Since 2020 took a lot from us, we knew that we needed a change of scenery. Back in January, we booked a house in Lake Oconee, Georgia for the end of July. We wavered back and forth for a long time on whether or not we should go, and even the weeks leading up to it. In the end we decided that we were minimizing our risk by driving and we followed everything we would have followed at home. We ended up having such a great time when we went in July and found the drive to be doable, so we decided to do it again for our Christmas vacation.
Because we did follow social distancing precautions, the travel guide is not that extensive. I'll share the few things we did do that we really enjoyed, as well as some of the things that there are in the area.
First of all, why Lake Oconee? We wanted a change of scenery, something we had never done before, and we wanted it to be within driving distance of Miami without having to stop at a hotel for the night. The drive is about 10 hours - while long, it is definitely doable. We packed sandwiches, snacks and electronics, and we stopped only for potty breaks, gas, and coffee. We left early in the morning and we arrived with daylight to spare.
Another requirement was being able to rent a house. We did not want to stay in hotels as we wanted to be able to cook our own meals and be okay with just hanging out at the house. We have had great luck with vacation rentals on vrbo.com. We stayed in two different houses. They were both very nice, but they were different and located in slightly different areas. The first house was more on the outskirts of the lake and part of the town of Eatonton. It was not part of a community therefore we did not have access to amenities and it was just the house. The second house we stayed at was in the Reynolds Plantation area, which is a (HUGE) community with a gated entry. There was a playground, a marina, a pavilion, a golf course, and plenty of walking paths as well. If you are looking to have additional amenities, I highly recommend the Reynolds Plantation area. Aside from that, both houses had docks, 4 bedrooms and 4.5 baths, outdoor areas, grills, and fully stocked kitchens (tool-wise).
There is a Publix in the area which is where we bought all of our groceries. I realized this time around that you can do a pickup order there so you don't have to go inside if you don't want to, but we didn't take advantage of that. We also wanted to have a special meal on New Year's Eve, so we ordered stone crabs from a local market called Pounders Meat & Seafood Market. We also had some food from Georgia Butts BBQ and it was absolutely delicious.
There are several restaurants you can dine at or order from, we ordered from Mellow Mushroom pizza once and Marco's Pizza. Both were great. We did have dinner one night at Linger Longer Steakhouse at the Ritz Carlton Lake Oconee.
Over the summer, we visited a farmer's market (it was next to The Harbor at Harmony Crossing). They had baked goods, fresh fruit, and local artisans.
Both times we rented a boat. Over the summer, the Lake is full of boaters and people stopping in different spots and jumping in the lake. We did this and had a really great time. We rented the boat from Oconee Wild Watersports for four hours and really took advantage, stopping in multiple places and jumping in the water. This time, we rented from Young Harris Watersports for 2 hours (because it was cold and we didn't think we would be able to be on the water for 4 hours). It was chilly but it was so nice to cruise around the lake for a little bit. Both rentals were smooth and the boats were in good condition, although the one from Oconee Wild Watersports was a little bit newer.
We also visited the Ritz Carlton Lake Oconee a few times - once for coffee and to walk around a bit, another time to visit the spa for a couple of treatments (which were absolutely lovely), and finally to dinner at the Linger Longer Steakhouse. They usually have marshmallow roasting and additional activities for the kids in the evenings, but a lot of those activities were not currently available to non-hotel guests. For anything at the hotel, make sure you call ahead and make reservations, as everything is not open due to COVID precautions.
There is The Alice Walker Driving Tour you can complete. This self-guided driving trail takes the visitor to various points of interest applicable to Eatonton native, Alice Walker and her family members. Alice Walker is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the novel "The Color Purple."
Aside from that, there are several other outdoor things to do in the area, and plenty of walking/hiking trails. I'm sure there are more things to do, but again, due to the pandemic we wanted to limit how much we interacted with others. We really enjoyed both times we spent in Lake Oconee. We truly felt like we were able to get away and disconnect, and we are already looking forward to when we can go back.
Last week, Eddie and I decided to book a spontaneous overnight trip to the Florida Keys with the kids. We figured a night away would be good recharge for everyone and the Keys are close enough that we wouldn't spend a ton of time in the car. After looking at our available rewards points and which hotels were available, we settled on Bakers Cay Resort in Key Largo.
We arrived on Sunday around 10 am, and to limit guest interaction indoors, check-in is done at the guard gate at the entrance. Our room wasn't ready, but we were allowed to use the premises and all the amenities once we were checked in. After taking a quick walk around the resort, we headed to the kids' pool, complete with a cascading waterfall and a bar with really delicious Pina coladas. The pool is surrounded by trees, so it makes you feel like you are in your own little oasis. After hanging out there for a little bit, we headed to the beach and to grab some lunch at the outdoor restaurant, Dry Rocks. We sat on one of their couches and ordered food and drinks, all of which was delicious.
