Seattle, Washington: Bastion of Bohemianism!

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Seattle Skyline

Seattle is a free-spirited, bohemian paradise, as I quickly discovered trekking up and down the boisterous bumps of its many hills, encountering its coffee culture, starving artists, and plumes of pot smoke along the way! (Yes, it’s legal here.) The grunge culture popularized in the 90s by local bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana is alive and well here as well. Seattle is fun, vibrant, and vigorously vivacious!

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Views from the Space Needle

A trip to the top of the Space Needle is high on many visitors’ Seattle bucket list, and for good reason. The observatory provides outstanding views of the booming skyline and surrounding natural beauty of ocean and forest, and, if you’re lucky enough to be here on a clear day, the brilliant white snow-cap of Mt. Rainier. I daresay it’s worth the dreadfully long wait in line to have this experience. Yes, be prepared to stand and wait over an hour… and then have no regrets. When you reach the top, make sure you stand on the glass floor as it turns high above the safety of solid ground – even the least height-averse person can feel a tad uneasy looking straight down up here!

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Pike Place Market

The iconic Pike Place Market is exhilarating in all of its commotion and excitement! Here humungous crowds of people gather and stroll amid shouting fisherman playing “catch” with their catch, people in tie-dye selling hemp-infused wares, artists displaying the colorful fruits of their creative efforts, and so much more. Endless varieties of foods quickly get you drooling as you bask in the gloriously gourmet culture. There are so many distractions here to peak your interest – sights, smells, and sounds. Here you can be surrounded and spoiled by the spirit that is Seattle.

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Port of Seattle

With so many cruise ships sailing to Alaska out of Seattle, a dynamic port scene has built up around them. With a Ferris wheel, restaurants, bars, shops, this area can easily keep you busy for hours. Soak it all in before you set sail!

Seattle is a great destination for the visitor looking to get laid back and let their free-spirited beatnik loose!

You can view my Seattle vlog here!:

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Outdoor Delights in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan!

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Mackinac Bridge

Your entry point into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from the “mainland” is the magnificent Mackinac Bridge. This beautiful suspension bridge was opened in 1957, has a tower height of 552 feet, a length of 26,372 feet, and $4 toll for cars – well worth the “price of admission”! A wild, wonderful wilderness awaits on the other side! My anticipation escalated as I traversed this awe-inspiring bridge, and when I arrived on the U.P. side I was not disappointed!

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Painted Rocks

The Upper Peninsula boasts many natural wonders, and a visit is not complete without checking out the Painted Rocks near Munising. Two of the most popular ways of exploring the rocks are by taking a cruise tour or by renting a kayak. If you partake in one of the cruises, I highly recommend lining up EARLY if you want to avoid getting a seat in the middle of the boat, for the best view. At least half an hour before sailing or even more is recommended in the summer. The rocky cliffs are described as “painted” because of the brilliant stripes and splashes of different colors composed on them. You will also notice many waterfalls and delightfully strange rock formations, and pine trees that seem to grow out of solid rock!

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Tahquamenon Falls

The Tahquamenon Falls are another must-see in the U.P., and are located in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. In addition to the spectacular falls (the color is derived from high copper content), there are many hiking trails and a wonderful restaurant and brewery on-site, where I ordered delicious fresh whitefish and a flight of craft beers brewed on site. You can enjoy many different viewpoints of the falls by taking the provided walking paths. Almost as enthralling as the sight of the falls is the sound of the falls, leaving an amazing impression of their power on the senses.

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Views from atop Brockway Mountain

The peak of Brockway Mountain, near Copper Harbor, is accessible to vehicles, and the views are awe-inspiring! If anyone had any doubt that the U.P. is covered in unspoiled wilderness, these views of endless gloriously green forest and brilliantly blue lakes will remove all doubt! My only regret about visiting this site is that I didn’t do so during the peak of the fall leaf-turning season! Another great way to enjoy the U.P.’s beautiful forests: drive through the “Tunnel of Trees,” which hang over the road in a way that seemingly envelops you in a passage through wild wonderland!

