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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Empire's ego was in the late 1800s: it's an inadvertent commentary on elitism, colonialism, and racism packed into one outdated book.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.

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.
_____________________________

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.

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.

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.

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!).

Ernest Hemingway, Key West, and 6 Toed Cats: Literature Comes to the Florida Keys

 Ernest Hemingway, Key West, and Six Toed Cats: Literature Comes to the Florida Keys | CosmosMariners.com

What do you think when someone mentions Key West? Probably crystal clear waters, partying until the wee hours of the morning, and beaches.

You probably don't think about American literature. Key West is a place to relax and let loose, not ponder often the front-runners for the Great American Novel.

Or so you might think!

None other than that heavy-hitter of American literature himself--Ernest Hemingway--had a house in Key West (it was one of many he owned at the peak of his career) and wrote many of his best-known works here, including For Whom the Bell Tolls, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," and Death in the Afternoon.

He arrived at the house completely by chance; he was passing through the Keys after coming from Cuba and fell in love with the place. So, he and his wife Pauline (the second of four spouses) lived there with his three children (two by Pauline and one from an earlier marriage); Hemingway often returned to the house throughout the rest of his life.

Ernest Hemingway, Key West, and Six Toed Cats: Literature Comes to the Florida Keys | CosmosMariners.com

On first glance, Hemingway lived this life that so many people envied--he went on safari in Kenya, he lived in Paris, Cuba, Spain, and Africa for varying period, he was an excellent sportsfisherman, he was wildly famous for his writing while he was living (not an easy task for most literary contributors).

Yet, he was terribly unhappy. He had four marriages and rocky relationships with his three sons. Towards the end of his life, he was receiving treatment for alcoholism and depression, the latter of which ultimately led him to commit suicide when he was 62.

With everything that he dealt with, it's easy to see why a beautiful house on (then scarcely populated) Key West would appeal to him--he could fish each day, write each night, and relax in the hopes of escaping all that haunted him.

Even if you're not interested in Hemingway as a writer, I'd still suggest visiting the property from an architectural and historical perspective. It's the largest single-family owned property on Key West to this day--though it's not the Hemingway family who owns it, as Ernest's son sold it after his death. The woman who bought it from the Hemingway sons put it in a trust so that future generations could continue to enjoy this property.

Take the tour of the house and gardens: you'll be able to see many of the Hemingway family's belongings including prints, furniture, and decor. I was intrigued by the pool out back, as it was highly unusual to have a water feature like that in the 1930s. It was, in fact, the only pool within a hundred miles when the Hemingways lived there!

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Hemingway by the pool
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Oh, and about those six-toed cats--they're real, and they actually have six toes. Count them! The original six-toed cat came to Ernest Hemingway by a local ship's captain, and he gave it, and all of its descendants, a place to live. There are about 40 cats still on the property today, all of whom are related to that original kitty.

Ernest Hemingway, Key West, and Six Toed Cats: Literature Comes to the Florida Keys | CosmosMariners.com
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One final note: while Hemingway died in 1962 and left Key West as his primary residence in 1940 or so, his spirit is still very much alive and loved on the island. A local bar, Sloppy Joe's, holds a Hemingway lookalike contest every year, and the winner is always a dead ringer for the writer.

Ernest Hemingway, Key West, and Six Toed Cats: Literature Comes to the Florida Keys | CosmosMariners.com
Hemingway in his later years
Don't be surprised to see a man or two sporting a full, white beard and short sleeved button down shirt year round: it's not the ghost of Hemingway, just one of the lookalikes hanging around a favorite watering hole. Key West may be a place to party and relax, but it takes its residents very, very seriously--even when said resident hasn't been around for more than 50 years!

Visiting the Hemingway House has been the highlight of two of my Key West trips (yes, I went back for a second go-round. Once an English nerd, always an English nerd.), and I highly recommend that you take time away from your sunbathing, parasailing, and bar hopping to check it out!

I was in no way compensated for my review of the Hemingway House. I really did love it!

3 Spooky Ruins in the South Carolina Lowcountry: A Road Trip Itinerary

3 Spooky Ruins in the South Carolina Lowcountry: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com


In complete and utter opposition to my high brow love of literature, ballet, modern art, and artsy-fartsy independent movies is my devotion to creepy ghost stories--the weirder the better.

