so don’t have any other plans that day unless they are in the morning. Also, you may end up needing a nap before dinner after all that wine…

3. You will most likely get a little drunk, so have a safe transportation plan

One of the downsides about wine tasting is that a lot of areas have wineries that you have to drive to. Since drinking and driving is not a good idea, you have several options to address this common conundrum:

  1. Have a designated driver–your DD can spit the wine out into the receptacle at the wine counter after tasting, or opt out of tasting altogether.
  2. Join a wine tasting tour or hire a driver. Many of these can be expensive or book out far in advance, so plan accordingly. It is nice to have a driver.
  3. Stay in a town with wine tasting rooms in walking distance from your hotel
  4. Drive to only one or two wineries, and/or have a picnic at one of them after tasting while you sober up. Many wineries are happy to let you sit out and eat some snacks while you sip. A lot of them don’t have food licenses so they have no problem with you bringing your own.

Our plan of attack is usually a combo of suggestions 4 and 5. We like to find a hotel in walking distance from tasting rooms, but drive to a couple in the beginning before we get buzzed to see some of the pretty vineyards and grapes. Some good Washington towns with ample tasting rooms in walking distance from downtown lodging are Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Prosser, and Walla Walla.

wine tasting tips
Getting out of town and seeing the grapes growing in the vineyards is a great part of the experience. Just be sure to be safe if you are driving.

4. Tasting rooms generally have fees

Wine tasting generally isn’t free. Some wineries don’t charge fees, but most of the time you should expect to pay about $5-$10 per person at each winery to taste between 4-6 wines. Most will waive the fee if you buy a bottle, however. The winery wants to sell you wine, and if you plan on investing in a nice bottle, it’s great to sample beforehand. Most places take cards, but having cash is easier if you don’t plan on buying many bottles.

Wine tasting tips

5. Take your time and experience each wine

Don’t just gulp it down. Take some time to sniff each wine, and swirl the wine around in the glass to oxidize the wine and release the flavor. Think about what you smell and then how the wine tastes at first, while you swirl it around in your mouth, and how it finishes when you swallow it. Think about what kind of food would pair well with it (steak? chocolate? fish?) It might take some time to develop your palate and really be able to differentiate all the complex flavors each wine has, but taking your time is the way to learn.

wine tasting tips

6. You are really only going to make it to four or five wineries in a day

When we first started wine tasting, we thought we’d be able to go to a ton of tasting rooms in one day but each time we find that we only end up getting to four or five. Wine tasting takes more time than you think it does. You might have to wait your turn at the pour counter, you may get into a lively conversation with your server (extra tip–your time with your wine server is a great opportunity to find out where the best place for dinner is that evening or any other local tips about the area), and tasting each wine takes time and shouldn’t be rushed if possible. Also, there is a strong possibility that you may be drunk after five wineries, and ready for a nap. We once went to a winery that had us taste all 12 of their wines. We were a little loopy at the end of that day.

Research the ones you think you might want to visit, or just ask a local which ones they like best and narrow it down from there.

wine tasting tips
Vineyard in Rattlesnake Hills, WA

7. If venturing out to vineyards out of town, pack a picnic

When Paddy and I first went on our first wine tasting adventure around Wenatchee and Leavenworth, we got hungry. I think I may have said something like, “I could eat the shit out of some brie right now” on the drive back to Leavenworth. But wineries generally don’t have food licenses and there was no great cheese and snacks around to go with all that good wine.

Many wineries that don’t sell food are perfectly fine if you bring a little picnic. Pack some fruit, cheese, salami, crackers, chocolate, or whatever you want. You may want to purchase a glass of wine as a courtesy to go with your picnic if the winery allows you to sit and enjoy their vineyard.

wine tasting tips
Wine tasting in Chelan, WA

 

Wine tasting does not have to be as pretentious as some people make it out to be. Everyone who likes wine had to start learning about it somewhere. You also might find out that wine just isn’t your thing. Either way, it’s fun to learn and try new things, and a great way to spend a day with friends or a partner.

Coping with Travel Fever When You’re Stuck in the 9 to 5

Coping with travel fever when you’re stuck in the 9 to 5: Ways to get through those long periods between trips when you’re stuck in a 40+ hour work week at a job that is not your dream job.

 

We write about our travels, but we aren’t travel writers. We have jobs, bills, a mortgage, two cats, aging parents, and family and friends we love to spend time with. You know, responsibilities and stuff. We’re childfree, which helps us tremendously in the travel department, but we can’t travel full time. Coping with travel fever in between adventures is tough, especially because travel is addicting. The more you travel, the more you want to travel. The more off the beaten path you get, the need for a more unique travel experience to top the last becomes more and more unbearable. For us, travel isn’t about sitting on a beach with a mai tai and trying to unwind. It’s a cultural learning adventure. Maybe someday we’ll find a way to travel more.

But for now, we have things that keep us in one place most of the year. We feel lucky that we can travel as much as we do, and we travel more than most of our friends and family. We are grateful for every experience we’ve had, and grateful for all the ones to come. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t go to work fighting the urge to turn our cars around and drive off into the sunset (or sunrise). Coping with travel fever can be hard, but there are ways we try to ease the pain:

1. Plan your next trip

If you don’t have your next trip planned already, start planning. The only way things happen is if you plan them and set goals. Figure out where you want to go, how long you want to (or can) travel for, and finally how much it will cost (always overestimate). Buy a guidebook to get the basics, and spend the rest of the time googling and reading about places on tripadvisor.com. I’m a planner, and I probably over-plan a bit, but I also plan for days without plans in my destinations. If you have a long time to travel, try to stay a bit longer in a few key destinations to really get to know them and leave room for spontaneous moments. For me, coping with travel fever is a lot easier if there is a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. If we have a trip to look forward to, and I can obsessively read about the culture, food, restaurants, weird tourist attractions, transportation methods, etc–and I’m a lot happier.

coping with travel fever

2. Watch travel documentaries

Unfortunately, there are a lot of really bad travel documentaries out there. I am so sick of the overly peppy, pseudo-knowledgeable travel host going to all the major tourist spots.

There are also some really good ones. I have a post about our favorite travel shows that you can check out. We are big fans of Departures, Anthony Bourdain, and Zane Lamprey. Watching travel shows is a method of coping with travel fever, but it also kind of makes your travel fever worse. Be warned.

coping with travel fever Departures TV Show
Scott and Justin in Departures.

