Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes and General Mental Mayhem


Leave a comment

Scotland: Itinerary and Highlights

Edinburgh Castle in the background (inspired Hogwarts)

Raechel and I with Edinburgh Castle in the background…the inspiration for Hogwarts!

Scotland was the second stop on mine and Raechel’s England, Scotland, and Ireland tour. And it was an utter surprise and delight!

This beautiful country made the cut on our vacation itinerary mainly because our ancestors come from there (see the bonus section below), and also, why not? We were too close not to go! But unlike England and Ireland, we didn’t really have a lot of expectations or items on our To Do List.

After a bit of research, we figured out a few things to see and do, but mostly, it was a bit of a breather between two, much busier stops. However, we both absolutely fell in love with Scotland!

It was gorgeous, and the people were incredibly friendly. I think either of us would go back in a heartbeat!

Why? Keep reading!

 

ITINERARY:

DAY 1:

  • Both of us really wanted to take the train at some point on our trip since that’s not something we really get to do in the U.S., so this was the perfect opportunity. We made the trek from King’s Cross in London to Edinburgh’s Waverly train station in just four hours. And it was so much nicer and more comfortable than going by plane. So glad we were able to do that, and we recommend it.
  • We next checked into our hotel, which was by the cruise port, and went to the nearby Ocean Terminal for lunch. Italian isn’t something I choose often, just because I’m rarely in the mood, but that places was very yummy. And I was able to get a Caprese salad, which was wonderful just because vegetables and lighter fare hadn’t been a big part of the trip so far.
  • One of the main things on our list was Invisible Edinburgh, a social enterprise that employs homeless individuals as walking tour guides. (Brilliant, right?!?!) We were hoping we could join a tour later that day, so we headed to the Grassmarket District to poke around, grab some tea, and hopefully book tour tickets since that was their meeting spot.
  • Scotland is known for it’s cold winds, and well, I’ve told you about our luck with the weather so far… So, it was bitterly cold that afternoon, and we ducked into a nearby cafe for hot tea. We also tried to book the tickets, but found out that there weren’t any more tours that day. They kinda do them on-demand, and due to the recent weather, there wasn’t much interest.
  • Since the tour was out, we booked tickets for the day after next, and wandered around the streets for a bit. However, the sun was setting, which meant most of the businesses were closing. (Why do these major cities close everything so early!) But we managed to walk around for a bit in the wind, admiring the lovely architecture. And we knew the next day would be a long one, so we just picked up sandwiches and ate in our room.

DAY 2:

  • This day was one of the best on our entire trip due to our tour…which was 12 1/2 hours! I really wanted to see Loch Ness for the fun of it, and Raechel really wanted to take in the Highlands. So, we found a tour that let us do both, and it was awesome!
  • The difficult thing about this tour is that you’re sitting for the vast majority of the day because the trip is so long. And every stop was what our amazing tour guide, Andrew (who appropriately wore his kilt), called a “ninja stop.” We were told that the quicker we could take our bathroom breaks and photo opps, the more we’d get to stop and see So, most of us took on that challenge.
  • If it was cold in the city, it was far colder in the Highlands! Snow was still everywhere from the recent storm. But it was so wild and wonderful, and we loved all our little, ninja stops. Unfortunately, the photos just don’t do it justice. We were also able to stop and feed these deer in the wilderness, which ran up when they saw the white tourist buses approaching because it meant..apples! They’d come up and eat them right out of your hand. But, if you didn’t have food, they were not interested in you, ha!
  • We also made our way to a truck stop type place to grab snacks for the day. (There wasn’t an actual lunch stop, so we ate along the way in the bus.) This was one of the two places we looked for souvenirs during the day, but probably because it’s one of the tour bus stops, everything seemed priced high.
  • One of the reasons that made Andrew such a great guide is that he told a lot of fantastic stories. The tour guides on these excursions are certainly trained in history and lore, and you hear a lot of that on the different routes no matter where you are, but Andrew was highly skilled. And, when he wasn’t talking, he’d play Scottish music to set the scene.
  • By the time we arrived at Loch Ness, the skies had cleared up beautifully. It was still quite cold, but otherwise, a gorgeous day. And, boy, do those people feed the Loch Ness legend! You see toys and dolls and trinkets everywhere! Even the boats have sonar displays so you can see if there’s anything “below.” Sadly, we didn’t see Nessie, but it was a lot of fun anyway. The stories are great, and there is a lot of necessary intrigue to the waters because of their mineral saturation and density. We also tried “Highlands Hot Chocolate” on the boat, which is hot chocolate with whiskey.
  • It’s more of a straight shot home after Loch Ness as the sun is setting. This mostly meant a very, long late afternoon/early evening nap…for everyone.
  • We were starving by the time we arrived back in Edinburgh around 8:00 p.m., and therefore, just looking for a place nearby to eat. So, we popped into Ensign Ewart’s Pub—and were glad we did! First established in 1680, the place is very small, but adorable. We were lucky to find a table, and the food was awesome. We highly recommend the Scottish Venison Casserole. And the live music starts at 9:00 p.m. Oh, and it’s so small that there’s no stage. They just reserve a couple small tables near the bar for the musicians. It’s really traditional, and a great experience. A totally lovely way to end our fantastic day.
  • Day trip link – You’ll see lots of different Loch Ness and Highlands tours, but we both HIGHLY recommend this one. Our tour guide, Andrew, was phenomenal! (He was asked to give the tour for the Saudi royal family!) And we loved that this was a small group of people, not one of the huge buses. It is an extremely long day, and a long time sitting, but if these sites are on your list, this is the tour for you.

