Sometimes Even the Best-Laid Plans Go a Little Sideways

For our first real vacation during COVID, my husband and I planned a long-weekend getaway to Colorado. We wanted to spend a few days in Rocky Mountain National Park, visit a quintessential ski town (Vail) and go hiking in the Garden of the Gods. The idea was that we’d stay away from cities like Denver and Colorado Springs, and spend all of our time social-distancing in the great outdoors. Happy to finally have a trip to plan, I spent hours researching great hotels, making dinner reservations at interesting restaurants, and mapping out some scenic drives.

Then, because it’s 2020 after all, things took an unexpected turn.

Raging wildfires in and around Rocky Mountain National Park meant we had to scrap our visit there and re-plan the first half of the trip at the last-minute. And then an early-season snowstorm drove us down out of the mountains in the middle of our trip, and left us scrambling to come up with a “plan B” for the last two days. In the end, we did not actually follow through with a single thing I had pre-booked (hotels, restaurants, etc.) but we managed to have a pretty wonderful getaway nonetheless.

selfie of Annie and her husband in the snowy landscape of Garden of the Gods Colorado

And I think it was a valuable reminder that travel is all about your attitude — if you can roll with the punches, and enjoy the unexpected adventures along the way, you’re going to be a lot happier overall.

Here’s what we ended up doing:
{and if you want any info about the original plans, just let me know!}

We flew from Providence to Denver (via Charlotte) and were interested to see that crowds got heavier as we went along. The Providence airport was empty, Charlotte felt like it had maybe half the usual number of people, and the Denver airport was very busy. Everyone wore masks, the flight crew handed out little bags with hand sanitizer and snacks, and overall we felt pretty safe.

When we landed in Denver we picked up a nice big SUV and drove about 15 minutes away to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. This is a true hidden gem – right outside the city, and so close to the airport, with free admission from sunrise to sunset.

two deer grazing among the tall yellow grass at the Wildlife Refuge near Denver Colorado

The refuge is over 15,000 acres in total, and we did the scenic 11-mile auto loop through the park (you can also stop and do various hikes along the way).

taking photos of bison from the car at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver Colorado

We downloaded the free app that gave us turn-by-turn narration of everything we were passing through, and we got to see buffalo, prairie dogs, deer, and more. It was an awesome introduction to the area, and I would highly recommend it on your way in or out of Denver.

From there, we drove an hour to Golden, Colorado, in the foothills of the Rockies.

a man in a blue jacket with the sculpture of a fish, a river and green trees in the background in Golden Colorado

The town is famous for being the home of Coors Brewing, but it’s a cute place in its own right, and I was really impressed with all the public art – there were sculptures on every street corner. The brewery is unfortunately not open for tours right now, but we enjoyed strolling through town and had a great dinner at Woody’s Pizza. The altitude was already kicking our butts, so we had an early bedtime and a restless sleep.

The next morning we left Golden in cold and icy conditions and took a scenic route through the mountains to Aspen. Having never been to the Rockies before, we absolutely loved this drive, with its mountain passes, changing elevations, and expansive plains. By the time we arrived in Aspen, it was sunny and in the 60s, which was totally unexpected!

the pools, hot tubs and outdoor patio of the Limelight Aspen hotel with the mountains and pine trees looming in the background

We checked into a lovely room at the Limelight Aspen (I would recommend this hotel highly) and headed out to explore the town.

Although I’m not a skier, I would go back to Aspen again in a minute. The compact downtown has cute shops and galleries, with the ski mountains looming right next door, and there are gorgeous hiking/biking trails that start right in the center of town.

a paved path through beautiful tall trees with yellow leaves in Aspen Colorado

We did a very pretty walk on the East Rio Grande Trail, which included a stroll through the John Denver Sanctuary. The restaurant scene is fabulous, as you would expect, and we enjoyed cocktails and lunch at The White House Tavern, and a delicious dinner on the outdoor patio at Tatanka.

The next day we were back on the road through the Rockies to Breckenridge (about 2 ½ hours). Where Aspen had felt upscale, quiet and luxurious, Breckenridge felt like a spring break destination. To be fair, the weather was positively springlike, so everyone was outdoors, but it was crowded and busy and felt a little unsafe given the pandemic. We checked into an unremarkable hotel, ate an average lunch, and decided to check back out and head down out of the mountains before the impending snow storm.

We were able to grab last-minute reservations at a very nice Colorado Springs hotel, so we booked our last two nights there. The Mining Exchange is a charming historic hotel in the middle of the city, walkable to tons of restaurants and we knew we didn’t want to have to drive anywhere once the storm arrived.

two people in front of the Garden of the Gods sign in the snow in Colorado

The snow started early the next morning, but we were still able to sneak in a quick visit to the Garden of the Gods. We were VERY glad to have a big heavy four-wheel drive SUV (and a native New Englander’s experience driving in snow) because there were lots of little rental sedans sliding all over the roads in the park.

the impressive red rock formations with a snowy landscape below at Garden of the Gods Colorado

But we enjoyed a snowy walk through the monumental rocks and a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center for context. The park is gorgeous, and admission is free, and it would be well-worth a much longer visit in better weather.

Back in Colorado Springs that afternoon we had a yummy lunch (and a flight of craft beers) at Colorado Craft, and a lazy afternoon watching football.

Our drive back to the airport the next morning was a white-knuckler, as the snow had continued through the night and the roads were not yet treated or plowed (which really surprised me, in a place that presumably gets lots of snow and should know how to deal with it). We eventually made it to the Denver airport, and back home to Providence, without incident.

a beautiful stream lined with fall foliage and light streaming through in Aspen Colorado

All in all, we loved Colorado, and we would happily go back to see the things we missed – especially Rocky Mountain National Park. The unexpected and unplanned things along the way more than made up for the stress that Mother Nature threw at us, and it was honestly just wonderful to be traveling again 😊

A perfect long weekend in Acadia

how to spend a long weekend in Acadia National Park Pin
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The National Parks are more popular than ever this year, due to COVID worries and a desire for wide open spaces, and for those of us in the Northeast the most popular and accessible park is Maine’s Acadia National Park.  Just 4 ½ hours’ drive from Boston, Acadia can easily be done in a long weekend, it offers attractions for all ages, and it’s equally enticing in spring, summer and fall {while the park remains open in winter, many of the roads are closed, and it wouldn’t be the best time to visit}  

I recently spent a few days exploring the area with my daughter, and here are our tips on how to plan the perfect “escape” to Acadia National Park:

woman sitting and admiring the rocky beach of Acadia National Park Maine

You do need to plan ahead

  • Entrance passes for the park should be purchased online before the trip, and if you’re travelling during peak leaf-peeping season (the first half of October) you’ll need to make timed reservations for certain sections of the park. 
  • Some of the key sights/experiences are very dependent on sunrise/sunset times and on the high/low tides, so you’ll want to be sure to check those times before you plan out your days. 

Where to stay

The park is on an island (Mt Desert Island) and, while you can save some money by staying along the coast nearby (in Ellsworth or other towns) it really is better to stay on the island itself rather than driving back and forth. Bar Harbor, on the eastern side of Mt Desert Island, is the main town. There are lots of hotels, inns and B&Bs. The west side of the island, near the town of Southwest Harbor, is much quieter, with a handful of charming B&Bs and guest cottages. Sprinkled around the island you’ll also find campgrounds and rental properties. 

To me, the main decision was whether to be right IN town, in Bar Harbor, so that we could walk to shops and restaurants or to be just outside town, away from the foot traffic. In this COVID world, since we knew we wanted to stay away from crowds, we opted for the Hampton Inn Bar Harbor. It was the perfect choice – a five-minute drive from town, with an included breakfast, a pool, and free parking – and it’s very popular with families.  In another time, if I were traveling with my husband and wanted to be able to stroll to bars and restaurants in the evening, I would probably have chosen the West Street Hotel on the waterfront, the Harborside Hotel, or the Balance Rock Inn. 

Where to eat

Local dining is normally the highlight of a vacation for me, and probably the part that I spend the most time planning, but that was not the case with this trip. Due to the pandemic, we were not comfortable dining in any restaurants, so we stuck to takeout meals and picnics. The meals that we ordered from Side Street Café, Rosalie’s Pizza, and Leary’s Landing Irish Pub were all perfectly good, but I don’t think they were a fair representation of Bar Harbor’s restaurant scene.

exterior of Thurstons lobster shack in Bar Harbor Maine

That being said, we did try the obligatory lobster roll from Thurston’s Lobster Pound, and it was delicious!

What to see and do

You’ll find plenty of “must do” lists online, and they all tend to include the same things – sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, popovers at the Jordan Pond House, hiking the Beehive Trail, etc.  We combed through those lists, crossed off the things that were not COVID appropriate or were too ambitious for our timeframe and/or fitness level, checked our sunrise and tide tables, and then grouped our wish list by geography so that we wouldn’t be crisscrossing the island back and forth all day. 

Here’s what our itinerary ended up looking like:

to-go food on a blue blanket with the sand, sea and pine trees in the background a picnic on Seal Beach in Maine

Day 1 –  We arrived late in the afternoon, checked in, picked up a to-go dinner, and headed to Seal Beach for a sunset picnic.