3. Read travel books

Books will always go more in depth than shows. Reading someone’s well-written memoirs of their travels is more educational, and allows you to live vicariously through their experiences. My favorite travel book that I’ve read is the Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. He is a former NPR journalist who decides to travel around the world to the world’s proclaimed “happiest countries” to find out what makes them happy. He also travel’s to one of the world’s unhappiest countries in contrast. It is a really interesting read and very well written.

Other favorites:

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

 

4. Take short weekend getaways

Go on little adventures for the weekend to places within a few hours’ drive of your city. Stop for food at little hole-in-the-wall restaurants and diners, go on a new hike, visit that town with the unusual name that you’ve only seen while looking at a road atlas. We are a bit lucky in Seattle to have so much natural and diverse places to visit within a three hour drive. I believe there is something interesting to see everywhere. Check out what your region has to offer.

coping with travel fever Hiking the High Lakes Loop Trail at Mt Rainier National Park, WA
Hiking the High Lakes Loop Trail at Mt Rainier National Park, WA

 5. Visit new restaurants and try new foods

One of the biggest parts about travel is trying new foods. Food is always what Paddy looks forward to the most in our adventures. A great method of coping with travel fever is to go to a restaurant with a type of cuisine you haven’t tried before. This is more easily done if you live in an urban area with lots of culture. Yelp can be a great tool to hunt for different restaurants. Have you tried Ethiopian food? Indonesian? Dim Sum? Eating at a restaurant can be a foreign cultural experience in itself.

coping with travel fever lunar new year seattle asia bbq
Asia BBQ in the International District, Seattle

6. Host a theme party around your favorite travel destination

Have an Italian dinner party, a Polynesian luau, a Mexican fiesta, a Parisian brunch, or a Danish Julefrokost. Make a bunch of food from your favorite travel destination and invite friends to share and learn.

coping with travel fever
Watermelon jalepeno margaritas are also a good remedy for travel fever

7. Learn a new language

You may not be able to travel right this minute, but you can improve your language skills for your next trip. Many community colleges offer continuing education language classes in the evenings that anyone can take. A friend of mine keeps her Spanish fluent by attending a Spanish language conversation group. You might even meet some new travel buddies or new friends to share travel tales with. If you live out in the sticks or local classes don’t work for your schedule, I’ve heard the Rosetta Stone is a great self-learning tool. Check and see if your local library has it available to use for free.

8. Look for cultural festivities in your city

If your city has any kind of diversity (as most cities do), there are probably many cultural celebrations and events open to the public that you can check out. Some aren’t as well advertised as others, so you may have to do some research. Seattle has Scandinavian breakfasts and movie nights at the Swedish Cultural Center (I also heard they recently had an ABBA night as well,) a Lunar New Year/Chinese New Year celebration in the International District, and a whole plethora of cultural festivals at the Seattle Center throughout the year (Hawaiian, Arab, Iranian, Japanese, Brazilian, Polish, Italian, Croatian, Turkish, Mexican Dia de Los Muertos, Filipino, Irish, and more). Check out what the city nearest you has to offer.

coping with travel fever Chinese dragon dance, Lunar New Year in Seattle
Chinese dragon dance, Lunar New Year celebration in Seattle’s International District

Coping with travel fever is hard, but getting little doses of culture and learning in combined with quick weekend getaways helps tide us over until our next travel adventure. We also always have to be planning our next adventure–there can’t be an indefinite period of no travel. Something needs to be planned. Don’t let the 9-5 bog you down. If you have vacation time, plan a trip and go for it. Happy travels!

 

Why it is Important to Have Adventure in a Relationship

Why it is important to have adventure in a relationship: Learning, discovery, and fun are the antithesis of boredom and essential to growing your bond. And you don’t have to go to Morocco to do it.

Adventure in a relationship is essential. Not to downplay the necessity of those nights on the couch with Netflix and popcorn (those are essential to our sanity), but you don’t want to get stuck in a rut. Learning is what keeps the brain fresh, and adventure is about learning, discovery, and creativity.

Sharing an adventure with your partner strengthens the bond between you, and helps you grow as a couple and individuals. If you have a good time or share something exciting together, you will associate that experience with your partner.

Adventure in a relationship
Hiking near Mt Rainier, Washington

Travel is the ultimate great adventure, but you don’t have to travel to have adventure in a relationship. An adventure can simply be trying something new. Go try Ethiopian food. Try a new hiking trail. Learn how to brew beer. Spend a day in a neighborhood you never go to. You don’t have to spend money, you just have to make some time and be adventurous. Take turns picking what you do on your next “adventure date.”

Here are some ideas:

Camping

Learn to make pickles

Explore a nearby town you’ve never spent time in

Wine tasting

Snowshoeing

River tubing

Snow tubing

Bike riding

Do a fun home improvement project, like a tile back splash in your kitchen

Take a cooking class

Take a swing dancing class

Volunteer

Go to a show and check out a new band

adventure in a relationship
Wine tasting in Chelan, Washington

You can also out festivals in your city or nearby cities/towns and attend an event. Summertime is full of these. Whatever adventures you embark on, just make sure you do something new together at least every couple months. Don’t get too bogged down with life and end up stuck in a TV rut. Adventure in a relationship is essential, it keeps your relationship growing.

 

Winter Driving in Iceland

 Winter Driving in Iceland: Tips on how to navigate the roads without ending up being a search and rescue statistic, or ending up with an expensive rental car repair bill

 

Driving in Iceland in the winter can be scary for even the most seasoned winter driver. The main reason is Iceland’s furious and ferocious winds, which have been reported to blow rocks off of glaciers and cars right off of the roads. Rental cars come equipped with snow tires but very little insurance, and there are places in Iceland on the ring road with absolutely nothing around for miles.

