Ok, I admit it. I’m a travel nerd. I make lists and check them twice. If we’re going somewhere new, I research Trip Advisor and websites to find out interesting places to go, the best hotels for the money and the tastiest local restaurants. Life’s too short to miss out on adventures, stay in crappy places and eat bad food!
I buy travel guides at Goodwill for places we might want to go in the future, but limit it to ones from the last five years. Those books are expensive if you go buy them new! I have a stockpile ready for our future trip to Italy, Yellowstone and the Caribbean. If we see a deal on airfare to one of our bucket-list places, I’ll be whipping out those travel guides!
Depending on where you are traveling and what time of year it is, you will have to decide how to pack. For our annual trips to Soliman Bay, Mexico, we’ve gotten it down to the minimum. If you are going to a casual beach destination in the Maya Riviera for a week or so, here’s your list on how to get there and what to take…
DESTINATION: SOLIMAN BAY, MEXICO
Confirm Reservations for:
For us: Nashville to Cancun = 2 hour, 45 minute non-stop on Delta Airlines, www.delta.com
Try to book at least 3 weeks in advance if possible. If you wait until the week before, they jack the rates up. You can sign up at www.airfarewatchdog.com to send you alerts on when to get a good deal for destinations. We also use kayak.com to check out the cheapest routes and carriers to a destination. Some airlines such as Southwest do not participate, so you have to check their sites.
AIRPORT PARKING RESERVATIONS/COUPON:
We use The Parking Spot located just a mile or two from the Nashville Airport to leave our car when we fly. They are a franchise and have them at other locations as well. You can get a coupon from their website, or check your printed out boarding pass for one included (Delta has them on theirs offering 20% off). They provide limo or van transport to and from the airport. We generally never make reservations, but you can. They will also wash and detail your car or do oil changes while you are gone. www.theparkingspot.com/
We have stayed at Nah Uxibal or “House of Good Energy,” on Soliman Bay for years and love it. It’s our home away from home… I’ll be featuring them more this week and you can check out my previous post this week where I introduced them. They can accommodate couples in the casitas, studios or their new house, the big house has two bedrooms and several futons, or several of the units can be rented for groups while retaining their individual privacy. www.nahuxibal.com
We use Easy Way Cancun Car Rental, http://www.easywayrentacar.com/
We have used Easy Way for the past five years or so, and the only problem we ever had was a car that was badly aligned due to the previous people bouncing it down the car-eating, pot-holed road from Tulum Beach to Punta Allen. (If you’ve driven it before, you know why the car lost it’s alignment).
As you exit the Cancun airport doors, Easy Way has a representative standing to the left of the door with a sign with your name on it. They radio a van and you wait 10-15 minutes and they take you to their agency a little bit over a mile from the airport. If you are thirsty, you can get a drink from the outdoor bar while you wait on the van.
When you arrive at Easy Way, it’s plain and no frills… Just so you know. But they had a pretty new fleet of cars in January, their office is air-conditioned, they are friendly and they speak English. Tell Jesus that Jamie and Wally sent you. It is very convenient that there is a Pemex gas station right in front of their entrance, so when returning the car you can fill it up right before returning it, as is required to refill it as you found it. Now if it was empty, you can return it empty. Be sure and check the ac and radio to make sure those work too!
We have also used Blue Way Rental Agency and had no problem with them. They are set up basically like Easy Way but have a little bit nicer looking place. We have used several of the rental car agencies that are “on-site” at the airport and refuse to use them ever again. Here are a few reasons: 1) They charge an extra fee for being at the airport. 2) They try to scam you when you bring it back, saying you damaged it, etc. 3) They have high-pitch sales people hassling you to “take advantage” of touring their great vacation rentals, etc., in exchange for getting a free excursion or even cash. IT’S NOT WORTH IT!!!!… DON’T WASTE YOUR VACATION TIME ON IT UNLESS YOU WANT TO BUY A VACATION RENTAL AT A RESORT.
No matter which agency, ALWAYS check the car with the representative THOROUGHLY when you pick it up, I recommend taking pictures with your phone camera or camera that dates them for your own records. This gives you proof of whether you did or did not ding the car or lose the gas cap. You should also check with your own car insurance company to see what it covers you for when out of the country and using a rental. This will let you know what extra insurances you need to get from the rental agency.
****BIG FAT TOURIST DRIVING ADVISORY*** If you leave the major highways, go SLOWLY and cautiously. The potholes as of July 2012 are HORRIBLY deep and big. Friends of ours had 3 popped tires and 1 cracked rim. You do NOT want to ruin your vacation by hanging out at the tire shops – if you’re lucky enough to be close to one. And if you do get a flat tire, check and see if there are other tire stores that might be able to patch, (in extreme cases weld cracked rims), have cheaper versions.
