Lengthy post…did not think you’d want a Part 3 🙂
Last time, I wrote about travel arrangements including luggage, transportation and lodging. Now I’ll turn to meals, entertainment and organizing trip details.
When I’ve travelled with other people, both lodging and meals have been divisive. It’s hard to agree on a price range that works for everyone. Sometimes budget-conscious travellers will spring for a costlier hotel to be “close to the action” or experience a bit of luxury, but then make up for it by eating cheaply.
I lean toward being a foodie, but on a budget. Rom is rather less concerned about food so I tend to take the lead. I don’t go for places with Michelin stars, celebrity chefs, or massive wine lists. For example, I declined the chance to eat at the Jules Verne at the Eiffel Tower (€105 to €190 per person for lunch). So far, the most we’ve spent on a lunch for two was about €45 per person – and worth every cent – hmmm…! When we travel, I research restaurants in advance, look at their menus online, and often plan a day around a meal I’m looking forward to.
I look up the local vegetarian and vegan spots. Since we’ve been eating vegetarian 95% of the time for the last 4 years, we’ve noticed a huge difference in our travel wellness. Even though we eat different and delightful things, it’s all vegetables and grains, like we would have at home (only, you know, better). When we eat at non-veggie restaurants, especially in the UK, the usual veggie option is something like a goat cheese and leek tart, so we try not to eat them daily! I also make a point of having a big salad every day to make sure I get lots of actual vegetables. If we eat at a chain restaurant or fast food place due to lack of time or options, I try to order something I think is “better” like a veggie burger or veggie tacos.
I don’t usually book rooms with a kitchenette (self-catering room) because I don’t like to take time to shop for groceries, prepare meals and clean up. If I took an extended vacation, I would enjoy doing that, but it’s not on my radar right now. I mentioned last time that I like to stay in B&Bs, and I love breakfast. I’m also an early riser. So if my host wants to make me strawberry waffles at 8 a.m., you can bet I’m there!
The owners of an Italian café near me offer an annual package tour to Italy, focusing on their food, wine and coffee knowledge, with all meals included. It’s on my wish list!
I like to have a big breakfast, a big late lunch, and something lighter in the evening. Most nicer places have similar menus for lunch and dinner, but lunch is far less expensive and it’s less likely to require reservations. We have eaten at some nice places that have a prix fixe menu either at lunch or dinner.
One reason this works for me is that I often go to museums at opening time. After 2 or 3 hours, the only option for lunch is the museum café. Some are cafeteria-style and crowded. While there are many fabulous ones, they can be expensive, have slow service, and long lineups. A big cooked breakfast helps to get me through the lunch hour and have full choice of food options when I leave the museum.
If we go out to a play or concert in the evening, we can have something simple rather than settle in for several hours of fine dining, or go early for a pre-theatre special (again, a prix fixe menu or an express menu).
On vacation, I am always really tempted to have lots of lattés, or more recently flat whites, and café treats (muffins, cookies, or pastries) but I limit myself to one a day of each! Rom doesn’t drink alcohol and I don’t like to drink when he doesn’t, so I only ever have one drink with dinner, if that. Although last time we were in the UK, I developed a taste for fruit ciders! We have desserts, but not every day.
Even though I still gain weight, my days of eating fried entrées and fast food and junk food in the hotel room are over – if I do, I know I will lose at least a day of prime vacation time due to feeling sluggish or unwell. I like to keep a few items at the hotel, like Kind bars and fruit, in case I wake up hours before breakfast! (For flights, I usually carry on trail mix, pretzels and fruit).
Besides food, the other “point” of our vacations is entertainment. I like plays, museums, art galleries, historic sites, parks, scenic vistas, landmarks, and geographical features (especially rocks). Also, rock concerts and interesting shops. When I book a trip, I always play around with the dates to see if we can get the timing right for a show or exhibit. Sometimes we book the flights first then look for events, sometimes the other way around. My number one source for both restaurants and events is TimeOut, but we check multiple sites to ensure we don’t miss something major! On a 7-10 day trip, we usually have 2 or 3 ticketed events, so we plan the day to end at the show site. We decide what time we need to arrive at the venue, then work backwards to allow for transit, dinner, and activities earlier in the day. And of course we have to work out the transport back to the hotel so we don’t get stuck. For example, when we went to see Muse at the O2 in April, we travelled by subway and were concerned about all the fans racing for the Tube after the show, so we did leave a few minutes early (and just made the last connection to our hotel, without having to take a cab).
