While You’re Traveling Food Doesn’t Have To Break The Bank

Through a series of circumstances, my daughter is joining me in California this week. I will be there for work – while she (at age 17) will be at Disneyland with her friend. It is sort of a cheaper version of Spring Break for them. But a trip that they get to sort of do on their own. I already had a room because I’m there for work. We cashed in some airline points. She has had a few dog-sitting gigs that gave her enough money to get the discounted Disney tickets on her own. She also got $60 from a grandparent who found out she was going so that will act as her “souvenier” money.

Since I’ve been writing about cheap meal menus for the past couple weeks, I thought this would be a good time to talk about how we don’t let eating out every day eat our entire month’s food budget.

When I arrive on Monday afternoon, I will swing by Trader Joes’ and get some yogurts and some bagels/cream cheese and apples, bananas or grapes (things that don’t need big fridge space) for us all to eat for breakfasts all week. We did check that the hotel rooms do have a small fridge. Also, when we are at the store, we will plan at least a couple nights of sandwiches. So we will buy some lunchmeat, bread and chips.  We will plan to drink water – my daughter doesn’t drink carbonated anything – so that saves on soda money plus all that sugar. We have been told that the girls can bring water bottles into the park and refill them. This will save them a lot of money. When we are at Trader Joe’s we will also get them some snacks just to have in their backpack (and back in the room) to tide them over. I have told her since it is a “vacation” she can get one snack each afternoon. But hey she’s a teen and will be in the park with just her friend so what she does with her money is really her own.

We have done our research of things that the girls can eat with a smaller budget at Disneyland. These include apparently to-die-for corn dogs ($9.95 includes chips), we have also heard a hot spot is Bengal BBQ outside of Indiana Jones ride has some great deals (Someone told just just around $5 for a couple meat skewers), and Jolly Holiday soup around $6. They also researched some lobster nachos at California Adventure that the girls think they can share. There is a fruit bar where you can get healthy snacks for under $5. However, depending on what we find at Trader Joe’s I may tell the girls to bring a piece of fruit with them in their backpack. I also tell them that they should eat late lunch/early dinner to try to get dinner (something more filling but also at the lunch prices).

The great news is that, since I’m there for work, I will have a daily stipend so while food is more expensive than what I’ve been cooking at home the last couple weeks – this will at least be off-set by that stipend.

We will let you know how we do on this budget trip to Disneyland when we return. Until then, have a super week.

Puerto Rico Birthday Weekend

I have long believed that experiences mean so much more than any material possession. I hatched up a plan to take my kids wherever they wanted to go for their 16th Birthday. I knew that I would not have enough money to buy them a car but I did work where I got hotel points and knew that I could trade some of them in to make a pretty nice trip.

My ex won’t let my kids have a passport. You need both parents to sign off on a passport until the kids turn 16 (I had previously thought it was at 18 years old). So, when I asked her where she wanted to go – and she responded, “a beach in Mexico.” I knew I  couldn’t make that happen. That is how we decided on Puerto Rico. As a U.S. Territory – U.S. citizens don’t need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico. But, since Spanish is the primary language it would feel like Mexico. (Coincidentially they were in the news right before we went as they have voted to try to become the 51st state).

We chose to stay at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino. One of the primary factors that went into that decision was they are right on Condado beach and family friendly.  It is also in a safe neighborhood that has a lot of great restaurants and other activities nearby. We let the hotel know that it was her birthday. We were upgraded to a suite that had two balconies – one facing the ocean and the other facing the pool and up into Old San Juan (along the beach). When we arrived at the room there was an amazing “Happy Birthday” sign on the headboard of the bed and they sent a birthday cake to the room! Wow. What a welcome! (They also gave me vouchers for free drinks and casino matching money to play). That first night – we ran down to the beach and spent about an hour there. Then decided we were hungry.

We asked the front desk what is something uniquely Puerto Rican that we should have to eat and where to get it. They suggested mofongo (it is mashed plantains, grilled with garlic and oil, turned upside down and smothered with a soupy gravy and beef) at Orozco’s just down the street.

