City Views, North America, Travel Advice


April 21, 2011 • By

This week’s photo is from Las Vegas, Nevada….the gambling capital of the world.   We visited four winters ago in the hopes that it wouldn’t be quite as busy as it usually is.  Of course, with picture perfect weather, there was no way the populace would be denied their opportunity to be robbed by one armed bandits.

While we stayed off the strip, we made sure to visit the various hotel and casinos and try our hand at being first time gamblers.  We actually ended up winning more than we lost, so in that sense, we won!  At some point, we ended up at the beautiful Bellagio Hotel which certainly lived up to its reputation.  Imagine my surprise when we got to the lobby and saw this vision of art glass goodness.

Right above our heads, was an array of cylindrically shaped colorful art (stained) glass pieces ensconced in a pendulum cutout, suspended from the ceiling.  Having dabbled in the stained glass arts, I was mesmerized by the vibrant colors competing for my attention.  It made such a statement that nothing else was required to decorate that expansive lobby.

This art sculpture, named Fiori di Como, was created by the world-renown glass artist, Dale Chiluly.  Composed of 2,000 ‘floating’ glass blossoms, it represents Chiluly’s dedication to the fluid movements of a beautiful garden and weighs in at a healthy 40,000 pounds.

This photo is part of the Travel Photo Thursday series which is the brainchild of Nancie M with Budget Travelers Sandbox.

North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

Hanging with the Cabbage Patch Kids at Babyland General!

April 17, 2011 • By

Lullabye and goodnight.......

Last month, I took a trip back to my daughter’s childhood. We were on our way to Helen, GA but had to pass through Cleveland to get there, which automatically meant that we would be stopping there as well. What’s so special about Cleveland? It’s the Home of the Original Appalachian Artworks or the Cabbage Patch Kids. Remember those? We may not hear about them as much nowadays,but trust me, they are still very much loved. I’d wanted to get one for my daughter when they were first introduced, but was somewhat turned off when I witnessed grown women fighting one another in the stores to get one. I didn’t quite understand that one. The company had licensed the toy manufacturer, Coleco, to mass produce them so quantity shouldn’t have been an issue.

The "I See You"

As you entered the foyer, you are greeted by a pristine black and white marbled floor that leads you to a nurses’ station as you turned the corner. As we were signing the guest register, an announcement over the PA system indicated that a little CPK was about to come into the world.

It’s not everyday that you get a chance to witness a “live” birth. I was fortunate to be present during the birth of Sarah T-Rex on March 25, 2011. Strange name you say? Well, the kids that named her shortly after her arrival at Babyland General thought it was a cool moniker. All of the babies that are born in a vast cabbage patch in Cleveland, Georgia USA are ushered into the world by the good doctors and nurses who have pledged to give the best care to all of the little ones waiting to be adopted by a loving mom and/or dad.

We made our way to the birthing room and listened intently as the doctor explained the birthing process to a roomful of curious school children and their teachers and some were on vacation like us and were with their parents. After a detailed explanation of how babies come into the world, we were finally graced with her presence:

As you can see the experience was more than memorable and I’m sure that it answered a lot of questions for the inquisitive kids. The rest of the hospital is filled with all types of Cabbage Patch kids (vintage as well as the newest ones) waiting to be claimed by some lucky boy or girl. Don’t miss the opportunity to see some of the original dolls on display in the main lobby. Some are valued at over 15,000.00 US. Be sure to stop by the gift shop to pick up one of a kind souvenirs from Babyland General and remember that general admission is free!

Inspiration, Interviews

The Inspired Traveler # 8 – Kelly Lewis

April 15, 2011 • By

Today, we continue our series where we sit down to interview fellow Travel Bloggers and (hopefully) get them to give up some of their best travel tips for you, dear reader.  Next up, the very busy Kelly Lewis, who runs Travel Bug Juice and Go! Girl Guides.

Kelly, looking like she has a secret that she's contemplating sharing

1)   What is it about traveling that makes you smile?

The people I meet. I’m a huge people person anyway, and I love finding connections with relative strangers while traveling and having adventures that bond you in a way you could never imagine. It’s funny how some people we meet traveling, who we really only spend about a week or so with, become life-long friends. Traveling somehow speeds up the process.

2)   What is your favorite place in the world?

I lived for a year in New Zealand, where I worked for a year with a Lord of the Rings tour company, learned how to snowboard, discovered amazing music, partied it up until 5 am on a routine basis and had some of the best roommates and friends I’ve ever known. So, I’d have to say New Zealand.

3)   What place would have to pay you to come back and even then you’d have to think about it?

