Friday, June 3, 2011

Traveling with Friends

Logan and I take lots of trips just the two of us, but traveling can be fun as a team sport as well. When I started planning my trip around the world when I was in the 3rd grade, it wasn't just me. I had several friends on board too. Because I've always believed that traveling is something best when shared. Don't get me wrong, I think you can still travel solo, but since I consider myself a social person by nature, I have a "more-the-merrier" philosophy. This time last summer a group of our closest friends got to go to Disney World for a wedding. I've been to Magic Kingdom three other times, but this fourth time was truly magical. It's amazing when you have a group large enough that you require your own boat for It's a Small World. Logan and I were able to reserve one of our condos in Orlando, so all of us could stay together. I had a blast, but I think Logan was a nervous wreck. You never knew where that one fish statue was going to end the dryer, on the refrigerator, or even in our bed. I assured Logan that this was perfectly normal behavior for roommates. One of the many joys of traveling with friends is that you can always expect the unexpected.

When Logan and I aren't traveling with friends we're often traveling to visit friends. So many of our friends have moved off to some really cool places. So we get to not only reconnect with our MS pals, but we get to explore a destinations with locals. In the last few years, we've been to visit friends in Atlanta, Virginia, San Antonio, and most recently North Carolina. I don't even get that upset when our friends move off, because I know we'll get to go visit them.

Faith and Sloane moved to Virginia for a year, and we were able to spend some time with them in VA and Washington D.C. Now VA is one of mine and Logan's favorite states, and we're planning another trip back this October. The best thing is that they've since moved back to MS, and we're getting to see them this weekend.

Matt and Jessica moved to San Antonio last year, so we headed out west for spring break this year. This was my first time seeing the Alamo and some of the other interesting attractions this Texas city has to offer. Matt and Jessica knew the coolest places to go eat and were already experts at navigating the city, so Logan and I had it made. Matt would make a great spokesperson for San Antonio. He made a great case as to why we should move there. We're pretty settled in Guntown, but I definitely hope we will be able to visit them again.

At least once a year, Logan and I make it over to Buford to visit Mallory and Justin. Every year we try to knock off one of the 1,000 things to do before you die in US and Canada. Last year we went to the Cherry Blossom Festival, and this year we went to Alpine Helen. Our first trip to visit them we got to run down 78 flights of stairs in fear of our lives during the first Atlanta tornado. (This picture was actually taken right after we ran for our lives. That is why we're looking kind of dramatic.) Our near-death experience has not deterred us from visiting our great friends. And I'm happy to report that all later trips have been less intense.

Last week we visited Jenn and Tim on our way to PA. They moved to Charlotte, NC last summer while Tim is in residency. I told them that they are in a great location because they've opened us up to the Atlantic states. The exciting thing with the Chens is you never know where they'll end up next, but wherever it is, they'll know that we'll come see them.

Traveling with our friends and to visit friends is one of my favorite things to do. One of these days I'd love to do a group cruise with everybody. And Mallory and I have already been discussing the possibility of an all-inclusive sometime. (I hope Logan doesn't read this.) Personally, I can think of few things more enjoyable than traveling with some of my favorite people. It's the extra cherry on top.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Sweet Life

Every year Logan and I take an anniversary trip. Our first year we went to Disney; our second year Charleston, SC (also our honeymoon destination); last year was a Mediterranean cruise; and this year was Pennsylvania. We got a lot of funny looks from people when we told them that we were driving to PA for our 4th anniversary until we told them about Hershey, known as the Sweetest Place on Earth.

The fun in any trip is not just the destination but the journey itself. One might thing 1,000 miles to a resort town in PA might not be worth it, but it is when you plan in side trips. Our first stop was in Charlotte, NC, where we got to spend some time with our dear friends Jenn and Tim Chen. The Chens introduced us to IKEA, a shopping wonderland. Logan was not excited about me adding more items to our already packed trunk, but I assured him that he would be grateful since I could now organize our bedroom, which I guess I need to be doing soon....Jenn and Tim also took us out on paddle boats. When we weren't avoiding being nibbled by curious geese or trying to catch a peek of goslings, Logan and I were trying to get as close to the fountains without getting soaked. (We would have succeeded if it had not been that the fountains move.) All in all, we had a wonderful time and look forward to future Charlotte visits.

