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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Using Freebies to Stay Within Your Budget

No matter where you go on vacation there are bound to be free things to see and do. Right now, with many things closed, or in the process of reopening, freebies are actually easier to find, because they might be the only options. These things are a great way to make your trip dollars go further and allow you to do even more.

Wherever you go on vacation there are free things to see and do. With many things closed or just reopening freebies are actually easier to find.

As a fellow budget traveler, not only am I looking for fun and exciting stuff to do on my trips, I'm also looking for affordable ones. While I may want to cram as much in as possible, my bank account doesn't particularly allow it, so free things are an excellent way to pad out my schedule. If you know where to look, you can do the same.

Free museums

A few years ago, we visited San Diego, where Balboa Park is a huge resource for culture. We purchased an Explorer Pass for the museums there, because we knew we wanted to visit at least half of them. Several of these we're free anyway, but our pass gave them a piece of the profits as a donation when we visited, which we would have done anyway.

A lot of cities we've visited have had free museums, including large ones like London. Some only have certain free admission days, while others run on donations. Keep a couple bucks in your pocket to spare for those. I know it's technically not free this way, but two dollars is still way cheaper than $18+ that lots of museums charge to get in.


Got kids? This is a great way to give them a way to burn off excess energy and give you a bit of a break, but parks are awesome for adults too. Tons of large parks have more to see and do than just a playground. You might find a duck pond, sculpture garden, botanical garden, etc. Balboa Park is full of such things, plus wildlife, bocce ball courts and more.

Think ahead and get yourself a takeaway meal and enjoy it al fresco. You can't beat that, especially on beautiful days. Some hotels will loan you sports balls, bikes, or other ways to take advantage of the outdoor space. Don't be afraid to take them up on it.


While most zoos cost an admission fee (some quite a hefty one), others are totally free. Check online to see what your destination zoo charges. 

If you have a zoo membership at home that participates in AZA, you might be able to use it elsewhere for free admission or at least a discount. Just don't forget your card. Same goes for children's museums and gardens. Some member benefits extend to travel.

Outdoor historical sites

We walk on vacation. A lot. So, I'm always looking for outdoor attractions and landmarks, like ruins, statues, historical walks and more. It's a fantastic way to learn more about the city and most of them are free. 

We went to Old Town San Diego and explored a cemetery that was discovered with radar equipment. We were able to read some of the stories of those people laid to rest there from old obituaries in the newspaper and from a history book (posted at the gravesites).

Street art

I love nothing more than an excellent mural or a street performer. You never know what you'll find around town, so keep your eyes peeled for cool stuff just waiting to be discovered. A lot of cities are partnering with local artists on beautification projects, so this is more and more common in downtown areas.

Think of how much money you can save by adding free things to your trip. You can do more and then put that extra money to a meal (or meals!) out to make it even more memorable. What are your favorite free things to do in a city?

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Mother's Day Travel Gift List 2021

This past year has seemed both really long and really short. All the days kind of blend together, but we're slowly getting back to work, unless you're like us who worked the whole time, getting vaccinated, and starting to look forward to traveling again, even if it's just a road trip, or not until the last quarter of the year. 

Last year was tough on everyone, and Mother's Day seemed pretty weird. I reverted back to childhood and handmade a gift for my mom and made her brunch, because we were fresh out of quarantine and still not seeing people outside our households. My mom was the only person in our bubble. This year, we'll all be vaccinated and looking forward to getting out of the house and planning trips, so travel gifts are back on the table. Here are my top picks for Mother's Day in a variety of price points.

Budget - under $50

1. SpectraSpray
There are natural sprays for everything, including those to make your travels way better. Purchase sprays individually, or ones that go together in a Jet Lag Kit or Stay Well Kit. $19.95+ on SpectraSpray - my review is here

2. AeroPress Go
Does your mom love coffee? Is she always jetting off somewhere? Even if she just enjoys camping or needs to free up some space in her home, the AeroPress Go is perfect for those that just want a good cup of Joe at home. It makes amazing coffee, is super easy to use and clean, and fits inside its own mug. $31.95 from AeroPress or Amazon - my review is here

