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    At Home  --  North America Travel

    Review of McMenamins Elks Temple, Tacoma WA

    Summer in Washington State

    McMenains Tacoma

    Location: Tacoma Washington USA

    My Fab Fifties Life is enjoying a summer in Washington State, USA, where I was born and raised.  As much as I love my life of full-time travel, coming home to familiar ground where my family is brings a sense of stability to our nomad world.

    When we return to the USA most summers, my focus is always family, but we also get out at least once a week and play tourists in our own backyard.  And that is what we did this past weekend in celebration of both Father’s Day and my husband’s birthday.

    McMenamins Elks Lodge

    McMenamins Elks Lodge Tacoma

    Growing up in the Pacific Northwest the blue-collar town of Tacoma always had a bit of a “smelly” reputation because of the pulp and paper mill that cast an odor over the town for several generations.  Today however Tacoma has become a renaissance town, with gorgeous views, multiple incredible museums, beautiful parks, and delicious dining.

    And the newest little gem to open in Tacoma is the McMenamins franchise masterpiece in the historic and beautifully restored Elks Temple in downtown Tacoma.

    If you aren’t from around these parts you might not be familiar with the vision of Mike and Brian McMenamin, Oregon brothers who have built a legendary business of turning historic and dilapidated properties into spectacularly quirky and fun hotels, restaurants, breweries, distilleries,

    Many pubs at McMenamins

    Elks Lodge Pub & Restaurant

    and event venues. For the past 20 years my husband and I, (on many occasions with our kids in tow), have made one of the dozens of McMenamins properties a destination weekend.

    The latest addition to the McMenamins dynasty is the opening of the Tacoma Elks Temple after several years of extensive restoration. The building had sat abandoned for thirty-five years, and time, weather and graffiti all had taken a toll.

    And yet, this is what McMenamins does best – breathe life into old structures all while digging deep into the silent history of a building to awaken both the known and unknown stories of the people and events that were there.  The Elks Temple does just that.

    Reflecting Tacoma's history

    Art everywhere you look

    Built in 1916 for the Fraternal Order of Elks, the building was home to one of the nation’s largest Elks organizations until the 1960’s.  It was then used as an event venue and, unlike the all-white Elks organization, the building welcomed anyone of any race and held many of the local African-American Rose Cotillion Balls for several years.  But times changed and so did the building as it fell into disrepair for 33 years until the visionary McMenamins saw its potential.

    We arrived in the afternoon on a very crowded Father’s Day and proceeded to taste our way through all of the properties five bars.  Each bar named appropriately, decorated with fun and interesting relics including menu’s that reflect the individual personality of each bar.  For instance in

    Tacoma's Spanish Steps

    Hand crafted beer and tapas at the Spanish Steps Bar

    the Spanish Steps bar (named for Tacoma’s beautiful Spanish Steps that run along the south edge of the building) Tapas are featured on the menu, while in The Old Hangout, a throwback to Trader Vic’s style 1950’s Tiki Bar serves everything from Mai Tai to Singapore Sling, grilled Pineapple Sundae or Salt and Pepper Squid.u

    True to the McMenamins model, guests must try to find the “hidden” bar called The Vault. We found it, actually cheated a little because someone was coming out…and I don’t think we would have found it otherwise.  Cleverly disguised. That’s all I’m gonna say.

    We had both dinner and breakfast in the Elks Pub and Restaurant where we enjoyed pizza, salad and soup for dinner with more McMenamin

    McMenamins Bars

    The Old Hang Out Bar throwback to old style Tiki

    hand-crafted beer.  For breakfast I had an amazing Eggs Benedict that included artichoke hearts and spinach and included cheese jalapeño grits.  Wow.

    The Elks Lodge now has 45 rooms, each and every one named for a person or group of persons who had something to do with the building or the surrounding area.  Everyone from Robert Cray (musician) to Bill Baarsma (former mayor) to Hattie Lund (no relation to me but a long-time Tacoma philanthropist) to the Puyallup Native American Tribe.

    I have two small complaints about our visit.  Our room which opened to

    McMenamins Elks Lodge

    Our room

    an atrium and did not have an outside window, was a bit stuffy and I wished for a window.  If I return I’ll pay a little more for a room on the perimeter of the building.  My other complaint is that although the wifi worked great throughout the building in bars and public spaces, it was non-existent in our room.

    Rooms start around $140 per night.  Food and beverage is very reasonably priced.  If you come, allow plenty of time to just explore…it’s like a museum of both art and history as well as a wonderful place to people watch Tacoma’s eclectic and proud residents.  So much fun.  We will be back.

