tourism

5 Tips For Planning Your Next Vacation

5 Tips For Worry-Free Travel“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

*

If you can’t tell already from the bulk of my posts, I love to travel. I may not be able to do that much of it now that I’m in graduate school, but I try to prioritize even the shorter road trips so that I can experience something new. I truly enjoy visiting a place I’ve never been before, and immersing myself in the culture, food, and history. (Check out my travel guide on Savannah, Georgia, for my latest vacation recap!) However, no vacation is complete without the proper planning, and I’m nothing if not a planner. 🙂

With Memorial Day Weekend almost here and summertime just around the corner, it’s not too late to plan your next adventure. Below are my tips for making it a stress-free vacation, because you deserve it!

  • Call your credit card companies and financial institutions.
    As someone who works in the banking industry, I can attest to this! If you use your card in another state or country, your bank/credit union/credit card company may think that someone has stolen your card and is conducting fraudulent transactions. One of my credit cards was shut down before my trip overseas, simply because I purchased attraction tickets online. Let your financial institutions know where you will be and how long you will be there so that they don’t mistake your travel expenses for fraudulent activity.
  • Plan ahead with a unique itinerary.
    When it comes to vacations, I love this part of the planning process. Before we go on one of our mother-daughter trips, my mom always orders a AAA book to guide us on things to do and places to stay in a particular area. I love the U.S. News Travel site, but I also really enjoy searching for travel blog posts via Pinterest to find suggestions, including some off-the-beaten-path. Having even a rough itinerary will keep you organized throughout the trip and ensure that you have the chance to do the things you’re dying to do!
  • Look for a Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour.
    I am a huge fan of these tours because they allow you to see a lot of the major landmarks and learn the history behind them, while “hopping on” and “hopping off” at your leisure. It’s a great way to spend your first day in a new city! I first discovered these tours in London, but have done them both abroad and in the U.S. If you’re visiting one of the seven cities they serve, I highly recommend Old Town Trolley Tours.
  • Print extras of everything.
    Renting a car? Booking a tour? Designate a folder for all things trip-related, and keep copies of your reservations and tour confirmations with you in case you need to reference that information later on. You’ll thank me when the rental car company doesn’t properly compute your Costco membership discount, and accidentally upcharges you for your car! 🙂
  • Keep your home safe.
    Don’t forget about your house or apartment when you’re on vacation! It’s important to make sure you come back to your home just as you left it, from setting your alarms to cleaning out the fridge. Check out the below infographic from SimpliSafe all about stress-free travel, as well as their tips for keeping your home safe when traveling overseas. SimpliSafe offers wireless, customizable security systems that use modern technology to protect your home, whether you’re leaving the country or simply leaving for the grocery store. Visit their website here!

Valerie_Travel.jpg

Where are you traveling this summer? Sound off with your plans and other tips in the comments section!

The Hostess City of the South: Adventures in Savannah

Savannah - 12While discussing upcoming travel plans, my friend Karina brought up an important point: if you didn’t blog about it, did it even happen? Back in January, my mom and I took our much anticipated annual mother-daughter trip to Savannah, Georgia, a city with culture as rich as its cuisine.

The Historic District of Savannah, where we spent the bulk of our vacation, includes 22 town squares as originally planned by James Oglethorpe in the 1700s. The squares are easy to navigate, and each one we visited had its share of landmarks, restaurants, and eclectic shops.

I’m excited to share the highlights of our trip on the blog, and provide a guide for those traveling to this city for the first (or fifth!) time. 🙂

