Category Archives: Travel Tips

11 Unexpected Things About Ireland

Ireland was really WPT’s trip. I had a few places I wanted to see, but it was really more about fulfilling a promise I made him several years ago. So expect more in-depth posts from him and some nonsense from me. Starting now…

1) DRIVING

I expected to drive on the left-side of narrow roads. I had driven on the left before, but that was 15 years ago. What I didn’t expect was to find the drivers in Ireland to be the most polite I’ve ever encountered. I’m used to driving in one of the most aggressive regions in the US. The drivers in Ireland were such a pleasant surprise. Slower cars and trucks pulled over to let faster traffic pass, people took turns merging, and there was friendly waving and a lack of beeping. I shed my East Coast skin of speed and rage and cautiously wound my way around the island.

Driving the Ring of Kerry
Driving the Ring of Kerry

Much like people ask, “Did that tattoo on your foot hurt?” and my response is generally, “Why, yes, it did. Quite a lot.” People similarly ask about driving in Ireland. The narrow, often dark and rainy, winding roads were very challenging. In fact, after driving all day I was completely spent. I was usually rewarded with scotch and a hot bath for my efforts. I should also mention the black ice. Yeah, that was unexpected. I deserved a badge of some kind for dealing with several miles of that shit and not a scratch on the car or any of us. Ultimately, after 1829km, I could hit a roundabout at speed and merge like a pro.

Pointless studying
Pointless studying

We brought several maps with us, but they were useless at times. Actual street names are something of a secret handshake known only to locals and postal carriers. They change block-to-block and I saw one instance where different sides of the same street were known by different names. WPT deserves a badge for navigating.

2) PORRIDGE

Oatmeal tastes better when you call it porridge.

3) SELFIE STICKS

People really use selfie sticks. This is weird. We saw one guy with a selfie stick and iPad at the Giant’s Causeway. He appeared to be having a great time with himself.

Selfie Date
Selfie Date

4) THIS DISPENSER IN A HOTEL TOILET

What more could you need?
What more could you need?

5) MY BRAIN EMPTIED

Those of you who know me in real life know that my attention is all over the place. I tend to have 2-3 trains of thought going at any given time. Not so in Ireland. I had to concentrate fully while driving. The usual din of brain chatter was quelled. I focused like I hadn’t focused in years (maybe decades). I was thrilled to see it was still possible. An odd side-effect was that my brain was empty and quiet at night. I actually slept. It was amazing.

6) THE QUIET MAN

In the village of Cong there’s not only a statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, there’s a museum and a gift shop devoted to The Quiet Man. You may want to take a moment and sit on the bench devoted to the movie and reflect on that.

Ireland-0921 Ireland-4554 Ireland-4555Ireland-4555-2

7) EIGHT-YEAR-OLDS IN BARS

People are downright pleased to see an 8-year-old in a bar, requesting songs, at 10pm on a Tuesday night. The 8-year-old was ours.

I loved the child-friendly attitude and that people were so nice to our son.

8) JOHN DENVER

Based on live music we heard, John Denver is very popular in Ireland. Or maybe just the song Country Roads.

9) PICKLED ONION CRISPS

Ireland-4636

Simply undeniably delicious.

10) AIR

For unknown reasons I expected the air to be clean and smell of damp earth and the ocean. Instead it often smelled smoky from all of the wood and peat burning hearths. It was also colder than usual.

11) CONFLICT

Conflict
Conflict

There is a constant struggle between the permeating damp and dry heat. The greatest casualties in this war appear to be paint and hair.

Battle of the Split Ends
Battle of the Split Ends

Random Travel Tips

Probably my single biggest tip is the one I have the most trouble remembering. Travel is messy, unplanned, and you can’t control it. Those are reasons I love to travel, but also the reasons my nerves are rather bad at the moment. For all the planning, list-making, packing two weeks in advance, and generally obsessing, there’s nothing you can really do but roll with the punches when you get a staph infection, then a cold, then your kid gets an abscessed tooth, your beloved dog needs medical tests, then as you start to come out from under the cold your partner gets it. All of this a week before the biggest trip you’ve taken in 15 years. A trip you have planned for eight years. A trip that means more than a trip.

But we made it to Boston for our six-hour layover before we head to Dublin. So in an effort to make the most of that time, I thought I would share a few travel tips.

WEBSITES:

Google maps – if you aren’t sure where you are going, use street view to get a sense of the place and to look for landmarks.

Kayak – when I am looking for flights I often start by plugging dates and cities into Kayak to see what pricing looks like. Often there are tips about better dates and times to travel. I usually end up booking direct to avoid fees, but Kayak is a good place to do research.

Atlas Obscura – like weird places? This website is nothing but weird places and maps and directions to find them.

APPS:

Roadside America – Like muffler men, giant balls of string, and other roadside attractions? Roadside America offers reviews and lets you know when you are near weird shit in the US.

Pinbox – this app lets you drop pins and information to create personalized maps. They can also be accessed offline.

Happy Cow – Looking for vegetarian food and health food stores when you travel? Happy cow lets you know what is near you, whether they are vegan, vegetarian, or veg-friendly, and offers user reviews.

