Reasons to Double-Check your Plans Before You Go.

This post isn’t so much about grand adventures or optimistic locations, as recent one’s have been, but more one of prudent advice. To sum it all up, double-check your plans before you leave on your adventure.

When I was younger, the term seat-of-your-pants was an apt description for my travel style. And, while I attempt to continue that trend as I age, I find it necessary to be slightly more on-point regarding travel plans. I offer two reason why, as I have had two major screwups in the recent past.

Screwup Number One: Assuming I understand Visa Requirements For Europe.

I have been to Europe over numerous decades, and always had an excellent travel experience. It has become so casual that I look at Europe as a comfortable and welcoming place. Kind of a go-to locational area when I’m tired of working my way through South America or the Middle East.

I have become so comfortable with traveling in-and-around Europe that I hardly think about the logistics of it any more. With it mindset in my planning, I somehow missed the fact that a person can only be in the Schengen Zone of Europe for a total of 90 days in any 180 day period of time. This bit of information put a serious change in my upcoming trip plans. I have done several multination trips, but have never been in the area long enough to run up against this requirement before. And, with the continuous swelling of the Schengen Zone, the ability to travel Europe without dealing in this requirement is becoming harder and harder. Where I had planned on an ample amount of time in Eastern Europe, I now find that many of those countries are in the zone too.

This issue has complicated upcoming plans, but not derailed them. It hasn’t derailed them because I learned this before leaving. If I had encountered this after travelling for a couple months, it definitely would have been problematic. Definitely check your immigration requirements before traveling.

Screwup Number Two: Using The Wrong Information To Plan With.

Over the last weekend I made an excursion across Texas to the Guadeloupe Mountain National Park, so that I might climb the peak. In planning for this weekend adventure I used the closest google maps town to figure out the local weather. The weather was supposed to be excellent, so I packed accordingly. I learned when I arrived that the weather wasn’t as grand as I supposed that it would be. Apparently, I used a town down on the mesa bottom, not up by the mountain base. It was a good thirty degrees cooler, with much more wind.

Needless to say, I froze all the time I was there. It ruined camping out, and it ruined climbing the peak the next day. The whole weekend was a bust. If I had of planned for the appropriate weather, it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad. You live and learn.

So, before wandering off on your next adventure, I suggest that you check your travel plans one more time. It’s a good idea to make the most of your travels, and will help you have memorable trips (not good bar stories). Where I did less of it earlier on, I do more of it now. And, Where I still leave my itineraries loose so that they’re flexible to new plans, I will be checking the big stuff one more time, before getting on the plane this summer.

Check your stuff, and then get out there. Have a great travel experience.

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Reminiscing About The Beach.

With all of the Spring Break action cascading across my social media feed over the last couple weeks, I have been thinking about time spent at the beach. I like a good beach. The beach, and the ocean with it, have a different vibe than the hills and valleys that I’m naturally used to.

As I considered my different beach experiences, I came to a small realization. In the truest spirit of the blog’s long-off introduction, my favorite beach experiences as a working adult are different than the social media beach splash I’ve been passing through. When I was younger, I was content to party any place that there was beer and girls in bathing suits. As an adult-ish adventurer I find that I still enjoy a bikini-clad beach, yet I also enjoy more intellectual beach pursuits.

So, what follows is a collection of a few of my favorite beach distractions. Some beaches are good for drinking. Some beaches are good for history. Some of them have sport. All of them have something to offer.

Number One: Rincon, Puerto Rico.

The beach outside my hotel in Riicon, Puerto Rico.

If you need a place to escape the northern winter weather, you can do a lot worse than the beaches on the western coast of Puerto Rico. Even with North American tourists wandering about, you can find a quiet stretch of beach to kick back on, and drink a beer or two. (It should be noted that the Rincon beaches are magnet of the surf scene. Yes, I went to surf classes. No, I did not master the surfing.) This picture was taken just off the steps of my hotel. I wandered through in January, and it was hot and sunny. Hotels along the beach are easy to kind, and a rental car is almost a prerequisite for getting around.