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Point Iroquois Lighthouse

The U.P. is chock full of lighthouses of all shapes, sizes, and styles! There are over 40 lighthouses in the U.P. mostly from the 1800s. The lighthouse at Point Iroquois is one of many that you can climb to the top of (nice views!), and view the preserved, historic living quarters of former lighthouse-keepers, and visit a small museum at. If you’re into lighthouses, you’ll be spoiled rotten in the U.P.! They are a major part of the area’s history and culture. You’ll have no trouble finding them either; the Michigan Tourism Bureau has done an outstanding job with attraction signage throughout the state, and the lighthouses are no exception.

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Shipwreck Museum, Whitefish Point

The Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point provides a fascinating look into the mysterious world of shipwrecks! As an Art History major I have a lot of education on museums and their curation, and I can tell you the installations here are very well done, very interesting and informative, and include many fascinating historical artifacts, including underwater explorer suits, parts of shipwrecked vessels, historic articles found at shipwreck sites, and more.

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Interesting… house in Calumet…

You’ll never know what you’re going to find when you wander the back streets of U.P. towns. For example, this house in the above photo! There’s something particularly rewarding about stumbling on something quirky and unusual like this taking the time to get off the beaten path – often some of the most rewarding travel experiences of all. I found this house taking the back roads in Calumet.

There is an abundance of things to see and do in the U.P., and I can’t wait to return!

You can view my video tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula here!:

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Scintillating Skagway, Alaska: a Wilderness Wonderland!

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White Pass railway train

Skagway, Alaska is a remote wilderness wonderland, and frequent port on Alaskan cruise itineraries. Nicknamed “gateway to the Klondike,” Skagway has an illustrious history of people embarking on a risky but exciting adventure with the ambition of getting rich during the Gold Rush. Today it’s a sleepy town that resembles an Old West movie set combined with tourist commercialism in response to the large number of cruise ships that dock here throughout the summer. I visited while on the Alaska itinerary for the Norwegian Bliss. Luckily, the commercialism does not significantly detract from the historical interest of the architecture in town.

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“Downtown” Skagway today

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Skagway in 1898, during the Gold Rush (public domain image)

My highest recommendation for what to do in Skagway after a stroll through town to observe the Old West late 1800s architecture is a ride on the White Pass train. This train ride affords spectacular views of the White Pass Mountains, including remote wilderness, vast forests, waterfalls, wildlife, and glaciers (including during the summer.)

 

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White Pass train engine

Besides the scenic views, it is fascinating to contemplate, as you listen to the whistles and chugging of the train and feel the vibration of its powerful motor, the efforts involved in building this rail track through these steep, imposing mountains. You traverse over massive bridges, through long tunnels, and on the edge of the mountain. (Afraid of heights? Consider yourself warned!)

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Views from the train

There are a variety of train routes you may take in varying lengths, the longest making it’s way up into the Yukon Territory of Canada. You may purchase tickets for the train ride directly from the operator in town, or purchase an excursion or tour that includes the train ride as one of the included attractions, as I did.

 

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Gold panning lesson

Another attraction included on my tour ticket was a gold panning lesson. During this experience, a very animated woman in period costume explained and demonstrated the process of panning for gold. Following the demonstration, I was handed a pan and given a trough out of which to pan for my own gold. Staff make the rounds to help anyone in need of assistance, but I was still confused… when turning in my gold for an appraisal, it was appraised at about $5. (You do get to keep the gold as a souvenir.) Others did better than I did! The experience was very touristy, but I learned a thing or two about the Gold Rush culture and process of panning nonetheless.

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Iditarod racer lecture

The other portion of the tour I participated in included a sled dog lesson and demonstration. This began with a lecture given by an Iditarod racer, who showed and explained her equipment and discussed what the experience of participating in the Iditarod entails and what life is like for both racer and sled dog. Her presentation was, albeit somewhat touristy, engaging and informative. A short video presentation was also given.

