My blog is very wonky right now. I apologize and will hopefully have things back up and going soon!
How did our world ever come to this? Charging fees for our checked in bags?!?! It’s atrocious but I definitely don’t see it going away. So the world of travelers is just going to have to get used to it.
We just returned from our much anticipated trip to Key West several weeks ago. I was bound and determined that I was not checking my bag. I. WAS. NOT. Not only do you have to pay money to bring your luggage with you, the hassle of checking it in and worrying about the airlines losing said luggage was not something I wanted to start my trip with. And I knew once my feet touched the holy ground of Key West, I did not want to spend time waiting for my bag to unload.
First I laid out everything I wanted to take with me. Then I re-evaluated every item and really thought about how necessary it was to my trip. Here are the items I brought:
The actual packing of the bag.
Now, I also used a completely different packing method than my norm. You’ve heard of the roll method right? Rolling your clothes is supposed to take up less space and keep your clothes from getting wrinkled. I thought this trip was the perfect one to test this method. And survey says……..
Yes. This method works much better than the traditional folding system. I found there to be both less wrinkling of my clothes and much more space in my bag. I rolled my running shorts, shirt, and sports bra and fit those three items in my running shoes. I rolled my shirts, my shorts, my dresses-space saver!
I also packed a large Ziploc with my liquids. I had my shampoo, conditioner, etcetera etcetera but I also brought a Tide shout out pen and 3 Tide travel packs in anticipation of doing hand washing for re-wear some of my clothes. Thank goodness the house had an unexpected washer and dryer! I didn’t have to hand wash at all but we did do quite a few loads of laundry after all.
Congratulations!!!! You’re traveling to Key West. You’re about to embark on a grand adventure of sun and sea and the biggest party in the US. Listen, I’m here to help you on your journey. The hubs and I rented hotels during our prior trips to the United States’ Southernmost Island but this trip around, we’ve opted to rent a vacation house instead. We’ve got a crew of friends that are coming along for the ride and we thought it would be a lot more fun to rent a house together instead of getting separate hotel rooms.
I have headed up the trip planning and there is a lot more than I bargained for when researching for a vacation house in Key West. Here’s to hoping my hours and hours spent can benefit you:)
First things first. You need to start your planning early. I would say 5 months prior to your trip (at the very, very least) if you’ll be going during the peak season (the winter months). The off season (summer) is a lot more calm so you can probably get away with procrastinating a bit more. We’re planning our trip for April. I began our process the first week of January (I would have started earlier because I’m so dang excited but I thought I better let our friends get through the holiday season first). I really wish I would have started sooner though because there was about 5 weeks that I couldn’t get a definite “yes” or “no” from the group and this held things up. By the time we had all the commitments, most of the homes had already been taken for the dates we needed.
(Pan FYI here: We visited Key West once in September and I would strongly suggest against this month if you want to get the full Key West effect. October is a huge month of festivals for the island so a lot of the businesses close down in September for “vacation” and to prepare for October. I’ll let you know how April is. July was a perfectly good time to visit.)
Secondly, you need to use the right website for your search. There are multiple vacation rental sites out there but one size does not fit all, if you know what I mean.
1) Vacation Rental By Owner, vrbo.com, was by far, the most beneficial to me. There were tons of different choices (early on in the game) and lots of detailed information and pictures (which are a must!).
2) Airbnb.com: I am starting to hear more and more about people using this site, however for our purposes (aka Key West Adventure 2015!) there really weren’t many options. To be honest, I think they had maybe 3 or 4 rental properties for Key West.
3) Vacationrentalskeywest.com had a decent variety but I didn’t find a home that suited our needs.
4) Towards the end, I got really desperate. I mean I was cheatin’ the test ’cause I didn’t study kind of desperate. I really was sweatin’ it. So, I tried the good-ole’ Craigslist. Besides most postings hardly giving a lick of information, they all sounded completely sketchy and too good to be true. One person I was corresponding with had what looked like a magnificent home with all the trimmings for like $495 per night. After several back-and-forth e-mails, I realized that booking through that guy would be like playing with fire and our money and my dear trip just weren’t worth risking it.
So back to vrbo I went.
