When traveling I often find myself distracted by the big things: tall buildings, grand gardens, a large expanse of water…  You get the idea.  There are so many “points of interest” I research in advance that it rarely occurs to me to just let a vacation unfold.

While no one can detract from the majesty of the Grand Canyon or the grandeur of the Roman Colosseum, my photographs never seem to come close to recapturing the experience I had at that moment in time.  Being entirely surrounded by nature (or a structure) records a lot more in your grey matter than does a mere snapshot!

Even if I am not crazy about a photo taken on vacation, I try not to be trigger happy and delete it unless it is out of focus or otherwise can’t be rescued.   It always surprises me that some of the photos which accompany me home contain hidden gems.

Take this photo for instance:

It was taken while adjusting the settings on my camera and walking up a hill in Ravello, Italy.  When I look at this photo I can clearly remember that my husband and I were attempting to fit in a few photos at Villa Cimbrone before the rain rolled in.  Also I recall that he wanted to know exactly why a photo of pumpkins in Italy was of interest.  Honestly, I had no good reason – the pumpkins just happened to be there.

After returning home it is always great fun to download the photos and see what riches await…  This particular trip was our honeymoon, so there are endless photos of our villa, Positano, the Mediterranean Sea, Amalfi, the Italian countryside, Capri, boats of many kinds, and even a few of us.  Some of the most interesting shots were of everyday Italy like this one.

No doubt we saw impressive works of art, stunning architecture, and countless churches in a country that all deserves to be photographed. But when all is said and done, I like how this one photo encapsulates an Italian city and the countryside all in one frame.  Maybe I did have a subliminal reason when I chose the pumpkins to focus on, after all I grew up next to cornfields and cows.  Until I got home and flipped through all of our trip photos, however, I did not realize just how much I liked this photo and the perspective it captured.  I guess it’s true that you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.

Happy traveling!


Posted by: AmbleAlong | June 22, 2012

Could I Get a Side Trip to Poland With That?

Each time I set down to map out a trip, my expection is to plan it and then have everything run smoothly.  Similar to planning a wedding, this is next to impossible!

Take for instance a trip to Italy from several years back.  The plan was to combine all items into one checked bag, board the flight in St. Louis, and with just a single connecting flight touch down at Rome Fiumicino Airport.  Reality had something else entirely in mind.  Weather delays to the initial flight caused us to miss our international connection in Chicago.  There we were with carryons containing only a change of clothes each and a camera – but neither a suitcase nor additional flights to Rome that day on our planned carrier. Both of these issues were sure to delay arrival to the villa rental (not to mention missing the two-hour window to pick up keys from the proprietor).  This day was getting better by the minute!

The airline booked us on the next available flight from a partner carrier through O’Hare that would then connect us with a second flight into Rome.  It wasn’t a thrilling plan, but it was the only option at that moment…  We anticipated a rebooking on Alitalia, United, or Delta.  NOPE!  Rather the desk agent/PA announcer gleefully shared “You have just won a one-way trip to Warsaw via LOT Polish Airlines”, and added that we should be quick about it as the flight was already boarding and we would need to go through security again. 

Twenty-eight hours later, we arrived to the villa in Spoleto, Italy, sans luggage but hopeful to see our stuff soon!  We encountered some helpful people, like Elizabeth (a passenger in our aisle who spoke Polish and could translate on the flight for us) and Adolfo (our villa proprietor who tried to help us hunt down our bag) along the way, but the missing luggage was never heard from again…

Things certainly did not work out the way we had planned, but on the bright side our rocky adventure did teach us to be more flexible and roll with the changes that being “on the road” brings…  So what if we had to do laundry every day and switch between our two sets of clothes throughout the trip.  Who cares if it looks like we went everywhere in a single day due to similar clothes popping up in every picture?  We still vacationed in Italy.  Also, and perhaps more importantly, we learned that we could travel together through the good and the bad times.

