Trading our R-Pod 180 for a Grand Design XLS 22MLE

Trading our R-Pod 180 for a Grand Design XLS 22MLE

Trading our R-Pod 180 for a Grand Design XLS 22MLE

Trading our 2020 RPod 180 for a 2021 Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE

Wow!  What a mouthful of alphabet soup!  If you’ve followed our YouTube channel, you’ll know that in the middle of the pandemic laden year that was 2020, we purchased our first ever travel trailer, a 2020 Forest River RPod 180.  This little guy was a great first RV, and we learned TONS from it in the short time we owned it.  By learning tons, I mean we learned both what we liked and disliked about camping, about travel trailers, and about the RPod 180 in particular. 

In early 2021, we decided to hop around to a few RV dealers just to dream and plan about the possibility of future trades.  This was a big mistake!  We quickly learned that there are some camper brands out there that appeared to be made of much higher quality than our little RPod, which led us yearning to make an impromptu upgrade.  You may have noticed in our first few camper videos that we experienced a handful of frustrating issues with the RPod, and while little problems are very common when towing your house down the highway, we felt like maybe we were experiencing more than our fair share of hiccups.

Enter the 2021 Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE!  After nearly trading for a smaller sister model to this camper (the 17MKE), we fell fast in love when we stepped through the door of the 22MLE.  It just felt…..right!

This post should pair nicely with our 2 part YouTube series explaining what we liked and disliked about the 2020 RPod 180 and what we loved so much about the 2021 Imagine XLS 22MLE.  Here are links to those videos:

Why We Traded Our 2020 RPod 180

Video in Detail

Our RPod experience was by no means “all bad”.  In fact, there were many things loved about it and will actually miss by going to a bigger trailer.  When making our decision to trade, we listed out all the pros and cons of each trailer.  Here are the things we really liked about the 2020 Forest River RPod 180.

  1. It’s small!  This was a great first trailer for us in that it was easy to learn to back up and fit in tight places.  We were total novices when it came to towing, so starting small was a plus.  This trailer was easy to see around, maneuverable, and light!
  2. It’s light!  One of the main reasons that we went with this model was because it was light enough to be towed by our 2015 Ford Edge (or so we thought).  With a max weight of around 3900 lbs when fully loaded, many vehicles can tow this trailer.
  3. Tons of features in a small package.  The 2020 Forest River RPod 180 really did come with a ton of great features.  This guy had indoor and outdoor kitchens, gas ranges, microwave with convection and broil functions, sinks, refrigerator, built in vacuum system, dinette area, decent storage, water heater, air conditioner, gas heater, television, and more!
  4. Dry bath – Many campers this size have wet baths, so you have to plan ahead before letting it rain on your toilet area.  The RPod 180 has a dry bath with a divided shower area.  No worries about soggy potty time.
  5. Slide Out – The kitchen area makes up the slide out in this unit making for nice floor space.  For a small camper, it feels roomy enough.
  6. Cozy – Being small, this unit could feel quite crammed, but we both agree that it is cozy and doesn’t feel too cramped.  Our one wish with regard to layout is that it included a better sitting area for bad weather days.  We considered swapping the dinette for a jackknife sofa for a better lounging area.

While there were plenty of “pros”, the 2020 Forest River RPod 180 did leave a few things to be desired, both in the way of features AND craftsmanship.  Here’s a list of some of the reasons that led us to making a trade.


  1. The bed – This is a bit of poor planning on our part, but the bed in the RPod 180 is a short queen, meaning that it’s the standard width of a queen size bed but 6 inches shorter.  And, it runs length wise from wall to wall, so at 6’3″, I touch the walls with my head and feet while in bed.  It was doable, but it wasn’t the most comfortable sleep.
  2. Noisy – The air conditioner unit in this model is plenty capable of cooling it, but man is it noisy.  We are fully aware that travel trailer air conditioners are noisy by nature, but we couldn’t talk while this thing was running.  Compared to the unit in our new trailer, it’s night and day difference.
  3. Towing – While the 2020 RPod 180 is light and small, it actually was a little tricky for us to tow.  Given that it was so light, it tended to bounce and sway more than we’d hoped, no matter how we loaded it.
  4. Dogs – We have 2 60 lbs pitbull mixes, and we hope to incorporate them into our camping hobby.  While others manage to take multiple bigger dogs along in their RPods, it just wasn’t going to work for us.
  5. Storage – Our international travels have taught us to pack light, so we managed just fine with the limited storage in a small trailer like an RPod, but there were definitely some items that had to stay behind on our journeys.  For the size of the trailer, the storage is good, we just learned that we may need a smidge more.
  6. Quality and Craftsmanship – While I put this at the bottom of the list, it may be the biggest reason that we traded.  In the 6 months that we owned the trailer, we experienced our fair share of issues, like trim pieces falling down, leaking windows, broken air conditioner and power tongue jack, issues with the trailer battery getting charge from our truck, etc.  While we know that some of these issues are common, a few of them ended up being a result of poor craftsmanship at the factory during installation.  In addition to these issues, we noticed drawers and cabinet doors installed crooked, broken trim pieces being used, poorly cut wood being used, etc.  The overall pride in quality of work just seemed to be lacking, leaving us questioning the safety of the unit when thinking about quality of electrical, plumbing, general construction work.

We Bought a 2021 Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE

Why Buy a 2021 Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE?

When we stepped foot in Grand Design’s travel trailers, we could sense that these units were next level with regard to construction quality.  The felt sturdier, were cleaner out of the factory, and the quality of components used in construction just seemed better.  Here are a few of the specific things that landed us on this unit.


