Category Archives: Things I’ve Learned

Going It Alone

Bergen, Norway

As independent as I tend to fancy myself and despite my lack of a built in travel companion since my son reached a place in his life where his schedule rarely affords him opportunity for extended time away, I had never previously seriously considered planning a vacation 100% solo. Looking back, I can’t really understand why this idea hadn’t occurred to me. I’ve traveled for work on my own quite a bit over the last several years, even extending the work trips at times to allow some recreational time tacked on to the work portion of the trip, which I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Strædet, Copenhagen, Denmark
Solo dining on Strædet wasn’t so bad at all.


While many people propound to be interested in traveling, I’ve learned that it is not always the easiest thing to find a travel companion. Some don’t have the time. Some don’t have the financial means. Some have scheduling conflicts. Some have their own built in travel companion. Some just like to say they like to travel (or want to travel), but are unwilling or unable for some reason to pull the proverbial trigger and commit to a plan. After myriad failed attempts to plan a trip with a variety of friends, I started to feel the onset of the lack-of-travel-plan-depression that plagues me when I don’t have the light at the end of the tunnel of a vacation on the horizon.

Flåm, Norway
A resting point during my bike ride. Flåm, Norway

So, I did as described in What Did I Just Do, I rather impulsively booked a trip to Denmark and Norway with a departure merely 13 days out from my booking date when I found an incredibly reasonably priced cruise to the Norwegian Fjords. I originally questioned my decision to not only book the trip on the fly, since I am typically such a travel planning nerd, but also my decision to take an 11 day vacation alone.

Geiranger, Norway
Maybe a troll lives in here. Geiranger, Norway


However, once I arrived in Copenhagen, I never again had a second thought, other than wondering why it took me so long to figure out that solo travel should not be a last resort. I’ve met many people who have extolled the virtues of traveling solo and have read a variety of works describing the benefits. But, until I had actually experienced a solitary vacation, I truly didn’t appreciate the many positives involved in traveling solo.

  • First and foremost, it no longer remained requisite to rely on anyone but myself to solidify a plan. I was free to pick the date and destination without the need to consult and coordinate with anyone else.
  • I was able to move at as slow or quick a pace as I was inclined at any given moment. I actually purchased the Copenhagen card as an experiment in testing the value of buying a city card. Because I was able to blaze through attractions if I so desired, I was able to visit a good many sights and utilize the inclusive public transport for the duration of the 72-hour card I purchased without having to be concerned with my pace affecting anyone else’s idea of a good time.
  • While I never have trouble whipping up a conversation with strangers (I’m a sales puke, so it’s in my DNA), I discovered that people are much more inclined to start a conversation with you when you are alone – from the kid manning the crepe station, to attraction staff, to the crew and fellow cruisers who were on my sailing, to other travelers trying to navigate Copenhagen’s public transportation system. I had opportunity to visit with a variety of fellow cruisers on the Norwegian Star, and during a variety of happenstance meetings in port stops, even managed to make a friend out of another solo, intrepid traveler.
  • I was able to finish three novels by my favorite author during the cruise portion of my trip, which would have been difficult had I been traveling with a companion.
  • If I “messed up” any of the logistics of my day…making a “wrong” turn in my attempt to find an attraction, if an activity took longer than expected, etc., I was the only one affected by the miscalculation. And, I have learned that some “mishaps” can lead you to an unexpected positive, such as stumbling across beautiful architecture that I might not have found had I made a beeline directly to my intended destination.
  • Traveling solo allowed me to really “enjoy the silence” both while I was wandering around Copenhagen and the Norwegian port stops a well as on the ship. Sitting outside on the ship deck, listening to the sounds of the sea passing by. With all of the noise that comes along with everyday life, having quiet time was an incredibly welcome respite from the bombardment of constant audio clutter.
Mount Aksla, Ålesund, Norway
Climbed all 418 steps at my own pace. Mount Aksla, Ålesund, Norway
Church of Our Saviour (Vor Frelser Kirke), Christianshavn, Copenhagen, Denmark
Church of Our Saviour (Vor Frelser Kirke), Christianshavn, Copenhagen, Denmark

I have always been pretty comfortable in my own skin, with a fairly high level of independence, but my solo time demonstrated to me that being alone whilst traveling can be extremely liberating and fulfilling. Certainly, traveling unaccompanied may not be everyone’s cup of proverbial tea, but I would recommend giving it a go to those who have an adventurous spirit and wanderlust in their heart. Being unencumbered allows for a completely different experience than traveling with the buddy system or in a group, and while traveling solo may not be preferential to traveling with others, it is certainly something I would endeavor upon again.


When Your Brain Falls Out Overseas…..

Rule #1 (really, the only one): Don’t panic. I barely ascribed to this simple tenet when I recently somehow, inexplicably, managed to lose my wallet on my first full day in Copenhagen, the first of an eleven day trip. But, once I realized the unfathomable actually did happen, I was thankfully able to maintain my composure with the help of some indescribably kind Danes.

Being that I am inarguably OCD, I rarely lose anything due to my somewhat (and shush, those who know me personally) mechanical habits. In addition to my naturally compulsive ways, I’m also typically incredibly fastidious when it comes to cautionary measures when traveling. Despite these tandem traits, somehow, my wallet disappeared from my possession at some point between Hotel Danmark near City Hall and my arrival at Amalienborg Palace, even given the fact that I didn’t use any money during that short period of time. I was astounded upon my attempted retrieval of my wallet at the Palace in order to take out a Krone coin to pay the deposit for the locker at Amalienborg, that my wallet had evaporated from my backpack. I kept taking deep breaths, optimistically and unrealistically believing it had to be there somewhere…in another pocket or underneath my research papers. But, lo and behold, it was nowhere to be found. To this moment, its disappearance seems to have been the work of aliens or caused by a break in the fabric of reality. More likely, it might have fallen out when I fetched my umbrella or hat on that fateful, rainy day. My only thought is that I was more careless than usual due to the rain and my attempt to rapidly employ my umbrella during a rain shower. Still, it boggles my mind as to how my bright pink wallet could have jumped out of the bag without my attention being grabbed.

One might suspect the work of gypsies who are so frequently at the root of European pick pocketing schemes… But in this case, I can’t believe that to be the reasoning for my wallet’s disappearance, since one thing I know is that I never, ever allow anyone close enough to reach into my bag (unless they have 10 foot long gumby-like arms). Plus, unlike many a Euopean city, Copenhagen’s gypsy presence was somewhat minimal during my visit. Regardless of what precipitated my wallet’s departure, it was gone.

Once I came to the reality that my wallet, along with my Visa and my bank card were no longer in my possession, and had the initial inclination to fall into full panic mode, one of the Amalienborg museum’s managers, whose name I believe to be Mette, stepped in to attempt to assist me. She immediately must have noticed the blood drain from my face along with the onset of hyperventilation and offered me a seat and a drink of water to help me maintain my composure. She helped me call both my bank and credit card companies to cancel both cards and attempt to request emergency replacement. My bank tried and failed (as I later received an email advising me that my replacement card would be delivered to my hotel the day after my cruise sailed from Copenhagen, even though I told them of my sail date and time). My credit card company was a nightmare to deal with, as their computer system was apparently down when I called and the customer service representatives were of little help.  I was told to call them back in two hours, but despite being kept on hold for an exorbitant amount of time, they later told me the system was still down and to call back in another two hours. When I did, I as again put on hold repeatedly, only to be told after being made to wait for an incredibly long time that I’d have to call back yet again since the system was still down and they couln’t complete the request if I wasn’t on the line. During this miserable ordeal, I did encounter incredible kindness by the museum workers, including Mette, in both Amalienborg and Christiansborg Palaces who helped me make phone calls, allowing me to hog their phones during my long hold times perpetrated by my Visa card provider. I was fortunate that I did keep my Copenhagen Card separate from my credit and bank cards and cash, so I was able to use public transportation and enter attractions without having to outlay money again. I was absolutely floored by the kindness of the Danish museum workers at both Palaces, not only with their concern, patience and offering of suggestions to find a way to minimize the effects of my folly, but especially with Mette’s kindness and concern for my wellbeing. She went as far as to offer me cash in case I needed anything in the immediacy. I explained to her that despite the inconvenience caused by my carelessness, I at least was astute enough not to carry all of my finance modes with me. As is my travel habit, I carried only one credit card with me that day. What upset me the most about this episode was my mistake of carrying my bank card with me, even though I had taken out a small amount of cash upon my arrival at Copenhagen Airport. Normally, once I take out cash, I leave my bank card behind at the hotel along with my extra credit cards and passport.

At the end of the day, the worst part of the mishap was the amount of time spent on hold with Visa, which turned out to be for naught since they were unhelpful and inefficient. So for those of you who may not be the most experienced travelers, and for those of you who are who can use a little primer that would have served me well in this instance:

  1. Never carry your a passport with you when traveling unless absolutely necessary for identification purposes. Fortunately, I left my passport behind at the hotel. TIP: Always take a photo of your passport and email it to yourself to an account you can retrieve easily just in case you ever do lose your passport, so you will have the document information available in the unfortunate event the need arises. It’s also a good idea to carry a hard copy of your passport with you.
  2. Only carry one credit card with you; leave additional cards properly secured in your hotel.
  3. (This is where I failed this trip in a way that I normally wouldn’t have.) Once you withdraw cash in the local currency from an ATM, lave your bank card properly secured in your hotel with your additional credit cards. If you need more cash than you originally withdrew, it’s worth the extra trip back to your hotel to avoid the possibility of losing your bank card along with your credit card. I knew better than to carry my bank card after making the cash withdrawal, but since I’d never fallen prey to this happenstance, I didn’t adhere to what I know to be best practice.

At the end of the day, this unfortunate happening could have been much worse. In all of my travels, this was the first significant solo trip I’ve taken (more on that to come), so that made this incident more impactful, as, obviously, had I been traveling with a companion, there would have been the option to have my travel buddy provide additional financial back up. But all said and done, my carelessness was not end of the world stuff. And to end on a positive note, I have to count my blessings as to how fortunate I was to encounter such caring staff members of both Amalienborg Palace and the Christiansborg Palace Ruins who offered the excessive assistance, and, more importantly, altruistic kindness…the type that makes one once again believe that there is much good in the world (well, at least in Denmark), when at other times, such an inkling might not seem plausible.

