Do You Plan Your Wanderings?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Happy Wanderer.”

I’m a planner. I admit it. But whether or not my children believe me, I wasn’t always one. When I traveled to Ensenada, I let my friend plan our weekend. When I traveled to San Felipe, I went with the flow. On my trip to Australia, we were free and spontaneous. We chose where to stay and for how long, money and a flight home our only boundaries. Even my first trip to Paris and Zurich were simple – I stayed with friends, brought guide books, and decided each day where I would be a tourist.

But then I had children. And the world became more crowded. I discovered that summer camps would fill up before spring. With a child with food allergies, spontaneity was difficult and wrought with disappointment and a hungry child. Slowly, I learned to plan. And now, I always plan.

My hesitation and anxiety about traveling to South Africa was lessened by learning more about the country, where we could and would go. Planning has allowed me to avoid long lines and eat gluten free at Disney, visit our sponsored child in Lesotho, camp at Pawtuckaway State Park every summer for years, be led by a tour guide through Gettysburg National Park, and visit the Senate on a trip to Washington.

But I still love spontaneity. And while doing a little research before traveling to a new place helps me to find the special and unique, or avoid those well traveled and touristy, destinations, spontaneity allows us to change course. To listen to recommendations from other travelers or discover new places ourselves.

Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have attended a hearing for Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, watched the surfers in Half Moon Bay, or listened to the Wave Organ in San Francisco. I wouldn’t have spent the night in a treehouse, picked strawberries in Pescadero, gone hiking with the Hobart Bushwalking Club, or danced Nia in Santa Barbara. Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have met Terry from England who later invited me to her wedding in Athens. I wouldn’t have stayed with the dairy farmer in Auckland or gone hot air ballooning outside of Alice Springs.

The travel world is so different than it was – the internet provides information and access to so many places, and apps like Yelp can allow a little bit of spontaneity with less risk of disappointment. You can read about where to go and what to see on blogs and share your experiences on social media.

But there’s nothing quite as freeing as just setting out, doing what you feel like doing at the moment, eating when you’re hungry, and being ready to just let things happen.

When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).


Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.


Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.


Making History Come Alive For Teens | National Park Foundation

Making History Come Alive For Teens | National Park Foundation.

Gettysburg National Park

Are you interested in the Civil War or looking for a teachable moment for your kids? Check out the National Park Foundation’s blog, Trail Talk, (see link above) for tips on visiting National Parks. This month, I’m the author of a post on visiting Gettysburg National Park with teenagers.

Gettysburg National Park is celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The park offers Civil War events commemorating the anniversary throughout 2013. Be sure to visit the Gettysburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for information on upcoming events and help in planning your trip.

On the Road: Looking for a Burger

You’re in unfamiliar territory. You’re driving (or flying) for miles, and you need a burger. Or at least someone in the backseat does. Besides the obvious and familiar chains, where do you find a good and quick burger when you’re far from home? Here are a few places we’ve found while driving up and down the West and East Coasts.

The West Coast, South West, and Texas

In-N-Out Burger: The menu at In-N-Out is simple and old fashioned: just burgers (made with 100% beef), fries (fried in vegetable oil), shakes (made with real ice cream), and beverages. If someone in the family doesn’t eat meat, they can order a grilled cheese. If you’re gluten-free, be sure to order the “Protein Burger,” a burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf instead of a bun. Messy but yummy.


All Over (Almost)

Five Guys Burgers and Fries: We first discovered this burger place on a trip to Florida only to learn there was a location close to home. With another simple menu, Five Guys Burgers and Fries specializes in burgers and hot dogs with your choice of a plethora of toppings. And the fries are good and plentiful. But don’t come here if you’re allergic to peanuts. Five guys uses peanut oil and offers peanuts to customers as they wait for their burger. If you’re gluten free, just get a burger without the bun. The burger is gluten free, even if the bun isn’t. Five Guys is located in 47 states. If you live in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, or South Dakota, you’ll just have to travel.

Five Guys

New England

A small New England burger chain, Wild Willy’s has only six locations in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. While its burgers are made with certified Angus, all natural beef or even bison, Wild Willy’s offers more than specialty burgers. There you can get a grilled chicken or steak sandwich, or salad with fries or onion rings and a shake. If you’re gluten free, make sure to ask for a gluten-free bun, and check to see if the fries or onion rings are fried in a dedicated deep fryer. Last time we checked, both were gluten free at the Worcester, Mass. location.

Washington, D.C.

