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Saturday, February 25, 2023

My Shortcut Trip-Planning Technique

I've heard from a lot of you that travel planning is your least favorite part of travel. What do you do? Where do you go? Where do you eat? How do you get there? Well, I have been using a shortcut for all of those for years. Wanna know the secret? It's Google Maps! I use it for road trips, I use it to plan my vacation days and I use it to navigate everywhere.

Travel planning is hard and tedious, unless you use this one tool to make it a cinch!

Chances are, you're already using Google Maps - I know some people use it even if they have Apple Maps on their phone - which means you just need to learn to use it more and more effectively. It's easy and you can add things to a future or potential trip at any time. (You can click any of these pics for high resolution and to see it more in depth.)

I Want To Do That!

Here's what my Paris map looked like for my last trip. I tend to find things over time I want to see or do and "bookmark" it on the map. You can add flags to things in different trips to make them easier to find, too. How do you do this? It's easy!

Click on the thing you want to look at and if you decide to add it to your list, hit the "save" bookmark and it will give you the option to add it to your favorites, want to go list, current travel plans, a list you've already made, or scroll to the bottom to make a new list. I like to group mine into cities, so it's easier to toggle between.

Find My Stuff! 

Click the three bars in the left-hand corner next to the city or in the address bar inside Google Maps (or at the top of your screen if you're using your phone) and you'll get your list. Right at the top is Your Places. Click there and you can see your whole list of places you've made lists for. 

This brings up all the bookmarks or flags you've added to a list and you can see it on the map. This is where the actual planning phase of your trip starts. 

Fill In Your Days!

Now that you've added the must-do things to your list, it's time to fill in the rest of your time at your destination. I usually do this on my laptop, to make it easier, but I can't record my laptop screen. Once I have the skeleton plan of my trip, I use Google Maps to find other things around those places. This allows me to "walk" down streets and also see reviews and other visitor's pictures. When I see something cool, I bookmark that, too, and once I've finished that, I move on to making an itinerary, which you can also do in Google Maps.

Plan Out Your Days!

Okay, so here's how I plan a whole day around my must-dos. Go look at all the little flags on your map and look at where they're located in relation to one another. Here I had tickets to go to the Museum of Hunting and Nature, so I looked at everything I wanted to do around it and mentally added a circle around it that would be reasonable walking distance. You can make this bigger or smaller if you don't want to walk that much or if you're driving or taking public transportation. 

I noticed that Robert et Louise was nearby and a place I wanted to eat, so I made sure they were open and booked a reservation. That's another thing helpful when using Google Maps - you can see the days and hours of operation for anything you're looking at.  I also added some other stops, like Nicolas Flamel's historic home and the nearby bakery named after him. This is how I planned out my short day of arrival.

Now, keep doing this until you've hit all your must-dos and things you've got tickets for. Here, I've added my Airbnb location, so I could plan an easy day where we wouldn't have to go that far, but also so I know where all the nearest Metro stops are in order to get to the other sections on my map. One day we got breakfast at Kafkaf, walked up to Pere Lachaise, went back "home" to change because it stopped raining, and then took the train to the Pantheon, where we did other stuff in that area.

Plan a Walking Tour!

I knew we'd be walking a ton on this trip, and I just wanted a day where we did a bunch of sightseeing. I knew we'd be starting our day at the Eiffel Tower and ending our day at Museum de Caravalet, but not what we would do in between, so I did a quick directional map and then wandered along the route to see what there was to see/do along the way. This is how I found the Paris Sewer Museum. I know we love walking along the Seine, but we also wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe and wander the Champs Elysees for a bit. We got lunch, did our museum tour and then wandered up the river some more. 

Nicolas Flamel's house

I always have "maybe things to my list, because maybe you'll find yourself near things or maybe you'll have a bit of extra time you want to fill. Google Maps will alert you when you're near one of your picks, but it can also help you navigate the streets (whether by foot or car) and public transportation. Just remember to bring along a extra phone battery so you don't run out of juice while you're wandering around. We tend to recharge when we're sitting down to a meal. 

I started using Google Maps for road trip planning, because I like to stop on my way to see interesting things and it worked so well for that, I just knew it would be great for smaller scale things like a city or even a neighborhood, and it is!

So, if you feel lazy, or you just really need to plan a trip quickly, you can do all your research inside Google (though I suggest starting elsewhere to create your "bare bones" list of must-do things, especially if this is your first visit somewhere) and make a game plan and easy itinerary. You can also jump on attraction websites to buy your tickets ahead of time this way, too, making your life even easier. Find hidden gems, awesome eateries (or coffee shops to start your day), and even street art. 

Have you used Google Maps to plan a trip before?

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links and I may be monetarily compensated if you make a purchase through these posts. This helps me to keep this blog running and bring you more posts you enjoy, so thanks in advance.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Mardi Gras Destination Potluck

Destination Potlucks are back! And we've started with an easy theme/destination: New Orleans. With Mardi Gras in full swing, I decided we would do our own little Mardi Gras party. As a reminder, everyone brings a dish (or more) or beverage, and dress up if they like. We then all eat and learn about our destination. In this case, we learned facts about Mardi Gras.

Destination Potlucks are back! And we've started with an easy theme/destination: Mardi Gras/New Orleans.

I hit up my local dollar store and bought a ton of beads (because what is Mardi Gras without beads?) and both decorated with them and handed them out to people. I also picked up masks and boas. 

I also bought some fun street signs and banners, because I really wanted a party vibe. It's not a bead-laden
tree in Nola, but that's okay. I think I did a decent job of doing it on a smaller scale.

You know I don't have destination themes without backdrops. This one was used in our last New Orleans date night, but it gave the best Mardi Gras feel, because of the balconies. This is up high, because I wanted everyone to be able to see it when we were all sitting and milling around. Also, balconies are up high.

I also ordered a Steamboat Natchez backdrop, because the river is one of my favorite things. I pinned it up behind the table. 

I got a lovely green tablecloth, added my streetlamps that I purchased for another DDN, covered them in beads, and then added some foil strands from a curtain I bought and then didn't really use as intended. 

I have taken to skipping paper plates and just purchasing the plastic plates from Target that are just $.50 each. They're pretty great, dishwasher safe, and reusable. I usually buy a dozen or so and that works for smaller parties, but you can also mix-and-match. (Despite this picture, they're actually gray. I also like that they have a lip, so they're easier to hold onto and harder to spill.) I did gold cups and utensils and found these adorable napkins. Now, let's talk about food:

Now, you can't go to Nola and not have a muffuletta sandwich. It's basically, prociutto, salami, mozzarella, provolone, and an olive spread. In order to make this for a crowd, I opted for the pinwheel version with croissant dough. I cheated and bought olive bruschetta spread. With so many heavy foods coming, I wanted a veggie and did this maque choux, a Cajun corn dish.

I'll tell you what: if you have any sort of southern feast and it doesn't include cornbread, did you even eat southern food? Our friend, Linda, brought both spicy and regular cornbread. Yum!

Our friend, Nicole, brought pecan pie (on the right) and these amazing deep-fried Cajun deviled eggs. Our friend, Robyn, brought jambalaya (which you can see at the top). Our friend, Kara, brought gumbo in a crock pot. 

When in New Orleans, you'll find quite a few hot sauce "bars", which are shops that only sell hot sauces, but you can try all of them before you buy. I did a mini hot sauce bar here with 4 popular Louisiana sauces. The Slap Ya Mama gives some really good heat and the Tabasco jalapeno one is my favorite, but pretty mild, so if you can't handle too much spice, this one is for you.

You gotta have some cocktails and other drinks, so I made coffee with chicory, and an alcoholic and non-alcoholic batch of mint juleps. To add to the party atmosphere, I bought these flashing drink cubes, which are liquid activated. Everyone thought they were super fun.

It's traditional that King Cake is served for Mardi Gras. It's a basic yeasty cinnamon cake, which can be kind of bland, so I made mini ones with cinnamon rolls and then used colored sugar to make them festive. 

As always, you gotta have a baby inside your cake. The person who finds it in their slice (or, in this case, mini cake) will have luck and prosperity for the coming year and they pass it on the next year by throwing the next party and/or baking the next cake. You can also use a coin or a bean. Just make sure your guests know it's a possibility, so they aren't surprised.

Obviously, we had to get in the spirit of things. I purchased shirts for myself and Eric, and also head boppers from the dollar store. Even though I didn't get any photos, our friends also did a bit of dressing up for the theme with Mardi Gras colors. 

I like people to learn things when they come to our house. I printed out some fun facts about Mardi Gras food, history, and parades and pinned them up around the kitchen and living room. We'll be trying to do a trivia game for our next one to see if that works even better. 

I love to start the party before people even come inside. Swamp tours are prevalent in Louisiana and we saw alligators on them, but also just out while driving through the state. I got this great inflatable gator and added a caution sign near him and beaded up my front bench. You can see a daytime shot that I did with the dog on my Instagram.

I hope this helps you to throw a fun Mardi Gras party in the future or gives you inspiration for a different destination potluck. This is a fun way to travel without traveling and include all your friends as well. You can trade off whose house you meet at and come up with cool games in order to learn more about your destination, play some thematic music and/or make a YouTube playlist to play in the background.

How do you celebrate Mardi Gras?

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links and I may be monetarily compensated if you make a purchase through these posts. This helps me to keep this blog running and bring you more posts you enjoy, so thanks in advance.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Apps to Celebrate and Support the Black Community

I don't know about you, but I try to support and learn about local businesses in my home city and wherever I travel. I want small businesses to succeed and in particular Black-, Asian-, and women-owned businesses are at the top of that list. At home, I frequent 2 Asian-owned coffee shops quite a lot, not just because they have stellar coffee, though that doesn't hurt. 

For Black History Month, let's talk about the apps that can help you find Black businesses, learn more about Black History, and celebrate Black culture:

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash


This app features Black-owned restaurants and eateries. It's how we've found amazing places to eat near home and also close to accommodations when we've traveled. It's not exhaustive, but it's pretty good and worth the space it occupies on my phone.


The app that helps travelers connect with others to share experiences while out in the world. While you can use it to find others who want to do the same tours or museums as you, there is a whole section called Global Black Diaspora History and Culture collection that allows you to learn more Black History on your travels and share those experiences with others who are also traveling at the same time.


If you're hoping to travel to other countries to learn history and culture, you may want to learn the language spoken there. Limited to some of the most spoken languages in the world, Babbel can help you prepare for your trip. For example, there are lots of countries with large Black communities that speak Portuguese as a the official language. Just a few of these are Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde.

Photo by Adam Kring on Unsplash

More Than a Mapp

Wherever you go, you can find points of interest and historical markers for Black history. Set you location in the app and then you can use the interactive map to point you to important places and then learn about what makes them significant through words, links, photos, and videos.


This app, by Chinedu Echeruo, a Black innovator, helps you navigate transit by using GPS and real-time data, allowing users to get where they need to go on time on public transportation. Save your favorite trips for future use, get train schedules, and estimated taxi fares. It is available for over 600 cities around the world, though you can get travel advisories if you live in New York City.

Black History Quiz

Got some time to spare? Test your knowledge and expand what you've already learned through quizzes. You can't move on until you get the correct answer, so you can easily learn what you don't know. What a great way to "waste" time.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

The Root

Support Black writers by exploring the day's news in all genres, but also listen to podcasts, watch slideshows and more, right from your phone, all by prominent Black journalists that may give you a new perspective of current stories.

Honorable Mentions: National Parks App

While this app doesn't explicitly give you Black and African American historical information, the National Parks have been preserving Black history and stories for visitors. With over 400 parks, each having a rich backstory featuring Black culture and notable points in history, you can get outside and also learn more about this country's past with elevated multi-generational Black stories. Learn more on their website.

The podcast Fanti

Not an app, but part of an app you probably already have on your phone to listen to other podcasts you love. Fanti is a pop-culture podcast run by Black hosts who talk about fandom and other relevant topics that they enjoy, but effect the Black community and fans in an entirely different way than it's white audience (i.e. when you love the art, but the artist is problematic, or vice versa). The episodes are great for downloading and listening on long plane/train/car rides.

I hope some of these will help you travel more easily, plus educate yourself while having fun traveling. I know that they can really be a great addition to trips and help you fill in time with something educational, important, fun, or tasty.

Share your favorite travel apps with us. Bonus points if they are Black-created or celebrate Black culture.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Learning Black History Through Travel

I learn things better when I'm immersed in them, especially history. Some of the best things I've learned were through tours and museums while on vacation. If there is a museum where I can learn more about Black History, I will try to make it there, whether it's traditional history or art, I find it's important for soaking up more culture. One of the best, and most heartbreaking, museums I've visited was the tiny Museum of Slavery in Nassau, Bahamas. If you feel as if your education was woefully lacking in Black History (hint: it was), then here are 10 cities in the U.S. to visit:

If there is a museum where I can learn more about Black History, I will try to make it there, whether it's traditional history or art, it's important.

You can read as many books as you want, and I highly encourage you to, as well as talk to your Black friends, but never turn down a chance to learn more history about oppressed and marginalized people. It gets you one step closer to becoming a more accepting and well-rounded individual who can empathize with those that have a different life than you. What are some of your favorite spots for Black culture/history?

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Valentine's Travel Tip Round-Up

For the last two weeks, I've been posting blogs about romantic destinations and Facebook posts to help you plan the ultimate getaway with your luck significant other. If, by chance, you've missed those or just aren't on Facebook, I've done a round-up for you here.