DAY 3:

  • This was our final, full day in Edinburgh, and our chance to really take in the city. Thankfully, we had a sunny day for exploring.
  • Edinburgh is not a huge city, so the hop on, hop off bus route only takes about an hour and a half. So, we did that first to see everything and get our bearings. (Read more about my thoughts on doing this here). Plus, it’s a great way to get an abbreviated history of the place.
  • Next, we toured Edinburgh Castle, the inspiration for Hogwarts. It’s right in the middle of the city, and overlooks EVERYTHING, which makes it great for photo taking on a clear day. It’s also quite large and, #nerdalert, reminded me a lot of Gondor from Lord of the Rings because it houses it’s own shops, restaurants, and chapel, not just the family’s living quarters. It’s very hilly, too, making it different in many ways from the other castles we saw on the trip. Since it was midday while we were there, we stopped in one of the on-site restaurants for a delightful lunch of tea, sandwiches, and scones. This only served to feed my obsession with Earl Grey tea and scones (try the lemon!).
  • Afterward, it was on to the Invisible Edinburgh tour, which was a blast. Biffy was our tour guide, and we chose her because she was leading “The Paths of Inspirational Women” tour. It’s likely the tour we would’ve chose from them anyway, but it made it more special since it was the day after International Women’s Day. The guides, as I mentioned, are all formerly homeless, so you hear their personal stories as well as the stories of Edinburgh on the walk. Included, was passing by the cafe where J.K. Rowling started writing the first Harry Potter book. Biffy’s boyfriend, Sonny, is also a guide, and joined us on the tour, so we were able to hear bits of his presentation as well. And one of the volunteer staffers came along, too, and we asked her questions about the organization and founding. They are doing incredible work, and we felt so privileged to join them for a few hours.
  • That night, we had dinner with one of Raechel’s friends from Atlanta who now lives there. It was really great to get her perspective on the city, the culture, and the country. She reinforced our love for these things, and definitely made us ready to return. Three days just wasn’t enough!
  • Hop On Hop Off Bus on Viator – Like most cities, there are a couple of options for this kind of thing. With our hotel’s location in Leith, this one wasn’t the best choice. We had to take the regular bus into the city center to catch it. But there was another tour company that stopped right outside our hotel, so that would’ve been better. Of course, we just had no idea until we arrived. So, this would be something you could probably wait on until you got to Edinburgh.

DAY 4:

  • Breakfast at the hotel, and then off to the airport for our Ireland adventure!
  • We hadn’t had time to do much shopping in Scotland up to this point, so most of this took place in the airport. Strangely, though, we found some good stuff, including our souvenirs and gifts. And did you know that shortbread originated in Scotland? You see the stuff EVERYWHERE, but we found a gourmet shop for it in the airport. I bought my mom lemon shortbread cookies for Mother’s Day, and the sweet clerk also gave me some clotted cream shortbread for myself. We were also told to try this stuff called “tablet” which is kind of a shortbread/candy hybrid. I brought some of that home, too, but wasn’t a fan. Too sweet!

You can check out all the trip photos here.

 

COUNTRY-SPECIFIC NOTES:

  • The Scottish people are VERY proud of their country and heritage. You see the Scottish flag, bagpipes, kilts, etc, everywhere you go. And many of them believe they should be their own rulers, rather than under the thumb of the English monarchy. Some of them are also quite happy to talk about that as well. 😉 There is a long, bitter, and bloody history there, and after you go on the tours and here the stories, you totally get it. The British Empire did a lot of mental, physical, and spiritual damage.
  • We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Waterfront, which was fine (and included breakfast!), but because Edinburgh has such limited public transportation options, we were a couple of miles north of the city in Leith. So, this meant we either take the bus, which sucks up much-needed time in the day, or a cab/Uber. So, we ended up paying much more for transportation here than anywhere else.
  • A number of things close early like restaurants and attractions, so double-check this stuff when planning.
  • As I mentioned in the last post, I got sick at the tail end of the England portion. If this happens to you, you’re in luck in Scotland! They had the best meds, which is a weird statement to make, I know. But they had this cold medicine that stopped up runny noses and made stuffed up noses run. I have no idea how this works, but it was miraculous. However, they also have the same limits on how much you can buy, like England, so I only walked away with two, small packs and had to restock in Ireland, which didn’t carry it.
  • You’ll find lots of little booklets with clan history everywhere, divided up by last name. I already had one from my aunt’s previous trip, but lots of the souvenir shops have them, if you’re looking for something like that to take home. You also, of course, see many types of plaids (tartans) for purchase that are associated with clans. It’s good to research this before you go, because there are a lot that look similar.
  • I was also delighted to see a poster in the airport for anti-trafficking. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and my foray into social justice. Edinburgh and Scotland seemed to be very focused on social justice issues from things we saw around the city and heard about.
  • In taking the Invisible Edinburgh tour, we discovered that there was a retail store they also operated. Unfortunately, it was closed by the time we finished the tour. Otherwise, we would’ve eagerly looked for our souvenirs there. We also didn’t make it to Social Bite, a social enterprise cafe, or HOME, their upscale restaurant. They are affiliated with Invisible Edinburgh and Biffy and Sonny also work there. Famous patrons include William and Kate, Leo di Caprio, and George Clooney. (Sonny said they were all nice, lovely people!) But I really wish we’d had the chance to support these places as well.
  • Even though we were in Edinburgh most of the time, we did use cash now and again, so it’s good to have some handy.
  • Edinburgh had the most efficient airport I’ve ever seen, and also the nicest employees. It may seem weird to make note of this, but it really impressed us. That’s just how different it was from other airports!
  • Fun fact: Scotland boasts the highest percentage of redheads in the world at 13%.