$85 Well Spent

FLL TSA Security Line
A Compelling Reason to Pay Your $85 to Buck the Line!!!!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve arrived at the airport over the past several years only to encounter a milling swarm of fellow travelers flocked within, around and toward the winding maze-like course en route to the TSA security checkpoint. Each and every time I descend upon this miserable, yet unfortunately necessary inconvenience, I repeatedly and rhetorically question myself as to why I haven’t yet obtained my TSA Pre-Check status. I never had a very good answer to this question, other than the simple truth that it never crossed my mind until I arrived at the airport terminal and once again found myself in need of having to remove my shoes to walk barefoot on the filthy airport floor (much to the chagrin of my OCD germophobic tendencies) through the security scanner (thanks, alot, Richard Reid, you @$$h0!e). Due to recent developments with my job, I’m now finding myself taking frequent short work trips, thus putting my various airline frequent flyer accounts to much better use of late. Because my travel planning and subsequent trips to and from the airport increased in frequency so drastically quite quickly, scheduling an appointment for TSA Pre-Check status finally became top of mind, leading me to pick up the phone, make an appointment and navigate my way to the somewhat secluded application office in the Fort Lauderdale International Airport perimeter. Once there, the actual process from start to finish took no more than 15 minutes, making me once again figuratively kick myself for previously not having taken a few minutes out of my day to get myself fingerprinted and screened sooner. My approval and known traveler number arrived faster than the estimated three week window (I guess TSA figured out I would do my best to be an asset in a sticky situation midair), and I was able to immediately put the known traveler number to good use several times within a few week period after receiving it. There has been a bit of irony in that for at least three of the flight legs I’ve taken since becoming a “known traveler,” the standard security line has been negligibly longer than the Pre-Check line. Regardless, a meager $85 investment, good for five years, has, in just the first month since receiving my known traveler status, proven its worth for this traveler, by virtue of being able to keep my feet tidily encased through the security check point alone. Pay your $85, too. Your tootsies (and blood pressure and patience levels) will sincerely thank you for it.

TSA Security Line at FLL
Stinks getting to the airport earlier than TSA staff!

Prague Hilton Old Town

I’m not always the biggest fan of staying in American style hotels overseas, since my preference is typically to stay in a more local style “boutique” hotel, but I do tend to lean toward Hilton brand hotels if I’m able to utilize my Hilton Honors points to save a few bucks whilst traveling. I have to say that out of the many Hilton brand hotels I’ve visited nationally and internationally, I think my stay at the Prague Hilton Old Town may very well be my best Hilton experience to date. While our room is not the largest, it’s definitely comfortable and efficiently laid out.

The hotel itself is in a convenient location, but what sets this Hilton apart from the pack are the Honors membership benefits and how they are executed. As with many of the Hilton brand hotels, we were set up on an Honors floor, dedicated to members. Like many Hilton brand hotels, the Prague Hilton Old Town offers an executive lounge to members, in-room refreshments, free wifi, free breakfast in the lounge or lobby restaurant, practically around-the-clock refreshments in the lounge including a full bar and food service; what’s different about this Hilton is not only the extensive benefits to members, but also the level of service to Honors members.

It’s been practically uncomfortable having the staff members wait on us hand over foot, as they are attentive to a fault. The attendants are friendly and helpful, not allowing you to fill your own wine glass (it’s self-serve), and when they serve, they are most certainly not serving with skimping in mind. The lounge is well stocked and has a great variety of food and beverage from early breakfast starting at 6 am all the way through 10:30 pm. And, yes, many hotels around the globe have fancier lounges and executive service for their hotel member guests, but I can’t imagine that the attendants in even the ritziest hotels could possibly offer the same level of service AND friendliness as the staff at the Prague Hilton Old Town.

I unfortunately also needed some special assistance from the executive lounge concierge staff, as my son was in need of emergency dental work. I was a bit panicked about what to do or even where to start trying to figure out whom to call or where to go. Fortunately, I had my wits about me enough to seek assistance from the executive lounge staff. Within minutes, the lounge concierge had made arrangements for my son to visit a dentist at 5:30 pm that day (today, 12/20/14…on a Sunday to boot) at a modern dental office right across the street from the hotel.

I was concerned about the dentist showing up on a Sunday late afternoon, but his assistant and he were both punctual and friendly. I hope that nobody reading this becomes in need of emergency dental service whilst vacationing in Prague, but if you ever do, Dr. Imrich Bajza and his assistant Romana at Millennium Dental Care were efficient, communicative and obviously most importantly provided top notch dental work for my son.

I can’t thank the staff at the Prague Hilton Old Town enough for all of their attentiveness during our stay, but most importantly for helping me in a time of need. Our next stop on our vacation will be at the Hotel Mercure Wien City in Vienna, and I’m a bit pessimistic about our stay there, as I can’t imagine it being close to living up to our stay in Prague. The Hilton Budapest City is on our agenda for our final stop on this trip. The staff there will have a high standard to live up to after our pleasant stay at the Prague Hilton Old Town.


Well Said, Cuz!

I just had to share another photo collage and appropriate caption from my wise-beyond-her-years cousin, Briana. At her young age, she’s in no danger of leading a life not worth living on account of not adventuring beyond her boundaries. Briana embodies the “Wanderfull” spirit and utilizes it to explore all that her home of Hawaii has to offer….from the gorgeous scenery that surrounds her to trying new and unique foods as she continues her journey. She’s truly an inspiration!

Travel and adventure
In case you can’t read the caption my cousin added to this photo, it’s “What’s a life worth living if you never adventure beyond your boundaries.”

Kama’aina as a Wanderer

Spirit of Aloha
I love how my cousin demonstrates the spirit of aloha by the way she lives her life.
Parasailing at Kaanapali
Parasailing at Kaanapali
Lahaina, Maui
Taking in the view near Lahaina, Maui

I preface this post with a brief explanation of this post’s title for those who may not be familiar with the meaning of “Kama’aina,” which literally means “child of the land” and typically refers to residents of the Hawaiian Islands.

My cousin Briana and I have never lived closer than about 4200 miles apart, but the “wandering gene” we seem to share must have been passed along the generations to reach each of our respective branches of the family tree. Briana, however, has clearly learned some lessons at a much earlier age than her significantly older cousin. I’m continually impressed by how Briana has displayed such an intense appreciation of the beauty of her surroundings and has made a point to take advantage of the splendor that Hawaii has to offer. Yes, it’s true that Hawaii has more to offer in terms of glorious vistas and engaging activities than my home town of Milwaukee, or say, Cedar Rapids or Wichita (no disparagement intended toward any of these fine towns). But there are so many people who live amidst spectacular beauty, who neither appreciate, nor take the time to stop and smell, the proverbial roses.

