Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

Is Travel insurance worth it?Travel insurance is often the last thing you have on your mind when planning your next trip for just yourself, with your family or with friends. We look forward to a well-earned and long-desired vacation and we know deep down, however, that travelling brings about the unexpected (mostly in good ways). For the hopefully rare bad case scenarios, where you need to cancel a trip due to hazardous weather, sickness, the death of a family member, or any accidents during your trip, stolen or lost luggage/passports/wallets, and even worse injury or death of a travel mate, you want to be covered. Instead of overthinking the many things that might happen, travel insurance can help to put your mind at ease for the many what-ifs, so you can get back to planning and enjoying the fun things about your next trip.  So, is travel insurance worth it?

Be sure to read our post on purchasing a SIM Card for the US.

Travel insurance – what to look for:

Most travel insurance plans cover 2 main things: travel benefits and medical benefits. Those usually entail:

  • a refund when you need to cancel your trip due to emergency
  • covered expenses when a flight is delayed or cancelled or when you miss your flight
  • compensation of expenses if your carrier loses or delays your luggage
  • Coverage of expenses for any medical or dental emergency during your trip
  • Coverage of cost for medical emergency evacuation or accidental death or dismemberment
  • Optional benefits include car rental insurance

Depending on the provider benefits may differ in cost and range, so make sure you read the small print. Read more »

Bridges to Gentility – Driving Tips around Charleston

The truth is if you’re afraid of bridges, don’t rent a car in Charleston! You really cannot get anywhere in the Charleston area without going over a bridge. Knowing the local lingo for which bridge is which also helps you navigate the area. Here’s a quick run-down of the local bridges and roadways and what they’re called by locals.

The Crosstown: If you’re driving into Charleston from parts North and West, you’ll find yourself getting into town via I-26. Once you get into the area you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for the Visitor Center/Meeting Street Exit (*Note* Meeting Street North is NOT where you want to go. Just keep driving until you see the Visitor Center signs). If you miss the signs, you’ll get into “The Crosstown” – a congested, possibly flooded area in the “neck” of the downtown peninsula with very few turn-offs. Keep your eyes peeled again for how to turn to get to the historic district. If you miss it, you’ll find yourself on the Ashley River Bridge.bridges

The Ashley River Bridge: A one-way bridge into what locals call West Ashley (the area west of the Ashley River). You’ll never find “West Ashley” on a map – it’s technically within the city limits. AND, to make things more confusing, there’s an Ashley River Bridge going in the opposite direction to downtown. Yes, that’s right, there are TWO Ashley River bridges. If you’re coming from points south you can choose to follow US 17 all the way to the Ashley River Bridge and into the city.

Don Holt Bridge & the Wando River Bridge: If your hotel is in Mount Pleasant or your visiting Daniel Island your GPS may take you from I-26 onto I-526. If this happens, be prepared to go over two very tall bridges. The first is the Don Holt; a bridge with big girders creating a cage on the top of the bridge. This is a very congested traffic area used by commuters daily. The bridge is very tall: the road bed is 155ft above the water line. Not only is the bridge tall, it’s smelly, too! Yes, we said smelly. Thanks to a paper plant along the river and the direction of the trade winds, be prepared to put your windows up and put the air recycling feature on in your a/c system.

The other tall bridge you’ll drive over is a clear-span bridge called the Wando River Bridge. The road bed of this bridge is, well, it’s very high (we were unable to find the height) and feels even more dangerous because there are only concrete guard rails on the sides. Winds can pick up, so hold onto your steering wheel! Also The Wando River Bridge is what locals call it, but your GPS may call it the James B. Edwards Bridge.

The Ravenel Bridge – This is the bridge you’ll take from Mount Pleasant into downtown Charleston. You may also hear it called the Cooper River Bridge; locals use both terms. This bridge is also very tall. The road bed is 186ft above the high water mark of the Cooper River.

The James Island Connector – This is a causeway, no, it’s a bridge! Whatever you want to categorize it as it will take you from downtown Charleston to James Island. You GPS will most likely call it Route 30. If you ask a local how to get onto 30, they’ll have no idea what you mean. Call it the James Island Connector and it’ll be smooth sailing. From James Island you can get to Johns Island (where you’ll find Angel Oak), or Folly Beach.

The Stono River Bridge – this will get you from James Island onto Johns Island to visit the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi River; Angel Oak.

Finally: US 17 has 4 different names! Here’s the run-down:

From points South

-US 17 will be called Savannah Highway while you’re in West Ashley.

-US 17 will be called The Crosstown before you travel over the Ravenel Bridge into Mount Pleasant

-US 17 will be called Johnnie Dodds Boulevard in Mount Pleasant up until Bowman Road.

-US 17 will be called 17north or just 17 from Bowman Road north toward Myrtle Beach

Don’t get confused, y’all! 🙂 Safe and Happy Travels

Written by Diana Dupuis 

Charleston Plantations

The guides here at Free Tours by Foot in Charleston always get asked, “what plantation should we visit?”  Here’s the truth – that is a hard question for us to answer! Each plantation will offer a different experience from another. This post provides information on what each plantation has to offer, prices and also an analysis of reviews from TripAdvisor, so you can decide which plantation is best for you.

WHERE ARE MOST PLANTATIONS?

There are no plantations on the downtown peninsula so you will need transport to get to whichever one you choose. Along a 5-mile stretch of Highway 61, are three plantations: Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation, and Drayton Hall. They are in an area that locals call West Ashley about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston west of the Ashley River. Boone Hall is also about a 30 minute drive from downtown.

PLANTATIONS ALONG ROUTE 61

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is the first plantation you’ll come to from downtown. Magnolia offers a lot of options and you can purchase tickets to the things you want to see and skip those you don’t. If you like getting lost in gardens this is your place! You can spend quite awhile meandering through the gardens here. A mixture of greenery, trees, and blooming plants tangle together in a beautiful setting. If you want to learn about black history, check out the slave quarters. If your kids want to pet the goats and other creatures they can do that at the petting zoo. If you want to learn about the family who lived there, check out the house tour.

With over 3,000 positive reviews, Magnolia Plantation & Gardens has received an overall 4 star rating on TripAdvisor. Much like Boone Hall, this location has also received the Certificate of Excellence for their consistently positive ratings. That being said, they have received hundreds of negative comments which indicate that some guests may not enjoy their trip. Some have said that admission is overpriced, while others complain that their tours aren’t very good. Ultimately, these opinions only represent a small group of visitors, so chances are that your experience will be much different. An overwhelming majority of reviews refer to Magnolia Plantation as beautiful and full of life. For every unhappy customer, there are dozens more who appreciated the services offered.

Middleton Place

This is next in the line and is on the same side of the street as Magnolia Plantation. Middleton has the distinction of having the first landscaped gardens in America. The grounds are mainly tiered green steps, but there are also blooming trees and shrubs and very pretty grounds. The house museum is very good and highlights the four generations of family who lived there. Make it a lunch time visit and enjoy the restaurant. Rice was the staple crop at Middleton Plantation and this is a great place to learn about rice production in the Lowcountry. Stay on the lookout for the great symphony concerts and other cool events hosted on their gorgeous grounds.

Over 2,000 reviewers agree that Middleton Place is an excellent plantation to visit. This estate enjoys a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor and has also been awarded their Certificate of Excellence. Although roughly 100 visitors have left negative comments, they definitely aren’t indicative of the common experience. As you might expect, many of the unhappy customers complained that the price of admission was too steep. There are a few complaints about the service itself, but not enough to cause concern. Positive reviews tend to focus on how beautiful the plantation can be during all times of the year. Some reviewers suggest setting aside at least half a day to experience as much of Middleton Place as possible.

Drayton Hall

Last of the 3 on Highway 61 is Drayton Hall, the perfect place for architects, war buffs, and any dreamy and nostalgic types. Quarantine flags were put out here during the Civil War deterring union troops from burning it down. As a result, this is the only original plantation home still standing and it has been simply preserved. It still looks the way it did when the family gave the property for use as a museum. It is the best example of Georgian architecture around, but don’t hope to see original furnishings. The house is actually empty, except for the oodles of information and photographs on the walls. This is literally a bare-bones place that has not been touched . The grounds are gorgeous and the home is true, so those with a great appreciation and knowledge of history and the wars may get the most out of the experience.

At this point, it probably won’t come as too big of a surprise, but this plantation has also received the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. Over 1,000 visitors have seen fit to give this estate a positive review, resulting in an overall rating of 4 ½ stars. Compared to other historical locations in the area, Drayton Hall has far fewer negative comments. As usual, many of these reviews complain that the price is too steep for the services offered. On the other hand, most customers were pleased with their experience and some even stated that the price of admission was reasonable. A lot of visitors find their tour guides to be very helpful and informative, providing much needed historical context to all of the attractions on display.

Boone Hall

The drive in is a gorgeous, long avenue of oaks. You will arrive at a beautiful white home at the end of the drive. It was at this house that celebrity couple Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively got married.  Tours are offered as well as live talks about the Gullah black history experience. This plantation is good for families. The adults can get some history and, depending on the time of year you visit, everyone in the family can enjoy picking fruit and veggies in the warmer months, pumpkins in the fall, and getting a thrill in the haunted house, corn maze, and getting spooked during Fright Nights before Halloween. In September, Boone Hall always hosts the Taste of Charleston and January/February you can enjoy the largest oyster roast. There are often large outdoor concerts, in fact Loretta Lynn performed here.

Boone Hall Plantation has a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor and has earned a Certificate of Excellence from the service. Although there are some negative reviews, over 2,000 visitors have rated the attraction at 4 stars or higher. Customers who enjoyed their experience referred to it as a walk back in time, describing tour guides as extremely knowledgeable. Those who did not enjoy their visit typically felt that the tickets were overpriced for the service provided. Most guests have a great time at Boone Hall, but there are a few people who feel that there aren’t enough activities to warrant the price you’ll pay for admission.

OTHER PLANTATIONS

McLeod Plantation

Much like the other historic locations on this list, McLeod Plantation has received a very positive rating of 4 ½ stars on TripAdvisor. A handful of guests left negative reviews, but they don’t seem to indicate any significant problems. The most common complaints seem to focus on their tour guides, suggesting that they don’t provide a lot of unique or interesting information. That being said, positive comments send an entirely different message. Several reviewers felt that the tours offered at this plantation are an absolute must. If you’re on a budget, many reviewers recommend this as an excellent opportunity to learn more about the early history of African Americans.

Charleston Tea Plantation

The Charleston Tea Plantation has received a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor with over 800 positive reviews. As usual, they have also been given a handful of negative reviews, but these do not seem to be indicative of a larger problem. Some found the tour boring, while others were looking for something a bit more historic. One thing is for sure – the history you’ll learn about here is far different than what you’ll discover at other plantations in the area. Although some guests weren’t happy with their visit, others suggest that the tours are well worth the price of admission. Many visitors are fans of the Bigelow Tea Company, and they report that this is an excellent opportunity to discover how tea is grown and cultivated in the United States.

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site has received a 4 star rating on TripAdvisor. Very few of their reviews are negative, but there are quite a few average ratings. Even the negative comments note that you get what you pay for, and visiting this location will not cost you a dime.

Most average reviews suggest that this plantation is worth checking out, but take issue with the fact that there is not much to see. Visitors who enjoyed their trip to this plantation appreciated both the free access and the focus on political history. Many guests describe this location as both beautiful and educational, some going so far as to say it’s a great lunch spot.

 

Check out these related posts:

Happy Holidays in Charleston!

IMG_3084If you’re visiting us in December and looking for something festive to do, you’re in luck!

Marion Square is always a beautiful photo op place over the holiday season. The middle of the square has a tree made all of lights that you can walk in and around. Your kiddos can meet Santa and the Holiday Market is fun, too. The Holiday Market Hours are on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am – 4pm through December 21st.

Another tradition is the Charleston Parade of Boats. Starting in Mount Pleasant and cruising across the harbor through the Cooper River and into the Ashley River the boat parade is an annual tradition put on by the Rotary Club. Locals decorate their boats with lights and the parade sails the harbor. No boat? No worries! You can catch the show by heading to Waterfront Park IMG_3081or the Battery (if you’re downtown) or get a ticket for the official Viewing Party at the Maritime Center. If you find yourself in Mount Pleasant, check it out from Patriots Point or see if a local will invite you onto their boat at the marina. The parade is December 12th from 5pm – 7pm.

Got a car? Head to the James Island County Park and enjoy the Festival of Lights. Every night from November through January 1st you can see over 700 light displays from the comfort of your car. You can always get out and walk around the park and enjoy some other gifts of the season, too. It is a local holiday tradition and has received several awards and honors from all over the world.

If you are in town for Hanukkah head to Marion Square! Charleston has a rich Jewish history and Chanukah in the Square takes place on December 21st from 4pm-6pm. Mayor Joe Riley offers a welcome speech and local Holocaust survivIMG_3089ors light the menorah.

As you can see, Charleston gets into the spirit of the season. We hope you enjoy your time here over the holidays! We will be open and running tours every day through the month – even on Christmas day. Let us take you on a stroll through the city where you can learn about our history while admiring the beautiful decorations adorning our world famous architecture.

Happy Holidays!

Written by Diana Dupuis 

How to Get from Newark Airport to Manhattan

How to Avoid Jet Lag

Many of our tour guests who travel from afar or from overseas have trouble to adjust to the new time difference in their destination city. Here are some tips on how to avoid jet lag.

When you travel to another time zone, your internal clock is off – that’s what you call jet lag. Usually getting over jet lag should take 3-4 days depending on how far you have traveled from. Flying eastwards will make it a bit harder to adjust to the new time zone, then when you are flying westwards. That is because our body accepts it better if you are staying up a little later, then having to go to bed much earlier than usual. In addition, if you are used to getting up rather early, flying eastwards is a little bit easier than for people who generally stay up late. And vice versa, if you are a night owl, you will have less trouble adjusting, if you were traveling westwards.

How can I avoid  jet lag or at least minimize it?

  • Start to adjust your internal clock several days before you fly, by staying up later (if traveling westwards) or getting to bed earlier (if travelling eastwards).
  • Once you are in the plane, act like you are in your destination time zone already e.g. change your clock, take a nap, eat moderately or skip a meal and avoid alcohol.
  • Be healthy and well rested. The more you rest before your big travel, the easier it will be to adjust to your new time zone.
  • If you are travelling overseas, on the day of your flight, try to sleep in or sleep as long as you can. This goes for either direction, as you will likely skip a night travelling eastwards, or you will have to stay up much longer when you arrive travelling westwards.
  • Bring a neck pillow and nap on the plane. Even if you don’t fall asleep into a deep slumber, your body will thank you later for each little 20 minute nap you do on the plane.
  • Stay hydrated. It’s best to purchase a bottle of water at the airport (after you are through security), so you don’t have to get the stewardess attention every time.
  • Once you arrive, don’t nap more than 30 minutes or go to bed immediately if it’s not bedtime yet. Stay up till at least 9 pm. This discipline on your first day of arrival, will get you over jetlag much faster.

Other things to consider when travelling to different time zones and jet lag:

When flying westwards, e.g. from Europe to New York, or from Washington DC to San Francisco: Don’t make any late evening plans the first couple of nights.  You might think you are up to it, but your body will tell you otherwise. If you are booking our walking tours, stick to the morning and daytime tours, and avoid the evening tours.

When flying eastwards, e.g. from California to New York, or from Boston to London: Don’t make any morning plans the first couple of days.  Instead plan more things to do in the afternoon and evenings. If you are booking our walking tours, avoid the early 10 am tours, and go for the afternoon or evening tours.

+++We hope you have safe and enjoyable travels without much jet lag and we look forward to having you on our famous pay-what-you-like walking tours soon.+++

Art Districts in Charleston

Charleston’s beautiful streets, sprawling marshlands, and sparkling beaches draw people in from all over the world and also serve as fantastic inspiration for the numerous artists in town. Recently a guest on one of our tours remarked at how many artists were in town, but more importantly they pointed out what fine artists they truly are.  Take a stroll down our streets and pop in and out of the galleries. You can meet the artists and you just may find yourself with a gorgeous souvenir hanging on your own wall in short order.

The galleries can be found in the same general area. There are really two “gallery districts”in Charleston, but they are literally within a block or two from each other. The first is called Gallery Row. You can find Gallery Row along Broad Street. The other gallery district is within the French Quarter. The French Quarter encompasses Church, State, Queen, and Chalmers Streets, just a block north of Broad Street.

The best way to see the art, meet the artists, rub elbows with locals, and have some wine and nibbles is to attend an art walk. Art Walks are on Friday evenings.

Charleston Art Galleries Schedule:

Gallery Row Art Walk – The First Friday of every month. 5pm – 8pm

French Quarter Art Walk – The First Friday of March, May, October, and December 5pm – 8pm

  • The galleries are generally open until 7 or 8pm on most days of the week, so you can always go on your own evening stroll art walk even if you’re not here on a Friday.

Another cool way to enjoy the art and crafts in town and do some shopping is to attend the Night Market in the City Market. Fridays and Saturdays 6:30pm – 10:30pm, March through December.

Written by Diana Dupuis 

Fact or Fiction: The Invention of Wings

The #1 New York Times Bestseller The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd has taken the country by storm, but how much of the book is real? The setting of the book is Charleston in the 1800s and it is indeed based on real events and involves real people; however, avid fans of the book should know that the story of the slave woman and her daughter and their long journey to attain freedom is fictionalized. Check out some facts of characters in the book below:

 Overview: Sarah Grimke is given a slave girl for her birthday and this is where the story begins. A story of family strife, conviction of beliefs, and a desire to attain freedom is then woven into a page turner that is hard to put down!  Read it and then come back to this blog to better understand what was real and what wasn’t.

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Can you see the Grimke home today? YES! Head over to 321 East Bay (or drive by) and take a look. It is a law office today and is just a short detour from the old historic district our tours take you through.

Written by Diana Dupuis

Visit the South Carolina Aquarium

In this post, we share everything you need to know about visiting the South Carolina Aquarium. A popular attraction amongst both locals and visitors, the South Carolina Aquarium is a great place to visit any time of year. 

If you’re traveling as a family, read our post Charleston on a Budget for money saving tips. 

Getting There
Hours & Tickets
Exhibits
Reviews
Free Tours by Foot


Getting There

The South Carolina Aquarium is located in Downtown Charleston on the Harbor at 100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, SC 29401. Check out the South Carolina Aquarium website for more details.

By car: If traveling by car, you can either take I-26 East, Highway 17 North (West Ashley), or Highway 17 South. 

There is a city parking garage at 24 Calhoun Street, Charleston, SC 29401. Metered parking is located along Washington Street and Concord Street.

By CARTA DASH Trolley: Take Route 210 (Orange) and get off at the South Carolina Aquarium stop. This service is completely free to use and operates everyday other than Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. 

Read our post on the CARTA DASH trolley to learn more.  

 


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Hours & Tickets

Tickets: 

  • Adults – $29.95 
  • Children – $22.95 

Hours: The aquarium is open for entry 9am-4pm daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day! If you want to avoid the crowds, try visiting on the weekdays or before 11am or after 2pm. 


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Exhibits

Extending out on to the harbor, the aquarium has over 60 exhibits to learn about aquatic life from otters to turtles and of course, sharks! It’s an interactive experience where you can even reach in and touch the sea life. 

Touch Tank – Get hands on during your visit at the Touch Tank, which features a variety of species of invertebrates, like hermit crabs, whelk, sea urchins, horseshoe crabs, and Atlantic stingrays.

Great Ocean Tank – This two-story, 385,000-gallon tank is the flagstone of the aquarium. Come face to face with sharks and say hello to the 220-pound loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta. There are divers that put on daily dive shows with the animals. 

4D Film – For those who want a little bit more, you can purchase additional tickets to the 4D experience. The National Geographic’s Sea Monsters 4D film feels as if you’re there 1000 leagues under the sea as it rocks your seat to escape the creatures of the deep.

Sea Turtle Hospital – Still want more? South Carolina’s only Sea Turtle Hospital is located at the aquarium and offers daily tours at 12pm and 2pm. Tickets sell out quickly so we recommend getting them in advance!


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Reviews

Reviews for the South Carolina Aquarium are generally very positive. It maintains a 4 star rating on TripAdvisor and is especially popular with families. Though some found that the smaller size of the aquarium was disappointing and not worth the entrance fee, most were more than satisfied with their experience. As one of reviewer points out, part of the fee goes toward the full service turtle hospital which is a unique feature of this aquarium. 


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Free Public Transportation in Charleston: DASH Trolley

While we will always advocate walking as the best way to see a new city, sometimes you’re in a rush or tired or it’s just too far away. There is a second option for free public transportation in Charleston: DASH Trolley.

The CARTA bus system also operates a free trolley through the historic Charleston peninsula.

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 14.10.09 Route 210 (Orange) drives from College of Charleston to the Aquarium. (Printable .pdf Map)

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 14.10.04Route 211 (Green) will take you to the waterfront, Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, and City Market (Printable .pdf Map)

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 14.10.16Route 213 (Purple) connects Brittlebank Park and Riley Stadium to historic city center. (Printable .pdf Map)

All three routes converge at the Visitors Center, Marion Park and Charleston Museum.

Whether you plan ahead or happen to see one as you walk along the streets, you must wait at an Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 14.07.14official CARTA bus stop, denoted by the green signs. Drivers will not make special stops to pick up or drop off passengers. As you’re waiting at your stop, make sure you note which bus line and destination is approaching so you get on the right one! Signal to the driver that you’d like him to pick you up and you’re on your way.

The CARTA DASH Trolley does not operate on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years Day.

Charleston Plantation - fotolia David Allen

How is the weather in Charleston in November?

The month of November is an excellent time to visit the historic city of Charleston as the weather remains fairly mild but with several fall-like days.  This month you might want to attend the Harvest Festival at Mullet Hall Equestrian Center or perhaps stop by the Charleston City Market.

Afternoon high temperatures early this month tend to be in low to mid 70s f (22-23C) with late night and early morning lows in the low 50s f (10-11C).  A few afternoons could rise into mid to upper 70s f (24-25C) or even on rare occasions reaching near 80f (26-27C).

As the month progresses, the afternoon highs will fall to mid-60s f (18-19C) range with early morning lows mostly in the mid-40s (6-7C) range with a couple of mornings dipping into the mid-30s f (1-2C).  On average, about one day this month will see a morning low of 32f (0C) or less.

About 18 days this month will be sunny or at least partly sunny skies and 12 days mostly cloudy. Rain will fall usually on 6 or 7 days, however, significant rainfalls of 0.5 inches (13mm) or more occurs only on 1 or 2 days this month.  Snowfall is unlikely this month in Charleston.

 

What to wear in Charleston during November?

Weather-wise, Charleston in November is mild but turning fall-like as the month progresses. You may need to pack some summer clothes for the warmer days; however, a couple of sweaters and a light or medium-weight jacket or coat will also be needed for the cooler days towards the end of this month.

While you are in Charleston, November is a good time to join one of our walking tours like the Historic Charleston tour or our Charleston Architecture tour.