Europe Day 4: Edinburgh

Day 4 of our European Adventure! We woke up at the flat we shared with an extremely nice English family and got ready for our outing. We started with Espresso (clearly) at the Brew Lab in Edinburgh and headed towards the middle of town.

The Brew Lab: I loved the periodic menu.

Next, a walk around town and a trip to the Art Museum. We saw an amazing impressionist display by Van Gogh, Daubigny, and Monet.

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Layers and layers of paint.

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The museum! This was a must.

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Outside of the museum. We would have taken more photos inside, but… we were not allowed. Dang security! We then wandered around a bit, before going to the Castle for a tour.

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Amazing pizza for lunch, street performers, coffee artists, and alley graffiti.

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Next was the Edinburgh Castle tour. What a monumental and historic place to go! I mean, Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth here…

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Pretty sure we are standing in the arena where they had jousting battles.

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To quote Hermione Granger via Harry Potter 3: “Is that what my hair looks like from behind?” Didn’t realize I was so curly!

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Scottie dog cookies in the Castle Cafe.

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The famous IRN BRU. It tastes like orange soda had a baby with bubble gum. Still don’t get why Scotland is so obsessed with this drink. It’s the number one soda in Scotland and considered “Scotland’s other national beverage” aside from Whiskey.

After the castle, we HAD to do the Scotch Whisky Experience. We read about it before we went there, and it did not disappoint! It was like a theme park ride, with barrel cars you got into, and you got a guided tour from a “ghost” teaching you all about how whiskey is made.

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Our ghost tour guide! He showed up to teach us all about whiskey.

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In the tasting room!

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Our scratch and sniff cards. Yes, I kept mine. Yes, it still smells great. (Bring me that Speyside!)

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The room of 3000+ whiskey bottles!

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We left the Scotch Whisky Experience feeling great (for obvious reasons) and headed to find some food to fill our newly boozed stomachs.

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I don’t smoke. But Sean Connery is my vote.

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Dinner at the Last Drop was amazing, and this place was not named for the last drop in the bottle, but the last public hanging site in this neighborhood… Needless to say, this place was haunted.

Last, but NOT least, we found a Big Lebowski’s themed bar! An entire menu of White Russians, American music, and Lebowski art, YES.

GOODNIGHT Edinburgh!

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A little window display we passed on the way back to the flat for a good night’s sleep!

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Europe Day 3: Scotland, Edinburgh

Day 3! We woke up in Aviemore and drove to the Cairngorm Mountians for a little more hiking, which was really just like walking on a big open trail. No trees, no hills, no steep climbs or scary rock edges.

Caringorms 4Caringorms 8After we left the Cairngorms we drove to Aviemore to an ADORABLE village where we stopped for lunch at the Mountian Cafe. We had no idea what we were in store for, but the food was beyond amazing, delicious, fresh, and the pastry selection would make anyone drool.

This cafe was having a “name our cookbook” contest. I put my slip in, for a name, and totally forgot about it. Then I was searching for a wedding present 11 months later for my friends that got engaged in Scotland and went to see if the cookbook existed yet, and it did! They got “The Mountian Cafe Cookbook, a Kiwi in the Cairngorms” for their wedding and were thrilled, since they too, forgot about the cookbook.

After lunch, we were off on our way to Edinburgh! We found our loft where we rented a room in a very generous English family’s house and then went off on a street adventure.

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As beautiful as Edinburgh is, it was beyond crowded for the Fringe festival, and really needed a good pressure washing.

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One of our first stops was to “The Black Cat”, a Whisky bar suggested to us by our water at the Red Skye restaurant in Skye.

Our first Whisky in Scotland! Next, we went to a place called “Dirty Dick’s” for dinner. We mostly picked it due to its humorous signs outside and the fact that they had a deep fried Mars Bar. Which happened to be a big thing in Scotland.

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Genius Marketing at Dirty Dick’s.

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We then walked around a bit, came across the Elephant House, a cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter!

I did not go in since the crowd was HUGE and there was a fee for people just walking in… So Reanna walked right in, ducking into an Asian tourist group, and took photos of the graffiti in the bathroom.

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We rubbed the nose of the Grayfriar’s Bobby, the statue of the loyal dog on our way back to the loft for the end of night 1 in Edinburgh, day 3 of the trip.

Europe Day 1 – Scotland and the Isle of Skye

Day one of travel was us driving to Canada, and flying out of Sault St Marie, transferring in Toronto, and flying into Glasgow. The first thing we did was (use the restroom, hello 8-hour flight) and pick up our car at the Enterprise station in the airport. Thankfully Dennis was willing to drive because neither Reanna or I wanted to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road. On the wrong side of the car.

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The first place we went was Loch Lamond, to get a view of one of the many the Scottish Lochs. We stopped at a few gift shops in the strip mall located there and had a taste test of ice cream before heading back to the car for more driving.

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We, of course, had to make a stop at the Glenfinnan Monument, to get a glimpse of the train bridge from Harry Potter. And get more coffee.

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Next, we stopped to see Eilean Donan Castle (below). We did not take a tour, or go in, but we stopped for some photos and got more coffee. Eilean Donan was a pivotal part of Scottish History, some major players of royalty and even Vikings used this castle.

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Next! We headed up to the Isle of Skye to see the Fairy Pools. I did some research and found out there is NO relation to anything mystical or magical. It’s just waterfalls and clear pools of water at the foot of the mountains. Once you drive up a very scary ONE CAR WIDE ROAD (where there were small spots for you to pull over and let someone go past you every so often) we parked in a gravel lot and made the 45-minute jaunt to the pools.

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The Scottish scenery was so gorgeous and lush and green, it was just amazing. I mean, we could have (and probably did) take 1000+ photos and it just barely touched on how beautiful it was to drive through Scotland.

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Scenery 13Scenery 14For our first night, we stayed at the Cowshed Boutique on the Isle of Skye. We found them on Airbnb, and it was so adorable and affordable for the 3 of us. It’s a Hostel setting, with the main room where you can cook, play games, use the internet, and meet other people staying at the Cowshed Boutique.

Cow Shed CabinCow Shed InsideCowshed 6The view at night was amazing overlooking the Isle of Skye. To get to sleep we had to pop a melatonin, since 11:00 there was 5 pm at home, and we somehow were not tired. Our flight got in at 6:45 am and we were ready to go even though it was like 1am at home. But getting to sleep… not easy.

Cow Shed 9Cowshed 2End of day 1: sleep and earplugs and sweet dreams! Next: Day 2 had a whole new list of activities in store for us!

Packing for 11 Days Abroad

Since I’m a planner, a goal setter, a master budgeter, I think I had just as much fun planning for this trip as I did actually taking it. Ok, that’s a stretch, but I did enjoy planning for this trip a LOT. We had only 10 months to plan, which is plenty of time, but we had fun every day hunting for deals. We got these amazing backpacks during a REI deal of the day for just $40 and decided it was the only bag we would take. This one is similar. We got that and a purse for a carry-on. Make sure your purse is safe for travel, it zips in every area, and you can wear it cross body. No easy reach in spots, no strings as straps that can be easily cut. We had no trouble with thieves but I read horror stories. Be safe!

Clothes to pack for 11 Days: I also got mesh sacks to keep categories separated so I didn’t have to dump everything out at once. Lifesaver!

  • 4 bottoms. This counts hiking leggings, 2 pairs of jeans, and shorts.
  • 3 kinds of shoes. Ballet flats to dress up or down, sandles, and hiking shoes that were also walking shoes.
  • 2 workout shirts/tank tops. We hiked a LOT. So remember: cotton is rotten (stinks fast). Bring synthetic fiber shirts.
  • 6 tops total. 1 fancy, 2 tanks, 1 t-shirt, 2 undershirts.
  • 1 dress. Something that rolled up small, and didn’t wrinkle.
  • 7 undies & 3 bras. (We did do laundry on day 5 thank goodness.)
  • 1 pair of tights to wear under a dress or under my shorts.
  • 1 Swimsuit (that didn’t get used.)
  • 1 set of PJ’s. Which was just leggings or spandex shorts with tank tops.
  • 1 scarf. It was August but the plane was COLD. My scarf doubled as a travel blanket.
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 1 Jacket for accessorizing
  • 1 Lightweight raincoat for hiking. (We got ours for $20 a piece! Steal!)
  • 2 Sweaters. I chose 1 black hoodie and 1 black cardigan
  • Small, roll up, quick drying, microfiber towel.
  • Smaller Fold Up Purse – Cross Body – for small day trips.
  • Baggu Bag for shopping around town – no plastic wasted or needed!

