From the Travel Confessions File ~

Lifestyles of the Not So Rich or Famous… but the Really Lucky

Although I’m relatively new to the blogging world, I have noticed that sometimes bloggers entertain their creative spirit and each other with a variety of writing prompts, tagging games and blogging awards.  I haven’t won any awards as yet, but last week I was tagged to participate in a “travel confessions” game.  Someone tags you, you write a post and tag other blogs.  It sounded like fun and my friend Lois who blogs at Playing a New Game tagged me, so I thought I would play along.

Way back in 1987 I became a corporate meeting planner.  It was a job marriage made in heaven.  I love people, entertaining, creative design, good food, and travel.  We planned large (1,000+) international sales meetings, press junkets, customer events, and sales award trips.  Hotel site inspections were part of the job and they wined, dined and rolled out the red carpet for me on more than one occasion.   I’m afraid I became a bit of a hotel snob.  I know it’s how the 1% live all the time, but when another meeting planner and I stepped off the elevator on the 14th floor of a San Francisco hotel to find two very large suites – and one was ours, I have to admit we were rendered speechless.  And, yes I know that’s hard to believe.   And yes, we had our own butler.  It was simply spectacular.  Unfortunately we were working 10+ hour days and too busy to enjoy all of the luxuries provided.  We did the best we could.

As any single mom who travels for her job knows, the issue of who stays with the kids is always in your mind. I was very lucky.  My company often allowed my son to travel with me.  Let me just say that he adapted to la dolce vita very quickly.   When my work scheduled site inspections for an achievement trip in Hawaii over his 14th birthday, I planned the ultimate surprise.  “Wake up! It’s your birthday and hurry up because we’re going to Hawaii.”  That 14 year old boy, who is now a young man about to build and live in his own “tiny” home of 130 sq. ft., had absolutely no problem settling into the Presidential Suite at the Hilton Waikaloa.  It was larger than our entire home and included a baby grand piano, a dining room with seating for twelve, a kitchen for the catering chef and a balcony that overlooked  the Pacific ocean.  The sunsets were breathtaking.   Our three day working trip included horse back riding, a sunset cocktail cruise on a catamaran, swimming with the dolphins, daily massage, a birthday cake made in the hotel kitchen, and other adventures.  Rich and famous?  No.  Lucky?  Oh my, yes we were!

I must “confess” that my glory travel days are long gone…along with the in-room gifts, limo drivers and luxury linens.   My travel experience has at times made it challenging to stay in the Shady Inn Motel – even if they do leave the light on for you.  I am very grateful I had the chance to taste that kind of luxury.  I can truly say,  “Been there.  Done that.”

These days we’re traveling on a rather small budget.  I’m happy to trade five star for unique and interesting and charming.  I love the challenge of digging up the hidden gems.  And they’re out there.  You just have to look a little harder to find them.  Really who needs a butler?  Not me, but I am always tickled with the little extra touches when we find them.That’s my travel confession.

I’m tagging two bloggers who I read regularly and always enjoy.  Please play along only if you wish.  Have fun!  I’d love to hear one of your travel confessions.  Suzanne at Boomeresque who writes a great travel blog sharing her adventures and point of view as she travels with her working husband.  Astra, a Canadian blogger at The Dust Bunny Chronicles and self-described “zamboni fumes inhaling soccer mom” isn’t exactly a travel blogger, but I’m betting she has a few very interesting travel stories as the mom of three boys.

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Don’t you just love it? ~

It really tickles me when a lovely moment of serendipity strikes. You never know when you go out the door for a bite of lunch who you might meet.  Well, that moment of serendipity struck today when I slipped down to Nordstrom Cafe for a quick mid-day break from the office.  It was noon and the place was packed.  I ordered my half salad – chicken/apple/walnut/feta – yum! and had to squeeze myself into a tiny table along the wall between two other tables.  I settled in, put on my reading glasses and pulled out my current lunch time companion – 65 Things to do When You Retire. It’s a compilation of essays from people like Jimmy Carter and Gloria Steinem and many lesser known but still very interesting and inspiring folks.  They are true stories of people in retirement who found meaningful new opportunities.  It’s sort of a user’s manual for making the most of your retirement.   A few moments later, the lovely woman on my left (I believe her name was Carol) tapped my arm and asked “May I take a look at your book?  I’ve just retired.”   “Of course” I said and I passed the book over to her table.  I then took the opportunity to introduce myself and share my newly acquired knowledge about retirement and traveling on the cheap. Carol was interested, excited and open to all of the possibilities and adventures ahead.  I told her about the backpack and rollie plan and how I had come to be a blogger.  I learned about her career as a teacher and her recent trip through Spain, Italy and France with her daughter who was sitting across the table.  We chatted for quite a while about home exchange, house sitting opportunities and even WWOOFing.   She was a sponge for information and I was thrilled that I had lots of ideas to share!