I love them so much that I wrote my graduate thesis on the modern Gothic novel, which is basically the closest I could get to actually spending a year of my life reading spooky stories.

So, it's no wonder that ghost tours are always on the agenda whenever I go to a new place. And if I can find a good ruin, I'm pretty much set for life.

Since Charleston has gone through a revitalization over the last few years, there are fewer and fewer awesome ruins to ramble around as they're all restored now.

But, fear not, visitors to the South Carolina Lowcountry--there are still three amazing places where you can see some bonafide ruins. And they're all open to the public, so you don't have to worry about getting arrested for trespassing. Plus, they're also free, which makes them even better.

I can't promise that these sights will include the fog and creepy characters from the best scary movies, but you might get lucky!

While the loop isn't too far from Charleston, you'll definitely want to allot an entire day to do this road trip. There are plenty of roadside eateries along the way so support local businesses and grab something along the way.

3 Spooky Ruins in the South Carolina Lowcountry: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Pon Pon Chapel of Ease, Adams Run

3 Spooky Ruins in the South Carolina Lowcountry: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

We start our road trip by going way off the beaten path. Head out of Charleston going south on Highway 17, then hang a right onto Highway 64. You'll blast through the metropolis of Round-O, South Carolina (population: 1 animal feed store). Turn right onto Jacksonboro Road, and just as you're thinking that I've lured you down here to murder you like in a bad horror movie, you'll see Parkers Ferry Road--turn right on it (it's a dirt road), and the chapel is down on your left.

Poor Pon Pon (also written as Pon-Pon). A wooden church was built here in the early 1700s, and was replaced by a brick version seventy years later. When the brick church burnt down in 1801, the congregation built another brick church in its place--only to have that second brick structure burn down again in 1832. (Blame all of those drafty rooms and uncovered candles.) As you can imagine, the congregation admitted defeat and left the ruins as they were, though they did continue to use the graveyard for new burials, which is kind of strange.

The straw that broke the back of Pon Pon wasn't a straw at all, but rather something much more powerful--a hurricane took down all but one and a half of the remaining walls in the 1950s.

There aren't any ghost stories associated with this place (at least that I know of), but the solitude of the chapel and the stunning brick ruins create the perfect atmosphere for an overactive imagination to hear things.

Old Sheldon Church, Yemassee

3 Spooky Ruins in the South Carolina Lowcountry: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Of the three places on this road trip, Old Sheldon Church is probably the best recognized due to its proximity to Highway 17.

To get to Old Sheldon Church once you leave Pon Pon, you'll want to retrace your steps until you get back on Highway 17. Head south again--when you see the turnoff to Beaufort, you know you're getting very close. Stay on 17 until you see Old Sheldon Church Road on your right (it will be the next road after the 21/17 interchange). Turn there and head down the road just a mile or so. The ruins will be on your right, and a parking area is across the road on your left.

3 Spooky Ruins in the South Carolina Lowcountry: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
Thanks to my sister, who let me use this picture of Old Sheldon Church!

As soon as you get out of your car, you'll feel the stillness of this place. Even when there are other people around (and there often are--this will be the busiest of the three stops), people talk in hushed voices as they walk around the church's ruins.

Some say that you can hear a woman crying at night for her infant child. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, just being out here in the middle of the forest by yourself at night would be enough to scare the pants off of you.

St. Helena Chapel of Ease, Land's End Road, St. Helena's Island

3 Spooky Ruins in the South Carolina Lowcountry: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Tucked away on a lonely stretch of land past Beaufort, St. Helena's Island really can feel like the end of the world on a cold, quiet day.

From Old Sheldon Church, head back towards Highway 17, and then head north on 17 until you reach the intersection of 17 and 21. Take 21 all the way through Beaufort. After you pass Beaufort, turn right onto State Road S-7-45 (also known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard). The road will fork; bear to the right onto Land's End Road. The chapel ruins will be on your left almost immediately past the fork in the road.

Wander the ruins, which are interesting unto themselves since they're made of coquina (an oyster mortar) and see the shattered mausoleum door in the graveyard.

3 Spooky Ruins in the South Carolina Lowcountry: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
I was pretty sure that something was going to crawl out of the mausoleum and grab me with its nasty hand.


While the ruins themselves aren't haunted, the road is. The Land's End light shows up down Land's End road, and most people think its an oncoming car until they realize that there's only one light. As it gets closer, the light grows in size and will actually pass by any cars waiting on the side of the road. Unlike the other two spots on this road trip, the Land's End light is consistent--no one knows if it shows up every night, but rumor has it that, if you wait long enough, you'll see it.

But what is it--ghost or some sort of lightning ball? Legend has it that it's the spirt of a runaway slave or a Private stationed at a nearby fort who died after a scuffle. Some people have reported an electric shock when the light passes near them, which has led some to believe the light is actually St. Elmo's fire or another natural phenomenon.

A word of warning: if you go out to see the light, don't attempt to drive through it or chase after it. Land's End road is a tight two lane road through a residential area.

Do you like going to ruins? Do you love or hate ghost stories?

A First-timer's Guide to Historic Charleston, South Carolina: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

After my First-Timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia, made some waves, I figured that the time was right for me to impart my knowledge about my beloved hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. I was born here, and other than an eight-year-gap when I lived elsewhere in South Carolina, I've called Charleston my home my entire life.

From school field trips to my own wanderings, I've seen most of what the Holy City has to offer. If you're heading this way on a trip, my first timer's guide to Charleston is a must-read!

20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast

20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com

There's nothing like digging your toes in the sand and escaping from the rest of the world for a few hours on a sunny summer's day. Thankfully, for those of us living in or visiting the Southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, the Atlantic coast is rife with choices on places to do so. 

While there are many, many beaches along this stretch of coastline, here are places unconnected from the mainland where you can live the island life. 

North Carolina
1) Outer Banks
The most famous of the North Carolina islands, the Outer Banks are actually one long string of islands that reach into Virginia. While the miles of beach are a major attraction, there are some beautiful lighthouses to climb (those hundreds of stairs are worth the view at the top), a mystery to uncover (the Roanoke Colony in the 1600s disappeared without a trace!), and two important brothers to remember (Wilbur and Orville Wright, the inventors behind the first airplane that flew!). 

2) Carolina Beach
This island has an aquarium at one end and a park on the other. And what do you find in the middle? A wide, flat beach that allows you to do two things that are nearly unheard of in this day and age: 1) drive on the beach, and 2) camp on the beach. While I actively try to avoid camping of any sort, my husband went with friends a few years back and had a blast!

South Carolina

3) Pawley's Island
Their motto is "shabby chic," and, indeed, the weatherbeaten cottages on this tiny spit of land south of Myrtle Beach have their own kind of class. Other than the quiet life it offers (there are no stoplights or stores on the island), this part of the Hammock Coast is known for the Grey Man ghost who reportedly shows up before a hurricane hit and warns homeowners to leave. According to legend, those who see him will have their homes spared in the storm. 

4) Isle of Palms
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com

Of those on the list, this island and the one next on the list are closest to my heart since I grew up on them. Isle of Palms has come into its own in the last twenty years or so, as it now has a beautiful county park right on the ocean, as well as multiple places to eat and shop near the pier. You won't find any high rise hotels or apartments here, though, as IOP has committed itself to staying local and quaint. 

5) Sullivans Island
Even more low key than Isle of Palms, Sullivans Island doesn't have any stoplights (just one blinking crossing light) or hotels. It does, however, have some amazing restaurants--Poe's Tavern is my personal favorite--and a beach that usually only draws locals. Be careful, though, and don't swim anywhere near the harbor end of the island as there are some horrible currents caused by the tanker ships.

6) Folly Beach
Of the three major islands around Charleston, Folly Beach has a lock on quirkiness! There's a beautiful beach that offers the best waves in Charleston, and the Washout is a favorite surfing spot. Folly Beach is more developed than Sullivans and IOP, so you've got more choices on where to stay and eat. 

7) Edisto Island
No stoplights--and only handful of stop signs. What Edisto Island does have are miles of bicycle paths, cute stores, and hundreds of family-owned beach houses. Unlike some of the other island spots along the South Carolina coast, Edisto's homes are (relatively) inexpensive, and most have been in the same family since the island began major development in the late 60s. 

