adventure

Our Celebratory New England Road Trip to Norfolk, CT

There was lot’s to celebrate last weekend – which called for a quick trip out of the city!

But before I get ahead of myself, I’ll divulge that the reason why I’ve been quieter on my blog this month is because I got a new job! Tomorrow I will start at a new media agency as an Associate Strategy Director for an international brand – which is a promotion. After working at the same company for five years, I am excited to start this new chapter in my career.

The two other reasons why my boyfriend and I planned a quick vacation are good, too! My boyfriend and I were celebrating our nine year anniversary AND he had completed a deal in his finance job! He had been working every day (including weekends) for a month straight, so we wanted to find a way to celebrate all three of those milestones and reconnect as a couple.

Thus, at the last minute we decided to book a quick trip that would be within driving distance from New York City for an overnight retreat. After getting several recommendations from friends for destinations within a two and a half hour drive of our urban life, we landed on a small town in northwest Connecticut called Norfolk.

There were dozens of these "welcome to Norfolk" signs throughout the town

There were dozens of these “welcome to Norfolk” signs throughout the town

Neither of us had been to this area of the country before, which is nestled in the hills below Massachusetts’ famous Berkshire Mountains. Norfolk was incorporated in 1758 (aka older than the United States itself!) and offered several things that enticed us. First, it contains easy and beautiful hiking opportunities at numerous nearby Connecticut State parks. Additionally, it has a small-town New England mentality (it hosted both a farmer’s market and library book sale while we were there – which we happily wound our way through while buying tons of souvenirs). Lastly, for a town of 1,800 people, it has a funky music and culinary scene that attracts folks from all over the region.

Common area near the front entrance at our hotel - Blackberry River Inn (huge fireplace!)

Common area near the front entrance at our hotel – Blackberry River Inn (huge fireplace!)

The hallways in the main building at the Blackberry River Inn

The hallways in the main building at the Blackberry River Inn

The breakfast room at the Blackberry River Inn

The breakfast room at the Blackberry River Inn

Our room in the cottage at the Blackberry River Inn

The cottage room at the Blackberry River Inn

Hiking: I am very enthusiastic about hiking, especially when there is a waterfall involved. My boyfriend and I were planning to drive up to Massachusetts to see Bash Bish Falls on Saturday until the front desk agent at our hotel (The Blackberry River Inn) recommended Campbell Falls State Park about fifteen minutes outside of Norfolk. Wanting to optimize our time, my boyfriend and I drove to the closer and recommended option. The hike was beautiful, and we meandered along a lazy stream until we finally reached the falls. I loved that I was able to scramble up one level of the waterfall to reach a landing where I felt isolated from the other hikers below. It was as if I had my own corner of nature. (Note: there are many other state parks within an hour drive of Norfolk, and we actually stopped at Kent Falls State Park on our way back to NYC on Sunday – it was more crowded and cost $15 for out of state residents, but it was VERY pretty!)

Hiking in Campbell Falls State Park

Hiking in Campbell Falls State Park

When Derek and I found our own private landing in the falls

When Derek and I found our own private landing in the falls

A bridge over the stream at Kent Falls State Park

A bridge over the stream at Kent Falls State Park

An easy hike at the base of Kent Falls

An easy hike at the base of Kent Falls

Food and Music: Norfolk may be best known for housing the Yale Summer School of Music as well as the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, but its music scene does not end there. We experienced Norfolk’s influence on local music via immersing ourselves in the crowd gathered on Saturday night to hear the Led Zeppelin cover band performing at the Infinity Music Hall and Bistro. My boyfriend and I popped into the neighboring Wood Creek Bar & Grill for some pre-dinner drinks around 7pm and could barely find a place to stand at the bar! Once the concert hall opened up and folks started wandering inside, we closed our tab and made our way next door into the Bistro attached to the music hall. There, we sat near six jovial New England couples in bright polos with popped collars while we all simultaneously chomped on delicious locally-sourced grub – an interesting contrast to the faint sound of rock music exuding from the other part of the building. That said, the food was divine and rivaled New York City quality cuisine. I had the free-range chicken while my boyfriend enjoyed the steak frites – very tasty!

Infinity Hall

Infinity Hall

Shopping: Along with the Farmer’s Market held on Saturdays as well as the book sale that the Norfolk Public Library that we stumbled upon, we also found several other noteworthy stores to explore. Along the main road (Rt. 44) was Freund’s Farm Market selling everything from fresh pies to local produce to gardening equipment. I can attest that the nectarines and plums we purchased were the tastiest we had eaten all summer! Additionally, there were several boutiques in downtown Norfolk. While I regret not pulling the trigger on buying a gorgeous locally carved butcher block cutting board at one of the artisan boutiques on Station Place, I did end up buying a beaded clutch  at another. There are many artists and craftspeople in the Norfolk area, and these local boutiques help you connect with their creative spirit.

