Top Five Friday #20 - Favorite Travel Writing Tools, RebeccaWanderlusting

Budget-Friendly Ways to Indulge Your Wanderlust

I have this problem where whenever I read about or see a photo of any destination in general, I want to go there immediately.  It’s a problem because I usually can’t afford there, especially not right away.  This results in a very long bucket list and endless pennies pinched.  When I take larger trips, meaning further and for longer, I save up for them for months.  I would like to think that a lot of people are in the same boat as me with this.  I believe that travel is one of the best, most rewarding things you could spend your money on.  That being said, I also believe you don’t have to spend a ton of money or travel very far to indulge your travel bug.

Budget-Friendly Ways to Indulge Your Wanderlust, RebeccaWanderlusting

Personally, I try to take one or two dream vacations a year, and then go on smaller trips in the months between to satiate my wanderlust.  I do feel some pressure to keep up with my fellow travelers, but unfortunately, for right now it’s just not something I can feasibly do.  So here’s what I’ll be doing in the next couple of months to keep my travel bug at bay, and things that you can do as well, if you’re looking for budget-friendly ways to seek out some adventure:

Budget-Friendly Ways to Indulge Your Wanderlust, RebeccaWanderlusting

  • Exploring my own city: Chicago has so many different neighborhoods and attractions, I feel like I’ve just barely scratched the surface. I want to explore the different cultural areas and check out museums I haven’t visited yet.  And, if possible, I want to plan a little staycation at one of the great boutique hotels.
  • Take a Friday after-work through Sunday night trip: I budget my paid time off just like I budget my money; saving it for larger trips to faraway places. It is entirely possible to fit a fun vacation into 36 hours, as long as you plan accordingly.  The key is to choose a destination with minimal travel time to maximize your time exploring.
  • Drive to the nearest State or National Park for a day of hiking: I’ve been to Matthiessen and Starved Rock State Parks in Illinois and Kettle Moraine State Park in Wisconsin, and am dying to cross more off my list. Wherever you live, there’s bound to be a State or National Park within a short(ish) drive that you could easily explore as a day trip.
  • Have a spa day: It’s not for everyone, but for me, a spa day is one of the best ways to relax and get away from the stress of everyday life. The best way to do it is to visit a hotel spa and stay to take advantage the pool and steam rooms and room service.
  • Drive or take an Amtrak Train to another city in your area: As I said, there’s no need to travel very far to find a worthwhile destination. Last month we drove the 3 hours to Galena, IL and had a wonderful, relaxing getaway.  It’s absolutely possible to enjoy a nearby locale for a weekend away.

Budget-Friendly Ways to Indulge Your Wanderlust, RebeccaWanderlusting

If all else fails, you can find me making a pillow fort at home with my favorite travel books or movies, dreaming and scheming for future trips.

What are your favorite budget-friendly ways to indulge your wanderlust?

Monthly Memo: January

Happy Sunday!

Things have finally started to slow down from the holidays, which I am so grateful for.  Life has been really hectic lately, so I’m happy to have a chance to relax and catch up on some things.  Today in particular is shaping up to be a treat yo self day (I know I am way behind on this, but I have been binge-ing Parks and Recreation lately and I am obsessed).  I plan on:

  • Reorganizing my closet
  • Doing some travel planning
  • Enjoying a face mask (Origins Clear Improvements Charcoal Mask)
  • Painting my nails (Miss Fancy Pants by Essie)
  • And trying out a new hair color (full disclosure: gotta cover up those grays!)

Monthly Memo: January, RebeccaWanderlusting

Then, I’m going to snuggle up with Brody and have a glass of wine while we watch the Golden Globes.  Our little pup has been with us for two months now, and he’s getting more and more comfortable in his new home.  He’s actually sitting in my lap as I type this, and that’s some progress.  This morning I took him for a nice long walk around our neighborhood, which I think we both enjoyed despite the cold.  Chicago has been freezing lately, which has me dreaming of warm weather and beaches.

Monthly Memo: January, RebeccaWanderlusting

As far as trip planning is concerned, I’m a little limited right now, but I’m trying to work around it.  I’ve been looking into some cheap weekend trips, so hopefully I can pull something together in the next couple weeks.  Or if all else fails, maybe a little staycation could be arranged.  I received a scratch off map for Christmas this year, which is something I’ve been wanting for a while.  Though, now that I have it, it’s only making me want to travel more!

