Mara of Vacations with Mom and I connected the way most people do these day: Twitter! After my Viking River Cruise, I wrote about the importance of traveling with your parents, especially as we age. Mara got in touch and I’ve been loving her website ever since.
Mara and her mom travel often together and after family and friends asked for her to share the stories of their travels, she started her blog. I love reading about their adventures, as well as those who have been inspired to share their own parent travel stories on Vacations with Mom. Anyone can fill out a Q&A to tell about about their travel experiences, which I think is a fun way to get people excited about traveling with mom and dad.
While we still haven’t met in person yet, I had Mara answer a few of my favorite questions about travel making her this week’s Wanderer of the Week. Enjoy!
What’s the scariest moment you’ve had while traveling?
I once got attacked by a Hebridean sheep with big horns. I was visiting a friend in England who grew up on a farm. I decided to take a little stroll through a pasture to see the horses. There were also a couple of Hebridean sheep, and I thought I’d check out the “cute” sheep. Silly me even tried to pet one. This didn’t go over so well. The sheep shook its head menacingly. I figured I should get the $#%! out of there. Terrible idea!! NEVER run from a wild animal. Their natural instincts will kick in.
The sheep attacked, its horns taking me down with a massive head butt. Let me tell you, it hurt like crazy (and that’s an understatement)!! As I lay on the ground, it got ready to attack again. I put up my hands up instinctively to block. Thank goodness my hands were able to take the butts without getting injured. I managed to back out of the pasture with my hands getting butted probably a good 20 times. I shudder to think what would have happened if this hadn’t worked. I was so scared!
After I was safe, I took a look at my leg. The deep purple bruise was a good 5 inches long and hurt so bad, but otherwise I was ok. My friend had a good laugh though at the clueless city girl. I asked what she would have done (not thrilled she found it so funny). “Kick it with my steel-toed boots” was her answer. Yep, that would work…
That Hebridean sheep wasn’t done though. The next day, as soon as it saw me, it ran right to the edge of the fence, shaking its head, threatening to take me down again. I was thankful for the fence. My friend came over, gave a yell, and it ran away (surely remembering her boots).
As for my bruise, it took forever to heal. I even had a little tenderness for over a year! This city girl certainly learned a good lesson. Don’t run away from a wild animal! And don’t try to pet them in the first place!
Do you overplan before you arrive, just show up at a destination, or have a mixture of both?
I’m the opposite of overplanning. Actually, planning a trip is my least favorite part of travel. Plus, I can be so indecisive at times. How can you make a decision when there are so many fabulous options! And what if I miss out on something? Ugh! If I really can’t take it anymore, I’ll simply stop planning and just figure it out when I get there.
My favorite is to not have too many reservations so I can simply go where the road takes me in the moment. I love that freedom. Though sometimes this is harder than it used to be since there seem to be so many more tourists. If I know I’m going somewhere popular, I’ll book a hotel. As a matter of fact, on my most recent trip we had every night already booked. This was the first time I’d done that in many years.
I have friends who couldn’t imagine going on a trip without every last detail planned. They’d literally rather stay home than travel how I do. We tease each other about it.
In your home country, what’s a destination that you think people should visit?
Driving Highway 1 along the California coast is spectacular. I’ve driven many scenic routes and Highway 1 is up there with the best of them. The views are breathtaking as the road weaves its way along the ocean, providing epic vistas of cliffs and shore.
All along the highway, there are wonderful places to stop. The following are a few I’d recommend. Cambria is a charming seaside town just above San Luis Obispo. It’s perfect for a wander along the beach, visiting art galleries and shops, or to even stay overnight in a B&B. Just up the road in San Simeon is Heart Castle, built by William Randolph Hearst. Its architecture and grandeur were inspired by his trips to Europe as a child. It also houses his vast art collection. There’s nothing else quite like it in the US.
Some of the most dramatic scenery along the drive is through Big Sur. Stop in one of the state parks for a hike. The much-photographed Bixby Bride is also in Big Sur. Next is Carmel-by-the-sea, known for its natural beauty, artistic community, and the food and wine scene. When I’ve done the drive, I’ve ended in Monterey, known for the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium. Also popular are Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row, and the Monterey Jazz Festival.
The stops are an integral part of the experience, but the star is the drive itself. It’s something not to be missed.
Have you ever been sick abroad?
I had food poisoning in Venice, Italy. I think it was the clams I had at dinner. This was on a trip with mom, and somehow she managed to sleep through my vomiting all night! I guess earplugs really do work… The next day I was no longer throwing up, but I was still feeling miserable. We had plans to go to Bologna, and it was not a happy train ride. But it got better. We lucked out and found a fantastic hotel right across from the train station. We got separate rooms this time, and I spent the rest of the day sleeping. I was feeling better by morning, and we liked the hotel so much that we stayed another night.
