Have Spouse, Will Travel

Table of Contents
  1. An Introduction: Meet-Cute (Lily-Beth ♥ Jack)
  2. Anecdote #2: Around the US in 90 Days (A Little More about Lily-Beth’s Husband)
  3. Anecdote #3: Lily-Beth and Jack Learn to Travel Together
  4. Anecdote #4: Lily-Beth’s Best Friend, Rose, is Not So Lucky (Enter, Stage Right: Mr. First-Class A. Dick, Esq.)
  5. Only As Good As Your Luggage: The Right Tools for Serious  Traveling
  6. Preparing to Travel: Don’t Blow It Before You Even Get Out the Door
  7. The Arts of Packing
  8. Case Study #1: Traveling Abroad
  9. Case Study #2: Arizona (By Air, Rental Car)
  10. Case Study #3: Road Trip to Maine (Car)
    • First Stop: Niagara Falls
    • Second Stop: Lake George, NY
    • Third Stop: Woodstock, VT
    • Fourth Stop: Bar Harbor, Maine
    • Fifth Stop: Portland, Maine
  11. Case Study #4: The South Will Rise Again (Savannah and Charleston by Car)
    • First Leg: Savannah, GA
    • Second Leg: Hilton Head
    • Third Leg: Charleston, SC
  12. Parting Words: Keep a Travel Journal

An Introduction: Meet-Cute (Lily Beth ♥ Jack)

It is no secret that Jack and I love travel. This is a story I would never tell in public, because it sounds pretentious, but I can tell you, because we’re good friends, and you’ll understand, right?

Jack’s history is an interesting and sordid one. When I met him, he dressed like an out-of-work artist in paint splattered jeans, vintage t-shirts from Goodwill, long hair pulled back in a ponytail. You would never have known that his family’s American presence pre-dated the American Revolution (as opposed to mine, who came over as working-class from Italy in the late 19th Century). He’s always had a homeless philosopher air about him – well-liked by everyone, loves football, beer, and Socrates – the all-around great guy that everyone loves to invite because he’s interesting, well-read, and not the least bit pretentious. He keeps the traits of his youth (ex: he knows how to ballroom dance because he grew up in a house with a ballroom) hidden away, because early on, he came to the realization that “most of our neighbors, my parent’s friends – hell, most of my family – were complete dicks.”

The first time we met, it was in the presence of another woman who had her eye on him as well. The three of us were standing outside, smoking, on that fateful night, and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise between this woman pelting him with questions, trying to keep his attention.

Then, with our cigarettes down to nubs, I managed to ask what his degree was in. When he replied that he had a degree in philosophy and another in French, I conjured up six years of failed French classes and managed to ask him, in (colloquially butchered but beautifully accented) French, “Où avez-vous étudié en France?”

“Dijon,” he replied, and then smiled. It was beautiful. “Do you know Dijon?” he asked, in perfect fucking French.

No, I told him; I’d managed to see half of Europe without stepping foot in France. I confided that I’d had six years of French and we had already exhausted almost all of my vocabulary, with the single exception of “I would like the dry, red wine, please.”

He threw his head back and laughed, and then lit two more cigarettes – one for me, and one for him. Then we heard the front door to the restaurant slam – the third woman had left in a huff.

We spent the next hour of a misty evening talking about where we’d been, anecdotes from our travels (he’d once traded a Australian guy a bag of radishes to pierce his ear in Paris; I’d once helped push a broken-down city bus in Rome, only to watch with a half-dozen other people as the engine finally caught and it sped off into the darkness, leaving us behind on a city street at 1:00 in the morning).

We were engaged six weeks later, and married a year later (almost to the day), but that’s another story entirely.

And we’ve been traveling ever since.

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Anecdote #2: Around the US in 90 Days (A little more about Lily-Beth’s Husband)

Another great anecdote about my husband is this: after the traumatic deaths of his parents when he was in college, he took off in his car, a fifteen-year-old Buick Lesabre. Jack had been estranged from his family for years, and working two jobs while caring for an alcoholic older brother. He had managed to save up $600 in his checking account. He had no luggage, so he packed his clothes in the cheap plastic drawers from his closet, and took his alarm clock from his bedside table. He shaved his head so as to have less to fuss with. And he drove to the Pacific Northwest, down the coast, across the Southwest, through Texas, and back up the East Coast. He had no cell phone, but he did have a journal. It took him three months.

