Get Your Travel Agent Hat On – Sisters’ Vacation Update


I’m not sure what kind of hats all of you were wearing, but many budding travel agents responded to last week’s request for help planning our sisters’ vacation trip. Thanks! Let me back up and give you a quick overview.

My sister Wendy and I, and possibly our older sister Mary, have decided we need something to look forward to after all this frigid weather. Here’s a link to the post, Help Two Sisters Looking for Adventure, so you can get a little more background.

The parameters:

  • Budget of $500 each
  • Five day trip
  • Someplace off the beaten path (Wendy)
  • No strict agenda (Wendy and Jennifer)
  • Someplace that is or has an unexpected surprise (Wendy)
  • Things to do besides sit on a beach (Jennifer)
  • Wonderful places and people to photograph (Jennifer)
  • Costs for airfare and souvenirs are in addition to the stated budget

The current fabulous results:

  • Kate from Another Clean Slate: Schedule the trip around a fun event. Kate is headed to West Palm Beach to see Jimmy Buffett. He’s on tour in a number of locations this year.
  • My friend Shelly Dennis, a fellow stock photographer: South Port, North Carolina, with all it’s history, an aquarium and beaches.
  • Michelle from Getting Literal: Hawaii. Is there anything else to say about the draw of this location?
  • Kristi from Finding Ninee: Puerto Vallarta or another location in Mexico or the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
  • Mike from Past My Curfew: Cruise to Tahiti. (If we end up doing this, Mike, you are welcome to join us.)
  • Diane from On the Border: She and her husband have scheduled an Alaskan cruise for $550.
  • Clark from the Wakefield Doctrine: My friend from New England recommends a road trip through that beautiful area of the country.
  • Dana from Kiss My List: Small towns in Southern Maine, including Wells.
  • Chris from The Mom Cafe:  Caribbean cruise.
  • Aussa from Guatemala.

Wow! Wendy and I are excited about all the possibilities, especially since we’ve never been to any of those places. Over the couple of months, we’ll be researching all of these destinations and any new ones that get added. In April, we’ll narrow it down to three and all of you will select where we’ll be headed, possibly sometime this summer. Can we do it on our budget? I’m not sure, but we’re going to give it a good try.

Thanks to all of you who have already made suggestions and those of you who offered encouragement. But we aren’t done yet. We still have several weeks to add more possibilities to the mix before we narrow it down for your vote. 

Any other suggestions?

Help Two Sisters Looking For Adventure

Freezing Cold

The telephone rang early yesterday morning.

Me: “Hmrrr….mrmmrh….mellow?”
Wendy:  “I c-c-c-can’t handle this any…more!”
Me: “Hmmmm?” 
Wendy: “It’s 11 degrees below zero….”

Her teeth were chattering so loudly, I had to move the phone away from my ear.

It has been a very cold winter in Denver just like most areas of the country. We’re 11 degrees below zero while Sochi, Russia, home of the Winter Olympics, is in the 40’s.

After I finally woke up enough to have a semi-intelligent discussion with my sister, we decided we needed to take a trip someplace fun in the next four or five months….some place we can look forward to during this freezing weather. But…where?

There are so many incredible places to go that we don’t even know exist. How do we make the most of our travel budget and still experience a great adventure? We decided to ask the experts…all of you. Can you help us?

Here are the parameters:

  • Budget of $1,000 or $500 each
  • Five day trip
  • Someplace off the beaten path (Wendy)
  • No strict agenda (Wendy and Jennifer)
  • Someplace that is or has an unexpected surprise (Wendy)
  • Things to do besides sit on the beach (Jennifer)
  • Wonderful places and people to photograph (Jennifer)

Airfare and souvenir shopping will be considered extra, so those costs will be in addition to our $1,000 budget. Other than that, everything will be included: meals, rental car (if needed), lodging, tolls, etc.

Not only will we be selecting a place out of those you suggest, we’ll be blogging about our trip, including budget updates and photographs, so you can follow us every step of the way. We plan to travel in late June or early July. Please comment and leave any links you think will be helpful for us to see. Each week, we’ll summarize the suggestions and let you know how things are going.

In April, we’ll narrow the list down to the final three. Then, everyone can vote later in the month and we’ll travel to the destination chosen by all of you. We’ll even send a postcard to everyone who suggested a viable destination and a souvenir to the person who recommended the location we visit. (excludes spammers)

Wendy and I know of a few places, but all of you know thousands. We are eagerly looking forward to your ideas. Please help us expand our search for the perfect sister’s trip destination by sharing this post with friends who may have great recommendations, too.