MY PACKING CHECKLIST FOR A WEEK IN MAYA RIVIERA IN JULY
(** I note July because in Jan or Feb you may need a sweater and few extra clothing items as it can get chilly in the evening)
We have been trying to avoid the LONG, LONG, LONG (did I mention long) lines at Delta returning to the U.S. when you have to check luggage, and now take carry-ons. Since many things are provided by Nah Uxibal and many of the vacation rentals and hotels, this lightens your load and vacation stress. If you are a diver, most of the dive shops rent equipment if you don’t want to have to check baggage.
Start packing with:
Overhead stowable sized carry-on suitcase with rolling wheels – check your airlines requirements – do NOT ASSUME it will fit.
3-6 swimsuits (for me) or just one or two if you want to rinse and wear every day (Wally). Nah Uxibal has clotheslines at each unit you can rinse and hang to dry. I place my swimsuits and panties in a gallon size ziplock bag to keep them from slithering around in my suitcase.
For me (female):
• A couple of thin short pullover dresses
• White long-sleeved thin blouse to wear when in sun to keep from burning and a few light-weight tee shirts
• 3 or 4 short skirts (choose thin and light – NO DENIM) and sleeveless blouses for meals and excursions
• Underwear, nightie, one pair of short socks for any jungle excursions so I don’t get blisters
• A few tee-shirts and light-weight shorts. He also usually takes one or two button-down thin light-colored dress shirts or tropical shirts for meals out on the town. Also one golf shirt to play golf with the guys. You can rent golf clubs and shoes at most of the courses, but might tuck in some balls and tees so you don’t have to buy them. You can check out the area golf courses at: http://www.rivieramayagolfcourses.info/
• Underwear, socks
**We’ve found we wear the same things over and over again, and you really don’t need as much as you think.
• COMFORTABLE sandals and pair of surf shoes to walk on rocky areas around beaches. Wally swears by his Keen brand sandal hikers as being light and comfortable. They didn’t have my size so haven’t tried them yet. Our dive boots/shoes to wear with our flippers.
• Baseball cap or hat of your choice – the sun is STRONG down there.
• Sunglasses are a requirement – the sun is BRIGHT down there.
• We take our own snorkels and fins, but they do have some that you can rent or borrow at most of the places on Soliman Bay.
• We also pack a pound of our favorite whole bean coffee for the week. At Nah Uxibal, they do provide coffee and a grinder and it is fine – just not our favorite. We also take along a quart bag of powdered Gatorade to keep hydrated.
As you are only allowed one quart-sized bag of liquids and gels per person, you have to think about what you HAVE to have. Nah Uxibal provides soap and shampoo, so those aren’t needed. There is usually some sun screen in most of the units left by guests as well.
So for your quart baggie: if you have color treated hair, I would recommend you take your color shampoo, anti-bacterial hand gel, lotion, shaving cream or gel, toothpaste, eye drops, ear drops for swimmer’s ear, anti-bacterial gel, ****mosquito repellant ~ DEET **** for jungle and inland excursions and sometimes around Soliman Bay if the wind stops blowing.
IMPORTANT: Place your quart baggie in an easy-to-get-to pocket so you don’t have to undo your suitcase to get it out.
For your other essential toiletries, small brush, toothbrush, deodorant, chap stick, mascara, lip gloss (I don’t take any other makeup as it just melts off usually and really, why bother?), etc. You can always pick up stuff you forget at the local groceries or just buy it there.
I also pack a small first aid kit with band aids, alcohol and iodine wipes, aspirin or tylenol and tums for hangovers, anti-diarrheal pills for Montezuma’s Revenge (steer clear of salads, tap water, unwashed fruits, etc. and use the iodine solution provided in the units to soak all of your fruits and veggies).
We usually also pack some of our favorite snack bars, nuts, etc., in ziplock bags.
A few extra books (don’t forget your travel guide), games, cards. There are books left by guests in the main foyer at Nah Uxibal as well as many of the other house rentals, but I always take at least two paperbacks. Kites would be fun for kids and not take up much room.
Small nightlight, headlamp and flashlight
In a separate backpack to stow under your seat:
Passports & Drivers Licenses – DO NOT FORGET THESE OR YOU WON’T MAKE IT PAST THE AIRPORT...Put them in a handy pocket of your backpack or purse that are easy to get to. (We actually know someone that was leaving on their honeymoon and forgot these… wasn’t pretty)
• Plane tickets/boarding passes… ditto from above. Keep with passports
• Current book of choice
• A water bottle that you can empty at the water fountain and refill later when past checkpoint (unless you like spending money for bottled water)
• A few snacks for the ride and chewing gum
• Ear plugs – handy for crying babies and snoring husbands
• Two pens – you’ll need them for filling out customs paperwork on the plane, and hardly anyone has them. The paperwork items you are filling out on the plane are VERY IMPORTANT! When you go through customs they will keep one, and there is one that you have to have on your return flight, so put with your passport and do not lose.
