My Stay at the 21C Museum Hotel in Durham

My Stay at the 21C Museum Hotel in Durham

I first came across the 21C Museum Hotels in Louisville, KY. I was visiting a friend of mine there who suggested we check out the art gallery in the hotel. An art gallery? In a hotel?! 

Outside the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville
Outside the 21C in Louisville

It. Was. Awesome. The exhibit was modern with a mix of all art mediums including video. My favorite was Peter Sarkisian’s Puddle, which included video and audio.

Since then, I’ve always wanted to stay at a 21C Museum Hotel, located in select cities (Louisville, Cincinnati, Bentonville, Durham, Lexington & Oklahoma City). So when the Durham location was one of my company housing options in Durham, I had to stay there. Read More

Staying Connected While Traveling Internationally

Staying Connected While Traveling Internationally

A year ago, I traveled to Australia and decided to rely solely on Wifi for phone access. I went crazy! I was always checking for public Wifi and as soon as I got home, I had to check in with the world. Needless to stay, this drove my husband nuts!

So when I went to Canada for work, I had a game plan on how to stay connected. Here are my tips:

 

Research International Plans

CN Tower in Toronto
CN Tower in Toronto

Check out what your phone plan offers first – you might be surprised. I have Verizon and chose the one month Canada & Mexico 100 Talk, Text & Data which gives me exactly that – 100 minutes, 100 texts, 100 MB data for $15.

If I wanted to use my phone like usual in the US, I could pay $2/day. Since I knew I could jump on Wifi at home and at work, I decided the 100 plan could work for me.

If you’re going international, I definitely recommend looking at what your options are. 100 MB isn’t much, but was helpful if I was out and about and really needed data.

 

Public Wifi

If you’re in a public place, check to see if there’s an open Wifi network. If you’re in a restaurant and there’s a password, ask your waiter. Starbucks and McDonald’s always have free Wifi, and any coffee shop can be a good bet.

Some hotel lobbies will have a free Wifi network and seating areas so you can sneak in and use the Wifi for a bit, even if you aren’t a guest.

I’ve heard that checking out the comments on Foursquare often will give you the Wifi password but I don’t use Foursquare and checking in in the first place will require data usage.

Don’t forget that a lot of government or city buildings will have free Wifi, especially the library. Some cities even have city wide internet. In Calgary, I was able to use their ShawOpen network for 30 minute guest sessions.

 

Download offline maps

Offline Google Maps are a great hack when traveling internationallyDownloading Google Maps so I can access them offline saved my life. Before I went to each city, I downloaded the map. I was amazed that even without data or Wifi, the blue dot knew where I was and I could get navigational directions.

I had a rental car in Edmonton, and the offline maps saved my life. I was able to get directions to wherever I needed to go, search for the nearest Starbucks, and never be lost.

 

Use Messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger

If you don’t have a lot of text messages in your plan, you can supplement with a messaging app that uses Wifi. I personally used Facebook Messenger, which I already occasionally use in the States. It works very much like text messages without using any of my data/texts.

 

Skype for phone calls

In additional to video chatting, Skype allows you to call cell phones and land lines as well, even if the recipient doesn’t have Skype. There are multiple plan options and you can call using your own phone or computer.

 

How do you stay connected while traveling?

3 Top Hotel Rewards Programs Explained

3 Top Hotel Rewards Programs Explained

Over the last 2 years, I have stayed at every major hotel chain and am a member of all rewards programs. I’ve counted my nights and points and have worked my way up to the top tier of a few. Here is my rundown and how to get ahead!

 

HHonors (Hilton)

Includes: Waldorf Astoria, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites & Home2 (aside from the obvious Hilton properties)

Where I’m At: Diamond (top level)

 

Run Down: 4 levels – Blue, Silver, Gold & Diamond

 

Blue – Automatic when you sign up

Silver – after 4 stays or 10 nights

Gold – after 20 stays, 40 nights or 75k base points

Diamond – after 30 stays, 60 nights or 120k base points.

 

Since I live in hotels, I reached diamond status by staying 60 nights. If you have a Hilton credit card, you’ll probably gain this status pretty easily too.

 

The biggest perk to going up tiers is really just the bonus points. For example, at the diamond status you get a 50% bonus on all base points you receive. So for 150% for each stay, you’ll quickly rack up the points for your free nights.

photo taken from hotel website
Photo taken from hotel website

How Do You Get Free Nights? We’re going to stay at the Home2 Suites in Orlando which is just 6 miles from Disney World and includes a free shuttle. It’s only 30,000 points a night, and my points will get me 3 free nights.

