City Views, Europe, Travel Advice


May 5, 2011 • By

During our trip to Paris in 2003, we decided to take a daytrip to Tours, France where we were scheduled to meet at the (get this) Office of Tourism to meet the tour group (I’ve got a million of ‘em) for our tour (told ya!) of the Chateaus and Castles of the Loire Valley.  One of the major tenets that I ascribe to is “If you’re going to travel in a metal contraption with recirculated, stale air for over 8 hours, make it count!”  Therefore, we try to include daytrips in our travels as a way of stretching our dollar as far as it will go.

I was most impressed with the Chateau de Chenonceau mostly because it was impressively expansive and gracefully sat just over the River Cher.  This incredible checkered ballroom floor is situated right above the river.   This photo’s viewpoint makes the floor look interminable, as if it has no end, that it is indeed the pathway to history.  If you allow yourself to let your imagination soar, you can see a 3 dimensional time portal open as you get halfway down the hall.  On the other side, you will find yourself in the middle of an exquisite ball that’s being held there with ladies in all of their finery being escorted by gentlemen of stature and means.

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

Interviews, Travel Advice

The Inspired Traveler – # 11 – Michael Schuermann

April 29, 2011 • By
[box type=”info”] 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, we get to bend the ears of Michael Schuermann, who runs The Easy Hiker website.[/box]

Mike taking a hike in Sedona

1)      What is it about traveling that makes you smile?
(More a wry smile.) When I see people do something they quite clearly do not enjoy, like pulling their bored and tired kids through an art gallery, out of a sense of “holiday duty”

2)      What is your favorite place in the world?
New York as a city, Northern Arizona in terms of the landscape, but if you ask for my favorite travel destination, I generally prefer places where I have not yet been.

3)      What place would have to pay you to come back and even then you’d have to think about it?
The Philippines – not because I did not love the country (I spent more than two years of my life there) but because they have blacklisted me and would probably throw me in the slammer if I ever tried to get back in. (It’s a long story.)

The neon lights of Broadway in NYC

4)      What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given about traveling?
It is not worth travelling half way around the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.

5)      How has traveling changed you as a person?
I don’t think it has, neither do I think travelling should be approached that way. Let’s not expect too much from a two-week holiday, shall we? Foreign countries will only ever change you when you cease to see everything through the eyes of a visitor.

6)      Have you ever volunteered during your travels?  If so, what did you do?  If not, will you ever?
No and probably not.

7)      What is the best piece of advice that you can give our readers?
Come home in one piece. It’s the first rule of travelling – and the only advice I ever give to our son when he sets out on his own.

Enjoying the view in Sedona, Arizona

8 )      Since this is a budget travel blog, what is your best budget tip, bar none?
Whenever feasible, avoid hotels and rent a short-term holiday flat instead. That way, you can save a lot on your meals, particularly breakfasts. Hotel breakfasts are rarely good value. Better to save your money for one nice dinner than to spend it on three or four overpriced breakfasts.

9)      Where do you plan to travel this year?
Hiking in the Black Forest, possibly in the Pyrenees. New England in the fall.

10)     What are the three things that you could never do without during your travels?
A companion with whom I can share and exchange observations, a camera (ever since I started blogging), and my Gitanes (can’t get them in some places, least of all in the US).

Michael Schuermann

About our Traveler

Michael Schuermann aka Easy Hiker is also the author of guide book Paris Movie Walks – 10 Guided Walking Tours in the City of Lights! Camera! Actions! He obviously loves walking! Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

City Views, North America, Travel Advice


April 28, 2011 • By

Sunset Boulevard, A Place in the Sun, The Greatest Show on Earth, Rear Window, The Ten Commandments, Breakfast at Tiffany’s…..the list goes on and on.  All were filmed at this historic studio that was founded in 1912 by Adolph Zukor.  From its humble beginnings before the depression until today, Paramount Pictures has been a force to be reckoned with when it comes to telling magnificently crafted stories.  On a personal note, I think their best work was during Hollywood’s Golden age from the 1930s to the 1960s.

It was a time when stars truly earned the moniker, not as a result of their well publicized misdeeds, but their actual talent on-screen.  People didn’t become celebrities because someone liked their sex tape (ok, maybe they did like the on-screen talent) or because they taped a reality show.  Maybe today’s Hollywood could take a lesson or two from the past?  Sure, there are bona-fide stars today, but it’s difficult for some to even find a job.

How many Oscar winners do you know who do not fade into the woodwork after they win?  These days, they have to compete with singers, reality stars, people who’ve dated stars, people who looked up at the sky and saw a star, etc.    Maybe one of these days, we will get back the Hollywood of old.  At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

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


Following your heart doesn’t mean leaving your brain behind

April 25, 2011 • By


This isn’t one of my typical travel articles/posts, but I was inspired to write this after hearing someone on a local radio show. It got me to thinking about how many of us settle for less than we deserve and I wanted to put forth the idea that we are worth more than we give ourselves credit for. I welcome your ideas regarding this topic too.


It sounds like a romantic and clichéd notion, everyone says it but the true meaning of it is lost on them.  I was listening to the radio today and there was a contest of sorts to see which couple had gone the longest without ever having uttered the words, “I love you”.  The “winner” was a woman who had been married to a man for thirty years and he’d never told her or their children that he loved them nor showed them any true affection.  She attributed it to his military training; real men don’t lay their true feelings on the line.READ MORE

North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

A Girlfriends’ Getaway to St. Simons Island, Georgia

April 24, 2011 • By
Guest Post

Today’s post is from a new travel writer, Patricia King (no relation), who recently had the pleasure of visiting the Georgia coastal island, St. Simons with her best friend, Joann. Pat adores traveling in style, but refuses to pay top dollar. Here she gives her review of her visit to one of the island resorts, King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort. Enjoy!


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.READ MORE

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.READ MORE

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.