MAKING LIFE EASIER (or maybe just justifying my compulsive behaviors):

Documents – Make a copy of your important travel documents and contents of your wallet and leave them in a safe place at home or with someone you trust, just in case. I lost my wallet while traveling a few years ago. I was frantic, trying to remember which cards were in there and what needed to be canceled.

Maps – I know people love their smart phones and GPS devices, but nothing beats a real map. 1) the map will not run out of batteries, 2) a map doesn’t need a signal, 3) the map doesn’t sass you when you make a wrong turn, 4) maps tell you where you could go, not just where you are going, and 5) how else will you learn about places like Knob Lick, Kentucky? I’m a huge fan of the National Geographic waterproof maps; they don’t tear and they offer points of interest that are actually interesting.

Budget – about 10 or so years ago I was standing in a line at LAX waiting to pick up a car. I was worried I would grow old in that line. People with magical powers seemed to walk in, bump to the head of another line, sign something, and get keys. I wanted to be in that line. So I signed up for Budget’s FastBreak program and now I am the asshole with magical car rental powers. It is free and makes renting much easier.

Food – it is pretty simple, bring a little bit of food with you. There’s nothing worse than being travel-tired and hungry. Nuts, bars, whatever, but something of substance that will keep you going when lying down in the middle of the street or concourse seems like a good idea.

Postcards – I like getting postcards, I like sending postcards. If you are traveling domestically, buy stamps before you leave. Seriously, you’ll never actually buy them while you are away, no matter how well-intentioned you are. Also, make mailing labels before you leave. This means you know who you sent a postcard to and who you didn’t. It also means you aren’t asking mailcarriers to read your wretched, hungover handwriting.

Lists – I mentioned lists in my last post, but they really are a lifesaver. I create a few separate lists – things I need to buy, bring, make, and do and mark them done as the weeks pass. I also add to them as I remember things, like chargers, bras, instant Cuban coffee, cough medicine, and more cough medicine. For certain places I reuse lists because not much changes.

Toiletries – I created a separate set of travel toiletries and keep them at the ready. It makes packing easier and the likelihood of forgetting stuff diminishes.

Ziploc bags – I love Ziploc bags. They are great for toiletries, and other items that could spill on the rest of your luggage, but they are even more ideal for the trip home. Wet bathing suit, muddy shoes, and filthy laundry – this is where traveling with three sizes of Ziploc bags seems like a completely reasonable eccentricity.

I’m sure I have more tips to share that are just as random. Perhaps in a future post…

The Ecstasy of Lists

When I was about 19-20 I started a travel fund, saving $5-10 a week in my Tardis bank. I still save money from every paycheck to support daydreams of far-off places. When WPT and I planned our first trip together in 1999, he was unemployed and I was working for a non-profit. That trip happened because friends and friends of friends offered us places to sleep, we ate at gas stations, and we used my credit card. It took us a year to pay off that trip and it was worth every penny. Now, 15 years later, we are still planning trips, sometimes while we are already on one. Each November we find ourselves debating where to go in January, to mark the anniversary of that first trip. One change is that our son, Garnet, is now part of the adventure.

For me, the planning is part of the fun. The two months leading up to the trip I research places to visit, foods to eat, pour over maps, and create lists. So many lists. Things I need to remember to bring, to do, to look up, and to buy. I obsess. I fret. I worry. And I love every minute.

This year we are going to Ireland. This is the trip we started talking about when WPT got sick in 2007. We could have gone once he was well, but we wanted to wait until our son was old enough to go and it not be seven tortuous days for all involved. This is Garnet’s first international trip and our first cold-weather winter destination in over a decade. He is a great traveler, but all-day travel and no sleep can test even the most airport-hardened soul. I’m more worried about cold, damp feet, so socks have appeared and reappeared on my lists. I think about socks more than I should.

As I obsess I will try and distill the useful bits and offer some travel tips in the coming weeks. I will also attempt to justify packing 2-3 weeks before we leave, but this year I promise to remember Garnet’s underwear (it was just that one time I forgot, I swear!).

Daytrips From Baltimore: Cross Island Trail / Blackwater Distillery

Cross Island Trail
Cross Island Trail

Many bicyclists thrive on adrenaline-fueled treks across rocky or wooded terrain, or long-distance hauls of a hundred miles or more. Not me. While I do not shun physical exertion or breaking a sweat, I’m a walker, not a runner; my workaday life offers enough white-knuckle adventure for my taste. Come the weekend, I prefer pedaling through nature at a more leisurely pace. Maryland’s Kent Island – just east of the Bay Bridge (Route 50), about an hour’s drive south of Baltimore – provides just that. (En route, Wawa store #569, off Route 50 Exit 29A, makes an ideal pit stop, offering clean restrooms, reasonably priced fuel, food ranging from prepared sandwiches to fresh fruit to every kind of processed junk, and, of course, top-notch coffee.)

