Travel Souvenir Ideas

Who doesn’t love to bring home souvenirs both for yourself and others-but what to get??? Before every trip, I make a list of possible items to seek out to purchase while I am there. Depending on where I am going, I research what the place is known for (think Florence=leather) and who do I need to buy stuff for besides myself. If I’m going on a girls trip, I better be bringing home something good for my husband, which is usually vinyl because he collects it. Always, I need to bring home good gifts for the grandkids. I try to bring home unique Christmas gifts for the family. You get the idea!

One new tradition that I started with our last trip to the UK, Paris and Italy was to send myself the most beautiful post card I could find from every place we went. When we got home, we had a great memory of our trip waiting for us and we ended up framing them.

So, make a list of the who, what and where for your souvenir list and then do a little research. Looking for vinyl-go to Yelp in advance for the city you are going to and read the reviews/check store hours and put it on your agenda. Don’t wait till the last minute to get your list checked off as other priorities can come up during a trip and then you leave with regrets that you weren’t able to get what you wanted-it has happened to me several times and I learned. Below are some suggestions for you based on my travels.


  • Stuffed animals local to the area: I found a wild boar that roars in Florence-so unique! We have a shelf for the grandkids with all these animals for them to play with when they visit. Oh, the fun they’ve had enacting stories with the panda bear I got at the Great Wall in China taking on the koala and kangaroo from Australia. Hint-the bear wins.
  • Ducks for the bathtub: our prize collection of ducks from around the world for our grandkids range from Vincent Van Gogh duck from Paris (look for these at museums!) to Roman Soldier duck (Bath-from the Roman Baths there but there was also a specialty store that had so many to choose from!) to Queen Duck that we got in Liverpool on the day that she died. I hope that after our grandkids grow out of creating elaborate stories playing with them in the bathtub, we will store them until their kids are ready.
  • Placemats: We started this tradition when we were in Paris and placemats were easily found in many gift shops. When I got to Florence, I looked everywhere for them and finally found one. My sister took photos from our trip and had several placemats made for me too. I let the grandkids pick one every time they come over to eat (see picture below of placemats from our girls’ trip to Bath, England). This way we can talk about the places we’ve been and encourage a love of travel in them early on. Oh, the places you’ll go!


  • Christmas tree ornaments: good for those who celebrate. My sister bought handblown ornaments for her entire office staff and had them shipped from the store in Bath. I love our NYC landmark building ornaments that we bought. Buy bubble wrap at a local stationary or postal store to carefully pack anything fragile.
  • Custom products: make all kinds of cool stuff with trip photos. For our girls’ trip, I took pictures from our trip and had them made into coasters and luggage tags for the ladies and myself. I use Shutterfly to create items like this but there are lots of online companies to pick from.


  • Food specialty items: think coffee beans (Hawaii) or tea bags (UK); Just remember that you will have to pack these items away in your checked bag or, if you are like me and only travel with a carry-on, they will have to be small to stay within liquid restrictions. Anything that smears is considered a liquid so that would include jams, honey, etc. in Europe.
  • Booze: buy what the locals drink-Scottish whiskey; Tuscany wine. Again, with liquid restrictions, you may want to see if the place will ship the booze home for you. I tried that with wine from a vineyard we visited in Tuscany and almost all the bottles made it but we did have one bottle break and shipping took two months.
  • Scarves: whether it’s designer (Milan) or handwoven (Ireland) both men AND women like scarves for fashion and to keep warm. No worries about the fit/size and super lightweight and easy to pack. Perfect gift!
  • Leather: eyeglass case, makeup case, handbag, bookmark, etc. We have purchased lots of items from the Florence Leather School because the students make the items there at the school and they offer free engraving.
  • Magnets: easy to find at any tourist store and so many people love these to post items on the fridge.


  • Pillow covers: My home is filled with pillows from everywhere in the world from China to Italy and all places in between. Many places sell the pillow cover, and you can get the pillow insert from Amazon when you return home. Easy to pack into a full carry-on, pillow covers can even be used to wrap and protect other souvenirs you buy like jewelry. We bought fabric at Liberty of London and Patti used it to make us pillow covers for Christmas presents since we couldn’t find any pillow covers to buy on our girls’ trip to London.
  • Kitchen towels: most places you can find kitchen towels. My favorites are from museums and Parliament gift stores (we have visited both the Scottish and UK Parliaments) They are light and won’t break and I use them every day in my kitchen.
  • Jewelry-I love to seek out unique jewelry pieces to bring home. They are easy to pack and every time I wear them, I have such fond memories of the trip. I have several jewelry artists that I’ve met on my travels and that I collect jewelry from now. It’s so special when you have seen the artist in action and then get to wear one of their pieces. Here are some favorites of mine:
  • Starbucks city mugs: I know, they are heavy and fragile and thus terrible items to pack, but I just love them and have collected them for years. From Moscow to Paris to Shanghai, I’ve got them and have wonderful memories of seeking them out wherever we are. On the last girls’ trip to London, we scored the original version of the London mug from a Starbucks we just happened to find when we got lost. This particular style with the raised images has been discontinued and run about $80 each on eBay so we all bought one and I drink my tea (also from the UK) in it. Next trip up is Milan in June. They have a Starbucks roaster fancy café so I’m hoping the mug selection is broad and that means I’ll be hauling it all over Italy/Switzerland for a few weeks before I return home, hopefully with it in one piece.
  • Local art: Walk the streets of Montmartre in Paris and you’ll find local artists sketching away and selling their art. We discovered a street artist in Florence who goes by the name Blub and then stumbled upon a limited edition print of Blub’s art in a local store. We were thrilled and bought a cardboard tube and had the studio roll it up for me to pack. It is now framed and hanging on our wall at home and is a fabulous reminder of our time spent hunting down Blub’s street art in the quaint streets of Florence.
  • Eyeglass frames: get the frames and bring home to get the lenses put in by your local optical place. I’ve had success with Costco. My frame collection is growing, and I now have two pairs from Florence and one from Tokyo.