Makapu'u Tidepools in Waimanalo, HI
Taking in the Makapu’u Tidepools in Waimanalo, HI
Maui sky glory
Maui sky glory

It took me quite a while to realize that it is way too easy to take our surroundings for granted, whether it’s something as grandiose as Hawaii’s magnificent landscape, a peaceful little lake with crisp reflections of the surrounding forest in central Wisconsin, or a stately Royal Palm tree serenely waving in the ocean breeze along Fort Lauderdale Beach near where I live.  I’ve driven past all of these sights and sites without giving any of them a second glance. Shame on me. Now to right this wrong, I try to make a concerted effort to look at the world around me with new eyes and also ensure that I don’t only encounter these little treasures by happenstance, although these accidental findings are special in their own right. Like my cousin, I strive to seek them out and enjoy these priceless, yet free, riches to their fullest.

Briana’s caption to the photo above – “Not all who wander are lost” – resonates profoundly with me as it so simply and eloquently summarizes my travel philosophy.  My heartfelt belief is that with wandering, the possibility of discovering something of value is so much greater than the danger of finding yourself lost.

I’m thankful for my cousin’s generosity of sharing her photos with me,  and I very much look forward to continuing to follow my cousin’s travels throughout her home, as she explores and experiences Hawaii as a Kama’aina Wanderer.

Skydive Hawaii, Oahu, Hawaii
Checking off a bucket list item at Skydive Hawaii
The Haʻikū Stairs, the Stairway to Heaven, Haʻikū Ladder
Climbing the Stairway to Heaven, Oahu
The Haʻikū Stairs, the Stairway to Heaven, Haʻikū Ladder, Oahu
The Haʻikū Stairs, the Stairway to Heaven, Haʻikū Ladder, Oahu
Hawaii sunset
Appreciating the views from her home balcony
Hiking the Koko Head Trail
Hiking the Koko Head Trail
Mountain Magic Shave Ice
Enjoying shave ice as much as her cousin!
Hamama Falls, Kaneohe, Hawaii
Hamama Falls, Kaneohe, Hawaii
Hiking Waihe'e Ridge Trail, Wailuku, HI
Hiking Waihe’e Ridge Trail, Wailuku, HI
Kahuku Shrimp Truck, Hawaii's North Shore
Enjoying Kahuku Shrimp Truck, Hawaii’s North Shore
Hiking in Hawaii
Hiking with friends
Capturing more of her home’s beauty on “film”

Capture the Moment!

