Friday Feature: Amsterdam

caribbean-3475306_1920.jpg

Amsterdam

.

Between Amsterdam’s forward thinking about recreational drugs and Red Light district, this beautiful little city on the river often gets a bad rap among many. However, we are hear to plead Amsterdam’s case as a charming and wonderful city that you should consider visiting in 2019! Between it’s bicycle covered streets, picturesque canal system, and extremely detailed architecture, Amsterdam is sure to leave you surprised and pleased with your stay! Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) is a major intercontinental flight hub and the home of KLM, the national flag-carrying airline of the Netherlands.

Best Times to Visit: The Dutch capital is great all year round, but April-May & September-November are the best time to visit Amsterdam. This is when the temperature is a little more moderate; perfect for canal cruising or a spring trip to the tulip fields of Keukenhof!

Things to do:

Cruise through the Amsterdam canals. The Amsteram canals are often times the first thing people think of when they think Amsterdam. Make sure to rent a small electric boat for a few hours to cruise and see the beautiful city from the water. Our favorite tour company: Those Dam Boat Guys

Rent a bike to explore the city. Given Amsterdam’s relatively small size, the most popular way to travel is by bike. Everyday during rush hour (8-9 am and 5-6 pm), thousands of cyclists take to the streets. The city is quite flat and filled with over 400 kilometers of bike paths. Consider renting a bike while you’re in Amsterdam to travel like a true local!

Visit the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum. For the history buffs, there are plenty of museums and exhibits to explore around the city. Some of our favorites are the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum. On Friday nights from 7 pm, the Van Gogh Museum is turned into a semi nightclub with cocktails and loud DJ music but also some free guided tours!

Heineken Brewery Experience. The Heineken Experience is a self guided interactive journey through the world of Heineken. You can discover the history of the company, the 4 natural ingredients of the beer, the brewing process, a tasting room and the Heineken brand. At the end of the tour you can enjoy 2 Heinekens or learn how to draught the perfect beer yourself!

Explore the Dam Square. This square is home to the Royal Palace and The De Nieuwe Kerk Museum. It is bustling with tourists and locals all day and night checking out the food stalls, restaurants, and trendy shops along the square.

Take a tour of the Red Light District. Explore Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District on an approximately 2-hour guided evening walking tour. Stroll by the red-lit window cabins of the cobbled alleyways of De Wallen, and learn about the area’s history and Amsterdam’s progressive approach to prostitution.

Visit the Bloemenmarkt. You won’t want to miss out on seeing the only floating flower market while in Amsterdam. Located on the Singel Canal, the fantastic displays of flowers at this floating flower market is beautiful to behold. Stop and smell the flowers and be sure to pick up a souvenir to remember your trip!

Other Tour Recommendations: Hungry Birds food tour

Feature Hotels: Andaz Amsterdam, D'el Europe Amsterdam, Conservatorium Hotel

edited.jpg

Fun Facts about Amsterdam…

.

  • 165: That’s the number of canals in Amsterdam. In total these waterways add up to more than 100 kilometers or about 60 miles.

  • 25,000: That’s the number of bicycles that end up in Amsterdam’s canals each year. Oddly, they say only 8,000 bikes are pulled out of the canals annually.

  • 1,515: That’s the number of bars and cafes in Amsterdam. Wow! That’s a lot of Heineken. 

  • 881,000: That’s approximately the number of bicycles in Amsterdam. A little funny, considering that there are only about 799,400 people living in the city. 

  • 1,281: That’s the number of bridges in all of Amsterdam. There are 80 bridges within the center of Amsterdam. Magere Brug, also known as the Skinny Bridge, is the most famous bridge in the city. The crossing of Reguliersgracht and Herengracht is known as the Bridge of 15 Bridges. If you stand in the right spot, especially at night, you can see a total of 15 arches into the distance. Pretty!

    Read more fun facts at Awesome Amsterdam.

Friday Feature: St. Kitts

caribbean-3475306_1920.jpg

St. Kitts

.

Situated over 1,000 south of Miami, St. Kitts stakes claim on being the first Caribbean island to be colonized in 1623. This beautiful island attracts over 100,000 stay-over tourists and half a million cruise passengers every year. But it isn’t just beaches and sunshine! This island has great cultural and historic significance as well! Multiple airlines will bring you non-stop to this beautiful Caribbean oasis from main hubs like Atlanta and Charlotte. If you would rather take your time getting there, cruises are another great option!

