This article is part of our “About Middle Age Miles” series.
As part of our “About Middle Age Miles” series, we wanted to help you get to know Philly and me a little better by sharing a few things about our travel style. We certainly understand that everyone’s tastes and preferences in travel are different. And the last thing anyone wants to hear is someone telling them, “my trip was better than your trip!” We should all do the things we enjoy, in the way that’s most comfortable for ourselves. That said, hopefully this article will serve as a fun further introduction to Philly and me, and also help provide some context for our travel tips and reviews.
All things considered, Philly and I actually aren’t veteran world travelers. In some ways, we hope that’s an advantage for Middle Age Miles readers, in that much of the time you’ll get the perspective of someone who’s going someplace for the first time. We’ve done a fair bit of travel in the USA and parts of Canada, we’ve made several trips to various places in Europe, and we’ve made one trip to South America (Ecuador). Australia, Asia and Africa are still on our “to-do” list. We don’t speak any foreign languages, save for a few words of Spanish and a couple in French, but we try to learn at least a few words in the local language as we go!
We understand that foreign travel can be daunting and intimidating. So in Middle Age Miles, one of the things we’ll strive to do is to provide you with tips and insights that we hope will de-stress your own travel experience. Our hope is to include a level of detail that can be hard to find elsewhere – things that we wish we’d been able to find easily before we traveled to a given location.
As far as travel style goes, we consider ourselves to be explorers. But we’re too old to do things that are too crazy or unsafe. We like to find things on our own, and we aren’t big fans of guided tour groups. We understand that we’ll miss some information and details that way, but we like to be more independent and have the flexibility to explore interesting things when and where we want, at our own pace. We expect you’ll see that independent spirit throughout our travel articles on Middle Age Miles.
So with that introduction, here are ten things about us and our travel style that we hope you’ll enjoy:
1. We Can Do Coach, But Business Class Sure Is Nice
When Philly and I travel domestically, many of our flights are in coach, and frankly, we don’t mind. We have been fortunate enough the last several years to have some level of elite status on American Airlines, which gives us access to AA Main Cabin Extra on most of our flights. That’s comfortable enough for us domestically. Elite status provides us with some domestic upgrades. Those are nice-to-have, but we don’t place a huge value on them.
On our overseas flights, though, business class sure is nice. We’ve flown overseas in coach with several carriers, and we’ve also had the pleasure to experience premium economy and business class. For these long-haul flights, we find premium economy (PE) to be a very nice upgrade over coach, with more room and more recline. But business class with the extra space and the ability to lie down can’t be beat when the flight is long!
I’m guessing that most readers will feel the same about PE or business class seats for long flights. Thus, we expect to provide tips and insights on Middle Age Miles about how to get the most comfortable seating on overseas flights for the best value.
2. We’ll Splurge on Hotels When the Deal Is Right, Though We’re Fine as Long as It’s Clean and Safe
When we’re choosing a hotel, our first priority is for it to be clean and safe, and beyond that to be in a location that allows us to access the sights reasonably easily. We certainly have plenty of stays at Hilton Garden Inns or Marriott Courtyards, especially domestically, and we don’t mind them at all.
But Middle Age Miles is all about the points and miles and the deals, right??? So when we travel abroad, we try to make the experience special by staying at a nice hotel (and hopefully one with some unique characteristic that will make it memorable) … if the deal is right! We book on points when that’s the best play, like some recent stays of a week at the Marriott Champs Élysées in Paris and five nights of an incredible point-value redemption at the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera. We also maximize our points earning at hotels through credit card spend and promotions. And we like to think we have a decent bag of tricks to get good rates and benefits on our paid stays, using strategies like elite status and American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (Amex FHR), plus a variety of other special rates.
As part of each of our Trip & Event Reports on Middle Age Miles, we’ll include an article on “How We Did It,” which will include a description of how we obtained and chose what we thought were great hotel values (and hopefully special experiences too). We’ll also have plenty of articles with tips and tricks on maximizing your points earning and redemptions as well as ways to access good rates and benefits for great value.
3. We Are Active Travelers
Philly and I like to get out and wander the world on foot. We’ll often find good hikes or climbs at our travel destinations, and we’ll share those with you in our trip reports. Philly especially never met a flight of stairs that she thought shouldn’t be climbed.
We also like to take long walks through the cities we visit. We’re still in the phase of our traveling career where we need to check-the-box on seeing the iconic sights at our destination, but we really like to explore places a little more up close and personal. It’s always interesting to just walk through the streets and neighborhoods. It makes us feel closer to the places we visit, and you never know what you’ll find!
4. We Try to Get Off the Beaten Path
When we plan trips, we usually try to throw in at least a couple of things that will take us “off the beaten path” to find adventures that most people who travel won’t have. We love these out-of-the-way adventures, which often provide us with our fondest and most vivid memories of our travels.
