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2024 Travel Show

Rick Steves at the 2024 Travel & Adventure Show

In 2023, we went to our first Travel and Adventure Show in Chicago after seeing a billboard saying Samantha Brown would be speaking there. We had a lot of fun at the show exploring the exhibits from locations around the world and hearing talks from travel experts. We got a lot of tips that made our travels in 2023 as epic as they were. So, we were excited to visit the show again. We had train tickets and a hotel for the whole long weekend. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans and a winter storm rolled in and canceled our train. We debated going a day earlier to still be able to enjoy the travel show, but I realized that if we couldn’t get to Chicago from 200 miles away, I’m sure some of the presenters we were looking forward to seeing would have the same issue.

So, we decided to do something crazy. We canceled all of our plans in Chicago (we did some tourism around home at the Motown Museum to make up for it), made our first claim against our annual travel insurance policy, and booked flights to the New York travel show just a few weeks later. We already had some plans at home that weekend so the whole trip was only about 30 hours. We didn’t have two full days to explore the show like we would have in Chicago, but we got to see Rick Steves and Phil Rosenthal which is what we were really looking forward to.

We loaded up our backpacks (because for only one night away what more do you need?) and took a cheap Spirit flight to New York. In the morning, we walked from our hotel, got some New York bagels, and walked to the Convention Center. The New York Travel show was much bigger than Chicago and had an additional stage for more speakers. We went right to the main stage when we got in to get a good seat to see Rick Steves. If you aren’t familiar with Rick Steves, he is the foremost expert on European travel and is probably the bestselling guidebook author of all time.

Us meeting Phil RosenthalLast year the experts hit home how important it is to travel light and be carry-on only. Rick Steves also talked about avoiding crowds when you travel by traveling off-season and when that is not possible, getting out early and late. Avoid being in the tourist areas in the middle of the day. He inspired me to plan a trip to some of those crowded European cities that I want to see, but have been avoiding because of the crowds. As he said, there is a reason everyone wants to go there. After his talk, I had him sign one of his books for me.

Phil Rosenthal is the host of the Netflix show, Somebody Feed Phil and his presentation was a Q&A format about his travels and his favorite foods. While I didn’t leave his presentation with a whole host of travel hacks, it was very enjoyable and he seemed just as genuine as he does on TV. After his presentation, we waited in a crazy long line to meet him and have him sign his book. It was worth waiting in line for this picture (left)!

Times Square

We spent a little time walking the exhibit booths after we met Phil, but it was so crowded you couldn’t even get close to most of them and they didn’t seem to be doing as many giveaways as last year. We ended up walking the whole floor and then leaving the show to get some lunch. This is the first time since we were in college that we really had time in New York (we did a cruise out of New York back in 2015, but we pretty much just went right to the ship and then drove home immediately after) so we wandered until we found a Dim Sum restaurant for lunch. We weren’t too far from Times Square so we wandered over there and found all of the people. Then, we pretty much took a taxi back to the airport and flew home. All in all, it was a crazy day but it was worth it! We will have to keep our eyes on flight prices to New York for the future because, with those prices, it’s not an unreasonable weekend getaway.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. To read campground reviews check out my Michigan Campground Reviews page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

How to Travel with Only a Carry-on

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For as long as I have been traveling, I have always checked my luggage. With budget airlines, sometimes it is cheaper to check your bags than to carry them onto the plane. But, carrying on your luggage allows you to skip the airline counter and baggage claim, saving a lot of time. When traveling from city to city in Europe, a large checked suitcase can be too difficult to maneuver over the cobblestone-lined hills. For our trip this past summer, I learned how to get by with only a carry-on bag and I want to share what I learned along the way.

  1. Plan to do laundry. Going carry-on only means bringing less clothing so if you are going to be gone for more than a few days, you will need to wash your clothes. Pick lodging that has laundry facilities or plan to find a laundromat. I recently discovered washer sheets that allow you to bring laundry detergent with you without taking up a lot of space in your bag.
  2. Pack light. This can be very hard if you are an overpacker like me. Pack a few outfits that you can mix and match and versatile shoes. I found this packing list that was very helpful for me for our Europe trip.
  3. Use Packing Cubes. I really didn’t think these would make much of a difference until I got some and they are a game changer and they keep your suitcase organized.
  4. Limit the liquids. Honestly, this is the hardest part for me. A lot of the basics like shampoo, conditioner, and body wash are provided by hotels and rentals and a lot of toiletries can be found in solid now: deodorant, bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, dry shampoo, and even toothpaste. This Refillable Toiletry Kit has helped me get more liquids into the 1-quart bag that TSA allows. Other things like sunscreen can be purchased at your destination and if you have any leftover at the end of your trip if you are staying at a vacation rental, you can leave it behind for the next guests.

Woman walking with carry-on suitcase

Learning to travel with only a carry-on bag adds flexibility to your travel and gives you extra time on your travel days. If you are checked-bag person like me, I suggest you try going carry-on only on your next trip and let me know how it goes! I want to hear from you, are you a carry-on only or a checked-bag traveler? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. To read campground reviews check out my Michigan Campground Reviews page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

2023: A Year in Review

Pena Palace

2023 has probably been the best year of travel for us so far. We had several amazing, life-changing trips and visited many new-to-us destinations. We started the year in an airport: as the clock struck midnight we were walking through the Atlanta airport for a few hours shut-eye before catching our early morning flight home from Puerto Rico.

We discovered a love of train travel this year and took several weekend trips to Chicago on Amtrak. The train takes about the same amount of time as driving and it allows you to relax and do other things as you travel. We have found our favorite neighborhood in Chicago (River North) and are planning to return in 2024.

Disneyland Train Station

In March we crossed off another state in my goal to visit all 50 states before I turn 40. This time, we headed to California and took a wonderful cruise that allowed us to see a lot of the coastal cities. I understand why so many people love California. Each place was more beautiful than the last. The cruise also took us to Mexico and we have been trying to figure out when we can squeeze in a return trip. It was our first Celebrity cruise and it will not be our last. And of course, I realized my lifelong dream of visiting Disneyland.

In May, Chris went to a conference in Austin and I got to tag along for the weekend which was a fun way to break up the time between big trips. I have come to realize that some of the best meals of my life have been in the Austin area so I never turn down an opportunity to visit.

Sunset at Sea

Sunset at Sea

Less than 3 months after our spring cruise, we hit the sea again for our longest and most crazy cruise yet, a transatlantic from Florida to Portugal. It was a return to our favorite cruise line (Norwegian) after 3 cruises and it felt like coming home. The ports were amazing and afterward, we spent a week and a half exploring the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain) with a stopover in Iceland on the way home. This trip was life-changing and we’ve just been figuring out how to return to Europe since we got home.

Enjoying a Glass of Wine at Bonobo

We stayed closer to home in the second half of the year. We took a few camping trips around Michigan, and in August, we spent a week in one of our favorite places, Traverse City, and we took our furry friends. While traveling with the cats added some challenges, not having to worry about them while we were away was worth it for us.

In the fall, we discovered how one-night getaways can be a fun way to break up the routine without having to shell out the money for multiple nights of lodging. We spent a night in Milwaukee that was surprisingly enjoyable and I would love to go back and see more of the city.

Icelandic Sheep

Overall, this was a year of seeing new places for short amounts of time. I have added many new places to my “to return to” list which I put into writing this year. I am struggling to figure out where to go in 2024 between the places I have never been and the places I want to return to. This will probably be a lifelong struggle. Stay tuned to find out where I end up next year!

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. To read campground reviews check out my Michigan Campground Reviews page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

Tips for Traveling with Cats

Some of the links below are affiliate links and as such, I earn a small commission from purchases that allow me to continue telling you my stories without costing you anything extra. 

I’m sure if you’ve read this blog before, you know that I love to travel, but you might not know that I am the human to three cats as well. One of which, my little calico, Calliope, has separation anxiety and has even been hospitalized for it when we have traveled in the past. Luckily, we have a rock star pet sitter that knows how to handle her, but her refusing to eat during our three week Europe trip this summer added some stress to what was otherwise an amazing, life changing vacation. We wanted to take one more trip before I went back to work in August, but we didn’t want to put her through that stress again, so we decided to take a trip with the cats.

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Travel with dogs is common, but cats are not as easy to travel with and some accommodations need to be made to make sure it is a successful trip for everyone involved. Here are some of my tips if you ever want to travel with your feline friends:

  1. Know your furry friends. How do they handle new environments and travel in a carrier? Our black cat, Velvet, gets car sick, so she stayed behind with family. While Callie has separation anxiety, she has no issues in new environments so she makes a good traveling cat. Roary is super easygoing and has gone camping with us several times.
  2. You need a carrier that your cat is comfortable in. It is not safe for animals to be running free in a moving car. There are lots of different types of carriers: hard-sided, soft-sided, backpacks, etc. Hard-sided carriers can be difficult to get cats into so I prefer soft-sided carriers that open from the top.
  3. Keep the travel time as minimal as possible. It is difficult to set up a way for cats to use the litter box or drink water while traveling so keep the travel time short and don’t leave animals unattended in the car.
  4. Find accommodations that allow cats. Many properties on Airbnb will come up as pet friendly but then when you read the description it will say no cats or dogs only.
  5. Make your cats comfortable. I brought their pet beds and favorite blankets and I sprayed it all with calming spray. I brought some of their favorite toys and some treats too! Consider using a pheromone diffuser like Feliway. Bring a familiar litter box and put it on a hard floor, if possible.
  6. Keep their food and feeding schedules the same. Traveling is not a time to try a new food or routine. Save that for when you’re back at home. Make sure to bring any of their medications with you as well.
  7. Bring cleaning supplies. I brought urine remover spray just in case and covered the floor around the litter box with puppy pee pads. A lint roller was very useful and I wish I had brought a small dust buster vacuum to clean up all the fur. If possible, put any light-colored linens out of reach of cats, or cover them up. This Airbnb didn’t have much that was light colored, but one of the cats did vomit on the white bath mat which was not fun to clean up.

While it took more cleanup to travel with the kitties, I was glad to be able to take a trip without having to worry about little Calliope. I look forward to more trips with them in the future.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. To read campground reviews check out my Michigan Campground Reviews page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Icelandic Sheep

Two Days in Madrid

Palacio de Madrid

Some of the links below are affiliate links and as such, I earn a small commission from purchases that allow me to continue telling you my stories without costing you anything extra.

After our time in Toledo, we took an early train back to Madrid. Our flight wasn’t until the following evening so we had almost two full days to explore Spain’s Capitol.

We stayed in a boutique hotel near the Palacio de Madrid called Hotel Principio Pio which felt very similar to Hotel Per La in Los Angeles. One benefit to hotels when arriving at a destination early in the day is that often you are able to check in early. We arrived around 10 am and even though check-in wasn’t until 3 pm, our room was ready so we were able to set our bags down and relax a bit before we started to explore the city. I only really had two goals for our time in Madrid, the Prado Museum, and Palacio de Madrid. We decided to break them up and do one each day.

Plaza Mayor

Madrid’s Plaza Mayor

After settling into our hotel, we headed to the Prado. I was able to buy tickets online in advance which allowed up to skip the line. The Prado Museum is Spain’s premier art museum and is known to house one of the world’s finest collections of European art, especially Spanish art. Being my first visit to a European art museum, I enjoyed seeing new-to-me artists such as Goya, Francisco de Zurbarán, and El Greco. Probably one of my favorite parts of the museum was a special exhibit that showed the similarities between selected works of El Greco and Picasso. Picasso spent many hours in the museum in his youth and many of El Greco’s paintings were the inspiration for some of Picasso’s famous works. The Prado is also home to an older version of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. I could’ve stared at it for hours comparing it to the most famous one. If you enjoy art and art museums, the Prado is a wonderful museum that you need to visit in your life. Wonderful guided tours of the Prado can be found on Viator.

We started our second day in Madrid with a guided tour of the Palacio de Madrid. While I was able to get tickets to the Prado a few days in advance, all the tickets to the Palace were booked up so, to see it, we had to book a private tour. In the end, I am glad I did because our tour guide explained a lot about the palace and the history of Spain that you wouldn’t get just by walking through. It did get crowded at times, but we had earpieces so we were able to hear her even if we were separated, which was really nice. More tours should invest in this equipment!

Lions on the stairs of the Royal Palace

Lions on the stairs of the Royal Palace

The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest palace in Europe at 135,000 m2 (1,450,000 sq ft) and is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, although these days it is mostly only used for official functions. The palace is full of lavish furnishings and amazing Spanish art. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted in most of the palace so I don’t have any pictures to show you. One of the rooms that was open on our visit was the crown room where a rather simple-looking silver crown is on display. It is much less ornate than what I expected anyway and our tour guide explained that the Spanish “are not the British”. Overall, I highly recommend a guided tour of the Royal Palace and I had a great experience with Madrid walking Tour and Royal Palace Skip the Line tour on Viator. Combination tours of the Prado Museum and the Royal Palace are also available on Viator.

Architecture of Madrid

The Architecture of Madrid

After our tour of the Palace, we still had the whole day ahead of us and we had checked out of our hotel, so we booked a hop-on hop-off bus tour. This allowed us to get to see the rest of the city and enjoy the breeze from the top deck of the bus. From the bus, we learned more about Spanish history, including that in 1874 a military coup overthrew the monarchy of Spain. A dictator named Fransisco Franco ruled from 1939 to 1975. In 1969, he named Prince Juan Carlos (the grandson of the most recent king of Spain) as his successor. When Franco died, Juan Carlos transitioned the government from a dictatorship to a constitutional monarchy and his family still rules today. In 2014, Juan Carlos abdicated the throne and said “We do not want my son to wither waiting like Prince Charles.”

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop back next week as we fly to our final stop on the trip, Iceland. To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

One Day in Porto

Porto Cathedral

After a wonderful day touring the Douro Valley, the next day we did a tour of Porto. I found a walking tour on FreeTour.com. Similar to the free walking tour we did in Santa Barbara, the idea of these tours is that you pay nothing for the tour, and at the end, you tip your guide however much you deem appropriate. These tours are usually a fun way to get to know a city without breaking the bank.

Compared to Lisbon, the buildings in Porto are much older. The earthquake and fire of 1755 destroyed Lisbon but no such disaster has affected Porto. The Porto Cathedral (top) broke ground in 1110 AD.

São Bento Train Station AzulejosThe first stop on our tour was the São Bento train station which is home to beautiful Azujelo murals from the early 1900s (left). While looking at the murals, our tour guide told us the history of this building. Before it was a train station, the building used to be a convent. The city of Porto decided that they needed a train station so they took the building over, but they allowed the nuns to continue to live there until the last nun died. It was a while before it became a train station because the youngest nun in the convent was a child at the time. The building was transformed into a train station in 1893.

Our guide also detailed some of the less pleasant parts of their history. From 1933-1974 Portugal was under a dictatorship that separated them from the rest of the world. The dictator António de Oliveira Salazar (J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for the name of the founder of Slytherin House), ruled the country, repressing the rights of the citizens until he died from falling off a chair. Democracy was restored through the Carnation Revolution only four years after his death.

Our guide also told us about the summer festival celebrating São João (St. John) that was coming up later that week (thus the decorations on the right). She explained that people flood the street during São João, grilling Sardines, and walk from the city to the ocean, hitting each other on the head with plastic hammers. I am sad that I missed what is known as Europe’s liveliest and least-known (outside of the city, of course) summer festivals. In the words of our Duoro tour guide, they celebrate summer and blame it on a saint.

Our tour ended with our guide serenading us with a traditional fado song. Fado music is a traditional Portuguese genre of music that dates back to the 1820s and is known for its mournful lyrics and tone. Saudade is a Portuguese word that captures this feeling of irrevocable loss that Fado embodies.  Later that day, we went to a Fado show at the Casa de Guitarra where we heard more of this music.

Port Barrels at Ferreira

That afternoon, we headed across the river to Villa Nova da Gaia to visit one of the famous port wine cellars we heard about on both our tour of the Duoro and of Porto. We chose to tour Ferreira because they are a historic port producer owned by a Portuguese family (most big port producers are British for some reason). It was interesting seeing how a big company differed from the smaller producers we toured in the Duoro. Of course, our tour ended with a port wine tasting. If you have a short time in Porto, this is a good way to get an understanding of the importance of Port. If you have more time, I recommend a tour of the Duoro instead of touring a port cellar. They are very similar experiences and I much preferred our full-day in the Duoro.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain

Cruise Ship in Ponta Delgada

We are back from another crazy, life-changing trip! This time we spent 12 nights at sea sailing from Florida to Portugal. When we arrived on land, we explored Lisbon, Porto, Toledo, Madrid, and Reykavik getting around by train, plane, and boat. This trip involved four separate flights on four different airlines. Here is a sneak peek at what is to come over the next few months:

Day 1: Orlando

Day 2: Board Norwegian Getaway in Port Canaveral

Day 3: Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Day 10: Ponta Delgada, Azores

Day 12: Funchal, Madeira

Day 14-16: Lisbon Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

Day 16: Sintra

Day 17: Douro Valley

Day 18-21: Porto

Day 21-23: Toledo

Day 23-24: Madrid

Day 25: Reykjavik

Norwegian Getaway Review

Trip Recap

The trip alternated between a relaxing week at sea without much to do and jam-packed days exploring European cities. We saw many historic sites and beautiful churches. We tried some of the most amazing food of my life and drank some delicious wine. Without much time at each place, we got a feel for many of our stops without really being able to see and do everything so many of these places have been added to our “must return” list for future travels.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wine Tasting in Mexico

The World's Largest Mexican Flag in Ensenada

After falling into the Ocean in San Diego, our next day was much less adventurous. Our ship (the Celebrity Solstice) took us down to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to the town of Ensenada. It may come as a surprise, but one of the things that this region is known for is its wine. The Ville de Guadalupe (The Guadalupe Valley) is known as Mexico’s Napa Valley.