Cross Island Trail
Cross Island Trail
Lunch from Wawa
Lunch from Wawa

Unlike some of the state’s more congested bike trails, Kent Island’s Cross Island Trail, an east-west route running between Stevensville and Kent Narrows, is never crowded. The paved six-mile asphalt trail is open to skating, walking, running, and biking. Its consistently flat terrain makes it ideal for families with young children, older users looking to avoid high-traffic areas, and anyone simply out to enjoy the scent of salt air and the island’s towering pines.

Cross Island Trail
Cross Island Trail

We favor setting out from Terrapin Nature Park, at the Trail’s western terminus, as the Chesapeake Exploration Center, at the eastern end, makes for an excellent mid-ride break (more on that later). A playground near Kent Island High School, about a mile out, is a welcome pit stop for small children. Farther along, the Trail wends its way through alternating patches of forest and wetlands. Use caution at the handful of highway crossings; while many drivers will stop to allow trail-users to pass, some do not.

Cross Island Trail, crab spider hard at work
Cross Island Trail, crab spider hard at work
Panorama view from the top of Chesapeake Exploration Center
Panorama view from the top of Chesapeake Exploration Center

Upon reaching Kent Narrows, grab your water and snacks and climb the spiral stairs of the three-story outdoor observation platform at the aforementioned Exploration Center for a marvelous view of the Narrows, the Chester River, and their attendant varieties of marine traffic. Downstairs, visit the indoor interpretive center, offering all manner of island life and history ranging from the ice age to recent work by local artisans (not to mention very clean restrooms). The friendly staff will be happy to chat and answer any questions.

Chesapeake Exploration Center
Chesapeake Exploration Center
Chesapeake Exploration Center
Chesapeake Exploration Center
Chesapeake Exploration Center
Chesapeake Exploration Center

Of approximately equal length, the nearby South Island Trail, running from Matapeake Park to Romancoke Pier, provides a north-south alternative to the Cross Island Trail. However, but for the fishing pier at its southern end, this trail features little else of interest, especially for children.

Trail near Chesapeake Exploration Center
Trail near Chesapeake Exploration Center
Trail near Chesapeake Exploration Center
Trail near Chesapeake Exploration Center

While there is no charge for using either trail, it should be noted that, in 2014, Queen Anne’s County instituted paid permit parking for public spots like Matapeake Beach and Terrapin Nature Park. Seasonal ($35) and daily ($5) permits are available, however, they must be purchased from certain local businesses, which may or may not be open during park hours. While I have no problem paying a fee, especially if it benefits trail maintenance and patrols, having onsite purchase points would be infinitely more convenient and practical.

Baby Horseshoe Crab, Chesapeake Exploration Center
Baby Horseshoe Crab, Chesapeake Exploration Center

***

Situated in the unassuming office park just across the street from the entrance to Terrapin Nature Park is Blackwater Distilling, makers of the fabulously smooth Sloop Betty vodka. Maryland’s first fully-licensed distillery in more than 40 years, Blackwater offers free tours and tastings Friday through Sunday. Staples like Sloop Betty Honey utilize local, organic ingredients, while the distillery also produces various seasonal infusions throughout the year.

No bathtub hooch, Sloop Betty has won three Gold Medals, including the Gold Medal and “Best in Show” distinction at the New York World Wine & Spirit Competition, while The Tasting Panel magazine awarded the vodka a 94-point rating in its July 2011 issue. So take a bottle home, and keep your drinking money local!

WAWA STORE #569
321 Buschs Frontage Road, Annapolis, MD 21401
Hours: Open 24 hours
Phone: (410) 757-2328

CHESAPEAKE EXPLORATION CENTER
425 Piney Narrows Road, Chester, MD 21619
Hours: Open year-round 7 days/week (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Easter); Monday – Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., weekends 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Phone: (410) 604-2100
Admission: Free
Web: http://www.baygateways.net/general.cfm?id=74

BLACKWATER DISTILLING
184 Log Canoe Circle, Stevensville, MD 21666
Hours: Free tours offered Friday – Sunday, 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Phone: (443) 249-3123
Email: akeller@blackwaterdistilling.com
Web: http://www.blackwaterdistilling.com/
F
acebookhttps://www.facebook.com/BlackwaterDistilling

 

 

 

Welcome to Next Exit Travel!

Welcome to Next Exit Travel! If this is your first visit, you should know upfront that we are not a comprehensive travel site. Rather, we’re here to share the spots that other travel guides might miss or simple tips we’ve learned after decades of both broke and company-funded travel. We are very much about experiential travel. For example, did you know that you can sleep on a boat in Boston Harbor for about a 1/3 of what other area hotels cost? Or that Portland has a Passport for boozing? Or that some of the best snorkeling spots can be found just off shore? We go out of our way to go out of the way.

After almost 15 years of traveling together and for work, and writing about many of those travels independently, we decided it was time to finally launch this joint effort. You can go to the about page to read more about your travel curators.

For the first installments, we’ll share what we saw and experienced in Louisiana. As with many of the trips we will write about, this one started as a work trip and morphed into a short vacation. We tend to milk our waking hours for all that they are worth and often need a vacation from our vacations.

Thank you for joining us for the trip,

WPT and DGB