Sunday night we enjoyed dinner at Calusa, their other restaurant which features Creole-Caribbean flavors. You can dine indoors or al fresco. Because we went pretty early, we decided to eat indoors, and there was nobody else inside the restaurant. They have a great kids' menu and the staff was really kind. The food was SO good (I highly recommend the Rum Chicken). Calusa is also where they serve breakfast, but we didn't eat there in the morning. There is also a Tiki Bar on the beach where you can get drinks and some light bites.
As far as things to do, there are a lot of activities available and they are all included. I really loved how kid-friendly the whole resort is (it's pet-friendly, too!). There is an adult pool and a kids pool, an open court, and there are two separate beach areas with lounge chairs and towels. By the lagoon there are kayaks and paddle boards available, and they're included in your resort fee, so take advantage! The lagoon is perfect for kids because it's nice and shallow - Chloe loved playing in the water. There is also a pier where you can fish, and Eddie and Caleb took part in that activity - they give you bait and fishing rods, also included in your resort fee.
The rooms were updated and SO nice. We had an Oceanview room with two queen beds. The floors were tile, which I loved, and the bathroom was beautifully done. There was no tub, but the shower was big enough for one of us to get in with the kids. We loved standing on the balcony to watch the sunset and the kids loved spotting the boats on the water. The beds were comfy, and there were enough surfaces to put our things in the room. One of my peeves about hotels is that there are never enough hooks to hang things like towels and clothes that you need to air out, but this room had a set of hooks on the wall that held a bunch of items! I was definitely pleased to see that.
Overall, we had a really great experience (and this was not sponsored). We were only there for one night, so we didn't do anything additional in the area, but I know that there are a few other things to do in the Keys if you're spending more days there - particularly in the areas of boating and watersports. We have already talked about going back with the kids because it is such an easy trip - it's a little under an hour away and it really felt like we were somewhere else.
So if you're in South Florida and looking for an easy escape that's kid friendly and really gives you that feeling of getting away, Baker's Cay is a good bet!
I promised you more details about our beach vacation to Hutchinson Island, so here goes!
Hutchinson Island is nestled between Jensen Beach and Fort Pierce, on the East coast of Florida. It's a barrier island and is separated into North Hutchinson Island and South Hutchinson Island. You can check out their visitor information website here.
Where We Stayed
We have been to North Hutchinson Island in the past, staying at a friend's family condo on the beach, but this was the first time we had rented somewhere ourselves. My parents have a timeshare, and we stayed at the Vistana Beach Club. It's a smaller resort with just about 70 rooms. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, they were not operating at full capacity, which made us feel safer. The rooms are two-bedroom/2 bath units with a full kitchen and laundry. There is a master with a king size bed, a jacuzzi tub, and a shower and toilet, and the second bedroom has two twin beds and a bathroom with a shower.
As soon as we arrived, we wiped down/sprayed Lysol all over the room, but it was pretty clean! They have a smaller pool area, and we only went to the pool once. The day we went to the pool, we went down early, and people were good about maintaining proper distance from one another. Once it started getting a little busier, we left. We didn't even attempt a visit to the fitness center, and I never once stepped foot in the main lobby. The smaller lobby in our building (which was basically where the elevator is and they had a small little shop which was closed) was thoroughly cleaned every morning, and whenever we walked through there in the morning, it smelled like heavy cleaning agents (this would normally be a turnoff for me, but not now!). Staff was always wearing masks, and we had no housekeeping for the duration of our stay. There were people on the beach, but it was easy enough to keep our distance from everyone, even on the holiday weekend.
We stayed in the second building, which is set back a little from the beach, but we still had a great ocean view from our room. The walk to the beach isn't bad at all and there's a direct path out there from the resort. There are chairs and umbrellas available for rent, but we took our own since we were staying for a full week. We cooked our own meals for the most part (we ordered in once and we picked up fast food another day while we were out), but having the kitchen was definitely a huge help.
We basically went from the room to the beach and back, but we did venture out one day to catch a break from the sun and take a drive. We ended up heading to this spot in Jensen Beach that my dad remembered going to a while back. It was this little spot off the road that was called Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge. It's a historical site commissioned for the U.S. Life Saving Service dating back to 1875, and it is the only one remaining of nine on Florida's east coast. Keepers provided shelter, food, clothing, and transportation to survivors of shipwrecks and storms at sea, and during both World Wars it was used by the U.S. Coast Guard. It wasn't open when we visited, but behind it is a beach, called Ross Witham Beach, full of rock formations. We climbed in and took some cool photos.
There is a Publix nearby, and there are several restaurants that deliver via UberEats.
We didn't do anything else that was special but I did have a few recommendations sent to me, so I'll share them below! (Thanks to my friend Beatriz for those!).
