MMM....JUST TASTE THE CULTURE!

I was once at a meeting where they asked everyone to write their name on their name plate and draw an image that depicted a "fun fact" about themselves. Now, I feel like this is never an easy question. No one wants to come off as boring, or "braggy," or, in a worst case scenario, share something that makes you unique but takes a negative turn (you know, there's always one).

Churros in Madrid

Churros in Madrid

I was struggling to find what made me different from every other unique person in the room. While I was staring blankly at my name plate, my boss said "I know something for you....it's easy." My interest was peaked. "You like food more than anyone I have every met." It's true...I do. I think about it constantly, I talk about it way too much, and I plan my meals endlessly to make sure that I am maxing out my "tasty" quotient for each day. In fact, I had sent no less than five emails to my boss and co-worker on restaurant options within reasonable taxi distance from our conference. What's a hungry girl to do? We were in Nashville, where there are TONS of options (shout out to the AMAZING 5th & Taylor). I couldn't fathom leaving without getting to know the city, and I feel like getting to know a culture largely comes from tasting the cuisine.

pizza in Rome

pizza in Rome

So that leads me to how I start to plan every trip. The food. For example, have you ever heard of a trip to Italy that didn't mention pasta, pizza, or gelato? If you have, I want to shake your hand because you are in a small group, my friend!

I truly believe that taste is the most powerful of the senses (obviously along with smell, since it is such a contributing factor). It has the power to create a memory that you think back on, and all too often, make an audible reaction...."mmmm."

Heavenly ceviche on the beach of Mexico

Heavenly ceviche on the beach of Mexico

Yes, I'm that girl that will lust after meals past. I can remember my first taste of Spaghetti Nonna Rosa at Il Gatto e la Volpe in Florence, the bittersweet and acidic medley of the ceviche at Coqui Coqui in Tulum, eating the crispy greasiness of fried zucchini flowers in actual Roman ruins at Costanza's in Rome, and the hearty taste of stuffed tomatoes that I couldn't get enough of while sitting under a canopy of grape clusters in Paxos, Greece (kicking myself for not getting the name of the place!).

I'm still not satisfied...each delicious meal intensifies my desire to try yet another place, another meal, and another specialty (am I right, Hunger Diaries? She just gets me). My food bucket list contains Bolognese in Bologna, pizza in Naples, pho in Vietnam, perogies in Poland...and so so many more!

I've never considered myself an adventurous eater, but apparently I am more so than the "average bear." I like to try the local specialties. If the local specialty is rabbit, I guess I'm getting rabbit. How can I understand how people of another culture live their day to day, if I stick with what I could/would order back in Florida? My one exception is mussels....I CANNOT get enough mussels, particularly when in a seaside town!

I assure you that I learned about my love for researching the best places to eat (and I'm not talking fancy...I mean quality) by getting burned a time or two. One situation sticks out like a sore thumb. Just like many tourists, I fell victim to getting lured in by a sidewalk restaurant promoter promising great things. When the meal came out, there were vegetables that looked like they were dumped straight from a Green Giant bag. No offense to Green Giant, but if I wanted frozen veggies, I'd go to the nearest Publix. My meal that night fed a stray dog...the term "doggy bag" has never been more literal.

The moral of the story: I will search tirelessly looking for that perfect meal that captures all facets of a destination. It takes time..boy, does it take time...but no matter way, it is better than chasing down stray dogs.

THE “EXPERIENCE” OF DINING IN MADRID

In the United States, the average family tends to eat between 6-8 PM with a typical bedtime of 8-10 PM. When on vacation, it wouldn’t be abnormal to have a little variance in this schedule. However, I never expected dinner time to extend into the late night when I am usually snuggling up with a book and a cup of tea.

When my husband told me about a childhood memory of how his family was unable to find a restaurant to eat dinner at 10 PM in Malaga, I truly thought he was exaggerating. Then this April, I was the one wandering the streets of Madrid at 9:30 PM, hungry and being turned away time and time again. How could the Spaniards eat so late? Aren’t they starving by the time they get to the restaurant? Don’t they have to get to sleep? And why is every restaurant packed to capacity?

Unbeknownst to me, it turns out that lunch is the main meal in Madrid. You can see business men and women enjoying their mid-afternoon meal until around 2-3 in the afternoon. So no wonder they aren’t hungry until later!

