Photo of the Day: The Art Institute of Chicago

art institute of chicago


Travel as Medicine No. 1 – How Traveling Alone Builds Confidence

Since I was a small child, I have this strange fear of getting left behind or forgotten about. I think it’s largely due to the fact my mother forgot to get me from school a number of times, but I digress. It’s been one of the fears that has crippled me throughout my entire life, and it’s been one of the most difficult idiosyncrasies for me to work through. One big thing that’s helped me combat this fear is traveling alone. It may seem strange to combat a fear of solitude with actual solitude, but it works.

The first time I traveled alone was to San Francisco. I couldn’t find anyone who was able to go with me, and I was in desperate need of a vacation. My traveler friend advised me to simply go by myself; she has been on a number of adventures without a traveling companion and she told me it was one of the best ways to see a new city. You don’t have to be bothered with the wants and needs of the person with you, so you can plan your time as you see fit. You can see the monuments you want, shop where you want, and stay out as late as you want without inconveniencing another person. I figured if she’s been able to navigate her way through Europe and the Middle East without trouble, I could manage a city in California.

The primary thing I was concerned about was getting from point A to B. I am not a fan of public transportation in my own city (I blame my OCD for this), and I’ve never been in a cab alone. I consulted a number of my other travel-minded friends, and they assured me that transportation in San Francisco is very easy. I asked them over and over how BART worked, certain that I was missing something and I would be lost the moment I got off the plane. But I didn’t.

BART was so easy to use, I thought I was missing something. It wasn’t nearly as packed as I thought it would be (I had visions of New York subways on my mind before I landed), and the color codes for each line made it easy to ensure I got on the right train. When I got off the train, and found myself in front of the entrance to China Town, every single fear and anxious thought I’d had just disappeared. In the following days when I strolled around downtown and took buses back and forth to Haight Street, I felt a swell of pride that I was unfamiliar with. I was getting around a completely new place, with no one I knew, and I was able to get back and forth to the things I wanted to do and see without problems. I felt like I could take on the world.

Traveling with friends and family is great. You get to leave real life behind for a little while, sharing new experiences with people you know and love. Traveling alone can be just as great; you get to design your vacation to your own liking while still reaping the soul food benefits that traveling provides. Traveling has helped me grow as a person, expanding my horizons and helping me conquer my fears. Let me know if it’s done the same for you.

Hasta la vista!




Dogs and Car Rides: Tips to Make Traveling with Pets Easier


The only downside to traveling for me is the fact that I have to leave my dogs behind. I’ve got three little ones, and every time I leave their little faces behind it breaks my heart. Of course, if I had all the money I would take them with me wherever I went whether by, plane, train or automobile. Until that time comes, they have to stay home unless I am driving. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to making traveling more fun for all of us:

Take them out on a lot of short rides ahead of time. I take my dogs to the park on almost a daily basis, so they are used to getting in and out of the car without problems. Sometimes, I’ll take them on short errands with me, like going to In N Out or to visit family (but they’re never left in the car alone). Now they insist on coming with me any time I grab my keys. When you make getting in the car fun for them, you have already won half the battle.

Bring the food they are used to. It’s not a good idea to abruptly change a dog’s food under normal circumstances, and it is especially not a good idea to do while you’re on vacation. A change in food can upset a dog’s digestive system, and the stress of new surroundings can compound that.

Take frequent breaks. I try to stop at least once an hour or every two hours to let my dogs out. We stop long enough to take a short walk, have a potty break, and drink water. It does significantly slow down your travel time, but it is good for both you and your pet. Sometimes I catch myself just wanting to rush through the drive and get to my destination, but when you force yourself to slow down and take breaks, you end up enjoying the journey itself a lot more.

Don’t leave them in the heat. This is absolutely essential. In the desert the temperatures can reach well above 100 degrees in the summertime, making the insides of a car reach 10 to 50 degrees hotter on any given day or time. This is an easy rule to follow; the only time it can get a little tricky is if you are on the road and alone. You can’t bring your pet into every gas station you pass by, especially if you need to use the restroom. The times that I find myself needing a bathroom break on the road, I leave out cold water and keep the air conditioning on. I also time myself; I’m never gone for more than five minutes.

Bring plenty of water. This is pretty self-explanatory. I usually bring a gallon for the dogs and some of the 24 oz. Aquafina bottles for myself. This is an important tip to keep in mind all year, but it is even more important in the warmer months.

Secure them in the vehicle. They make seat belts and crates for dogs that are specially designed for car rides, but I’ve always used their regular crates on trips. Keeping your pets crated during a trip not only ensures their safety, but yours by extension. Whether you get a ticket for having your pet in your lap, or your furry friend distracts you while driving and causes an accident, having a loose pet in the car can cause a number of headaches.