  1. Tons of storage – There’s storage everywhere in this unit.  Under the bed, over the bed, beside the bed, all over the kitchen and bathroom area, and a HUGE front passthrough storage area.  Everything will fit in this trailer!
  2. Aluminum wrapped wood frame construction – As mentioned, walking in this trailer, it feels sturdy.  It weighs nearly twice as much as the RPod, and you can feel that “heft”.
  3. Walkable roof with built in ladder – The RPod did not have a walkable roof, making regular roof maintenance tricky.  The Imagine XLS 22MLE has both a walkable roof and slide out, as well as an attached ladder, making roof access and maintenance much much easier.
  4. A place to sit on rainy days – The Imagine XLS 22MLE has both a 4 person dinette AND two Thomas Payne heated and vibrating recliners.  Granted, our goal is be outside as much as we can on our camping trips, this makes for some nice lounging options for when you get caught in the occasional deluge.
  5. Larger refrigerator with actual freezer – With the extra size of the 22MLE, some of these comparisons are apples to oranges, but….the 22MLE has a nearly full size fridge and freezer.  We can now have ice cream while camping!  Seriously though, the extra fridge and freezer space makes for much easier meal planning when packing up for a camping trip.
  6. Gas oven and 3 burner range – The 2020 Imagine XLS 22MLE has a standalone Furrion gas range/oven that expands our cooking possibilities quite a bit.  Again, we like to cook outside, but this will make baking a bit easier and give us a good spacious cooking area for those rainy days when outdoor cooking is too soggy.
  7. Quieter air conditioner – I don’t know what to say about this one other than it may be my favorite improvement.  We ran the air conditioner during our demo of the new trailer, and I was grinning from ear to ear.  It’s so much quieter!
  8. Room for the dogs – There plenty of floor space in this unit for our pups, and the dinette will make a perfect sleeping area for them when converted.  We hope they love it!
  9. Full queen sized bed – The 22MLE has a full queen bed, meaning I won’t have to sleep at a diagonal or in the fetal position to avoid the walls.  Plus, it faces out into the living area, so even if my feet hang off, there’s plenty of room.
  10. Ducted heating and air – This probably has a fair amount to do with why the a/c is so much quieter, but it also disperses the climate controlled air much better for more even heating and cooling.
  11. 4 seasons package – We live in Southern Indiana, and our camping season is fairly short.  The 4 seasons package on the 2021 Imagine XLS 22MLE means that the underbelly of this unit is enclosed and heated to help keep pipes and tanks from freezing.  It has R-7 insulated walls and R-40 insulated ceiling and R-30 insulated floor (I think).
  12. Bigger water and waste tanks – Many of our nearby campgrounds offer electric service, but may lack water or sewer hookups.  The RPod came with 30 gallon fresh/grey/black tanks, whereas the 2020 Imagine XLS 22MLE comes with 43 gallon fresh, 45 gallon grey, and 37 gallon black tanks.  This extra capacity will allow us to camp without full hookups a bit more stress free.
  13. It just felt better – As mentioned, this camper just felt like it was better built.  It felt sturdier, it was cleaner, the finishes were better, etc.  Our hope is that while the initial shakedown period always brings a few issues to the surface, the issues with the Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE will be minimal.

We know that this trade may not make the most sense for everyone, and we know that the RPod series may be the perfect fit for some, the Imagine XLS series could be the perfect fit for others, and 20 different brands may be perfect for the rest.  Given our situation, what we’ve learned in our limited camping experience, and what we want for our camping future, trading our 2020 Forest River RPod 180 for a 2021 Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE made perfect sense, even if it stung the wallet a little bit!

Hopefully, this post is useful if you’re deciding on one of these units or even between the two.  The RPod to Imagine jump seems to be more common than we expected.  Be sure to look back in the coming months for a full review of the Imagine XLS 22MLE.

About Us

Darren & Steph

Hi! We're Darren and Stephanie! We're an ordinary married couple from the landlocked state of Indiana, with a passion for traveling the world....hence, Landlocked Lovebirds! In our 6 years of marriage, we've managed to visit over 30 countries together! Our site is dedicated to teaching you what we know about traveling around the world, eating and cooking incredible bites, photography, videography and video editing, and much more.  If there's a topic that you want us to blog or vlog about, head over to the Contact Us page, and let us know!

RPod and Imagine XLS Photo Gallery

Driving Through the Alps in Slovenia

Driving Through the Alps in Slovenia

Driving Through the Alps in Slovenia

Driving Through the Slovenian Alps

If you’re curious what driving through the Alps in Slovenia (in fall) is like, we hope this blog will help you out!  An amazing flight deal found through Scott’s Cheap Flights resulted in Thanksgiving 2019 being spent in one of our favorite countries of Slovenia!  While it was a relatively short trip, we covered some serious ground in the time we had, driving around Slovenia and the Julian Alps.  Our first few days were based in the stunning lake town of Bled and had some amazing bites and sights!  Check out the vlog below for the beautiful and delicious details!

Bled, Slovenia and Driving Tour Vlog

Video in Detail

Bled – Day 1

Our first full day in Bled was a misty and rainy one, but it wasn’t short on highlights.  We spent our morning walking around the lake, taking in a traditional boat ride out to Bled’s iconic island and church, visiting neighboring Bohinj and Radovljica, having a wonderfully tasty traditional dinner, and capping off the night with some Bled Cream Cake (Kremsnita).

Bled – Day 2

Day 2 in Bled gave us some unforgettable weather surprises.  We woke up to an unexpectedly clear morning and hit the road for a drive through the Alps!  Given that it was nearly winter, we assumed that the scenic Vrsic Pass over the mountains would be closed for the season, but after quizzing some locals, we learned that it was open and passable.  We spent our day twisting and turning over the pass with gorgeous views captivating us the whole way.  You’ll see stops at a Russian WWI memorial chapel, a local cheese shop, and more!  The night ended by taking in Bled Castle, the opening night of the Bled Christmas Market, and one final slice of cream cake before continuing on our journey and leaving Bled behind.

In the Video


Bled Cake #1 – Confectionery Zima

Bled Cake #2 – Kavarna Park

Radovljica Dinner – Gostilna Avgustina

Cheese Farm – Camp Jelinc


Castle Rock Apartments Bled

Slovenian Alp Points of Interest

Gostilna Avgustin, Radovljica

Traditional dinner in a charming Slovenian town.

Russian Chapel

Russian Memoral WWI Chapel

Confectionery Zima

Our first stop for Bled Cream Cake (Kremsnita)

Park Hotel Bled

Our second stop for Bled Cream Cake (Kremsnita)

Kluze Fort

Cheese Farm

The farm with locally made sheep’s cheese

Slovenian Alp Driving Route – Vrsic Pass

About Us

Darren & Steph

Hi! We're Darren and Stephanie! We're an ordinary married couple from the landlocked state of Indiana, with a passion for traveling the world....hence, Landlocked Lovebirds! In our 6 years of marriage, we've managed to visit over 30 countries together! Our site is dedicated to teaching you what we know about traveling around the world, eating and cooking incredible bites, photography, videography and video editing, and much more.  If there's a topic that you want us to blog or vlog about, head over to the Contact Us page, and let us know!

The Perfect Ireland Itinerary

The Perfect Ireland Itinerary

Our first self-driven European vacation was 8 days in Ireland with a couple of good friends.  I wanted to make this post just to share some tips, our thought process along the way, and our route.  We loved every minute of this journey, and we think you will too.


Day 1:  Arrive Dublin airport and take the 747 bus from the airport directly to city centre.  Cost is 7 Euros per person each way.  Our hotel was the Ashling Dublin.  This was a 4 star rated hotel on the west end of the city sitting right on the River Liffey (the main river running through the city).  The hotel has a decent location.  Very close to the main train station in town (Heuston Station), right by a LUAS light rail stop, and very walkable to Guinness and Jameson.  The LUAS line is a French designed light rail system that runs into the city centre.  You can buy a day pass for a few dollars and ride it back and forth all day.  There are unmanned kiosks to buy your passes from.  The walk from Ashling is about 30 minutes to the city centre.  A nice walk, but it takes a little time.

Our first day in Dublin, we were mostly recovering from jet lag.  We did wander down a few blocks to have some lunch at a pub and then into the city to check out Temple Bar, Dublin Castle and Trinity College, as well as just see what else we could find (and buy our SIM card).

Day 2:  This was our only full day in Dublin.  It was spent seeing some of the tourist sites, including the Guinness Storehouse, The Book of Kells (The oldest illustrated new testament that exists), sampling local fare (check out Sheridan’s Cheesemongers and Murphy’s Hand Made Ice Cream), popping in and out of pubs and planning the rest of our week.  We ended with some karaoke with locals at a pub just west of the Ashling.  A note:  Murphy’s ice cream is hand made in Dingle, and you can catch the original location later in the trip.