Eating out is not just a convenience in Spain (as it tends to be in the U.S.), but it is an intense social occasion. Lunches and dinners last for hours – filled with multiple courses and varying beverages. We sat next to a table of four locals who sat for hours and gradually made their way through croquettes, paella, and dessert accompanied with cava, sangria, and then finally onto coffee. Therefore, the restaurants typically only host one seating per evening and have no problem filling their tables, much less turning those away that didn’t have the foresight to make a reservation in advance. If you are eating in Spain on a Friday or Saturday, I highly encourage you to make a reservation or you may end up wandering the streets and hoping that someone missed their 9:30 PM reservation.

With that being said, no matter what the time was, our food was incredible, fresh, and served with a healthy side of delicious Sangria!

PERUSING THE MARKETS OF PARIS

Flower-Market.jpg

Many people travel in a way that allows them to “put checks in the block.” By this, I mean that if they have a week in one location, each day is packed with museums to see, places to eat, and little time to meander and simply absorb the culture. Fortunately, it seems that the cultural focus of travel is becoming increasingly prevalent – particularly with millennial travelers.

While in Paris with a girlfriend, we were determined to spend our time outside of the typical itinerary of Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Louvre (don’t get me wrong, we did those too!) by wandering around the local markets. Navigating to and from these markets took us out of our comfort zone, and allowed us to enjoy the true culture of each neighborhood.

We started by taking the Metro to the Marche les Puces (which includes 15 markets!). Unless you are prepared and directionally aware, I would suggest considering taking an Uber or cab to this area since the metro exit isn’t necessarily in the best area of town.

I can assure you that if you are looking for something, they most likely have it! However, you may have to dedicate a day to finding it. The items at Marche Antica are incredibly diverse including: fabulous fashions from Hermes, Chanel, and Yves St. Laurent, chandeliers, old musical instruments, and restored furniture. It is easy to lose track of where you’ve been and frankly, we didn’t mind that!

When returning to the center of Paris, we decided to continue our shopping by strolling through the food market of Montorgueil. There are few things that smell better at the end of a tiring day than a pop-up stand making crepes! Of course, not all items are prepared to eat on site but a few are. Most items include fresh local produce, fish, crustaceans, and flowers (for color). Your senses will be overwhelmed, confused, and you will most likely leave hungry. Luckily, turn the corner to move onto Rue Petits Carreaux and almost any culinary request can be granted at the dozens of cafes and bistros lining the street.

I encourage visitors of Paris to immerse themselves in the culture by perusing the goods of the many markets. To find the markets that best suit your needs, use these resources:

http://www.timeout.com/paris/en/shopping/the-best-markets-in-paris
http://www.marcheauxpuces-saintouen.com/1.aspx
http://travel.cnn.com/paris-shopping-guide-061506

KEEP CALM AND "CARRY ON"

Everyone packs differently and everyone has different priorities when traveling. These tips are a few that I abide by in order to make sure that I get to enjoy the “getting there” portion of my vacation, and not just the final destination.

  1. “Baby blockers”- or soundproof headphones. I truly mean no offense to anyone that is traveling with a young child, but a tearful flight can deprive a cabin of travelers from some much needed R&R. Throw on some headphones and settle in with a good book – you’ve got yourself an in-flight oasis.
  2. Abide by the TSA policies and pack the Ziplocs. It is always helpful to keep a few of your toiletries in your carry on but make sure that they are in a clear bag or you may end up having to toss them before you even board your plane. This is a good place to store your lotion, some Evian facial spray, make-up necessities, and clearly marked vitamins/medicines. However, each passenger is allowed one clear plastic bag, so if you don’t need it for the flight, go ahead and stash the items in your checked luggage.
  3. • Avoid getting cold feet. During the summer, it is tempting to throw on sandals for a flight, but the temperature of the cabin can tend to be a lot lower than the outdoors. If you know you get cold easily, throw some socks in your carry on for cozy sleeping. My favorite thing to do is to pack a flexible pair of flats that I can put on and still be able to walk to the bathroom.
  4. Don’t get caught with your pants down! Prior to my first trans-Atlantic adventure, I had no idea what to pack. In yet another life-lesson moment, I learned the necessity of packing some extra underpants when my luggage arrived two days after I did. Make sure to tote some items that would help you feel “fresh” in the event that your luggage gets lost along the way.
  5. A toothbrush. Never underestimate how a fresh mouth can change your mood and make you feel ready to site see at your final destination.
  6. A (wearable) blanket. Most international flights provide a light blanket, but in the event that you get cold quite easily, don’t hesitate to throw a pashmina or scarf in your bag to take the place of an airline blanket.
  7. BYOB. It you are like me, vacation starts once you get to the airport (maybe even before). I always bring 2-3 mini bottles just in case the beverage service is running behind. In addition, some airlines don’t provide complimentary alcoholic beverages, and by bringing my own I can always guarantee a mid-flight cocktail.