Photo of Orozco's Restaurant - San Juan, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico. Realllllly. GoodIMG_4667

It was delicious. The girls (my daughter brought a friend) enjoyed the food (we also got empanadas and beans and rice) and the waiter was fairly young. He was super patient at letting them try out their Spanish (while he tried out his English). I also had a rum punch drink that was delicious (Hello! Bacardi is made there).

The next morning was early to rise. We headed out on a tour a the El Yunque Rain Forest Hiking Tour. The tour was arranged by my friends with the Puerto Rico Convention and Visitors Bureau via Destination Puerto Rico. They were really easy to work with and did a fantastic job of explaining everything to us. Our tour guide, George of the Jungle was friendly and knowledgable.

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He seemed very excited to share his island with us. He gave us a brief history as we rode in the shuttle bus with about 20 other people. The first stop was the visitors center. He explained many of the plants and a bit about the Rainforest itself (it is the only one in the U.S. National Forest Service). Then we stopped at a small rainfall “la Coca Falls”, next was an observation tower. Again, the knowledge of the tour guide was amazing – not only did he tell stories but he also pointed out what the islands in the distance were. We did have to hike up several stairs to get to the top (so if you’re not of a mind to walk much this might be a part you skip) the last stop was an upper hill above La Mina falls. We hiked down on a fairly steep path. It took about 30 minutes to walk down. Then we were allowed to swim at the base of the falls. It was so beautiful. The water was a bit chilly (but felt good for the warm day). There were several tour busses there and it appeared that some locals were there as well. Then after swimming for about an hour – we headed back up the hill (the other way) and came out near a parking lot where George was waiting for us. We did hear some other people talking about how steep it was (it wasn’t a big deal for us Colorado gals). Indeed it does rain in the rainforest. The rain was not cold at all. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a road-side cafe (more traditional Puerto Rican food) and souvenier shop. Then the best part, is my daughter had mentioned her love of mangos – George took us to his “friends house” and let everyone get off the bus quickly and pick mangos! (We ate those for breakfast for the next couple days).

 

When we got back to the hotel we had about two hours to chill – then we were headed out (this time in our rental car*) for the BioBay Tour. The BioBay tour started at the beach in Fajardo, a town pretty much on the other side of the island. Once we arrived at the beach area of Fajardo, there were several tents set up. We easily found the one we needed to check in for our tour. There are two tours. We took the earlier one. They told us to use lots of bug spray and then wait. When everyone had checked in we were issued our lifevest and told that the kayak trip would be a 2.4 mile round trip tour. Across the bay, through the jungle (covered – and btw it was VERY cool but hard to photograph), to an open lake where the only way to this lake is via boat. That is where the plankton who when moved create a glow. The glow was not what we really expected – we really could see the blue sparkes of the light up plankton. Then we followed the lights on kayas ahead of us back through the covered part and across the bay.

Sunday was a beach day. I could not have been happier that we planned it this way. People in Puerto Rico either take their Sundays very seriously or Father’s Day seriously. But we were told that there would not be much open. We planned the day at the beach and pool right at the hotel. We did make it down the street for a brunch – and a short detour to a couple touristy shops (had to get a t-shirt and a snowglobe) and the Walgreens there (Icee). We explored the game room at the hotel and the pool. We later ate dinner right at the hotel as well.

Monday morning – the girls slept in just a bit (I woke up my normal early and walked along the beach).  We headed across the street for a quick starbucks breakfast and headed out to the airport in our rented car. We had to return the car right at the airport and then check in to our flight (SJU>MCO>DEN). The trip was short in time – but hopefully long in memories. I think this may just be a birthday gift she remembers for a long time.

