Beginner’s Guide for Americans Visiting the UK

Traveling to England was my first real foreign travel, and my first real solo trip.  During college, I went to Mexico and the Bahamas with friends, but since I did not get a stamp in my passport it never seemed foreign (enough).  Traveling to the UK is a rite of passage for many Americans, usually following high school or college graduation.  Like me, it is often the first stamp in our passport and we finally get to travel abroad by crossing the pond, aka Atlantic Ocean.  The UK is notoriously expensive, but it is a great destination to take off those travel training wheels and start to explore this big, beautiful world.  Warning – I have made this crossing many times over the last 20 years and it is absolutely to blame for my wanderlust now.

As I find myself back in England after an eight year break, I am reminded of everything that I wish I knew before my first trip to Merry ole England.  Here is my Beginner’s Guide to London/UK, specifically for Americans.

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Exploring the Champagne Region of France

Champagne is my go-to beverage for celebrations, Sunday brunch, a quiet night in, and every other occasion that I can think of. 

In February 2002 I spent a week in Reims, France to explore part of the Champagne region.  The main purpose of my visit was to enjoy as many varies of Champagne as I could!  I called to reserve my cellar tours (before online reservations), booked my hotel (through a travel agent), and rode the TGV train from Paris Gare de l’East to Reims.  My hotel was a short walk from the train station, and I stopped at a local café for dinner and pastry.

Between Champagne tastings and cellar tours, I managed to visit the Palais du Tau and nearby cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims.  I walked to most places with the occasional taxi ride.  Exploring the city as a solo female traveler was easy and safe.

The down side of travelling solo all those years ago (before smart phone with built in cameras) is that I have a fuzzy memory and very few, poor quality photos.  Admittedly, the photos were made even worse by the massive amounts of Champagne consumed during operation.

My friend Lisa recently went to the Champagne region, and was kind enough to share her experience and photos. 

During a recent trip to Europe to visit family, my husband and I snuck away to France for just a couple of days.  We thought about visiting Paris, but then I ruled against it… I wanted to go to the Champagne region instead.

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VIVO Beach Club, Isla Verde, Carolina, Puerto Rico | Beach, Beer, Brunch, and Reggae

Opened in April 2016, VIVO Beach Club is a beach front property in area of Isla Verde, Carolina, Puerto Rico with pristine white sand beaches, private pool, world class entertainment, and a variety of dining options.

Located on the outskirts of San Juan, this white sand beach is close to the heart of the city while feeling like you are away from it all!  Located mere minutes from the San Juan airport in Isla Verde, guests can enjoy perfect Caribbean water immediately upon arrival to the island.  VIVO Is fast becoming a popular destination for locals and visitors.

VIVO Beach Club Sunday Brunch January 2019 – Photo by Bonnie
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Benefits of Slow Travel

As I mature (which is a nice way to say, get older), my approach to travelling is changing.  In my early 20’s, I had a checklist of places to visit.  Before the term bucket list was coined and the creation of Pinterest, I literally had a world map on my wall that I would stick a push-pin into after visiting each city.

Weekend in Stirling, Scotland Spring 2001
Weekend in Stirling, Scotland Spring 2001

I had a magnificent job that sent me to work in the United Kingdom for almost a year, twice!  Travel was forever changed for me.  Sure, I used London as my home base to travel Europe on the weekends, but the push-pin strategy never satisfied my wanderlust.  I collected many pins, but it was not enough.

Even a few days in a city is only long enough for me to decide what I need to do and see on my next visit, and discover the hidden gems from locals. My first visit to Paris was a mere 3 days, barely enough time to see the top 5 tourist attractions (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, the Louve, Notre Dame, and Champs Elysees) and very little else (and there is so much more to see).  I felt rushed.  I felt like a tacky American tourist – maybe, because I was.

Mardi Gras week long celebrations with my Sister 1999
Mardi Gras week with my Sister 1999

After a few more hurried trips, I realized that break-neck speed of travel is exhausting.  I do not want to spend more time in transit than exploring.  In the last decade, I started to slow down, put down the guide book, and talk to the locals.   Simple curiosity and a good attitude have resulted in invitations to private country estates, weekends in sleepy little villages, multiple wedding receptions around the world, cheering with the fans for local amateur sports teams, and so much more off the beaten path activities.  I am simply not satisfied by sheer number of cities visited, I want to connect and savor the destination.

Horse ride in Banff, Canada
Horse ride in Banff, Canada

Granted, slow travel is a luxury.  Not everyone can spend weeks at a vacation destination.  10 days in Cancun enabled me to complete my Scuba certification start to finish, with a couple extra dives at the end.  Weekend trips are focused on a few activities at a destination, and almost always followed up with a longer visit to see more. Continue reading “Benefits of Slow Travel”

Paris on My Mind – Photo Retrospective

In light of the recent attacks, Paris is on my mind. Join me in the way-back machine of film photos and pre-EURO currency.

Paris 1998
Paris 1998

My first trip to Paris was in October 1998.

Booking a hotel was completed by calling a travel agent.

My pathetic high school French immediately gave me away as American, but everyone that I encountered was warm and friendly.  

My friend and I flew into Charles de Gaulle for a long weekend.  Our hotel was near the airport which required a train trip each day into the city for sightseeing. The travel agent that I booked accommodations through simply had no clue where to stay and neither of us bothered to check a map.

Paris tourism tickets from 1998

The currency was the French franc (pre-Euro), no one had mobile phones, and paper maps provided directions to each of our destinations.  I spent a full day at the Louve and finished the day with an evening view from the top of the Eiffel Tower.  I was hooked on Paris and crammed as many other attractions into the next day as possible before leaving.

Place de la Concorde 2001
Place de la Concorde 2001

In the years since, I have gone back to Paris several more times, usually by myself (sans selfie stick resulting in few photos). In May 2001, during our European vacation, my Mother and I spent a week in Paris.

The Louvre 2001

The Louvre 2001

Along with the top tourist destinations, we toured the Paris Opera house (Palais Garnier) and explored the famous fountains and gardens (Jardin des Tuilleries) around the city.  By this time, the currency was Euro, I knew to take the train in from London, and our hotel was in the city near the train station.  We still relied on paper maps, and we selected restaurants by delicious smells as we walked by.

Jardin des Tuileries 2001
Jardin des Tuileries 2001

I recall brighter skies than the film camera captured. No Photoshop, the flowers were bold and bright colors.

2001_Paris Bridge
Pont Neuf bridge 2001

A brighter, sunny, spring day in Paris.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe 2001

Asking a fellow tourist for a photo often resulted in a single blurry image. Only discovered weeks later, when the film was developed to prints.


More recent visits have included internet booked hotels & train, mobile phone with international texting, and the same warm and friendly people of Paris.

Many years have passed since my last visit, and I find that today, Paris is on my mind.

2001 Notre Dame de Paris
Notre Dame de Paris 2001

Are you ready to visit Paris?  First timers, or ready for an awesome trip, here are Practical Tips for Visiting Paris from Anna Everywhere.  She guides you through using the metro public transportation, tips for museum tickets, and the real story on the Paris Catacombs!