Go on a walk before you leave. Taking them on a walk before you embark on a road trip will help burn off excess energy, and allow them to use the bathroom. Even if it’s just a quick trip outside, it will be enough to get their brains working and prepare them for the long drive ahead.

Bring something from home. Whether it’s toys, blankets or pillows, items from home will give them the sense of comfort they are missing out on the road. It will also help them to stay calm if they need to be in the hotel room by themselves for a little while.


My favorite travel sites

For as much fun as being on vacation is, preparing and planning that vacation is much less enjoyable. Depending on your destination and your reasons for traveling (business or pleasure), you will have a laundry list of things to do to prepare.  The Internet can simplify this but with so many websites out there it’s hard to know where to start. Below are some of the websites I use to prepare myself whenever the wanderlust strikes:

  1. Expedia:

I love using Expedia for hotel rooms. My favorite feature of the website is that, for some hotels, you don’t have to pay up front. I appreciate this particular feature because while I like to know I have a place to stay I also like changing my mind if I find somewhere better.

  1. Viator

I haven’t used any other tour company yet, because I love Viator. Sometimes I don’t know what I want to do when I’m going out of town, and Viator is never short on suggestions. You can choose from a variety of activities, to tours to group excursions, and the prices are reasonable.

  1. Google Flights:

I just discovered Google Flights last month. With all the apps that Google has now, I think Google Flights is my favorite. Google notifies you every time a fare increases or decreases in price, making it easy to track and compare prices on multiple airlines. For example, when I first started looking for flights to Chicago, the average rate was 350.00. I tracked the flight using Google Flights, and I ended up getting one 3 weeks later for 200.00.

  1. Amazon:

You can get almost anything you need these days from Amazon, and if you have Amazon Prime you can get it within two days. If you need a neck pillow, a new set of headphones, books, travel accessories you can likely find it on Amazon.

  1. Virgin America:

If I am going to one of the select cities Virgin flies to, I scour their website for prices. A big plus about their website is when you look at dates, you can view the prices for the dates as well. It’s not always the cheapest flight to take, but it’s by far my favorite airline so far.

  1. Lonely Planet:

Lonely Planet is the place to go if you need ideas for things to do or food to try while you’re on vacation. Besides that, they offer current travel information for your destination, travel guides and phrasebooks.

September Poll – How Far In Advance Do You Buy Airline Tickets?

Travel Tip No. 2 – When In Doubt, Bring Extra Socks

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the Windy City for the first time. I was very excited for my trip; it was the first time I’d been that far away from home alone, and I had so many things I wanted to do in my time there. Yes, I am one of those travelers. Don’t judge me. Anyway, you know that even when you plan things down to a T, it just wouldn’t be a trip if Life didn’t throw you a little curveball here and there. That’s how I came to truly appreciate the lesson of today’s Travel Tip No. 2- when in doubt, bring extra socks.

I had no idea what “rain” meant in Chicago. I know what rain is, of course; we see a little bit of the stuff throughout the summer. And I’ve been to Seattle. But to me, “raining” meant light sprinkles here and there throughout a day, maybe decorated with some lightning and thunder on a good day. It hardly required more than a light jacket. I was no in way prepared for the way the sky could erupt into a waterfall with little to no warning. I had no idea it could rain furiously for twenty to thirty minutes at a time. As a result, I was not prepared for the mad dash I would make through puddles, because the wind would murder umbrellas left and right without a moment’s notice. I had a friend tell me to pack more clothes than I thought were necessary, because I’d sweat more than I’d anticipate. I did that, but I skimped on the socks.

So when in doubt, bring extra socks. Always.

Tips for Getting Around Las Vegas: Dean Martin Drive


Driving around the Las Vegas Strip, particularly on weekends, can be a pain especially at night time. It’s nothing like the traffic you would encounter in major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, but it can still get dicey. In order to avoid spending many hours on the busy Las Vegas Boulevard, dodging drunk tourists and cab drivers that think they own the road, there are two side roads that will lead to a number of Strip destinations. One, which I wrote about in a previous post, is Koval Lane. The other street, on the west side of the Strip, is Dean Martin Drive.

Dean Martin Drive

If you look at the map above, Dean Martin is circled in green. It runs along the back of a number of hotels, including Mandalay Bay, Luxor, the Excalibur, the Monte Carlo, and the Bellagio. You can access New York New York easily from Dean Martin Drive, as well as the T-Mobile Arena. The easiest way to get on Dean Martin is from Las Vegas Boulevard itself, if you are traveling North down the Strip. Eventually, it circles around to a street called Spring Mountain, and from there you have access to the Fashion Show Mall, the Mirage and Treasure Island. If you head east on Spring Mountain, you then also have access to the Venetian, the Palazzo and the Wynn. It’s a nice backway to avoid a lot of congestion that happens at night time, and it’s also much easier to get in and out of the parking garages (if you happen to be driving a car).

Until next time!