*We rented a car as we were told that the bio bay tour that we booked was filled but we were the only three that were asking for transportation from the hotel to Fajardo where the tour would take place. We were offered to “buy out” the bus at $20 per person (even though there were only three of us) which would have amounted to something like $200. So I started looking at cab rides or uber. Everything that I could see and those that I talked to told me that a cab ride would be something like $80 each way. And since Uber is not a real presence there that it would likely be not much less. So I started looking into renting a car – which would get us to/from airport as well as this excursion to the tour. The car rental from the airport was around $125 (it would have been less expensive but I sort of decided to do it last minute and prices had gone up). They are crazy drivers – speed limits and signs mean nothing to them. They swerve and go all different speeds. Also our GPS/Siri didn’t work well on one of the carriers (we had two one of us was on ATT the other two on Verizon). Streets don’t seem to be well marked. They also like to ride on bumpers pretty tightly in traffic areas and we were in a small Kia that just making a turn felt like it was going to fall apart. We were supposed to have paid for parking at $10 per day at the hotel – but somehow the guy who marked our ticket didn’t charge us at all! I thought this was just us and our timing until I heard a lady on the beach on Sunday talking to someone on the phone and her plight sounded eerily similar. (There is a car rental desk at the hotel – but they were out of cars when I wanted to rent).

 

Fall Break Getaway to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone

Through my work with hotels – I had a certificate for a two night stay at the Wort Hotel in Jackson, WY. I had held on to it for too long. (It had been like 2 years – and the certificate was technically expired). But I called the hotel and asked if we could come up during the kids fall break. They said YES!

We were going to drive. Since my son couldn’t go because they were still going to practice for football – I asked my daughter if she wanted to bring a friend. We were driving so we got a fairly early start on Monday morning. It is an eight hour drive to Jackson. My daughter being 15 was excited about having the opportunity to drive a bit on her learner’s permit.

We got through Denver and Ft. Collins in decent time and made it to Village Inn in Laramie, WY for breakfast. But first a quick little stop at the stadium for University of Wyoming. The girls must have been really hungry because they both ordered pretty big breakfasts and at a lot of it. Plus, we got a free slice of pie with any entree. We packed the pie to-go and hit the road again. The road from Laramie to Jackson is mostly across I-80. It is flat and windy. But my daughter was a champ. The girls blasted their music and sang along – while taking photos and videos. A few times during the trip we just had to get out to stretch and take some photos. img_3102

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We arrived at the Wort around 3 p.m. which was perfect as that is check in time! The Wort is a historic hotel right in the corner of town where all the fun tourist shops are and town square (the park). We shopped a bit, grabbed tacos at the little taqueria and tequila place across the street from the hotel and left just in time to catch the most amazing sunset. img_3149

The next morning breakfast was at the most amazing bakery in town, Persephone. It is a cute little bakery with GREAT pastries. It felt like something straight off a pinterest page.

img_3243On our way to Yellowstone! When you create your budget for this trip remember that it cost about $80 to buy an annual National Parks Pass. (National Parks Pass is free for fourth graders and way cheap for seniors). It would be about $50 to just get in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Since we live near a couple National Parks we decided to buy the whole year deal. From Jackson, we were so close we needed to see Old Faithful. Old Faithful is the guyser that erupts in a spray of more than boiling hot water over 100 feet in the air. It naturally happens on a regular timeline…thus the name Old Faithful. The drive is about an hour and a half from the hotel so we knew we were going to be in the car for a good part of the day. But we stopped, got out and walked a lot more than we had done the previous day. img_3193

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Due to our timing – (October) – it was cold and even snowed a bit while we were there. Old Faithful was worth seeing so we could say we saw it – but the girls (both teens) weren’t really all that into it. We didn’t do much exploring because of the weather. We had to wait in line for the one food outlet that was open. I really can’t imagine how crazy with tourists that must be in the summer. Maybe if you are going then pack a lunch.

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My daughter was our photographer making me stop to take many photos. We also stopped for small hikes – like down to the lake, to the waterfall and to see wild animals! I was hoping to see a moose. Which we did not get to see. But, we saw the big three: Buffaloes (this was early in the morning); a grizzly bear (although my iPhone photo isn’t great – it’s the brown blob in the picture) and a HUGE elk. And actually, we would not have seen the grizzly had we not pulled over on the side of the road when we saw a lot of other cars pulling over. The ranger was great. He was explaining that the Grizzly was about 8 years old (they live to about 20) and that she was over there eating to fatten up for hybernation. She probably wouldn’t be able to run all that fast with all her weight which is why it was OK for us to be so close. If you go to Yellowstone, don’t be afraid to stop on the side of the road when you see other cars doing the same.