Best Times to Visit: The best time to visit is in May and June, when hotels lower their rates to lure in travelers and the winter crowds thin out. Carnival is hosted in February during the peak season of December to April.

Things to do:

Take a ride on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway. The Scenic Railway offers visitors a glimpse of the real St Kitts along it’s 18 miles route with an additional 12 miles by bus. The complete circle of the island is 30 miles. This 3-hour tour allows visitors to get a glimpse of many of the island’s villages plus famous and historic sites.

Explore Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park. The Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park was built over the course of 100 years by African slaves mostly under British command. From the high vantage point, it is easy to see why this spot was chosen for a defensive fortress. On a clear day, this park offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and neighboring Caribbean islands - St. Barts, St. Eustatius, Saba St Martin and federation island Nevis.

Take a catamaran cruise to Shitten Bay. This picturesque small bay on the southeast coast of St Kitts has a visible shipwreck with tons of beautiful coral and colorful fish. The best way to get here? A catamaran cruise is the best way to see all of the secluded bays, coves, and the rich sea life.

Explore downtown Basseterre. Be sure to spend a few hours exploring the historic capital Basseterre which has applied for UNESCO World Heritage Status. Wander around and marvel at the architecture on Basseterre’s lively streets like Liverpool Row, College Street Ghaut, Princess Street, Rosemary Lane, etc. Be sure to bring your camera!

Feature Hotels: Park Hyatt St. Kitts, Belle Mont Farm

edited.jpg

Things to know before you go…

.

  • Try the local fare. Stewed saltfish with spicy plantains and coconut dumplings is the national dish of St. Kitts & Nevis.

  • You have to talk the talk. Saint Kitts Creole is spoken in the country as a Caribbean creole based in English. While estimated 40,000 people speak creole, it is not officially recognized in the islands.

  • Don’t worry about exchanging currency. The Eastern Caribbean Dollar is the official currency of the islands but the American Dollar is widely accepted as well!

Friday Feature: Why we are begging you to roam Rome

Scottsdale_Attractions_AZSunset_hero.jpg

Rome

.

It goes a little something like this…“I hear that I don't really need to spend much time in Rome, so we can skip it."

To an Italy fanatic...this hits me like a ton of bricks....and I hear it all. the. stinkin'. time. People treat this historical mecca like a layover on their way to the Renaissance filled town of Florence, the majestic coast of Amalfi, or the vineyard touting area of Tuscany. But Rome? It gets snubbed as if it wasn't the creator of the newspaper, concrete, welfare systems, roads, bridges, and bound books...y'all...books!

My immediate reaction? Well, my immediate reaction is stifled by my professionalism, but my internal dialogue is screaming, "well, then you are hanging out with the wrong people!" But that's not nice...or fair, for that matter. In fact, I was NOT a fan of this bustling city on my first pass either. While I love historical places, I am not one to "geek out" on the history alone. I travel to "feel" a place- not to memorize information. So hit me with a ruins tour...cool, but take me to a market filled with locals pedaling spices and letting me taste the oil from their family's recent olive harvest - well, HOT damn, I'm in!

So we are here to plead Rome's case a bit, and share why that we encourage our clients to consider a minimum of three nights to get the full feel of this city that is constantly fighting to find the balance of an ancient and modern world.

Feature Hotel: Hotel Indigo Rome - St. George

First off, your hotel plays a BIG role in your experience! What I mean by this more than cushy pillows and fancy Nespresso machines (although, those don't hurt) is the LOCATION of the hotel. On my recent trip to Rome, I was on the hunt to find a hotel that provided a respite from the hubbub while echoing the style of the city. I FOUND IT! This was my fourth time to Rome, and I confidently can say that I have found my new base. Forgive my quick tangent to explain my love affair with this hotel, while I outline the highlights:

  • This is tucked into the "real" Rome- you won't be bumping into tourists, but you will be walking passed artisanal shops, wine bars with locals pouring on the sidewalks, and a quick jaunt away from Piazza Farnese and Campo di'Fiori, where you can find every carb that you ever wished for.

  • History is alive within the building! There are stones within the lobby that date back to the same age as the Colosseum- potentially taken from the exact same quarry!

  • The breakfast. Ok...ok..so by breakfast, I mean the Prosecco and a croissant, but there are MANY more options that a less lushy visitor would want to indulge in. There are cheeses, meats, honeycomb, pastries of every kind, juices, pizza (for. real) and more! Plus, their cappuccinos can rival any in the city. 