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Sled dogs on a dry run in the summer

After the lecture, a sled dog “race” was simulated on dirt (given it was summer) on a dry run. The audience was introduced to the sled dogs on the team, and allowed to pet both the sled dogs and the puppies on site.

The train experience was definitely the highlight of any trip to Skagway, but if you can overlook the touristy veneer of some of the other offerings in the area much can be learned about history and culture in Alaska!

You may view my full video tour (including all of the above listed attractions!) here:

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

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Landing a Great Airline Seat for Takeoff! How to Get the Best Seats for your Flight

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Airplanes awaiting takeoff at Reagan National Airport

Your seat assignment can make or break your flight every time, and the longer your flight the even more important it becomes to score the best seat possible. You may be wondering how to secure the best seats for your flight. I wanted to share some tips on recognizing a better seat, and to give some information on how some of the different major airlines work with regards to seat assignment, to help you in this quest! Nobody wants to get their travel experience off to a bad start before it even begins due to a loathsome seat assignment!

Consider pitch and width.

Pitch and width are the formulas that will help you determine which seats provide you with more space. Pitch refers to how far away the seats in front of you and behind you are, indicating legroom. Width indicates how much room you will have in the chair. This can differ from class to class, airline to airline, and airplane model to airplane model. It is also important to remember that some seats recline while others don’t.

Not all aircraft are created equal.

Different aircraft have different seat configurations. Visit seatguru.com to view detailed information about the seats on any plane. Enter the airline, date, and flight number and you will be advised on the pitch and width of each type of seat and the layout with which they are installed on the aircraft on a complete map showing where the exit and bulkhead seats are, how many seats are in each section of the cabin, and how many seats across there are in each row.

Not all airlines are created equal.

Airlines differ in a couple of ways when it comes to what kind of seat you can expect to get. The first involves which actual seat models the airline uses on their aircraft. For example, you can expect seats with 28 inches of pitch that do not recline on Spirit Airlines. The aforementioned resource, seatguru.com, can advise you on the seat pitch and width for each type of seat, and whether or not they recline, before you book the plane you are considering.

The second way the airlines differ is in their policy on how seats are assigned. My preference, and I contend it is the best way to assure yourself the best seat, is to book with airlines that allow you to reserve a specific seat at the time of booking at no additional cost. This has consistently been my experience on Delta and United, even when buying economy tickets. JetBlue also allows advance seat reservations. American, on the other hand, assigns the seats in economy coach; you do have the option when checking in (up to 24 hours in advance) to reserve a specific open seat, however, expect in most cases to be charged to do so. Southwest has a completely different policy – basically a free-for-all when you board. No coach seats are assigned and are first-come, first-served when boarding the plane. Your best bet if you fly Southwest is to check in 24 hours in advance (the earliest you’re allowed to!) so that you are assigned an early group number… and then hustle when that group number is called! Group numbers determine who boards the plane first, and those first to check in are placed in the early groups. NOTE: early check-in, with any airline, is always a good idea since the airline may begin giving upgrades to certain members of their loyalty program – making fewer good seats available to everyone else… at this time. It’s another good reason to reserve a specific seat at booking if you can!

Of course if you are flying first class, business class, or as a high-level member of an airline’s loyalty program you will receive priority. These guidelines apply to coach travelers, and, in particular, economy coach travelers.

Book a premium seat.

Some airlines, like JetBlue and United, offer seats with greater leg or chair room for a greater cost (JetBlue’s “Even More Space” seats and, for United, “Economy Plus Seating”). Different airlines will refer to these seats by different names; keep an eye out for a reference to greater seating space, particularly if you notice certain seats that come at a higher price point. And for even greater comfort, you can consider business and first class seats, where there are always fewer seats per row, much more legroom, and far wider chairs. Of course, you can expect these to come at an even higher price point. If you need even more space, some airlines will also allow you to book more than one adjoining seat.

