Florida part 2 – The Food!

Me and my little man, out for a stroll near the water in Clearwater, Florida.

Eating out is always a challenge for me, especially when I’m away from home. I worry about finding somewhere safe with a low risk of cross contamination, that will understand how serious it is when I say that I’m celiac, and that isn’t a drag for everyone else in our group. I feel like that last part is the key when you’re with a larger group. No one wants to make the call about where to go since they don’t necessarily know what would be safe for you, which means that over the years I’ve become accustomed to having to be the person that chooses where to eat. It typically involves a lot of googling, checking other bloggers for recommendations, and searching for the words “gluten” and “celiac” on yelp reviews. While we were visiting family in Clearwater, Florida last month, my husband and I did a bunch of searching, and found a few great gems in the process! Here are my three favorites from our time in the sunshine state. I hope you all enjoy them as much as I did.

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill – Our first meal out after arriving, I was pleased they offered a separate gluten free menu. Upon walking in, we were greeted by a steel drum player, and a fun island atmosphere. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this restaurant. Our server was super helpful both to me and our table’s two young children. I ordered the grouper reuben sandwich (without a bun of course), and stole some of my husband’s ceviche appetizer. Ceviche might be one of my favorite dishes from my visits to Peru, and this one certainly lived up to my memory of the dish.

Marina Cantina – This was completely a google find. I had been searching for fun local spots to eat, and took a chance on this after reading a couple yelp reviews that specifically referenced gluten free. We happened to be there on a Monday night, which amazingly was $5 margarita night! I have to be honest, I can’t remember exactly what I ordered, but I do know the wait staff was very friendly, courteous, and helpful in figuring out what was safe and how to modify each dish.

Pearly’s Beach Eats – Another google find that was close to where we were staying, Pearly’s was our pick for lunch the last day. They had fairly quick takeout, and it was easy for me to get there, park, and get back without too much hassle. When I called to explain my situation, I was told my best bet would be to order a baja bowl without the taco bowl…even though I really wanted the nachos. I’m not one to be picky when it comes to food, if the kitchen staff tell me that’s my best bet, you better believe that’s exactly what I’m ordering. Since we were doing takeout and it was only lunch, my expectations weren’t high. Turns out, this was a great choice, and the baja bowl both tasted incredible and was very filling. Everyone else in our group enjoyed their orders as well 🙂

All in all I was very impressed with the options I had. Typically, places that seem a little more touristy can be very dicey for a celiac, but I didn’t get that vibe in Clearwater at all. Everyone was very well educated on safe kitchen standards, and how best to modify meals to make them safe.

*Mom warning – there was NO changing table at Marina Cantina. I’m learning to pay attention to that when we’re out now, and even though I don’t always need it, that was one night when I really could’ve used the help…and an extra margarita when all was said and done!!

Florida part 1 – Traveling

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We made it! Leading up to our trip a few things had me concerned, not the least of which was the government shutdown leaving TSA agents and air traffic controllers unpaid and forced to work. I worried about lines, lack of security, and whether or not things would continue to run smoothly the longer the shutdown dragged on. Additionally, New England was beginning to brace for a big winter snowstorm due to hit the area Saturday night. Being a holiday weekend, the best flight fares wound up being Saturday and Tuesday. We had planned to take our time getting out Saturday midday, and coming home Tuesday morning to avoid the holiday rush. If the storm came through as planned, we would be on the ground in Florida before the first snowflakes fell.

After confirming that the Boston economy parking was a covered garage (because who wants to come home to a snow covered car), we set out around 10:30 in the morning for a 2 pm flight. It’s a little over an hour from our home to the Boston airport and we wanted to allow plenty of extra time to get all three of us to the terminal, check our son’s car seat, and clear through security. Things seriously could not have worked out more perfectly getting to our gate. We were able to ditch our heavy winter coats inside the car seat bag and checked it all together at the ticket counter. Our tickets were on our phones, although it turns out our son’s ticket was not delivered electronically, so we took a short detour back to ticketing to get his printed out. We later learned this is fairly standard with a lap infant, so you’re better off stopping at the beginning and asking for printed tickets.

