This week’s travel diary: A 32-year-old office manager road trips through New England with her husband.
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Occupation: Office Manager
Salary: Base of $26,000 a year plus commission, which usually averages out to about $1,250 total (including commission) every two weeks. I also make $500 a month from freelance work (I do bookkeeping for small businesses).
Travel Companion: My husband, T.
Travel Companion’s Salary: $132,000
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
Trip Location: New England, USA (We flew into New York City, but we spent time in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts).
Trip Length: 8
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 15
Companion’s # of Vacation Days: 35
Cost: We flew out of JAX and into JFK. Then vice versa. Direct flights both ways. First-class (because my husband is a princess. No, he’s actually built like a bear and has a bad back, so having the legroom and extra space is important to him). Flights were booked using credit card points so we paid no money out of pocket for these tickets. We also rented a car we booked through Enterprise for eight days with an extra distance charge for a total of $627.96 plus an additional $357.20 for a daily upcharge, a toll pass, and insurance.
Cost: The first two nights we stayed with my aunt and uncle in Connecticut free of charge. The next four nights we stayed in an Airbnb right on the beach in Plymouth, MA which we used as our home base for explorations ($827.56). We splurged for this trip since we are celebrating our five-year anniversary with this trip.
We bought my husband a winter coat on Poshmark for this trip: $42.80
I got my nails done before this trip (which I do anyway, but I did schedule an appointment outside of my usual time so they’d look nice for the trip: $30 ($25 + 5 tip)
We pre-paid for some days at a doggie daycare in case my sister-in-law wants to drop the dogs off some days (she lives with us and is, therefore, watching the dogs for free, but she can drop them off for some days if she wants): $190
I downloaded several free books but also paid for one to read on my iPad during the flight and any downtime we have: $3.99
I bought a backpack organizer on Amazon. I have a hand-painted backpack a friend made me that goes on all my trips with me, but it is just a big hole. I finally bought an organizer insert for it. It was $21.99 but I had a little bit of a promotional gift card left so I actually only paid $18.93.
We bought some last-minute travel items (gum and a small bottle of lotion) at Target. I keep a pretty decent collection of travel items but I was out of lotion and gum. $3.98
Miscellaneous post-vacation spending
Parking at the airport: $144.
We stayed in another Airbnb in Newport, RI our last night due to a last-minute change in plans: $209.16.
4:00 a.m. – I am awake and questioning every decision that has led me to this point.
4:32 a.m. – We have loaded the car, kissed the puppies, left a note for my sister-in-law and are out of the house. You’d think after five years of marriage I would schedule an extra 15 minutes in everything so my husband can “use the bathroom real quick.”
5:05 a.m. – At the airport, parked, and in the terminal. We get through security in less than five minutes (gotta love that TSA PreCheck). I stop at Starbucks and get a couple of bacon and gruyère egg bites. They cost $5.25 but I have a gift card so I don’t technically pay anything. My husband buys a breakfast sandwich and orange juice from Firehouse ($11.36) and I get a Diet Coke from a kiosk ($3.23). We board and my husband is shocked there is no in-flight entertainment system. Somehow I suspect this will end up with me giving up my iPad so he can watch a movie. $14.59
8:15 a.m. – Called it. I read (Spook by Mary Roach) while my husband watches Aladdin. We get off the plane, get our bags, and head to the rental car. We opt for the toll pass since we are unfamiliar with this area and aren’t carrying much cash. We also get the insurance just in case. They let my husband pick out the car. He picks a Range Rover. There is a $10/ day upcharge for the Range Rover, but he says it’s worth it. We also pay an extra $357.20 for the toll pass, insurance, and upcharge (included in pre-trip expenses above). We head towards my cousin’s house in Park Slope because I don’t want to drive into the city and I’m more familiar with Park Slope, having visited there several times. I downloaded an app called Glympse that allows me to invite someone to see where I am and kind of track where I’ve been. My granddad loves traveling and doesn’t get to do it much anymore so I downloaded it and sent him an invitation. I turn it on so he can watch us walk around NYC.
