HITTIN’ THE ROAD (THANKS TRIP ADVISOR!)

Soon, Bruce and I will be hittin’ the road in Scarlet (our Prius V) on a six-week adventure that meanders through 18 states in an odd-shaped loop.

It’s been in the planning stages for six months, and now we’re excited to see our plan through, especially since most of the states we’ll be visiting will be firsts for us.  (I’ve been to 26 states so far.)

For the longest time, I couldn’t quite figure out how to plan for such a trip.  We had a (very) loose idea of where we wanted to go; however, I just didn’t know where to start.

Is there a right way to organize this long of a road trip?  As the old saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat.  (Where did that saying come from?  The visual in my mind when I hear that… oh, never mind.)

After reading several blog posts and internet sites, I learned there are as many ways to plan a road trip as there are people who have done it.  After I pondered them all, I hit the delete button and decided to do it my way.  Bruce agreed—

a good thing since he’s leaving all the planning to me anyway!

The first place I started was sending an e-mail to my family and friends asking for recommendations after giving them a loose idea of the states we hoped to hit.  As it turns out, most of those recommendations made the cut, and we are planning our travels around them.  (Take Niagara Falls, for example.  More than one of them said, “Bring your passport and see the falls from the Canadian side, because the American side is TACKY!”)

While researching on the computer, I also visited the tourist bureau of each state and requested a map and guide.  Sure, all of the same information is available online, but the paper guides were for Bruce who spends as little time on the computer as possible, thanks to burnout from a computer-intensive career.

As for the maps, they’re going with us in a file box with a folder dedicated to each state.  I will be adding AAA maps where needed, and I plan to file keepsakes that I collect along the way such as chocolate labels from chocolatiers I hope to visit (and sample!).

My favorite source for planning this road trip has been Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com).  You can find my reviews there as “ElaineK-SunCity-GA.”

Skeptics out there will claim that many of the reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp are fakes posted by friends and family members of the business owner.  Sure, there are probably plenty of restaurant reviews posted by the Aunt Bobbi Sue’s and Uncle Billy Bob’s of the world to help out their entrepreneurial nieces and nephews who just opened up rib shacks off some godforsaken highway.  I’ve seen them myself, and those reviews are easy to spot.  Type in the restaurant’s name on the site, and you see ten restaurant reviews giving the joint a perfect rating.  Not one of those reviewers has ever written a previous review about anything else.  That should be your first clue.

Now, type in “Boldt Castle” (located in Alexandria Bay, New York) into Trip Advisor’s search engine.  The castle was recommended by two friends, so I thought I should check it out.  Bingo!  590 people have reviewed it, and it gets a 4-1/2 out of 5 rating.  In addition, many reviewers posted photos, so I can see for myself how beautiful and photogenic it is.  I immediately added Boldt Castle to our itinerary.

When reading reviews, I give the most credibility to other top contributors who are experienced travelers and have posted a lot of detailed reviews.  I also make sure to read a selection of the positive AND negative reviews on a particular listing, so I can evaluate whether a particular restaurant or hotel is worthy of our business.  (I will ignore one bad review of a Mexican restaurant, for example, if the reviewer criticized the margaritas, especially if all of the other dozens of reviewers raved about the excellent food.)

Thanks to Trip Advisor, I now have a seven-page Word Document filled with recommendations for places to see, things to do, restaurants to dine in, and accommodations where we can crash each night (if we don’t stay with other Affordable Travel Club members www.affordabletravelclub.net ).  I organized it in itinerary order, and I’ve included the driving time required to get from place to place.  Finally, using www.SwimmersGuide.com , I found pools to train at throughout our travels and listed their locations, and lap swimming times.

The itinerary is just a loose guide; weather and our moods will dictate how closely we follow it.  One thing for sure, though; we will definitely be visiting the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and Boldt Castle!

Stay tuned for future posts from the road IF/WHEN I have time and feel like writing.  Otherwise, I’ll catch up with y’all when I get to it!  A big THANKS to my friend Cynthia who will be watching over the house while we’re gone!

BACK HOME IN SAN DIEGO

P1110899-1

Bruce and I often get asked if we miss San Diego. I had lived there for 24 years and Bruce for 40 years, until he retired in 2004, we cashed out, and took the money and ran.

The answer to that question isn’t a clear “yes” or “no”. Do we miss the weather? Yes, the weather in San Diego is probably the best in the country; however, the spring and fall seasons in Georgia are gorgeous. Personally, I love the four seasons here; it’s something I never had living in California.

Do we miss the ocean? Yes, I miss kayak surfing at Coronado and Bruce misses kayak fishing on San Diego Bay. Having spent entire summers at the beach as a kid, it was a big part of my life. But, we now live in a community with an indoor pool just one mile away. AWESOME!

Bruce answers the question like this: “Sure, I miss the water and kayak fishing. But, if we were still living in San Diego, I would still have to work full time!”

Cashing out in 2004 during the real estate market boom was a smart move for us. The house was paid off, we didn’t owe a penny to anybody, and he was eligible to retire with full benefits.

The timing was right for me, as well. I was unable to return to the job I loved after a work-ending injury and subsequent surgery, so I was ready for a fresh start away from the reminders of a depressing period in my life.

Fast forward to 2013, I was excited to return to San Diego after competing at U.S. Masters Swimming Summer Nationals in Mission Viejo, just one hour north of our former home. And, Bruce looked forward to seeing old work friends dating back to past jobs in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. We both couldn’t wait to see Ted & Al, my favorite customers from my former job who had become great friends.

Instead of staying with friends or at a hotel, we opted to use our membership with Affordable Travel Club (www.affordabletravelclub.net). Nancy and Ted were wonderful hosts; we couldn’t have asked for anything more! They set us up in their upstairs apartment, complete with private access and a kitchen. It was very comfortable; the perfect place to relax after early mornings and long days of competition at the pool in Mission Viejo.

P1110888-1

The location was perfect; everything was close by with easy access. Balboa Park was just a few blocks away, so we took an afternoon walk, after having lunch with Bruce’s work buddies.

The park looked fabulous; the changes we noticed were all for the better.

P1110896-1

P1110903-1

P1110908-1P1110915-1

P1110917-1

P1110966-1

P1110933-1

P1110939-1

P1110947-1

P1110945-1

P1110962-1

P1110954-1

P1110944-1

Strolling around Spanish Village always brings a smile to my face. The colors are so cheerful and photogenic, the Spanish architecture is fabulous, and the artist shops are enjoyable and interesting to explore.

P1110967-1.jpg

P1110973-1

P1110981-1

P1110976-1

P1110975-2

P1110977-1

P1110983-1

My favorite thing to do at Spanish Village, though, is break out the camera for some playful photography!

P1110980-1

P1110968-1

P1110972-1

The day concluded with a social visit to Dr. Braun, the masterful surgeon who operated on me in 2003. At the age of 71 years old, he was one of the most in-demand surgeons in the country for thoracic outlet syndrome.

P1110986-1

Over the past ten years, I have thought of him often. If it weren’t for his successful surgery, I would not be swimming competitively today. So, I have written him letters of thanks, sent him cards, and visited him two years ago, when I was on vacation in San Diego.

I also sent him one of my Senior Olympics swimming medals, something he couldn’t wait to show me when I stepped into his office. It was hanging front and center on his bookshelves; I had to smile.

It reminded me of a letter he sent to me. His reply when I wrote that I was swimming on average 3,000 yards each day: “The fact that you are swimming 3000 yards is amazing to me. In the first place, I probably couldn’t walk 3000 yards unless it was gently downhill…” And, when I wrote back at a later date to tell him I swam 900 yards of continuous butterfly, he replied, “When I want to go 900 yards I take a car!” (I’m sure he thought the same thing when I sent an update about the 2,000 yard continuous butterfly swim I did last year…)

Dr. Braun is now 81 years old and still performing successful first rib resection surgeries; however, he plans to retire at the end of the year. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome sufferers have no idea what a loss that will be for them.

After our very heartwarming visit with Dr. Braun (I love the guy!), we dined on a San Diego favorite: fish tacos. Blue Water Grill (http://bluewaterseafoodsandiego.com/) makes some of the best we had ever tasted. We had Nancy, our Affordable Travel Club host, to thank for the recommendation!

Next up on Elaine-iaKs Travels: San Diego Embarcadero. Check back soon!

AFFORDABLE TRAVEL CLUB: A GREAT WAY TO GO!

This year, we decided to join the Affordable Travel Club http://www.affordabletravelclub.net; one of our best travel decisions yet! This is what the ATC’s website says about their club: “Would you like to travel with low-cost accommodations, meet interesting people, and share travel experiences? Does the warmth and hospitality of a bed and breakfast experience appeal to you? Then we have an exciting alternative! Join a host of other friendly travelers in the growing family of the Affordable Travel Club! You stay in private homes of travelers like yourself, paying a small gratuity. In the ‘private home hospitality accommodation’, the hosts are individuals who enjoy meeting other people, sharing their homes and communities, and perhaps even serving their favorite breakfast recipe.”

Affordable Travel Club was started in 1992 by Suzanne and John Miller and has grown to a membership base of over 2400 households in 49 states and 50 countries. The annual cost is $65 ($75 if you prefer a printed directory, rather than an online version) and the fee (“gratuity”) to stay in a home is $20 for a couple or $15 for an individual, per night. If this sounds interesting to you, check out their website; it’s definitely worth a look! And, if you decide to join, please let me know so I can refer you. They even offer membership discounts for referrals!

Last November, we stayed at a hotel in Ocala on our way down to Sanibel and on our return, to break up the 9-1/2 hour drive. This time, we contacted ATC members, Mary Ann & Hugh, to see if they would be available for us to stay our their home. They were available for both requested days, so we were in luck. And, what a great way to start and end the trip it turned out to be! They could not have been more welcoming and hospitable in their comfortable home. We ended up having terrific conversations and a really nice time going out for Mexican food at a different restaurant each time. And, their guest room was very comfortable. Not only did it beat staying at a hotel; we made some new friends in the process! And, for the cost of the annual membership and two nights gratuity (a total of $105), it was less than the cost of two nights at a hotel. But, we still have the remainder of the year to use our membership as guests and hosts.

Mary Ann & Hugh, thank you for a wonderful experience as Affordable Travel Club newbies!