Thursday, December 29, 2011

Just the Two of Us....

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I took our first Mother/Daughter trip.  Now, we have traveled together before, but never just the two of us and I will admit, I was very nervous about spending 5 full days alone with a teenager.  But we were both looking forward to our time together, but more than that - I was looking forward to some much needed beach time.

We arrived in St. Thomas, USVI on a Wednesday afternoon and the locals gave us a friendly welcome.  From the airport, we were whisked away in a cab to where we would spend the first half of our trip, the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef.  We arrived with a group of other travelers to learn that our room was not quite ready.  This was fine with me, but I could tell that my daughter was a little irritated as she was ready to get out of her “traveling clothes” and into something more comfortable, maybe a pair of shorts and tank top.  I invited her to come and tour the pool area with me so that when our room was ready, we could jump right into our suits and into the water.  That seemed to distract her – but for just a moment.  Within 15 minutes, the first of many questions came:  "do you think our room is ready yet?  and if not, how soon do you think it will be ready?"  Ahhhhhhh – that is when I realized that this child was going to ruin every bit of quite time I was planning to have.

Eventually we made it to our room and the child was pleased.  The room received a thumbs-up from her, we both jumped in the shower, threw on some island appropriate clothes and we were off to schedule our snorkeling tour, grab some dinner and plan our stay.  Wait?!  Plan our stay?  I already had our stay planned – beach, read, sleep, listen to music, repeat.  She can’t be serious:  99 Steps, Bluebeard's Castle, Paradise Point, Mountain Top, Shopping?!  Who gave this child access to the internet?!  I had to come up with an alternate plan.  I was deep in thought at dinner (best burgers EVER - Duffy's Love Shack) while she chatted and chatted away.  I thought I had a plan:  I would distract her with shopping first thing in the morning.  I figured the walking around town would wear her out and by noon she should be ready for a nap and some relaxing in Magens Bay would be all mine!  But who was I kidding?  She was 16, not 6.  There would be no napping.  I had to give in to the fact that this was her vacation, her time….I snapped out of my thoughts just in time to hear her say: “can we get some ice cream?” 

The next day, I gave up on my plan to nap and let her lead me around the island.  From downtown shopping in Charlotte Amalie to 99 steps to Bluebeard’s Castle to luxury shopping at Yacht Haven Grande to Mountain Top to Magens Bay.  YES!  Magens Bay where I was allowed an opportunity to lay in the sun (which was already starting to disappear) and enjoy the crystal blue water; but only for a moment before the next question was asked: “what are we doing next?”  And we were off…..

The following day was pretty much the same.  Snorkeling tour and more questions…..what’s this, where’s that, and her all-time favorite – what are we doing next?  Sigh...does this child turn off?  I was exhausted, and still had no tan lines.  When will vacation begin I wondered?

We left St. Thomas after two nights and headed over to St. John for the last leg of our trip.  Here, it was more of the same.  Shopping and eating.  Walking and talking.  Laughing and learning.  I was beginning to enjoy her (and her questions) as we jumped the waves at Trunk Bay and wondered the beach looking for sea shells.  I was enjoying getting to know who she is now, as a young adult, exploring the world and Tweeting as she went.  I suddenly realized that this is how she vacations, and her version was different from my version.  I accepted that.
There were moments that showed me how much she has grown, and no longer needs me; but there were also moments that showed me in a lot of ways, she is still my child and will always need me.  I watched as she played in the sand and explored the water with her new goggles.  I laughed when a huge wave came and, in her words, tried to take her out.  By the end of the trip there was something different about our relationship.  Our bond had become stronger.   There was a better understanding and appreciation for each other and our differences.  No longer were we just Mother/Daughter, we were also friends.

As we walked hand-in-hand onto the plane headed home she asked one last question: “where are we going next?”  Any where you want child, any where you want.