I hope you can find awesome souvenirs next time you travel that will remind you of your adventures. Enjoy the journey!

Top 5 tips to book an Airbnb stay

Gazing out the window at the lively Montmartre cafes, I truly felt a part of the Parisian culture on a recent trip. This is one of the reasons I book an Airbnb for our stays that are a week or more. While I love my Marriott hotel stays, those work best for just a few days. An Airbnb is great for longer term stays and for groups like for our girls’ trips because we need more bathrooms and beds than a hotel room can provide. In Florence, we rented out an apartment in a villa (see top left pic below) where the family lived in one section, and we enjoyed three levels of living in a separate wing of the building. When my husband and I travel, often I will be working remote for a month or longer, so having strong Wi-Fi and a washer are necessary. I just booked our stay in an apartment in Strasbourg, France for a month, where I’ll be working remote during the week and taking day trips all over France on the weekends. My girls trip this year will be a stay in Paris on the Ile Saint-Louis Island in an amazing Airbnb with a water view. So much to look forward to!

Doing research before booking your Airbnb is crucial to having a happy stay so please read my tips below before you hit that “reserve” button and enjoy your journey!

  1. Read the reviews. If there are complaints about noise and the beds being uncomfortable, look elsewhere. You need a good night’s sleep when you travel. If there are no reviews, don’t book it. The listing may be new and that’s the reason for zero reviews but let somebody else try it out first. The host should disclose any issues with the rental in the description (one posting I just read stated that “If you are 6-feet +, consider other bookings because one area of the ceiling has a clearance of 5’11”) but sometimes hosts aren’t so forthright so reviews are where you will discover the truth.
  2. Choose a Superhost if at all possible. They will care more about providing a clean, consistent experience because they want good reviews. If something is amiss, they will be more likely to make it right. We checked in to one apartment in London and the cleaners hadn’t shown up yet, so we had to drop our bags and leave once they did come. However, the host gave us a full night’s credit back to our Airbnb account which was absolutely the best outcome of a situation that can happen.
  3. Check out the neighborhood before you book. Some hosts provide the address up front, and others will only show a location in the general neighborhood “exact location provided after booking”. Either way, do your due diligence and investigate. We got a super deal on a place in Lisbon, Portugal but the neighborhood was a little rough, so we didn’t feel comfortable going out at night so now I go to Google maps and look at street view level to get a feel for the neighborhood before I book. Usually, the host will include details in “Getting around” section about what you can walk to like a market and public transportation nearby. Is accessibility an issue for you or members of your group? Is the neighborhood hilly or are there stairs to climb to the local market? All good thinks to know in advance.
  4. Consider the cancellation policy. Cancel policies vary by property so make sure you check. You will usually see for each listing either: “Free cancellation before (insert date)”, which is usually 30 days prior to start of reservation OR “Free cancellation for 48 hours”. Believe me, life can happen and with a restrictive cancel policy you will lose your entire payment. My husband had a heart attack, and we couldn’t go to NYC on a planned trip. Even after explaining the situation to the host, he refused to refund our money and he was within his rights to do so given that apartment’s published cancel policy. I was still upset, and, after that incident, I now refuse to book a place that doesn’t have a more lenient policy where I can get a 100% refund within 30 days of start of reservation.
  5. Check amenities and accessibility. I have stayed in Airbnbs all over Europe. Many places have steep stairs to not only get to the apartment but also within the unit. Elevators are as rare as air conditioning, dishwashers and dryers in many countries. If these are important to you, check to make sure the place you have picked to rent has them. Even small details like having a coffee pot for me are important. One place we rented had nothing but an electric kettle which is fine for tea. We had a lovely time shopping in the local neighborhood for a french press and coffee, leaving it all behind after our week’s stay so the next renter might enjoy it. If you will be working remote and need strong Wi-Fi, check the reviews to see if other renters have had any issues and check with the host. Where we stayed in London recently not only had 5 flights of stairs inside the unit but the Wi-Fi and cell coverage was weak and only worked in a few places inside the unit, which was just inconvenient for us. At our New Zealand cottage on the water, the host provided free use of kayaks and we had an amazing paddle around the bay. Our France rental this fall has use of bikes to get around the city which I am sure we will use on our month-long stay.

I hope these tips help you book an amazing place. Safe travels!

Top 5 Travel Packing Tips

I recommend you pack only a carry-on for whatever length of time you are travelling. Seriously, I went all over Europe last fall for 30+ days with only a carry-on. And this was a multi-purpose trip for me-I work remote, so I had to look business-like on virtual meetings and also had personal time off to enjoy sightseeing with my husband. If I can do it, so can you! Don’t be disappointed by lost baggage or sustain injuries caused by dragging around and lifting heavy luggage. If you follow my best practices, learned from travelling all over the world with only a carry-on, you will thank me. Enjoy the journey!

Here we go: (downloadable travel checklist here Packing Checklist – Travels with Melinda)

  1. Pick a color palette and coordinate your outfits around it. I use black as the base and plan pops of color with scarves and jewelry. I envy people who can wear white shirts but mine just end up with stains so white is a no go for me.
  2. Try out the clothes in advance of the trip to see if they are comfortable and won’t wrinkle. When you wear them, are they comfortable and do they make you feel good? If so, take a picture to remember the look and put it in your packing list file. I’m a planner and start updating my basic packing list months in advance of any trip depending on where I am going and expected weather conditions.
  3. Lay out your 5 outfits (this is for any length of trip over 5 days) on the bed-tops, bottoms, underwear, socks, jewelry, scarves, etc. Then, see if you can mix and match them to create new looks.
  4. Wash the chosen travel outfits in the sink and hang them to dry to test their worthiness before the trip. If they don’t dry overnight or dry but with terrible wrinkles, don’t pack them. That includes socks and underwear too. You may have the luxury of a washer at an ARBNB, but you probably won’t have a dryer at least in Europe and, if you’re at a hotel, you may be washing in the sink using handy laundry soap sheets that are easy to pack.
  5. Check the weather right before you go and adjust outfits as needed. Don’t need that umbrella and poncho? Great! Do need hat and gloves? Pack them. You don’t want to be cold, wet and miserable, so better to be prepared.

 More details on exact items I recommend for the best travel experience can be found on my website: Travel Essentials – Travels with Melinda.

New York City-Top 10 Free Things to Do

New York City is my favorite place in the world. I had the great fortune to live there for six months on a work assignment for Microsoft and have also travelled there extensively over many years for both business and pleasure. I even married a born and bred New Yorker! And while I’ve travelled all around the world, I still have yet to find a city that rivals NYC. Just walking around the various neighborhoods, eating $1 pizza and bagels from the street carts, strolling through Central Park and visiting many famous museums keeps me busy. Most of what I love to do in NYC is FREE! So, I’m going to share with you my favorite free things to do in NYC. Enjoy the journey!

Central Park (Your Official Guide to Central Park I… | Central Park Conservancy ( is where real New Yorkers go to exercise and relax. Check out Belvedere castle, the turtle pond, and the great lawn. Wander around and take care not to get run over by the many bikes, roller bladers, horse carriages, etc. on the roads and pathways. It’s beautiful.

NYC Public Library tour ( I love libraries in general, but the NYC main library is by far the best I’ve seen. I didn’t appreciate how special it was until I took the free tour that took us behind the scenes and throughout all the areas you wouldn’t normally see. My husband found out that the tour guide won’t tolerate talking in the library as he got “shushed” more than once. Especially now as libraries and censoring our books is a real issue, go to the NYC Public Library and celebrate this amazing institution of learning and culture.

Little Island Park Home – Little Island is fairly new and located in Hudson River Park. It’s a great place to take a walk, enjoy the view of the Hudson and perhaps catch a concert if you’re lucky. Great pit stop when exploring the High Line and Chelsea neighborhoods-clean and plentiful public bathrooms!

High Line Walk Home | The High Line Enjoy a stroll on this former NYC railroad line. Great for people watching AND exercise. Open daily from 7 am to 10 pm. Maybe you might even stumble upon some cool street music like the picture above in one of the local parks in the neighborhood. We even saw a grand piano one time being played in a park. Awesome random experiences like that happen all the time in NYC and is one of the many reasons I love this city so much.

Grand Central terminal Grand Central Terminal – Be Transported Open since 1913, this terminal is not only a transportation hub but an iconic NYC landmark. One of Grand Central’s main attractions is the four-faced opal clock that sits in the center of the Main Concourse above the Information Booth. Grab a cocktail at The Campbell Bar, restored to its original grandeur on the balcony level or try the Oyster Bar, the oldest restaurant in the terminal. Cheers!

Times SquareTimes Square NYC When in NYC, you have to at least walk through Times Square to gawk at the bright lights in the big city. Word of caution-don’t touch the many characters walking around-who knows the last time that costume was washed! If you take pictures with them, they expect to be paid. You’ve been warned. Look but don’t touch!

Visit the TKTS booth here if you want to see a Broadway play that night and spend 30-50% less than the ticket price. Our jam was going to Broadway when we lived there and once a week we would line up and see whatever was available that night.

Museums-below are the “free” details but always check on the museum website just before you go to make sure there haven’t been any changes! More details here: Free Museum Days or Pay What You Wish | NYC-ARTS Here are some of my NYC favorites:

Metropolitan Museum of Art aka The Met The Metropolitan Museum of Art ( It is always “pay as you wish” so make a donation or walk in for free-up to you! When we lived in NYC, we got a membership and went at least once a week. My favorite rooms are the Temple of Dendur and the rooms that are exclusively Monets everywhere you look-heaven! Check out the Cloisters (part of the Met) north of the city. Worth the subway ride to get to.