Getting through the TSA checkpoint was nothing short of impressive. Regardless of your politics, these were all hard working individuals that continue to show up day after day, and as of our flight out, had already missed at least one paycheck. Every last TSA agent we encountered greeted us with a smile, they were patient as we navigated our first trip with an infant, and they helped us through as best they could. When the line started to back up, in walked 4 more agents ready to open another line. I was pleased and yet so surprised at what seemed like a generally happy demeanor. Had the tables been turned, I don’t think I could have continued to arrive at work with such dedication and sunny disposition. The next time you’re at the airport thank them, I know I did.

After arriving at our gate, we tracked down lunch to eat on the plane. Not wanting to venture too far, I stuck with protein bars, yogurt, jerky, bananas, and anything else that looked both healthy and was labeled with ‘GF.’ Now was not the time to experiment with anything that could potentially not be safe for me.

Boarding was uneventful, our gate check bag for the stroller worked perfectly and we gate checked both of our suitcases as well to avoid the fuss through the airport on the other end. We were relaxed, and without clutter as we boarded the plane with just our son and his diaper bag. We were each seated in a middle seat in the same row where my husband could see the smile and hear the giggles as our son played in my seat, occasionally jabbering with the women on either side of me. We truly lucked out, as his smile kept everyone happy, and my seat mates didn’t seem to mind when he discovered the in-flight entertainment controls on the arm rests, constantly changing the channel and playing with the volume, happy that he had figured out how to push the buttons.

Upon arrival, our son received his first set of flight wings from the crew and we were met with his stroller on the jet bridge. All of our bags were waiting for us at baggage claim, and we made our way over to the rental car counter. My husband asked if there were any upgrades available, which of course there were. It’s been drilled into my head over the years to not accept any upgrade offers or insurance when you’re picking up your car. There are always hidden fees and charges that wind up costing much more than you’d planned. The upgrade, naturally, would cost us $17 more per day. Playing unintentional good cop/bad cop, my husband thought the upgrade was worth it, while I quickly calculated and said out loud that we could spend that extra $60 on doing things with my family instead while we were in town. Hearing our discussion, our rental car agent seemed to disappear not long after declining the upgrade. She’d seen our heap of baggage, stroller, and car seat, and was initially concerned we wouldn’t fit in the full size vehicle we’d requested. In the end, she told us we were her last customer of the day, and she’d gotten it approved to upgrade us to a mini van with NO extra fees or change to our rate. Here’s the catch though…I’d traded in my MINI Cooper over a year ago in anticipation for our son’s arrival and bought an SUV with a 3rd row, wanting the space for luggage on long trips visiting family. I had talked myself out of a mini van because they just weren’t that nice, and couldn’t possibly have the trunk space of an SUV. When I opened the trunk of our rental mini van, I couldn’t believe the space and the features it had built in. I actually *enjoyed* having it for a few days….the horror!

All in all it was a successful first flight for our little man, but we definitely learned some things along the way:

  • Limit the number of bags you have to carry through the airport. Checking our car seat (along with our coats, extra diapers, and food pouches) was a huge help. Let’s be honest, the car seat is big enough on its own, throw it in a backpack bag to protect it and the resulting size is just absurd. No one wants to navigate with that on their back unless it has side and rear view mirrors!
  • Gate check your luggage if you can. We had everything we needed in the diaper bag which made it easy to hand off our suitcases. If you’re flying nonstop, you have a better chance that you won’t have any issues getting it at your destination, plus you won’t have to deal with trying to hoist it into the overhead bins.
  • Bring a bottle, pacifier, pouch, or whatever your child will happily take for both the takeoff and landing. Babies don’t understand how to pop their ears back, it’ll help equalize the pressure and keep them comfortable.
  • Also make sure you have plenty of toys and books to preoccupy your child. Any flight is a long time to keep a little one happy and busy, especially since they’ll have to be glued to your lap the whole time.
  • If your child is on formula don’t bother premixing it, they’ll have to test every bottle. Oh, and also take the formula container out of your diaper bag….no one wants to watch as TSA pulls it out of the bag, accidentally spilling some of that super expensive powder in the process.
  • Buy the protective bags for your car seat and stroller. They were worth every penny for us, not only because we could throw extra things in with the car seat, but both bags kept everything protected and clean.
  • Last, but certainly not least, ask for the upgrade. As my keen negotiating husband would have you know, sometimes it pays to ask, be kind, and have a happily smiling baby along with you. You just might get that upgrade for free!

