Category: Travel

Checking In: New York Marriott Downtown

Checking In is a series for reviewing properties, whether it is a hostel, hotel or other forms of accommodation. To suggest a property please send us an email.

I recently made a trip up to New York for another National Geographic workshop, and stayed at the beautiful New York Marriott Downtown. If you are looking for a hotel in Lower Manhattan, then look no further.

The New York Marriott Downtown is located within walking distance from Battery Park, Wall Street, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and One World Observatory. The hotel is also situated near a few subway stations making it easy to get around the city and to your favorite sites.

My favorite part of this hotel is the view. Instead of getting views of a brick wall, the New York Marriott Downtown offers views of the Hudson River, New Jersey, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The hote also is home to Bill’s Bar & Burger, one of New York’s top burger joints, as well as Bill’s West Side Bar.

If you are looking for a comfortable hotel and affordable hotel in The Big Apple, then you need to book a stay at the New York Marriott Downtown.

 

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking through my links.

The People of New York City

When I was planning out my trips for the year, I never expected to attend another National Geographic Expeditions trip or head back to New York so soon, but it ended up working out perfectly. This trip to New York marked my thrid trip with National Geographic, and I decided to step it up a bit with the advanced level class. Our assignment for the weekend was to capture the people of New York experimenting with light and flash. This assignment was kind of a lot out of my comfort zone, but it really pushed me to try out things I had never considered before with this art.

Our first location was the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain in Central Park. This section of Central Park is considered the heart of the park. It provided the perfect backdrop for capturing tourists, locals and street performers. The best way to access this part of Central Park is from the 72nd Street Station, and just follow the path for Strawberry Fields and the Lennon Mosaic.

That evening, we headed to one of New York’s more iconic locations, Times Square, to continue our lesson on street portraits. Let me tell you it is no easy task to approach strangers for thier portraits. Additionally, Times Square is one of the more challenging locations to shoot due to all the bright and changing lights.

For our second day, it was unfortunately raining, but we made the most of it and headed to Grand Central Station to practice movement with people and light. Grand Central is one of my favorite places in New York. Not only does it make for some people watching, but it is a spectacular piece of architecture.

What are your favorite places to people watch in New York?

Travel Photography: Ultimate Gear Guide

All good travel bloggers are secretly photographers. I mean we need images for our posts, and with it comes the right equipment. I am frequently asked about what I use to take my images and my various photography gear, so today I am going to show you the inside of my camera bag as well as share some of my tips.

DSLR

I have had two different Canon DSLR cameras, and I highly recommend them. I love my Canon EOS 70D, it’s a high quality, crop-body camera, ideal for intermediate level photographers. I really love the video and wifi features, which were new compared to my first camera. If you’re just getting started, I suggest the Canon EOS Rebel models. My very first DSLR was a Canon Rebel XSi.

When it comes to lens, I have four of varying lengths. My go-to lens when I’m traveling is the Canon EF-S 18-55mm, but I also have a wide-angle lens, a mid-range lens and a telephoto lens. Anytime I go to a photography workshop I always bring my whole kit, but anytime I am traveling I try to limit my lenses and accessories depending on the situation. Plus carrying a limited kit will help with back and shoulder pain later.

Note: Make sure you always have an extra battery (unless you charge at night) and spare memory cards.

Point-and-Shoot

In addition to my big DSLR, there are occasions that call for a smaller pocket size camera. I love the Canon PowerShot models. I always have this guy in my purse for when the occasion calls, and it is perfect when a situation doesn’t allow you to shoot with a larger camera.

I have an older model, but this Canon PowerShot ELPH 190 IS is comparable to the one I have. I really like that in addition to great megapixels for a point-and-shoot it also has video and wifi.