Morgan Library The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, founded by Pierpont Morgan free every Friday from 5-7 pm! Libraries are my happy place and this mansion filled with books is a shrine to the written word from the Gutenberg Bible to Mozart’s scores to fabulous art.

Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) MoMA For NYC residents, the first Friday of every month from 4-8 pm is free but you still need to book tickets online-it gets busy! Children 16 and under are always free. MoMA offers one free admission to active members of the US military with valid ID as well as free admission for military families with dependent cards. Tickets are available at the Ticketing Desk.

Governors Island Park is a 172-acre park in New York Harbor. A des­ti­na­tion for trans­for­ma­tive pub­lic art, unfor­get­table events, cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram­ming and recre­ation­al activ­i­ties for all ages-check the website Governors Island (en-US) ( for more details on event programming. Wear comfortable shoes and go on a nice day to enjoy the island and the beautiful view of Manhattan.  We had the place to ourselves when we went as it is not a well-advertised tourist site. Hidden gem!

Open 7 am to 6 pm daily. Free ferry ride to get there on Saturday/Sunday before noon. Nominal fee at other times-buy tickets online: PURCHASE TICKETS (

Free, guided walking tours (not in the winter), departing from the Soissons Landing Welcome Center every Saturday and Sunday at 10:45am, 12:45pm, 2:45pm.

Concerts in the park in the summer – it’s a party! If you are travelling in the summer to NYC, enjoy the free musical and theater concerts in the parks. Check the event calendar here: Free Summer Concerts : NYC Parks ( We’ve enjoyed so many shows-some were planned to attend and others we just stumbled upon when we were walking around the city. Plan ahead and pack a travel blanket so you have a place to sit.

Neighborhood Walking Tours-Flatiron district When I lived in NYC, this was my neighborhood. From Madison Square Park where we would take our dog to the dog park to run wild with his pooch friends to gazing at the Flatiron Building to shopping at Fish Eddys, it was spectacular. Take a walking tour and find out the history of this magical place. Especially for architecture buffs, this 90-minute tour also include these landmarks: the New York Life Building, the MetLife Clock Tower, and the Appellate Courthouse. Tour is free but tip the guide! Every Sunday at 11 am, rain or shine. No RSVP or registration required.

Top 10 travel tips for flying

As I head out tomorrow on my 5:30 am (boarding at 4:50 am) flight, I am thinking to myself, “WTF WAS I THINKING!!!” It always seems like a good idea at the time you book, but these AM flights are killer even if they do get you from the West Coast to the East Coast before dark. I would just caution you to really think through your flight times as well as your layover times before you book. If you are going to arrive tired and cranky or have to run through a crowded airport to make a tight connection, maybe rethink your flight plans.

If you haven’t already, download the airline app on your phone for whatever carrier you are flying on. Use the boarding pass on your app to get through security and onto the plane. Set up push notifications to your phone within the app for any change to your travel plans. Gates change, flights are delayed or cancelled, and you need to be the first to know. Heads up-more and more airports are not making overhead announcements so the notification on your phone from your airline might be your only warning. If you have a flight cancel or are delayed too long that you will miss connections, jump on the airline’s app immediately while walking to the customer service desk to rebook. If you are travelling with a companion, have them call the airlines customer service at the same time. You never know where you’ll get the fastest service, so you have to try several options simultaneously because everyone else on that delayed flight is also trying to reschedule. Below are my top 10 travel tips for flying, accumulated from personally travelling all over the world. Enjoy the journey!