Not a huge fan of Bolivia. Everyone always raves about it as “the real South America” but I don’t believe it. It’s a pretty place, but it’s hard to travel through, especially as a solo woman. Plus, I got spit on.

4)   What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given about traveling?

Be open. Say yes. Do it. This is how I prefer to travel. Every opportunity is a new adventure, just go with it!

5)   How has traveling changed you as a person?

Well, it’s given me a career! It’s affected me deeply, I’d say. It’s made me more aware of other cultures, of how to be a considerate person, of how to pick myself up by my bootstraps in the hardest of times. In fact, I can’t imagine my life without traveling. And now with Go! Girl Guides, it has, actually become my life, and I’m very grateful for that.

"The Hills are alive........"

6)   Have you ever volunteered during your travels?   If so, what did you do?  If not, will you ever?

I love to volunteer. I think it’s an amazing way to give back and find greater meaning in your travels. Most recently I worked with Sea Turtles in Uruguay, but soon I will be in Thailand working on the first book for Go! Girl Guides, and volunteering is a huge, huge part of our guidebooks.

7)   What is the best piece of advice that you can give our readers?

Don’t overpack. So simple, but so hard to actually do. When I pack, I bring a gazillion pairs of underwear and socks, and a handful of shirts with a couple of pants. I’ve found that I can re-wear shirts and pants a few times without doing laundry, but I cannot do the same with underwear or socks.

8 )   Since this is a budget travel blog, what is your best budget tip, bar none?

Couchsurf! God, I don’t know how we ever traveled without Couchsurfing? I personally hate paying for a bed in which I’m only in for a few hours anyway, so couchsurfing has been a lifesaver to my wallet, and has really enhanced the quality of my travels as well. The people I’ve met couchsurfing have become good friends, who took me in and showed me the city in ways I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

9)   Where do you plan to travel this year?

This year I’m off to Thailand for the first Go! Girl Guides book. We will do another one this year as well.. but we haven’t quite figured out where! Soon, we will be asking you all to chime in on where you think we should go!

"Here's a kiss from me to Machu Picchu"

10)     What are the three things that you could never do without during your travels?

Three things I couldn’t do without: iPod, journal and a sense of adventure.

To find out more about me, check out Travel Bug Juice or Go! Girl Guides.
Twitter @travelbugjuice @gogirlguides

Thanks Kelly for sharing your ideas with the rest of us!  We look forward to Go! Girl Guides’ first publishing endeavor!

Interviews, Travel Advice

A Conversation with Gray Cargill of

April 10, 2011 • By

For the first time ever, I will be taking my first solo trip later this year.  My daughter has other obligations and will not be able to accompany me on this journey.  It will be a change for me since she has been my road partner all of these years.   One thing that became glaringly obvious in planning this trip is how the travel industry is set up to accommodate couples and groups.  Of course, this is something that you don’t notice when you are a part of said couple or group.  I know that there are plenty of folks who would love to travel but may be reticent to go it alone.

But I am up for the challenge and quite excited at the prospect of venturing out on my own!  Still, this is something new to me so I thought that I would contact someone who had a bit more knowledge about what I (and others in a similar situation) was in for.  Gray Cargill is an experienced solo travel blogger and would be the perfect person to discuss what, if anything, I should expect as a newly vetted solo traveler myself.

Standing near the Alexander bridge along the Seine in Paris

Ok, Gray, you’ve become quite an expert on traveling solo.  How did you get started?

I guess you could call me an expert by now, though I prefer the word “enthusiast.” I got started the same way many solo travelers get started–I wanted to travel, but none of my friends or family were in the same situation. Either they had no interest, no time, or no money. It was either don’t travel at all or travel alone. I decided to try traveling alone. As it turned out, I liked it. People often talk about going on vacation to “get away from it all,” but if you’re traveling with someone else, you’re not getting away from it all. You’re bringing some of it with you. Solo travel is really getting away from it all.

What is the most difficult aspect of traveling solo?  If you could, how would you resolve it?

The expense. Some call it the single supplement, though as an independent traveler, I’m not really dealing with single supplements per se. But I have no one to split the expense of a hotel room, no one to split cab fare, no one to split an entree in a restaurant. There are so many ways couples can split expenses to save money that solos can’t. To add insult to injury, a place like Las Vegas offers tons of coupons specifically targeting couples (“2-for-1″s), that aren’t usually good for 50% off if you’re traveling alone. How would I resolve it? More hotels (especially in the US!) need to build single rooms, designed for solo travelers. Restaurants should offer half-sized portions at half-price for small appetites. And coupons should always have that “50% off for solos” alternative.

