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A Gem on Georgia's Golden Isles: The King and Prince Resort, St. Simons Island

A Gem on Georgia's Golden Isles: The King and Prince Resort, St. Simons Island | CosmosMariners.com

For three amazing days last week, I left Landon and Britton at home and headed down to Georgia's Golden Isles. (Don't feel too bad for Britton, as she went to Walt Disney World with my parents!) While I was there, I explored St. Simons Island and used the King and Prince Resort as my base. The hotel is an island landmark--for good reason, as it has long been synonymous with the island's public beach access--and I was excited to see if it lived up to everything I'd heard about it. (Spoiler alert: it did!)

Charlotte Arts: Where to Find Culture in North Carolina's Queen City

Charlotte Arts: Where to Find Culture in North Carolina's Queen City | CosmosMariners.com

It may be a center for banking (America's second largest after New York City!), but there's plenty to offer visitors who are in search of decidedly non-banking stuff in Charlotte, North Carolina. For those of us (like myself!) who can't get enough of museums, art, dance, and theatre, the Queen City is the perfect spot for a long weekend. From museums that your kids will love to theatres that celebrate the grace and poise of ballet, Charlotte is the place to be if you're looking for a little more culture in your life.

Unique Museums in Uptown
In a great location on South Tryon Street, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art has four stories packed with local and national artwork. My favorite time periods in literature and art are the modern and post-modern periods, so I enjoyed the wide array of artists and art styles represented here. On the top floor was a collection of Henri Matisse's art books: I loved learning more about the intertwining of myth, writing, and sketching in Matisse's works through this incredible exhibit, which runs through mid-September.

During your visit, don't forget to take a picture with the 17-foot-tall iconic Firebird statue out front!

Charlotte Arts: Where to Find Culture in North Carolina's Queen City | CosmosMariners.com

The Levine Museum of the New South is the only museum of its kind in the world: it focuses exclusively on the history of the South post-Civil War. I love learning about the antebellum South, but it was refreshing to find a place that tried to unpackage the complicated economics, race relations, and rebuilding process that took place after the war.

Charlotte Arts: Where to Find Culture in North Carolina's Queen City | CosmosMariners.com

Named after the man who was the first to integrate Clemson University (my alma mater!), the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture celebrates the literature, poetry, paintings, dance, and film created by African-Americans. As another nod to the center's focus, the museum is located in the Levine Museum of the Arts, which resides in one of the nation's oldest African-American communities. 

The McColl Center for Arts is located in a gorgeous old church at 721 North Tryon Street. Head inside to wander the more than 5,000 square feet of exhibition space and nine art studios.

Little Arts for Little Kids
Imaginon is geared towards the younger set, but pulls off the intersection between kiddie entertainment and thoughtful teaching beautifully. With a library, a hands-on learning section, and a large theatre for children's productions, Imaginon is an excellent way to introduce literature, arts, and plays to your favorite little traveler. The Children's Theatre of Charlotte operates a fantastic line-up of kid-centric plays throughout the year in Imaginon's theatre.
Charlotte Arts: Where to Find Culture in North Carolina's Queen City | CosmosMariners.com
In the theatre at Imaginon awaiting the start of an adaptation of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar

A staple in Uptown Charlotte since the 1980s (and a childhood favorite of mine!), Discovery Place makes science fun. This two story museum is completely hands-on, so you and your kids can lay on a bed of nails to test gravity, use wooden slats to build famous landmarks and learn about architecture, and get up close and personal with fish in the aquarium downstairs.

Charlotte Arts: Where to Find Culture in North Carolina's Queen City | CosmosMariners.com
Britton checking out Discovery Place--and loving every minute
With gorgeous collections of ceramics, glass, fiber, and wood, the Mint Museum Uptown boasts a nationally-recognized Craft and Design collection. It's located right across the street from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art so you can have a cultural day!

Culture All Year 'Round
If you're looking for a night out at the theatre, there are several places in Uptown where you can catch a concert, stand-up comedy, symphony, or play. The schedules for each place vary according to the season, so check out each calendar to find the perfect performance for you!
  • Carolina Theatre
  • The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center houses several smaller areas, including the Booth Playhouse and the Belk Theatre. 
  • Charlotte Ballet
  • Charlotte Symphony
  • McGlohon Theatre
Arts Elsewhere in the Queen City
Leaving Uptown doesn't mean that you're leaving the museums and learning experiences behind. Visit Discovery Kids, a museum geared for younger children, on Gilead Road after you've explored the main museum. The Carolina Aviation Museum, located near the airport, showcases the state's rich history in flight, which began with the Wright brothers lifted off on Kitty Hawk in the Outer Banks. Peek inside the library of one of the most influential religious leaders of the last century at the Billy Graham Library

Do you enjoy visiting museums? Which of these would you like to visit in Charlotte? What's the best museum that you've experienced?

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Time to Hit the Road: Heading out on Our Florida Road Trip!

The last few weeks have been a little hectic. I was in Charlotte back in March, then hopped over to St. Simons Island, Georgia, for a few days earlier this week. Now, we're heading out on a fun-filled road trip down to Florida's Gulf Coast!

Yes, it's been busy--and will continue to be that way well into the summer--but I wouldn't have it any other way. (Spoken like a travel blogger, right?!)

Time to Hit the Road: Heading out on Our Florida Road Trip! | CosmosMariners.com
Bye, everyone! See you after I back into the mailbox!

Over the next week, Landon, Britton, and I will explore several spots in and around St. Pete Beach as a part of the Florida Superior Small Lodging Association (FSSLA) blogger road trip. In addition to being a great way to highlight locally owned and operated hotels and inns (a cause close to my heart!), this trip will also be the first trip that all three of us have taken--without any other family members--since we went to Savannah, Georgia, when Britton was six months old.

It will also be the longest road trip that Britton's taken to date, but we've got our fabulous road trip bag packed, her DVD player and her favorite movies, and a bunch of books for her to read. Plus, we're hoping she'll sleep most of the way down there!

We're stopping off in Orlando for a few days on our own before kicking off the FSSLA portion of the trip in Pass-a-Grille. We'll then head up to Indian Rocks Beach for a bit and finish off the trip with a stay in St. Pete Beach. If you've been to any of these areas, make sure to tell me what we should do and eat!
Time to Hit the Road: Heading out on Our Florida Road Trip! | CosmosMariners.com
Paddleboarder at Indian Shores, Florida

I've only been to the area once: Landon and I went to Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and Tampa last year for a whirlwind three-day trip. One this upcoming road trip, I'll have more time to explore the restaurants and beaches, so share your ideas for me in the comments.

I'll also be sharing as much as I can while we're on the road, so keep checking back on the blog, my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Where do you love to go on your road trips? Have you been to the Gulf Coast of Florida recently? If so, what do you like to do?

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A Flight Through History: St. Simons Island, Georgia, and World War II

A Flight Through History: St. Simons Island, Georgia, and World War II | CosmosMariners.com

I grew up listening to my grandfather talk about his experiences in the Navy during World War II--he was on an aircraft carrier that was the first to visit both Nagasaki and Hiroshima after the bombs were dropped.

Perhaps because of his stories, I've always been fascinated with World War II, and even partially focused my master's thesis on wartime London and the Blitz. There are so many stories from both the Pacific and European theatres that I could easily write a travel blog just on places related to World War II.

I've been in St. Simons Island over the last few days to learn a bit more about the history of the island (and for a place that's only the size of Manhattan, there's A LOT!). As part of my adventures, I headed over to the McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport to discover how this small barrier island was crucial to the war efforts here in Georgia.

Even before the attack of Pearl Harbor, there were clues that the Axis powers were coming too close for comfort. Along the Georgia coast, people began reporting strange boats, some of which came close enough to shore that guests at the King and Prince Resort could see them from the beach.

In response to this threat, Sea Island resort founder Howard Coffin appealed to the government for a stronger military presence on the island. When little help arrived, the residents of Sea Island and St. Simons decided to take matters into their own hands and petition the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.

With her help, the Georgia Civil Air Patrol was created, and the islands had a small but dedicated force to help alert the military of U-boat approaches. The patrol used the four-year-old McKinnon airport as their base.
A Flight Through History: St. Simons Island, Georgia, and World War II | CosmosMariners.com
Photo courtesy of Winn Baker, Glynn County Airport Commission archives

Even though what the Civil War Patrol was doing was important--finding U-boats and protecting U.S. merchant ships coming into the Brunswick harbor--they didn't have much support from the government. The men who were involved in the patrol were called the "Sandwich and Suicide Squad" because of their shoestring budget and dangerous missions.

Their planes (shown below) often had to be left in the elements since there weren't hangers available for the aircraft. The Patrol also had difficulty repairing their planes since the majority of the plane parts and scrap metal was being sent overseas.

A Flight Through History: St. Simons Island, Georgia, and World War II | CosmosMariners.com
Photo courtesy of Winn Baker, Glynn County Airport Commission archives

As America joined the war, the Navy took over McKinnon Airport, though some of the members of the Civil Air Patrol stayed on to help. At this time in history, radar was a brand new tool for the military, and the Navy established a radar school on St. Simons to train people.

A Flight Through History: St. Simons Island, Georgia, and World War II | CosmosMariners.com
Photo courtesy of Joseph Schlosser, Glynn County Airport Commission archives

After the war ended, the Navy returned McKinnon airport back to the county, who runs it today.

To make this historic learning experience even more incredible, I headed back the next day to ride in a World War II-era Douglas DC-3. This particular plane was built in 1944 (by the female factory workers who were iconized as Rosie the Riveter!), participated in the European theatre and saw some action on D-Day. After the war, the plane found a new home in Canada, where it remained for nearly forty years.

In July 1986, in celebration of the DC-3's 50th anniversary and the World's Fair on Transportation and Communication, the plane began a round-the-world trip that took two months. On the trip, the DC-3 visited five continents (excluding South America and Antarctica) and made 46 stops. Soon afterwards, Lance Toland, the current owner, purchased the plane. Since Toland has owned it, he's refurbished the plane and has used it for personal transportation. For the most part, though, this grand bird stays grounded these days: "I only fly it between fifty and seventy hours a year," he said.