Once back on the road we were bound for Hershey. When we pulled into our resort that night, I was amazed by how close Hersheypark was to us. From the sitting room in our suite, I could hear the chocolate train pulling into the station. The town has streetlights in the shapes of Hershey kisses, and I promise that the smell of chocolate greets you everywhere you go. Our suite was larger than our first apartment, so we had plenty of room to spread out and plan for our next two days, which included a trip to Gettysburg, Hershey World, Hersheypark, and even chocolate massages at the Hotel Hershey. One of the highlights for me was the chocolate tasting at Hershey World. What made it even sweeter was that I had a 2-1 discount, so I told Logan that we could go Dutch. (I thought it was humorous because we were actually in PA Dutch country, but I don't think Logan got it at the time.) I've done my share of wine tastings, but this was my first chocolate tasting. Now I know the proper way to smell, taste, and even hear chocolate. It was unbelievable.

On our way to the last leg of our trip, Philadelphia, home of my father, we detoured to the Amish Country. We visited towns with names like Bird-in-Hand. After eating a delicious lunch that included a piece of shoo-fly pie, we watch an interactive movie about the Amish and toured a farmhouse and one-room school. My favorite part of the afternoon was taking a horse and buggy through the farmland. We waved at children playing in the front yards and even stopped to buy some homemade pretzels from an Amish home. The views themselves were unbelievable. At times I thought that I was in England. The PA countryside is supposed to have some of the most fertile land in the country, and I now think the most beautiful, as well.

I have not been to Philadelphia since I was eight years old, and Logan had never been. Logan was not nervous about driving in Philly on the way there, but once we got into downtown traffic, we were relieved to pull into the Crown Plaza, throw them the keys, and not look back until we had to leave. We decided that we would walk the city, which really is the best way to see it. Although we didn't have a lot of time, we managed to experience a lot. We saw the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Eastern State Penitentiary (Logan's favorite tour), Betsy Ross's home, and Elfreth's Alley. I don't know which is better about Philly, the food or the people. We had two joggers stop and offer to point us in the right direction while consulting our map (not something you would expect in a large city). We will definitely be back here.

All in all we went to 10 other states on this trip. We have so many great memories from this trip. We rescued a baby bunny from being killed. We went on a ghost tour in Gettysburg, one of the most haunted places in America. We visited one of the world's most esteemed gardens, Longwood. We survived the night in a roadside motel in VA that looked like it was used in the filming of No Vacancy. There was never a dull moment for sure. I think the Sweetest Place on Earth combined with the City of Brotherly Love made an excellent anniversary itinerary, and I would do it all again.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spring Fever

Spring break to me has always meant more than getting a week out of school; it is a challenge to hit the road and seek out an adventure. I love road trips any time of year but especially spring break. I am an home with my atlas in my hands. My first spring break road trip was my 9th grade year. I joined a friend and her family on an RV journey out west. Seeing as it was a childhood dream to travel in an RV, I was ecstatic. The way a dinner table could morph into a bed was hardly less than magic. And who would have thought a shower could fit in a broom closet? That was my first and, to-date, last RV venture, and it was my first introduction to the massive state of Texas. (One of these days I'm going to convince Logan to rent one. I'm planning on a future family vacation to Yellowstone, and my idea of roughing it includes sleeping on an indoor bed that was once a table.) While traveling through that never-ending state, I remember thinking that the barbed wire museums were great and all, but I was waiting for the real wild west with its ghost towns, canyons, and red monuments. For me, Texas was standing in my way to my real destination. Now, I'm giving it another chance.

