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5 Places for Family Fun in Charlotte, North Carolina

5 Places for Family Fun in Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com


Whenever I travel, I try to find as many places that fit two requirements: they speak to my love of art, culture, or literature, and they appeal to my toddler. I know that many people don't think they can travel with kids because of a misconception that there just aren't that many attractions for the smaller members of the family. I want to dispel that as much as I can!

Charlotte, North Carolina, the second largest banking center in the U.S. (after New York City!), might seem less-than-kid friendly at first, but there's actually plenty to do with a family in the Queen City. Check out these five places for family fun in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

While we were in Charlotte, North Carolina, we made ourselves at home at the Dunhill Hotel. I hadn't been to Charlotte since I was a little kid--we used to live in upstate South Carolina when I was younger--and would visit the area occasionally back then. After a chance meeting with the hotel's (wonderful!) PR person at the Historic Hotels of America luncheon last year, I decided to head back up to the Queen City to see how it had changed in the nearly 20 years since my last visit.

It turned out that the Dunhill was a great spot from which to launch our visit, and, if you're looking for a great place to stay in Uptown Charlotte, I'd highly recommend it.

History: 
You thought you'd get by without a quick history lesson, didn't you?! I love staying in historic hotels because they come with such a rich storyline: it's an added layer of interest that you just don't get in a more recently built hotel. 

The Dunhill Hotel originally was called the Mayfair Manor and opened a month after the stock market crashed. The economic upheaval of the nation didn't seem to affect Mayfair Manor's success, which quickly found a following. During the Manor's early days, guests could stay in one of the 100 rooms: some were set aside as hotel rooms, while others were long-term rentals. 

The Manor's heyday lasted well into the 20th century; by the 1960s, it was sold and rebranded into a motor lodge. Eventually, the motor lodge shut its doors in the early 1980s, and the 10-story building was inhabited only by the homeless. After several years of neglect, the hotel was purchased and underwent a $6 million renovation in 1988. This company tried to restore the hotel to its former glory, but after only two years, the hotel was sold once again.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com
Exploring the hotel and its history!
In the early 1990s, Summit Hospitality Group, the current owners, purchased the property and began to mold it into the distinctive location that it is today. The group was also the driving force behind the application and acceptance of the Dunhill into the Historic Hotels of America property group, a distinction that it proudly displays. 

Location:
If you're in Uptown Charlotte for a play, concert, sporting event, banking seminar, or vacation, the Dunhill couldn't be more centrally located. I went on the trip with my dad and my toddler, and we only got in the car once--and that was when we headed out of Uptown to see an attraction in a completely different part of Charlotte.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

From the museums to the restaurants to green spaces, we were able to easily walk (even with a toddler!) to all of the attractions in Uptown Charlotte. The hotel is located at the corner of North Tryon and 6th Streets, which put us steps away from Discovery Place and the Carolina Theatre, and just a few blocks from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Imaginon, the Levine Museum of the New South, the Bank of America building, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Room: 
We had a corner room on the third floor, and I thought it was a great location. We were high enough that the street traffic didn't bother us, but we were still able to people watch through the three large windows throughout the room. Definitely ask for a corner room since it comes with more windows!

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

The room had two queen beds (called the "Vintage Queen Queen" room on their site) and a large bathroom with a shower/tub combo. The bed was incredibly comfortable, and I looked forward to sinking into the fluffy duvet and crisp sheets each night. Sightseeing is hard work!

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com


Even with the two beds, I still had plenty of room to set up Britton's pack and play in the corner; the room was large enough that the pack and play didn't interfere with our movement between the room and bathroom.

Our room also had a mini-refrigerator and Keurig. 

Service: 
When I went to check in, our room wasn't available, but the desk clerks were apologetic (they didn't even need to be, as I was trying to check in at 10:15 in the morning!). They took my cell phone number and promised to call me as soon as a room became available; I ended up getting a call less than an hour later. 

Housekeeping was fantastic, and made sure to keep us stocked with bottled water (which is complimentary with any stay); that sure came in handy as we explored all over town! Housekeeping came once in the morning to tidy up, and then again at night for turndown service. After a long day of sightseeing, it was a treat to see the chocolates on our pillows. 

While check out was easy--I paid with a credit card that was already on file--the desk clerk that morning wasn't very personable. Since I knew I was going to write a piece about the hotel and its history, I asked if there was another copy of the laminated history that had been in our room. I didn't want to steal the room copy, so I figured that the front desk could supply me with one--or, at least, make a photocopy of an existing one. When I inquired about the history sheet, the desk clerk just looked at me and uttered a quick, "No, I don't think we have those." She didn't offer to call housekeeping, make a copy, or print out another one. It wasn't that big of a deal since I'd made a few notes, but I would've expected a bit more effort on her part to ensure that there wasn't an extra sheet to give out to someone interested in it. 

Other than that one small (and really, in the whole scheme of things, insignificant) exchange, the staff was more than helpful throughout our stay. 

Amenities: 
The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

While the hotel doesn't have a pool or gym, it does have plenty of touches to make you feel welcome during your stay. Nibble on a few of the complimentary cookies every afternoon, or mix with the other guests during the wine social every Wednesday evening. I liked that there was a complimentary shuttle available to guests; we didn't use it since I wanted to get out and walk around Uptown, but this is a great option for guests who are in a hurry!

The Asbury, the onsite restaurant, is absolutely worth a visit during your time at the Dunhill--so much so that my experience there will get its own post later. If you'd rather eat in your room, the room service comes out of the same kitchen, so you don't have to eat another of those dry burgers that usually comes off the room service menu.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

We didn't get to use them, but the hotel also has several meeting rooms available for corporate functions. I think the hotel would be such a pretty place to have a reception or meeting!

Final Thoughts:
I'd definitely stay here again! Not only was the location perfect, the room was incredibly nice. I also liked all of the little extras that came with my stay including the complimentary water, the turndown service, and the fluffy white robes in the bathroom.

Book a stay at the Dunhill Hotel here.
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If you're interested in my experiences in another Historic Hotel of America, check out my stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel on Jekyll Island, Georgia. 

Have you stayed in a historic hotel? What was your experience like? Have you been Charlotte lately?

Disclaimer: The Dunhill provided one complimentary night's stay; I paid for a second night in the same room. All opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links. If you use them to book a stay, I'll receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Movies Filmed in Charleston, South Carolina (and Where to Go to Relive Your Favorite Scenes)

Movies Filmed in Charleston, South Carolina (and Where to Go to Relive Your Favorite Scenes) | CosmosMariners.com

I've been fascinated with the art of movie making since I was a little kid. So, it's no wonder that I get a little thrill whenever I hear that another movie is being made in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.

While most people come to Charleston for the history and Southern charm that the city offers, you might also want to spend some time exploring the more recent history of the city. Here's where you can find the settings of some of your favorite movies that were filmed right here in the Holy City.

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.com

Hi, fellow mariners! Today, I'm happy to introduce you to a new blogger who's doing something that I always wanted to do--study abroad at Oxford University. Sara from Sara Laughed is enjoying her year in England and blogging about all of it before she returns to her home university in Massachusetts at the end of this school year. I asked her to share what it's like to live and study at the English speaking world's oldest institute of higher learning. Enjoy!

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comHi friends! My name is Sara and I blog over at Sara Laughed about college life, love, and travel. I'm a current college student studying abroad at Oxford University. Since Natalie studied abroad in London while she was in college, she reached out and asked me to share with you some details of my time at Oxford. I hope this gives you the chance to live vicariously through my experience and get a little glimpse of what makes Oxford so magical!

It was a snowy morning in Massachusetts when I found out I'd been accepted to Oxford for my year abroad. I was thrilled - I called my parents and danced around my room in my pajamas. On the one hand, I had wanted nothing more than to get into this program - to live abroad and to experience a new university and a new culture. On the other, I was completely terrified. I had no idea what Oxford would hold in store for me, and whether I could handle the pressure of a new university, in a new country, on another continent.

 It turns out I had nothing to worry about. I have loved almost everything about my time at Oxford, which has been about six months now. Being a Junior Year Abroad student means that I straddle the awkward line between resident and tourist - I still experience everything with fresh eyes, but I've lived here long enough to know the streets and shops and to have a regular routine.

Today, I'd like to share with you how Oxford looks through my, still new, eyes - here are 5 things I love about Oxford.

 5 // The colleges

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comThe Bridge of Sighs, part of Hertford College

Oxford is visually breathtaking. The university is the oldest in the English-speaking world, and because its colleges date in their origins between 1249 and 2008 (yes, really!), they features a huge variety of architectural styles. As a student, my university ID lets me into most of the colleges without trouble, meaning that I can attend Evensong services in Christ Church or go to my tutorial at Pembroke College, even though my own college is quite a walk away. I love that the college system gives students so much variety in what they can experience and explore.

4 // The libraries
Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.com
The Harris Manchester library.