3. Travel Pakt Toiletries
Give them a leg up on packing their carry-on bag and toiletry bag with awesome natural products. Travel Pakt lets you hand-pick toiletries from a great list of amazing companies that make good products and also do good, then ships them in a TSA-compliant zip-top bag that can be packed right away. $5+ on Travel Pakt - my review is here

4. Airplane Pockets
I really hate the airplane seat pocket. Mostly because they aren't large enough for things I want to have during my flight, but also because I've found so much trash in them when I've flown. Get your mom a set of Airplane Pockets that slip over the tray table (covering it with an anti-bacterial fabric) and give them 4 pockets to hold their phone, glasses, pen, snacks, book and whatever else. If you follow me on IG, you've seen these in action on my trips. $29 on Amazon

5. Well Told drinkware
Since no one's going anywhere for the foreseeable future, why not give them something to remind them of a favorite trip or destination, or a big trip they have hopes of. Well Told Design makes beautiful drinkware with etched maps and more. I have a pair of London pint glasses, but I'm hoping to add to the collection soon. $18+ on Well Told - my review is here

6. Belkin Mini Surge Protector
We have several of these - one for travel and some for our house. These surge protectors are so useful, because you can turn one outlet into three sockets and two USB ports. the back swivels, so you can fit it anywhere and then plug in all your gadgets. It has come in handy in those rooms that have maybe one free outlet (read: 95% of hotel rooms) that isn't at the bathroom vanity. Give your mom the convenience of always having enough power outlets. $16.89 on Amazon

7. Bamboo utensils from The Other Straw
When we all start traveling again, even if it's just around town, we're especially going to want to eat out, even if that's just at food trucks. I'm really loving these great bamboo utensils from The Other Straw. Not only are they eco-friendly and nice to look at, but they come in their own pouch for keeping them clean in between uses and TOS donates 50% of their profits to fund ocean cleanups. $9.56 on The Other Straw

Moderate - $50-100

1. Pang Wangle Essential Wrap
Your mom is going to look chic everywhere she goes with this wrap that has an odorless bug repellent woven into its sustainable, impossibly soft, recycled cotton and Tencel fabric. She can use it as a wrap, a sarong, a scarf, a blanket, and more wherever she goes. $58 on Pang Wangle - my review is here

2. Timbuk2 Scholar Convertible Tote
This is a bag I purchased myself for a personal item size bag for the plane. It's cute and fits in under the seat, but I also was able to pack 4 days of clothes and toiletries in it, along with my iPad, snacks and cords. If your mom commutes and also travels, this is a fantastic bag. It fits a laptop, all their goodies and even a water bottle. You can carry it as a tote or you can attach the hidden backpack straps. It's so comfortable and really good looking. $99 on Amazon

3. Barrier Method Winged Mask
Everyone's got a mask or two right now, but Barrier Method was selling theirs before they were all the rage. I always get comments on mine. This anti-bacterial mask is both healthy and pretty and can be used to stay well, reduce your allergens, keep your neck warm, among other things. Gift your mom the gift of health and wellness with one of these. She can wear it to the grocery store and on the plane. $60 from The Barrier Method - my review is here

4. FaceCradle
There are so many travel pillows to choose from, but one of the best I've tried is the FaceCradle. Not only is it perfect for the ever-diminishing airplane space, but it's great for tall people, and for using on trains and in cars as well. It has a bunch of different ways to use it. We have the regular version and the lite version, and we sleep like babies on the plane. $49.99 on Amazon - my review is here

5. Travelon Anti-Theft Parkview Hobo Crossbody 
The Parkview collection from Travelon is classy and comes in classic colors. Not only is it anti-theft, but it has an RFID-blocking pocket and tons of room. It will never make you stick out as a tourist, and can hold all your things and probably some of your purchases. Mom's have to carry all the things, and this bag can do it, while looking great. $89.25 from Travelon + get 20% off if you use code SHEREENTRAVELS20% 

Splurge - $100+

1. Arcopedico footwear
I love these shoes. They have dual arch support, meaning you stand the correct way to align your body in a way that takes the stress off your soles, calves and lower back. I have walked all day in my booties while in Scotland and England and my feet never hurt at all. $100+ on Arcopedico or Amazon - my review of Mary Janes here | My review of booties here

