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!

The historic King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort is the only luxury hotel on beautiful and charming St. Simons Island, GA, located 60 miles north of Jacksonville, FL; 65 miles south Savannah, GA. It is situated at the southeast end of St. Simons Island, where the island’s best beaches are. Now in its 76th year, the King and Prince is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and a member of Historic Hotels of America. On arrival, we were greeted at a hotel reception desk and shown to our room. The room was spacious and very well furnished with a comfortable sofa, coffee table, a work desk with two chairs, a big flat-screen TV, a DVD player, a room safe and a bed, of course. The bathroom was average in size and the toiletries provided were beautifully presented in environmentally friendly packaging. There was also a small balcony with two chairs and a table. This was very comfortable both for snacking and for being able to use our computers outside. The resort offers complimentary Wi-Fi throughout so this was very handy, as it enabled both of us to go online at the same time.

For those who don’t take their own computers everywhere with them, the resort also provides a business center where guests can go online using the resort’s computers, which are equipped with printers in case you need to print anything out. During the check-in process we were given an attractive map of the resort to help us get oriented. As well as the guest accommodation, there are several public areas for guests to eat, drink, and play, or just sit quietly enjoying the superb views of the white sandy beach facing the Atlantic Ocean. There is an array of guest accommodations (including seasonal and special discounts) for every style and budget:

  • Resort Guest Rooms: Located in the historic buildings with oceanfront, partial ocean view or resort views, the resort’s most economically-priced guest rooms offer one king or two queen beds, yet offer the luxurious décor.
  • Beach Villas and Guesthouses: These two- and three-bedroom villas offer a patio or balcony with either an ocean front or partial ocean view, combining living and dining room and a fully equipped kitchen with place settings for eight. Both the North and South Villas include their own pools and separate gated parking areas.
  • Resort Residences: The King and Prince presents these seven gracious Guest Homes, each with its own highly unique ambiance and features.

Best Value Tips:

  • Check for specials. The King and Prince Vacation Specials page of the website offers specials for every season.
  • Pick your season. Color-coded dates show the resort’s deals and stay requirements.
  • Call the resort directly. Reservation agents can be more flexible with reservations or tell you about specials that may not be online.
  • Several rooms have microwaves and mini-refrigerators. Save on some meals and splurge on the daily breakfast, Sunday brunch or Friday night seafood buffets.
Delegal-Dining-RoomThe very elegant Delegal Dining Room

The historic Delegal Dining Room, famed for its stunning stained glass window murals and ocean vistas, hosts the resort’s “Southern Charm Sunday Brunch” as well as the Legendary Friday Night Seafood Buffet and other holiday buffets.

The other restaurants

  • The Atrium Café Opens daily at 6:30 a.m., featuring Freshly Brewed Starbucks Premium Coffees, Tazo Teas, fresh fruit, pastries, juices and energy drinks. Allow our baristas to assist you in your wake up process each morning.
  • The King’s Tavern is open daily for lunch and dinner and offers the only ocean front dining on St. Simons Island. Offering a delicious selection of fresh local delights, dine ocean side choosing from chef inspired soups, salads and sandwiches or try the signature Low Country Shrimp & Grits,
  • Paradise Beach Bar and Grill Open daily at 11:00 a.m. March through October weather permitting. This is where island time truly begins and where food and fun become one. This is ocean front dining at its best. Enjoy an ultra-casual lunch with a wide variety of choices, as well as their signature cocktails like the King & Prince Lifesaver or the Confusion in Paradise..

The Royal Treatment

For those who like being pampered there is the award-winning Royal Treatment Cottage, which offers a wide variety of treatments. Most of the treatments are derived from traditional Eastern traditions dating back thousands of years and given a contemporary take. You can choose from the custom cottage, Swedish, therapeutic or sports-specific treatment, as well as reflexology and aromatherapy.
The setting is an historic beach cottage on the resort grounds just steps from the sands and sea breezes of the Atlantic. Here an intimate seaside retreat has been created where the utmost attention is given to experiences that soothe and treatments that rejuvenate.

The front porch with its comfy chaises invites you into the calming atmosphere inside where the casual warmth and refreshing decor of a quaint beach cottage are right at home with its indulgent and therapeutic elements. A fireside relaxation lounge, changing cabanas and quiet treatment rooms all ensure a tranquil experience. And while at The Royal Treatment Cottage for their treatments, guests enjoy the use of robes, sandals and totes for personal belongings. Complimentary bottled water is provided with juices and teas available.

As you can see, the resort has everything for those seeking tranquility, however, it’s worth a mention that the resort does not only cater to vacationers. You can also do business in this amazing environment. There are more than 10, 000 sq. ft. of ocean front meeting, conference and function space, with premier catering, wedding, and special event services. The Sydney Lanier Ballroom can accommodate 70 to 350 people and offers teleconferencing, as well as state-of-the-art audio and video facilities. Finally, the staff was truly excellent. They did everything they could to ensure the comfort of their guests, and I really couldn’t praise them highly enough.

