Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Choosing accommodation for your travel has gotten more complicated over the years. Often leaving folks confused and worried they will make the wrong decision. Especially with reports of travelers being attacked, personal items stolen, and even the rare occasion of someone being killed. So I put together a guide on things to look for when choosing accommodation for your travels.

From beginning to end, this will be the ultimate guide on getting started when choosing your adventure accommodation and staying safe when you do. Be sure to check out my other articles on Safety while solo traveling as well. It will give a more detailed view of tips on how to stay safe, as well as what to do if you feel you landed in an unsafe situation. So let’s dive in on choosing your perfect accommodation!

Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Your Destination – When Choosing Accommodation

  • Is it a third world country or a first world country?
    • When your choosing accommodations, look at what the place is made of. Maybe it is a wood/grass hut on the beach with opportunities for perfect pictures, but no hot shower – or the toilet is shared and across the village. Make sure you take note of what is included in the room before you book it. There are so many wannabe YouTubers out there – that you can get a general idea from videos on the area and accommodation. Even the poorest countries have a phone and Facebook so asking for a few photos or to confirm certain amenities is in your best interest.
  • Is it a remote small village or a bustling city?
    • If it is a remote village will you have a way to get there? Is that factored into your budget? If it is in a bustling city, how easy is it to find your way there and how costly. Is traffic going to be an issue? If it is then the taxi rates are going to be sky-high unless you can get them to agree on a set price before you get into the vehicle.
  • What type of activities are you going to be participating in?
    • If you are going to be visiting Macchu Picchu you will want to stay up near the entrance to get there before the crowds. Conversely, if you are only there for a short period of time, is it worth it to hotel/hostel jump from place to place? What if you are scuba diving out in Fort Lauderdale and it would be easier to get to the shop by staying on Singer Island rather than paying for a taxi multiple days to get back and forth. Are there activities at night and places to eat close to your accommodation. When you are fighting Jet Lag, you can often awake in the middle of the night with hunger pains that can have you chewing the arm of your travel companion off or eating the bar of soap.
  • Is the country conservative or are their citizens heavily restricted with rules?
    • When I was traveling with a Moroccan friend near southern Morocco, they are still ruled by strict social guidelines. So we had to pretend that he was my brother-in-law in order to be able to rent an apartment. Otherwise, they would have required to see a marriage document prior to renting the apartment. Several of them actually refused when they saw that he had a white American Female in the car. Given their point of view, I can see why several people refused (just in case he was kidnapping me – even though it wasn’t the case). Each place I stayed at also wanted a copy of my passport – which has ALL my personal information on it. So would you be comfortable letting them copy that information? Some places may refuse to rent to you if you are not comfortable giving that information. So these are just some things to think about, especially if you are a solo female traveler.
  • Are your comforts of home important to you?
    • It is important to remember that not every destination is going to have an air conditioner you can blast, fireplace you can light up, or even traditional heating. They may not even have a working toilet, or maybe you can sit on the toilet, shower, and brush your teeth all at the same time. We stayed in an apartment in Italy once as a family, where the smell of the sewer was so strong that we could barely shower. So be sure to read reviews and amenities of a location before going, so you can be well informed on what you will have to compromise and if you are willing to do that.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Time of Arrival or Departure – When Choosing Accommodation

  • Do you arrive at night or during the day?
    • I typically look for the best deal on Booking.com when I’m attempting to rent a place. I really like the filters you can choose from, and you can easily decide if a hotel/hostel/B&B is right for you all on the same platform.
    • As the years of travel have come and gone, I have gotten a lot more detailed in my approach when renting an Airbnb, Booking.com place. Sometimes it is the best deal because it is a remote part of the city that isn’t safe to lug my big suitcase and a backpack full of camera gear. So it is definitely something to consider. Another thing to consider is how accessible it is to catch a taxi, the cost of an Uber or Lyft to and from the transportation stations (airport, train, bus). There was one morning in Poland I counted on being able to catch a taxi to the train station and found that in Poland – in the center of Warsaw – no one is awake before 8 am. So I had to get access back into the building I had just deposited my room keys into, so I could get Wifi to call an Uber.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Your Budget When Choosing Accommodation

  • Does your budget include a fancy place to stay?
    • If this is going to be a relaxing vacation with lots of beach time, then maybe spending a little more on an all-inclusive resort would be worthwhile. If you are going to be out looking at historic sites in the center of the city, maybe it would be worthwhile to spend a little more of the budget to stay closer to those sites. If you are just looking to spend as little as possible, because you will be backpacking from one place to the next anyway, then maybe a hostel is your best bet.
  • Do you want to spend your vacation budget on your accommodation or on seeing the city?
    • The biggest beef I have with spending money on accommodation is that it takes away from my ability to spend money on tours, food and really experiencing the culture. So I tend to personally go for a cheaper (but comfortable) accommodation and then have loads left for tours and activities.
  • What type of vacation is this for you? Will you spend more time in a hotel (Honeymoon) or more time seeing the sites (on a group tour, or with a bunch of friends)?
    • If your vacation is going to be a romantic getaway, then I would tell you to spend a little more to have a cozy bed with a view and easy access to come back to the hotel frequently. If you will be in a tour group, they typically include the cost of the hotel, or I would get a hotel that will be close to the majority of your meeting spots.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Your Desire for Convenience When Choosing Accommodation

  • Does the destination have Taxies or Ubers?
    • Believe it or not, not every country/city has Taxies or Ubers. There are equivalents available in some countries (see my growing Worldwide Airport Transportation List) but sometimes it is just good old fashioned walking, horse and carriage or a Tuk Tuk. In certain cities in South America, if you are caught by the police taking an Uber/Lyft (like in Santiago) then you can get a $1000 fine. So I would definitely consider how you will get around the city, and to and from the airport when choosing accommodation.
  • Is there public transport? Is transportation able to handle your luggage?
    • Once you figure out your mode of transportation to and from the airport, also consider if they will be able to handle the amount of luggage you are planning on bringing. I can tell you right now, a Tuk Tuk will not be able to handle two people with their luggage. When I was in San Pedro La Laguna, near Lake Atitlan – the roads are too narrow for cars in most places, often get flooded in the rainy season. The Tuk Tuks there couldn’t hold 3 curvy women at once, so I had to squat and pray I didn’t break my ankle because my leg was hanging out of the Tuk Tuk.
    • If you are being picked up in a shared ride, or transfer service (often found on the airline websites when you book your flight) – they may have luggage restrictions to two per passenger or less.
    • If it is a shared Uber/Lyft or Taxi – you will have to be considerate of other passengers who may not be as prepared as you are – or pack as light as you do.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Your Travel Companions – Questions to Ask Before Booking

  • Do your travel companions have physical limitations? ie/ Wheelchair, bad knees, chronic pain
    • Americans are very lucky (and some countries in Europe), in that most everything is accessible to those with disabilities. Even in Scotland, there are things I took for granted in America that they do not have there due to the way the city has grown and morphed over the years. Working in the medical field it was eerie to me to not see elderly on the street – or those in wheelchairs or on crutches – there are seldom elevators unless specifically stated; Hostels, Airbnb, and B&Bs do not typically have elevators.
    • If you travel with Chronic pain and are stuck on an hour train ride in between the cars because you didn’t realize you had to reserve a seat and not just purchase a ticket – this could result in major pain that could result in a ruined vacation. So be aware of who you travel with, and have frank conversations about tolerance levels and ability to treat pain while vacationing.
    • What about those with bad joints, or those with heart or lung issues. Can they go up stairs, do they have elevators, what is the air pollution in the city like vs in the country? These are all things to consider and ask both the accommodation and your travel companions about. When I was in Edinburgh, and even in Marrakesh – I was grateful I had my inhaler because I have reactive asthma attacks. I get extremely fatigued, and a sore throat when the air quality is bad. Going up to high elevations quickly, like in Zermatt on the Little Matterhorn, at 15,000 feet – I nearly ended up in the hospital with an oxygen level of 85% because I discovered I was extremely prone to altitude sickness.
  • Do your travel companions travel light, or over pack with lots of bags?
    • Again, everything is a little bigger in America vs other countries. If you show up in Japan or China with 2 large bags and a big backpack – you may as well just buy an additional hotel room. Everything is small and jam-packed unless you know what you are getting into and can afford the larger hotel rooms.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Your Activities When Choosing Your Accommodation

  • Are you going to have a car?
    • If you are going to have a car, is there parking available at your accommodation? If there isn’t, then you have to look at costs for parking – and if you are good enough at parallel parking. In Morocco, if you decide to drive there, the parking spaces are very very tightly packed. There are certain meanings when you flash your brights or turn on your hazard lights. They even have parking assistants that you have to tip at least a dollar every time they help you, otherwise, you can get punched (saw a legit street brawl between a parking attendant and a local – lots of blood). In Edinburgh, there are no parking areas, unless you want to pay $45-$85 a night at a very limited parking center in the city. In the center of Boston, the parking at any location can be upwards of $60 a night (minimum). So be sure you check on parking availability if you choose to rent a car, otherwise, it can eat your budget rather quickly.
  • Is accommodation close to affordable public transportation?
    • If there are no parking areas, is the accommodation close enough to (and safe enough) utilize public transportation? In Guatemala, it would have been cheaper to take the 5-hour bus ride to Lake Atitlan sure. Yet hiring a private ride for $60 for the 3-hour car ride through mountain passes where falling rocks, flooded roads is much safer and more reliable at 2 am.

Your Eating Habits When Choosing Accommodation

  • Is breakfast important to you?
    • If you like to sleep in but love your breakfast, then I would make sure you click on the filter option where breakfast is included in the cost, or there is a continental breakfast available. I could eat breakfast food all day everyday if I could. Dinner I just eat Almonds or a protein bar – but in Europe, Lunch and Dinner are some of the most important meals.
  • Check Local Holidays/Religious Events
    • This is something I discovered after dating several Muslim men, when they described their countries during Ramadan. A local religious holiday that lasts a month, where stores, and local eateries often close during the day for religious reasons. If you don’t know about Ramadan, I put together a basic guide on Ramadan, and when and why they celebrate. For the purposes of this article though, you need to know that stores will open after sunset/evening prayer, and close in the AM after morning prayer. If you are ok eating all night, and sleeping during the day, there are some special dishes that come out during Ramadan, and are only made during Ramadan that would be worthwhile to check out for all my foodies.
  • Do you like to eat out?
    • Are there places nearby that you can eat? If there are places that you can eat near your accommodation, is it the type of food you can eat? Do you have any particular dietary restrictions? If so, then looking at different neighborhoods where those are more likely to be available and have more variety. If you are Vegan, Vegetarian, or have any particular allergy to certain foods – then I would recommend using Pinterest to plan out your eating excursions before you go.
  • Do you cook your own meals when vacationing?
    • If you do have severe dietary restrictions, or like to eat a little healthier while traveling – then choosing an accommodation near a supermarket may be worthwhile. Try your hand at local cuisine, or even eat with locals through EatWith.com where you can schedule a meal with a local and other travelers, take a food tour, or even learn how to cook like a local.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Will Your Personality Fit Your Accommodation

  • Are you a quiet hermit type? Are you outgoing and lazie faire? Are you refined and love that luxury life?
    • If you don’t like chaos, or can’t sleep through drunk people coming in and out at all hours of the night – then a Hostel is not for you. Do you like to be social, but still want your privacy and a relaxed environment? Then a Bed and Breakfast may be for you. Do you love luxurious surroundings, and value your sleep above all? Then a higher-end luxury hotel might be the best choice.
  • Do you like to live like a local?
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Safety Concerns To Be Aware Of

  • When staying in any location, it is important to know if you have the only key to the house, apartment, or room.
    • If you don’t, then I would suggest to my Solo Female Travelers that you demand this, or just look for another accommodation. If it is a Bed and Breakfast type home, where other people will be staying, this is fine, but you still want to ensure that you will be safe while you are sleeping – and there is lockbox for your passport.
  • Will you be alone or with other people?
    • If you will be alone in a dangerous neighborhood, then I would suggest getting a hotel closer to the city – and make sure there is good lighting on the street. Using Google maps street view is a good way to take a look at the neighborhood you will be going.
    • If you will be staying with other people, such as in a hostel, do they have lockers you can use? If so, are there locks you can rent, or do you need to bring your own lock?
  • Is the community gated/barb wire fencing?
    • When I was staying in Guatemala City, there were a lot of reports online that theft and muggings were common with tourists. Arriving late at night from San Pedro made me a bit nervous, as I didn’t properly scope out my accommodation. Driving into the complex though, provided a lot of ease of mind when I saw that there was a security guard, cement fencing with barbed wire on the top, and good lighting in the streets. So it really depends on the safety level of the country you are going to, how cautious you need to be, and how much research you need to do prior to finalizing your booking.
    • There are certain countries where tourists have to stay inside a compound for safety reasons. So for my adrenaline junkies out there, make sure that you understand the risks. If there is a safety advisory by your state/country department for that particular country – and you decide to go anyway; it could limit their ability and willingness to help you if you decide to ignore those warnings.
  • Do they have safety measures for fire hazards, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes?
    • If you are staying in a wooden bungalow in the Maldives, and a hurricane blows through while you’re there – because the prices were cheaper in the rainy season – do they provide, or have a safe spot or emergency evacuation plan/supplies to aid their guests? This is something that happened to a friend when in Jamaica, and they had to fend for themselves until the communities were stabilized. Luckily they were in a hotel, not a bungalow, and had some granola bars to tide them over while electricity was restored in the kitchens.
  • Getting Travel Insurance is a great way to ease the mind.
    • I typically will use World Nomads as my Travel Insurance for medical evacuation or any emergency needs/delays/cancellations. Something you will have to ensure with medical, natural disaster, or political unrest evacuations – is that the fine writing often says ‘will evacuate you to the nearest USA location or airport’. Well that doesn’t help you much if you are vacationing in South America, and they send you to a hospital in Atlanta – but your house is in Oregon. Medical Transport on a ventilator from one area of the USA to another is done by helicopter with a specialized team and starts at $15,000 depending on the team needed and flight time. So if you are from the USA, or are purchasing the insurance through your own country – I highly suggest you read the fine print on this particular portion.
  • Will you need to get vaccines prior to going?
    • If you are a US Citizen, there are certain vaccines that are mandatory if you visit a country where a disease is prevalent.
    • Some of the vaccines can be out of stock or on back order – so it could take months until you receive it. Be sure to check with your local health department on these specialty vaccines.
    • Getting the vaccines within a certain time period PRIOR to your departure is imperative. Your immune system needs time to work, and what if you have a bad reaction? The earlier you can do it the better is what I highly suggest.
  • Are there animals or insects that could come in while sleeping? Do they carry diseases? Does the accommodation have mechanisms to prevent this?
    • If you are terrified of snakes or creepy crawlies coming into your room at night – then any tropical environment, even Australia may not be for you, unless you stay in a place where this can’t happen.
    • If you are in Africa, having a mosquito net is essential as many parasitic diseases including Malaria are transmitted there.
    • If you are staying in a grass hut in South American, there is a bug called the Kissing Bug (bites near nose/eyes/mouth at night), that transmits a parasite that can live in you for decades before showing up as a major heart issue.
    • In hostels, there is a growing issue with Bed Bugs. I was attacked by Bed Bugs in a Hostel in Prague a few years ago. I had 32 bites all up and down my arms, legs, chest and even a few on my face. Little did I know that I was allergic to the bites, and ended up swelling at each bite, felt like I was hit by a bus for the entire time I was backpacking through Europe.
    • It isn’t just hostels though, Bed Bug reports in New York City were up by 40% in 2018. If you bring those little bastards home with you, guess what….it can cost anywhere from $1600 to $5200 to get rid of them. Often it results in you having to replace furniture, beds, clothes and other items that they squeeze into and lay hundreds of eggs. So consider yourself warned, research how to spot bed bugs, and make a rule that you put your bags outside the room until your inspection is complete. It only took once, to learn this very painful and difficult lesson.
  • Are there restrictions on staying with those of the opposite sex?
    • I touched on this previously when I was traveling with a local in Morocco. But I bring it up again here because some countries do not allow you to stay with the opposite sex unless you are married or have the same last name. So just inquire, before you book if you are concerned.
  • Is the destination friendly to the LGBTQI community? Would you be allowed to stay in the same room as your partner?
    • This one, unfortunately, is still not accepted worldwide. While the courageous individuals who are traveling to the more close-minded countries, and are helping to try to educate on this particular point – I would advise you to research this extensively. While I don’t really feel it is necessary to call out specific countries, I wanted to put this in this guide – because it can pose a security risk to members of the LGBTQI community.
    • A good resource for those in the LGBTQI community that want to travel is ‘Dopes On The Road‘ – this website will give you Safety Tips to Consider, questions to ask, and how to plan a honeymoon as a LGBT.
  • What about racial discrimination?
    • While I am a white American female, I do have plenty of inspirational women of color that I highly admire and look up to. One such person is, Glo, from the Blog Abroad – who is very frank, honest and open about facing discrimination while traveling and how she handles it. Another great resource for what it is like to travel like a black man is Erik Prince from Minority Nomad. His goal is to be the first black man to travel to every country and would be a great resource because so far (as of August 2019) he has visited 90 countries. Because of my own ethnicity, I think it is a subject that I regrettably have been ignorant of for my readers. So to those who are concerned about this, hearing it from a white woman isn’t going to ease your mind – so look up Glo and Erik – you won’t regret it.