8 & 9) Kiawah Island & Seabrook Island
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com
The Sanctuary Hotel on Kiawah Island

I put these two together since they're right next one another, and they share a main shopping and dining area. Both of them are ritzy and offer some of the most expensive real estate on the South Carolina coast. Kiawah Island is known for its golf courses and was where the 2011 U.S. Open was held. 

10) Hilton Head Island
Another popular town for golfing and family vacation, HHI has all of its businesses tucked away from the main roads. Driving through the island, you see lots of palm trees and greenery, but very few business signs--by design. If you're in town, you have to head to the Salty Dog Cafe for some pizza and one of their famous shirts. 

11) Daufuskie Island
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com
Daufuskie's main street

A little known gem of a place just off the tip of Hilton Head, Daufuskie Island is only accessible by ferry and has no cars on it. Pat Conroy, the Southern author, taught here in his early career, and wrote his first novel, The Water is Wide, based on his experiences here. 

Georgia

12) Cumberland Island
Another island with ferry-only access, Cumberland Island is a great place to explore an unspoiled barrier island. Rent a bicycle to see more of the island, or take a tour led by park rangers to see the ruins of the 22,000 square foot house that the Carnegies built here in the early 1900s. There are two different places to camp on the island, but visitors need to bring all of their supplies.

13) Jekyll Island
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com

Originally started as a winter hunting lodge for the likes of the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Carnegies, Jekyll Island is now a state park. You can still stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, which has been completely refurbished, and tour some of the cottages in the historic district. There's also a beautiful driftwood beach on the northern end, and a wide, flat beach along the eastern side. 

14) St. Simons Island
Another of the Golden Isles (along with Jekyll), St. Simons was once composed of several cotton plantations. Now, it boasts an adorable downtown area and several award-winning hotels including the King and Prince. Make sure to stop by the lighthouse!

15) Tybee Island
Just a few miles away from downtown Savannah, Tybee Island is popular with vacationers and Savannahians alike. The island is quite populated and has adorable, brightly colored houses tucked down its side streets. There are plenty of shops and restaurants, so, if you choose to vacation here, you won't ever need to leave the island!

Florida

16) Amelia Island
One of Florida's barrier islands, Amelia Island has quite the storied past, and local historians claim that eight different flags have flown after this island during its existence (French, Spanish, British, Patriot, Green Cross, Mexican, Confederate, and United States). Nowadays, it's home to multiple golf courses and the Eight Flags Shrimp Festival.

17) St. Augustine Beach
For those visiting St. Augustine who need a break from the history of the downtown area, St. Augustine Beach offers camping and relaxation just a few miles from the hustle and bustle of St. Augustine. I can remember staying here when I was very little with my parents in my grandparents' motorhome. Good times were had by all!

18) Miami Beach (Fisher Island and Grove Isle)
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com

The lights and Art Deco buildings along South Beach are world famous--and for a good reason. When you're done with the beach for the day, all you've got to do is hop over to the restaurants and nightclubs across the street. Fisher Island, part of the Miami metropolis area, has one of the highest per capita incomes in the United States, and is only accessible by private boat. Grove Isle is another private island where you can go to escape the world--and, best of all, there's an award-winning spa to help you do so.

19) Key Biscayne
Located just south of Miami Beach, Key Biscayne is a fairly large island with condominiums, schools, shopping, and dining. With four different beaches to explore, Key Biscayne isn't just a residential area. Pack a picnic and while away the day at Crandon Park, or dine al fresco by the ocean over on Key Biscayne's main street. 

20) Florida Keys
20 Southern Islands on the Atlantic Coast | CosmosMariners.com
Hemingway House, Key West, Florida Keys

A trip to the tropics without ever leaving the U.S., the Florida Keys are a series of islands trailing from just off the coast of Miami all the way down nearly to Cuba. Party the night away on Duvall Street in Key West, or kayak in the mangroves off of Islamorada. Don't forget to grab a slice of key lime pie-- despite what some imitators might try to convince you, real key lime pie is yellow, not green.