10:00 a.m. – We find a parking garage and drop the car off. (This is probably the time to tell you that my husband has a bit of a neuroses about parking the car. When we plan a trip, we must also plan parking. He absolutely hates driving around searching for parking, or trying to figure out where one can and cannot park. Thus, all of our trips are planned down to the location we will be parking, and what the parking will cost. This is simultaneously exasperating and endearing.) Our plan for the morning is to find a place to eat and then visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. After some discussion regarding Lyft versus the subway, we decide to take the subway. We buy a Metrocard and I find out my husband has never ridden the subway before. I give him a little primer on how the whole thing works and within three minutes we are on the R train headed into Lower Manhattan. $23
11:00 a.m. – We make it to the Financial District and are starving. Every time we travel I get restaurant recommendations from people and they almost always turn out to be useless. We have found that Yelp gives us the best results (you’re going to be noticing a lot of it in here. I swear I’m not sponsored by Yelp!). We find a restaurant called Suspenders and check out the menu. Looks delicious and has four and a half stars. It’s literally three doors down so in we go. We are the only people eating here but then, it’s only 11:00 a.m. I order the chicken Caesar wrap and T. orders a grilled chicken sandwich. The food is good, better than I expected ($46.10). We head down the street to the 9/11 memorial. My husband is an army veteran so we each get in for $18. My husband adds $2 on to each ticket as a donation ($40). $86.10
1:30 p.m. – That was heart-wrenching. We buy a small souvenir pin for our travel shadow box in the gift shop when we’re done. We get back on the R train headed to Brooklyn and my husband wants to talk and share photos and I just want to sit quietly. $8.66
1:50 p.m. – We get back to the car in Park Slope and pay for parking. We put my aunt and uncle’s address in Pawcatuck, Connecticut in the GPS and get the hell out of New York (both city and state!). $24
3:00 p.m. – Stop for snacks and drinks. I get a Diet Coke, some pretzels, and a Milky Way. The husband gets a Cherry Coke, Doritos, and a Snickers. I’m planning on keeping some of these as car snacks for all the driving we’ll be doing. $20.72
6:00 p.m. – We have arrived! My aunt and uncle live in Pawcatuck, CT, right across the river from Westerly, RI. My uncle isn’t home yet but my aunt welcomes us and gives us the grand tour. We decide to sleep in the third-floor bedroom since it’s the most private and also because it has a queen-sized bed instead of a king. I feel like I have to pack a wagon train to find T. when I wake up in the middle of the night in a king-sized bed. We wash up and my aunt starts dinner — ribs my uncle smoked, asparagus, and risotto. We have banana bread and ice cream for dessert. This, folks, is why you stay with family when they offer.
9:00 p.m. – I am craving a soda and my aunt and uncle don’t keep that stuff in the house. We run out and go to a gas station so I can get a couple of Diet Cokes and T. can get a soda also. I send my granddad photos we took today and a narrative about our day before I go to bed. He loves it. $6.50
Daily Total: $183.57
8:24 a.m. – My dad calls. I don’t answer but it wakes me up. T. and I spend some time cuddling and then scroll through some social media before deciding we’re hungry. I put approximately two pounds of dry shampoo in my hair because I assume we’ll be coming back here so I can shower before we go do anything else. Spoiler alert: we don’t.
9:15 a.m. – We head out in search of breakfast. We turn to Yelp and find a place called Mia’s. It’s right on the river which forms the border of CT and RI. I get Texas French Toast and my husband gets a breakfast platter. It is good. Not great, but definitely good. Our original plan was to go for a walk on Napatree Point but my aunt had to have some unexpected surgery on her wrist (so my husband and I are on our own today) and it’s rainy and cold so we scrap any outdoor plans. While we’re at breakfast I get on Atlas Obscura to see what’s nearby. I find a submarine museum where you can tour a submarine and I also find a sort of artist’s bazaar where I suspect we can find some excellent Christmas gifts. $35.59
11:00 a.m. – We have found the Submarine Force Museum. It was only about 15-20 minutes away in Groton, CT. We’re surprised to see it is totally donation-based. We brave the rain and run out to the actual submarine, the USS Nautilus. It’s the first nuclear-powered submarine in the world, and we take the audio tour. Very informative. There is also a whole additional museum piece, which has exhibits on how subs are built, how they were engineered, and the various weapons they carry in them. For a donation-based museum, this is top-notch (it’s also paid for by the Navy, apparently). We try to leave a donation of $10 but the iPad freezes while it’s processing our card. The docent says it probably went through but when we get home and check our credit card statement we don’t see it. Oh well. We also buy my grandmother an ornament in the gift shop and my grandfather a handkerchief with the US Navy seal embroidered on it (he retired out of the Navy and is literally the only person I know who still uses a handkerchief so this will just thrill him). We also pick up a few brochures of other sites since we’re really not sure what we’ll end up doing the rest of the day. We then decide to head back to the house to get an umbrella a jacket for my husband and then Yelp lunch places. We settle on a pizza place with four and a half stars, Casa Della Luce in Westerly, RI. $14.84
1:00 p.m. – Turns out they have slices as big as my head (literally, we took photos). We get garlic knots and some pizza. A++. From here we head to the other Atlas Obscura find, The Fantastic Umbrella Factory in Charlestown, RI. My husband adds me to a group chat he created with my family. My mom, dad, sister, and grandfather are all in it. This is nothing but trouble, I can already tell. $20.61
2:30 p.m. – At The Fantastic Umbrella Factory. I’m sure this place is great when it’s not sleety. There are about four different stores that are open; they all sell relatively the same items but with small differences. I pick up a couple of Christmas gifts, including an origami crane on a beaded hanger for my SIL, a prism to hang in the window for my mother, a pair of earrings for myself, a crystal and wire tree for my sister, and a build-it-yourself soda can airplane kit for my husband, plus a few odds and ends for stocking stuffers ($97.92). The place is cool but it is wet and freezing and not quite what I expected. (In all fairness, the description is accurate, I had just expected a kind of artists’ compound like I would have found in some towns in Florida and it wasn’t quite like that. It is a little more commercial, especially in the off-season.) We decide to stop at a gas station for a soda and then head back to my aunt and uncle’s in Pawcatuck, CT. ($5.53). $103.45
5:45 p.m. – We are showered (finally), warm, and happy. My aunt has made it through surgery without incident and is resting. My uncle builds a fire and we pull some leftovers together for dinner along with a small meal my aunt’s friend made for this recovery period. We all eat together and then I relax and read in front of the fire while my husband goes upstairs and shoots pool with my uncle. I send my granddad my daily text and photos and end up dozing off in front of the fire while texting my friend. I finally drag myself up to bed around 9:00 p.m. My husband joins me at some point.
Daily Total: $174.49
8:00 a.m. – I wake up to my husband rubbing my stomach. This is code for “I want to make love to you.” I resist because we’re at my aunt and uncle’s and that’s just weird, sorry. We get out of bed, pack up our stuff, say goodbye to my aunt and uncle and head out. Lo and behold when we mention in the group chat that we went to the 9/11 memorial, my dad makes an off-color comment and my mom lays into him. My sister jumps into the fray to defend him and I tell everyone I’m canceling the group chat if they don’t stop. We say our goodbyes and head out around 9:00 a.m.
9:30 a.m. – Stop at a Panera for breakfast sandwiches. I have a free breakfast sandwich or pastry reward, so I use it. I have Panera gift cards linked to my account but no one there can seem to figure out how to use them unless I have them physically with me. Whatever. I put the $11 on my credit card. It takes forever for them to make it and they end up getting the order wrong. This is unusual for Panera, but according to the unhappy lady next to me waiting for her food, not for this location. $11.52
10:05 a.m. – We have made it to Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA and pay for our entry fee. This is all my husband could talk about the whole time we were planning. They have three ships and one submarine there. We tour the battleship USS Massachusetts. It’s obvious they have put a ton of work into restoring this and laying it out for tours. We walk the whole thing. Literally everything that is open to the public we walk (and climb. So much climbing). My husband takes a ton of photos. It is about 50 degrees and rainy and gusty so we spend most of our time below decks. At the very end, we brave the upper decks for photos. We send some photos through the group chat. They manage to keep it civil this time. $40
1:10 p.m. – I Yelp a place for lunch. We settle on Sakonnet River Grille, which is right across the border in Tiverton, RI for lunch, and I get a chicken salad wrap and my husband gets a chicken sandwich. Excellent food and great service ($38.38). We also stop and fill the car up ($38.65). $77.03
2:30 p.m. – We head back to Battleship Cove (a ticket is good for two consecutive days so we can get back in). The submarine they have there is the same kind as the one in San Francisco which we toured when we were there a couple of years ago so we don’t bother with that one. The fourth ship is closed currently so we do a quick walk of the USS Joseph P. Kennedy. They are in the middle of refurbishing it and setting up tours, so it’s not quite as amazing as the USS Massachusetts. The museum, which has the largest collection of Titanic artifacts in the world, is also closed for the off-season. We stay for about 30 minutes then leave, headed to our Airbnb in Plymouth, MA.
3:30 p.m. – I didn’t realize exactly where our Airbnb is in terms of civilization (like, nowhere near). One of the drawbacks of Airbnb is that hosts do not have to show their real location on a map. They can choose where to “drop the pin” so to speak. This Airbnb is technically in Plymouth, but it’s about 20 minutes away from the city center. We start Yelping a place for dinner to decide whether we stay south or go north to Plymouth proper. We go to a grocery store and pick up some Diet Coke, cinnamon rolls, chips, and salsa then head to the Airbnb. $34.64
4:05 p.m. – This Airbnb is amazing! It is so quaint and well-appointed. Spotless and comfortable. I am thrilled with our choice. Having managed vacation rentals for two years I am very aware of what kind of work goes into this and I am so appreciative.
5:30 p.m. – We walk down to the beach access but we’re in the middle of a nor’easter and it’s rainy and the wind is about 30mph so we can’t go down (the stairs are rickety and are swaying in a way I’m not super comfortable with). We head out to dinner. We found a place called Lindsey’s Family Restaurant on Yelp and drive about 20 minutes to get there. While we’re there we start discussing our plans for the next day. We end up totally changing our plans: One of the brochures we picked up at the Submarine Force Museum was for the Newport Mansions, managed by the Newport Historical Society. We decide that instead of driving three hours to New Hampshire, we’d rather drive one hour to Newport, RI. And that we’ll move Boston to Saturday so we can park at Harvard instead of having to find somewhere else and Uber in. We pay for dinner and head back to the house to finalize plans. $45.40
8:30 p.m. – We get home and settle on doing two of the Newport, RI mansions tomorrow, including a below stairs tour of one. The brochure for the Newport Mansions tour is… extensive. Two of the mansions, The Breakers and The Elms, offer extra tours that can be added on for a fee. We decide that we will tour The Breakers first and then visit the Elms after lunch. The Elms offers a below-stairs tour for an extra fee which discusses what life was like for the servants who lived here. My husband buys tickets online for us: $64 for the audio tours of the two mansions, plus $30 for the below stairs tour. We shower and have sex then go upstairs to watch some TV and wind down for the night. I send Granddaddy his update for today. He retired as a captain in the Navy so he especially loves today’s story and photos. He says it looks just like the USS Midway that he served on when he was young and that the cots/ bunks bring back memories — “I got the top one. Comfy!” $94
Daily Total: $302.59
7:30 a.m. – I’m up. For various reasons, I didn’t sleep super great but that’s alright. I scroll through social media, get up, take one look at my hair and get back in the shower so I can dry it into something that doesn’t resemble Medusa. I text my high school bestie that she would absolutely love this house and that every fantasy we’ve had about sitting in a seaside cottage with a fire going and a book while rain and wind lash the outside is absolutely 100% accurate. It is just as charming as one imagines.