The Oxford library system is absolutely incredible. The Bodleian Libraries include a total of 40 different libraries all around the city, with over 11 million books and printed items. Many of the libraries are also incredibly beautiful, internally or externally. Knowing that I have so much knowledge at my fingertips is amazing, and for a nerd like me, it's heaven!

  3 // The covered market
The Covered Market is a historic market near the center of Oxford with lots of little independent shops and cafés. The shops range from flower stores to a hat shop, and include a butcher and plenty of places to sit down for tea (or coffee, if that's your beverage of choice) or have lunch. I have a favorite café with both indoor and outdoor seating that serves warm drinks and delicious cakes!

  2 // The uniquely Oxford traditions
Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comTorpids on the Thames.

Oxford has plenty of traditions that I would be unlikely to experience anywhere else. Punting on the Thames is a popular option in spring, as is playing croquet on your college's lawn (I'm excited to try both of these next term!). Last weekend I went to see Torpids, a special boat race in which the object is to "bump" the boat in front of you to move ahead. The race developed because the part of the Thames on which the race is held is too narrow for traditional boat racing. It was a very fun and strange experience that represented, to me, the many ways in which Oxford is unique.

 1 // The opportunities
Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comThe first ball I attended.

However, if I had to choose the single thing I loved most about Oxford, it would be the incredible range of opportunities available to students. As a student, I've attended a wine tasting class, balls, college parties, formal dinners, lectures at the Oxford Union, and more. The city and university are so rich in what they have to offer that I know I'll never be able to try it all, no matter how long I stay here. All in all, I feel incredibly lucky to be spending a year in this beautiful small city. One of my parents was a fellow at Oxford, and as a result, this happens to be the city where I was born, though we moved away soon after. Maybe this year is the fates bringing me back; who knows what's in store next!
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If you liked reading about Sara's Oxford experiences, follow along with her for even more on college, her life, and her travels.

Have you ever been to Oxford? If not, what's one thing you'd like to experience?

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com

I love doing off-the-beaten-path type travel. But even I will admit that there are some times that call for the tried-and-true experiences in a place. After all, you don't want to be like my husband, who went all the way to London and never saw Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, or Parliament. I was so busy focusing on the unusual stuff in London that we completely forgot to do the normal stuff. Oops.

Like London, New Orleans has some of those places and experiences that you just have to do--or risk people saying, "Wait. You went on a trip there and didn't do ________??" Lest you make the same mistakes that I do and try to skip over the most popular sites, I'm here to guide you to 8 quintessential New Orleans experiences.

How to Win at the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge at Walt Disney World

How to Win at the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge at Walt Disney World | CosmosMariners.com

Back in June 2013, my sister and I attempted something that we'd never done before: we headed to all four parks at Walt Disney World in one day. (You can see our efforts here: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.)

Yes, I know. It seems completely crazy. And I'm here to tell you that it is--but it's also a lot of fun!

When we decided to embark on our 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge, I did a little research, but didn't find too much on the best way to approach it. So, here I am now, on the other side of the challenge, to share my tips with you in the hopes that you'll try out this awesome way to experience one of the world's most famous theme parks.

Preparing

In our room at Pop Century before we head out on the challenge

Leave nothing to chance. Before you set foot in the parks, you'll want to outline where you want to go, what rides you want to experience, and where you'll eat. This may seem like overkill, but it helped us immensely when it came to budgeting time in the parks. We had a printed out schedule with arrival and departure times, transportation information, and notes on what we wanted to accomplish in each park.

If you're not familiar with the parks, outline everything on a map. (The concierge at the Disney hotels should have copies to give you.) You don't want to use your precious time searching for the next ride.

Use the Magic Hours to your advantage. Research which parks are opening early and closing late so you'll have the maximum amount of time to complete your challenge. These are only available to Disney property guests, so this is one time that staying onside might be worth it.

Lay out your clothes the night before. Since this is an intense way to tour the parks, you'll want to get as much sleep as you can. Don't waste another five or so minutes in the morning picking out your clothes when you can rest instead!

If you're super cool like I am, your comfy outfit can include a monogrammed Minnie Mouse decal. And you can match your sister. 
Wear the most comfortable clothes possible. Even though I'm a huge proponent of dressing semi-decently while you're in the parks (see that post here), this is one day that I give you a pass to put on those exercise shorts and extra soft t-shirt and just go for it. By the end of the day, you will be sweaty, exhausted, and probably crabby, and you don't want your wardrobe to cause you to feel even worse.

Getting through the Day

Start early. Very early. No sleeping in today! If you're going to conquer all four parks in one day, you're going to need every minute. Plus, crowds are much lighter in the mornings, so you'll be able to blast through a few more rides before you have to move onto the next park.