Gray enjoying one of my favorite things, Waterfalls! Striking a pose at Coca Falls in Puerto Rico

I went on a two-night cruise (press trip) last summer on the Norwegian Epic, which has over 100 staterooms for solo travelers, which is one of the most exciting innovations in the travel industry that I’ve seen. Before that, I had never set foot on a cruise ship because the single supplements were so prohibitive. Even if I could afford it, I tend to avoid travel situations that charge single supplements on principle. It’s not right that a solo traveler should be penalized financially for not having a travel companion.

Do you encounter cultural issues or expectations during your travels that men traveling solo may not experience? If so, what are they?

The thing women generally have to deal with that men don’t is sexual harrassment. Although personally, I have had almost entirely positive experiences as a solo female traveler. Then again, I’m not a cute young 20-something any more, so I don’t have to deal with it as much as they do. (One of the blessings of growing older!)  I also have never traveled to cultures where the role of women is severely restricted, so I’ve never had to deal with that. That’s been a purposeful choice on my part. I don’t have a poker face, so I don’t think I could hide my annoyance with those kinds of attitudes toward women. I wouldn’t be very popular with the locals.

Can you think of any destination that was tailor-made for Solo Female travel?  If so, where?

So many. For women who are really, really afraid to travel alone, I’d suggest starting with Disney World. Seriously, how much safer can you get? And it’s not all about rides. You can relax by the pool, get a massage, see a show, and eat in some terrific restaurants there. Vegas has also been terrific for me. If you’re into spa resorts, I’d have to say that would be tailor-made for a solo female traveler, too. But if you really want to see more of the world, I think most cities in the Western hemisphere that have cultural offerings are wonderful–London, Paris, Montreal, Chicago, New York, etc. And people in these cities really don’t bat an eye at a woman traveling alone. It’s normal.

At the ice bar aboard the new cruise liner, the Norwegian Epic

What words of encouragement can you offer women who want to travel but find it difficult to find a willing partner?

Life is short. If there’s a place you want to travel to, don’t wait for someone else to come along to go with you.  Just go. You might be lonely at times, but not all of the time. There are so many ways to meet other people when you’re traveling, from just smiling and starting a conversation with someone, to staying in hostels where you’ll met other travelers, to joining day tours, to meeting up with locals via Couchsurfing. Just don’t fill up all of your time with new friends and acquaintance. Because there’s a certain joy in experiencing things alone, an indulgence in being able to spend as much or as little time on something as you want to, without having to worry about the wishes of a companion. (How often in any woman’s life does she get to focus on just herneeds? Cherish it!)  If you go solo, you’ll come home feeling so proud of yourself for doing it. It’s a real confidence-builder.

Do you think some of the difficulty in getting women to travel solo comes from societal pressures for women to be 1/2 of a couple?  There are many women who are hesitant to eat in a restaurant by themselves, much less travel.

You know what? I don’t think it’s just women who are pressured to be half of a couple. I think men are, too. I’ve had conversations with men who won’t travel solo. Some are worried about safety or are afraid they’ll be lonely. They’re afraid people will stare at them and pity them if they eat in a restaurant alone–the same fears that women have! But sure, women actually do face more of an expectation to be “wives and mothers” by a certain age and they may think by traveling alone, they’re opening themselves up to judgment for not being half of a couple.

I actually find that I’m more comfortable traveling alone than I am going out to dinner alone at home, because on the road, nobody knows my backstory. For all they know, I have a significant other at home who maybe can’t or won’t travel for some reason. Or maybe I’m traveling on business. Or maybe I am traveling with a companion, but s/he is doing something else at the moment. But if I go out to eat alone at home all the time, and the same people keep seeing me alone, it’s pretty obvious I’m not half of a couple. Then there’s more judgment. Not that we should care what other people think. But there’s a real freedom in traveling to a place where nobody knows anything about your life.

Give us some background about your travel websites, Solo Friendly and Vegas Solo.  Why and how did you get started?

I started SoloFriendly after the breakup of a very bad relationship. It was one of those relationships where I gave up almost everything that made me happy for him. I really didn’t even recognize who I’d become when I was with him, but it wasn’t me. So when we broke up, I really wanted to focus on the things that made me happy again: Travel and writing. (And junk food. I admit, there was junk food.) People had been telling me for years that I was “so brave” for traveling alone and that they didn’t think they could ever do that, which never failed to surprise me, since I am anything but brave.