I went up on the plane one beautiful afternoon with Toland and fellow pilot Winn Baker at the controls.
A Flight Through History: St. Simons Island, Georgia, and World War II | CosmosMariners.com
The owner of the plane, Lance Toland (left), and Georgia Aviation Hall of Famer Winn Baker (right)
Baker, a native of St. Simons, has worked in aviation his entire life, and served as a Delta pilot and one of the founders of the Golden Isles Aviation (an FBO, or fixed base operator) that still serves guests at the airport today. Baker's more than 41,000 flight hours made me feel less anxious about climbing into an aircraft that's as old as my grandparents!

A Flight Through History: St. Simons Island, Georgia, and World War II | CosmosMariners.com

We cruised around Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, and Sea Island in the DC-3, and were treated to some spectacular views of the area.
A Flight Through History: St. Simons Island, Georgia, and World War II | CosmosMariners.com
The King and Prince Resort (with the red roofs on the left)

A Flight Through History: St. Simons Island, Georgia, and World War II | CosmosMariners.com
The Jekyll Island Club Resort

A Flight Through History: St. Simons Island, Georgia, and World War II | CosmosMariners.com
St. Simons Island Lighthouse
Seeing coastal Georgia from this perspective isn't something that I'll forget anytime soon!

While St. Simons Island visitors aren't able to take rides in the DC-3 on a regular basis, there are restored biplane rides available each summer!

It's amazing how much history there is in this area of Georgia, so on your next trip to St. Simons Island, take some time away from the beach to explore that side of the island.

Have you been to St. Simons Island? Do the WWII connections of the island interest you? Have you ever gone up in a historic plane?

Visiting the Bahamas: A Guide to the Islands

Visiting the Bahamas: A Guide to the Islands | CosmosMariners.com

Nestled less than a hundred miles off the coast of Florida, the Bahamas are a playground of crystal clear waters, white sand beaches, and beautiful resorts. While it might be easy to clump all of the islands together, each actually has its own personality and unique offerings. 

If you’re thinking about vacationing in the Bahamas, it’s essential to pick the right islands for the trip that you want. While there are 700 islands in the chain, only about 30 are inhabited. Here’s a quick overview of the major islands you’re most likely to visit on a jaunt to the Bahamas!

Paradise Island, located right next to Nassau, is worth a visit, even if it’s only to walk around the grounds. Since it was built in 1998, people from all over the world have flocked to the Atlantis resort’s water parks, fancy hotel suites, dining, aquariums, and water sports. Check out the more than 30 restaurants, 20 pools, and 3,400 rooms! 

Visiting the Bahamas: A Guide to the Islands | CosmosMariners.com

Head to Andros Island for a taste of what the unexplored Bahamas are like: laid back and incredibly scenic. I had the opportunity to explore Andros during a college study abroad session, and the island was unforgettable. With only 6,000 people spread out on the largest of the Bahamian islands, you get all of the beaches, snorkeling (on the world’s third largest barrier reef!), and fishing practically to yourself for a fraction of what you’d pay on Nassau. Visit the Androsian fabric factory for a glimpse at how this iconic local fabric is still made by hand, visit Morgan’s cave to see if you’ll be the one to find some pirate gold, or listen to the oral history of a village that remained a secret from the world for over a hundred years. 

Visiting the Bahamas: A Guide to the Islands | CosmosMariners.com

Grand Bahama Island, where Freeport is located, is another popular cruise port. With golfing, casinos, nightclubs, and parasailing on the island, it’s one of the two major settlements in the Bahamas (with the other being Nassau). Still, even with the large number of annual visitors, you’ll be able to find some quiet time in the Lucayan National Park and Gold Rock Beach. And if you’re visiting in mid-April, do not miss the Junkanoo Carnival—with the colorful costumes, upbeat music, and dazzling parades, it’s the perfect way to immerse yourself into the cultural of the Bahamas. 

The capital of the island nation, Nassau is probably best known as one of the busiest cruise ports in the Atlantic. As soon as you step off of the boat, your senses will be overloaded: you’ll have people calling to you to get your hair braided, the smell of fried conch wafting out of nearby restaurants, and the sun sparkling on the blue waters. 

Visiting the Bahamas: A Guide to the Islands | CosmosMariners.com

The Exumas, a portion of the Bahamas' out islands (so called since they're away from the hustle and bustle of Nassau and Grand Bahama Island) is another excellent place to discover your own private breach or perfect snorkeling spot. Dive down into the waters to examine the stromatolites, the world's oldest known macrofossils. Relax on the island's longest beach, the Tropic of Cancer Beach, which was named after its geographic coordinates. But winning out for cuteness in the island's offerings are the island's acclaimed swimming pigs. They swim out to boats that moor nearby and are tame enough to feed and swim near--you'd better have a treat or two handy to share!

Visiting the Bahamas: A Guide to the Islands | CosmosMariners.com

You're not seeing things: the sand on Eleuthera is actually pink! The island is over 100 miles long, but is only a mile wide in some places, so you have a very high likelihood of finding a beach all to yourself. Choose from the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Atlantic on the other--no matter where you decide to settle for your vacation, you'll love the peace and quiet.

