Powered by Blogger.

Lessons Learned While Traveling

Photograph {via}

1. There will always be another train, plane, or taxi. It just might not come for another a hour, another day, or another week.

2. If a place looks sketchy, it probably is. 

3. Little kid pickpockets will make you lose a little bit of your faith in humanity.

4. If a local highly recommends a sight or restaurant, it's worth it to go out of your way to eat/ go there. 

5. Wherever that screaming baby, tantrum-throwing baby, or horrible smelling person is on the plane, your seat is right next to them. 

6. Some of the best memories happen in the car--not at the destination--on a road trip. 

7. There's a fine line between getting out of your comfort zone and scaring yourself to death. 

8. The contents of your luggage somehow grow between the beginning and the end of a trip--even if you don't add anything new to it.

9. Just because you're speaking the same language as someone doesn't mean you're communicating.

10. To thoroughly wash yourself in most European bathrooms, you either need to be a contortionist or be able to defy the laws of physics.

11. Nothing makes you question your life choices like some airplane turbulence.

12. There are few things sadder than realizing that border control didn't put a new stamp in your passport.

13. Nice people are everywhere. But so are mean people.

14. You don't have to go far to travel.

15. It's never a good sign when cows have to be cleared off the runway before you can land.

What lessons have you learned on your road trips, vacations, adventures, and travels?

6 Reasons Why You Should Visit Tunisia

There's something about the cooler weather that makes me want to venture off to somewhere exotic. Maybe I'm missing summer (and all of the warmth that comes with it) or maybe it's because I'd rather do anything that think about all of that holiday shopping that I still have to do. 

Whatever the reason, I've been dreaming of places like Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia--you get the picture. While Egypt and Morocco are pretty well known, I haven't known too many people who've actually been to Tunisia (other than my uncle, but he's very well-traveled!). Though I haven't been, here are six reasons why I want to visit (and why you should, too!):

1) It's got a Mediterranean-like climate. 

With summer highs in the high 80s and low 90s (or around 32 Celcius), and winter temperatures in the 60s (or high teens Celcius), it's mild enough to sightsee year round without worrying about heat stroke or packing an overcoat. 

2) There's history everywhere.
El-Jem Coliseum

In Hammamet, you can walk in the footsteps of Hannibal, the Phoenicians, and the Romans. Visit the Antonine Roman Baths backdropped by the Mediterranean, the Roman ampitheatre, the sacrificial site of Tophet, and the Bardo Museum (which boasts the world's largest collection of ancient Roman mosaics). 

3) Beautiful beaches are the norm. 
Sousse Beach

Tunisia is known for its gorgeous view along its coast; the country borders the Mediterranean and is warm enough to swim nearly year-round. From the cliffside beaches in the north to the desert-backed beaches of the south, the crystal clear water will entice swimmers and scuba divers of all ages. 

4) Tunisia is a globally-inspired country.
With influences from the Spanish (who once held many of the coastal cities in the 1500s), the French (who ruled the country from the late 1800s to the mid-1950s), and the Middle East (with whom Tunisia has identified in recent years after it sought its own independence), you're as likely to find a croque monsieur on the menu as you are couscous.

5) It's less known than Egypt or Morocco.

If you're an "off-the-beaten-path" kind of traveler, Tunisia still has plenty of hidden spots to discover. Since the tourist trade has flourished only since the country's Arab Spring, it's been a kind of secret destination for those in the know. There's enough infrastructure within the country to support safe touring while still allowing Tunisia to keep its exotic, mysterious flavor. 

6) It's small enough to tour around via car.
Though it packs a punch culturally and historically, Tunisia has less land mass than the United Kingdom. You won't have to pick one spot to stay for your entire holiday; since it's compact, you can use one area as a base and visit multiple places each day. Visit Sousse, a UNESCO World Heritage site, one day, head out to Djerba for some sun the next day, and then visit the souk in Tunis to round out your trip. 

Have you ever been to Tunisia? Is this country on your travel bucket list? 

Why You Need a Hanging Travel Toiletries Case

Now, I will devote an entire blog post to my toiletries case. And I will not feel bad about it at all. My little bag may be grubby and worn, but it is one of my travel essentials.

A well-packed and well-stocked toiletries case can make or break your trip. Have you ever tried to sightsee after you've forgotten your toothbrush, face wash, or razor? It's not a pretty sight. 

Several years ago, my mom and dad got me this little toiletries case as a present. It was filled with travel-sized bottles, a folding hairdryer and plenty of Band-aids (because I'm forever bumping into things!). It was a great present, but at the time, I had no clue how much that small black case was going to help me in my travels.

Before we go any further, let's get one thing straight: I hate unpacking. So, rather than pack and unpack the toiletries case, I always keep it stocked and ready to go. That way, when I get a hair about me and want to head out for a quick weekend trip, I just throw my glasses into the inner pouch and head on out. 

Other than my glasses (which I have to have since I have HORRIBLE eye sight), I keep duplicates of everything I use in my beauty and cleaning regimen in that little case: extra contacts, extra face wash, extra toothbrush, extra toothpaste, extra night cream. You name it, I have a smaller version in that case. 

Granted, if I had a simpler routine (like my husband), I'd throw my toothbrush and toothpaste in a plastic bag and go on my way. But for those of us who need a little more to make ourselves presentable, a constantly-stocked toiletries case is the way to go. 

Do you want to make a toiletries case like this for your travels? Pick up one at your local Target or Walmart (they're usually near the make-up bags instead of the travel stuff), or order one from Amazon.com or eBags.com. Mine is similar to this one, this one, or this one

When looking for a case, keep an eye out for the following: 
  • A durable exterior. Skip the satin or cotton finishes since they'll rip quicker. 
  • A wipeable interior. It's not super glamorous, but a plastic coated interior will make those make-up and shampoo spills much easier to clean up. 
  • An exterior handle. This will allow you to haul it around with ease, and you can loop it over your rolling case when heading into your hotel room. 
  • Lots of smaller pockets. These will help you organize your toiletry essentials and see what you have with ease. 
  • A hook (metal is preferable). You can hang up your organizer on a shower rod or towel rack. This will free up counter space and make it easier for you to pack up when it's time to go!
After you find the perfect case, it's time to pack it! Remember to get travel-sized versions when possible in order to maximize your space. If you travel a lot or want to carry your special shampoo that doesn't come in a small size, invest in some plastic refillable travel bottles. A small, collapsible hair dryer that will fit in the larger pockets is also a great idea if you're going somewhere without a hairdryer.

My battered little bag and I have been together for about ten years now--it's been a long and happy relationship so far!

How do you organize your toiletries and makeup when you travel? Do you have a dedicated space for them?

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through the above links, I will receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. 

The Traveler Behind the Blog

I haven't done a good introduction blog in a long while, so today you get to learn all about me. I should not be as excited as I am to talk about myself because I know that's totally self-centered--but we all have to give into our self-centered indulgences every once in a while, right?!

So, hi! I'm Natalie. I'm the captain of this travel blog. And despite what the below picture might tell you, sitting on a sand throne is not nearly as glamorous as it looks. I guess that's a hazard of the job that I'm willing to endure.

Being the supremely weird unique person that I am, I have interviewed myself so that you can get to know me a little better. Let's delve into all things Cosmos Mariners, shall we?

Interviewer Me: Hello, Natalie. I'm so excited about this interview. You're quite wonderful, aren't you?
Answerer Me: Um, yes. Yes, I think I am. 

Interviewer Me: I'm pretty great, too, but I guess that's not the point. Let's talk about your blog.
Answerer Me: I've run Cosmos Mariners: Destination Unknown for about four years now. It started out as a tiny little thing so people could read about the early years of my marriage. I'm pretty sure that my parents and my in-laws were the only people who read it then. 

There's definitely always more room to grow, but I've found an awesome community of bloggers in the years that I've been working on this site. About a year ago, I rebranded to focus more on our travels as well as our adventures here in Charleston--I've loved all of the opportunities and friends that have come out of that change. 