Day 3:  The morning started by taking a cab from The Ashling to the downtown Hertz location, which is a bit south of the city.  We got our car lined up, and headed out towards our first stop in Galway.  Adjusting to a left handed manual transmission on the left side of the road was interesting, but I got the hang of it rather quickly.  Be careful, as your mind wants you to drift to the left onto the shoulder.  Navigating through Dublin to the main highway was tricky, but the GPS came in huge for this.  I’m not sure what we’d have done without it.

The drive to Galway was scheduled at a little over 2 hours and 15 minutes, but we made plenty of stops along the way as we came upon interesting things.  Our first stop was at an old Monastic site called Clonmacnoise.  There was a small cover charge to view the grounds.  It was a good place off the beaten path to stretch our legs and soak in some scenery.  Worth seeing if you like, but I wouldn’t call it a must see.

We continued along stopping at tower houses and castles as they popped up, or as we came across them on our Atlas (it had notable castle sites on the atlas).  We landed in Galway in the early evening, found our B&B, and headed into the city for some dinner.  The B&B was nothing to write home about, so I won’t mention it.  Galway was not huge, but busy and had lots of traffic.  This is a college town on the bay, known for its traditional music.  It’s worth a night’s stay or two if you want to catch some Irish music at some good pubs.  An extra note.  We did drive west of Galway slightly to a beach called Silverstrand.  This was very scenic with a bluff that you can walk up to looking over the beach.  This is worth the few minutes of driving.

Day 4:  We day-tripped from Galway northeast into Connemara National Park.  This was one of our favorite days.  Heading toward the town of Clifden, we discovered the Sky Road, which is a giant scenic loop overlooking the coastline.  There were some amazing view here, as well as a castle (that we didn’t spot).  The castle is called Clifden Castle, and it can be walked to, if you spot it.  From Clifden, we continued on to Letterfrack, where the entrance to Connemara National Park is.  We had a bit of lunch in Letterfrack at a grocery store, and headed into the park to hike Diamond Hill.  This hike took a couple hours to peak the hill.  At the top of the hill is a breathtaking view of the 12 Bens, a mountain range with 12 peaks.  Down below, you can see a view of Kylemore Abbey on the lake.  This is a huge estate that you can tour, but we ran out of time.  I’d recommend planning to stay the night in the Connemara area, as we wished we’d had more time here.

After climbing Diamond Hill, we headed onward around the loop north to Leenaun, Ireland’s only Fjord, before heading back south toward Galway. Be sure and stop in Cong, a very cool little town.  We headed into Galway for the evening for dinner, and then we rested up at our B&B

Day 5:  We were up early to have breakfast and get some tips from our B&B owners before heading south towards Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher.  Doolin was a great little town where we stopped for lunch, but we met a couple of unloading tour buses and headed on our way.  You can actually walk the cliffs from Doolin for free, but the actual tourist site starts a few miles south.  As mentioned, the Cliffs of Moher are very touristy, and there is a cover charge to enter the park.  In my opinion, it’s not to be missed; however, my understanding is that there are several places south of the tourist spot to visit the cliffs with no fee and no crowds.

Since we missed lunch in Doolin, we were in search of good food, and we found it south of Liscannon in Lahinch.  Believe it or not, this is a surfing town, with a great fish and chips shop on the corner of the main drag.  The name escapes me.  This was a cool town to stop in and walk around.  It looks like a golf town.  I’m not sure if it’s designed for the Irish or for other tourism, but we liked the feel here.

From Lahinch, we headed south through Kilkee and Kilrush to the ferry station, where we ferried across to Tarbert.  This didn’t save us too much time as opposed to driving around through Limmerick, but we enjoyed the experience on the ferry.  From here, our goal was to reach our B&B in Castlegregory on the Dingle Peninsula.  Diving south through Tralee, we made it by early evening, cleaned up and headed out for dinner in town.

Something we missed on this drive due to lack of time was the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.  It’s supposed to be a great stop near Shannon, but by taking the ferry across, we missed this stop.

I must say, this was our favorite of all B&Bs by a landslide.  The property was called The Shores Country house, and it did not disappoint.  This property was on the beach, with mountains behind.  The accommodations were perfect, and the food was absolutely the best we had in Ireland.  The homeowner was spectacular.  If you stay on the Dingle Peninsula, stay here.

Day 6:  We were staying another night in The Shores Country House, so day 6 was a day trip.  We planned to drive into Killarney to do some driving and hiking, and then return through Dingle in the evening.  We spent the morning bike riding around Lough Leane, a beautiful ride at the entrance to the park.  Lots of places to stop and stare at the beauty before moving on.  There’s a short hike to a waterfall, and old family estate, castle, etc.  After our ride, we drove south into the park on N71 (Ring of Kerry).  Circling The Ring of Kerry in a day is possible, but we only drove up to Molls Gap before turning back north through The Gap of Dunloe.  This road was horribly narrow and treacherous down through a gap between two mountains, but it was the best thing we saw on the trip.  We drove through the Gap of Dunloe and met back up with the main highway, heading back west toward Dingle.

Dingle was a great town that we wished we’d had more time in. We had some dinner, and then stopped in a pub before heading back toward Castlegregory.  We had two options for our drive back.  Either head a good stretch east out of the way to avoid crossing the mountain, or go over Connor Pass in the dark, which is a narrow road over a mountain.  The Pub Keeper assured us that the Connor Pass was safe and the best route.  His idea of safe and ours varied wildly.  We quickly hit dense fog on a road no wider than a toothpick.  Not knowing the danger we were truly in, we slowly winded up and down the mountain, making it back to our B&B in one piece, but barely.

Day 7:  The next morning, we decided to drive the pass again on our way east from the Dingle Peninsula.  This was slightly out of the way, but we’d been told that the views from the pass were unbeatable.  The stories were true.  The Connor Pass was a stunning drive, and a treacherous one.  We were inches from cliff faces in the dark the night before, and we hadn’t even known it.

One drive that we missed, but wished we hadn’t was the Slea Head Loop from Dingle.  From Dingle, we headed west towards Cork and Blarney, with the goal of seeing Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone.  Our stop in Cork was brief, but it seemed like a great city.  It would be worth a night’s stay in this area.  Blarney Castle was one of our favorite stops, as it was in great shape, and we were allowed to climb the castle steps, visit the old rooms, and get a view from the top before kissing the stone.  The grounds themselves were beautiful with lots of other things to do here.  We stopped for a quick lunch at the SuperValu.

Moving east, our stop for the night was in Ardmore at a working farm.  The B&B was nice, but I would guess that you may find better. There was a great cliff walk here, as well as the ruins of St. Declan’s Monastery and tower house.  Worth a quick stop if you’re driving through.

Day 8:  The next morning, we had a long drive back to Dublin before catching a flight the next morning.  We had to decide between which castle that we wanted to see.  Our choices were Kilkenney Castle or The Rock of Cashel.  We chose the Rock of Cashel, which had a lot to offer. One note, the castle at Cashel was cool, but we’d have had a more direct route back through Kilkenney, and it wouldn’t have forced us to miss Waterford.  Another nice town to check out along the way is Dungarvan.