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We wrapped up the afternoon with a detour toward Jenny Lake. We found out that the main entrance was closed for repairs to the trails. But the gate attendant told us another way to get to the lake. It was BEAUTIFUL. I mean, I live in Colorado. I’ve seen mountains. But somehow Teton is more majestic, more jagged, more rough.While Yellowstone gets a lot of great hype (and it should – it’s an amazing national park!) Jenny Lake is a highlight for anyone who makes a trip there and should not be missed.

The trails were easy enough for us to have some fun and take lots of pictures. But, we were there in the late afternoon and I had mentioned that we needed to be mindful that the sun goes down pretty quickly when it dips behind mountains. AND there were tons of signs about being aware of the bears. (The sign also said to make lots of noise to help deter bears – which was not a problem for us). img_3218

Dinner was at the BBQ joint in town. It was delicious and more than filling.

The next day we couldn’t leave town before heading back to Persephone’s Bakery. This time we sat down (there is very little seating – especially inside). I had the best croque madame ever. The girls had pastries – chocolate croissant and cinnamon brioche. Then we went back to a few shops to grab some items we had seen but not purchased before.

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And headed back toward Denver. Short but sweet little two-night fun in Jackson.

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Grand Cayman is Grand Fun

I recently took a trip that I won through my company (HelmsBriscoe) as a Top Producer. We were given a choice (with dates attached) to go to several places. But due to dates and locations I opted for Grand Cayman. We got to stay at the Ritz (FANCY!) for the Top Producer part and then we would extend our trip to the Westin since I have booked a group there (Westin is right next to the Ritz).

Upon arrival, I felt like a pretty big deal when they had a host meet us at the airport holding a sign with my name on it! (just ask anyone…I will tell anyone that I’m awesome). We were walked to the van that would transport us (my friend Melissa went with me) along with a few other HB associates and their guests to the beautiful Ritz. I would say transportation, air conditioning and fresh bottle of water was great. But even funnier, while we were waiting in the van – we saw that Grand Cayman has several wild chickens! I thought it odd so I took a picture and hoped we wouldn’t see chicken on many menus. Would that be like serving fancy road kill in the states?

WIld Chickens

Wild Chickens in Grand Cayman

The island is just 22 miles – so nothing is far. It took us all of about 10 minutes to get from airport to hotel. Upon arrival we were greeted with drinks and cookies. I had a Rum Runner to start (since I figured that would be the extent of my running on this trip).  We were all set to go to our ocean view room! It was awesome and beautiful but, I just wanted out on the beach! ASAP! Then the ammenity of fresh juices and rum arrived. Ahhh. Make my own drink THEN head to the beach. These Ritz people are totally on my same line of thinking.

Grand Cayman Ocean View from Ritz Room

Grand Cayman Ocean View from Ritz Room

After a couple hours on the beach (and luckily no sunburn), we went back to the room to get a shower and get ready for the night’s party – on the beach! (No shoes required). It was beautiful and great sunsets. I really can imagine having a super event here!

Sunset Beach Party at Ritz Cayman

Sunset Beach Party at Ritz Cayman

The meal was delicious and I had to go back for more of the wahoo (sushi grade), conch soup, salads galore, other beef, and meats. Plus, lots more rum-runners!  And I even asked the guy playing steel drums if I could play. He taught me “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” (I’m writing more about that night – just don’t have it done yet).

The next morning was what I was looking forward to most. Swimming with stingrays! It was beautiful! And I hear that kissing a sting ray gets you 7 years of good luck! I’m getting 7 then. (More on that excursion specifically click here).

Cayman, sting rays, good luck,

Kissing Stingrays in Grand Cayman (Pucker up Sophie).

That evening we headed back to the hotel and had another great meal where we has so much food we could almost pop. There were at least six stations of food from seafood to pork and yes – I did see chicken on the menu! The invite said “Caribbean Chic” what is that?!?!

The next day we moved over to the Westin. We had the afternoon to ourselves then met in the lobby for a tour of the property and another amazing dinner on the beach. The dinner was fantastic. It was a menu specially prepared for us as they are re-furbishing the kitchen. The Chef presented each. I picked the top option (salad, fish, chocolate) and Melissa picked the lower option (crab cake, steak and brulee) and we shared each. I love traveling with a friend who will share with me and let me eat of her plate.