Information Overload?

I know these are a lot of questions to process and take in, so it may feel like information overload. This is why I broke it down into bullet points because once you choose your destination, know your budget, and limitations or preferences of the people you travel with – it will be easy to skip over some of the questions.

I tried to include every question I ask when approaching a booking, or choosing an accommodation (traveling with my dog is a whole other article that I didn’t address). So if you are trying to book something luxurious, then you will have a guide – if you are finding accommodation in a busy city or a remote village in Africa then you will have a resource to remind you of how to best approach it and make the most informed decision possible.

Would you include any tips/tricks or advice to those who are just starting out booking their own accommodation?

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A New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

A New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Going to Boston was not something I hadn’t really planned on doing in the middle of summer. I was going for a Travel Conference and knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to see the sites around or near the venue. So I got online and found that Grayline had a New England Coast Day Trip from Boston that left at a few hours after I arrived. I was coming in on a Red-Eye flight, and knew I wouldn’t have a lot of energy to walk the Freedom Trail, but didn’t want to waste the time sleeping in a hotel lobby somewhere. The bus seemed like a perfect mix of relaxation, and effective use of time.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Arriving in Boston

The flight there was TERRIBLE! The guy next to me wouldn’t quit fidgeting, moving, coughing, and was one of those people that puts their elbows out as far as they can to have more space. So I didn’t sleep that well on the flight out and was even more grateful I was going to have a relaxing morning on my New England Coast Day Trip from Boston.

Getting to the Boston airport, was truly a beautiful approach into the city with the Boston Bay below and the city surrounded by water. I knew it was a port city but didn’t realize just how much the city revolves around the water. From the nights by the Charles River Esplanade to the massive ponds, lakes and reflecting pools dotting the city – it is a photographer’s dream.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Meeting Our Grayline Bus Pilot

This was my first time taking a Grayline Bus for a tour along the New England Coast. The only other tour I have taken where a bus was involved was when I was touring Jordan. I still remember how badly I had to battle motion sickness on that trip, I made sure I picked a seat near the front of the bus.

Our driver for the day, was a quiet, focused, and friendly former 747 retired pilot, who was also in the Air Force back in the day. I can’t recall his name right now but will call him Paul the Pilot.

Paul towered above me about 6’1″, to my 5’4″ frame. He wore glasses, had a wide mouth, and a kindly Grandpa like face. He had squinty eyes, grey hair, and was constantly looking at his watch, with the timeliness of departures, and schedules just as you would expect from someone with his background.

Hampton Beach, New Hampshire

After all passengers were accounted for Paul introduced himself and we were on the road to tour the New England Coast. On the way to Hampton Beach, we passed by New Hampshire Harbor, where the movie, The Perfect Storm, was based. The Perfect Storm follows the true story of men who were from Massachusetts that had been out fishing for Swordfish. They had gone out to check the Swordfish lines, pulled in their catch, and were heading back to shore when the low-pressure system started to encroach on their fishing grounds. A hurricane came racing up the coast catching many people off guard, and because their ice machine broke down, they were not able to seek a safe harbor; otherwise, they would lose their catch and all the money with it. Unfortunately, the men never made it back to land.

New England Coast Tour Sand Art Competition in New Hampshire

Our first official stop was the Sand Art Competition at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. The sand art competition is in its 19th year, where master sculptors from around the world come together to create masterpieces. It started out as a commissioned piece for celebrating the newly minted coin of New Hampshire and has since turned into a visual spectacle every year.

It isn’t just sand art that you can enjoy though, there are plenty of activities at Hampton Beach. You can visit the arcade, try saltwater taffy, fry bread, and plenty of delicious seafood for even the pickiest palate. You can also volunteer to pick up trash, catch a show on the beach, or visit the Discovery Ocean Center (open 12-7).