The early afternoon was spent driving back to Dublin for a final night in the Ashling.  We went out for a last dinner at Ireland’s oldest pub, called the Brazen Head for some great food and drinks before calling it a trip with a bit more karaoke.

This trip was unforgettable, and I hope we get to take another pass at it some day to see the things that we’re sure we missed.

Ireland Travel Tips:


We really wanted to have the use of at least one of our phones for GPS, web searches, local calling, etc.  The best option that we found for us was to buy an Irish SIM card for one of our iPhones in Dublin.  Tesco Mobile is a local carrier, and for around $25 you can buy at data package of 5 GB that is good for 30 days.  By purchasing the 5GB plan, you also get free unlimited local texts and calling, so if you need to call a B&B owner or something while you’re there, it doesn’t cost any extra.  This gives you a local Irish number, but it does disable your US number until you put your US SIM card back in the phone.  It worked great for us, and we used the GPS and google on the road to see what different towns had to offer.  Again, this basically puts your US calling plan on hold, and you’re acting solely on an Irish pay as you go plan, so there are no international roaming charges, unless you call a US or non-Irish number.  There are a number of Tesco Super Markets in Dublin.  The cards are sold at the customer service desks.  Your phone will need to of course be global capable and unlocked to accept SIM cards that are not from your carrier.  We use Verizon, and this was as simple as checking a box and calling to be sure that we were good to go.

Additionally, most B&Bs, many bars, restaurants, etc. do offer free WIFI, so if you opt not to buy a SIM Card, you can definitely do some web searching while you’re stopped to eat and at your hotels.


We used a combination of methods to get us around.  We did use our phone with the SIM card, but that somewhat relies on phone signal, which is spotty in the countryside.  We also downloaded Irish maps to our Garmin GPS before we left.  This ran about $70.  We also took a couple of road atlases with us.  One was provided by a friend, and the other was the official road atlas of Ireland, issued by the Irish National Ordiance Survey.  You can find it here.

Another option would be to rent GPS from the care rental office.  We priced it, and it came out to about the same price as buying the maps through Garmin, so we opted to buy our own permanent copy and take our GPS with us.  Either will work.


We found the best method by which to get local currency was via ATM.  European ATMs do not charge usage fees, so you can get cash at the current exchange rate, and only be charged the standard foreign transaction fee by your own bank. This may be zero.  In our case, my home bank charges a $1 fee per use for a non-bank owned ATM, so each swipe cost us $1.  Compared to the exchange fees at a currency desk like Travelex, this is an amazing deal.

We also carried a few credit cards with $0 foreign transaction fees.  Most places accepted Visa and Mastercard.  We used our cards in grocery stores and restaurants to preserve cash.  Be sure and put travel notices on your credit cards and debit cards, so they don’t get blocked.  I also recommend writing down the phone numbers for your card companies in case they are lost or stolen. That way, you can call and cancel them if the worst happens.  We also try to keep our credit cards in separate places.  i.e. one in a wallet, one in a backpack or travel wallet.  That way, if we lose the wallet, we hopefully still have a source of funding.


The food in Ireland we found to be generally good, if repetitive.  Lots of fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, lamb stew, etc.  There was more seafood near the coasts.  The breads and jams are usually locally made and wonderful.  The full Irish breakfasts consisted of their version of bacon, eggs, tomatoes, white and black pudding (a liver and blood sausage of sorts.  Actually very good), and was excellent.

Many days, to get a break from the heavy dinner items and to lighten the load on the wallet, we’d snag a sandwich at a local supermarket.  Either SuperValu, SPAR, or Tesco could be found in even the smallest towns.  It’s also the cheapest place to get a soda (we’re addicted), so we stocked up on snacks at these places often.


We traveled mid-September.  I’m not sure if we were lucky, or if we experienced normal weather, but most days were in the 50s to 60s with intermittent sunshine and very little rain.  I wore shorts one day, but usually jeans and layers up top.  We found ourselves regularly adding a layer to block the wind and/or removing a layer when the sun was out.  A light wind breaker and a sweatshirt, should be more than sufficient on the cooler days.  I’d suggest some waterproof hiking shoes like Merrell, KEEN, Columbia, etc. and a rain jacket.  That way, you don’t have to lug an umbrella all over the place.


Pubs are everywhere, and there’s not really a wrong one to stop in.  Good drinks, good music, great hospitality.  Sit at the bar and chat with the barkeep.  You’ll learn the most about what to see and do by talking to your B&B owners and the Pub Keepers.

Four Days in Sunny St. Pete

Four Days in Sunny St. Pete



This place is the perfect Florida beach hotel and their website describes it perfectly. It’s definitely in a class of its own.

“From the chill vibes given off by our main lobby, filled with a prominently cool bookshelf with all sorts of books and board games to accompany your beach getaway; to the nautical rustic restaurant with signature smoke infused drinks; to our one-of-a-kind surfer chic rooms, decked out in a homage to hanging ten with photographs by local artists and even some gnarly surfboards; to our complimentary pool-side pampering; the Postcard Inn On The Beach is in a class of its own.”

Right on the beach, clean rooms, super friendly staff, great location, dog friendly, beach bar, two restaurants, two gyms, free bikes, fire pits, outdoor heated pool, beach volleyball, board games, lots of outdoor games, and live entertainment.

PCI has it all!



Sea Hags Bar & Grill  The locally caught grouper sandwich is amazing (get it blackened)

Willy’s Burgers & Booze  Shrimp, shrimp, and more shrimp! Order it any way you like. Willy’s is a local staple and you can walk there from anywhere on St. Pete Beach

4th Street Shrimp Store You guessed it, more shrimp! If you like peel n’ eat shrimp, order the steamed u-peel-em’s shrimp with some black beans and rice and chat with the bar tender for a casual lunch.

PJ’s Oyster Bar Choose a local craft beer, start with the buffalo shrimp, and end with the fresh sea scallops

PCI Beach Bar & Snack Shack Grab a drink at the PCI Beach Bar and grab yourself a good ol’ burger & fries right on the beach (PCI Beach Bar is nationally recognized as the “Best Beach Bar in Florida”)

Beverly’s La Croisette- Literally anything off of their menu. Croissants, omelettes, crepes, eggs benedict, you name it. We ate here for breakfast every morning because it was too good not to

Angelo’s Grill & Bar Order any pizza while you have a beer at St. Pete Brewing Company (they are right next door and will bring it over to you)

Boulevard Burgers & Tap House- Choose a local craft beer, start with the calamari, and pick any of their amazing burgers made from a blend of brisket, angus chuck, and short ribs



Hitting up some local breweries is always on our agenda for any vacation. It’s always been our thing. We really love beer. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that St. Pete is packed full of incredible breweries. In fact, we had some of the best beer we have ever had (also was not expecting this since Asheville has my heart when it comes to great beer). Here’s the breweries we visited in no particular order because we really did love them ALL.

Green Bench Brewing Co. 