Arrive on time.

You don’t want to go to the trouble (and/or expense!) to reserve a specific seat just to see it given away to a standby passenger because you arrived late for boarding! Try to arrive a half hour before your flight is scheduled to leave, when the boarding process usually begins… or as close to that time as possible.

Consider placement of seats on the plane.

Of course window and aisle seats are more popular unless you are traveling with a companion you want to sit beside in a middle seat. But there are other considerations. Seats near the wings are notoriously less turbulent than those further away from the wings, if that is important to you. If you have a connecting flight, choosing one closer to the front of the plane, so you can disembark more quickly, could prove extremely helpful.

“Bulkhead” seats or seats in the first row of the section, with no seats directly in front of them, can offer greater legroom but no personal item storage (expect to place it in the overhead bin). This may be an advantage or disadvantage to you depending on your priorities. And exit row seats have more legroom, but children are not eligible to sit in these rows, and you will need to adhere to the responsibilities of the exit row passengers as outlined by your flight attendant during safety instruction. Also, the exit rows may have a greater shortage of room in the overhead bin due to the storage of safety equipment.

Confirm your seat assignment before check-in.

If you made a seat reservation ahead of time, double check to make sure your assignment hasn’t been changed. In some cases the airplane scheduled for your flight may be changed to a different aircraft, causing seat reservations to be re-assigned unexpectedly.

Other considerations.

Consider congestion factors on the aircraft, such as the seats near the lavatories potentially being high-traffic zones. Also consider that seats closer to the door may be cooler if the weather outside is cold. And if you want to be served earlier during food and beverage service, flight attendants often (but not always!) start in the front and work their way back, especially on smaller planes (on larger planes more attendants may be serving and start from both front and back.)

If you want easier access to the restrooms you may want to go for the aisle – and, conversely, if you want to avoid having to get up and move for others in your row getting up, then the window may be better.

If you need access to your carry-on in the overhead bin during the flight, the aisle will be most convenient. The wall of the window seat can serve as a makeshift headrest, but the aisle seat can give you more opportunities to stretch out when people aren’t using the aisle. Finally, you can expect the back row of seats won’t recline, but you won’t have to worry about unruly passengers kicking your seat!

What about the “dreaded” middle seat?

Often the least coveted seat, the middle, does have a couple of advantages too! These include better access to the personal light and environmental controls, and often easier access to an outlet. It also will be easier to snag a middle seat in the front of the plane or an exit row if that’s where you want to be for other reasons. And if you’re a social butterfly, you’ve got the potential to make two new friends (or, on the flip side, enemies!)

If all else fails, ask again at the gate.

If you couldn’t get the kind of seat you wanted, assuming seats are assigned on your airline, try asking again at the gate. Loyalty program members may have been upgraded and their original seat assignments abandoned. This can translate into new, great seats becoming available at the last minute. Note that some airlines may refuse to accommodate this request if you are flying with an economy fare ticket.

I hope these tips will help you get the best airplane seat possible for your next flight! There are a lot of different factors to consider!

 

 

Winter in Cocoa Beach, Florida!

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The Pier at Cocoa Beach

While many beaches across the United States are closing up shop for the Winter, Florida’s beaches stay open throughout the year – and with temperatures frequently getting up into the high 70’s (Fahrenheit), and higher, even in the peak of winter, they are a joy to visit! So don’t pack away your shorts and swimsuits just yet – instead considering packing your bags for a winter visit to the Florida coast!

The Pier at Cocoa Beach, and neighboring beachfront, is the most popular attraction in Cocoa Beach. Here you will find sunbathers, swimmers, volleyball players, bars, restaurants, retail, and fishing off the Pier. For a nominal fee you can rent fishing time and equipment (including the fishing poles and gear as well as a fish cleaning station!) Fishing season here ends on December 15, but you can get some “winter” fishing in if you arrive before then!