 

GENERAL TRIP NOTES AND ADVICE:

  • It took me a long time to find this site (like a year and a half), but we booked our trip through TripMasters. This lovely site allows you to choose exactly how many nights you’d like in each country (worldwide), in what order, and your mode of transportation as well. It also gives you the opportunity to bundle your hotel and activities. You can go with the cheapest hotels or even upgrade to nicer ones. We got a great deal, and I definitely recommend using this site if you don’t want to book everything separately.
  • These Clarks Cloudsteppers were my saving grace on this trip! I wore them most of the two weeks, and they made all the walking so much easier. I did end up with a couple of blisters, but they weren’t bad, and didn’t hurt while wearing these babies.
  • I love using Viator for trip activities and excursions. The app also allows you to keep vouchers there rather than printing them.
  • It depends how you like to travel, but we both liked being active and on the go. So, most lunches were just snacks we picked up or packed. Then we’d stop for nicer dinners.
  • As you can already tell from this post, Raechel and I are planners. So, we had a Google Sheet set up with what were doing each day and time, along with links and reservation numbers, track expenses, etc. This helped us maximize our time really well, and was awesome since we were planning a lot over email and phone while living in different cities.
  • Raechel had international data through her work phone, which served us VERY well. Otherwise, we were going to use AT&T’s international day pass, and just trade off days to split the costs.
  • Unfortunately for me, most places didn’t take AMEX (which was all I carried), so Raechel paid for a lot of the little stuff like meals, and I bought the big, online things like tours with my card to balance us out.
  • When we weren’t using the hop on, hop off bus or Underground (which was the vast majority of the time because Raechel is awesome at navigation), we used Uber. I would’ve definitely preferred Lyft, but it’s not in other countries yet. You can, of course, take the adorable taxis but I just love the ease of ride share apps, payments, tips, and splitting fares. (Use my link for an introductory discount.)
  • I got a head cold at the end of the week, and wish I would’ve brought cold meds, aspirin, etc, with me. I found all those things there, of course, but most everything comes in packs of 16 tablets, and you can only get two packs at a time…so, I made multiple trips in all three countries.

 

MY TRAVEL NECESSITIES:

  • We tried out these foot hammocks for the international flights. They may seem and look silly, and let’s face it, they are, but they made sleeping on the intercontinental flights a bit easier. We also had Delta Comfort seats, so we had more leg room. I was too tall to use them in the cheap seats, since my knees almost hit the seat in front of me, but Raechel is shorter, and used them in both spots successfully.
  • I travel with a number of doTerra essential oils, but for active trips, I especially recommend the Deep Blue Samples. These little gems are like Icy Hot, but better, and are fantastic at the end of the day on your feet or back.
  • I do not like hand sanitizer because it makes my hands feel sticky and gross. But I found these alcohol-free Babyganics wipes before my trip to India and now carry them with me everywhere. These make my hands feel clean and not sticky, and are great for travel and on the go—baby or not.
  • One of my friends who is a travel writer gave me this tip, and it’s a good one. Whether it’s blistering hot (hello, India!) or a beautiful day (hello, LA!), carrying electrolyte tabs or powder is a great idea to keep you replenished.
  • I don’t go anywhere without wrinkle release, because I hate ironing. And on international trips, I wasn’t sure what the iron situation would be anyway.
  • Love my Envirosax! I keep several in my purse at all times, but I also take them when traveling because they always come in handy. I even use the pouch they come in on trips for cords and things.
  • These Tide sink packets are great for short trip emergencies or long trips when you can’t access laundry facilities or don’t want to pay for them.
  • This silicone flat iron pouch is good for when you have limited counter space and need to rest a flat iron or curling iron on the floor or another surface.
  • We ended up buying a small bag of Epsom salt in England for our achy feet, but next time I’ll just take these travel packs.
  • For adapters and travel cords, I’ve had great luck with these options: this Belkin block is good for home and travel, this little Monster stays in my laptop bag at all times, and this Maxah universal plug has gone with me to five countries so far.
  • Sadly, my portable charger isn’t available any longer, but I prefer one like this that can charge different kinds of devices at once.
  • I do a cleanse about three times per year or so, but especially after extensive travel or when food quality has been bad (hear: fried carbs). This is a good option for newbies and is more gentle on your system, but I’ve used many kinds by this brand.

 

BONUS:

Because our families are both originally from the UK and Ireland (way, way back), Raechel and I both asked for Ancestry DNA kits for Christmas so we could get our results before the trip. That made our time even more fun and interesting, and we were on the lookout for our family’s last names and traces every where we went.

For the record, I’m 44% British, 37% Ireland/Scotland/Wales, as well as a little of this and that. But, really, you could just look at me and figure that out. 😉

 

Previously: England

Next up: Ireland

 

Our guide, Andrew (He's fantastic!)

If Narnia and Middle Earth had a baby, it would be the Scottish Highlands. This is us with Andrew, our tour guide.

 

Please note: some links are affiliate links.

Advertisements


2 Comments

England: Itinerary and Highlights

img_e9386-e1525528901946.jpg

On the London Eye

During March, my friend Raechel and I checked a few things off our bucket list: England, Scotland, and Ireland. We spent two weeks trekking around those three, beautiful countries, and had a ball!

While we didn’t get to do everything, little thing we wanted to, we sure covered a lot of ground. In fact, we covered more than 200,000 steps! And because he locale was so action-packed, I wanted to break them down country-by-country for you over the next, few posts.

I hope this information will help you if you make the trip yourself sometime, and please let me know if you have any questions!

