Do we really have room to talk?

Your birthplace matters far less than you think.

On Christmas, my family had a lovely get together filled with food, games and laughter. It was over much too early since many of us had to work the next day (several family members work in retail), but it was one of the best Christmases I can ever recall. A childhood friend stopped by to visit after being away at college for several years, and it was lovely to see her, too.

This young woman was a friend of my sister’s, and is about six years or so younger than me, so she’s in her early twenties right now. She looked sophisticated and festive, and when she talked she reminded me so much of how I spoke and thought at her age, or perhaps a little younger.

She mentioned how there are women at her place of work who think they are better than everyone else, and she remarked, “Really? You’re from X county!” meaning, of course, our county. I had to laugh; I’ve said the same thing so many times about different people in my life as well.

What I didn’t say, though—because it would have been condescending; I would have rolled my eyes at that age myself—is that your birthplace matters far less than you think. I wonder if anyone ever told Oprah or Gandhi or Mother Theresa or JK Rowling, “Really? You’re from X county!” when they attempted to do anything huge in their lifetimes.

We don’t think about this when we grow up. We think about leaving this “hick town” or “one horse town” or whatever you call where you came from, and we think we’ll never be back. We think that nobody ever amounted to anything in our town, and we’re probably wrong. Look at all of the firefighters, teachers, doctors, lawyers, mothers and fathers in your town—they all surely mean the world to someone. I don’t think Gandhi or Mother Theresa came from New York or Los Angeles, either.

I like that I know this now. I wish I had known it sooner, but there’s no way in hell a teenager would believe such sentiments! I wonder if there’s a way to help young people see that it doesn’t matter where you’re from as long as you be an authentic, kind person who follows your heart and your dreams.

Of course, as for those broads giving my friend some trouble—well, a little humility does go a long way!

Little Passports

So far, this program is only so-so.

Last year, I made my daughter her own passport to stamp whenever we went somewhere new during summer vacation. It was all local, but it was so much fun. She had her own tote, and thought she didn’t put stickers on it, it was hers and she carried it around all summer. We also already have a couple of maps in our house, and we play interactive games that are free all of the time.

In short, I’m afraid we may not need the Little Passports program I just ordered her. Since seeing it heavily advertised on most of the blogs I follow, Facebook and everywhere else, I have wanted to try it, so when the company offered free shipping a few weeks ago I signed up. It’s cute enough, even though both of the characters are white and I’d much rather at least one of them look more multicultural. Our first shipment wasn’t very impressive, but it’s what you should expect from the website: a map, two stickers, a passport, a luggage tag and your suitcase itself. Oh, and a picture. Of a garage. We really get more out of our three-dollars-a-month Postcrossing program.

The online games were pretty dull for this first month. My daughter hated them and wasn’t impressed with much of the other stuff, either—but like I said, we’d made passports, have maps, and exchange postcards with people from around the world already. I am really hoping that this was just because it’s the introductory shipment, and that the games and packages will get better as we go along. I think my daughter will enjoy the souvenirs, at least, and hopefully we’ll have better activities and photos in the future.

It took a while to arrive, which is expected for a new shipment—but the same week we received the first one, we were billed for the next! I certainly hope it arrives faster, because that’s pretty silly. For every other children’s program we’ve done, we are billed when we receive the item; that month ahead stuff’s for cable bills and rent!

This may be one of those cases where I should have waited to read parent reviews and not jumped the gun to subscribe right away. I just love traveling, and since we are now on a family budget and unable to like I did when I was single, I thought this would help my daughter experience the world vicariously until she can do it herself. I do hope that this so-so shrug we feel over the first package is really just because it’s introductory, and that next month’s will be really cool.

The Smart Traveler’s Passport

Anyone that has done any traveling knows that it can be a hassle to go through the security check points, pack light to keep the costs down and make sure you don’t get hassled for having a shampoo bottle that is too big.

The Smart Traveler’s Passport is a field guide for the newbie or even veteran travelers with more than 300 tips and tricks to make your traveling easier and more efficient. Ziploc bags are one of the few things that security doesn’t seem to care about and The Smart Traveler’s Passport has more than 13 different uses for them.

Load up with baggies and you’ll be ready to take on the world. Dental floss is small and compact, but when you need to make some quick on-the-fly measurements, it can be used as a tape measure. It’s true and the book tells you how.

It’s not tips and tricks at the airport either. The Smart Traveler’s Passport tells you how to get out of those long lines at popular amusement park attractions and how simply clearing out or web browser’s cache can get your lower prices on air and hotel rates.

This book is chock full of the insider tips and tricks that all the insider’s use. It was compiled by some of the most veteran travelers in the world and for the first time you can get around an airport or resort like they do.

The Smart Traveler’s Passport is a must have book for anyone that enjoys traveling or is a little nervous about the first trip.




National Geographic: The Leader In Travel Books

I grew up reading National Geographic magazine and my children love watching the National Geographic channel, but people seem to forget they are also leaders in the travel book industry.


You may wonder how an organization designed to educate the world about cultures and cilivizations would be a travel book leaders, but if you stop to think it only makes sense. Nat Geo sends their writers and photographers all over the world to cover stories.


They go to not only all the major tourism spots, plus the places no one in their right mind would go. Their photographers spend hours finding the perfect shots for the stories and you can't say the pictures aren't breathtaking.


It's only common and financial sense to take advantage of this constant travel to have their writers talk about the destinations and create travel books as well. Their books are filled with the expert prose of professional writers who can capture the heart and soul of a people in the magazine. Imagine what they can do for a vacation destination.


They see not only the tourist spots that all the other travel writer's see, but also the off the beaten path places that only the locals know about. It's their job to dig deep into a story and that goes for a fluff piece about Aruba or a in-depth study of an African tribe.


I have had the pleasure of know a few Nat Geo photographers and they are truly unique people. There is no place they wouldn't go to get the best picture and that shows in the magazine and their travel books.

The Dark Side of Disney

"I wish I had read The Dark Side of Disney back then. "

I have always wanted to go to Walt Disney World and as a child was almost obsessed with it. I watched every show they had about that place and dreamed of the day I could visit. When I got older and became an adult, the place lost its allure.

I considered it a place for kids and not something a lone adult would want to visit. I wish I had read The Dark Side of Disney back then. The book tells you about all the stories, claims and scams that the management at the theme park would rather you didn’t hear.

The author grew up in Florida and visited the park more than 100 times by the time he was 18. He lived the dream of doing all the things you wanted to do, but never had the guts. It’s a townies view of Walk Disney World and filled with things no one does or at least gets to tell the tale.

He talks about scamming his way into getting free tickets. The book details the exploits of going behind the red lines into the unauthorized areas of the park. Are the people who wear the costumes and princess tiara’s really the squeaky clean people you think or are they going on benders once their clock is punched.

I fell in love with this book because it reminded me of all the things I did as a reckless teen, but never on such a grand scale. You may not actually want to try all these tips and tricks at the park, but you’ll go in loaded with the knowledge.

Travel Shows: Just The Same Old Thing

I am a big fan of travel books and travel shows, but I have noticed a lot of repetition in many of the shows. Their titles may be different, but they all visit the same places.


You expect this from shows about a specific place. I mean, how many different ways can you visit Walt Disney World and talk about their magical cup of homemade hot chocolate. You can only make the Haunted Castle look creepy a few ways, and don't even get me started on the tea cups.


When I watch these shows, I hope to see something new and interesting. There are hundreds of thousands of restaurants in the United States, but they keep visiting the same ones over and over again. I am so glad that you make a two-foot long doughnut, but do you need to be featured on four different dessert shows.


I don't mind watching a show or two about the Del Monico, but it's steak. It can't so good that it needs to on three different shows about the nation's best meat. Even shows that seem to not have any connection feature the same places over and over again. It's a little disconcerting to think they the United States has so few landmarks that we have to keep showing the same ones over again. The funny thing is that the ones I really know about you never see. How many travel shows feature Mount Rushmore or The Lincoln Memorial? I have yet to see a travel show about The Smithsonian Museum.