So it seemed to me there was an untapped need out there for people to hear more about what solo travel is really like. Most people’s perceptions of it aren’t all that close to reality. Vegas is one of my favorite vacation destinations, so it seemed only natural that eventually, I would branch out and create a Vegas website too. The Vegas Solo was intended to help people plan their first solo trip to Vegas, but I’ve had people tell me they think it’s very useful for anyone planning a trip to Vegas, which is fine by me. I enjoy sharing the Vegas love with anyone who’s interested.

Gray, There is always a game-changer that allows us to re-evaluate our lives and it seems like you’re no exception.  Thanks so much for sharing your story and your obvious love for solo traveling.  For more insight into traveling solo, please check out her blogs and follow her on twitter and Facebook.

Inspiration, Interviews

The Inspired Traveler # 7 – David Billa

April 8, 2011 • By

Today, we continue our series where we sit down to interview fellow Travel Bloggers and (hopefully) get them to give up some of their best travel tips for you, dear reader.  Next up, the multi-tasking, David Billa who runs a French and English version of Ogijima.

Help! Get me off this graph paper!

1)What is it about traveling that makes you smile?

I don’t know. Does it make me smile? (I’m smiling as I’m typing this) I guess, the thing that I like the most about travelling is discovering new cultures, different people, different ways of life, different histories, and different aspects of what human kind is. I think this is why my favorite way of travelling is simply to move for a few years to the place I’m interested in. I’m not always sure if it still qualifies as “travelling” and it sure doesn’t allow for that many different destinations –although I haven’t done it nearly as often as I would like– but this is the way that allows me to really understand those other cultures.  Of course, I don’t exclude “normal” travelling.

2) What is your favorite place in the world?

Ogijima, the tiny Japanese island after which I named my blog.  Well, to be honest, I don’t know it that well yet, and it is not actually my favorite place in the world (although, it could become it one day). However, the area where it is located –the Seto Inland Sea in Japan- is one of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve been to. Sure, it’s not as stunningly beautiful as many other places in the world; its charm is more subtle. It’s not just about being there and being in awe of the scenery, it’s really about many different factors, the people and their culture not being the least important ones.

I should also mention three spots that may not have anything special about them, but when I’m there, for some reason, I just feel good, I’m just happy, no matter what. They are the city of York in England, Paynes Prairie in Florida (a mini Everglades type of prairie/swamp in northern Florida) and my “secret” beach on the French South West Atlantic Coast (It’s not actually secret, but it is one of the lesser known ones in the area, which is otherwise a quite popular destination with European tourists).

3) What place would have to pay you to come back and even then you’d have to think about it?

I’m not sure there are places I would never go back to. There are places I’m not interested in going (even though I’m sure I’d manage to make the best of it if I went), but so far, there isn’t any place I’ve been to and that I swore I’d never go back. Well, thinking about it, I’m not sure I ever want to return to Harajuku in Tokyo and I’m not sure how anybody older than 18 can like the place (and while I definitely want to return to Tokyo one day, I also think that it’s one of the least interesting places in Japan).

A thing I would never do, even if I was paid to do it, is travelling on a guided group tour. This goes pretty much against everything I believe in as far as travelling is concerned. I’d rather not go to a place than go on a group tour. Actually, when travelling in such a way, I don’t think people really ARE in the place, they’re just watching it from the bus or the small crowd they form.

4) What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given about traveling?

Here is the thing, I’ve been travelling ever since I was a little kid. My parents gave me lots of advice then (or I just picked it up by observing), but right now, I can’t really name one in particular as the best one that I was given (I kinda integrated all of them with time, so it’s hard to pick them apart). I guess “be open, look around you, not just in front” would be the one.

5) How has traveling changed you as a person?

I don’t think it has changed me as a person as much as it has made me as a person. As I just mentioned, I travelled a lot as a kid (only in Europe, but pretty much all over Europe) and that really shaped my view on things as I grew up. Also, as an adult, I have lived as much time abroad as I have lived in France. How did all of this made me different? I think I’m much more open to other cultures, new things and different people than most people are. Also, my outlook on things is much wider than average. For example, I can’t understand how some people can only be interested in what’s going on in their city, country or region and be completely ignorant about pretty much everything on their other side of their borders.

"Was it something I said?"

6) Have you ever volunteered during your travels? If so, what did you do? If not, will you ever?

I haven’t.  I must admit that I come from a culture that is much less volunteering oriented than the US can be. It comes from many factors, the main one being that in France, the State and governments are much more hands on with social issues than the US will ever be. In France, most of us think that dealing with social matters and issues are the first and most important duty for a government, before anything else, while it is my understanding that in the US, many people think governments shouldn’t be involved at all with them, hence the need of volunteering.  That being said, I don’t exclude volunteering some day. What would I do? I have no idea. I guess it will depend on the opportunities.

