THE PROS + CONS OF ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORTS

Recently, my high school best friend got married... on the beach in Rivera Maya, Mexico no less. Naturally, my family and I jumped at the invitation to celebrate their love... while simultaneously seizing the opportunity to take a much needed vacation. Despite my obsessive organization and passion for all things travel, my parents took on the majority of trip planning (while dealing with my not-so-subtle suggestions). The result: a five day stay in an all inclusive resort in Playa Del Carmen. I had never stayed at an all inclusive resort up until this point, and honestly I was very skeptical. What does "all inclusive" really mean? Does the quality of your stay decrease with the extra amenities? Do these resorts stand up to the hype?

While the amenities and convenience make them especially alluring, all inclusive resorts are not the perfect option for everyone's travel style. So, let's break down the pro's and con's of all inclusive resorts: 

What can I say... It's a tough job but someone has to do it! 

                                                                           Pro: All you can eat + drink.

This was the number one selling point for me! Most resorts are teeming with what seems to be an endless selection of bars and restaurants. While I was initially nervous about eating at the exact same place all the time, it was hard to argue with the variety and number of places to indulge in as much or as little as you'd like.  

Con: Authenticity.

Food is one of the biggest things I plan my vacations around. Particularly if I am going out of the country. I believe that food is a glimpse into the unique character of another culture... which means I take my dinner plans very serious. The food at an all inclusive resort made me slight feel like I was on a stationary cruise ship. It is good, but nothing I would remember long after the meal. And it is typically served buffet style to accommodate as many guests as possible (in a cafeteria-esc setting), which can make authentic meals and intimate settings few and far between. P.S. Don't worry, I got my authentic tacos and margarita fix at a local beach joint in Tulum. 

Pro: Convenience.

Navigating an unfamiliar country with a different language is very intimidating. The resort made getting a safe transport to and from the airport very easy and ensured that the language barrier would not be an issue. Also, staying at a resort meant that we didn't have to worry about stoking up on stacks, exchanging dollars for pesos, or finding our own public transportation. Everything we needed was at our finger tips which made the relaxation part of vacation a whole lot easier!

                      Con: Experience. 

One the flip side, it can be more difficult to plan an excursion outside of the resort forcing you to result in the concierge service for your bookings. This is great to take some of the planning off of your hands. However, most resorts have long standing agreements with particular excursion companies which commonly results in a smaller selection, less authentic options, and more expensive prices! 

Pro: Amenities.

Massages on the beach. Sunrise yoga. Complimentary room service. Lazy river (swan float included). And for those of you traveling with kids, full service day care. Need I say more? I didn't think so. 

Con: Crowds.

While the buzz of constant excitement and activity can be attractive to some, I would recommend avoiding all inclusive resorts for those of you looking for a little alone time. Resorts for the most part are always in season - meaning there are very few months where the crowds die down. If you are seeking a more relaxing, more adult friendly vibe, I would consider looking into booking the adults only section of the resort (most offer this).

The bottom line? Just as with any accommodation choice, there are always pros and cons. Ultimately, your decision should depend on the experience you want from your travels. And if you need help creating that perfect experience... well, you know where to find us! 

Stay wild travelers, Robin 

5 REASONS WHY YOU NEED A LOCAL BUCKET LIST

Call it a to do list, a life list, an itch list. Whatever it's name, you probably have a bucket list of some sorts filled with exotic vacations and adrenaline pumping adventures. If you don't, I recommend starting yours today. And if you need some inspiration, check out our 3 easy rules to writing your bucket list.

It is so easy to get swept away dreaming of far away lands with diverse cultures and experiences, but few people ever stop to consider the idea of a local bucket list. While I am in no way understating the invaluable life lessons learned through traveling abroad, I would argue that just as much can be learned from playing tourist in your own city. The easiest part? It's right outside your door! But if you still need convincing, here are five reasons why you should seriously consider creating your own local bucket list:

It satisfies your wanderlust without the added expenses. 

Travel is exciting and ridiculously addicting! Why? Because it is new. That is why we travel after all, isn't it? To escape the normalcy of our everyday life. It means new cities with new restaurants, sights, and people. However, it is not always possible with our schedules, responsibilities, or financial situations. Treating your hometown like a new city one weekend a month can broaden our horizons enough to satisfy that travel craving just enough to keep you wanting more!

It forces you out of your comfort zone. 

Home should feel like a place of comfort - that's what makes it "home" in the first place. But if you are anything like us, you crave new experiences and a little discomfort from time to time. After all, we learn more about ourselves while we are fumbling through the uncertainty of a new location, culture, or language than we do sitting at home binge watching our favorite Netflix shows. And maybe breaking outside of your comfort zone in your own city seems counterintuitive. But if you treat an unexplored section of your hometown like you would any other vacation destination, you can reap the benefits of travel without the added hassle of TSA check points or travel delays! 

It keeps you present. 

It is so easy to sleep walk through life with our monotonous schedules and daily routines. Making it a priority each week to shake things up and break the norm can help you to appreciate your city that much more - and it can be as simple as replacing your classic Starbucks run for that trendy coffee shop down the street. It's not hard to get wrapped up in the planning of our next exotic vacation. Trust me... we know! But a simple change in perspective can feed your wandering soul and prevent you from missing the authentic experiences and local flavors that are right outside your front door.

It prevents you from making excuses. 

We encourage you to give yourself a deadline - a year, the summer, 9 months - and just do it! Giving yourself a deadline prevents us from using the classic "I can do it another time" excuse! A quick Pinterest/Google search of "top things to do in (insert town name here)" can open your eyes to the many places you may have never even known you were missing out on. And while an exotic bucket list with luxurious destinations can keep us giddy with anticipation, so can a local bucket list! So pick some places you have been wanting to try, and JUST GO! Because when was the last time you regretted a good adventure!

It makes you a great host. 

Finally, it helps turn you into the hostess-with-the-mostess. We all have that one friend who always seems to know exactly where to go, what to order, and what cool new things are happening. Exploring your hometown like you would a vacation spot is the easiest way for you to expand your list of fun “to do’s” for when out of town friends and family come visit. I promise your future house guests will thank you!   

What's on your local bucket list?! Share your hometown and favorite local bucket list item in the comments! 

THE VATICAN'S DARK SECRET

If you're thinking that I'm going to share some kind of "Angels and Deamons-esque" secrets, I can stop you right here....but then again, you may actually want to read on considering that what I am about to share is pretty crypt-ic (you'll get that pun at the end).

As you may know, the Vatican city is a walled enclave within the city of Rome where the pope makes his official residence. It is actually the smallest city in the world by area and population. Many people may think of the Vatican as the basilica itself, but the basilica is just one part of this major, yet tiny, religious hub. Many travelers, religious and not, come to marvel at the architecture, artwork, and history of this city.

If you have been to the Vatican, you know that the line to get into the basilica and the museum rivals the length of a football field...maybe even more on a hot summer day. The important thing to note when visiting is that the museum that leads to the famous Sistine Chapel sells "skip the line" tickets. But what about St. Peter's Basilica? Entry for this is strictly first come first serve....

Unless, its not...

There is a little known secret about getting an up close and personal view of the Basilica, all while skipping the line, exploring the necropolis underneath the church (read: lots of tombs), and getting an unbelievable glimpse at the actual bones of St. Peter that are housed directly under the pulpit (now do you get the pun?). The tour ends by climbing up a spiral staircase and directly into the center of the basilica without ever seeing as much as a glimpse of a line. Convinced yet? Well, honestly, no descriptions can really do this experience justice.

It's called the Scavi tour.

So it may not be that much of a secret because it requires reservation nearly 6 months in advance. Only 10 tours of 12 people per day are conducted in English, leaving this intimate approach to the holy city as one of the hottest tickets in town. This tour is only an hour long, making it a perfect add on to your Rome jaunt. Coming in at a the small price tag of 16 Euro, this tour offers some serious bang for it's buck.

So there it is...the secret's out.

Important Items to Note:

Due to being underground, the tour is conducted in small and humid quarters, so if you are extremely claustrophobic, I wouldn't suggest it. Another thing to be aware of is that this tour has a dress code: pants for men, covered knees for women, and covered shoulders for all. Although, this is pretty standard for all the churches in the area, which is why I always carry a pashmina in my bag for unexpected pop-ins.

 

OUR FAVORITE SITES FOR AFFORDABLE TRAVEL

We've been posting quite a few deals lately on our Facebook and Instagram feeds, and I've gotten messages, questions and comments asking questions like "are these deals real?!" They're real...as real as the memories that you'll make after you decide to pull the trigger on booking that bucket list destination that's been taunting you for years. Since we don't book airfare or hotels at Explorateur, we've found that sharing these deals are the best ways to make travel dreams come true. So how can you get alerts on top destinations and steal-of-a-deal travel packages? We're sharing a few of our faves below:

TravelZoo: This site is our jam! My last post touted about why you should book your trip to Paris right away, and this company is a major reason as to why I knew about the incredible deals. They advertised a trip to Paris including round-trip flights and 4 night stay in 4 star hotels started at $499. This straight up bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S! They share a list of their "Top 20" deals each week, and they are typically all an out-of-this-world buy. Most packages depart from major airport hubs, so you may want to scope out our next website for your best connection to an affordable point of departure.