Thirdly, you need to have a budget in mind. If you’re renting a house, it’s most likely that you’re going with others, and the kind thing to do is find out what the people in your party are willing to pay. I sent out a group text regarding the prices of flights and what I was looking at for about how much per person per night the house rental would be. I did my best to keep everybody in the loop as much as I could so people could start saving accordingly. I found that $90ish per person per night is a good deal (could be a nice house, could be a mediocre house), $125ish per person per night is getting a pretty good house and you should plan for at least this much, $140ish and up is getting a really dang good house. My prices include the cleaning fees (almost all homes have them) and taxes and whatnot.
Regarding prices: Realize that some houses will require the full amount at the time of booking so be prepared to have the money at that time. Occasionally you’ll come across a home that requires half the amount at the time of booking and the other half “x” amount of time before your trip.
Fourth, know what part of the island you want to stay. Know what you’re going to want to do during your vacation so that you can find a home in the vicinity that fits your needs (or wants I should say). If you know you’re going to participate in Key West’s great nightlife, you’ll want a house close to Duval St. Trust me, all the houses that are close to Duval, will advertise that. You’ll see a lot of “Two blocks from Duval” and “Walk to Duval”. If you are more interested in having an ocean view, know that you’re probably going to be further away from Duval and the action of the island.
Lastly, know your group dynamics and realize this has a lot to do with how the sleeping arrangements of the house should be. In our group, we’ve got 2 single guys, 1 single gal, and 1 gal who’s traveling sans-boyfriend, plus me and the hubs. I had to make sure that the guys each had their own bed and the gals each had their own bed. Most of the homes have a fold out sofa and the guys were willing to share a room, just not a bed so I had to make certain we had a room with twin beds. This was something I really had to pay close attention to. I would feel terrible if I had friends pay money for a trip I booked, only to be stuck in an uncomfortable sleeping arrangement. If you’ve got 3 or 4 couples, it’ll be easy-peasy for booking.
(Another Pan FYI: Most homes will have either a hot tub or pool. Lots of homes will have a “shared pool”. Know that this pool will most likely be close but not on site. A number of Key West vacation homes are owned by the same entity and so they offer a shared pool with multiple vacation homes. We luckily found a place with a private pool but that didn’t matter to me. My philosophy is that if I’m in Key West, I want to be on the beach and not at the pool but not everyone agrees that.)
Have you ever rented a vacation home in Key West? Let me know your experience.
Best Travels, Pan
A couple months ago, the hubs and I were privileged enough to enjoy an adult-only weekend getaway to Honky Tonk City, a former residence of ours. While it proved difficult (we always forget this part) to leave behind the kiddos, it allowed for some much needed couple-bonding time and relaxation without the worry and stress of keeping up with little ones.
We started the drive late on a Wednesday evening and stayed somewhere in Illinois. First thing in the morning, we left the hotel and continued the rest of our drive. We got into Nashville about 1:00 pm and immediately headed for our hotel. We stayed at the Hyatt Place, on 3rd St just a couple blocks off Broadway. Our trip almost got off on a really bad start. I made the reservations for the wrong dates! Who does that???. But thanks to Expedia and Ally at the Hyatt Place, our original reservations were able to be cancelled and Hyatt Place was able to find us a room for the nights we needed. They even gave us complimentary parking (normally $20 per night) just because of all the stress we had endured so far.
After we settled into our beautiful, clean, comfortable room at the Hyatt, we moseyed down to catch some drinks and live music on Broadway. We hit Texas Roadhouse first then wandered through a few more bars before we grabbed a table at Rippy’s. It was a Thursday afternoon, but this place already had a mostly full house. A guy and gal were singing acoustic tunes and we were reminded how good it is to have live music so readily available.
Once our hunger started creeping up on us, we walked back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. Thanks to some blogs I regularly follow (Camels & Chocolates), I knew we were supposed to make reservations if we wanted to eat at a decent time. We hadn’t done so for our first night but we were lucky enough to get to the The Southern Steak & Oyster (just down the street from our hotel, about a three minute walk), before the dinner rush hit. Once we got seated and ordered our food, it took about 45 minutes to get our meal. The waitress was very apologetic and apparently they had some “printer malfunction” but for my impatient husband, the damage had already been done. My steak was good (not great-especially for the price) and was actually a little on the cold side but the atmosphere was relaxing with it’s dim lighting and intimate atmosphere.