7) What is the best piece of advice that you can give our readers?

Don’t travel with a group!  Also, don’t limit your destinations to places you already know. Do you travel to discover new things, or do you travel to see the things you’ve seen time and again on pictures, TV, movies and such?  I’m going to take Paris as an example. I’m French, but I’m not a Parisian, Paris used to be as foreign to me as many parts of the world can be (yeah people, don’t forget that France is not Paris, no more than NYC is the US or Sydney is Australia), but I’ve just spent almost five years there.

One thing that baffled me over and over again were those thousands and thousands of tourists that would only visit the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Notre-Dame and the Louvre. And of course, in the Louvre, they only care about the Mona Lisa. We’re only talking about the biggest museum in the world after all, why bother going to unknown sections of it. I’ll spare you the suspense, yes, the Mona Lisa is smaller than you imagined.

Then, most tourists who think they’re “off the beaten path” would go to St-Germain-des-Prés and those two tourist trap streets near Notre-Dame that they confuse with the Latin Quarter (believe me, those are not “off the beaten path”, not even St-Germain).  Basically, they want to see “for real” the things they already know and have seen many times everywhere before.

During their time in Paris, they simply ignore about 99% of the city.  Sad… Especially when you spend thousands of dollars for such a trip (maybe for them, seeing the Eiffel Tower for real is worth that price, not for me, and I’m not saying this because I’m French, same thing applies to the Statue of Liberty, the London Bridge (which I’ve never seen despite going to England several times).

So, my advice when you travel is: go to places you’ve never heard about. Pick a random destination on a map (or grab any opportunity that comes to you, don’t pass it because it’s not a famous place) and go visit that place.

My second advice is to buy and read a travel guidebook about your destination before going, but – more important – to leave it at home when you go. First, you don’t want to waste hours looking for that place mentioned in the book and miss all the interesting things along way in the meantime because you’re looking at the book instead of at the things around you. Second, have you ever read a travel guidebook about where you’re from? Do it and then tell me if you think the destinations mentioned in it (I’m talking restaurants, bars, stores, etc here) are the ones you usually go to? Me neither…

8 ) Since this is a budget travel blog, what is your best budget tip, bar none?

Mmmm…. Good question. I always travel on a budget, so I don’t really know what not travelling on a budget is like.  I’d say – and it’s almost a follow up from the previous question – avoid tourist places. Once you’re done with your sightseeing for the day, do not eat, go grab a drink or shop where the tourists do. I know, sometimes it’s hard to find the right place, and things will vary from country to country, but in countries where safety is not really an issue, just check the locals to tourists ratio in the place that you’re interested in, and if it’s mostly locals, give it a shot. You don’t understand the menu? Who cares? It’s part of the travel experience, isn’t it? Just order randomly what’s in your price range. You may even like. Or if you’re not that adventurous, ask for advice, I’m sure they’ll be happy to tell you about their favorite dish.

9) Where do you plan to travel this year?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I am going to travel this year. I travelled more than usual last year, and as I recently quit my job with a change of career in mind, I’m pretty sure that I won’t have the budget to do any sort of travelling this year. Although, I still hope to be able to go to Japan at least once (my wife being Japanese we try to go visit her family at least once a year).

"See, what had happened was......"

10) What are the three things that you could never do without during your travels?

Well, beyond the obvious (passport, money, etc) I’d say:

  • My camera. Although, sometimes I wish I could do without, at times I have the feeling that the time I spend taking pictures is time I don’t spend actually watching things around me.
  • Pen and paper to be able to write and take notes. I’m not a big note taker in everyday life (I tend rely a lot on my memory, a bit too much maybe), but when I travel, I write down everything, I keep a journal everyday, etc, etc. In other words, my memory is not enough to record all of those new things.
  • Books. Travelling involves long periods of time in planes, trains, buses, ferries and I think I would go crazy if I didn’t have anything to read during all of those long idle hours when you can’t always watch the landscape unfold in front of you.

Thanks, David for your valuable insight as a lifelong traveler!

Please contact him at:

Travel blog:



City Views, North America, Travel Advice


April 7, 2011 • By

Taking a break from the unmerciful sun, inside a thatched hut

During my first cruise to the Caribbean, we stopped in several ports, Cozumel, Mexico being one of them.  Our tour guide/driver took us to the celebrated Mayan Ruins in San Gervasio, the largest of the 30 Mayan ruins in Cozumel.  It was nice to get a taste of history and learn how advanced that civilization was as far back as 2,000 years ago.  It felt good walking along the paths of such great people who contributed so much to the sciences that we benefit from to this day.