I have been to Texas three times since then, and it has yet to pull at my travel-heart strings; however, I have never gone to Texas for the sake of going there. In the past, it has been the location of an outreach mission, a conference presentation, and a cruise embarkation point. Logan and I have been out of the country several times since we've been married, but this will be our first time in Texas together (except for the Houston airport in route to Vegas) since we were in high school. This time, we are going to the cultural capital, San Antonio, to visit some dear friends who have recently made Texas their home. As much as I've read about San Antonio's famous riverwalk and musems in Southern Living, I feel like I will finally be able to feel a connection with the Lone Star state. My husband is more skeptic. Logan, who loves history, had his first taste of San Antonio when he was much younger and was left disappointed when the Alamo didn't appear as it did 175 years ago. As a child, he envisioned cowboys and indians and was disallusioned upon realizing the city had surrounded the famous monument. My mission is to restore his wonder in the Alamo and, for myself, finally kindle an appreciation for Texas.
This will not be as difficult as it would seem because we have two San Antonians to lead us. And besides it's not a road trip without friends. While I am a sucker for the touristy attractions, I am looking forward to experiencing SA with the locals. All I know about SA, which is not alot, revolves around Southern Living and the riverwalk. Part of the goal of any road trip, I would imagine, is to be flexible and ready to head off the beaten path. Therefore, for once, I am not going to do tons of research and planning. I'm going to be a carefree girl who detours for barbed wire museums on purpose.
Oh, and one more thing about road trips...I think they should always include multiple destinations, which is why Logan and I will be spending the night in Baton Rouge, LA. I am teaching In the Sanctuary of Outcasts this semester, and I promised my students that I would visit the National Hansen's Disease Museum located in Carville, which is the setting for the novel.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Time for Travel

As my sister-in-law reminded me, January is a sleepy month for a lot of people. Now that the holidays are behind us, we have a long stretch until Spring Break, which is when most travelers go on their first trip of the year. Personally, I like to not only plan out my trips for the year during this month, but also I like to squeeze in a few trips before the ground softens. January and February are two of the best months to find deals in traveling. Logan and I have beaten the crowds in Gatlinburg the week after New Year's and found that the Christmas decorations were still up. We have also been on a Caribbean cruise, which cost us a fraction of the price, and we even had elbow-room on the ship. This year we're going to take a weekend trip to Branson and stay in a two-bedroom cabin at Big Cedar Lodge.

We have wanted to stay in a cabin at Big Cedar for a few years, but they're very difficult to book. January is an off-month to travel to Branson because a lot of the shows are on break. However, that also means that the crowds that clog the strip will also be absent. We can sprawl out in our cabin on the lake, eat at all the good restaurants in town with no wait, and maybe enjoy a snowfall in the Ozarks. While a lot of the top attractions are closed, the mountain drives are always open for business, and when we want a popular attraction we can always go to the Titanic Exhibit, which is a half-size replica of the actual Titanic, equipted with real artifacts from the ship and the blockbuster film (Logan's favorite of all time). We experienced this a few years ago and are ready to see it again.

I love traveling places out-of-season, especially for a quick weekend get-a-way. It's only then that one can really see how the locals live. Also, you have a better chance of getting more one-on-one assistance at the resorts and restaurants, along with much better deals. It's a long time to Spring Break, so I'm looking forward to a quiet, relaxing mountain holiday to jump start the new year. Did I mention we're taking my parents?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Close to Home but Not a Stay-cation

Although Logan and I love traveling to far off places, we try not to neglect the gems in our own region. As I said earlier, my family was big on taking day trips. I can't survive from one big trip to the next without some smaller excursions in between. Logan and I have been taking day trips together since we were old enough to drive. Our very first one was to Waverly Mansion in West Point, MS, which is less than an hour's drive from Tupelo. Since then we have been to Memphis countless times, Florence (AL), Dismal Canyons (AL), Jackson, the Natchez Trace, Nashville, Birmingham, Lynchburg (TN, home to the Jack Daniel's Distillery), and most recently Shiloh (TN). We even like to be tourists in our own hometown of Tupelo. On several occasions we have visited Elvis' birthplace, and just yesterday we checked out the Natchez Trace visitor center. I think there is the disbelief for travelers that you have to get on a plane, train, boat, or, at the very least, an all-day car ride for it to be a vacation. Whereas I do not fall into the new popular group of the stay-cationers, I do believe that you can stay close to home without sacrificing fun.