Monthly Memo: January, RebeccaWanderlusting

This month I’m looking forward to keeping the tradition of January spa days with my friend, Amber, starting some different projects that I’m very excited about, and finding new and creative ways to beat the cold.  I am also planning on getting back into a manageable workout routine.  The holidays really derailed my morning runs, but I’m hoping to get back into it now.  One of my other goals for the year was to read more classic novels, so right now I’m reading “Beloved” by Toni Morrison and am really liking it.  What about you? What are your goals for this year? What are you currently reading? Tell me all about it in the comments!

Monthly Memo January, RebeccaWanderlusting

Have a wonderful January, everyone!

Finding Unique Souvenirs, RebeccaWanderlusting

Finding Unique Souvenirs

Souvenirs are abundant, with gift shops around every corner in most destinations, it’s not hard to locate something to remind you of your vacation.  What is difficult is finding something that isn’t kitschy or cliché, something that won’t sit on your shelf unused and unloved, collecting dust.  After all, how many mini spoons, snow globes and I ❤ Wherever shirts do you really need?  Now a days the souvenir trends are shifting away from things that loudly proclaim where they’re from and towards more understated items that bring back memories from distant lands.  I always have such a hard time getting rid of things I bought as souvenirs, so all of the old items are in a Tupperware container under my bed.  Not ideal for remembering the place I bought them fondly.  Lately, when I travel, I look for more practical things to bring home.  And when I say practical, I mean things like the Elvis clock we bought in Memphis, the one that his hips sway with each tick and tock.  Things like that.
Finding Unique Souvenirs, RebeccaWanderlusting


We also have a tendency to buy magnets because they’re cheap and easy, but we’re running out of real estate on our fridge so they won’t be a practical souvenir much longer.  With that said, the following are some ideas for alternative souvenirs from your upcoming travels:

  • Home Décor – Make your home décor unique and fun by having pieces you’ve curated yourself through your travels. These kinds of souvenirs will adorn your home and bring back memories every time you look at them.  I like to look for unique wall art or travel themed antiques.  When we traveled to Grand Rapids, MI, I got a beautiful antique globe that is now on my desk.
    Grand Rapids, Michigan, Road Trip
  • Food and Beverage – Food and drinks make great souvenirs because you can enjoy them and then they are done, not cluttering your shelves or gathering dust. I like to bring back beer or wine from different destinations, specifically Spotted Cow Beer every time we go up to Wisconsin.
  • Photos – The best and cheapest souvenir is, of course, pictures from whichever destination. The key is actually doing something with them instead of leaving them in the paper envelopes from the photo counter.  Frame your favorites and hang them up or create your own album for each trip with Shutterfly!
  • Books or Albums – Books, albums, or whatever form of entertainment you prefer make great souvenirs. You’ll enjoy them as you read/listen/watch and remember the destination where they were purchased.  I prefer books, which is why I usually pick one out for each trip, like “Wilderness Essays” by John Muir from the John Muir Woods book shop.
    Finding Unique Souvenirs, RebeccaWanderlusting
  • Everyday Items – I recently read this article about buying everyday items from your travels that you will use constantly, and therefore be constantly reminded of where you got them. I think it’s a genius idea!  Everyday items are typically less expensive than your usual souvenirs and you will actually get a lot of use out of them.

What do you think?  What kind of souvenirs do you like to get when you’re away?

26 in 26 - Halfway Point, RebeccaWanderlusting

26 in 26 – Halfway Point

A while back, I wrote this post about my 26 in 26 goals for life between my 26th and 27th birthdays.  Now that we are just passed the halfway point, I thought I’d share the list in its entirety and check in with how I’ve progressed through it so far.  The 26 tasks are either things that I have always wanted to do but haven’t made the time for yet, or things I’ve gotten started but want to improve upon.  I have until December 4 (when I will turn 27, ugh) to complete everything, but I still have quite a few things left to do.  Here’s where I’m at:

  1. Finish all the books I currently have on my shelf: This is a work in progress!  I’ve read 15 books so far this year thanks to my daily commute and my inability to sleep on planes.  Most of them have been by Mr. Stephen King, who dominates three out of the twelve shelves in my library.
  2. Go camping: The camping trip is booked!  For early next month.  I haven’t camped since I was really young, so this will be a baby step back into the world of sleeping in tents and peeing in the woods.  We’re planning on camping near Matthiessen State Park, just south of Chicago.
  3. Take an Amtrak train somewhere: I have romanticized taking an Amtrak trip for years, and I so want to do this sometime soon.  I just don’t know if it will happen this year.  The problem with train travel is it just takes so long and I’m running low on vacation days :(.
  4. Have something I wrote published again: Last year, I was lucky enough to have a short story published in Sheriff Nottingham (a literary journal).  It hasn’t happen yet this year, but I would like to have something else published, either fiction or non, online or in print.
  5. Master a new recipe: Done! I have officially mastered the bibimbap recipe, but I am always looking for more to learn!
  6. Host a costume party: This has not happened yet either, but I am hoping to host an all out 70’s disco party.  BEFORE Halloween though, so the holiday doesn’t steal my thunder.
  7. Paint a picture: Done!  I can’t vouch for how well it’s been done, but I did enjoy making it!  Painting is so relaxing, I wouldn’t mind adding it to my growing list of hobbies.  Here’s a photo of my “beautiful” painting from Instagram:
    26 in 26 Halfway Point, RebeccaWanderlusting
  8. Learn to play the ukulele: Do I get a half point for owning the ukulele? I need to sit down to watch some youtube videos so I can check this one off the list.
  9. Write more short stories: Done!  Perhaps this is what I can get published. 🙂
  10. Learn French: I started learning on DuoLingo and lost touch with it. I need to get back on this though because it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
  11. Invest in a good pair of shoes: They haven’t been purchased yet, but I have my eyes on these.
  12. Take a fitness class: I’ve been getting by with Sadie Nardini’s yoga videos, but there are tons of options in our neighborhood to complete this one for real.  I can’t wait to try one out.
  13. Get a start on that novel I’ve been meaning to write: Done! It’s something that I’ve been chipping away at in my spare time.  As much as I love writing about this blog and real life adventures, I love writing fiction just as much.
  14. Find/Create an additional source of income: Still working on this one!  I’ve put some things out there, we’ll see if anything comes back.  I’m feeling pretty hopeful about it!
  15. Have a spa day: Done!  I went to the Mario Tricoci Spa on Michigan Ave and wrote about my experience here.
  16. Travel to Canada: This trip had been planned for April, however plans changed and we ended up doing a smaller trip instead.  I haven’t lost all hope for this trip, so maybe we can fit it in on a weekend before the end of the year.
    26 in 26 - Halfway Point, RebeccaWanderlusting
  17. Start running again: I know, I know.  I’ve had seven months to do this simple thing, and I haven’t yet.  That’s not to say I haven’t been working out, I just haven’t done this.
  18. Join Trover: Done! If you don’t know what Trover is, it’s a website to share travel pictures and tips for different destinations.  You can find my Trover profile here.
  19. Reorganize my wardrobe: Not quite done.  I would really like to get rid of most of my clothes and create a more grown-up, capsule wardrobe.  It’s a work in progress.
  20. Pay off my loan: Done!  Simple as that.
  21. Start treating this blog like a business instead of a hobby: This is another work in progress and goes with #15.  I’m trying though!
  22. Go on a Chicago Boat Tour: Last year, this was on my list and I waited until it was too late.  This year, I will book this even if I have to go by myself.  I’m thinking of booking this one.
  23. Sell clothes, books and movies I don’t use anymore: Halfway done!  I’ve done quite a few rounds of selling things I don’t use and donating a lot of other things, but there’s still more I could get rid of.
  24. Have a Woody Allen Movie Marathon: Done!  The only reason this is on the list is that I love Woody Allen Movies, and wanted an excuse to watch more of them.
  25. Attend a new music festival: Almost Done!  I’ll be going to Pitchfork Music Festival next weekend!
  26. Take a class: There was a writing class at the Newberry Library I wanted to take, but I would have missed the first two classes due to travel.  Hopefully, I’ll find another one!26 in 26 - Halfway Point, RebeccaWanderlusting

Status: 11/26 done! Here’s to five more months!

Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting

Up North: A Photo Blog

Of all the places I have traveled, my favorite place of all can be found Up North.  A tiny town on a beautiful lake, hours on the boat spent with family, home cooked meals, what more could a girl ask for?  I’ve written about Maiden Lake before, but this time I will let the photos do (most of) the talking.
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Picture this: A gravel driveway leads to a picturesque cabin perched on a hill overlooking a beautiful lake.  The front door leads to a homey kitchen flanked by a bedroom, bathroom and living room, all of which are cozy as can be.  At the back of the first floor is a fairly new screened in porch, perfect for catching a glimpse of the true blue lake below or snagging a quick cat nap.  Above and below the first floor are more beds to sleep the multitude of house guests that flock to this Midwest Paradise.
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
From the porch, a thin stone-lined path leads down to a semi-private cove of Maiden Lake; the trees swaying in the light breeze flash views of the cobalt water as you move down the path.  Once at the shoreline, the lazy waves from the speedboats racing by lap at the rocks, creating a unique melody.
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
In the early morning, before the speed boats are allowed to create a wake, the lake is perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding, or swimming across.  The water is calm and it’s glassy surface perfectly reflects the sky above.  You could paddle into the center of the lake and almost feel like you’re the only person around.
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting

Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Once the boat is loaded with all the chips, dips, snacks and booze it can carry,we cruise around the lake, tubing and water-skiing.  This was the first year ever that I was able to get up on the skis and take a few turns around the lake.  It was exhausting and so gratifying.
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
In the middle of the day, when the sun is especially hot, we anchor on an edge of the lake to mix the cocktails and go for a swim.  The water in Maiden Lake is as clean and cool as they come.  The neighbors’ boats circle around the lake as we watch, riding out the waves they make while we talk and laugh and dive into the water to cool off.
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting

The evening activities typically  include wine by the lake, sunset cruising, delicious meals, boat parades and perhaps some fireworks.  Whatever we choose to do, it is always relaxing and revolves around enjoying the cabin and the lake.

Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting

Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlustingEvery year that we make the trip Up North, it seems that I want to stay longer and longer.  You can’t beat the peacefulness, the fresh air, the hours spent out on the water… I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, I can’t wait until next year.
Up North, Maiden Lake, WI, RebeccaWanderlusting

Top Five Ways to Explore Your City, Rebecca Wanderlusting

Top Five Friday #14

Top Five Ways to Explore Your City

With all of the great destinations in the world, it may be easy to forget the one right outside your door.  While it may or may not be a tourist hot spot or a large city, your hometown is sure to have its merits.  I grew up in the teeny, tiny Midwest town of Johnsburg, IL (any Tom Waites fans out there??).  Despite the lack of things to do there , I remember writing an article for our high school newspaper on how to have a staycation spring break, which is pretty similar to this here blog.  It was fun to research and, even then, I was compelled by the idea that anywhere can be a vacation spot with some research, positivity, and maybe a little imagination.  When researching how to make Johnsburg a fun staycation destination, I believe we walked to the Mobile Gas Station for candy, stopped into Video Villa for a movie, and walked over to the public library to check out the selection.  I remember it as being a pretty solid day.  Anyways, the point of the matter is this: not everyone has the resources to travel each instance they get their hands on some vacation time, but it’s important not to overlook the beautiful place you live if you’re in need of an escape.  Here are my five best tips to explore your city:

Johnsburg, IL, Explore Your City, RebeccaWanderlusting

  1. Plan a stay at a local hotel – See your hometown as a visitor would by planning a little staycation at a hotel that interests you. Look on Tripadvisor to find one that matches your needs and budget.  Go all out and pair it with a night on the town, or stay in and enjoy the hotel amenities.  Either way, you’ll get to see a different side of your city that you wouldn’t get to witness inside your apartment.
  2. Check Pinterest – The world wide web is obviously full of information, and Pinterest gives you a concentrated selection of the points of interest that are in your city. The attractions others found there might be things that never would have occurred to you.  Furthermore, it may direct you to websites dedicated to events and festivities near you that you may have been completely unaware of.
  3. Take a tour – “Take a tour of my own city?? That’s crazy” you might be saying to yourself right about now. But, think about it, when you first moved to your particular corner of the globe, did you bother looking into tours of places that interested you? No? I certainly didn’t.  And in this day in age, there are so many independent tour companies out there, that you’re sure to find one in your city that is centered around your interests.  For example, the walking cupcake tour of Chicago is something I’d definitely like to try.
    Explore Your City, RebeccaWanderlusting
  4. Pick a Neighborhood and go for a stroll – Within your hometown, choose a neighborhood or area that you have yet to explore and take a walk. Sometimes the best coffee shops/restaurants/stores are ones that you’ve stumbled upon randomly.  Better yet, stop into each restaurant that catches your interest and have an appetizer, drink or dessert there to create your own personal food tour.
  5. Attend an Event or Festival – This may seem like a given, but not everyone takes advantage of these opportunities. There can be a ton of possibilities that suit all interests in terms of fests and events, especially during this time of year.  For example, during the summertime in Chicago, there is an art fair, music festival or street fest happening almost every single weekend.  Choose one and discover a new neighborhood, new restaurant or new side of your hometown.