2. GlobeIn monthly travel box
If your mom doesn't quite have the funds to travel (or just misses traveling during Lockdown), but loves cool stuff from other countries anyway. Give her the gift of stuff from around the world with the GlobeIn box. Each box contains at least 4 goodies from other countries and they all center around a story. $144 for a 3-month subscription. (The price per box goes down with longer subscriptions)

3. CityPASS
I'm sure your mom already has her next trip planned. Why not help her make it more affordable by giving her most or all of her activities for free? You'll be able to find a lot of participating cities. $50+ on CityPASS website

4. Anatomie Style Women's Clothing
Just because you're not at home and trying to pack light doesn't mean you want to look like a schlub. Stock your carry-on with upscale pieces that are classic and versatile. Anatomie isn't cheap, but it's guaranteed to look good for years to come and help you blend in on city travels and cruise ships. Pieces are also lightweight, so they won't take up more space in your luggage than necessary. Your mom will get use out of these pieces at home and on vacation. $45+ on Anatomie

5. Travelon Heritage Carry-All Weekender
This wide-mouth weekender has so much room in it for a weekend or a week or a two-week trip. It's true! I packed two people's clothing in it for a week in Vegas. Not only is it spacious, but it's also super good looking. Your mom will get so much use from this bag and get all the compliments as well. $115 on Travelon + get 20% off if you use code SHEREENTRAVELS20% - my review is here

I hope this helps you find something cool and special for your mom on her special day. Where's your mom's favorite or dream travel destination?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and I will be monetarily compensated should you make a purchase through any of those links. Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Essential Barcelona Travel Tips

So, last week I brought you our Barcelona destination date, where we had tapas and did a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter. If you're interested in visiting Spain, with a focus on Barcelona, you might want to figure out what to do and where to go and some of the basics. These two infographics give you a bit of everything, including a walking tour to get around the city and see all the major sites in one day!

If you're interested in visiting Spain, with a focus on Barcelona, you might want to figure out what to do and where to go and some of the basics.
photo credit

A Walking Tour of Barcelona
From Visually.

Right now is the perfect time to start planning your next vacations, especially if you're vaccinated or are on your way to becoming vaccinated. Until Covid is under control around the world, travel is going to be a lot easier for those vaccinated if they're looking to travel internationally. Many destinations may not require vaccines, but will allow those who are vaccinated to skip mandatory quarantine periods, which might be weeks. 

Is Spain on your travel wish list? If so, which part(s) are you looking forward to visiting? 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Packing Light for Your Summer Road Trips

Summer is coming and that means packing light should be easy. Well, I've learned that isn't true for a lot of people. While I'm like "throw a bathing suit, some sandals, sunscreen and a pair of shorts in a bag", others are sitting there wondering how they can cram 10 pairs of shoes into a carry-on for a 4-day trip. No! You need my summer packing tips!

Even though you may be road tripping, remember that packing light helps you save room for food, purchases, and everyone else you're traveling with.

Even though you may be road tripping, remember that you will also need room for food, drinks, purchases, and whatever else you need to make your trip more comfortable, especially if you're traveling with kids and/or a dog.

First of all, wherever you go, you probably won't know anyone and you probably won't see them again. Nobody will remember what you were wearing or if you wore the same pair of shorts two, or even three, times. Unless you're getting married and have to bring a giant dress with you, there is no reason you can't pack light for any trip, including your awesome summer getaway.
My NUMBER ONE rule is to mix and match. Remember that your outfit on the plane is not just a travel outfit, but something to add to your rotation when you arrive. If you're headed to a warm weather locale, then here's how I pack: 
  • One or two pair of shorts 
  • One pair of capris 
  • One sundress
  • One mid-length skirt
  • One pair of walking shoes (that you should wear on the plane or in the car)
  • One pair of comfy sandals or other nicer shoes you can walk all day in
Choose a neutral color scheme. I normally pick black, tan or blue for my bottoms. This enables you to choose things that work with all your bottoms. When I travel in the summer, I wear capris, lightweight pants or a skirt on the plane (or in the car), then toss two good pair of shorts into my bag, either the capris or skirt that I'm not wearing, a good summer dress (often this is a travel dress that is cute and moisture wicking). 

I try to wear my bulkier shoes while traveling and pack the smaller pair. Make sure you don't bring a pair of shoes that you haven't broken in yet. Trust me. You don't want to find out how uncomfortable your new shoes are on Day 1 of your trip. It sucks. I do a  ton of walking on my trips, so a good pair of walking shoes (Skechers, Clarks, Aerosoles are favorites) is a must

For your other pair of shoes, choose a cute pair of sandals or flats that will work with your dress, but also with your other bottoms. It sometimes is terrible to have sweaty feet in sneakers when you just want your toes to breathe. I have several really good sandals that I can walk all day in, including these from Clarks, these from Aerosoles, and Jambu sandals similar to these.

Obviously, this can be tailored to your needs. If you don't like skirts, don't take one. If you only wear skirts, don't bring shorts or capris. If you're a dude who doesn't wear skirts or dresses, bring a pair of lightweight trousers and some loafers you can wear to a nice restaurant. Easy! Toss in a pair of flip flops for trips to the pool and runs to the front desk.

When you go to choose tops, think of both fashion and function. You don't want to sweat, but you want to look cute. If you've done your job in creating a neutral palette for your bottoms, this should be easier. Take a mix of 5 tops, making sure at least one can feel dressed up if paired with the skirt for a night out. Just in case. 

Bring a lightweight cardigan that can be used as a layer when it's chilly indoors or on the plane. I also bring a scarf/wrap that matches everything, because sometimes you don't want a full layer, but something that you can use to keep your shoulders covered (this is especially important if you're traveling somewhere and visiting temples). You can also use it as a sarong. 

Toss in your favorite bathing suit, sunglasses and a good sunscreen and you're good to go wherever there's a pool or a beach. 

I know you're thinking that this can't possibly be enough clothes to get you through 1-2 weeks at a destination. Well, you'd be right if you weren't planning to rewear any of these things, but you're a budget traveler, you don't pay to check a bag, and you plan some downtime in your trips to relax and do a bit of laundry. With these nice pieces of clothing, you can make 15 unique outfits, which will take you through more than a long trip of two weeks. 

Since I'm saving so much room in my carry-on, I make sure to include my favorite folding mesh laundry basket, which I use as a hamper until it's full or I'm low on shirts, then I take it with me to dump in the washing machine. I also keep a small bag of detergent (or laundry strips) and a couple dollars in quarters, so I'm always ready. I've stayed places where the laundry was free and others where it was not. I've also stayed places where detergent was readily available and others where you had to go to the store to get some. Be prepared! These are things that take up little room and make your life easier.

And now you know my secrets to summer packing! Are you traveling this summer?

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links and I will be compensated for anything you buy through my links. Thanks in advance for your support!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Our Barcelona Staycation

Well, we're all in the process of getting vaccinated and hoping to get back to travel by the end of the year, but that doesn't mean we're quitting our staycations. In fact, I had a thought that we might continue to do these (just fewer) even after we get back to normal. Our most recent Destination Date Night took us to Barcelona and a meal full of tapas.

Our most recent Destination Date Night took us to Barcelona and a meal full of tapas, visited a museum, and saw a castle.

Usually I like to find something familiar and something that might be a little unique. While it's not always possible, I was able to do Barcelona a tad different than our other destination dates. 

Did you know Spain is full of castles? There are a few near Barcelona. This one came up as one of them, but I'm fairly sure it's just similar to Castellet, the Castle of the Three Dragons, and even the abandoned Salvanna Tower. Either way, I liked the vibe and hillside, and you can't beat a castle, especially if you don't really have to leave the city to visit.

When I think of Spain, I think of stucco, creative art, lavender, pottery. I found these super cute and interesting succulent pots with faces that gave me the feeling of most of those and added some lavender "hair" to really push it. This was easy, and I can reuse this lavender for plenty of other things, including the Deathly Hallows wreath on my door that I change out each season (and have already put this on). I added a turquoise tablecloth to match our backdrop and we were good to go.

If you Google anything Barcelona, you get this intersection, so clearly this is a must-see when visiting. Since we can't actually visit right now, we can still feel like we're there, and we did! 