Recently, I have started collecting travel books, which focus on our southeast region. I just acquired a great books entitled Off the Beaten Path, which highlights places in Mississippi that are travel worthy. Among these are a jail turned library in Macon (which Logan and I visited last month), the Blues Highway and other points of interest including Kermit the Frog's home place in the Delta, and the queen of the gypsies' grave site in Meridian. Another book, which I've enjoyed reading cover to cover, is called 100 Places to See Before You Die: US and Canada. This book has given me the idea to visit Eudora Whelty's home in Jackson, tour the Square in Oxford, and attend Spring Pilgrimages in Columbus and Holly Springs. It is not always feasible to take off for a week or even three-night trip, but everyone can squeeze in a day trip. Logan and I try our best to travel somewhere once a month, even if that means we're going to explore somewhere less than an hour away.

This Valentine's, for example, I wanted to take a trip somewhere, but we didn't have budgeted a lot of time or funds. I have never been to Elvis's home in Graceland, partly because it was so close I thought I would always make it there someday. When we went we were in the same group as a family from England. Now that got me to thinking, "Did this family fly all the way from across the pond just to see Elvis's house?" Maybe or maybe not, but regardless they were there. Now would I chose Memphis over a trip to England? Not hardly, however, we were able to drive to Memphis, tour Graceland, and eat a great dinner for a little more than $100, which is about 1/10 the price of one plane ticket to England.

Yesterday Logan and I went to the Natchez Trace Parkway Headquarters, which is located less than 15 miles from our house. It has been remodeled for years, but I haven't bothered to check it out since I was in the fourth grade. While we were there, we noticed an RV belonging to some travelers from Ontario, Canada. People from all over the country and even the continent purposefully come to drive the Natchez Trace, a National Park since 1938, which we often look at as a shortcut to and from Tupelo. Logan and I had a picnic, got our National Park Passport books stamped, strolled down a paved trail, and then even explored a horse trail that Logan had refurbished for his Eagle Scout Project almost ten years ago. All in all, it was a glorious spring outing, which cost us less than $15 total (only cost was the food for the picnic).

Am I an advocate for the oh-so-boring stay-cation? No, but I am a sincere supporter of exploring one's own backyard in a more metaphorical sense.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Logan and I will be going on our third cruise this May. So far we have been on two cruises in the Caribbean, sailing to Cozumel, Guatemala, and Belize. Our first cruise together was with Carnival and our second was with NCL. For our up-coming three year anniversary, we will cruise the Mediterranean with Royal Caribbean. Our cruise leaves from Barcelona and stops in Naples, Rome, Florence, and two ports in the French Riviera. I once thought that cruising was an impersonal form of traveling, but now I'm a believer. While I do not believe that cruising is the only way to travel, I think that it is a relaxing way to visit a lot of amazing places. One of the best parts for us is not having to worry about getting from place to place, which in our case means fighting with rental car companies.

When Logan and I travel we love to visit more than one destination at a time. I often like to combine multiple stops on our itinerary. For example, when Logan and I went to Las Vegas last August for his birthday, we took a five-hour road trip to the Grand Canyon. My philosophy is you never know when you'll be back to an area, so do as much as you can when you can. I love to plan extensive itineraries, but it is a relief to sometimes let someone else do the work for you. Don't get me wrong, I am not one of those people who boards a ship and then is content to mindlessly drift along; however, having the ports of call already decided makes my job easier.

For those of you who have never been on a cruise and are considering it, I would say that you must try it. Logan and I convinced his parents to go on their first one, and now they are planning their next. There is an undeniable appeal in having people wait on you hand and foot from the moment you step on the ship. The towel animals and allure of a midnight chocolate buffet also jazz up the incentive. Days at Sea can be as relaxing or as activity-packed as you choose. I've done everything from ballroom dancing to handwriting analysis to a watch seminar (Logan's idea.) We have spent mornings laying out by the pool while reading a book or staring out into the ocean...afternoons attending magic shows...and evenings strolling under the stars after attending a Broadway quality show. It is the perfect vacation for couples or even large groups because you can have plenty of together time and then break a part to do your own thing. The first cruise I ever went on was actually a friend's family reunion. My family reunions usually consisted of picnicking in the park for an afternoon, so I was a little hesitant about a week-long reunion. In my opinion, a cruise is the only way to go for a multi-day affair.