Fontana Trevi, Roma, Italia
A crazy man in the Trevi Fountain makes for a unique photo opportunity (Rome, Italy 2009)
Towel Animal, Independence of the Seas, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines
Attack of the towel animal aboard the Independence of the Seas, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (May 2012)
Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy
Tossing a coin for good luck, Fontana Trevi (Rome, Italy 2009)
Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Italy
Obligatory pic holding up the Leaning Tower (Pisa, Italy 2009)
Carrer dels Tallers, Barcelona, Spain
Devan loving the music stores on Carrer dels Tallers (Barcelona, Spain 2009)
Park Güell, Barcelona, Spain
You need to pick up schnauzer poop at Park Güell (Barcelona, Spain 2009)
Park Güell, Barcelona, Spain
Gotta love Gaudi at Park Güell (Barcelona, Spain 2009)
Cannon, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Another cannon makes a comfy seat (Dubrovnik, Croatia 2009)
Nice, Cannes, Monaco, Monte Carlo, St. Paul de Vence, Eze,  France
Baguette and gummy bears to devour in the back of the rental car in Nice (France 2009)
Statue of the Fallen Angel, Parque de Retiro, Madrid, Spain
Mooning Satan at the Statue of the Fallen Angel, Parque de Retiro (Madrid, Spain 2009)
Parque de Retiro, Madrid, Spain
Interesting statuary at Parque de Retiro (Madrid, Spain 2009)
Stockholm, Sweden
Swedish food…. MMMM (Stockholm, Sweden 2008)
Stockholm, Sweden
Excellent warning (Stockholm, Sweden 2008)
Fortress of Suomenlinna, Helsinki, Finland
Peek-a-Boo at Fortress of Suomenlinna (Helsinki, Finland 2008)
Fortress of Suomenlinna, Helsinki, Finland
Taking aim at the Fortress of Suomenlinna (Helsinki, Finland 2008)
London, England
Love how the Brits tell silly folk not to bash their heads on low ceilings (London, England 2008)
Dublin Skate Park, Dublin, California
Skate stop at Dublin Skate Park (Dublin, California 2008)
Dublin Skate Park, Dublin, California
Dublin Skate Park (Dublin, California 2008)
Petrified Forest, Calistoga, California
Petrified at the Petrified Forest (Calistoga, California 2008)
Muir Woods, California
Muir Woods (California 2008)
Lombard Street, San Francisco, California
That’s quite a flagpole (Lombard Street, San Francisco, California 2008)
Chinatown, San Francisco, California
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil (Chinatown, San Francisco 2008)
Deadwood, Monterey, California
Monterey deadwood (2008)
Hawaii, Family Vacation, NCL Pride of America
The face says it all (Hawaii 2007)
Hawaii, Family Vacation
Someone liked his first Hawaiian adventure (2007)
Cadillac Diner, NCL, Pride of America, Norwegian Cruise Lines
Family time in the Cadillac Diner aboard NCL’s Pride of America (2007)
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, Kauai, Hawaii
Ready to swoop over the Na’pali Coast with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (Kauai, Hawaii 2007)
NCL Pride of America, Norwegian Cruise Lines
Classy tea drinking aboard NCL’s Pride of America (2007)
Parker Ranch, Waimea, Hawaii
Devan’s new friend at Parker Ranch, Waimea, Hawaii (2007)
Funny street names, Oahu, Hawaii, Peepee Falls
Gotta love the street names in Hawaii. I know it’s pronounced peh-eh-peh-eh, but it’s still funny 🙂 (Oahu, Hawaii 2007)
Mauna Loa Nut Factory, Hilo, Hawaii
A bunch of nuts at the Mauna Loa Nut Factory (Hilo, Hawaii 2007)
Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii, Human Sacrifice
Human sacrifice at Volcanoes National Park (Big Island, Hawaii 2007)
Norwegian Cruise Line, Pride of America
A boy and his uncle (NCL Pride of America 2007)
Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii
Horror at the Bishop Museum (Honolulu, Hawaii 2007)
Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii
Two statues at the Bishop Museum (Honolulu, Hawaii 2007)
Musclemen, Honolulu, Hawaii, Waikiki Beach
Three musclemen at Waikiki Beach (2007)
Pali Lookout, Pali Highway, Oahu, Hawaii
Blown away at the Pali Lookout (Pali Highway, Oahu, Hawaii 2007)
Skateboarding, Grandma Tarzana, California
Teaching his “Nanny” (grandma) to skate (Tarzana, California 2006)
Boating, San Diego, California
Someone’e having fun (San Diego, California 2006)
Brasstown Bald, North Carolina
Working hard at Brasstown Bald (North Carolina 2006)
Brasstown Bald, North Carolina
Devan making a new friend at Brasstown Bald, North Carolina (2006)
Fort Myers Beach, Florida, Mini Golf
Bear Hug (Fort Myers, Florida 2006)
Torture Museum, Tallin, Estonia
Ouchie at the Torture Museum (Tallin, Estonia 2008)
Archery, Tallin, Estonia
Funny how a pretty Estonian girl incites an interest in archery (Tallin, Estonia 2008)
Norwegian Cruise Lines, NCL Jewel, Towel Animal
Happy times with a towel animal aboard the NCL Jewel (2008)
Berlin, Germany
Ruminating over his time in Berlin (Germany 2008)
Copenhagen, Denmark
My now Army Soldier was a toy soldier just a few years ago (Copenhagen, Denmark 2008)
Backpack, Copenhagen, Denmark
That’s one heck of a backpack (Copenhagen, Denmark 2008)
Denmark signs rock, Copenhagen
Why don’t we have signs like this in the U.S.? I love it! “Shut up, you monkeyface. It is good!” (Copenhagen, Denmark 2008)
Berlin, Germany
German love for America (Berlin, Germany 2008)
NCL Jewel, Norwegian Cruise Line, Towel Animal
Devan and one of his many towel friends (NCL Jewel 2008)
Norwegian Jewel, NCL
My Superman, aka Super Travel Buddy (Norwegian Jewel 2008)
Hard Rock Cafe, London, England
Good to know (Hard Rock Cafe, London, England 2008)
Royal Guard, Buckingham Palace, London, England
Making friends with the Royal Guard (Buckingham Palace. London, England 2008)
Hyde Park, London, Naptime
Weird place for a businessman to take a mid-afternoon nap (Hyde Park, London 2008)
Coco Cay, RCCI Private Island
Monkey Boy at Coco Cay (2012)
Key West Key Lime Shop, Key West , Florida
Devan never saw it coming at the Key West Key Lime Shop (Key West 2012)
Towel Animal, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines,
Taking out the towel animal (Royal Caribbean, Independence of the Seas 2012) NO TOWEL ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS PHOTO SERIES
Towel Animal, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines,
Taking out the towel animal (Part 2, RCCI Independence of the Seas 2012) NO TOWEL ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS PHOTO SERIES
Towel Animal, RCCI Independence of the Seas
Taking out the towel animal (Part 3, RCCI Independence of the Seas 2012) NO TOWEL ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS PHOTO SERIES
Senor Frogs, Nassau, Bahamas
Universal Truth at Senor Frogs (Nassau, Bahamas 2012)
Fort Fincastle, Nassau, Bahamas
That’s quite a cannon ball (Fort Fincastle, Nassau, Bahamas 2012)
Palace of Versailles, France
Devan as the Masked Man of Versailles (France 2010)
Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine, Florida, Indian Trace Elementary Field Trip
Fourth grade boys being fourth grade boys at Castillo de San Marcos (St. Augustine, Florida 2003)
Nassau, Bahamas
Public Service Announcement (Nassau, Bahamas 2012)
Nassau, Bahamas
Karate Kid meets Nassau (2012)
Senor Frogs, Nassau, Bahamas
Truth at Senor Frogs (Nassau, Bahamas 2012)
Nassau, Bahamas
My pirate (Nassau, Bahamas 2012)
Graycliff, Nassau, Bahamas
Fending off the statuary at Graycliff (Nassau, Bahamas 2012)
Nassau, Bahamas
Giddy’up (Nassau 2012)
Nassau, Bahamas
Discouragement, Bahamian Style (Nassau 2012)