Day 2 – We hiked the Gorham Mountain Trail, did a scenic drive along Somes Sound, stopped at Echo Lake, explored Southwest Harbor, visited Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, got a lobster roll at Thurston’s Lobster Pound, and made it back to Bar Harbor in time for the late-afternoon low tide so that we could walk out to Bar Island. NOTE: we did not leave enough time to get out there and hike around the island before heading back, so I would give myself more time next time.

mother-daughter hiking trip up Gorham Mountain in Acadia National Park Maine
The views from Gorham Mountain
Serene and beautiful, Echo Lake is worth the stop

Day 3 – Today was entirely planned around sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, and it was more than worth it.

sunrise over Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Cadillac Mountain Maine

We had read online that you need to get to the peak an hour before sunrise, so we were there by 4:30 am and it was magical. We sat in the dark and the cold, wrapped in blankets, watching the first rays warm up the sky.

People were still streaming in at 5:30 am when the sun was already risen, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them they had missed the best part! Plus, they had to contend with traffic and parking issues. We avoided all of that, and were already driving back down the mountain before 6am. Afterwards, we visited Sand Beach and hiked along the Ocean Path to Thunder Hole, and then drove the rest of the Park Loop Trail. That afternoon, we walked the scenic trails at Ship Bottom and Wonderland.

woman looking over the rocky bay and evergreen pine trees along the Ocean Path of Acadia National Park Maine
Enjoying the views while hiking along the Ocean Path
rocky beach stones, green pine trees against a bright blue sky in Acadia National Park Wonderland
Bright blue skies, dark evergreen trees and sandy stones painted a perfect picture in Wonderland

Day 4 – We had planned to do the Jordan Pond Loop Trail, and stop at the Jordan Pond House for the famous popovers, but were reading online reviews about crazy crowds and lines, and we opted to just have some breakfast and get on the road back home to Rhode Island.

Overall, we had a fabulous time. And I think we packed a lot into a quick three-night stay. We definitely got our fill of outdoorsy activities and gorgeous scenery, and were – for the most part – able to maintain social distance.

seating over the harbor with the harbor in the background at Thurstons in Bar Harbor Maine

The town of Bar Harbor itself was too busy for our purposes, but I would LOVE to go back there some other time, when crowds don’t feel so scary, so that I can really enjoy the shops, bars and cafes.

In the meantime, if you want some help planning your own “escape” to Acadia National Park, let me know!

Camping Re-imagined: Glamping

Even before COVID, travelers were wrestling with how to reconcile their desire for an outdoorsy experience with a need for luxury amenities. That’s even more of an issue now, as we are all looking for ways to reconnect with nature and keep a safe distance from others, without giving up on the relaxation that we crave from our vacations. Trekking through the woods with all your gear on your back, pitching a tent, and then sleeping on the cold, hard ground is not everyone’s cup of tea. Fortunately, there is a perfect solution: Glamping. The perfect compromise between nature and luxury, glamping combines resort-like amenities and activities, with gorgeous locations and views, in places that make it easy to stay socially distanced.

two luxury tents silouhetted against a night sky full of stars in Moab Utah
Glamping with Undercanvas [photo credit: Adam Skalecki via Unsplash]

What is Glamping?

“Glamping” (a combination of “glamourous” and “camping”) is basically upscale sleeping under the stars.

Traditionally, glamping involves a canvas structure on a permanent or semi-permanent platform with power and running water. Instead of pitching a small tent, you’ll arrive at the campground to find widely spaced semi-permanent “tents” ready for you to enjoy. Inside these large rooms, you’ll find all the comforts of modern life: air conditioning, a comfy bed with luxury linens, stylish décor, wood stoves, and (very often) a private bathroom.  

The interior of a luxury camping yurt in norway
[Photo credit: Espen Bierud via Unsplash]

Suitable for romantic couples, families, or even those who like to travel with their pets, glamping offers all the benefits of camping with all the luxuries of a hotel room. Glamping allows vacationers to enjoy popular national parks away from the crowds and without enduring the toll that camping can take on the body. Due to the low energy usage of the tents, it’s also a great way to travel green and care for the planet. Not only are you immersed in nature but the pull-chain showers, low-flow toilets, and solar power minimize your environmental impact.

a luxury camping or glamping tree house in the winter with a dog

These days glamping can refer to a traditional canvas structure, a treehouse hotel, a rustic cabin, an airstream trailer, or even a stargazing dome. No matter your glamping style, it will have direct access to the outdoors, campfires, and nature’s peaceful soundtrack.

[Photo credit: Roberto Nickson via Unsplash]

The History

Glamping isn’t as new as people may think. While huge canvas yurts and tents have been used since ancient times, the idea of luxury outdoor vacations for the aristocracy started in 16th and 17th century Scotland, France, and Turkey.