  1. Try to get on the first flight out in the morning even if it means getting up early (but maybe not as early as I’m getting up tomorrow!). These flights are far less likely to cancel. Later flights are subject to weather issues and cascading flight cancels as delays cause flight crews to take breaks every 16 hours they work. Getting TSA Pre-check for US travel is worth the time and $78 expense. I would never consider travelling without it as I typically get through TSA much faster and without taking liquids out or shoes off. For frequent global trips, get Global Entry for $100 that includes TSA Pre-check. More info on these programs here: Official Trusted Traveler Program Website | Department of Homeland Security (
  2. If you have a major event to attend like a wedding, funeral or perhaps a concert, try to arrive at least a day or two in advance to allow for flight delays/cancels. Delays happen! If they do, try to buy a day pass to one of the airline member lounges if you don’t already have a membership. They offer comfortable seating (and even beds at some airports-see pic above of Thom reclining at Delta club in Paris!) and free food/alcohol. I spend extra to have this luxury (look at those big seats in pic above!) because it makes delays and long connections bearable when travelling. Tomorrow, I have a 3-hour layover in Minneapolis, and I’ll be checking out the new Delta club that I hear is fabulous.
  3. When booking, allow for several hours between connections. You may think that the airlines sites are showing connections that are 30 minutes when you do searches so it must be alright but that is not the case. Especially at large, busy airports and those in other countries that may require you to go through customs, you need three hours minimum between flights. Really anywhere for both foreign and domestic flights, allow 90 minutes at least between connecting flights.
  4. Always check out carefully where you are sitting on the plane. Don’t be near the bathrooms or in seats that don’t recline. Speaking of awful seats-see pic above of weird wall that was in front of my husband’s seat instead of a video screen on the seat back in front of him. This wall wasn’t showing when on the map when seats were booked. On overnight flights, try to be halfway between bathrooms and galley so that it is quieter. If you need to get up frequently, get an aisle seat. Want to lean while you sleep, then get a window seat and hug the wall.
  5. Being drunk on a plane is a federal offense so don’t overdo it. Jet lag is bad enough but jet lag+hangover will negatively impact your trip. If another passenger gets drunk and rowdy, discretely go to the flight attendant and let them handle it-they are trained and will be better equipped than you are to take care of any situation.
  6. If flights are full and people have to get bumped (yes, it happens and it’s not fair if you have a ticket, but it happens), the first people to get bumped are those who paid for the tickets not directly from the airline site. So, for example, you book your ticket through a third-party site like Expedia vs. a person who bought through the Delta site, then you, as the Expedia customer, will probably be bumped. Even better, if you are a loyal frequent flyer on one airline and get status, you have the edge over others with no status. Be loyal! Sign up for the frequent flyer program at the airline you will use most often. For me, it’s Alaska for regional travel and Delta for everything else. As far as the low-cost carriers like Southwest, you get what you pay for. Southwest has had multiple systemwide issue failures causing travel havoc. Save up and fly on a better airline.
  7. Don’t bring stinky food to eat on the plane. Not only will those around you hate you but the flight attendants will too. Don’t be that person eating the taco or tuna fish or a hardboiled egg. Yuck! P.S. Also bring along Lysol wipes and thoroughly clean off your tray table and armrests-you know the plane crew doesn’t probably have time to do a good job on every single tray table for every flight. I have a vivid memory of seeing a mother bounce her baby (clad only in a diaper) on the tray table to get them to calm down. Think about that-the residue left behind from that bouncing diaper-clad bottom….and clean, clean, clean before touching your tray table.
  8. Drink water to stay hydrated. Don’t get ice in your water or drink. Various studies show ice can be contaminated with bacteria. I don’t chance it. Your choice.
  9. Bring noise cancelling headphones OR listen to the guy next to you snoring or telling you conspiracy theories or the baby crying for hours. Also, some airplane still use the headphones with jacks to watch free movies. Carry a spare pair just in case.
  10. Dress in layers to fly. I always wear pants (shorts on a plane are just stupid-sorry), a l/s top, jacket and scarf. BTW, keep your shoes on while you fly. Please for the love of God. Wear compression socks to increase circulation and reduce swelling in your legs and feet. P.S. That’s not water on the bathroom floor on the plane in case you take your shoes off and decide to use the facilities.

I’m off to go to bed at 8 pm so that I can rise at 3 am and get to the airport for my unholy early morning flight tomorrow. The good news is that I probably won’t have a travel delay and I’ll get to Indianapolis for my family visit before it gets dark. I’m homeward bound to walk down memory lane.


Singapore is a world away from where I live in Boise, Idaho. Was is it worth the 20+ hours to fly there? You betcha! I’ve travelled all over the world and there is no place like Singapore. From the towering garden sculptures to the night zoo tour, it was an epic journey.

After spending a few days working in Singapore at my company’s offices, I was joined by my friend Patti who flew in all the way from Indiana to enjoy this exotic locale with me. Together, on my days off, we explored all over Singapore taking a hop on, hop off bus first to get the lay of the land and absorb some history from the audio tour which is typically available on these types of buses.

I love a big bustling city and Singapore is all that and more with the third highest population density in the world. Even with all those folks, it is the safest and cleanest city I’ve ever seen with a strict culture of picking up after yourself. As a major business hub in Asia, numerous languages are spoken and English is one of the four official languages that also include Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. So signs, menus, etc. are found in English making it an easy visit for a traveler from the US.

What to see and do

Marina Bay is a neighborhood that you could spend a whole day walking around but the “must do” is going up 56 levels to see the panoramic view from the Sands Skypark Observation Deck at the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Plan a trip around sunset and then walk over to the Gardens by the Bay for a cooler nighttime walk through the gardens or watch the light show set to music from across the bay at one of the restaurants on the water. Sands Skypark Observation Deck

Gardens by the Bay is filled with flora and fauna but it’s famous for the towering sculptures that light up at night. Spanning 250 acres in the Central Region of Singapore, it has three waterfront gardens filled with over 1.5 million plants from around the world. It is free to just walk around the gardens but costs to enter the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest (indoor waterfall) or skywalk. Patti and I went at night after going to Sands Skypark and enjoyed the nightly lights show set to music. Gardens by the Bay

Raffles is the historic hotel/bar established in 1819 as Singapore was just becoming a major trading post of the British Empire. At Long Bar, it is an energetic production by the bartenders to create their iconic drink, the Singapore Sling. First created in 1915 and widely known as the official cocktail of Singapore, this gin-based cocktail contains pineapple juice, lime juice, curaçao and Bénédictine. Grenadine and cherry liqueur give it a pink hue. Patti and I both loved it and it went down way too fast especially given the price which was not low. But, when in Singapore, drink at least one Sling. Cheers! Long Bar – Raffles Singapore – Home of the Singapore Sling

Singapore Zoo, set in a rainforest environment, is home to over 2,800 animals from over 300 species of mammals, birds and reptiles. Patti picked the guided open sided tram ride through the zoo at night as a “must do” adventure. Oh my-lions and tigers and bears roaming around in the dark. Truly a unique experience you would not get in the US. I kept watch for any aggressive animals that might hop onto the tram and eat us, but we survived and had a blast! Night Safari | Mandai Wildlife Reserve