In the Midst of Manmade Magic


Hidden treasures in the midst of man made magic
Yellow butterflies lead the way
In solitude I walk between
Fields of palmettos, dotted with occasional pines

A path, leading into the forest of trees
Anticipation, seeking something new
Alone with myself
Taking it all in, seeing, watching

Cyprus trees with skirts of roots sink down into the water
Securing them to reflections of blue sky
And of puffy white clouds and dancing grasses of green and yellow
Upside down world…silence punctuated with the occasional buzz of insects

Nature taking it’s course in the midst of man made magic
Drinking in moist warm air as smooth as a fine wine
Time to think and observe
Eagerly discovering, exploring

A walk in a new place
No people, no wildlife, just me 
Breathing in and out moving on the path
Until the end, the perfect place to sit

Nature Conservancy
Rocking back and forth in a chair
Cool breeze weeps away the heat of the midday journey
Happy to discover another world
In the midst of man made magic

My last day in Orlando, I decided to get off the beaten path. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love castles, princes and life sized cartoon characters and will visit them another time. Instead, at the suggestion of a Florida friend, I visited the Nature Conservatory’s Disney Wildlife Preserve. My favorite part was Lake Russell and the cyprus trees that rise up out of the water. The path is a little over 2 miles long and a wonderful option if you are interested in a break from the parks. It’s also free unless you choose to make a donation.

I suggest going early in the day so you have an opportunity to see the wildlife. Take water and good walking shoes. The path is clear, level and easy to follow. It was a great choice for me since it was a new slice of nature I’d never seen before.

Happy travels!

Making the Most of Your Travel Journal Part 2

This post is a followup to last Thursday’s travel post. Here’s a link to last week’s article if you missed it.

Making the Most of Your Travel Journal Part 1

Travel Journal 3 web

Now that you have a blank book just waiting for your travels to make their way onto the pages, how do you begin?

The First Entry

My first entry, besides a title page, always includes an overview of my trip. Here are a few suggested questions to get you started.

What are you planning to do?
Where are you planning to go?
Who is going with you?
When are you traveling?
Why are you traveling to this destination, in particular?

Documenting the Journey

There are so many ways to organize your journal. I tend to write my journals in chronological order from the beginning of the day until the end, but there are many ways to capture the moments.

Who are the special people you have met along the way?
What were the highlights of each day?
Where did you eat?

I glue almost everything into my journals. I’ve learned lots of unique ways to fold things so they’ll fit and I can still open them up full size to the most important information.

  • Menus from restaurants I’ve visited- Did you know there’s a BadAss Cafe in Dublin, Ireland? Many restaurants have paper menus they are willing to share, especially when you explain what you are doing. Sometimes I search for restaurants to visit based on their fantastic names.
  • Visitor guides- Stop by the visitor information center. They have great summaries and photos of the places you’re probably planning to visit. I cut some guides apart and some I add to my journal in their full glory. It’s an added bonus that most of these guides are free.
  • Post cards- If writing all the details is just too daunting, grab postcards from the different places you visit. It will spark your memory when you find time to write and adds amazing pictures as well.
  • Travel agency mailings- When I arrange travel through an agency, they always mail me great information, including maps and other trip details. In they go. My journal and maybe a photo album are the only things that remain when I’m finished. I’ll never go back through other trip related documents once I’m back home, so I include the most important papers in my journal. I’ll see them there the next time I want to revisit my trip.
  • Receipts and wrappers- I add in receipts and wrappers from things I’ve eaten. I am very careful about not including too much information on receipts. I don’t want my full credit card number available if my journal is stolen. Make sure you clean off food wrappers so that your journal pages don’t get sticky. I’ve made the mistake of adding the cover from a jelly container without fully cleaning it first. Did you know that grape jelly makes great glue?
  • Other stuff- The sky’s the limit here. All of the “stuff” still tells the story of your travel. If it’s of interest to you, include it. This also helps fill the pages so you don’t have to write a book and miss the most fun parts of your trip.

Travel Journal 7 web

The Writers

Some of my favorite sections of my journals are views of my trip from other people’s perspectives.

  • Fellow Travelers- Are your family members traveling with you? Ask them to add their thoughts at the end of each day. Even if it’s just a sentence, the kids will love going back to the journal to see what they wrote and you’ll eagerly wait for the journal to return to you so you can see their thoughts, too.
  • People You Meet- There are drawings in my Africa journal from several of the guides including that of a kudu and a mopane worm. (I actually ate a mopane worm that was sautéed in garlic.) Numerous people have written in my journals including friendly flight attendants, waiters, pilots and guides. Just ask…many people will be honored to add their thoughts. I show them the journal first so they can see what I’m doing. I usually ask people that have touched me in some way. Were they welcoming and friendly when you sat down for a good meal after a busy day?

Journal Rules

I have a couple key rules that I follow when I write my journals.