  • Spa-aaahhhh. In the bottom floor of this hotel holds an intimate spa that offers treatments, a jacuzzi pool, sauna and steam room to sweat out all that gelato. 

  • Lastly...and the pièce de résistance. The rooftop! Terra cotta as far as the eye can see and a rooftop worthy of skipping your scheduled tour and spending the day sipping rosé. 

And now back to the city as a whole...why add those extra nights onto your Rome itinerary?

Because one day is not enough in any big city! Would you assume that you could see all of New York in a single 24 hours? Times Square does not summarize the numerous boroughs of such an expansive place. Rome is just the same. The Roman Ruins and Colosseum are in one nook of the city- a very busy nook, at that. In that same area is one of the biggest intersections in the city...full of honking and monstrous buildings that seem to remove all personalization out of the experience, and therefore making the intimacy of the other Italian towns quite contrasting. 

IMG_9617.JPG

So where do you start? Well, we suggest sectioning your trip out by neighborhood. Don't try and cover ALL the ground in one day, and definitely don't try to hit every monument, ruin and church without stopping for a minute to "feel" where you are.

IMG_9725.JPG
  • Regola: This is where I call "home" from now on! You will find Hotel Indigo nestled into this area right on Via Giulia - one of the most important (and elegant) streets of the city! This street was commissioned by Pope Julius II and was designed in 1508 by the same architect that was working on the Vatican. This street is very popular for the ever-so-common "passegiata."

  • Trastevere: This funky and bohemian area is chock-a-bock full of cafes, coffee shops, artist galleries, and youthful events. This is across the river from the main area of Rome, and therefore there immediately is more space to explore and wander. While you're over in the area, take a hike up Janiculum Hill for one of the most incredible panoramic scenes that you'll ever lay eyes on!

  • Testaccio: One word....YUM. Not only is this area HUGE for traditional Roman food (cacio e pepe, osso buco, and the hot spot "Trapezzino"), but this area has a TON of history, including a pyramid- literally an ancient pyramid. It almost looks like it got lost on it's way to the desert, and in some ways, it kind of did! I encourage everyone to head towards this neighborhood built on a hill of pots and learn all about how this area has been shaped over time. 

Of course there are more...but we know you don't have all day to hear us yammer on...we're just trying to make a dad-gum point here! 

So, onto HOW to see/eat/experience it all without devoting your entire trip to Rome! Here are our favorite guided options to help you hit the high points and free up some time to wander aimlessly:

  • EasItaly: This company can tailor and create practically ANY Rome tour that you can dream up! Do you....Want to have a private guide throughout the ruins? Easy! Want to ride bikes outside the city center to the catacombs? They've got you covered. I always get asked, what would YOU do if this was your trip? Hands down- I would ask this company to get creative to make my Rome dreams come true!

  • City Wonders Early Access Tour: While we haven't touched on the Vatican here, you'd be remiss in skipping out on a visit to the Papal state. This company offers an early access tour that allows you to beat the crowds and potentially be the first person to step into the Sistine Chapel for the day. What I also love about this tour is that you are done by 9 AM...perfect time to head to Campo di' Fiori to people watch and enjoy a nice cup of espresso. 

  • Eating Italy Testaccio Twilight Stroll: A night out in Rome starts with apertivos- and so does this tour! You'll be guided to a local wine shop, and given introductory cocktail to hear a bit about the area before venturing on a gastronomic journey. You'll hear about the history of the area, and taste things that you'll be talking about for years to come.

  • ScooteRoma Vespa Tours: Talk about LEGIT! What Romans think is a normal commute is thrilling to this tourist. ScooteRoma guides can zip you through the main sights and the back streets of the city to cover the most ground and in the most authentic way possible. 

So did we do it? Did we convince you? If not...give us a call, and let us tell you more!

Friday Feature: Curaçao

mar-3208531_1920.jpg

Curaçao

.

Curaçao is arguable one of the Caribbean’s best kept secrets. This beautiful island is located in the southern Caribbean nestled between Aruba and Bonaire. Cleverly, these islands are known as the ABC islands! Curaçao, the largest of the three, is a unique melting pot of different cultures, cuisines and languages. However, most people also speak Dutch, English and Spanish so you needn’t worry if you’re not multilingual! You can fly direct to Curaçao from Miami into Hato International Airport.

