AI: Vacation’s all I ever wanted…

Hey, guess what – I still write for this blog! I know it’s been a while but I’ve been awfully busy over the past few months.  But today, Sam found out that there’s a homeopath-chiropractor-acupuncturist in his neighborhood harassing little old ladies so he’s busy dealing with that. So you get me instead!

This year has been super busy but really awesome, mainly because I’m traveling a whole bunch. It’s been mostly for fun, which makes it all worth it. I went to Hawaii earlier this year and just got back from the Bahamas a couple weeks back. I’m a lucky girl and it’s not over yet. I’ve still got Skepchicon and TAM 8 ahead! (I sense your jealousy. And fully understand it.)

Our Bahamas trip was particularly cool because we got to do a bunch of snorkeling and got to see some very cool undersea creatures.  I had a reef shark swim right under me a few times, we encountered crazy giant (not-really-attack) starfish and got to see a bizarre-looking batfish crawling around the sea floor. It was AWESOME. (No starfish were harmed in the making of these photos).

I haven’t had a real beach vacation in many years and it was really fantastic to get away and do some lying about but also get some adventures in. So tell me, y’all:

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever had? What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen or done on vacation?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at

3pm ET.


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. The old ladies are safe. I’ve hidden them in my attic. They’re getting along famously with the band of gypsies, my imaginary friend, Larry, and the collection of old porn mags that already live there. And they’re safe from all the back snappers with sewing needles in the neighborhood.

    Anyway, thanks for covering my ass today, Maria. You are a goddess among women. And vacations are a perfect topic considering I am in dire need of a long one. Unfortunately, I’ll have to save my story for later when I have time to tell an awesome tale.

    You rock!

  2. I’m not sure it technically counts as a vacation, but the best experience of my life was Junior year of college when I did a semester study abroad in Athens, Greece. I had an on site archaeology class that frequently met at places like the Acropolis, the Agora, and Keramaikos cemetery. We also took class trips to amazing sites like Marathon, Delphi and the Argolid. During that semester, we also took a weeklong trip to the island of Crete, which is hands down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I hiked 13 miles through the Samaria gorge, and got to visit the site of my most romantic classicist dreams– the Minoan palace of Knossos.
    During that semester I also got to travel in Italy and Egypt, which is just more icing on the cake of that amazing experience. Perhaps the craziest thing I did during that time was ride a bike 10 miles through the deserts of Luxor, Egypt (and this after not being on a bike since childhood).

    Just talking about this again is making me wistful– MUST GO BACK!!!
    …Maybe that’s secretly why I ended up dating a PHD candidate in classical archaeology– he’s just my ticket back to Greece ;)

  3. Let me preface this by saying that my family drives me insane and stresses me out beyond belief: My Mom in particular. Over the past (almost) three years I have been dealing with severe complications from a breast augmentation and lift ( for details). During which time I was also helping my mother deal with her divorce, her move, a bug hitting her windshield, etc. You get the idea.
    My hubby saw how stressed out I was and he took me to Daytona Beach for a day trip.
    Between the health issues and the stress, I had been on the verge of a meltdown for a very long time.
    That few hours of sitting in a cabana on the beach sipping a martini was probably the best vacation I have ever had because I actually UNCLENCHED. Years of stress and I FINALLY unwound for a few hours and relaxed.
    I’ve been to Vegas, New Orleans, The Bahamas and other places, but Daytona Beach will always hold a special place in my heart for that reason.

  4. Best vacation ever? Disney Cruise with the family. I was 21, there was booze everywhere, and come on, the ship’s horn played ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’. It was freaking awesome.

    The coolest single thing I’ve done on vacation was the full moon tour of the Taj Mahal.

    And New Year’s Eve in Seoul.

  5. Best vacation? My first trip to the US. Spent the ten days between end of lecture and first exam in the US with internet friends from the telnet talker. Saw New York, Albany and spent thanksgivings in a house on Cape Cod. It was a great vacation, and fortunately the pics of me on the pool table are no longer online.

    Coolest thing I’ve seen or done? Yellowstone.

    The Skepchick Tour of Europe, on the French Riviera in (omg!) 2006 is somewhere in the top five, in case someone wondered.

  6. I was thirteen and my dad got a offer to teach in Australia for a year. He said yes, but he told them he wanted to take his family and he wanted to take a month to get down there and a month to get back. We went so many places and had so much fun. When a week in Hawaii is just the warm-up for three weeks in the pacific you know you’re in for the experience of a lifetime. My parents do not like the beaten path. We went to places like Tonga, Western Samoa, and some tiny island off the coast of Fiji. The way home was more touristy: Singapore, Bombay, an east-African safari, Rome, and London. Of course a year in Melbourne, Australia was like an extended vacation in and of itself.