North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

Helen, Georgia – Bavaria on the Appalachian Trail

April 6, 2011 • By

As long as I’ve lived in Georgia, I’ve been told that I needed to make sure that I visited Helen.  Helen who? I asked, facetiously.  Helen, Georgia was their quick retort.  Well, Es tut mir leid (I’m sorry, in German.  If I’m wrong, I’m sure my friend Laurel from My Expat Germany will correct me)!  I had never heard of the place.  Over time, try as I might, the idea seemed more and more appealing to me.

So I decided to take the plunge two weeks ago to see what all the fuss was about.  As it turns out, Helen is a small and lovely town located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 100 miles north of Atlanta.  It is located near the beginning or end (depending on your point of view) of the Appalachian Trail and is the site of the country’s first Gold rush in the 1820’s.  Helen is a replica of a quaint German Bavarian village and I think the only way to improve upon its enchanting facade would be to visit when the weather’s a bit warmer.

A lovely view walking down Main Street

The Castle Inn had a very foreboding air to it, it was slightly intimidating.

If we had stayed in-town...I believe this would have been our pick

On our way to the Glassblowing shop on Main Street

It was as if we were walking through one of Hans Christian Andersen's storybooks

Why does this building remind me of Gagamel and the Smurfs?

Poor horse, I'm sure his union rep is going to hear a mouth full.....

Still there was something exceptional about our time there.  It was cold and rainy which suited me fine since we’d decided to rent the Two Bear Loft cabin and planned to get full use out of the cozy fireplace.  Situated at the crest of Tray Mountain, the vistas were superb as we could see 30 to 40 miles into the distance.  It was a glorious sight to be surrounded by the night sky with the stars twinkling brightly in such close proximity to us.

On a clear day, you can see forever.....

Our cozy, old world digs high on top of the mountain

Our first order of business was drive to the center of town and check out the different shops and restaurants.  We wanted to try genuine Bavarian meals which we did at Cafe International.  I ordered bratwurst, sauerkraut, German potato salad and rye bread.  My daughter, Cari ordered a Reuben sandwich with chips.  The meals were reasonably priced at 9 bucks each.

Cafe International's situated right next to the Chattahoochee River

Bratwurst...very nice to experience genuine German fare!

Cari officially declared this as the best Reuben she's ever had!

I was most excited about our visit to Anna Ruby Falls which is located in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  I’ve always loved waterfalls probably b/c it’s a metaphor for unbridled freedom that can’t be caged or stifled.  It blends so perfectly with nature as it courses over moss-laden boulders through a frenetic pathway into a larger pool .  The falls are fed via two separate bodies of water: Curtis and York Creeks.  Curtis Creek drops 153 feet and York Creek 50 feet to form the twin waterfalls which eventually end at the Gulf of Mexico.  Ferns, trillium and violets were awakening from their winter slumber as they witnessed the aqueous dance.  Call me sentimental, but I loved it!

How can this not stir the most embittered soul?

Carisa enjoying the breeze coming from the waterfalls

Watching the waves wash over the ancient stones

As I was doing my research for this trip, I found out something very interesting.  My public library allows you to check out parking passes to Georgia State Parks.  This annual pass costs $50.00, but you can have it for a week for free!  Additionally, you may check out their annual family pass which gives you free entrance into any Georgia State Park.  One caveat, we found out that Anna Ruby Falls is a federal park run by the US Park Service, so we couldn’t use the admission pass.  The entry fee was only $2.00 per person, so no big deal.

Libraries! What would we do without 'em?

Oh, Library who giveth so much, yet asketh for so little.....

One of the most down home and novel things that you can experience in a small town is the General Store.  It’s a mix of purity, utility and frugality.  We visited Fred’s Famous Peanuts, a General Store (with an actual paddle-wheel attached) which is located on Hwy 356 right past Anna Ruby Falls.  The rustic store sold pure honey (with or without the honeycomb), peach and apple cider, boiled peanuts, pecan pralines, peanut brittle and frozen lemonade.  The owner had a great sense of humor and seemed to really enjoy his work.  I decided to take home large jars of honey and peach cider and of course, the southern delicacy, pralines!  One bite of those will give you a bird’s eye view into heaven.  YUM!

I am not opening my mouth, k?

This is crazy good!

Yeah, we'll take the largest you've got!

As I alluded to in a previous post, the north Georgia Mountains is considered wine country and boasts three wineries in Dahlonega, a town located 10 miles from Helen.  One of these wineries has a second location in Helen: Habersham Wineries.  We decided to go for a taste test because we weren’t totally sold on the idea that our home state could compete with the big boys.  You are permitted to taste test four different wines.  I ended up purchasing two of them!  I was pleasantly surprised that the wines were so crisp, light and flavorful but had a kick to it.  I bought white muscadine and scarlet red at $12.00 each.  I’m not that much of a drinker so I can’t tell you if that’s a good deal or not, but it seemed fair to me.