    Learn more at McMenamins Tacoma Elks Temple

     

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    At Home  --  Inspire

    Charmed – Collecting Charms Around the World

    The World Traveling Charm Bracelet

    Location: USA

    Palm Tree Charm

    Palm Tree Dominican Republic

    I’ve had a lot of people asking about my world traveling charm bracelet lately because it’s been a long time since I have mentioned anything about it on my blog or social media.  So I thought today I would share a bit about this fascinating and growing collection of beauty, history and culture that I wear around my wrist.

    Kayak Charm

    Kayak Belize

    For those of you who may not know, I had the idea, just weeks before we headed out on the Grand Adventure for the first time in June 2016, to begin a travel charm bracelet.  I purchased a bracelet here in the USA and added my very first charm, an “L” for my first and last name (Laureen Lund).  Then we began our travels with our first stop in Hawaii where I added a silver sea turtle.

    Three years and dozens and dozens of countries and charms later, my charming souvenir is very precious to me with 56 charms.

    Collecting Charms Around the World

    Christ the Redeemer Brazil

    My preference is to buy a charm while in the country, but in Central America I really struggled to find any charms for sale anywhere.  I had purchased a Christ the Redeemer charm in Brazil and a lizard charm in Costa Rica and then after that the trail went cold.

    I was never able to find a charm in Panama, El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala or Dominican Republic.

    So, before we returned to the USA I contacted my jeweler here in Gig

    El Salvador Charm

    Yoga symbol El Salvador

    Harbor and ordered charms that for me represented those countries I had visited. I had him add the charms to my bracelet after I arrived in the USA. Also, just like last summer, he took all the new charms from my past year of travel and soldered each to the bracelet so I won’t lose any.

    Collecting Charms Around the World

    Lizard Costa Rica

    I love this piece of jewelry that has so much meaning for me. In fact I love it so much I’ve decided to leave it here when we depart again in September.  I know I would be devastated if it were lost or stolen, so on round three of the Grand Adventure I will leave it behind, collecting the charms and adding them to the bracelet when I return.

    If you struggle to think of memorable, small and meaningful souvenirs to buy when you travel, consider collecting charms around the world.  I’m so glad a did.  It’s so charming.

    Thanks for your interest.  I hope to share the bracelet in person with some of you in the future.

     

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    North America Travel

    Charleston South Carolina – Southern Charm and Hospitality

    Location: Charleston South Carolina

    We were so lucky to spend a few lovely days visiting friends in Charleston South Carolina.  It’s a bonus when friends live in cities worth visiting and Charleston is definitely one of those.  Charleston South Carolina oozes southern charm and hospitality – you just want to eat it up.

    We had visited Charleston years ago, in fact about 27 years ago.  Boy time does fly.  And although the surrounding areas of Charleston proper including the town of Mount Pleasant where we were staying, have grown exponentially, historic Charleston has stayed much the same.

    The oldest town in the American south, Charleston dates to 1718 and is named for King Charles II of England.  Originally located north and founded in 1680 (location now known as Charles Town Landing), the town moved south to the strategic location where the confluence of the Wando and the Ashleigh Rivers meet Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.

    The city today (population of the greater Charleston area about 775,000) is well-known for its beauty, colonial history, hospitality, exceptional restaurants, and surrounding recreational opportunities.

    We spent our short time in the area enjoying the company of our friends, and several sites around the region.  We did not go out to Fort Sumter, because we did that long ago.  Instead we walked more than eight miles all over historic Charleston.  Although the horse-drawn carriages are fun, Charleston is a pedestrian friendly town.  It’s perfect for walking; flat, safe and beautiful.  On our walk we enjoyed the magnificent historic churches (Charleston is nicknamed the Holy City because it has so many church spires) and cemeteries. The colonial historic homes are enchanting, each so perfectly coiffed and dressed as if going to a ball.  The week we were visiting was the peak of the jasmine bloom – literally millions of jasmine blossoms on nearly every beautiful home, perfumed the air for miles around.  We visited Battery Park where the herons were nesting in the giant oak trees overlooking Charleston Harbor.  Of course we stopped for photos at Rainbow Row, the original commercial district and now the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the USA.  Our walk took us to The Pink House, the oldest stone building in Charleston dated 1674.

    I really enjoyed the Historic Charleston Market, stretching for four blocks it has been a market of one sort or another since 1790 and operates in the beautiful and historic market hall.  Today the market is almost all arts and crafts, showcasing the region’s blend of Southern US, English, French and West African cultures.  My favorite was the spectacular handmade reed baskets known as Sweetgrass Baskets.  Made still today in the traditional manner by the descendants of West Africans, the baskets are works of art and sell for hundreds of dollars.

    Shem Creek Park north of historic Charleston, has a lovely park and nature preserve made for walking and enjoying the birds and beauty of the area.  This is also where you can see all the shrimp boats and pick up some fresh shrimp for dinner, which we did! Another beautiful walk is out the former bridge to Sullivan’s Island.  When the new bridge opened the old bridge found new purpose as a wonderful pedestrian park across the estuary and perfect for kayak launching, bird watching, fishing and picnicking.

    Boone Hall Plantation is definitely worth a visit even with the $25 entrance fee.  Boone Hall has been a working plantation for more than 350 years.  Although the current main house is not original (dates to 1936), it is beautiful and keeps to the authentic time period.  The row of brick slave cabins were really interesting, with each one focusing on interpretive information about the slave life.  Local docents offer short talks about the plantation and slavery, and a half an hour storytelling and singing presentation by a local Gullah woman was first-rate.  I am so glad we visited beautiful Boone Hall.

    I could write another entire blog about the delicious food of this region…but I’ll just end the post today with a shout out to pimento cheese and  pork rinds, cheeseburger with fried green tomato, BBQ Brisket and coleslaw, scallops with pesto and mushrooms and fresh-off-the-boat shrimp. It’s a delicious city, one of its many, many charms.

    Charleston South Carolina, a perfect little package of southern charm tied pretty with a hospitality bow.  Visit soon.

     

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    Inspire

    Our Favorite Airbnb’s Around the World

    76 Airbnb’s Under Our Belt

    I am writing this blog laying on the couch  in my SEVENTY-SIXTH Airbnb, my 603rd night sleeping in an Airbnb.  Whoa.  That’s a lot of Airbnb’s!

    With that many houses, huts, apartments, condos, lofts, shacks and cabins under my belt, I feel it’s time to give you a list of our favorites around the world.  Because even though we carefully research each and every Airbnb before booking, there are of course, some duds. So we like to give a shout out of the best of the best!

    Click on the image for a larger view

    If you are still hesitating about staying in an Airbnb I really encourage you to try it.  We have had outstanding luck using this hospitality model in our travels. Airbnb has changed and grown ALOT since we stayed in our very first one in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood in 2013.  The changes are mostly good.  For us it has been safe, simple and efficient. We use the following as our guide for choosing an Airbnb;

    1. Read the Reviews and look for Super Host and Five Star properties.

    2. Check the amenities that are important to you.  We always want a kitchen, wifi and good walkable location.

    3. Check where it is on the map…BECAUSE if you search Seattle it might show you a house in Seabeck (this happened to us). If you don’t know the area you would be pretty surprised when you try to find your Seattle house.

    4. Contact the host if you have ANY questions.  We have on a number of occasions negotiated a better price based on our long stay.  We have asked many questions such as neighborhood safety, parking, grocery stores etc. We’ve negotiated airport pick up, late arrival, chef service and other necessities.

    5.  Look closely at the pictures.  If you arrive and the unit is NOT what the pictures show contact Airbnb right away. But honestly if you have done steps 1-4 above that probably won’t happen.

    We do have one complaint about Airbnb…a complaint I have expressed to the company with ZERO response; As a loyal and frequent customer I would like to see the company AWARD me for my business.  Just like an airline frequent flyer program.  At the moment Airbnb has more of a focus on rewarding its hosts than its guests – even guests like me who use it almost every day of my life.  I hope they will acknowledge users more generously soon.

    Click on the image for a larger view

    Many of our Airbnb’s don’t stand out for anything in particular, but have served us in an efficient, clean, comfortable and functional way within our budget.  That’s all good.  That’s the case for the nice apartment we are in right now in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  It’s got all the comforts of home; kitchen, washer, two baths, a pool.  And it’s in a nice, safe and convenient neighborhood. Our hosts are helpful and even have a car available for us to rent.

    So since this apartment is our last Airbnb until next September, we thought this would be a good time to expound on our Favorite Airbnb’s Around the World and what makes those stand out above the rest. We’ve provided link and photos when possible, in hopes that you can consider some of these little gems we have found along our journey. Here is our list;

    Most UniqueSan Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    San Marcos Guatemala

    We just left Guatemala and the Cave House we stayed in on top of a mountain in San Marcos was amazing.  It had some quirks, but nonetheless it was amazing. You got your built in work out throughout the day going up and down all those stairs.  We give it a big thumbs up.

     

     

    Best ViewSantorini Greece

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Santorini, Greece

    This Airbnb was three times what we usually try to spend, even while being one of the smallest Airbnbs we have ever stayed in. Oh but that view.  Heaven on earth.  There is nothing like the crater view of Santorini and it was right outside our door.  Amazing.