Lastly, it’s important to note that there are copious antiquing opportunities in the area as well. We strolled through a high-end antique store in downtown Norfolk, which had a beautiful collection from historic New England and Europe. That said, the antique store we ended up making a purchase at (bookends) was found standing isolated on the side of Route 7, as if it was a checkpoint on the way to Kent. The older woman who owned the shop was incredibly chatty and even regaled us with the tale of when Meryl Streep came into her store and purchased several quilts!

Jars of jam for sale at the Norfolk farmer's market - I bought Strawberry Peach and it's delicious!

Jars of jam for sale at the Norfolk farmer’s market – I bought Strawberry Peach and it’s delicious!

Vendor tents and red wagons at the Norfolk Farmer's Market

Vendor tents and red wagons at the Norfolk Farmer’s Market

My boyfriend browsing the Norfolk Public Library book sale - one of the highlights of our weekend! We bought eight books!

My boyfriend browsing the Norfolk Public Library book sale – one of the highlights of our weekend! We bought eight books!

Rows of books at the book sale

Rows of books at the book sale

Gorgeous antique table in a shop in downtown Norfolk

Gorgeous antique table in a shop in downtown Norfolk

All in all, our two days in Connecticut were exactly what we needed to escape the urban masses and have a fun adventure as a couple. My biggest takeaway was how stunning and dynamic the countryside and its people are in that region – all just two and a half hours from the city! If my boyfriend and I are ever craving a hike or small town charm in the future, we now know just how/where to satiate that urge!

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TAOMO – The Art of Missing Out

FOMO. YOLO. Pop culture has turned these acronyms into the greatest forms of peer pressure in history.

These common phrases coupled with the popularity of photo sharing on social media have turned my entire generation into sightseeing fanatics. We want the coolest vacation picture. We want to see every tourist site and go to the trendiest restaurants.

My best friend Rachel and me on the rocky cliffs of Inishmore in the Aran Islands of Ireland.

My best friend Rachel and me on the rocky cliffs of Inishmore in the Aran Islands of Ireland.

Call me crazy, but not only do I get inspired on vacation – but I also get tired. Don’t judge. Hear me out.

Me resting in our hotel bed in Bath after a long day of sightseeing.

Me resting in our hotel bed in Bath after a long day of sightseeing.

Simply put, there are so many new things to see and so many sites on my list that I sometimes need down time in order to embrace being a tourist to the fullest. I inherently experience sensory overload from the abundance of new sights, sounds, and smells at each destination.

Additionally, being constantly on the go clashes with my desire to dwell in one place if I feel inspired or captivated.

Stopping to enjoy the stunning view at Bodnant Gardens in Wales.

That said, I’m not saying that I factor in slack days in order to recharge (although I may recommend it in specific circumstances). Au contraire! I’m saying that I have accepted that I may need to make compromises within my itinerary if I’m going to experience truly meaningful travel.

Which leads me to introduce my new acronym to you, dear reader:  TAOMO

It stands for “The Art of Missing Out.” TAOMO is the ability to say “no” to yourself while on vacation so you can savor parts of your adventure that you feel are enriching your soul the most.

At first it may feel unnerving. What if you never come back to this place!? You can’t afford to miss out on anything on your itinerary!

You want me to take a BREAK from sightseeing!?

You want me to take a BREAK from sightseeing!?

Take a deep breath, grasshopper.

Let’s use my experience of living in London as an example. When I resided in London for five months in 2009, I tried to hit up as many tourist attractions as I could afford on my small collegiate budget. However, it’s a HUGE city! Most tourists can’t see the whole thing in a full week! Plus, at the time, I was working a thirty-hour-per-week internship while also taking four classes. Therefore, when it came time for me to fly home after five months, I was shocked to realize I had not visited every place I wanted to see!

I never went to Tate Britain. I never stood on the Prime Meridian in Greenwich. I never took a photo while crossing Abbey Road. I never even went to Wimbledon despite being a life-long tennis player!

How could I not have seen everything I wanted to see?

How could I not have seen everything I wanted to see?

At first I was crushed. How could I not have prioritized seeing those last few sights when they felt so important to me!? But, when I started recounting the stories of my adventures to my family and friends at home, I realized that I had taken the time to embrace the true history and society of Britain. I had exercised TAOMO by prioritizing experiences that immersed me in British culture.

Outside our local tube station (Queensway).

Outside our local tube station (Queensway).

For example, on the same weekend that I toured the Tower of London, my friends and I also found a local pub in our neighborhood to call our own. I had also discovered a favorite fish and chips joint deep in the heart of Notting Hill. Further, I even started using quirky British phrases like “I couldn’t be bothered to go to the shop” in my daily speech! In essence, I had become a true Londoner during my time abroad – something I would not have accomplished if I had spent the entire time on the London Eye.

In the London Eye

The London Eye is actually pretty cool, just super touristy. 🙂

So, when I went back to London last summer for the first time in five years, I didn’t have a burning sense to cross the remaining attractions off my bucket list. Instead, I had developed an acceptance that the time I would spend soaking up London’s culture was far more valuable than having a photo in front of every monument.