See more pictures at www.facebook.com/2girlsbikini

Sunday, November 27, 2011

No Boys Allowed

Every year, me and a few girlfriends take at least one trip together. I am not sure when this tradition started, but I know that my first girlfriend trip was to Acapulco with 2 girlfriends, my sister, my Mom and my aunt. We laid around poolside for DAYS eating nachos and "pool hopping" in order to be present for each happy hour!
 
As I plan my travels for the year (yes, I plan them out far in advance) I always set aside 2 or 3 vacation days for my girls get away. Even though we get together throughout the year for various reasons, our get away is highly anticipated.  Our planning usually begins 6 – 9 months out when I email my girls to see who is interested in going where, giving 3 or 4 suggestions. The email discussion is always part of the fun as we joke about who is going to respond, if they respond at all, and why I'm always talking vacation. We re-live experiences on the previous get away, take jabs at each other and voice our roommate preferences. Since I'm the planner of the group, I typically narrow it down to 2 locations, send price estimates for each, and voila - after months of email chains and maybe some in person discussions over dinner - a decision is made and I begin to work my get away magic.
 
As I look back on previous get aways, I have come to realize that the location isn't as important as the time spent.  Sure, we enjoy luxury accomodations and super soft sand; but it's the therapy of being together that makes it so important to us. Our poolside sessions have helped each other through break-ups, divorces, weight gain, loss of a parent, and career decisions. We laugh, cry, discuss bad hair dos, bad (and good) boyfriends, remember bad karaoke sessions and even bad lap dance attempts. We talk about who has the most grey hair, who is the oldest (as if that ever changes), who has a new relationship, who is keeping their marriage exciting (and how). We eat, drink, nap, swim, snorkel, jet ski, shop, explore, get massages/facials and dance our days/nights away.
 
On our latest girls get away, we broke a cardinal rule. We allowed a husband, a boyfriend and a male friend to join us. Don’t get me wrong, we love our men; but there was something about having male counterparts present that made the conversation less open – made the fun, less – well, fun.  We couldn’t possibly talk about menopause symptoms, grey hair “down there”, or the botched attempt to be sexy.  There was no talk of thong versus boy shorts, waxing versus shaving, sexual likes and dislikes.  We couldn’t talk about the things that make us, us.   
Collectively, we realized just how much we missed our time alone and while we still enjoyed each others company, one decision regarding the next get away had already been made: NO BOYS ALLOWED.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Vacationer or Traveler? Which one are you?

After a few conversations with some well seasoned travelers, I have accepted the fact that I am not a traveler; I am in fact, a Vacationer but hoping to make the transition to Traveler.    Up until recently, I didn't realize that there is a distinct difference between the two.  Just in case there are others out there in the same state of confusion, let me tell you what I've been told. 

Vacationer - someone who visits a particular location and is interested in tours, things to see and do. Has no interest in the people, culture or history of a country.  Will spend most of his/her time "vegging" out and relaxing for a few days in a beautiful location while staying in plush accommodations. Vacationers don't like being uncomfortable and will complain about things such as being too hot and will certainly not drink tap water. 

Traveler - someone who immerses him/herself in a country. Usually in this place for an extended amount of time, blending in and getting to know the people and the culture.  Not interested in tours or group activities and not usually concerned with the small details, but will take each day as it comes, sometimes working odd jobs to finance their continued travels. Travelers are often uncomfortable and will backpack, sleep in tents and/or with a group of other travelers they just met on the train - but almost never in a lush hotel. 

Now, while I have some Traveler traits, I do have more Vacationer traits than I'd like to admit. For instance, some of my friends call me a "hotel snob" because my first question when approached about a travel opportunity is "Where are we staying?". Now I know most of you are in the thought camp of "I'll only be sleeping in the room", but ONLY is a strange word when it comes to sleeping and after a day of activity - I would really like to get a good nights rest.  Being comfortable is a big part of that!

