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Seven Simple Rules for Making the Most of a Road Trip.

The thing I love about road trips is their fluidity.

Remaining untethered to some airline’s asinine rules and sordid idea of an itinerary–

Since passengers who boarded before you carried all of their worldly possessions onto the plane in order to avoid paying our exorbitant checked baggage fees, we’re going to have to place your expensive and beloved DSLR camera in the hold…

We’re experiencing a delay either because of inclement weather in Denver OR because the flight crew is busy getting hammered in the employee lounge…

Flight 136 to Atlanta has been overbooked because we enjoy collecting your money for a service we never intended on providing.  Please come to the desk if you are willing to reschedule.

is a freeing feeling.  One that can only be fully understood if you know what it’s like to throw your clothes into a suitcase or bag in your trunk, only to realize you’ve forgotten a great pair of shoes, your leather jacket, your tripod, and a bunch of CD’s you burned in the late 90’s, so you toss those into the backseat along with a cooler full of water, caffeinated beverages, homemade trail mix, and several haphazardly assembled chicken salad sandwiches and finally, unrestrictedly, hit the road.

You can pack what you want, as long as there’s still leg room and the windows can open.

(Okay.  So the Tracker has limited leg room by default and only 3 of her electric windows still operate, but she’s in incredible working condition — especially considering we met back in 2002, just 3 years after her birth, and since then we’ve had the longest, closest, mutually caring, non-blood-related relationship of my life — with the exception of Alaina, who may as well be blood — and have traveled well over 150,000 miles together.  We’re kind of in love.  I’ve known her longer than my husband, and she’s never tried to start a fight with me via text message because she knows I hate that.

It’s almost like we’re soul mates.)

Even so, there are some”rules” for road-tripping that, while are certainly less restrictive than the spoken (no electronic devices during take-offs/landings, buckle your seatbelts while seated, don’t pack more than 50 pounds worth of crap) and unspoken (the passenger in the middle seat gets dibs on both armrests, hold all farts until you’ve exited the plane, feed fussy babies pre-flight cough medicine cocktails) rules of air travel, should be abided — or at least acknowledged — in order to guarantee an enjoyable trip for all involved.

Even if it’s just you.

1)  Break it up, man.  Sure, I could’ve driven directly to Philadelphia to meet up with Justin and his family in an easy, less-than-9-hour day trip.  But really?  Where’s the fun in that?  I have people, you know.  People I like to see whenever the mood strikes or when one of us feels like making the effort.  And a couple of these people just happen to be living along the general path I had to take to reach Philly from North Carolina.

So I did what any plan-hating, inconsiderate domestiphobe would do — I messaged them on Facebook and told them to get their guest rooms/futons/air mattresses ready, because I’d likely be needing them either sometime the week before or the week after Easter.

Whichever turned out to be more convenient for me.

Or them.

Or mostly me.

This is not the exact path I ended up taking, because I’ve found over the years that U.S. interstates are grotesquely dangerous freaks of infrastructure overcrowded with semi trailers and minivans and repeating clusters of national and regional fast food chains that only serve to make you feel ghastly and bloated and pimply when you finally reach your destination.

Which brings me to:

2)  Take the road less traveled.  Cross the bridge uncrossed.  For real.  You see a fork.  The left prong takes you on a whirlwind tour of rest stops, gas stations, and enough deep fry oil to sink the Titanic.  The right prong takes you to sleepy towns, privately owned restaurants, and probably still enough deep fry oil to sink the Titanic.

But the food it fries, 9 times out of 10, is much, much better.

Let’s see McDonald’s bring you this.

The streets are emptier.

The roads have less potholes.

And the views are… well… they smell better than the back end of a truck stop.

3)  Eat well.  Seriously.  Feed yourself.  Feed yourself things you can’t/don’t/ wouldn’t dare cook at home.  Discover new places.  New dishes.  New tastes.

After all, who says the vacation has to start when you’ve reached your destination?