My sister--one of my original readers--and I at Disney World in 2008.
Interviewer Me: Where have you traveled?
Answerer Me: All over the place! I've been on every mile of I-95--it runs all along the eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine. Besides the eastern seaboard states, I've been to Louisiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and California. I really want to see more of the U.S.! I've been to Disney World 25 or 30 times (we have a serious addiction); my first trip ever was to Disney when I was 2.

Outside of the U.S., I've been to several of the islands in the Bahamas (Andros, Grand Bahama Island, and New Providence), St. Martin/St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Mexico (the Yucatan Peninsula), Canada (Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island), Wales, England, Scotland, and France. I'm hoping to add Jamaica, Haiti, and a few European countries to that list in 2015!

Interviewer Me: Why are you wearing that intensely orange shirt in that picture if you at the top of the page?
Answerer Me: I've got to represent my alma mater, Clemson University! I graduated from there with a B.A. in Literature. (And then went on to the rival school, USC, for my M.A. in Post-WWII British Gothic Literature--but we don't talk about that.)

We took our love of Clemson all the way to the Trossachs, Scotland!
Interviewer Me: Were you indeed on the Clemson Quidditch team?
Answerer Me: Sadly, no. But I'm still waiting on my acceptance letter to Hogwarts! I'm going to be their first non-traditional (read: old person) student. While I wait for my owl to bring the letter, I've been absorbing as much as I can about the Wizarding World at Universal Studios and the Leavesden studios. 
Diagon Alley, Warner Brothers Studios, London

Zonko's, Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Orlando
Interviewer Me: Where's your favorite place to travel?
Answerer Me: I'm up for anywhere once, but if I had to go one place over and over again, it would be the UK. I've been there four times: once in 2003 with my parents and sister, in 2005 to study abroad, in 2011 with my husband, and in 2012 with a family I tutored. I'm an Anglophile through and through. 

Melrose Abbey, Scotland
Interviewer Me: Why don't you travel all of the time?
Answerer Me: If I could, I would! However, my husband works in a very location-based job (retail banking), so we try to travel as much as we can together when his work schedule suits. I'm not above traveling with my toddler, my parents, or my sister if there's somewhere I just have to go. I could totally be one of those nomadic travelers, but my other half would hate that, so we've found a good travel compromise. 

Indian Shores, Florida
Interviewer Me: What in the world makes you think you're qualified to blog about traveling?
Answerer Me: I love it! I really and truly love going to a new place, meeting new people, and trying new foods. I hope that passion comes across in my blog. Beyond that, I talk A LOT about the literature and history of the places that I visit, and that's where all of that college and grad school work come in handy!

Rodin Museum and Gardens, Paris
Interviewer Me: Where's home?
Answerer Me: Charleston, South Carolina. I tried for a very long time to get away because I wanted to live somewhere else after growing up here. Fate intervened and the only job offer I got was right back here in Charleston. I've been back for about four years, and I'm very excited to raise my daughter here in between our other adventures. 

Tradd Street, Charleston, South Carolina


Hopefully, you know a little bit more about me than you did! Want to know something else? Ask away!

St. James Wambaw Church

It's no secret that I love traipsing around old cemeteries and churches. My blog is named after a tombstone inscription, after all. 

To me, it has less to do with the religious significance of these places and more to do with the history that surrounds them. You can learn so much about burial customs and people's lives just by looking at tombstones, and you can get a feel for a community's hierarchy and interests by checking out their places of worship.

I was an adventuring mood, so I packed up the car with my daughter, my husband, and my sister and headed down a little dirt road off of Highway 17. The way to St. James Wambaw Church is pretty bumpy and narrow, but I think the (small) discomforts are worth it. 

About a mile from Hampton Plantation (and not too far from the SeeWee Restaurant) is this small brick chapel which dates back to the mid-1700s. It's looking great for its age, isn't it?! 

There are these little chapels of ease scattered all over South Carolina, and I love exploring them (the Pon Pon Chapel of Ease near Round-O and the Lady Chapel near Frogmore are two others). The St. James Wambaw Church only had a little more than a dozen families attend it at the height of its popularity, but it served as a place where travelers on the King's Highway (now called Old Georgetown Road) could worship on their journeys. 

[Note: I have no confirmation that George Washington stayed here/ ate here/ prayed here/ sat here/ etc. But see as how he saved that tree just down the road at Hampton Plantation, I don't know how the man couldn't have at least ridden past here. You're behind the times, St. James Wambaw Church! Where is your GW plaque?!?!]

Can you imagine going to church with the same 15 or 16 families? Not that I'd do anything bad anyway, but you couldn't get away with anything with such a small group of people keeping track of you!

My sister decided to climb up into the (gigantic) pulpit, but her spirit was not stirred to tell us anything other than "You'd better be good. I can see everything from up here." Seriously, that pulpit was not for the faint of heart or those affected by vertigo. 

A very small sister on a very big pulpit
The church is only used on Easter nowadays; it's owned by the St. James Episcopal Church in McClellanville. The chapel is open during daylight hours. There's no attendant or anyone there: you just go in and explore on your own. Just make sure to be a responsible traveler, and bolt the door when you're done! (It keeps pesky things like snakes and raccoons out, neither of which are good sightseeing buddies.)
I love old brick to a weird degree. Please tell me I'm not the only one.
To get to the church, turn onto Rutledge Road about five miles north of McClellanville. Once on Rutledge Road, find the first dirt road to your left; this will be Old Georgetown Road. Go down Old Georgetown for a mile or so. The chapel will be on your right. 

Do you like visiting old churches and graveyards? Or do they creep you out?

5 Travel Moments That Made Me Nervous

As much as I wish it could be, traveling isn't all sunshine and rainbows and happy people.

Yet, for the most part, you'll rarely hear me complain about what I experience traveling because I believe that to truly travel, you need to get out past your comfort zone. I try to take things as they come--within reason, of course. Sometimes, though, things get waaaay out of my comfort zone, and that's what this post is about. 

Over my many years of adventuring, I've had a few moments that made me stop in my tracks and said, "Whoa." And not in a good way. Let's look at the top five such moments, shall we?

5) Getting stranded on the side of the road in Florida.

Right after I graduated from high school, five of my friends and I made the 16-hour-trip from Charleston to Key West. On the way there, we were going through this very blank, flat stretch of middle Florida when my friend Sims called me. She and our other friend Nicole were in the car right behind us. 

"Our cooler just exploded," she told me. 

"That's okay," I said. "We're almost to our exit for the night. We'll clean it up then." I imagined the water leaking out of the small travel cooler in their backseat and couldn't figure out why she was that upset.

"It's leaking green stuff," she said, sounding a little more alarmed. 

Green stuff? What did they have in there?!?

After a few more moments, I realized that the cooler in question was not the one holding the Diet Cokes, but rather the one that kept Nicole's car from overheating. Both cars quickly pulled over to the side of I-95 while one of them billowed steam. 

All six of us piled out of our cars while we made calls to our parents. Sims called AAA, who assured her that help was on its way for poor Nicole's car. About twenty minutes later, this dingy tow truck pulls up, and Ricki (with an I!)--in all of his grease-covered, dirty haired glory--hops out. He seemed delighted to find not one, but six, damsels in distress. 

None of us were willing to ride in the tow truck with Ricki (with an I), so all six of us piled into my 1995 Jeep Cherokee and followed Ricki, his tow truck, and the other Jeep to the shop. He ended up fixing Nicole's car well enough that we made it the rest of the way to Key West. 

Sure, it's not the worst thing that could happen when you're on a trip, but it was my first big adventure sans parents, and a creepy repair guy with a dubious name wasn't on my list of fun travel sites. 

4) Crazy driving in Mexico.
At least this view was waiting on me!

At 11, I didn't know a lot about driving. I did, however, know that vehicles are supposed to remain a certain distance from one another while in motion. 

My parents took my sister and I down to the Yucatan Peninsula so that we could learn more about the Mayan ruins there. We had to take a bus from the coast to the actual Mayan site, and this where the adventure starts. 

Our bus (which was one of those big ones like Greyhound uses) was hurtling down a tiny two lane road. I don't know how fast we were going, but it felt like 70 or 80 miles an hour. Every time we'd meet another one of those big tour buses head on, we would be so close that the antennae on the buses would clang against one another. 