Sometimes he stayed in motels, but most of the time he stayed with friends or people he met in bars and coffee shops. (Once, he slept on a couch on the lawn of a fraternity house in California.) He could have been mugged, or knifed, or just generally never heard from again, but he wasn’t. In Los Angeles, from a public library, he checked in with home – his parents’ lawyers had left him a message about his inheritance. What he thought would be nothing was, in fact, sizeable. Would, in fact, be in his bank account momentarily.

The whole world changed.

In Santa Fe, his car broken down entirely – he knew it had been coming, he just didn’t know when it would. He was not about to be tied up in his journey; he had places to be, people to see. He traded the completely dead Buick for a cup of coffee and a ride to Hertz, where he rented a car to drive to Austin, Texas. In Austin, he bought a new Honda Civic in cash. It had a standard transmission, “because it was cheaper.” He learned how to drive it in a parking lot, and shortly thereafter, on the Austin freeways.

“Why,” I asked him later, “Why would you even do something like that?”

“Because,” he said, “I knew would be a great adventure. And it was.”

I used to tell him he ought to write a book about everything that had happened to him. He would tell me it had already been written, and better than he could ever write it.

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Anecdote #3: Lily-Beth and Jack Learn to Travel Together

The greatest differences between Jack and I were best explored through travel, the first year we were married. I came from, for lack of a better, term, Freshly Minted New Money; a kid of immigrant families who’d finally made good in their fourth or fifth generations. Jack, in turn, had fallen from most decidedly Old Money.

You can't possibly tell me you don't own this book already.

There is a passage from Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil that reminds me of Jack’s family. Jim Williams’ describes a couple touring his Savannah mansion, remarking under their breath that with all his money, you’d think he could afford to have one of the thread-bare cushions replaced on the settee. Williams’ replies that, of course, that was precisely why he had never replaced it – it was characteristic of old money to use their antiques, and not replace them with new things when they became worn down. He knew what he was going for, and just by whom his efforts would (and wouldn’t) be recognized.

These basic differences (I sometimes joke that it’s as simple as the fact that I like the Rolling Stones, while he prefers The Beatles) are best illustrated by when we travel. I refused to go anywhere we couldn’t fly to; likewise, I refused to go anywhere we couldn’t have a hotel with valet and room-service. This, to me, was traveling.

My husband preferred to drive, without itineraries or reservations. He wanted to stay in spontaneous, out-of-the-way places, and he certainly didn’t want to waste money on someplace where we’d only be sleeping.

We’ve managed to compromise since then; he’s won me over to the cheap but clean motels of America and $5 breakfasts at sea-side cafes; I’ve won him over to business class airline seats and the guilty pleasure of not having to park the car yourself. We’ve gotten in-step with each other; we no longer bicker about how slow the other walks in airports or where in the hell we’re going to fit our shoes in the luggage – we are professionals. We are seasoned. We are veterans of the “Have Spouse, Will Travel” lifestyle that so many other couples can’t seem to get together.

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Anecdote #4: Lily-Beth’s Best Friend, Rose, is not so lucky (Enter Stage Right: Mr. First-Class A. Dick, Esq.)

Here’s the fantastic thing about traveling: it’s one of the quickest ways to learn really unpleasant things about your significant other. Married or not, traveling is hard – flights get delayed, cars break down, directions go bad, hotel reservations and luggage get lost, an occasional over-seas power outlet makes your hair-dryer explode – traveling is a hard-and-fast way to find out what the love of your life is made of, and how they react under stress.

Yet another good travel anecdote: my best girlfriend, Rose, was recently seeing a well-to-do lawyer. He wanted to take her across the country for Valentine’s Day, but she politely refused because (working in the non-profit sphere) she didn’t have the cash for a plane ticket. (Apparently the “gift” was getting to travel with him, not the plane ticket or hotel room itself.) He replied that he was going to go with or without her, and if she really needed the help, he’d pay for half her plane ticket. (Romantic, isn’t it?)

She felt a bit bullied at the ultimatum of a Valentine’s Day weekend “with or without her,” and she let him talk her into it. When they arrived at the airport, she discovered he had been automatically upgraded to first class, while her ticket was in coach. He stated in no uncertain terms that he would not be trading out his seat to come sit with her, or up-grading her seat to come sit with him – they would not, in fact, be seeing each other at all during their five-hour Valentine’s Day flight because, well, he’s a tight-fisted asshole.A first class business card for a First-Class Dick

You can imagine how the rest of the weekend went. She came home in tears – sure, he’d never picked up so much as a single drink for her before, but other than that, he was relatively funny and nice. Sometimes he talked down to her in from of his professional friends, but only sometimes. Yet, traveling together seemed to trot all those really ugly things about him out in a very bright, impossible-to-ignore light. She asked him at the airport, before they parted:

“Is this because we’ve only been dating six months? Hypothetically, if we got married in the future, would this continue – me sitting in coach and you sitting in first class? Always?”