St. Pete Brewing Company

3 Daughters Brewing

Cage Brewing

Cycle Brewing

Sea Dog Brewing Co. (Treasure Island) 


 Note: I know we missed some other really great breweries, but there are over 30 of them in the Tampa Bay area alone, so the best thing to do is just pick a few you really want to check out and go from there. Being a true Type A traveler means doing some research and making some plans before you get there, but not being stuck to an itinerary. 


Beaches- This is what florida is ALL about. Get to the beach! White sand, incredible sunsets, and pure relaxation. If you have a car, there are plenty of beaches that are easily accessible from St. Petersburg with plenty of parking. Beachfront accommodations can be expensive, so don’t worry if you need to stay a bit more inland and drive to the beach. Florida’s got you covered. For our short trip, we only made it to St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island Beach, but there are 10 more along the Gulf Coast for you to explore.

Salvador Dali Museum- This is an absolute MUST if you are in St. Pete. It’s a bit on the expensive side once you pay for tickets and parking, but it’s totally worth it. The museum offers ticket discounts with an ID for seniors, military, police, firefighters, educators, students, and children (5 and under are free). The parking is $10, but you can leave your car there all day if you want to and explore downtown St. Pete. This is a huge perk because it saves you the stress/time/worry of having to find a place to park downtown and it’s within walking distance to almost everything.

Saturday Morning Market If you are in St. Pete on the weekend, head down to the Saturday Morning Market. This incredible waterfront market is open every Saturday from 9-2 and features around 170 vendors. Listen to live music, grab some lunch, browse interesting crafts and handmade items, bring your pup, and relax under the palm trees that line the streets. The vibe here is incredible and you can really get a sense of the community that makes St. Pete so wonderful.

Just go…

***all photos are mine unless stated otherwise***

The Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains



Trip Outline:

Day 1: Drive to Tennessee, Antique Shop, Relax at the Cabin

Day 2: Hike Mount LeConte, Relax at the Cabin

Day 3: Recover in AM, Explore/Shop in Townsend, Hike Abram Falls, Relax at the Cabin

Day 4: Drive through Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, Walk to Clingmans Dome, Hike Andrew’s Bald, Relax at the Cabin

Day 5: Drive Home

From Southern Illinois, where my mom and I live, it is about a 6-6.5 hour drive to Townsend, Tennessee. For some, that may be far, but for us it’s easy compared to our normal 13 hour drives to visit family in Austin, Texas. I had heard many people from southern Illinois talk about going to the Smoky Mountains my whole life, but it was always Gatlinburg, or Pigeon Forge. Townsend is considered the “quiet side of the Smokys”, so we figured we would give it a shot. We left about 7:00 am and had an easy drive east for our quick mom-daughter holiday. Also…if you didn’t know…Cracker Barrel is a must for road trips in the U.S. It just is.

The cabin was easy to find and exactly as pictured in the photos. It was a steep climb up a gravel road in a semi-residential area nestled amongst other cabins close by, but just far enough to feel secluded. We were on a tight budget and were looking for something around $100 per night or less. I started my search on Air B&B and HomeAway, but wasn’t having much luck with our budget. So, I just did a google search and that’s where I found the Riverview cabin. As usual, I searched and searched and searched for the right one. Read reviews, looked at photos, and it took me a few weeks to find the right one. At $99 per night this was it. It had a full kitchen, bathroom, fireplace, hot tub, large deck, gas grill, a place for outdoor dining, large bed, wifi, TV…you name it. It was CLEAN and very well maintained. It even has a walkway down to the river where you can sit and have a fire, or in the summer you could get in the water! It wasn’t quite warm enough for us to get in, but in the summer it would be PRIME for laying out on the rocks and enjoying the water.

Day 1

Townsend was exactly how I imagined it. A small, quiet, mountain town with curvy roads, antique shops, restaurants with signs boasting about their home cookin’, and lots of cabins. After we unloaded the car and got a bit settled in at the cabin it was around 4:00pm. Not quite enough time for a hike, or the right time to eat supper, but enough time to get out and do some antique shopping. My sister claims that I am a hoarder, but I beg to differ. My husband and I LOVE antiques. We love looking at them, finding them, learning about them, refurbishing them, visiting new shops in new towns, but most of all, we love seeing them in our home. I know what antique store I purchased all of them at and I probably have a story about each of them too. Antiques are a pretty big part of my life. Anyway, Townsend and Maryville (the nearest town, right off of the interstate) are FULL of antique shops. I was actually counting them on the drive in. We went to a few, I found some things (of course) and we headed back to the cabin to start up the grill, get in the hot tub, have a few drinks, and relax in our mountain cabin.

Day 2

The second day was the day I had really been looking forward to and essentially what I based this entire trip around. A colleague of mine who is an avid hiker and kayaker was telling me about how often she travels to the Smokys. She was of course, shocked that I had never been there and proceeded to tell me about this trail that she recently hiked and how beautiful it was. She texted me the link to the trail information and and when I saw the photos, I was sold. I had to do this trail. So, I immediately proposed the idea to my mom and sister and they were on board. Trip to the Smokys and Mt. Leconte trail it was! Below you can see the map and elevation profile of this trail. It is one of the most challenging trails I have done. I wouldn’t put it in the category of “all ability levels”, but I also wouldn’t say it’s off limits for people don’t consider themselves hikers. My mom and I hike frequently, but my younger sister does not. She was worried at first when I told her it was 11 miles up a mountain, but she did it….she did the whole thing like a champ. So, it’s a tricky one to label.

Note: This hike will require you to take extra water, food, and hiking poles(if possible). I packed a 2.5L water bladder, sandwich, chips, a couple Larabars, and and apple (I ate and drank it ALL). A bottle of water just won’t cut it on this one. I finished 2.5 liters just on the way up and filled the bladder from the well at the top of the mountain. So cold and so delicious, by the way. 

Although we got up really early, we somehow managed to get a late start on the hike. I think it’s because we were enjoying our coffee on the deck for a little too long. We stopped at the Sugarlands Visitor Center to grab a map and make sure we were starting at the right spot. The ranger informed us that most people do not hike all the way up and back in the same day, but we decided to do it anyway and we got on the trail at about 10:45am. The beginning of the trails follows the water and is highly trafficked. I was actually somewhat disappointed at the beginning because it was so crowded and felt like a tourist destination because of all the people. There are a few log bridges to cross and a really neat stairwell carved out of the cave. This part of the trail would be great for families to do as it is easy and there are lots of places for kids to explore along the trail. You can turn around after the stairs in the cave or you can continue on.

The second spot where you can turn around is also in a cave(a very large cave), and has incredible views! Great place to stop and have a snack, snap some photos and relax for a minute if you’d like. We saw lots of people having a picnic and just enjoying the views. There is a sign that will direct you to the left if you want to go to the Mount LeConte summit.

Once you turn left to hike up to the summit, it starts to get tough. About this time is when my mom had to find a hiking stick and my sister asked to use one of my trekking poles. Trekking poles make a HUGE difference in my level of endurance when hiking, they help my stability, provide extra grip when needed, and also prevent my hands from going numb after hanging down for so long. I was very thankful I brought them on this trip because they helped me get up those 1000 feet to the summit. From the left turn, it continues to get steeper and steeper. The landscape begins to change, the trail gets more narrow, and depending on the weather, you might see some snow at the top.