Lollapalooza, Chicago, Explore Your City, RebeccaWanderlusting

What is your favorite way to explore your own city?  How often do you try new things in your hometown?

Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, RebeccaWanderlusting

Adventures in Gatlinburg, Part 1

The day we drove to Gatlinburg from Chattanooga was beautiful and sunny. It was a two and a half hour drive that took us through the mountains and through the technicolor nightmare that is Pigeon Forge. We stopped at the Visitor Center to get some Smoky Mountain maps and check out the gift shop before moving on to get groceries for the cabin.
Gatlinburg Welcome Center, RebeccaWanderlusting
The closest grocery store was Food City in Gatlinburg, so we loaded up on supplies there. Our cabin was up a winding, one way road into the mountains.  The drive was a little bit scary with the hairpin turns and steep drops, but the destination was so worth it. It was absolutely stunning; a log cabin perched on a peak with a perfect view of The Great Smoky Mountains.
Gatlinburg Cabin, Tennessee, RebeccaWanderlusting
The cabin had three levels, three bedrooms, three balconies, four bathrooms, a game room and a huge kitchen. We ate a lunch of grilled bratwurst and chips out on the porch and relaxed, all in awe of the view. Once we felt we had memorized every nuanced ridge and treetop, we drove to downtown Gatlinburg to explore and eventually get some dinner.  The drive downtown was about 20 minutes each way from our cabin.
Gatlinburg View, Tennessee, RebeccaWanderlusting
There is a parking garage right on the edge of downtown, on the corner of routes 321 and 441 that only charges a maximum of $6 that we utilized frequently (we usually paid less than the max). It’s an easy walk to the main drag from there. Downtown Gatlinburg is an interesting, kitschy city; the street is lined with places with names like Sweet Fanny Adams Theater, Cooters Dukes of Hazard Museum, Doc Collier’s Moonshine, Beef Jerky Outlet, Donut Friar, All Sauced Up Kitchen Fixins, Earthquake the Ride, and an unprecedented amount of Old Tyme Photos.  We navigated the streets among the other tourists, feeling like we had been transported to a different world.
Downtown Gatlinburg, RebeccaWanderlusting
We were planning on checking out the Smoky Mountain Brewery, however as a party of six and a half, the wait was 45+ minutes. We walked next door to Cherokee Grille instead. Luckily, we were able to order some Smoky Mountain draft beers there. We ordered a variety of entrees. I had the barbecue grilled chicken with rice and broccoli. The beer was great, the food was good. The service was friendly but a little frantic. After dinner, we strolled back down the parkway, taking in the street performers and sights. That evening, we sat out on the porch in the rocking chairs with a glass of wine. It was heavenly.
Downtown Gatlinburg, RebeccaWanderlusting
The next morning, we ate breakfast at the cabin and headed straight to Smoky Mountain National Park. The drive there took us right through downtown and then into the wilderness. Each drive we took through the park was prettier than the last. Our first stop was the Laurel Falls trail, which was a paved, two and a half mile hike. It had beautiful views but was very crowded. We walked in a single file line behind other hikers, past other hikers and with other hikers behind us; it felt a little like an assembly line.
Laurel Falls, RebeccaWanderlustingLaurel Falls, RebeccaWanderlusting
Once we reached Laurel Falls, it was easy to see what drew in all these people, and, as such, it was hard to take a photo without anyone else in it. Either way, it was a pretty hike. We drove onward to the Chimney Tops picnic area to have our sandwiches. Right next to the multiple picnic tables are some gorgeous rapids to dip your feet into. The water is chilly and the rocks are prime for climbing across to get a better view of the scenery.
Chimney Top, RebeccaWanderlusting
You can walk along the rapids a ways, but we moved on to our next hike, Clingman’s Dome, up the mountains.  The drive up is lined with many scenic overlooks, which is good because the view is too pretty to put into words.  Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the park, so you have to drive quite a ways to get to the parking there.  From the parking lot, it’s a half mile hike straight uphill to get to the dome.  What’s cool about this hike is that it crosses the Appalachian Trail towards the top.
Appalachian Trail, RebeccaWanderlusting
There is a lazy spiral ramp that leads to the dome, where you can see a 360 degree of the mountains.  It is absolutely stunning and I took approximately 100 photos.  The way down from the dome was a lot easier than the way up as long as you don’t stop to admire the view.
Clingmans Dome, RebeccaWanderlustingClingman's Dome, RebeccaWanderlusting
We stopped at a few other spots to take pictures on the way down, including the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina.  Because we had all been craving margaritas all day, we met back in Gatlinburg for dinner at No Way Jose’s.  The margaritas there did not disappoint and the food was good too, albeit pretty typical Tex-Mex fare.
No Way Joses, Gatlinburg, RebeccaWanderlusting
I will say that their homemade salsa that they plunk down on the table just as soon as you sit down is out-of-this-world good.  After dinner we walked down to the Sky Lift, which my mom and I had spotted the night before and vowed to try out.  It was $16.50 a person for a round trip ticket to head up the mountain in a ski lift bench to the scenic overlook, cafe, and gift shop at the top and back down.
Sky Lift, Gatlinburg, RebeccaWanderlustingSky Lift, Gatlinburg, RebeccaWanderlusting
The ride was pretty slow but provided a spectacular view, and the view from the top, of Gatlinburg and the surrounding mountains, was gorgeous.  We gave in and bought the professional photo they took of us on the way up as a souvenir.  Our last stop of the evening was Maddog’s Ice Cream and Donuts for a treat before heading back to the cabin.  It was a cute, roadside shop with homemade donuts, soft serve, and ice cream.  They had some interesting statues outside, along with some picnic tables.  We took our ice cream to go and went back to our beautiful view at the cabin, looking forward to another full of hiking.