     

     

    Best HostsRio de Janerio Brazil, Exmouth Australia, Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria and Sozopol Bulgaria

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

    We have had some really awesome hosts in our 76 Airbnb’s.  And we have had some crappy hosts, usually those who leave you to fend for yourself.  While we don’t want or need a host to manage our stay, we love it when we have a kind, engaged, thoughtful and hospitable host who is there for our occasional need. We have found that in many locations but the four mentioned take the prize.  In Rio our host was incredibly kind with gifts and food and wine.  In Exmouth we loved the darling family who provided us fresh ahi, yoga mats and much kindness.  Two Airbnb’s in Bulgaria introduced us to the most thoughtful Bulgarians who made sure we had everything we needed including a special oven pan when requested, fresh cherries and Bulgarian roses in our room.

    Best Bang for the BuckSozopol Bulgaria and Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria.

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Sozopol, Bulgaria

    Bulgaria overall is a bargain, and it remains one of our most favorite countries for many reasons including the prices.  These two favorite Airbnb’s were very large, multi bedroom units with full kitchen, exceptional hosts and awesome locations.  The one in Sozopol included  a giant deck with view and a swimming pool. We paid $30 in Veliko Tarnovo and $60 in Sozopol.

     

     

    Best Sunsets–  Mal Pais Costa Rica

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Mal Pais, Costa Rica

    We spent two wonderful, relaxing weeks with our friends Randy and Sue in this unique and comfortable house right on the beach in Mal Pais Costa Rica.  For fourteen nights in a row we documented the most exquisite sunsets…a wonderful end to each wonderful day.

     

     

    Best Private Pool–  Ocotal Costa Rica, Koh Samui Thailand

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Koh Samui, Thailand

    Having a private pool is a real luxury for us, not something that is usually in the budget.  Our two favorites listed here happened because we were sharing a house in these locations, so spending a little bit more for the luxury.  The Ocotal pool had an amazing view, while the Koh Samui pool was very secluded and lovely.

     

     

     

    Best Shared PoolHua Hin Thailand

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Hua Hin, Thailand

    The largest pool we ever had was the full Olympic size pool in Hua Hin Thailand.  Despite the fact the pool was closed for maintenance for an entire week of our three week visit, we still enjoyed it for swimming laps and relaxing pool side.

     

     

     

     

     

    Best Breakfast IncludedHoi An Vietnam, Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Hoi An, Vietnam

    It’s rare to have breakfast included in an Airbnb, and so we took full advantage at these two favorite spots.  Each morning in both places breakfast was delivered to us.  In Hoi An it was eggs and fruit with the BEST coffee and in Hikkaduwa it was the local Sri Lankan breakfast of either Roti or Hoppers, both which we really fell in love with.

     

     

    Best Onsite YogaEl Tunco El Salvador

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    El Tunco, El Salvador

    Since I try to do yoga most everyday, I love it when we have an Airbnb with a nice open and comfortable place to do our own yoga.  But even better is when there are yoga classes available onsite, and Balance Yoga in El Tunco El Salvador was the best.  I have only taken yoga classes in Punta Cana DR, La Fortuna Costa Rica, and on a cruise ship, mostly because it has not been convenient anywhere else.  But in El Tunco it was right out my backdoor, there were multiple daily classes, it was inexpensive and it was exceptional.

     

     

     

    Best Nature WatchingMal Pais Costa Rica

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Mal Pais, Costa Rica

    We loved everything about our house on the beach in Mal Pais, but the unexpected and impressive daily nature show was a big bonus.  Laying in the hammock each evening watching the howler monkeys was truly fascinating…an activity many tourists pay big bucks to see on a tour.  Not us.  These monkeys came to us almost everyday and it was an incredible sight.

     

     

    Most Historically Authentic –  Siem Reap
    Cambodia and Lombok Indonesia

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Lombok, Indonesia

    In Siem Reap we stayed in a historic Khmer home, with the absolutely nicest family living down below.  Breakfast was included and the house was beautiful, historic and authentic.  In Lombok Indonesia we stayed in an authentic Javenese Historic wood house, that had been disassembled, transferred from Java and reassembled on the site of this very remote and small resort  we visited.  Very memorable.

     

    Best Daily Service –  Asilah Morocco

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Asilah, Morocco

    We adored our full-time housekeeper and cook who came with our Airbnb in Asilah Morocco.  Not only was it the first and only time we have had a cook and housekeeper on site, but she was so incredible.  I gained ten pounds I think during our ten days there.  We would absolutely go back to Asilah again and I hope we will.  Latifah was very special.

    Most RusticHikkaduwa Sri Lanka

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

    We have stayed in some pretty rustic places, but Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka takes the prize for the most bugs, snakes, and rodents living with us in our hut.  We felt like we were on Gilligans Island.  And yet, we absolutely loved our three weeks here for the wonderful hosts, the incredible beach front property, the great weather and the delicious breakfasts all at a bargain basement price.