We drove around the southern part of Iceland in March with very little snow driving experience, and made it out alive. Here is our advice:

1. Pay close attention to the road conditions and weather reports

The most invaluable website during our trip was http://www.vegagerdin.is/english/road-conditions-and-weather/, which we were checking several times a day. They keep the road conditions up to date and you must check to make sure your route is clear before venturing out, especially in the winter. You don’t want to end up a search-and-rescue tourist trapped in a snow storm. For an up to date weather report for the day, http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/areas/ is the Icelandic weather site. If a storm is predicted in the area you are planning on driving to, check with locals to see if they think going there is a good idea. If not, you may need to change your plans. On the day we wanted to go up to see Gullfoss the snow and wind wouldn’t let up, so we played it safe and stayed in. After we got back to the US, we read a news story about 50 tourists that had to be search and rescued up there the very next day. We were glad we stayed at our cabin and had a lazy snow day instead.

winter driving in Iceland
Winter driving in Iceland: Wind can cause snow to blow into the road causing very low visibility

2. The insurance is pretty much useless, but get the sand and ash protection just in case

Winds in Iceland can be insanely strong. Right before we went we read news stories of cars being blown off the road by the wind and rocks being blown off cliffs into people’s car windows. These are extreme examples, but the winds are strong at times and will blow sand and volcanic ash at your car, causing damage to the paint. The sand and ash protection doesn’t cost that much extra, and could save you some money in the event that you run into these conditions.

3. Park on a flat surface overnight, and don’t set your parking brake

Our car rental company told us not to set the parking brake overnight, or it would freeze and break off, and we would have to pay for it.

4. Go slow and let cars pass you if you are not used to driving in the snow

It’s okay to be the slow asshole on the highway if you aren’t comfortable or sure about the road conditions. I’m sure we pissed a lot of locals off on our first day out on snow-covered roads, but they drove around us and we made it in one piece. It’s better to take it easy than to risk an accident due to overconfidence.

Winter driving in Iceland
Winter driving in Iceland

5. Never slam on the brakes for any reason

Slamming on your brakes on an icy road is the best way to have your car spin out of control. If you need to slow down, take your foot off of the gas and downshift (this is where a manual shift car is a plus), and gently tap the brake.

We were driving along a snowy road in the southern part of the ring road, and I stopped the car to get out and take a picture of the white, desolate landscape. When I stepped out of the car and my foot hit the road I almost fell right on my ass. I didn’t fully realize that we were driving on a solid sheet of ice. Take caution and make slow stops.

winter driving in Iceland
Southern ring road winter wonderland: winter driving in Iceland

6. If you start to slide, don’t jerk the steering wheel

Aside from slamming on the brakes, the worst thing you can do if you start to slide is over-correct and jerk the wheel. Slow down by down-shifting and taking your foot off the gas, and keep a tight grip on the wheel to keep it as steady as you can.

7. Hold onto the car doors when getting in and out of the car

Again, the winds are the most dangerous part of driving in Iceland. They are STRONG. Strong enough to blow the door right off of your car. When getting in and out of the car, hold the door TIGHT to keep it from blowing back open. If the door comes off, you have to pay for it. Even the insurance with a $1000 deductible won’t cover it. And everything is more expensive in Iceland.

8. Never attempt driving on the F Roads in winter

Iceland blocks the F Roads (in the highlands in the middle of the country) off in the winter time, but every now and then some idiot will think his four wheel drive SUV can make it. Locals report seeing tire tracks around the blockades all the time. These people end up putting the lives of volunteer search and rescue workers at stake when they get lost or stuck. Don’t be a dumbass, just stick to the ring road. There are plenty of amazing sights to see there.

9. Bring a credit card with a chip in it for the gas pumps

Bring a credit card or debit card with a chip in it, and know your PIN number. Gas pumps won’t take American credit cards without a chip. We traveled just before the chip came out in the US, and we had to only use gas stations where we could pay inside. Some wouldn’t let us and we had to find one that did. Fortunately, in 2015 banks in the US started to put out chip cards, so hopefully this won’t be a hassle for you like it was for us.

Also, remember to fill up the tank before you attempt long stretches of road in between towns.

 

Iceland is a beautiful country. Summer is the peak visiting time, and the hotel, airfare, and lodging prices double June through September. We went in March, which is still winter in Iceland, and it was amazing. We didn’t get to see some of the things we wanted to because of the weather, but we had a great time in winter wonderland. Driving in Iceland in the winter was intimidating, but the snow tires made a big difference and we were cautious and everything went fine. If you plan on driving in Iceland in the winter, make sure you keep up to date daily on the weather report (it can change on a dime) and stay put if there is a big storm. Wind is the most dangerous factor in winter driving in Iceland, especially on the south coast. Stay safe and have a great trip!

Glacier on the southern ring road, Iceland
Glacier on the southern ring road, Iceland

Hiding Your Valuables While Traveling

Hiding your valuables while traveling: tips for keeping your stuff safe in your hotel room and with you on the go to avoid getting ripped off.

 

Needless to say, having your money, passport, or other valuables stolen while traveling can really ruin an otherwise great adventure. Even the hotel safe can’t always be trusted–they often have an override code for the staff to use when guests forget how to open the safe. Here are a few tips for hiding your valuables and lowering your risk of being a victim of theft while traveling:

1. Don’t keep all your money in one place.

Don’t bring all your money with you when you go out, and hide it in multiple places on your body and in your hotel room. If you get mugged, chances are they won’t take all of it. I also keep one credit card on me and one hidden in the room, just in case.

2. While walking around, keep everything on your body and well attached to you

Keep your money, passport, and credit cards attached to your body. Money belts, small purses hung diagonally around your body, etc help keep things attached. In the ankle of your sock, in your bra, etc. I just discovered a company called PortaPocket that makes little pockets you can strap to your ankle, arm, leg, waist, etc.

3. Use fake item hidden safes

Hidden safes that look like other items can be really effective ways for hiding your valuables. I would recommend the hairbrush or screwdriver safes over a soda can safe, however. You don’t want the housekeeper accidentally throwing it away thinking it is garbage.

4. Hide things in dirty clothes

I will often hide electronics or passports in socks in the middle of my backpack or suitcase, underneath all of my dirty clothes and underwear. I figure the chances of a dishonest housekeeper really wanting to dig  through all my dirty clothes are slim.

5. Hide money in personal products

Pill bottles (not see-through), empty re-useable shampoo bottles, etc. I often put cash and a credit card in a box of tampons (the small non-applicator style kind such as O.B.) and put the tampons on top of it.