Underwater & Action Sports

It wasn’t until my recent trip to the Caribbean that I started to use a camera solely for underwater and action sports shots. I use a GoPro HERO Session. The GoPro cameras take some practice, but you can get some great shots once you get the hang of it. Like my other cameras, this camera has wifi capability that allows you to download those images you have already taken or to shoot remotely.

iPhone Apps

We all use our mobile phones to get those quick photos, but sometimes those quick photos require a few edits. My favorite on-the-go photo editor is A Color Story. I use this not only for the photos I take on my phone but also for those I download from my other cameras. My other favorite app is the Later app, which I use this for scheduling my photos for Instagram. I also use the Canon Connect app and the GoPro Capture app for remote shooting and to download my images via wifi.

Accessories

Now, all cameras require a few accessories. For my DSLR, I have two separate flashes (here and here) depending on the need, a remote, and a tripod. I also use two different bags depending on where I’m traveling. I use this one (similar) for my full kit and this one for basic travel needs. Both have pros and cons, but I love the over-the-shoulder one as it is easier on my back. I also use Ape Cases for my lenses when I want to grab an extra lens but don’t want to bring a big bag. These cases are great for tossing your lens in a backpack or purse without damage. Last but not least, your DSLR needs to have a fun strap. I absolutely love mine by mod.

I also bring another tripod for my phone. I LOVE the Joby Gorilla tripod. This works for almost any smartphone. I also love the HISY Bluetooth remote for when I’m alone and need some help taking those selfies with my phone. Lastly, my phone is always in a LifeProof case. Let’s be real, I’m clumsy at best sometimes and this case has saved my phone more times than I care to count.

What are your favorite photography accessories?

 

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking through my links.

A Day by the Santa Monica Bay

Santa Monica. The land of endless sun, sand and sea. When my company announced I would be heading out to California for a brief trip, I got pretty excited and I made sure to I book my tickets so I could have a little time to play. The last time I was in California was for Alabama’s 13th National Championship, and we were only in Santa Monica for a couple of hours. With almost a full 48 hours to explore this time, I had the chance to soak in more of this city and the sights. Below is a list of things you need to do during your next visit to Santa Monica.

Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier is a given. The pier originally opened in 1909 and it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. Locted at the end of Colorado Avenue, you can’t miss this historic piece of Santa Monica due to its iconic entrance. The Santa Monica Pier is also the end of old Route 66, so be sure to grab a picture with the sign.

Pacific Park

Pacific Park is an ocean-front amusement park located on the Santa Monica Pier. Opened in 1996, Pacific Park is the west coast’s only amusement park on a pier and Los Angeles’ only admission-free park. There are 12 different rides located in the park including the Pacific Wheel (Ferris Wheel) and the West Coaster roller coaster. Despite the park being “admission-free” you will still need to purchase tickets for the rides. Rides and attractions are priced individually and range from $5 to $10. You can also purchase an unlimited wristband from the ticket booth that will allow you to ride all the rides as many times as you’d like.

Santa Monica State Beach

The beach is 3.5 miles long and is located parallel to the Pacific Coast Highway. The beach is located on the north side of the Santa Monica Pier, and has lots of activities for visitors including volleyball, surfing, paddleboarding and more. If you go to the north side of the Pier, you will find the original Muscle Beach. This beach is the birthplace of the physical fitness boom in the US during the 20th century, and opened to the public in 1934. Stopy by and play on “Santa Monica’s Playground”. The state park also includes Palisades Park which offers a great vantage point for people watching. Be sure to stop by so you can dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean.

Third Street Promenade

Just steps from the Pier is Third Street Promenade. The Promenade is three blocks of open-air, car-free shopping. Shopping includes farmers market, numerous restaurtants, several boutique stores, as well as fun things to do including bike rentals. It’s fun taste of Santa Monica.

What is your favorite thing to do in Santa Monica?

Tips for Trolley Pubbing

Are you looking for a new way to explore a city? A method that allows you to see the sites, drink, visit local watering holes, and get some exercise? Then a pedal-powered bar is just the thing for you!