Pack a small backpack with a water bottle. It's easy to get dehydrated when you're outside all day in the Florida sun, so quick pit stops at the water fountains to refill your water bottle will keep you going. I don't care for the taste of the plain water at Disney World, so I always pack something to flavor it. These are both lightweight items and won't get in your way while you're running from park to park.

See that green backpack my sister is carrying? It was a lifesaver! (Not literally. That would be no fancy backpack.)
Go easy on the meals. I'm all for eating that yummy Disney food, but this is one day that your gastronomic exploration will have to take a backseat. My sister and I did include plenty of snack stops along the way, but we made sure to eat smaller portions than we usually would and stay away from big, carby meals. We didn't want to risk getting super sleepy post-meal time!

Be prepared to skip rides on your itinerary, if necessary. Occasionally, rides will be shut down for awhile for repairs or because of the weather. Don't try to wait around until it's back up, or you'll lose momentum. Find a replacement ride, and then check often to see if your preferred ride is back up and running. If it is, quickly go on it. If not, keep moving on. You've got a lot of park to see!
Don't lose valuable time waiting around for rides to re-open. Test Track, I'm looking at you.
Know that you will hit a wall. It will not be fun when it happens, so take a minute to sit down, drink something, and then get back up and go some more. I nearly called the entire challenge at about 4:30 PM on the day we attempted it because, all of a sudden, I was exhausted, hot, and a little dehydrated. My sister convinced me to stay, and she ushered me into a nearby restaurant. By the time I ate and cooled down, I was ready to go for a few more hours.

I look happy going into the Animal Kingdom, but my meltdown was just an hour or two away.


Pace yourself. You'll be in the parks continually for 12+ hours (our challenge took 15!), so don't run yourself ragged in the first few moments. Identify two or three rides per park, and do those first. If you've got time before you need to move on, go on another one or two.

Where we went wrong: 

  • We attempted the challenge in June. This is not recommended! Not only was it blazing by 10 AM, but there were so many people there. Fighting the heat and the crowds at the same time was a major factor to why I got so burnt out mid-afternoon. 
  • We waited around when Test Track was closed down for a summer thunderstorm. Instead of just leaving and trying something else, we waited around for over 30 minutes. Not only did we get sleepy in the cool building, but we also wasted a good chunk of time that could've been spent somewhere else. Thankfully, we learned our lesson by the time we got to our third park of the day (Animal Kingdom) and skipped waiting around when we found that Dinosaur was closed.
  • We weren't well rested. Instead of getting a full night's sleep before attempting the challenge, we'd only slept a few hours. We'd driven to Florida from South Carolina the night before, leaving Charleston at 5 when my sister got off from work. We arrived in Orlando around midnight, and then got back up for the challenge at 5:45 AM or so. We both would've felt better by the end of the challenge if we'd had a restful night's sleep!
Even though it was intense, the 4 parks/ 1 Day Challenge was a lot of fun for both my sister and I. We're huge fans of Walt Disney World, and we've been dozens of times, so it was exciting to see the property from a new perspective. 

Would you attempt the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge? How would you go about organizing your day?

Vacationing on Kiawah Island, South Carolina: A Complete Guide


Vacationing on Kiawah Island, South Carolina: A Complete Guide | CosmosMariners.com


Just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, is a long, winding two lane road flanked by centuries-old live oaks. While the drive down State Road S-10-20 (Bohicket Road and then Betsy Kerrison Parkway) is destination enough, the golf and resort community at the end of it will make the trip even sweeter.

The road ends in a roundabout. Take the first road to your right, and you'll go to Seabrook Island. The second road leads to Freshfields Village, a shopping and dining area that services the area. We're headed to Kiawah, so we're going to take the last exit off of the roundabout, skirting Freshfields Village, and continuing on Kiawah Island Parkway further into the marsh.

If you're headed to Kiawah Island as a part of your visit to Charleston, you won't be disappointed. Here's everything you need to know about vacationing on Kiawah!

Literary New Orleans: A City of Inspiration

Literary New Orleans: A City of Inspiration | CosmosMariners.com

If the Big Easy's on your travel bucket list, you probably put it there after hearing about the nightlife in the French Quarter, the gorgeous homes in the Garden District, those Cafe Du Monde beignets (and the rest of the amazing cuisine there), and those spooktacular mausoleums in the graveyards.

All of these are excellent reasons to visit New Orleans.

However, most people spend quite some time in the city without ever realizing that they're in a literary gold mine. Book lovers, rejoice and start packing your suitcases--New Orleans has more than enough literary ties to keep you busy for days.

