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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My New Orleans Wish List

This Fall I'll be traveling to New Orleans for the first time and I'm super excited. We had originally planned a two-week trip, but have cut it in half so we can also go to LA in December to check out the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Being our first trip to Nola, there are a lot of things we want to do. Number one is to not rent a car, except to take a day trip. So, let's look at our must-dos and must-eats and then you can tell me your suggestions, whether it's what I should add or what I should skip.

Things to do in New Orleans
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When I travel, I love to find great little places that make for beautiful photos, since that's the majority of what I bring back when we go anywhere. The historic Court of the Five Sisters looks like one of those places and I can't wait to grab a table, have a great meal and then take a ton of photos of this vibrant little courtyard.

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I know that people think that Bourbon Street is a tourist trap, but there's no way I'm visiting the city and not going there. I won't be taking a horse-drawn carriage, but I will be taking a bunch of pics, because I gotta!

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I'll not be renting a car for the most part, so we'll be relying on our feet and the streetcar. It'll be fun to ride around on this historic mode of transportation. And I love that it's all open.  

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Okay, you know I love a farmers' market and open-air market. They're the perfect place to learn about your destination and the foods the locals eat. Plus, you can pick up wonderfully fresh fruits, breads and pastries for breakfasts and snacks. I absolutely need to hit up the French Market.

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If I leave New Orleans without at least one visit to Cafe Du Monde, I think I may never be allowed back. Beignets and a really good coffee sounds like heaven to me. And also like it may keep me going for much of the day between the caffeine and sugar. I love that it's open 24/7, too.

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I'm super into old cemeteries and love when there are interesting headstones and tombs. You may remember my visit to Pere Lechaise Cemetarie in Paris.  I've been dying (ha!) to go to St. Louis Cemetery #1 for years. I expect to take a lot of pics to write a big blog post on it, so if you're also into learning more about it, stay tuned. I think we'll be taking a ghost tour that includes this final resting place as well.

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I just learned about this not too long ago, but New Orleans has a wall called the Before I Die Wall, where you can write the thing(s) you want to see/do/eat/achieve before you die and get inspiration from others' wishes as well. It's like inspirational (and legal) graffiti. 

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When you're in the place where voodoo was invented, you can't ignore that. I love a good museum that's also unique, so I'll be headed to the Voodoo Museum to check out how Marie Laveau and others harnessed the power of voodoo and what they hoped to achieve with it as well. 

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So, something you may not know about me is that I love a good absinthe. The taste and the process is fantastic to me and I am really interested to visit the Original Absinthe Bar where folks like Mark Twain and Andrew Jackson drank. 

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Okay. It seems irresponsible of me to wander the streets of New Orleans without soaking up some French influence. I may not be into getting a bowl of gumbo, but I am excited about French pastries and picking up some sweets, like macarons, at Sucre Bakery.

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The South has a controversial history of slavery and such. Evergreen Plantation is one of the places where I plan to learn more and maybe even catch a glimpse of a ghost. If you're lucky, I can catch it on film and share it in a future post.

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Here's where I'll be renting a car for the day and heading to Avery Island. There's no place else you can see Tabasco hot sauce being made and it sounds pretty awesome. We can buy a bunch of bottles to send home, plus wander the gorgeous grounds and check out the Jungle Gardens before heading back to the city.

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I have never really wanted to visit the madness of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but I do want to check out the cool floats and props. Fortunately, for me, Mardi Gras World is the place where a lot of that stuff is stored and I can take a tour to see previous floats, costumes and more.

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There's always a splurge meal on my trips and brunch at the Commander's Palace is going to be the one in New Orleans for us. I'm going to dress up a little, listen to live jazz and dig into delicious food. They serve unique dishes like Braised Rabbit & Carrot Cake Flapjacks, Turtle Soup and Tabasco & Sugarcane Smoked Salmon. 

Okay, I have other stuff on my list as well, like a swamp tour, some specific happy hours, a ride on the ferry, possibly the aquarium and of course that ghost tour I was talking about. If you've been to New Orleans, where should I go, not go or eat? Keep in mind that neither of us will eat jambalaya and probably not crawfish.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Travel Gifts for Dads and Grads

Father's Day is just next month and soon all the kids will be graduating from high school and college, which means you need to buy gifts of gratitude and congratulations for those you know and love. If your dad likes to travel or your grad is planning a gap year, then why not get them something truly awesome to help them save money and make their travels better? Here are some ideas for gifts in all budgets.

Make sure you can follow your grad's travels on Instagram or Facebook by getting them a battery backup for their mobile. You won't have to worry if they got murdered when they can keep their phone charged. Your dad can use this, too, since he's streaming all those videos and looking at all the photos you keep sending him of your kids. I have this one and it can charge your phone 2 1/2 times before it needs to be recharged. It also has a flashlight and comes in at a cool $16.

Don't you like to chronicle your trips to remember later? Get them a moleskine journal where they can write down all their thoughts, notes and drawings. They are sleek and convenient, so they fit in the pocket of any bag or jacket. These run $10-15. Get them a fancy pen to go with it and you're golden.

If your dad/grad loves to lounge by the pool or play on the beach, then you need to get them a waterproof phone pouch. It keeps water and sand out, floats and still lets you talk, text, play games and take pictures. Last time I was using mine in the lazy river, a lady floating by asked me all about it. This would be an excellent gift to go with something else, because it costs just $10.

Sleeping on the plane (or a train or the back of the car) can be difficult. Give them the gift of easier sleep with the awesome hoodie pillow where they can get comfortable, keep their head warm and block out light. I love mine and take it everywhere I travel. They start at $20. 

(Almost) Everyone likes to be organized...especially when they travel. Get them some of Lewis N. Clark's fantastic packing cubes, like the fun new expandable ones, so they fit everything she needs in her carry-on. These can run $10-44, depending on size and set.

Hydration. It's important. It's also nice to have a cold beverage stay cold and a hot beverage stay hot...like all day. Laken insulated bottles do just that and come in a variety of sizes. They're really sturdy and you'll still find ice in it hours later. I take this with me everywhere, especially when we go anywhere with the dog. Your dad will be excited that his coffee is still hot when he gets to work, or wherever he's going, even if he gets pulled into a meeting. It's also nice to have ice water available when sitting on a hot, sweaty bus in South America. Plan to spend $30-40 on a good size one.

Give the gift of experience and save them money with either a CityPASS or a Go Card from Smart Destinations. Both save up to 50% off a city's most popular attractions and saves them from waiting in the ticket line, which is always the worst. They start around $45 and go up from there depending on the city being visited.

It's nice to have clothing that does double duty. Bluffworks pants are specifically for travel, because they are odor-resistant, stain-resistant, wrinkle-proof and almost indestructible. They look like dress pants, but they're sturdy enough to wear hiking, camping or rock climbing. One pair can work for everything you do on vacation or a business trip. These are $98 or $125, depending on the style, but they'll last a really long time.

You know what's awesome? Having noise-cancelling headphones that are also wireless and can help you sleep on the plane and are adjustable to fit everyone's head. Get them a pair of Sol Republic Air Tracks for around $70 and they will love you (even more than they already do).

Let them go farther for less by gifting them air miles or a gift card to their favorite airline. They come in any denomination you choose (or in quantities of 500 for miles), so you can work with the budget you have and, if you want to gift them your air miles, it's even more affordable.

A great traveler needs a great bag that'll hold everything they need, but also discourage overpacking. The Skyroll is basically a garment bag with organizational pockets that wraps around a tube for your shoes and toiletries. It fits under the airplane seat and is easy to throw over your shoulder. Perfect for business trips, but also for cruises. These run $149.99.

What are you doing for the dad or grad in your life next month?

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