  • Perfection is out-  I misspell words. I cross things out. I draw right over my drawings if I made myself too thin or too fat. I glue stuff over things I’ve drawn or written that weren’t quite right. Part of the joy of my journey is not adding pressure to make my journal the most beautiful, perfectly organized book. I’ve written the same thing twice after forgetting I already captured the moment. Who cares? Sometimes I only have a few minutes of downtime to write a quick overview, so my handwriting isn’t the best it can be. A messy page more accurately reflects my journey. So get rid of the need to be perfect and you’ll have more fun.
  • Journaling Isn’t the Most Important Part of the Trip- Don’t spend your whole trip journaling. Just like a photographer who only sees the journey through a camera lens, don’t focus all your time on your journal. Experience the magnificence of the scenery and the joy in spending time with special people.
  • Write each day- If I don’t document each day, I tend to forget the fine details of special moments. Take the final pages in your journal to jot brief notes during the day so you don’t forget. I tend to write in the evening just before I go to bed or on airplanes. I carry my journal with me as I wander around, so I can sit at a sidewalk cafe and catch up after I’ve finished my meal. It’s fun to document what you observe.
  • Don’t make yourself fill all the pages- All my journals have left over pages at the back with nothing on them. I fill as many pages as I need to document my journey.

Your journal is just that, your journal. It may be in a book or online. Make it your own, write your own rules and enjoy the journey. 

If you have tips and tricks you use to document your travel, we’d love to hear them.


Making the Most of Your Travel Journal- Part 1

My Thursday theme is travel. This week I’m starting with a post about travel journals. Today let’s talk about where to begin.

Travel Journal 4 web

Journaling is a wonderful way to document your travel as it happens. Each journal is a keepsake that will become a family treasure as years go on.

“We found a bumper sticker that said, ‘Beep, beep, my ass!’
My mom said I could write that, so I did.”

Travis, age 9 (now 33)

On December 21, 1989, my mother, son and I headed on a road trip from Denver to Flagstaff, Arizona to celebrate Christmas with my older sister’s family. I purchased a blank log book and we started our first travel journal. The next big trip was a sister reunion to Disneyland in 1993. My younger sister, Wendy, is an artist and drew amazing caricatures. Everything got glued or taped into the trip journal from flowers to used sugar packets.

Since then, I’ve traveled to a number of places including Germany, Africa, Antarctica and my last trip to Canada. Each trip has its own journal. My family members and I love going through the books and revisiting each unique journey. Some of my friends ask to borrow the journals if they are thinking about visiting some of the same places.

Where to begin:

The Journal

Part of my trip planning involves selecting just the right journal, although you can make one, too. On my trip to Antartica, I bought an 8 1/2″ x 11″ hard cover spiral bound drawing pad. I wasn’t going to carry it around with me. It was staying on the ship, so the larger size wasn’t a burden. Smaller journals (5″ x 7″ or less) are useful to put in my purse and carry with me as I travel about town. As soon as my trip is confirmed, I purchase my journal. I have one sitting right here for my upcoming trip to Namibia in May.  The first entry is dated November 2013.


  • Pencil bag to store supplies small enough to fit in my purse (I also add brochures and receipts to the bag as I gather them during day so I can include them in the journal when I stop to write)
  • Pens, colored pencils and a pencil sharpener
  • Glue sticks
  • Stickers with travel themes and letters
  • Small scissors I can take on the plane

Travel Information

Not only do I cover the day to day activities, but I also include copies of documents. So each journal has my flight itinerary, hotel confirmation letters, travel agent contact information and travel insurance summaries. My journal then becomes a back up resource to the original documents. I’m careful about not including too much personal information, in case the journal is stolen. It does, however, have my name and email address so that if I lose it, someone can contact me.

For more great information about travel journals, check out these blogs:

Thrifty Travel Mama
Bursts of Creativity
Suzy Cucumber

If you have tips you use during your travel, please add them in your comments. I love to hear about your adventures and suggestions.

Making the Most of Your Travel Journal – Part 2

Next week I’ll share how to write and otherwise fill your journal with wonderful content.


Don’t Wait for Something to Happen First Before You Fulfill Your Dreams


“After I __________, I’ll ____________.”

Fill in the blanks.

“After I get married, we’ll buy a house.”

“After I retire, I’m going to travel.”

We’ve all done it. But tomorrow is not guaranteed.

My brother-in-law, John, taught me not to wait to fulfill my dreams. John worked out almost every day and had a very physical job. He was one of the healthiest people I knew. Then the headaches started. Like most guys, he didn’t like to visit the doctor, but my sister insisted. The doctor put him on headache medication.