How Studying Abroad Changed My Life

How Studying Abroad Changed My Life | CosmosMariners.com


In early June 2005, I clutched my passport in my sweaty hand and waved goodbye to my parents and my sister in the Atlanta airport. I wanted to cry because I was terrified, but I was even more worried about putting on a brave face for my family. I'd thought about this moment for months, and I didn't want to spoil it by sobbing into the shirt of a TSA agent. Plus, I'd juggled four part-time jobs over the preceding year to afford the tuition and room and board, and I wanted to at least pretend I was getting my money's worth.

I was almost 20 and embarking on what would be become one of the most pivotal moments in my life: studying abroad in London for a summer through the IES London program.

At the time, leaving my parents, my sister, and my boyfriend (who'd eventually become my husband many years later) to explore one of the world's greatest cities seemed like a great way to spend a summer.

It seemed like a great way to get some of those once-in-a-lifetime college experiences--you know, those that you keep rehashing for years to come.

It seemed like a great way to cram a few more credit hours into my already packed college schedule. (And yes, this was a particular goal of mine, as I was--at the time--heading to law school in a few years and wanted to create the most stellar academic C.V. possible).

Yet, if I'd known at the moment of sheer terror and excitement what I know now about my study abroad experience, I would have plowed over everyone waiting in that TSA line in the hopes of starting it sooner. (To my parents--don't worry, I still would have missed you the same amount!)

It was only 6 weeks, but it changed everything.

With my roommate Nicole in front of the Abbey Road Studios
I learned that people are the same, even halfway across the world. Before living in London, I'd been on many, many trips with my parents, several of which were outside the country. But, since I'd never been completely on my own before, I'd never fully realized how much people are alike even when culture and distance divides us.

I had bus drivers kindly help me find my stop when I was confused (which was pretty much every time I took the bus for the first two weeks).

I had Tube workers patiently (oh, so patiently) help me figure out how much was on my Oyster card. Again. (This was back in the dark ages when no one had a smartphone to check these things.)

At the bookstore, at the grocery store, at the open air markets, I would bumble my way through things. I was just one person in this big city, and it would've been so easy to push me to the side or be annoyed with me. But, 99% of the time, I was met with friendliness and patience, something for which I will always be grateful.

Brighton Pier on a day trip. Don't laugh at the pink sunglasses--they were really popular in London that year!


I learned that it was okay be alone sometimes. In a city of 11 million people, it's easy to get lost in the faceless crowds of residents, commuters, and visitors in London on any given day. You could be anyone--or no one. While I made some great friends through the program, I enjoyed taking my school books to a nearby park to read alone, or sit on the Tube with a hundred other nameless people all going our own ways. Up until that point in my life, I'd always felt that I needed someone with me--my parents, my sister, my boyfriend, my friends. But I didn't. I managed just fine on my own.

Stonehenge (not the time I got to go into the circle!). And again, more bad sunglasses. Apparently, this was the summer of poor eyewear choices.

I learned what it was like to fall completely in love with another culture. That summer was the time when I realized what it meant to be an Anglophile.

I studied Shakespeare's plays before taking my position with all of the other groundlings to see a performance of Macbeth in the Globe.

I poured over new foods with strange names in the grocery store: Hob Nobs ("nobbly oaty bits"), digestives (which are nowhere near as disgusting as they sound), mustard mayonnaise (a strange concoction of condiments that tastes neither like mayo or mustard or the combo of the two), and spotted dick (which is TOTALLY not what you're thinking of, you perv. It's a type of canned pudding. Duh.).

I learned the variances in British accents, and, by the end of the session, could more or less tell you from where a person hailed in the British Isles.

I was obsessed with the minutiae of Britain and all of the big stuff and everything in between. And, nearly ten years later, I'm still going strong.


I learned that, even in the face of great loss, what people want most is each other. I happened to be on a bus on the way to a field trip in Trafalgar Square when the news began to break about the 7/7/2005 terrorist bombings. A Tube car and a double decker bus had been hit and over 50 people died that day: cell phone communication was impossible for hours, planes were grounded, and there was so much confusion everywhere. London as a whole reeled from the news in the hours after the attacks, but in the days afterwards, I saw how strong London was.

That week was supposed to be a joyous one--London had just found out that it had won the 2012 Olympics bid, and there was a huge celebration planned in Trafalgar Square to official announce the good news. Instead, that celebration was converted into a public rally to remember those who'd died and to call for peace. I stood shoulder to shoulder with people from all over the globe, people who, for that one day, were united in our desire to be one with London.