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Cocoa Beach: popular with surfers

Cocoa Beach is notorious for being a draw for surfers. Nearby you can also explore Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center Visitors’ Complex. This area is often referred to as “Florida’s Space Coast” in tourist brochures. Surfers just call it paradise! If you fancy a cruise on one of the major cruise lines, those depart from neighboring Cape Canaveral too.

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Ron Jon Surf Shop: largest surf shop in the world!

The Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach consists of 52,000 square feet spread across multiple buildings. The complex includes a gigantic retail outlet, surf museum, and surf lesson studio! It is the largest surf shop in the world!

Cocoa Beach is a fun place to relax and unwind or test out your surfing skills, whatever the season! Should you be visiting nearby Cape Canaveral, don’t overlook the additional attractions here in Cocoa Beach, well worth the detour!

You may view my full tour here!:

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

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Camera Bans in Museums Violate the Concept of Art!

 

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Castle in Germany: No photography of any kind allowed inside

In a number of museums, cameras and filming are not allowed – and the restriction is not limited only to flash cameras. Every attempt I make at grasping the logic in this results in failure. In some instances, it is argued that if people have had a chance to see what the place looks like in film or photograph, the motivation to visit in person will be gone. Yet these museums allow film crews of travel television shows to visit – eliminating any validity in this argument. If being able to see the place in advance in photo and film reduces peoples’ desire to visit then why not restrict ALL photo and filming? On the contrary, I think being able to see a “teaser,” which is all a photo or film can give you – it will never be quite the same as an in-person visit – only makes people even more motivated to visit.

Enjoying a destination on film or photograph is a very worthwhile experience. I get tremendous pleasure out of binge-watching “Rick Steves’ Europe” or thumbing through picture books of exciting destinations. But comparing that experience to an actual visit is akin to comparing apples to oranges. They are not the same thing.

It has put a great damper on my experience visiting a place to find out I cannot capture the experience in photos and film. Sure, I can “remember” what I saw, but not in the same vivid way I can relive the experience watching video I filmed live. Memories may last, but memories fade. That which is digitally captured can be enjoyed and shared throughout a lifetime.

The enjoyment and sharing of digital media which captures our travel memories inspires and promotes travel. ALL museums should be open to allowing cameras, and should also educate their staff on camera equipment. More than once I’ve had museum staff think my stabilizer was a “selfie stick” and ban it for that reason, because selfie sticks are not allowed. This only further displays a lack of understanding of the photographic arts, and appreciation of it as an art form. If anyone should appreciate an art form, shouldn’t it be a museum?

Yes, it’s true that some flash photography can damage sensitive works of fine art. For this reason, I can understand a ban specifically on flash photography. Other forms of photography should be allowed in these cases.

Video and film of travel excites the sense of sight, and, in the case of film, sound. But it cannot capture that which we experience with our other senses. We can never truly be immersed in a place without exploring it in person, first hand. Photos and film, while a very enjoyable indulgence, and great introduction to the places we are considering visiting, can never replace actually going. Why do so many museums feel threatened that this will happen?

I think it’s more about museums making money in their gift shops than a concern about losing future visitors or damaging the art. The one argument that probably does hold true is that if you took a picture of something in the museum, you are less likely to buy the postcard. But if this is the concern then why not just offer a photography “pass” for an additional charge?

Camera bans in museums disrespect the whole concept of art. Great art promotes interactivity with its viewer: reaction, response, discussion, and sharing. It’s all about the iconography or message. Art is not ultimately meant to be hidden away and forgotten, but exposed and contemplated, and endowed with as many divergent viewpoints as possible! Ironic that so many museums don’t “get” the whole point of art (or, worse, don’t care)!

I want to challenge the museums that currently ban photography and filming to reconsider. Readers please leave your comments below whether you agree or disagree!

Back to my travels soon – I’m still away from my home office (and most of my photography equipment and media) attempting to sell this house out of state, where what I anticipated to be a 3 day venture has morphed into over 3 weeks!

Hope you are having a great new year!

New Year, New Travel Resolutions!