 

ITINERARY:

DAY 1:

  • I live in Atlanta and Raechel lives in Chicago, so we met up in NYC and flew out from there. Since our layover was about six hours, we used our Delta AMEX cards to hang out in the lounge for $30, a great deal and space to pass the time, especially because we could eat dinner in there as part of the price.
  • Our flight was overnight, and went by relatively well because we were in Delta Comfort seats. The bad part was that I slept through breakfast, and it took a long time to get through customs, so my blood sugar dropped and I felt terrible. So, we had to stop and eat in the airport rather than keep moving, and this cost us some time. But we tried the English Breakfast for the first time…and my last. Too much food, too much meat, too salty for me.
  • We used the London Pass for most of our activities since it’s such a good deal, and it even includes the Underground from the airport to city center. However, it didn’t include the express route, so it took over two hours to get to our hotel. Bummer. So, we didn’t get as much done on this day as we’d hoped. I’d pay for the Express train next time since it was more like 40 minutes, I think.
  • Our first night was spent at Harry Potter and The Cursed Child! Really fun show, and as big HP fans, we were delighted to be there. The only issue was that we were so tired, and it was incredibly hard to stay awake! Dinner was at a quick, nearby cafe, and we had our first (of many) pots of tea. I’m an Earl Grey addict now.
  • We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton London – Islington, and it was a decent location since it’s only a couple of minutes walk from Angel Station. Would’ve been nicer to stay by King’s Cross Station, since it’s like Grand Central and connects everywhere, but this was only one stop away from that, so it just cost us a few extra minutes each time to get to where we needed to be.

DAY 2:

  • Normally, I don’t eat or drink at chain restaurants when I travel, but we needed a good, but quick breakfast to start our day, so we went to Starbucks. Um, it was awesome! I wish they carried the same items here! We got this thick bread with dried fruit in it, and these eggs with grains, greens, and tomatoes. Just what we needed to fuel us for the day.
  • Since we had to connect via King’s Cross, we stopped by the Platform 9 3/4 store to peruse the wares, and grab some photos and post cards. (Note: The photo opp area is pretty packed most of the time, so we opted to get similar photos on the studio tour rather than the station.)
  • Sadly, we ended up with a lot of bad weather on the entire trip. When we booked the trip six weeks earlier, the normal average was low 50s. However, they got a big snow storm right before we landed, which was unusual for them. This meant we mostly saw snow flurries and 30s and 40s in England (and lower!). So, our day was mostly spent on the hop on, hop off bus looking at London through snow-covered windows. We hopped off and looked around the Trafalgar Square area for a few minutes, but the wind was howling and it was just too cold to stay outside.
  • After being on the bus all day, we grabbed a fantastic dinner at Cote Brasserie, which had been recommended by a friend. Everything was great, but the chocolate mousse was utterly exceptional!
  • That night we saw part two of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. Yep, it’s a two-part play. This is awesome because the story isn’t rushed, and we sat by the same, adorable Welsh couple on the second night as well. The bad news is, of course, it takes up two nights. (You can do consecutive day shows on Saturday.) They did a great job with the play, and it’s really fun to see all the fans get into it. There weren’t actually that many kids there! The pair from Wales were senior citizens, so it just goes to show that HP has fans of all kinds!

DAY 3:

  • We’re on day three of the London Pass at this point, and we began our morning at Shakespeare’s Globe, a replica of the original. I loved being able to see it in person, and the only reason we didn’t attend a performance there was that it’s an open air theatre…so, snow.
  • We went next door to the Swan for brunch, and it was beautiful and delicious. I wish we would’ve been around for the Midsummer’s Nights Tea (so cute!), but our meal was still lovely. It was also not breaded and/or fried, and even came with a side salad!
  • Afterward we took a stroll over the Millennium Bridge and made our way to the Parliament Building, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, Big Ben was undergoing renovations and I could only see the clock face. Westminster Abbey was also closed at the time, so we just milled around the exterior for a few minutes.
  • Next up was the London Eye. Again, not great weather for us, so there was a lot of that famous London fog. But it was still fun—and just had to be done! (Note: Definitely worth paying for the skip the line entry to save time! We walked right on rather than standing in line for an hour or so.)
  • On to Kensington Palace for a gander at living like a royal. It was interesting to see, and they even had Princess Diana’s gowns on exhibit. I enjoyed learning more about her through the clothes she wore, who and how she promoted designers, and how they played a role in her charity work. The gift shop/cafe is also pretty good, and I now regret not picking up a couple of things there that you can’t find anywhere else.
  • We headed back to West End for dinner at The Porcupine, which was really good. This was our first time eating fish and chips…and mushy peas, another staple. They were good, but nothing to write home about (other than this blog). However, the sticky toffee pudding was out of this world! It’s worth going just for this dish, and I’m still drooling at the memory of it. I got mine with a side of vanilla custard.
  • After dinner, I drug Raechel back to the theatre one more time for The Mousetrap, which was recommended by another friend. This show is a fun whodunit by Agatha Christie, and entering it’s 66th year, is the longest running show in the world! Plus, it’s probably the cheapest show in London at only $25. A great deal!

DAY 4:

  • We headed out of the city for the first time—to the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio! Yes, it’ll look more and more like our trip was sponsored by HP as we go, but sadly, it wasn’t. The studio is about an hour from the city, and is utterly fan-tastic! It was so much fun to see where the movies were made and all the props. And, of course, Butterbeer and Butterbeer ice cream! (For my Orlando park tips, click here.)
  • The great thing about the HP studio tour is that it wraps up mid-afternoon, so there’s still plenty of time for the sites after. So, we headed over to Buckingham Palace for a quick look around. We also tried to swing back by Westminster Abbey so I could see William Wilberforce’s grave, but it was Sunday and they closed to the public early.
  • At this point, we headed over to Harrod’s for tea. Womp womp. By the time we arrived, there was a long line and we wouldn’t get in before they closed. So, we just looked around the store for a little bit—I wasn’t impressed. It’s hard to navigate, expensive, and very compartmentalized like the flagship Bloomingdale’s. But I’m sad we didn’t get to have tea there.
  • So, what else was on the menu while in London? Indian food, of course! Yelp directed us to a highly-rated nearby spot, Haandi. Outside of India, it was the most delicious and authentic Indian meal I’ve had. Amazing.
  • Finally, it was back to the hotel, but not before a quick pitstop to pick up some Epsom salt for our sore feet! And an earlier night to bed, which was nice.
  • Excursion link on Viator – We liked this one because it was first thing in the morning, and the place got really crowded by lunchtime. It was also nice to have the late afternoon and evening free.