The biggest struggle I will have in my transition from Vacationer to Traveler is the immersion in the culture, more specifically, the food.  Let me first say that my diet at home consists mostly of burgers, pizza, and anything pasta (horrible, I know). So, when I travel, I usually stick to the same routine, but will add some fresh seafood and fruit.  However in some countries they leave the head (and eyes) on the fish!  Eeewww - creepy. And I am very sensitive to smells. Anything that had a strong smell, or even too spicy, forget about it.

As I mentioned, I do have some Traveler traits. For instance, I'm very interested in the people and history of a destination. I will take some time to read about my destination prior to arrival. I try and get to know their customs and a little about their history. In between my beach time, I will visit any any historical or architectural sites in the area. I will take public transportation, walk the streets of the city, and go to local hot spots; usually alone and not on a tour since I don't like to be on someone else's schedule (which is why I don't cruise, but that's another post).

I know my journey from Vacationer to Traveler is going to take some time and adjusted thinking. Being aware of the differences and allowing myself to be open to the experience is a good start. Besides, I will drink tap water - that has to count for something, right?!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I'm a Cancun addict

My name is Angela and I am a Cancun addict.

They say admitting is the first stepping to recovery, however if there's a cure for this...y'll know the rest. I can't say when my addiction to the clear blue water of the area began, but I started visiting this Spring Break hot spot early in my traveling career. As I have grown and matured, so has my obsession with everything Cancun.

Now some of you may say "Angela, there are better beaches in the Caribbean" and that may be true, but my heart always leads me back to Cancun. Let me give you a few reasons why you can never go wrong with Cancun:

Accessibility - you can get direct flights to Cancun from most major US cities. From Chicago, I can leave home in the morning and have my toes buried in the sand just in time for lunch. As a matter of fact, I am writing this post from a flight to Miami where I will party the night away, hop on a 8:30am flight and be in Cancun (for the third time this year) before I'm even completely awake!  And if you catch a good sale, airfare won't require too much of a sacrifice.

Weather - Between 240 and 253 days of pure sunshine per year, what else is there to say?  I have visited during the winter months and during the summer months. I don't have a preference (hey, I wouldn't be a true addict if I did). Summer is MUCH hotter, so if you don't like extreme heat, this is not the time for you.

Activities - there are activities for every age and skill level.  You can visit an ancient Mayan ruin, see an underwater museum, swim in a Cenote, zipline, visit an ecological park, hike, horseback ride, or my favorite activity - nothing at all. I shared Cancun with a group of friends earlier this year and there was never a lack of activities to keep us occupied. Some of us snorkeled, some did not. Some jet skied, some did not. Some were a little more active, some laid around the pool constantly (no names please).  But all of us had a great time. A few years ago, my children had the pleasure of their first trip to my secret hide out. They boogie boarded and drank virgin strawberry daiquiris from sun up to sun down.  It took at least a week for their tongues to return to it's normal color!

Do it up - or don't, it's totally up to you. From all-inclusive resorts to hotels for budget minded travelers, there are plenty of options to choose from. Where I stay usually depends on the purpose of my trip and the company I'm keeping. My first trip this year was with 2 girlfriends and we lounged around a gourmet all-inclusive resort in Riviera Maya for 48 hours then headed home refreshed and ready to tackle what was left of Chicago winter.

Access to other fabulous locations -  from Cancun you can hop on a ferry and visit Isla Mujeres, an island just 8 miles across the Bay of Women, where you can enjoy more beautiful beaches. Or you can head to Playa del Carmen (a fab location all it's own) and hop on a ferry to Cozumel where you can dive or snorkel  Mesoamerica Reef, the largest reef in the Western hemisphere.

Festivals, parties and beach clubs - be careful, you might find yourself in the middle of a dance floor!  Throughout the year, there are festivals and celebrations taking place in Cancun and surrounding areas. I went to the area a few years ago right after the Thanksgiving holiday and found out that the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival was going on - and guess what, it was completely FREE. Yep, jazz on the beach while sipping a margarita, whoot-whoot.  If clubbing is your thang, you will find a variety of places to hang. From hip-hop to rock to reggae to techno to country, Cancun and Playa Del Carmen has some of the best clubs/lounges around.