Places We Visited

  • Wormsloe Plantation
    We began our visit at the Wormsloe Plantation outside of Savannah’s Historic District, first occupied by Noble Jones. We toured the museum and watched a short film about the city’s establishment, but the highlight of visiting these tabby ruins was our mile-long walk down the Spanish moss-lined avenue. What a gorgeous view and a perfect photo op!
  • Savannah - 195Owens-Thomas House
    My mom and I are both big fans of historic homes, so visiting this English Regency-style house was a must. The house served as a home for many over the years, including (temporarily) Marquis de Lafayette. We enjoyed learning the history of the home and its architecture. If you only have time to visit one historic home on your trip, this is the one!
  • Telfair Academy
    Telfair Academy is an art museum located in Telfair Square (near the Owens-Thomas House) and boasts a beautiful sculpture gallery. It also boasts its share of ghost stories. For those planning to visit Telfair Academy, your ticket will also grant you admission to the Owens-Thomas House, as well as the Jepson Center, a contemporary art museum.
  • Sorrel-Weed House
    The Sorrel-Weed House is located very close to our hotel, so we decided to pay the home a visit. The home is currently undergoing restoration efforts, but it was interesting to see how people lived in the 1800s when it was first built. It is also a site known for its ghost sightings, so be wary of any paranormal activity!
  • Savannah - 73Massie Heritage Center
    This former school house was converted to a museum after the school closed in the 1970s, and provides a great overview of Savannah and its history. From its interactive 3D map of the city with a laser show to the 1800s classroom replica, we had fun stepping back in time at Massie.

Tours We Took

  • Old Town Trolley Tours: Hop-On, Hop-Off
    Whenever visiting a new city, I always recommend taking a hop-on, hop-off tour if available. Not only do these tours allow you to learn a lot about the city you’re in, but they also happen to stop at all of the major attractions and can be a great guide for getting to know the area. We toured the city on an Old Town Trolley Tour, which transported us to the picturesque Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Congregation Mikve Israel (one of the oldest synagogues in the country and the only one designed with gothic architecture), Massie Heritage Center, River Street, and many more destinations.
  • Ghosts & Gravestones Tour
    You can’t visit a historic city known for its hauntings without taking a ghost tour! My mom and I did a Ghosts and Gravestones tour on our St. Augustine trip last year, so it was only fitting that we returned for our 2017 trip. The tour gave us some additional insight into Savannah’s history, but it also stopped at the Andrew Low House as well as a ship chandlery. Definitely spooky!

What We Ate

Savannah - 165
My mom and I don’t consider ourself major foodies, but we did eat a few delicious meals and treats during our visit! Here are some of our favorites:

  • The Public Kitchen and Bar
    Our first dinner in Savannah was spent at The Public Kitchen and Bar, a farm-to-table restaurant located near our hotel. I tried a Thai Coconut Red Curry, while my mom ordered one of the grass-fed burgers the restaurant is known for.
  • River Street Sweets
    River Street, while iconic, was a little too crowded and touristy for our taste. However, we did make a special stop at River Street Sweets, where we sampled free pralines and purchased some candy to bring back to the hotel. The long lines were worth it!
  • Gryphon Tea Room
    Gryphon Tea Room was the perfect lunch spot for our second day in Savannah. The restaurant itself is a sight to behold, with beautifully carved bookshelves, stained glass, and ornate light fixtures.  While I enjoyed my chicken marsala, the highlight of our visit was definitely the pot of Atlanta Peach Tea that accompanied my meal. On my next visit to Savannah, I would love to return for high tea.
  • Chocolat by Adam Turoni
    How can you walk by a store called “Chocolat” and not go inside? Like Gryphon, Chocolat by Adam Turoni is filled with bookshelves and actually resembles a bookstore more than anything else. The store sells gift book boxes of chocolates, mint julep truffles, and a variety of other unique food products. I enjoyed a piece of the Savannah Honey Chocolate Bar and a Raspberry Chambord Truffle. Definitely worth the visit!

Savannah was only a four-hour drive and the perfect way to spend a long weekend for a mother-daughter trip! I can’t wait for my next visit to the Hostess City of the South, and look forward to getting to know this city even better.

Have you been to Savannah? What are some of the highlights from your trip? Share your suggestions or questions in the comments section below!

Adventures in Florida: New Smyrna Beach

New Smyrna BeachIn a few short days, I will be completely finished with my spring semester and one half of the way through graduate school! Time flies when you’re having fun (that, and when you’re up against a deadline on a paper!), but classes have proven especially challenging for me this semester, so I will be excited for a little break. :)

I plan to celebrate the upcoming summer season by crossing a few more items off my 26 at 26 bucket list, spending quality time with friends, and doing some much-needed organizational projects at home. Of course, no summer in Florida is complete without a beach trip, so I’m looking forward to taking a mini-road trip to New Smyrna Beach!