     

    Best All Inclusive for the Price –  Huraa Maldives

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Huraa, Maldives

    We spent three weeks on the itty bitty Maldivian Island of Huraa.  We had a small room with bath, access to the beach, a great secluded place to do yoga and three meals a day all inclusive for $90…not $90 per person, $90 total.  Our time here was spent just kicking back, running everyday, going snorkeling, hanging in the hammock and all for a remarkable price, especially in the very expensive Maldives.

     

    FunkiestFunky Truck in New Zealand and Tiny Trailer in Bend Oregon USA

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Motueka, New Zealand

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Bend, Oregon, USA

    There are several Airbnb’s we could have given this award to, but these two experiences were so unique they win the prize.  We only stayed two nights in each place.  Both had outhouses and outdoor showers.  Though tiny, both were comfortable and the hosts for both were helpful and hospitable and happy to have us visiting their unique little piece of paradise.

    Best BeachMal Pais Costa Rica, Seabeck Washington USA and Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Seabeck, Washington, USA

    We have had access to a lot of beautiful beaches in our travels.  Our favorites listed here though all are because we could walk right outside of our door and enjoy a beach.  These three though were all very different; Mal Pais was a beautiful but unique beach just steps from or house made up of rocky pools that provided natures hot tub all day long.  Seabeck Washington was a stunning beach on the Hood Canal with spectacular Olympic Mountain view and although a bit chilly, great summer swimming.  And finally Hikkaduwa was a long beautiful stretch of golden sand beach with a bar right next door and our hut only steps away.  Perfect.

    Best Location for HistoryAntigua Guatemala and Malaga Spain

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Antigua, Guatemala

    Both Antigua and Malaga are gorgeous, historic and fairly compact cities and our Airbnb’s provided us a great location in the center of these towns to enjoy all the splendor they had to offer, along with the comforts we enjoy like kitchen and wifi.  In Antigua we also had a magnificent patio where we could see two amazing volcanoes and do yoga or just sit and enjoy our morning coffee.

     

    Best Place to RunEl Tunco El Salvador, Placenia Belize, Seychelles, Punta Cana Dominican Republic, Split Croatia

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Placencia, Belize

    Flat and safe are my requirements for running around the world, and we have run in nearly every country but not in every location.  Often there are dogs, cobblestones, snakes, mountains, crazy drivers or questionable characters that make running unsafe.  But while in El Tunco, Placencia, Seychelles, Split and Punta Cana we ran every single day – safely and with wonderful scenery to enjoy!

     

    Number One Out of Seventy-Six, Our Favorite OverallAntiparos Greece (Cover photo at top of this page is Antiparos)

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Antiparos, Greece

    There are a few other’s we considered for this BEST OF moniker, but our three weeks in tiny Antiparos in this beautiful home with stunning view on the side of a mountain with a kind and lovely host is definitely our favorite experience, so far, of all our Airbnb’s.  It is the one place that we think we will definitely visit again some day.  As we go forward with our Grand Adventure next fall we have Airbnb’s booked all over; Asia, Africa, Europe.  Time will tell if this favorite in Antiparos can hold its position as Number One.

    If you have questions about our Airbnb adventures feel free to contact me.  Other blogs that might be of interest to you on this topic are listed here;

    Tips & Tricks with Airbnb

    Sleeping Around – Our Adventures with Beds, Baths and Beyond

    Preparing To Travel Full-Time

     

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    Everything Else Fabulous

    What’s in My Suitcase? My Travel Favorites

    What I Won’t Leave Home Without

    Location: In My Suitcase

    Note – it’s repost Sunday! Enjoy this one again from one year ago  

    When we head off again in August for another year of travel our suitcase will not look the same as when we left the first time 18 months ago.  We have learned what works, what doesn’t and what are our favorite things.  So here are some of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Battery Power Pack – possibly our most used and most valuable item. Mophie is the brand we have and we spent $40 on it. We use it everyday  it fits in a purse or pocket and holds a charge for several days. Definitely one of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Packing cubes – not sure how I traveled all those years without packing cubes because they are now my best friend.  Especially as a fulltime traveler it’s so great to keep kinds of clothes and other items categorized in my suitcase.

    Cooler – our collapsible portable lunchbox size Igloo cooler was a gift from our niece and it is just perfect for our travel life, picnics and beach days.   We have even used it to keep things (Mayo, cheese, eggs) cold as we traveled by car from one lodging to the next. A very handy item and portable and one of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Ice pack – purchased for $2 this ice pack fits perfect in our little cooler and really changed the way we travel.  Such a simple item with a big impact.