The night that my friends and I stood in line to get the newest Harry Potter book fresh off the press. I had to put down a 5 pound retainer and then wait in line at midnight to get the book, that bag, and that sweet raincoat!

I learned that it's more important to follow your heart than your pocketbook. As I mentioned earlier, I was still planning on going to law school at this point in my academic career.

And go to law school I did...for a year. I was so miserable by my second semester that I dropped out, the first time in my life that I'd actually failed something. When I tell you that I loved school, I'm telling the truth. I. LOVED. IT. I'd never not been good at school before, and I was floundering in law school.

I didn't like school anymore. I stopped going to classes. I stopped doing my homework. I stopped enjoying the thing that, heretofore, had been the reason I got up in the morning.

So, I took some time off after law school, got a job at a little stationery shop, and thought. And thought. And thought.

All that I could remember for those months was how happy I'd been back in undergrad, taking classes, writing and researching for my English major. I keep coming back to one class in particular: Modern British Novels. It was taught by Julie Charalambides, who, aside from having one of the coolest names ever, was one of the greatest teachers I'd ever had. We read seven novels that summer--I can still tell you the titles of all seven--and I poured over every single one. 

I thought about those novels while I worked long hours in that stationery shop. I thought about what I wanted to do with my life. And then, one day, it dawned on me: I'd go to grad school to study more of those modern British novels. 

Two years later, I walked across the stage at the University of South Carolina to get my M.A. in (you guessed it!) British literature. And not just any British literature--modern British literature. It took five years after I came home from London to learn that final lesson.

But that's what a study abroad session does: it sneaks up on you in the best way possible, and before you know it, you see life completely differently.

In the Cotswolds


Did you study abroad? If so, where did you go?

Note: if you're interested in a London summer study abroad program, I cannot recommend IES enough. I'm not getting paid in any way to say that--I just loved my time there that much.

5 Historic Southern Scottish Places You Don't Want to Miss



If you like exploring castles, wandering through ruins in the mist, or trying to solve a historical mystery or two, you need to get to Scotland. Immediately, if at all possible!

While many associate the country with Loch Ness, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, there's so much to see in the southern portion of Scotland. Don't overlook these gems, all of which are located within an hour and a half or so of the England/Scotland border.

A Day Trip to Beaufort, South Carolina: What to See and Do

A Day Trip to Beaufort, South Carolina: What to See and Do | CosmosMariners.com


Head out of Charleston south on Highway 17, and then hang a left onto 21. You'll think you're headed into a swamp never to be found again--but you're actually on the way to one of coastal South Carolina's cutest towns: Beaufort.

It's proximity to Charleston makes it an excellent day trip from the Holy City, and Beaufort's small town charm is the perfect antidote to Charleston's high-falutin' ways (and, as a native, I mean that in the best way possible!).

6 Valid Reasons Why You Don't Travel (and What You Can Do about Them)

6 Valid Reasons Why You Don't Travel (and What You Can Do About Them) | CosmosMariners.com


For someone who talks about traveling all of the time, I end up having conversations about why people can't travel more than you'd think. These conversations usually leave me a little sad, since the people with whom I'm discussing want to travel. They just think they can't for one reason or another.

I, too, find myself coming up with these same reasons from time to time: we can't go because we have student loans, we need to save money in case our cars break down, we can't go because one of our family members might get sick.

There's always a reason.

Today, I'm doing something a little different, a little more self-help-y than I usually do. But I hope it will inspire you to consider what places you want to see and why exactly you're holding off on seeing them.

Time. 
This is the number one concern that I hear from people: they just don't have time to travel. They have jobs, they have families, they have school, they have houses, they have social lives.

We're only given so much time on this planet, and it's tough to fit in everything that you want to do. But with a little determination (and perhaps a healthy dose of stubbornness), you can make time work to your advantage.

Solution: Make time. Unless you're being held captive in a cell in North Korea (under which circumstance you have much larger issues than the amount of traveling you want to do), you have time in your schedule to travel.

"Pish, posh," you say (you apparently have a British accent, too). "I am a very busy person with lots of busy things to attend to. I have zero time for anything other than what I'm currently doing."

To which I would say: you can get time off from work if you work. You have summers and breaks if you're in college or grad school. If you're a stay at home parent, you simultaneously have all the time in the world and no time off ever.

Instead of sleeping in on Saturday after a long week at work, pack your bags and head somewhere. You'd be surprised how far you can make it in just a weekend. If you're in college, don't head home for break--get a job in another town, another state, or another country (if you're feeling really ambitious). If you're a stay at home parent, head out with the kids in tow to show them a local attraction or take a day trip.