When medication didn’t solve the problem, he went back. The diagnosis? Stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. John was 48 when he was diagnosed and died about 18 months later. That’s when my philosophy changed. I kept putting things I dreamed of doing off until….whatever. That was about 10 years ago. The following year, I traveled to Africa.

The time to live life is now. That doesn’t mean I don’t take care of paying my bills or saving for retirement. It means that if my dream is to travel, I begin going to places I can reasonably afford. The next city, the next state, the next country.

A lot has changed in the last 10 years. My sister is remarried to a wonderful man. John’s grandsons, who he never met, are playing basketball and will soon attend middle school. I’ve traveled to a number of countries and visited several continents, including Antarctica.

I think of him often. John changed my life in a number of ways, but most importantly, inspired me not to put off living my life. I miss you, John.

Are there dreams you are putting off until you can fill in the blanks? In some small way, can you take a few steps forward?

Great Wildlife Migration-A Dream Trip


OMG! Another trip on my wish list. If it is on your list, check this out.

Natural Habitat Adventure just released an interactive map of the Great Wildlife Migration.  By selecting each month, I can see approximately what will be happening and in what African countries. That is really cool! 

Delia, my travel buddy, mentioned this trip the other day. We’ve been talking about it for a couple of years. We visited South Africa and Botswana in 2004, and I’ll be traveling to Namibia in 2014. This is another African adventure I want to take. The first time we were there, British travelers told us we would catch the “Africa bug”. I definitely am infected.

While the migration trip is going to have to wait since we don’t have the money or time to go now, I can still dream.

Where in the World

After returning from my incredible trip to Churchill, I began planning my next one for 2014. Where in the world am I headed?

Here are a few clues:

  • On the Atlantic coast
  • One of the least densely populated countries in the world
  • English is the official language

Maybe this will help.

The first five people who accurately guess where I’m traveling on my next trip will receive a postcard from my destination. This only applies for those of you who I haven’t told yet.

Good luck!!


Revisiting the Magic

Things are as they should be. The ice on Hudson Bay has frozen and the polar bears have migrated onto the ice. 

I will never forget my incredible trip to Canada, from the start in Winnipeg and rising to the crescendo of seeing polar bears and other wildlife in the remote and harsh tundra. It is a magical experience and I was lucky enough to share it with my good friend, Delia, and some wonderful new friends who joined me.

While I can’t recreate the experience, I can revisit my memories through the photos I took and the journal entries I’ve made.


Another Piece of the Puzzle

Have you experienced a time in your life when things started happening, leading you in a new direction? I’m in that place and not quite sure how it all fits.

Here are a few of the pieces:

  • I traveled to Churchill to see the polar bears. This is one of several trips I’ve taken related to similar things: wildlife, nature and diverse environments. I have loved every minute.
  • Annie, our guide, helped me focus beauty of the tundra by suggesting I listen, see, hear and feel the moment and to document those things. It was a profound experience for me that I don’t ever want to forget.
  • I took hundreds of photos on my trip and as I process them, my heart is telling me they have a purpose. (What? I’m not quite sure. How? No idea.) I know that sounds strange, but these photos shouldn’t just sit on my hard drive, be uploaded as stock photography to be used to sell products or just hang on my wall.
  • When I returned from Churchill, I attended a James Balog presentation on the Extreme Ice Survey. Annie had inspired me to learn more about global warming and this was my first opportunity. James Balog started with an idea based on the change he was seeing as he traveled. Today, because of his idea, there are cameras in many parts of the world attached to solar panels that take a picture every hour, documenting changing glaciers and ice.
  • After seeing some of my polar bear pictures on Facebook, one of my friends, Kerry Koepping, suggested we get together to share our experiences in the arctic. Kerry was inspired and recently traveled to Iceland to document change, not necessarily the same kind of change that James Balog is focused on, but change in general. You can see his work on the Arctic Arts Project website. We met for lunch yesterday and his passion and excitement were contagious.

inspired-arctic-arts.MOV from Arctic Arts Project on Vimeo.

Both of these men are working on amazing BIG PROJECTS. They are photographers. The photos they take are incredibly beautiful and tell a story about what is happening in the world around us.

In contrast, I’m a tourist. I travel on group trips hosted by travel companies. My travel leads me to tourist places: a tundra lodge where 29 tourists stay; a ship that has 50+ tourists traveling to Antarctica; camps in the Okavango Delta that have 8-10 permanent tent-like accommodations so tourists can stay in the bush. It’s different. I’m also in a different place in my life, working full time and with a limited budget.

So how do I take the BIG PROJECTS that inspire me and break them down into something that realistically contributes to my area of the world? How can I use my art to communicate and what is my story?

I have some of the pieces to the puzzle. I have no idea how they will come together. When and how things are meant to happen will become clear at some point. When it does, I’ll be ready…