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While these are some of my favorite islands along the Southern Atlantic coast, there are many, many more. Which ones do you think should have made the list? Have you been to any of the ones listed above? Which is your favorite?

5 Best Plantations in Louisiana: the River Road and Beyond

5 Best Plantations in Louisiana: the River Road and Beyond | CosmosMariners.com

Beignets, alligators, the French Quarter, and historic houses: these are typically what you'll find at the top of most visitors' Louisiana itineraries. Even if you only have a few days to explore New Orleans and beyond, the chances that you'll end up at a plantation are pretty high.

But with all of the options--and the history, both good and bad--which of the state's many sprawling properties should you visit?

I've done the hard work for you and have explored all over the Pelican State to find the 5 best plantations in Louisiana. Make the most of your time along the River Road and beyond as you learn about Southern history at these properties.

What to Do at Walt Disney World When You Aren't at the Parks

What to Do at Walt Disney World When You Aren't at the Parks | CosmosMariners.com

On our December 2014 trip to Walt Disney World, we did something that we hadn't done in at least twenty years: we allotted free time away from the parks. And to my surprise: we weren't bored. There was plenty to do on our down-time days!

Usually, we're those crazy whirlwind people who show up at 10:00 p.m. on our travel days, go to four parks in four days, then head back out at the crack of dawn on the return travel day.

It's hectic and doesn't give you a moment to catch your breath, but we believe in packing in as much as we can.

Since this trip also marked the first trip for our toddler, we wanted some time to rest in between the park days. I knew that seeing the lights and characters and rides would be plenty overwhelming for Britton, so I planned a few low key days in there, too.

We ended up having so much fun on those days that I'm seriously considering adding more to our next trip (which probably won't be for several years, but I love planning far, far in advance).

What can you do at Disney when you're not in the parks? Here's a sampling.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Stately oaks dripping Spanish moss.

Gentile Southern mansions nestled around small parks.

Artsy students hurrying off to class, sketchbooks clutched in their hands.

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it?

You can find all of this (and lots, lots more) on the streets of Savannah, Georgia, one of my top three favorite Southern cities (Charleston being the numero uno in my book, of course, and New Orleans rounding out the trio).

Savannah's historic district isn't very big, but if you're visiting for the first time, you've probably got plenty of questions about what to see and do and where you should stay and eat. This isn't a definitive guide by any means, but hopefully, it will help you dive into the beauty and charm of Savannah.

Where to Stay

In the downtown area, there are plenty of great hotels within walking distance of everything that Savannah has to offer. Over the years, we've taken a bit of a hotel tour with all of the different places that we've stayed.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The view from our room at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto

The Hilton Savannah DeSoto doesn't have a very glamorous lobby (though it does have a Starbucks!) but the rooms have recently been renovated. It's about halfway between River Street and Forsyth Park which puts you within easy walking distance of the entire historic district.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Andaz Savannah on Ellis Square
We stayed at the Andaz Savannah (then known as Avia Savannah) one night of our honeymoon and loved the trendy vibe and super modern decor. It's located on Ellis Square just across from the City Market.

For my 29th birthday, we took a trip to Savannah with my parents and my sister and stayed in the Hampton Inn and Suites Historic District. As far as Hampton Inns go, this was a particularly nice one. A note to newcomers: at night, I wouldn't recommend wandering too far off Martin Luther King Boulevard away from the historic district if you stay at this hotel. I never felt unsafe walking to and from the Hampton Inn, but the area behind the hotel towards I-16 gets into not-so-great-for-tourists territory pretty quickly.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The Westin Savannah Harbor Resort from the water taxi

On our most recent trip, we ventured across the river and stayed at the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort. Initially, I was hesitant about taking the water taxi back and forth, but I ended up loving the fact that we could retire to a quiet hotel away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Plus, the views were amazing!

There are of course, dozens of other places to stay in the historic district including the Mansion on Forsyth Park, the Hyatt Regency, and the River Street Inn

Booking.com


What to Eat

The answer to this is everything. (I kid. Sort of.) If you're interested in the super popular restaurants of the historic district, head over to The Lady and Sons or The Pirates House. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised by The Pirate House, and their BLT salad is one of my favorite meals in Savannah. I love that you get to dine in the historic buildings which date back to Savannah's colonial days. While Clary's Cafe is one of those incredibly popular spots, it comes by the fame for the right reasons. They serve a top notch breakfast here all day. I'm a huge fan of their strawberry cream cheese French toast!