Americans, in particular, seem to hate the idea that they actually do have time off from work, as our collective vacation day usage is at a 40 year low...meaning that the nation as a whole gave away 169 million vacation days in 2013. You have time--use it!

I'm not saying to leave work or school, or abandon your family duties. I am encouraging you to get out and see a small part of our world, even if it's only in the next town over.

6 Valid Reasons Why You Don't Travel (and What You Can Do About Them) | CosmosMariners.com
Andros Island, Bahamas. To earn enough money to go on this trip as a broke college student, I had to work three jobs. It was worth every penny.

Money.
Right up there next to a perceived lack of time is the idea that travel has to cost a fortune. Many of my readers have, at one time or another, remarked that they just don't have the money to travel to the places that I've gone.

I get this concern. I am not a trust fund kid. I am not a part of the 1%. I would love to travel all of the time to anywhere I please at a moment's notice. Realistically, though, I have a mortgage, student loans (oh, how I loathe thee), and a child who's getting ready to go into preschool. I know that money doesn't grow on trees.

Solution: Make travel a priority. 

When Landon and I got married, I had traveled since I was a child while he'd never been out of the country. My parents made our travels a focal point of our family, so I never knew a time when it wasn't normal to sacrifice and save for trips. Landon, however, had always looked at travel as something extravagant, a notion that he's slowly learning is false, thanks to my frugal ways of trip planning and penny-pinching.

Making travel a priority means funneling all of those extras into a travel fund. So long, weekly dinner, drinks and movies--hello, Netflix or Redbox! So long, shopping sprees--hello, old clothes! So long, newest electronic gadget--hello, old phone from three years ago!

We made the conscious decision to pay off our student loans and travel more. To accomplish these goals, we don't go on extravagant dates, we don't buy new stuff often, and we do a lot of meal planning. We've even made goals with rewards that included travel, such as the time we decided to focus on cutting our student loans in half--and when we did that, we put the money we usually spent on loans into a Scotland travel fund. Our UK Extravaganza trip in 2011 was a huge celebration for us for that reason.

If you looked at all of your extras (and by this, I mean anything beyond food, water, basic clothing, housing, and school), you'd be surprised how much you're spending on Starbucks, dining out, manicures, movies, date nights, cell phone bills, and e-books. Put all of this into a travel fund, and you'll be off on a trip in no time!

Plus, you can travel frugally by going in the off-season, staying at less-than-five-star places, and eating locally. It's absolutely possible to have a cheap trip--even if you're heading out of the country.

6 Valid Reasons Why You Don't Travel (and What You Can Do About Them) | CosmosMariners.com
Walt Disney World, December 2014. We might all drive each other crazy, but we still love going on a family trip!

Family concerns. 
We're not all twenty-five and single, and we all can't jet off to be nomadic. Some of us have spouses, partners, children, and parents that are a part of our equation.

Solution: Find ways to travel with your loved ones. While this isn't always possible, especially if you have a homebound elderly parent or a family member with medical concerns, the vast majority of the time, you can discover ways to travel with the people you love. If you've got grown kids, get everyone together on a tropical getaway instead of doing the same thing during the holiday season. Take your parents on a river cruise, or plan a siblings-only hiking trip. Do a multi-generational trip and get those grandparents bonding with the grandkids.

And if you've got wee ones, take them with you! Babies might keep you up at night, but power through and they're great sightseeing buddies.

Travel often seems as if it divides families, but, when done correctly, it can bring you closer together.

Interest.
My grandfather, despite the rest of the family's love of traveling, would always insist on staying at his house because he couldn't imagine anything could be more interesting than what he'd find on television or in his garden. What do you do when you have a spouse or close family member who won't travel because it's not interesting enough?

Solution: Find ways to include their interests. Travel is nothing BUT interesting if done the right way. If your potential travel partner is interested in the military (as was my grandfather), include a battlefield, war museum, or re-enactment in your trip.

No matter if you love history, adventure, automobiles, nature, or fairy tales, there's sure to be something to peak your interest.

Health.
Yes, there's always the chance that you'll catch the flu mere hours before boarding a plane to Australia. There's always a chance that your child will try to climb onto the roof and break her arm the week you'd planned to see Niagara Falls.

Solution: Buy travel insurance. If you have hypochondriac tendencies or you're extra clumsy, the money for travel insurance will be well spent. Having it will ensure that--no matter what issues befall you--you won't lose every dime of your vacation money.

6 Valid Reasons Why You Don't Travel (and What You Can Do About Them) | CosmosMariners.com
Don't let the smile fool you. When I took this picture just two days after the London bombings, I was terrified on the inside. 