Feb 1: Is Paris on your list of romantic vacations? If so, here's everything you need to know about visiting the Eiffel Tower.

Feb 2: While you may not be ready for this year, you 𝑐𝑎𝑛 work on next year, or later this year, especially if you live somewhere cold and want to get out of there for a little bit. Here are the most romantic getaways in each state.

Feb 3:💍Looking to propose this year (or in the future), but don't want to be a cliché? Then skip these overdone destinations and choose more unique ones instead.

Feb 4: Queer/gay couples looking for a quick getaway in a very friendly city should absolutely look to Palm Springs. It can be romantic, but it's also great for those who love the outdoors, the food scene, art (street and traditional) and shopping.

Feb 5: Not all destinations are friendly to everyone, which sucks, but I find that those that are LGBTQ-friendly are always awesome and much more fun than other cities/countries. If you're looking for a place to travel with your loved one that is accepting, check out these cities for your next romantic getaway.

Feb 6: 🥂Champagne has been one of those celebratory (and sexy?) beverages for a long time. We drink it at weddings, New Years, and on fancy dates, but do you know what makes it so special?

Feb 7: 💜If you're looking for a truly unique destination for your next trip, check out these heart-shaped places to plan a trip around.

Feb 8: These tips can help you take an alternative Valentine's Day getaway, or even a regular trip another time of the year.

Never let go, Jack...er, Eric. Never let go.
2 mins later, the person next to Eric wanted an aisle seat, so we switched.

Feb 9: Sometimes, staying home is cheaper and better than any other plan for Valentine's Day. Here are some of my favorite ways to plan a great (and romantic) staycation.

Feb 10: Many of us think of honeymoons as 𝒕𝒉𝒆 romantic vacation, but why are honeymoons even a thing and how have they changed over the years?

Feb 11: There's more to Paris museums than just the Louvre. Here are some of my favorite places to view art and history in the city.

Feb 12: I love a place that's fun and different. If you're looking for a funky getaway for you and your special person, check out these places you can book for a little R&R&R (that 3rd R is for romance 😍).

Feb 13: Why be the same as everyone else and celebrate your love on Valentine's Day? I mean, you should celebrate your love 𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒚𝒅𝒂𝒚, but if you want to do something extra special, plan a trip for a different time of the year. Maybe at one of these places.

Feb 14: Valentine's Day isn't all about being part of a couple. You can be alone and love yourself first. Solo travel can really help you learn what you want, put yourself first, and enjoy things that don't revolve around another person.

I hope you all have a wonderful day, whether you're celebrating Valentine's Day or not, whether you have a special someone or not, whether you choose to do it up big or stay home and save money. Have you ever taken a romantic vacation for Valentine's Day?

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Museums in Paris that Aren't the Louvre

If you're looking at planning a trip to Paris and finding it pretty expensive, I encourage you to try to see the city in a different way. Yes, you probably want to visit the Eiffel Tower (I always do), but there are so many ways to save in the city that most people don't realize. I have a confession: I've been to Paris 3 times and have never visited the Louvre. I've taken photos outside it, but the lines are always crazy.

I've been to Paris 3 times and have never visited the Louvre, but I've been to a ton of other awesome museums there instead.

On previous trips to Paris, we attempted to visit the more mainstream museums and always found that waiting in a line for an hour or two was not a good use of our time. If you have one of them on your must-do list, by all means, prioritize that, but I think you can get a great museum experience by going to the lesser-known ones. Let me tell you about my new favorites:

This is the ceiling of a little closet room. Just all owls. Staring at you.

The Museum of Hunting and Nature (Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature)

I'm not a big fan of hunting, though for some reason, I'm fascinated by taxidermy. I had read an article on Messy Nessy Chic called A Guide to Wes Anderson's Paris years ago and immediately put it on my list of things to do in Paris for my next visit. It took 5 years to get there, but I made it and I was not disappointed in this museum. 

I don't know if this artist ever saw a dog IRL, but this painting delights me

This museum is somehow both rustic and vibrant, colorful and crammed with treasures. There is a whole cabinet full of weird soup tureens, like ones that are just boars' heads, and another with horse armor. You'll find a ton of paintings of nature on the walls. It for sure celebrates animals in all forms.

This room was my favorite with these gorgeous chairs and paintings of hunting dogs and dead pheasants on tables with other dinner essentials. It has a gorgeous wallpaper and equally gorgeous drapes (which I failed to capture in any photos, because of the way the sun came into the room) and a sweet little resident.

This is just one of the many pieces of taxidermy in this museum. In fact, there's an entire room of "trophies", including the weirdest animatronic boar you've ever seen, and several rooms of vintage hunting rifles. Somehow, you feel like you're in a very luxe manor, but it's also cozy and inviting. It's very romantic in an odd way. 