He stared at her blankly. “Well, yes,” he replied. “Why wouldn’t it?”

And that was the last words we heard from Mr. Bigshot Lawyer.

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The moral of all these stories? Traveling is like your first holiday together: it’s a stressful time, and it can break your relationship if you let it. You really, really don’t want to be that ugly stereotype of a woman who packs too much and then has a nervous breakdown at the airport when security confiscates your $28 liquid foundation. Trust me; I’ve been there, done that. It’s ugly, and it makes you look ugly – we both know you’re build of sterner stuff than that.

Only as good as your luggage: The Right Tools for serious traveling

Man, luggage is hard. When we were first married, my husband remarked off-handedly that this would be a good opportunity to register for luggage. (I glanced at my beaten-to-hell suitcase purchased at a Target outside in Gettysburg, PA; sure enough, the very next trip we took, the handle exploded into a million different pieces after I hit a curb trying to get out of the way of a taxi outside LAX.)

Best decision we ever made – don’t forget luggage on your wedding registry.

Here’s how I travel:

One large suitcase for overseas traveling. Look, even the lightest traveler needs a bigger suitcase when traveling abroad, if for no other reason than you’re going to want to bring things back.

One carry-on sized suitcase. I don’t even carry mine on, but a smaller suitcase for domestic travel does ensure that I won’t be dragging something mammoth through an airport or loading it on and off public transportation.

One great carry-on bag. I have a Coach Transatlantic Cabin bag that goes everywhere with me. It fits under the seat in front of me, and is big enough to hold books, water, travel pillow, and my toiletries, jewelry, and cosmetic bags. I can carry by handles, or attach the shoulder-strap. It is the only piece of designer luggage I own, and has been completely worth it. I once traveled 14 hours to be the maid of honor at a girlfriend’s wedding; after I accidentally left my luggage at her house, her groom-to-be remarked, “One of your mates has left their luggage – who’s do you think it is?” to which she replied, “Really? Seriously? Look at that bag. That’s Lily-Beth’s.”

Luggage tags. I was fifteen years old the first time I went to Europe, taken by a friend of the family. She taught me an awful lot about travel, but one of the best hard-and-fast rules she gave me was to have identifiable luggage. The easiest way to do this is by double-knotting a bow of colorful and unique ribbon around your suitcase handle. You can also purchase easily-recognizable luggage tags; we love Tepper Jackson’s line ($15-$17 per tag).

Cosmetic bags. I own these from Pottery Barn. They’re inexpensive, able to be monogramed, and lined with water-resistent material for easy cleaning. One holds all my hair-related items; another holds all my cosmetics. I adore them.

A jewelry roll. I own the one that matches my cosmetic bags, but there are a ton out there.

Jewelry Roll from Smythson of Bond Street, London

You’ll want to look at what kind of jewelry you travel with – do you take everything but the kitchen sink, or only your prized pieces? Do you travel with a lot of rings, or a lot of necklaces? Several watches? Everyone from Target to Tiffany & Co. has them, but you’ll want to find one that fits your needs best. (Of course, if you can drop several hundred dollars, go check out Smythson of Bond Street – they always have the most gorgeous leather goods.)

Travel-sized goodies. For whatever reason, I’ve fallen into the habit of having my hair done two weeks before Jack and I take any big trips. (In fact, I’m so busy that my hair schedule revolves entirely around traveling – we take one large trip a season, and therefore my hair gets cut and colored four times a year. Period. It’s kind of like the practice of scheduling your annual exam on your birthday every year.) This is also a good opportunity to pick up travel-sized products of what I already use; this means they’re small enough to travel in my carry-on suitcase (meaning I won’t be stranded if my checked bag gets lost), and as I use them up, I can get rid of them, thereby lightening my load little by little as I travel.