Number Two: Seven Mile Beach, Australia.

The walk over to surf class on Seven Mile Beach, on Australia’s south east coast.

As one would expect, January along the Australian coast is sun-filled and beautiful. I made my way down to Seven Mile Beach to attend the surfing school located there. A younger, hosteling affair, Surf Camp was a great experience. I didn’t master the surfing (or even really minimize it much. But, I had a great time.), but the beach scene was excellent. The beach is a long, shallow affair with a gentle break. There are a lot of camping option in the area, but not necessary a lot of hotel options to be seen. Once again, it’s a location where a rental car is valuable.

Number Three: Cocoa Beach, Florida.

(SORRY NO PHOTO.)

With Florida being almost entirely known for beaches, Cocoa Beach seems an out of the way choice. But, as an old dude, I love an old dude beach. Cocoa Beach is just that, an excellent old dude beach.

Known to most people as the stop for the cruise port or as a family option for a stop at Kennedy Space Center, the beach has a plethora of hotel options and several decent places to get a beer and casually drink away the day. The beach is easily accessible from multiple point along the strand, and the small town of Cocoa is easy to find from almost anywhere in Florida (Thanks to Kennedy Space Center).

Number Four: Omaha Beach, Normandy, France.

A section of Omaha Beach along the Normandy coast.

It’s hard to justifiably describe the impact that a blank stretch of beach can have on you when you know its history. Omaha Beach is one of those places. I can’t describe the awe felt in seeing the distance men had to run on D-Day, to get from the waterline to the start of the bluffs at the end to the sand. The distance isn’t done justice in any movie I have seen, and is almost impossible to adequately describe. You have to see it.

There are a number of day tours run out of the town of Bayeux, France. Think Bayeux Tapestry (it’s housed in the local church). The town is easy to get to by train, and has numerous hotel options. The center of town is also small enough that you can walk around easily. The different D-Day beaches however, are spread out across the shoreline of the Normandy coast, and will require a rental car or day tour. Whatever path you take to get there, I recommend that you get there.

Number Five: Thong Saia Beach, Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand.

The beach outside my beach-front hotel on koh Phangan, Thailand. Fingertip included for lack of professionalism.

If you need a place to sit and drink beer, there aren’t a lot of options better than the islands of Thailand. The islands still have that something that is/was indicative of the seventies backpacker-hippy culture. wandering, day drinking, cheap eating, scooter driving, and washing in the ocean are the primary options for the average day here. Low cost beer and food make it an instant draw for a cheap travel option. I drank a lot of beer there.

There are multiple hotel and hostel options on the island, but no airport. You will need to fly into Koh Samui, and then take the high-speed ferry from one island to another. The ferry is cheap, and the scooter rentals on the island are literally everywhere. Because there’s no airport, getting to and from the island takes a bit of preplanning, if you don’t have a lot of time to waste waiting around.

well, that’s my take on the beach scene. I love a good beach. Most times, I just love hanging out at the beach, drinking, scuba diving, or whatever. if you love the sand and the surf, I suggest that you put a beach on your travel list. I find them a requisite part of any coastal adventure.

Hope you found something useful. Now, get out there. Go to the beach.

Is Your Kit Still Up For The Trip?

Before I start, I want to say that I love the word kit. Sometimes, the British just have better words for stuff than us Americans do. Okay, moving on . . . I think it’s a natural tendency of older travelers to already have gear to travel with. As people mature, the majority of them, tend to acquire good, solid travel gear and hold onto it.

most people just starting to travel tend to acquire whatever gear is A) available, and B) will do the job at the time. It’s cool to start this way. pretty much everybody starts this way. I started this way. You grab stuff from friends, go to yard sales, shop at the Army Navy Store, and the like. Now-a-days, you search the deals on Amazon.com and find stuff on eBay. Whatever works for you, it the same process whether it’s brick-and-mortar or virtual low-cost shopping. Granted, most everyone starting out is usually strapped for cash to begin with, that’s why their travelling on the cheap.