 

Marriott Rewards

Includes: Renaissance, Residence Inn, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Springhill Suites, Autograph Collection (Grand Bohemian Hotels, Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, etc.), TownePlace Suites, Ritz-Carlton

Where I’m At: Silver (bottom of 3 levels)

 

Run Down: 3 levels – Silver, Gold & Platinum

 

Silver – after 10 nights

Gold – after 50 nights

Platinum – after 75 nights

 

The rewards program is so-so. It’s benefits are similar to Hilton but it’s kind of a bummer that the only way to move up is by number of nights. So for example, with Hilton you could stay at a Hilton property for 1 night only 4 different times and get Silver status (so only 4 nights), you HAVE to stay the specific number of nights to move up. So in order to reach platinum, you have to stay at a Marriot property for two and a half months in the whole year to reach Platinum. Unless you live in hotels like me (and I STILL have never reached platinum), this can be pretty tricky.

 

Will the Marriott Rewards credit card help you? I’m not sure. You get 15 credits towards your Elite membership each year which puts you into the Silver category and then you get 1 credit for every $3000 in purchases. In order to get to Gold, you still need 35 nights so it will still take you some time or a stupid amount of money.

 

How Do you Get Free Nights? For a stay in New Orleans, one night is also 30,000 points but I only have enough points for one night out of our stay.

Photo taken from hotel website
Photo taken from hotel website

SPG

Includes: Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, W Hotels, Aloft, Four Points

Where I’m At: Preferred

 

Run Down: 3 levels – Preferred, Gold, & Platinum

 

Preferred – when you sign up

Gold – 10 stays or 25 nights

Platinum – 25 stays or 50 nights

 

Platinum requires less stays or nights than the other brands which makes it much easier to get ahead PLUS with all the Sheraton hotels as well as the other luxury brands in its collection, you should be OK.

 

How Do You Get Free Nights? With rooms 10,000-20,000 points per night, this program seems to be your best bet.

 

Please note that in November 2015 Marriott announced that it would buy the Starwood hotel chain so the rewards program is expected to combine – but bonus to you, it will be the largest hotel chain so lots of opportunities to move ahead!

4 Favorite Weekend Getaways from NYC

4 Favorite Weekend Getaways from NYC

Newport, RI – if I could live here, I would

The stunning cliff walk
The stunning cliff walk

How to Get There: Drive (3 hours)

Where to Stay: Gilded – a boutique B&B within walking distance to the town. Fun décor and delicious breakfast!

What to Do: Cliff Walk, Newport Mansion tours, relax, walk around the adorable town

The Breakers
The Breakers

Where to Eat: 22 Bowen’s (romantic dinner)

View of the marina from the town
View of the marina from the town

Roxbury, NY – town where I got married!

GORGEOUS views in Roxbury, NY
GORGEOUS views in Roxbury, NY

How to Get There: Drive (3 hours)

Where to Stay: The Roxbury Motel – THE coolest hotel I’ve ever stayed at. Themed rooms and stunning mountain views

Amadeus' Bride - a fitting room for an actual bride
Amadeus’ Bride – a fitting room for an actual bride
The Wizard's Emeralds
The Wizard’s Emeralds

What to Do: Summer – hiking, kayaking, all the outdoor activities. Winter – skiing or staying in

Where to Eat: Peekamoose (for dinner), Phoenicia Diner (for breakfast)

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East Hampton, NY – go in the winter!

IMG_1671How to Get There: Hampton Jitney

Where to Stay: Mill House Inn – possibly the most expensive B&B I’ve ever stayed at (and that’s in the OFF season) but the rooms (& baths) are oh so relaxing, the cookie & snack bar is amazing and the breakfast is INCREDIBLE. Get the lobster frittata!

French Toast at the Mill House Inn
French Toast at the Mill House Inn

What to Do: The Beach, explore East Hampton or neighboring Hampton towns, shopping, relax in the incredible rooms, take a bath in the gigantic bathtubs

Where to Eat: Honestly, one breakfast + the complimentary snacks can last you the whole day (did I mention how amazing the breakfast is?)

 

Atlantic City, NJ – bear with me, totally trashy but so close

IMG_1809How to Get There: Bus from Penn Station (2.5 hours)

Where to Stay: Since the Revel closed (which housed my favorite spa – still to this day), stay at the Borgata. It’s off the boardwalk and has the Las Vegas feel without having to get on a plane.

What to Do: If all of the amenities of the Borgata aren’t enough, it’s an easy cab ride to the boardwalk for some great people watching or you can head to the outlets

Drinks at the Borgota
Drinks at the Borgota

Where to Eat: If you want to venture outside of the resort, check out the Irish Pub (off the Boardwalk) or Scales Grill & Deck Bar for outdoor drinking (bonus points for pet friendly!)

Drinks on the AC Boardwalk
Drinks on the AC Boardwalk

 

A Perfect Day in Banff

A Perfect Day in Banff

Banff is an easy 90 minute drive from Calgary. So when I had a day off I knew I had to go up to one of the dreamiest places on Earth. It’s the perfect place to spend a day.

Lake Louise in Banff National Park

Banff National Park

The massive park includes the town of Banff as well as Lake Louise (as well as many other lakes we were unable to see in a day). You have to pay an entry fee to get into the park. It cost us $19.60 for a car of 4 people.

 

How to spend a perfect day in Banff

The town of Banff is adorable, although a bit touristy now. We had a hard time finding parking, even on a Monday afternoon. We walked around the town then up to the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. Fairmont’s are very fancy and this was no exception.

Group spending the day in Banff
Outside the Fairmont Hotel in Banff

After grabbing snacks from the coffee shop off the lobby (iced maple hazelnut latte and soft baked chocolate chip cookie for me) we headed outside to the patio where we had gorgeous views of lakes and mountains.

View from the Fairmont in Banff

Lake Louise

After the midday snack, we headed back to the car and drove up to Lake Louise, which is an additional ½ hour. There is another Fairmont just off the lake, called the Chateau Lake Louise, which would be an amazing place to stay. The lake is absolutely stunning and the pictures do not do it justice. It is the coolest shade of blue and so peaceful, even with all the tourists.

Lake Louise

If you have the time, I would definitely recommend waiting in the long line to rent a bright red canoe. We skipped this but I have seen many amazing pictures with the pop of the red next to the bright turquoise water.

Canoe on Lake Louise

Moraine Lake

Canoe on Moraine LakeWe then headed up to Moraine Lake, which is an additional 20 minutes from Lake Louise. You see the sign to turn off on the way up to Lake Louise so it’s very easy to get to.

Moraine Lake

We arrived pretty late and were a bit disappointed after seeing Lake Louise but I have seen many gorgeous photos of Moraine Lake and I think the lighting/time of day just wasn’t right for us.

Moraine Lake

Dinner in Banff

There are so many great dining options in Banff. We opted for the Keg Steakhouse, which is actually a Canadian chain. We ate in the bar area and had all of the food. I got the sirloin with lobster, scallops, shrimp and crab with rice on the side and we shared Brussels sprouts at the table. We drank a delicious red blend wine from BC. We left incredibly stuffed.

 

It really was the perfect day. It’s an incredible place to visit and I can’t wait to go back and spend more time!

Technology That Has Saved My Life

Technology That Has Saved My Life

TripIt

This app is where I store ALL my travel information. On the tour, I travel by plane, bus & sometimes my own rental car and am staying in a different hotel nearly every week. This app allows me to store all that info plus include notes like my nightly rate, the pet fee, etc. It’s all in one place so it makes it very easy.

2016-07-30 19.05.38
5 out of 8 trips coming up

Uber

Until I got to Vancouver, I didn’t realize how much I utilize this app (Vancouver does not have Uber). Since I don’t have a car and am in unfamiliar cities and sometimes the public transit seems too much effort to figure out, I often take Uber. I love that I can use it in nearly every city (and even across the world in Sydney!).

 

Bonus: the local drivers are always great resources on what to do, eat, and see around town!

 

Key Ring

I use this app to store all my rewards program information. Because I have accounts at all of them. So this app makes it easy to pull it up when I’m standing at the airport or the hotel check in.

 

Airline Apps

I am personally a Delta girl so I have the Fly Delta app but most airlines have their own. I love the Delta app because it automatically stores all my itineraries but also has a cool feature where you can Track My Bags. It is so neat seeing where my bags are going through in the airport and how much time it estimates it’ll take to get to me.

IMG_2768

Dropbox

I use Dropbox for work but I also use it for travel. I’ll save pdfs of itineraries or any other pertinent documents in a file folder that I can access on my phone and on the go.

 

Google Maps

Their offline feature is amazing. This saved me in Canada when I had a limited data plan and driving a rental car. Search for a city, click the city name at the bottom then Download and follow the prompts. This allows you to search offline and even give you navigational directions without using any of your data. This could also be a great feature if you ride underground subways a lot.