AirFareWatchDog: This site allows you to set up alerts from anywhere to anywhere, so that you get notified for specific routes that you are looking to book. However, my favorite "down-time" thing to do is to peruse their nifty "From city" nifty feature where you can scope out all current deals from your departure airport. You might not have been planning to take that trip to Peru this year, but when you see the deal of the century, you just might be unexpectedly packing your bags all while saving some major cash.

Groupon: Groupon has a "Getaways" section that offers great deals with partners who are looking to get more traffic at their properties. For example, as I am typing this, I just saw an 8 day trip to Ireland with accommodations, airfare and a rental car starting at $699. What?! But don't be mislead, this site is even more helpful with locations in the U.S.A., so if you are looking to skip the air costs and have a nice little stay-cation, this site can help you find the perfect place!

JetSetter: Looking for a little luxury on a dime? Jetsetter has your number. Their slogan, "Hotel deals and travel inspiration," sums up exactly what they offer. This site specializes in those brands that tend to top the charts in hospitality. In addition to their incredible deals that they advertise, they have an awesome blog with restaurant and activity suggestions.

Chase: So, I am slipping this one in their for the credit card holders. Chase credit cards tend to have dang-good perks, and their rewards program is my favorite to use because of the bonus point potential and the steep discounts they offer when booking with your Chase card. Not only do they offer travel booking assistance by phone, but they also have discounts with partner companies that help you save cash or points (whichever you happen to be booking with). Even if you don't spend enough money on the card to accrue a high point balance, you can always pay the remaining balance on the card, unlike many other programs that only allow you to spend what you've already earned. If you're looking for a standard card with great travel rewards, check out the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Regional Specific Airlines: It's easy to forget about smaller brands when you stick to checking Expedia, Travelocity, and the likes. If you have a specific destination, always make sure to check out what regional lines have to offer. Allegiant is popping up in more and more U.S. airports, RyanAir and EasyJet offer great fares in Europe, WOW is an economical option to Iceland, and there are many more. If you don't know what airlines are offered, check out your destination's airport website for a full list.

Do you have favorite sites of your own for finding awesome travel deals? We'd love to hear them!

 

WHY YOU SHOULD BOOK YOUR TRIP TO PARIS TODAY

The oh-so-famous Eiffel Tower

The oh-so-famous Eiffel Tower

It's a favorite city of mine...along with the rest of the world. Paris currently ranks as the #3 most visited city by tourists (#1 is London, followed by Bangkok), and for very good reason. Yes, it is romantic, the architecture is incredible, and they have this way with butter that will make you forget that it directly impacts your cholesterol (and not in the good way).

Photo credit to Flytographer

Photo credit to Flytographer

Paris is also a city that you can visit 100 times and have completely different experiences. You can experience the nightlife in Bastille, the food on Rue Montorgueil, a boat ride on the Seine, the cabarets of Montmartre, the shopping on the Champs Elysee, or spend the day people watching on the sidewalk cafes of St. Germaine. Every nook and cranny of Paris oozes personality and character waiting to get to know it's guests.

So why should you book your flight today? Really. We're serious. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Literally....today.

The Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe

Flights are incredibly cheap right now. If you set an alert on AirFareWatchDog (my favorite site for cheap flights), you will start to see round trip tickets to Paris for under $1000. Last week, I got a notification that an Orlando to Paris round trip ticket would run me $457.

Let's take a minute to process that.

Pastries at one of the many tempting shops

Pastries at one of the many tempting shops

A flight that normally would run you upwards of $1300 was advertised on a well-known, well-established, and reputable airline for under $500. They don't charge for picking a seat and your first bag is checked for free (unlike some discount lines)...so this flight was ACTUALLY under $500.

I thought that this might be a fluke, until I saw an advertisement on TravelZoo (a discount company with an insane "Top 20" list each week) for a 4 night trip to Paris for under $700, which included round trip tickets from various destinations. Surely the hotels were awful, right? No....they were all 4 stars, with the opportunity to upgrade for an additional cost.

So why is Paris so affordable right now? Cities are taking advantage of discount sites and maximizing on the off season. Months like March and October happen to surround high season, but don't have the crowds that the summer brings. By cutting prices, hotels can become competitive, more well-known, and receive more reviews on sites like

People ask me all the time what my favorite city is and I typically respond with, "Paris...it's always Paris." I hate that it feels cliche, but, dangit, that city earns that title! So if you're looking for a place to experience Europe, or even to use as a base while exploring France and the surrounding areas, just do it. Book it. Don't think about it...just go!

HOW TO NAIL THE PERFECT SELFIE WHILE TRAVELING SOLO

If you didn't post a picture of it, did it actually happen? Did you really go scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef if it wasn't on your Facebook news feed? Did you truly eat that bowl of pho at the new restaurant down the street if it didn't make an appearance on Instagram?

We live in a digital age and photographs are becoming how we define our experiences, but how do capture those moments when traveling solo? Below is your guide to nailing the perfect selfie:

Study social media for photos that you like. While duplication is the finest form of flattery, you want to figure out your own style. Check out some selfies on social media that you really like and analyze why you like it. Is it the facial expression? The background to face ratio? Is is where the head it placed? Notice what you like and play with it in your own setting.

Follow the light. Looking into a light source will help illuminate your face, avoid shadows, and capture clearer images. If you're worried about squinting...keep your sunnies on!

Get the right equipment. You don't have to have the arm length of an Olympic swimmer to get the perfect pic. There are a few things that can make capturing your perfect snapshot a lot easier. My favorites?

  • Mini Tripod for iPhone. Two words: Game. Changer. This lightweight tripod can be stowed in your pocket or purse...and it even has a built in bottle opener! This affordable and portable item can help you grab the perfect shot anytime.
  • Anti-Slip Grip: Terrified to drop your phone while riding on the back of a scooter? or scared to hold your hand over water while trying to snap your selfie? This easy device an stick on the back of your phone and give you the extra assurance that you need to hold your phone with ease.
  • Full-size Tripod: Don't be afraid to pull out the real deal. Okay, so this may not be a "selfie" by definition, but sometimes you just want a quality photo of the whole group with more than a few faces in the shot. It is cumbersome? Maybe a little. It is awkward? It can be. Or you can just tote a travel tripod like a champ and feel no shame for getting that mantle-worthy photo.

Just Relax. It's a selfie! If you are taking yourself to seriously you risk looking vain (I'm just being honest here)...so just relax and have fun. Laugh, smile, and think of something that makes you happy. You're not shooting to land a contract with a modeling agency (or maybe you are) and happiness exudes confidence!

Don't be afraid of asking strangers. I traveled for half of my trip without getting quality pictures that included an important subject..me! Why? Because I was nervous to break through language barriers and ask for a picture. Who cares?! Chances are, the person will be happy to oblige and they won't think a thing of it. Just go for it. Ask a stranger, make a connection with a person, and capture a great moment in time!

Happy snapping!

 

 

TRAVEL AGENT vs. TRAVEL "ARTISAN"

Your dream vacation is waiting

Your dream vacation is waiting

Different types of travel require different types of travel planning. When I describe what I do, people commonly respond with "so, you're a travel agent." While, Explorateur Travel isn't your typical type of travel agency, there is a lot of overlap. I'd like to consider myself a travel consultant, but even that doesn't always seem to work. If I actually had to pick a name for what we do, I would like say that we are travel artisans. We thoughtfully create each itinerary to provide memorable experience based on style and local culture.

So to help you decide what kind of planning assistance you may need (if any), here is a breakdown of what an agent does, and how we are different.

Do you prefer an active vacation?

Do you prefer an active vacation?

Travel Agents...

  • Book all travel through a back office system
  • Work with a line of specific corporate companies which is determined by their partnerships
  • Are incentivized to book certain lines or routes for commission purposes
  • Provide luxury options and discounts based on company collaborations
  • Can be instrumental in booking group travel

 

Experience the culture of a place by a local cooking class!

Experience the culture of a place by a local cooking class!

Explorateur Travel...

  • Provides a la carte options of planning services that are selectable based on budget and need
  • Focuses on experiential accommodation and activity options (through home sharing, campgrounds, hotels, etc.)
  • Allows you receive an itinerary after sharing a few preferences and a click of a button
  • Tailors itineraries based on specific interests of clients from beginning to end
  • Makes travel planning fast, easy, and affordable with transparent pricing
  • Finds the "hidden gems" of a city to provide clients with memorable experiences
Have questions? Give us a ring!

Have questions? Give us a ring!

While I have been a travel agent previously, I found that I wasn't able to be as hands on with each client because it was more transactional and not focused on the meat and potatoes of the day to day itinerary of a vacation. Travel agents provide an excellent service for groups looking to book together, luxury trips, or even someone that may be looking for a more traditional experience. The good news is, that there are plenty of resources to help plan your trip, regardless of your travel style!

So reach out...after all, your vacation is a blank canvas that we can't wait to get our hands on! To check out our easy and affordable a la carte menu, click HERE!

HOW TO STAY ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD FOR FREE

One of the questions that I have been asked the most about by two month trip to Europe was "how?" and it tends to go a little something like this:

"How can you afford to travel for two months? Wait...you stayed in Italy for a month for free? How?! You're staying with a family that you found online? How did you hear about them? What are you going to be doing? How can I do this?!"

So here is how it all happened, and how you can travel anywhere for free...with a little research and hard work along the way.

WorkAway is a website where hosts can post jobs ranging from a few days to a few months that they need done in exchange for accommodations, and sometimes even meals. Many hosts advertise their need for handiwork, nanny work, or English teaching. Since, I'm not good with tools and not so great with kids (just being honest), I didn't think I would have much to offer to any host. After creating my profile and listing my desired destinations, I decided to take a step back and revisit the idea another time.

A few days later, I received a notification from an Italian family looking for someone to help with their children. I seriously contemplated responding enthusiastically, but I knew I wasn't the person that would be the best fit for their family. However, the site provides "similar" postings, and I saw a picture of an Italian home owned by a Californian and British couple asking for some assistance refurbishing an old farmhouse. The house was located just one hour away from Rome and a mere 45 minute train ride to Florence. Their profile advertised that they were looking for 5 hours of work per day and they would be happy to drive their workers to a nearby train station or airport for side trips for weekend side trips. It sounded perfect! I knew it was a long shot to ask if I could help in any way, but I reached out hoped for the best and in a bazaar way, I just knew something special hung in the balance of that email.

The next day, I got a response from the husband letting me know that they were full for the year, unless I knew how to sew. Now, I had always thought that my stint at SCAD for fashion design wouldn't yield much of a result, but all of a sudden, it was the most valuable education that I had undergone! When I responded that I had actually been sewing since I was 8 years old, they eagerly agreed to host me for the coming October.

In the months leading up to my trip, I was nervous, anxious and excited. What if they were weird? or demanding? or the house was sketchy? Here's where I relied on WorkAway once more to calm my nerves. I had read over 30 reviews from other WorkAwayers on this specific home, all giving praise for what a great experience they had.

So I prepped, I packed, and I headed to Moiano, Italy. Alex (the wife) greeted me warmly as soon as I hopped off the train. During my month he taught me the ways of conserving water, energy, and vegan cooking. We watched the political debates together, drank tea by the fire, perused the local markets, cooked, had intense decorating discussions regarding fabrics, and spent time just enjoying each other's company. I grew close to her two daughters, and spent time learning about their lives and interests. I was able to see the teamwork and time that it took to harvest the olives for fresh oil, and enjoy plenty of their previous harvest on fresh Italian bread. Even though I was sewing the majority of each day, I was able to enjoy my time, gain new friends, and absorb the culture of the area.

I'll never forget the fall that I spent with this family in Italy, and I also promised to return when I left...which I have every intention of doing. Travel changes people, and I am forever changed by their hospitality and the opportunity to stay in such a beautiful place.

If you are looking for an opportunity to help others and experience the world on a low budget, I suggest you check out these sites...but be warned, because the next thing you know, you may be volunteering on an elephant sanctuary in Thailand!

Check out some more photos of our time and adventures together in the gallery below:

MY TOP 10 EURO-TRIP MOMENTS (Part 2)

Beer drinking in Prague on the food tour

Beer drinking in Prague on the food tour

In yesterday's post, I left off with #6 (if you missed the post, check it out here). Since the best memories require a little bit of explaining, my top 10 moments were a little more wordy than I prefer you to have to read in one sitting.

So, without further ado (and still in no particular order), here are the remaining top moments:

The truffle festival sommeliers

The truffle festival sommeliers

7. This top memory started with a little bit of a change of heart. When planning the trip in August, I had enthusiastically gotten up at 4 AM to snag a reservation at the current #1 restaurant in the world, Osteria Francescana. I even booked my flight back from Greece based on the assumption that I would be able to get a reservation...and I did! Within 1 hour, all spots for the month were booked up and I was a proud owner of the 8 PM slot on November 4th. As the date got closer though, the logistics of getting to and from the restaurant got a little intense and I started to think that my clients wouldn't always be looking for that kind of experience. So I canceled the reservation and started to reach out to food tour companies to replace my free slot for dinner that night. All the tours were booked up, of course (which is why I am always such a big fan of planning), but the owner of Yummy Italy responded and let me know that she was serving as a sommelier at a nearby truffle festival and would love to meet with me if I could make it. Truffles. Wine. Culture. I'm in! After my Airbnb host saved me a whopping $250 by telling me about the BolognaWelcome shuttle (which was round trip for $6), I made my reservation for the next morning. I ended up spending the day talking about wine, business, food, and Italian culture with the owner of the company for most of the day. I even was able to join on a truffle hunt hosted by ItalianDays, which was just the icing on the cake! This perfect day wouldn't have happened if I hadn't changed my mind about dinner, and it was just proof that sometimes plans have to fall apart for better things to come together.

Dreaming at the John Lennon Wall in Prague

Dreaming at the John Lennon Wall in Prague

8. I had no idea what to expect of Prague. I wasn't educated on their food, culture, or layout AT ALL. I more or less took a chance and showed up with a few items to see and a booking with Taste of Prague for a night food tour (do you see the trend on my priorities yet?). I spent the evening trying some of the best hidden gems of Prague, learning about how the history of the country has shaped their gastronomy, and drinking some of the best beer that the world has to offer. I ended the night with a walk through the Old Town Square and soaking up the hustle and bustle of the beautiful gem that is Prague.

Making friends on Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Making friends on Beaujolais Nouveau Day

9. For the second time in my top 10, my ideal plan wasn't what I thought. I was set on going to this cool little speakeasy in Paris called Lavomatic. In concept, it's awesome. It appears to be a laundromat from the outside and you enter a spiral staircase through a washer and head up to a small apartment with swank cocktails. However, when we showed up, there was a line and a bouncer at the door. Let's just say that it wasn't the discreet experience I was imagining, and the crowd didn't seem to fit with what I had in my mind. We (my friend Brittany and I) headed back towards where our dinner reservations were for the night, and decided to just find a spot to land and grab some drinks before our 10:30 PM reservation (it was the earliest they had!). As we rolled up to the street with our restaurant, we noticed musicians playing to crowds, people dancing in the street, bars with patrons pouring out onto sidewalks, and red, white and blue balloons on every corner. It turns out that it was the annual Beaujolais Nouveau celebration (check out what this is here), and the locals were all out to try this year's wine harvest. We joined in the the fun, and it became 10:30 far too quickly! However, the perfection of this night didn't end here. When we walked into Chez Denise, we were escorted to our shared table with other patrons. I had found this bistro on a top 50 list from Conde Naste, and it lived up to the hype. Neighboring tables were sharing their desserts with us, giving us tastes of their dinner, and sharing their wine with anyone within pouring distance. The restaurant was filled with locals, and apparently the later you eat there, the better. I could go on and on about the sense of community that we experienced in this little nook of an eatery...but I'll save that for another time!

Road trip shenanigans

Road trip shenanigans

10. There's not much better than a road trip with a best friend...unless that road trip is a wine pilgrimage to the middle of the Loire Valley. Brittany and I set out with a purpose to taste the region's best wines. We had a few set backs, like a dog trying to attack us through a winery gate, a man banning us from taking pictures in front of his chateau, and wandering aimlessly trying to find a restaurant to serve us ANYTHING. Alas, we made it to the Chateau Gaudrelle winery where we tasted "heaven in a glass" with their bubbly white wines. After the crowd thinned a bit, Brittany and I were welcomed into the wine caves for the rundown on their wine-making processes, and then to our surprise, were offered to try a bottle that hadn't even been labeled yet and wouldn't be released for another week to the public! Needless to say, we left with bottles in hand as souvenirs.

If you didn't put two and two together, I like food..no, I love food. I didn't intend for my top 10 moments to all include food or wine, but they did. I guess that's why my yoga pants felt like they were gripping me like a python trying to consume it's prey by the end of my two month jaunt...and this clip sums up exactly how I feel about it.

MY TOP 10 EURO-TRIP MOMENTS (Part 1)

"Was it amazing?!"

"How was your trip?"

"Tell me all about it!"

These are all questions that I've gotten a lot since I've been back from my amazing trip throughout Europe. My short answers are: "Oh my gosh...yes!", "Fantastic and unreal" and ...well, the last one has had me stumped. Since it would take me a boringly long amount of time to share "all" about my (nearly) three months in Europe, I have selected the top 10 influential and memorable moments to share with you.

In no particular order (because, honestly...I can't fathom trying to rank one as more amazing than another), here they are:

1. Malta was by far the most unique pick of the trip, but it was well worth the risk. I actually don't know anyone that has been to Malta, so I had to do a lot of research before we arrived by ferry from Sicily. However, I hit the jackpot when I found a recommendation for Ta Karolina. Our dinner table was literally on the seawall, we had a bottle of amazing wine, an unreal dinner of rabbit and duck, and a great view for under $60 dollars. You read that right...$60. What topped it off, was that it started pouring at the end of our meal, forcing everyone under a tiny awning where the waiters showed their customer service skills and offered free coffees for us while we waited. To avoid the rain a bit more, we scampered into another bar that had no idea how to make a martini (cocktails aren't Malta's specialty). We had a great time teaching the bartender and chatting them up while the rain slowed enough for a taxi to grab us up.

2. I have a huge "company crush" on EatWith, which is a company/app that is revolutionizing how tourists eat and experience a city's culture. In Venice, I spent the night in a twinkle-light lit courtyard with 12 strangers who were hungry for an authentic Venetian meal in a local's home, and that is exactly what we got. Click here to read the full story on how this night changed how I will eat forever.