I'm all about some history, but who knew that I was going to see my life flash before my eyes on the way to get to it?

3)  Having people come into my hotel room--uninvited. 
Not pictured: my terrified face

On another of my solo excursions, I was heading out of London back to the U.S. My flight was SUPER early, so rather than take a taxi at 4:00 a.m., I decided to get a hotel that was attached to Gatwick. 

I checked in early in the afternoon, went for a leisurely swim in the hotel's pool, talked to my parents and then-boyfriend/ now-husband, and headed to bed early. At about 2:00 a.m., I was woken up by the sound of the door knob being violently rocked back and forth. I jumped up out of my bed and ran over to the door. 

I have no clue what I was going to do to the people when I got there, but in my half-asleep mind, I was going to take on the intruders instead of waiting for them as I cowered in the bed. As I reached the door, the people on the other side managed to open it. The door caught on the safety slide, and I threw my entire weight against it so that the door slammed back. 

I looked through the peephole and saw two women about my age; they looked extremely confused. I called through the door and told them that the room was already occupied. They said that management had given them a key to that room at the desk. I told them to go back to the desk and figure it out because I was already in there. 

Needless to say, I 1) didn't go back to sleep that night, and 2) had a strong word with management before I checked out. 

2) Being mugged in Paris.

For my sister's graduation present, my parents took all four of us to Paris for a few days. We'd made our way around to the usual sites for a first-time visitor and were headed back to the hotel one evening. We'd just gotten on the Metro when two things happened simultaneously: one man got caught in the closing subway train doors, and another man started panicking about his lost mirror. 

The second guy (the one who was panicking) acted like he was falling on my dad in his search for his little mirror. He was feeling all over my dad while saying, "Sorry! Sorry" over and over again. Just as my dad was about to punch this guy for basically frisking him, the first man got unstuck and the second guy immediately found the mirror. The two of them pushed their way through the crowd on the train and disappeared into another carriage. 

My dad was, understandably, shaken, and we found out that the guy had stolen my dad's museum pass. It definitely could have been worse, but the entire situation was scary and one that I don't want to repeat anytime soon. 

1) Being in London during the terrorist bombings. 
I took this picture the day after the bombings happened. I loved the resilient attitude that the Londoners took towards the attacks.

In 2005, I decided to study abroad in London. Four weeks into my program, I had a field trip with my Modern British Literature class at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Instead of getting on the Tube that morning, I boarded a bus from Chelsea (where I lived) towards the very center of London. 

As we were approaching the Trafalgar Square stop, a woman bounded down the stairs from the second floor of the bus, yelled, "There's a bomb on the bus!" and wrenched the back doors open. Everyone on the bus watched in stunned silence as she jumped off the still moving bus and ran up the street.  Moments later, the bus pulled up to the stop, and I got off the bus. 

I knew immediately something was wrong, as there were more sirens blaring at one time than I'd ever heard in my life. I met up with my teacher and classmates; everyone was confused and scared. No one knew what was going on. It wasn't until hours later that Al-Qaeda took responsibility for the over 50 people who were killed in the bus and Tube bombings that morning. 

For many reasons, that day was one of the most impactful, challenging, and terrifying experience of my life. I've written more about my thoughts on this tragic event here, if you're interested


When I was drafting this post, I thought about titling it "5 Travel Moments That Made Me Want to Stop Traveling." But, then, I got to thinking and realized that, even though I'd been scared during all of these times, and even temporarily wished that I were home in my warm bed, I never hesitated to book my next trip after each event. 

I'm all for safety in my travels--and I'll do everything in my power to try and make that happen--but I hope that I'm never scared off from following my dreams and chasing after another adventure. 

What was your nervous travel moment? How do you stay safe when you're on a trip?

SeeWee Restaurant

Who doesn't love a little roadside diner?

I certainly do. 

To me, traveling means trying to understand the region, the people, the culture of wherever you're visiting. And that means bypassing the chains and sampling some of the area's restaurants. If the locals are eating somewhere, that's where I want to be as well.