Do you have a funny story about a travel mishap that you’d like to share?
Once mom and I got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere on our way to Glastonbury. We called for roadside assistance, but when they asked where we were, all could answer was “somewhere a couple of hours outside of London…” (Unfortunately, we only had a flip phone and no GPS.) We desperately waved at the passing cars, but nobody would stop. Finally, a couple of bikers & their girlfriends stopped, but not for us! They pulled over to wait for a friend to catch up and had no interest in changing a flat tire. You’ve got to be kidding! Mom saved the day, though. She told their girlfriends: “Are you really going to let your boyfriends leave a little old lady stranded on the side of the road?” That did the trick!
Top three items you can’t leave home without.
1. Multiple pairs of comfy jeans.
2. Herbal supplements for sleep. It’s a must with jet lag and different time zones.
3. Eye shades. If it were up to me, every hotel would have blackout curtains! I like to travel relaxed and sleep in.
If you could only explore one continent for the rest of your life, which one would you pick and why?
I’ve always been drawn to Europe: the history, art, spectacular food, and castles galore. The architecture alone is a stunning historical snapshot through time. I also took a year of art history in college and enjoy seeing the incredible works of art I studied firsthand.
Perhaps my favorite is the food. There are so many diverse culinary experiences to enjoy: sumptuous French cuisine, the pastas and pizzas of Italy (LOVE it!), freshly-caught seafood in Iceland, and the nuances of the different Mediterranean cuisines throughout the region, to name a few. I’d love to explore it all.
And what about the stunning natural beauty and epic vastness? How incredible is it that you can you can go from the icy majesty of the Arctic Circle to the sun-kissed beaches of the Mediterranean all on one continent!
Tell us about your most memorable trip.
When I was a teenager, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Seoul Olympics. Not only was it phenomenal just being there, but it was a historic Olympiad. It was the last Olympics the Soviet Union participated in and the last of the Cold War era. (The USSR was dissolved before the next Olympics.)
I was lucky to see many iconic athletes compete in person, including Greg Louganis, Janet Evans, and Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo-Jo). I went to a little of nearly every sport and even got to see my favorite event, women’s gymnastics.
I’ve since been to another Olympics and that made me appreciate Seoul even more. Seoul was far less commercial than my later experience. There wasn’t corporate sponsorship plastered everywhere or endless rows of booths trying to sell you souvenirs. It was a much more organic experience.
I traveled with a group of friends and family of Olympians, and it was a magical experience to share together. Not only did I meet interesting people from all over the world, but there was a camaraderie within our group as well. It will always be one of my best trips ever.
What’s the best road trip you’ve ever been on?
I do a lot of traveling with my mom (hence the blog Vacations with Mom). The first big trip mom and I did together since my childhood was a road trip across Scotland. In many ways, it’s still the trip all our others get compared to. It was the perfect mix of stunning vistas, castles and ruins, and driving adventures. We started out in Edinburgh where we spent a couple of days seeing the usual sites (Edinburgh Castle, Rosslyn Chapel, etc.). Afterward, we hit the road, doing a large loop across the country. We headed to the Isle of Skye, then across to Inverness (and nearby Loch Ness) and then down from Stonehaven to St. Andrews.
Apart from Edinburgh, we didn’t have any reservations. We just hit the road and decided in the moment where each day would take us. I especially enjoyed driving the picturesque, narrow roads winding their way across some of the most beautiful countryside I’d ever seen. It was a welcome change from the packed freeways at home.
What advice would you give to people who want to travel solo but are too afraid?
This is a great question. I think conquering any fear positively carries over into other areas of one’s life. Taking a step not to let a fear control your life is very empowering. Here are some suggestions specific to travel:
Choose a destination that has elements of familiarity to make it feel less intimidating. For example, if you speak English, choose a destination that is English-speaking, like the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada. Also, is there somewhere that you may have friends or friends or friends to connect with? A friendly local that can have a meal with you and share some tips can ease your stress.
Consider taking solo travel baby steps. Maybe do a solo weekend or a trip not far from home. Do something to help build up your confidence and courage. Maybe even enlist friends for support to check in with you while you’re away. It helps to hear a friendly voice that can talk you down from letting your fears or potential loneliness take root. Group tours are another way to ease into solo travel. Perhaps choose a tour that caters to people of a similar age or interests.
If it’s really something you want to do, then work on figuring out what steps to take to help you to feel ready to make the plunge. It’s worth it.
Want to follow more of Mara’s adventures with her mom? You can find her below: