This past week, my partner and I went to New Orleans for a weeklong vacation. I was born in New Orleans and lived there until graduating from high school, so I wanted to make a really fun itinerary that would both include nostalgic spots, traditional tourist sites, and new places for both of us. If you’re planning a trip soon, I hope some of these details will inspire your itinerary.
1.The art a city values and showcases can say a lot about it. The NOMA Sculpture Garden was one of our first stops because it’s full of beautiful art and great conversation starters (including this piece originally shown in the first Prospect exhibit in the Lower Ninth Ward).
2. National Parks are treasure troves of a region’s natural beauty. At Jean Lafitte National Park, my partner and I got our first stamps of the year in our National Park passports and wandered around for hours playing Baritaria Bingo and taking pictures of all the amazing sights (incoming photographic deluge!).
We saw three baby gators on our hike. Can you find them in the following photographs?
3. Amazing local food is an important part of any good trip (especially if it’s a trip to New Orleans)! My partner and I got to have dinner with my family at Galatoire’s and Mandina’s. We ate poboys at Parkway Bakery & Tavern and Jazz Fest. My mom cooked Crawfish Monica one night and we ate as many Zapp’s Jalapeño Chips as we could. I think it can be really fun to experience both ends of the spectrum of culinary stardom. One day, we started with a brunch at the expensive and formal Commander’s Palace and ended the day with dinner at a college bar and restaurant, Chimes, in Baton Rouge.
4. Areas frequented by tourists and tour guides are great places to visit. I think some people like the idea of having a completely off-the-beaten-path itinerary, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with visiting a few top tourist destinations. There’s a reason they’re well known! (Also, how fun is it to overhear a snippet of a guide’s talk about a place you thought you knew?) My partner and I walked around the Quarter, admired Jackson Square, and toured Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and the surrounding Garden District. (Of course, he was most interested in the type on the mausoleums! Everyone has their distinct perspective. You’ll get something different out of the experience than the next person.)
5. Day trips from a city can give you a better idea of an area’s history and influence. Often when I travel, I don’t get too far from the main city I’m staying in. I’ll jump from big city to big city and never see the spots in between that are more difficult to access by public transit. If you can find bus tours or rent a car, day trips are an awesome treat. We went to Avery Island (where all Tabasco sauce is made) and Oak Alley Plantation. I hadn’t been to either of these places, so they were informative and exciting parts of our itinerary that were new to me as well as my partner.
6. Nostalgic spots can hold a lot of stories worth telling. I know my old elementary school, the levee I used to run on, the house at the end of the block that used to be a farm, and the neighborhood coffee shop aren’t listed on TripAdvisor, but they’re pretty important to me. I think it’s so intimate to get to share details about the place you grew up with a friend or partner. I’m glad I could enjoy snowballs in Metairie, King Cake pastries in Lakeview, and walk along the Orleans Canal with my partner.
7. Going off the plan. I’m a firm believer that you don’t always need to follow your itinerary. We parked our car and put off dinner to ride the St. Charles streetcar just to ride the streetcar. We drove to Baton Rouge just to have dinner with my brother. Even if something is time-consuming, even if there’s not a strong reason to, but you have an inkling you want to surprise someone or want to feel the hum of a streetcar line, go. Sometimes being really efficient and crossing event after event of your travel list is rewarding, but sometimes it’s equally rewarding to do something random and inefficient.
8. Enjoying the mundane, the lackluster. I actually planned this trip because my driver’s license was expiring and I needed to renew it. I’m not sure where my next permanent address will be, so I’m keeping my license attached with my home address. So, this vacation started out as an errand, but turned into a lot more. I noticed my license just happened to expire around Jazz Fest, so we planned our trip to include a week of travel and music. Our car got a flat midway through the trip in an epic thunderstorm, but we learned how to change the tire to the spare by ourselves (woo-hoo! adult-dom!). Jazz Fest was super muddy, so we sank into the earth listening to Paul Simon. There are so many great parts about travelling, but there can be a lot of mundane and annoying aspects too. A trip can even start out because of the mundane and annoying things in life, but don’t let that stop you from taking advantage of it. Everything can be an excuse for something else!