Hiding your valuables while traveling--tampon boxes are a good hiding spot
Hiding your valuables while traveling

6. Find sneaky spots in your hotel room

Inside shower curtain rod or inside zipper covers to cushions are good places for hiding your valuables. Inside a ziplock baggie in the toilet tank might be okay, but I feel like this is the most obvious hiding location thanks to all the drug and crime shows. Also, ziplock baggies are not waterproof so don’t submerge your phone or electronics in water in them. Under the mattress is another one that is pretty obvious–if you do I’d recommend doing it only after the housekeeper has been by to make your bed and shove it towards the middle, not under the edge of the mattress.

Don’t forget that you hid stuff! You don’t want to leave it behind.

7. Tip your housekeeper

If the custom of where you are traveling is to tip your housekeeper, you should do this anyway. However, leaving a tip for the housekeeper may alter a disgruntled housekeeper’s view of you into an appreciative guest, vs another asshole tourist. Maybe not, but it’s always a good thing to do.

8. Use ATMs that are attached to a bank or embedded in a wall, preferably when the bank is open

As a side note, we generally don’t use stand-alone ATMs when traveling. I’ve heard too many stories about stand-alone  ATMs being fake or tampered with to read card info or steal your card and tell you that the machine is broken. In reality, someone comes and collects your card or card info later after you’ve left.

ATMs that are part of banks are always the safest bet. If you can’t find a bank ATM, one that is embedded into a wall is the next best option. If you can, try to withdraw your cash during bank hours–there is often a security guard or place to withdraw off of the street, and if your card does get eaten by the machine you can go in and get help.

9. Get a waterproof pouch for the beach

Never leave important stuff unattended on the beach. Get a waterproof waist pouch for your money, phone, etc and take it into the water with you. Lifeproof cases for phones offer extra water protection as well.

 

There’s never a guarantee that you won’t get ripped off when you travel, but don’t be paranoid–just be smart. Hiding your valuables while traveling is kind of an art, the key being not to keep it all in one place. Do what works best for you, and have a safe trip!

 

Working Travel into Your Budget

Working travel into your budget: ways to turn a travel dream into reality. You just have to want it bad enough.

 

The biggest reason people don’t travel is money. They look at pictures of tropical beaches or European castles longingly, thinking, “someday I’ll go there.” They may think they will travel after they retire. For a lot of people though, working travel into your budget can be a bigger hindrance after retirement than before. You also might not be physically able to do as many things when you are older as you think you will.

In reality, biggest obstacle in going somewhere may not actually be money, it is probably just planning and prioritizing. If you want to travel, here are some ways to do it on a tight budget:

 

1. Prioritize travel

This is the number one thing you have to do if you want to travel, and it is the most difficult. If you want it, you have to keep your eyes on the prize. Maybe those beat up shoes can get you through another year. Maybe you don’t need to upgrade to the new iPhone. Maybe you can cancel your cable package and stream Neflix and Hulu instead. Maybe you can eat dinner out with your sweetie at the bar during happy hour instead of a nice 5 course meal.

You won’t have room in your budget for everything you want, so you will have to pick and choose what is a priority and what can wait or isn’t necessary. Cut back your expenses in whatever way you can. If you’re single, consider getting a roommate. If you want it bad enough, you can work it out.

I’m a planner, and I plan our vacations way in advance and save for them. I did this even when I was working at a low paying job with no paid vacation right after college. I had to save up for the vacation, plus enough to cover my expenses for the week I wasn’t going to be working. I did it, and you can too.

2. Research your trip and get a savings goal together

Once you know where you want to go, research airfare on Expedia, Kayak, or other travel sites. Booking.com is my favorite site for booking and researching hotels, along with Tripadvisor. Get a ball park figure together of how much plane tickets cost for your destination. Next, figure out what you want to see and where you want to stay and get cost figures on those. Add on and overestimate a total budget for meals, souvenirs, tours, gratuities, and anything else you think you might spend money on. Add it together and you have your final figure.

If the figure is higher than you expected, don’t despair. It just means you will have to cut back your expenses a little more, or postpone your trip a bit longer while you save. If you want it bad enough, you can make it happen. Figure out how much you think you can save per month, and then divide your total figure by that amount, and you have an idea of when to plan your trip.  There are sites with nifty travel calculators that can help you with this as well, such as this one on IndependentTraveler.com.

 

3. Use your tax return as a savings plan

I’ve always claimed zero on my W-4s so that my employer takes the maximum amount out of my paycheck for federal taxes. Yeah, I could put that extra money in a savings account and earn interest, blah blah blah. But I know that won’t happen. I would probably just spend it. This is always how I afforded cheap spring break getaways in college. Every year, we get a decent amount of money back when we do our taxes and put that towards our next vacation that year. It’s a “bonus” we can always count on, and it helps.

 

4. Set up sneaky savings transfers

You can “trick” yourself into saving by setting up an automatic savings transfer for your paydays of a low specific amount, like $20.00. You probably won’t notice the money moving over when your paycheck hits, and it can add up. I do this in small amounts into what I call my “oh shit fund.” It’s what I withdraw from on a rainy day (or if I’m a bit short the day before payday). This can also work towards a travel savings goal. The savings are still there for emergencies, but if everything goes well, it will put you ahead on your savings plan.

 

5. Don’t be afraid of alternative lodging

You might need to adjust your travel plans if you can’t afford everything you want to do. Research budget hotels on Tripadvisor and check out Airbnb.com. Also consider hostels. Most hostels cater towards young travelers staying in multi-bunk dorm rooms, but many have private rooms  as well, some with private bathrooms. We stayed in a really nice hostel in Bangkok with a private room en suite for only $35 a night. Hostels also cater to those without a lot of money, meaning they often have free wifi, laundry facilities, kitchens and fridges for making and storing your own food, lockers for keeping your stuff safe while out and about, and helpful staff willing to provide info and sometimes book tours. We’ve stayed in some nice upscale hotels before and hostels, and we really enjoyed the hostels. It is easier to meet like-minded travelers from all around the world at a hostel–you might make some new friends and get some good travel tips as well. Not all hostels are great though, make sure you do your research and read reviews to find the right one.

 

6. Travel closer to home

Sure, Thailand is cheap when you get there, but flying there from North America is not. Distance = high cost. If the plane tickets are too much, you might consider another inexpensive destination closer to home like Mexico or Costa Rica. Don’t give up that dream of Asia or Australia though–you’ll just need to save a little longer for those trips. If you really want to go on a trip now, try one with cheaper airfare.