Hutchinson Island Recommendations
I've shared my packing lists on various occasions, but I have some travel tips that just don't fit in with a packing list. Some of these tips are better for longer trips and some apply across the board.
Pack a hamper!
After years of being frustrated with the dirty clothes piling up on the floor or hanging out of an open suitcase, I found a solution. We have a pop up hamper that takes up no space in our luggage. As soon as we arrive at our destination, I pull it out and in goes the dirty clothes. If we have a washer/dryer where we are staying, I try to get most of the laundry done before we leave. If we don't, and we are driving home, the whole hamper just goes into the trunk of the car filled with the dirty clothes and that way it goes straight to the laundry room when we get home. If we are flying, one suitcase is designated for the dirty clothes, and that suitcase goes straight to the laundry room as well. It makes unpacking SO much easier when you don't have to sort through your laundry.
Pack in Zones
I use Shop Blop’s cubes to pack toiletries, and anything that goes in a bathroom goes in those comunes or alongside them. When we take beach trips, all the things we take down to the beach get packed together inside the beach bag. Kitchen/cooking related items all go together too. For clothing, items are grouped by type - like PJs, swimsuits, shorts, etc. This makes it easier to find things when I’m looking for them and it functions just like it does at home.
Keep Things Ready to Go
Things like toiletries, hairbrushes, over the counter meds, and chargers are always packed in a closet and ready to go. When we return from a trip, I replenish anything that needs to be refilled/replaced, and it’s ready to go for the next trip. It saves me time and stress while I’m packing.
Use Those Trial Sizes!
Instead of lugging around full size products or refilling travel containers, stock up on trial sizes of products you love. I get one or two things every time I go to Sephora, and I use my points t the register for their trial size rewards. They’re perfect for shorter trips and I still get to use the great products I love!
Dump Whatever You Can at the End
Those trial sizes are perfect for tossing at the end of a trip. There’s nothing more satisfying to me than coming home with less than we left with, honestly. I make sure to squeeze out every last drop and then toss it in the garbage once it’s done. This goes for toiletries, medicine, and anything that is consumable.
There you go! Those are top 5 packing tips. What would you add to the list?
For some of my favorite travel products, check out my Amazon storefront here.
We are spending this week on a beach in Florida. We are in the middle of a pandemic, and Florida's numbers have been rising steadily over the past few weeks. In the days leading up to our trip, I kept wondering how safe it would be, whether we would be forced to cancel last minute, and God forbid, what we would do if one of us ended up sick. Because we were headed to the beach just a few hours' drive from us and were heading to place where we could essentially do the same thing we have been doing at home, just with a different view, we felt comfortable going ahead with the trip.
As the days came nearer to our trip, we realized we were going to be able to go after all, and my anxiety started creeping in. I packed all of our cleaning products, and I made sure I had extra things that I may not always bring with us on vacation, like a thermometer and a pulse oximeter.
We arrived at the hotel on July 4th in the early afternoon, and it looked like the place was slammed. There was no parking to be found, and there was a steady stream of people checking in. All the staff was wearing masks, but it made me so nervous to see people gathered by the pool and even on the beach that first day.
After checking in, my mom and I disinfected our room extra, spraying Lysol and Clorox bathroom cleaner everywhere we could. The kids still managed to touch everything and drag themselves all over the floors.
I somehow forgot to take my allergy medicine on Saturday night, and I woke up Sunday morning feeling wheezy and congested. Of course, my mind raced and I started thinking of who I had come across while not wearing a mask (that number was one I was proud of). I started to feel like I was going to have a full blown panic attack. I took my allergy medicine, we headed out to the beach early that morning and I immediately felt better. We have been going straight from the room to the beach, people are being responsible and respecting one another's distance, and the hotel isn't operating at full capacity, either. We have been eating in the room, too, since we have a full sized kitchen.
I don't tell you this to scare you - I tell you this to make you understand that having feelings of anxiety and self doubt during a pandemic is completely normal. We are all adjusting to this weird new way of living (I refuse to call it a new normal because seeing people in masks everywhere is NOT what I would consider normal. Necessary, sure. Normal, no.). And while I know we need to be cautious, I also know that mental health is important, too - not just for us, but for the kids as well.
Everything was crowded because of the Fourth of July, but the rest of the week has been relatively quiet. There are people on the beach, but everyone is maintaining a great distance. As the days have gone on, I have felt better and more comfortable with the decision to come, and we've experienced a few moments of, dare I say, normalcy. It has been therapeutic to be able to sit on the balcony and watch the sun rise, or sit on the beach and watch the kids playing in the sand on the shoreline for hours.
So whatever you do, continue to take every precaution - wash your hands, wear your masks, limit unnecessary contact with people. And when you reach your destination, and are away from everyone, breathe in a deep breath of fresh air and enjoy the moment.
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