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PRO TIP: Wear your heaviest and bulkiest items on the plane so you don’t have to pack them!

I researched Pinterest and many travel blogs and came up with what was needed for the plane Carry-on:

  • Book to read / Sketchbook / pencils & pens
  • Water Bottle that doubled as a hot mug. I got this one.
  • Chargers / Headphones
  • Travel Plans / Printed Itinerary
  • Sunglasses / Eyeglasses
  • Earplugs / sleep mask / inflatable pillow (which I barely used)
  • Gum and mints (you want to feel fresh after a 10-hour flight)
  • Wallet / Passport / Cash / Cards
  • Snacks and Teabags
  • Extra Zip Lock bags for convienience.

In a smaller zip up bag inside my carry-on/purse:

  • Bandaids
  • Dramamine
  • Tums
  • Asprin (all pills went in a small ziplock – no bottles)
  • Contacts / Case
  • Tissues
  • Plug in Converter
  • Small Lotion
  • ChapStick
  • Emery Board – cardboard. I HATE having chipped nails.

In a small bag inside of my large backpack for toiletries:

  • Travel sized toothbrush
  • A half used tube of toothpaste
  • Face Moisturizer, sample size
  • Daily Vitamins
  • Travel Hair Spray
  • Mini Straightener
  • Travel Sized Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Hair Ties / Bobby Pins / Cotton Balls
  • Face Wash and Face Wipes
  • Sunscreen
  • Makeup Essentials – just a few items, not the whole bag.
  • Deodorant – Travel Size
  • Hair Comb

I hope this helps some people planning a long trip abroad or with limited space! What could you not live without on a long trip?

Europe: Planning for 11 Days Abroad

Last August my best friend, her boyfriend, and I set out to take an 11 day trip around Europe. It started with a simple question the in November 2015 “You wanna see a play in London next August? My friend accidentally got too many tickets.” (By the way, the Play was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and it was amazing.) And without hesitation, my answer was YES. We decided to ask the boyfriends, but my relationship did not last much longer so I ended up going solo, and hers turned into an engagement while on the trip (more on that later) and a wedding just last weekend.

So since we had a mere 10 months to save, plan, and book things, we got cracking! We started a joint Pinterest board on places to see, and destinations to visit advice from locals on bars and restaurants, and advice on what to pack. Since the trip centered around London for only a 1-day long play, we decided to stretch the trip to 3 countries, and 3+ days per country. We all agreed that less than 2 weeks was good with our jobs, and our budgets. We started in Scotland (her boyfriend’s bucket destination), renting a car and doing a full on Scottish road trip, went to London for 3 days, then Paris (my bucket list) for 3 more before flying home. He planned Scotland, we all planned London together, and I planned Paris’s destinations. This took the heat off of butting 3 heads together. If we had a bucket list item, we aimed for it, all else was fun, and we kept things open.

Here’s how the planning went:

  • First of all, get a notebook/binder to write things down, keep print offs, maps, lists. We had our itinerary, calendar, lists of clothing, what to pack in a carry on (all in future posts). It was great to have it all in one spot. We got our cute tiny sized binders at Target in the $3 spot.
  • Flights: We got our flights from the google flight matrix. You’re like, what is that? WELL friends, thank me later. It finds you the absolute cheapest flight out there. Better than ANY travel site. My travel companion did a search for at least 5 hours away from Green Bay and instead of flying out of Chicago, we flew out of Sault St. Marie, Canada (same drive distance, WAY less hassle) we found plane tickets from Canada to Glasgow, then Paris back to Canada for only $800! Round trip!
  • Lodging: ALL of our rooms were booked through Airbnb. The site is so easy to use, easy to communicate with homeowners, and we found locations exactly where we wanted to be, and prices split between the 3 of us made each room an average of $30 per day. Sure we checked travel sites for hotels, but the Airbnb was cheaper, and we got rooms to ourselves and met locals who gave us advice on places to see and eat.
  • Car: We knew we wanted to drive around Scotland from Glasgow, then up and around clockwise, ending in Edinburgh so we got a tiny car with Enterprise. This was the only time we rented a car, the rest was on foot or via Uber around town. We only needed to take 3 uber rides total, which was really cheap in Europe.