New England Coast Tour Sand Art Competition at Hampton Beach

You can swim in the ocean here, but I would highly recommend using a wet suit, because of how cold the water is. This area can also be quite dangerous with the strong rip tides, so be sure to watch the flag warnings. There are also a lot of sea lions in the area, which also attract Great White sharks for feeding. So be aware, and be safe should you choose to take a dip in the ocean.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Nubble Lighthouse in York Maine

With Maines rocky shoreline, and the economy relying heavily on the imports, it was very important to its citizens to have a lighthouse. After a passionate petition to the government, they were granted $15,000 to complete the lighthouse. The Nubble Lighthouse was completed July 1, 1879, and has since become a symbol of both unity and community.

New England Coast Tour - the Nubble Lighthouse

The Lighthouse was initially manned by the US coastguard and their families. After the lighthouse became automated, the last keeper of the lighthouse left in 1987. After which the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places to help preserve it. The only time you can walk to the lighthouse is when it is low tide, otherwise, you would have to get there by a small boat.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

The lighthouse is very unique in that instead of the traditional yellow light, the light is red. The red helps to cut through the fog at night that tends to commonly roll into Maine, with even the slightest change in temperature. The light rotates every 2 seconds day and night.

If you get a chance to visit the gift shop, be sure to say hello Prince of New England, Bill Thompson. This 93-year-old gem paints pictures of the lighthouse and sells them for $10-$15 apiece to help upkeep and maintain the lighthouse.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Each painting has a story behind it, and The Prince of New England makes sure you know what the story is prior to letting you purchase the painting. He showed me one painting that depicted a seagull named Charlie. Charlie would follow the postmaster from his truck to the gift shop every day. He would wait until the postmaster was finished and then follow him back out to his car. One day the postmaster forgot to roll up his window before going into the gift shop, and when he came back out – Charlie was sitting in the front seat. The postmaster said, ‘ok, well, let’s go Charlie’ and they drove to the next stop.

The Prince of New England concluded his story about Charlie then grabbed my hand. He explained how he was grateful he met me because I have a light in my eyes that he said made his day.

These are the type of connections that really make traveling worthwhile to me. When you can meet a random stranger, who has a kind soul, and words don’t necessarily need to be said – but you understand them, and they understand you. This is why I agree wholeheartedly in calling Mr. Bill Thompson the Prince of New England.

Kennebunkport Maine

I was reluctant to leave the Nubble Lighthouse but was excited for our next stop on our New England Coast Day Trip to Kennebunkport Maine. This was once a bustling harbor in the 1890s. It offered a safe place for shipbuilders to build new ships with deep water access to the ocean during high tide. A bridge in the middle of town was once a drawbridge used to let the ships pass from Kennebunkport to the lower town of Kennebunk. Be sure you don’t call it Kennebunk, as the locals are very proud to call it Kennebunkport and feel the towns are very different (especially the people in them).

The shipbuilders would typically haul coal, pine, and cotton to locations around the world. If you want to learn more about the shipping industry of days past, I would suggest visiting the Kennebunkport historical society and the Brick store museum. There are so many hidden gems like the White House and the public library, just wandering through town is the best way to see Kennebunkport.

White House

The White House is one of the most unique buildings in Kennebunkport (or at least I think so). It is the same home that has been in this area for the last 130 years. The last known Perkins relative to live in the home kept all the clothing, furniture, and mementos in the home and gifted the home with all the contents to the Kennebunkport Historical Society. However, she required that all items within the home, stay in the home permanently.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

So when you visit, be sure to go on a tour of the home (the last tour is at 3 pm) – you will feel that you have been transported back 130 years when you enter the home. While I missed the last tour by 15 minutes the lady at the gift shop told me all about the home, the town and why the house was so important. I really want to go back and do a proper tour of the house, because it sounds fascinating that even the clothes from when her, and her siblings were small children are still eerily preserved.

Public Library

As I walked along the streets, I couldn’t believe how incredible each corner of the town was for photos. I guess you could say it is one of the most Instagrammable towns I have ever been to. The cottages lining the streets looked like houses that could be in a Christmas Storybook, the yards were perfectly manicured, and the people were incredibly friendly.

I let myself get lost in the city and found a great little Public Library. I took a few pictures of the outside, then started to talk to some people decorating the patio. They were locals and explained the history of the building. It was built in 1813 as a bank originally, then turned into a customs office for the ship cargo that would come into town.

It was then turned into a free public library. If you go up into the Children’s area, you will see some impressionistic paintings by Louis T Graves from the 1930s that show popular children’s stories scenes depicted. These paintings are still incredibly vivid and have never been retouched.

What to Eat in Kennebunkport

The seafood here is incredible, and I would definitely plan on getting some sort of clam and lobster. The Lobster in Maine is some of the best, because of the cold waters off their coastline – it causes the Lobster to be very sweet to the taste and not as rubbery.

Pilot House

Our guide highly recommended the Pilot House. This family-owned and run restaurant is just behind the CITI gas station as you are coming into town. It is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it but is right by where you catch the whale watching tours. The Lobster dinners, Lobster rolls, and other meals are VERY reasonably priced from $8.99 to $18.99. I did look at some of the other places in town and the meals were far more expensive for the same kind of food. The Lobster is locally caught by those from Kennebunkport, so it is less of an impact on the marine ecosystems.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

The locals come to this place to grab a beer, a bite to eat, and to watch a game. The waiters and waitresses make you feel as if you are part of the family when you walk in the door, even some giving you a side hug as you leave. I know this is weird, but if you go into the bathroom, they have a huge frame full of different types of knots that are used on a ship.