Sunset Beachview from Westin Grand Cayman

Sunset Beach view from Westin Grand Cayman Dinner

The following day Melissa and I decided to go on the city bus (which also acts a bit like a taxi as you flag it down when you want to hop on) to go shopping. We went to a high end shopping area (which also was said to have a farmer’s market but there were just a few booths) and then decided to go to Georgetown (the main town on the island where all the cruise ships dock). Georgetown was typical tourist area – with lots of souvenir junk and jewerly shops. When we were there we went to the Guy Harvey shop. He happened to be there signing autographs. (I have to be honest and say I have no idea who he was/is – but the locals seemed to be all about this guy). He was nice and we got some items autographed. Then we ate sushi at the Guy Harvey restaurant. It was probably some of the best fresh sushi I have ever had and we tried the conch fritters. (Eat like the locals?) Then headed back to the hotel to do dinner with some of the other folks from the group who were still around. It sounds like the highlights of this trip were the meals.

I was sad to see the next day go – and we had to head back to Atlanta to get back to Denver. The trip was fun fun fun and I would go again. I would like to go with my romantic interest. Those beaches are amazing. I hope I win another great trip next year too!

Try The World From Your Own Mailbox

I may have mentioned before that I am sort of addicted to receiving mail. I know it is sort of a weird obsession. For as long as I remember the mail was so exciting and intriguing (I sort of wonder why I didn’t pursue a job as a mail person). I have signed up for several magazines and monthly subscription packages.

It almost feels like I won a prize when the mail arrives and it is my box from Try The World. This is my second box from them. The first was Paris. Which I opened with my daughter – it included tea, dijon mustard, caramels, cookies and more.

This month was Japan! One place that my daughter wants to go visit. We make an ordeal out of opening our box. We carefully take out each piece, try it together. The box comes in a pretty Tiffany blue color. There is a culture guide included which not only explains a bit about the culture but also a bit about the chef that helped curate the box, some ideas on how to use the contents of the box (this time it was a tea ceremony and dinner date), there is also a link to a Spotify playlist that goes along with that event.

Try The World Japan

Try The World Japan Box

Kasugai Peach Candies Try The World

These were the Peach gummies. made by Kasugai.

Try The World Japan Box Okonomiyaki kit. It is basically an omlette like pancake. #delish

Try The World Japan Box Okonomiyaki kit. It is basically an omlette like pancake. #delish

We loved the caramels and gummy candies (no surprise) and disliked the seaweed snack. It took a bit more to make the okonomiyaki kit because we needed a few of our own ingredients (eggs, water, bacon, cabbage, green onions). But it was tasty when we did make it.

We are excited to see where we will visit next. You can save $15 on your subscription if you follow this link: http://fbuy.me/cINRi.

What foods would someone experience at your house? Do you have a specialty?

Perfect Break To Orlando Vacation

I planned the trip months ago. Last year we took my mom to Washington D.C. (the kids and I). She had always wanted to go – but my dad didn’t. (Yes, my parents are still married). So we invited him to go with us to Orlando – which just happened to be this year’s destination. With teenagers, we knew that DisneyWorld and Universal – the big theme parks – would be on the agenda. But, I didn’t want to overwhelm my 70-year-old dad with roller coasters and costumed characters. So, we left one day in the middle of the week for him to plan what we were doing. He did a GREAT job! It was probably one of my most favorite days.

The day started early (early by definition of my teen daughter would be anything before noon but this was 8 a.m.). We rented a car just for the day. It didn’t make sense to rent a car for the week and then pay for it to sit in a parking lot. The reason we needed a car? We were headed to Lone Cabbage Fish Camp. By the looks of the map on my iPhone we were literally going to the middle of nowhere. It didn’t appear that there was ANYTHING else nearby. The camp really is out there by itself. While it is weather worn and looked a bit old (seriously straight out of a movie) – it was clean and the people were GREAT. They were very down to earth. We waited on the deck (which is beautiful on the back side of the building – you wouldn’t know it was there when you first drive up. We had actually reserved a 60 minute ride but through some scheduling conflict we weren’t on their calendar – so we opted for the 30 minute (which you don’t have to make reservations for).

