Hey, look, you made it back for the conclusion of this life-changing story. Today’s reading brings the final chapter of this three-part series looking back at 37 life travel moments as I celebrate turning 37 on Jan. 8. If you read the first part, you learned about this small-town kid who fell in love with travel brochures at an early age. But in the second part, you discover the girl who stole this boy’s heart, and it all has a happy home in London. Now it’s time for the rest of the story of my 37 life travel moments.
I’m not a fan of public displays of affection or cheesy tourist moments, so I felt it necessary to get it on the record that I have done both. At the same time. Kissing Stacey in Dunn’s River Falls on our honeymoon to Jamaica leads me to No. 27.
27. Starting a family tradition in Jamaica
I recently wrote about our souvenir tradition of buying Christmas ornaments. It all started on our honeymoon to Sandals Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. That trip also was our first and last experience at an all-inclusive resort. I loved the concept at the time, but in looking back I’ve learned that it’s not the best way to travel and experience a local culture. But it is the best way to experience a honeymoon, especially one when — let’s be honest — you’re 22-year-old newlyweds and you don’t really care about getting out and living it up with the locals.
28. Sometimes the detour is the best way
When we visited the Highlands of Scotland, I had a day planned out. We were going to drive through Glen Coe, see all the beautiful scenery and head south to Oban for the day. But our inn operator told us about a little detour on our way to Glen Coe. Driving down this little one-lane road turned out to be a great way to experience the Highlands off the beaten path. If we would’ve stuck to my plan and not listened to this alternative, we wouldn’t have seen as much natural beauty. Lesson: Listen to the locals and don’t worry about following your agenda. A photo of that lane through the Highlands is the banner at the top of this site.
29. Andy Warhol was awesome from the parking garage
Way back in 2004, we were on a Midwest baseball road trip with several of our friends. From Columbus, Ohio, to Cleveland to Pittsburgh, we hit a couple of Major League Baseball games, had some good food and lots of fun. On our last morning of the trip, Stacey and I left our friends at the motel for a pregame visit to the Andy Warhol museum, just blocks from the Pirates ballpark. I dropped off Stacey at the museum doors while I searched for a space to park. I don’t carry cash much, and didn’t have as much as a dime on me at the time. I was hoping to find a free metered spot on a Sunday morning. Well, I drove around the ballpark and Downtown Pittsburgh for more than an hour before I finally found a spot in a parking garage that would allow me to pay with credit card. I missed the visit to the museum. I don’t guess it’s that big of a deal, but I do think I would have enjoyed the Warhol museum more than driving around looking for a parking space. Lesson: carry cash, even just a little bit.
30. Where’s ur bathrooooooom?!?!?!?
Hey Americans: The French aren’t the only rude ones. You need to look in the mirror and join the club. On our last morning in Paris in 2012, we were enjoying a Sunday morning coffee and croissants at a peaceful little café near our apartment in the Latin Quarter. It was raining outside, and we just wanted to sit and enjoy the moment. Suddenly, the peace and quiet was interrupted by a large group of Americans barging in demanding to use the restroom. I honestly don’t remember if they hung around to order. But it’s actions like this that make visitors to another country shine a poor light on their home country. It’s one more reminder to me to make every attempt to blend in to the local culture when I travel.
31. Seeing Niagara Falls
Sometimes it really is OK to just get a quick look at those magical places. Niagara Falls is one of those beautiful places on earth that I feel everyone should make an attempt to see. But you know what? If you just drive by it and see it for five minutes, you’re good. I’m happy I was able to walk along the top of the Falls and feel the power of the mist below. Seeing the Falls from the deck of the Maid of the Mist and getting absolutely soaked was amazing. But seriously, five minutes would’ve been good.
32. I need my blankie (or why I don’t like solo travel)
I don’t like traveling solo. When I’m at home, I love sitting in a quiet room with a beer and a book, or a good movie on. I love my wife and son, but I love my time alone, too. But when I traveled to Toronto last May I was lonely, especially after all of my travel blogging friends went home and I found myself in town for a couple more days. I love my family and friends and I love traveling with them. I’m so happy I’ve made a lot of blogging friends in the past year, so if I find myself at TBEX this year without the family, I’ll at least have some new friends around.