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Dubai, United Arab Emirites: on my 2019 Wish List

Another year, another opportunity to make new plans and goals for achieving your travel dreams! I have my own laundry list to work through, which I wanted to share here. Hopefully this list will give you some ideas, or inspire you to come up with more of your own! Please comment below if you have some additional travel goals for 2019!

Sign up for TSA PRE and Global Entry

I’ve been considering how much time I “wasted” waiting in line at airports and cruise ports in 2018, and all of the ways in which I would have preferred to use that time. I also thought about the stress involved in getting through security checkpoints – something that can put a damper on your travel experience before it ever really begins. That’s why I want to enroll in TSA Pre and Global Entry this year. With TSA Pre, you don’t need to take off your shoes and other clothing items, separate your electronics and liquids, or – best of all – take as long getting through security. Global Entry is specific for international checkpoints at airports and cruise ports to get you through faster, including the availability of VIP lines to save time. To take it a step even further, I could enroll with Clear, which allows you through security in even faster lines using retinal scanning and fingerprint identification. But at a minimum I want to get set up with TSA Pre and Global Entry.

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Fly Through Airport Security Before You Fly!

Be more “loyal” to my loyalty programs…

I’m a member of a number of loyalty programs – hotel, airline, cruise line, casino… but I’ve had a bad habit of delaying those coveted rewards by “playing the field” instead of remaining loyal to my favorites. While I won’t exercise 100% loyalty to any one company of each type, since variety is one of the great pleasures in travel, I will make a greater effort to be more loyal to my favored brands and rack up those rewards faster!

Become more fluent in more languages…

Due to time constraints, language study has been an ongoing challenge. My ultimate goal is to become a polyglot. I need to make a better effort at carving out more time in my schedule for accomplishing this goal. The extent to which some understanding of the language in a place you are visiting enriches the travel experience is not to be underestimated. It immerses you in the culture in a way that stumbling along in English just can’t. Your interaction with the place, and its people, is so much more authentic.

Pack lighter!

Travel writer Rick Steves, my mentor, says that no one ever got home from a trip wishing they’d packed heavier! (ricksteves.com) I couldn’t agree more. Practically with each trip I have gone on I have realized this more and more, and improved my travel experience significantly the less I am burdened with belongings that aren’t ultimately important in the grand scheme of my adventure. I’ve never found myself in a position where I couldn’t pick something up that I needed, or an adequate approximation, later in the destination. And I wasn’t fighting sore muscles and achy joints from day one, or wasting time at airport checked-baggage carousels when I could have been sightseeing!

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Seoul, South Korea: a Must-See 2019!

Visit new continents!

It’s my goal to finally visit East Asia, the Middle East, and South America this year. South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, and Peru are high on my wish list. And one of these days I’m determined to take a cruise that gets down to Antarctica! (Will this be the year? Stay tuned!)

Take longer road trips…

I took a LOT of road trips this year, many due to circumstances other than the intention to travel. I enjoyed every last one of them – even the repeat trips – because there is always something new to discover. In my opinion, the road trip is the absolute best way to see the country, and I can’t wait to see even more of it that way. There’s something about “accidentally” finding a hidden gem that is completely overlooked by most that creates some of the most memorable journeys of all.

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Tucked-Away Victorian Village in Petoskey, Michigan

Don’t overlook smaller towns…

This goal goes along with road trips – because road trips provide the perfect opportunity not to overlook these smaller towns. You never know what you’re going to find out there that’s off the beaten path! I had some amazing experiences this year in some of the most unexpected of places!

Hunt down deals more aggressively!

In my haste to lock in travel arrangements I often didn’t do as much research as I could have to find the best deals. I would like to be more diligent about that this year – and use the money I saved for one more trip than I otherwise would have taken! I posted a blog a while back on saving money on travel you can read here!:

How to travel MORE for LESS: Build Your Budget Travel Game Plan!

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

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I hope you have an amazing, travel-filled 2019!