I have seen these pedal-powered bars around on social media from friends. I thought it would make the perfect activity for a celebration of some sort. Well, that celebration was my dad’s birthday. We opted to go with Trolley Pub in Durham due to plans for the weekend, and it was an absolute blast. Check out my tips to make the most of your ride and time with friends!

Before Your Tour

The number one thing you should do before arriving at the pick-up location is to have everyone in your group sign a waiver. We ended up doing this in the car on the way. (Oops!) By doing this step ahead of time ensures a quick departure. Also, make sure you have your license and some cash on hand for your pit stops.

Next. Create your playlist. Almost all of the trolleys come with a stereo system of some sort, so create a killer playlist that will last the duration of the trip. Most rides last about 2 hours.

Last. Check the route your trolley will be taking and see if there are any additional pit stops you want to add to the list. Most companies have a flexible policy as long as the stop works with the route. If you are concerned, be sure to reach out prior to your ride.

Food and Decorating

Most trolley pub companies allow you to bring your own food. So pack a bags with some of your favorite snacks, keeping in mind that some foods are easier to eat when pedaling than others. Also, bring a cooler with your favorite beverages. Even though you’ll be stopping at bars along the way, BYOB is recommended (as long as it doesn’t come in glass). We opted to stop at one of the local breweries and grab a couple of six-packs to go.

Decorations are highly recommended, especially if you are celebrating something! Just make sure you bring your own supplies to attach it to the trolley, like masking tape; that the sign on the back doesn’t cover the turn signals; and that whatever you hang won’t hit your friends in the face as you ride. But have fun and get creative!

On the Bike

This is pretty common sense, but just have fun! Follow the rules set by your driver and just enjoy yourself!

Happy pedaling!

Have you ever done a pedal-powered bar before? What advice would you add?

How to Travel More with a Full-Time Job

It is no secret that I love to travel. In fact, my boss asks me almost every Friday where am I off to for that particular weekend or he just assumes that I am taking the day off.

So, how do I do it? How to I balance traveling with a full-time job? Well I’m going to share a few of my tips.

Make Travel a Priority

Trust me. I know it can be hard to find the time and money to travel, but if you really are passionate about traveling then you need to make it a priority. When travel becomes a priority, it makes it easier to focus on what you need to do to reach your travel goals. This can mean working overtime to earn extra vacation days or cutting unnecessary expenses to build your travel fund. If travel is your priority then all the work is worth it!

Take Your Vacation Days

According to The Wall Street Journal, Americans left 658 million vacation days unused in 2015. That’s crazy to me! You work hard at your job and you deserve some paid time off. Plus, plain and simple, you can’t travel if you don’t take the time off. Plan out ahead of time when you want to use your vacation days so you can maximize your time off.

Plan Trips around 3-Day Weekends and Holidays

Planning is a big part of travel. So, look at the calendar at the beginning of the year and plan your travel around the 3-day weekends and holidays your employer provides. If you know you want to go somewhere where 3 days won’t cut it, then try adding your vacation days to the paid time off so you can maximize your vacation days. For instance, when I traveled to the Carribean at Christmas, I was off work for 7 days but I only used 3 vacation days due to the Christmas and New Year schedule. This allowed me to use my other 7 vacation days for other trips throughout the year (like my trip to Austin).

Take Advantage of Business Trips

I don’t get to travel frequently with work, but when I do I always try to tack on a day or two to take advantage of exploring a new place. This tactic will take some negotiation with your employer and some research on prices, but it usually works out. For me, my employer will pay for my flight and I’ll usually pay for the hotel stay on the extra nights of my visit. This has allowed me to spend a 3-day weekend in New York City prior to a work trip or 24-hours in Chicago.

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Alone

This is something I am working on myself, but I am learning the advantage of traveling alone. Bottom line, it allows you to go when you want and where you want, and once you arrive you don’t have to worry about what your travel companion wants to do. My first solo trip was to New Mexico with National Geographic. Even though I was with a group, I didn’t know anyone prior to arriving but made some great friends in the process. I’m hoping to plan a couple of solo trips this year as well.