I had spent four days at the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort in St. Simons Island, GA, fine dining at a fantastic hotel restaurants, touring the island and making new friends with the local residents I met in the village. My nights were spent in the newly renovated room cushioned in a king-sized bed in the resort’s Oceanfront Building featuring dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows and a balcony overlooking the resort’s pools and the Atlantic Ocean. On this last day I sat alone on the steps leading to the beach on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. In the pre-dawn darkness, a cup of coffee in hand, I anxiously waited to greet the day. The clear, starry sky had whispers of clouds. The air was absolutely silent, but filled with the salty smell of the sea.

The deep purple night gradually gave way to shades of red. Day was at last dawning. As the sun rose, the first sight was the arc of yellow shimmered on the ocean like an impressionist’s painting. Sea birds and people seemed to show up at the same time. I caught sight of baby dolphins coming up for air as they made their way out to sea with the ebbing tides. Flocks of geese made their way north in their famous v-formations. It was the perfect end to a perfect vacation. All in all, if you’re planning a luxury holiday in the Georgia Sea Islands at an economical price, I suggest you look a bit further than the usual well-known haunts and give St. Simons a try. And if you do decide to visit St. Simons, then where better to stay than the King and Prince Resort?

In a Nutshell:
The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort
201 Arnold Road
St. Simons Island, Georgia, 31522
Reservations: (800)-342-0212
Direct: (912) 638-3631

Pat King

About the Author

“Patricia King is a travel writer based in Indianapolis, IN. A former reporter for several newspapers and wire services, Pat has a love of luxury travel and a penchant for stretching a travel dollar.”

Inspiration, Interviews

The Inspired Traveler # 9 – Bryan and Laurie

April 22, 2011 • By

Our next gracious guest in our Inspired Traveler series is a husband/wife team who run a blog dedicated to promoting the fiscally sound way of traveling, Budget Your Trip.

Bryan and Laurie in Tetouan, Morocco

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

The thing that makes me smile the most is when I meet someone authentic and proud of their home country. Sometimes these people don’t have very much, and unfortunately live close to poverty, but they are still happy, welcoming, and friendly. These are the great people of the world and the reason why I keep traveling.

2)  What is your favorite place in the world?

That’s a tough question to answer, because I have a lot of favorite places. Cambodia was amazing and beautiful, with beaches, jungles, ancient ruins, and smiling children. Syria is another country at the top of my favorites list because of the friendly and welcoming culture, great food, amazing history, and vibrant cities. Ethiopia is another country that is often overlooked, but a true gem. Finally, Istanbul is probably the most amazing city in the world, and I always recommend it to everyone.

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

A town in Bulgaria known as Plovdiv. The historical sites did not live up to the hype and the town itself was lacking of interest. Also, we nearly starved to death because all of the restaurants were actually bars that didn’t want to serve us food. We were forced to eat at McDonalds – the ultimate traveler’s shame!

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

The best advice to to not have a set plan, but to be flexible. You never know when good opportunities will arise. Also, keep your towel dry at all times.

Laurie at the Berlin train station

5)   How has traveling changed you as a person?

My wife and I have discussed this a great deal. I think traveling humbles you, and makes you realize that you are not God’s gift to everyone around you. It also helps you understand other people’s situations, so you’re less inclined to be racist or elitist. Traveling also helps you understand your own limits and capabilities. Traveling independently for long periods of time gave us the confidence to start our own business and take control of our own lives.

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

Not directly, but we run a non-profit that promotes social change and humanitarian causes through photography (Collective Lens). We’ve visited multiple organizations that need help to raise awareness for their cause. I would love to volunteer on a trip one day, I just haven’t gotten around to it, really.

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

They say that you only regret the things that you don’t attempt. So, go for it! Dive in to your next big challenge, and don’t sit around and wait for it to come to you. This relates not just to traveling, but everything in life.

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

Our best budget tip would be to lower your standards and test your limits. Try to stay at the crummiest hotel possible and eat the cheapest food, just to see how you handle it. If you can’t, that’s fine (it means you’re normal), but you’ll soon learn how low you can go. Once you find that perfect mix of cheapness and comfort, you’ll never waste your money on huge hotel chains again, and you’ll travel farther and longer.

9)   Where do you plan to travel this year?

Our next big trip will be to Mongolia and China. We’ve been to many other countries in Asia and love it, but we’ve never been to Mongolia. I’ve always been fascinated with their nomadic lifestyle. We visited southern China on a previous trip, but it’s a big country and we always vowed to return one day.

Bryan in the Sahara in eastern Mali

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

I could never do without my camera. I become obsessed with photography while traveling. (I try not to let it take over the experience, though.) I also find that a good pocket knife comes in handy when you really need some food but options are limited. It peels fruit from the market and opens cans, too. Finally, shoes are very important. A good pair of hiking shoes and some cheap but waterproof sandals are very important.

Thank you Bryan and Laurie, for speaking with us!  You are a couple who definitely speaks my language when it comes to your travel philosophy and the obvious joy that it brings to both of you.

Please follow them at:

Blog:  Budget Your Trip


Facebook:  Budget Your Trip

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!

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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.