  7. I was in Essen, Germany in 1996 when Deutschland won the Euro-Cup. Nothing like seeing someone hanging out the driver’s window of a moving car waving a German flag.

    Also, saw a sea turtle while snorkeling for the 1st time in St. Maarten.

  8. Thinking about great vacations is making the absence of a beer fridge in my cube that much harder to bare. Bear? Beer. That’s better.

    Best vacation = week at a cottage, watching the kids have so much fun we thought they’d explode, swimming, poking the fire because you know, if you don’t poke them what’s the point, and of course testing how beer tastes when swimming/sitting/poking fire.

  9. Hah! This is timely. I’m going to Grand Forks, N.D. next week to visit family. I’ll be there all week. I’m not sure if it’ll be the greatest vacation ever, but my grandmother is *awesome*, and it should be fun. Also, cool. Like, high 70s. Maybe the low 80s, tops. And thunderstorms! Yessss.

    Considering my grandmother lives within walking distance to the Red River, however, I REALLY hope there aren’t any floods. Anyone remember the flood of ’97? Yikes.

    Anyway, I’ve never really been on any great vacations. I went to N.D. for a month when I was 15 or so. I’ve been to California and Vegas. But nothing exciting, sadly. I’ve traveled very little.

    That said, I DID grow up on the Colorado River, and right near Lake Havasu City, which many people vacation to and apparently have a great time, while pissing off the locals. LOL

    Maybe next year I’ll go on a REAL vacation, somewhere I’ve never been to. I really want to go to Austin. Or Chicago. But I might go to North Carolina to visit a friend instead…

  10. OK this probably makes me douche of the world, but, I thought I’d share…
    First memory that always comes to mind when thinking of holidays…a really choppy boat trip to Province Town and a man on board with one arm negotiating a sick bag…

  11. That goddamn batfish was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen in person. Seemed harmless enough. I’m sure it had a great personality for a batfish.

    That isn’t a stock shark pic, either. That shark was about 8-10 feet from me when this picture was snapped by my friend Steve (who is being attacked by the starfish), floating nearby. We were at 50 feet underwater, and happily neither of us were in a cloud of yellow.

    Not counting the Bahamas and Hawaii, both of which Maria has written about already, my favorite has to be South Africa a few years ago. All the game parks were great, seeing all these animals in their natural non-zoo habitat was awesome.

    But I have to mention the one time I went to Spain by myself for a few days. I was in Grenada (the Alhambra is amazing), and the only things I can say in Spanish are the numbers one through four, “hello,” “thank you,” and “your mother is an inexpensive prostitute.” That led to some very complex issues when I went to restaurants.

  12. I went snorkeling in Barbados and had a close encounter with a Portuguese man-o-war. I came from looking at some coral and it was just a few feet from me. Fortunately the tentacles were trailing away from me. I got a good look at it above and below the water. It was pretty much the coolest animal I’ve ever seen close up.

    A close second was a tour I took of Paris and London’s art museums. We saw all the major stuff but also some smaller museums and galleries. Really awesome stuff.

  13. I’m part of Acme Theatre in Hollywood where we do improvised soap operas, the last show I did the cast got along so well that after the show ended we all went to Bass Lake California just outside Yosemite and stayed in a cabin. Nearly the entire cast and crew went, there was 12 of us in a cabin that was built for 8.

    5 days and it was the best time I’ve ever had on vacation. , how can you not enjoy Yosemite, it seems you can’t take a bad picture there.

  14. Eight years ago the whole family went to Australia for a month over Christmas to visit relatives and bask in the sun. We stayed with my brother in law who lives just off of Caves Beach north of Sydney. It was very relaxing and I stayed two more weeks after my wife and kids returned home to golf and spend a few days in the Hunter Valley visiting wineries in the morning and golfing in the afternoon. It was the longest and most relaxing vacation I’ve ever spent and probably will ever have until I retire.

    Coolest thing I’ve ever done on vacation would be the five days my wife and I spent in Scotland while the kids were with relatives in England. We spent two days doing the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the other three days visiting small towns and hiking along the coast and in the hills. The year I took off from college and spent on Maui ranks pretty high but I was working much of the time to pay for rent, golf and beer so not really a true vacation.

  15. I went to the Bahamas a bunch of years back. I didn’t want to come home. I’m not used to being somewhere that the beaches aren’t littered with cigarette butts and used bandages. But I think the coolest part of the trip was the boat ride down there: the casino on the ship had two slot machines that should have been paying out quarter tokens, but paid out dollar tokens instead. We made soooo much money that day…

  16. So hard to decide…

    The first time I went to Europe was to Prague for a (only partially paid-for) conference presentation for work. My husband came with me and we stayed for a week at this awesome hole in the wall $40 a night hotel where only 1 member of the hotel staff spoke English (kind of). It was walking distance to the Old Town Square and breakfast was included. If I can find a place in Chicago that makes the exact bread they served at breakfast, I can die happy. The city was beautiful and old, the beer was cheap and plentiful, we had a fancy-pants white-tablecloth style dinner for only $50, we wandered into a non-touristy part of town where they had to dust off the English menus and had a ridiculously huge traditional feast, we visited the museum of the history of communism (which was in the same building as a casino), we bought all of our families’ christmas gifts, toured the Jewish quarter, walked across the Charles bridge a dozen times…I’d be dying to go back if there weren’t a million other places I wanted to go. I’m not much of a re-vacationer.

    I don’t do beach vacations. I have some kind of reverse seasonal affective disorder. Sunshine and warm temperatures make me cranky.

  17. Tie between my graduation trip to Kaui, where two friends and I split a beach-side condo belonging to one of their grandparents (with car) and went snorkeling, kayaking, and on a day-cruise to see dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish and monk seals, and a more recent trip to Tokyo – four days with my best friend wandering around an awesome city where neither of us spoke the language, visiting temples, and exploring the best science museum I’ve ever seen (if you get the chance, the National Science Museum in Tokyo is NOT to be missed).

  18. @chistat: Nice! So close, yet so far away. Just like the Skepchicon or whatever that is happening in freakin’ MINNESOTA a WEEK after I get back from N.D. Fuckin’ figures, man. One day I’ll make it to an event. ONE DAY.

  19. Honeymoon on coral atholl with bull sharks, Mountain gorillas in Uganda, Killimanjaro, Trekking peak Ramdung Go in Nepal, Wolverine in northern BC, Down & up Grand Canyon before Thanksgiving, Flying over Nazca lines, trekking to Inca ruins, Transient orcas off Vancouver Island, Mountain goats in BC, Swimming with dolphins, pilot whales, beaked whale and sea turtle off La Gomera, Snorkelling with Scottish, phospholuminescence , Hiking and skinny dipping in Yosemite Park, On foot with white rhinos in Zimbabwe, Clubbing in Bulawayo, Visiting Robben Island, Total eclipse in Transylvania in 1999, Kajuraho temples in India, Camping with cape buffalo in the Serengeti, Wildebeest migration, with lions, cheetahs etc, Leopards close-up at dusk in Uganda, Caving near Guilin, SW China, Dancing on a bar with the French Navy in Capetown to The Village People(!)…etc etc. But feels like a bit of a rut right now.

  20. About 10 years ago I went to Puerto Rico with my best friend. I was born there and left at the age of 12, so it was a bit of a pilgrimage. It was entirely different and still wonderful. Snorkeling was awesome. I would go back in a heartbeat, because we didn’t visit nearly all the places I remembered.

  21. I have had two wonderful/life changing vacations in my life:

    1. My trip to Ireland when I was 18. A friend and I took a Contiki tour as a graduation present and toured the island. It was my first time away from my parents for that long let alone across an ocean. I grew up a lot during that trip — including (having been painfully, PAINFULLY shy) singing The Rainbow Connection in front of everyone on the coach. I also kissed the Blarney Stone — along with millions of other people, but holy crap that stairway coming down from the castle was terrifying!

    2. My first regional Burning Man. Changed me for life!

  22. I went to Hawaii in January of last year, ostensibly for my cousin’s wedding (my mom grew up in Kailua), but also to get some R&R. After doing the whole family thing for a week, we took a side trip to Maui for a couple days. It was right at the height of mating season for the humpback whales, and they were everywhere. We took two cruises with the Pacific Whale Foundation, one for actual whale watching and one for snorkeling. The snorkeling trip was particularly awesome. They took us out to Molokini crater, which is a partially submerged crater that forms a big crescent-shaped reef. The water is ridiculously clear, and it’s full of amazing marine life. While there, I saw a moray eel, an octopus, a big manta ray, and lots of other cool stuff. Then they took us back to the island to dive in an area with lots of green sea turtles. You aren’t supposed to touch them, but one was so curious that I had to keep swimming away from him. One of the really cool things was that while I was underwater, I could hear the whales singing.