33. You can go home in Greenwich Village
For our 10-year wedding anniversary, my wife and I rented an apartment for a week in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It was amazing living like a local, getting our morning bagels and coffee at the neighborhood bagel shop, having several awesome restaurants and wine bars to choose from, and our own little park to sit in at night. I had visited New York twice before this trip, so I already knew I loved the city. But experiencing it like a local made me feel at home in the city.
34. He drank how much grappa?
I know this goes against everything we’re taught about alcohol and driving, but way back in 2005 in Tuscany, I learned that sometimes you just have to trust the driver as you watch him down glasses of grappa. On our visit to Italy, we took a day tour into Tuscany. It remains one of the greatest days in travel we’ve ever had. It was a pretty typical tour from Florence. We visited Siena, San Gimignano and a beautiful wine farm. The day was perfect with the beautiful scenery, Tuscan villages and the great food and wine at the farm. It was at the winery where we watched our tour bus driver enjoy his share of grappa. Nearly nine years later, looking back I honestly believe he was fine to drive. But it was quite funny watching our driver have his share of this beautiful liquid known as grappa.
35. Give me a good bartender and I’ll be loyal for life
When we decided to spend our 10-year anniversary in New York, I did a lot of research on good places to get beer. One of the beer bars on my list was the Blind Tiger Ale House on Bleecker Street in the West Village. On the afternoon of our anniversary, we enjoyed checking out several thrift shops and bookstores in the Village. I did my “husband” duty of tagging along while Stacey shopped. But then I noticed how close we were to the Blind Tiger, which was on a list of bars I had made before our trip. I happened in while Stacey continued shopping. It turned out to be one of the greatest beer experiences I’ve had in my life. I sat down, said hello to the staff and began my man crush on the bartender. What ensued was the best experience with a bartender I’ve ever had. He asked what I wanted. I said I wasn’t sure. He asked how I felt, was I hot or comfortable, how was my mood, what was my stress level. This was 20 questions to figure out what beer I should order. What happened over the next couple of hours was beer-ordering heaven. This bartender and I, we were dialed in. If this was the Super Bowl of beer ordering, we were the Dallas Cowboys blowing out the Buffalo Bills in the 1993 game. I’ve tried to rediscover this magic at a number of bars since. But it’s not happening. My beer-ordering magic will live on at the Blind Tiger.
36. Sometimes it’s OK to hang out at the tourist beach
The first time I visited Panama City Beach on the Gulf Coast in Florida was way back in 1992. I went again in 1996 with my then-girlfriend (and now wife). I’ve been back some 10 times, not to mention countless other times to nearby beach communities in Florida and Alabama. Many people I know spend all of their precious vacation time in the summer visiting these crowded beach resort cities. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just unfortunate that it ends up being the only place they ever travel to. I make no apologizes about wanting to go to the Redneck Rivera. It’s home. I love overpaying for my fried oyster po-boy sandwich while drinking Bud Lite and listening to Jimmy Buffett. Not every travel experience has to be an amazing once-in-a-lifetime moment. The Gulf Coast is my travel destination comfort food.
37. A parent’s job never ends
I learned how determined I am as a parent to provide the ultimate travel experience to my son on our October 2013 visit to New Mexico. We were on our way to experience the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta when we found ourselves in terrible traffic. As it looked like we’d miss the beginning of the event if we stayed in the car, I convinced Stacey to get in the driver’s seat as Colby and I got out of the car to walk/run to the fiesta. We were just at the beginning of the interstate exit, in a virtual parking lot more than a mile from the park entrance. That didn’t stop me from putting Colby on my shoulders in the pre-dawn darkness, and running down the exit, under the interstate bridge and back up the other side along the service road. He and I made it into the park just as the first balloons were taking off. And Stacey wasn’t far behind in the car, meaning we all made it in. The lesson for me was that as a parent, it pains me to think my son will be disappointed, especially on a trip. I was determined to do what I had to for him to get in to see the balloons lift off.