DAY 5:

  • Even though there are so many wonderful things to do in London, we also wanted to experience more of the country while were were there. So, on this day we ventured a few hours out of the city.
  • First up was Warwick Castle. It was beautiful and traditional, and they have wonderfully restored it to give you a glimpse at what life was like over hundreds of years. We also had our first day of beautiful weather!
  • Next up was Stratford-Upon-Avon, which was a priority for me since it was the birthplace of the Bard. Such a cute, little town! We saw the home where he was born, the church were he was baptized/married/buried, and even some Shakespeare being performed by his childhood home and randomly on the street. They absolutely love their native son, and it’s hard to pass a block without some reference to him.
  • From there, it was on to Oxford. Our tour guide gave us an hour-long walking tour, but it rained pretty heavily our entire time there, so the other hour was just spent sipping coffee and chatting about our trip highlights and plans. But it was a beautiful town, and like all the other places, I’d like to go back.
  • For dinner, we stuck close to the hotel. But dinner at The Castle Islington didn’t disappoint. One of the other popular, English dishes we wanted to try were meat pies, and these were super yummy! A great end to our day—and a quick walk across the street back to our hotel. #win
  • Day trip link on Viator – There are LOTS of castles to choose from in England, but Warwick ended up being good, and mostly, it paired up with Stratford-Upon-Avon and Oxford, which were on our To Do List. Driving through the gorgeous Cotswolds was also a real treat.

DAY 6:

  • Stonehenge! Yep, we made it out there. It was crazy to see up-close—and so close to the road! There is so much lore, superstition, and history to the spot, and that made it fun to explore. Overall, there really isn’t a lot to see, but you wouldn’t know that from all the photos we took!
  • On to Bath, which was an absolute highlight. It’s a gorgeous city, and popular for those on holiday, as well as BBC filming. Our main task here, especially since it had evaded us so far, was afternoon tea. (Note: high tea actually takes place early evening with dinner a few hours later.) My friend, Holly, told us to make reservations at the Pump Room, which was the most well-known spot for afternoon tea in Bath. It was absolutely incredible! Everything was adorable, delicious, and perfect! Not only that, but because we were there just a few days before Raechel’s birthday, I made note of that in the reservations. So, we celebrated with a glass of champagne to start and a free (and enormous) cupcake to end. They also played happy birthday on the piano and everyone in the place sang and clapped. It was so much fun, and one of the things we talked about over and over.
  • We only had a couple of hours in Bath, and most of that was happily spent at the Pump Room. So, for the latter part of our free time, we just walked around and took in the city. We also quickly stopped by the Jane Austen museum gift shop. I wish we could’ve done the museum tour but there was no time. But since I was listening to Pride and Prejudice on Audible on the trip, this was a fun detour.
  • This was our last night in England, so we made some time to pick up souvenirs, which for me, meant tea. We stopped by St. Pancras Station, which is across from King’s Cross, and much more beautiful. I picked up tea and champagne truffles from Fortnum & Mason, and those ended up being great choices. There are also a lot of great food and shopping options here, and I wish we had more time to explore them.
  • Another item on our culinary checklist (<– it was long) was the Cornish Pasty, which we picked up in King’s Cross station for dinner. It was really delicious, but like most everything else there, full of meat and carbs, ha! Veggies were hard to come by on this trip.
  • Day trip link on Viator – Wish we’d had more time in Bath, but these two sites were a great pairing and on our “must see” list.

You can check out all the trip photos here.

 

COUNTRY-SPECIFIC NOTES:

  • I really wanted to take in the theatre scene in London, but man, it was hard to make it through that first night’s performance! We were so busy every day, that sitting in a quiet theatre each night was tough anyway, but that first night was especially hard.
  • A number of things close early like restaurants and attractions, so double-check this stuff when planning. For example, the Harrod’s tea room closed at 5:00 p.m.
  • I fell in love with Marks & Spence (or M&S) stores. They’re sort of like a Whole Foods. We picked up a lot of our snacks and breakfasts here. If you’d like some food souvenirs, this would also be a cheaper place to buy them than at a more gift shop type place.
  • If you don’t want to plan ahead as much, the tour guides on the hop on, hop off buses also sell tickets to a lot of the attractions.
  • Even though we were in London most of the time, we did use cash now and again, so it’s good to have some handy.
  • We really only had three days in London, and could’ve easily spent twice that long. There was still so much to see and do, especially given we lost a lot of time due to the weather. I didn’t get to do any museums, and everything took longer to get to via bus/Underground. It all just eats away at precious time.
  • I always recommend the hop on, hop off buses when visiting new, large cities because it helps you take note of where everything is and helps you group sites together. (Read more here.) However, because London is so large, we could’ve literally done that for a day and a half or two days because of the different routes and their lengths of time. It was a little trickier here than I’ve done in other cities for that reason.
  • Do yourself a favor and try the clotted cream. If ice cream weren’t cold, it would be clotted cream. It’s sooooo delicious, and is super yummy on scones. And, evidently, there’s a debate with clotted cream, much like adding milk to your tea or not. (I don’t, but Raechel does.) The question is if you put the jam on your scone before or after the clotted cream. I was recently asked this during a podcast interview by a guy in England. Who knew! I put my cc on first, by the way.