 

7. Travel in the off season

The best times to travel are right before the peak season starts or right after it ends. The rates are lower and the crowds are thinner. We went to Costa Rica during the rainy season in September, and aside from obsessively checking NOAA’s hurricane watch the days before departure, it worked out great. Tours had only a couple other people along with us, and we practically had the town of La Fortuna to ourselves. It rained every day, but in the afternoon and evenings only. We did our sightseeing and tours in the morning when it was sunny, and napped in the afternoon when it rained.

We did travel in the off-season in September again to Mexico, and it was a bit too hot for our comfort. We had the beach to ourselves, but had to tuck ourselves completely into the shade of a palapa umbrella like vampires. Do some research and see what time of year would be the best weather-wise for your destination as well as cost. Shoulder seasons in between the low and peak seasons are often a good bet as well.

 

8. Stay in one place or one city to save money on transportation

I always want to see everything, so when we go to another country I try to pick a few regions of the area we are going and spend a few nights in a few different places. It gives our trip diversity and more adventure.

However, transportation to all those places can add up quite a bit. If you need a vacation and are on a tight budget, go somewhere that has a good amount of stuff to do and see in one place. Hotels will often give discounts on online booking sites for extended stays as well.

 

Working travel into your budget can be tricky, but if there is a will there’s a way. We just became first time homeowners, so I’m sure we’ll have things come up that will throw a monkey wrench into our savings plans. Whatever happens, we will still find a way to travel. Prioritize your travel adventures over other non-essentials, and it will work out for you. Be patient and stick to the goal.

 

Our Top Food Experiences From Our Adventures

Our top food experiences from our adventures 2008-2015: Our most memorable meals from our travels around the world (so far).

10. The Winding Stair in Dublin, Ireland

Given that everything in Ireland is expensive, we couldn’t eat out at many upscale restaurants on our two-week trip. The Winding Stair was our one big splurge in Ireland, and it was worth it. It is located above an affiliated book store (one of the oldest independent book stores in Dublin) overlooking the River Liffey. It was cute, quiet, and romantic. The food is fresh, organic, and locally sourced.  If you’re in Dublin looking for a fantastic Irish meal with ambiance, this is a great little spot. Definitely one of our top food experiences in Ireland.

River Liffey, Dublin
River Liffey, Dublin
Winding Stair Dublin Ireland top food experiences
Duck breast with fingerling potatoes at The Winding Stair
Winding Stair Dublin Ireland top food experiences
Pork loin at the winding stair

9. Kèköldi Indigenous family farm, Costa Rica

Our friends Sarah and Julio took us to a farm owned by the indigenous Kèköldi people near Cahuita, Costa Rica. Our host gave us a tour through the rain forest surrounding his home and told us about all the medicinal plants and foods found in the area that are used by his family. Afterward, we were served a typical lunch of chicken, plantains breadfruit, and sweet potatoes served in banana leaves, which are used as plates and bowls. The chicken was some of the best we’d ever had and it was a very interesting and educational day. If you are interested in taking this tour, you can book it through Sarah and Julio’s tour company, www.boyerotours.com.

Kekoldi indigenous tour costa rica top food experiences
Lunch at the Kèköldi farm: Chicken, breadfruit, plantains, and sweet potato
Kekoldi village costa rica top food experiences
Julio and our host at the Kèköldi farm, Costa Rica

8. Argentinian cooking at Tierras Del Sol, Tulum, Mexico

When we were in Tulum, Mexico in 2009, we stayed at a little place on the beach called Tierras Del Sol (unfortunately, it looks like it is now closed). The beach was the best we’ve ever seen in our travels to the tropics, and because it was the low season we usually had it all to ourselves.

Tulum-beach-Mexico-top-food-experiences (6)
Tulum Beach

It was located at the very end of the Boca Paila Rd, about 12 miles from the center of town and we had no car. They served dinner and breakfast, and the manager/cook was from Argentina and cooked amazing food every night. It was pretty much the same menu: three salads, grilled vegetables, and then grilled meat or fish with an Argentinian marinade. We stayed for four nights, and ate three dinners there it was so good. Each night the grilled meat or fish was whatever looked fresh at the market that day. One night we ventured further down the road to a neighboring bungalow resort and ate at their restaurant, but the food was small, pretentious, and not nearly as good.

Simple and delicious, served with a side of peace and quiet, the warm sea air, and plenty of beer and margaritas. It was one of our top food experiences for sure.

Tulum-Mexico-top-food-experiences (2)
Top food experiences –Tierras Del Sol restaurant/lounge area

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Tulum-Mexico-top-food-experiences (12)

tulum-mexico top food experiences

7. Kuma’s Corner, Chicago

Paddy maintains that one of the best burgers he has ever had (perhaps THE best burger he has ever had) was at Kuma’s Corner while we were visiting a friend in Chicago in 2008. Located in the Avondale neighborhood, Kuma’s Corner is all about two things: amazing burgers and heavy metal. And burgers named after heavy metal. What more could you want?

It sounds gimmicky, but the real rock star here is the food. Most of the burgers are served on pretzel buns, and really are in a league of their own. If you go to Chicago, don’t miss Kuma’s.

Kumas Corner Chicago top food experiences
At Kuma’s Corner, Chicago
Kumas Corner Chicago top food experiences
The “Slayer” burger at Kuma’s Corner. Served with ANGER!

 

6. The Jam Cafe, Victoria B.C. Canada

We spent a holiday weekend in Victoria BC in 2014, and we were surprised to find so much great food! It was tough to choose which one of our meals that weekend would wind up on our top food experiences list, but we decided it must be the Jam Cafe. We had pulled pork pancakes (large enough to feed a family of four) and the fried chicken benedict and shared. The bloody marys were also fabulous and are served with a piece of candied bacon and a seasoned salt rim. It was one of the best breakfasts we’ve ever had, and worth the 20 minute wait in line.

A close second of our top food experiences in Victoria: Red Fish Blue Fish. It was almost a coin toss.

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The Jam Cafe, Victoria B.C.
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Bloody Mary at the Jam Cafe with candied bacon
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Pulled Pork pancakes with jalepeno sour cream and pickled cabbage
Jam-Cafe-Victoria-BC-top-food-experiences (11)
Fried chicken benedict with roasted corn salsa

5. Atchafalaya, New Orleans

Atchafalaya New Orleans
Atchafalaya restaurant–brunch highly recommended!

