Category Archives: travel

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How did we do it?


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During recent travels, as my family’s designated navigator,  I relied heavily on my phone’s mapping app and its GPS capability .  At one point I was navigating using both the paper print out of a map that I’d been given and my GPS.  I’d already exclaimed to my husband, “How did we ever travel without a GPS?”  Now the conversation turned to a thorough comparison of paper maps versus GPS, along with memories of past journeys.

My husband and I have only discovered the joy of GPS in that past few years.  It gives us the visual map that we are used to but with the voice (we call her Lola) who gives all the directions and even changes course as necessary due to traffic and road conditions.  I know there are many who will laugh at me at this point for my amazement at something so commonplace, but I am truly thrilled with this travel technology.  It gives me peace of mind that we will not get lost and allows me to see the sights out the window more than I used to when I had to navigate using a paper map; but truth be told, I often just sit and watch Lola doing my job!  She tells my husband exactly when and where to turn, with advance warning, even if a road sign is missing.

In the days of paper maps, we explored a lot more of the area surrounding our destinations. That’s because many times we would overshoot an exit or miss a turn.  So we’d meander through city streets or desolate country roads trying to recognize something that was represented on our map.  The names of roads would pass by more quickly than I could scan the map. Then there were the classic arguments over whether or not we needed to stop and ask someone for directions.  We always did in the end, and so we also got an idea of what the local people were like.

I remember when my husband and I had been married for just a year.  On our first anniversary we moved from New York to California.  We packed a 26 foot U-haul truck with all of our belongings and drove the whole way with our German Shepherd lounging across two thirds of the cab’s bench seat.  My husband drove and I navigated. We’d bought a spiral bound Rand McNally book of maps.  It was quite large and devoted a page or two to the roads and highways of each state.  After we navigated through the whole state of Pennsylvania, my husband shocked me. In a giddy moment,  he ripped the Pennsylvania pages out of the book and tossed them out the window.  (Side note:  This is the only time he has ever littered!)  His act of finality showed the victory he felt: we’d made it through our first whole state, and it was a long one too!  However for me it symbolized that there was now, for sure, no going back; our directions were gone!

Soon after that we began to travel with small children in tow.  “How much longer?” and “Are we there yet?” were questions that were hard to answer with a paper map. They were not satisfied with an answer such as, “in about an inch!” I am sure paper maps are why the cliche answer “we’ll get there when we get there” originated in many frazzled families. Now, with a GPS, I am able to periodically announce to those in the car exactly how long it will be until we get there: “an hour and 17 minutes until we’re there!”   However, my remaining teenager does not even hear me through his earbuds.

Over the years, we’ve had a habit of saving maps, directions, books and brochures from special trips that we’ve taken.  I never did find a neat, comprehensive system for storing all those papers.  Some landed on the bookshelves.  Others were stowed in drawers, cabinets and closets.  Traveling was causing clutter in my home, especially the individual maps of specific areas.  Once opened up they were larger than me and never folded neatly back into their original shape.  Now,  with the addition of our GPS, which stores my favorite destinations, I have been able to toss many piles of loose maps and other travel papers into the recycling bin.  I even have a few empty shelves in one of my cabinets as we speak!

In just the short time I’ve been using a GPS, I can’t imagine traveling without it.  Although my husband and I predate the digital age, we think we have adapted well. He was one of the first to own a personal computer in the eighties and computerized any job he ever had. Though I prefer paper books to digital, I could no longer run my household without my laptop.  It may have taken us a little longer than some to discover the GPS, but now we are happy to add this to our must-have list of technological tools.  How did we ever live without it?



Avila Beach, CA


Avila Beach is a tiny paradise located on the Central Coast of  California. The main beach is barely more than a half mile long and the town is equally as cozy.  It is known for its mild temperatures. On a foggy day in San Louis Obispo,  Avila is the first place the sun breaks through.  The once unknown, defunct shipping port is now a busy vacation destination, attracting visitors both local and international.

Within its small boundaries are a plethora of activities for vacationers to do beyond the obvious beach, souvenir shops and eateries. A good portion of its space is bird sanctuary. Right alongside of this runs the three-mile long Bob Jones Hiking trail, beginning in the town of Avila Beach, next to a golf course, and ending (for my walk anyway) at the Avila Red Barn.  This is an extensive produce and baked goods “stand” with a petting zoo and lunch counter. For those who don’t wish to walk, the town hosts a farmers market on Friday evenings at which local farmers and restaurants set up booths and sell their wares. Saturday brings out the artists and there are many drawn to this inspiring spot. Everyday sees water sports available-kayaking, sailing, chartered boat rides, paddle boarding.  These offerings and many more are squeezed into the several square miles that make up Avila Beach.


The wildlife, which coexists with the ever increasing population, is my favorite part of an Avila Beach vacation. My husband and I forgo sleeping in (much to the chagrin of our teenagers) and  meet the sunrise every morning we are there.  We are rewarded with flirting Sea Lions, snowy white Egrets and the once elusive Great Blue Heron.  In the late afternoons, I have kayaked up the estuary and counted as many as nine Herons in plain sight. They give me the whole show, from seeking camouflage in the cliffs and trees to announcing take off with their loud prehistoric screeches and incredible wingspans.



Just last year I was able to cross “whale watching” off my bucket list when a pod of Humpback Whales chose to come play in the bay for the whole weekend my husband and I were there for our 24th wedding anniversary.  We saw them, unexpectedly, while walking on the pier, and fortunately had already booked a ride on a small boat the next day.  They didn’t disappoint.  From our dingy we were able to sit in awe of their majesty from a respectful three hundred feet away.  We’ll never forget our front row seats to see these overwhelmingly large and timeless creatures.

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My love for this beach town goes back more than 20 years. We stumbled upon it when my oldest was a toddling one year old.  Unable to stand the cold mornings on the neighboring beaches, she needed something else to amuse her.  We went exploring and found a small beach in a cove, called Avila.  Sheltered from the sea winds, it was a warmer place.  With only a convenience store and a couple of other businesses around it was very quiet in the mornings.   She was able to toddle from one end of the beach to the other, exploring tide pools and collecting shells, rocks and sand dollars.  We enjoyed it so much, we started regularly packing lunch and making this secret haven our main destination.

A few years later on a beach day excursion, now two children in tow, we were surprised to find bulldozers digging up piles of sand and dirt along the beach and front street. Disturbed by what we saw, yet not knowing what was going on, we were forced to leave for another beach.  Later we found out that a major oil company had allowed its refinery to contaminate our beautiful beach.  It would be closed indefinitely.  And while my family had to find another beach to call ours, the families of Avila Beach had to engage in a difficult lawsuit to make the oil company clean up its mess and restore the  beach.  It took years, but the outcome created the beach town that exists today.  The oil company had to clean up its contaminates and refurbish the beach and the store fronts. They built new public bathrooms, a promenade and a children’s park.  Today, a new visitor would not find a hint of the hardships this town went through.  Its beautiful, relatively new facilities are very welcoming.

My family has reinstated ourselves as Avila Beach regulars.  We once again walk the beach, exploring tide pools and collecting shells, rocks and sand dollars.  We love Avila’s new, modern look and the many happy faces of other visitors like us.  But we never forget a time when Avila was an unknown haven, a secret that had not yet been let out.