Fear. 
You're worried about losing your passport or your hotel being a dump. You're worried that the money you're spending will be wasted. You're worried about getting lost, being mugged, or not being able to communicate. There are many, many ways to be scared, worried, and terrified while traveling, and this fear stops many people from ever leaving their houses.

Solution: Just do it. That Nike knew what they were talking about. Yes, you could get hurt in a plethora of creative ways while traveling. But, statistically, you're far more likely to get killed by falling down (1-in-500 chance) than dying in an aircraft accident (1-in-20,000). Don't those stairs in your house look a lot more menacing now?

I've always said that I wouldn't ever let being afraid stop me from doing something (well, except my fear of shellfish, but that's tied to a very nasty allergic reaction, so give me a pass there). It wasn't until I lived through the 2005 terrorist bombings in London that such a statement was truly challenged. But, even after seeing the aftereffects of such an event and being more scared than pretty much any other time in my life, I stand by it.

Life is scary. We can't control what happens to us. But we can try and go after our dreams as much as possible. So, if traveling is your dream, don't let your fear stand in your way.

What is your big hurdle to traveling? How do you try and offset these hurdles?

Searching for Pirate Gold at Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island, Bahamas

Searching for Pirate Gold at Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island, Bahamas | CosmosMariners.com


If you inquire--even briefly--around the Bahamas, you'll find a place that has ties to pirate lore pretty quickly.

Even Andros, that large but often overlooked island to the west of Nassau, touts a pirate spot or two. The most famous of these places would be Morgan's Bluff (often referred to as Morgan's Cave).

Supposedly, the cruel and infamous buccaneer Henry Morgan (yes, the real Captain Morgan) had a hideout in a cave at the most northwestern portion of Andros Island. Legend has it that he and his crew hid their booty, composed of both gold and rum, in the cave.

The spot was chosen because the bluff under which the cave is located was a notoriously dangerous spot for ships. Since everyone else avoided that area, Morgan thought it was the best place in the world for his treasure.

Searching for Pirate Gold at Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island, Bahamas | CosmosMariners.com


While I was trekking around Andros during a college study abroad trip, both the cave and the bluff were on our agenda. When we arrived, there was a storm just off the coast, and the waves were whipping up on the bluff furiously. It didn't take a great imagination to understand why most sailors avoided this area.
Searching for Pirate Gold at Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island, Bahamas | CosmosMariners.com
Crazy winds do not a good hair day make. But when there might be pirate treasure around, who cares about nice looking hair?!
Since the trip was led by a geology teacher, we discussed the make-up of the rocks and the geological formations of the bluff--but our teacher quickly got to the pirate legends.

Sir Henry Morgan was one of the most successful (if you can say that about someone who steals and terrorizes) pirates of the 17th century. He was actually a member of the British Navy and ransacked Spanish territories on the command of his superiors in the Navy (a long cry from how pirates are portrayed in movies nowadays!). After he was captured following his sack of Panama--an attack that supposedly violated an ongoing treaty between England and Spain--he was knighted and and given a Lt. Governor position. By the end of his career, he was known not for his prior pirating abilities, but for his excessive drinking and weight gain.

I guess we can't all go out on top.

Searching for Pirate Gold at Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island, Bahamas | CosmosMariners.com
Is that the ghost of Captain Morgan? Nope--just one of my classmates with a death wish.


Anyway, after exploring the bluff, we headed into the cave below, which, from the entrance didn't look like much of a cave at all. There are all of these vines growing over the main way in, and, if you weren't sure what you were looking for, you could easily walk right past it.

Searching for Pirate Gold at Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island, Bahamas | CosmosMariners.com


After searching around in the cave for a while, we had to admit defeat and leave without any treasure. Our teacher told us later that, while Henry Morgan definitely used northern Andros as a hideout, there hasn't been any historical evidence that placed Morgan in that very cave.

In other words, Morgan's ties to the cave are all local legend--and, since no treasure has been found--it will likely stay that way for the time being.

Know before you go: 

  • When you're adventuring along the bluff, the rocks are incredibly slippery, so walk with caution.
  • Bring a flashlight to explore the cave. The floor is uneven, and bats call it home.
  • The mouth of the cave is easy to miss! 

If you're interested in searching for Morgan's lost booty (and don't mean what he wore on his feet), you can head north on Queen's Highway until you come to a cross street. Turn left, then immediately run back right onto Main Lumber Road. When the road splits, stay to the right. Follow the road until it ends, and look for signs leading you to the cave and bluff. Happy treasure hunting!