Defining “Home” – Hometowns, Homes-away-from-Home, and “HOME”

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Hilton Garden Inn, Fredericksburg, Virginia

The notorious “hometown.” What does it mean to you? If I ask five different people, could I get five different answers? To some it is always, and only, the place where you were born. To others, the place where you grew up and spent most of your pre-adulthood years. For others, it is where you now live. And for some, any place you have ever lived can be a “hometown,” either only while you’re living there or one in an accumulation of many “hometowns” you can make claim to for the rest of your life. For people of the latter philosophy, I have many “hometowns.” I’ve lived in six different states – and the places I’ve lived in feel like varying degrees of “home” to me today – whether I, or anyone in my family, still lives there or not, and whether or not I frequently return. It is the places I have loved that always feel the most like home – not how long I lived there, when in my life I lived there, or whether I live or spend much time there now. Because ultimately home is not a static thing, not constructed out of bricks and mortar, but memories. And given that, there is more to “home” than a static physical location – as I will discuss here.

Then there’s the “home away from home.” What’s in a “home away from home” to you? A place where you no longer live but most of your family still does? A place you love enough to visit on a regular basis – or at least aspire to? A place where you actually own a second home – or just a place where you stay with others in your social circle or a favorite hotel? Can a hotel be “home?” – at least temporarily? What about a favorite restaurant, or park that you frequent and feel comfortable in? People often refer to a “home away from home” being a vacation spot they love – but as I inquired before – isn’t home just what “feels” like home – whatever that means to you, however your mind chooses to build it? You are the architect of “home.”

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Clearwater Beach, Florida at Sunset: the “home” where I live

I did not originally have the idea to write this post. Turns out, I expected to be “home” right now, back in Clearwater (in Tampa Bay), Florida where I now live (and love), but I am still somewhere else, beyond my control and due to circumstances. With all of my travel photography being back “home” on my primary computer, I had to improvise this week. I’m back in a town where I formerly lived, selling a house where I used to live once upon a time many months ago. Repairs are taking longer than expected so I’m “stuck here” getting everything finished. My temporary home is an extended stay in the Hilton Garden Inn, where I’ve made repeated trips to the front desk to advise them of added nights to my reservation. Unlike the empty house devoid of furniture and in a state of being repaired, here I have a bed, a shower, comfort… this is home now – for now – not the empty shell of a place that I once called home.

It can be hard to sell a house that you have at one time lived in, because it either is, or was, probably something you would consider a home. For better or worse, many memories are attached to it. There is a finality in the sense of “moving on” thrust on you. It is one of the reasons I, and probably many others, procrastinated the prospect, even though my move was a positive experience, and where I live now is my favorite place I have ever lived. On the other hand, Fredericksburg, Virginia was not my favorite place to live (to each their own), nor my least favorite. But it remains part of my history, and part of the person I have become, even if that means the way it motivated and inspired me to move yet again. It did, and I followed my lifelong dream to move to sunny Florida.

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BJ’s Brewhouse, Fredericksburg, Virginia

I have many fond memories of every place I’ve lived, including this one. I returned to a favorite haunt of mine when I lived here, BJ’s Brewhouse, to soak in the atmosphere one more time (maybe more as my stay keeps getting extended here!) While there, I contemplated the way that this restaurant is all over the country. There is even one in Clearwater, Florida, where I live now. Is this a “home away from home?” All of them in all of their locations? Places like this remind you that while different cities and states can be very different from one another, much is also the same.

I don’t know how long I will be calling the Hilton Garden Inn “home,” but what I do know is that this may be the last time I linger in this town where I once stayed day after day. Funny how life goes on and things can change – even things as pivotal to your well-being and sense of identity as where you call “home.”

I often use the expression “most at home on the road,” because I genuinely feel that way. I am most comfortable when I’m on the move, traveling and exploring, not in staying in any one place at all. In a way, I could say “everywhere” is “home.”