Lone Cabbage Fish Camp between Orlando and Cocoa Beach.

Lone Cabbage Fish Camp between Orlando and Cocoa Beach.

The 30 minute airboat ride was awesome. The guide was very knowledgeable about the alligators and other wildlife. He told us that he is a hunter – there is actually a process to get your alligator hunting license. He is careful just to hunt what he is going to eat (and told a story about his dad catching him shooting a crow – which he had to eat). He told us about the migrations and where they like to hide, what they eat, poaching, feeding and more. The boat got going fast enough for my kids to really feel like it was a ride (and not just a float).

Airboat Ride at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp

Airboat Ride at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp

We were told we HAD to have the sampler plate which included gator, frog legs and catfish. I was impressed that both of my kids ate some of each. I thought the food was great. Especially the frog legs.

Sampler Plate at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp includes gator, frog legs and catfish. #nomnom

Sampler Plate at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp includes gator, frog legs and catfish. #nomnom

We asked the lady that did everything at Lone Cabbage (cook, wash, bartend, answer phone etc) the best way to get to Cocoa Beach. Her directions? “Go East on the same road you got here on until you hit sand.” Sounded simple. And it was! Within 15-20 minutes we were at the beach!

We forgot to pack swimsuits (guess we weren’t really thinking) but figured that since it was a rental car and that the sand and wet wouldn’t make much of a different. So we literally jumped into the ocean with our clothes on! I suppose it was not all that different from a swimsuit – when my daughter and I have shorts and sports bras on and my son had basketball shorts. Being from Colorado means that my kids hardly ever get to see a beach or the ocean. This was the perfect opportunity to play for a couple hours! We parked at a meter (thanks to the attendant/park ranger who told us where the meters were just a block away – so that we would not have to pay the full $10 day rate). Besides, I think the walkway was cooler looking than if we had gone to the paid lot.

At Cocoa Beach

At Cocoa Beach before we fully jumped in. 

We HAD to shop at the iconic Ron Jon Surf Shop located right there at the beach. The shop had all assortment of beach needs and some fun souvenirs. Even though we live in Colorado we have seen several Ron Jon stickers in the back of cars here. (Plus, I thought if someone wanted a clean/dry shirt they could get one there).

Ron Jon Surf Shop

Ron Jon Surf Shop

Ever since I was a kid my dad would ensure that we had an afternoon snack on any trip. This one was no different. As we were driving back toward Orlando from Cocoa Beach we decided that we were going to have a Key Lime Pie somewhere. I couldn’t remember exactly where I had seen the store – but I knew we passed one on our way between Lone Cabbage and Cocoa Beach. When I drove past it (on the left side of the road), I literally drove around in circles getting to it. While the location of the Key Lime Pie Company isn’t easy to get to if you’re on the wrong side of the road – it is worth the circles! The shop is little and there is no seating inside – but there is an awesome tiki bar just outside (up the stairs) where you can take your key lime and sit in the shade to eat it.

Key Lime Pie Company

Key Lime Pie Company

Our day was winding down. We headed back to our hotel in Orlando. We visited the new Orlando Eye (although we didn’t go in) after we got cleaned up from our ocean excursion. While we didn’t go in (I’m cheap – it is about $25/per person). We had a great time! (And then went to the theme parks again the next day.

Have you had a perfect break from all the tourist hype somewhere? What is your favorite?

Hermitage in Nashville Worth Writing Home About

My mom used to say, “it’s worth writing home about” when we encountered something that was news worthy or exciting enough to tell the folks at home. With the advent of phones, face-time and internet it seems the more we experience the less we feel the need to actually write home about anything. I travel quite a bit – and I have gotten spoiled by amazing hotels and well thought out details. My kids too have become a bit spoiled when my daughter can walk into a hotel bathroom and notice if they have a scale or not (and know that that means is is a 5 star/5 diamond hotel). I certainly didn’t know this when I was a kid. When we traveled as kids – I was delighted when they had those little bottles of shampoo. Now even the “lower end” hotels seem to have them and I rarely stay at hotels where both the TV and the remote are nailed to their fixtures.