Spirit of Massachusetts

If you are able to stay into the early evening, then I suggest stopping by one of the most unique bars I have been to – the Spirit of Massachusetts. This 125 foot Schooner was first introduced in 1984 and has both food and drink available, along with a series of different events and shows they regularly put on.

Ice Cream and Blue Berries

New England Coast Tour - Blueberry Ice Cream in Maine

A huge surprise to me was that Blueberries are a big deal in Maine because of the sweetness. In fact, Dreyers Ice Cream gets its supply of blueberries from Maine. So while in town, finish off your visit with a sweet treat from Aunt Marie’s Ice Cream. This little shop is tucked away into a corner behind all the shops on the main stretch of road, and there were about 15-20 locals consistently coming through at any given point. (Address: 10 Ocean Ave Kennebunkport Maine 04046)

Patten’s Berry Farm with the Princess of New England

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Our bus driver also claims that there is a Princess of New England Coast as well. When you head back to Boston, there is a small fruit and flower stand on the side of the road called Patten’s Berry Farm.

Mrs. Patten, 92 years old, has been tending the family farm, canning and selling the products at the fruit stand since she was a girl. If you stop, you will see just how much care she puts into making every flower pot perfect, each can of fruit is perfectly positioned, and large blueberry and apple pies are placed near the register.

Walker Point

Making our way further along the New England Coast – we stopped briefly across the way from Walker Point. The temperature had changed, and of course, the fog rolled so apologizes for the poor photo. This is the summer residence of former US President George Bush.

New England Coast Tour - Walker Point

Their family bought this area 120 years ago and has morphed into a place of refuge for the Bushs. When we drove by this place, we were able to see that there were three secret service cars near the entrance. There was also an American Flag on the building as well. Paul the Pilot (our guide), told us this is how you can tell that the Bushs were at Walker Point that day.

Back to Boston

After a long, but wonderful, day of our New England Coast Day Trip from Boston, Paul the Pilot gave us an opportunity to take a snooze on the way back into Boston. I zonked out quickly and enjoyed the downtime to refresh before a hectic week at the conference.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Paul dropped us off at key points within the city, close to our respective hotels, where the bus was able to fit. I was reluctant to leave because he was so kind and it had been such a relaxing day. For the cost, I think the trip was well worth it. The pick-up and drop-off were seamless, the time at each stop was perfect, and we were able to get back to Boston at a reasonable time around 7-8pm. Just in time for me to meet up with friends attending the conference, for dinner. So if you are in the Boston area, and are looking for a New England Coast Tour Day Trip from Boston. I cannot recommend utilizing this company and service enough. This was not a sponsored trip in any way, I genuinely enjoyed my time on my New England Coast Tour with Grayline.

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Empowering Mayan Women in San Pedro

Empowering Mayan Women in San Pedro

“You have to howl!” Sheri screamed up at me as I summited my first climbing route in Joshua Tree National Park. This would make a lasting impression on me for the rest of my life, to throw caution to the wind and celebrate the accomplishments we have in life, out loud and proud. I could write a book about Sheri, following her adventures of van life from San Diego to San Pedro, and making her home in Lake Atitlan. The story I want to tell you about though is one of true compassion, connecting cultures, and empowering the women in San Pedro La Laguna with Sheri’s Company – She Rides Dragons.

Sheri Keller and She Rides Dragons

Sheri is a wanderer at heart, but somehow San Pedro and the people in this town stole her heart and she chose to stay. Once there, it wasn’t long before she started making friends. One of her closest friends is Dora, a Spanish teacher, and seamstress who has a smile that will light up the whole room when she allows you to see it.

After several months exploring San Pedro and the other small villages in Lake Atitlan, Sheri discovered the Mayan textiles and an idea began to form. After a lot of trial and error, and drawing on her resources in San Diego, she was able to set up a clothing company called She Rides Dragons. I will explain that name a little later.

Sheri is a Yoga teacher, juggler and all-out fabulous performer that brings magic with her wherever she goes, which fits in perfectly with the backpacking town of San Pedro. So naturally making yoga bags, and other clothing items with Mayan adorned symbols was the next step along her incredible journey.

Collaborating For A Cause

Little did I know, that after following Sheri’s journey of fulfilling her dreams – she had started to follow me as I pursued my dreams of being a travel writer, photographer, and videographer – She would ask me to be a brand ambassador for her company, She Rides Dragons.

I was just starting out but flabbergasted that this woman that I had held in my mind as a goddess of adventure was asking me to collaborate with her for a cause. I, of course, agreed, right after I pulled my jaw back up off the floor and re-attached it to my face.

I received one of her clothing items, a full-length ritual robe, exquisitely hand-crafted and designed with more attention to detail than some of the best brands I have seen. Colors are perfectly matched, the fabric is thick, heavy, and you can almost feel the magic of Lake Atitlan flowing out it.

I immediately messaged her when I received it and thanked her profusely. “Sheri I cannot believe how well made this is!” I was nearly bubbling over with excitement, she replied in her usual cool-as-a-cat way “I know, the women here do such a great job. I hope we can continue to make these because the money is so vital for these families”. This piqued my interest, as my first love has always been humanitarian work and travel for a cause.

Sheri explained that the culture in Lake Atitlan is one of strong patriarchal power. The men often drink, and work is often hard to find, with very little pay. For this reason, she specifically buys the fabric for her company from local women and hires local women as seamstresses to make the clothing and bags, weave the ‘tehido’ that become the tassels on those bags, and as translators to assist with different Mayan languages, of which there are many. Some of the Mayan women Sheri works with speak little or no Spanish and having a translator has been crucial in learning about the different textiles, peoples, and towns around Guatemala. The money that the women make goes straight into their pockets, not their husbands, and they decide how it gets spent.

The women put a lot of their income toward their children and putting food on the table. Many of the women have to weave and sew by the light of the fires they burn near their homes as they cannot afford electricity. If a guest comes, they will feed the guest before they feed the children. The families in Lake Atitlan are not beggars, they work for what they have…sometimes to their own detriment.

Sheri has a gift for observational power and has often found families in need of help. With connections all around the lake, she is constantly on the phone, in her ‘magic makers’ circle – trying to help the families and animals that need it the most. I think she tries to fix the major issues in San Pedro and Lake Atitlan because of how much love she has for this place. Her home has been a haven, an animal rescue, a place of creativity and love – and the people in the city all know her as a giving wonderful human being with boundless love and charity. It is hard for her to walk down the streets without people coming and thanking her for one thing or another.

Yet if you point these things out to her, she will often dismiss it as ‘oh its nothing’, or ‘it isn’t as much as I want to do here’.

Meet Dora – A Seamstress and Spanish Teacher extraordinaire

Dora was born and raised in San Pedro La Laguna. She is Sheri’s friend, a seamstress for She Rides Dragons and so much more. Sheri and Dora met at a Spanish school in San Pedro where Dora taught Spanish. It wasn’t until months later that Sheri discovered Dora was also a seamstress and the two of them began working together on She Rides Dragons.

Dora is so proud that she is able to provide food for her family, can afford electricity, has her own stove, and lives in a very good part of San Pedro. She is able to do much of this because of her work with She Rides Dragons, where she receives pay directly for her work.

Her greatest pride and joy though, is being able to provide a good education for her boys so they can have the best life possible. The best way to ensure survival in Lake Atitlan for the children is to provide education, otherwise, they will be forced to work in the cornfields and coffee farms on the steep slopes of the mountains and volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan.

Dora is now trying to pass on the love, by getting her Aunt involved. Her sweet Aunt Maria only speaks Mayan and lives high up on the mountain. The home she lived in before her current one was no better than a shanty house with a roof. While she still cannot afford electricity at this time, she was able to afford cinder block floors, walls and a decent roof over her head with a real door. There is a small wood-burning stove on the balcony that she makes tortillas from every morning at 3 am to sell to the local shops so that her daughter can go to school.

There are 36 different dialects of the Mayan language that have survived in this area, and luckily Dora was able to translate from Mayan into Spanish and Sheri then translated into English for me. So trying to communicate in 3 different languages, and get the meaning across was quite comical but we made it work.

Maria, weaves all the tassels for the yoga bags by hand for Sheri. There are many different types of loom weaving that happen and the tradition is passed down over many generations. There are some loom weaving classes in the San Pedro area for tourists, but these women are the real heroes of this story.

Where Does the Fabric Come From?

The fabric for She Rides Dragons comes from all over Guatemala. Fortunately for Sheri, there are fabric markets that offer up incredible inventories so that she doesn’t have to travel to each town when she wants that town’s specific style of weaving or embroidery. There are also traveling saleswomen who visit San Pedro La Laguna. These women make their living by selling second-hand fabrics that their hometowns. The fabric markets, as well, mostly offer second-hand fabrics with a much smaller inventory of new fabrics. When the Mayan fabrics and clothing, huipils (blouses) and Cortes (dresses), are new they are so colorful and bright that you have shield your eyes from their glare when the sunlight touches them.

In order to get the best quality fabric, Sheri takes a 30-minute boat ride across Lake Atitlan – sometimes with waves so bad that people drop on their knees and start to pray (not joking) – to another town called Panajachel (Pa-na-ha-chel). Then it is a long hike up a hill to the fabric market. The market takes place twice a week at the fire station. Sheri has been coming here for four years and has developed a familiar relationship with one of the families that sell fabrics such that when she arrives they know exactly how much fabric Sheri needs, the kind she likes, and it is already, awaiting her inspection.

Sheri sifts through the fabric, sorting, swapping, matching, inspecting for frayed ends or imperfect patterns. After about an hour or so of choosing fabric, then it is a call to her partner, John to check on fabric funds. It is difficult to get cash in San Pedro, they do have an ATM, but can be spotty at best on if it is broken or not.

After some negotiating with the women for the amount of fabric she buys, the fabric is then loaded into large bags for transport back across the lake. I bought a few pieces myself while there because how can you resist the Mayan symbols of Dogs and Dragons!

Grabbing a Tuk-Tuk, we headed back to the dock to take a launcha (boat) back across the lake to San Pedro.

Sewing the Clothing

We hauled the bags back up the hill in San Pedro, grabbed another Tuk-Tuk, and went to Dora’s house to deliver the fabric. Sheri instructs Dora in Spanish once we arrive on the ideas she has for each set of fabric pieces she picked out. Dora makes notes, and patterns are pulled out and set near each pile of fabric.

After a long day, and the afternoon rains coming in we finally get to rest and eat some food. We head back to Sheri’s House. Yet the day doesn’t end there for Sheri, she isn’t one that can sit still for long – despite sometimes needing to. So she gets on the phone with Dora again, to see if she can arrange for another woman who sells huipils – the traditional blouses worn by the Mayan women in Guatemala – to meet with us the next day.

A Long Journey

The next day we head back to Dora’s House to meet with another inspirational woman, Rosa. It is a long journey for Rosa to meet with Sheri. She comes from a small town called Chajul (Cha-hool) that is about twelves hours away by bus. This is how Rosa makes her living, traveling around Guatemala and selling fabrics from her hometown of Chajul. The fabrics are gorgeous and coveted by many women all over Guatemala for their soft feel and durability. Sheri met Rosa 3 years ago when Rosa was traveling though San Pedro and selling fabrics at the Sunday market in San Pedro. Since that time they have developed a beautiful working relationship and Sheri is one of Rosa’s best customers, which is why she is willing to travel all the way from her home to see us.

Rosa arrives at Dora’s house with two large bags full of fabric, Cortes, and huipils. After greetings, how-are-yous, and some water to drink, Sheri, Dora, and Rosa begin looking through the bags. Sheri picks out the fabrics she thinks would be a perfect match for the Yoga bags. Carefully choosing symbols that she thinks would resonate with her ideal customers. After paying her for the items, Rosa takes the remaining fabrics and clothing to Panajachel to sell what she can at the fabric market. Then it is another long journey home, all to help feed her children and keep them from having to work on the farms.

Creating The Clothing Infused With Magic

There are many reports from those who visit Lake Atitlan that there is some kind of magical pull there. They have ‘odd’ dreams, and tend to live more on the wild side of life – yet the local community is very conservative and Catholic.

It sounds a little odd, and I didn’t believe it at first – but waking up the morning after I arrived and seeing the incredible Lake, it made me wonder if it was true. Lake Atitlan was made after a Super Volcano erupted, then imploded creating a caldera for the lake to be born. The lake itself is 1115 feet (389 meters) deep, and 11.2 mi × 5.0 mi (18 km × 8 km) surface.

The Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes mountain range surrounds this lake with the highest mountain, Atitlan Volcano, reaching an elevation of 12,588 feet (3,837 m).  The name Atitlan is a Mayan word that means “the place where the rainbow gets its colors.” There are two other volcanoes that are also part of this range, Toliman volcano, and San Pedro Volcano.

There is so much Mayan folklore and stories that the local Mayans still believe about this place it is hard not to believe it yourself when you are there. The local mythology considers Lake Atitlan to be the birthplace of all creation.

So not only is the clothing and yoga bags that Sheri makes selectively handcrafted, it is done so in a place and by the people that have lived in this area since 300 BC. I really hate describing a place as ‘magical’ because I feel it is often overused – but there are two places I have been so far that I can truly use this with – one is Scotland, and the other is now Lake Atitlan.

A Force For Change

There aren’t many people I have met in my life that have inspired me as much as Sheri and the women of Lake Atitlan who help her. They have a hard life, compared to the rest of the world.

I asked Sheri why she named her company ‘She Rides Dragons’ and she explained the strength of Dragons and their ties to Magic. I think it is more than that though, she is a strong, beautiful woman who is tackling the problems in San Pedro that are much bigger than what one person should handle on their own. She is helping to empower Mayan women to create change in their hearts, their homes, and provides food for the table their children eat at. The children also get to have an education, giving them a chance at a better future than poverty and starvation. If this wasn’t enough, she also rescues dogs and cats in the area – pooling resources to help treat for worms, feeds them, bathes then and raises money to help neuter them. She is known for her healing abilities, yet has seen many animals not make it because of lack of education in the community.

This isn’t about a clothing company, it is about women in Lake Atitlan trying to ride these giant problems – dragon-sized problems. These problems are unruly, difficult beasts that tend to bury most people in depression and anxiety of the acutest kind. Yet Sheri has collected a group of people, women, and literally a whole community to help fight them and she is succeeding at it – even if she doesn’t always give herself credit for doing so.

How Can You Contribute?

Take a look at She Rides Dragons, buy some of the clothing she offers. Now that you know the attention to detail, the love poured into the clothing, and the magical place these items come from – it will be an item that will hold more meaning for you than any other piece in your closet.

If there isn’t anything, in particular, you would like to buy you can also donate to her cause. Her dream is to be able to hire 8 women, to change their lives, and so their children’s lives can change and it will balloon from there. If you would like to donate for Maria the weaver to get electricity, send the donation via PayPal to SheRidesDragons@gmail.com – and make a note for something, in particular, you would like to donate to.

If you would like to help with funding or volunteering at an animal hospital or donate to help with education on how to care for animals and recognize diseases – email SheRidesDragons@gmail.com and she can get you in touch with the right people there.

Also, if you are interested in learning Spanish, Dora is an excellent Spanish teacher and does online classes starting at $10 an hour. Please contact send me an email (culturetrekking196@gmail.com) and I will connect you to her. I started taking lessons from her and think she is an absolutely incredible Spanish teacher. It is difficult but immersive and I’m learning quickly.

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Where To Stay in San Pedro

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