We were so excited to find The Listening Room Café just across the street from our hotel (found this gem on Camels & Chocolate and also in Southern Living mag) and ended our first night listening to originals by Nashville’s own. Because it was just a Thursday night, there was plenty of seating but once again, best to make a reservation.
My original plan for Friday was to meander down to the cutest town ever, Franklin, and do a little small town exploring. Robby wasn’t big on this idea and we were wanting to catch some rays that afternoon anyway, so instead we started the day checking out the new “it” neighborhood, 12 South. Of course we had to do some guitar shopping right off the bat. Not that Robby bought anything, but it’s always a fun thing to do in music city.
I wanted to stop in White’s Mercantile (learned about, once again, on Camels & Chocolate). This eclectic shop boasts an entire store of items nearly all manufactured in the USA! Talk about falling in love! What a great concept. And the smells swirling around the store were heavenly.
By this time, it was time to seek out something for lunch so we crossed the road and were lucky enough to get an outside table (hello perfect and completely unseasonable August weather!). Burger Up served us burgers that were not only delicious but were also more than plentiful. The beef was local farm-raised and once again, the atmosphere was so relaxing for an afternoon meal.
In an attempt to get at least some sunshine on our mini-vacay, we headed over to Nashville Shores on Percy Priest Lake and rented a tandem kayak. Robby did a little fishing while I caught up on my vitamin d intake. The fishing was good, the sunshine and Yuengling beers were even better. It only costs us $40 for 2 hours of kayak rental. And no, you do not have to purchase admission to the water park to get to the rental stand. Just tell the gate attendant that you are going to rent kayaks (or canoes or jet skis) and they won’t even charge you to park.
We had a reservation for the FarmHouse Restaurant on Friday night. I had made the reservation for 6:30 and we were able to be seated right away, even though we were 20 minutes early. Much to my dismay, I was unable to order a margarita because they only serve American drinks and of course tequila isn’t one of those. We started off with the deviled egg appetizer which was a very flavorful dish. I had the catfish dinner and we had to try the cornbread I have heard so much about. The cornbread was absolute heaven, the entrees were good but a little too high class for mine and Robby’s simple palettes. The atmosphere was beautiful, the concept is phenomenal (all food comes from local farmers), and the service was outstanding. Once again, this restaurant was basically just behind Hyatt Place. I couldn’t have picked a more convenient location if I tried!
After our meal, we headed back down to the Listening Room for another songwriter night. The place was pretty well packed on Friday and we were just lucky enough to snag the last table. This night was probably our most enjoyable, as the writers were really feelin’ it and put on quite a show!
(Note: the picture shown above was of our first night. The second night, Phil Barton (writer of Woman Like You sung by Lee Brice) was on stage and had me and Robby so pumped! He did an awesome job of entertaining!)
As the evening here abated, we headed back up to Broadway in an effort to listen to my fav Nashville bar band at the Trailer Park Bar. I was heartbroken to find that it was a whole different band so we stayed for a while but headed back to the hotel somewhat early, bearing my heart in my hands.
Saturday morning we took off late morning and headed east towards Cookeville. When we lived here before, I read about a secret watering hole (in Southern Living) at the bottom of the most gorgeous waterfall. We were dead set on finding this spot again. Although we were relying solely on memory (of some 5 years prior), we were sure we’d be able to find it. After we drove around for some time, we realized that our “secret” spot had been turned into a state park and the parking lot was COMPLETELY PACKED. I was heartbroken once again but since we had already driven so far (about an hour and a half from our hotel) we thought we’d at least check it out. The park ranger on duty is a local and we got to chat with him about the way this area looked before it became state property, now known as Cummins Falls. It is about an hour walk/hike to get from the parking lot down to the falls. Several weeks before, I came up with a knee injury and this “walk” down proved to be pretty difficult for me. Some family even had their old granny out with them and she was all skinned up from where she had taken what looked to be quite the tumble. She was having the most terrible time trying to get back up the steep hill to the parking lot. FOLKS, DO NOT TAKE YOUR OLD GRANNY TO CUMMINS FALLS. NOT SAFE. There, my PSA for the day. You’re welcome.