So where do I consider “home?” There are so many different ways to define the word “home.” I love my place in Florida, and it sure feels like “home.” And I do feel so at home on the road. But, ultimately, my true, and most important home is with my long-distance boyfriend who happens to live in Michigan, because no where do I feel more like I’m “home” than in his warm embrace. I am the architect of my own “home,” and that home, with him, is my castle and my private island all in one, where there is no better place on earth. Whether we’re in Florida, Michigan, or anywhere else, I’m most completely at home with him.

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“Home” at Last… in a Michigan auto shop

What does “home” mean to you? Leave a comment below.

Below is a video of my first time meeting my long-distance boyfriend in person, including my road trip to get there and meeting itself! (Home at last!):

 

 

A German Christmas in Frankenmuth, Michigan!

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Holiday Horse & Carriage Ride

Frankenmuth, Michigan is rated one of the most “Christmas-ish” towns in America, and for good reason! What better way to celebrate the holiday than to stroll through this fantastically festive holiday wonderland?! Better yet, hop on a holiday horse and carriage ride and let the jingle bells of your horse heighten the holiday atmosphere!

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Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland

No Christmas visit to Frankenmuth is complete without a stop at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the biggest Christmas store in the world! Here you will be enveloped in Christmas spirit… albeit the commercial kind… with thousands upon thousands of holiday decorations to choose from. There are ornaments here for every subject, person, place, and thing – walls of them, and a multitude of trees in a rainbow of colors to adorn with them. Also available are a bounty of Christmas village displays and other decorations. You could get completely lost in here, completely immersed in holiday cheer, mesmerized by the glow of twinkling lights and shiny globes!

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Bavarian inn, from 1888

Frankenmuth was put on the map by German settlers in the 1880s, and the German influence abounds in the form of gingerbread house architecture, wooden carving, a brewery and brewing museum, and other nods to the homeland (note the clock towers and blue and white Bavarian flag checkerboard patterns on window shutters!) Christmas is also a major contributor to Bavarian culture, and in the spirit of this the town is illuminated and festooned to the hilt for the holidays!

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Frankenmuth Clock Shop

Many German traditions are practiced in Frankenmuth, including the wood carving of cuckoo and other German clocks here at the Frankenmuth Clock Shop. Craving fine German cuisine and great beer? Frankenmuth boasts many great German restaurants!

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Covered Bridge

At night Frankenmuth becomes perhaps even more spectacular – as the sun goes down and the lights come up. Whether strolling over the old Covered Bridge or holiday window shopping on a Silent Night at the brilliantly bedecked River Place Shops, Frankenmuth is truly a Christmas delight. For me, Christmas came early being here in Frankenmuth, Michigan!

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Holiday Shopping at River Place Shops

Watch my full tour of a Frankenmuth, Michigan Christmas on YouTube here!:

 

 

 

Jaunty, Jovial Juneau, Alaska!

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Mt. Roberts Tramway, Juneau

Juneau, Alaska is one of the more “metropolitan” destinations in Alaska, yet maintains its Old West, quaint town feel. On this day, I was feeling even more than that… I was feeling drenched from the torrential downpours that happened upon the city on that densely overcast day! Unfortunately, a highlight of Juneau, the Mt. Roberts Tramway, was not on my agenda with visibility from the peak nearing zero! Many others made the trek in spite of cloudy skies.

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“Downtown” Juneau

I opted instead for a stroll, umbrella in tow, through the main streets. While a small handful of what could loosely be defined “skyscrapers” dot the downtown district, most of the architecture harks back to an earlier time. Some of the building fronts resemble an Old Western movie set, the shadowy fringes of treetops on the mountains peeking out from billowing clouds looming in the background. I imagined Bob Ross capturing these mountains in a painting…

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Old Western Style Building Fronts

If you wish to venture out further, there are glaciers available to visit on a day trip. If you choose to embark on such an adventure, or a tramway ride, I am hopeful your weather will be more cooperative!

For a short video tour of a rainy day in Juneau, you can watch my YouTube video here:!