Here's an unobstructed castle view for you, along with a portion of our "art gallery". 

Tapas may mean "small plates", but I put them together on one large platter, because I thought it was fun and a great way to present all of our different options. I found a new-to-us Spanish restaurant across town that had a pretty large tapas and paella menu. I asked Eric if he was up for paella, but since we'd just done New Orleans with a bunch of rice, he opted for the tapas route, which I will never say no to, because I love variety. I also stopped at the store earlier in the week and picked up olives (I've never not seen them on a Spanish table), some Spanish goat cheese, and quince jam from Spain. I highly recommend all of it.

As for what I ordered from the restaurant, I got a little bit of everything. Let's go clockwise: Grilled Catalan bread, Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes with Bravas sauce made with smoked paprika), Pimientos Shishito (charred shishito peppers with citrus salt), Albondigas (pork & beef meatballs in red pepper tomato sauce), Croquetas de Pernil Iberico (ham croquettes), and Tortilla de Patatas (pretty much an omelet with onions and potatoes inside). 

Here's that Tortilla after we sliced into it. I thought it was really delicious and would also make a wonderful breakfast. I always remind myself that not everything is going to taste the same as if we were actually in Spain, because 1-you can't always get the exact same ingredients, and 2-it's made for Americans, so most dishes aren't 100% authentic. Either way, I thought most of these things were awesome and I would totally go back and order them again, though there is more on the menu I'm interested in trying, so you might see a Madrid post in the future. 

While we ate, we took a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona and watched some flamenco dancing in the square, both of which would be things we would normally do on vacation.

I decided if they were going to allow mixed rink take-out, I was going to indulge. I ordered this drink called the Senior-Ito, claiming to be a perfect winter drink. I don't know about that, and I'm not sure it tasted like any of the ingredients that went into it (vodka, Earl grey, allspice), but I super enjoyed it. It wasn't overly sweet or tart. It was just a chill beverage to drink, and it came in the cutest plastic bag flask for commuting.

After eating, during dessert, I took Eric to a museum of Picassos. There were only 8 paintings (which were postcards that I  put on cardstock inside photo booth frames that will be reused later). I tried to choose a good variety of paintings from his career to make it interesting. I used my laptop stand to showcase them, since that's what I had. If you see the little square at the bottom, that's a binder clip to keep it from sliding off. He thought this was creative, so I felt like I did my job. 

Let's talk about how dessert didn't go as planned. I could have picked up cheesecake, since that seems to be a thing in Spain, but I decided that was too easy. The restaurant didn't have desserts that were to-go. Every grocery store here has churros, until I wanted to get some, then nobody had churros. I decided to make a custard brulee, because we both hate flan, and it went really well, until I put it under the broiler to caramelize the sugar. One minute it was raw, the next it was black, so I made one a last ditch effort by splitting a Mexican concha pastry in half, filling it with whipped cream, and then spooning some of the custard (that was now decidedly not set) over it. While not authentic in any way, and a whole different country, it was still pretty good and not the worst thing to look at. 

Are you looking to have your own Barcelona staycation? This was simple to throw together and you can dress it up or down, depending on how you want to do it.

There you go. Make a variety of foods and pop a bottle of Spanish wine, or order from your local Spanish restaurant for take-out or delivery, learn a few Spanish words, and take a virtual tour of the city or church, or do an in-depth art critique in your at-home museum. There's so many ways to make each staycation unique and fun, even if you've been doing them twice a month for the last 8+ months. 

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I may be compensated should you choose to make any purchases through them. This allows me to keep this blog running for you. Thanks in advance!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

New Orleans Budget Travel Tips

Since we just had our New Orleans destination date, and vaccination efforts are going well enough to probably allow for non-essential travel near the end of the year, I wanted to bring you some of my favorite budget ideas for enjoying New Orleans.

Though there are tons if ways to enjoy The Big Easy, you may end up spending money unnecessarily, especially if you spend your time on Bourbon Street.

Though there are tons if ways to enjoy The Big Easy, you may end up spending money unnecessarily, especially if you spend your entire time on Bourbon Street drinking. I find that my trips are a lot more pleasant if I remember them and I don't spend every morning hung over and wondering where all my money went. Here are things to do to soak in the atmosphere of the city and not go broke in the process. 