Take a Staycation (Explore Local)

If traveling is new to you, start local. Travel four to six hours away from home, book a hotel room for a long weekend and explore some place closer to home. If you can take the trip on a regular weekend, you just saved yourself a vacation day and saw a new place. If you don’t have the money or time to travel outside your city, treat yourself to a staycation and play tourist in your own city. Exploring home can be fun and give you a new perspective on your city, state and/or region. If you live in the south, check out some of these destinations.

Sign Up to Travel Newsletters & Sale Alerts

I’m a huge fan of travel and sale alerts as they can save you a lot of money on your travels. Sometimes these deals require you to be flexible with your travel dates, so I, personally, find those easier to book with long weekends. Some of my favorite sites are Groupon, Jetsetter, Roadtrippers and Hotels.com. For more spontaneous trips, check out the Hotel Tonight app (use promo code CNORTON70 to receive $25 off your first booking).

Just Go

I have now given you plenty of ways to travel with your full-time job, so it’s time to stop making excuses and take action! If you want to travel, you’ll find a way. Best of luck and let me know if you have any questions! I love helping people explore the world.

What unique ways have you found to combine travel with a busy schedule?

Travel is My Love Language

Travel is my love language. This probably doesn’t come as surprise to anyone, I mean I run a travel blog. But it really is a true statement. My fondest memories growing up are from traveling around the country, and for as long as I can remeber travel has been a priority in my life. When you travel you are able to experience new cultures, meet new people, and see new sites. You learn something new everytime, and it pushes you outside your comfort zone and helps you grow as a person.

My first introduction to travel came in the form of the classic roadtrip. Family vacation for me growing up always included a road trip. Sometimes these roadtrips were short, like the ones to the beach, and sometimes they were long, like the 14 hour drives to see my dad’s family in New England, but regardless of the length these roadtrips hold some of my favorite memories as a kid. My parents also considered roadtrips the perfect educational opportunity. We always sought out the most interesting historical landmark along the route and would spend a few hours learning about the place and its impact on America. I think these roadtrip field trips are one of the many reasons I love American history so much.

{age 12 | Fort Sumter, Charleston, SC}

Luckily, the “field trip” mentality my parents instilled in their children has lasted into my brother’s and my own trip planning. Do you know many college students who would spend their spring break in museums? Nope, me either. But that’s exactly what my brother and I did my senior year.

{age 21 | White House, Washington D.C.}

Fast forward to post-graduate life, and I’m still eager to visit new places and learn something new with each trip/adventure. Luckily, I have found someone as eager to explore as me. (Sidenote: This is a must-have trait for me in my partner.) Since The Tall Man and I started dating a little over a year ago, we have traveled to 12 different states.When we travel, it’s just as much about being with each other and enjoying each other’s company as it is experiencing something new.

{age 27 | Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, PA | our second date}

I think traveling is so much more fun when you can do it with the ones you love, and it’s also way more memorable!

Where are you traveling to next? And with whom?

Enter the Minted Giveaway! Deadline for entry is March 1, 2017.

Mount Cheaha

Take a trip to Mount Cheaha, situated in the Talladega Mountains, and visit Alabama’s highest point at 2,407 feet above sea level. Located in Cheaha Resort State Park, the state’s oldest continuous operating state park, this mountaintop destination is the perfect day trip for anyone in Atlanta or Birmingham.

There are several hiking trails around the park, but none take you directly to the summit. If you desire to reach the summit by foot, then I recommend taking the Cheaha Express and cutting across to one of the roads that lead to the summit. If you would prefer to drive, like us, then there is a road that takes you directly to the summit.