Best Times to Visit: May to November are considered the off-peak season. During these months, you'll find the lowest airfares and hotel rates. Plus, you won't be vying for beach chairs with other vacationers.

Things to do:

Go beach hopping. Most of Curaçao’s beautiful beaches are easily accessible, however some are more tucked away into coves. Banda Bou, located on the western side of the island, is home to some of the best beaches! Rent a jeep for a more local feel!

Explore Willemstad. Most known for it’s beautiful, colorful buildings, this city is a must do during your time in Curaçao. The government allows local artists use some of the abandoned buildings outside walls as a canvas to express themselves. Make sure to bring your camera!

Go diving. The Caribbean is known for it’s crystal clear waters and exotic marine life. There are plenty of reefs off the beaches where you can rent scuba or snorkeling equipment to explore for yourself.

Take it easy! If there one place in the world to relax and unwind, this is it! Make sure that you leave plenty of time to simply enjoy the beaches and sunshine.

Feature Hotels: Baoase Luxury Resort, Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort, Avila Beach Hotel

edited.jpg

Things to know before you go…

.

  • There are four languages that are spoken on the islands (English, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamentu) but most everyone speaks English.

  • Unlike some of the other Caribbean islands Curaçao is below the hurricane belt so you can go during hurricane season.

  • It is best to rent a car on the island to travel on your own terms.

Friday Feature: Chicago

Scottsdale_Attractions_AZSunset_hero.jpg

Chicago

.

Chicago is absolutely jammed packed with amazing things to see and do. From shopping, sports teams, theatre, parks, and beautiful rooftops, this city has everything you need for a great weekend getaway! Hop a quick flight into either O’Hare International Airport or Chicago Midway International Airport. This is a major hub with most cities offering direct flights at reasonable prices!

Best Times to Visit: Chicago is a year-round destination that offers visitors something different each seasons. However, if you are looking for milder weather it is best to visit in late spring, early summer, and early fall; specifically May, June, September, and October. 

Things to do:

Shop Michigan Avenue. Also known as the Magnificent Mile, this iconic fashion strip is host to the best shopping in the Windy City. It boasts more than 460 retailers, including popular brands, designer boutiques, and major department stores. Make sure to account for a shopping trip in your travel budget because this mile of shopping is enchanting.

Explore Millennium Park. Most famous for the iconic bean, Millennium Park is beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. Take in the amazing summer temperatures or ice skate underneath the bean during the winter months!

Snap a picture hanging over 110 stories. The Willis Tower (previously known as Sears Tower) is hard to miss when looking at the Chicago skyline. This tourist destination is most popular for it’s glass box jutting out over the city! Be sure to bring your camera… if you have the nerves.

Take a stroll down Riverwalk. This is especially beautiful in the summer when temperatures are warm and mild! When you hit the DuSable bridge where Michigan hits E Upper Wacker, be sure to take the steps down to the River Walk. Here, you can stroll along the river by foot, hop on a boat for one of Chicago's many tours, or find a restaurant to stop in for a snack or drink. 

Catch a game at Wrigley Field. Wrigley is a special place no matter who you cheer for. If you're in town for a Cubs home game, be sure to go and drink and Old Style, a true Chicago original. If no games are happening during your trip, there is plenty of entertainment exploring Wrigleyville's restaurants and bar scene. 

Cruise on a Chicago Architecture Boat Tour. Chicago’s architecture is absolutely iconic and seeing it from the river makes it even more special. You'll find out how Chicago grew from a small settlement into one of the world’s largest cities in less than 100 years. Don’t forget your camera!

Feature Hotels: Omni Chicago Hotel, The Drake, Hilton Chicago/Magnificent Mile Suites,

IMG_5351.jpg

Restaurants We Love…

.

Hampton Social - enjoy an amazing brunch menu and snap a picture with the iconic “Rose all day” neon sign!

Maple & Ash - a steakhouse that is very much worth the splurge!

Quartino - if you love Italian and tapas, this is the spot for you! They also have to-go wine, which is obviously important.

Cindy’s - the best rooftop bar in the city with sweeping views of Millennium Park

Giordano’s - no trip to Chicago is complete without some famous deep dish pizza

3 Arts Cafe - located inside the Restoration Hardware offering visitors great all-day menu items

TOP 5 LIVE: Things to know about Tahiti/Bora Bora travel ☀️🌴

fullsizeoutput_6767.jpeg

TOP FIVE LIVE

Things to know about Tahiti & Bora Bora travel!