 

GENERAL TRIP NOTES AND ADVICE:

  • It took me a long time to find this site (like a year and a half), but we booked our trip through TripMasters. This lovely site allows you to choose exactly how many nights you’d like in each country (worldwide), in what order, and your mode of transportation as well. It also gives you the opportunity to bundle your hotel and activities. You can go with the cheapest hotels or even upgrade to nicer ones. We got a great deal, and I definitely recommend using this site if you don’t want to book everything separately.
  • These Clarks Cloudsteppers were my saving grace on this trip! I wore them most of the two weeks, and they made all the walking so much easier. I did end up with a couple of blisters, but they weren’t bad, and didn’t hurt while wearing these babies.
  • I love using Viator for trip activities and excursions. The app also allows you to keep vouchers there rather than printing them.
  • It depends how you like to travel, but we both liked being active and on the go. So, most lunches were just snacks we picked up or packed. Then, we’d stop and have nicer dinners.
  • As you can already tell from this post, Raechel and I are planners. So, we had a Google Sheet set up with what were doing each day and time, along with links and reservation numbers, track expenses, etc. This helped us maximize our time really well, and was awesome since we were planning a lot over email and phone while living in different cities.
  • Raechel had international data through her work phone, which served us VERY well. Otherwise, we were going to use AT&T’s international day pass, and just trade off days to split the costs.
  • Unfortunately for me, most places didn’t take AMEX (which was all I carried), so Raechel paid for a lot of the little stuff like meals, and I bought the big, online things like tours with my card to balance us out.
  • When we weren’t using the hop on, hop off bus or Underground (which was the vast majority of the time because Raechel is awesome at navigation), we used Uber. I would’ve definitely preferred Lyft, but it’s not in other countries yet. You can, of course, take the adorable taxis but I just love the ease of ride share apps, payments, tips, and splitting fares. (Use my link for an introductory discount.)
  • I got a head cold at the end of the week, and wish I would’ve brought cold meds, aspirin, etc, with me. I found all those things there, of course, but most everything comes in packs of 16 tablets, and you can only get two packs at a time…so, I made multiple trips in all three countries.

 

MY TRAVEL NECESSITIES:

  • We tried out these foot hammocks for the international flights. They may seem and look silly, and let’s face it, they are, but they made sleeping on the intercontinental flights a bit easier. We also had Delta Comfort seats, so we had more leg room. I was too tall to use them in the cheap seats, since my knees almost hit the seat in front of me, but Raechel is shorter, and used them in both spots successfully.
  • I travel with a number of doTerra essential oils, but for active trips, I especially recommend the Deep Blue Samples. These little gems are like Icy Hot, but better, and are fantastic at the end of the day on your feet or back.
  • I do not like hand sanitizer because it makes my hands feel sticky and gross. But I found these alcohol-free Babyganics wipes before my trip to India and now carry them with me everywhere. These make my hands feel clean and not sticky, and are great for travel and on the go—baby or not.
  • One of my friends who is a travel writer gave me this tip, and it’s a good one. Whether it’s blistering hot (hello, India!) or a beautiful day (hello, LA!), carrying electrolyte tabs or powder is a great idea to keep you replenished.
  • I don’t go anywhere without wrinkle release, because I hate ironing. And on international trips, I wasn’t sure what the iron situation would be anyway.
  • Love my Envirosax! I keep several in my purse at all times, but I also take them when traveling because they always come in handy. I even use the pouch they come in on trips for cords and things.
  • These Tide sink packets are great for short trip emergencies or long trips when you can’t access laundry facilities or don’t want to pay for them.
  • This silicone flat iron pouch is good for when you have limited counter space and need to rest a flat iron or curling iron on the floor or another surface.
  • We ended up buying a small bag of Epsom salt in country for our achy feet, but next time I’ll just take these travel packs.
  • For adapters and travel cords, I’ve had great luck with these options: this Belkin block is good for home and travel, this little Monster stays in my laptop bag at all times, and this Maxah universal plug has gone with me to five countries so far.
  • Sadly, my portable charger isn’t available any longer, but I prefer one like this that can charge different kinds of devices at once.
  • I do a cleanse about three times per year or so, but especially after extensive travel or when food quality has been bad (hear: fried carbs). This is a good option for newbies and is more gentle on your system, but I’ve used many kinds by this brand.

 

BONUS:

Because our families are both originally from the UK and Ireland (way, way back), Raechel and I both asked for Ancestry DNA kits for Christmas so we could get our results before the trip. That made our time even more fun and interesting, and we were on the lookout for our family’s last names and traces every where we went.

For the record, I’m 44% British, 37% Ireland/Scotland/Wales, as well as a little of this and that. But, really, you could just look at me and figure that out. 😉

 

Next up: Scotland!

 

Stonehenge 3

 

Please note: some links are affiliate links.


Leave a comment

A Unique Mother’s Day Gift

MD-bundle-1-rect

If you’re looking for a unique Mother’s Day gift, my friend Jen has you covered. I’ve talked about the Hope Deck here before, but it really is a special gift. And better yet—it really does keep on giving!

The Hope Deck is a beautifully designed series of cards with a different scripture on each to give Mom, or the maternal influences in your life, a sense of peace and comfort. I’ve personally given Hope Decks for all sorts of occasions, and my favorite way to use them year-round is by sending individual cards as post cards to those who need a little encouragement or someone to celebrate with them. And people always tell me how much they love receiving them!

Jen has created a limited-time $49 Mother’s Day Bundle that includes:

  • 2 Hope Decks ($46 value)
  • 1 Wooden stand ($6 value)
  • 3 Mini Posters ($36 value)
  • 10 Envelopes ($5 value)
  • Packaging/gift box ($7 value)

So, there’s TWO done-for-you gifts!

Just need one? Click “Shop” in the menu bar and see the other available options.

And TODAY is the last day to get free shipping! Check this off your To Do List with one, easy click.