As great as it is being on the ship, my favorite part of the cruise in arriving to ports. Whereas you can choose to spend your day on the ship, Logan and I can't wait to get on the gangway. One of the most memorable moments I've had is eating breakfast on the ship's deck with the Guatemalan jungle rising in the background. You go to sleep surrounding by water and wake up with "Land Ahoy!" Sometimes we choose to explore the port of call on our own, but although we spend more money opting for the cruise company's excursions, it is a relief to know that the ship won't leave us. We have walked through rain forests, climbed Mayan ruins, and spotted spider monkeys in the jungle. I even swam at the base of a waterfall, which Logan refused to do because he had seen an episode of House which involved a particular type of fish that likes to swim up...well, something that didn't concern me but worried the heck out of him. I think Logan was really using that for an excuse, because he is afraid of water. On our first cruise, we went snorkeling in Cozumel. I was so proud of Logan for giving it a try. I had waited years to try snorkeling again after my first disastrous mishap. Let's just say that I asked the snorkel guide if we were supposed to bite down on the mouth piece. He didn't understand me, so he just said yes. I ended up drinking in a good portion of the ocean and destroying endangered coral with my leg. My second time was blissful. I tried telling Logan that it is only natural to tear yourself up on coral the first time, but he is convinced once is enough.

I have so many stories about our cruises, but I'm only going to share one more for now at least. It involves our climbing the Mayan ruins in Guatemala. I was determined that I was going to make it to the top. On the bus ride there I was the brave one, and Logan was the one who wasn't quite so sure that climbing a stone structure thousands of years old was for him. When it started raining, I asked the guide if we would still be allowed to climb. He assured me that we would our own risk. When we finally made it through the jungle to the large ruin, I was ready to race up those steep steps. I have never really been afraid of heights, so I scoffed whenever our guide told us story after story of those who became frozen once they reached the top. I was already on my way up with Logan trailing behind me. I took it one slippery step at a time. All was going well, except for my poncho getting in the way, until I reached the second landing. I turned around and all of a sudden thought the earth was spinning. Mr. Curtis and Ms. Nellie looked like ants. I thought I could spot the ship forty miles away. I decided right then and there I was going to live up there with the monkeys because the only way I was getting down was if they air lifted me out of that jungle. Logan, on the other hand, was in his element. He was the first one to make it to the top and didn't even hold the rope on the way down, even though I was screaming at him the entire time. I eventually made it to the top (for about three seconds), and I did make it down alive, much to my surprise; however, I have a permanent dirt stain on the back of my capri pants where I slid down on my fanny, one fearful step at a time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Travel Inspiration

Ever since I was a little girl I have wanted to travel the world. I would sit in my grandmother's living room, which is now my husband's and my living room, and look through her photo albums full of her adventures to Greece, Morocco, and Hawaii to name a few. My grandmother took me on my first plane ride when I was in the second grade. We flew to Las Vegas to visit her sister. I loved being my grandmother's traveling companion, and because of her a love for traveling was born.

However, my grandmother was not the only one to inspire my travel bug. My parents and I took many family vacations when I was growing up. Probably the most memorable one for me was when we went to Williamsburg, VA, Washington D.C., and my father's hometown of Philadelphia, PA. Even when we weren't taking long trips, we frequently took day trips to everywhere in a four-hour radius of Tupelo, MS. My father worked six days a week for many years, but Saturdays were always family days. Whether we went to Tishomingo State Park, the space center in Huntsville, or even the Land Between the Lakes located on the border of TN and KY, my parents were committed to introducing me to my region.

When I was in the third grade I bought a children's atlas at a school book fair, and I have been mapping out my journey around the world ever since. A little under three years ago I married my best friend and life-long travel partner, Logan. Together we are exploring the world one state and one country at a time. We have set the goal of traveling to all fifty states and all seven continents. Actually, I set that goal, but Logan is fully on board, except he still doesn't believe me that we're going to Antartica.