  • Trains: We planned to get our train tickets early once we locked down an itinerary, and booked our train from Edinburgh to London via Virgin Trains and then booked our train from London to Paris via Euro Star and printed ALL confirmations and kept them on us. We checked the difference between flying between these destinations, taking a bus, renting a car, but all in all, the trains were the best choice financially.
  • Passport! Make sure to apply for your passport early, if you don’t have one. They can take up to 4 months to arrive! And make the appointment with your post office ahead of time also. (Which is how I got mine)
  • Budget: I set a “this is probably going to cost me xxxx dollars, we leave in 10 months, so I need to save xx each month to get there” rule. This kept me from spending too much in the months leading up to the trip. I would constantly ask myself things like: “Do you need to spend this $5 at Starbucks or do you need coffee in Paris?” That helped me save my money!

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  • Guide Books: These were the BEST travel books we found! Tiny, light weight, and we were ablt to take them with us. There are color-coded neighborhood maps, and pull out street maps in each guide with recommendations based on where you are. We got Paris and London.

I did not set an “I will not spend over this amount of money on this trip” rule. I figured it was a once in a lifetime trip, just GO. Damn how much it will cost! But I’m also not stupid and didn’t want to go broke because of it. We were incredibly frugal, got great deals on things, and split costs 3 ways which made this trip doable. I DID set a budget on food once we got there and it wasn’t even a problem at all. We found grocery stores for breakfast items, packed snacks for walking around, and really only ate out for dinner and sometimes the occasional lunch, keeping spending low. We had next to NO room in our backpack to bring things back, so we kept souvenirs small. I also had my portion of the trip completely paid for when we got there and only used credit cards or a debit card once we actually got there for food or small items. That felt good, knowing the trip was paid for by the time I got on the plane!

Next time: How to pack for the trip in just one backpack! AND what we did each day. Happy travels!

Hiking Solo

Recently I talked with a coworker about her love of hiking. I have never really been hiking before, and thought it sounded kind of boring. Me? Alone? Trees? Why? Sounds unproductive. My brain works at a different speed than that. I need to stay busy to feel like I’m accomplishing something. But my brain also told me that I needed this. I needed to unwind, disconnect from technology, people, and reconnect with what I wanted in life and what was important to me. So I asked her for a good route here in Wisconsin and she delivered! I decided on Kettle Moraine State Park, the Zillmer Trail. I did about 5 minutes of research on what to bring, it was only a 5 mile hike after all…

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Make sure to bring:

Water, small and filling snacks, (as not to get a stomach cramp) a book to read, something to take notes down on when you have an epiphany, more AND less clothing in case it’s hotter / colder than you thought, toilet paper, bug spray, sun screen, some kind of hat, good hiking shoes, some way to communicate with the outside world in case of bears / rocks / werewolves or other dangers, and an open mind.

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I went hiking on the anniversary of the passing my Step-Mother who was in my family for 19 years before she succumbed to cancer. I had decided this hiking trip would be my date with her, where I can walk around the woods and talk to her, shut off from everyone, and just be me. I had a few goals going into the woods as well, so I could have an objective when I came out the other end of the trail.

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Hiking goals:

  1. Figure out what I want from the next 5 years.
  2. Figure out what I LOVE in this life and don’t budge on letting those things fade. Keep the things / people / places you love, dear to you. And keep them. It’s what makes you, you.
  3. Figure out what I want from the next man in my life and what I’m willing to settle for and not settle for. This is really important. DO NOT SETTLE.
  4. Love yourself first. Drill it into my head.
  5. Talk to the woods. Step mom. Grandmother. Chipmunks. A random snake.
  6. Listen to music and dance a little in the woods. This happened as well.