• A small notepad (for the nerdy types like me)
• Cell phone chargers, Ipod and chargers, laptop plug, cell phone car charger (to use in your rental car), car plug-in for your Ipod or phone (unless you like the Spanish stations). We put all of the chargers in ziplock bags to so they aren’t “loose” in your backpack getting tangled in everything. This is also handy if security decides to pull all your stuff out to look through it.
• Camera and accessories
• A small thin blankie or pashmina scarf for keeping warm on the plane (I get cold easy), and neck pillow.
• I take a small purse that I strap over my body so I am hands-free and it tucks down in my backpack when traveling.
So you’ve arrived, have picked up your rental car and are ready to head south. If you took an early morning flight like we usually do, you’re hungry and the non-driver is ready for an ice-cold Dos Equis to get this vacation started. You can pop in the Pemex gas station right in front of Easy Way, or when you get on the 307 and go just a little ways there is a Pemex on the right and a burrito restaurant (didn’t catch the name last time) beside it. We grabbed some burritos, which were cheap and good, and Wally picked up a six pack at the Pemex for the road for me to work on as he drove. He’s the more confident driver so I let him do most of it.
So here’s your last list for the day, which you’ll need to print before you go and pack in your backpack where it’s handy. It’s a grocery list – yes, I know nerdy, but we’re going to be driving right by a new grocery, Chedraui, as we go through Puerto Aventuras and we can stop in and pick up most everything we need for the week. As there are quite a few Italians that live in Puerto Aventuras, this Chedraui stocks a lot of delicious Italian foods and wines that you won’t find anywhere in Tulum. Also, by doing the grocery shopping now, we’ll save drive time later and be be ready to move right in when we hit Nah Uxibal.
Several friends also like to take favorite or new recipes with them, or have them on their laptop to consult. You can adjust this to your taste buds, but gives you a pretty good run-down. The groceries in Mexico also sell wine, liquor and beer so this is one-stop shopping.
MEXICAN GROCERY LIST
(ingredients for key lime pie, one of our beach favorites…Recipe at bottom)
Graham cracker pie crusts (look in freezers or fridges with pie stuff) or if you can’t find, see below recipe to make from scratch.
Can of sweetened condensed milk
CONDIMENTS: (Nah Uxibal fridges usually have the basic condiments so you can check on this first and stock up later – or play it safe and get your favorites)
Eggs (6 for key lime pie), so 2 doz for week – breakfast egg burritos are yummy
Cheese – mexi mix, mozzarella, parm, local choices
Rolls for sandwiches
Steaks – Arracherra
Beans: Black, Charro, White
Spaghetti, tomato sauces, pasta for spaghetti
Juices for cocktails/breakfast – there is usually one in the fridge already, along with a milk
Beer – XX
Tequila – The tequila we always get there is the Centenario anejo (the round bottle usually in a cardboard container) great for shots.
The Centenario repasado is good too and a bit less expensive
If you forget anything, go visit the new Chedraui in Tulum. As you go into Tulum at the light with the San Francesco grocery on your right, hang a left and it will be just a little ways on your left (this is how you go to the Tulum Beach). This is a big grocery and they had a great produce dept with lots of fresh herbs, bakery, etc. If you want more of the local feel, check out San Francesco. They also offer a food buffet, bakery, meat dept, etc., they just don’t have the selection the new big one does.
Here’s our Key Lime Pie Recipe in case you want to try it. Super easy (except for having to make the crust if they don’t have them).
KEY LIME PIE
2 cups sweetened condensed milk
6 egg YOLKS
2/3 cup key lime juice
1 graham cracker pie crust
* 1 Preheat oven to 325*.
* 2 With an electric mixer, combine sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and lime juice and mix just until ingredients are well-combined.. (Or if you don’t have one, whip really hard by hand)
* 3 Pour filling into graham pie shell and bake on middle rack for 20 minutes or until filling jiggles only slightly when shaken.
* 4 Cool.
* 5 Cover pie and chill in refrigerator for at least a couple hours before serving.
**Note, 2 cups of sweetened condensed milk is a little less than 2 cans (which come in 14-oz).
Plain Graham Cracker Crust (if you have to make)
18 graham cracker squares (crushed into fine crumbs, about 1 1/4 c.)
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter
Mix crumbs and sugar.
Add butter and mix well.
Pour into 9 or 10 inch pie pan.
Pat onto sides and bottom for firm crust.
Chill 45 minutes or bake at 375 degrees for 6 to 9 minutes.
Okay, that’s it for now. Hope these lists and tips help you too!
Don’t forget to leave the house/pet sitter their list ~ ie: get the mail, feeding schedules, water the plants, etc. : )
If you’re feeling adventuresome in your cooking, perhaps you might want Wally’s fish-head soup recipe?
Look at the time… I’ve got to start packing…