Somehow this post has carried on much longer than I originally planned, stay tuned later this week as I get into all the wonderful fun and food we had while we were there!

Preparing for takeoff

This week has been a little crazy around our home. Hubby and I are both suffering from daycare colds with fevers striking me and our son, we’re finishing up painting our living room, and gearing up for little man’s first flight. In my “pre-mom” life I was the business traveler that had everything organized, always found herself on the upgrade list, and could quickly gauge which TSA line would move the fastest. I could arrive at an airport an hour before my flight and be through security and ready to go with time to spare. I secretly cringed anytime I saw a family with small children approaching my gate. Now that I’m preparing, I have to admit that I’d never thought about everything parents have to get ready for their children, with everything laid out I’m amazed at what parents are able to pull off to travel with their families!

Thankfully, we’ll have family on the other side that’s providing a number of things that we won’t have to worry about or pack (pack and play, high chair, toys, etc.), yet I still feel like I’m going to be a sherpa upon arrival at the airport. To keep everything safe and clean upon arrival, we invested in these items for our trip (we have other trips coming up as well, otherwise I may have borrowed them locally):

I chose those two after reading a ton of reviews, and honestly getting pretty overwhelmed. I wanted something that would fit both our infant carrier for now, but could also be used for our convertible car seat in the future. If it’s not going to last us for the long term, I don’t want to spend the money on it. I’ve read that you can fill the car seat bag with other items as well (diapers, jackets, boots, etc.) to help protect the seat, and also save yourself from having to carry on too much. We’ll be taking our umbrella stroller too instead of the jogging one, we didn’t want to navigate the airport in a large stroller nor have to fold and disassemble it at the gate. I’ll let you all know how they hold up after the first flight!

For those of you that didn’t know (myself included until this past week), you’re allowed to carry on, gate check, or check the following items at the ticket counter free of charge: car seat, stroller, diaper bag. This is an FAA rule, so regardless of your airline or fare class, they can’t deny you from bringing any of those items. Here are a few resources that may be of help:

Despite everything else going on this week, I decided to try giving our son what looked like a normal meal for dinner on Monday. I bought a value pack of chicken breast tenders, cooked them in coconut oil in a frying pan, simple enough I thought, and no crazy flavors to turn him off. I paired a tender with leftover string beans, carrots, and mashed potatoes to give him some flavors he recognized.

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Little man’s first full meal

Let me tell you something….I. Picked. The. Wrong. Night. From the moment I tried to feed him, our son started handing pieces of his dinner down to our dog who obviously loved this game. I thought I could trick him into actually eating it by pureeing together the mashed potatoes and chicken. Maybe it was the texture of chicken, and that would solve our problem. A few minutes in, and still without having had any of it, over-tiredness got the best of him and screaming ensued. We’re talking crocodile tears, rubbing his eyes, arms up in the air, all around upset. It took every soothing tactic we had to calm him down and get him to bed shortly thereafter. The good news is that I now have pre-cooked chicken tenders that can be frozen and saved for future meals.

As we conquer our colds, put the living room back together, and wrap up packing we’ll be crossing our fingers that everything goes without a hitch, and that the little man has a fun first flight experience! Even if things don’t go as planned, at least we’ll get a story out of it. And to all of our fellow travelers that resemble my former self, I’m not sorry if we cramp your style. It’s taking a lot of work to get us to the airport, and we plan on enjoying ourselves just as much as you do. Stay tuned to hear how it went!

 

A Weekend Away

Usually I only have to worry about food for myself when we go away for the weekend, but thanks to this year’s Whole30, we spent an entire day prepping food for both of us before heading out of town to visit family. I know I’ve written about traveling with freezer meals before, but I always love sharing recipes that are easy to make, and freeze/travel well. I’m sure it makes me a little selfish, but it was nice to have someone else that could only eat food brought from home for a change. I’m sure it was extra difficult for my hubby, since he doesn’t usually have to restrict himself so much.

Trying to keep things simple, we chose three meals to make in larger quantities. This ensured we had enough food for our planned three days away. We also decided we’d stop at Chipotle on our drive home, so we wouldn’t need to worry about reheating food. That meant cooking and freezing each of these so all of our meals were set!