BUY THE HOPE DECK MOTHER’S DAY BUNDLE

Want to hear from a few satisfied customers? –> https://youtu.be/KDTecyhuI8I

 

Note: I am a proud affiliate of the Hope Deck, which means I get a little somethin’ somethin’ if you purchase through my link. But I adore her and this product, and think you’ll be really happy with your purchase!


7 Comments

How to Travel By Yourself

How to Travel By YourselfAs you read this, I’m actually galavanting around the UK and Ireland with my friend, Rachel, for the next two weeks. This trip is a #bucketlist item, and since we didn’t merit an invite from Harry and Meghan for the wedding, we planned our own jaunt across the pond. (Follow the adventure on Instagram!)

However, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you may already know that most of my travel is on my own. And I answered the question of how to travel by yourself a few days ago for someone, so thought I’d also share my tips here as well.

Sometimes I forget that not everyone travels solo because so many people in my circles do. As I’ve said before on this blog (many times!), I LOVE to travel. Whether I’m going an hour away from home, or to the other side of the world, it just fills me up the way few, other things do.

Different foods, different culture, different sites and sounds. It’s always a beautiful experience, and shows you that while the little space you occupy in the world is important, it’s not everything. Travel is a big source of inspiration for me, and I know that many others feel the same.

I’ve traveled to many states here in the U.S. by myself, either for a personal vacation or work purposes. And for my 40th birthday, I checked off one of my top bucket list items when I traveled to Spain. And, yes, I went by myself. That trip was sort of planned spur of the moment because I saw a great deal on a flight. I didn’t even take the time to ask anyone to go with me because I booked the ticket within 10 minutes of seeing the deal! I just knew I wanted to wake up in Barcelona for my 40th birthday, and this was my opportunity.

By now, most of my friends are married with kids, and I am single. So, understandably, it’s much more difficult for them to travel with a friend and not with their family. But my philosophy is that I want to see as much of the world as possible, and if I have to do it on my own to make that dream come true, so be it!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve also become an amateur travel hacker, which has allowed me to travel cheaply. Putting the time into learning these tricks has been well worth it to be able to do something I love…with as little money as possible. 🙂

So, if you’re thinking about setting out on a solo adventure, here are my best tips for how to travel by yourself:

  • I love attending conferences, and this really kicked off my solo travel experiences. I think it’s a great place to get started because you’ll already be in a room with people who have similar jobs, interests, or passions. That makes it easier to strike up a conversation, especially for us introverts. And I realize people have limited vacation time or budgets for professional development at work, but I wouldn’t let that stop you. For example, I’m involved in the anti-trafficking and social justice community, so a number of those conferences were taken on vacation time and self-funded. But I made friends at those events that I look forward to seeing every year at the next event, or even making a special trip to see them in their hometown.
  • If you’re on a solo vacation, book tours. I really love Viator and TravelZoo, as well as free walking tours. As I mentioned, I’m an introvert, so I made sure I had these kinds of things scheduled on my solo trip to Barcelona to ensure I’d be around people and having conversations with others. On one day trip, I met some lovely women from Australia, who were also traveling solo, and we had dinner together after the excursion had finished. You can, of course, do the same kinds of things in your home country.
  • I’m “directionally challenged” to say the least, so if you want to see a number of things, but aren’t sure how to get around and don’t have a rental car, buy a hop on hop off pass for at least the first day. Do this on your first, full day to help you get your bearings while someone else does the driving. Honestly, I kinda cringed at doing this in Barcelona because I didn’t want to put a big “tourist” label across my forehead, but it worked out wonderfully. I sat on the whole two-hour ride to see the city at a glimpse and figure out where things are, and how close they were to each other, and then I hopped off to see my top priorities. I only did this for one day out of the five I was there, but of course, it’s an easy method of transportation should you want to continue for a couple of days. And depending on the city, public transportation or ride sharing are other great options.
  • In Barcelona, I also booked a “tapas tour” on the first night. This was not only an effort to meet people and not eat alone, but it gave me a crash course on the local fare so I knew how and what to order going forward.
  • I’m sure no one likes to eat out alone, and I only do it when traveling solo, but it honestly just takes practice. I still don’t like to do it, and feel like everyone is staring at me, but I have to just remind myself that I’m in this wonderful place and this is part of the experience. Bring a book or something to occupy yourself, and you’ll get through it.
  • I love staying in hotels by myself, and I love room service! Just for your own protection, lock your doors, of course, and keep your eyes open, especially if you’re coming back late. 

Additionally, let me bring up one other thing that’s been super helpful for me over the past year or so: Facebook groups and social media.

I’ll soon be traveling to San Diego for a work conference by myself. Outside of hoping to meet people there, we have a Facebook group for everyone in the coaching program that is hosting the event. So, people have been in there making connections, setting up appointments, and even finding people to split hotels with.

I will also have several days on the back end to hang out in the area. I’ve been to San Diego a couple of times before, so I want to use this extra time for networking. So, I jumped into several of the Facebook groups I’m a part of, and asked them who might already be in that area or who I should meet while there. Because I work with nonprofits and social enterprises, these are potential clients. But, of course, it never hurts to just expand my network regardless. I’ve already had several responses from people who had recommendations or would like to meet up, so that’ll be another great way to fill my time—and get a tax deduction. 😉 

Obviously, we women should be careful when traveling solo, so I’m cautious not to include specific locations or dates in public spaces. But posting on personal or business social media accounts, or in Facebook groups can be a very easy way to find new friends or clients.

Pretty much of this just takes some time, practice, planning, and patience. But if you love to travel, don’t let anything stop you. Empower yourself, and go for it!

And if you have other tips, or want to tell me how these worked out for you, I’d love to hear!

Happy travels!

 

Update 4/4/18: Just read this article, and about the term “microadventures.” If some of this feels expensive or overwhelming to you, give microadventures a try!