4)  Don’t pack light.  I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but just in case I do, here goes:  You’re in a car.  You know, that mobile vehicle with wheels, massive in comparison to a single airline seat and quarter of an overhead compartment, so use it.  What are you afraid of?  That someone will judge you?  Elbow you?  Stare at you creepily while you try to absorb yourself in The Hunger Games because you’ve become completely obsessed even though it’s a heinous storyline semi-ripped off from or at least probably partially inspired by Richard Bachman’s (aka. Stephen King’s) little-known gem The Long Walk, and you didn’t even know this latest book craze existed until a few weeks ago when everyone started talking about the movie and murderous children and a Peeta that wasn’t a bread/sandwich (pita) but a character in this book that was supposedly so good or disturbing or mind-numbingly twisted that you wouldn’t be able to put it down so you bought it and didn’t actually put it down for 3 days not including sleep and socialization and pee breaks?

Are you afraid that will happen?

Well, I have news.

That only happens on airplanes.

In the safety of your car, no one judges.  No one nudges.  And no one stares except for when they pass and catch you singing along to Billy Joel’s greatest hits with more enthusiasm than Peeta would show if he were told he could finally have consensual sex with Katniss and she’d actually like it.  (I’m only partway through Book 2, by the way, so if you ruin this for me I might have to hate you forever.  Or at least for a couple of hours because I have a short attention span, but even so, spoiling plotlines would truly be an evil undertaking.)

The good news is, if you do forget anything, it’s not a big deal to stop somewhere along the line and buy it.  But the more you pack, the more money you save, and the less guilty you feel for buying that completely-awesome-yet-unnecessary dreamcatcher from a Pueblo roadside gift shop in Nevada.

5)  Bring good music.  This is completely subjective, believe it or not.  And while modern music is acceptable, anything that inspires nostalgia is better.  Billy Joel?  Go for it.  Avett Brothers?  Have at it.  Toadies?  Go ahead and send me a copy.  Because no one judges.  (See #4.)  And if anyone who happens to be with you does, you can accidentally-on-purpose forget him at a truck stop off the side of I-95.

Or, if you’re nicer and have been paying attention, at a diner off the side of Highway 301 within walking distance of a riverside park and an all-you-can-eat Maryland crab shack and a sign for RedNex sporting goods.

6)  Be flexible.  Okay.  So you want to avoid the interstates, especially around busy cities, but there’s this truly amazing sandcastle competition they hold every year in Cannon Beach, Oregon, and you know there’s no way you’ll make it in time if you completely avoid I-84.  Not to mention the fact that sometimes the interstate is just safer, especially while traveling solo, in the way of providing the occasional modern convenience or (hopefully) friendly passerby in case you run into trouble.

So if the situation calls for it, take the interstate.  If you have time to peruse a used book store in a quaint seaside village, do it.

Basically this rule means that there are no rules.  Kind of like Fight Club, except we get to feel free without having the crap beat out of us.

Good deal, no?

7)  Earn Your Keep.  This has more to do with the stops between times on the road.  When someone’s putting you up for a night (or two, or three, or however long you plan to leach from their generosity while enjoying their company), they’re doing more than providing a bed.  They’re providing water, food, hygienic facilities, and a place far more comfortable than your car for stretching out with a good book.

Usually, they’re sharing their home.  Knowledge of the place they live and love.  Absorb it all, whatever they want to show you, and pay it forward.  For our relatives in Philadelphia, I have a gift planned.  To Erin, I brought olives and wine.  And for Angie?


Angie opted for manual labor.

So on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we took her front lawn from this:

To this:

And while I may have taken the occasional break to sip water on her fabulous front porch and point out spots that could use improvement, (I was on vacation, after all), I also managed to help a little, and all-in-all felt pretty great about squeezing in some physical activity between wine and food samplings.

So there you have it.  Seven rules for road tripping that are subject to change without notice as I become older, crotchetier, and take in more of what this world has to offer.

Better than Alive.

My apologies, but I’ve had no real time to write or edit photos — Headed to Baltimore in a few!

Isn’t this always the conundrum of someone who wants to write about travel?

When you’re traveling, where is the time for writing?