The first thing we got cooking was Chicken Masala. Trying to minimize our efforts, we chose this since it’s a crock-pot meal and always turns out perfect.

 

 

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons curry
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala (usually in the international aisle of the grocery store)
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans coconut milk, unsweetened
  • 5 large chicken breasts, boneless & skinless
  • 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes (no sugar added)
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste (no sugar added)
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish
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Best part of crock-pot recipes, getting to throw all the ingredients in and leave it alone!

After getting that going, we riced a head of cauliflower to go along with the chicken. It was only enough for two servings, but there was plenty of chicken for at least six meals!

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Finished product….Chicken Masala

Our next major task was to get the chili going. This recipe was one we found a while ago, and loved it so much that it’s now a regular in our menu.

Sweet Potato Chili

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 large can (29.5 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 small can (15 oz) fire roasted petite diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 5 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • Dash oregano
  • Dash red pepper flakes
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Cooking the beef and onions before adding the remaining ingredients

In a large pot, brown the beef, onions, and garlic. Drain the fat when browned. Add remaining ingredients to pot, mixing well before bringing to a boil. Simmer for 30-40 minutes. By the way, that little green thing in the pot below actually belongs there! It holds the bay leaves, so you can easily pull them out of the pot when it’s cooked.

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Simmering the pot of chili

While the chili was simmering, we started chopping up sweet and red potatoes for our usual morning side dish. Along with eggs, we start every morning with sauteed potatoes. My go-to spices are chili powder, turmeric, smoked paprika, and a little salt and pepper to taste.

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Looks tasty, right?!

Branching out to something new, our final task was to take on Stuffed Acorn Squash. This was a completely new recipe for us, and thanks to the ease of the crock-pot chicken and simmering chili, most of our efforts were focused on this.

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Acorn squash, ready to be frozen for the trip

We really lucked out with the temperatures for this trip too! Go figure, we managed to see the coldest temperatures I’ve ever seen while we were up in New York that weekend…all the way down to -20°F!!! Thankfully, that meant we could leave the cooler in the car and not worry about anything thawing too quickly. As we bounced around visiting everyone, all we had to do was bring in the cooler to start defrosting and cooking our next meal 🙂

 

Lexington, KY – A fun family weekend!

Since it’s Thursday, I thought I’d post a throwback to a trip we took last year.  I started this blog post on our flight home, but never quite finished writing.  Hubby and I took advantage of a three-day holiday weekend, flew out to Kentucky to visit his family, and witnessed Keeneland first hand.  We took a late Thursday flight and started the weekend midday on Friday 🙂  I have to admit, this was one of those trips that I wasn’t able to do recon beforehand on the gluten-free options we’d have.

We started our Lexington fun with a local chain, and favorite of hubby’s cousin, Saul Good.   There honestly could not have been a better start to the weekend.  One of the things I was really bummed out about in Italy was that I only found gluten-free pizza in two restaurants.  Saul Good not only had gluten-free pizza crust, but they also had my favorite spicy Italian red sauce as one of their options!   The staff was more than friendly about working with me and double checking each item I ordered.  They offered to put together a fresh vegetable platter for me when I told them I really wanted to try the dip, but could not have their chips.

Our tailgate fare was all low-key, and made for very little prep work that morning.   We’d stopped at a grocery store early in the trip so I could help make sure we had enough gluten-free food for me.  Be forewarned, I did search around to find gluten-free food options inside the track before we went, but didn’t have much luck searching online.  Armed with that in mind, we packed enough pregame food to be sure I wouldn’t go hungry.

We hit up Local Taco for brunch Sunday morning,  where I was pleased to find that their menu had gluten-free options marked with a convenient “GF”.  After confirming with the manager that their chips and salsa were safe for me to eat, I put in an order for four specialty corn tacos along with the chips.  I can not put into words how good those tacos were after a full day tailgating at Keeneland.   The smoked brisket was by far my favorite, but trust me, they were all pretty delicious.   Thankfully,  I remember to snap a picture of my plate before devouring all of it!