Here is what Cummins Falls looked like on this particular summer day:
This is what I knew Cummins Falls to be:
LOOK AT THE GLORIOUSNESS (pretty sure that’s not a word but my blog, don’t care) OF HAVING NOBODY AROUND! I’m so downtrodden this magnificent place is now a state park. So, while it remains beautiful. Be sure and go during the week and the time of year when school is in session. There looked to be a lot of college kids around. Trust me, it would be much more enjoyable.
We got back to the hotel that evening just in time for us to get cleaned up and go find some grub. I had started off the weekend by expressing that we were not going to be eating at any chain restaurants because there were way too many locally owned places that I wanted to try. However, we really had a hankering for some seafood and at a decent price so we walked down to Joe’s Crab Shack. Atrocious, I know. But I’ll tell you, I had a great meal, I got a full belly, and I got my seafood. Win, win, win. After dinner, we hit up Broadway for the last time and got tired quite early so we settled into the hotel at a decent time. (I can’t believe I haven’t yet mentioned how crazy comfortable the bed and the pillows were at Hyatt Place. CRAZY COMFORTABLE! Not exaggerating at all!)
If you’re in the market for some weekend getaway ideas to Music City, shoot me an email, or post your questions here. Enjoy!
I have had Key West on my mind lately. With all the horrible weather Missouri keeps throwing at us, I find myself daydreaming about one of my favorite spots in America.
I get moody when the weather is cold and dreary. Just like it’s been most of this year. We continue to get little teasers of what is to come, yet the sunshine hasn’t seemed to last anymore than a couple days at a time.
I love this picture. All the ways one could travel, yet who wants to go anywhere else but this peaceful, tropical island.
Key West is laid back, just like most islands are. It’s hard to worry about much while you are drinking in the Florida sunshine. Bills? Eh-who cares?! Kids at home? Eh-who cares?! Work not going well? Eh-who cares?!
The island that holds the southernmost point doesn’t have the poverty of the Caribbean islands and is still in the US so it’s easy to communicate. Most tourists rent scooters or bicycles while they’re on island time, making it ridiculously easy to maneuver the streets.
Even though I was 4 months pregnant and wasn’t able to participate in the nightlife of this party town, I thoroughly enjoyed every sun-bursting minute God gave me. The beaches really aren’t anything to write home to Mom about but eh-who cares?!
Hemingway’s House proved to be such a gem, we’ve been twice now. It’s a typical (but fancy) island home that was home to Ernest Hemingway for a time. The space out back where he kept his office remains unchanged still to this day. It’s definitely worth the time to get a little history lesson.
Here I am in May, sitting in my office space with my house slippers and jacket on because of the chilly temps. Looking at these pictures keep me longing for another trip to my favorite of the Keys islands (to be fair, this is the only island I’ve spent time at, but it still counts as my favorite).
So much color! Even in the mundane things.
Until next time, Key West. Stay Sunny!
Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru
Afternoon, folks of Missouri! It’s time for another edition of Festival Friday, where I give you a whole slew of things to do, leaving you no excuses for weekend boredom.
Tonight, Jeff City is hosting their 6th Annual Gallery Crawl featuring 9 or 10 different galleries. The Crawl is totally free, just call 573.635.8355 for more info or visit visitjeffersoncity.com under the event calendar and see the list of venues.
Tomorrow, and every last Saturday in the month from now until September, head to the Downtown District for the Cruisin’ for MDA car show. This event is from 5-9:30, is FREE, and has food vendors and music.
On Saturday, from noon-11pm, visit the Commercial Street Historic District for the 1st Annual Rhythm on the Rails, celebrating the year of 1870, when the railroad came to town. This event will keep you entertained with art, merchants, food, and dance. Of course, this event is FREE. At the same location, visit C-Street Market every Saturday from 8am-1pm for what they claim is an “intimate” market experience with local farmers, bakers and crafters. 417.864.7015 and itsalldowntown.com/cstreet’
Visit the Concourse in Kessler Park (200 S Benton Blvd) on Saturday and Sunday for the 5th Annual Chalk Walk, where the sidewalks will be transformed into wonderful chalk art creations! Event is free.