As some of you may know, I grew up a lot closer to the coast, so a trip to the beach was no big deal. However, living in Central Florida often means fewer beach trips, simply because of how much longer it takes to get there! For my 25 at 25 bucket list, I decided to visit a Central Florida beach that I had never visited before: New Smyrna Beach.

IMG_4926New Smyrna Beach is one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever visited. Not only does it have that picture-perfect white sand,  but you can actually park right on the beach. The last time I went, I felt like I was on spring break! 🙂

If you’re getting in around lunchtime, the best place to stop is the iconic Breakers Ocean Front Restaurant, a beloved landmark in NSB. The seating throughout the restaurant overlooks the ocean (and makes for excellent people-watching), and the burgers are pretty good, too.

For those visiting from out of town, check out Tripping.com to book your vacation rental. From beach houses to luxury vacation homes, Tripping.com has a great selection of places to choose from in New Smyrna Beach and all over Florida, and will compare prices from all of the top sites.

Thinking of making the trip? Here are my top five must-haves for any beach vacation.

  • Proper Hydration
    In case you haven’t heard, Florida can get pretty hot in the summertime. While a cold beer may feel refreshing, it’s important to stock up on water as well in order to remain fully hydrated. Don’t forget your cooler! Bonus tip: A koozie will also help keep your drink cold. Check out ChicMonogram on Etsy for customized monogrammed koozies. Her turnaround time is awesome and her products never disappoint!
  • Cute Cover-Up
    A cute cover-up is essential for any beach trip. I’ve bought a lot of my favorites at Target, and am currently eyeing this adorable kaftan.
  • Sunscreen & Skin Care
    A little bit of sun goes a long way. Make sure to protect your skin from the UVA rays. I like to bring a hat as well to cover my face and (hopefully!) prevent added wrinkles. Don’t forget a lip balm with SPF too– your lips will thank you!
  • Ibuprofen
    As much as I love the great outdoors, I tend to get a pretty bad headache if I’m outside in the heat all day. That’s why I always make sure to pack some ibuprofen or aspirin– that way, I can enjoy the day for longer and still feel great.
  • A Great Beach Read
    For added relaxation, pack along that book you’ve been dying to read. Need some suggestions? For short stories with a splash of dark humor, check out B.J. Novak’s One More Thing, or Helen Ellis’s American Housewife. If you’re looking for sci-fi drama, And Again by Jessica Chiarella is a true page-turner. Or, if you want a memoir with a strong female lead, look no further than Mindy Kaling’s latest, Why Not Me? or Amy Schumer’s Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo.

What are your favorite beach essentials? Any tips for visiting New Smyrna? Share with us in the comments section below!

 

Adventures in Florida: The Seacrest Wolf Preserve

Over the weekend, I experienced the adventure of a lifetime when my dad, sister, and I took a trip to the Seacrest Wolf Preserve. Tucked away in Chipley, Florida, the Seacrest Wolf Preserve was one of those bucket list items I never even knew I had until recently, when I met one of the volunteers at the Blue Springs Manatee Festival. I come from a family of animal lovers (who also happen to be involved in German Shepherd rescue efforts), so visiting the Seacrest Wolf Preserve was the perfect family getaway.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Seacrest Wolf Preserve is a non-profit organization dedicated to wolf conservation. Covering more than 400 acres, the preserve is a safe haven for several wolf packs, as well as foxes, skunks, a coyote, and other wildlife. Seacrest offers both public and private tours, allowing visitors to meet and interact with the wolves and smaller animals.

For our first visit, we decided to check out the Saturday Wolf Encounter Tour. When we arrived, we met Cynthia Watkins, one of Seacrest’s co-founders, and it was easy to see her passion for these beautiful animals. For just $25 admission, we had the chance to tour three wolf habitats and meet the packs who live there, as well as visit the foxes and skunks in the small animal areas.