But I can tell you this — I feel great.  Alive.  Better than alive.  The road is better than any rejuvenating facial cleanser sold at the local drug store.

In the meantime, check out this killer crab cake sandwich I stopped and ate on the drive at a place called Java Jack’s Coffee House:

Taken with my iPhone.

In a last-minute decision to take Hwy 301 North from Williamsburg, VA to Annapolis, MD so I could avoid the ever-terrifying experience of I-95 around D.C. (though sadly bypassing the IKEA there as well), I passed through a little town called Tappahannock.

No, I don’t know how to pronounce that.

It’s perched along the southern edge of the Rappahannock River.

No, I’m not making this up.

Anyway.  I saw this little white house once I passed the inevitable slew of fast food and American family style restaurants and entered the older part of town.  I was greeted with a smile and told to seat my self.  I was, by far, the youngest patron there on a Monday morning at 11:15.  Sadly, I’d just missed breakfast, which I’m convinced now would have been spectacular.  I was just about to ask whether they’d make an exception to their 11:00 lunch rule when the waitress informed me that one of their specials for the day was a crab cake sandwich.


I hadn’t technically crossed the Maryland border yet, but I figured my 15 minutes late for breakfast was a sign I should partake an hour early in some famous Maryland crab.

For all of my culinary expertise, this may have come from a can.

Taken with my iPhone.

But I can tell you this:  It certainly didn’t taste like it had.

With a full belly and more solitary scenic driving ahead, Java Jack’s proved an excellent Virginia sendoff.

Oh, and the bathroom was spectacular.

Taken with my iPhone.

Java Jacks Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Procrastination is an Art Best Left to the Professionals.

So I’ve been pretty negligent in my writing lately.

It’s not my fault, I swear.

First, there’s my job.  I don’t really want to talk about it.

Then, there’s this American duty called taxes.  Yes, they come every year.  No, it’s not a surprise.  The problem?  Justin and I are both procrastinators.  Two procrastinators in one household is worse than 2 Alphas in a  single pack.  Where 2 Alphas waste time arguing about whose way they’re going to do something, we waste time thinking about how we’re not going to do something.  Alphas will eventually finish the job when they determine who can yell the loudest or one knocks the other into a wall.  But 2 procrastinators?  We never get anything finished.

So last night, after I arrived home from work 3 hours late and was busy not packing for my trip, we realized.  Today is March 30th.  That means tomorrow is the 31st.  Of course, after that comes April, which means taxes are due in like 15 to 18 days.  I didn’t care enough to look it up.  And I’m going to be gone for like half of those.  So, yeah.  Maybe we should get on that.  Like… now.

Oh, and that trip?  That trip starts today.  Only I’m sitting here, typing to you, because my darling husband is off getting my oil changed — something I meant to do last week, I swear, but the days just kept happening one after the other and the change never occurred.

So I’ve spent the morning packing, and he’s prepping the Tracker for our imminently late departure.

And I’ll tell you what — packing for a trip up the coast is not an easy task.  Since I’m sure to face all types of weather scenarios as I head further north, I figured the best solution was to just throw all of my things into one giant suitcase.

Okay, not all of my things.  But quite a few.

I can do that because I’m driving, hence no exorbitant baggage fees.

Then, of course, there’s the travel outfit itself.  Since I rarely show you pictures of myself and I’m antsy waiting to go:

Yep, that is one classy lady.  Shorts and a baggy sweater.  Why this particular look?  Well, I personally think shorts are more comfortable for driving than jeans, and I don’t wear pajama pants in public.  The sweater is to keep off the chill since it’s raining right now, but I’m wearing a tank top underneath in case it gets stuffy in the car.

Loose clothes are key when it comes to road trips.  That way, when my inevitable fast food pooch spills over my waistline as I sit for an extended period, I won’t have to look at it.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes that’s still our guest room.

Yes, it’s been probably 2 months since we started on the master bedroom.

Yes, it’s still a mess.

And yes, that’s a pile of dirty laundry behind me.

So get off my back, would you?