Smoked Brisket, Tequila Lime Chicken, and Steak & Eggs  Tacos from The Local Taco

Smoked Brisket, Tequila Lime Chicken, and Steak & Eggs Tacos from The Local Taco

Later that night, we decided to hit up the movie theater after a quick dinner.  Hubby had been in the mood for barbecue, so we made our way to City Barbeque.  In frustrating fashion, my phone froze just as I’d started downloading their allergen listing.  Thankfully, the list was also printed out and kept at the front register.  Without hesitation, I went straight for the naked brisket.  After combing through the gluten-free sides, I settled on baked beans and sweet vinegar slaw.  As we completed our order I mentioned that my meal would need to be carefully handled, and that the staff would need to change their gloves for safety.  Just as I said that, the woman at the register told me she’d already put our order in, and quickly called over another person from the kitchen to ensure my dinner was safe….phew!  I made a quick mental note that all of their sauces were safe, but realized I’d need more help when I saw the condiments station.  All of the sauces were kept in large serving vats, with a single ladle in each one.  Knowing this was a sure-fire way to make myself sick, I grabbed the woman manning the pickup area to see if she could help.  Once I explained my concerns about cross contamination with the sauce ladles,  she came out with two fresh to-go containers of sweet sauce for me to enjoy.

Our final culinary stop in Lexington was at the one and only Shakespeare & Co.  I have to say, the Victorian decorations were very unique, and I totally wanted to stop at every table so I could sit on their vintage couches.  We made it here about midday, making it the perfect time for a late brunch.  Upon asking for a gluten-free menu, I was told the restaurant had gluten-free bread, pizza crust, and quinoa for substitution in nearly any dish.  I asked for some help since I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted.  Our waiter told me hands down that I should go with the Salmon and scrambled eggs.  Let me tell you, that dish did not disappoint!  The gluten-free bread had been cut into rounds as if it were a biscuit, with perfectly shaped salmon and eggs on top.  It came with a side of roasted potatoes and hollandaise dipping sauce, which I obviously smothered all over the eggs 🙂 one word ladies and gentlemen: heavenly!

Our final stop before going home was to the Town Branch Brewery and Distillery.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any gluten-free beers for me, but the first part of the tour was pretty cool anyways.  We were each given four tasting tickets at the beginning, so I stashed mine away for the Kentucky Bourbon.  I’d done some research about whether or not it was actually safe for me to drink Bourbon, and come to the consensus that the distilling process should make it safe, but that some celiacs still have issues.  Personally, I’m a fan of Bourbon, so it was worth giving it a shot for me.  I tried their Bourbon, Rye, Pearse Lyons Reserve, and an especially tasty Bluegrass Sundown.  My favorite hands down was the Bluegrass Sundown, which is a dark roasted coffee infused with Bourbon and sugar.  Our tour guide served it with hot water over cream, and it just might have to replace the Irish coffee on my list of cold weather spirits!  The best news is, I had no reactions to the Bourbon…line ’em up 😉

Copper pot stills at Town Branch Distillery

Copper pot stills at Town Branch Distillery

Kentucky Bourbon straight from the source, aging in fresh barrels!!

Kentucky Bourbon straight from the source, aging in fresh barrels!!

Back from my hiatus

I may have been off the grid for a while, but I promise it was with good reason!  My husband and I just got home last weekend after two weeks traveling through Italy 🙂  I told you all a while ago about how nervous I was getting prepared for the trip, and how they’d be able to handle celiac disease.  Not only was I impressed with what I found online before our trip, but let me tell you, Italy did not disappoint.  I have plenty of restaurant reviews, tips, and experiences to share with you all…but for starters I thought I’d walk you all through our itinerary, and how we felt our time was best spent.

While I was in college, I had the privilege to study abroad in a little town called Paderno del Grappa.  We were nestled in the Dolomite mountains, and though we didn’t have a train station in our town, we were close enough that we were able to take some great weekend trips through Italy while we were there.  My main focus of this trip was to make sure my husband got to see everything he wanted to (this was his first trip to Italy), that we were able to meet up with his distant relatives near Rome, and to take advantage of going back to see anything and everything I may have missed out on years ago!  We knew we wanted to spend two weeks over there, so once we found our flights it was time to hammer out where we’d be staying.  Here’s the official breakdown we came up with:

  • Rome: 5 nights
  • Florence: 3 nights
  • Cinque Terre: 2 nights
  • Milan: 1 night
  • Venice: 3 nights