The highest point in Alabama is marked with an observation tower named Bunker Tower. This tower was completed in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. In fact, the Civilan Conservation Corps statue in front of the tower is the only CCC statue in the state of Alabama. The wing to the right of the main tower is home to the CCC museum. I highly recommend taking a look around, as it is very educational.

Have you ever climbed the highest point in your state?

Checking In: Hotel Finial

Checking In is a series for reviewing properties, whether it is a hostel, hotel or other forms of accommodation. To suggest a property please send us an email.

This post is brought to you by Hotel Finial. I received a free stay at Hotel Finial in exchange for writing a review on the blog. All opinions are my own. Thank you for your support surrounding sponsored posts. 

I have mastered the art of weekend getaways. Whether it is a day trip up to the North Georgia mountains for wine tasting or driving a few hours to check out a nearby city, I am always looking for something to do on the weekends. A few weekends ago, I was provided the opportunity to visit a city I had never really explored before and to stay in one of the city’s historic hotels.

Situated on a hill above downtown Anniston, Hotel Finial is located in a Queen Anne Victorian mansion that was built in 1888. Prior to being a hotel, this mansion was home to some of the city’s most prominent families including the McKleroys, Wilsons and Kirbys. Each of these families are honored with suites named after them in the main house.

The hotel features 61 rooms including five suites. Four of these suites are located in the main house, the three mentioned above as well as a Ballroom Suite that is the entire third floor of the main house.

The last suite is The Cottage, where we stayed.

(Check out this video for a walking tour of The Cottage.)

Every morning, Hotel Finial starts off with a delicious Southern breakfast prepared by Charlene, the hotel’s chef, that you can enjoy in one of the four dining rooms. All the dining rooms are located in the main house and include the original hardwood and fireplace from the 1800s.

My favorite part about the hotel, though, is the details! The intricate fireplaces and stained glass really bring character to the main house. And don’t miss Spencer’s Bar located in The Carriage House on the property.

So, whether you are passing through on I-20, traveling on business or looking for a weekend getaway, I highly recommend booking your next Anniston stay with Hotel Finial.


This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking through my links.

The Model City {Anniston, AL}

At the foohills of the Appalachians lies the sleepy city of Anniston, Alabama. Located just 60 miles from Birmingham, Alabama and 90 miles from Atlanta, Georgia, this city makes the perfect weekend getaway destination for either city. Check out this list of things to see and do during your next visit to The Model City.

Museums

There are two museums located in the city of Anniston: Anniston Museum of Natural History and Berman Museum of World History, which are conveniently located right next door to each other. We opted to explore the Natural History museum since my mom tried to take me as a kid.

The Anniston Museum of Natural History was established in 1930, has seven permanant exhibits and is a proud member of the Smithsonian Affiliate Membership Program. In addition to the 2,000 natural history items on dispaly, there is also a wildlife garden, nature trails, and open-air animal exhibits. This is definitely worth the visit to Anniston alone.

Wall Art Scavenger Hunt

If you are looking to familiarize yourself with the city of Anniston, there is a great walking tour that will take you through historic downtown and show off various wall murals sponsored by local businesses. It is definitely a fun little scavenger hunt, and you get to walk past some cute antique stores along the way.

Oldest Saloon in Alabama

Did you know Anniston is home to the oldest saloon in Alabama? The Peerless was established in 1899 and joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

The Peerless Saloon and Grille is located on the corner of 10th Street and Atlanta Avenue. The Grille is a full-service restaurant that offers some tasty offerings. We highly recommend checking out their Shrimp & Grits and Reuben. Righ next door is the Saloon if you are looking for an evening cocktail and good music. Be sure to take a look at the mirror behind the bar, it has been in the building since 1906.

Mount Cheaha

Mount Cheaha is the highest point in Alabama, and it is only 45 minutes outside of town. It is definitely worth the day trip to say you have been to the top of Alabama.

Hotel Finial

Last, but not least, you will need a place to stay. Be sure to check out historic Hotel Finial.

 

What do you want to see and do during your visit to Anniston?