No matter where you visit in the Bahamas, make sure you grab a Goombay Punch (a sugary sweet pineapple-coconut soft drink) and some fried conch before you head to the local beach to relax!

Visiting the Bahamas: A Guide to the Islands | CosmosMariners.com

Have you been to the Bahamas? Which is your favorite island? 

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance)

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance) | CosmosMariners.com

Several years ago, before I'd even thought about travel blogging, I went to Paris, France, with my parents and my sister. My sister is a Francophile through and through, so she chose several days in Paris as her high school graduation present.

On the surface, I should have fallen in love with the City of Lights: it has an incredible history, it's the setting for many of my favorite books (The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera are two that I can read again and again), and it's chock-a-block full of museums. But the reality of Paris left me wondering what the hype was all about.

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance) | CosmosMariners.com
The Louvre
Over the course of our time in Paris, I had some great experiences and some down right awful experiences: there really wasn't much in the in-between.

While we were there, I loved visiting the art museums, particularly the Musee d'Orsay and the Pompidou Centre. I adored seeing the setting of The Phantom of the Opera at the Opera Garnier. I was stunned by the beauty of Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and Sainte-Chappelle. I am usually a very upbeat person who can find the best in just about anything, especially when I'm traveling.

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance) | CosmosMariners.com
One of my favorite places in Paris: the Pompidou Centre!
So, given all of these great things that I experienced, why exactly didn't I love Paris?

The people were quite rude to us. Not all of them, of course--we bought breakfast from this one tiny bakery near our hotel several times, and the guy who ran it was really nice. But most of the people (everyone from the ticket person at the Metro to the waiters who served us) acted haughty and as if we were beneath them.

For example, one night we were tired after a long day of sightseeing and couldn't find the Metro station. We knew there was one nearby, but the entrance was eluding us. We went up to a food cart to ask for directions (in French, no less). I know my French isn't great (or even decent), but I was trying my best to put together grammatically correct sentences to ask where the Metro was. There were several people at the cart, and they all laughed at me. They laughed. When I then asked if they spoke English (again, in French), they said no and laughed again.

The thing is, I was trying really hard to communicate with them. I know I wasn't doing it well, but I was trying. If someone who was obviously foreign came up to me in Charleston and asked for directions, I would resort to hand gestures and drawings if necessary to help them. I'd never just laugh at them and leave them to wander.

It got tiresome being accosted by beggars at the major sites. I know that there are often homeless people and/or beggars in large cities, particularly around popular sightseeing spots. That in itself doesn't bother me. What did bother me about the beggars in Paris was how aggressive they were: they'd get in our faces, stand way too close for comfort, switch languages as they asked for money (since they were trying to figure out which language we spoke), and then yell at us when we walked away.

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance) | CosmosMariners.com
At Notre Dame, preparing to walk through the artillery of people demanding money
I'm no stranger to metropolitan areas (and even lived in London during my study abroad program), but I've never been somewhere where I had to steel myself to walk into a church or museum. If it had only been at one place, I still probably wouldn't have been annoyed. But it was at EVERY. SINGLE. SIGHT.

It's hard to enjoy the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower when five people come up to you in three minutes all asking for money. We couldn't even get a picture of us at the iconic structure because we were harassed so much.

We were mugged on the Metro. If ever there was a reason to be wary of a place, this would be it. The experience that we had on the Metro one day left us shaky and very wary--neither of which are great feelings in a foreign country. My dad, who was the target of the mugging, felt helpless. Thankfully, we only lost a museum pass. PSA: Wear those money belts, folks!

Again, I've been in and around large cities at various points in my life, and I'm aware that being mugged can happen anywhere. But the mugging and the aggressive beggars just led to a sense of wariness that I didn't like. Even when I lived in London alone (and used the bus and Tube systems extensively), I didn't feel that way.

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance) | CosmosMariners.com
Myself in my younger days at the Rodin Museum

"Give it another chance!" all of you lovers of Paris are yelling at me through your computers. And I will--one day.

There are several things in the city that I'd still love to do, including take a tour of the catacombs, see Van Gogh's home north of Paris, try a macaron (nope, never had one!), and visit Napoleon's tomb. Don't get me started on what I want to do outside of Paris because that requires a completely different blog post!

I know there are some amazing things to see, do, and eat in Paris, and it really is unfortunate how my first trip there transpired. Part of the issue might have been my expectations--I thought I'd get the Paris where models walk around everywhere and Remy the rat makes award-winning ratatouille and very smart, fashion-forward people linger over their meals in cafe.

Some of what happened cannot be changed (like the crowds and the pickpockets), but I can take what I've learned and apply it for the better the next time around.

Have you been to Paris? If so, what did you think? Have you ever traveled somewhere that didn't live up to the hype or your own expectations?

Eating like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina Dining Picks

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

The Asbury
One of the highlights of our entire trip, The Asbury surprised our taste buds and challenged us to try new things. Although the atmosphere was more formal than the other three places on this list, the staff was highly accommodating to my toddler. My dad couldn't get over his delicious crab and Benton's ham plate, while I was glad that I tried both the rabbit confit and the pea and basil orecchiette. Don't forget to leave room for dessert!

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Check out my complete review here. And then put it on your Charlotte must-visit list!

7th Street Public Market
We ate here for lunch on our first day after hearing great things from several people who live in the area. If you're looking for a one stop shop for a variety of tastes, the Public Market will be your go-to place, as there are several restaurants under one roof.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Choose from sandwiches, sushi, crepes, cheeses, and pizza, or grab a beer at the brewery area. The Market also boasts a small handicrafts shop up front, and a butcher and fresh fruits and veggies in the back. Everything is locally sourced--something I loved!--so you'll feel like you're contributing to the community even if it's your first time here.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

My dad, Britton, and I ordered from Orrman's Cheese Shop in the back after we'd done a few loops. We'd also eyed the sandwiches from the shop up front (the line was too long and very slow) and the pizza from the booth in the middle (it was closed on Sunday despite there being people everywhere). My dad and I both got the smoked mozzarella, proscuitto, and tomato grilled cheese, while Britton opted for the homemade peanut butter and blackberry jelly sandwich. Both the grilled cheese and the PB&J were crazy delicious, though, at a price tag of $25 for three simple sandwiches (including 1 bottle of water and a small bag of chips), I expected something amazing.

The Market is very convenient to Discovery Place, the Levine Museum of the New South, and several of the other places on my family-friendly guide to Charlotte. It's a little pricey and crowded during peak hours, but the food is quite delicious.

Nan and Byron's
On our last night, we headed over to Nan and Byron's for dinner--and I couldn't have chosen a better place to end our trip. Named after the couple in Grant Wood's American Gothic painting, Nan and Byron's is a trendy and casual restaurant with crowd-pleasing favorites. (Fun fact about the painting: Nan was actually Wood's sister, while Byron McKeeby was his dentist!)

Instead of bringing out bread (like most places do), our waiter started us off with a basket of the most amazing flavored popcorn.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

My dad and I both chose the tacos (I got half beef, half chicken, while my dad got all four of his with chicken), and I was very happy with my choice. We both decided that the chicken tacos were slightly better than the beef--it had to do with the seasoning and overall balance of flavors. The plates were gigantic and came with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream: my dad and I could've easily split one.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

They had a standard children's menu (chicken nuggets, burgers, etc.), and Britton wanted the grilled cheese with peas and carrots. I had a few bites of hers as well--no cheese product here! The grilled cheese was perfectly done on thick bread and had a creamy white cheddar inside.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

The vibe was casual and fun, and there were patrons of all ages there during dinner. I would've felt equally comfortable there on a date as I did with my toddler (who is not the quietest dining partner). Our waiter was friendly and accommodating throughout the meal and made sure that we always had fresh sweet tea and plenty of ice. The building itself was nicely renovated: before it opened as Nan and Byron's, it was another restaurant, and before that, it was a service station. The renovation has kept many of the original service station elements, which adds a fun element to your dining experience.

Queen City Q
If you're looking for a casual place for Southern favorites, Queen City Q is worth a visit. My dad and I are both huge fans of barbecue, and we'd been looking forward to trying out the different sauces that the restaurant offers. It's located on the other side of the same building as the 7th Street Public Market, so the area is rife with great eating choices.

The interior was decorated in a kind of faux-country style with the televisions built into wooden barn sides. Our waitress wasn't particularly effervescent, but she was efficient, keeping our drinks refilled and promptly bring out our food.

I got the hand-pulled pork platter with two sides (the fried okra and the mac 'n' cheese). As a born and raised Southerner, I am extremely familiar with barbecue--and this was some delicious stuff. I could've eaten the pulled pork sans sauce since the spices were done so well. However, you can't put bottles of BBQ sauce in front of me and expect me to pass them up.

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Thus began our tasting series--I liked that the restaurant offered up multiple sauces, but I wished they'd had a traditional vinegar sauce. The others (mostly ketchup based, though there was one mustard) were quite good. Definitely sample all of them!

Eating Like Royalty in the Queen City: Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Which of these restaurants would you be most interested in trying?

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Simple Ways to Afford More Travel (without Destroying Your Budget)

Simple Ways to Afford More Travel without Destroying Your Budget | CosmosMariners.com

I after I wrote 6 Valid Reasons Why You Don't Travel (and What You Can Do About Them), I had many readers tell me that I was absolutely spot on in my assessment of one of the major reason people don't travel:

Money. Moola. Benjamins. 

If this is the main reason keeping you from breaking out of your usual cycle of work-school-family stuff, I hear you. 

After all, I, too, have those pesky but necessary things like a mortgage, student loans, and a toddler with a college fund. As much as I'd love to roam the world at a moment's notice with little regard for budget, I--like pretty much everyone else I've ever met--don't have the ability to do so. 

No trust fund here, folks!

 So, how do I manage to travel as much as I do? By making some very simple sacrifices in my day-to-day life that allow me to put a good portion of our fun money towards visiting a new place. Keep in mind that these are things to do before you start getting into the actual planning (I'll have to do another post on budget travel hacks later on!). 

Here are a couple of easy ways to start filling up that travel savings jar. You even get the pleasure of seeing me hurt my brain by doing some math! 
  • Start packing your lunch. I know how easy it is to just grab lunch on the go. But I also know how much lunch can add up. If you assume that you're able to get lunch for $4 a day (which is super cheap!), and you eat out every day you work each month (20 days), you'll put away $80 in one month. That's $960 a YEAR.
  • Stop buying coffee. That $4 that you're also spending on Starbucks every workday will garner you another $80 over a month. Just by brewing coffee and making lunch at home, you've saved $160 in a thirty day period--plenty for a night's stay at a hotel (or two nights if you're willing to try out a budget hotel). That's another $960 towards your travels!
  • Reign in your shopping habits. I hardly ever get new clothes. So, when I got a new dress this past weekend, I made sure to love it. And I do! (I may or may not have worn it three times since I bought it Friday afternoon.) Follow the same principle and only get stuff that you really, really need, and you really, really love. If that's too drastic, wean yourself off. Take your current shopping habit and buy one less item next month. If you would've spent $50 on a new dress or shirt, that means you'll have saved up $600 in 12 months--just in time for your next vacation!
  • Horde that pocket change like it's going out of style. Yes, I've stooped to recommending that you start keeping up with your loose change. That being said, you wouldn't believe how much it adds up. Landon and I have a little box where we both throw our pocket change at the end of the day; we ended up taking it to the bank to be counted before we went on our Disney World trip last December and we were amazed to find that we had more than $30 just in change. We're not people who use a ton of cash, either--that was just what had naturally accumulated over a few months. 
  • Put down the Kindle and head to your local library. You can't get much better than free. I know it's far more convenient to download a new magazine or book onto your Nook or Kindle, but the library has them at the bargain basement price of nothing. If you buy 1 $6 e-book per month, that's a yearly savings of $72, which is plenty to cover a few days of food on your next trip. For bibliophiles like myself that read several books a month, you could easily save a couple hundred dollars a year just by going to the library!
  • Resist the urge to get the newest cellphone or technological gadget if your current one still works. After months of denial that my phone was little more than a brick (as it didn't to make calls, receive calls, get texts, or do anything useful at all), I finally broke down and got a new one. Even though I knew I needed one, I'd still rather put that money into my travel fund! Depending on your cell phone plan, a new phone can run upwards of $200 (or more, depending on how fancy you're going)--which would easily cover a few nights out of town.
  • Get rid of your cable package. Say "So long!" to those 100+ channels that never seem to have anything on them to watch. We used to have the basic cable and internet package (without a home phone) when we lived in our old house, and it ran us about $80. When we moved to our new house, we dumped the cable (but kept the internet) and reduced our monthly bill by $50. Over the next twelve months, we'll have saved another $600 which will cover almost half of our anniversary cruise this summer. Lest you think we're dying from lack of entertainment, we rent a few Redbox videos (at $1 a piece) each month to get our movie fix. We'll also go to my parents' house or to a sports bar if there's a big game on that we've got to see. 
Sure, your daily life may look slightly less exciting when you make these small changes, but aren't they worth it in the long run? Just by doing these few simple things, you could save approximately $3422. That could send a family of four to Walt Disney World for a week (if you stayed in a value resort), or buy two plane tickets to Germany (with plenty left over for food!).

Best of all, these ways to save can work for a short weekend away or a longer international trip. It's all about how much you're willing to sacrifice and what type of holiday you'd like. 

Start the savings jar up today--you'll be on that trip before you know it. 

What ways do you save for a holiday? Which of the above would you have the hardest time giving up? Which would be the easiest way for you to save?

5 Unusual, Fun & Quirky Travel Books

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Since my goal in life is to either be on a trip or planning one, I love travel guides, travel books, and travel magazines. They're all over our house, which tends to drive my husband a little batty (he never complains about the actual travel, though, which balances everything out).

While I love a good Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, or Fodor's guide just as much as the next traveler, I also like to get different perspectives on the places I'm visiting (or just hoping to visit). I read other travel blogs, pour over magazines, and spend a few hours delving into novels that are set in the areas I'm visiting.

But every once in a while, I get lucky and I come across a tome that's part travel guide, part entertainment, and part awesomeness. For many people, Eat Pray Love was their first taste of this hybrid travel book, and Italy, India, and Bali were flooded with people trying to recreate their own journeys a la Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm sharing five of these non-traditional travel books with you today in the hopes that you'll add them to your collection of travel-related bedside reading as well.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer, The Clumsiest People in Europe

To everyone in the world, I apologize for this book. On its face, Mrs. Mortimer, a wildly popular British author in the Victorian period, is blunt, cruel, and completely snobbish. Still, if you can look past that (and you should!), you'll find a fascinating look at just how gigantic the British Empire's ego was in the late 1800s: it's an inadvertent commentary on elitism, colonialism, and racism packed into one outdated book.

Reading it now, the book seems so absurd as to be dry humor, but Mrs. Mortimer was basically the Rick Steves of her era (only with a much poofier hairstyle and stricter standards of dress). Take everything she says about each country's inhabitants with a grain of salt, but focus on the fact that people were just as interested in where to travel 150 years ago as they are today. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A few gems:

The United States: Washington is one of the most desolate cities in the world.

Sweden: There is no country in Europe where so many people are put in prison.

France: They like being smart, but they're not very clean.

Australia: The people are the children of convicts and have been brought up very ill by their parents.
You can't make this stuff up, folks.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes
While RLS is most often associated with that glorious pirate dramas, Kidnapped and Treasure Island, and the spine-tingling science-thriller, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he was also an accomplished traveler. Because of his poor health, he often sought warmer climates than could be found in his native Scotland. Over his relatively short lifetime, he spent time in the French Riviera, California, New York, Tahiti, New Zealand, Hawaii, Australia, and Samoa (where he's now buried).

Stevenson wove his travels through many of his novels, journals, and poems, but my personal favorite recounts the walking trip that he took through the Cevennes mountains in France. Not only was his donkey his fellow travel companion (something that merits a peek on its own), but the entire travel guide is written in this bouncy and often hilarious tone.

Throughout the book, you wonder if Stevenson will actually finish his walking tour, as his donkey seems intent on thwarting his every move:
A little out of the village, Modestine, filled with the demon, set her heart upon a by-road, and positively refused to leave it... I came very near crying; but I did a wiser thing than that, and sat squarely down by the roadside to consider my situation under the cheerful influence of tobacco and a nip of brandy.  Modestine, in the meanwhile, munched some black bread with a contrite hypocritical air.  It was plain that I must make a sacrifice to the gods of shipwreck.  I threw away the empty bottle destined to carry milk; I threw away my own white bread, and, disdaining to act by general average, kept the black bread for Modestine; lastly, I threw away the cold leg of mutton and the egg-whisk, although this last was dear to my heart.  Thus I found room for everything in the basket, and even stowed the boating-coat on the top.  By means of an end of cord I slung it under one arm; and although the cord cut my shoulder, and the jacket hung almost to the ground, it was with a heart greatly lightened that I set forth again.
You'll want to find your own donkey (one that's perhaps a bit better behaved than Modestine in the journals!), walking stick, and passport and try to recreate the trip yourself after reading it--and you can, more or less, as the Cevennes are a protected national park in France.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress

Much like Stevenson, Mark Twain is known for his non-travel writing (such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Twain traveled a lot during his lifetime, and I think it's sad that so few people outside of English majors even know about his travelogues.

The Innocents Abroad follows Twain and a group of fellow travelers as they make their way through 1860s Europe and the Holy Land. And in true Twain fashion, he liberally peppers his observations with wry humor and satirical wit. Surprisingly to many these days, this book sold better than any of his other works, including his novels. While people didn't travel as much as they do now, there was certainly an interest in what other cultures were like.
This book is a record of a pleasure trip. If it were the record of a solemn scientific expedition, it would have about it that gravity, that profundity, and that impressive incomprehensibility which are so proper to works of that kind, and withal, so attractive.

Yet, notwithstanding, it is only a record of a picnic; it has a purpose, which is to suggest to the reader how he would likely see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him. I offer no apologies for any departures from the usual style of travel-writing that may be charged against me--for I think that I have seen with impartial eyes, and I am sure I have written at least honestly, whether wisely or not. 
While Twain doesn't shy away from sharing his opinion, his views of the people he encounters seem almost soft compared to Mrs. Mortimer. Read Mrs. Mortimer for something to laugh at, and read Twain for something to study.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War

When I was assigned this book in a graduate course on modern American identity, I was a little confused on what I had been given. Was it a memoir, a travel guide, a history book, or some sort of political statement? As it turns out, it's a little bit of all of those.

Since that original assignment, I've re-read this book more times than I can count, and each time, I come away with something different from it. It follows Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz as he explores those states below the Mason-Dixon line in an effort to see how and why the Civil War still affects people today (well, "today" meaning in 1999, when he wrote the book).

Having grown up in the South, I am well aware of the complicated feelings that people of all ages and races still have with the Civil War--yes, it's been over for over 140 years, but there's still so much to process.

Horwitz attempts to do just that and, in my opinion, he does a mighty good job at trying to do so. Through the course of the book, he visits 9 states, joins a Civil War re-enactment group (a hardcore one, not a farb one--a very particular distinction between the re-enactors in the book), attempts to understand the logistics of the minie ball pregnancy that supposedly occurred in Mississippi and looks for the location of Gone with the Wind's Tara and Twelve Oaks.

One of the highlights of the book is when Horwitz decides to accompany serious Civil War re-enactor Robert Lee Hodge on a condensed road trip of important Civil War sights, a trip that includes outdoor camping, period-appropriate rations, and marching. Lots and lots of marching.
At one point, crunching through chest-high thorns and listening for Rob's tramp in the dark ahead, I began to appreciate the utter misery of marching...I also felt the reckless urge that soldiers so often succumbed to, shedding their gear and staggering on unburdened. And we'd only been walking an hour; in the summer of 1862, many of Lee's men marched over 1,000 miles.

"At least we're losing some weight," Rob said, dripping with sweat. "I need to drop five pounds if I'm going to look good at Gettysburg next weekend." 
If you're interested in Civil War history, Southern travel, or contemporary American politics, you've got to find a copy of this book.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

You've probably heard of the movie--and most likely seen the film starring a very young Jude Law, John Cusack and Kevin Spacey that follows the murder trial of renowned restorationist Jim Williams, But did you know that Jim Williams was a real person from Savannah, Georgia, and that everything in the movie actually took place?

