Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Key West

I have to say that I was hesitant when we decided to head down to Key West.  I had only heard great things about the area but, for some reason, it wasn't at the top of my "have to see" list.  Fortunately, the area exceeded all of my expectations!

Since it was just Andy and I, we sought out more low-key areas to enjoy cocktails, the night life, and dinner while still taking in all that Duval Street has to offer.  Here are a few of our recommendations...
  • Sunset Pier:  We had some awesome nachos and pina coladas as we watched the sunset on our first night.  This was a great way to start our weekend and we'd highly recommend this stop!
  • Sippin:  We found this little coffee shop one morning, and I have since had a reoccuring dream about the key-lime croissant that I had with my coffee - AMAZING!
A Key West Sunset
Remember the croissant will haunt you... in a good way.
  • El Siboney:  This place is off the beaten path but well worth the walk.  If you like Cuban food, I'd recommend their Ropa Vieja.
  • The Porch:  We were excited to find this low-key bar right on Duval with a great selection of craft-brews.
  • The Gardens Hotel:  We wandered into this hotel because we saw "wine bar" on their sign.  In the back, you can put money on a card in order to taste the many wines they have on tap while walking through their gardens.  The wine was great, the atmosphere was great, I can't imagine how great it would be to stay at the hotel!
  • Sloppy Joe's:  Ok, this one is more renowned but we loved the pina coladas here, and even found that they had a good selection of beer on tap at the small bar in the back.
  • Fort Zachary Taylor State Park:  Thanks to Andy's research, we knew that beaches in Key West were somewhat hard to find.  So, we headed to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park to spend a relaxing afternoon reading on the beach! 
The obligatory Southernmost Point photo!

A few Key West snapshots.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Clarity in Travel

One day, a few years ago, Andy mentioned to me the idea of a job that would move us to a different city each year for three years.   Typical to many of my emotion-first reactions, I shut-down the idea before he could explain further.  There was no way that I would give up my career while we wandered around the country exploring his – especially when there were perfectly good jobs to be had in Iowa.

But, if my husband is nothing else he is persistent.  And, as the economy took a tumble, the idea of leaving the familiar behind became intriguing.  We kept talking, as we often do when it comes to big decisions, and, in the end, I came around.

Today, what I had originally feared has become the best two years of our lives.  And, what was once familiar seems somehow intimidating.  With all these emotions in tow, we headed out for one last trip before the big move back.  And, true-to-form, we didn't touch the radio dial on the drive from Melbourne to Key West.  Instead, we talked through much different emotions and decisions than we had just a few short years ago. 

We stopped in Key Largo, to break up the drive, and found our way to Bahia Honda State Park.  We lucked-in to two spots on a boat that was heading out to do some snorkeling.  After a quick 45-minute boat ride, we found ourselves in the middle of the ocean with strangers, snorkeling equipment, and much to explore.  I jumped in, and felt the butterflies of anxiety before I blew up my life-vest, got my mask and snorkel situated and grabbed my husband's hand.

The last few years I have read a lot about why people travel. For most people it's to escape. It's a time to leave the computer and cell-phone behind, and live in the moment. Then there are those who find that the unknown provides clarity. I remember the day we left Iowa like it was yesterday; just as I remember the day we left Oregon. What I remember is inching closer to a place of clarity. A place that says that we can travel – seek out that escape – everyday not just while we're on vacation!

As the hour and a half of snorkel exploration evaporated in what seemed like minutes, I realized that there was nothing to be intimidated by. Not in this ocean and not in what lies ahead. There will be different bumps in our road, and there may be less "new" places to drive to and explore, but there will be no less adventure. Because, if we can continue to dive into life the way we dove into the ocean, continue to hold each other’s hand as we see and do what's new, continue to kick when the other is tired and laugh along the way, than we can continue to live in this place of clarity!

{More from Key West later this week!}

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Few of Our Favorite Travel Tips

We are planning a quick weekend getaway.  We are excited for this trip and plan to soak up the last of our "us" time before we head out on a much longer trip {back to Iowa} in a few short weeks.  As I was packing this morning, I realized that we've learned a thing or two about traveling the past two years.  So, I thought I'd share a few tips on how we get up and go without killing our wallet!