 

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


Leave a comment

My Third Annual New Year’s Retreat

IMG_8311

The beautiful view from my room in Hiawassee, Georgia.

So sorry for the delay on this post. I literally hit the ground running on January 1st, and haven’t stopped. I’ve been working late nights and weekends trying to get on top of my goals for the year. But now that I’m slowing down a little, more because I’m tired than anything else, I wanted to update you on my third annual New Year’s retreat.

You can read more about my first and second New Year’s retreats here, but even as I’ve had some practice at this, I still made some key mistakes that you can learn from.

First of all, if you’ve never planned a personal or business retreat before, let’s start with my basic tips. (By the way, I use the terms business and personal kind of interchangeably since I’m self-employed and all areas of my life tend to overlap. 😉

  • The schedule and format are up to you! You can read, reflect, journal, hammer out notes on your computer, or however you’d like to spend your time. Retreats are a time to reflect and focus on specific goals, so do whatever supports those. But, you need to know what you’re going to do before you leave, so plan ahead. Otherwise, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time trying to figure out how best to use your time.
  • The location is up to you! I’ve taken retreats several hours away, and also just down the road. For me, it usually depends on where I have travel points to use. But you can camp, fly, or drive. You can rent a room, rent a house, or just borrow some space that someone isn’t using. The point, however, is to be away from home. You’ll get distracted at home, and that’s not what you want for your retreat.
  • The budget is up to you! It doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve eaten out, bought groceries, and stayed inside 99% of the time rather than spending money on activities. But there is always a way to fit it in your budget. On this year’s retreat, I actually paid for the hotel (thought I got a great Cyber Monday deal), so it was my most expensive retreat yet at $250.
  • Who you go with is up to you! You can take a retreat solo, or go with a spouse or business partner.
  • The length is up to you! If you’ve never done this, and aren’t sure how it’ll work for you, start small. Take a few hours and go to a co-working space, coffee shop, or park. Work up to a day trip, overnight trip, or even a couple of days. And then do it again!
  • Make sure you rid yourself of distractions! Turn your phone, email, and social media off. Tell people that you’ll be unavailable. Again, resist the urge to waste time. Make the most of your retreat, which is a total gift.
  • Know what happens when you get home. You likely need to act on what you accomplished at your retreat. Have a plan for when life gets back to normal.
  • Final tip: Create time for fun! I do this at the end to celebrate the retreat, and get my head of task mode.

Are you catching a theme here? Yep, it’s up to you! It’s called a personal retreat for a reason.

For my January retreats, I usually like to stick close-ish to home because I’ve just returned from holiday travel. This year, I drove about two hours north of Atlanta, which was a good distance, and also gave me enough time to finish an audiobook on the drive.

The only real downside to this year’s location is that we were going through a major cold snap here, and it was literally in the single digits while on my retreat. So, I just hunkered down rather than venturing out to coffee shops and other interesting places.

And as I said, even having planned my own retreats several times, I still made a few mistakes this year:

  • I didn’t think through the timing. I’d started my retreat on New Year’s Day the past two years, so that was the plan. BUT this year, I’d only been back in town for 48 hours before leaving for my retreat. And those 48 hours were fairly filled with activity. So, I was tired and slightly unmotivated when I woke up and had to drive two hours north to the retreat. However, this was important to me, so I sucked it up, and made the most of it! #entrepreneur
  • The other timing issue for me was the normal schedule I’d already developed for my business. The first of the month, and first of the week, is filled with things like writing my email newsletter, scheduling my social media, writing my business blog post, etc. So, the entire first day was spent on these items rather than digging into my retreat. That was frustrating.
  • I WAY underestimated what I could get done this time. My list was really long to try and accomplish in just a couple of days. I always tend to do this a little anyway, but I was way off this time because of an email series I wanted to watch that ended up taking most of day two.

The good news was, that the first of the year is typically a slow time for people, and I had some “buffer” time built in which allowed me to get few more things done when I got home.  So, if you can plan a little buffer time, that’s ideal. It’s hard to get out of retreat mode! It’s a beautiful place to be.

Regardless, this is why it’s important to know what exactly you’re going to be doing on your retreat, and also prioritize the most important items. That way, no matter what comes up, you get the essentials taken care of.

I really can’t stress taking a personal/business retreat enough. Here’s why:

  • They allow you to focus on very specific areas. This could be specific projects, long-term goals, or anything in-between.
  • They provide clarity. When you’re out of your own environment, you see things differently.
  • They provide renewal. If you love to travel, like me, you’ll get filled up with an experience like this one.

And I can’t state this enough times: retreats aren’t a luxury. This was a big lesson for me to learn, but they can be a vital way to re-examine your own business, goals, etc. There are so many ways to plan retreats to make them work for you.

As of last year, my goal is actually to take quarterly retreats, even if they’re short. This way I’m reflecting throughout the year, so I can make small adjustments along the way, rather than only doing that at the end of the year. It’s another way I strive to be intentional, and would recommend that approach for you as well.

Oh, and by the way, you don’t have to be a business owner to do this. They are a great tool for anyone to utilize. You just have to decide to make them a priority. We all put our time and money somewhere, so it’s up to you to decide.

Finally, if you think a retreat would be a great idea for your year, get it on your calendar now! If you wait, you’re more likely to keep putting it off. Again, it’s about prioritizing it.

If you decide to plan your own retreat, let me know any of your lessons or best practices. Or even just tell me how your retreat went. I’d love to hear!

(And if you have any questions about a retreat, just let me know!)

IMG_7768

At the end of this year’s retreat, I stopped in nearby Helen, Georgia. It’s a strange, fun, and touristy place north of Atlanta that resembles a Bavarian village. But it was a good spot to stop, grab lunch, and walk around for a bit before returning home.

You can see more pictures here in Instagram.