That being said, I admit that I finally stood on the Prime Meridian last summer during my trip. However, I still have not been to Wimbledon. Or Tate Britain. But no FOMO here, folks! You can call it TAOMO, since I plan to go back to London again and again, and this gives me a reason to do just that!

Standing with Derek on the Prime Meridian.

Standing with Derek on the Prime Meridian in July 2014.

Do you have any thoughts about TAOMO or experiences with it that you want to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments!

How To NOT Go Over Budget While You’re On Vacation

It’s very easy to spend more than you expect when you’re on vacation. Even if you plan in advance, your “vacation brain” can set it. Actually, I think they call it YOLO these days.

We’ve all been there. You’re relaxing by the pool – it’s hot as heck – and you absolutely needed all four of those $8 strawberry daiquiris with the mini umbrellas that the pool boy placed on the table next to your lounge chair. Then you get the bill – $36 including tax! Plus you have to tip! Yikes. You just spent $43 and you haven’t even gone out to dinner yet.

After several OMG DANGIT moments like that in my travels, I learned that the tactic that works best for me is to map out my daily expenses ahead of my trip so I know exactly how much I’m in for.

You're at a moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee with your friends. Ergo, you will probably buy a few rounds.

You’re at a moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee with your friends. Ergo, you will probably buy a few rounds.

Please understand that my budgeting tactic does not involve planning every single detail of my vacation in advance. Au contraire, mon ami!

Instead, I map out what I know to be true, and give myself an allowance for the rest. Since many of my readers typically travel with at least one companion, I thought the most relevant example would demonstrate what it looks like to travel with a buddy for ten days. The example below is from my trip to Seattle and Vancouver in late summer 2013 – and my boyfriend was my buddy.

Planning to $5K Vacation Budget - my Vancouver/Seattle Trip 2013

Planning to $5K Vacation Budget – my Vancouver/Seattle Trip 2013

As you can see, I estimated each of our expenses by day, and included notes about what was planned in advance. Most notably, I divided up my budget tracker into four vacation expense types:

  • Transportation
  • Lodging
  • Food
  • Activities & Souvenirs

Based on my experience, all travel expenses will fall into one of those four buckets.

Ever since I started pre-planning my trips using this spreadsheet tool and making sure to stay within my allotted budgets, I have not had any issues with overspending at a “YOLO” moment. (for all non-Millennials reading this, YOLO stands for “you only live once”)  I know exactly what I can spend each day on food and souvenirs, and I stick to it.

A few budget-busting tendencies to avoid during your travels are:

  • Not packing what you truly need. Last year I went to Ireland in the springtime without waterproof shoes. On the second day of my trip, and after several spontaneous rain showers, I scoured the shops in Dublin for a pair of boots that could get me through the next six days. I ended up spending 60 euro on a new pair of shoes, and had to make up for that cost within my food and souvenirs budgets over the rest of the trip. Major bummer.

    Shopping with my best friend for warmer clothes in Cork, Ireland.

    Shopping with my best friend for warmer clothes in Cork, Ireland.

  • Not being realistic about your food/alcohol budget. You’re on vacation. You will most likely have at least one coffee and one alcoholic drink per day. If you’re planning to go out at night, budget for a few more drinks than you usually consume. It’s always better to over-estimate what you’re going to spend on food and drinks than under-estimate. And don’t forget about exchange rates! If you’re in London, there’s absolutely no way that you’re going to spend the equivalent of five dollars for lunch on-the-go.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/76657755@N04/7027596629

    Create a realistic budget for what you will spend. (image source: flickr.com)

  • Forgetting to account for fees. Before you leave, think through carefully when you’ll be charged specific fees. There are many examples of this to choose from. Most airlines charge around $25 to check a bag. Some hotels charge a small fee to print out your boarding pass. Some train stations have pay-per-hour lockers to store your bags for the day while you tour a city. If you’re renting a car, you may have to pay to park near a tourist attraction. Whatever the case may be, I recommend that you brainstorm all potential fees in advance of your trip so you can factor them into one of your four trip expense buckets.

    Think through all potential fees in advance so you're not caught by surprise (image source: timeshighereducation.co.uk)

    Think through all potential fees in advance so you’re not caught by surprise (image source: timeshighereducation.co.uk)

I hope I’m not being the bearer of bad news as I explain how expensive dream vacations can be. Trust me – I am just as eager as you to explore the world! And I know that people who read travel blogs are usually looking for inspiration rather than a reality check. So for that reason, I’m sorry!

But, by using my budgeting tool to help you take affordable trips, I sincerely hope I can help you experience an enjoyable vacation that you won’t have to pay off for several months upon your return. To me, that idea alone is inspirational!

So, feel free to download my vacation budgeting template here, located in my MeansToTravel google docs.

Here’s to hoping my tactics can work for you too!