Go to the Sazerac House

If you want free drinks, and to learn about the city's historical cocktail, then you'll want to book free tickets for a guided tour at the Sazerac House. Read more about it in my post here.

Tour a cemetery

Located in the Garden District, Lafayette Cemetery No 1 is beautiful cemetery is full of the tombs of those who died of yellow fever in the 1850s. It is surrounded by stately homes and mansions and has free tours each day. Shadows are seen frequently around the grounds. I didn't see any ghosts while I was there, but it was also pretty busy. Entrance is free, but you must go during the daytime. Look online to find a self-guided tour to learn more about the different tombs you'll see, though you can also book a free guided tour online as well. I enjoyed going on my own and taking time to take pictures and read the various tombs.

Walk along the Mississippi

Head to the waterfront and stroll through Woldenberg Riverfront Park and take in the sites of the city along the Mississippi River, while enjoying street music and artists. If you want to bring home some authentic New Orleans souvenirs, keep some five- and ten-dollar bills in your pocket to purchase CDs and trinkets. There are lots of statues and plaques along the waterfront with historical info. 

Ride the streetcar

The streetcar is a very affordable way to get from point A to point B while also giving you a city tour. It stops at a variety of attractions along the way and it only costs $1.25. Super cheap sightseeing!

Explore Jackson Square

Full of local artists, people milling about, fun shops, palm readers, and little fronts, like Faulkner Books. You can also visit a local lamp maker down one of the mini side alleys. Watch him shape the wrought iron and also ask questions. You'll see wrought iron everywhere and gas lamps along the streets.

Check out the Cabildo House

Head over to a piece of Louisiana history and take a tour of the Cabildo house, in the heart of Jackson Square, which was the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer and the victim of political and racial feuding that caused it to be subjected to gunfire on three separate occasions. Now it holds 200 years of history and you can tour it to learn more about the city and see how it was once a city hall, courthouse and prison.

Stroll through the French Market

I love a farmers' market and open-air market. They're the perfect place to learn about your destination and the foods the locals eat. Plus, you can pick up wonderfully fresh fruits, breads and pastries for breakfasts and snacks. Buy foods to bring home, like roasted flavored pecans, candy, hot sauces, and jams. I've had some delicious snacks here, including crepes as big as my head.

Visit the Voodoo Museum

Though small, this museum in a house gives you a pretty thorough history of voodoo culture in New Orleans. I greatly enjoyed it and learned quite a bit. Read more and see more photos here.

Visit the Pharmacy Museum

Set on the site of the very first apothecary shop, the Pharmacy Museum holds a wide variety of cures and artifacts from old medical practices and voodoo rituals, including ghastly instruments used in the past for dentistry, many by the former owner, a dentist known to conduct grisly experiments on patients. Though the daily "tours" are interesting, they can get quite crowded and you won't be able to look around while they occur. Try to go at a different time, so you have the room to see everything. 

Watch a Second Line street parade

You can't really plan this activity, but if you spend any amount of time walking in New Orleans, you'll probably happen along a street parade. My mom and I saw one while exploring in the evening and Eric and I also caught a great wedding parade on our trip while just wandering around the French Quarter.

Explore City Park

Either take a bus, Uber, or drive yourself out to City Park. It's a huge, sprawling thing with a sculpture garden, a museum, a gazebo, live music, a Café du Monde, and more. You can read my post about it here.

Tour the Tabasco Factory & Jungle Gardens

If you can rent a car, then it's definitely worth it to head out to Avery Island and visit the Tabasco Factory, even if you don't enjoy Tabasco. You can take a cheap self-guided tour and learn how it started, how it's still made, and also see all the different varieties. We spent a good amount of time in their gift shop that had a ton of Tabasco sauce and other products.

When you're done tantalizing your taste buds, drive across the street to Jungle Gardens, where you can drive the loop and see gorgeous plants, ponds, flowers, and hopefully some great wildlife. There is a Buddhist temple in the middle and we saw a bunch of deer, birds, and even a small gator. 

If you can't make it out to Avery Island, hit up one of the many hot sauce bars and taste your way through it. Some have hundreds of sauces to try before you buy and take or ship home. These made awesome gifts. I can't tell you if or how these may change with Covid though. 