IMG_3096

Venmo

This app is great when traveling with friends or coworkers. Anytime you owe someone money or vice versa, you can easily jump on the app or transfer funds or charge your friend.

 

What are your favorite apps?

Epic Road Trip Plan

Epic Road Trip Plan

Newsies closes in Austin on October 2nd and Adam + Bruno + I are going on a road trip to my parents house in Maryland. Here’s the plan!

 

Natchitoches, LA

A sweet little town where my father grew up. My aunt lives in my grandmother’s house, which is where we’ll stay. This is Adam’s first time and I can’t wait to walk along the lake, try out a meat pie, see a plantation, and maybe even a trip to the alligator farm!

2013-09-28 18.06.03
Drive thru liquor store menu

Sulphur, LA

We’ll be visiting my friend Gillian and her husband Rob, as well as their 100 cats. I’m excited to see this part of Louisiana.

 

New Orleans, LA

This is one of my favorite cities from tour and I can’t wait to show Adam. We will definitely eat all of the delicious food and return to the Carousel Bar and Sazerac Bar for cocktails. This time I’d also like to make it to the National WWII Museum and Preservation Hall.

DSC_0466

Sarasota, FL

A quick stop to visit my parent’s new house which they bought for retirement.

 

Orlando, FL

Epcot (drinks around the world), Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom to finally see the fireworks at Disney and Harry Potter World at Universal.

2014-12-25 10.48.22-1IMG_1375

Savannah, GA

I’ve never been here but it’s on the list. I love Charleston so I’m excited to see its sister city.

 

Charleston, SC

We’ll visit our friend Mackenzie but also enjoy the restaurants and gorgeous walks through downtown Charleston.

 

Atlanta, GA

We’ll stay with my brother and family in their new house. A trip to the amazing Georgia Aquarium and Coca Cola World a must.

Georgia Aquarium
Georgia Aquarium

Columbia, MD

And finally the drive back to Maryland to stay with my parents for a week.

 

What should we see and do in the cities we’re visiting? Are there any other cities we should stop at along the way?

 

We took the trip!

Check out Part I: Louisiana of the road trip here.

Read Part II: Disney here.

Check out Part III: South Carolina & Georgia here. 

Flying with Fido

Flying with Fido

Bruno has traveled everywhere with me since he was adopted in January. I’ve learned a lot of tips about flying with a dog. Here’s how I’ve done it:

 

Plan Ahead

All Airlines have restrictions on dogs on planes. These include the number of animals on one plane, fees, and even the breed of dog. Call the airline ahead of time – ideally when you book your flight, otherwise do this a few days before.

 

Here are the fees for carrying on a pet (in a carrier underneath the seat in front of you)

Alaska Airlines: $125 each way

American Airlines: $125 each way + the carrier and pet must not weigh more than 20 pounds

JetBlue: $100 each way + the carrier and pet must not weigh more than 20 pounds

Delta: $125 each way

Southwest Airlines: $95 each way

Spirit Airlines: $100 each way

United: $125 each way

Virgin America: $100 each way and pets may not be in the exit row, front row of the main cabin OR first class

IMG_2768

How to Get Around This

Bruno is technically an Emotional Support Animal. Unfortunately, a lot of people scam this system as it is fairly easy to fake it. There are tons of websites out there claiming that after a quick registration process and fee, you’ll be given a license. This might work for some airline employees, but it is not legal.

 

Emotional Support Animals fall under the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act (not ADA, which I will talk about another time). For the Air Carrier Access Act, this means that if you have a disability or mental illness and have essentially a prescription from a doctor or medical professional, your dog can fly without any fees. There are also no size restrictions so you can fly a Yorkie (like Bruno) or a larger dog like a Golden Retriever as long as it fits in the space in front of your seat. Or you can be like Chelsea Handler and buy a plane ticket just for your dog (first class, no less).

 

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

If you have a disability or mental illness such as depression or a fear of flying, your doctor can prescribe you an Emotional Support Animal.

 

Basically, you need a letter that has the following:

  1. On letterhead (this one always seems to get complaints for me as my doctor is not highly technical and has a small practice so the letterhead is very simple and some airline employees claim it is too easy to copy).
  2. The Title, Address, License Number, Jurisdiction, phone number and signature of physician
  3. The passenger has a mental health related disability recognized by the DSM-IV
  4. The passenger is under the care of the physician
  5. Letter must not be more than a year old

 

(information loosely taken from Delta’s website)

 

Some airlines (such as United and American) take it even further by requiring a specific form for your physician to fill out and STILL make it difficult to “approve” your ESA. For those reasons, I try my best not to fly those airlines even sans pet. Delta and Southwest have always worked for me so those are my preference.

 

The Carrier

Photo taken from Sleepypod website
Photo taken from Sleepypod website

The carrier is absolutely the most important part of traveling with your pet. Their happiness will all depend on how comfortable they are in their carrier.

 

For that reason, I purchased the Sleepypod Air (http://sleepypod.com). It is not cheap but since I travel for work and knew I would be getting a lot of use out of it, it’s worth it.

The inside has a soft bed for Bruno and has a privacy mesh so Bruno can see out but not everyone in the airport can see him so it’s very discreet. The whole top unzips so I can easily zip just enough to put my hand in or for Bruno to stick his head out or I can unzip it halfway for him to easily get in and out. The size allows him to move around inside but also fits underneath all plane seats. The carrier also has a large pocket that fits his leash and treats and the other side has the option for a pocket or you unzip both zippers and it can sit on top of your suitcase. I’ll use that until the bags are checked and then I will zip up the bottom zipper and use the pocket for my boarding pass, cell phone and iPad for easy boarding.

 

There are other great carriers out there and if you’re looking for a one time use the cheap carrier from PetSmart might work for you.

 

Before your trip, get your pet comfortable with the carrier. Have it out in the house with access inside so your pet can sniff around it. Put treats inside so they associate the carrier with something good.

 

Once your pet is comfortable around the carrier, start taking your pet on adventures using the carrier. We would take Bruno in his carrier to the park, to PetSmart, on short and long trips, so that he would know that the carrier meant he was going to go somewhere fun. He got comfortable sleeping inside it and going in and out. This worked!

 

Getting used to the carrier
Getting used to the carrier

 

The Airport

Research animal relief areas ahead of time. Signage at airports is not always great. You can try the airport’s website or the following two websites also give a great rundown of pet relief areas at all of the US airports:

 

http://petfriendlytravel.com/airports

http://www.dogjaunt.com/guides/airport-pet-relief-areas/

 

Unfortunately, not all pet relief areas are great and most are pre-security. Most are located on the Baggage Claim level and are usually off to the side. Some are fenced in and some provide poop bags and trashcans.

Pet Relief area at Midway Airport
Pet Relief area at Midway Airport

My best bet is to usually arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before, check my bags and then head down to the Baggage Claim level to walk Bruno. I’ll usually take him out right away and let him walk along the sidewalk. Yes, he will pee on trashcans or columns but it’s also generally filthy down there anyways. Airports like Chicago’s Midway or Cincinnati (CVG) have fenced in areas where I can let Bruno run around sans leash (albeit it is small).

 

After a healthy walk (15-30 minutes), we’ll go through Security. With the dog, you must go through the metal detector. Put all of your items on the belt and then take out your dog last (be careful a pushy TSA agent doesn’t try to push your carrier and dog through!). Cross through the metal detector and then you must wait for a hand swab which is testing for traces of explosives. While you wait, you may NOT touch your belongings or put your dog back in its carrier. It’s fairly quick and honestly the whole process is probably must quicker than going through the scanner. Then you’re on your way!

 

The Terminal

Occasionally I will allow Bruno to walk along the terminal depending on how busy the airport is. He’s a good walker but also loves to stop for sniffs and is small so if the airport is crowded, I will refrain. I try to find a quiet spot at the gate or I’ll find an empty area a few gates down as Bruno gets antsy with a lot of movement.

 

I’ll let him out on a leash and give him some water using a collapsible bowl. Sometimes we’ll work on his tricks using treats, which focuses him while also tiring him out for the flight. Once boarding starts, he goes back in the carrier and off we go.

 

On the Plane

As an Emotional Support Animal, Bruno is allowed to sit on my lap. However, he has learned that sometimes I will let him out and therefore now barks or scratches at the zipper until I let him out. DON’T. For the enjoyment of everyone else on the plane, leave the dog in the carrier and ignore them. They will soon learn that this is nap time and stay quiet the whole flight.

 

I have also learned the hard way about letting Bruno out when he got out of my reaches and ran all the way up the aisle to first class. While yes, very adorable, and it did make me laugh, it was also mortifying. So Bruno will be staying in the carrier from now on!

 

I have also used Rescue Remedy Pet on a treat to calm Bruno and I hate to admit, a bark collar. Remember, everyone hates a crying baby so they will equally hate a barking dog.

 

Arrival

Once I grab my bags, I take Bruno out for a nice walk and then a cab to our next destination.

 

Do you travel with a dog? Any tips for flying with them?

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