But at some point, all that stuff your acquired got swapped out for better stuff. This usually happens when you start making real money at a job, and can afford to buy brand name gear. You’re all excited by it. You bought the new North Face backpack or the best Hiking shoes on the market. You’re a proper traveler now.

Most older traveler have, by some point, collected a whole assortment of dependable travel gear. Let’s face it, the pictures in the magazines of the top gear for this season are great to look at, but not too many people use them as actual shopping ideas. They look at them and then go back to the spare room and pull out the same stuff they used last year. It was good last year, it will be good this year.

There is a point in your life where you see things as an investment. And with the price of good travel gear, this is one of those places normal people don’t want to be reinvesting cash every year. I’m the same way. I’ve collected great pieces of gear over the years, and I go back to those items year-after-year, because I know I can.

That being said, older travelers tend to be busier individuals. They have jobs, maybe kids, and responsibilities of all varieties. Using the random hour of free time to go through your stuff probably isn’t appealing. It never is for me.

If you’re looking at heading out someplace for more than a few days, I suggest that you give your gear a thorough shakedown and make sure that it’s still serviceable. When you’re twenty, if you loose a strap off your pack it’s an inconvenience. If you’re forty-five and you do that, it can be back straining and trip destroying. Let’s face it, sometimes we can’t just power through like we used to.

Now that I’ve spent forever on the setup, here we go with a story. I may have mentioned this before (I honestly didn’t go back through the recent posts to check) but I’m headed out this spring to hike the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across Spain. I’ve been several years, and a couple jobs, talking myself into doing it. I’ve finally hit the point where; okay it’s time to get it done or forget about it. I’m not really getting any younger, you know?

As a guy who travels a lot, I naturally went to the gear storage and pulled out all my old kit. I took an inventory of things that were location specific (things I would need to buy for this trip), but was otherwise fully ready. Well, kind of. I found my expensive Petzl headlamp oozing battery corrosion because I forgot to take the batteries out of it. It’s probably junk. And, I grabbed my trusty Merrill hiking boots to start training for the big adventure. They are great boots. Well, they WERE great boots. I bought them in like 2002 when I went to Costa Rica to wander in the cloud forests. Apparently, seventeen years was enough for them. I wore them for about two weeks of heavy walking and they basically started coming apart at all the dry-rotted points. And, they made my feet hurt really bad!

I bought these boots in about 2002 to go to Costa Rica.

I would suggest, that if you plan to head out soon, go check the status of your gear. Checking your gear in advance will lower your pre-trip stress level greatly. You can find the weak points in your stuff and get it fixed before you need to start worrying about important things like plane tickets and hotels. I’m super bad about just grabbing it when I need it, and assuming it will be fine. Sometime this is the case, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I think it’s fine, and it breaks when I get wherever I’m going. I adapt pretty well, but I wouldn’t need to do so much of it if I checked my gear better before hand.

As a side note: If you are a younger traveler or you’re just starting out with the adventurous lifestyle, Congratulations. I hope you have great travel experiences. Don’t be afraid of getting second-hand gear for your first trip. Your buddy’s backpack or your friends sleeping bag and mat will usually get you through one trip fine, and let you know if it’s something you want to keep doing. I used all of my old army field gear for a couple of trips, when I first started. Whatever works, well . . . it works. I would say though, if you’re going to grab gear off of eBay or from a sale somewhere, check around and make sure that you’re getting the best gear you can get for your dollar. Then, take a good hard look at it and make sure that it’s serviceable.

Okay, Now everybody go check your gear! So, you’re not carrying a backpack with a broken strap on it! (It just looks sad.)

Is The Travel Journal Dead?

This isn’t as much of a travel post as it is a philosophical one. I’ve been pondering the last couple weeks about travel journals. With my summer backpacking trip across Europe coming up, I’m looking at my packing list and the weight that I’m going to have to lug around. My list includes a journal for taking notes and such, but I’m wondering if a travel journal isn’t just superfluous anymore?