Sadly, this is the local AA group ....

I couldn't support that, so I left......just kidding!

Though we’d experienced a particular challenge which I will explore in-depth in my next report, I still think that Helen is definitely a must see if you happen to live in or are visiting Georgia.  It’s unique simply because of where it’s located, so you’re certain to get a kick out of it.

Inspiration, Interviews

The Inspired Traveler # 6 – Janice Robinson

April 1, 2011 • By

Today, we continue our series where we sit down to interview fellow Travel Bloggers and (hopefully) get them to give up some of their best travel tips for you, dear reader.  Next up, Janice Robinson of SkyChi Travels opines about traveling the friendly skies as a flight attendant.

Janice (Skychi) )at GGT Georgetown Airport, Bahamas

1)      What is it about traveling that makes you smile?

I smile all the time when I am on a plane. I love the sensation of flying. I enjoy looking at the clouds and creating wonderful experiences. Flying is inspirational for me. I dream when I fly.

The clouds to me are the “thinking stuff”.

“By thought, the thing you want is brought to you. By action, you receive it” – Wallace D Wattles

2)      What is your favorite place in the world?

I would have to say that is Istanbul, Turkey is my favorite place in the world. The people are so gracious. My experience living there for two years left me with a feeling of being accepted and appreciated by the Turkish people.

3)      What place would have to pay you to come back and even then you’d have to think about it?

I have yet to visit a place that I did find something that I like about it.

4)      What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given about traveling?

A French Professor got me tons of advice to prepare for living in Paris, France. She described the transition of the senses to different sounds. A sensory overload can cause headaches. Traveling to a new place immerses your senses.

5)      How has traveling changed you as a person?

Living in other countries has completely transformed me into a world citizen with an appreciation for being different. I love the variety and diversity of like. Sameness is boring to me. I feel a sense of freedom when I travel. I can express my self without the restraints of race and color when I leave the U.S. I know that I am gold.

6)      Have you ever volunteered during your travels?   If so, what did you do?  If not, will you ever?

No, I have not volunteered with an organization. However, I have always met people that needed help. For example, while living in Istanbul, Turkey I met a refugee family that I assisted in finding food, money, and clothes. Istanbul is a cross-roads for refugees around the world.

I have had a desire to volunteer in Haiti. I would love to fulfill that desire.

Parc Monceau, Paris, France

7)      What is the best piece of advice that you can give our readers?

Focus on the dream of traveling, the rest will follow. The people and resources for the journey will appear. Dream with Passion for travel experiences. Create a travel vision board. Cut out pictures of places you want to visit. Paste them to a poster board. Read travel books, articles, and magazines about the places you desire to visit.

8 )      Since this is a budget travel blog, what is your best budget tip, bar none?

Traveling on a budget for me includes taking locals buses and trains. I try to avoid taxis if possible. I don’t enjoy being overcharged by taxi drivers who take me on scenic routes. I prefer to save money with public transportation when available.

9)      Where do you plan to travel this year?

I will be traveling to Cancun, Mexico next month for 5 days. I qualified for this trip through Nature’s Sunshine. I am looking forward to staying the Sun Moon Palace for 5 days all expenses-paid.

10)     What are the three things that you could never do without during your travels?

Three things that I must have are my passport, macbook computer, and my camera. My passport is gold. It open the door to a wonder of new possibilities. My macbook computer is my tool for blogging , logging photos, and creating videos. My camera captures the essence of my travel experiences.

Thanks, Janice for sharing your unique point of view about traveling!

Please contact her at:

Travel blog:



City Views, North America, Travel Advice


March 31, 2011 • By

Start spreading the news……

Today’s photo in Nancie at Budgettravelerssandbox’s Travel Photo Thursday is a scene from the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.  It was taken in June 2010 during the “Top of the Rock” tour, which I highly recommend.  It is a photographer’s dream to get such a breathtaking view of the city’s skyline.  As you can see its pretty well populated; so much so that they only way to for the city to grow is vertically.  It was pretty windy which didn’t bode well for videotaping, but it was virtually impossible not to get a great shot.

Inspiration, Interviews

The Inspired Traveler # 5 – Jeremy Jones

March 25, 2011 • By

Today, we continue our series where we sit down to interview fellow Travel Bloggers and (hopefully) get them to give up some of their best travel tips for you, dear reader.  Next up, Jeremy Jones with Living The Dream RTW shares his views about traveling around the world.