Luxury camping gathered steam around the early 1900s when wealthy Europeans and Americans wanted a taste of wild safari adventures in Africa but weren’t willing to sacrifice their home luxuries. Safari tents for the upper classes were supplied with a full set of furniture, beds, rugs, and luxury bedding. Turning their safari experience into more of a hotel-like luxury rather than “roughing it”. These elegant safari camps are still very popular today.

Flash forward to 2007 when the term glamping started gaining popularity. It began to get mainstream traction when festival-goers ( who enjoyed their outdoor events but didn’t enjoy living in a tent for weeks) saw an opportunity to improve their festival experience.

a small glamping or luxury camping tent in the middle of the forest

Since then, glamping has steadily become a global phenomenon with luxury campgrounds in almost every U.S. State and countries around the world. Companies like Under Canvas provide luxury facilities to those who are taking their cue from the turn-of-the-century upper classes – enjoy the great outdoors without losing the comforts of home.

[Photo credit: Andrea Davis via Unsplash]

Why Should You Try Glamping?

Wake up in your comfy king-size bed, looking straight up at the first rays of sunrise. Even from your bed, you can smell the pine needles and fresh air waiting just outside your door. No need to shimmy out of your sleeping bag or crawl on your hands and knees out the tent flap, you simply start a fresh pot of coffee on your wood stove and step out onto your patio. Enjoy the sunrise over the trees and soak up the sense of well-being. During the day, you can do morning yoga, planned activities, or hike through the beautiful national park. In the evening, make smores around the campfire, sip a chilled glass of wine, tell stories, and gaze up at the stars. Best of all, before getting into your luxurious bed, you can have a nice warm shower.

a geodesic luxury camping dome in a seattle forest
Photo credit: Kyle Glenn via Unsplash]

There’s a reason luxury camping has been around for over a century. If this post has inspired you to discover it for yourself, let us know! Whether you want to enjoy the crisp cool air and stunning fall colors or catch the last breath of summer in the Southwestern desert, we’ll be happy to help find the perfect location, style, and climate for your luxury outdoor adventure.

Unexpected. Unprecedented. Unbelievable.

2020 has definitely been the year of the “un” everything. We’ve completely un-done our normal routines, our workplaces, our plans, our celebrations, and our vacations.

Like so many of you, I find myself more than halfway through the year without having taken any vacation time, or having gone anywhere much further than my own backyard.

Ann with a class of wine on a white deck chair on the lawn in Block Island Rhode Island

I quite literally have spent ONE night away from home in a hotel…. and that was on Block Island, a quick ferry ride from where I live.

[photo credit: Annie’s Escapes]

I thought I had come up with a COVID-safe and socially-distant travel option for next month.  My daughter and I planned a one-week road trip through Utah, with stops at Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce and Zion national parks. 

Lots of time outdoors, hiking and enjoying the scenery, and no worries about international travel restrictions and closed borders.

[photo credit: Annie’s Escapes]

But now, because of Rhode Island’s rules about self-quarantine when you return from “hot spots” like the south and west, even that trip has been canceled like so many others.

Where that leaves me is scrambling to come up with a New England road trip that complies with all local travel restrictions but still gives us something to look forward to before my daughter starts law school in September. 

Seeing the Vermont Bridges [photo credit: Annie’s Escapes]

Maine is proving problematic because we can’t be guaranteed to get a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the trip, but New Hampshire looks good. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

And what that means for YOU is that even though I typically don’t handle domestic travel, this is a very “un”usual year 😊  

sunset on the beach with the hotel blacony and flag pole

I am now very well-versed in the regulations that currently apply to domestic travel.

[photo credit: Annie’s Escapes]

I can help you figure out which states will allow you to visit (and what your home state will require of you when you return) Plus, I’ve got some great new suppliers that offer very cool experiences and accommodations throughout the United States. 

  • What would you say to a dude ranch in Colorado? 
  • “Glamping” in the Grand Canyon? 
two luxury tents silouhetted against a night sky full of stars in Moab Utah
Glamping with Undercanvas [photo credit: Adam Skalecki via Unsplash]
  • A lakefront cabin in Maine? 
  • A luxury villa in Napa?
swimming pool with guest house and overlooking a valley in California
Stay in a Luxury Californian Villa [Photo Credit: Jesse Gardner via Unsplash]
  • Traveling cross-country in a private sleeper car on a train?
  • Cruising the Mississippi on a paddlewheel steamboat?
a steamboat sailing down the mississippi at sunset
Sailing down the Mississippi [Photo Credit: Stephen Walker via Unsplash]

If you’ve got vacation time to burn, or just need to have an “escape” to look forward to, I would welcome the chance to get creative and help you come up with an exciting domestic destination for this year. Give me a call or shoot me an email.

We can get back to exploring the wider world next year!

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)