As an unexpected highlight, my boyfriend proposed at the Trevi Fountain on the last evening of that trip.  So, we arrived in Italy weary travelers, yet we walked away engaged!  (Talk about ending vacation on a high note! )

Posted by: AmbleAlong | June 18, 2012

Insider Travel Tip: Moving to the Beat of my iPod

It invariably happens every time I pack for a trip, prepare for an adventure, or find myself somewhere other than home…  A song (or songs) gets in my head and is from that moment on indelibly linked to where I am traveling and, subsequently, memories from that trip.

Case in point, Tim McGraw’s Refried Dreams and Pam Tillis’ Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life) were understandable signposts for a 1995 trip to Cancun, with both Mexican food and some Spanish on the docket.  As you’ve guessed, neither one was on an iPod back then, but rather a cassette tape…   Doesn’t make the memory or connection to that trip any less strong!

On the flip side, a 1998 vacation that found me in Paris gifted me with a continuously looped version of Ricky Martin’s La Copa de La Vida/The Cup Of Life stuck in my head courtesy of the World Cup being held while we were there.  No iPod that time either, but still a very vivid memory.

Sometimes the music still shows up, even when there was no plan or immediate reason as to why…  At a dance club in Florence we found the crowds crazy about singing karaoke – to the music from Grease!  Chalk up a badly performed Hopelessly Devoted To You into the annals from Italy.  (Now this particular memory I would happily cleanse from my mind, but I have to say it was fascinating that a 20+ year old movie had spawned such a competitive spirit among those participating.)

Though the above examples are from personal travel, now and again it happens with business travel as well.  This week, for instance, I just traveled for business to New York City.  I love everything about visiting there – the pace, the food, the architecture.  The song that kept me company this time was The Wanted’s I’m Glad You Came.  I could probably blame that on the catchy tune or some pre-Olympics coverage of gymnastics or track and field, but I just plain love the song and am not sorry it connects me to New York!

Even though I have not yet been able to figure out how to physically capture songs in my scrapbook (a list, lyrics written across the page, a recordable card?), it always amazes me how intricately music has woven itself into the tapestry of my travels.  With just a small snippet on the radio or by hearing one of these favorites on my iPod, I am immediately returned to a place and time for a few short minutes.  And as for future trips, I always know the music will find me one way or another…

Happy traveling!


When I think about the things that truly make me happy, travel is at the top of the list.  I love experiencing somewhere for the first time, trying new cuisine, capturing architecture with the click of my camera, and – perhaps, most of all – being me!

The below quote really spoke to me:

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. 

– Saint Augustine

So much of the time I get overwhelmed by work, and the person who loses in that equation is not my boss or our clients, but ME!

Even if we cannot always be free to travel the world (c’mon, vacation days can only get you so far!), there should be ways to jazz up our days and weeks so we see things with a new perspective…

I am going to make a pact with myself to bring some of my travels, inspirations, and a “wish list” of destinations into my office space so they are as close to my eyes and workday as they are near and dear to my heart… 

So long white walls, get prepared for a makeover!  I’ll be sure to post some office photos of my “new space” once it gets converted…

Happy travelin’ (whether on the road, in the office, or just planning for next time around)!



Posted by: AmbleAlong | April 16, 2012

Insider Travel Tip: Easy Does It

When preparing for vacation travel, it is understandable that we want to pack our favorite clothes, best jewelry, and the exact right shoes for every outfit.  The reality is that even if we could pack everything we wanted to, the checked bag fees alone should thwart your plan to pack everything but the kitchen sink!

I have found it a great help to employ a few techniques to keep my wardrobe focused, basic, and worry free.

Pick three colors, then mix and match.  This may sound really silly, but just give it a try.  Similar to what they show in a magazine layout, select three tops (a blouse, a sweater, and a tank top) and three bottoms (a pair of pants, a pair of shorts, and a skirt) and then combine them every way possible to see if you can fulfill the clothing needs for any outing that you may have during your trip.  I have had great success with this approach for both personal and business travel.  For instance, black/white/tan or navy/red/off-white work great!

Limit to three pairs of shoes.  Though this seems a little extreme, you would be surprised at the weight an extra pair of shoes adds to your load.  For a beach vacation, three pairs seems rather easy – tennis shoes, flats, flip flops.  If you are taking in a lot of culture, say a night at the opera, then you will probably want to swap out the flip flops for some heels instead.

