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Notes From The Road: 5 Things I Learned On This Roadtrip

I’m spending March roadtripping through the south, seeing friends and clients and eating my weight in, well, everything. You can read previous Notes From The Road (which are more international in nature) here.

I’m a fairly experienced roadtripper. I’ve got a Garmin, I can assemble a healthy(ish) meal from gas station food, I know which outfits to wear when I’m going to be sitting for seven hours. (Here are my six suggestions for road tripping by yourself)

But life is nothing so much as one learning experience after another (note to self: don’t order the “sweet, effervescent” wine at Olive Garden) so here are five things I learned on this trip.

5 Things to Know Before Roadtripping

1. Bring cash and quarters

Did you know that Illinois and Indiana have approximately one million toll roads?  And that some of them only take cash?  If you’re roadtripping through a toll-heavy area, get $20-30 in small bills and keep them in your glove box or cup holder so you’re not rummaging around in your purse when you pull up to the toll booth. Also?  Lots of those quaint little towns you happen upon will have quarter-only parking meters – none of these fancy, schmancy credit card parking meters.  Be prepared.

2. OMG, get AAA

For the longest time, I thought AAA was “for old people.”  Maybe because my parents had it?  Regardless of its target market, IT IS FANTASTIC.  Not only because you’ve got peace of mind for $66 a year, you get discounts on pretty much every hotel and motel in America and lots of tourist attractions.  In one trip, my membership paid for itself.

3. Use OKCupid to meet locals

As you probably know, OkCupid is a free online dating site.  Though it’s usually used for finding lovahs and wrestling partners, you can totally use it meet locals, make friends, and get travel advice.  I met up with no less than five lovely dudes who tour guided me around their cities (not a euphemism!) told me about the reality of living in a beautiful place totally overrun with tourists and took me to places I wouldn’t have gone otherwise (again, not a euphemism.)If you feel a little nervous about going out with the stranger in a strange town, email a friend your date’s photo, phone number, and real name or try the strictly platonic Invite For A Bite.

4. Get a usb car charger

You probably already have one of these, right?  For the longest time I didn’t.  Because who cares if my phone goes dead when I’m two blocks from my apartment?  But it’s a bit more dire when you’re in the middle of nowhere, by yourself.  You can pick up a usb phone charger at any Walgreens or CVS.

5. Use Airbnb

I think I’ve sung the praises of this home/room rental service before, but let me clear my throat. It’s cheaper than any motel, it’s a million times homier, and it’s kind of a built-in friend if you’re traveling by yourself.  I was in Savannah and Asheville by myself and each time I stayed in the spare room of a home owned by a single woman.  We drank coffee together and talked about creativity, Heather told me the backstories of her two cats and Gert invited me along to dinner with her boyfriend (ages 64 and 67 respectively).  So lovely!What are your roadtripping tips and tricks?

Notes From The Road: 4 States, 2 Days

For the month of March I’m road tripping through nine states, visiting friends and clients and – most importantly – going to Dollywood.  You can read about previous travel adventures (which are more international in nature) here.

Oh, friends.  Road trips are The Best.  Really, I think they’re slowly becoming my favorite form of travel.  I love pulling over whenever I see anything interesting.  I love watching the weather and landscape change as I drive.  I love buying All The Cheese That Wisconsin Has To Offer.

Whenever I tell people that I’m navigating nine states over 25 days all by my lonesome, the inevitable questions are:1) “What do you, like, do?  I mean, after you’re done listening to the radio?”
2) “What’s your rate of Combos-eating per hour?”
3) “Isn’t that sort of dangerous?”

I’m going to ignore questions 2 and 3 (and point you to this post about roadtripping solo).  Here are the totally ridiculous things I do while roadtripping.

1.  Practice my southern accent

2.  Listen to 8 million podcasts
I love BBC Great Lives, Desert Island Discs, Jordan Jesse Go, and My Brother, My Brother, and Me.  Also: anything by Paul F. Thompkins.

3. Listen to Actual Compact Discs that I bought in 1998
For the record, So Much For The Afterglow tooooootally stands the test of time.  (Sidenote:  I spent much of high school writing Everclear lyrics on white, child-sized Hanes t-shirts with a sharpie.  Oh, godddddd the angst of a middle-class white girl in rural Minnesota!  How could anyone understand my pain of juggling both speech team AND danceline?!)