    Freezer Bags and trash bags – with endless uses for storage and packing we have used gallon size freezer bags and kitchen size trash bags to keep things dry, to keep things wet, to organize, to protect and to store. From wet shoes to dirty clothes and olive oil to medicines plastic bags make our life easier.

    Notecards and post it notes – having a package of notecards with envelopes and post-it notes has come in handy. I like to leave notes for our Airbnb hosts or tuck notes in a package I’m mailing or a multitude of other uses these small and simple items are one of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Packing tape – our roll of packing tape has done a lot more than wrap up boxes.  We used it to fix a splintered iPhone cord and to make a cardboard sleeve for our butcher knife. We repaired a book binding and even a hat.

    Clothes pens – I initially packed these to use on the Camino but they have come in handy in so many ways.  As hangers when we don’t have any, to secure and close bags, to hold back mosquito netting on beds and to of course hang our laundry.

    Manicure kit – it’s not always easy to find a place to have a manicure, and I’ve learned over the years I need to care frequently for my nails or they get cracked and nasty.  So I carry a small manicure kit that serves my needs while on the road.  It takes no room at all and is one of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Scrabble – since leaving the USA in November 2016 we have played more than 400 games of Scrabble. Wow that sounds crazy!  But we love the game and the only problem is we are now both really good at it and we find ourselves occasionally in a bit of a stalemate!

    Noise cancelling headphones – this is Arne’s Favorite item on this list.  We both have Bose headphones we use on the plane. Arne also uses his sometimes to listen to music off his iPad or watch movies.  He votes this as his travel favorite in his suitcase.

    French Press – we have a small REI VERY LIGHTWEIGHT titanium French Press and I love it.   Almost all the places we stay have a hot water pot and we love to make French Press each morning instead of drinking the usual Nescafé.  Traveling with a French Press is one of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Foldaway daypack – A few months into our journey we added this item and have used it a ton. It folds up into a little square but when open it is perfect for hikes or city walks when we want to carry a sweater, beach towels, water or just about anything for the day.

    There are things we have been carrying that we don’t plan to include any longer. This includes our kitchen knives, chess board, hiking poles, chamois towel and our giant toilette bag.  I plan to buy a smaller toilette bag and force myself to carry less.

    I’ll hold on to a few tried and true clothing items but plan to throw out many things and replace them with new, Comfy, loose-fitting clothes in mix and match colors.  I clearly know what works and what doesn’t now,  and I think I can bring fewer items while feeling like I have more.  It’s a challenge I am looking forward to.

    What’s in my suitcase? My travel favorites, the bare necessities and the tried and true.

    This post contains affiliate links and I may be compensated if you make a purchase. Thank you.

    Everything Else Fabulous  --  Inspire

    Travel & Staying Fit – A Difficult Part of the Journey

    Challenges of Full-Time Travel

    Location: Punta Cana Dominican Republic

    When we started this life of full-time travel I imagined getting in awesome shape while we traveled.  But it hasn’t been that easy.  In fact, it’s one of the more difficult parts of this ongoing journey – getting and staying in shape.  Not at all what I was expecting.

    There are several factors I’ve identified to this particular travel challenge.  But before I share those, let me say that this has been a life long battle for me.  Keeping a healthy weight has never come easy for

    Running in our neighborhood

    me.  I am not a tiny girl…a comfortable size 12 or 10 is my USA size.  But I fluctuate a lot and always have.

    A decade ago when I began running I found a wonderful new outlet for both stress release and weight control.  I love to run!.  But in that decade I have also experienced some severe injuries that kept me from running up to as long as a year.  Suffering from sciatic nerve damage and plantar fasciitis being two of the worst things that have sidelined me.

     

    But even when I am healthy, running is not always feasible on this full-time travel journey.  I was surprised to find as we circled the globe how many destinations are unsafe for running; dangerous roads, uneven sidewalks, vicious dogs (remember the  dog bite?) not to mention many countries where a woman should not be out alone.  These surprises stymied my running for months at a time.

    We cycle when we can

    We are currently in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, and I am really enjoying running here.  After not running for the entire month we were in Guatemala (all the reasons listed above) Punta Cana offers a flat, safe (sidewalks wow!) and easy routes direct from our apartment.  Today I did 3.5 and my goal is 5 miles before we leave here.

    Swimming is another favorite work out of mine, but alas, in three years of travel I can only think of three places we have been where a swimming pool was large enough to swim laps.  Most pools are very small, and open ocean swimming isn’t something I’m comfortable with.

    I can do yoga just about anywhere, and I do.  I do it on my own nearly every day, and take classes when they are convenient and affordable.  Yoga builds strength and flexibility as well as clears the mind and helps focus, but I really need to have a good strong regular aerobic exercise to keep my weight down.