Back in the day when I returned to international travel, there was no such thing as social media and everyone used disposable cameras or 35mm film. The travel journal was kind of a necessity, as it took a week or two to get all your pictures back from the developer – knowing only then if any of them were in-focus. There were trips where I actually needed the journal to decipher what pictures I was looking at. And if you’re talking about diving photos, it can be even worse. (I jumped up from an old 35mm film camera to a GoPro last year, and I can’t believe someone didn’t force me to do it sooner. Older travels tend to hold onto the technology they have, as there is a certain surety that they understand how it works. Just saying – )

Nevertheless, more than just a utilitarian device, journals became the place where the experience of travelling was kept. It housed your thoughts and experiences, your wishes and blunders. It became almost a living thing, imbued with the sweat, tears; and the faulty, leaking, stolen pens of the world’s numerous economy hotels. (As I write this blog post, I stop to look down at a pen I lifted from a hotel in Bangkok about a year ago. It makes me smile.) I remember sitting on the sun deck of a Nile River cruise ship in 2000, and looking around to see almost everyone scribbling in their journals.

My first real travel journal. It was a christmas present from my mom. It starts in Cairo (2000) and ends in Paris (2007).

Above is my first real travel journal. I found it in a box of books in my storage unit. Leafing through it made me smile. The hotel stickers and customs tags stuck in it reminded me of stuff that wasn’t captured on film. It is a robust volume, and fairly heavy. I carried everywhere that wasn’t my house, and recorded all of my adventures. It ends in 2007. There is another small one somewhere in the boxes of books that goes from 2007 to 2009. Then, for some reason I stopped journaling, almost completely. The reason, you ask? I would say in one word: Facebook.

It seems that when I joined Facebook and started to post all my travel photos online, in real time, with captions; I no longer needed to write things down in my travel journal. Everything I wanted to remember was now on the internet. Also, once I posted everything online, going back to journal was just extra work. So, I stopped journaling.

The cavate to that last statement would be when I’m traveling to places for book research. When researching locations for stories, I would (and still do) take copious notes and pictures. The notes help me retain a feel for the place. I keep them with whatever book manuscript they belong to.

Being a little older than the usual backpacking set (Okay, a couple decades, but who’s really counting?), I have started to feel this nostalgia for things past. When I decided I was going to be working in the Middle East for a year, I decided that I would take a journal with me, and document my whole experience there.

My new travel journal. A couple yearss old now, and still sadly unused.

I procured a new journal from the local Barnes and Noble before my journey started. With my new journal, I would document my adventures. The truth of it turned out to be that I made three journal entries in it, all of them being before I left the USA. My trip did get documented, but on Facebook and Instagram. I returned from the desert with the journal being no more used than when it had begun its trip.

My fundamental concern is that I can’t decide if this is good or bad. Documenting your travels on social media is definitely easier (if you have decent internet), but it lacks depth and permanence. Looking at Facebook posts from 2009 doesn’t give me the same satisfaction as thumbing through my journal that I found in the box of books. Truthfully, most of the social media posts from 2009 and 201o don’t even exist anymore, as I have deleted all of the old stuff from my feed.

Readying for Europe 2019, I am resolved to return to travel journaling. Sure, some of the places will be book research, but the remainder will be captured in a way that social media cannot. I feel they will be given a permanence that posts with emoji likes cannot sustain. Maybe it’s nostalgia? Maybe I’m just responding to an earlier travel experience, and wanting a little more of that? Maybe I desire something that social media cannot provide me? Frankly, I’m not sure what the answer is. But I am going to pack the journal and see what happens. Social media may win out in the end, I don’t know.

I am definitely interested about your opinion on this topic. Is the travel journal dead? has social media displaced our need for putting pen to paper? Let me know (Via this social media LOL!!), if you choose.

Now, get out there! Go have new experiences!