3. Capri's allure is no secret, but I happened to be there on a weekend where it rained the majority of the time. I know it might not sound like a recipe for a "top 10 moment", but stay with me here. Luckily for me (and you), there are plenty of spas to duck into to seek refuge when the beaches aren't "peacocking." To top it off, I hadn't slept, I had been suffering a cold, and experienced a cancelled ferry due to weather when I wandered into the Hotel Quisisana and booked a heavenly massage.  I ended up spending the morning drinking tea and lounging in their heated mosaic tile chairs while watching the rain fall outside the "relaxation area." After that, I maximized on the few sunny hours that I had by going to eat at Ristorante Mamma overlooking the rocky coast and met their dynamic concierge who invited me to check out a 5 star hotel for my clients. Since that's not the kind of invitation you turn down, I spent my afternoon on the heavenly terrace of the Hotel Punta Tragara and drinking a divine Chardonnay in the sunshine. I have never been more relaxed, and I (hands down) know where I will be booking my next stay on Capri!

4. Rome is another spot that gets plenty of attention, but few tourists muster the gusto to hop on a scooter and zig-zag their way into the traffic of this busy city. ScooteRoma gave me one of my favorite moments when I hopped on a scooter with a Roman local and easily zipped around to some of the most incredible spots in the city. It didn't hurt that my guide also treated me to one of the most amazing cappuccinos of my life at Pasticceria Linari.

5. On one of my last nights in Tuscany, I was invited by one of the ex-pats to go to a 4 course dinner called WineShineDine, which is hosted once a month in Cortona, Italy. For those who love the book/movie "Under the Tuscan Sun," this is the town that inspired it. Of course, I gladly accepted! I was greeted with a wine tasting in the town square from Chiocciolli Altadonna, then was escorted to the Delbrenna jeweler (which is underground in an old wine cellar!), handed champagne with gold and silver flecks in it while I shopped for something sparkly, and then directed to a dinner full of live music with copious wine pours and 4 courses of heaven on earth. For anyone staying stateside, they have this dinner in Newport Beach, California!

6. It's not everyday that a best friend meets you across the globe in Greece, but when it does happen, it is bound to be a great time. One of the best meals that I had my ENTIRE trip was spent in the main square of Naxos town with KJ (check this blog out on our trip together) at Scirocco one their last night of the season. We ordered such a large platter that the waiter wouldn't let us order anything else to go with it. Jokes on him... because we topped it off with dessert crepes from a restaurant on the water after! It wasn't just the food that made this night great. We laughed, we cried, we laughed until we cried...it was just one of those nights for the books!

Most of these moments take a little bit of backstory, which is why I've decided to break this into two parts (so that you aren't daunted by the length of all 10 at once). I hope you enjoyed recapping some of these memories with me, and I hope that you join in on Part 2 coming tomorrow!

25 PERFECT GIFTS FOR TRAVEL LOVERS (NO MATTER THE BUDGET)!

It's that time of year where where everyone is making their list, checking it twice, and figuring out which presents are cheesy or nice. Well, good news! We've picked out 25 flawless gifts for travelers that can help their adventures go more smoothly, and BONUS...you walk away looking like a saint! Regardless of your budget, these ideas will make any wanderluster's dreams come true this holiday season.

1. Never lose luggage with Tile Slim ($30). This gadget slips into luggage and connects to a smart phone. This makes tracking luggage easy and fast. The app can "ring" the luggage if it is within 100 feet, and if the tile isn't within 100 feet, the last known location will be provided through the app.

2. A Netflix giftcard (various amounts). Everyone needs a little bit of Netflix and chill now and then...no matter where they are in the world. Bring the comfort of home to someone, even if they are bunked up in a hostel somewhere by providing someone with their favorite movies and shows on-demand.

3. Keep someone healthy while on the road with the Jade Travel Yoga Mat ($69.95-79.95). This mat folds up or rolls up conveniently and only weighs 1 pound. Weight is an important factor while packing, so this makes a perfect gift for someone looking to stay healthy while traveling light.

4. Help someone take the perfect selfie with the Joby phone tri-pod (kit for $35.92). Not only does this tripod hold a phone, but there are also magnetic options, as well as flexible legs that wrap to hang from anywhere, as well as suction cups that can stick to a vertical surface. This is seriously better than a selfie stick!

5. Provide the gift of great photos. If you know someone who is looking to capture incredible photos, but they may not be a photo pro just yet, help them on their journey with an entry level DSLR camera ($400+).

6. Help someone amp up their luggage game with Raden Smart Luggage ($295). This luggage weighs itself, is trackable, charges anything that has a USB, plus it is incredibly durable for those crazy luggage carousels!

7 & 8. Give someone the gift of safety for their passport, money and credit cards with RFID blocking cards ($20) to slip into this stylish Mochi wallet ($49.95) that holds everything a traveler needs.

9. Keep luggage unique, just like your friends and family with luggage tags from Mark & Graham ($65). There are plenty of colors to choose from, and monogramming is an option that gives this gift an extra personalized touch.

10. Make traveling with a personal item a breeze with the OG Lo & Sons bag (On sale for $206.95) that easily slides over rolling luggage handles. Stop airport traffic jams by avoiding luggage loss with this secure stow and go feature! This company has nailed all the travel necessities with their bag amenities.

11. "Cheers" someone from afar with a Carry On Cocktail Kit ($24). There are plenty of versions to choose from and they are TSA approved so that anyone can enjoy the perfectly blended beverage no matter where they are headed!

12. Give someone a way to track their memories through an interactive scratch off map from Uncommon Goods ($26/$40). This is perfect for a globetrotter who is looking to display their travels proudly on the wall.

13. Help someone get some much needed rest with the uniquely shaped J-Pillow ($28). This pillow is compact while not inflated, but provides a unique shape that supports the neck and head during a cramped commute. As a side note: It's the #1 rated travel pillow on Amazon!

14. Couple #13 with the #1 selling sleep mask on Amazon: The Alaska Bear Sleep Mask ($11)! This mask promises total blackout (in case the Carry On Cocktail kit didn't do the job), hypoallergenic fabric, and a silky smooth feel for ultimate relaxation.

15. Change someone's environment with this travel humidifier ($20). This humidifier conveniently sits in a glass of water, unlike some that require specifically sized bottles. The benefits of a humidifier include fighting off colds, more vibrant skin, and improved sleep, making this the gift that keeps giving!

16. Help someone jam out to their favorite tunes with a lightweight blue tooth speaker. The JBL Flip 3 speaker ($79.95) weighs in at 1 pound, meaning that this speaker can easily be stowed in luggage and will allow your gift recipient to listen to their tunes wherever they go. It is also splash proof and comes in 8 different (and fun) colors for a perfectly personal gift!

17. Keep someone dry with a beautiful Turkish towel by Poketo ($38). This is absorbent enough to dry off after a shower, snuggly enough to use as an airplane blanket, and big enough to use for an impromptu picnic in the park.

18. Bring life into focus with the olloclip ($80). This lens easily snaps onto an iPhone and has 4 different lens types. A phone has never taken such great photos!

19. Give the gift of a youthful glow by giving the Clarisonic Travel Set ($169), with face cleanser, an anti-aging mask, overnight cream, and a Clarisonic! Flights can dehydrate and wreak havoc on the skin. With this set, you can keep someone looking fresh from wheels up to touchdown.

20. Travel is increasingly requiring more and more technology. With more and more technology comes more cords. Help your fellow traveler stay organized a travel organizers list like the BUBM Travel Organizer ($8), AmazonBasics Case ($10),  or the Mark and Graham rollable cord carrier ($49).

21. Every traveler should keep a journal of where they've been, where they want to go, and other thoughts along the way...maybe even a few doodles! This Moleskine notebook ($33) allows creativity to blossom by connecting to Adobe and actually turning journal entries into digital files.

22. Provide inspiration to someone who is looking for their next vacation with a subscription to Afar magazine ($20). You can share the world with someone throughout the year with this culture-focused travel magazine.

23. Headphones can be bulky to pack, and even harder to relax in. With the Bose Quiet Comfort 20 in-ear headphones ($249.95) you can allow someone to cancel out the background noises on the flight, while giving excellent sound quality. 

24. Give the gift of memories with a Flytographer Giftcard ($250-$875). Whether you know someone traveling domestically or internationally, chances are that Flytographer has a photographer to help your friends or family capture incredible images within the vicinity. This is a perfect gift regardless of if you recipient is traveling solo or with a group.

25. Lastly, give someone the gift of the world...and more free time by providing them with a tailor-made itinerary created with their travel style and budget in mind. We are ready to help plan travel for 2017 and beyond with our gift cards ($50/$200).

Check out a full gallery of these 25 items below. Happy Holidays!

 

AIRBNB OR HOTEL? 7 THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BOOKING

The beautiful Relais & Chateaux Myconian Ambassador Hotel  (Photo Credit: Myconian Ambassador)

The beautiful Relais & Chateaux Myconian Ambassador Hotel
 (Photo Credit: Myconian Ambassador)

Homesharing is revolutionizing how people travel. There are more options for any budget, more amenities available, the option for more space, and more opportunities to stay in local neighborhoods. If it were up to me, I would opt for a short term apartment rental almost 100% of the time. I like having a kitchen, a washer, and knowing that I can pick a place with cozy café just downstairs from where I’m sleeping. However, there are times that renting your own place just might not make sense.

Before pressing the “Instant Book” button on the Airbnb website, read through these points and make sure that you are picking the perfect accommodations for your holiday.