Head to the Map Room (1901 Withnell Ave., St Louis, MO, 63118, 314.776.3515) for the French Flea Market where you can indulge in your parisian side with french food, wine, music, and 30 booths to peruse! This event will go from 9a-3p.
6p-9p tonight, stroll through downtown to view local artists at their best. Local galleries will be open, some providing refreshments. You can pick up a map at any of the galleries highlighting the other galleries/businesses that will be open. http://stegenartwalk.blogspot.com/
Hope you enjoy your weekend, Missouri! Come back on Monday and let me know what you did, saw, played on…….you get the point. Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru
Everybody, enjoy your weekend to the fullest! The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru, Pan
One more week down the hatch, Missouri! I hope you have something exciting on the books for the weekend, even though it looks like the spring weather made a turn for the very, very unspring-y, unpleasant, dreary, miserable, cold, nasty weather. It’s my fault actually. Here I was talking about how awesome our weather was and that I just really didn’t think there was any chance of it getting cold again. Open mouth, insert foot!
If you’re looking for something to celebrate the spookiness of Friday the 13th, and you’re in the St Joe area, you’ll want to do the ghost tour which meets in front of Barbosa’s Mexican Restaurant on Sylvanie St. Tickets are $15, tour runs from 8p-10p. Phone 785-851-0856 or visit ghosttoursofkansas.com for more info.
Tomorrow morning in Montauk State Park (Salem, MO), you can meet up for the Spring Wildflower Event from 9a-11:30a. 573-548-2201. I believe this event is free. Don’t know if free is worth enduring the crapness of this weather. Your choice.
Like wings? Check out the Spring Fling Wing Ding (try saying that 5 times super fast!) in Springfield at the Battlefield Mall at S Glenstone and E Battlefield. 417-708-1909 & springfieldfarmersmarket.com. This event is Saturday from 8:30am-1pm. A little early for wing dinging if you ask me but hey, I don’t think you really did. Also in Springfield, the Ozark Mountain Wine Trail is hosting a customer appreciation day and offering wine tastings (sure way to bring me in everytime!) and cheese samples.
If you’re in the St Louis area, and the weather allows (even though the website said nothing of pending weather conditions) you can visit a Walk Through Time event celebrating the new Great Rivers Greenway at Jefferson Barracks County Park. On Saturday from 10a-3p, you can watch war re-enactments for free throughout the park. At 7p, you can choose to take a guided tour and pay only $5. Phone 314-544-6224.
Hope you enjoy your weekend Missouri! I know I will (minus 9a-3p on Sunday that I’m stuck in the dungeon of my work). See ya soon! The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru, Pan
Afternoon, folks! Happy to have you back here for yet another edition of Wishlist Wednesday, where we dream together of places we want to go. I have yet to have any suggestions from the viewers (I say that like there are so many of you). So be sure and join in the conversation and let me know of a Missouri place you want to go. If you don’t want to go someplace in Missouri (you probably have the wrong site first of all), you can tell us that too. We’ll take it. I’m not so closed minded that I think we’re going to be doing Missouri travel exclusively! As a matter of fact, next month we’re taking a much needed vacation to Gulf Shores and I’m gonna tell you all about that anyway.
This week I got an email telling me awesome news that I knew nothing about and think we should be more proud of. Did you know that Missouri was rated best state for camping from about.com? Me neither! I am surprised we haven’t heard more about this. You would think that there would be advertisements, announcements, words from State Park folks, even words from the Governor! But alas, it’s just I, Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru, filling your head with all these fun facts.
|Photo credit given to whomever took this pic for mostateparks.com|
|Photo credit to whomever took this pic for mostateparks.com|
For all the info you need including directions, camp facilities, and the like, visit mostateparks.com. Does anybody want to tell their favorite camping story. I’ve been camping, I know there’s plenty of stories to be told. Until next time, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru
|Photo credit to whomever took this pic for mostateparks.com|
Happy Easter, Missouri! Just wanted to pop my head in right quick and wish everybody a happy holiday. I hope you get your fill of Easter chocolate and mustard-glazed ham. I’ll see you this week! Pan