    Yoga for body and mind

    And then of course there is the food.  And the alcohol.  I love to eat and cook and try lots of new foods in every country we visit.  Some countries the food is better than others, but I’ll try everything once (well

    We hike and walk a lot

    almost everything) and we enjoy food as a cultural experience wherever we are. Although I believe we are eating fresher and more organic and locally grown than in the USA, we still eat with pleasure and sometimes too much, despite the fact we usually only have two meals a day.

    During our first part of the Grand Adventure I drank alcohol every day, usually a gin and tonic or two, sometimes beer.  But this past winter I decided the caloric intake of alcohol just isn’t worth it to me, particularly when I am in countries where I feel like I’m not getting enough exercise.  So I cut way back on alcohol.  I now drink one or two drinks a week, and sometimes not even that.

    But alas, I am returning to the USA in May after nearly ten months of travel, about ten pounds gained since leaving.  When we returned to the USA last summer it was the same…and I worked all summer to take it off, successfully.

    Hopefully being back in the USA where I know I have access to the YMCA as well as safe running roads

    Swimming in Thailand

    and trails I can get back into a fabulous and fit daily work out routine.  It’s one of the things I am most looking forward to back in Washington State.

    So I have two goals;.

    1. Drop the ten pounds gained and perhaps a few more.  Feel fit and ready to tackle the world once again when we head out for our third round of the Grand Adventure next September.
    2. While traveling focus on aerobic exercise, fresh and locally grown and prepared food, eat only two meals a day, drink lots of water and diminish the amount of alcohol and sugar I consume.

    Want to join me in a summer get fit challenge?  Let’s do it.

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    Central America

    I Left My Heart in Guatemala

    Dejé Mi Corazón en Guatemala

    Location: Guatemala

    Entirely unexpected.  Completely beautiful.  So much better than I imagined.

    Dear Guatemala.  You had me at Hola!  I hated to say good-bye.  I left my heart in Guatemala.

    Once again, I approached another Central American country with apprehension, based solely on the information on the U.S. State Department website.  I should know by now not to allow that to sway me totally. I should heed the warnings for sure, and carry on with caution.

    Yes, Guatemala has some dangers just like every other country I have been too (and the USA too).  Pick

    I left my heart in Guatemala

    Livingston

    pockets are a problem, although we did not have an issue.  Like always, whether in Central America, Europe or anywhere else in the world we are cautious.  There are definitely some horrendous violent crimes, rarely against foreigners.  Unless you go looking for trouble.  Smart and cautious travel with guides when possible is the best way in this country. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world, and yet there is a small population who hold extreme wealth while the rest suffer. There are some other issues in Guatemala, particularly government corruption.  However this is not something the average visitor will see.  The only thing we saw was one entry fee into the town of Panajachel that was illegal.  We also ended up paying twice for our boat on Lake Atitlan because the first guy was a scam.  This ended up costing us an additional $6.50.  Small problems – other than that we found the

    I left my heart in Guatemala

    Semana Santa

    country no more dangerous than anywhere we have been.

    And the positives certainly outweighed the negatives.  In fact, I would put Guatemala in my top list of favorite places I have been.  And that is saying an awful lot.  Yes I left my heart in Guatemala.

    So Guatemala how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways;

    1. I love Antigua, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to.  Being there for the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) was an incredible experience.  Although I am not Catholic, the Palm
      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Antigua

      Sunday spectacle we witnessed was so full of tradition, majesty, history and faith I was incredibly moved.  I think I became Catholic for a day.  We have had similar experiences in other places around the world where faith is such an important part of everyday life.  On the Camino de Santiago in Spain, in New Delhi India, in Istanbul Turkey, in Seoul South Korea.  A few examples of the places where we felt privileged to witness how faith, history and community converge.  Additionally Antigua offers gorgeous scenery, delicious food and incredible history.  Seeing lava spewing from the active volcano Fuego was a definite highlight. We enjoyed two tours with Antigua Tours and my cooking class with La Tortilla was a highlight.  I hope to visit again.

    2. I love Lake Atitlan.  Here we spent a week enjoying the beauty of Guatemala, and not doing much else.  It was one of the more peaceful places I have been in the world; a crater lake surrounded by three beautiful extinct volcanoes.  The small villages surrounding the lake are each named after one of the apostles.  We spent our time in San Marcos, a teeny village known for its holistic

      Our view Lake Atitlan

      offerings, yoga, health food and hippies.  Our airbnb was one of the most unique we have ever had…a cave dwelling nestled into the cliff.  Memorable for sure.  We hiked and swam and did yoga every day.  Heaven on earth.

