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Whether it's taking a daily ritual from expected to extraordinary or discovering the wonderment and beauty of anew travel destination, J.R. McCabe elevates the everyday with timeless taste and comfortable confidence.
I’ve never had more fun traveling than in the past five years. Perhaps I’ve finally mastered the art of pulling it all together or simply arrived in a place where I know what I like and follow my instincts, but when it all comes down to it I think it’s something more. That something more is Sergeant Patrick McCabe. For those of you who follow my travel Instagram stories I’m sure you understand why. The Sergeant is an adventuresome, fun, and hilarious travel companion — full of surprises at every turn. No matter the destination, he’s up at the crack of dawn doing reconnaissance, finding the go-to people, scouting new adventures, and making things happen. Last summer in Kennebunkport his early morning adventuring had him causally bumping into President George W. Bush strolling on the beach (you can catch the story of the surprise meeting on my JRM Travel Story Highlight on Instagram).
The Sergeant’s kind and gregarious nature — mixed with a bit of Bronx boy confidence — makes him irresistible to all. He’s an inquisitive and steady traveler, which aren’t such curious traits until you learn that the man never traveled at all until he met me! It’s true. When I met him he’d only been to his family’s home country of Ireland and a few spots in New England and the Tri-state area. He joined the NYPD in 1987 and stayed tirelessly devoted to his job until he retired in 2019. In fact, there was a stretch of ten straight years when he never took a day off. The man has the work ethic of an Ox.
So when we met in 2014 I was determined and delighted to introduce him to new locales and fun destinations. Little did I know he would end up being the travel master in so many unusual, entertaining, and remarkable ways. So here you have it – the Sergeant’s seven golden rules for travel:
#1 The Game is in the Morning
The game is in the morning is my husband’s mantra. The man is up at 5 a.m. on any given day and out the door by 5:02. When we travel he’s up at 3:30 a.m., checking the air on the tires or taking a morning walk while he waits patiently until closer to five when he’s “allowed” to wake me up. This behavior comes more from excitement than regimentality, as he’s finally discovered that he’s a natural born explorer. To him the early morning is the ideal time to travel — no traffic, no accidents, and no construction on the roads and no lines, no crowds, and no delays at the airports. Mornings are the most ease-filled, peaceful time of the day in his book and he’s converted me to the practice.
#2 Make Travel Days Bonus Days
If you’re departing early it means you’re arriving at your destination early — to which most people would say, “now what?” The Sergeant doesn’t believe travel days should be wasted days, where the big event is the arrival itself. We never go straight to the hotel. Instead, we always work in the trip’s lightest activities for that day. In Manchester, Vermont that meant a visit to Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home. When on our way to Santa Monica, California it meant a cruise through and a stop for lunch in Beverly Hills. Usually a cultural, outdoor, or culinary activity fits nicely on arrival day.
#3 Call for Complimentary Early Check-in
On one of our first trips Pat and I had this back and forth about our 3 p.m. check-in time. He insisted on calling the hotel and asking if we could check-in sooner and I stood firm that check-in time was what it was and we didn’t really have a choice. Well I was wrong, and ever since we always receive complimentary early check-in. Here’s what you do: once you’ve arrived in town call the property and let them know. Most times they’ll tell you it’s okay to swing by, leave your bags with the porter and they’ll give you full access to the facilities. Go ahead and do that if you’d like or just let them know you’re going to get up to some fun stuff in town and they should call you when the room is ready. Once they know you’re close by they’ll figure out which room to give you and tell housekeeping to clean that room first. Once, when we were in Miami, I had no sooner sat on a chaise lounge to sunbathe when my cell rang to tell us our room was ready. Only twenty minutes after we’d dropped our bags off with the concierge and two hours before official check-in.
Resist the urge to call the night before and ask for early check-in, it is nearly never granted. Mostly because they have no idea when guests are going to leave the next day. Stick with the day of, ten miles away strategy — it always works!
#4 Make a Grocery Store Run
If you are still waiting for them to call about your room and you’re done with your travel day activity find a nearby grocery store. If you’ve got a car this is easy. If you’re relying on Ubers then you should wait until you’re in the hotel. Either way one of the first stops the Sergeant and I always make when we arrive at a new destination is the local grocery store. He’s not a fan of in-room snacks — even at luxury hotels they are often stale, small portioned, and offer a limited selection. We both drink a ton of water (flouride free only) — at least two gallons a day between us — so the .5 liter boutique bottles in hotel rooms may be cute but they don’t really do much for us. The Sergeant is much more comfortable when he’s got his water supply and trusted, tastier, and larger bags of snacks and treats, as well as fresh fruit, yogurt, and nuts.
Right about now I know you’re thinking, “well that sounds a bit déclassé, I mean who walks in to a five star hotel with a Whole Foods bag?” Well thanks to the Sergeant, we do, and I’m here to tell you that we’ve walked into St. Regis, Four Seasons, Rosewood and Relais & Châteaux properties around the country and at every single one been welcomed without a second glance. The true sign of a luxury experience is that they great you without judgment and without question. Five star service means that you are welcomed exactly as you are. A Chatham Bars Inn valet once told Pat, “Sir whatever you ask me, we’re taught, my response is always yes.” So there you have it.
Make a Grocery Store Run Tips:
#5 Do Early Am Patrol
The day after we arrive I always sleep in. Awakening naturally to the comfort of luxurious linens and sweet sunlight streaming in through the windows — but alas, no Sergeant McCabe. For thirty-two years at the crack of dawn he was on patrol either in Manhattan or the Bronx. Morning patrol is in his blood and no matter where we are, he does it. He leaves quietly, usually around 5:30 a.m. and comes bounding through the door by 8 a.m. with tea for me and tales of his morning adventures. Some days it’s simply about a park or nature spot he found, other times it is a diner he spotted and wants to try. After we’ve been there a few days he’ll hit the grocery store a second time or take an early morning walk on the beach. Along the way he’s talking to everyone! I mean that’s the job of a cop – recon the surroundings. He’ll have conversations with the early morning staff at the hotel, people at the grocery store, the garden or beach crew, other locals out and about. He often picks up great ideas on where to go and what to do from these morning chats. Many a time we’ve readjusted our plans based on great recommendations and finds from his early morning recon sessions.
#6 Chart the Course, but Stay Flexible
Which brings us to the Sergeant’s sixth rule — have a plan, but go with the flow. We’re not scheduled travelers but we are active travelers so that takes a bit of research before we depart for any destination. After I do my homework on the area and what it has to offer I map out options of activities and points of interest. We avoid the traditional touristy pursuits and instead aim for a rhythm of intent mixed with imagination. We’ve been headed to a location many a time when the Sergeant has pulled over at a spot he wants to check out, or diverted us down an enticing road, or even taken us out just to wander and get lost — each time we end up meeting lovely people and finding hidden gems. In fact, it’s how I found my all-time favorite New England beach in Maine.
#7 Always Follow the Restaurant Golden Rule
Although it’s #7, this rule really should be #1 because good food is essential to a pleasurable vacation and we do not enter a food establishment that doesn’t meet the Sergeant’s Golden Rule. It’s actually a two-pronged rule: 1) only dine at restaurants that are crowded and 2) make sure there are a few “silver foxes” at the tables. If you’ve read my Vermont weekend post you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, let me digress here for a bit of Pat McCabe translation on the term silver foxes. As defined, and in most circles, the term silver fox means a handsome, older man typically with white or graying hair. However in the world of Pat McCabe silver fox means someone over the age of seventy who has a scrutinizing, clever, and perhaps at times demanding and incorrigible personality. Bottom line: older people have eaten thousands of meals in their lifetime and know where the good food is. Trust them.
Restaurant Golden Rule Tips: