1. Ease into it
Lucky are those who can sleep soundly on a plane. You know the type, eye masks on and neck pillows inflated, they’re out cold before the wheels leave the runway. For most of us, dozing off above the clouds is only a dream. Whether you spend your time getting some shut-eye or watching Eyes Wide Shut, an early check-in on arrival is key to beating jet lag and getting a head start on your vacation.
Scheduled to land early in the morning? Why not book an extra night to guarantee that your room will be ready on arrival? Sure, this is an added expense, but immediate access to a shower and comfy bed adds tremendous value.
Whether you’re in the front row of first class or the last row of economy, flying can take a toll on your body. A massage is the perfect way to unwind and slip into vacation mode. If your hotel offers spa services, reserve your appointment in advance to avoid disappointment.
2. Experience early morning magic
There’s something magical about a town coming to life early in the morning. Diesel trucks delivering their provisions. The clang of kegs being exchanged outside of a pub. Smoke belonging to turf fires taking flight from chimneys. Inhabitants still in slumber, morning sunlight blocked by drawn shades. A daily newspaper and bottle of milk left on a doorstep. You’ll witness a scene that most tourists will never see and get some great unobstructed shots that just aren’t possible during the day. Best of all, you’ll be back at the hotel in time to tell your traveling companions what you were doing while they were sleeping.
3. Get high and enjoy the view
No drone? No problem! Grab a cup of coffee, throw on your walking shoes, and find something to climb. Early mornings are ideal if you want to avoid crowds, beat the heat, or catch the sunrise. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was the perfect setting for my first climbing adventure. An early start meant that I could climb the 551 narrow, winding stairs at my own pace and arrive at the dome in time to find the city bathed in warm morning light.
Warning- once you get high, you may become addicted. My subsequent travels have taken me to the top of Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik; O’Connell’s Tower at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin; Church of our Saviour in Copenhagen; St. Paul’s Cathedral in London; Old Town Hall Tower in Prague; the Belfry of Bruges; and most memorably, to Coit Tower, atop Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, to watch the sun rise over the Golden Gate Bridge.
4. Embrace the “wrong”
How can something so wrong feel…so right? Sitting on the “wrong” side of the car on the “wrong” side of the road, shifting with the “wrong” hand while traveling in the “wrong” direction in a “roundabout” all sound so, well, wrong. Wrong again! After years of worrying about driving abroad- The roads are too narrow; I’ll get lost; What happens if I meet a car and have to back up?; And those rotaries!
I finally gave it a shot in 2016. Armed with three pieces of advice from my colleague, Paddy, I set off on my first Irish road trip:
- Have a strong cup of coffee when you land.
- Drive the car around the parking lot for a few minutes to get a feel for it.
- Make sure that the double yellow lines are always on your right!
After a full day of driving from Shannon to Galway and on the meandering roads of stunning Connemara, I had gained the confidence I needed to continue exploring – to the tune of over 2,000 miles driven in Ireland, Scotland, and England. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner!
5. Keep an eye on the event calendar
While unwinding in my London hotel room after a day of meetings, I decided to peruse the literature on my nightstand. As a car enthusiast, and caretaker of a 1928 Model A Ford, my eyes were drawn to a photo of cars, old and new. The Regent Street Motor Show was to be held in central London the following day. “A showcase of 125 years of motoring including veteran, vintage, classic, and modern-day cars.” I had planned to explore Central London, so this was a perfect addition to my itinerary. Boy, was I lucky to stumble upon this spectacle, one of the most impressive car shows I have attended, second only to the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace.
6. Say hello to the locals
The only downside of spending summers in Ireland as a child was being dragged from house to house to visit various relatives and family friends. I came to believe that every home in Ireland had its own collection of baby animals. It happened so often that the first question I would ask on arrival is “What kind of animals do you have and how many?” In most cases, the answer was resoundingly positive and twenty-something years later, I still love meeting animals while traveling. Here are a few of my favorite meet-cute memories:
- Celebrating a recent milestone birthday at Kattakaffihusid, Iceland’s first cat café.