Botanic Gardens admission is free (fee for Orchid Gardens) so go early when it is cooler and enjoy a beautiful walk in nature. Take the SMRT to the Botanical Gardens and be prepared to walk a lot! Singapore Botanic Gardens | Homepage (

Chinatown  Get a walking tour to learn all about the history of this area and then enjoy the food and shopping. Patti and I love foot massages so we decided to find the best authentic massages in Singapore and compare them to the ones we enjoyed in China. It was amazing and we laughed at the zest and vigor the masseuses had for inflicting torture upon our feet. We left refreshed and ready to walk the streets of Singapore. Chinatown Singapore: Rediscover Food, Heritage and Traditional Crafts.

Food aka hawker stalls in Singapore are famous for their variety of cuisines under one roof. For someone like me who has a weak stomach and can’t eat a lot of foods, it’s not an essential visit but for most people, this is the highlight of their trip to Singapore.  Hawker Centres in Singapore – Visit Singapore Official Site

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Westin Hotel in Marina Bay Area of Singapore | The Westin Singapore ( The water views from our room and the rooftop infinity pool were amazing. This is a luxury property from the hotel lobby bar to the business center to the lavish breakfast buffet. It is very centrally located and you can walk many places. The doorman will get you a taxi if you want to venture farther away. I highly recommend!

Getting around

The taxis are government backed and very inexpensive. In addition to taxis, there is SMRT Singapore Mass Rapid Transit to get around town. About Transitlink

Irish Goat Farm-Stay on the Wild Atlantic Way

Hanging out with goats in a magical forest in Ballyvaughan, Ireland sounds like a great adventure, right? Typically, our preferred locations for vacations are big cities where we walk everywhere exploring the neighborhoods and enjoying cafes and shops. However, one of our most memorable trips we have taken was a complete and unexpected departure from the norm. Goats! And lots of them from the head dude to the herd that followed him around, all located on a bayside retreat near Galway. Enjoy the journey!

Not only did we enjoy staying in a beautiful house sitting on a historical fishing harbor on the Atlantic Ocean while watching the tides flow in and out, but it was just a short stroll through the ferns and trees to meet up with the goat herd and observe their clan as they live their best lives in this beautiful setting. The ARBNB (Harbourhillhouse Goatfarm – Farm stays for Rent in Ballyvaughan, County Clare, Ireland – Airbnb) was outstanding in all ways and I highly recommend as a unique retreat.

The host lives separately on the property, taking care of their goats and their guests. We met her for feeding time and heard all about the hierarchy of the goats. They eat and sleep in a community where they have to earn their place in the superior accommodations of the sheds. From the goat village, the goats make daily pilgrimages to the water. It is a sight to see.

When not hanging out with the goats or gazing at the water, we ventured into Ballyvaughan to get groceries and explore the shops and bars. Check out O’Loclainn’s Pub for an authentic Irish experience-just don’t try to order a Cosmo. Head out to Newtown Castle on the water to absorb some history and shop-yes, they have artisans working on their wares right there and selling them to tourists. I got some beautiful handmade jewelry there.

When on the west side of Ireland, the must sees include the town of Galway and a boat tour of the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands. Watch the weather and don’t book a boat tour in advance-trust me. Our first trip to Ireland, the weather turned bad, and we couldn’t go the day we had paid for in advance and we weren’t there long enough to reschedule. Next trip, we just went to the dock on a nice day, got a ticket and walked on the boat. This will work during the “shoulder” seasons when it’s less busy. If you are going in the summer months, you may have to take that risk. We passed through the town of Lisdoonvarna on our way from the goat farm to the cliffs and saw the famous Matchmaker Bar. They have a festival every year to match folks up! I imagine it’s quite the happening place.

If you like hiking, I would recommend taking the combo Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher boat trip. We were dropped off on the island and then walked several miles exploring all over the small island. From the cemetery with the ancient crosses to the boat wrecks on the beaches, it was a glorious day. Happy to be back on the boat, it took us by the Cliffs of Moher while we rested. You can walk the path along the cliffs if you are not scared of heights. 

Another day, drive a few miles up north to Galway. A picturesque city on the water, walk the streets, enjoy a meal and a pint and shop! Here are some of my favorite places:

I’m not a fan of driving but, if your goal is to explore off the beaten path in Ireland, it’s probably a necessary evil. I’ve done this twice now and have some advice to share:

  • Research in advance all the fees you will be charged. I thought we were going to pay a much lower amount than what we found out when picking up the car because the extra insurance they require was double the cost of the daily rental rate. If you pay for the rental with an American Express, that may cover the requirement of insurance. International car rentals won’t recognize US insurance coverage. Be forewarned!
  • At the many roundabouts (circular traffic paths that are a replacement for traffic lights) just keep saying to yourself “Stay Left!” and you may survive.
  • Highways in Ireland are lovely and wide. All other secondary roads can be very narrow so don’t rent a huge car. We had a compact and still had shrubs and trees hitting the car on both sides on lanes that were supposedly for two-way traffic but really were like cow paths where oncoming traffic had to edge over as possible between breaks in the stone walls lining most roads to allow cars to pass each other.
  • Pack a flask with you to fill with authentic Irish whiskey for those adventures driving on the narrow cow paths! I am not joking. The cows are huge over there and they use the same roads as the cars to get from field to field. Interesting and terrifying. Cheers!


Prague is one of my favorite European cities. Friendly, beautiful, reasonable prices and a great walking city. What’s not to like?

Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic. Built on the Vltava River, it has a rich political and cultural history with Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture on display for your walking all over the city enjoyment. My favorite building is the “dancing house” aka “Ginger and Fred”, which must be seen to be appreciated for its quirkiness. Since 1992, the historic center of Prague has been a World Heritage UNESCO site and rightly so as there is art everywhere you look. For my money, Prague is a “must see” city to be included in any European adventure.

There are many “sights” to see like Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, the Jewish Quarter, and the really famous (thanks to SO many Instagram posts) Prague astronomical clock. While all those places plus ten major museums and numerous theaters, galleries and historical exhibits are worthy of your time, my favorite memory of Prague is pedaling around the Vltava River in one of the unique boats you can rent. See Prague from the water!

We were able to spend two weeks in Prague during the late spring. I was on a work trip but added on a few vacation days too. As usual, my husband travelled with me on my business trips, taking beautiful photographs and exploring where we would go when I got off work. For the first part of our trip, we stayed out in the Prague suburbs at the Prague Courtyard Marriott and lived like a local. The public transportation is fantastic with cable cars running up and down into the city, so it was really convenient to get around. We strolled the neighborhood farmer’s market, had a picnic on the hill overlooking the city to view the sunset and saw some interesting sculpture-babies crawling up a building. Say what??? You just have to see it to believe it.

Later, we moved into a gorgeous historic hotel in the heart of city center Prague and stayed at the NH Collection Prague Carlo IV Property (was a Marriott when I was there). The lobby was grand, and we enjoyed the one-of-a-kind stunning pool with a curved vaulted ceiling. I was surprised that Prague was considered such a young “party town” but we saw so many hen and stag parties all over. The hen parties are hilarious with the bride and bridesmaids dressed up and running around in a group. The stag boys seemed to enjoy the beer pedal carts and weed stores on every corner. Party down! Our jam is more a low-key experience, so we typically seek out coffee shops, small concerts wherever we go (churches are great venues!) and we even got to see a classic ballet, Swan Lake.

We wandered by an office building and had a chance encounter with the Franz Kafka statue. The 42 moving panels form the face of a famous Czech writer Franz Kafka and is just one of many works of art found on the streets of Prague. Like many European cities on a river, crossing the Charles Bridge is a “must do” but be prepared for crowds and pickpockets. We went early in the day just to avoid the crush.

Another famous sight to check out close to the Charles Bridge is the John Lennon wall. According to their website: Once a normal wall, it gained its significance during the communist regime and became a symbol of freedom, western culture and rebellion against the regime. The wall became a safe place for people to express their opinions and grievances. Among those, inspiring lyrics and positive messages would appear including John Lennon’s quote and The Beatles lines.

One day while I was working, my husband strolled around Vojan gardens and found some peacocks hanging out. What a find! The pictures he took (above) of these beautiful creatures are astounding. While we didn’t have time to take an antique car ride around town, it seemed very popular and looked like fun. Check it out and let me know! We did find time to visit the Prague library because I love all things books, libraries and reading! Artist Matej Kren’s “Idiom” is a long-term art installation where hundreds of books are stacked in a cylindrical tower with mirrors placed at the bottom and the top to give the exhibit the illusion of being infinite. An opening on one side of the tower allows visitors to peek in so I got a photo!

Another hidden gem we just wandered into was the Convent of Poor Clares and Franciscans in Old Town, which was founded in early 1200s. Now it’s a museum filled with amazing medieval art to enjoy and then walk the outside gardens filled with sculptures on the convent grounds. Old Town is filled with cafes and shops. I would dedicate a whole day just to this area to explore. In Prague, the beers are large and the food delicious.

Of course, we had to do a little shopping. Thom predictably found the Happy Feet vinyl store in a quirky retail arcade featuring an upside-down horse hanging from the ceiling. Art everywhere! I prefer handmade jewelry and got a steel choker at an outdoor weekend market for about 10 euros that I still wear frequently. Stay away from the touristy stores and seek out more unique items to take home to remember your trips. Enjoy the journey!

Paris Shopping

Wandering the streets of Paris and popping in with a “Bonjour” to all the neighborhood shops is a true delight. You just never know what you will find! I will caution you that if you find a treasure, buy it. On my trips, there will be times I see something and pause to consider before making a spendy purchase. I’m still regretting not picking up a vintage Louis Vuitton bag I saw in a little store in the Marais. From grand department stores to quaint little shops to flea markets, enjoy the journey!