If we want to see an exhibit with a separate or timed admission, like the David Bowie exhibit at the AGO, we often buy advance tickets just as if it were a concert. I failed to do that on our recent trip to London and was very disappointed that the Rolling Stones exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery was sold out on the day we hoped to attend. On another trip, we lined up early to buy tickets to see Buckingham Palace, and were only able to get timed tickets for 4 hours later, so we bought them and re-planned our morning to fill in the gap.
It’s tricky to book tickets for a bunch of events, knowing you could be slogging around and queuing up in the rain or cold or blinding sun to access them. It really requires a firm rain-or-shine commitment. I would much rather deal with some discomfort than miss out, though. For days when no events are booked and the weather is sub par, we join the seething masses indoors at museums and art galleries. If all else fails, I am left with shopping and cafés. Hardly a consolation prize! But sometimes I am disappointed when I can’t trek through parks or gardens or sculpture courts instead.
At Disney World, I bought a multi-day pass to “the parks.” I purchased it online through a discount broker and I was terrified I’d lose my money to a shady company, but they delivered. When I was living near Boston and I showed visitors around, sometimes we’d buy tickets for the hop-on, hop-off tours that run all day and allow you to resume your tour after spending as long as you like at any stop. Due to the restaurants and shows we work around, we don’t see as many paid tourist attractions as usual, so we don’t benefit as much from “City Pass” tickets for bunches of attractions.
I haven’t stood in line for rush tickets to plays and TV show tapings – one possible outcome is standing in line for hours and not getting in. Given that our vacations are on the short side, I’d rather not use my time that way. I’d need to know more to be able to play the system properly! Here’s a quick rundown from Leslie Beslie.
We always travel in the Spring or Fall, so we don’t usually encounter families and students on their long term breaks. During the school year, it’s always possible we’ll be touring a museum or art gallery along with busfuls of children on their school trips. We do make a point of visiting family-type attractions on weekdays rather than weekends, and arriving at opening time. Except for major attractions like the Museum of Natural History, we lean toward adult-oriented stuff like plays, concerts and dining; so tend not to mix with young’uns much!
Finally, because we have a lot of ticketed events and specially selected restaurants to visit, I pay a lot of attention to keeping track of everything. I unreservedly recommend the Ulmon CityMaps2Go app (not a paid promotion). They had apps for most major cities, but have now merged them into a master travel app. I prefer it to Google Maps because the user-tagged content is reliably available offline. All maps are very detailed and zoomable, with loads of attractions marked, accompanied by profiles, pix and reviews. Like any map app, you can check the transit or eating options near any destination. You can star any point on the map and add your own notes. I use a colour for each day’s itinerary: red stars for Monday’s attractions, blue for Tuesday’s, and so on. I add the hours and admission prices for each place in my notes, and other details (such as phone numbers for reservations).
I have copies of my travel docs in my email, and ensure one or two people back home know how to reach us every day. So as long as my iPad is charged, all my info is in one place. Rom and I used to share a travel charger / outlet adapter but now I have bought a second one. We are both device dependent!
In the event of a dead device, I do keep paper copies of flight tickets/itineraries, hotel reservations, event tickets, and one emergency paper map. I record the street addresses of every place we stay, because at border crossings I am usually asked the full address of our destination. I keep receipts for everything I buy, and keep a running list of the items and amounts. Canada Border Services is strict about the value of goods that can come back with us. In the past I have used the Evernote app for my lists, but now I am partial to Trello (review coming soon).
I keep a wallet with local currency with me, along with ID, my hotel key card and my local transit pass. I leave a second wallet with a small amount of home currency at the hotel along with my passport (I have never stayed anywhere I’ve had to worry about them). I take a debit card and credit card with me but rarely use them except to pay for a hotel room.
When I’m out for a day, I bring a small purse/bag with my wallet. I bring my iPad Mini if I need to refer to my maps and notes, or if I want to read e-books on the train. Some days I leave it at the hotel if I don’t need it to navigate, or if I just want to travel lighter. On days when shopping is likely, I bring a tote bag, and keep my essentials in a little pouch inside, for easy access. And yes, because of my usual destinations, I bring an umbrella!
What do you centre your travel around: Food? Attractions? Events?