Now, if stuffed animals (some of which are extinct) bothers you in any way, this is not for you at all, but I am always in awe of the artists that can make a deceased animal look absolutely real. Admission is very affordable, at about $13 per person. I recommend buying tickets online ahead of time to ensure you are able to visit if you go during a busy time. We did, but there were still hardly any people there around 3pm.

Paris hanging signs and building decorations

Carnavalet Museum

Unlike much of the other museums in Paris, this one is free to enter. It is dedicated to the history of Paris and there are many different sections, so there's a bit of something for everyone. 

Medieval architecture with gargoyles and grotesques

Learn how the city grew, all about the changing architecture, and iconic buildings. Like many other important attractions, Carnavalet educates you through signs, textiles, and models. Upstairs is a full art museum. 

I'll forever love these gorgeous walls and fireplaces in older buildings. I'm also very into furniture through the ages.

Juliette Gréco, singer and actress, by Robert Humblot

I hope to return to see more of this museum, as we kind of got there about an hour from closing. They have an entire floor of Parisian artists, including this one above that really caught my eye. I adored the whole vibe and would immediately decorate my whole house around this piece if I owned it.

The Centre Pompidou

We returned to my favorite museum anywhere. The 6-story museum has all the things: sculptures, paintings, performance, textiles, and more. Everything from impressionist to watercolors, metal to wood, itty bitty pieces to those that take up an entire room. There was one room that was walls that were just fallen leaves contained in metal cages, which wouldn't have been that interesting, but every leaf was the same color and I thought that was pretty impressive.

You'll find famous artists and some of your new favorites. With so many things to take in, you could easily spend an entire day here.

Spend some time outside in the sculpture "garden". This is where people go and admire the Paris skyline, sketch people and art, and get some fresh air. It might be far away, but there's the Eiffel Tower back there. I watched as a bunch of pigeons flew in and drank from the water feature and then took off after they were rested and hydrated. That was great entertainment for me.

Le Monstre de Soisy, by Niki de Saint Phalle

Here's one of my favorite pieces that I saw on this visit. A monster made up of trash, like that spray paint can in the inset. There's, literally, so much here, including a special exhibit on the top floor next to their restaurant, so you can easily take a break and refuel. There's also a café on the ground floor. If you want to learn more about the Pompidou, I wrote about it after my last visit

Admission rates at the time of this post are $15 for the main museum and $18 if you want to include the special exhibit. The euro is almost 1 to 1 to the dollar right now, so I am quoting in dollars, as it makes it easy to not do conversions.

Paris Sewer Museum (

Musée des Égouts de Paris)

Not every museum in the city is dedicated to traditional works of art. Some show you history through an unconventional means. Paris had the first modern sewer system and they are proud of that, as they should be. I wrote a whole post on this museum that resides under the city streets. This is a good museum for engineering, city planning, and mechanical nerds, or for those that are just super curious and like learning new things.

Museum of Magic (Musée de la Magie or Musée de la Curiosité et de la Magie)

Are you a lover of all things magic? If so, this small museum in the basement of the Magic Academy might be for you. It houses a private collection of objects of illusion, magic mirrors, secret boxes, and other magic-related items. You can also see magic shows here and a large collection of automats (mechanical devices that appear to work entirely under their own power). 

The museum is small and photos aren't allowed, but if you adore magic, the $10 admission fee isn't too steep for the visit. It's also housed underneath the home of the Marquis de Sade, so if you are into history, at least go check out the building.

The entire city

If museums aren't your thing, or you're trying to save money, but you still want to see some great art, just walking around the city can satisfy your needs. As in many other cities, Paris is covered in some amazing murals and graffiti. Look down alleys, look up, look down, and keep an eye out for Space Invaders and little sketches on the sides of buildings as well.

I'm not sure if this was on the other side of an actual fencing academy, but this wall just had badass fencing ladies along the length.

Even the Metro stations are beautiful. This one is down the stairwell of the deepest station in Paris, properly called the Abysses, which translates to bottomless chasms. 

One morning we came out of brunch to this vibrant piece. At the time, I wished the tables and chairs weren't there, but now I think they add to the cool look. Imagine dining next to this.

And I leave you with this hilarious piece I found in an alley around the corner from our Paris flat: A Witch Doctor. LOL!

I hope this little visit to some of the less-crowded places in Paris to view art was fun and gives you a new way of coming up with your trip plan. Paris can be budget-friendly, if you know how to do it, but always know when to splurge to get the most out of your visit.

What are some of your favorite art cities?
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