After all that…sit back and enjoy your flight!

WE CAN ALL LEARN A THING OR TWO FROM ICE CUBE…

Photo Credit: Ice Cube Images

Photo Credit: Ice Cube Images

As the artist Ice Cube says, “take a step back and examine your actions because you are in a potentially dangerous or sticky situation that could get bad very easily.” This statement couldn’t be more accurate when deciding whether to opt. for more data while traveling. In our world of smart phones, we are heavily dependent on travel apps, maps, and Googling things. We have become so contingent on our phones, in fact, that we no longer plan where to go for restaurants but instead rely on an app with reviews to locate a restaurant for us.

The good news is that smart phones and tablets have airplane modes readily available for the preservation of data use. The bad news is that we can do almost nothing while in this mode. The confusion comes into play when we don’t know what to turn on or off and then we accidently turn one mode on that uses data unbeknownst to us. Suddenly… BOOM … you are stuck with a sizable bill that you were trying to avoid by relying on the Wi-Fi at your hotel.

Yes, I am speaking from personal experience. I was in Spain and kept my phone on airplane mode the entire trip except for when I was in the hotel. While at the hotel, I was updating a social media post using Wi-Fi when I realized I was almost late for dinner. I ran out of the door, forgetting to switch the settings, and the next thing I saw was a text from AT&T stating that I had exceeding $100 of extra data.

Luckily, AT&T sees this all the time and happily allowed me to retroact my data plan for the month, lowering my extra charges to around $25 (thank you, AT&T). International data plans start around $20 – a small price to pay when you never know what sort of emergency may occur. Go ahead and spring for the extra data for the month of your travel and don’t stress about having to use one of your apps to find that awesome restaurant you read about online. I promise you will be happy that you did.

TAKE THIS TO THE BANK: 5 MONEY TIPS FOR TRAVEL

I spent ten years talking about taking my parents to Europe, six months planning the trip, and two days fighting canceled flights, all to arrive unable to take cash out of the ATM in order to pay our VRBO host. I knew it was sketchy that they required cash but I needed to oblige. I called the banks to let them know I was traveling and did everything that I thought would be enough to ensure monetary security during the trip. However, I failed to take matters into my own hands. As a child, I was taught to ask nicely if I wanted something but as a grown-up, I needed to independently fish for the things I wanted. Nowadays, banks have interactive online portals that allow you to submit your travel information yourself and receive an email confirmation that your travel plans have been logged.

Don’t be like me and believe that the nice lady over the phone is inputting your information correctly (although, I am sure she had the best intentions). Make sure to follow these steps to confirm that you have any and all financial resources that you may need during your trip:

  • Gather the equivalent of at least $100 (more if you want to feel extra secure) in the currency of your final location. Regardless of what taxis, tips, hunger pangs, etc. come up between your departure and arrival at your accommodations, this should have you covered. If you want to bring more and avoid the fees at the airport, feel free to do so. Be realistic though and don’t take out more than you will actually spend as you may end up losing part of the deal when converting the money back to your original currency at the end of your trip.
  • Have multiple forms of payment. You should have at least a debit card and a credit card. The more diverse your forms of payment, the more secure you will be if one card is canceled, lost or compromised.
  • Make sure that your card is internationally accepted. Most credit cards are, however, not all have a chip allowing easy reading by all machines. This was another lesson learned while trying to extract cash from the ATM in Corfu, Greece. My consequence consisted of walking a mile to find a bank that could read my chip-less credit card. I now have Chase Sapphire that not only provides reward travel points but also contains a convenient chip that has been read everywhere I’ve gone since. When in doubt, get the card with the chip and the strip.
  • Travelers’ checks are for the birds. This concept is considered antiquated and less suitable. Stick to traditional currency to guarantee that your money is accepted by the vendors.
  • Submit all travel plans online and make sure to do this for all of the cards, even for those that you may only use in the event of an emergency. It is suggested to do a follow-up phone call to verify that all plans are confirmed within the system. You can never be too cautious when it comes to money and travel. 

The last thing that you want to worry about on your trip is finding an ATM. You could chalk it up to sightseeing with a purpose….by why not avoid the stress, time crunch, and use your resources to enjoy the journey that you have just embarked upon!