Maddogs, Gatlinburg, RebeccaWanderlusting

Trip Planning: Traverse City, MI, RebeccaWanderlusting

Chattanooga, TN Reunion

We left Chicago at 6:20am after it took me the usual 20 minutes to leave the house (double checking the doors were locking, unplugging every little thing and grabbing a last minute jacket that I never once needed in the 90 degree heat).  The drive took about 10 hours with stopping for gas and lunch and the accidental detour we took through historic Downtown Louisville, KY.  I like what I saw there though! I wouldn’t mind returning there to explore for a weekend.  Once we got towards the Tennessee border, the GPS took us down a rural highway past sprawling farmlands and green topped mountains.  Scenic route, indeed.
Road to Chattanooga, TN, RebeccaWanderlusting
We stayed in a Comfort Inn and Suites (remember last time?), in Hixson, TN, which is right near Chattanooga.  We dropped off our bags, changed clothes, and headed to dinner at the Lakeshore Grille in Chattanooga.  My cousin Leslie and her husband, Mike, met us there, and we all sat out on their porch for a drink and some casual fare.  The food took quite a while to come out, but they kept us from getting too hungry with plates of homemade potato chips slathered with chipotle ranch.
Lakeshore Grille, Chattanooga, Tennessee, RebeccaWanderlustingLakeshore Grille Chipotle Chips in Chattanooga, TN, RebeccaWanderlusting
It was really nice to be able to catch up with our southern kin. We all ordered burgers, which were really good and worth the wait.  After dinner, we went back to the hotel and I passed out almost immediately.  The next morning, we grabbed something from the little continental breakfast at the hotel and then headed to Falling Water, the small town where our Tennessee family lives.  We spent some time chit chatting before going for a walk through the neighborhood.
Country Lane, Falling Water, TN, RebeccaWanderlusting
The significance of this place is that my mom’s father grew up here, and this is where he and my grandma lived when they were first married.  His side of the family is still here and we try and come visit as often as we can.  Not only because they are so wonderful, but it’s also nice to be able to remember my grandparents through this place they used to live.  We walked past the pretty little church they go to, and to the cemetery at the top of a hill, where relatives I never knew are buried.  It may sound a little morbid, but it’s actually a really beautiful sunlit clearing.
Jackson Family Cemetery, TN, RebeccaWanderlustingHydrangeas, Falling Water, TN, RebeccaWanderlusting
From there, we walked down the lane to the end, passing farm houses, chickens, and gardens, all farmed in front of the mountains.  The natural beauty of this place is almost surreal.  After our walk, we made our way to Leslie’s house for a huge, Southern, barbecue lunch of pulled pork, baked beans, coleslaw, sweet corn casserole, pasta salad, potato casserole and key lime pie.
Homemade BBQ Feast, Falling Water, TN, RebeccaWanderlusting
We ate out on the porch despite the heat, and everyone went back for seconds.  The whole meal was just perfect, and put all of our favorite barbecue joints in Chicago to shame.  After lunch, we jumped into their pool to cool off and had a couple of pain killer cocktails poolside (pineapple juice, rum, coconut milk and nutmeg).  We lounged by the pool for a while, the heat made us a bit lethargic.
Poolside Cocktails, Falling Water, TN, RebeccaWanderlusting
Soon enough, we got our act together and Mike and I split off from the group to check out Downtown Chattanooga.  Our first stop was Mean Mug Coffeehouse on the south side of Chattanooga.  It was a hip spot with local art on the walls and excellent espresso.  We also ordered a blackberry scone as a last minute decision and it was such a good one.  It was a perfect crumbly yet soft texture and drizzled with icing.  I will have dreams about that scone, I know it.
Mean Mug Coffeehouse, Chattanooga, TN, RebeccaWanderlustingMean Mug Coffeehouse, Chattanooga, TN, RebeccaWanderlusting
From there, we went to Frazier Street to check out the cute shops and the pedestrian walkway.  We liked Luxe Boutique for its cute clothes and accessories and Winder Binder for its amazing collection of books and records for very reasonable prices.
Winder Binder, Chattanooga, TN, RebeccaWanderlusting
We walked halfway across the pedestrian walkway to the sounds of the River Bend music festival.  The walkway offered gorgeous views of the city, Tennessee River and the mountains beyond.  To be honest, with what little we saw of it, Chattanooga charmed the pants off of us.
Pedestrian Walkway, Chattanooga, TN, RebeccaWanderlustingPedestrian Walkway, Chattanooga, TN, RebeccaWanderlusting
We went back to Falling Water for a solid last visit with my Aunt Sue, Leslie and her husband.  We had leftover barbecue for dinner because, yes, it was just that good.  We left them with promises to visit again soon, which I fully intend to keep.  Mike and I then went back to Chattanooga for a cocktail at Stir, which Leslie had recommended.  It was very close to Mean Mug, and we were able to park on the street and walk over.  Stir was housed in a beautiful old brick building, with twinkling lights inside and a nice porch outside, which is where we sat.
Stir Cocktails, Chattanooga, TN, RebeccaWanderlusting
Stir is known for their “artisanal ice” which means that their drinks all come with interestingly shaped ice.  My delicious Elderflower Sour came with a large rectangular cube in it.  The drinks were good and the service was wonderful.  It definitely ended the Chattanooga leg of our trip on a high note.  The next morning we hit the road again on our way to Gatlinburg, TN.

8 Books to Read This Summer

8 Books to Read This Summer

Is there anything better than sitting in the sun, glass of wine in hand, with a good book?  Probably not.  It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a bookworm, and I firmly believe that reading and vacations go hand in hand.  What’s a plane/train/bus ride without a good book to while away the hours?  The only problem is that there are just so many out there to choose from.  I enjoy a pretty wide range of books; old, new, non-fiction, science fiction, I will read pretty much anything that catches my interest.  If you’re like me in this regard, consider adding a few of these to your reading bucket list.  Some are older classics, some are new, some are genres you might not typically choose, but all of them are worth a read, I promise.

  1. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury: This has to be one of my favorite books of all time. I love the way Mr. Bradbury writes; it’s captivatingly lyrical.  This creative thriller will have you hooked from the very first page.  “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is a tale of a carnival and its effect on a small town, told from the perspective of two boys. Read if: you like science fiction and you’ve always thought that there was something mystical and creepy about carnivals.
  2. “The Regulators” by Richard Bachman (Stephen King): I love most of Stephen King’s books, but this one is my favorite.  It’s a good summer read because it is equal parts terrifying and weirdly entertaining.  This story follows the odd happenings on a single street in the suburbs when one child’s favorite characters start to terrorize the neighborhood.  Read if: you’re ready to be sufficiently creeped out and enthralled all at once.
  3. “Play it as it Lays” by Joan Didion: This novel is a slice of 60’s Hollywood life from the view of a less than sane actress, Maria. The story is a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but, as always, Joan Didion does not disappoint.  She is the epitome of cool and this novel radiates her sophisticated demeanor.  Read if: you like your summer reads to be a little heavier than the average romance novel.
  4. “Why Not Me” by Mindy Kaling: First of all, Mindy Kaling is always a good idea. This book is hilarious and makes the perfect pick for a lighthearted summer read.  It’s chock-full of essays that range in topic from being dumped by a girlfriend to an explanation behind her soup snake relationship.  This one is sure to make you laugh obnoxiously enough that your fellow travelers will stare.  Read if: You’re ready to get a good ab workout in while you read!
  5. “In The Woods” by Tana French: This novel is insanely hard to put down. The plot sucks you in, makes you think you know what’s happening, and then turns that on its head.  The story revolves around two Dublin detectives taking on a case that is eerily similar to an event from one of their pasts.  Read if: You’re ready to get involved in a chilling mystery/thriller and have plenty of time on your hands to finish the book in one sitting.
  6. “The Rum Diary” by Hunter S. Thompson: Thompson’s books are always a wild ride, and “The Rum Diary” is no exception. Follow his Gonzo Journalistic exploits in San Juan, Puerto Rico from one stumbling drunk adventure to the next.  There’s just enough drama to keep it interesting, but not enough that it overtakes the fantastic prose.  Read if: You have a Mai Tai in hand and wish you were going to the tropics.
  7. “Hold Still” by Sally Mann: This autobiography details Sally Mann’s life as a photographer in Lynchburg, Virginia. Her relatable anecdotes and fascinating artistic tales are easy to get addicted to. Her love of the American South is clear throughout the book, and the photos that accompany the writing are stunning.  I didn’t want it to end! Read if: You’re interested in photography and ready to be totally convinced to visit rural Virginia.
  8. “Jaws” by Peter Benchley: “Jaws” is a classic, there’s no doubt about it.  If you can believe it, the book is even more thrilling than the movie, with its love affairs and mob activity added in with the ever-present killer shark.  It has all the ingredients of a great beach read, just so long as it doesn’t scare you out of getting in the water.  Read if: You like your monster stories with a little romantic drama on the side.