This experience was life-changing, and I can’t wait to return for another visit. Within the wolf habitats, we were actually able to pet, play, and howl with the wolves– we even received a few wolf kisses! I fell in love with an energetic 10-month-old pup who reminded me a lot of my first German Shepherd, Shana, at that age. 🙂

Throughout the day, we learned about how packs form and how difficult it truly is to be a “lone wolf.” We also learned about why conservation efforts are a necessity, as wolves are incredibly vital to the ecosystem, and how greed and legislation have put their lives in danger.

During the tour, we talked about how important it is to speak for the wolves, because they cannot speak for themselves. Supporting organizations like Seacrest is a great way to give back to these incredible animals and fight against the regulations that have put them in harm’s way. Visiting the preserve gives you a greater appreciation and empathy for an often misunderstood creature, and is a must-do for anyone who wants to get up close and personal with a wolf.

I’m excited to return with my family for a VIP Tour in the near future! I highly recommend Seacrest (learn more about tours here) for all of you animal lovers. It’s an experience you won’t forget.

Adventures in Florida: A Weekend in St. Augustine

When I turned 25 just a few months ago, one of my first orders of business was to plan a trip to St. Augustine in the New Year. When I was a child growing up in South Florida, St. Augustine played a big role in my fourth grade education, as the oldest European-established settlement in the country and the first overnight field trip destination my classmates and I ever visited. I visited the town in passing a few times since, but wanted to spend more time in St. Augustine this winter.

In early January, my mom and I packed our bags and took a short road trip to the nation’s oldest city, where we would stay for the weekend.

LightnerMuseum

Our first stop was the Lightner Museum, which was originally the Hotel Alcazar built by Henry Flagler. Aside from the gorgeous Spanish-inspired architecture and picturesque landscaping, the museum boasts collections of antique musical instruments, sculptures, paintings, the stained glass art of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and several other historical and science exhibits as well.

LightnerMuseum

During our visit, we were also able to see the hotel’s original spa and Turkish bath areas. However, nothing was more festive and exciting than our lunch at the Cafe Alcazar, a restaurant located where the indoor pool used to be. I loved my hummus salad almost as much as the cafe itself, and would highly recommend grabbing a bite there for an elegant and unique dining experience. (After all, how often do you get to eat lunch in a swimming pool?)

Cafe Alcazar

After the Lightner Museum, we walked over to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Of course, my mom and I drank from the Fountain of Youth, so now I’m hoping to be young and beautiful well into my nineties. If I’m still blogging by then, I’ll let you know how well the fountain really worked. 🙂

Fountain of Youth

We roamed around the park for the afternoon, visited the exhibits, watched a few videos on the discovery of the settlement, and fell asleep during the observatory show (okay, that was just me!). I also made a few unlikely friends.

Fountain of Youth Park

Seriously, these guys were everywhere!

After checking into the hotel and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we ended the night with a Ghosts & Gravestones ghost tour. I have always been a fan of ghost tours, and this one did not disappoint! We stopped at the Lighthouse Park and at the Old Jail, where we were visited by an old (slightly terrifying) prisoner. We had a fantastic time, all while learning about some of the more macabre history of St. Augustine.

Castillo de San Marcos

The next morning, we headed out to the Castillo de San Marcos, the country’s oldest fort that was owned by several nations at different points in history. It was an incredible experience to walk through a place that survived so many wars and attacks, in the footsteps of so many others before us.

Castillo de San Marcos

After the Castillo, we enjoyed a quick lunch in the Old City before heading back home. I had a wonderful weekend with one of my favorite traveling companions, and would recommend St. Augustine to anyone planning a vacation. 🙂

For a recap of my other Bucket List adventures, click here!

Have any of you been to St. Augustine? What were your favorite experiences?