When talking to some people on the ship about this tour, they turned their noses up at it because Mexico isn’t known for its wine. The reason we don’t see Mexican wine in stores in the United States has nothing to do with the quality but more with the quantity that they produce. With such small growing regions, Mexico does not produce that much wine and most of what they do produce, the Mexican people consume.

Wine Glasses awaiting tasting at L.A. Cetto

Our tour took us to two different wineries, L.A. Cetto, and Casa de Doña Lupe. L.A. Cetto has been making wine in Mexico since 1928 and is probably one of the biggest wine production facilities we have ever toured. We tasted some of their mass-market wines and also some of their more high-end wines and everything we tried was on-par with the big American wineries for a fraction of the cost. Casa de Doña Lupe has a more home-spun feel to it and reminded me of a lot of the wineries we visit in Northern Michigan. Our tasting was outside among the vines while a local guitar player strummed a tune. After tasting at Doña Lupe we were able to browse their shop for wines as well as homemade jams and olive oils to take home.

One thing that is tough about a tour like this is that everything we tried was excellent and very inexpensive (a bottle from the reserve line from L.A. Cetto worked out to about $16), but traveling with two adults, you can only bring two bottles of wine across the border without paying duty so we were very limited in what we brought home.

L.A. Cetto Wine Barrel Fountain

We booked our wine-tasting tour through Shore Excursions Group. We have used them many times and have always had good results. They guarantee to get you back to the ship on time and they are much cheaper than booking through the cruise line.

We really fell in love with the Valle de Guadalupe and hope to return sometime and actually stay in the area. I guess I will have to add it to the list! Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Cruising the Pacific Coast Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Takeaways from my first Travel Show

Chicago Skyline

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This past weekend we took a last-minute trip to Chicago for their annual Travel and Adventure show. When I saw that Samantha Brown was speaking, I knew I had to go. Without much notice, we bought train tickets and reserved a hotel for the following weekend.

Samantha Brown at the Travel and Adventure Show

Samantha Brown at the Travel and Adventure Show

The Travel and Adventure Show features a few big-name speakers including the aforementioned Samantha Brown along with Brian Kelly (The Points Guy), Pauline Frommer, and Peter Greenberg of CBS News. At the Savvy Travel Theater, experts shared their tips and tricks to get the most out of travel and the Destination Theater highlighted trips that could be booked through the featured exhibitors. Hundreds of exhibitors shared information about destinations and allowed you to book your next trip right then and there.

While I enjoyed browsing the exhibits, some of the intense sales pitches were offputting. I much preferred the booths from locations that just shared their love of their town and encouraged you to visit over the travel agencies and timeshare salespeople who needed you to commit to booking a trip right then and there.

I like to think of myself as a savvy traveler who knows how to find deals, but I really did walk away from the show with some new tricks. Probably my favorite presenter (besides Samantha Brown, of course) was Russell Hannon the author of Stop Dreaming Start Traveling. He shared 99 tips to save money while traveling, some of which I was familiar with and I have shared with you, but many of them were new to me. For example, I had no idea you could get money back by buying Groupons through Rakuten. You can read many of his tips for yourself at BreaktheTravelBarrier.com.

One thing all of the experts at the show seemed to agree on was to use search engines to find the best price for a flight but to purchase airfare direct from the airline. With all the flight disruptions lately, you don’t want to have to go through an intermediary (like Expedia or a cruise line) if you need to get rebooked. Samantha Brown took it a step further and suggested that for each flight you take, you should have two backups so if the one you are booked on is canceled, you can call the airline and say “My name is Jane Doe and I was booked on flight 123 which was canceled can you rebook me on flight 147?” instead of having to wait in line to talk to customer service with everyone else.

They also all suggested downloading the airline’s app. While this lets you skip the desk if you don’t have to check luggage, it also gives you up-to-date information if your gate changes or if your flight is delayed (this was not our experience on Frontier, but more on that later).

For international travel, I learned that there is now a Mobile Passport app that allows you to use a much shorter line at customs if you fill out your information on your phone when you land. While this is available at most airports, I was disappointed to learn that the Detroit airport has not yet implemented it.

If you are like me and love getting new ideas from other people who love to travel, definitely check out the Travel and Adventure Show. There are several more around the country over the next few months. The speakers vary at each show. Samantha Brown will be at the New York Show. Rick Steves is coming to Los Angeles. Dates, locations, and pricing can be found at TravelShows.com.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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