While traveling in DC in April, we discovered another simple and fast burger joint, just off the highway, Burger 7. Burger 7 offers a healthy alternative to those who crave a burger but are trying to eat healthy at the same time. The menu includes grass fed hot dogs and hormone free beef, turkey burgers and veggie burgers, whole wheat buns and lettuce leaf wraps, potato fries and sweet potato fries both cooked in olive oil, plus shakes made with organic milk. Burger 7 has three locations in the DC area, but we ate at the one in Tyson’s Corner.


Where else can you get a burger? Do some sleuthing on the internet if you’re visiting a particular place or check out these links for favorite burger joints in Los Angeles,  Boston, the Midwest, in South Carolina, and across the U.S.

Who serves your favorite burger?

Trip taken 2012 and 2013.

In-N-Out photo used under Creative Commons from whatleydude.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries photo used under Creative Commons from kennejima.

Exploring Colleges: Dickinson College

For an intimate college visit, go to Dickinson College. We visited the 120-acre campus on a rainy day in April and were pleasantly surprised at this small private liberal arts college located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

The information session was small (about 30 people) yet the visitors were from all over the U.S. As we waited in the lobby for the tour to begin, current undergrads struck up conversations with us and other visitors. They answered questions and told us about their experience on campus, before we ventured outside.

Dickinson CollegeChartered in 1783, Dickinson College is the 16th oldest college in the U.S., and with its limestone buildings and slate roofs, it looks it. The school has three LEED-gold-certified buildings, too, and touts its sustainability efforts.

Of the 2,400 undergraduate students who attend Dickinson, only 7 percent of its students are international. But, according to the college’s fact sheet, 48 countries are represented by its student body. Dickinson offers 42 majors of study, including its most popular majors: international business and management, political science, economics, psychology, biology, international studies, English, history, sociology, neuroscience, and Spanish.

Whatever you major in, you won’t get lost at Dickinson where the largest class is first year biology with a whopping 35 students in attendance, and the average class size is 17.

If you go, be sure to ask for a complimentary pass to the dining commons where you can observe the students and the climate at Dickinson College first hand.

Trip taken April 2013.

How Do You Make History Come Alive for a Teen?

I pondered that question one spring as my family planned a trip to Gettysburg. Here’s what worked for us, including a 12-year old girl and a 14-year old boy.

Find at least one book or movie that is age appropriate and relevant to your destination. After reading Michael Shaara’s book, “Killer Angels,” I rented the movie, “Gettysburg.” Filmed onsite, the movie is engaging and not too graphic, rated PG. We all watched it and found ourselves especially interested in the location of the Little Round Top, one of the battles on which the movie focuses.

Check out the area for information on special events. While reading about a local cultural fair, I discovered that a 5K road race, the Spirit of Gettysburg, was scheduled to take place on our first morning in town. Upon entering Gettysburg the night before, we drove right to the school to pick up our race packets. Besides giving us something to do, participating in the event provided us with our own pre tour of the place as well as an insight into part of the community. We left the race with a souvenir t-shirt and coupons to local restaurants.

Consider the weather. Bicycle tours of Gettysburg exist for families, and camping is available as well. Since we planned our trip for the summer, we opted for the air conditioned car tour and the hotel with the pool.

Look for child friendly tours or activities. We chose to hire a licensed tour guide through the National Park Service. For $55, Harry, a retired high school history teacher, rode with us in our car, telling us stories about the various monuments and providing us with an interactive education of the area. We read the park’s newspaper and chose a ranger led talk all about the Little Big Top battle. We saw the site of the battle and the ranger referred to the movie and showed us where specific historical events took place.

Bring in a local or familial angle. With a little research, we discovered that our kids have at least three ancestors who fought at Gettysburg, one great grandfather and two great, great grandfathers. We read aloud letters from my son’s namesake the night before we left. At the visitor center, we spent time on the park’s computers, exploring databases and finding all three ancestors.

Souvenirs. Be sure to allow time to explore gift shops. Consider giving your child a set amount of money in advance so they can choose what they want to buy rather than continually asking you for money.

Gage the family mood. Allow some flexibility in your itinerary. If everyone is tired of museums, take a break. Go for a swim, get an ice cream or take a walk or a nap. If you’ve all seen enough, it’s ok to leave before you planned to. Although we’d planned to stay three nights in Gettysburg and check out the following morning, after two full days of learning and intense heat and humidity, we decided to move on at the end of the second day. We were not charged by the hotel, and we left all wanting to return another day.

Trip Taken July 2010