New Website is Live!

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After nearly five years of memories and musings as Travel Girl, I’ve launched a new website that better reflects where I am right now as both a traveler and a professional.

Thanks to all who have followed my adventures over the years.  I hope you’ll enjoy the latest iteration of my site:

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Globe Article: Making a Layover Count

Usually, we book flights attempting to avoid dreaded layovers.

Check out my recent article for the Boston Globe, The Layover Gets a Do-over, about how to transform long layovers from pesky interruptions into added adventures.

Read the article >>













Screenshot of article from Boston Globe.

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A Fare to Remember

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On any given day, I can ballpark the average airfare to most anywhere in the world from the major North East airports.  Possibly from US airports elsewhere if I know there’s been a recent sale.  Flexible date search is my temptress and flash fare glitches the bane of my existence (last January’s Delta glitch still haunts).  I spend my mental breaks refreshing Airfarewatchdog’s Twitter feed and exhausting the Kayak “Explore” function, desperately scanning for That One Flight: the perfect combination of affordable price, exotic destination, and convenient time period.  The unicorn of airfare searches.

I’m Sam, and I have an airfare addiction.  Sure, it’s not dangerous like drugs or alcohol, but it is equally (and literally) escapist. They say acceptance is the first step on the path to healing, and I saw a recent quote that made me admit my problem.  I’m not usually one for quotes, but after an hour or so spent trying to secure an unrealistic escape to Costa Rica, this one struck me at the right moment:

“Travel is the best investment you can make in yourself.” – Joel Sartore.

With the exception of those who are fabulously rich, most people don’t travel on a whim.  We don’t wake up on a Tuesday morning and secure a spontaneous trip to Greece, following our second cup of coffee and a surprise deal from US Airways.  For most of us, travel takes planning and careful saving.  It often means sacrificing something we want now so we can stay at a nicer hotel or treat ourselves to dinner at that fancy Parisian restaurant with a “Chez” name.

Like most investments, travel yields returns.  But we can’t calculate travel returns because they’re emotional, and thus difficult to imagine beforehand–particularly when spending a large sum of money up front.

But investments with more risk always have the potential to reap greater returns.  In my searches for That One Fare, I wanted low risk, but big reward.  To pay the least amount I could for a flight that would send me off on an epic adventure while still leaving a comfortable amount in my bank account.

It’s just not realistic.  Investing in travel (and thus ourselves) means putting our money where the mouse is.  That One Fare is an escape–but not the way I intend it to be.  It’s a convenient excuse to never book travel because it’s “too expensive” or “not the right time.”  Airfare deals can help us finally secure that trip we’ve been dreaming about, but they shouldn’t be determining our dream trips.

So, I’ve decided to stop scrolling and start investing.  Maybe one day I’ll catch the airfare unicorn.  But before that, I think I’ll just catch a flight.

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December 27, 2014 · 10:43 pm

Scratch That


I could have been a thousandaire in Detroit.  An extended layover had me pacing down its airport halls, zig-zagging between kiosks to kill time and winding up in front of a lottery ticket vending machine.

Winning money in Detroit seemed cruelly funny to me.  I heard a news story recently – or maybe it was a rumor? – that a house goes for $1 in the most dejected quarters of the city.  Detroit was in a bad way – it was somewhere you just didn’t go. Before I even landed, I assumed that it was my first and last time visiting.  But…what if my numbers matched?  I could own 10,000 houses – or maybe 5 really nice ones.  I could upgrade my flight to first class.  Could I be mayor of Detroit?

I waited until my flight was just about to board and then I scratched.  While everyone else got antsy and gathered up their bags, I dragged a dull penny back and forth across my ticket, brushing away the tiny bits of silver veil that lay between me and fortune.  A matching pair of numbers appeared early on (would I have to stop back on my return flight to collect my riches?)  The line of passengers advanced as I pressed my penny to the last square, scratching even slower this time, prolonging the hope that I just might win.

I bought a losing lottery ticket in Detroit.  I bought a shot glass, too, although I can’t remember the last time I took a shot, let alone at home.  But Detroit is rugged – or at least my notion of it is – and so the Motor City-emblazoned glass seemed fitting.  I imagined a wearied auto worker throwing back a finger of whiskey after stepping off the assembly line. Now we’d drink together in spirit.

I carried the glass in a little bag with my silver-stripped, unlucky ticket as I walked onto the plane.

After all, it wouldn’t have been fair for me to win the lottery in Detroit.  To collect 10 grand in a city I’d regarded with such disdain, so confident I’d never return, without ever setting foot outside the airport.