Turn Your Experience Into Travel Articles

How many times have you read a travel magazine or website and thought to yourself, “Hey, my experience was way better than that?” There is no reason why you can't turn your experience into your own articles about the paces you visit.


The first step is to start a blog. You can create your own blog dedicated to discussing your travels and experiences. You can write several blogs on the same place and just talk about different aspects. In one, you can talk about your experience at a specific hotel or about the service. In another, you can talk about the kinds of food and shops are in the area.


Do some Internet research and take some queues from existing blogs and find out how they structure their articles. You can even find a niche to specialize in if you want to go for specific audience or magazine. When you've got a good following or when you've got several articles on your site, then you can begin petitioning paying travel magazines and websites about writing articles for them.


You can use your blogs as samples. The only caveat about this is when you visit places for vacation, you have to take notes and go out of your way to find topics to write about. Some people get discouraged because it turns their vacation into work, but that's the price you pay for becoming famous. Pretty soon, you'll have your own show on Travel channel and get paid to visit places and stay in hotels.

Make Your Own Travel Books

We live in a fast paced world and hardly give ourselves time to breath let as well take vacations. When we do get around to actually taking them, even if its just for the weekend, we create lasting memories that will last for the rest of our lives.


It doesn't matter if you are visiting the Grand Canyon or the town next door, but 30 years from now you are going to look back fondly on these memories. That is if you can remember them. The human brain takes in so much information on a daily basis that its easy forget some things down the road. Soon, you can't remember if you went to the antique store before or after that amazing lunch or if the place you got that tea cup was the same place that sold those great scones.


If you want to keep this kind of thing from happening, then you need to create your own travel book while its fresh in your mind. I am not talking about some professionally written book that you can publish. I mean a journal filled with your daily insights and events that you can look back on.


The easiest thing to do is purchase a blank journal and at the end of the day before you go bed, sit down and take an hour to jot down the things that were memorable for that day. Do this for each day and pretty soon, you have a resource that you can look back on if the details ever get fuzzy. This is also perfect for children who either weren't born or were too small to remember the trip.

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2012

One of the toughest things about choosing a travel experience is finding up to date resources the help you get organized and choose a destination. There are tons of thorough travel guides based on a wide variety of themes, from region to pet-friendliness. The trouble is, if the book isn't current, you might wind up still having a ton of unanswered questions or outdated information. The last thing you want when you're on vacation is an unexpected surprise, like a poorly calculated budget or planned excursion to a travel spot that's not currently open or under construction.


Planning out a vacation, especially abroad, requires current information on everything from costs to tourist-friendly locales. If you're basing your travel plans on a source that's thorough, but 15 years old, you might find yourself sorely disappointed.

If you're not sure where you want to jet this year, and want a resource that offers extensive information on the best places to be, see and experience, I recommend taking a look at Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2012. The guide is a great overview of all the hot destinations this year, and takes into account current prices, upcoming events and other pertinent info and lays it out for you to have a good sense of what's available and where you want to visit this year.


Once you whittle down where you want to go, then you can tune in on the fine details with your travel planner and other available resources. But, in the beginning of the planning process, having a broad but current view of what's happening around the world will save you frustration, time and quite possibly from a bad trip.


Learn a Language: Travel Phrase Books

When I was in high school and college, I took several years of Spanish and thought that I had a pretty good grasp of the language. That was until I actually went to Mexico for a vacation and discovered that I had not only forgotten most of everything I learned, but also that I couldn't ask many simple questions.

That's why I decided that whatever country I visited, I would always bring a travel phrasebook for their native language. It's not worth hoping that most of the people, even in a tourist destination, will speak English. It's easy to get lost while on a sightseeing trip or to get cutoff from your tour group. A travel phrase book will insure that you will not only be able to find a bathroom or a restaurant, but also your hotel and call for a cab.

They have books for almost every language you might encounter, so don't be afraid to take more than one if your touring several countries. If you enjoy traveling abroad, but can't seem to grasp languages, then a travel phrase book can literally be a lifesaver.

After my initial trip, I went back a few years later with my travel phrase book. I was much more confident and was able to ask basic questions. They won't make you a master of the language or let you have a general conversation, but if you're stuck and need some emergency information, then you can't beat them.