Adventures in Florida: A Night at the Planetarium

As some of my readers know, I created a 25 at 25 Bucket List for my 25th birthday back in September, consisting of 25 things I hoped to do over the next year. (Want to know how it’s going so far? Click here!) One of those adventures included a trip to the planetarium – something I hadn’t done since elementary school. I’ve always been interested in astronomy, as well as the mythology used to explain many of the stars in the sky, and I thought that a planetarium visit would be the perfect opportunity to learn something new.

Imagine my excitement when I found out that there was a planetarium just a few miles up the road at Seminole State College! The Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium costs just $6 for an adult ticket (free for SSC students and $4 for seniors, K-12 students and students from other colleges), and offers a variety of public shows to choose from.

Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium

Two weeks ago, my friends and I decided to get into the holiday spirit and attend the planetarium’s Star of Bethlehem show, which we learned is one of the most popular seasonal shows for planetariums worldwide. The show focuses on the story of the Magi and the birth of Jesus, as well as the scientific theories behind what the “star of Bethlehem” could have possibly been.

I enjoyed the mix of science and religious folklore throughout the show, and appreciated that the narration never became too preachy or alienated any of its audience. Instead, the show allowed for viewers to decide for themselves what to believe about the star, and encouraged viewers not to turn science and religion into a mutually exclusive either/or scenario. My friends and I are from different religious backgrounds, but the show appealed to all four of us and we all left having gained new historic, religious and scientific knowledge.

Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium

Based on my experience at the Star of Bethlehem show that night, I will definitely be returning to this planetarium for other shows in the near future! In January, I also hope to attend the free Winter Sky Festival that the planetarium will be hosting. What a perfect way to enjoy a winter night in Florida!

What’s on your bucket list this year? Have you visited the planetarium recently? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!

Adventures in Florida: Central Florida Zoo

12227904_10156151550775627_712913309_o

Squad goals.

My inner child had the time of her life over the weekend when I took my very first trip to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. As some of my blog readers know, I’ve been dying to visit this zoo for quite some time — it’s practically in my backyard and it made its way onto my 25 at 25 Bucket List! (To see my progress so far, click here.) I was overcome with excitement when I convinced a few friends to tag along, and I enjoyed every minute of my visit. 🙂

Total disclosure: I’m an unapologetic nerd when it comes to my love for animals. I know there are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to zoos, but there’s no denying that zoos can instill in us an empathy and love for all creatures from a young age. You gain exposure to species you’ve never even heard of from areas of the world you’ve never been. If you live in Florida, a giraffe is probably not going to wander in front of your window one morning, so seeing one in person can be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, I had a great time at the zoo. 🙂 It was Lemur Conservation Day, which meant that we learned little factoids about lemurs throughout the day and even observed part of a zookeeper talk on lemurs.

Red Ruffed Lemur at Central Florida Zoo

Aside from lemurs, the Central Florida Zoo features a cheetah, leopard, cougar, dromedary camel and many other animals, as well as a fairly extensive herpetarium and a variety of birds. The adorable otters were swimming when we arrived in their area and were possibly the happiest animals in the entire zoo, followed closely by this boer goat (who just might definitely be my spirit animal).

He seriously might have been my favorite animal of the whole day.

He seriously might have been my favorite animal of the whole day.

I was also enamored with these two Indian rhinos, Jahi and PJ, and compared them to two of our family dogs throughout the visit based on their proximity to one another. 🙂

Rhinos at Central Florida Zoo

For those of you who live in the Orlando area or are making a trip out here, the Central Florida Zoo is well worth the visit. I’m so happy I was able to finally experience it after years of living only a few miles away! It is a relatively small zoo, but it has a good variety of animals and plenty of activities for children as well.

This llama hopes you had a nice day!

This llama hopes you had a nice day!

What’s on your bucket list this year? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!

Adventures in Florida: Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

MorikamiA couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to cross another item off of my 25 at 25 Bucket List: visiting the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida. When you’ve lived somewhere for most of your life, you start to take it for granted, and sometimes miss out on some of the amazing hidden gems right in your own backyard. It is my goal this year to pursue new experiences in Florida and visit some of the places I’ve always wanted to see. The Morikami Museum was definitely one of those places, and it did not disappoint.