1.   We always pack snacks!
I love to eat and especially love enjoying local food when we’re traveling but, let’s be honest, our bank account {and waistlines} can’t handle eating every meal out while on the road.  So, we typically arm ourselves with snacks to get us through the day to cut down on the meals that we end up eating out.  We have found almonds, PB&J, pita chips and hummus, water, and Starbucks Double Shots do the trick just fine.  In addition, we will sometimes pack beer and wine in case we want to enjoy a cocktail at the hotel before heading out in the evening!  Finally, we love to share meals when we do eat out.  Again, this saves us money but also leaves room in our bellies to enjoy local brews or a glass {ok, multiple glasses!} of wine.

2.   Free breakfast!
Of course, when you’re flying somewhere, rather than driving, it can be hard to lug along a giant bag of snacks.  This is when I typically try to find a hotel with a continental breakfast.  You can get through a morning of exploring by grabbing a yogurt and a few bananas as you fly out the door.  One caveat that I will add, however, is that we love coffee.  We will often grab our free breakfast to-go, and seek out a local coffee shop to enjoy their brews.  And, we collect Starbucks mugs from across the country so if we can’t find a local joint, we’ll always stop in a Starbucks! 

3.   Be Brand Loyal!
Is this a travel-tip list or my marketing philosophies?  Well, both, I guess!  I love reward programs and am a member of many.  When we fly, we typically fly Delta.  So, I’m pretty brand-loyal there and that translates into my hotel stays.  If we are a member of a reward program at a hotel that we don’t stay at often, I ensure my points go toward my Delta miles.  However, we have a few favorite hotel chains, and for those we stick with accruing their points that offer free stays down the road.  I also seek out their promotions that can offer 4x (or more) the points at different times during the year!

4.   I LOVE Groupon Getaway and Living Social Escapes!
When we start planning a trip I typically head to Groupon and Living Social to see what kind of deals they have in the given area.  We have had great luck so far.  Hotels often offer good deals on stays and include vouchers for food and drinks while you’re there.  I love this because it gives us a chance to head to the bar, grab a drink, and ask the bartender for local recommendations! 

Last year, when we went to Vancouver, we had a pretty specific budget and no specific plans so I hopped on Groupon and bought a deal for our hotel and multiple attractions in the area.  The Groupons lead us to cool local restaurants and different parts of the city that we may not have otherwise sought out.  In looking back, this was one of our all-time favorite trips!

5.   Social Media Rocks!
Again, what’s with the marketing director appearing in this post?  I love to ask for recommendations!  I don’t go many places without shooting a Tweet asking for must-see areas!  When we were planning our trip to Napa, I reached out to our favorite wineries in the Willamette Valley on Twitter for recommendations.  I then researched the recommended wineries on Facebook to learn even more, and all that research proved fruitful!  We also never underestimate our friends and family who will point us in the right direction based on their experiences in a given area!  

How’s that for a morning mind-dump?  Balancing our budget, and need for adventure, can be tricky so we are always looking for more tips on how to accomplish this task.  What do you recommend?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Good Morning!

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” – Maya Angelou

As I fill my new house with furniture I love and reminders of places we’ve been, I can’t help but think of what I envision our new house to be.  I’m a pretty visual person.  I get outfits stuck in my head and get frustrated when I can’t find said original outfit {invented in my head} either online or in stores.  So, it’s no wonder that I have a picture of what I want our new house to be.  This beautiful picture includes green walls, furniture that is a good mix of modern and rustic, and great bedding {a personal obsession!}.  But, the picture includes friends who find comfort being in our space, lots of laughter, and eventually tiny feet tapping across the floor too.

What I’ve been thinking a lot about is what happens when the picture  – that perfect image –  isn’t achieved.  I've been working toward putting as much energy into the "other" stuff - our well-being - as I’ve been putting into our d├ęcor.  Because as we plan for beautiful walls, furniture, and families, what is most important is that we feel at home with wherever life takes us.

And, this morning it took us to the beach to watch the sun rise.
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