8:45 a.m. – My husband has Yelped a breakfast place called The Farmers Omelette. It’s about 10 minutes away so we grab breakfast there. I get cinnamon apple French toast and my husband gets a breakfast platter. The service is… interesting (the folks who own it obviously never ran a restaurant before and the guy’s wife has to keep reminding him to come check on us and he’s a little over the top friendly), but the food is absolutely delicious. $28.80
11:20 a.m. – We arrive at The Breakers in Newport, RI. It was the summer “cottage” of Cornelius Vanderbilt. We bought tickets yesterday so we pick up the audio tour and tour the home. It is incredible. It was built by Vanderbilt in 1895. It is about 125,000 square feet, with about 62,000 of that being living space. Every bathroom has two bathtubs (one for saltwater, one for fresh water, of course). His bathtub is carved out of a solid piece of marble and because it is so thick they would have to fill and drain it 4 times before the marble was warmed enough to keep the water warm. These homes were only used for about two months out of the year, so the servants would come in a month early, get everything ready, the family would stay for about two months, then the servants would stay an additional month to close everything back up (cover furniture and draperies, etc.). It is estimated that to open and live in these homes for “the season,” it cost over $300,000 (in 1920s dollars). So over the top but fascinating. If you are going to tour these homes, the audio tour is a must. You are directed room to room and they discuss various things in the room, along with giving you some facts about the homes and families. We finish up and start trying to figure out lunch before the next house tour. We also stop in the gift shop and get my dad a magnet and get us an ornament. We always try to buy an ornament on our trips so we can remember each trip while we decorate the Christmas tree. $26.64
12:45 p.m. – I find a place called Cru Cafe on (where else?) Yelp. My husband pays for two hours of parking. Why two hours? That’s anyone’s guess ($14). It’s packed but I find a table while my husband orders. I get a “grown-up grilled cheese” and he gets a turkey club. ($25.33) We discuss our next plans over lunch and are both a little short because we’re hungry and misunderstanding each other. We agree to eat quickly and go to the next house, the Elms. We have the servants’ life tour scheduled at 2:30 p.m. and according to my TripAdvisor research, it will likely take about an hour and a half to finish the audio tour. So we will need to book it to get there, take the audio tour, and be in place in time for the servants’ life tour. The food is honestly better than I expected. Would recommend it. $39.33
3:45 p.m. – We almost get done with the house audio tour before we have to report for the Servants Life tour. We do that tour, along with 14 other people. It’s very interesting. The servants here all lived on the upper floor of the home, so between the kitchens downstairs and the servants’ bedrooms upstairs, there are a ton of stairs. This house, unlike some others, gave each servant their own bedroom. They were also required to bathe every day, which was a luxury many of them were completely unaccustomed to. We are also told that the back stairways are all made of marble and white tile because when the home was being built there was a shortage of lower-class people looking for work and so when servants came in, they would be awed by this incredibly clean and beautiful below-stairs area and want to work in the home. We only toured two of the mansions but The Elms was definitely my favorite. The home was also the first house in Newport to be completely wired for electricity. The private tour was well worth the extra $15 per person (included in yesterday’s ticket purchase). We go out to the gardens and take some photos and then head home.
4:15 p.m. – We are dying of thirst so we stop at a gas station (you guys know this drill by now) and grab snacks. Diet Coke and a Carmelo bar for me, Mountain Dew and Twinkies and Snickers for my husband (he has asked that you please not judge him for the Twinkies). $10.03
6:00 p.m. – Time to find dinner. We find a pizza place (I’ll give you one guess how) and call ahead and order a pizza and some cheesy garlic bread. We go pick it up on the way home. Get home and watch the last episode of The Masked Singer that we missed (at home we have watch parties for this with my husband, my sister-in-law, and my best friend). My husband watches a movie while I send my granddad his text and photos (we took a ton of photos and got a lot of info today so this is a long text and I describe each photo for him). I also read my book with my headphones on. We go to bed around 9. $22.03
Daily Total: $126.83
4:45 a.m. – I am awoken by T. rubbing up on me again. So help me God, it is too early for this shit. I wait him out and he finally rolls over (he says when we wake up that he doesn’t remember this at all and must have been asleep).