The Morikami Museum sits on 200 acres of Japanese gardens, all representing different eras of garden design. I went with my parents on a breezy, overcast day — perfect walking weather in Florida — and it felt like we were in another time and another world.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

We learned about the history of the Yamato Colony, a pioneering group of Japanese farmers who settled in South Florida in the early 1900s. The colony never grew past 35 farmers, especially because it consisted mainly of young single men (most women weren’t interested in relocating from Japan to the Yamato Colony). However, the land was donated by one of the last colony members and preserved as a place to celebrate Japanese culture and educate others on the lesser-known history of Japanese heritage in Florida.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

We also walked through the museum, modeled after a Japanese villa, and visited the art installations as well. The art installations focused on life during World War II in the Japanese internment camps, a dark time in America’s history. I didn’t know much about the internment camps prior to my visit (just that they existed), but the exhibitions were so moving that they inspired me to learn more after I left. I am now reading Julie Otsuka’s novel When The Emperor Was Divine, which focuses on a family sent to an internment camp in Utah, and still can’t believe that this really happened here less than 100 years ago. One room of the museum features The Tag Project, a set of seven hanging installations that consist of replicas of each identification tag for all of those displaced to internment camps. It creates a startling visual of just how many people were displaced at that time.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Visiting the Morikami Museum was an amazing educational experience that I cannot recommend enough.  For those who live in South Florida or are planning a trip, take some time to walk through these gardens and learn about the Japanese culture, past and present.

What’s on your bucket list this year? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!

Love Your Shorts Summer Rewind: Adventures in Sanford

Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve looked for new ways to get engaged in my community. I grew up in South Florida, and while it may only be a few hours from where I live now, the two places sometimes often seem like worlds apart. Finding fun local events to attend with friends — especially those that pertain to the arts — has made my new residence feel a lot more like home.

Sanford06

Sanford is a port city just north of Orlando, filled with its own rich history and well isolated from the hectic Disney World traffic. I often drive down to Lake Monroe to enjoy the beautiful view, eclectic shops and historic downtown district. From authentic German cuisine at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe to (paleo friends, cover your eyes for this!) handcrafted marshmallows and s’mores at Wondermade Dessert Cafe, the city is unique and has something to offer everyone.

Over the past two years, I’ve been using websites like Visit Seminole and EventBrite to find fun things to do in the Sanford area. The great thing about EventBrite is that not only can you sign up for events in your area, but you can also manage your own events and even sell tickets!

Back in August, while using the site, I discovered the Love Your Shorts Summer Rewind, and was immediately intrigued.

rewind3

The Love Your Shorts Film Festival takes place every year in February, but this year, they kicked off the fall with a showing of some of the best films from last year’s festival. This one-night event featured short films from all over the world of various genres — romance, comedy, sci-fi, animation, you name it!

I decided to go to the film festival with a good friend of mine, and we were not disappointed. The event took place at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center downtown, which my friend described as being “straight out of old-timey America.” From there, we moseyed over to the film festival after-party at String Theory Creations, a nearby art shop.

LoveYourShorts5

The after-party had a fun luau theme, and featured a live auction. Brice and I didn’t put in any bids, but we definitely enjoyed the people-watching. (There are few things more entertaining to watch than a live auction!) We did take advantage of the many mirrors throughout the shop by snapping a few mirror selfies.

Summer Rewind

For anyone traveling to Orlando, I highly recommend you take a day-trip out to Sanford. There are so many cool events like this throughout the year, and even if you visit on a quieter day, you can still take advantage of some awesome antiquing (my favorite store is Antiques and Dustibles on First Street!), enjoy delicious food, and perhaps even convince a handsome gentleman to take you out on his boat!

Sanford17

Are any of my readers from the Sanford area? What events and activities would you recommend for travelers and locals alike? 🙂

Link Love Thursday: Let’s Go To Eataly!

Benvenuto a Eataly!Cute animals, Disney villains and pizza, oh my! This week, the Internet was filled with gold, and I’m excited to share with you in a one-day-late Link Love!

What great links have you come across this week?