It starts to feel like you might not make it. We kept passing hikers going down that were telling us, “you’re almost there!” I think almost there is pretty subjective because we weren’t really almost there.Water was getting low, the temperature was getting cooler and cooler, we were getting hungry, and we were getting tired. As we went up the mountain, most spots were like the one pictured above where you had to hold on to the cable to get yourself up and keep yourself from falling on slippery rocks. In the picture below, there was a very tiny ledge you had to walk across (with a cable) to continue on the trail and I stopped here to get a really beautiful panoramic photo.

The entire way up, the views are breathtaking. I feel very fortunate that we were there when the weather was so perfect. I have heard that hiking this in rain, or when there is more snow on top is really tough and can be dangerous. In addition, if it is cloudy, the views aren’t as good. We had sunny skies, mild temperature, and nice cool breeze….a hikers dream come true.

Travel Tip: You can’t change the weather. I repeat, you CANNOT change the weather. So, always be prepared with a rain coat, layered clothing, and a good pair of hiking footwear. 

Alright, so….we did finally make it to the summit even though the park ranger told us we wouldn’t make it and even though we felt like the top would never come. When you first arrive, you will see the LeConte LodgeNote that this is not the spot where the best views are, but you should definitely walk around and check out the lodge. It’s really neat. There is a small sign on the right that will direct you up a bit further. You weave in and out a bit through a small path and it opens up to a large rock where you can sit and see for miles it seems. This spot is known for it’s perfect sunset viewing location. There were a few people relaxing, some eating lunch, a couple of guys having a cigar and drinking some whiskey, and us. It felt so good to have done something that’s a “bucket list” item when it comes to the Smoky Mountains. We did it. We stood at 6,593ft. The 3rd highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Together. Having my mom and my sister by my side was a really incredible feeling. I felt so lucky. So happy I planned this trip. So grateful that I have family to experience traveling with and so at peace with my life and how far I have come. I think hiking does that to you. It gives you this incredible sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, but also a sense of humility and thankfulness in the presence of nature and all of it’s wonder.

THIS is the view from the top↓

Note: If you want, you can hike up to the top, stay at the LeConte Lodge for the night, and then hike back the next day. Most of the people we ran into had done that or were doing that. However, I did hear from the hikers that booked the lodge for the evening that it is very difficult to get a reservation so make sure you get one early! LeConte Lodge provides dinner for the evening and breakfast the next morning. Be aware that this is not a luxury cabin. They are one room cabins with no running water or electricity. There is a water basin for a sponge bath and a kerosene lantern for light. 

The entire 11 mile hike took us about 7 hours. Getting an earlier start would be helpful because you could spend more time enjoying the hike and stopping along the way. This will take up your day, but it is worth it. Be sure to pack lots of water, snacks, and wear hiking-appropriate clothing and shoes. We returned to the cabin for the evening to relax, have dinner, and celebrate with a few beers.

Day 3

We were very sore from the Mt. LeConte trail so we decided to spend the morning relaxing at the cabin and spending some more time around Townsend. We starting the morning with coffee on the deck and headed to some more antique shops which is where I met Walter. There was this tiny antique store in a barn behind another antique store. My sister and I weren’t going to go in because I had already spent too much money on antiques, but we decided to go ahead and check it out. I found something, of course, and as I was checking out I noticed his little bulletin board with postcards from Scotland on it. I asked him if he had been to Scotland and he smiled and said, “oh yeah, that’s where I’m from!” You can imagine my excitement to tell him that I’d be visiting that summer. Walter liked to talk. He told us some wild stories about his family and friends from Scotland, how he got his visa, how easily his Scottish skin burned when he moved to the states, and liked to tell jokes. My favorite joke of his went like this after I told him we were visiting Edinburgh…”I’m actually from Glasgow, so of course I think it’s better than Edinburgh. Whenever I was feeling rather nasty, I would say to one of my buddies, ‘if you ever see a beautiful girl in Edinburgh…she’s a tourist!” It was so much fun chatting with him and it almost seemed meant to be that I ran into him at that tiny little antique shop in Tennessee. We finished up the afternoon at the Apple Valley Country Store and had their “world famous” chicken salad sandwich and pulled pork sandwich then headed to hike Abram Falls.

Abrams Falls is a 5.2 mile trail in Cades Cove. It is well maintained, heavily trafficked, and fairly easy to hike. It is very rocky, so proper footwear is a must and remember to hike carefully as there could be snakes crossing the trail (my sister almost stepped on one). Most of the trail follows Abrams creek, but the creek itself is inaccessible in most spots due to overgrowth and very slippery rocks. The trail is not a loop, so you hike to the falls and turn back the same way you came in. Unfortunately, you can’t swim in the falls due to the danger of the undercurrent, but you can get pretty close to the waterfall or dip your feet in.  You should give yourself extra time to get to the trail head because you have to drive on the 4.8 mile, one-way Cades Cove loop to get to the trail head. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the scenic drive is beautiful, but it’s not for those who don’t have much time. Although there are frequent pull of points, people driving this path are there to enjoy the scenery and are therefore driving slow. There are also many stops along the road to pull over and park for photos, get out and stretch your legs and look at the mountains, or explore the historic log buildings and houses (also free).

Day 4

At this point we had hiked/walked almost 20 miles in 2 days. Although we were all a bit worn out, we came there to hike and explore the mountains so we planned another hike for our last full day. We decided to spend the morning taking a scenic drive from Townsend through the park into Pigeon Forge and then through Gatlinburg to check out those areas. As I had heard, they are quite touristy. If you are looking for a place near the Smoky Mountains where there are a lot of restaurants, shops, and things for kids to do, both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are great for that. However, if you are looking for something more rustic and out of the hustle and bustle, Townsend or Wears Valley would be a better fit. The scenic drive leaving Gatlinburg led us to a small BBQ joint called Boss Hogs BBQ Shack that had some of the best pulled pork and BBQ chicken I’ve ever had (maybe even better than Texas BBQ…maybe).  If you’re in the Pigeon Forge area, it’s definitely worth a stop for lunch. You gotta have BBQ when you’re in Tennessee. Trust me.

After that, we headed to Clingman’s Dome to see the 360° views of Tennessee and North Carolina from the observation tower. Sitting at 6,643 feet, this tower is not to be missed. The 7 mile drive up the mountain on Clingman’s Dome Road is a bit scary if you are afraid of steep edges, or winding roads (my mom got a bit nervous in the passenger’s seat). Although most drivers follow speed limit recommendations, some drive fast up and down the road, so use precaution and drive slow. Once you get to the top, you will see a very large parking area where you can access multiple trail heads, go up to the observation tower, and see where the Appalachian Trail passes through. The hike to the observation tower is only  a half mile and is paved, but is quite steep. Take your time and bask in the views on the way up.