7:00 a.m. – My alarm goes off and I get up to shower. My husband grabs me when I get out and we have sex. We complete our morning routine and finally leave the house. We stop and put gas in the car. The plan today is to head to Boston and go to the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, MA. I wanted to go to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum but my husband isn’t much of an art buff, so we researched some other plans and Atlas Obscura informed me that author Edward Gorey’s house is in Yarmouth, MA. So we’re going to try to make it there as well. $51.99
9:45 a.m. – After getting lost a couple times, we finally find the Harvard Museum of Natural History, on the Harvard campus. We were planning on parking in the garage (hence moving this to Saturday and all the other rigamarole we went through), but when we arrive at the garage the guy tells us we have to download the app and pay in advance to park there. So we say screw it, and pay for on street parking ($3). We walk the half a block there and pay admittance ($30). This was recommended to us by my aunt who suggested we see the glass flowers. The glass flowers were commissioned (with money from the family of a wealthy student) by a botany professor at Harvard. A father and son team of glass artists from Dresden, Germany created over 800 different species of plants made completely out of glass. The museum has several other exhibits including a mineral exhibit, glass sea life (by the same glass artists), taxidermy, skeletons, and a First Nations exhibit. They are all incredible but my favorite part is definitely the mineral exhibit. We hit the gift shop on the way out and buy a cast iron octopus phone stand for my sister, a t-shirt for me, and an ornament for us ($62.35). $95.35
1:00 p.m. – We get stuck in awful traffic on the highway, so I detour us through a couple towns. We are starving and T. sees a restaurant nearby on Yelp so we decide to stop. This is good because the only other place I can find is an artisanal cheese shop that doesn’t sell a chicken sandwich (my husband is allergic to beef and we don’t eat fish, which leaves his dining options limited at best). It’s a northeastern chain called 99 and is… well, it’s a chain. I get mac and cheese with Parmesan crusted chicken and my husband gets wings. We’re in a bit of a time crunch so we eat and get back on the road. $36.02
3:00 p.m. – We get to the Edward Gorey house in Yarmouth, MA. I grew up on Gorey (I had a bit of an eclectic childhood in which I read anything I could get my hands on and had parents who felt it was pretty cool to expose me to lots of things) and when I found this on Atlas Obscura I added it to my list of wants. Admission is $8 per person ($16). My husband has absolutely no idea who Edward Gorey is so I set him up with a Gashlycrumb Tinies scavenger hunt and send him off. Gorey’s cousin is hosting tours today and she takes us even though we get here super late. She helps T. with his scavenger hunt and is just the most wonderful person with all kinds of information. I break off towards the end because it’s past 4:00 p.m. when they are supposed to close and I don’t want to miss my opportunity to buy gifts. I get a book and a couple magnets for my mom, a box of thank you cards, and a couple magnets for us. My husband keeps whispering about how cool this is so I also pick up a copy of the Gashlycrumb Tinies for him ($62.58). $78.58
4:45 p.m. – We get home and lay out all our gifts so we can keep track of what we have versus what we need for people. Most of these will be given as Christmas gifts. Two birds, one stone and all that. We also take some time to figure out our game plan tomorrow. Our original plan was to drive up the coast to Kennebunkport, ME but we’re both not sure we want to drive three hours there and hours back. So we scrap that and find a scenic drive up the Maryland coast instead. The website with this recommendation has several stopping points for us so we decide we’ll just wake up, get on the road, and see where we end up. We leave for dinner at a place in Plymouth that my husband found on Yelp that is supposed to have amazing burgers and sandwiches.
6:05 p.m. – We have arrived at Katie’s Burger Bar. We pay $1.50 to park in a public lot. I get the Good Morning Burger and my husband gets a fried chicken sandwich. I have to admit I didn’t have super high hopes for this place but it is definitely delicious. I would go again for sure ($41.73). We get home and I work on typing up some Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews. We depend heavily on them while traveling (duh) and I always appreciate the ones that have information I’m looking for (like how long a tour takes, whether there are bathrooms, etc.). I must have waited too long to send Granddaddy his daily update because he sends me a message in the group chat: “no pics today?” I send a couple through the group chat and then send him a much longer message with lots of photos privately. He responds with, “great!” Oh, Granddaddy. $43.23
Daily Total: $305.17
6:55 a.m. – We arrived on this trip in the middle of a nor’ easter. It started letting up last night and this morning was the first morning we’ve woken up to the sun. Unfortunately, the rising sun rises directly into our bedroom windows and happens to be at the perfect angle to shine on our faces. My husband goes out to the balcony to take photos while I shower. We leave the house at about 8:00 a.m. to track down some breakfast and get on the road for our scenic drive.
8:15 a.m. – We arrive in Plymouth and find some free parking. We walk a block to a restaurant called Will & Co. I won’t even bother to tell you how we found it at this point. It’s a kind of industrial coffee shop/breakfast vibe; tall ceilings with exposed ductwork, concrete floors. Everyone is really laid back but you can tell they take their food seriously (Angus grass-fed marinated beef tips on the steak and eggs option, for example). My litmus test for any breakfast joint is french toast and they nail it. The food is delicious. Like really, really good. $37.57
10:00 a.m. – Our plan today was to drive the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway in Massachusetts. I’m a little bummed that I haven’t gotten to see the kind of amazing fall foliage that was my intent with this trip, but I then I realize that it’s more about experiencing a part of the country we’ve never seen before than anything else. So we decide that this day will be kind of playing it by ear. We make sure to turn on Glympse so Granddaddy can watch our trip. First stop, a seawall in Lynn. The tide is coming in but is still low enough that we can climb out on some rocks and get some great photos and videos. Some young kids are climbing on the rocks too and some lady yells at my husband that they could get swept out by a wave. When he tells her they’re not our kids she gets all huffy and “apologizes for caring.” Lady, I appreciate your caring but I don’t know what you want me to do about children that do not belong to me. We pass her on our walk back to the car and she’s lecturing some other lady about the waves. Guess she found the mother. Back on the road.
1:00 p.m. – T. started getting hungry a while ago but I couldn’t find anything that looked good near where we were so we kept going to Newburyport, MA, where there seemed to be several restaurants that we could choose from. We park in public parking and pay for 3 hours ($3). Our original plan was to go to a burger place called Lexie’s, but I guess I didn’t read the menu carefully enough because it turns out they don’t have a chicken sandwich my husband can eat. We leave and walk around the block and find a pizza place called Oregano’s. Sound the alarm! This is the first meal we have eaten on this trip that hasn’t been found via Yelp. We get risotto balls as an app and a pepperoni and mushroom pizza to share ($41.78). The risotto balls are amazing. The pizza is good. A little bit wet, but we are starving so frankly we don’t care.
We also have a conversation about what the plan is for the rest of our trip here. We had originally planned to head back to the city, grab a hotel or an Airbnb, and go to dinner with my cousin and her husband, then get up and get to the airport on Tuesday morning. However, my cousin in NYC has to be upstate for work and won’t be able to see us Monday which leaves us with a free day. We debate going to a park in RI then staying with my aunt and uncle in CT again. T. resists this idea and says he wants to try to extend our stay in our current Airbnb for one night. This means an over five-hour drive to the airport on Tuesday which I’m not really enthusiastic about. He messages our host and asks if we can extend our stay one night. I’ve seen her calendar. It’s booked. I start looking up Airbnbs in Newport, RI in the event she says no, which I suspect she will. I find a place that is basically the same price as what we’re paying for ours so I save it for future reference. We finish up lunch and decide to get some shopping done and check out the outdoor arts and farmers market they have going on here. There is a shop down the street that sells dog stuff. We stop in and pick up some homemade treats for our puppies ($8.53). My grandfather’s favorite candy ever is peanut or maple brittle. We’ve been looking for it casually throughout our trip and we continue our search for some here, to no avail. We finally get our car and leave Newburyport, headed back to Plymouth. $53.31
3:00 p.m. – We stop at a roadside “farm stand” in Ipswich that looks promising for peanut or maple brittle. No dice but we do take photos of some chickens and ducks and buy some cinnamon apple muffin bites and some spiced white chocolate brittle. The guy behind the counter recommends a place called Putnam Pantry as a potential place to find some brittle. $11.50
3:30 p.m. – We pass another “farm stand” which advertises candy. Why not? No peanut or maple brittle (at this point I’m just going to make the man some when I get home and wrap it in a plastic gift bag and tell him I got it on our trip). My husband gets chocolate chip M&M cookies, we each get a Diet Coke, and I get some apple cider donuts and some pumpkin brittle (maybe he’ll like it?). They have a corn maze but my husband is 6’5” and most corn mazes are only about 6’ tall which means they lose a lot of their fun when he can see the exit. $19.47
4:00 p.m. – No dice at Putnam Pantry. I do call my grandparents while I’m there and ask them if they want anything special. My grandmother says anything with chocolate and says my grandfather would like peanut brittle. Thanks, Grandmom. She also says they’re enjoying following along on my trip so I guess Granddaddy is sharing my daily updates with her. She probably won’t remember half of them by the time I get home and go see her but that just means we’ll have more to talk about! I buy Granddad some sea turtles instead and fill a bag with saltwater taffy for myself. I’m frustrated with how much money we have spent in this search for brittle (which is no one’s fault but my own. I recognize that I did not have to purchase anything from these places). $31.93
5:15 p.m. – Back in Plymouth, MA and we go to a place called Dillon’s Local. It’s a pub type place so my husband orders a Guinness. Normally neither of us drink but he feels like “living a little.” He is also super annoyed that our host hasn’t responded to our request to extend our stay. I explain that sometimes I forgot I got messages too, that he needs to be patient, etc. He orders wings and a side of waffle fries and I order a vegetable risotto. The good: the fries are amazing (and I do not usually like waffle fries), the risotto is delicious, and the Cowboys are on TV. The bad: my husband says the wings are very fried but are essentially tasteless. The ugly: the Cowboys are losing. And our host messages us back and says she has guests checking in tomorrow so we can’t stay another night. I send my husband the link to Airbnb in Newport and he messages the host asking if we can stay. The Cowboys get a penalty on a 3rd and goal and it’s time to leave. I can’t watch this anymore. We pay and leave. $56.15
6:30 p.m. – We get back to the Airbnb and go out on the balcony to take photos of the harvest moon. I want to walk out on the beach and see if we can get some better shots so we walk down to the beach stairs. Listen, I have lived in Florida my whole life. I have vacationed to other places but never New England. What the hell are all these rocks? How can anyone swim in the water when they’re going to get washed up against a rock? I’m fascinated by this. I want to climb all over them. Anyway, we get some photos and decide to come back down in the morning so I can properly see everything. We go back in and pack up our stuff and ready the house so we can leave tomorrow morning and sit down to send Granddaddy his message and photos. Today was a little scarce since we mostly drove but he enjoys it anyway. At some point during this, the host in Newport approves our stay and we are charged for it.