Passport holder. I carry my passport 24/7,

Passport Holder by Tiffany & Co.

irregardless of whether we’re traveling overseas or not, mainly because I’m a smoker and even traveling domestically I’ve run into a half-dozen states over the year that won’t accept my out-of-state driver’s license as a form of ID. I have a beautiful stamped one I picked up at the Burlap Horse in Texas, but if you like traveling in style, Tiffany’s has one for $100 cool bucks, and Smythson has a ton ranging from $115-$190.

Versatile wallet. I’ve got to have a good wallet – often times, my wallet substitutes for my purse entirely. I own almost exclusively Hobo International wallets; three in the Lauren style ($100) and two in the Rachel style ($128). They’re just damn nifty – gorgeous leather, magnetic closures (so I’m not fumbling with snaps), intelligently designed to hold everything you really need, but nothing you don’t.

That being said, there are still more affordable wallet alternatives. I also own a $15 flat wallet in black from Kristine Accessories that was a stocking stuffer from my mother years ago, and that baby can take a beating. It’s my every-day, carry-everywhere wallet. It has a sturdy closure mechanism so I can just snap it shut; it also has a slim pocket for coins (a must when traveling in foreign countries), as well as  a space for a checkbook, plenty of credit cards, and cash. It’s slender, but wide enough to slide my passport into and then snap shut as well. It even has a place to hold a pen (which I use for lip liner).

Compact hair dryer and cordless curling iron. I used to not carry a hair-dryer, because I would never be staying anywhere that didn’t have one. Now, with Jack in tow, I never know quite where we’ll end up, and while that’s an adventure, it means I have to carry a hairdryer. I carry Conair’s Ionic cord-keeper – it’s compact, it folds up small, and it has a retractable cord. I also own a Conair cordless therma curling iron, which runs off small butane cells (about $6 for refills) that last a good while; it also has its own carrying case.

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Preparing to Travel: Don’t blow it before you even get out the door

You don’t have to be one of those people that compiles your entire itinerary into an Excel document down to the microsecond, but there are a handful of things I learned the hard way that will make your life much easier:

Call your credit card company. Man, has this bitten me in the ass more times than I can count. Whether I’m just traveling down South to see my family or across an ocean,Visa and Mastercard always assume my credit card is stolen. The answer to this is to call them before you leave, and let them know roughly when and where you’ll be traveling.

Handle the bills before you leave. The second biggest thing to bite me in the ass – the first two or three times Jack and I traveled together, I was so crazed from work that I just stuffed handfuls of mail and my last few paychecks into my carry-on thinking, “Jesus God, just let me get there in one piece and then I’ll sit down and handle this.” Of course I’d end up half-way across the country with nothing I actually needed, or no Internet connection or phone reception, walking around the mountains, trying to hold a signal while yelling back and forth between my husband and the electric company. Don’t do this – pay the bills in advance before you go, or set up an automatic payment.

Get someone to handle your house. Traveling requires more than just your partner – we have three sets of married friends that rotate around house-watching and dog-sitting. They bring in the mail daily, switch the lights around to give the house an occupied look, tend to the puppies, water the plants, keep an eye on the basement (which is prone to flooding), etc. Resist the urge to blog and tweet about every three seconds of your trip – save it all up in your camera and travel journal for when you return. The entire world doesn’t need to know your house is empty.

Clean, if you have the time. This doesn’t mean you have to dust everything and mop the floors – but I have a tendency to leave the house in a hurried wreck when we travel (usually because we’re both just coming off of performance weekends and haven’t used the house for anything but showering and sleeping, and sometimes not even that, in the past two weeks). This sucks to come home to – you’re tired, you’ve got luggage to unpack and laundry to do, and you can’t even find a space to sit down in. At the very least, clean the toilets and wash the dishes in the sink. As a sidenote, mother used to clean the house from top to bottom before we’d travel, because if our plane crashed and we all died, she didn’t want people thinking she was a shoddy housekeeper.

Book days for resting, too. Speaking of things that suck, getting off a 14-hour plane flight or an eight hour drive and having to go into work the next day is not fun. Do your best to factor 24 hours of rest-after-returning into your travel schedule.

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The Art of Packing

Lord, save us from the art of packing. There are as many opinions on this as there are on wine, cars, and politics. For men, Nordstrom’s Guide to Men’s Style ($20 new) has a great little appendix section on packing. When I got married, I had no idea how to pack for a man – and neither did my husband. We ended up with a lot of hopelessly wrinkled suits and ruined dress shirts. GQ has a decent slideshow on packing lightly – as they say, “Mindless packing is fine if you’re a frat boy heading to Lake Havasu for spring break. But if you’re anyone else, throwing clothes in a bag five minutes before you’re out the door—whether your trip is for business or pleasure—results in bringing half your closet and a fraction of what you actually need.”

