An Amtrak Adventure: Chicago to Austin by train

Since my visit to Union Station in Kansas City, I’ve had a hankering for a long train ride, and when I found out that Amtrak could get me to Austin for the Dance/USA conference for less than the cost of a plane ticket I decided to go for it.

You’re probably either really jealous or think I’m really ridiculous.

At one point in history, the train was THE way to get there, wherever there is, and aside from the extra leg room, for me, it’s a blast to get a taste of what life was like before planes became an accessible way to travel. Our country is littered with magnificent buildings posing as train stations, and despite my home city’s inability to use Union Station efficiently, departing for a long ride from there transports you to a classier time before neck pillows and body scanners. Continue reading

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… and then there was that time that Best Western won

Merry Christmas from Cave City, KY!

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Christmas has brought us joy and cheer, beautiful scenery, and now free wifi and a non-smoking room before the final leg of the late 2013 great Florida adventure. Aside from the disappointment of landing in a dry county on Christmas night, the Best Western in Cave City is surprisingly choice when compared to the layover lodgings on the way down. I warned you there was a story about the Ramada in Nashville… here are the cliff notes, based on the qualities I look for in a one-night hotel stay:

Passing through traffic-free Hotlanta
Passing through traffic-free Hotlanta

Wifi:

BW – Yes.

Ramada – Yes.

Clean linens and no visible sign of bed bugs:

BW – Yes.

Ramada – Yes.

Fitness Center:

BW – No.

Ramada – One treadmill and one recumbent bike count as a fitness center, right?

A clean bathtub:

BW – Yes.

Ramada – We were booked in the only handicapable room despite having a reservation, so no soak in the tub for me.

Parking:

BW – In front of the room; included.

Ramada – Parking lot in front of the hotel; the staff attempted to charge us $40 for overnight parking due to a football game across the street at the stadium at 3pm. Check out was at 11am. After copious threatening tweets we arose in the morning and asked to speak with the manager. Parking was ultimately $10 + a headache.

Presence of a famous indoor guitar-shaped swimming pool:

BW – No.

Ramada – Yes. But there’s no water in it and it smells like feet.

Cost:

BW – $65 + tax.

Ramada – $89 + tax + the $40 parking debacle.

Sunset behind Tennessee hills.
Sunset behind Tennessee hills.

Ok, so it might be slightly unfair to compare price between Cave City and Nashville, but Hotwire called this a downtown hotel, which was neither accurate nor fair.

Lessoned learned are the following:

1) Don’t book hotels on Hotwire.

2) I should lower my expectations of Ramada.

3) Guitar-shaped pools are overrated.

A travel oddity…

I’ve been through the airport lots of times.  I know exactly what I can and cannot bring on an airplane.  I’ve read all the signs at security.  I have a variety of 1 oz. samples of toothpaste and shampoo that all fit in my resealable plastic bag.  I’ve got carry-on organization and metal-free airport fashion down to a science.  But a recent flight to Charlotte en route to Florida was the first time I’ve ever seen this:

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Huh?  How come old people don’t have to take off their shoes?  Does TSA fear they’ll fall over and break a hip, holding up the line even further?  What makes them think seniors aren’t just as capable of hijacking a plane as I am?  Does anyone else see the injustice in this?  I’m all for respecting my elders, but airport rules should be ubiquitously enforced.

Someone incapable of removing his/her shoes probably shouldn’t be flying anyway…

The do’s and don’ts of group travel

I learned a lot about people on my trip to Sturgis.  Traveling with a big group can present its challenges, but it can also make for a safe and enriching experience that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.  Though not typically one for etiquette guides, these are the lessons I’ve picked up during my years of travel.

Disclaimer: Sturgis was a lovely trip.  Big thank you’s go out to the fearless leaders who organized the trip, the gracious followers, and a big cheers that we all have come out of it with friendships in tact.

The lookout point for Devil’s Tower, WY. These happy, smiley faces are having a winner vacation because we all followed the do’s and don’ts of group travel

Lauren’s guide to safe and happy travels in groups:

DO pick your battles.  Traveling in large groups is a lesson in diplomacy.  DON’T be that one chick who argues about everything. But, this is your vacation too.  So if you’re not happy with a group decision to the point that it affects your good times, speak up.  Otherwise, learn to let it go.

DO pick a leader, and

DON’T be a jerk if the leader is you.  Check with the group and, if it comes down to it, take a vote, draw straws, play rock-paper-scissors.  Again, group travel is a lesson in diplomacy.  And democracy.  Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean that it’s your job to make all the decisions.