We spent Halloween 2015 in New Orleans, which I’m sure you know is home to some pretty spectacular cuisine. The winner from this trip was definitely brunch at Atchafalaya in the Garden District. They had a delicious-looking breakfast cocktail list, but we couldn’t pass up the bloody mary bar where you can build your own bloody mary from two different types of mixes, and an array of hot sauces and house pickled veggies to go with it. The bartender gives you a glass with your choice of vodka and you make it however you want it.

Atchafalaya bloody mary bar New Orleans
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar New Orleans
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar-green tomato bloody marys!

The breakfast menu made for a tough decision. I eventually decided on the duck hash with blackberries, mangos, duck confit, potatoes, hollandaise sauce, and bacon vinigarette. Paddy had the shrimp and cream cheese grits with smoked tomatoes and andouille sausage. Our friends tried the fried chicken and biscuits and gravy, the bananas foster french toast, and the truffled eggs with spinach. It was all amazing. They also serve dinner, and we will definitely be back on our next visit to NOLA.

Chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy at Atchafalaya New Orleans
Chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy at Atchafalaya
Duck confit hash at Atchafalaya in the Garden District
Duck confit hash at Atchafalaya in the Garden District
Shrimp with cream cheese grits at Actchafalaya New Orleans
Shrimp with cream cheese grits at Actchafalaya

4. Chiky Blu Restaurant in Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

On our first night in the small beach town of Bayahibe, Dominican Republic, we ventured into a little unassuming open-air beach restaurant with reasonable prices and ordered up some dinner. I had no idea going in that I would have the best whole fried fish I’d ever had that I still think about to this day. It was simple, but full of flavor, and very crispy without any greasiness. It came with rosemary fried potatoes on a bed of lettuce with three tomato slices on top and a lime wedge.

Paddy had gnocchi which was also excellent. We went back for dinner again on our last night and had the pizza which was also good, but I still think about that fried fish. I haven’t had one live up to that one since.

Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Fried fish chiky blu bayahibe
Best fried fish I’ve ever had at Chiky Blu

3. Hotel La Pirogue, Taha’a, French Polynesia

We spent our honeymoon in French Polynesia, traveling to Tahiti, Taha’a, and Bora Bora. On Taha’a we stayed on a remote motu island off the coast of the main island of Taha’a at a little resort called Hotel La Pirogue. It was completely remote, so we did the breakfast and dinner meal plan. Breakfast was standard European continental style, with muesli, yogurt, fruit, and baguettes with cheese and ham cold cuts.

hotel la pirogue tahaa
View from our bungalow porch at Hotel La Pirogue on the Taha’a motu

Dinner, however was unexpectedly some of the best food we’ve ever had. The little resort was owned by a French couple who were very welcoming. The husband was an outstanding chef and cooked dinner for the guests while his wife waited tables. We could choose a starter, main course and dessert for dinner each night.

The fusion of French cuisine with local Polynesian ingredients like vanilla, breadfruit, spices, and local fish, and shellfish was innovative and unique. It was some of the best food we’ve ever had.

We spent our days reading books, swimming in the beach in front of our bungalow, kayaking around the lagoon, and day touring the island of Taha’a. At night we would stuff ourselves silly at the restaurant and waddle back to our bungalow to sit on our porch and drink wine in the moonlight. It was a great four days.

Coconut curry shrimp
Coconut curry shrimp
Duck breast
Duck breast
Grilled shrimp at Hotel La Pirogue
Grilled shrimp at Hotel La Pirogue
Seared Ahi tuna
Seared Ahi tuna
Rack of lamb at Hotel La Pirogue
Rack of lamb at Hotel La Pirogue

 

 2. Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

While in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2015, we had made reservations far in advance for Dill, which is arguably the best upscale dining restaurant in Iceland. Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason takes Nordic cuisine to new and innovative levels, using local ingredients–much along the lines of the world-renowned restaurant Noma in Denmark.

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top food experiences –Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland 107

Iceland-Dill-Restaurant
top food experiences –Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

We may not ever be able to afford Noma ($300 per person for a seven course meal), but we were able to make room in our budget for Dill (much more reasonable at just under $100 per person for a seven course meal). Don’t get me wrong, it was really expensive, but worth it. In this culinary realm, food begins to cross from sustenance to art, bringing new flavors and textures and ideas to the dining experience that have not been done before.

Wine pairings with all seven courses were also offered at an additional $100 per person, but we stuck with one glass of champagne and one glass of red wine each. Our bill at the end was $250, which was slightly less than we had budgeted.

The meal came with four small amuse bouche starters and house-made sourdough rolls. It was a two-hour ordeal, and the most high-end culinary experience we’ve ever had. I hate rutabagas, and the rutabaga course with cream cheese foam, sweet and sour dill oil, and toasted millet was so delicious I almost licked the plate.

Dill Menu
Dill Menu
salt cod course dill restaurant reykjavik
Salt cod course
scallop tartare dill restaurant reykjavik
Scallop tartare course
Iceland-Dill-Restaurant
Pork belly course with kale and black garlic
Dill-Restaurant
Rutabaga course with cream cheese, sweet and sour dill oil, and toasted millet
Dill-Restaurant-2
Icelandic Skyr with celery sorbet and roasted oats

Nothing could really top that dining experience in Iceland, but I will give the lobster soup at Salthusid Restaurant in Grindavik a second prize.

 

1. Farm Pu Nim (Softshell Crab Farm) in Chanthaburi, Thailand

I don’t know where this is or how you get to it, but try to find out if you find yourself in the Chanthaburi province of Thailand. Farm Pu Nim (translates to “softshell crab farm”) was host to the number one of all our top food experiences in our travels to date.

We were visiting a Thai friend of mine and her family in Chanthaburi, Thailand, and they wanted to take us to lunch here. We drove a little ways outside of Chanthaburi town, and then parked and got in a small boat ferrying customers to the restaurant.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
top food experiences –Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

It was busy with Thai tourists and locals (no westerners that I saw), and our friend said it is somewhere that they take visitors or go to on special occasions. They ordered a bunch of dishes for us all to share.