For women, this gets a little more complex. We just have more stuff, period – jewelry, makeup, shoes, handbags. If you travel for business, Sheila Scarborough for Perceptive Travel Blog does a good video on packing for two different conferences in two different climates (Seattle and Tulsa). If you’re traveling overseas, that International Man of Mystery Rick Steves has a nice article on packing for women – I especially like the advice concerning capri pants vs. shorts, silk long johns (a must for England and Ireland), keeping up with birth control when there’s a time difference, and using light-weight scarves to dress up your wardrobe.

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Case Study #1: Traveling Abroad

Sometimes, however, you’re just screwed. Jack and I recently flew overseas (obstacle #1) to a 10-day wedding extravaganza that would require multiple pieces of formal-wear (obstacle #2) in a country that was currently experiencing 102 degree temperatures (obstacle #3). In addition, this was also the first time in years that I’d seen many of my college girlfriends, and the first time most of them would be meeting my husband (obstacle #4) – I’d like to say that this didn’t matter, but it did: that primordial American urge to show that you are doing financially well and by the way, you still look fucking gorgeous. Three Coach handbags that I never would have fussed with otherwise made it in. Instead of the conservative five pieces of makeup I normally carry, my cosmetic bag was filled to the brim with eyeshadow, hair products, and two types of moisturizer. Shoes seemed to multiply like bunnies in my suitcase.

But even when you’re screwed, you can still do smart things. Here’s what I did:

Even though my husband is a cheap-motel junkie, we both decided to bite the bullet and rent an apartment with a kitchen and laundry service. This proved to be a life-saver to for us; after almost 24 hours of straight travel, there was no way Jack’s suit didn’t need to be pressed – we were able to hang it on the door, go to the beach, and return to a freshly-pressed suit. It ensured that we didn’t have to dine out every day, because we were able to pop across the street to the grocery and pick up some staple items for breakfast and lunch. They also offered delivery from nearby restaurants, which meant the bill could be charged to our room instead of us having to keep up with even more foreign currency. (Check with your bank about what they charge for foreign transactions; most of the time you’ll get a better exchange rate by using a credit card or an ATM instead of using a middle-man to change your cash.) And most importantly, it meant we didn’t have to get out at 6am and make a trek for coffee – we could enjoy french press, in legitimate coffee mugs, at our leisure on the balcony.

I turned my bridesmaid dress inside-out, packed it in tissue paper, and wrapped my satin shoes in clean white tissue as well.  This ensured that all I had to do was hang it up when we arrived. I also carried shoes, dress, and makeup with me in my carryon – in case the airlines lost my luggage, at least I would have what I needed for the actual wedding day.

We made a huge mistake in not  exchanging our currency before we left the airport. We were anxious to see friends, and decided we’d do it later in the afternoon – big mistake. It was a Saturday. Two hours later, we found ourselves in a seaside village where all the banks and currency exchanges were closed, and none of the small restaurants and cafes took credit. We were half-dead from the flight, treking down street after street, just trying to get a cup of coffee. Eventually a barista took pity on us and gave us two free cups of espresso. It was not my proudest moment.

We rented a car. Now, y’all, I’m obsessive about not having my own transportation – maybe it comes from growing up in a Southern city where there was no such thing as a metro or bus system and everyone (even the homeless) had cars. But figuring out public transportation in a different city is stressful, especially at night, when you don’t really know where you are and it’s getting dark. Yes, learning to drive on the wrong side of the road was a bit scary (Jack was constantly turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker), but it was the right decision for us – we didn’t have to drag luggage on a metro, we could leave parties when we wanted, we could drive ourselves to the airport and into the city at our leisure.

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Case Study #2: Phoenix, Arizona (by air, rental car)

Phoenix is not our favorite city, by any means; however, we were prepared to hate it and actually had a pretty lovely time. If you go to Phoenix, here are some recommendations from us:

The Clarendon Hotel – apparently the international hipster hotel, they sport the flags of multiple countries out front, and they have a gorgeous pool and roof-top deck. Their cafe & bar, the Gallo Blanco, was great dining for both breakfast, dinner, and many late-night martinis by the pool. Artwork by locals decks the walls, and each guest room is a little bit different.

Clarendon Hotel, Phoenix, AZ

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, AZ

Stop by Copper Star Coffee in the morning and pick up the local alternative-weekly newspaper. Phoenix also hosts a “First Friday” of art galleries worth checking out. We popped by the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, which deals primarily with the Native American Hohokam tribes. Then head up Highway 17 to Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona – Jack and I are both atheists, but there is something about the Chapel that transcends religion; the serenity is like nothing I’ve ever felt before, and the views are stunning. Bum around Sedona awhile; there is plenty of shopping, dining, and lodging, although it just barely skirts the edge of being a upper-class tourist trap.

Since you’re already so close, continue up the highway to Flagstaff – it’s a completely different geography, and absolutely beautiful in the summer.

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Travel Case Study #3: Driving to Maine by Car

Jack has this obsession with seeing all 50 states in his lifetime. Some we speed through quickly, like Oklahoma (“Is that a giant Precious Moments Museum?”), others we spend a week at a time in. One of our best vacations was trekking across the US to Maine.

First Stop: Niagara Falls

Look, Niagara Falls is a tourist trap – it’s madness! CRAZY! Any time of year! But looking at the falls truly is unlike anything you’re ever seen. We definitely recommend stopping, but can’t condone wasting any time on the museums, rides, etc. The throng of people is just crushing, and there are much better things to see on the way to Maine.

Second Stop: Lake George, NY

Lake George, NY: Altered and graciously borrowed from UpstateNYer

You’ll notice that when traveling from the Midwest to Maine, things get less-and-less touristy as you go further east (at least on the route we took). Lake George was madness in July, but it was also kind of incredible. The lake is gorgeous; if you do nothing else, take a cruise around the lake to look at the mansions, straight out of the 1920s. Go to the beach, go to the drive-in – it’s like a slice of typical 1960s “College Summer in Upstate New York.”

In my husband’s Campaign Against Hotels, we stayed at Gentleman Johnny’s (and oh, did jokes about that name abound the entire trip). This was actually quite perfect for us – it was tucked away from the main highway (which is bumper-to-bumper traffic in the summer), and the rooms were simple, clean, and private. And I was amazed at the bundle of cash we saved by not staying at one of the large chain hotels in the strip! At the time, you could get a room for an easy $75; I believe you still can.

Third Stop: Woodstock, VT

On a whim, we spent a day in Woodstock; I wish we’d stayed overnight. Because it sits largely in the middle of nowhere, it’s a bit of a sleepy town surrounded by breath-taking landscape and quaint bed-and-breakfasts – a very different picture from Lake George.

We had a fabulous lunch at Bentley’s, which is like being in a Victorian time warp, then explored the streets which are jam-packed with cafes, book stores, and independent shops. Be sure to stop by the Thistle Bath and Body – the website doesn’t look like much, but the store is an array of homemade goodies. (I still order their Spruce & Lime soap; they are polite enough to ship it all the way to the Midwest with no fuss.)

Fourth Stop: Bar Harbor, Maine

Bar Harbor, Maine; gratefully borrowed from Wikipedia

Bar Harbor is one of our absolute favorite places in the world, hands down. There are plenty of great hotels and inns right on the water, but you’re absolutely going to pay for them. At 11:00pm, my husband and I rolled into town without a reservation. The first place we found that had any vacancy was over $300 a night – we just couldn’t do it. Then, right across the street, my husband pointed out the Seabreeze Motel, which was a stone’s throw from the water and had a vacancy sign. It was the last week of the off-season, and I’m sure it helped that it was nearly midnight when we rolled up – we got a simple, clean room for an astounding $45. (I made the front desk clerk repeat himself several times; it was unbelievable). And then we turned right around and blew that savings on something we’d much rather have had: a couple of cases of wine at Bar Harbor Cellars.

As far as a late-night full-dining option goes, Rupununi was great to us. I had a coffee-rubbed filet with rum butter, as I remember. As far as early-morning dining, we will fall all over ourselves talking about how great Jeannie’s Breakfast is – Jack still talks about her strawberry rhubarb jam. We are serious about breakfast; Jack had the Oatmeal and Walnut Pancakes and the Tofu Scramble; I opted for bacon, eggs, home fries, and the most delicious homemade toast I’ve ever put in my mouth. If there’s a line, wait; it’s worth it.