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Return to the West Coast

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There’s a book called Some Kind of Fairy Tale about a girl who escapes to the land of fairies.  There, everything looks much the same as the English countryside where she lives, but the light is far brighter.  There, she can see every color on the spectrum – shades of blues and greens she never knew existed.  So vivid are her surroundings she must squint to take them all in.

Seattle is no hidden fairy realm.  But early October sunlight rebounded off rising mist from the Puget Sound, suggesting something magical.

On this day, there were no clouds – only white whisps that streaked the sky and mirrored snow-capped mountains.  The rain that one accepts as inevitable was not a fact after all, and moisture came in only on the breeze.  Dry skin – accustomed to thick lotion layered on to guard it from bitter, Northeast wind – inhaled deeply.  The balmy air seeped into pores, smoothing lines and filling in weathered cracks.

From the water, the glassy surface of the Sound seemed to extend for miles, generating sympathy for those early explorers who feared the edge of the Earth.

Houses perched cleverly on the end of Bainbridge Island, a piece of land amidst the Sound.  They were first to claim the small peninsula that over looks the entire span of water, backdropped by the Seattle skyline, Mt. Rainier, and the Cascade Range.

On this luminous day, these houses sat surrounded – nearly engulfed – by city, sea, rock, and sky.  On this luminous day, a fortunate few awoke to see so much of the world all at once.

So vivid were the surroundings, they may have squinted to take them all in.

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Notes from the Keys



We sat on a covered patio staring at a small parking lot along the banks of the John Pennekamp Coral Reef.  A few houseboats bobbed up and down along the shore behind big signs advertising them as “BOAT HOTELS.” A huge iguana scampered across the lot, pausing to eye us diners angrily.  The two of us scowled back, miserably exhausted after a late night of dancing at our hotel in Islamorada.

Our brains were too weary to decide where to eat, so we followed the yellow arrow on a Route 1 billboard that promised breakfast, one right turn away. We drove down a few blocks of shaded side streets and arrived at Key Largo’s East edge to find a small bungaloo converted to a diner: the Hiddenout Place.

Two Germans chatted quietly over their pancakes at the table closest to us.  At the far table, a lively group of locals laughed loudly over the latest town gossip. A few of the waitresses leaned against the wall, smoking and occasionally chiming in.  Their smoke clouds hung around them in the heavy air—we’d only catch a whiff when the waitresses ambled by to refill coffees and deliver ketchups.

The coffee tasted like old grinds with a hint of dirt, and we waited at least 30 minutes, barely awake, for our meals to mosey over. But when our $5 breakfasts arrived, the sausages were greasy, the eggs fluffy, and the toast saturated with butter.  There was no finer feast.


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On Boston and the Red Sox


I’m a Phillies fan, by heritage.  There’s a picture of two-year-old me at the old Veteran’s Stadium, nearly drowning in red paraphernalia and totally psyched.  But this summer I wore red a little differently.  I bought a blue hat with a stitched red “B” and fit it onto my head without the slightest pang of guilt.  This summer, I was a Red Sox fan.

Maybe it’s because the Phillies had a terrible season, or that the number of Boston bars playing out-of-town games on TV is about equal to the city’s ratio of Starbucks to Dunkin Donuts.  But the truth is, I know Boston better than I’ve ever known Philly.  Sure, I’ve climbed the Rocky stairs at the Art Museum.  I’ve seen the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence.  I’ve tried all the famous cheesesteaks–and yeah, they’re that good.  I lived an hour outside of Philly for most of my life, but I couldn’t tell you what makes Philly tick.  Because being near a city just isn’t the same as being in one, and for the past five years, I’ve been in Boston.

Outsiders like to throw around stereotypes about Boston.  Like how the people aren’t friendly.  That our city is small and it’s lame and New York is much better.  They may have a point.

What I’ve learned from my time here is that Boston’s flaws create its culture.  Boston is a city of collective suffering, and you have to live here to understand.

You don’t know Boston until you’re trapped in a Comm. Ave. wind tunnel while icy gusts slap you in the face.  You don’t know Boston until your head has been squished into someone’s armpit on a Green Line trolley for an over an hour when your ride should have taken 20 minutes.  You don’t know Boston until you’ve gotten hopelessly lost by foolishly assuming that our roads are grids.  Until you’ve been thwarted by pedestrians with a death wish and shamed by drivers who lay on the horn as if the sound alone will propel your vehicle forward.  You don’t know Boston until you’ve waited 86 years for a curse to be lifted–or heard stories from fans who did.

Here, there’s no partying ’til the sun comes up and no cheap ride home if you try.  Here, there’s no happy hour–and let’s face it, half-priced apps just aren’t the same as dollar beers.  Sure, pot is decriminalized, but we’re no Denver.  We might have Tom Brady, but we still have to share him with the rest of New England.  As for gay marriage and healthcare–well, those are just truths we hold to be self-evident.

Bostonians commiserate.  The little inconveniences, the headaches, the upsets–we’ve all been there.  Trivial suffering peppers our daily life, and in this, we are united.

April 15 was a different kind of suffering.  We thought Boston was the underdog who had it tough already.  We were so used to being the little guy no one noticed.  We didn’t see it coming.

We did our best to get back to normal, but it’s hard to keep sweating the small stuff when your city is broken.  We were no longer connected by our complaints, but rather by our shock and our grief.

So we banded together and stood strong in our shared sadness.  The Bruins gave us a glimmer of hope in July, but in truth, a win would have been too soon for our city.  There were people still recovering in the hospital.  The infamous trial had yet to begin.

And then, all of a sudden, something magical was happening at Fenway Park.  In true Boston fashion, we took that first-place standing with a grain of salt and watched it with a wary eye.  We were all waiting for that too-good-to-be-true moment that has long defined the Boston sports fan’s experience.  It never came.

So I wore my Red Sox hat.  I rose for a standing ovation in my hat to honor David Ortiz’s 2,000th career hit.  I jumped up and down like a crazy woman in my hat after Victorino’s grand slam.  I threw back my head in dismay in my hat over Middlebrooks’ obstruction call.  And I wore it when Boston found faith again.  When the little guy, the underdog, the one no one saw coming, won the World Series.

Boston is still healing.  It’s impossible to walk down Boylston Street without an eerie feeling, lost in a moment of pause and sadness.  When a city is forever changed, it takes more than sports to mend it.

But this was bigger than baseball.  The players knew it and the city knew it.  When the fans came pouring out into the streets of Fenway last Wednesday night, Boston was reborn, our fiery spirit reignited.  When the crowds gathered Saturday along the very same marathon route, Boston was happy.  And for the first time in a long time, we were unafraid.

My history is in Philly, but my heart is in Boston.  It bleeds blue and yellow and red and blue, and I wouldn’t want it any different.  My mayor mumbles and my players rock beards.  There’s a shortage of “R’s” and a surplus of Guinness.  It’s bitterly cold and breathtakingly beautiful, and it’s my home.

Besides–as my father the die-hard Philadelphia fan was gracious enough to note–even the Phillies wear red socks.

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Making a Splash in Cologne, Germany

Our decision to visit Cologne, Germany, went something like this:

“There’s a really cheap flight to Cologne.”

“What’s in Cologne?”

“They have a chocolate museum.”


Up until that point, my friends and I knew of Cologne only as a men’s fragrance, but when the guidebook promises a “Willy Wonka-esque” chocolate fountain,  you heed the call.

We left our home base in Padua, Italy, with visions of candy bars dancing in our heads.  Nine hours of missed bus and train connections later, we arrived starving, exhausted, and about ready to punch a sugar plum fairy.

Emerging from the train station, the ominous shadow of the Kölner Dom immediately enveloped us.  Cologne’s towering cathedral broods over the city, justly earning its title as the largest gothic church in Northern Europe.  Beholding the dark behemoth against the bright blue autumn sky, we couldn’t help but be impressed…and slightly less disgruntled.

The Dom towers over the city of Cologne

From the imposing square of the Dom, Cologne breaks off into smaller cobblestone streets with modern stores that perhaps aim to counter the church’s heavy dose of history (it dates back to 1248!).  Ambling through the city on the way to our hostel, we came across another prevalent feature of Cologne’s landscape: street art.

A graphic series of poster-sized photographs depicted the lives and deaths of struggling drug addicts.  A huge wooden sculpture of rainbow-colored, nesting squares let us climb inside for a picture-framed view of the city.  We were amused, but not appeased, still grumbling over our traveler’s misfortune and regrettably empty stomachs.

Colorful 3-D street art

And then we saw it.  In the middle of a small, tree-lined square, it was unassuming but irresistible.  A man-made puddle, no more than 20 feet wide, with a turquoise plastic cube at its center for one to perch upon.  Along its edges were at least a dozen pairs of white rain boots, beckoning to be worn.

Without hesitation, we threw off our shoes and grabbed a pair of galoshes.  Never mind the dozens of questionable feet that had occupied them before us–we had some splashing to attend to.  For nearly a half-hour we waded around in the Kölsch puddle–almost two feet at its deepest point–laughing and taking pictures and forgetting all about our rough journey there.  It was as if Cologne had anticipated our unhappiness upon arriving, and it knew just the cure.

Kölsch puddle!

Even after our puddle jumping had concluded, Cologne continued to intrigue and delight us.  We ate bratwurst alongside mustachioed old men in a traditional beer garden and danced recklessly to German Top 40 songs at a student nightclub.  Along the banks of the Rhine river, we explored Cologne’s Old Town and finally tasted milk chocolate from the Lindt Museum‘s golden fountains.  We stuffed ourselves with pretzels and potato pancakes and washed them down with the signature Kölsch brew.

When we stepped into that puddle, Cologne had christened us, allowing us brief access to its finest secrets.  A city rife with history, Cologne honors its roots, but somehow manages to stay young at heart.  Both the young and the old gather at the same outdoor restaurants to eat, talk, and listen to a street band honk traditional tunes while the beer flows until the drinker sets the coaster atop her glass.

Cologne is often forgotten alongside the more popular German cities of Berlin and Munich–but it doesn’t mind.  Cologne will wait for you.  When you arrive, you might find–just as we did–that it’s all too easy to dip your toes in…

Fellow puddle jumpers test the waters.

Your trusty boots await!


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Now You See Me…


It’s 1 a.m. in Minneapolis, and my friend and I are sharing a 20-inch tall, boot-shaped glass of beer with three young professionals we just met. Polka music is playing in the background, and the air smells like cinnamon and wood smoke.  With each sip of dark brew, we become more pleased that we heeded the advice of a random article about “best hipster bars” and took a cab across town. We each take turns allowing a 75-year-old man to waltz us around the room to the rhythm of the accordion.  We laugh at each other’s expense when he gets a little too close for comfort.  The lights dim and the polka fades into hip hop and the old man disappears.  My friend gets caught up in conversation with a dark and handsome stranger.  I forget myself and approach the attractive guy I spotted when we first walked in.  He’s all-American – blonde hair, blue eyes, and built like a football player.  I grab his hand and lead him into the crowd, knowing that after tonight, he’ll never see me again.


When we travel, we try to absorb as much about a destination as we can.  That’s the point: to discover some place new and discover more about ourselves in the process.  So it makes sense to believe that the longer we stay somewhere, the more we learn.

But there’s something to be said for fleeting getaways.  The quick trips we take just to escape for a moment, where there’s not enough time to adapt to a new environment – there’s only the present.

When we travel somewhere briefly, we remove the stress around doing things “right.”  We don’t have to worry about running into someone we know, or ordering the wrong food, or mispronouncing a word from our phrasebook.  We’ll be gone tomorrow.

Short-term travel might seem a little selfish, but only because it’s liberating.  For one or two days, we can be bolder, braver versions of ourselves.  We can come into people’s lives suddenly and leave them just as soon – and that’s okay.  We can throw ourselves right into the heart of a city with no preparation and little hesitation – and often learn more than we ever would have with more time.    Maybe we don’t come out with lasting friendships, or a new outlook, or a list of best restaurants, but we still leave with memories.  And those are always worth the trip.

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Monthly Musing: Small Talk

There’s just something about a great view.  City skylines, mountain valleys, the deep blue expanse of ocean thousands of feet below the airplane window.  Views are often earned–after a long climb up narrow staircases or rocky hills–and sometimes surprises.  No matter how we arrive at them nor the scenery that awaits, the feeling is always the same: that removed quiet.  Lost in our thoughts, in the beauty and the vastness of it all, it is always quiet.

And despite how many people are around us, or however many have witnessed the same sight before us, we always feel that it is ours alone.

“I have to show you my view,” we tell friends. “One day, I’ll take you,” we say, as if we are its sole keeper, and it is only ours to share.

A great view is the traveler’s gift and his curse.  We travel to seek out the world, to absorb it, to conquer it.  A great view shows us everything and nothing at the same time.  It deludes us.  “Now I’ve seen it all,” we think, when deep down we know that though we’ve seen scope, we will never be able to see every detail.

We often gasp at the sights our eyes behold.  But are we really stricken by the beauty?  Or is this intake of breath just our minds remembering that we are small?  Just one tiny object occupying space, silly enough to think that this entire view could ever be only ours.

We try to claim things as our own in hopes that we’ll leave our mark on the world.  Travelers are especially guilty of this.  We take pictures, buy mementos, write articles, just to ensure that others know where we’ve been.  But there’s a reason why the picture of a view never turns out quite as good, why it’s beautiful, but no longer awe-inspiring.  A great view refuses to be contained.

And this is how it should be.  We can never fully comprehend a great view and we should never try.  When we are stuck in the real world, tirelessly working to forge a name for ourselves, a great view brings us back down to Earth by presenting us with a glimpse of its wonders.  One look and we realize that sometimes, it’s better to let go and lose ourselves in the “big-ness” of it all…

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