Don’t you know that I’m too busy doing important things like throwing clothes into a bag and taking photos of myself in the mirror to do housework?  I mean, just look at the title of this blog.  If that’s not an excuse, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, I’m officially late for my self-imposed departure time.  It’s really not surprising, and fortunately for me, my friends are kind of awesome because they know me.  If I were to actually be on time, the world might implode.

So really, I’m doing this for you.

By the way, of course I haven’t looked up things for us to do/see during our one day in NYC.  We have reservations to see Ground Zero — can any of you locals or near-NYC-ers tell me what else we should hit that’s nearby?  I think I’d probably enjoy some of the more artsy areas.  And both of us would enjoy anything involving food.  And it should be young-teen friendly because my aunt, uncle, and cousins-in-law will be along for the ride.  Actually it’s probably the other way around.  But you get the gist.  Ideas?

How about you? Any big weekend plans?

Let Me Tell You About This Trip.

No, not a psychedelic shroomie trip I maybe once had back in college.

I’m talking about this trip:

The one I’ll be taking in approximately one month.

The one where I’m driving, because I like to drive, and Justin will be flying to the endpoint, Philadelphia, because he’s a cheater and doesn’t understand the beauty of the road.  And also because he can’t take that much leave from work.

I’m incredibly excited about this trip for 2 reasons:

One, I will be going somewhere.  That’s right — it doesn’t take much to make me happy in this world, and ‘going somewhere’ usually does the trick.

Two, I will be visiting some of my favorite people on this planet.

Angie, the saucy Aussie, lives in Williamsburg, VA.  We studied rocks and maps together in college, and apparently Geology and GIS have tighter bonding power than whatever JLo used to stick her dress to her boobies at the Oscars last weekend, because even though sometimes whole oceans have separated us (her husband is in the military, too), we still always find a way to come back to our friendship.

Me ‘n Angie.  She’s trying not to look at my peeking areola.

Now.  If you’ve been reading this blog since my quarter-life-crisis days (which, let’s face it, will probably linger on into my midlife), you already know Erin.  If not, she’s the one who quit her job with me so we could move to Costa Rica for 2 months.  All it took was one trip to visit her in Frederic, MD and several cocktails, but eventually she caved.  And although she won’t admit it, I’m pretty sure she knows it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her.  You know, aside from meeting her husband and moving to Annapolis and buying her awesome fixer-upper and going back to school to follow her life dreams.  But whatever.

And finally, there’s Anna and her family, who live in Philadelphia, PA.  What can I say about Anna?  Well.  The first year I visited Justin’s family for Christmas was a little… overwhelming.  My family is very small, not to mention divorced, and with just a handful of cousins, our holidays were pretty low-key even back in the days when we all got together.  So, imagine how I felt when I entered his grandparents’ enormous house filled to the brim with family.  Aunts, uncles, and 23 (or so?) cousins.  And that’s just his dad’s side.

When I met Anna, she took me under her wing.  One of Justin’s aunts through marriage, she knew what it was like to come from outside.  What’s more, we’re very similar in beliefs and personalities.  And while I love visiting that huge family whenever we can, I’ll admit it’s nice to know there’s someone there who understands a little about from where I come — and why, sometimes, I just need more wine.

The thing about large family holidays is that, while you can spend all of this quality time with people, you still might not really know who they are.  Think about it.  If you’ve never seen the place someone calls “home,” do you really know that person?  I loved visiting some of Justin’s other aunts in Colorado one year because we finally were able to see what home was like for them — and they weren’t these bustling, crazy houses full of people, but  normal family homes.  Just them surrounded by the things they love.

This is why I’m looking forward to seeing Anna and her family in their own element — just them, their city, and maybe a couple of Philly Cheesesteaks.

And maybe… maybe


Kids, I have never been to NYC.

Not once.

It’s shameful, I know.

I kept waiting for that publisher or agent to call me out of the blue and invite me up for cocktails and a book deal, but it never happened.


So here I’ve been sitting, less than 12 hours away from this country’s most defining city, just waiting for an invitation.

And guess what?

It just arrived.

So those are the major planned stops so far, but I’m open to visiting some other sights along the way.

Anyone know of something along this route that’s worth the stop?  An amazing restaurant?  The perfect thrift store?  The world’s largest ball of twine?  Do you have or know of a wonderfully designed home that I should photograph for Apartment Therapy?

Hey.  I’ll admit.  While I love a good road trip as much as the next girl, I’m not going to turn down the opportunity to make a little money.

My Cup Runneth…

Sometimes I know I’ve been fortunate.

So incredibly fortunate.

I’ve tasted warm, Nutella filled crepes on the rain-chilled streets of Paris.  I’ve rappelled waterfalls in the damp, verdant jungles of Costa Rica.  I’ve seen every color of the rainbow embedded into ethereal rock splayed across the Badlands.   I’ve added 5,500 miles to the Tracker’s odometer in a single trip — marveling at the competing corner coffee shops of Seattle; the craggy, hasselback coastline Oregon; the overhyped sidewalk stars along the grimy streets of Hollywood; the unpretentious grandeur of southwestern deserts;  the popping display of vibrant Fourth of July fireworks that greeted me from the mountains as I entered Colorado Springs, and much, much more.

I’m on the right. Okay… not the most flattering of makeup-less helmeted garb, but whatever. I was waterfall rappelling in Costa Rica, for crying out loud.

I’ve stood in a forest field of lemon-yellow buttercups in Switzerland, I think.  I’ve spelunked the depths of a guano-filled cave in the mountains of Georgia.  I’ve danced in a club in Ibiza while the floor filled with water.  I’ve jumped from a plane over the sun-dappled island of Oahu.  I’ve bartered with an artist in Malaga for the ugliest drawing I’ve ever seen (story coming soon).  I’ve scuba’d the breathtaking reefs of St. Lucia.  I survived a border crossing to Nicaragua with nary a scratch, and I suffered a thank-God-it-wasn’t-a-brown-recluse spider bite in my own front yard and lived to tell the tale.


Me. Spelunking.

I’ve driven across the Golden Gate, I’ve gazed upon my nation’s capital, I’ve walked on glass over the city of Toronto, I’ve stared in awe at the St. Louis Arch, I’ve seen where le tour de Eiffel touches the ground.

Skydive Hawaii

Sometimes, even in Hawaii, you need to get a little closer to the sun.

Yet somehow, it’s not enough.

It’s never enough.

My experience only reminds me of how much I haven’t yet seen.  How much there is still to see.

And there is a constant battle in my head over where I should concentrate my energy.  I ask myself, why am I spending money on curtains when there are these things to do?  Why are we ordering takeout when we could save to eat REAL food in Thailand?  Why am I still paying these student loans when I could flee the country and live quite comfortably in Central America?  Why did that parking lot car accident just cost us $500 when we should be riding in an Indian rickshaw anyway?

And then Justin looks at me funny because I already made him feel bad about the accident when it wasn’t even his fault, but also because riding in an Indian rickshaw doesn’t hold the same appeal for him as it does for me.

Travel, I think, is in my blood.

And those who are pathogen-free will never understand.

Hell, I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why I’m sitting here, in my office, caught between two worlds.  Travel magazines, and writing books on one side of me, paint samples and curtain packages on the other.

One side. (un-staged.)

The other side.  (un-staged.)

It’s like a snapshot of my brain, scattered across my pristine white desk, each side pulling me in a separate direction every moment of every day.

It’s a very fast way, you see, to go nowhere at all.

Or split in two.

I know.  If that is my problem, then I have it made.

But maybe it’s a metaphor.  A really bad metaphor for the struggle of balancing our real lives — relationships, obligations, jobs, and bills — with the vision we’ve seen for ourselves since childhood.

I’m not sure where I lost sight of mine, but I’m hoping it’s not too late to get it back.

I’m hoping I can balance it with the things I have and love already.

I’m hoping I’m not as crazy as I sound.

People Say We Monkey Around…

Ok, we’ve been toying with your emotions for long enough.

We’ve teased and flirted and played coy, but now it’s time to finally give up the goods.