After traveling to some of the most beautiful and iconic French Polynesian islands, we are going to dive into the top five things you need to know about Tahiti/Bora Bora islands to better plan your own adventure!

  1. Geography: Tahiti is the considered the “mainland” and the main airport of Tahiti is Papeete, which all international flights have to go through! Usually the layovers are a little funky. There are only a few flights out to the islands a day so a majority of the time you will have to stay overnight on Tahiti before traveling out to your resort island. However, the good news is that there are some awesome markets and food trucks in Tahiti so that the layover is definitely not a drag! The only island off of Tahiti navigable by boat is Moorea. All other islands will require a 45 minute to hour long flight.

    Fun Fact: The Bora Bora airport was the first airport in Tahiti and built by the Navy. For a long time that was the only international airport, until Papette was created. Today Bora Bora Airport is only used for inter-island flights!

  2. Airports: There are three main airlines that service Tahiti from the US:

    1. French bee which goes from San Francisco. This was the first economy long-haul airline.

    2. Air Tahiti Nui which goes from LAX. This is a little more upscale option with French Polynesian flair.

    3. Air France which goes from LAX. They have the fabulous first class pods!

    The airports do not have air conditioning… at all! So make sure to dress accordingly for your travel day. If you are doing an inter-island flight, there are no seat assignments. It is first come first serve style so make sure you get to the front of the line if are picky about where you sit. Also, make sure to pack small bags. With the smaller planes you will most likely have to check your bags due to space, so know that ahead of time and take out any valuables from your bags (i.e. your wallet)!

  3. Room Types: There are plenty of beach bungalows but this area of the world is most known for their over the water bungalows! Most islands talk about what produce they are best known for… Bora Bora brags that they grow bungalows like the other islands grow produce.

    It is good to know that not all rooms are over the water bungalows and all bungalows are VERY different from one another. Some of the resorts have a very Polynesian, authentic decor while other resorts have a much more commercial feel - so yes, they are all very much their own property!

  4. Budget: This is THEE most common question we receive about this section of the world. If budget is a concern, split your time between islands to save money in a place like Moorea (which is known for their island tours and excursions which means less time lounging in your room) to save up and splurge for your stay in Bora Bora. The water bungalows in Bora Bora can start at about $550/night in the low season and range anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500/night (and up) for a 5 star resort.

    Something else to consider is that in Tahiti it is more expensive to eat. Make sure to work with your travel agent to do an all inclusive or halfboard plans, we highly recommend this so you are not having to spend as much money when you are there! This also helps you stick to a particular budget.

  5. Resorts: This part of the world has some of the most amazing properties! The Conrad Bora Bora is the only property that is situated up a mountain for breathtaking panoramic views. If you are a spa lover, the Intercontinental Thalasso and St. Regis resorts have great spa facilities on site. If you are looking for an authentic, more intimate and quaint experience, we recommend exploring the Intercontinental Moana Bora Bora or Pearl Beach Resort are awesome! They are also more economical option. The Le Meridien’s water was unreal - there is truly something to be said about every single one of them!

    If you have questions about a specific resort or how to turn a quote into an itinerary, feel free to reach out to our team for more information! We are happy to help you create your dream Bora Bora experience.

Another fun option to consider when thinking through your Tahiti travel plans is to consider a cruise! The Windstar also has some great cruise options through Bora Bora and Tahiti. The Aranui is a very awesome brand that travels to the Marquesas Islands, which is teeming with culture and French Polynesian flavors! It is a 13 night high end cruise liner that allows you to see a lot of Tahiti without unpacking your bags. This is a great option for experiential travelers!

Friday Feature: Maldives

Maldives

.

The Maldives are one of those bucket list destinations that hardly need an explanation! Beautiful blue waters and isolated, tropical islands make this a perfect destination for anyone looking to getaway and relax in paradise. To get to this paradise, you will fly into Velana International Airport (MLE) on the island of Hulhule'. Upon arrival, you'll most likely be escorted by a representative from your resort to the island where you are staying. You will have to take a ferry, a seaplane, a speedboat or some combination of the three to reach your final destination.

Best Times to Visit: The Maldives are hot and sunny all year round, but the best weather and the best time to visit the Maldives is between November - April. The high season falls between December - March, and monsoon runs from May to October, peaking in June.