    I had a cheap waterproof camera, but most of the pictures didn’t turn out. You can see what was worth posting here (the dive pictures are at the end):

  23. When I was 17, I went to Denmark for a year as a Rotary exchange student. Best year of my life and pretty much a year-long vacation from reality.

    But after that, I kind of have to say that being in Vancouver for the Olympics may have beaten out all my other overseas trips since Denmark! It was totally amazing, so much fun, and I got to do it with my best friend & partner. loved every second.

  24. Road trip through some of the national parks of the southwest: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Mesa Verde, Hovenweep National Monument, Bryce, Zion. Only thing we missed out on in canyon country was the Grand Canyon itself! Highly recommended trip as that region is one of the most beautiful parts of the U.S.

  25. I’ve had longer and more expensive vacations on which I have seen and done more, but my current front-runner for favorite vacation was the week my wife and I spent in Edinburgh in May 2009. My mom had just passed away, and I needed a break.

    We rented a flat just 100 steps off the Royal Mile so we didn’t have to live on anyone else’s schedule. Edinburgh is a favorite of mine. I’d been there four times before. But this time it made all the difference in the world to have our own place for a week.

    We attended a Skeptics in the Pub meetup with Simon Singh the first night, had a chance to visit some friends an hour away, and spent the rest of the time poking about. All without the need to “see everything”, because we’d already done that.

  26. That’s an easy one… Space Camp, definitely! It was the trip I took for my 15th B-day (huge deal here in central america)… And it was THE best week in my life… I mean it… Met new people, learned lots of stuff, and basically lived on a dream for a week!

  27. Hmmmm this AI is a tough one. I can narrow it down to two possibles.

    #1) My last annual road trip. Every year, I gather up about a month or so of my free time and blow it driving around the country (USA) with my dog, Angel. This year (two months ago) I left Wisconsin and went through about 14 states, saw a half dozen friends and handed out gifts, some I haven’t seen in more than ten years (the friends, not the gifts) and spent a few weeks with my family in California and then came back to Wisconsin. Got to see Virginia Beach and talk about dogs with a model doing a shoot there along with a photography student and his mannequin, came through Glenwood Springs Canyon during the Spring and almost died on the icy roads up there (No one told them that Spring was supposed to be warmer than Winter), hit the SoCal Renaissance fair and realized why I stopped going, Got to talk with a nice old lady who ran a motel in Nevada and had an invisible dog, and found out that Michael Jackson may be alive and working at a motel in Virginia (I got pictures), but the best was catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in at least a year, some considerably more. It was freaking awesome.

    #2) When I got married, me, my wife to be, her best friend and her best friends daughter rode motorcycles from Wisconsin to Henderson Nevada. We were having the wedding where her parents lived. That, just by itself makes the trip pretty cool, but we left Wisconsin on the morning of September 11th, 2001. A third of the guest list couldn’t make it because air traffic was grounded and a few people coming in from outside the country got to spend a lovely day in Canada, but we didn’t even know anything had happened until we got to Kansas and there was apparently no gas in the entire state. For the whole time we were on the road it was hit or miss whether we got gas for the bikes or not, but man that was an awesome trip. We were going for speed, not sightseeing but despite the tragic circumstances, we got to see the best of humanity that day, from the couple who led us to a gas station that was actually selling gas to the guy who let us crash in his barn when we couldn’t find a motel (you haven’t really lived until you’ve woken up to find a horse trying to eat your pillow) You just can’t plan trips like that.

    Both of those were awesome trips, but choosing between the two? I don’t think I can do it.

  28. Canada. Belle River to be exact. Small town. Was 9 I think. Had a bike, a dirt road, and a big lake. Happiness.

  29. Best vacation? Probably Kenya, Nepal. Cambodia was pretty cool also.
    Coolest thing during a vacation? Swiming with whale sharks in Holbox, Mexico. I also danced in a samba school in Rio de Janairo for Carnaval, but I guess it doesn’t really count as a vacation since I was living there at the time. It’s the kind of thing I’ll tell my grandkinds about someday.

  30. Probably the “coldest” tho maybe not the coolest was going to the top of the Zugspitze, a mountain on the border between Germany & Austria. 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit with a 50 mph wind.