Daily Total: $209.93
7:05 a.m. – It’s cloudy again this morning but that’s alright. We make cinnamon rolls (purchased at the beginning of this trip at the grocery store) and hang out for a bit. We then walk down to the beach and take some photos and enjoy the scenery. We get on the road headed to Newport, RI for sightseeing around 9 and stop at the grocery store on the way out. We get a reusable bag so we can carry on our gifts and souvenirs, I want some Kleenex, and we each get a soda. $7.12
10:00 a.m. – My husband is hungry because the cinnamon rolls were not enough. We stop at a Dunkin Donuts so he can get a breakfast sandwich. I get a Boston cream donut. $5.40
10:30 a.m. – T. asks me to get online and buy our tickets to the “Beneath the Breakers” tour. We toured The Breakers on Day Four and my husband saw that they offered a below-stairs tour, except this one is more focused on how the house was built and the technology that ran it rather than the servants. He is very excited and wants to hear more about this. They do a tour every two hours and he wants me to buy the 12:30 p.m. tour. I tell him this means we won’t eat till around 3:00 p.m. and he says that’s fine. I’m not sure this is a good idea but he is insistent. I book the tickets ($40). Twenty minutes later he asks what we’re going to do to kill an hour while we wait for the tour to start. We have a discussion (I’m using that word euphemistically, it’s more like an argument) and finally come up with a plan. We decide to walk the Cliff Walk (which is literally a sidewalk on the side of a cliff that runs behind all these beautiful houses). There is an easy part which is paved, and then more challenging parts which are kind of just rocks. If it were up to me, I would walk the whole thing, but my husband is definitely not all about that and we head to The Breakers. Then we’ll make a game plan from there. We also stop at a gas station because my husband thinks he’s getting a cold and I would like to use the bathroom (PSA: Patriot Petroleum has the cleanest gas station bathrooms I have ever seen). He buys DayQuil and a water. I get a water and some gum ($7.06). $47.06
11:15 a.m. – We arrive in Newport, RI, and park at a beach parking lot which also services the Cliff Walk. We can walk it from here to the Breakers and back again easily and fairly quickly (about 20-30 minutes each way). We walk along the Cliff Walk, taking our time for photos and get to The Breakers at about noon. We walk the grounds for a bit and then wait for the tour to start. While we are doing this, the host of our previous Airbnb messages to ask if we’re still in the area. I accidentally left my Chocolate Bar eye shadow palette and some brushes on the windowsill of the house. T. tells her we’re not but asks if she can drop it off at a FedEx or something and they can call us for our credit card number or she can ship it and charge us through the resolution center. She says she’ll see what she can do. This irks me. I did this for years, I know that what I am asking is not challenging. We did it all the time for guests. As a superhost she should be used to this. Whatever, I’ll follow up with her when we get home and if she refuses I’ll just buy a new palette.
12:30 p.m. – We go on the tour. It is highly informative. We learn that this is actually the second iteration of the home. The first was destroyed in a fire, so Vanderbilt was so scared of a second fire that he made the home entirely out of brick and steel and then put a facade of limestone on it. He also built the boilers all the way at the edge of the property with an underground corridor running between and had two huge, steel fire doors in between that building and the home which remained closed at all times. This home was also one of the first with a residential elevator, and it was powered by a piston and water. The tour focused a lot more on the technology of the home and I think my husband enjoyed it more than I did. But I got to see the people portion at the Elms so it’s only fair he gets to see the technology portion here. Granddaddy texts me while we’re there and says Glympse shows lots of twists and turns. He thinks we’re lost. I send him a couple of quick pics. We finally get done and we are starving and walk back along the Cliff Walk to our car. Head to the new Airbnb to change clothes and find a place to eat.
2:45 p.m. – I am hangry. We walk a few blocks (the location of this Airbnb can’t be beaten. We are smack in the middle of downtown) to a restaurant called Brick Alley Pub. They tell us it will be a 20-minute wait but the bar is first come, first served. We wait in the bar to be called and as soon as a couple of ladies get up I am on their seats like a hawk. I get an open-faced Italian sandwich and my husband gets a chicken sandwich. $41.34
4:00 p.m. – We leave the restaurant and can’t resist the siren call of Kilwins – we each get a cone ($13.98). We pop in a couple of shops to see if we can find a better bag to use for gifts, but no luck. I do find a great shirt for my dad so I buy that for him ($24). We go back, have sex, shower, and re-pack our suitcases. $37.98
7:45 p.m. – T. is feeling sick, we need to decide on dinner and nothing sounds good to him. I want to walk out to a restaurant and bring something back but he can’t seem to find anything that looks good and time is ticking away. He’s feeling sorry for himself so finally, I tell him we just need to find some fast food somewhere because I am over it. We end up at a grocery store and he gets NyQuil, we each get a grocery store salad and some mixed fruit. Color me annoyed. This was not what I was intending on eating my last night in New England. We get back and eat while we watch Antiques Roadshow. We pack our things so we can get up and roll out tomorrow. We lay down to go to sleep and I almost forgot to send Granddaddy his message. I sit up to do that while my husband snores. $27.01
Daily Total: $165.91
6:31 a.m. – I’m up. Not sure why. I scroll through social media until my alarm goes off at 6:45 a.m. We get up, put away our PJs and get on the road, heading back to NY and JFK. We stop and put gas in the car ($38.60) and get a couple of breakfast sandwiches and sodas ($12.42). I send Granddaddy a message and turn on Glympse. He views it at about 9:30 a.m. Must have slept in. $51.02
10:00 a.m. – Google Maps is alerting us to traffic so I decide we’ll take an alternate route my aunt suggested. We get on the Merritt Parkway, which, according to my aunt and the quick Googling I did when we got on it, is a scenic parkway that runs through Connecticut. It has beautiful, architectural overpasses and some amazing scenery! We hit a little traffic here and there but nothing terrible.