Things to do:

Snorkeling and/or scuba diving. The Maldives is one of the premier scuba diving destinations in the world! It’s crystal clear water, warm ocean temperatures, and diverse marine life make it a perfect spot to spend the day diving and snorkeling. Whale sharks and mantra rays call the Maldives home almost year round!

Spend a day island hopping. Believe it or not, there is a large settlement in the Maldives and many locals live and work on the islands. If you stay at a private island in the Maldives, make sure to look into excursions to a nearby community. It is good to note, the Maldives follow strict a Muslim culture - be sure to dress respectably (i.e., long skirts/shorts and no spaghetti strap sleeves).

Take a scenic flight over the islands. The Maldives are known for its iconic beautiful blue waters and picture perfect beaches. Most resorts require a flight on a small plane to their private island, but if your resort does not look into an excursion to see these beautiful islands for yourself. Don’t forget your camera!

Relax! There is no better place in the world to hit pause on life and truly soak in this amazing destination! Pull up a beach chair, grab an exotic drink, and get in some serious “me” time.

Feature Hotels: Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi, The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, Baglioni Resort Maldives

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 10.41.25 AM.png

Things to Know Before You Go…

.

  • The Maldives are made up of over 2,000 islands. Some are so small you would never even see them on a map, but the Maldives are expansive with something for everyone.

  • There is a glow in the dark beach. The presence of bioluminescent plankton around the area make the beaches come alive - literally - at night! This is a must see when visiting the area.

  • This is an Islamic population. When planning your trip, consider the traditional holidays and traditions - such as month-long holy fasting of Ramadan. However, when the resort islands you will not have to worry about the traditional attire or customs.

For more information, click HERE.

Friday Feature: New York City (Holiday Edition)

The-Fit-Traveller-The-Ultimate-New-York-City-Christmas-Holiday-Checklist-cover.jpg

New York City

.

There is truly never a bad time to experience the city that never sleeps. New York City does a great job at offering travelers something unique for each season of the year - fall foliage in Central Park, rooftop bars in the summertime, etc. But there is just something inherently special about New York around the holidays! Getting here is easy with most airports offering a range of direct and affordable flight options to one of New York’s three main airports: John F Kennedy (JFK), La Guardia (LGA) in Queens, or Newark (EWR) across the river from Manhattan in New Jersey.

Best Times to Visit: While New York City is truly a year round destination, the months of April - June and September - early November offer warm, pleasant weather and lighter crowds. The holiday season starts around Thanksgiving and continues through New Years.

Things to do:

Ice skate under the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. You can not go to New York City during the holidays without seeing the amazing Christmas tree display in Rockefeller Center! This Christmas icon is free to see and you can spend a couple hours enjoying the view while ice skating in it’s shadow. General admission is first come first serve, so we recommend getting there early!

Christmas lights at Dyker Heights. If you have a love for Christmas lights, Dyker Heights is an absolute must see. The dedicated Brooklyn neighborhood goes all out for the holidays with extensive yard decorations that can capture anyones eye! Take a quick subway ride to Brooklyn and spend a few hours walking the streets or take a tour that showcases all the famous houses!

See the Met’s Christmas tree. The museum displays a beautiful 20-foot Christmas tree in its Medieval Sculpture Hall. The tree is surrounded by a beautiful nativity scene backed by an eighteenth-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid. To find this display walk into the Met’s Great Hall then head straight past the stairs to Gallery 305.

Stroll Central Park. Escape the Fifth Avenue holiday shopping crowd with ice skating and carriage rides in Central Park. After a beautiful dusting of snow, there is no place more beautiful than this winter wonderland. Spend a few hours strolling Central Park but make sure to stop for a warm cup of hot chocolate at a nearby cafe afterwards.

Check out the Fifth Avenue window displays. The Fifth Avenue window displays are a NYC staple and made famous by some of our beloved Christmas movies! Peruse the streets, take in the sights, and duck into a nearby lounge for a trendy holiday cocktail.

Explore the Union Square Christmas markets. This is a great place to do your holiday shopping and indulge in some delicious treats (i.e., apple cider doughnuts, empanadas, and warm apple cider)! The market isn’t huge so you can easily walk it all in an hour or so. Bryant Park is another popular holiday marketplace… complete with a ice skating rink!

Feature Hotels: The Michelangelo, The Roosevelt Hotel New York City, The Lexington Hotel

Serendipity3__074-683x1024.jpg

Restaurants We Love…

.