It was a lovely exchange with a truly lovely woman who, like so many of us, is excited and eager to get on with her new life.  Carol, it was a true pleasure to have met you.  I’m glad fate guided me to that tiny table in the middle.  You brought a spark of joy to my afternoon.  I hope we meet again somewhere out on the road.  I’ll be the one with the backpack and the rollie.

Five Fun Things to do before I Die ~

Or twenty or one hundred …whatever.  What I’m really talking about and what I have been thinking about for quite a while is creating a bucket list.  Maybe part of the reason I haven’t taken any action on what I believe is a really good idea is because I don’t like the name.  Bucket List just doesn’t do it for me.  Nor does the the expression “kick the bucket”. I’ve tried thinking of other names – Life List, To Do List, Before I Die, It’s Now or Never.  Ok, I’m not doing any better.  So I realized I need to just get past the name and get on with the pondering, dreaming, and creating of my very own list of things I’ve always wants to do while I still can.

For some people (me), that’s not as easy as it sounds.  It’s easier to say, “Oh, I don’t know.”  or pull out a few standard issue ideas like “I want to travel.”   So, how do you get started on something like this.?  How about with a quiet place, a comfy chair, a glass of wine, a notepad and a nice pen.  And then?  Well, according to the wikihow-Make Your Bucket List, you just start asking questions and see what comes up.  If you keep asking long enough, I’m sure lots of interesting and long buried “I’ve always wanted to” ideas will begin to pop into your mind.  Write them down.  No judgement allowed here.  It’s not too big, too expensive, too crazy or even too small.  It’s just an idea that tickles your fancy.  A glimmer.  But that’s often how things start.  Then they have to bubble.  It’s amazing, but you start to see these places or things everywhere you look.  Then one day, you think. OK.  I’m going to make this happen.  And you do.  That’s how so many things have happened for me.   So far it’s always been random.  One day an idea pops into my head – I want to start an organization for women, or wouldn’t it be fun to live in San Miguel this winter, or most recently, I want to challenge myself and walk the Camino de Santiago.  Once the idea has lodged, look out because something’s gonna happen!  But, I’ve never had a plan or made a list and had the visual satisfaction of taking a big marker and crossing things OFF the list.  Been there!  Done that!  Now that I have more free time, I also know time is running out.  I want to make sure I have all the adventures and experiences my mind can conjure up and I think the Bucket List is one way to make that happen.

Walking the Great Wall of China – on the List

Geocache? On the list!

Fortunately, when I turned to the internet for insight and a little guidance, I found no less than six bucket-list websites where you can compile your own bucket list and share it with all your friends, family and the rest of the world.  Bucketlist.org users have posted nearly 16,000 lists containing over 300,000 items, ranging from climbing a volcano to learning to play the oboe.  For more inspiration you might check out Lifed.com’s list of 225 Things.  The other fun thing to do on these sites is make a mental list of ALL the amazing things that others hope to do that you have already done.    Watch out.  It can be addicting.

So, what are my Five Things?  They will probably change as I keep honing my Bucket List but so far ~  1.  Live in small town in France (or Italy) for six months.  2.  Learn to play golf well enough to play for fun with my hubby and join a ladies team (hit and giggle golf is ok).  3.  Attend a TED talk.  4.  Visit every National Park in the United States.  5.  Win the Lottery and start the Nancy M Thompson Charitable Foundation.

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming… “WOW – What a Ride!”  (anonymous)

What’s on your Bucket List?

Booked it Danno!

I am so excited I can hardly contain myself!   If I’m dreaming, please do not pinch me.

I have been thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago for a while now.  But, in my heart, I knew I was way past that stage in my life where I wanted to walk all day and then sleep on the ground or in a hostel with the smelly, partying masses of young folk. Not to mention carrying all my belongings on my back. Don’t get me wrong – I love young people.  I used to be one.  Truly, some of my best friends are young.  And, I still like a good party!   I do not think of myself as old and crotchety, no matter what my kids might tell you.  But, when it comes to SLEEP.  Now that’s a different matter entirely.  Let it be known here that I am not nice (and might even be considered cranky if not downright crotchety) when I don’t get my full eight hours – preferably in comfort and relative silence.  So, I wasn’t sure how to make this particular dream a reality.  It was definitely a conundrum.

I firmly believe that there is always a way and a brilliant solution came to me in the form of an article written by a woman who had completed what I like to call the “relatively civilized, not too hard but still challenging, with support if and when you need it” version of walking the Camino.   Marly Tours was our answer!  This discovery made it all seem do-able.  All we needed was a little time, a moderate amount of money and good walking shoes.  As it turned out, I mentioned our idea to a few friends and now we are a party of six.  Hubs, me, my sis and three women friends.  It’s a big year too – my 65th birthday, my sister’s “something that ends in a zero” birthday, hubs and my 10th anniversary.  Definitely a year worth marking in a big way.  We’ll  walk about 10-12 miles a day at our own pace  and meet up along the way. Then we’ll gather together every evening for wine, dinner and story-telling before bed.  We’ll be a small group of no more than 14 Pilgrims + our Marly “wranglers” who will make sure we don’t get lost, carry our luggage, provide snacks, first aid and sag wagon support if needed.

So… we’re off.  Well not until next September.  Exactly twelve months from this week.    Call me a light weight, call me soft, call me old, but do not call me between September 17 and 24, because I won’t be home.  I’ll be in Spain, crossing one more item off my bucket list – walking at least a small portion of the Camino de Santiago.

Staying in small hotels like this…Sleeping in a comfy bed like this…Walking along roads and paths like this…Now, I just need to find a home exchange so we can stay an extra week to explore the rest of Spain.  I’m working on that too.

Somtimes it really is about the destination ~

“Life is a journey, not a destination.

So said Ralph Waldo Emerson.   I wholeheartedly agree with this idea, but I’m pretty sure Ralph never spent the night in one of these truly unique destination hotels or he just might have changed his tune.  Sometimes the destination is worth the journey…especially when you are sleeping with the birds 40 feet above the ground or under a star-filled sky in the Utah desert in a trailer that could have been used by Harrison Ford while on location for Indiana Jones.

What’s not to love about the Shooting Star Drive-In & Airstream Park.  This place is a baby boomer paradise!  Owner Mark Gudenas, married his three passions – Drive-ins, shooting movies and Airstream trailers to create this unique vacation spot near Escalante, Utah.  Mark’s mission is “to provide our guests with a fun, unique and luxuriously comfortable vacation experience in one of the most scenic places in the world”.   The campground boasts eight custom designed and luxuriously equipped airstream trailers that pose as Hollywood star’s dressing trailers.   With names like “Ann’s Cabana” The Kid’s Hideout, Cary’s Cabin and The Duke, you’ve got some very interesting options for a fun night or two.   At dusk you can just slip into a 1964 red Cadillac convertible, one of the many great convertibles provided for your movie-viewing pleasure at the Shooting Star Drive-in.  Pass the popcorn!

Next stop?  How about a night in a tree house?  No kidding.  And there several right here in my own Pacific NW backyard, but the Treehouse Treesort caught my attention a while back.   If you’re looking for back to nature at it’s most quirky, here it is.  This place is loaded with very rustic charm and comes with a great story of one man’s ingenuity, perseverance and love of trees.  It’s definitely a backpack only place.  One of the cabins circles a Douglas Fir 47 feet off the ground.  You have to walk a swing bridge to get to your room and use a pulley system to deliver your luggage.  It’s not for the feint of heart or those with a fear of heights, but it would be a great adventure next summer when my granddaughter comes to visit again. (hint!).

First of all, who wouldn’t want to visit a town called Nice?  Add to that, the opportunity to sleep in a lovingly restored antique railroad caboose and I’m pretty sure we will have to add the Featherbed Railroad Bed & Breakfast Resort to our travel bucket list.  Located on Clear Lake in (yes) Nice, CA, each of the nine cabooses has a different theme.  You can spend the night in La Loose Caboose, Orient Express, Lover’s Caboose or perhaps the Easy Rider which boasts motorcycle handlebars on the headboard and a fringed-leather easy chair.  The grounds are lovely, there is a dock and lake access, feather beds, and a gathering spot in the historic Main Station that’s “a comfortable place to sit and watch nothing happen”.

And last on this list, but certainly not least – here’s your chance to sleep in an  airplane – comfortably.   In 2009, some wild and crazy folks opened Hotel Arlanda, a hotel/hostel in a 747 jumbo jet that is parked at the Arlanda Airport in Stockholm, Sweden.   There are 27 rooms, flat screen TV, internet, bathroom/showers down the hall (let’s hope they’re bigger than the standard airplane bathrooms) and a lounge.  For the real enthusiast, they offer you the chance to “sleep like a pilot”.  The cockpit has been converted into a deluxe suite where you can lie in bed and watch the air traffic over the Arlanda airport.  You might need noise cancelling headphones if you actually wanted to sleep, but it would be fun.

Ok, now I’m worried.  Do the pilots really sleep up there?  Is that why they lock the door?  So they can turn down the beds and turn in for the night?  Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

Hicksville Here We Come ~

I’ve been taking a couple of mini vacation trips with my backpack, my rollie and my lovely family.  I love summer!

Until I’m back to regular posts, here’s another fun and unique travel option that was sent to me recently from my very LA hipster niece.  She knows all the cute and quirky places to stay in California and this is certainly one to add to the travel list.  If you’re traveling in Southern California, you might want to spend a night (or two) in Hicksville.Hicksville is a  “motel” resort with lodging comprised of themed trailers with names like The Fifi, The Pioneer, The Integratrailor, and The Sweet.  It’s located in Joshua Tree, but you won’t see an address on their website.  That’s because you can’t drive by…you only get the address after your reservation has been confirmed.  It’s the ultimate secret getaway.  But wait, it gets better – the whole place, including the swimming pool, runs on solar power.  Their amenities include the pool, a Tipi with a firepit, horseshoes, darts, table tennis, archery and of course a bar.  All the comforts of home.  Well, that probably depends on where you call home, but it would definitely be a great stay for a night or two of fun in the outdoors and under the stars in the California desert. These folks really “circled the wagons” in style.

Thanks Melissa!

Air BnB ~ Another Interesting Option

Here’s another lovely benefit of writing this blog – I hear from so many people who know WAY more about travel than I do and they offer great new ideas for me to check into.  How cool is that?  Very actually!   And that’s how I came to learn about Airbnb from Suzie, a lovely woman with a lot more travel miles on her rollie than the hubs and I have right now.

How about an art filled room in Giacomo’s stone house in Vinci, Italy?

I’d heard of this new player in travel accommodation but, frankly I thought it was sort of a step up from couch surfing and I’ve decided that’s probably not for us (at least right now).  Boy, was I wrong.  According to the founders (three young men in their late 20’s) it all started several years ago when these guys decided to buy some blow up mattresses and offer them (along with a tasty breakfast and local hospitality) to a few of young creative types who were attending a creative design conference in San Francisco where they lived.
Hence the original name Air Bed and Breakfast.  I am always tickled by creative ideas and love it when creativity + passion + vision + hard work = major success.

According to their website, it turns out that a whole lotta people were looking for places to stay where the “hospitality was genuine and the M&Ms didn’t cost $6.  The guests got insight into the city from a fresh, local perspective and an interesting place to stay at a very reasonable price.”  Bingo!   Airbnb took off and now offers diverse accommodations in over 26,000 cities and 192 countries around the world.

So, of course I took myself for a little cruise on the airbnb site and found every imaginable kind of place to stay.   For $71 a night you can rent a lovely domed cave house in Cataluna, Spain from Eve.  Or, for $85 a night you can stay in this yurt in the trees near Ashland OR with Becky and Sidney as your hosts.  We could do this for a long weekend! Or maybe, a small apartment on an agriturismo farm owned by Francesco and his family.  They make sheep’s milk cheese.  You name it, someone is offering you the opportunity to stay in it – cabins, rustic retreats, repurposed buildings, yurts, castles, boats, lofts, apartments – the list is endless.  And, of course, you can always rent a bedroom in someone’s home, often with meals and lots of social interaction.   Brilliant idea!  Let’s get packing.