Acadia National Park, Maine:Borrowed graciously from G. Edward Johnson

Now, the town of Bar Habor is great and all, but the one thing you can not miss is Acadia National Park. I have always hated National Parks; my husband, on the other hand, loves them and has seen most of them in the United States. Acadia changed my forever – it was an absolute religious experience. Jack commented, “I think we’re screwed for National Parks from here on out – Acadia has ruined us. There will never be another park to top it.”

Here’s what’s great about Acadia: it really is car-friendly. We were able to hike a little bit, then go back to the car and drive to the next stop, get out and hike a bit, then drive on. And the variety and views are mind-blowing – forest, beach, craggy ocean out-croppings, woodland glades – it gets better and better around every turn in the road. We drove the 20-mile park loop, stopped for tea at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant, and finished at Cadillac Mountain; amazing.

Fifth Stop: Portland, Maine

So here’s where my final blow to upscale hotels come from: Jack planned most of the trip up to this point; I got to plan Portland. And we stayed at the Eastland Park Hotel, which is a perfectly lovely hotel (with the singular complaint about the parking situation and the fact that they managed to lose our reservation for about fifteen minutes). Our room rate averaged out to approximately $200 a night, and you know what? It was disappointing. Oh, sure, if someone had just given it to us, we would have taken it, but after staying at the Neat and Clean Roadside Motels of America, I had finally been fully converted – there was no reason to spent that much money on a hotel room we wouldn’t be spending any time in.

The rooms are lovely, the room service is nice, and the staff were incredibly helpful (even with the entire reservation-loss kerfluffle, no one was anything but wonderful). And yet, all of the sudden, after a life-time of expensive hotels, it wasn’t worth it to me anymore. I would have much rather spent that money on wine, food, and shopping (which we did anyway, but I could have done it much more guilt-free if we’d stayed at a less expensive place).

One great thing to say, though, is they have the best roof-top bar. It’s cozy, it’s small, it has huge over-sized leather couches. The weather was shitty, and Jack and I spent an entire afternoon there drinking wine, sampling cheese plates, talking, watching the skyscrapers come in and out of the rolling mist. It was heavenly. Even if you stay somewhere less expensive, spend an afternoon or early evening in their bar; it’s kind of magic.

Cinque Terra was lovely, as was its sister restaurant Vignola, both run by Executive Chef Lee Skawinski. We got more than a little high in delicious food and wine; both his restaurants somehow feel special and romantic, in spite of being packed on a Saturday night.

Check out the Downtown Directory for tons of galleries, studios, and unique homeware stores. If you have pets, stop by Fetch for an awesome selection of things you can’t exactly find at Petsmart.

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Case Study #4: The South Will Rise Again (Savannah and Charleston by car)

This is pretty close to how much we love Maine; even Jack, who is a commie-pinko vegetarian socialist and won’t step foot in the South without mace, loved Savannah and Charleston.

First Leg: Savannah, GA

There’s an old joke about Savannah that goes like this:

In Atlanta, the first thing locals ask you is your business; in Charleston, they ask your mother’s maiden name; and in Savannah, they ask what you want to drink.

There are variations on this – “In Macon they ask you where you go to church,” etc, but the final line is the same: In Savannah, they ask what you want to drink. Period. And it’s true.

Forsyth Park, Savannah, GA: Lovingly borrowed from Jim (click to visit him)

Savannah’s city plan is made up of 21 squares (literally, squares, as in town squares with shopping and a park or statue in the middle of each one). Quite frankly, the best thing to do is just set out and walk most of them. I was originally suspicious, as I am of all aerobic activity, but Savannah takes things slow. Walk a square, sit on a park bench. Walk another square, do some shopping. Walk another square, sit outside a cafe and have some iced tea. Walk another square, see a museum, buy some chocolate. Etc, etc. The whole idea is to walk, then sit, walk, then sit. Usually while drinking something. Go see Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home in Lafayette Square, go by the Mercer-Williams house in Monterey Square, stroll up the Victorian District (where we once found a vintage map shop chock-full of historic maps and drawings that we scooped up by the handfuls).

The first time we went, we stayed at the East Bay Inn, which is lovely and pricey, historic and right in the middle of everything. As I recall, we averaged about $170 a night when it was all said and done, but to be fair, one of these nights was New Years Eve. The furnishings are beautiful, the exposed brick is beautiful, the little dining room is beautiful, and they allow pets. However:

The second time we went, it was spontaneous, over another holiday weekend, and most of the hotels were booked up solid. We “got stuck” at the Holiday Inn Express, which was $119 a night, and discovered that we actually liked it quite well. It is also in the middle of everything, just like the East Bay, but has great modern amenities (easy parking, a heated pool, a fantastic space-aged shower with great water-pressure.) We were pleasantly surprised.

As far as dining, you can’t miss brunch at Huey’s on the River or lunch at the Olde Pink House. Vic’s on the River is perfect for a romantic evening. And yes, go to Paula Deen’s at least once – it’s not as mind-blowing as they make it up to be, but it is strong Southern food, and my husband and I still talk about the biscuits as something approaching godliness.

You must stop by the Savannah College of Art and Design’s flagship store on the corner of Bull and Charlton Streets. Incredible, affordable artwork of all kinds – I stocked up on cards and stationery for a year here. Also, don’t miss the Paris Market – homewares, antiques, and the best perfume I’ve ever bought.

Second Leg: Hilton Head

I don’t recommend staying in Hilton Head (not with Savannah and Charleston so close), but I do recommend passing through from one to the other. There are people that will tell you Hilton Head is the only place to be, dah-ling, but these are usually the type of people who live in the suburbs of their city and don’t like The Black Folk. (Let’s call it what it is, okay?)

However, Hilton Head has some great public beaches, and it’s a perfect pick-me-up between Savannah and Charleston. Stop by Truffles for lunch, roll up your jeans, take a walk on the beach, and then head on north.

Third Leg: Charleston, SC

We stayed at the Elliott House Inn which was frankly, pretty wonderful. It’s a motel in that your room door opens to the outside courtyard; they offer wine and cheese in the afternoons. We loved that we could so easily come and go, and that the courtyard filled with mist in the mornings. The rooms are small and simple; this is not a luxury hotel (although we did lounge most of the morning with a light breakfast on a tray). We only go to Savannah in January, though, and our pricing was pretty fabulous. It also has the 82 Queen Street Restaurant right next door, which is a plus.

We also have friends that say similar things about the Jasmin Inn, although we’ve never stayed their ourselves. And if you want to shell out a bit more cash, there are a ton of other comfy surroundings right in the historical district.

Charleston is historic – there are a lot of of walking tours, but our major recommendation is the Dark Side of Charleston Tour (definitely adult-only); our favorite is the Circular Congregation Church and Cemetery, where you end up late at night.

Market Street Winery, Charleston, SC; Label of Cranberry Nip Wine, The Most Delicious Wine Ever Made

The Market is interesting – walk through it at least once – and then head straight to Market Street Winery for an afternoon tasting. Buy a case (no, two!); they can deliver it to your hotel that evening. Plot your course through the King Street Design District, the King Street Antique District, and the ever-fabulous King Street Fashion District.

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Parting Words: Keep a Travel Journal

I was in New Orleans for ten days prior to Hurricane Katrina – literally, we flew out of New Orleans on Wednesday, August 24. We had stayed at the Ritz Carlton, and eaten ourselves silly through most of the Big Easy. And then, by the time I was back home and unpacked, the levees had broken. They were talking cataclysmic disaster on the radio. It was like being smacked in the face.

I would never be able to return to New Orleans again – not the same New Orleans – it was gone. And I hadn’t written so much as a word down or taken a single picture. The restaurants were beginning to fade from my mind already – all I could recall were Antoine’s and Olivier’s. That great hole-in-the-wall where I’d have the best fried pickles in finest ground cornmeal – couldn’t even remember the name. I’d bought a huge painting outside some place with big wrought-iron gates but…that was all.

A travel journal can be as verbose or as tacit as you are; you can write whole essays of your adventures or you can simply jot down the what and where. And of course, keeping a travel journal always lets you sound cultured and worldly when someone says, “Oh, we’re going to [blank] – do you have any recommendations?”

You can always grab a Moleskin – they have a travel journal tabbed into sections, as well as your classic Moleskin pocketbook (both $10.95). If you need a little more structure, I love Nomad’s little travel journals (most excellent if you’re active, like a hiker or back-packer – $15-$29), and the Abroad Travel Journal has lots of useful info (metric conversion, dialing codes, etc), but Smythson of Bond Street (per usual) tops them all ($69-$295).

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  1. […] of my best girlfriends (Rose from “Have Spouse, Will Travel“) gave me Joan Didion’s The White Album for my birthday, a week before I met my husband […]

  2. […] Aug My best friend Rose (who you may remember from “The Case for Books” and “Have Spouse, Will Travel“) and I have a saying we shoot back and forth at one another when describing a particularly […]



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