Pack clothes that travel well.  I am sure all of us have those items in our closet that we don’t wear often at home because they constantly need ironing.  I don’t know about you, but that item is definitely not making it into my suitcase.  None of us are on vacation to iron in our hotel room, so why not pack things that are wash and wear.  Wrinkles truly fall out of  a jersey dress when you hang it up.

This “packing simple” approach was not an easy concept for me to embrace.  I am more of a “But what if I need it?” type of person.  All of that changed abruptly when my one suitcase was lost forever en route to Italy.  I took a crash course in how light you can travel and still thrive…

Having been ushered into minimalist travel is one thing, but planning to pack lighter was another. I started by packing in advance for a trip, going so far as to zip up the bag and set the (heavy) suitcase aside.  At that point, everything under consideration was in there and I could mull it over for a few days before the trip.  Amazingly enough, every day after packing that bag I thought of something in there that did not need to vacation with me and so the process began in earnest…

Happy traveling!


Posted by: AmbleAlong | March 16, 2012

Insider Travel Tip: Why I am an E,F,G flier

Hello again!  I can’t say that I am living up to my goal of posting weekly, but I am giving more thought about what to post to this blog.  Now I just need to kick my thoughts into action…

Just this week I traveled for work to New York City.  If you know me, you know how much I love the energy, pace, food, and general chaos that abounds in Manhattan…  There is truly no where else like it!

On my flights to and from New York, I found myself at or near the back of the bus.  Though my walk past First Class and all of the crying kids seemed to be a long one, once I got there I realized why it was that I chose those seats:

  • It is rare to fight for overhead compartment space for your carry-on
  • Frequently you may have the row to yourself (so why not take the E,F,G side over the A,B side!)
  • You get to the know the flight crew

Sure I could often select Row 10, Seat F – in the middle of two people who are in poor humor, complaining about not getting their First Class upgrades, and rushing to jump into the aisle once the plane is at the gate… 

But why would I want to when I can sit at the back of the plane, stretch out across my three seats, and enjoy my space knowing that officially I landed at the airport at the exact same time with a smile on my face!

Happy traveling!


Posted by: AmbleAlong | February 16, 2012

Insider Travel Tip: Sample Simplicity

On August 10, 2006, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) put into place a restriction that each person (1) traveling the friendly skies could get through security checkpoints with just one (1) quart-sized ziploc bag full of liquids in containers no larger than 3.4 oz/100 ml (3) each. They call it “3-1-1 for Carry-ons”, and have nifty posters up about it in airports everywhere.

Since the implementation of this 3-1-1 requirement from TSA, many of us have had to change the way we pack and evaluate what we take with us for travel.  It was a tough-love lesson to learn that my high school geometry class was not terribly useful when packing my 3-1-1 ziploc.  However, I have learned some “tricks of the trade” for my carry-on that I am going to share in hopes that they help you fare better en route to your travel destination…   (As a side note, everything I take for travel now is carry-on after weathering a 9-day European vacation without luggage that was never seen or heard from after check-in at my starting airport.)

Let me help you go from this:


To this:

Tip #1 – Keep it simple.  Previously you could have cleaned out your shower for the shampoo, conditioner, and body wash to cram in your suitcase minutes before you departed for the airport.  Now, you’ll need to plan ahead.  When they say 3.4 oz, they do not mean the final 3.4 oz in a 12 oz bottle, rather they mean a maximum container size of 3.4 oz.  So, you need to either buy a travel size, or pour from your regular bottle into something smaller.  Whenever I find a product I use in the travel size, I snap one up.  (That way I don’t have to rely on duct tape and a Sharpie to let me know which purple bottle is Pantene shampoo, and which is Dove body wash.  Oh, and I also keep my travel size container to refill when I get home so it is ready to go for my next adventure!)

Tip #2 – Play devil’s advocate.  Just because you use moisturizer, sunblock, overnight cream, and a facial mask at home each week does not mean each of them deserves to take up valuable space.  You can find great 2 in 1 products – often on the cheap at drugstores – to save space and meet your needs.  Please note that you should always test drive these products in advance on a regular day to be sure and know they work for you before you travel.  As someone with sensitive skin, I would never want to leave it to chance to find out that a product makes me break out after I land in another country…

Tip #3 – Utilize the resources available.  I would expect that many folks like me purchase their department store makeup when it is “free gift” time.  Doing so allows me to find out if there is a new product that is awesome or a great perfume that I would never otherwise have tried.  Of course there are hits and misses, but these are always terrific (and small) items that are perfect for travel ease.  There are also a ton of stores where you can get a sample of a new foundation (up to a 10 day supply, sometimes custom made!), a packet of conditioner, or a small vial of perfume at no charge to you.  Magazine inserts for perfume, lipstick samples and advertising cards to turn in for free product are also good ways to try something new while packing compactly and saving your bottom line.  Again – and especially for folks with sensitive skin – test anything that might give you a problem before you travel.

Though these tips certainly don’t cover everything, I do hope they will be helpful to giving you creative ideas on how to be smart about what to take with you and how to fit it all in.   Also keep in mind that anything that does not slosh around (lip pencil, bar soap, etc.) does not need to fit inside the 3-1-1 packet, but can be packed anywhere it fits in your carry-on or checked bag.

Happy traveling!


Posted by: AmbleAlong | January 15, 2012

Insider Travel Tip: Capture The Trip

If the budget for your first few trips after college mirrors mine, it may require some serious creativity to bring the experience of the trip back home with you.  On a cruise with college friends, for instance, disposable cameras were thrown into every backpack or handbag I took.  Did I know the quality would not be the best? Yes.  Would it also keep me from ruining my “nice” 35mm film camera? Yes, again.  I decided it was more important to be on the move and in the moment than it was to be chained to a camera where I had to bother with changing film.

When our cruise ship docked at port in San Juan, I snapped up a few of the tourist brochures as we disembarked.  Everything looked exciting from the four-color brochures – even the Hard Rock Cafe!  We found ourselves moving with other groups from place to place in San Juan without any regard to time or snapping actual pictures ourselves.  Even with other stops and side trips during the rest of our  journey, we quickly realized that our cruise team was there to capture all of the fun for us in photos to view back onboard, and for just a small fee (but no hassle), we could walk away with some visual memories that we were actually a part of!

When vacation discussion with someone prompts me now to bring out the scrapbook of that cruise, all that they see is a collage of professional photos mixed in with cutouts of some pamphlets and a few basic shots taken with my disposable camera.  It does not look near as random as I expected it would, in fact, it looks better than I feared!

Now armed with a digital camera where immediately I know that I “got the shot”, I still do often take a look at the brochures found in my hotel or villa to get an idea of what the tourist attractions and cities think are the important highlights.  Since millions of dollars are spent on this type of tourist advertising each year, marketers are bound to find photos taken at the right time of day with optimal lighting and from the best vantage point for these visual sales pitches…  My vacation photos can therefore benefit from this approach and inform my plan for what pictures to take and when, not to mention how successful the outcome will be.

By far the biggest thing to keep in mind for capturing your trip is to make sure and get what you want to remember from the trip in some form.  I tend to prefer taking photos that feature the horizon or a place I visit (style of architecture, city signs, the formal gardens) more than photos of people.  In this way, I can look at the photo and be transplanted to where I stood at that moment in time.  For other people, the answer could lie in saving restaurant matchbook covers, local maps, business cards, playbills, or postcards from a trip. There is no one way to do this, and I encourage you to find what works for you!

Happy traveling!


Posted by: AmbleAlong | December 19, 2011

Insider Travel Tip: Be A Good Tourist

Collectively we, as Americans, get a bad rap for being loud and obnoxious travelers.  As sad as it is, you don’t have to travel very far – perhaps just to a neighboring city or state in the U.S. – to know exactly why we got this label.  We talk fast, want immediate gratification, and if someone doesn’t understand us we speak louder.  Though we might be willing to chalk it up to a rude “out of towner” here, without a doubt it is much harder to lose this label when traveling abroad!