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Outside the Pirates House Restaurant
The River Street area has lots of places to eat. Huey's is right by the water, so you can watch the barges come down the Savannah river while you eat a muffaletta. Kevin Barry's Irish Pub is also a popular spot by the water.

Another concentration of restaurants is in and around Ellis Square. In the City Market, you can grab some tasty wings at Wild Wings Cafe or build your own pizza over at Vinnie Van GoGo's (the pesto pizza with mushrooms and onions is a personal favorite).

Sample some local brews over at Moon River Brewing Company or Southbound Brewing Company. Southbound is just outside of the historic district, so you'll have to hop in your car if you're staying downtown.

What to See

On your first trip to Savannah, you absolutely have to allot time just to wander: part of the city's charms can only be absorbed when you're away from a guide book or a tour bus. Park your car and walk from spot to spot on your itinerary--everything's close enough to easily walk if you're in decent shape.
A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
One of the many beautiful historic houses in downtown Savannah

  • Take a historical tour. Savannah dates back to 1733, so you've got almost three centuries of happenings to discover. There are multiple ways to accomplish this, as Savannah offers walking tours, trolley tours, and carriage tours
  • Get spooked. If you're into the paranormal (or if you just like being scared a little!), Savannah's supposedly one of the most actively haunted cities in America. I guess the people who lived there liked it so much that they couldn't leave when they shuffled off this mortal coil. While there are ghost tours by foot and by trolley, my favorite is one that takes you around in an old hearse. I've taken a lot of ghost tours, and the Savannah Hearse Ghost Tours remains at the top of the list for both Landon and I. (And no, they didn't pay me to say that!)
  • Find the perfect souvenir. From your standard t-shirts and blankets in River Street shops to the first edition books over at the Book Lady Book Store, you'll be sure to find whatever tickles your fancy. Stroll down West Broughton Street for a bit of everything from Banana Republic to the Savannah Bee Company.  
  • Support the local arts. With one of the nation's top art schools (Savannah College of Art and Design, affectionally known as SCAD) located in downtown, you can be sure that there's no shortage of art galleries and exhibitions. There's an incredible rotating gallery on East Liberty Street where you can view and buy the work of SCAD students and faculty. 
A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Outside of E. Shaver Booksellers, one of my favorite independent bookstores in Savannah
Other great spots to include on your trip are the fountain at Forsyth Square, the Juliette Gordon-Low house, the Mercer Williams house (famous for being the home of the songwriter and the later living quarters of Jim Williams, who features heavily in John Berendt's book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and Bonaventure Cemetery (the gorgeous final resting place of Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken, who's tombstone inspired my blog's name!). 


What to Know

  • Check the calendar. If you're going around the time of the Savannah Marathon or St. Patrick's Day, prepare to pay higher prices and deal with bigger crowds. The St. Patrick's Day parade draws over a million visitors and is consistently ranked among the nation's biggest St. Patty parades. 
  • Expect to pay for parking. As with any historic or downtown district, parking is at a premium. Even if you're staying at a hotel in the downtown area, you'll still see a parking surcharge on your hotel bill. If you're driving in from a hotel elsewhere, there are plenty of parking garages and on-street parking meters. 
  • Make use of the free transportation. The Dot trams run in a circle around the historic district, and the River Street train takes people along the waterfront. There's also a water taxi that goes in a triangle between the Westin (across the Savannah River from the historic area), the Waving Girl statue, and the Hyatt Regency. 
  • The Hyatt Regency on River Street has free bathrooms on the second floor. Technically for the use of those attending a function in one of the ballrooms, these bathrooms are always clean and generally empty. There's also a nice seating area for nursing moms who want a little privacy. 
This post contains affiliate links to the hotels listed. If you choose to book through those links, I will receive a small kickback from the sale at no additional cost to you. 

Have you visited Savannah? If you have, what was your favorite part? If you haven't, is Savannah on your travel list?

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


If you liked this post, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guide for each city by clicking on the image below:

First-Timer Travel Guides 
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