Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

June 3rd, 2005
Diva Says: Exploring Close to Home

“This land is your land, this land is my land

From California, to the New York Island

From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters

This land was made for you and me.”

– Woody Guthrie

Doris, Frankfurt, Germany: “I love visiting the United States. Everyone seems to be smiling all the time. The ethnic diversity is wonderful! I can eat an American breakfast, visit Japan Town in the morning, have Chinese food for lunch, stroll the Italian district in the afternoon, enjoy an Irish coffee before my Mexican Dinner, then spend the night in a Moroccan-themed hotel! Oh and your amusement parks and Hollywood! I can’t wait to get back.”

Oh, how that timeless saying “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” holds true when it comes to travel. We’re so often ready to jump the fence–and onto a plane– to explore the richness of scenery in another country. Perhaps we should take a moment to discover the deep history and culture that resides on our front steps, instead of jaunting off to another part of the world. As an American, it was difficult for me to speak objectively about the reasons to travel here, so I asked Anna from Sweden why she chose the United States as one of her top destinations.

She replied: “One of the reasons I picked the United States to travel was because it’s so easy to get around and I think American people are very friendly and service-minded. Understanding the English language also makes it a lot easier. The main reason is there are so many things to see in America. You have so many national parks, so much beautiful scenery and there are so many opportunities for adventures. You also have the best amusement and animal parks in the world. The weather in Florida and California is great if you want some sun and warmth. Now the main reason for me to return to the US is the friends I made while visiting. It’s much easier to make friends in the United States than anywhere else, I think. People are so open, friendly and interested in knowing about a foreign country. There are always exceptions, but the majority of people that I’ve met in America are very nice and interesting.”

As Anna shared, the advantages of traveling domestically are numerous. You won’t have to worry about learning a new language or deal with exchanging currency. And the best part of domestic travel is that you can be decadently spontaneous. You don’t need a passport, especially if you drive to your destination.

“What a lovely surprise to discover how un-lonely being alone can be.”

– Ellen Burstyn

Ways to Explore

Strolling

The exuberant promise of discovery is the fuel that makes traveling so enticing. It’s about those moments when you feel you’ve found a treasure chest of opulent experiences. And, the beautiful part is, you don’t have to travel the world to find these instances. I’m certain there are places in your hometown, neighborhood, or street you’ve never taken the time explore. With a positive attitude and open mind, you can change the mundane into the divine. If you live near a large city, or historical town, think about spending some time wandering there. Take a day to go to a street or neighborhood you’ve never been to, go into shops you wouldn’t usually visit – like a boutique specializing in old LPs or a hardware store. It is amazing all the fun and unusually things you can find.

Joan owns an antique and folk art shop, Timeless Treasures, located off the beaten path in San Francisco. Whether she’s traveling to restock her store or to visit family and friends, Joan relishes the opportunity to stroll and wander into new, uncharted streets. “Whenever I travel – even if it’s only 40 or 50 miles from home on a Sunday afternoon, or to Boston or Paris on vacation, I try and find an antique store to poke around in. Before I head off, I call friends familiar with where I’m going and I check the Internet for local auctions and thrift shops. I always find a treasure!”

Stephanie Wong is a pro when it comes to finding and sharing delightful destinations. Her web site www.stylemaven.com focuses on stylish shops and new neighborhoods. I asked her to share some tips and here’s what she had to say: “When traveling to a new city the one activity that I enjoy most is exploring pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that are home to a diverse mix of merchants. The concept for StyleMaven was conceived out of my enthusiasm for exploring these neighborhoods. I am passionate about exploring local specialty stores and restaurants. Finding that one amazing store or café that I can share with my friends and readers makes the outing even more exhilarating.

“Here are my tips for your own StyleScouting adventure:

1. If you can, research the neighborhood beforehand. Try doing a Google search for the city and neighborhood before you visit. You can also visit StyleMaven.com for maps and neighborhood and shop descriptions.

2. Take time to chat with neighborhood shopkeepers while you browse. Many times the person working in the store is the owner and/ or designer of the merchandise. These talented entrepreneurs have invested a lot of time and energy in creating a unique shopping environment – tell them if you think the store is fabulous.

3. Shopkeepers are a wonderful resource for the best local restaurants or can recommend a new must-see shoe store located just around the corner. If you are inspired by a particular store there’s a good chance that they’ll recommend a restaurant you will enjoy.

4. Take a business card and tell your friends about the shop so that they can visit too. If you want to be informed of upcoming events or end-of-season sales sign up for the mailing list.

5. If you are visiting from another city, ask if the store has a website so that you can purchase items online at a future time.

6. Don’t forget to peruse the neighborhood bakery, green grocer, office supply store or pharmacy. Often these merchants have been a part of the neighborhoods for decades and can often be a source of inspiration, perfect No.2 pencils or a delectable flaky croissant.”

Thanks, Stephanie! Well, I think strolling is also the perfect opportunity to try out solo dining, so find a restaurant that looks welcoming and get ready to enjoy yourself. Find a seat, near the door or window, preferably facing outward, and relish eating whatever you want alone watching the world wander by. Also, sitting at the bar is great– you can chat with the bartender about the neighborhood and must-see shops. If you don’t want to eat a whole meal, take a seat in a café or bar and have a light libation to quench your thirst.