THIS is just one of the views from the observation tower↓

After being in awe of mountain views for miles, literally, we walked down to the Forney Ridge Trail to get to Andrew’s Bald. This is a short, 3.5 mile trail that goes through the rocky Forney Ridge, through fairytale like forests, and opens up to a large grassy meadow with high elevation views. At our time of visit, in early April, not much had bloomed on the bald yet, but I’ve read that it is quite beautiful in late spring and summer. Again, this trail was rocky and muddy in spots, so proper footwear is important.

↓View from the beginning of the Forney Ridge Trail ↓

Day 5

The day you have to go home is always bittersweet (more bitter for me, typically). You’ve had a wonderful time and want to stay longer, but you also miss your own bed. Let’s be serious. On this trip, however, it was sweet for me. I felt completely and utterly happy that I got to spend 5 days in the mountains with my mom and my sister. The weather was perfect, the cabin was exactly what I was looking for, there were beers to drink and burgers on the grill, the hiking was life changing, and I was already planning another trip back. The Great Smoky Mountains exceeded my expectations and made me realize that I didn’t need to go very far to have the perfect vacation. Take a trip to the mountains!

What to bring:

  • Hiking Boots
  • Trekking Poles(optional, but HIGHLY recommended)
  • Raincoat
  • Small hiking backpack for snacks and water (5-10L pack with 1.5-2.5L hydration bladder is perfect )
  • Camera(all of these photos were taken with my iPhone)


Just Go….

***all photos are mine unless stated otherwise***

Top 10: A Harry Potter Fan’s Guide to Scotland

Top 10: A Harry Potter Fan’s Guide to Scotland



Glen Coe is one of Scotland’s most spectacular sights even for muggles! The famous glen (valley) is surrounded by mountains and was formed by volcanic eruptions and glaciers. Visitors flock here for the the incredible views, hiking, climbing, and walking. It can be found right on the A82 (you’ll actually drive through it) about 16 miles south of Fort William and there are two large parking lots. Get there early if you plan to hike, they can fill up quick! Glen Coe is featured as a backdrop in several Harry Potter films, but is probably most memorable in the Prisoner of AzkabanCheck out the scene where Hermione punches Malfoy. 50 points for Gryffindor!



Even if you aren’t a Harry Potter fan, (gasp) you probably still recognize the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The Jacobite Steam Train (used for the Hogwarts Express in the films) crosses the 21 arches of the viaduct twice a day on a journey from Fort William to Mallaig. You can purchase tickets in advance and ride the train, or walk up on the Glenfinnan Viaduct Trail to view the steam train passing through Glenfinnan. Glenfinnan is about a 30 minute drive from Fort William and there are two car parks available near the visitor center where the trail begins, across from the Glenfinnan Monument and Loch Shiel. Give yourself enough time to drive, park, and walk up to one of the two viewing locations. If you arrive arrive by 10:30am for the first train and by 3:00pm for the second, you’ll have plenty of time to get in position to watch the Hogwarts Express pass through right before your eyes. It is truly magical.

(p.s. I cried)



When you stop to park your car at the Glenfinnan Visitor Center, you can walk across the street to see the Glenfinnan Monument. Glenfinnan Monument, at the head of Loch Shiel, was erected, in 1815, as tribute to the Jacobite clansmen who fought and died in the cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. The beautiful Loch Shiel can be seen throughout the Harry Potter Films as it was used for Hogwarts lake in certain scenes, where Buckbeak flies over in Prisoner of Azkaban and in Half-Blood Prince, in the background of the flying car scene, and where Harry, Hermione, and Ron discuss how they will work together to find the horcruxes at the end of Half-Blood PrinceGet there early before the other tourists arrive and you’ll have the whole beach on the loch to yourself.



This eerie island is most famously known as the spot where Voldemort stands over Dumbledore’s grave and steals the elder wand in the final scene of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Go back a few books and you might remember seeing Hagrid knee deep, solemnly skipping stones (rocks in his case) across the water in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The island sits on Loch Eilt and can be found along the A830 between Glenfinnan and Mallaig on the Road to the Isles. Once you leave Glenfinnan and head towards Mallaig, it is about a 30-45 minute drive from the Glenfinnan Visitor Center and you will see it on your left. There is a small space to pull over and park on the left side of the road and you can walk out to get a view of the island.

 *photo taken from




When Harry battles the Hungarian Horntail dragon in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the majestic Steall Falls can be seen in the background between two glens when the dragon breaks free and chases him out of the Quidditch stadium. This picture perfect backdrop is also featured in various scenes during Quidditch matches. Steall Falls is closest to Ft. William and part of Glen Nevis. The Steall Falls trail is a low level, 2.25 mile enchanting walk through rocky mountainsides along the gorge that opens up to a large, grassy meadow where the falls take the stage. The trail head can be accessed by car via a single lane road that ends at the trail head parking lot. You can hike there and back in about 2 hours, or you can pack a lunch, bring a blanket, and spend the afternoon amongst the wildflowers.



Scotland is filled with lochs (lakes). When driving the curvy backroads, there’s a good chance you’ll see one, if not many along the way. This almost 20 mile long loch can be accessed at various points from it’s southern most tip near Connel to it’s northern tip near Gualachulain. The spot that is featured in the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the hunt for horcruxes is at the northern point by Glen Etive. In Part 1, it can be seen in the background when Hermione ties her scarf to the tree by their camp after Harry and Ron argue. In Part 2, it can be seen when Harry, Ron, and Hermione fall into the loch after their risky trip to Gringotts. If you are up for it, hike the Beinn Trilleachan trail for a spectacular view of the loch. The trail is a strenuous 5.5 miles and can be dangerous if the weather conditions aren’t favorable, but the views are totally worth it even if you don’t make it all the way to the top.

*photo taken from *



Edinburgh is FULL of magical places that were inspiration for the entire Harry Potter series, but The Elephant House was first on my to-do list. It is considered the birthplace of Harry Potter because J.K. Rowling wrote parts of the first book here, and in many cafes throughout the city. The Elephant House sits in the heart of Edinburgh’s historic area with views of Edinburgh Castle. Even though this is a major tourist destination and most always has a line, the wait is worth it. The food is incredible, the atmosphere is cozy, and the J.K. Rowling love is everywhere. From the fan graffiti in the bathrooms to the pictures of her on the walls, you’ll feel right at home as a Harry Potter fan.



After you’ve cozied up at The Elephant House for a bit, take a walk down Victoria Street. This vibrant, historic street is said to be J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. It is filled with small, quirky shops much like those featured in the boo. In fact, in the the early 90s there was a bank and a stationary store in the same spots that Gringotts and Flourish and Blotts are in the movies. It’s easy to see why Rowling was inspired by this street. The bustle of the city, the rooftops, the cobblestone… it’s truly magical.



So, we’ve all wondered what butterbeer tastes like since we first read about it in the Prisoner of Azkaban. I know I did. Was it alcoholic? Did it actually taste like butter, or was it more like a butterscotch candy, or was it more like a beer? Well…I got to find out. The Dog House is a quirky pub near the University of Edinburgh and The Meadows that’s a bit of a walk from the old town, but worth it when you can relax on a couch with a big, frosty mug of butterbeer. Which by the way does, in fact taste like butterscotch. Don’t drink too much though, I think The Dog House’s butterbeer is a bit more alcoholic than what they were serving to students in Hogsmeade. The vibe is eclectic, the drinks are cheap, and yes it’s pet friendly. Cheers to that!