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Hiking lessons learned:

  1. Everything in life is about balance. Working out / rest days. Eating well / comfort food. Helping others / taking time for yourself. Social time / alone time. Accepting life / changing your future. When the scale tips too much in one direction is when life gets out of balance. You can feel it, and you can adjust accordingly.
  2. Only accept from a future partner the love you put into the relationship. Don’t settle for less than how happy you are being alone. A partner should be an ADDITION to your life, not someone that makes your life less amazing.
  3. Life is short. Grab it by the cahones. Take it. You only get this one precious chance.
  4. Your past isn’t you. YOU are you. Your past just makes you who you are today, in this moment.
  5. Accept others / love yourself. Love others / accept yourself. But love yourself first. The rest of the things you’re looking for in life will follow.
  6. You can love without expectations. Love others because you are a loving person. Don’t expect others to give you the care and generosity that you would give to them. You only get hurt when you expect. Just be careful about being taken advantage of. You’re a person with needs too.
  7. You are not crazy for talking to relatives that are passed. If you think they can hear you, they can. Who is anyone else to say otherwise.

SO it may sound crazy but when I was done with my 5 mile solo hike I was a little different of a person. I forced my overactive anxiety ridden brain to shut off for a few hours, no one could get a hold of me, and I had to think about what I needed instead of what other people needed for once. So get out there! Unplug and unwind, reconnect with nature, ask yourself, what do I love / need? What makes me happy? And then go after it!

 

Road Trip Map: Elizabethtown Style

So the fiancee and I are planning a road trip to the west coast this summer to celebrate being young, and engaged. We want to do a total west coast camping and driving and biking excursion, using flier miles and bringing a tent and just playing everything by ear. But me, I can’t play everything by ear! I’m a total control freak. I need to plan some things. I plan on planning things. Haha. Where are the gas stations? Where will we sleep? And most importantly, where will we eat? I will surely be doing a TON of research ahead of time, and putting it somewhere I would like to resemble the awesome road trip map Claire made in Elizabethtown for Drew (Orlando Bloom.) This movie isn’t that good. Minus the soundtrack and the eye candy, there’s not much good here. I’ve already blogged about this, I’m sure. But this book is inspiring! She also must have stayed up like a robot for days straight to make it, there’s not enough time in the, like 3 days, she knows this guy to make this EPIC map, er, binder of awesomeness.

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TOOLS NEEDED:

  • Binder
  • Tons of paper. In many colors.
  • Printed maps, or actual purchased maps
  • Tape (washi, scotch, double sided, or anything you desire)
  • Binder page clear sleeves
  • Thick cardstock
  • Post it notes
  • Elmer’s glue, gluesticks, mod podge, adhesives.
  • CD sleeve pages and blank CD’s.
  • A computer with a CD burner, and printer.
  • Polaroid Camera.
  • Instant camera and point and shoot camera for the trip.
  • Every brochure and business card, stickers, bumper stickers, placemats, you can get your hands on.
  • Wine. Lots of wine.

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 Claire and her planning. Glue stick and magazines and brochures galore . Image cred.

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Where is that cat? You know cats love crafts. And if she is sitting on the floor, the cat would be ON HER.

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Intro to book with lots of maps.

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He starts in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and ends in Oregon, his home state.

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Here’s Drew’s first look into the book. I’m sure it’s a little overwhelming since Claire has timed every second of his day.

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Here’s a sample of the book. Where did she get all those postcards on such short notice? My book will have to have blank pages to fill as the trip goes on. You should have a passenger to read the directions to you. It must be hard to drive and read this novel at the same time.

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A true testament to the sharpie. She lists the music she picks for him. All 42 hours worth!

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More music and pull out brochures. Then again, Claire IS a flight attendant. Maybe she collected all of those brochures on the job?

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Full of brick-a-brack, she also owns a Polaroid.

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Claire also randomly has a map of where Drew is going! That’s convenient. This site has pics of ALL the map shots. I don’t want to steal them all, so I took some of my own.

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The book includes highlighted maps that pull out everywhere. In this scene Drew scatters some of his father’s ashes into the Mississippi.

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Little notes and phrases everywhere. I will love to do this, as well as overheard conversations and little reminders of the trip.

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Again with the Polaroids! I think I will have to get one for the trip… So I can have instant photos for my book!

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How did you document a road trip? What are your favorite destinations?

Happy driving!