    3. I love Flores.  We went to Flores so we could visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal, about an hour and a half drive north.  Tikal was amazing…but the tiny town of Flores was such a pleasant surprise.  Situated on a tiny island in Lake Petenitza, the tiny town is colorful, historic, beautiful and yummy.  The town dates back to the 1400’s.  We enjoyed the very warm weather here and a highlight was a private boat tour of the very large and beautiful lake.  Muy bien.

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Flores

    4. I love Rio Dulce.  The region known as Rio Dulce encompasses Livingston on the Caribbean coast (Livingston is only accessible by boat) to the town of Rio Dulce on Lake Izabal.  A gorgeous stretch of water known as the Rio Dulce connects the two.  Our boat ride from Livingston to Rio Dulce was stunning as we

      Lake Izabal, Rio Dulce

      wound our way in an open boat through the narrow gorge, through which the Rio Dulce drains into the Caribbean.  Although VERY rustic, our accommodations in Rio Dulce served us well, and had some of the BEST Mexican food we have ever had.  From our tiny cabin in the marsh we took excursions to the ancient Castillo San Felipe de Lara, to the Agua Caliente waterfall known as El Paraiso and to the beautiful Boqueron Canyon, where we spent several solitary hours deep in the canyon on a beautiful sunny day.  We also learned the very humble ways of the

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      El Parisio Rio Dulce

      Guatemalan people and their use of the collectivos for transportation and saw our first manatee in the wild, although not as close up as we would have liked.

    5. I love a challenge. It’s a challenge getting around Guatemala, as it is still a developing country.  But some of those challenges made for memorable moments.  As mentioned above the collectivo experience in Rio Dulce was certainly unforgettable, riding in a van made for 12 with 23 other people.  During our time here we
      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Many boats

      road in twelve different boats, mostly for transportation, but a couple for pleasure.  We also hired a driver for a private shuttle three times, and through that experience met a wonderful Guatemalan man named Alejandro who we hope to see again some day.  We felt safe in all of these situations and enjoyed the experience.  My least enjoyable experience was the plane ride from Flores to Guatemala city in a small 20 seat plane.  I got sick on this very bumpy and diesel-smelling ride.  Ugh.

    6. I love a bargain.  Guatemala is cheap.  Although we spent money on private shuttles, we could have  gone with less expensive non-private shuttles or public transportation known as chicken busses. We used the kitchens in our airbnb’s when possible, but eating in restaurants was very inexpensive
      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Marsh cabin Rio Dulce

      and all the food we ate was amazing, fresh and local.  Our accommodations have ranged from $30 to $100 a night.  We loved our Antigua Airbnb for $80 a night and our spectacular Airbnb in San Marcos with lake view was $75 a night.  In Rio Dulce we paid $30 and Livingston was $70.  We ended up spending $100 a night at a Ramada in Flores after the hotel we booked was CLOSED on arrival.  That was something that had never happened before.  But all in all Guatemala is one of the least expensive countries of our travels. The gorgeous textiles made by the indigenous Mayan people are so inexpensive, buying the same thing online would cost five times as much. Alas my suitcase it too small…

    7. I love Guatemalan coffee.  Guatemala is known for its coffee, and I have to agree…it is now possibly my favorite coffee of the world.  Dark, rich and very flavorful, I am a convert.  Guatemala is also
      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Coffee with Volcano view

      known for its chocolate.  Although I am not a big consumer of chocolate, the samples of chocolate I had were exceptional.  The Maya used cacao as currency once upon a time. More valuable than gold.

    8. I loved the people.  Everyone we met (except for the one guy who ripped us off $6.50) was amazing.  Few people spoke English and we actually enjoy being forced to expand our limited Spanish knowledge.  Many people however also didn’t speak Spanish, as the Maya who are my generation mostly only spoke their native tongue.  I loved the shy and traditional Maya, especially the beautiful women in their traditional dress.  These are not costumes but how they dress everyday.  The Guatemalan people
      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Mayan women, San Marcos

      were all very private yet friendly, hard working and religious, welcoming and helpful.  We enjoyed being a part of their culture and community.

    So I left my heart in Guatemala.  Possibly my favorite Central American country.  Of course our time in Mal Pais in Costa Rica ranks VERY high.  But Guatemala you are special.  Unique. Beautiful. If you have

    I left my heart in Guatemala

    Mayan women selling palms

    every considered visiting Guatemala you should do it.  And do it soon.  Supporting these developing countries through tourism is the least we can do, especially since America’s abandoning Guatemala after funding of guerrilla warfare during the civil war has caused much of the current economic situation Guatemala suffers.

    Guatemala’s upcoming elections could be a turning point for the country…but perhaps things will stay the same, and the slow climb out of the devastation from a two-decade civil war will continue at a snail’s pace.

    We hope for the best for this country and its beautiful people, where we have left our heart.  We will be back.

    God speed Guatemala.

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