  31. My best vacation ever was last year at Convergence. I met the MST3K crew and saw some of the skepchicks as well as Dr. Pamela Gay live, in person (a bit redundant). Even though my Mom had to be driven to the ER it was still the best vacation ever.

    I expect this years Convergence to be even better.

  32. The coolest thing I’ve done? Paragliding off a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean.

    The funnest family trip? Italy with my wife and two sons, who were 16 and 11 at the time. The last thing we saw before we went to bed on the last night from our balcony was fireworks over the colleseum.

    The best story from a trip? When I was 17 I stayed on south beach before it was renovated. I went with my friend. We spent 35 bucks a week on the room, split both ways. We were not familiar with the scents the were so pervasive in the run down hotel. We realized later that … it was a brothel.

  33. Hard to choose my best vacation, because I’ve loved them all. Unless you count when I was a bitter teenager. I’m not much of a beach person, but I had a lovely time when I spent a week on the island of Boracay in the Philippines about 15 years ago. A friend and I went there, and we just relaxed on the beach for a week. Well, I did meet a British bloke with whom I had a week long fling, so I spent a lot of time with him as well. It was the first time I snorkeled, and we also rented a catamaran to tool around the island. We arrived there the first day of typhoon season. Sure enough, there was a small typhoon the morning after our arrival. We rode it out by having a party on the porch of the cabana we rented. We weren’t too bright going out for rum, since we had heard about coconuts dropping onto the heads of people during the high winds, but we needed supplies! The British bloke had a walkman with tiny speakers, and he also had juggling pins, so he kept us entertained.

    Coolest thing? Well, this would have been the coolest thing, had it worked out. About 20 years ago I spent a couple of months working on a farm in Norway, and then spent a month traveling. I was visiting a friend southwest of Oslo, and we went out drinking at a pub the evening before I left. The next morning I was to catch a train that would eventually get me to Stockholm, then on north to visit other friends. We met some interesting guys at the pub. My Norwegian is OK, but I understood more than I could speak, and the guy with whom I was chatting felt the same about English, so we each spoke our own language and got along great. He and some friends were sailing on a gorgeous 1920s era ship that had been restored, and they were planning on sailing to Sweden the next day. He invited me along. They promised to get me to a bus or train station so I could make my connection to Stockholm. Cool, I thought! So, my friend got me up early the next day and hauled my ass to the docks.

    I was told my only duty would be to make coffee once I got there. So, my friend and I arrived at the ship, and climbed aboard. There were about half a dozen guys passed out on the benches, in varying stages of dress. One of them woke up and I explained who I was and why I was there. He said “cool” and fell back asleep. My friend had to get home, so there I was, alone among men I had only met the evening before.

    I couldn’t figure out how to work the stove, let alone make coffee. When one of the guys that I had talked to the previous evening woke up, he fortunately did remember that he invited me. We got a late start, since they were pretty hungover. Every few minutes he would ask me how I felt–he was afraid I’d get seasick. I kept saying I was fine. There was a terrible storm, so they ended up turning back. They were going to try again the next day and asked me to join them, but I had a train to catch. My friend ended up picking me up and taking me to the train. I got to Stockholm on time. :)

  34. The best holiday was when the BF & I visited Munich! We’d both just recently fallen off the vegetarian band-wagon, so the german food was an eye-opener, and OMG, the BEER. I remember we went to the Hoffbrau Haus, and it was AWESOME. Bar maids, people dancing on tables, lederhosen, heaping plates of food, and chaos, 1 litre jugs of beer, and brass bands playing oompa music. <3

  35. Never had a notably awesome vacation, though probably the one I talk about most was in ’99. I had just gotten my first vehicle (a ’94 Ford F-150 extended cab. He’s red and his name is “The Behemoth”; he’s still my dad’s truck), and drove from Houston to Chattaqua, New York, for a pagan festival.

    It was a momentous trip for me. It was my first substantial period on the road alone (something I still enjoy, though I haven’t gotten to make a solo road trip in a few years). I got laid for the first time, running from an angry husband in Mobile, Alabama, because he didn’t appreciate me sleeping with his wife (in my defense, they WERE separated… mostly). I wound up being so tired from the closing party that I accidentally drove about 3 hours east when leaving, until I started seeing signs for … I think Syracuse… and suddenly realizing “Holy shit, I shoulda been out of New York a while ago.” Sleeping in the Behemoth in national parks because I didn’t have any money to camp or hit hotels.

    It was a good trip. My most restful holidays these days are family holidays. We go up to my grandma’s home town and I sleep for three days. It’s uncanny. It’s like I’m dead.

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