The view from the Santorini Airbnb

The view from the Santorini Airbnb

·      Length of stay: I’ve found that less than three nights in an apartment can be a little more challenging. If you are headed to one place for just two nights, you don’t have as much time to get to know a city. With the help of a hotel concierge, you may be able to get the most out of a place in a mere 48 hours. Another thing to consider is the time that it takes to check into an apartment. A local is going to want to walk you around the house and give you a proper introduction. If you are limited on time, you may just want a speedy check-in process at a hotel front desk. You also don’t have much time to get groceries if you are somewhere for just two nights, and if you do buy them, you may not have time to eat what you do buy. On the other hand, it may be beneficial to grab groceries if your weekend getaway is for a larger group,which leads me to…

·      Size of the group: If you are throwing a bachelor party and have twelve guys all headed to spend some time together, you may want to opt for a house rental. Yeah, it may only be for two nights, but wrangling a large group of people to go anywhere can be like herding cats. As a host, make it easier on yourself by booking a house where everyone can be on the same page….and if someone is running behind, at least the rest of the crew can mix up some drinks in the kitchen! Plus, it is very convenient to have a space where people can gather instead of sitting on the edges of hotel beds.

My perfect AirBnb in Dublin  (Photo credit: Host Claire)

My perfect AirBnb in Dublin
 (Photo credit: Host Claire)

·      Time of arrival. If your plane lands at 11 PM, you may just want to opt for a hotel that night. If you’re checking bags and commuting a bit, you may not arrive until after midnight. Unless you’re a night owl (and your host is up for it) an apartment rental may prove challenging to check into in the wee hours of the morning. Remember that most rental owners aren’t in the hospitality business full-time, so they may not even give an option for a late check-in.

·      Budget. House rentals can work wonders on the budget when reserving for a large group. A hotel can cost you a pretty penny for four people to share two beds, or you can spend the equivalent for an entire home where people can spread out a bit more. If you are a smaller party, you can find affordable options through AirBnB, as well. Sometimes the cost may be pretty equal, which is why you should consider all other aspects of your trip before picking your temporary home. Homesharing has really opened up all kinds of accommodations, from extreme budget to high-end luxury, so the world is your oyster here!

·      Culture of the area. Some places just don’t make sense for AirBnb. If part of the culture of the place you are visiting is reliant on tourism (what is known as a “resort town"), you may want to think a bit before renting outside of the main strip. Resort towns are known for great amenities and you may actually miss out on some of your vacation by staying in an apartment.

The idyllic Relais & Chateaux Chateau de Curzay  (Photo Credit: Relais & Chateaux)

The idyllic Relais & Chateaux Chateau de Curzay
 (Photo Credit: Relais & Chateaux)

·      Location: Before committing to a place, check out how much walking versus driving you would need to do from either option. If one is closer to transportation that the other, you may have an easy solution by picking the one that would make your commute easier. After all, the saying goes “location, location, location!”. If an apartment provides the opportunity to stay in the middle of a local food market with easy access to a train station, it seems like a no-brainer to me! Conversely, if a hotel includes a shuttle, it may be a better option for safe and economical transfers. As a last point, hotels can call cabs for their guests and if you are traveling internationally, this is an easy way to avoid trekking all over to find a taxi stand, using your phone to make international calls, or working through the language barrier with the taxi company (see my post including my taxi incident by clicking here).

·      Must-have items: Some folks want a mini bar, a concierge, fancy products, and a fancy bathtub. Other folks may need a washing machine, refrigerator, common area to hang out, and a kitchen to fix meals. Consider what you need to feel content…after all, this is your vacation! The homesharing sites all list the amenities available, but it is easy to get caught up in the pictures and forget that you can’t live without air conditioning (yeah…it happens). Make a list of your required amenities and check it twice (maybe three times), and then let that guide you for picking your landing pad.

If you are looking for some great homesharing sites, be sure to check out these below, but also search for local websites that manage bookings. Some regions have sites that pool all the home rentals together and provide options that the other sites may note offer.

 

TURN COACH INTO FIRST CLASS & BEAT JETLAG WITH THESE 5 EASY STEPS

If you're like most of us, you've done it...you've walked onto the plane and past the first class seats that are all nestled in and enjoying their pre-flight cocktails. However, there are a few tricks that you can follow to make a coach seat feel just as cozy as the oh-so-coveted business or first class spots.

1. Charge cards can do some good. I know what Dave Ramsey would say right about now. He'd be mad that I encouraged anyone to open a credit card. However, if you are looking to amp up your flying experience (and you fly Delta), I encourage you to go ahead and apply for the credit card. You don't have to carry a balance, but you do get into the Sky Lounge for free. This means an opportunity to freshen up in their amazing bathrooms with shower stalls, and all the amenities (I know it sounds weird, but trust me that they are awesome), have a beverage, or two, before heading to the gate, relax in a quiet environment, and enjoy some healthy snacks while waiting to board your flight. Don't want to take my word for it? Check out the perks here!

2. Front row seats aren't just for concerts. I spent years avoiding the front rows of economy because I preferred to keep my "personal item" under the seat in front of me, but then I was flying to Malta and I passed a couple who was passed out, cuddled up in blankets, with their legs fully extended. I went to the bathroom three times and they were in this position for the entire flight...the entire flight! I decided to give the front row a shot and I will never go back. I was able to climb over my seat-mate without disturbing him because of all of the legroom, and I didn't even miss the nook of space in front of me. I just stowed my computer, headphones, my phone, and kindle in the pocket on the wall and called it a day!

3. Keep with routine. If you are getting on a flight at night, make sure to keep with the schedule. Kick off your shoes, brush your teeth, and get comfy. Transitioning your body can help you transition mentally, and this will allow you acclimate more naturally from departure to arrival.

4. Use the eyemask. Most airline carriers provide an eye mask to block out the light on the plane. My favorite trick is to put a little lavender oil on the mask for a soothing touch, slip on a fresh pair of socks, change the station to classical music (or spa/zen sounds) and zone out for the next couple hours. If you're really wanting to catch some z's, pop a few ZzzQuil Nighttime and you can consider yourself "lights out."

5. Kick off the flight with some bubbly! I'm all for an inaugural glass of champagne to kick off the flight...in fact, I think it makes you feel even closer to first class! However,  you should be aware that if you are wanting to have a restful flight as if you were hanging out in a one person pod toward the front of the plane, you may want to skip the booze throughout the flight so that you can get better sleep. Alcohol can backfire and actually prevent you from slipping into a deep sleep that will help you feel more rested by you arrival time.

6. No matter what, Follow the time zone of your destination. Changing from coast to coast can be difficult on the body, but all it takes to adjust is a little mental willpower (and maybe some caffeine). Wherever you land, make sure to follow a normal schedule. If you land at noon, check into the hotel and then start to site see. Whatever you do, don't give in to the desire to nap midday. You are bound to oversleep and miss dinner...and then possibly stay up all night. It may be a struggle, but your sleep pattern will determine the schedule for the rest of your vacation.

We're not all willing to shell out the big bucks to get a mimosa, a sleeping "pod," and meals that start with shrimp cocktail. After all, sometimes it's pricey enough just to be sitting in the back of the plane. I consider myself fortunate to even be seated on a plane going to an exciting new place! However, sometimes the flight can set the tone for the trip. For those trips, just follow these easy tips and you are sure to start your trip more rested and ready to explore when you land. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

THE BLOOPER REEL: TWO MONTHS OF BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS

The last champagne that we enjoyed in Champagne

The last champagne that we enjoyed in Champagne

I want to share some “real talk” with you for a moment. Now, I have my pride…but sometimes you just have to make fun of yourself. I was telling my friend about the ins and outs of my trip, and I couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculous things that have happened during the past two months of travel.

I’m going to share my top blooper moments with you, so be gentle… laugh with me, not at me. We are in the tree of trust now. K, thanks.