RCCI 0515 0204

Bavaria, Germany, Tyrolean Hat, Bavarian Hat
Devan thought he looked like an authentic Bavarian with his tourist version of an Alpine / Tyrolean Hat (Germany 2005)
Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck, Austria
The Tyrolean hat made its way to Austria with Devan (Schloss Ambras, 2005)
Manhattan, New York City, New York
The parking enforcement officer reinforced what the sign clearly stated (Manhattan, New York City 2005)
Las Vegas, Nevada, Excalibur
Devan joining King Arthur to claim Excalibur (Las Vegas 2004)
Mount Charleston, Las Vegas, Nevada, Dummkopf
Devan greeting one of the Dummkopfs at Mount Charleston in Las Vegas (2004)
Maui Tropical Plantation, Maui, Hawaii
My mom’s husband finding his way through the ginger at Maui Tropical Plantation (2007)
Top of Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii
My mom pretending the revolving Top of Waikiki restaurant spins a lot faster than it really does (2013)
Hawaii, Caves
Dev was disappointed not to find any cave monsters at Hawaii’s west coast (2013)
Rainbow Drive Inn, Honolulu, Hawaii
My mom was sick of me taking photos during our trip to Hawaii in 2010. This later became her Facebook profile picture. (2010)
I don’t believe he was playing John Travolta, but it looks like he was (Hawaii 2010)
Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii
Devan being sucked into the volcanic crater (Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, 2007)
Thurston Lava Tube, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Dev as the Thurston Lava Tube Monster (Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, 2007)

I love photography and wish I had more time to dedicate to learning how to become a better technical photographer. For the time being, I do the best I can with my mediocre skills, camera and lenses. But, I’ve learned that an eye for aesthetically pleasing composition, a fancy camera and high end lenses are most definitely not requisite for capturing special travel moments on film (or really, the digital equivalent).

Some of my favorite photos from my travels aren’t of beautiful scenery or spectacular buildings I’ve beheld, but rather many of my favorite trip pictures capture a feeling, random silliness, a facial expression or an unusual finding during my vacations shared with loved ones and friends. I do love beautiful photography of amazing sights and sites I visit, but anyone can take a pretty picture; I could buy a postcard with spectacular photography in hi-gloss hi-resolution far superior to any snapshot I could grab. However, I would look at that photo and, while appreciating the beauty, still be left cold.

Yet, when I look back at photos I’ve personally taken, whether they be of my son having fun hamming it up for the camera, of some peculiar sign we happened past or of some other fashion of a random moment that was too special not to capture for posterity, my heart is warmed with the fond memories of the travel time shared with my son, friends and family in a way that an aesthetically pleasing photo can’t possibly evoke.  Remember – those moments are fleeting. Do what you can to freeze them in time and hold on to the special emotion those memories instill forever. I can’t remember the last time in recent history that I smiled as much as when I went digging through the droves of my photographs to dig up the pictures contained within this post.  A picture really does convey MORE than a thousand words. They project so very much more than simple words could hope to express.


Bull of Wall Street, Manhattan, New York City, New York
Look out below! Devan in a precarious position with the Bull of Wall Street (2005)
Lady Liberty, New York City, Manhattan, New York
Devan as a gangsta Lady Liberty (NYC 2005)
Devan had to have the silly touristy version of a Tyrolean / Bavarian hat, and the graphic depiction of what a dog isn't allowed to do at one of Ludwig's palaces made this photo particularly special
Devan had to have the silly touristy version of a Tyrolean / Bavarian hat – and he wore it in almost every photo I have of him on this trip; the hat and graphic depiction of what a dog isn’t allowed to do at one of Ludwig’s palaces made this photo particularly special (Schloss Linderhof, Bavaria 2005)
United Nations
Sign at the U.N. If they couldn’t manage to keep track of the Oil For Food Money, we shouldn’t expect them to be responsible for our wallets.

The Buddy System

VW bus in Europe
Just found this photo and was surprised since I have no recollection of my brother and me getting along well enough on trips for us to share one of the bench seats in the VW buses my dad used to rent in Europe (so that we’d have a whole row of seating to ourselves)

Looking back at my early travels, I never realized how important a decision it is to pick the “right” travel mates. As children, my brother and I were by default part of our parents’ little travel posse, which provided an amazing introduction to the world of travel and adventure.  When I was engaged in my younger years, I traveled a bit with my now ex-fiance, which was a mixed bag, since parts of our travel experience were enjoyable; others, not so much, for a variety of reasons.

Juneau, Alaska
With my son in Juneau, Alaska, during a port stop on an Alaskan cruise (2010)
Tour Eiffel, Paris, France
Devan and me, obviously, at Tour Eiffel in Paris, France (2010)
Templo de Debod, Madrid, Spain
My son and me at Templo de Debod in Madrid, Spain (2009)
Seattle, Washington
Devan and me visiting my friend David in Seattle, Washington (2010)
Diamond Head, Honolulu, Hawaii
Atop Diamond Head with Devan (2013)
Waiʻanapanapa State Park, Maui, Hawaii
Devan and me at Waiʻanapanapa State Park, Maui (2007)
Air Force Academy Chapel, Colorado Springs, Colorado
With Devan at the Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado, Springs, CO (2006)
Füssen, Bavaria, Germany
Devan’s first trip to Europe – Füssen, Germany (2005)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada, with my Grandma (2004)
Fort Myers, Florida
Mini-vacation in Fort Myers, Florida, for Devan’s karate tournament (2004)

In more recent history, my main travel companion was my son Devan who accompanied me on a variety of domestic and international vacations. Devan spoiled me, as he was a travel buddy extraordinaire (which shouldn’t have been surprising, since he’s a son extraordinaire). After some recent travels with friends who (I learned) were not of the same travel mindset as me, I had to ask myself, “What made my son the perfect travel buddy for me?” What makes Devan such a wonderful travel companion is a conglomeration of factors. Firstly, Devan is incredibly intelligent, and, as such, his natural curiosity about the world, even from a very early age, made him interested in culture, new sights and discovering what else existed beyond the suburban microcosm of our every day lives. He loves learning, so participating as navigator and map reader was not a chore for him, since he relished the opportunity to utilize his deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. As an example, he would often grab the transit map we were using to muddle our way through a city and make it his responsibility to determine which line, platform, etc. we needed to get to our next destination. But overall, he was always open to exploring and was never intimidated to forge ahead into the unknown on our way to our next destination or experience.