A visit to Edinburgh must include a stop at Edinburgh Castle. It is easy to see why this castle is said to be Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts. Sitting atop Castle Rock in the heart of the city, Edinburgh Castle is hard to miss. You can see parts of it from almost anywhere in the city. The castle is a major historical site in the UK and parts of the fortress were built as far back as the 12th century. It is, of course, a major tourist attraction for muggles too, so plan for long lines and big crowds. You can walk around the castle grounds and gardens for free, or buy a ticket to take a tour. Whichever you choose, take a minute while you are admiring it to stop and say “Hogwarts is my home!” (in your best Harry Potter voice).

Just Go….

***all photos are mine unless stated otherwise***

Windy Gap Trail, Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry

Windy Gap Trail, Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry


I remember laying in bed on nights that I had a long day at work and dreaming of Ireland. I can remember telling my husband, Jacob, how we’d hike mountains and see green for miles. I can remember feeling like I would walk out of the airport and be consumed with the fresh, cool, Irish air. All of those things I day dreamed about were real and they actually happened… me.

For me, the time spent waiting for a vacation to come is almost just as fun as the trip. I’m one of those people who reads blog after blog, review after review, and comment sections galore before making a decision on purchases, but especially on travel options (that’s where the Type A Traveler comes in). The second we book, I’m on it. It drives my husband absolutely crazy, so he just let’s me take over and plan everything. Sure, some days….well, most days actually…I get antsy and time feels like it takes forever, but I get to consume my thoughts with what I’ll pack, or where we will go, what we’ll do, and all the little spots we’ll enjoy a local beer, or a cup of coffee. I’ll make lists and lay things out, but most of all..I’ll day dream incessantly about those surreal feelings I’ll have and all the new experiences I will be able to call memories.

I can remember it so perfectly….my first daydream come true…the smell of the fresh, Irish air. We woke up just in time to have breakfast on flight and when I saw we’d be landing in about an hour, I could feel the excitement swelling up inside me quickly. As soon I could see exit doors at Shannon Airport, I left my luggage with Jacob and had  to walk outside. I was right. I felt like I had been transported. Transported to a place that was beautiful even on a cloudy, dreary day. That  was Ireland. Grey skies, cool fresh air, and the slightest smell of moisture in the air.

So, you’re probably wondering why this post is called “The Windy Gap” when I’m over here gushing over feelings, and daydreams, and all that mushy travel stuff you see in the movies. Well…this is why…


It was this day

6. 9. 16

We woke up at our bed and breakfast, Carrigane House, in Limerick. We were treated to a full Irish breakfast complete with french press coffee, black pudding, bacon, eggs, and Irish brown bread all made from scratch by the owner, Maura. Before we left, I had been researching trails in Ireland that were somewhere along our planned route and I stumbled upon one that looked absolutely breathtaking. It was a bit out of our way and not in our itinerary (SO not like me), but we had to hike it. 

We changed plans last-minute after breakfast and headed towards Glenbeigh. Just like the day before, we were stunned by Ireland’s beauty. Just driving through small towns, along the coast, past farms, and down tiny roads is enough to make you wonder if anything in this world is as beautiful.

When we arrived in Glenbeigh (from N70), we parked across the street from the gas station in the centre of town and loaded up our packs. Note: you can park in the parking lot across from the gas station, next to the Towers Hotel, or you can take the risk and drive up to the trailhead where there are two parking spots. If they are taken, there’s really nowhere else to park once you are up there. I would recommend parking in town because the road up to the trailhead is quite lovely and it eliminates the risk of not having a place to park (type a people like me always think it’s better safe than sorry). Also, looking back, I feel our car was safer parked in town and the trail doesn’t end at the trailhead anyway. So, you either have to park two cars (not typically an option for most people) or park in town and just walk back through town on N70 to your car.

On the way up ↓↓↓

Once we got to the trailhead, we realized we had our work cut out for us. The first leg is a fairly steep incline up to the actual windy gap. I’m not going to lie…we were out of breath. We had a tough time getting up that hill to the gap after hiking up the road. If you can bring trekking poles, DO IT! Looking back, they would have been really helpful for all of our hiking in Ireland. Take your time on this hike. It is considered moderate grade and is 6 miles long round trip. It is recommended to allot 3 hours for this 6 mile hike, but I would give yourself more  time to take pictures and just sit and enjoy the views. It might take up most of your day, but let it. Take it in, breathe it in, soak it up. Trust me. I would give anything to be in this moment again. We couldn’t help but to stop multiple times along the way and just smile at each other with exuding happiness. We kept saying to each other over and over again, “Babe, can you believe this? We are here. We are actually here. We made it.” Everything we had ever imagined about Ireland was real and happening…to us.

My second daydream come true…seeing green for miles. ↓↓↓

When we finally arrived at the top of the windy gap, I felt completely surrounded by beauty. The bay’s calm waters resting under a light blanket of fog, the small cottages amidst the sloping farmland, the mountain sheep scattered across the hills, and the rush of wind consuming every part of me that still needed to just let go. I thought of one of my favorite books and said to myself…


The Perks of Being a Wallflower, pg. 39, Stephen Chbosky

Ireland changed me. The decision to do this hike changed me. This moment changed me.

Travel is not a just a luxury for those who can afford it. Travel is for the ones who daydream incessantly of places that seem too beautiful in their imagination to actually exist. It is for the ones who want to feel as though nothing else in the world is happening except what is before their eyes in a single moment. It is for the small town girls who know they are meant to experience something greater in this life. It is for all of the people out there that fill their head with excuses about why they can’t go. It doesn’t have to be 3,000 miles away. Get in the car for a drive on a Saturday, take a weekend trip with your best friend, find a small town and go to antique shops, go for a bike ride, find a local brewery/winery, go for a day hike.


What to bring:
  • Hiking Boots
  • Trekking Poles(optional, but recommended)
  • Raincoat (this is just a must for Ireland.Period.No matter what you are doing)
  • Small hiking backpack for snacks and water (5L with hydration bladder is perfect )
  • Camera(all of these photos were taken with my iPhone)


Way to go: 

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 78; downloadable map/instructions at dataland/TCSAttachments/ 341_TheKerryWay.pdf

TRAVEL: N70 from Tralee or N72 from Killarney to Killorglin; N70 to Glenbeigh. For two-car walkers, park one car neatly up side road off N70, a quarter mile west of Caragh Bridge, and drive other car on for three-quarters of a mile into Glenbeigh. Park near Towers Hotel in Main Street.

WALK DIRECTIONS: By Towers Hotel turn up road past church (Kerry Way/KW ‘walking man’ waymark post). In one third of a mile take first lane on left (KW). Follow KW to end of tarmac, then up track to cross Windy Gap and descend to 3-way fingerpost. Keep ahead (‘Scenic Route’) to reach road and follow it down to N70 and return car near Caragh Bridge.

LENGTH: 6 miles: allow 3 hours

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Good tracks and country roads