The picture from this section is a great example of us taking the road less traveled. On our recent trip to Dubrovnik, we grabbed a rental car and ventured down to Kotor, Montenegro, for the day. Now, for a vacation to Dubrovnik, venturing down into Montenegro is a bit off-the-beaten-path to begin with. Then, through a little pre-trip research, I had learned that there is a “back way” to hike up to the Fortress of Kotor on a switchback trail (and by the way, this trail is free access, whereas the hike up the “main way” from Old Town Kotor costs 8 Euros per person) … and that if you keep climbing a little ways above the fortress on this trail, you will find a “cheese shop” where you can rest, grab a drink and a snack, and admire the spectacular view. (Literally, Google Maps labels this place as “Cheese Shop,” which becomes quite funny after you’ve been there.) It turns out, the “cheese shop” is a family’s house, to which they’ve attached a little covered patio with a few tables and a couple of cooler cabinets with drinks. Approaching from the “back way” trail, you basically just walk up onto this couple’s back porch, complete with pets. The husband was quite gracious and turned on the hose so we could wash our faces and cool off on a very hot day. He spoke only a few words of thickly accented English, and our Montenegrin skills weren’t too good. But our host was incredibly hospitable and gracious, and we had a most awesome time – he brought us cheese, prosciutto and grapes, and he insisted that we all take shots of the national drink of Montenegro, rakija. Despite the language barrier, we had a few laughs about Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, and we admired the incredible view of the mountains and the Bay of Kotor below. I promise you, neither we nor our family companion travelers will ever forget the day we visited the “cheese shop” in Kotor.
Now, I’d never say that we’re the craziest or most adventurous travelers – we tend to make it back to the cozy confines of a comfortable hotel every night – but it’s often these sorts of excursions that result in the most authentic experiences and interactions with people across the world. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
5. We Like to Take Day Trips
This one is closely related to getting off the beaten path. Often when we travel, we’ll base ourselves in a city for several days and make a couple of out-and-back day trips to less-visited sites outside the city. Sometimes we’ll take a train, and sometimes we’ll rent a car, depending on where we’re heading (and whether a train can get us there).
For example, on our most recent week-long trip to Paris, one day we took a train out to Versailles (and we spent the whole day there, exploring the town and going to the local farmers market, in addition to visiting the spectacular Palace), another day we took a train to Amiens (which has maybe the most beautiful of France’s many Cathedrals of Notre Dame, and was also the home of Jules Verne), and yet another day we took a train to Reims (to visit the Champagne region and take a champagne tour at G.H. Mumm). All of these were fun adventures that most people visiting Paris won’t experience. I only wish we could have spent longer in France and done a few more!
The picture leading off this section comes from another day trip excursion. On this one, we were based in Geneva and drove into the Alps to visit Alpe d’Huez. We are big fans of the Tour de France cycling race, and TDF fans know that Alpe d’Huez is one of the iconic climbs of the Tour. The D211 road from Bourg d’Oisans up the Alpe d’Huez is a “Beyond Categorization” climb with 21 switchbacks, rising 1,135 meters (over 3,700 feet) over 13.8 kilometers at an average gradient of 8.1%, with a maximum gradient of around 14%. It must be brutal to cycle up. Television doesn’t do justice to the steepness of the lower slopes of the climb or the beauty of the mountain scenery. Each of the 21 turns is marked with a sign bearing the name of a TDF stage winner on the Alpe (they have more stage winners than turns, so some of the signs bear the names of two stage winners (and this is one of the few places you can still see Lance Armstrong’s name associated with the Tour, as Lance won twice on Alpe d’Huez)). Anyway, this was a “bucket list”-type day for us, and it was made possible by a day trip from our primary city destination of Geneva.
We never cease to be amazed by our experiences on our day trips. They will continue to be a staple of our travels, and we’ll share them with you on Middle Age Miles!
6. We Love Big Events
Another theme you’ll find in our travels is that we really enjoy attending big events. Sometimes these are sporting events, like football games or big boxing matches, such as our trip to Vegas for the much-ballyhooed Mayweather-Pacquiao fight a few years ago. While the fight itself was less exciting than we’d hoped, the weekend as a whole lived up to the hype. The people-watching at these big events is amazing!
We also enjoy attending other non-sporting big events, with our favorite perhaps being the Calgary Stampede. Stampede becomes the singular focus of the entire city of Calgary for a week and a half each July. The whole town is full of excitement and the buzz is alive. What better place could there be to spend a fun and memorable few days getting our “cowboy” on!
Of course, the big events tend to be expensive for hotels and sometimes for airfare. We’ve developed a few tricks that help us keep the costs down, and at Middle Age Miles we’ll share with you the ways we manage to attend some big events without breaking the bank (Mayweather-Pacquiao tickets excluded!).