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  • I busted it in Malta. HARD. I was wearing my oh-so-glamourous Birkenstock sandals and stepped on a fine layer of dust on a slant and took a tumble into the street. My first thought? I’m going to get run over. My second thought? Thank God I didn’t drop my pastries.
  • I got caught on the grill of a van in Amsterdam…and it started driving. Before you think, “oh my God…is she okay”…don’t. Just laugh. You can even laugh at me on this one. I was wearing a trench coat and I was walking in front of a van with a walking tour (yes, there was an audience for this) and my cuff got stuck in the grill. The van started driving until I was visibly yanked back and gave a quite obviously terrified expression (and I'm sure an audible reaction). I was not easily freed either. There was honking involved, crowding around me, pushing, pulling and finally my dad jammed the grill in to liberate me from my embarrassment. Note: the coat was not as fortunate as I was.
  •  I sobbed to an old man in Florence.  Y’all…I’m not joking with you. This poor Italian man met me in a dark moment on a dark day. I had 3 heavy/large/cumbersome boxes to ship from the train station, my luggage, and my backpack. I couldn’t find a taxi stand for the life of me (taxis aren’t supposed to stop unless at a stand). I was rolling my suitcase on cobblestone, trying to balance the boxes, and manically waving down any taxi in an effort to guilt them into stopping. Of course (as fate would have it), the boxes fell, the taxi number kept hanging up on me, and every taxi driver just shook their head “no” through their windows as pedestrians just looked at me and continued walking. In a weak moment, I threw my head back to the sky and screamed. NO ONE stopped to help, until I turned on the water works. Luckily, this man had a notepad with another taxi number and stayed by my side until it arrived. The cherry on top was that when I got to the train station, they told me that 20 minutes wasn’t enough to complete my shipping (what the…?!) and I had to take all my ever-loving junk back on the train with me.
  • I drank too much limoncello and hated every second of the next morning. I won’t recap this now, but you can read the post here.
  • I wore dirty socks for a week. Gross. Gross. Gross. This is where I need you to laugh with me, and not at me. This is the reality of traveling for long periods of time. I had no access to a washer, and the weather was not warm enough to wear sandals. I tried to wear boots without socks, but I just shredded my feet, and then had to wear dirty socks over my blistered tootsies.
  • My hair turned to hay. My poor hair. I trained my hair not to get oily before leaving (yes, you can do this) so that I could just use dry shampoo. However, what I didn’t think about was that I would be curling and straightening my hair multiple times before conditioning it again. I’ve remedied the situation with multiple hair masks, but I had to put face lotion in my hair just to get it to do anything. The struggle is real and you can read about all the rough realities of traveling here.
  • I’ve had 2 cancelled ferries resulting in 2 lost hotel reservations. Don’t book a ferry in Greece on a holiday. They can call it bad weather, but we took a ferry the next day in much worse conditions. I’m not judging…I’m just saying that I think someone didn’t want to come to work that day so that they could indulge in some ouzo.
  • I shivered in the wind and rain by a shed. My awesome friend, KJ (see her rockstar status blog here) came to visit me in Greece and I had it all planned. Spa day: Check. Hot tub: Check. Transportation: Check (ish)…see previous bullet about the ferries. However, sometimes Airbnb owners don’t show up when they should. And sometimes, their absence perfectly coincides with horrible weather and (practically) freezing temperatures. At first we weren’t even sure the taxi took us to the right place, then our host didn’t show up and blamed it on my lack of communication, and then lastly, we realized that our covered porch was 10 feet from us the whole time. Whoops.
  • I packed my hotel key in my luggage. KJ and I were at our backup hotel in Greece after a ferry cancellation.  I was Hellbent on the fact that I must have left the key in the door the night before (potentially even more terrifying). After a few judgemental stares from the staff and 30 minutes of searching the room, I realized that I had buried the key at the bottom of my packing cube inside my luggage. Whoops (again).
  • I busted it in Greece. HARD. Sound familiar (see bullet 1)? Yep. It happened again. This one is for all the ladies out there. I was with KJ in Santorini and we were feeling good. I had a sassy dress on, boots, and a leather jacket…and way too much wine (you see where this is going). Let’s just say the curb reached up and tripped me. I looked up at KJ like a kicked puppy as a group of Greek men tried to rescue me from my shame. Needless to say, I ran away as quickly as my scraped knee could carry me.
  • I wandered the streets of champagne champagne-less. My friend Brittany came to visit me in Paris and we might have imbibed in a bit too much red wine the evening before our morning train to Reims. Imagine getting off a train, heading to a champagne tasting, and then braving the elements to find a nearby restaurant to grab a bite to eat (and absorb the wine from the night before). The upside? We woke up at 8:30, showered, got completely ready, and caught two subway connections, all to make it to our 9:28 AM train across town. The downside? Language barriers can cause Google maps to take you to parts of town where the only restaurants are Chinese take-away restaurants and pastry shop that sell cold quiche…which we ate.
My "coffee" to go that may have contributed to a tumble in Greece

My "coffee" to go that may have contributed to a tumble in Greece

While I have loved this journey and learned from every second of it, it doesn’t mean that every second was always enjoyable. Just like if I were back home, I would have good days and bad days. However, the good news is that I can look back and hysterically laugh at my bad days…and I hope that you did too!

6 SIMPLE TRAVEL ETIQUETTE TIPS TO FOLLOW

Photo credit: Alberto from Flytographer in Florence

Photo credit: Alberto from Flytographer in Florence

After spending time next to hundreds, possibly thousands, of people each day in subway stations, airports, taxi stands, and on city sidewalks, I've found a few things that you can do (or avoid doing) in order to keep everyone around you just a little bit happier. And if you are thinking, I don't care about their happiness (which, I surely hope that you are not), just think that they could be thinking the same thing. Let's just all give a little and make this world a better place to be by being better for each other and ourselves.

Street art in Florence

Street art in Florence

  • Stopping abruptly while walking in a crowd. With the new iPhone 7 coming out and a culture that is largely based on the amount of likes that you get per Instagram post (guilty...), we have a lot of people taking pictures. Like...a lot. Everywhere. Don't be the person that stops mid-step to take a photo of something. Do the foot traffic a favor, glance behind you, step to the side, and then re-enter the spot that you want to take your photo from when there is a break in people. I get it...I'm guilty of being in my own world and thinking that I just have to stop this very second or the world will end. But it won't, I promise. Just be conscious of your surroundings and don't be the person that causes a pile-up. This, I am begging of you.
  • Stopping abruptly to check your luggage for something. Let's revisit number one and then transport ourselves magically to a crowded airport. If you have to check your bag for your passport, your phone, or anything else, follow the same rules. It's easiest here to veer to the side and just take a pit stop by the wall. People are hustling to get to their connections and it is thoughtless to stop traffic because you think you might have left your phone in the bathroom (we've all had that panic moment).
  • Asking someone to switch seats in the plane. Sometimes, this is unavoidable for families with kids. However, I am a big fan of the mini-upgrades. I will gladly spend $39 for a seat with extra room, extra movies, and some extra perks. Please don't ask me to give up my aisle seat because you didn't book your tickets with your friend, or you need more room, or any myriad of reasons that make me want to throw a little kid like tantrum because all I want to say is "no." It puts people in a difficult position...and if you notice the bottle of water that I'm carrying, you'll want me to have the aisle seat.
  • Enjoying street performances/art without tipping. This one goes for anywhere in the world where there is someone exercising their creativity in public for some cash. If you are standing around watching, listening, or taking a photo...throw down some dough. It's okay if it's $1...but they are working to make a living, and by you absorbing this, you have consented to becoming part of their paying audience. If you don't want to pay, don't hang around and just continue on your merry way.
  • De-boarding any group mode of transportation. It's simple...first row, first to go. Don't go elbowing your way in front of the aisle in front of you by placing your luggage in front of their aisle (you know those people). Unless the airplane makes an announcement to let passengers with connecting flights off first, wait your turn and don't jump in front of others while de-boarding. This goes for buses too. There is an easy order to things, if everyone follows them. It just takes one impatient person to throw off the whole process and then it becomes twice of an ordeal as it should have been.
  • Grabbing your checked luggage. When you head to grab your luggage, just stand about 8-10 feet away from the belt. If we all did this, we would be able to see every piece of luggage as it came out. The owner would just be able to step up, grab the bag, and go. Don't hover over the luggage belt and make everyone say "excuse me" every time a new piece plops onto the belt. It will come when it comes, and you can just grab it when it does.
  • Offer to take photos for others. Lastly, I think this is one of the best things that you can do for a group of people or a couple traveling together. We've all been there... you get home from vacation and have no photographic evidence of everyone being together. So spread some joy and offer a hand to others, regardless of if they are holding a selfie stick or not. The favor will most likely be returned!
Photo credit: Alberto from Flytographer in Florence

Photo credit: Alberto from Flytographer in Florence

Okay...so maybe those are really just pet peeves and not necessarily etiquette, but I think they are one in the same here!

I'd love to hear your thoughts and your tips for creating more cohesive travel. Please comment and share!

HOW TRAVEL BRINGS OUT YOUR BEST SELF - SPECIAL GUEST BLOGGER

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Today I'm featuring someone who is a true travel pro and a best friend (I'm lucky that they came in one package!). She's traveled across the globe to Greece to meet me, we've road-tripped across the U.S. together, and she flies almost daily for work (seriously...she'll fly over 300,000 miles just for work this year). Her profession has given her the opportunity to empower collegiates all over the country to be themselves. It's safe to say, that travel is a big part of what has shaped her both in personal life and career. Without further ado, here's the travel connoisseur herself telling you about how travel can make you a better version of yourself.

Let me introduce myself.  My name is KJ McNamara and I am the Vice President of a small company called Phired Up Productions.  What we do is we are a professional training company.  My team and I travel to college campuses all over the country.  Last year I alone traveled to 92 college campuses, 5 professional conferences, and 6 different countries.  Needless to say… I travel a lot.

On Explorateur Travel’s blog you will find great information on where you should travel, how you should travel and who you should travel with.  I want to tell you a little of why you should travel. 

Traveling for work has been a large part of my professional identity.  Actually I have never had a career job that does not require me to switch my iPhone into airplane mode at least once a week.  The truth is it can be empowering, challenging and mostly generate some pretty spectacular self-love and respect. 

Empowering:  You should travel to test yourself.  You should travel to prove to yourself you can manage way more then you give yourself credit for.  I think in my hardest moments in life I have always wondered if I was very strong or very capable.  Being a road warrior has taught me repeatedly that I am resilient, adaptable, powerful and mostly unstoppable when I set my mind to something.  It taught me that I am worth it and more than my doubts.  The courage you get from dropping yourself into a city, finding a restaurant… heck finding your hotel again, making friends, and mostly not feeling lonely is priceless.  Traveling alone or with people constantly reminds you that what you need to be happy lives inside of you – not on your Netflix cue, or at the bottom of a wine glass. 