4. Buy bags of roasted almonds.  Promptly dump them all over the floor

5. Have a series of  imagined conversations in which I am unfathomably witty/articulate/wise

6. Play Radio Roulette
Push the ‘scan’ button.  You are now required to listen to one entire song on that station. While playing this game I spent 45 minutes listening to a weird 1940s radio drama, a teen abstinence speech, and discovered this country song that I’m now totally into.

7. Pull over whenever I see anything interesting
Feel smug and joyful.  Thus far, ‘interesting things’ have included: the covered bridges of southern Indiana, an awesome diner that charges $3.18 for breakfast and only accepts cash, the hilariously named Butt Drugs, The Shrine To The Passion of The Christ (an outdoor attraction that features bronze statues depicting the story of the crucifixion, accompanied by an audio guide – also: they sell scented candles and caramel corn), The Colonel Sanders museum.  So much awesome stuff!  So much more to go!

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Asheville, NC eating my way through the city, knee-deep in hippies. 

Notes From The Road: NYC

I’m spending six weeks traveling through Ireland/Sweden/Poland/Iceland/NYC visiting friends and clients and bakeries. You can read about past travel adventures here or learn how I manage long-term solo travel here and here.

orange dress in top photo c/o Lily and Violet

Oh, New York.  You charmer!  You really pulled out all the stops this time, didn’t you?

I quite like New York City. But this trip?  I loooooooved it. My college roommate lives in Manhattan with her charming husband and two awesomely snurffling dogs, so any time I spend there is sure to be stuffed with great conversation, amazing food, and poking through boutiques we can’t afford.

And it’s always lovely!

But for some reason, this time was nigh-on perfection.

Blue sky days.  $22 mani/pedis.  Bagels and Pinkberry and Shake Shack and pretzel croissants and roasted Mexican corn.  Pawing through Kate Spade bags.  Emma Watson spotting.  Dean and Deluca deli treats.  Eves-dropping in the Jonathan Adler store (Mom to 9-year-old “When we redo your room, do you want this footstool in blue or yellow?” Said footstool was $700.) Reading F. Scott Fitzgerald in the park.  Watching rollerdancers on the sidewalk.  Seeing my NZ bestie not once – but twice!  Drinking limencello on a 23rd floor rooftop.  Dancing to 90s era Whitney Houston in a hipster basement club.  Being mistaken for a local (it never gets old!). Strolling through the High Line at night.

I’m not sure that I could ever live in New York long term, but gosh it’s lovely.

Have you ever been to New York?  What do you love/hate about it?

Notes From The Road: Iceland

I’m spending six weeks traveling through Ireland/Sweden/Poland/Iceland/NYC visiting friends and clients and bakeries.  You can read about past travel adventures here or learn how I manage long-term solo travel here and here.

photos courtesy of my boyfriend and the talented Meredith Westin

Here are two things you should know about Iceland:
1.  It is magical
2.  It is so expensive you will find yourself calculating and re-calculating the exchange rate and thinking “No.  Wait.  Surely I didn’t just pay $18 for two slices of mediocre cake, right? Right?!”

But you did.

But it sort of doesn’t matter.  Because where else can you lay on cushions of geothermally warmed moss and befriend shaggy little horses and eat something called ‘bread soup‘ which seemed to be mashed up, sweetened, moistened rye bread, topped with a mound of whipped cream.   You can go to a phallus museum, see a million waterfalls and geysers, and warm yourself in the sulfer-scented waters of The Blue Lagoon.

You could also spend a week night drinking and dancing with actual Icelanders to your new favorite song and admiring their Bjork-esque fashion sense and Style Parkas.

You know.  If you wanted to replicate our itinerary.

Next up: New York!  In Autumn!  The actual best, no?

Notes From The Road: Poland

I’m spending six weeks poking around Ireland/Sweden/Poland/Iceland/NYC, meeting up with friends, clients, and
pastries. You can read about previous travel adventures here.


A moment of honesty, friends.  The only reason I included Gdansk, Poland in my travel itinerary was that a good friend was going to be there for two weeks. 

I certainly wasn’t anti Poland, but it just wasn’t one of those countries I was aching to visit.  I was fairly sure that it would be full of terrible architecture and grumpy old women in dumpy grey dresses and chunky shoes.

Apparently I really absorbed all that anti-Communist propaganda that came out when I was in primary school.

Well, be ye not so stupid as me.  Poland is awesome and you should go there. 