When strolling, wear comfortable, stylish shoes that protect your feet from pain. The operative word is stylish. Keep your tennis shoes at home and grab a pair of shoes that both feel and look good. You never want to look like a tourist. Walk with airs of sophistication like a savvy local who has decided to take the day off and enjoy life – in style. It is always important to look your best when traveling and strolling.

A prerequisite for strolling is a flexible itinerary. Plan on spending the day enjoying yourself, eating at least one meal alone, and discovering a new, yet close, part of your world. Try to be out of the house by 10 am, and come home by 10 pm. That gives you enough time to try out a small number of new restaurants/cafes, explore some unknown neighborhoods, and buy a few items that you’ll remember your day by. My favorite purchases are usually small items like postcards, picture frames, and gifts from small boutiques.

Road Trips

Daphne lives about 15 miles south of San Francisco, on the ocean, in Pacifica. At times, it gets very chilly and she just wants to jet away and be in the sun for a few days. Of course, the first thing she thinks of is running off to Miami or heading to Palm Springs and lounging about at a spa. But, when she take a moment to consider how much time she has and what her budget is, she can only afford to jump in her car and head somewhere warm for the weekend. “Sometimes I get caught up in the frenzy to ‘get away,’ but getting away can be as simple as jumping in my car with a change of clothes, my computer, and heading up to Napa Valley for the night. It’s only two hours away and it is warm and relaxing there. Many times it’s better to not over complicate things and go somewhere close, easy, and relaxing. I can fly somewhere else once I have more time and money. So, for right now, I’ll take advantage of the fabulous roads we have in the United States and hit the highway.”

Anna from Sweden adds, “The best trip I’ve had in America was when going on a road trip for about five weeks. I went from Los Angeles up north, seeing most of the national parks along the way to Yellowstone, and then turning back south to San Diego, stopping by Las Vegas and then going up the coast to San Francisco. I think I was most taken by the coast, San Diego and San Francisco. You have such great roads. It’s easy to find restaurants, and important sites are usually easy to reach by car. The gas is much less expensive than in Europe.”

Even if you don’t plan on taking a five-week road trip, you can enjoy the wonderful freedom they offers. For one, road trips are a fabulous opportunity to get away overnight or for a few days. They are less expensive than most trips because you’re taking your own car. You can pack a bag and go- the only reservations you’ll need to make are for your hotel. For road trip getaway ideas, check out your local lifestyle magazines, newspapers, and Internet. Many of these resources list events, celebrations, and local entertainment that you might find enjoyable.

Things to think about: If you don’t have a car or a reliable car, rent one. You can get a decent rental for as low as $20 a day. You’ll have to check with your local car rental agencies to find out the details.

Focus on locations that are easily driven in a day. Don’t be on the road alone at night. Period. Confirm that you can make it there during daylight hours. If the destination you plan on arriving at is 12 hours away, you might want to think about breaking it up into two driving trips. Or, better yet, choose a location that’s closer. There’s no reason to put yourself in danger by driving at night – who knows when you might get a flat tire! Always travel with a cell phone. And make sure you keep it charged. Roadside assistance plans are inexpensive and easy to get and can save you a lot of time and hassle. It’s much easier–and safer– calling roadside assistance when you have a dead battery or a flat. Unless you’re into car mechanics, make sure that your car’s in reliable shape, that you’ve got roadside assistance, and that your oil and gas are at healthy levels. I drove from Warranbool (a small coastal town in Australia) to Melbourne with a girlfriend and I did not check the oil level in my car before we departed. The engine blew up on a dark, dismal road two hours into our four-hour drive. This was before cell phones, and we had to walk to the closest house–which was about a mile away. This could have been prevented if I had checked the oil.

When it comes to finding your destination, call your hotel and ask them to e-mail or fax you their official directions to their location. Many online map services are not correct, and you don’t want to waste time being lost. Keep a map of the surrounding areas with you. It will give you a good sense of direction, as well as a larger view of the area you’ll be traveling in.

“There are places and moments in which one is so completely alone

that one sees the world entire.”

-Jules Renard

Train Trips

The romance of train trips has been an alluring icon since Agatha Christie wrote about traveling on the Orient Express. And if you long for that kind of adventure, sans the murders, you might want to try a train trip. If you’re interested in meeting new friends, enjoying the scenery, and not interested in driving (or afraid of flying), this might be the perfect excursion for you. On trains you don’t have to worry about getting lost!

The country is teeming with scenic train rides. You’ll need to research your local railway provider and ask what trips they offer that are charming, overflowing with scenery, and serve on-board refreshments. But if you just want to catch a train to the next town, most metropolitan cities have railway systems. If you’re interested in taking some time off and really exploring, you might want to check out Amtrak’s excursions. www.amtrak.com. Many railway journeys offer first-class service, so you can sit back, relax, and be treated like royalty.

For a relaxing and pleasurable, low-stress trip, a 3-7 day train ride will do the trick. You’ll be lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the train at night and wakened by the smell of fresh brewed coffee wafting from the dinning car. Some trains don’t offer sleeper cars, but they do provide hotels. Some train trip will disembark at night, and you’ll rest at a railway-provided hotel. During the day, while rambling across the country, many trains have observation decks where you get a panoramic view of the expansive countryside through large, open windows.

All railway services differ, so if this type of trip interests you, you’ll need to do some research to find the most suitable one for your desires and expectations. Do you plan on taking a round-trip excursion, or will you be going one way, then flying/driving back? Where does the train depart? Will you need to drive or fly to the train? How long do you plan on going?

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.”

-William Blake

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