My most favorite thing about Cancun is that it's never the same place twice. Each trip is a different experience, filled with new activities, or some old favorites if I choose. I am sitting on the plane next to a couple that is staying in Akumal - hmmmm, I've never been there before (wheels turning, looking for my next opportunity to visit).

This trip I'm flying solo, headed to the Mi Casa Holiday taking place in Playa Del Carmen.  This is the 3rd year this event has taken place, but the first time I've attended. I'm excited about the weekend and what's to come.....I think a new adventure is on the horizon.

Stay tuned....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Unassuming Traveler by MJ (Guest Blogger)

Yes, I am the unassuming traveler.  If you look up the definition of unassuming, you will find:  Exhibiting no pretensions, boastfulness, or ostentation; modest.  That about sums me up when it comes to traveling.  Now do not get me wrong, some say I travel a lot.  Relative to many others, I do.  But if I had my way, I would get out and explore even more.  I take trips, not so I can tell you where I have been.  I take trips, so I can ‘be there’.  Wherever ‘there’ is.  I take trips because it is a calling, from my inner spirit.  Ok, before you say this girl has gone off the deep end, hear me out.

Ever since I can remember, I have always had a strong desire, or need, if you will, to go somewhere.  As a pre-teen, I used to pretend my bedroom was a cute, shabby-chic studio apartment in a Harlem brownstone.  I need the comfort of a change of scenery.  I like the ‘high’ of feeling I have paid little, for a lot.  I want to switch things up, when possible, to keep life fresh, and to be honest, keep me sane.

As in my everyday life, I am a discount, sale shopper.  I find deals for trips and flights.  I wait for a better prices.  I patiently stake out Living Social’s Escapes on Wednesdays for the latest travel package.  Then when the time comes, I pounce like a big cat in the jungle.  I cannot even begin to explain the feeling of finding that deal, to that place.  Wherever the place is, it needs to fit me like a glove.  Just like in a thrift store when I am shopping for vintage gems, I know how to spot a good deal quickly and toss the overpriced rubbish to the side. 

I am not alone either.  My best friend Antoine, my #1 travel companion, always keeps his eyes open too.  Just yesterday, an email came through my Blackberry for a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  The package deal was sweet, so immediately I contacted Antoine for a second opinion.  Now for the next 7 days before this deal expires, we will research, fact check and stalk this sale until we have come up with a reasonable decision.  Yeah, it’s that serious.

I do not have the luxury of having a lot of expendable cash and lots of vacation days.  My trips are serious business to me.  Here it is September 2011 and I am already planning my BFT (best friends trip) for the upcoming year.  We casually already have about 3, yes, 3 trips swirling around in our heads for 2012:  a trip to visit Antoine in Vegas (I try to  visit him in whatever city/state he is currently residing), a much needed trip to NYC (we’ve got shopping and plays to hit up), a quick getaway to Mexico (if possible, gotta get some beachtime) and the big kahuna, our BFT trip (I’m shooting for Europe).  The funny thing is, we can make it happen, even with my limited 2 weeks of vacation.  You see, we have done it before.  In 2010, I managed a Mediterranean cruise, Cancun and New York.  Mind you, I just started my current job and had prorated and limited vacation days.  This year, in an effort to keep ‘my traveling down’, I have already been to NYC and Puerto Vallarta.  Yes, I consider that an ‘off travel year’.

I am not rich, but I try to live life richly.  There is so much ‘out there’ to explore.  From a spiritual outlook, the Creator (insert whomever you believe this to be), has bestowed upon us a playground, with vast, but limited resources.  Why not take advantage?  Now let the travel church say Amen!