11:00 a.m. – Stop and fill the car up so we don’t have to pay Enterprise the gas top-off fee. ($31). We arrive at JFK, drop the car off, and get into the airport. The TSA lady is a bitch and insists I take my shoes off. Why tf do I pay for PreCheck if you’re going to make me take them off anyway? I smile instead of snapping at her because the last thing I want to do is get caught up in the hell that is TSA. We eat lunch in the terminal which of course is a huge ripoff. $20 for a chicken Caesar salad? WTF. ($65.73). We get to the gate and I go grab my husband a Gatorade and a pack of DayQuil. I also throw in a mini Snickers bar because I feel bad for him. ($17.11). Finally, we get on the plane and head home. I can’t wait to see my puppies, sleep in my own bed, and not have to Yelp places to eat. Lol. $113.84
Daily Total: $164.83
How did you prepare for this trip?
To get some ideas for things to do, we spoke with my family members who live in the area. We asked for recommendations from basically everyone we knew who had been to that area and lived there. A lot of our trip planning came from Yelp or TripAdvisor recommendations. I also checked Atlas Obscura and found a couple of great places. In terms of monetary preparation, we buy everything using a credit card and saved our points for the flight. My grandmother gave me a very generous gift of $1000 a couple of years ago. We put this in a high yield savings account and contributed $100 (or more) to it every month to save up for this trip.
Did you use credit card points/miles to pay for parts of this trip? If so, please explain further:
Yes. We buy everything day-to-day on our credit card and pay it off monthly to get the points which can then be redeemed for airline tickets. It took us about two years to save up the points to book these tickets.
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation? If so, how much?
Surprisingly, no! We made the conscious decision before we left that we were going to have fun and do the things we wanted to do, even if it meant going outside of our budget. But I was very careful on the trip to try to only buy, plan, and do things that would give us a good return on investment. There were several things we considered doing that I scrapped because I did not think they would be worth the money we would pay. In the end we came in about $1,000 below budget and we paid the credit card off from savings as soon as we got home.
When did you book your flight? Do you think you got a good deal?
We booked these back in March when we decided to take this trip. We paid $0 so yes, I think we got a great deal.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
I’d have to say it was the Newport Mansions and Battleship Cove. I don’t have much interest in battleships and my husband doesn’t have much interest in the Gilded Age but we both enjoyed these things equally. If you do the Mansions, I highly recommend the small extra charge to do any “special” or “private” tours they offer. Both of the ones we did were phenomenal.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
Casa Della Luce (HUGE pizza, amazing garlic knots) or Will & Co. (I would gladly go back and try half of the things on their menu. I had a very hard time deciding and wish we had found this place earlier in our trip).
Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
I could have skipped the Fantastic Umbrella Factory (I didn’t expect it to be so commercial and it was a little uninspiring) or the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway (the road trip through Mass the ended in Newburyport). This particular experience taught me that we do better when we have a destination and something to do and so this drive was just kind of a drive with very little payoff. Luckily Newbury Port had the arts/ farmers market going on so we were able to make it into a destination.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Be aware of how far apart things are and be realistic about how much driving you’re going to want to do after sightseeing all day. We made the mistake of staying in Plymouth and assuming we could drive back and forth to New Hampshire, Kennebunkport, Boston, etc. We quickly realized that, while we could, it would eat up a significant amount of time and necessitated us changing our plans.
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
We would have stayed in the areas we wanted to visit instead of just in one place and probably could have turned them into separate trips in all honesty. A trip for RI & CT in which we stay in RI, a trip for MA in which we stay in MA, etc. I also think we would have been better off flying into Boston, even though there weren’t any direct flights. The driving from NYC and back was a time suck.
Where were you located in a specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
We stayed outside of Plymouth, MA (closer to Manomet, MA then Plymouth, MA) and it was beautiful but you definitely had to drive everywhere. I would recommend it if you don’t mind driving but I have often found our vacations are better when we stay in the center of town and walk. In that regard, our Airbnb in Newport, RI was phenomenal, as it was two blocks from downtown and Thames St.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do but didn’t?
We wish we had gone to the Castle in the Clouds and driven to NH. I really wanted to see some foliage on this trip and while I saw a bit during our road trips when we took NH off the plan (in exchange for seeing The Breakers & The Elms in Newport, RI), we took off my chance to see the leaves too.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance?
We both agreed that on the seventh day we were ready to come home. I think honestly my husband was ready to come home on Day Six because he was getting sick but by Day Seven I was definitely ready to go home. I would probably choose to do a 5-6 day vacation next time with a more compressed mileage (like just RI & CT).
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