The restaurant kitchen was visible from the path to the bathroom, and was totally chaotic. Piles of sea shells, plastic tubs, and tanks of fish and crabs were everywhere.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
The kitchen–Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
The kitchen–Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Our food arrived in courses, and it was a seafood feast. The food was amazing, and there was so much that we couldn’t finish it all. Oysters, shrimp, squid, a spicy fish soup, fried soft shell crab, soft shell crab in curry, and a whole fried fish with garlic. We’d never seen such a spread.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
fried soft shell crab

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Shellfish Farm in Chanthaburi Thailand
Shellfish Farm in Chanthaburi Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
Oysters

We squabbled over the bill at the end– we insisted on paying as they were taking us around Chanthaburi and being fabulous hosts, and after some arguing we were allowed to pay. For seven people (albeit two were small children), the total for all that food and a couple beers was $45.

A large part of what makes this number one of our top food experiences was the amazing food, but another part was being able to share in something uniquely Thai that our friends wanted to share with us. We would have never found that place on our own, and being able to share it with a long lost friend from my exchange student days and her family was very special.

 

Food is a huge part of our travels, and we hope to add many more meals to this list in the future. A meal doesn’t have to be expensive to be amazing, it just needs to be made with love and either talent or a good recipe. Stay tuned for more of our top food experiences in the future.

Halloween in Seattle

If you are spending Halloween in Seattle, there are a lot of options for a spooky good time. Here are our recommendations for Halloween fun in the Emerald City:

 

Pumpkin Patch and Cider Tasting

If you are spending Halloween in Seattle have the means and enthusiasm to carve a pumpkin, one of our favorite October day trips is to Dr Maze’s pumpkin farm in nearby Redmond, WA. It has all the standard things a pumpkin patch should have–a corn maze, kettle corn, fruits and veggies for sale, hot apple cider, and a pumpkin patch where you can pick your own pumpkin. The reason we like this pumpkin patch the most is the fact that it is just down the road from the Minea Farm, a working farm with a 100 + year old cider press still in action. Buy a cup of hot cider and watch the cider press from the viewing window, or buy a gallon of fresh pressed organic cider to take home. They also sell apples, eggs, jams and jellies, honey, and other things made on their farm. Minea Farm is located at 13404 Woodinville Redmond Rd NE, Redmond, WA.

halloween in seattle pumpkin patch
Picking pumpkins at Dr Maze’s pumpkin farm in Redmond

 

Horror Movie Exhibit

The EMP at the Seattle Center has an exhibit that has been running for a couple years (not sure how long it will run for) called “Can’t Look Away: The Lure of the Horror Film.”  See real iconic horror movie props such as the facehugger from Alien, the axe from The Shining, and the script from Night of the Living Dead. I haven’t been to this exhibit yet but hope to before it goes away.

The EMP is also a good place to check for events. This year they are doing a 90’s zombie prom on October 17th. You can check their calendar for events here.

Halloween in seattle horror film
Can’t Look Away: The Lure of the Horror Film at the EMP Museum. Image from www.empmuseum.org

Super Scary Haunted House

One of the longest running Haunted Houses in Seattle is the Kube 93 Haunted House in the Georgetown neighborhood just south of downtown. I actually haven’t been to this since I was a teenager, but I keep meaning to go again. It’s a little pricey at $23 per adult, but they really go all out. They run the haunted house all through the month of October and even the last weekend of September.

Kube 93 Haunted House
Kube 93 Haunted House
Kube 93 Haunted House
Kube 93 Haunted House image from http://www.kube93.com/

 

Haunted Seattle Ghost Tours

Spooked in Seattle offers ghost tours of Seattle, including one ghost tour a month on the last Friday of each month in the Seattle underground, the part of old town Seattle that the current city was built on top of after the great fire of 1889. We’ve been on the regular Seattle Underground Tour, and it was spooky on its own without looking for ghosts. We’ve been on Spooked in Seattle’s regular city walking tour where they take you around Pioneer Square and downtown and tell you about reported ghost sightings in the historical part of the city. If you are interested in Seattle’s history and want a little spooky Halloween in Seattle fun, this is a good way to get a little of both.

halloween in seattle

Spooky Burlesque Shows

If you like dinner theater, burlesque shows, and Tim Burton, then you are in luck. The Triple Door downtown hosts a burlesque-style performance of the Nightmare Before Christmas, called This is Halloween every year. I’ve been to a few shows at The Triple Door, and this is dinner theater at its best. Food from the attached Wild Ginger restaurant is served prior to and during the show and drink service is available throughout. I saw the show with some friends two years ago as a girls’ night out and it was great fun. Get your tickets in advance, especially for weekend shows.

Halloween in Seattle Triple Door
This is Halloween show at the Triple Door, Seattle
Halloween in Seattle Triple Door
This is Halloween show at the Triple Door, Seattle
Halloween in Seattle Triple Door
This is Halloween show at the Triple Door, Seattle
Halloween in Seattle Triple Door
This is Halloween show at the Triple Door, Seattle

Seattle’s top spot for year round Burlesque shows is The Can Can downtown (right next to the entrance to the Pike Place Market). They love to do theme shows, and last year I went to a Halloween burlesque show called “Zombie Cheerleaders From Hell.” It appears that they are running it again this year. The title is a little misleading, (I don’t remember any zombie cheerleaders), but it was full of classic and devilishly spooky song and dance numbers, pasties, and humor. I did notice that their ticket prices have gone up a bit–the $40 ticket price used to include a cocktail credit but it appears that it is now just admission. The performers are great and the shows I’ve seen have always been fabulous, so if you have the dough and want to see a unique little part of Halloween in Seattle, I’d recommend it.

halloween in seattle
Image from http://www.thecancan.com/

Other good places to check for burlesque shows are the Columbia City Theater in Columbia City, and The Jewelbox Theater at the Rendezvous in Belltown. I checked their calendars for this October and both of them seem to be doing a Rocky Horror theme burlesque show of some kind, and The Jewelbox Theater has a “pole dancing Halloween recital”. I don’t know what all of those shows entail, but I’m sure whatever they are they will be at entertaining at minimum.