Initially we were so overwhelmed with everything else in our lives that we though about reaching out to a travel agent.  The more I thought about it, the sillier I felt asking someone else to figure out our accommodations…I KNOW Italy!  Having studied abroad, I knew where we’d want to stay, how we’d get from town to town, and that hotels are definitely NOT the best option out there.  We spent an entire Sunday looking through our options and tracking down the best Bed & Breakfasts, or in some cases, smaller hotels.  Here are some of the resources I leveraged to find exactly what I was looking for, and why I used them:

  • www.hostelworld.com – This site was one of my best resources studying abroad.  If you’re thinking you’re too old for hostels, don’t worry!  You can use the search tools to select exactly what you’re looking for.  For us, that was narrowed down to either hotels or a B&B with an ensuite room (meaning a private bathroom).  Depending on what else you need, there are other facilities that you can ensure the host can offer such as luggage storage, air conditioning, breakfast, internet access, etc.
  • www.venere.com – For those smaller properties that might not be listed on other sites, Venere was a great resource.  This helped us track down other B&B options that might not have been listed on Hostel World.  Definitely be aware though, once you find the place you want to stay, check to see if they have their own website or contact information.  You’ll usually get the best rates directly from the B&B or hotel, and not through a middle-man website.
  • www.tripadvisor.com – This was our final line of defense in making sure we made the best choices.  Once you think you’ve narrowed it down, check on TripAdvisor to see what people are actually saying about the place.  Read the most current reviews, as things can frequently change, and you want to be sure that anything you’re reading is as accurate as possible.

We’ll be working on getting a review posted for each of the places we stayed, and once we do I’ll be sure to post a link to it here!  For now, I hope you enjoy a few quick pictures from the trip….don’t worry, there will be plenty more 🙂

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The Roman Forum, wandering around the city after flying in, but before we could check into our room!

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome.

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Getting a tour of Frosinone, a small town outside of Rome, from relatives of my husband’s family.

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Overlooking the Ponte Vecchio and Arno River in Florence.

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The front facade of the Duomo in Florence.

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Miles and miles of vineyards in the Chianti region, stunning view from San Gimignano.

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Looking out into the street from Sforza Castle in Milan. They’re really gearing up for the 2015 World’s Fair, the buildings on either side of the picture are from entrance tents to the fair.

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Enjoying the streets of Burano after a day watching all of the talented glass makers in Murano.

 

 

Worth It? Or Not!

So this post isn’t exactly celiac related, but since this IS a celiac travel blog, I thought I’d indulge. I’ve learned through experience and plenty of mistakes what’s worth my time and money during a trip, and what it’s best to avoid. I’ve compiled my all-time favorites of what’s worth it, and what’s not to share with all of you. Here’s to making the best memories out of your next big vacation!!

Worth It:

  1. The extra cost to fly direct. There is nothing worse than getting stuck en route to your vacation and losing out on a day of sightseeing or more. It may seem like a big difference when you’re pricing out tickets, but in the end wouldn’t you rather get that vacation started as soon as possible? Obviously sometimes layovers are unavoidable, but if you can help it, fly direct! If you’re really looking to save a buck, book that cost-saving connection on your flight home.
  2. Good luggage. If you’re only traveling once a year, or rarely book air travel, this one doesn’t really apply to you. I’ve taken planes, trains and automobiles in 20 countries across 6 continents and I’ve watched three sets of luggage fall apart on me thanks to the “care” of baggage handlers. Of course, as luck would have it, it never happens as I’m traveling back home. If you’re frequently flying please invest in good luggage!! You won’t regret it.
  3. Loyalty pays. Usually you can get your choice of flights within a reasonable range, and saving $20 bucks by using that random airline might seem like a steal. But here’s the thing, I’ve been loyal to the same airline for about 5 years now…I have status, my seats get upgraded for free, I never pay for luggage (for me or my hubby!), and I jump to the priority security screening lines. The overhead costs and time it saves me on each trip is totally worth that $20 extra for the ticket.
  4. In-flight entertainment. As a kid, the time I had to wait before a big event (birthday parties, play dates, grandparents arrival, etc.) was measured in how many episodes of Mickey Mouse Club I could watch before it was finally time. That concept isn’t lost on adults, if you’re sitting in your seat with nothing to do the flight will last forever. I know there are people out there that would rather curl up with a book, but I can’t concentrate that long when my arrival is 6, 5, 4 hours away. The $5 airlines sometimes charge for access to movies, on-demand television or movies is totally worth the distraction to make your arrival seem faster.
  5. Planning out a draft itinerary in advance. I’m not saying you need to block out every last minute of your trip, but if you know what you want to see and accomplish on your trip, you’re a lot more likely to get it done. Think about the major sites you want to visit, how you plan to get there, and about how long it will take to see if you can fit it all in. If you have to forgo something later so you can take advantage of another opportunity at least you’ll know where your priorities are.
  6. Taking advantage of local guides. No one knows the city better than its inhabitants. I’ll never forget the trip to Berlin where I was introduced to “walking tours”. The concept was great, local 20-somethings gave you a tour of the city (at 4 hours it was no slouch tour) and you paid what you felt was appropriate at the end. Our tour guide was not a Berlin native, but had become so enraptured by the city that he decided to stay and be a tour guide. His passion for the city was passed on to each and every one of us, and we learned so much more than if we’d been on our own.
  7. Documenting your travels. One of the easiest ways to do this is through post cards. Pick up a few with pictures of your favorite sites, writing down your memories of the trip. You can save these as mementos of your travels, or send them to yourself for a nice surprise when you get home. Either way, there will be a day when you want to reflect on your trip, and what better way to do that than through reading your own words.

NOT Worth It:

  1. High-end hotels. So you saved up for months to finally hit up that coveted location. You want to see the sights, experience the culture, and overall have a blast. Are you really going to do all of that from your hotel room? Do you honestly need a 24 hour concierge and room service? Sure, I get paying for safety, and there *are* exceptions for special occasions (see my honeymoon post about Bora Bora), but on most vacations your best investment is on a room with your absolute must haves (private bath, double bed, linens provided) in a great location!
  2. Chain restaurants. My absolute biggest pet peeve!!! I did not travel 2,000 miles to try McDonald’s, Burger King, Hard Rock Cafe, or anything else I can get back home. Yes, my younger self was guilty of this all the time, but I’ve learned from my mistakes. The more publicized and highly rated a restaurant is, the more commercialized and higher you’ll pay for your food. Get out of your comfort zone and find a local hole in the wall!
  3. Skipping over places that don’t speak your language. I get a lot of people that disagree with me on this one, but hear me out. You’ll get a much better experience wandering through a little shop or restaurant where the owners can’t speak your native tongue than searching out a “big box” that can. Part of immersing yourself in a foreign culture is gaining understanding, that doesn’t always have to be verbal!! I have the fondest memories struggling through conversations trying to buy a pair of shoes in Italy, ordering dinner from a local restaurant in Ukraine, and bartering without ever saying a word. Trust me, the story you’ll come home with is worth the struggle.
  4. Sleeping in. Here’s a simple one for you…just don’t do it! Your bed will be there when you get home, if you get 8 hours of sleep every night while you’re away you will have slept through one third of your vacation. I know, I know, you took a vacation to rest from your normal schedule, but you didn’t pay hundreds or even thousands to lie in bed! Get out there and take advantage of your surroundings. My entire semester abroad in college we stayed out until 3 or 4 and somehow managed to get up early the next morning to go sightseeing. I don’t know how we did it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  5. Over-packing. This is a skill I’ve honed through the years. If you don’t use it every day, chances are slim you’ll need it while you’re away. Clothes can be washed, and aside from medications, you can buy just about anything you forget when you get there. Don’t try to become a human pack mule, you’ll have to lug that extra weight wherever you go. Cut it down to the necessities and leave room so you can bring home extras.
  6. Bringing back souvenirs for your 10 best friends. This is the one you only realize after spending tons of money on cheap tchotchkes that eventually will be thrown out. That shot glass, t-shirt, or whatever you were contemplating will take up valuable space in your luggage and usually isn’t really appreciated by everyone when you’re buying in bulk. However, if something you come across strikingly reminds you of a good friend and you think they’d appreciate it, then absolutely go for it. But steer clear of the souvenir shops filled with mass produced trinkets!