DO have an itinerary, and

DO share it with the ENTIRE group, but

DO let people stray from it.  We’re all adults here.  Establish meeting places and times, put them on printed out itineraries, and then divide and conquer.  A group can get real hostile real fast if you spend too much time together, and many friendships have been broken up over a vacation.  That’s lame.

DON’T forget to pitch in.  Even if you’re not a leader or a naturally assertive person, don’t be afraid to put your hand in and help.  Vacation is work, especially in a big group, and no one appreciates you coasting while we’re busy taking out the trash and washing dishes.  If you can’t get anywhere verbally (e.g. “Can I help?  Anything I can do?” doesn’t always get a task assigned to you… the leader will say, “No I got it”) just dive in and do something.

DO embrace the group experience.  Be a joiner and recognize that your great lodging and awesome excursions might not have been possible without the support (financial, that is) of the group.  It’s also way safer, especially when you’re traveling in places that are out of cell phone range.

That said, DON’T forget to create your own experience.  This is your vacation too.  If there’s something you want to see or do, do it.

Sturgis or Bust!

photo by Kelly Soprych

There’s something about road trips that makes me more more patriotic.  Especially if I don’t have to go through Indiana or Nebraska (no offense, but your states are pretty boring to drive through).  Taking a road trip on a motorcycle, however, has been downright religious.

I have the luxury of riding as a passenger, so I get all of the rewards of traveling by motorcycle with none of the responsibility, and fewer bugs in my teeth.  When asked what I was going to do for 2 days sitting on a bike, I jokingly said I’d find the meaning of life, but when we hit a thunderstorm and continued to ride through it, I got into this weird meditative place that was a combination of “don’t fall off the bike Lauren” and pure contentment.  Don’t get me wrong… raindrops going 65mph feel like little shards of glass hitting your face that is anything but pleasant. But my face, hands, wet feet and sore butt eventually settled into the rain and embraced it as part of the journey.

I wondered if the Buddha would have come up with something different had he been riding on a motorcycle through the rain instead of sitting under a tree.  Either way, the message is pretty much the same: Sit still, follow the path and eventually you’ll reach clearer skies.

I knew that riding motorcycles was cool, but getting a taste of the culture surrounding it is downright awesome – and not unlike the kinship I experience as a bike rider.  But to return to my point above there’s something distinctly American (in a good way) about traveling in a pack of strong, independent women across beautiful landscapes with the wind in our faces and the clouds so close you could reach out and grab ’em.

And don’t worry, mom, I’ve been wearing my helmet.

Preparing for Sturgis, and other great reasons to buy chaps

I’m about to embark on a trip I NEVER imagined I’d take.

That’s right.  I’m headed to Sturgis next Saturday!  Because, you know, I totally embody biker chick.

I’m so excited to visit a part of the country I’ve never seen, and on a method of travel I’ve never done.  I’ll be hitching a ride on the back of a Harley to journey the 1,000 miles from Chicago over two days.  I’m pretty sure my adductors will be ripped by the time I get back, and I’ve got my vintage helmet and goggles on the way from Amazon.

To chap, or not to chap? Lubbock, TX, 1940–photo by Hansel Mieth

What exactly does one wear in Sturgis?  I’ve been using Pinterest to gather ideas and inspiration for all things South Dakota, but perhaps what I’m most torn on is chaps.

  • Do I buy them?
  • Can I pull them off?
  • Would I regret not having them?

I can think of a lot of reasons to have chaps in my life.  Like Halloween and leather parties*.  With their anti-chafing capacity I may just start working out in them.

But seriously, what do you think?  Do I make a lukewarm attempt to fit in by buying something I’ll likely never wear again?  Sometimes when I try to fit in I actually fit in less than I would by otherwise just being myself.

The question that I’m posing to the universe is: Are chaps one of those things like fringe that simply fulfills some sort of style code or do they actually serve a purpose that I’ll find useful on this adventure?

So far my plan is to try and make it out there in jeans, and if my pants (and inner thighs, for that matter) suffer to the point that chaps make sense, I’m sure that the variety increases the further West I get.  But I could certainly be persuaded to buy them now if someone with experience said I should have them to save me 1,000 miles of discomfort.

Thoughts?

*Disclaimer: I have not been, nor do I intend to go to a leather party.  But then, I never thought I’d be going to Sturgis either.