The Rocky Horror Pastie Show at Columbia City Theater
The Rocky Horror Pastie Show at Columbia City Theater 10/30/15

 Creepy Circus Show and Dance Party

One of the best Halloween events I’ve been to over Halloween in Seattle is the Emerald City Trapeze annual event Carnevolar. Hosted at the Emerald City Aerialdome in Sodo, they usually do 2-3 shows over Halloween weekend. The evening starts with a trapeze act, followed by a stage show including dancing, aerialist acts, and other circus performances. Every Carnevolar has a different theme. I’ve been to the Vampyre Circus and The Haunting. Last year I think it was Funhouse, this year it is The Funeral.

halloween in seattle carnevolar
Watching the flying vampires at Carnevolar
carnevolar halloween in seattle
Image by J Boyer Photography
halloween in Seattle Carnevolar
Carnevolar: The Haunting. Image by J Boyer Photography

After the performance, a DJ spins into the wee hours of the morning and the whole place becomes a dance party. Costumes are strongly encouraged, and from the two times I’ve gone people get very into the costumes here. Don’t be the boring lameass without a costume.

halloween in seattle carnevolar
Costumed attendees at Carnevolar

halloween in Seattle Carnevolar

Psycho at the Symphony

If you’re up for something spooky but a little more low-key on Halloween night, The Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall downtown does a live performance of the score to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho along with the movie.

Psycho at Seattle Symphony Halloween in Seattle
Image from www.seattlesymphony.org

Halloween Night Fun in the City

Lastly, of course you can always spend Halloween in Seattle out on the town. Every bar in the city will have some sort of Halloween party going on, but if you really want to be at the heart of the action, the Pike/Pine corridor on Capitol Hill is the place to go. It will be busy, so go early if you want to snag a spot to sit and people watch, or go later and wait in lines and bar crawl like everyone else. One year when Halloween was on a Friday, we went to Linda’s early at 9:00 and snagged a booth. We had the intention of moving on to other bars, but as Linda’s became more and more packed our booth started looking a more and more appealing to stay in. The entertainment pretty much came to us–it was an endless parade of costumes.

Whatever neighborhood you end up in, finding booze and people in costumes shouldn’t be too difficult.

Halloween 2014 535

Halloween 2014 533

Whatever you decide to do, Halloween in Seattle is always a great time.  Don’t forget to bring a costume.

Halloween 08 001

 

 


Why We Don’t Like Resorts

Why we don’t like resorts: The top 5 reasons we have a better time at local accommodations, and why we recommend ditching the swim-up bar for the small hotels

 

Resorts are enticing. Beautiful photos of beaches and palapa umbrellas, gigantic swimming pools with swim-up bars, buffets and entertainment. Many even include all-inclusive deals with all you can eat and ALL YOU CAN DRINK. We’ve been to a couple resorts, and we’ve determined that we prefer to stay at local places. Here’s why:

1. It’s not always the best deal.

Some all-inclusive resorts may seem like a good deal, but you can often find cheaper (and much better) food and accommodations in the local towns. Unless you are planning on getting completely wasted and sleeping off a hangover by the pool every day like the spring break crowd, it really isn’t as great of a deal as it sounds. When we went to Mexico in 2009, I started weighing prices of all inclusive resorts with small local hotels and it ended up being much cheaper to go with the small hotels.

 

2. The resort bubble.

Resorts are little bubbles of canned vacation. You are isolated away from the local people and culture. Sure, the resort employees put on “cultural shows” and dances for you, but it is always such a phony act and really doesn’t show you anything about the place you are visiting. The couple times we’ve stayed at a resort, we were most curious about what was outside the resort, which is often hard to get to because many resorts are isolated from local towns. They are meant to be somewhere to spend all your time and money. Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic is full of all-inclusive resorts, but there is almost nothing nearby. You can fly into Punta Cana airport, go to your resort, fly home, and say you’ve been to the Dominican Republic. But did you really see the Dominican Republic? Not really.

dominican republic resorts
“Cultural” Latin American dance show for the tourists at Sanctuary Cap Cana Resort, Dominican Republic

 

3. The food

A big part of our travel experience (probably the biggest for Paddy) is the local food. We are always so excited to try street food, dishes we’ve never had before, see what local people create with local ingredients. Resorts are full of buffets and touristy restaurants. You won’t get a real taste of the local cuisine at a buffet. You may even have a better chance of food poisoning at a resort buffet than eating street food in the towns. Tip: Avoid the hollandaise sauce.

Thai street food why we don't like resorts
Paddy wouldn’t miss out on the Thai street food for all the swim-up bars in the world…

Then there are the other resort guests. Depending on what resort you are at and where you are, you could have a range of other people that specifically go only to resorts on vacations. You have the drunk parents at the swim up bar letting their kids run amok, assuming the overwhelmed staff will babysit them. You have the snooty women complaining that their room was “dirty” and there wasn’t enough fresh towels left yesterday afternoon. If you’re at an all inclusive in Mexico or the Dominican Republic you probably have the twentysomething “spring break” crowd rowdily boozing it up every where you turn, every hour of the day, and the ‘Merican couple from Indiana thinking they can speak Spanish to the staff by adding an o to the end of every English word. And then you have the people complaining about why they should tip if it is all-inclusive? (If tipping is part of the culture, tip. Because the staff probably work all month to make what you just spent on one night here. )

 

5. Service industry empathy

Paddy and I grew up in a tourist town, and have spent many grueling summers cooking for and waiting on tourists. At resorts, we find ourselves bellied up to the bar asking the bartender about his life. And we find out that his family lives three hours away and he works 12 day stretches and sees his family two days a month. But this is a good job. And enough about him–who wants another drink? It’s time to party!

When we travel to other places, we like to meet locals. You don’t get to meet very many local people in resorts (see “resort bubble” above). We also cringe while watching self-entitled resort guests order the resort staff around, not tipping, and being generally rude. It’s all par for the course in the industry, and I’m sure many of the resort jobs are really good jobs that the staff are lucky to have. However, we have a hard time separating ourselves from it and just end up empathizing with the resort staff the whole time.

 

 

Resorts always look really nice in the photos. They are an easy getaway that takes little planning. However, every time we travel, the best experiences are at the local hotels. Meeting new people, trying local dishes, attempting to communicate when we don’t speak the language and learning about the local culture are always what we enjoy the most. Discovering the undiscovered, seeing something new. We may end up at a resort again sometime down the road–maybe when we are old and just want a vacation involving laying around all day on the beach with little adventure. But that won’t be anytime soon.