The movie's based on a non-fiction expose of the same name written by John Berendt, a journalist who's played by John Cusack in the film adaptation. I love this book because so much of the Savannah described in it is still there for anyone to find: Lady Chablis is alive and well (she played herself in the movie) and you can catch her burlesque show. Jim Williams is, of course, dead (spoiler alert!), but his home is open to visitors daily.
Mercer House was the envy of house-proud Savannah. Jim Williams lived in it alone.

Williams was smoking a King Edward cigarillo. "What I enjoy most," he said, "is living like an aristocrat without the burden of having to be one...I don't envy them. It's only the trappings of aristocracy that I find worthwhile--the fine furniture, paintings, silver--the very things they have to sell when the money runs out. And it always does. Then, all they're left with is their lovely manners."
You could use the book as a guide to explore historical Savannah and perhaps delve into more of the city than the usual history tour will show you.

Have you read any of these? What books can you always count on to kick start your travel bug?

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase one of the aforementioned books through the provided link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

The Asbury, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Restaurant Review

The Asbury, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Restaurant Review | CosmosMariners.com

While on my trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the things I was most looking forward to was a dinner at The Asbury, the restaurant that's attached to the Dunhill Hotel (read my review of the hotel here).

I'd originally heard about the Asbury back in November 2014 when I discovered a bag of spiced popcorn in my goody bag from a travel writers' luncheon: the popcorn was spicy, a little bit sweet, and completely different than anything I'd had. I ended up fighting for pieces of it when I introduced tastes of it to my family.

I figured that if the chef could make popcorn that exciting, then he must be capable of seriously amazing things when given control of an entire menu. All of the reviews that I read online about the restaurant emphasized Executive Chef Chris Coleman's unique and inventive approach to his dishes: the bar was set high for our dinner, and I was ready to dive in.

Packing the Perfect Road Trip Bag

Packing the Perfect Road Trip Bag | CosmosMariners.com

I'll take travel any way I can get it, but the road trip holds a special place in my heart. In the next few months, I'll take several road trips (St. Simons Island, Georgia, St. Augustine, Florida, and two to Cape Canaveral, Florida), so I'm trying to get the process of traveling by car down to an art.

Generally, I'm pretty easy going as far as traveling goes, but if there's one thing that I detest while traveling longer distances in a car, it's having my stuff all over the place. Without a little organization, you're constantly pulling over or digging through your suitcases. Hey, I want to read! Uh, oops, I packed that in my luggage which is now in the truck. Or, wouldn't a snack be great? Sorry--no more stores for another 50 miles.

Instead of struggling, I usually pile everything I need together in one official road trip bag. That way when my toddler needs an applesauce pouch, I toss it to her without having to stop. If I want to read while Landon drives, I grab my magazines and happily peruse the latest goings-on in the travel world. That one bag makes my life easier.

Packing the Perfect Road Trip Bag | CosmosMariners.com

Here what I stuff into my bag to keep everyone as happy as possible while we're on the road. After all, no one likes a grumpy passenger!

  • Reading material. Whether you prefer a Kindle, a classic Russian novel, or gossip mags, make sure you have something read handy. A phone is great for entertainment--until you hit the middle of nowhere and can't find a signal to save your life. Plus, a book or magazine never has roaming charges.
  • Hand sanitizer. From overturned sodas to sketchy rest areas, there are many reasons why you'd want to include a little bottle of hand sanitizer in your bag. My favorites are the scented ones from Bath and Body Works!
  • Sunglasses. Because safe driving is important.
  • Snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. We like a mixture of sweet and salty, so you can usually find Moonpies snuggling right next to the cheese crackers. Trail mix, applesauce pouches, and pretzels round out our stellar offerings.
  • Drink cup. And I'm not talking about my toddler's either! We usually keep a cup filled with ice in the front seat and a couple bottles of water or soda in the backseat. As we drink the water or soda, we just refill the ice cup. Presto! Cold drinks that didn't require any stops or extra money.
  • Toys for the younger passengers. We have some tried and tested toys that always make Britton happy when she's getting grumpy. As an added bonus, they're pretty small, so after we exhaust ourselves singing her favorite songs to her, we start sending these into the backseat.
  • Gum. After a few fast food meals, it's good to have some way to freshen your breath. The car's only so big, after all!
They won't fit into a bag, but I usually have a pillow and blanket within reach as well. I don't take a lot of naps while road tripping, but they're good to have if you want to rest your eyes for a moment--or, if you're always in a temperature face-off with the other people in the car and you lose. 

Packing the Perfect Road Trip Bag | CosmosMariners.com

Make sure to find a sturdy bag to keep everything in. I used this Marley Lilly tote because monograms make everything better, including road trips. It's big enough to pack plenty of supplies into, and it's deep enough to hold magazines and snack boxes. I love the extra pockets on the side where I can stick some of the smaller stuff that I like to have handy. 

What do you take when you head out on a road trip? How do you stay organized? What do you love or hate about road trips?

Disclaimer: MarleyLilly.com provided me with a complimentary tote to share with my readers. All opinions are my own.