These aren't the only affordable things to do in New Orleans, but it's a start for you. You can also gorge yourself on beignets, hike around Audubon Park, wander the Garden District, and more.

What are you most looking forward to on a trip to New Orleans? 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Exploring New Orleans at Home

When I posted my Mardi Gras staycation, I promised you a second stand-alone New Orleans post, since I waited forever on my original backdrops. I also wanted to touch on some non-celebratory things in The Big Easy, because it's a fantastic vacation destination, especially outside of summer where it's crazy hot and muggy. 

When I posted my Mardi Gras staycation, I promised you a second stand-alone New Orleans post, because it's a fantastic vacation destination.

I've been to New Orleans a few times, including March of last year right before the pandemic hit. Somehow, that seems like 4 years ago, and I'm looking to return at some point for more culture, food, and exploring.

When Eric and I visited, we had a great time taking walking tours and eating outside. This is the photo that I felt really encased our trip and I wanted to bring that feeling home and recreate it the best I could. While I couldn't find gator bites, I was able to find the vibe and food that really relived the flavor of our trip.

We spent a lot of time walking and seeing Jackson Square, so I had one of our photos turned into a backdrop. Shockingly, these don't seem to exist in a decent size otherwise. It's basically the heart of New Orleans for me. People gather there and go shopping, and try foods and meet up with friends. There are street vendors, book shops, performers, and a lot of palm and tarot readers, which I was super into and next time I go I will definitely get one or both of those done.

The balconies are gorgous. Many of them are decked in plants, flowers, streamers, bunting and even not during Mardi Gras season, they often have decorations still up. I liked this one, because it's not too much ,but still fun. With that, I added things to my table: The street lamp that mimics the gas lanterns, the vintage signs, and some masquerade masks (which were also late, and we didn't end up getting to wear them for our Mardi Gras celebration). 

I topped our table with a beige tablecloth, a runner in Mardi Gras colors, and some plates that I found for on sale for Easter, that we'll continue to use for many other things. I already had these goldenrod napkins, which give a nice pop to most tables. Eric went up to our local food cart pod and picked up food at the Creole food truck. On special were hushpuppies and cornbread bites. Two things I don't ever say no to.

He also picked up jambalaya, with boudin sausage, chicken and shrimp. I really liked this, and it was better than other times I've had it elsewhere. 

Our second dish was gumbo. I always think it looks amazing, and I get the appeal. Unfortunately, for me, I feel like the spices taste like dirt, so it's not my favorite at all. I mixed it with the jambalaya to tone down the flavors a bit. If you're a fan of creole food, then you'd be thrilled by this dish. It was very much the same as gumbo I had in New Orleans, with good depth of flavor and variety of ingredients. 

We talked about our trip to New Orleans while we ate, then we watched a Second Line street parade and took a tour of the Garden District. Even though we stayed in the Garden District, and walked around quite a bit, there's only so much information you can take in at one time. 

Food truck bread pudding

New Orleans bread pudding

We ended our meal with a Creole bread pudding that was almost as good as one I had on my last visit. The thing that really makes it is the sauce. It seeps into the whole thing and makes it really flavorful and moist.  While this is missing that  extra moistness, it held its own pretty well and I was impressed.

Food trucks are a great place to pick up a feast for something like this, because you can get multiple dishes for the same price of one or two as at a regular restaurant. They generally have a handful of very good items, because they aren't wasting time making a whole menu of dishes. 

There are a lot of things on their menu that I'd like to try now, including the Hopping John bowl that comes and goes as a special (the salad version is a regular item). We try to find dishes that we don't usually eat, or haven't just had, so we get a better feeling like we're actually traveling. 

Having a New Orleans destination date is easy to pull together, whether you want to make it into a whole day or just have an evening of Zydeco music and good food. Here's some things you can do to create this at home:

I hope you are able to keep yourselves busy and occupied while we're still waiting to travel again. I know that these destination dates have really made not traveling more bearable and fun. I look forward to each one like I'm actually going somewhere. Follow my IG for more pics of my staycation dates. 

Have you been doing any staycations at home over the last year?

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