Despite the economy, I was still looking forward to writing my travel column. Regardless of how you are doing economically, do not, I repeat, do not postpone some travel this year. As many of you know, I think of travel as a way of keeping ourselves sane.
Even if you are not planning to travel some distance this year, there are many wonderful and fun places to visit very close to home.
Maryland’s site for activities happening around the state is www.visitmaryland.org. Never pass up the opportunity to spend a Saturday or Sunday visiting a Maryland museum, park or garden. For example, last summer I was looking for something to do one hot afternoon. I found Historic London Town in Anne Arundel County, and it was a delight. It includes a tour of the William Brown House on the National Historic Landmark and a wonderful garden on the South River.
Each county has its own site with links to local attractions. Go to a county you have never visited. Being a rather small state, it is very easy to get to most counties for a day trip. You can also find links to all the county sites on the MSBA LOMA site.
My husband and I love to hike. Maryland has some wonderful state and county parks with some really great trails. Most of the state parks are free. Some charge $2, but you can also get a yearly pass for $75. We have one as we hike all year, and it is our way of supporting the state parks. In addition, you can buy trail maps online for all of the state parks. We now have trail maps for every state park in Maryland because once, on a hike in Gunpowder State Park, we ended up a little off our path and had to walk an extra three miles to York Road (which I knew was somewhere nearby). Consequently, I ordered trail maps, and we have not really been lost since. It was worth the extra few dollars to not waste time. Go to www.dnr.state.md.us for state park information.
Nothing is more relaxing than visiting one of the wonderful gardens in Maryland. One year, I visited the Ladew Topiary Gardens in Harford County every two weeks, just to see all of the flowers that bloomed at various times. It was a wonderful time. A good site for searching for gardens by county is www.msa.md.gov/msa/mdmanual/01glance/html/gardensc.html.
I think of travel as a way of keeping ourselves sane.
If you are driving this summer, there are sites that can keep you updated with road information, both nationally and in Maryland. Go to www.fhwa.dot.gov and click on “Planning a Trip” and the state you will be visiting. In addition, the Maryland Transportation Authority has reports on work on roads in Maryland.
Another cost-effective vacation could be to drive one of the many National Scenic Byways in the USA. Go to www.byways.org to see a list of all Byways. Maryland also has a map available at many rest stops and visitor centers that shows all the scenic roads in Maryland broken down by geographic area, as well as some of the sites in those areas.
And if you have kids along on these road trips, the site Thrifty Fun has some tips on games to keep kids happy (?) on a road trip.
A few car rental tips:
In a recent copy of AAA of Maryland’s magazine, I read these three tips for renting a car:
• Check your own insurance to make sure you are covered for repairs, damages or accidents.
• List all potential drivers on the rental contract.
• Take a photo of the front, back and sides of the car when you return it. If damage is discovered after you return the car, the rental company decides who is to blame. Having photos may help. With digital cameras, it is easy to take photos.
If you will be traveling by air and have not yet made your reservations, some sites will track airfares for you. One of the new ones is Yapta, which will track airfares, and if the price of your airline ticket drops below what you paid, Yapta will alert you when you’re eligible for a refund from the airline. However, it only applies to U.S. airlines.
This year we will be traveling to Budapest and Prague and will be staying for one week in apartments in each city. We always get apartments via the Internet and have never had a problem.
Craigslist is now also advertising vacation apartments all over the world. We are still looking for Prague apartments, so I tried using Craigslist. I found it a little disorganized, but I did click on a link which then took me to another location and I think we now have our apartment at a much lower rate than I was seeing on Google-generated sites.
Another tip I read from the Frugal Traveler from The New York Times was to include the words frugal or affordable in the Google search bar when looking for vacation rentals in a particular city. His article on doing research for your trip (May 6, 2009) was helpful, although I find him a little snarky when he says he does not use Trip Advisor because “generally, if it’s on Trip Advisor, it has already been ‘discovered’.” I am always amused by professional travel writers who show disdain for anything that might be considered a tourist destination. That is why I like Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com). Steves does go to many tourist destinations, but while there highlights some less visited sites. I highly recommend that you listen to his podcast on Italy; it was wonderful, and I am not even going to Italy this year. You can download it from his website.
This will be our first time to Eastern Europe, and we are very excited. Our only small concern is the language. Although many people in Budapest and Prague speak some English, I always feel a little more comfortable when I know a few phrases in the native tongue, like “Where is the bathroom?”, “How much does this cost?” or just “Please” and “Thank you.”
There are many companies that have software you can download to your computer or iPod with some helpful phrases. We used www.transparent.com to get both Czech and Hungarian. Another site is Learn Out Loud (www.learnoutloud.com). It includes audio learning for many topics, including languages, and I did download some tourist phrases in Czech for just $4.95.
Another iPod tool I am using is the audio tours for both cities. There are tours for many cities all over the world. You can actually use them for walking tours in the cities. I am not sure I will be that geeky, but I will listen to them before we get to Europe. Some audio tour sites include Tourcaster, Audio Tour Guides and Audio Guide 2 Go. Another site, Lodingo (www.lodingo.com), which calls itself a digital download megastore, has downloads for all types of products, including audio tours.
Although I always try to read books about a location we will be visiting, these audio tours and books are just another way to learn about your destination.
Whether you stay close to home this year or travel long distances, enjoy the journey. Every day is an adventure.