Before I travel somewhere new, I always try to do my homework as to the big things (language they speak, money they use) and also some little things (regional cuisine, specialty items) that I might stumble upon during my trip.

At any rate, it seems to work well to make a cheat sheet for at least the most basic of phrases:  Good morning! Good evening! Where is the train station? Where is the bathroom? (you get the idea) all fit in this category.  Purchase a phrase guide book, check out materials from your library, or type into a translation program a few simple phrases that can get you by… Even if you don’t use the correct inflection, shop owners and restauranteurs in another country will appreciate that you tried.  The beauty of this is that you extended an olive branch by trying, instead of just talking English very loudly, and now they will help you with whatever you need – usually in English!

The money conversion issue can truly become its own post.  For the sake of planning ahead, however, I always get a little currency through my local bank for each of the countries I will be traveling around in.  There are times when a better rate could have been found at the airport, but keep in mind that none of the exchange places would be in business if they didn’t make a profit!  My experience has also been that it is better to exchange a smaller amount a few different times rather than exchange too much at once.  ALL exchanges buy back low.  (This is as true at the AMEX locations as it is at banks or the airports, so only change out to the travel currency what you will need and little extra.)

So many travelers from this country get discouraged because things are not like they are at “home”.  Well isn’t that the point of traveling?  I encourage you to embrace the regional foods and try something new.  You might really be surprised to find that you like truffles or that a cameo brooch was the missing piece of jewelry in your collection!

Posted by: AmbleAlong | December 12, 2011

Insider Travel Tip: Rule of Three

I am certain that many of you will recall the “Rule of Three” used in writing.  In it, the principle suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. I find the Rule of Three applies equally well to travel.

When planning to travel, especially if you are starting well in advance of a trip, it is easy to get caught up in trying to go everywhere and see everything.  (For example, should you attempt to fit in all museums in the Sixth Arrondissement in Paris in a single day, you would be talking about ten museums in less than a square mile of real estate!)  Also if you start making lists and then sublists to the original lists for your trip, you might already know what I mean. 

Another caveat is to try and see too many cities on your trip. Let’s say you have ten days for your European vacation.  The first and last days are likely taken up with air travel, so you are immediately down by 20% – just eight days remain.  You decide one city for every two days sounds good, so you look for four cities in one country that are of interest.  Let’s select Rome, Venice, Sorrento, and Florence, all in Italy. 

In theory, this makes a lot of sense.  In practice, this is in no way a workable scenario.  First of all, Rome is in the heart of Italy and with Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport being a primary airport, it is certainly perfect as the “base” from which to arrive and depart from on your Italian adventure.  The next issue gets at the crux of trying to pack too much in – all three of the other cities are different directions from Rome!

It works so much better to try and plan three things per day or three cities for the entire trip, so maybe we alter the grand plan and decide to fit in Florence, Rome, and the Vatican City.  This is a plan that can absolutely happen, and it will put you in northwest Italy for a few days with the remainder of your time in and around Rome! 

Our three things in each city could have some overlap, but let me make a few suggestions:

  • In Florence, I would offer the Uffizi Gallery and the Gallerie dell’Accademia as being first-rate museums that deserve a look, and a visit to the Ponte Vecchio (oldest bridge over the Arno River) has amazing shopping and an awesome vantage point. 
  • For Rome, the Roman Colosseum is impressive and a “must see”, Piazza Navona features tons of local art and activity, and the Trevi Fountain (where you can toss a coin over your shoulder and make a wish to return!) has charm. 
  • The Vatican City boasts the breathtaking St. Peter’s Basilica (step inside for real inspiration and if you are adventurous, climb the cupola), the Sistine Chapel (seeing this ceiling is like viewing no other work of art), and if you are there on the right day, take in an audience with the Pope on St. Peter’s Piazza (if it is not an audience day, the changing of the Swiss guards in the piazza is unique).

Hopefully you can see through this illustration how whittling down your list of cities and places to go will not make you feel cheated but rather create an enriched vacation.  You will get to see a lot of great things and also experience them.   Oh, and never forget your camera!

Happy traveling!


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