I give it two snaps up in a rock formation...Petra Jordan

1)      What is it about traveling that makes you smile?

Traveling is great because it is something new.  Whether it is exploring a new city, beach, or mountain it is always refreshing to take in something new and wonderful that this world has to offer.

2)      What is your favorite place in the world?

Ouch, tough question.  I spent 6 weeks in Thailand and could easily go back right now for another 6, so I guess I’d say that Thailand is my favorite thus far.  Apart from the beaches, Chiang Mai is just a wonderful city in its own right and I absolutely love it there.  If I had to go somewhere else, I’d say Switzerland because the mountains are absolutely stunning and my kind of summer weather – chilly but not cold.

3)      What place would have to pay you to come back and even then you’d have to think about it?

I can’t say there are many places that I disliked enough to never want to go back.  There are several that I have seen my share of and have no desire to see again, just from doing the items I wanted to see, but I think if I was offered money I’d go back to almost everywhere unless it was competing for some vacation time or something. This is especially true now that my fiancee is going to travel with me, and she hasn’t been anywhere.  So even if I have been somewhere and got my fill, I’ll still go for her to see it.

4)      What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given about traveling?

I think my biggest piece of advice I received is not so much physical as inspirational.  Anytime I hear someone say “The one regret I have in life was not traveling when I was younger” I get the urge to buy another plane ticket right now.  I’ve been to 34 countries already, but I don’t want to end up saying that!

The hills are alive.......Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

5)      How has traveling changed you as a person?

I’ve definitely become more straightforward and extroverted.  If you would ask anyone in high school or college about me and I would be the quiet one who never really spoke up.  But after having to fend for myself for 5 months on the road, especially in China, I really broke out of my shell out of necessity.  Introducing yourself to new people every day on the road really helps networking skills and confidence!

6)      Have you ever volunteered during your travels?   If so, what did you do?  If not, will you ever?

I would love to volunteer while I travel, but for some reason never got the opportunity to do so yet.  I’m really unsure on how to go about getting started with such a thing, and what time commitments I’d be needing to give.  When we go on our next open ended adventure I think it’d be really great to do some volunteer work if we can find anything of interest.

7)      What is the best piece of advice that you can give our readers?

Traveling on a budget does not mean going cheap.  Make a budget, figure out what you can afford, and do it.  Going for 3 months doing it the way you want to is a much more enjoyable experience than going 6 and living like a bum half the time.  If you require AC, pay extra.  If you like to book in advance, do it.  Don’t let others tell you how to plan your trip in ways you are not comfortable in exchange for a perceived freedom or longer travel.  The key is to just get out there, regardless of how you do it.

8 )      Since this is a budget travel blog, what is your best budget tip, bar none?

Hub cities, easily.  Flying is the most expensive aspect of travel, and breaking up trips via Hub cities can save hundreds of dollars.   The trick is simple, airlines code-share flights with others to get you to where you need to go.  But lumping the ticket into one package becomes more expensive.  If you have time, book a round trip ticket to a hub city, and budget flights to the place you need to go.  Might get a full day trip to a city out of it, and save several hundred dollars in the process.

For example, I flew from Dayton, Ohio to Cairo, Egypt and return from Amman, Jordan with layovers.  The cheapest all inclusive flight was around $1500, with one of the layovers being in Athens.  Looking at a round trip ticket from Dayton, Ohio to Athens, returning from Amman, had a price of $1100.  Then, a ticket from Athens, Greece to Cairo was $90 on a budget carrier (and that was an expensive seat).  I had to get my bags in Athens and re-check in, but I had a 12 hour layover, got to explore the city, and saved over $300 by the trick.   More sites and less money?  Why not?!

If only I had gnome you’d be here…..Koh Tao, Thailand

9)      Where do you plan to travel this year?

I cut my gap year short to come home and get married to my long time girlfriend, so we don’t have plans for travel just yet since I am looking for a job and saving for a gap year trip in 2013.  Right now we are thinking road trips to NYC and a weekend in Vegas to celebrate a job offer (if I ever get one).  Next year we’re going to Norway for our honeymoon as of now.

10)     What are the three things that you could never do without during your travels?

My SLR camera is my baby.  I am horribly addicted to the internet, so that would be my number 2.  The third is my fiancee, of course.  I spent 4.5 months without her on my last journey, and will never go away for more than a few weeks without her again.

Thanks for proving that budget travel doesn’t mean denying yourself phenomenal experiences, Jeremy!

Please contact him at:

Travel blog: Living The Dream

Twitter: @livingdreamrtw