Check out MJ’s blog http://mjmilkyway.blogspot.com/

Friday, August 26, 2011

Kid Free Flight? YES!

Ok, ok…before you go and get your picket sign, let me just say that I love kids, I really do.  I just don’t like the uncontrollable one that sits behind me kicking my seat on a 4-hour flight!  Outside of animals in the cabin, which seems to be a new trend, an uncontrollable kid on a flight is my biggest traveling pet peeve.  So can someone tell me why parents don’t (or can’t!!) just keep their children in “check” during a flight?!  My theory?  The same kid who is poking me through the arm rest and playing in my hair is the SAME uncontrollable kid in Target screaming “NO, I want the red one!”  Unfortunately, those are the kids that are giving all traveling kids a bad name.  So parents, here’s a fact:  if your child does not know how to control him/herself in a public setting, then your child probably can’t control him/herself on a plane and I honestly do not want your child in the seat behind me on a plane.  Sounds cruel?  Before you judge, please let me give you an example...
On a recent flight from Los Angeles, a father and his son sat behind me.  The father, while in his iPod induced stupor, totally ignored the child as he managed to invade my space and jar me from my memory of all things sand.  I gave the child many dirty looks, with the last one being met with his tongue pointed in my direction.  I asked the father, very nicely, if he could have the child cut out the annoying behavior; but he looked at me as if I were the culprit.   Sigh….
On the other hand, there are some parents that do not know how to control themselves in a public setting while traveling with children.  For instance, soiled diapers should NOT, under any circumstance, be changed on the seat.  There are areas designated for that, yes even on a plane.  Geez…… 
Needless to say, I applaud Malaysia Airlines’ decision to ban kids from first class on some of their flights.  And while I rarely fly first class, I believe that a premium seat deserves a premium experience.  Apparently, I am not the only way who feels this way.  In a survey conducted by Skytrax, 9 in 10 respondents said families with children should be seated in a separate section on flights, presumably not in first class.
If there was an airline that offered a completely kid-free alternative, that would be the airline for me.   I cherish the vacations that I work so hard to afford and getting to and from my destination is a part of that experience.  Usually on the flight to my destination, I am browsing magazines and planning my daily activities.  On the way home, I am reliving each memory, savoring each detail of my trip as if it were Filet Mignon; and like fine dining I don’t want the experience ruined by yelling, screaming, kicking me in the back kids.
Let me be clear; I am not saying that you shouldn’t be able to travel with your children, but I am saying that I should be able to choose whether or not I want to travel with your children.  One passenger from the survey previously mentioned stated “As long as the parents have raised their children properly — as far as behavior goes — there should never be a problem on a flight.”  But that’s another blog…..

Sunday, August 21, 2011

WHY NOT...

A few people have asked me, "why 2 Girls & A Bikini.  what's it all about?", and my standard answer is "WHY NOT"?!  Why not have a place where people can share travel experiences and learn about new travel destinations.  A place where you can share your favorite travel memories…a place to read about other travelers’ experiences…a place to find current sales without spending all day surfing the internet…a place to post questions about destinations you are considering…or a place to go and simply daydream while staring at pictures of far off places. Why not?


2 Girls & a Bikini was created for my friends and family who are always asking me about my travel plans and how they can join me on my “adventures”.  Some friends believe that I have a, ummmm, sponsor.  Really, I just do the research, find the best deals and plan early.  For instance, I already have two vacations planned for 2012!  Crazy?  Maybe.  But planning in advance allows me to have my vacations completely paid for prior to traveling AND it gives me something to look forward to.

So why 2 Girls & A Bikini…WHY NOT?  Why not cruise the French Riviera?  Why not snorkel the clear blue waters of St.Maarten?  Why not lounge on the beaches of Aruba?  Why not party the night away in Cancun or sway your hips to some reggae in Jamaica?

Why not…even if it’s just via a Facebook page or blog – for now.

Happy Traveling!

Angela