7. We Like to Run (Well, Philly Likes to Run!)
Philly is a dedicated, in-shape runner. I used to run a bit myself, and although I’m now woefully out of shape, I still enjoy it. So one of our favorite ways to get outdoors and experience a city is to go for a run through it. We’ve had some great runs through cities like Paris, Munich, San Francisco, Chicago, Beverly Hills, and Washington, DC.
We’ve also traveled for some fun organized races, ranging from the Strip at Night Rock ‘N Roll half marathon in Las Vegas to the Course de l’Escalade race in Geneva. Strip at Night is a huge, incredible race, where the Las Vegas Strip is completely shut down to cars to allow the participants to run up and down the Strip amongst its massive casinos and beautiful signs. And Course de l’Escalade is the signature event of Geneva’s city-wide weeklong L’Escalade festival to celebrate Geneva’s defeat of the surprise attack of the Duke of Savoy’s troops in 1602, as legend would have it, by pouring boiling soup on the attackers as they reached the city gate. Part of the race course is lit only by torches! Course de l’Escalade is not a single race but rather has several different classifications, and the fun-run costume race is the most entertaining of all.
We have our eye on some more races and city runs in the future, and we look forward to sharing our running experiences with you on the site.
8. We Have a Hard Time Passing Up Happy Hour
I guess this one doesn’t require much explanation. We do enjoy happy hour time when we’re on vacation, especially when it comes with an incredible view like the one from Joe’s Rum Hut on St. John that you see above.
On Middle Age Miles, we’ll be glad to share with you our favorite happy hour spots as we discover them on our travels!
9. We Love College Football
As I mentioned in our “Meet Craig & Philly” article, I’m an Arkansas Razorback and Philly is a Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. We both love some college football, and each fall we generally make a trip or two to see each of our teams play. Woo Pig!!! Go Irish!!!
Just to put in a quick plug for our teams’ schools – Notre Dame is iconic. It is a wonderful place to spend a game weekend, and they know how to do it at ND. There are on-campus activities all day on Friday before game day, including the pre-game pep rally and the chance to walk down the north tunnel of Notre Dame Stadium, right down to the edge of the field. If you’re a college football fan, a game weekend at Notre Dame is a bucket-list item. And Fayetteville, Arkansas, is a beautiful college town in the hills of northwest Arkansas that’s a lovely place to visit in the fall. When the 70,000-plus Razorback faithful stand up and call the Hogs before the Razorbacks take the field against an SEC rival like LSU or Ole Miss, it’s a classic college football moment that will give you goosebumps beyond belief.
Besides the fact that college football takes up a bit of our fall travel schedule, it can require some tricks of the trade to find good hotel rates or points redemptions for college football weekends. There are only so many hotel rooms in Fayetteville, Arkansas, South Bend, Indiana, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Clemson, South Carolina. And the prices go way up for game weekends. We’ll give you some tips on Middle Age Miles that should help you out on game weekend.
10. We Love The Amazing Race
The Amazing Race is one of our very favorite tv shows of all time. Philly and I have watched every single episode of the Race (US version), some of them multiple times. [Yes, we have even watched the entirety of the ill-conceived Season 8 Family Edition of the Race. 29 of the 30 seasons of The Amazing Race are excellent. The Family Edition of Season 8 is not. We held that one for last, but we committed and gutted it out. That’s some dedication, folks.]
The Amazing Race is actually one of the things that has inspired us to travel, to get out into the world and see for ourselves some of the truly amazing places that have been featured on the Race. So when we travel, we actively seek out sites that have been on the Race to experience them for ourselves. Some, of course, are iconic – no one is going to miss the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe in Paris (TAR Season 1, Leg 2), for example. But some are obscure, quirky, or otherwise interesting, and that’s part of the fun for us. I mean, who seeks out the longest wooden bench in the world to make sure we get a picture there (TAR Season 28, Leg 4, in Geneva)? Or plots a run through the fields of Schwangau, Germany, to find the barn where clues were hidden in a haystack (TAR Season 3, Leg 8)? For us, this really adds some fun to our trips, and it’s very satisfying to find the exact location where a clue box stood or where a Pit Stop was located.
Going to Amazing Race sites has also helped us have terrific experiences that we otherwise probably wouldn’t have ever known about. One of them is captured in the featured image at the top of this article – our visit to the Rheinfall in Switzerland (also TAR Season 3, Leg 8). Riding the boat into the massive Rheinfall and climbing the rock in the middle of the falls is an experience we’ll never forget, and we probably never would have known about it, but for watching the Race.
If you’re an Amazing Race buff, you’re in for a treat at Middle Age Miles. We’ll take pictures and report on our visits to Amazing Race locations. And if you’re not an Amazing Race fan (yet), you might find some new and interesting places to travel – and maybe we’ll even inspire you to binge-watch all of the seasons of the Race!
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit more about us and our travel style, and we really hope you enjoy Middle Age Miles! Please “Like” and Follow us on social media at:
Please share and re-tweet our posts and tell all of your friends about Middle Age Miles! Thank you!