That being said, I have had the opportunity to stay at the historic Hermitage hotel in Nashville, TN. Indeed the opulence of years past comes shining through into the opulence of today. The Hermitage was built in 1910 as a hotel. But unlike many other historic hotels the rooms are wide, spacious, and well appointed (on a side note I hate the term well-appointed – but it’s what I thought of so that’s what I wrote). From the moment I walked into the lobby, I could feel the decadence. From the doorman to the front office staff I think they fed these people niceness pills. And the stained glass ceiling in the vaulted lobby is both beautiful and ornate.

Hermitage lobby

It is the details of the hotel that make it so cool. Like the child in me, I first discovered the great little bottles including devine smelling shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion and face wash. My daughter (who is not traveling with me this time) would be happy to know there is a scale in the bathroom (although I don’t like what it reported I weigh).  I was excited about the Nespresso machine in my room. If you have not had their coffee you’re missing out! My colleague was excited about the type of wine that was sitting by the water bottles (although not inexpensive at $30 for a small bottle). The turn down service included cookies and fudge (that was not too sweet – just right). The card delivered to my room indicated what the temperature  and weather would be like tomorrow (and it was HAND WRITTEN!), along with that I received a small stack of Hermitage stationery with my name on it (personalized!) so that I could truly write home about it.

SNOWmazing Sculptures In Breckenridge

I have to throw out the disclaimer that I love Breckenridge anyway. I think it is one of the coolest small towns in America. But really Breckenridge is like no other when they host the Snow Sculpture Championships each January. The center of town (really the parking lot of the Riverwalk Center) is transformed, for a week, into an outdoor gallery of SNOWmagination.

Teams across the globe (this year there were 16 teams representing 12 countries) carve 12-foot tall blocks of snow (using no power tools or internal supports) into the most awesome and imaginative pieces of art. If you go, be sure to pick up one of the programs as they do a good job of detailing what the piece is about or the “story” behind it. Each year they are different. But one thing remains constant each year, they are elaborate and detailed.

Amour Toujours

Amour Toujours

A week prior to the Championships Breckenridge Ski Resort makes snow that the Town hauls to the site (using dump trucks). Volunteers stomp the snow in preformed wooden molds. One volunteer said. “they blow snow in, then they climb in and stomp, climb out, blow more snow, stomp…it’s quite a workout.” I suppose packing a 10 feet wide, by 10 feet long by 12 foot high block of snow tight would take some work. From that, the artist have just 65 hours to create a masterpiece using only hand tools (think of all that good stuff you have in your kitchen drawers).

 

Our favorites this year? We each picked out separate ones. Mine was Team France’s “Amour Toujours or Always in Love” which depicts a mom kissing her daughter. My son liked Team Alaska’s “Cabin Fever: The Mad Trapper and the River.” My daughter loved Team USA-Breckenridge “The Sculpture” with a Gepetto looking guy crafting a snowflake. 
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The celebration doesn’t just end with the impressive sculptures but also there is entertainment (fire dancers), DJs, Demos, and fun for kids too (they can climb on one of the sculptures and you get to see what one of the blocks looks like when they start. (We did wonder why they weren’t having showings of Disney’s Frozen).20150130_180754

While parking can be a bit of a hassle, there are free shuttles that pretty much run all day (6am to midnight). The sculptures will remain on display through Sunday, February 8.

Elsa (from Frozen), you’ve not nothing on creating amazing out of snow and ice compared to these teams! Really, cold never bothered me anyway.

Five Packing Hacks

This last weekend the kids and I headed up to Breckenridge, CO for the Snow Sculpture Championships (more on that in another post). My kids were with their dad the two nights prior to going up to the mountains. I had informed them on Tuesday night that I would pick them up from school and we would head directly up the mountain (They get out of school at 3 p.m. and I needed to be at an event at 5:30 p.m. – it takes about an hour and a half in good traffic to get from our house to Breckenridge).

My daughter said I could pack for her (a rare chance for me to still pick out her clothes for her) – my son said all he needed me to pack was what was on his bed. He usually totes clothing back and forth between my house and my ex’s, so I figured he would have what he needed. Upon arrival to the condo, he asked for the stuff I packed for him (the tablet and two sweatshirts). I proudly gave them to him. Then he said, “Where’s my underwear, deodorant and toothbrush?” UGH. Good thing there was a WalMart nearby.

I usually don’t have to think much about what I pack – at least when it comes to the essentials. I had a friend in college who was a flight attendant. She told me some of the tips/tricks that they use.

1. Pack a few things that always stay in the suitcase (a separate set from what you use at home everyday) these include: toothbrush and toothpaste; hairbrush/comb; deodorant; razor; make-up (I usually am very basic with base, eyeliner, mascara and chapstick).

2. I usually pack a few sample items that stay in the suitcase as well. A packet of advil, small sample size of pepto, band-aids, febreeze (or other fabric spray in travel size), emergen-C, a couple safety pins (which I just pin to one of the inside zipper pulls), and a small “multi tap” so I can plug in multiple things at once (this was especially helpful when I only had one converter in Germany). If you have an extra charger/cord for your phone. I’d leave that in the suitcase always too.

3. Pack around your shoes. Shoes can take up a lot of space. If you can wear one pair and pack the other – and work anything around just those two you will save a lot of space/time.

4. Think Mix-and-Match. Most of the time people will not notice if you wear black pants every other day and a different shirt. Multiple outfits with fewer actual items.

5. Additional bag. I like to throw a pull string bag at the bottom of my suitcase. That way if I am going out and about – and I need a bit more space than my purse (Like maybe I want to pack sunscreen and a water- bottle) I have it handy and it doesn’t take up too much space.

You could always do what my dad does – with his laminated packing list that he can check off his necessary items every trip. I hope these tips help you. Although maybe if you are packing for your kids (and they are teens) you may be thrown off course like I was.

 

Souvenirs From Business Trips

I travel quite a bit in my business. I am constantly challenged with the questions of do I get a souvenir for myself? For my kids? If so, what? I also am constantly on a budget – so getting some big elaborate thing is really out of the question. And I have two kids – so when I get one something I have to get something for the other one as well.

Several years back, my daughter was really into snow globes. So I purchased her a small snow globe. She loved it! So I started buying her the same thing. They are usually just around $5 to $7 so nothing that will break the bank. However, I found out the hard way that some security areas at airports will not allow you through their gates with one. Despite them being small. They are liquid (and apparently against TSA regulations (one agent who made me throw it away also said that the glass could be broken and used for a weapon). So I usually have to buy them at the airport. Which makes shopping pretty easy for me for her. Although the more that I have purchased, the more I realize that they are sort of similar. For example, I went to Orlando and purchased one that had a palm tree inside and there was a tag on the outside that said “Florida” but when I went to San Diego. There was the same palm tree just the outside of it said “San Diego.” Since my shopping options are limited to whatever is at the airport store…all I can say is good thing she likes palm trees.

Florida Snow Globe

Florida Snow Globe

My son on the other hand, has grown a lot in the past few years that I have been traveling. At first, I would get him a small stuffed animal. He was happy with that until he hit about 11 years old. Then I realized that it was sort of a waste of money. He would toss it up on his desk in his room (which is essentially a pile of junk) and never really look at it again. So I started buying him TShirts (he’s a sports fan – so the local team seemed the way to go). But then he would grow out of them and the price was certainly inequitable to what my daughter was getting (and she noticed and voiced it quite loudly). So when a friend suggested Christmas ornaments I did that. He seemed less than happy when I brought him an ornament in October from Mexico. (I was certainly not bringing back tequila to a 15 year old!)

As for me? I sometimes get myself something too. I started collecting either a Christmas ornament (which are sometimes difficult to find) or I recently found Alex and Ani bracelets that have charms of the cities (although they are certainly not everywhere – and sometimes difficult to find – I had to SHIP the San Francisco one – despite being in a store in San Francisco).

Alex and Ani

What is your favorite souvenir? How much did it cost? Do you bring things for your kids when you travel for work? Does TSA let you through with your treasures?