Here’s why:

* Fantastic beaches and good weather.  As we’ve established, I love me some Sweden.  But their summer ends mid-August!  When I arrived in Gdansk, summer was still going strong and there were still people hitting up gorgeous beaches.

* The food. Oh my God, the food.  In four days I ate: Belgian waffles with whipped cream and raspberries, Russian pierogis with borscht, tons of great vegetarian food (from a cheap, chain restaurant!), vodka + pickles, vodka + black current syrup + Tabasco sauce, cherry vodka + hot fruit tea.  Annnnd a million other lovely things.  I will be rolling my way to Iceland rather than flying.

* The people.  Helpful, sweet, and wonderful number of middle aged med with big, bushy mustaches.

* The history.  Did you know that The Solidarity Movement – which eventually help end communism’s grip on Eastern Europe – started at a shipyard in Gdansk?  There’s a great interactive tour you can take, lead by people who actually worked in the shipyards and took part in the movement.  I’m not usually one for history, but it’s amazing to realize that these changes took place within my own lifetime.  My Polish friends talked about standing in line for hours for bread or being stranded out in the countryside at relatives’ houses because martial law and curfews were in effect and their parents couldn’t come out and get them.  Mind blowing, right?

* The prices. Poland isn’t cheap cheap, but it’s much, much, much cheaper than Sweden and just as lovely.   My friends and I had shared two appetizers, three cocktails, one main, and two soups at a nice-ish restaurant to the tune of $40 US total.  Pretty good, eh?

Have you ever traveled to a country or city you were pleasantly surprised by?  Or surprisingly disappointed by?

Notes From The Road: Goodbye, Stockholm

I’m spending six weeks traveling through Ireland, Sweden, Poland, Iceland, and New York. I’m visiting friends and clients and devoting myself to trying each country’s cheeses and candies. Hey, somebody’s got to do it and I’m willing to take one for the team. You can read about past travel adventures here. 

After 18 days in the proverbial motherland, I’m finally heading out.  In fact, by the time you read this I’ll be stuffing my face with pierogi in Gdansk, Poland!Sweden has been absolutely lovely.  Just about perfect.  Not only because the food’s great, the people are kind, and the public transportation is clean and reliable, but because I’ve had 18 days of relative relaxation.  I’ve had a private room in a lovely Airbnb house; I can close the door and spend entire days working or reading or napping.  I can engage in the travel novelty of routine: going to the market for  dinner ingredients, doing laundry, having a regular coffee shop.  It’s hard to over-emphasize how invigorating and calming it is to have a bit of non-scheduled downtime between fevered tours of countries.

I spread my two weeks in Ireland between three cities and four places of lodging and after this I’ll spend five days in Poland with friends, 10 hours in Berlin dashing around the city with Natalie, 3.5 days in Iceland with my boyfriend and two of our buddies, and then five days in New York seeing two old friends, two new friends, and two clients.  I’m excited!  Also: preemptively exhausted.

What did I do with the second half of my time here in the city of Beautiful Blond People?

* Poked around Trosa, one of those painfully picturesque tourist towns where you buy an ice cream cone and wander around gaping at the sheer adorability of it all.  There’s a canal that runs through the middle of the town!  And people have their boats docked next to their houses like a second garage!

* Took the train out to Upsalla, a college town about an hour outside of Stockholm.  It’s home to what is now my favorite museum ever.  Cat mummies!  A human mummy whose hand broke off and they just placed it next to his foot!  Creepy specimens in jars!  Viking burial boats!  Art cabinets! Specimens labeled ‘what is this?’!  Awesome.

* Conducted my own Swedish Stomachache Experiment by purchasing a bag full of weird bulk candy.  I kept an on-going memo in my phone so I could remember which ones were good for future reference.  And just FYI, those black licorice pistols are gross.

* Happened upon the tree pictured above, all festooned with huge colored balls and thought “Well, my goodness.  If that’s not magical than I don’t know what is.”

* Ate my birthday dinner with three Swedish friends and was all verklempt and amazed when my friend Emmy pulled out a surprise birthday cake she’d smuggled into the restaurant.  So sweet!

* Discovered that I am not – at all – a sailor.  A friend of Emmy’s took us sailing through the archipelago and my time at the wheel was mostly spent not understanding which way to turn, reading the GPS incorrectly, and panicking when the sails filled with too much wind.  Nope.  I’ll just wear boat shoes and stripes and drink a vodka gimlet on a bow, thankyouverymuch.

This week, street art and buffalo grass vodka (or “wahd-kah”) in Poland!