    8 Books to Read This Summer

What books are on your summer reading list?

Top Five Friday #13

Lessons From Traveling as a Couple

I remember the first trip Mike and I ever took together like it was yesterday.  It was actually in August, 2014, and we had only been dating for four months at the time.  We made the fourteen hour drive to New Orleans and spent three amazing days there.  We had stormy afternoons, drunken nights, ran out of money, dealt with some car issues and endured what turned out to be an eighteen hour drive home.  In short, we really tested our fairly new relationship.  And I’m so glad we did.  That trip meant a lot to both of us and we still talk about it frequently; comparing all other vacations to that first perfect trip to NOLA (even despite the bumps in the road).  Traveling as a couple can make or break a relationship, but when it’s done right, it can really bring you closer together.  Each trip Mike and I take together teaches us something new, whether about each other or how we travel as a couple.  We’ve finally gotten a good rhythm.  For example, I know not to drag him around to different attractions when he is hungry, and he knows to be patient with me when I am trying to take pictures, and so on.  Though I do enjoy traveling solo, Mike will always be my favorite travel buddy.  Here are our best tips for couple’s travel so far:
Lessons from Traveling as a Couple

  1. Always discuss the activities and attractions you want to visit beforehand: You would be hard-pressed to find a significant other that enjoys all the exact same things you do. That’s a good thing though, right?  Opposites attract!  When talking about what you want to do while you’re on vacation, make a list together and make sure both of your interests are equally represented.  You will both be much happier to do these things together when you know it was a joint decision.
  2. Stay hydrated and fed to avoid nonsense fights: This might be the most important tip I could give. I cannot tell you how many times Mike and I have bickered over nothing, just because one or both of us was hungry.  It seems like such a small thing, but it will save you a lot of grief along the way, I swear.
  3. Plan the financial aspects ahead of time: There is nothing that will sour your vacation together faster than arguing over who will pay for what.  If you are splitting the costs, decide who is paying for what before you even leave.  Make a list of potential costs and split it up however you want: pay for alternate meals, split the hotel bill at checkout, however you want to divide it up.  Just stick with the plan to avoid awkwardness on the road.
    Lessons from Traveling as a Couple
  4. Split the responsibilities: Whether it’s dividing the driving hours for a road trip, carrying the backpack, or being in charge of the map, don’t make one person take all of the responsibility. Splitting it equally means that you both have equal amounts of fun.  I do not really enjoy driving, but I will take my turn so Mike can rest and enjoy the scenery too.
  5. Always have a Plan B: No matter how much you plan or how evenly you split your costs, there’s bound to be something that doesn’t go exactly as planned. Always have a Plan B to get you through.  For example, when Mike and I had planned to go to Toronto earlier this year, we ran into some unforeseen circumstances and had to cancel the trip.  Fortunately, we bounced back and went to Grand Rapids instead.  Things fall through, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be for the better.
    Lessons from Traveling as a Couple

What are your best tips for traveling as a couple?  Where was your favorite trip together?

For further reading, here are all of the trips Mike and I have gone on together: New Orleans, New York, Milwaukee River, DubuqueMemphis, San Francisco, and Grand Rapids.