VINYL (My husband’s addiction-we buy vinyl wherever we go from Amsterdam to Moscow)


  • Paul Art & Design a little shop at the bottom of the steps to Sacre Coeur filled with fun art design items that you will want to buy. Visit with the shop bulldog terrier (shown above) who inspires many of the designs.
  • Sobral at 76 Temple. Sobral jewelry creations are made of resin, by hand, in our eco-ethical workshops-laboratories where reuse and recycling are paramount. Each piece is unique and colorful. I like these pieces because they are unusual, not heavy and reasonably priced. Wished I had bought more when I was there.
  • Discounted last year fashion at:


THE bookstore in Paris to go to is Shakespeare and Company which is an English-language bookstore opened in 1951 and located on Paris’s Left Bank. Check on their website for special events such as author book readings. Buy a book and, when you purchase, ask them to stamp their “Shakespeare & Co.” logo in it. Great souvenir or gift for book lovers! The book pictured above was purchased for our granddaughter and will be cherished forever.

Value Added Tax (VAT) Refund

If you plan on shopping in France, you need to know about the Value Added Tax (VAT) so you can get some money back when you leave! It’s not that complicated so here are the guidelines:

  1. Must be 16 years old and not a citizen of European Union.
  2. Must have your actual passport with you to get the paperwork from the shop when you purchase over $100 euros of merchandise.
  3. Tell shop owner you want a “VAT Tax Refund Document”. The big luxury stores will definitely provide and fill it all out for you. Some smaller shop owners may not do it but instead sometimes they offer a discount on your purchase. Ask for it!
  4. Submit your VAT refund paperwork at the airport or rail station-go to the website of wherever you are leaving from to find out where the VAT refund office is located.
  5. You may have to drop the paperwork in a box and it will be processed within 90 days OR there may be a staff person there to scan it and process it immediately. Depends on the place. Credit goes back on credit card you purchased it on.

Paris-Getting Around Town


Walk. Everywhere. It’s fast, dependable and free. I typically walk 10,000 steps minimum on any day in Paris and have on occasion done 20,000+. There is no better way to soak up the French culture than by walking the arrondissements on foot. Enjoy the journey!


One of my favorite moments in Paris was when we were riding the Metro and sat beside a woman who was using her commute time to sketch the people in the car with us (see picture above). It’s these type of experiences you won’t get in a taxi or Uber.

Paris is a walking city but there will be times when you need to get somewhere far away or it’s raining and then you should take one of the trifectas of public transportation: Metro, bus or RER train. Unfortunately, Paris hasn’t implemented “tap to pay” for their public transportation like the UK has. You still have to buy a paper ticket at the local convenience store or automatic machines at transportation stations. Info here: Metro map of Paris and the île-de-France region | RATP. Video to check out if you are a visual learner: how to get around Metro and RER video.

Caution: you must validate your ticket for subway and RER train in Paris. We saw a couple sitting next to us get a 35 Euro fine a piece because their tickets weren’t validated when security walked through and checked everyone. Being validated means you put in your ticket at stations to open gates and go to your platform. Leaving Versailles today, I checked my ticket after I went thru the gate and it didn’t show validated, so I went to the service desk, and they had to do it for me and then let me back through. Avoid fines. Check your ticket.


G7 are the official taxis so look for the G7 placard before you get in. Don’t think you can just wave down a taxi on the street. Either get your hotel doorman to get you one or use the G7 app. The train station and some major tourist sites/shopping areas will have a taxi stand so get in line and wait your turn. We’ve used Uber more than taxis in Paris. On one eventful Uber trip, we were in the car and driving toward our destination when the driver pulled over and asked us to get out so that he could do a quick U-turn and escape a protest that had popped up nearby. He didn’t want any harm to come to his beautiful Mercedes, which I can appreciate but it was quite the adventure. Leaving the car, we saw the protest quickly catch up to us and, as we ran in the opposite direction, the tear gas exploded nearby. Quite the story to tell when we returned home. Strikes and public protests are very common in France as a means for citizens to express their displeasure at the government. When these happen, transportation is disrupted, and walking is always your best option.


Everyone visiting Paris has to take a boat ride on the Seine. This can be as quick and easy as a boat taxi (just go to boat stand on the river to get a ticket and then hop on and hop off as you desire) or as long and expensive as a dinner cruise. Choose one but experiencing Paris from the Seine is a “must do” for any first-time visitor. Book dinner cruises in advance on TripAdvisor/Viator after you see the weather forecast.


You’ll be flying into Charles De Gaulle (CDG) or Orly (ORY). Paris traffic is terrible so I recommend public transportation that is not only cheaper but faster. Check out all your options here for both airports: Access, maps, routes – Paris Aéroport (

Arriving by train? Then just use the Metro (subway) system to get to where you are going from the train station.


Transportation apps that I have found helpful:

  • G7 for taxis
  • Uber
  • Paris Metro for subway
  • Citymapper to get around walking
  • Rome2rio for transportation
  • FLUSH for public bathroom
  • Toilettes Paris


I hope you never lose your passport, but it happens. If you do, it’s best to be prepared with the knowledge of what to do:

  • Pack a photocopy of your passport and keep in separate place in your luggage for safe keeping.
  • Go to the US Embassy located right near the Place de Concorde next to the Hotel de Crillon.
  • Arrive early by 8 am (no appointment needed for emergencies).
  • Process takes a few hours at best so plan accordingly.
  • No cell phone allowed in the Embassy so leave it at home or they will hold for you while you get business done.
  • There is a photo booth onsite to take a passport photo or even better, travel with an extra passport photo with your photocopy of your passport.
  • Cash or card to pay. No ApplePay or GooglePay.
  • You’ll get an “emergency” passport that day to travel home with.
  • Good luck!