- Holding a baby lamb on the Dingle Peninsula on a sunny day, surrounded by a sparkling Atlantic Ocean.
- Watching a friend trying to coax a lonely sheep into the center of a pre-historic stone circle so I could get the perfect shot.
- Getting up close and personal with mischievous squirrel monkeys at the London Zoo.
- Making friends with a bunch of ‘hairy coos’ across the Scottish Highlands, ranging from wind-swept to positively shaggy in appearance.
- Sharing a home with two convivial canine hosts, Blue and Molly, at the Pentland Lodge House in Thurso.
7. Be spontaneous
Some of the best travel adventures are unplanned. What was meant to be a five-day trip to Copenhagen to visit friends in 2015 turned into a multi-country adventure. After getting a taste of Sweden on the “Around the Sound” adventure from Helsingør, Denmark to, Helsingborg, Sweden via ferry, and from Malmö, Sweden to Copenhagen via the Øresund Bridge, we wondered if we could hit a third country. We made a list of destinations and narrowed it down to Oslo, Berlin, and Prague. We searched flight schedules for morning departures that would get us back to Copenhagen the same evening. Before we knew it, we were in a taxi on our way to Prague Castle. We spent the day exploring the city on foot and by boat on a Vltava River cruise. We returned to our beds in Copenhagen that evening, grateful to have Czech’d another country off our list.
8. Immerse yourself in nature
If you have visited the Ring of Kerry, you know that it is the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell, the departure point for Skellig Michael boat tours, and home to some of Ireland’s most picturesque beaches. But did you know that Atlantic Irish Seaweed also calls the Ring of Kerry home? This fully immersive experience allows you forage, eat, and bathe in seaweed. Don’t worry, the eating and bathing are optional, and can be done in the privacy of your hotel room! If it were legal to import seaweed, I would have packed a suitcase full of Atlantic Irish Seaweed bath bags to bring home!
If seaweed isn’t your thing, head north to experience the healing power of Howth on a full-day hiking tour with Shane’s Howth Adventures. It may sound silly, but the day I spent hiking in Howth was one of the best days of my life. I have never felt as alive and connected to the earth as I did that day. Every single moment was extraordinary, from the scenic DART ride along the coast to the cliff-side picnic lunch to the celebratory post-tour pints of Guinness with new friends. Sunshine, fresh air, a captivating castle, wondrous woods, a luminous lighthouse, and heavenly hills - Howth has it all.
9. Splurge on a once-in-a-lifetime indulgence
A recent trip to England afforded the luxury of an overnight stay at Cliveden House & Spa, a country house hotel situated just outside of London. The hotel is on National Trust property, adjacent to the River Thames. Upon returning to the lobby after spending time exploring the magnificent grounds, I noticed a sign advertising an evening champagne cruise. It was our last night and despite having exceeded our travel budget, we signed up. Two hours later, champagne flutes in hand, we settled into the Suzy Anne, a wooden launch built in 1911. We admired the beautiful scenery and wildlife while learning about the Thames and Cliveden Estate. We didn’t regret one moment of that relaxing and scenic boat trip. Whether you’re considering a night at a fancy hotel, upgrading to a room with a view, or embarking on unique journey, go for it! The experience is temporary, but the memories will last a lifetime.
10. Don’t think about it, just go!
In October 2016, my dad and I spent two weeks in Ireland. He hadn’t been to Ireland in years and wanted to remember it as it was. We had debated about where to stay - close to the city (his choice) or in the wilds of Connemara (my choice). We settled on the village of Oughterard, the Gateway to Connemara, in County Galway. We spent most of our time enjoying the thrill of driving on Connemara’s winding roads, visiting ancestral sites, including the home where my mother spent the first 18 years of her life before emigrating to the United States.
Nine months later, on a sunny July afternoon, my father died. His death was sudden and unexpected, but I felt at peace knowing that we were able to take that special trip together. Not only was he able to experience the land he loved so much one last time, I gained wonderful memories that I will carry with me forever. After experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic, we all know how quickly things can change. You’ll never regret taking that special trip with your family, heading off on a solo adventure, or making new friends on a group tour.