That’s right, folks.  It’s time… for monkey pics.

But first, I have to tell you a little story of how we came to get them.  This’ll just take a minute.  Patience, my pretties.

Here goes…

On our way to Tamarindo to spend one of our last days in Costa Rica at the beach, we made a detour to Congo Trail, a canopy tour company located just outside of Playa del Coco in the small town of Artola.  In addition to offering zipline tours, ATV rides and other invigorating outdoor pursuits designed for people with far more pep and energy than we have, the park features a butterfly preserve, snake exhibit  and monkey refuge.  Becs had visited the monkeys earlier in the year and loved it, and since she’s been pretty much dead-on with every other recommendation, we were dying to check it out.

So we arrived, wide-eyed and eager to handle us some monkeys–except, when we got there, the staff informed us that the regular monkey handler (how sweet of a job is that, by the way?) would not be in today and, as such, the monkey exhibit was closed.

Considering we’d just spent the last 40 minutes driving 20 mph down a dirt road, puttering past goats and straw huts and people who looked startled to see a large metal object moving of its own accord, this was not the news we wanted to hear.  Fortunately, after a little haggling and pleading and cajoling, they agreed to let us in.  All they had to do was prep the cage for us and then we could commence getting our sweet monkey action on.

Only there was one small problem:

This guy.

Apparently, there’s a strict social structure amongst the capuchin monkey community (totally not the hippy, free-lovin’ Phish concert vibe I was expecting), and this bad boy just so happened to be the alpha male of this particular clique.  And while he may look all “Aw shucks, ma’am” in the above photo, believe you me, he ruled his 9×9 foot domain with tiny Totalitarian fists.  And he was positively pissed about us trying to come up in his house.

When initial efforts to remove El Capitan from the cage were unsuccessful, the interim handler got down to business.  Sensing an ensuing battle, he called for backup and escorted the three of us outside the fenced area, suggesting that we go walk around, see the sights and come back in 15 minutes or so.

Not easily deterred, we let him guide us out but quickly scrambled to find a good vantage point on the other side of the fence from where we could watch the juicy drama unfold.  And man, are we glad we did, because what happened next was the most unintentionally hilarious hour-long standoff involving five grown men and a monkey that we will ever see in our lifetimes.

It was hard to tell what the staff’s battle strategy was, but it seemed to involve each man taking a turn tentatively stepping into the cage, only to sprint out two seconds later with three pounds of screeching, frothing, pure and unadulterated monkey rage quick on his heels.  At one point, one staff member finally succeeded in snagging the little guy in a net; however, in his excitement, he failed to follow through by covering the gaping hole at the top and the monkey ended up escaping and scaling onto the top of the nine-foot-tall cage.  From there it proceeded to shriek and taunt the staff members, possibly even saying bad things about their mothers.

With this latest turn of events, the group below did a quick huddle and, after some lively discussion and finger-pointing, one of the staff members climbed up on top of the cage as well and the two reluctantly began an awkward  interspecies tango involving zigging and zagging, advancing and retreating, parrying and thrusting, shucking and jiving.  After about 15 minutes, the monkey finally decided it had had enough of making a fool of the staff and allowed itself to be humanely captured.  Although Katie, Becs and I didn’t actually witness the resolution because, by that point, we were steeped in our very own melodrama of trying to laugh without peeing our pants.

But  the saga did have a happy ending and the grim-faced, beady-eyed staff finally allowed us in.

And here’s what I learned about monkeys that day:

They are very affectionate.

Very, very affectionate.


Maybe even a little too affectionate.

They like to eat sunflower seeds and have atrocious table manners.  As such, you will spend the rest of the day picking  shells out of your hair and from down the front of your shirt.

They have zero qualms about personal space.

None whatsoever.

And although they are masters at volumizing, oddly enough they do not make the best hairdressers.

Mainly because they don’t take customer feedback well.

Yes, a monkey bit my scalp.

So that’s that.  Thanks again to the Congo Trail staff for all the memories!

And, don’t worry, we made sure to tip them.

Our stylists were another story.