My son is also incredibly cool, calm and collected, so very little rattles him; such composure is an invaluable trait, since travel-by-fire frequently leads you to unexpected places. If things didn’t go the way we planned, he would roll with the punches and would patiently and pragmatically help me decide how to optimize whatever situation we found ourselves in. Devan, like me , is also adventurous (probably more so), so he was always game to find a new activity to try, whether it was zip lining in Ketchikan, going horseback riding down a precarious mountainside outside Las Vegas, snowmobiling along the Continental Divide, learning to ski in the Austrian Alps or sky diving to take in the view of Oahu from an altitude 12,000 feet.   Devan is also multifaceted, so he not only enjoys action packed activities, he also could appreciate meandering through cities to take in the architecture, visiting the Louvre, the Prado or Accademia to experience the work of The Masters or just sitting in a public square to people watch and absorb the energy of a city, while sampling a snack from one of the local proprietors. My son is also not shy, so he was never hesitant to try out his limited German (or other language indigenous to our destination) to ask someone where the train station was or how much something cost. Devan was also ready to offer his input about what he would enjoy doing, but was also accommodating to allow me to enjoy shopping in a few more stores than he would have liked.

At risk of this post turning into an homage to my son, of which he is most certainly worthy both as son and travel buddy….. It bears stating that Devan exemplifies the epitome of what makes for in ideal travel companion, at least for me, but likely in any case. Not every travel buddy needs to be as “perfect” a fit, but there has to be a level of symbiosis to your travel styles and objectives. Thus, many considerations should be pondered in selecting travel companions, as the company you keep can profoundly affect your experience. Here are a few things that might be prudent to ponder and discuss prior to embarking with a new travel mate for the first time.

  1. Outline the objectives of the trip. Do you have the same goals? (e.g. seeing as many sights as possible, having plenty of time to linger and relax, trying new activities, sampling local cuisine)
  2. Discuss modes of transport. Do you each like to hoof it to stay active and to allow ability to roam and wander? Are you OK with various modes of public transport, such as bus, subway or train to save money and/or have the local experience, or do you prefer to take taxis for convenience?
  3. Define your schedules. Are you an early riser so you can maximize your exploration time? Or do you like to sleep in after a late night on the town? Do you have lots of energy to keep going from sun up until late night, or do you need to take a siesta and nap to gear up for late day sight seeing?
  4. Review in detail what your destination entails. Will there be tons of crowds? Is the location known for being rife with gypsies or locals who badger and bully tourists into paying for unsolicited goods or services? Does special caution need to be taken to avert the attention of pickpockets? Will you have to amble along cobblestone roads, ascend staircases or lug suitcases if transport can’t drop you at your hotel doorstep?
  5. Discuss interest sets. Does one of you like to visit as many churches and cathedrals as possible to see the ornate details? Is shopping and souvenir gathering top on your list? Do you love art and plan to spend as much time in museums of all varieties while you’re trekking the globe? Does it matter to you whether you take time for fine dining or do you prefer to grab a meal from a sidewalk cafe or bakery and eat on the run as you head to your next point on interest? Are sports venues a priority to work into your schedule, or are you more interested in seeing the wonders of nature?
  6. Set expectations. Does one of you have something specific in mind to do or as a way of doing things? Or, does one of the travel group have something specific in mind NOT to do or as a way of doing things?
Venice, Italy
Jen and me in Venice (2009)
New York City, New York
Traveling in a group presents its own set of challenges, but can be fun (DBGB Kitchen, New York, NY, 2012)
Austin, Texas
My friend Suzanne and me in Austin, Texas (2013)
Carnival Liberty, Western Caribbean Cruise
Exotic Western Caribbean Cruise with my friend Sandy (2013)

Surely, there are many considerations to take into account prior to hitting the road with a friend whose travel preferences are a wild card. Sometimes, you won’t find out that your travel styles don’t mesh well until your’re a country or two into your journey. All you can do at that point is suck it up and hope your travel buddy has a willingness to compromise, or if that isn’t possible, sometimes it’s best to part ways and enjoy some wandering travels solo for a little while…..

Milwaukee……..A Tourist Destination?!

I frequently struggle with trying to schedule visits back home to Wisconsin to visit family and friends on account of my limited vacation days from my job. It’s most certainly not because visiting family and friends isn’t a priority to me, but rather because of my addiction to traveling to new and interesting places. What I’ve learned is that you can actually translate a visit back home into a family/friends trip combined with a new travel experience even when visiting a place where you lived for many years.

Everglades National Park, Florida
Finally visited Everglades National Park after 25 years living in Florida

This epiphany materialized when family and friends from various locations around the country have come to visit me in South Florida. When visitors come to town, I like to play the tour guide and show them some of the unique experiences available in South Florida, whether it be an air boat ride in the Everglades, a “duck” land/water ride along the streets and canals in downtown Fort Lauderdale, a drive through Lion Country Safari in Palm Beach County or a boat ride from Bayside in downtown Miami around Star Island to take in the views of the mega-mansions of the rich and famous. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed not only the company of friends and relatives whom I’ve introduced to some of the local offerings in the Fort Lauderdale area, but also participating in these “touristy” activities in which I’d otherwise never have engaged.