Challenging:  No matter how empowering travel can be there will be downfalls, large and small.  Some of them include losing your luggage, but most of them come from the guilt you feel for leaving.  I am married, and my husband has a stable 9 – 5 job.  So many people ask me, ‘does your husband miss you?  How does he manage?  When are you going to step back?  You cannot do this and be a mother you know?’  That is the most challenging part.  The shame people put on me through conversation or the assumptions that I don’t know what I am doing in an airport and mostly the complete and totally lack of stability in my life.  Those are the challenges you face for life shaking and breath taking moments. 

You are guaranteed to lose sleep.  You will not drink enough water or eat nearly as healthy as you should.  Your workout regiment will be a total joke sometimes.  You will find yourself crying alone in an airport… guaranteed, and those are the days you want to throw it all in and quit.  But I would rather find myself crying alone in an airport feeling terrified about living so close to the edge any day over finding myself crying alone on my bathroom floor terrified that I never lived.  That is the gamble I made and the challenge I am willing to face.  You have to ask yourself what is worse for you to lose, your stability or your sanity.

Generate a sense of self-love:  Now, every challenge has it’s perks.  You would not go through the Hell of traveling if it did not have truly massive and awe inspiring benefits.  The truth is I met myself somewhere in-between home and 36,000 feet.  I became a person I really liked because of travel.  What traveling does is it strips you of every excuse, every creature comfort, and every shield you have.  It makes you look at yourself in the mirror for a long time.  Then it makes you live alone with just yourself for a few days.  You have to really like yourself to be alone with yourself for that long.  You get to be whoever you want to be in a place where no one knows you.  The moment you choose to be yourself if the most breathtaking view of all. 

People are afraid to leave their "home" with their restaurants, friends, and familiarity.  I get it.  But, you learn what you really want and what you really like when you find things you love in a place you have never been.  You meet yourself when you are alone.  You are a tea bag, you deserve to put yourself in hot water so people know just how strong you are.   The only thing stopping you is your fear of your doubts, or your fear of what other people think or even worse your fear loneliness.  You will be so proud of yourself when you conquer all three and all it takes is a quick trip.

Today the world is full of opinions on how we can be better.  We are plagued with messages about how easy it is to be a better cook, have better hair, eat better, have a better body, be a better spouse or parent, and mostly how it is simple to live up to the impossible standard that has been set for us.  Visiting a new city, sitting alone in my brain at a strange coffee shop, politely chatting with the barista, preparing for my day is one of the only times I feel like I am enough and that I don’t need to be better.  Traveling has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and mostly… traveling has taught me happiness.

IT'S A ....FLIGHT? HOW LONG TERM TRAVEL IS LIKE HAVING A BABY

I’m not even going to sit here and pretend that I am doing something half as important as bringing new life into this world. However, I am creating a life through traveling…my life. I find something daily that breathes new life into me, and makes me better and bigger than I was the day before. So for right now, traveling is my baby.

However…the point of this post is not to get all sentimental. The actual point is that, while I have not birthed a beautiful bouncing bundle of joy, I am strongly struggling with what (I have heard) are the symptoms of the aftermath. It turns out that long term travel ain't all glitz and glamour folks…so please, enjoy my misery and laugh a little with me on this one. Here is why and how I feel like I have actually labored instensely for this beautiful baby of mine called “travel.”

·      My pants don’t fit. Y’all…this is for real. I don’t even mean pants, either. My leggings…go ahead…laugh. Should I admit this? Probably not. Am I ruining the picture perfect social media version of myself? Maybe…but you need to know that when you stay in Europe for 2 months, bad things happen to good people. Well, okay. Good things happen…like truffle poached eggs, goulash, pumpkin tortellini, homemade tiramisu, creamy gelato, and wine…all the wine. Either way, the fact remains: my pants don’t fit.

·      I’m constantly wondering “Am I doing this right?”. I hear that parents (new and tenured) are constantly questioning if they are doing it right: wondering if they are feeding their kids the right things, sending them to the right schools, and so on. I am constantly questioning if I am picking the right activities, missing something monumental, and eating the right foods. I ask myself questions like, “if I didn’t take the bus…how can I tell someone else to.” Well, I can and I will (if my customer wants a budget option). It turns out that asking yourself if you are doing every.single.thing. right is enough to drive you crazy. So I am living, loving, learning, and moving on.

·      My hair is falling out. Ugh…my hair! The pants I could have dealt with, but this I did not expect. I’ll share more on this later, but I learned the hard way that my hair is not as resilient as my spirit. Between curling, straightening, and not conditioning my hair everyday, my hair turned to hay and started breaking off in clumps. It wasn’t pretty. I’ve invested in hair masks, serum, heat protectants, and everything else you can imagine. It’s on the up and up…but the scars remain. Lesson learned: don’t scrimp on packing the liquids when it comes to hair care.

·      Everyday feels like a first for something. The term “child-like sense of wonder” resonates with me here. Everyday I see and learn something new and I love seeing how the world is shaping me, just as I am shaping it.

·      If I’m not taking pictures, I feel as though I’m missing something. If I didn’t take a picture, did it happen? Towards the end of my trip, I’m feeling like a mom who just had my third kid. The first couple weeks, I was camera-crazy and snap happy like a mom who just had her firstborn. However, as I move on, I have to remind myself to record each location. Sorry, Amsterdam…your wedding slideshow is going to be quite lacking.

·      Its going by way too fast. I have seen first hand that those sleepy, snuggly, chubby cheek days go by way too fast! My trip is flying by now…but it turns out that my sleepy and chubby cheek days are actually increasing.

·      I never sleep…but then I fall asleep in the craziest places, at the craziest times. When I get to my apartments or hotels, I am writing or working. With the time change, 3 PM meetings are now 9 PM, and blog posts go up at 2 AM my time. Don’t worry though…I’m catching my Z’s…on the train, on top of my suitcase at the airport, and as soon as I board any plane (mouth gaping open).

·      When I want to sleep…I can’t! I’m so tired. More tired than I have ever felt in my life. I do realize that I will look back on this when I actually do have kids and laugh at how rested I was during this time…but for now, I am exhausted. The problem is that now my body has been trained that I don’t sleep. Sleep is bad. Must stay awake. So that’s what it does. Which is why I could be sleeping on the train right now, but I’m writing this instead.

·      The moisture is constantly sucked out of me. Yep…I said it. Although, I don’t mean it in a “my body is providing nutrients for human life” kind of way. Through flights, heat, cold, and the lack of readily available drinking water…I am constantly dehydrated and ready to attack the first Culligan man that I see in the U.S. (do they exist anymore?!).

·      Most of my clothes have some kind of stain on them. The rule “clean enough” and the “sniff test” are used almost daily. Gross? Sorry…I speak the truth. Washing machines have proven to be quite elusive, and even when I do get an opportunity to wash my clothes, I don’t always have time to let them air dry. So here I sit in my sweater that faintly smells like tacos. Mmm…tacos. Yeah, so I went for Mexican when I was in Prague.  Judge me.

So there you have it. If you thought that traveling long term is glamorous and well-manicured, I’m here to break the news to you that it isn’t. You may not sleep, you may gain weight, your hair may look like hay, but in the end, you’ve created something that you will always cherish. It may not be a baby, but yeah…it kinda feels like it.

SPLURGE VS. SAVE....TRAVEL EDITION

Photo credit: Ioannis of Santorini through Flytographer

Photo credit: Ioannis of Santorini through Flytographer

People are funny about money...particularly when you ask what they want to spend on their vacation. I get it...who wants to divulge their financial info just to get some candid advice on where to grab dinner? Traveling is about more than just the "spend" though, and I am a firm believer in establishing a budget before a big trip so that you don't up and blow the bank just because "YOLO."

So, then the question is, where should you scrimp and where should you splurge when laying out your itinerary? In my experience, here is where you should go "all out" versus keeping your cash in your wallet.

SPLURGE:  One great meal per day. I love food as much as the next gal (okay...a little more), but you probably don't need to blow the bank on every meal during your trip just because you are in a new or exotic place. Do your research (or ask me to) and select restaurants that you know will give you an experience worth splurging on.

SAVE: The other two meals. Your best bet is to pick one mid-price/high end restaurant per day, and balance it with easy meals (to clarify: not fast food meals) for the others. A croissant and cappuccino will do just fine for a budget breakfast, and even dare I say, even feels pretty luxurious if you sit down and leisurely enjoy your flaky treat while getting ready for the day. A gyro from a street cart isn't a shabby lunch either! Grab a budget meal during the day, pick a scenic spot, and save up for your splurge dinner.

A family photo snapped by our tour guide in Italy

A family photo snapped by our tour guide in Italy

SPLURGE: Private tours. If you have a limited time in a city, I highly encourage you to find the best tour company and get a small group tour. This intimate approach can completely change your interaction with your surroundings and provide you with tips that you may not have known otherwise. My favorite private tour was in Rome with EasItalyTours. I can't speak highly enough about how knowledgeable the guide was, how helpful she was to navigate us through the city, and how she even helped us plan the rest of our trip with local flair. The cherry on top? With a private guide, we had a photographer on hand to help capture our trip as a family!

SAVE: Free walking tours. Okay...sounds contradictory, right? Well, if you are hitting multiple cities within one trip, you most likely can't book a private tour in every major site. I suggest using free walking tours (see post on companies to check out here) for overall tours of cities and picking a site that you want to know more about (or maybe is just flat out overwhelming to do on your own) for your private tour. You'll be able to lay the groundwork for the cities that you visit and invest more in sites that you have a deeper interest in...win/win! However, there are also some GREAT tours (both international and domestic) that cost less than $25 and can be a game changer for your overall experience.

The view from our Athens hotel

The view from our Athens hotel

SPLURGE: Hotels with a view. Some cities are just too incredible to stop looking at, which is why you may want to splurge on a hotel with an impressive vista. I'm all for an economical AirBnB, but when you are in Paris you may want just one night with a view of the Eiffel Tower. In my recent trip to Athens, we splurged and stayed at a hotel with a view of the Acropolis from the top floor. Was it worth it to spend the evening drinking a robust red wine and overlooking one of the most magnificent sites in the entire world?! Heck yes!

The terrace from our Santorini AirBnB

The terrace from our Santorini AirBnB

SAVE: Long-term accommodations. If you have a full week in one location, you may want to take the more economical route. Make sure that your bare necessities are met, and then look for places that meet your needs. My personal preference is an AirBnb/ Homeaway in a safe neighborhood with a kitchen, strong Wifi, a hairdryer, washer, bathroom with privacy, and a terrace is always a major perk! If you are wanting to add a little luxury to your stay, switch it up and head to a swanky hotel on your last night as a treat.

SPLURGE: Flytographer or artwork. I'm a big believer in spending money (in moderation) on something that you will appreciate forever. I love Flytographer specifically because it captures beautiful moments in beautiful places (read my post here). I also love purchasing artwork, even if it is off the street, because it can be hung on the wall and appreciated forever. Souvenirs can be expensive, but with either of these options, you can hardly go wrong.

SAVE: Cheap Trinkets or clothes. I've made the mistake of buying clothes as souvenirs before, and then practically grew out of them within the week (okay...maybe that's an exaggeration...but close)! Cheap souvenirs break, end up getting hidden on shelves, or end up on your garage sale table within the next few years. It may be hard to find something you love, but think twice before giving in and buying the first thing that peaks your interest. After all, don't forget that the memory of your trip is a souvenir in itself!

If you're budgeting, just beginning to plan a trip, or you're just reading this and daydreaming...I hope this helps you think about what you value and want to get out of your time away. Everyone is different, and everyone has different priorities. If you have any save vs. splurges, we would love to hear them!

 

5 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE AN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT

I believe that one of the best things about traveling is sharing the lessons learned, and I recently learned a valuable lesson during my trip to Europe. I packed, planned, and purchased my suitcase (click here for my post on packing for 2 months in 1 carry-on) based on the assumption that the advertised statement of “carry-on size guaranteed” included international regulations. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of lost baggage when traveling. In fact, up until now, I’ve only had one full international vacation where one (if not both) of my bags ended up meeting me at my end destination. Luckily, I’ve always gotten them back within 2-3 days, but there’s nothing to teach you to pack underwear and a change of clothes in your allowed “personal item” like landing after 24 hours of flights without any fresh options to swap into.

Just like my limoncello post, I’m sacrificing myself so that you don’t repeat my mistakes. Here are my top 5 nuggets of information to know before you fly abroad:

Size & weight of carry-on bags: Every airline is different in Europe, particularly the budget airlines. For example, RyanAir has a very low threshold for the size of items on board and they do not budge on these parameters. If you think you can ignore them and get your bag checked for free, you will be surprised to know that you will owe around $60 for requiring a checked bag at the gate. After all, that’s how they can get away with flight prices under $50! Another example is Alitalia, who only allows one item in total. You may be able to sneak a purse or bag on, but just know that it is a gamble and that you may be required to hand over one of your pieces to the gate agent to be picked up at the luggage carousel. My advice is to check all restrictions on-line in advance, pay for the luggage before getting to the airport (if you need to), and make sure that you are following the rules to the tee. You’ll save yourself the stress of playing the “what if” game at the gate.

Boarding procedures: This is a humdinger. For real. I want to emotionally prepare anyone who is traveling abroad for the lack of order that they are about to see at the international gates (specifically flights between EU locations). I feel like I may have lost a little of my soul each time I’ve gone through the boarding process. There really is no order here, and priority seating is sometimes honored (sorry, SkyPriority folks), so when you start seeing people crowd around the gate….GO! If you have overhead baggage, work your way to the front of the line and get ready. I’m not very aggressive in social situations, but I have been known to use my luggage to block people from passing me in the line strictly out of necessity (don’t mess with my overhead space).

Your boarding pass: This one was new to me, even though I had traveled a bit. In America, once you are scanned in by the gate agent, you can stow/throw your ticket (unless you’ve put your luggage bar code sticker on the back…don’t toss that!). However, I’ve only had one flight so far during my Europe travels that didn’t require me to stop and show my ticket when entering the plane before actually taking my seat. If you have bulky items, remember to keep your ticket easily accessible so that you aren’t rummaging through your bags and blocking everyone from boarding.

Shuttles: Here is where I’ve seen Americans literally lose their ever-lovin' minds. Not only do you have to sometimes beg, borrow, and steal to get towards the front of the line, but once you get through the gate, you may be required to jump on a shuttle to take you to the plane. This happens every once in a blue moon in America, but it is VERY normal abroad. This allows the airports to be smaller, so it actually makes financial sense. However, these shuttles get full and every culture has a different expectation when it comes to personal space. Be patient, stand your ground, and strategically place yourself near a door so that you can pass the group and (hopefully) snag a place towards the front of the customs line as you exit (these lines can get long and you may be sittin’ for a bit if you don’t hustle from the shuttle).

Carry anything sentimental: I’m not pointing any fingers, and I would use this rule of thumb in America too. However, it just makes sense that if something is invaluable to you, that you wouldn’t put it in the hands of someone else for hours on end. I may sound skeptical, but I met someone during my EatWith dinner in Venice (see post here) that arrived at the luggage carousel to find that their zipper had busted and the only thing that was missing was her jewelry bag. I’m hopeful that someone honest found this later, but she had come to terms that she may have lost some of her most sentimental pieces during her commute. I would suggest leaving anything that would be soul-crushing to lose at home, and carry anything that you can’t live without directly on you.

It’s important to remember that cultural differences don’t mean ‘wrong.’ These things may feel like they don’t make sense, but it never helps to be the person complaining about another country while surrounded by its residents. My best advice is to saddle up and get ready for a big glass of red once you land in your destination.

Cheers!

Do you have any stories or tips to share? Let’s hear ‘em!

THE PERFECT FALL PACKING LIST FOR A EUROPEAN VACATION

I’m from a state with two seasons…if even that! We get summer temperatures for about 80% of the year, and that perfect boot/sweater/PSL weather typically graces Florida with its presence for about 48 hours (max). So naturally, I planned and plotted for what I would pack when faced with actual fall temperatures during my travels. What I didn’t know realize (call it naïve optimism) is how rainy Europe can be the autumnal months. Am I regretting ditching my foldable rain boots right about now…yep. I’d trade my sneakers (that I still haven’t worn) any day of the week to have dry tootsies.

Through my lessons learned, I’m sharing the ideal fall packing list for European weather for women. This could all fit in a carry-on, if you are creative (I promise it does)…but could easier be packed in one checked piece of luggage (plus, this way you don’t have to limit your souvenir shopping!).

Obviously, the weather will differ some from place to place…but the Europe is pretty variable and this list will allow you to prepare for a multitude of situations. Everything below is ideal for one week, but with laundry capabilities, this could be for any duration of fall travel.

Clothing:

  • 2 sweaters (one lighter and one heavier, but not bulky)
  • 2 tops (one long sleeve tee and one short sleeve nice top that could go with jeans)
  • 2 camisoles for layering, if necessary
  • 2 neutral colored dresses that pair with tights (potentially one sleeveless for warmer temps and one sweater dress for cooler days)
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 2 pair of leggings (both black: one workout material and one pleather)
  • 1 leather jacket
  • 1 waterproof trench coat/rain coat
  • 1 scarf that goes with all clothing
  • 1 pair of gloves (depending on the forecast)
  • 1 pair of leather boots
  • 1 pair of water proof shoe (rain boots or these booties that are big right now abroad)
  • 1 non-boot shoe for warmer days (slide on sneakers or flats)
  • 1 pair black tights
  • 2 pair of pajamas (one cooler and one warmer)
  • 3 bras (one nude, one black, and one sports bra)
  • 7 pairs of socks (the thinner, the better for packing)
  • 10 pair of underwear
  • A bathing suit (no matter the weather…you never know!)
  • A neutral clutch for dinners
  • A larger bag for walking around town/carry-on personal item

Miscellaneous:

  • A mini umbrella
  • Glasses/contacts/sunglasses
  • Hygienic products (make-up, shampoo, face wash, lotions, etc.)
  • Medicines (Pepto, Tylenol, Benadryl, Band-Aids, etc.)
  • Beauty tools (I just opted for a straightener)
  • Technology (Phones, cameras, GoPro, battery packs, adaptors, all chargers, headphones, Kindle, etc.)

As an additional note, I would suggest using one color palette to make sure that everything can mix and match. I chose black, cognac, cream and olive, which has worked perfectly all together. Black is the predominant color in Europe (even in most of the islands) for, what I would assume to be, a multitude of reasons: 1) It is always in style 2) it never looks dirty when walking around/sitting in public transportation/etc. I have opted for a black dress, black tights, cognac boots, and a cognac leather jacket on many occasions because of it’s ease and ability to blend in with the cultural fashion norms.

It may sound like these items are really ideal for colder weather, however, no matter where you go in Europe during the fall, it is bound to be cooler in the evenings. This list will easily go from day to night without any fear of being too chilly.

Happy packing!