Coral Castle, Miami, Florida
Coral Castle in South Miami made for a perfect day trip destination

In recent times, I’ve made a point to experience something new in my current hometown area of South Florida, even without the impetus of out of town visitors spurring the activity planning. South Florida has so much to offer that many locals never think to take advantage of – water sports, such as wave runners, paddle boarding or parasailing; attractions such as Coral Castle, Miami Metro Zoo, Miami Seaquarium, Jungle Island, the aforementioned Lion Country Safari, Morikami Gardens, Butterfly World, Flamingo Gardens, Schnebly Winery and so much more; countless sightseeing opportunities including various types of boat rides along canals, in the Everglades or out into the ocean; amazing encounters with nature in the nearby Florida Keys, through the Everglades along Alligator Alley, up and down the Atlantic Ocean coastline or while exploring the many parks and nature preserves in the area.

Lake Michigan, Port Washington, Wisconsin
Lake Michigan offers some spectacular winterscapes (Port Washington, Wisconsin)
Cedarburg, Wisconsin
One of the Milwaukee area’s little gems — Cedarburg, Wisconsin
Kettle Moraine Forest, Wisconsin
Beautiful fall colors of the Kettle Moraine Forest, Wisconsin

Even though I spent the first 18 years of my life in southeastern Wisconsin and  the Milwaukee area is not on the “Top 10 Must Visit List” for most travel aficionados, my visits back home have made me appreciate the many virtues of this unlikely vacation destination. It’s very easy to take for granted what is right in front of you every day. But having lived in South Florida for such a long time, going back home to Wisconsin in recent years opened my eyes to the many simple splendors of this chunk of the Midwest. While Florida is certainly beautiful in its own right, Wisconsin offers spectacular scenery of a different kind – rolling hills, endless forests, quaint little towns with distinctive character, breathtaking views of Lake Michigan from overlooking cliffs, myriad pristine lakes of all sizes and bursting colors of fall foliage during the changing of the seasons. When I go back home, I drag my family out to the Kettle Moraine Forest, to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural wonders, to Port Washington in the winter to see the naturally forming icescapes along Lake Michigan, to the Basilica of Saint Josaphat on the south side of Milwaukee which rivals the beauty of many European cathedrals and to the Domes, among other interesting places one might otherwise not consider while visiting this simple little Midwest town.

You really don’t have to travel far, to an exotic international destination – or at all – to experience a new place or activity. And sometimes, playing a tourist in your current or former hometown helps you appreciate the little pleasures in life which might otherwise go unnoticed.  So take a look around you from a new perspective, and see what you might have been missing all along.

“I Wish I Could Afford to Travel”

I’ve heard that line so many times when people ask me about my past and upcoming travel plans. They often act like attaining the goal of taking a trip similar to mine equates to completing the quest for the Holy Grail.  Travel and vacations typically aren’t free, so yes, some travel budgeting is necessary for those of us who are not independently wealthy or heir to some throne or corporate fortune.  On the other hand, if planned properly, an amazing vacation experience can be had without breaking the bank.

Zion National Park
Taking in the beauty of nature doesn’t cost a penny (Zion National Park, July 2004)
Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Playing tourist while visiting family back in Wisconsin

There are myriad ways to mitigate the impact a vacation has on your bank account. But, before we even touch upon how to keep travel costs down during the planning and booking phase, a bit of common sense (what’s that?!) comes into play. The first thing I would recommend to people who are covetous of a spectacularly fun getaway would be to evaluate their current spending habits. For example, someone who stops at Starbucks or another similar coffee shop daily and buys a coffee every day on the way to work would spend over $1000 per year (presuming 5 days a week for 52 weeks at an average of $4 per overpriced cafe latte). Or, someone who eats lunch in a restaurant every workday would, similarly, spend $2600 per year (presuming an average of $10 per lunch). The money wasted on those daily coffees and fast food type lunches, when totaled, would pay for quite a nice little getaway in my book. Or if you put away just a measly $25 per week that you would have otherwise wasted on frivolities, after just two years, you would have accumulated $2600 to apply toward a very nice vacation of your choice. Of course, some trips would cost more; some, obviously, would cost less. For one, I would happily do without that daily Starbucks habit in favor of stashing some cash for my next adventure. To that point, just about a year ago, after I realized that I was paying approximately $130 per month for a ridiculous cable TV plan for service that I may have utilized a couple of hours per month, I pulled the plug on U-Verse. Originally, I had planned to decrease service to a minimal level, but then decided to go cold turkey — turn off cable all together and see if I missed it. A full year later, I have to say that my life hasn’t changed at all for not having TV in my house. Sure, I can watch shows streaming or on Netflix, but I rarely even do that; so, I consider that $1500 per year that I’m saving by foregoing cable TV service to be a part of my annual travel budget. Sure, I could still have cable and go on my trips, but the savings I’ve realized helps me justify my travel addiction.

Once we get past the common sense ideas to budget for travel (or other luxuries), there are so many tools available these days to help compare prices and options to help keep costs as low as possible. Those tools, even just the ones I’ve used in the past (and there are so many more I’ve never used and may not even know exist), warrant a complete discussion of their own, since the wealth of information available at our fingertips so very comprehensive. As such, I’ll leave that discussion for a later date.

In the meantime, why not sit back and evaluate some of those little daily expenditures and their true worth for adding value to your life? That’s what I’ve done and continue to do, since a coffee is a coffee, but a vacation offers a wealth of experiences and memories.

It’s all about the priorities, isn’t it?