Serendipity - This is a holiday must! Be sure to order their frozen hot chocolate.

Rolf’s German Restaurant - An entire restaurant decked out in Christmas ornaments… count us in!

Bemelmans Bar - This is a slice of old-school Manhattan that is hard to find anymore.

Ophelia Lounge - This bar is perched on the 26th floor in Midtown East with sweeping views of the city.

For more great restaurants, click HERE.

Friday Feature: Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale_Attractions_AZSunset_hero.jpg

Scottsdale

.

With 299 days of sunshine a year, Scottsdale is the perfect desert escape for anyone looking for a change in scenery. It sits just a couple miles north of downtown Phoenix and home to some of the most luxurious resorts, spas, and golf courses in the country. How do you get to this vintage desert paradise? Hop a quick flight into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. This is a major hub with most cities offering direct flights at reasonable prices!

Best Times to Visit: This is truly a year round destination, but if you are looking for blue skies and reasonable temperatures November through April are best. Keep in mind that hotels see their highest rates in the winter months so if you are looking for a better deal we recommend checking in spring time.  

Things to do:

Hike Camelback Mountain. This is one of the most iconic hikes in Phoenix. Camelback Mountain is located in the middle of the Phoenix Valley with picturesque views! The beginning of the hike is easy, with even terrain. The last third of the trail requires scrambling up steep grades with drop-offs on each side. Both hikes are a little under 2.5 miles long. Plan on taking two to three hours, depending on your condition, to make either of the round-trip hikes.

Day trip to Sedona. If you are looking for a break from the city life, Sedona is only a short and scenic 2-hour drive north of Scottsdale. Hike the beautiful red rocks, take a Pink Jeep tour to the most scenic overlooks, or simply marvel at the drive!

Shop & eat your way through Fashion Square. Scottsdale is known for it’s world class shopping and amazing restaurants, so make sure to check out the beautiful Fashion Square while you are in town. You will find just about every store imaginable between Fashion Square and Scottsdale Quarter.

Take a hot air balloon ride over the Sonoran Desert. If you’ve never been in a hot air balloon before, Scottsdale is the place to do it!  Glide over beautiful red rocks, mountains, and cacti while watching coyote run down below.  Hot air balloons float effortlessly in the morning sun, and it’s a scenic and peaceful way to spend a few hours!  

Feature Hotels: Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows, Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa, Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale

IMG_5351.jpg

Restaurants We Love…

.

Diego Pops - great menu that goes way beyond typical Mexican fare.

Fat OX - modern takes on the authentic recipes of rural Italy.

Citizen Public House - named one of the top 10 restaurants in Scottsdale by USA Today.

Farm & Craft - focus on healthy and sustainable food.

Breakfast Club - the locals go for the famous french toast but offers all the usual suspects.

Breaking down the wide world of cruises! 🛳

Cruise Lines 101

.

The cruise industry is one of non-stop growth and exciting developments. Companies are working tirelessly to better the guest experience while simultaneously satisfying the growing demand for cruise options across the world. While the Caribbean tends to be a extremely popular destination, guests can now choose cruise options to Alaska, through the Baltic, down the Panama Canal, to Antartica, or even completely around the world. However, with all of these options comes the overwhelming sense of which option is best for me?! Read below as we break down the notable differences between cruise lines and which company makes the most sense for your travel style:

Travel Style: A party-hearty crowd, shorter cruise options, budget-friendly

Best Fit: Carnival. With a relaxed atmosphere and informal dress code, Carnival puts “fun” first. They have a very loyal customer base that will line up for free-flowing water slides, karaoke shows and edgy comedians. The cabins are not overly flashy, but they get the job done. A majority of the fleet sails shorter cruises that are less than seven days with an abundant amount of inexpensive itineraries. Carnival a good starting point for those seeking quick Caribbean getaway. . The line has also focused on the “drive” market with a majority of Americans living within a day’s drive of a port. 

Travel Style: Couples, aspiring globe-trotters

Best Fit: Princess. Originally dubbed the “love boat”, Princess now offers cruisers more family-friendly options especially on it’s newer ships. However, it stands true to it’s romantic roots and a great option for couples looking for a mid-size ship. They offer a more diverse array of itinerary options than most of the major lines, including the largest cruise presence in Alaska each summer.

Travel Style: All cruisers, including families and multi-generational groups

Best Fit: Royal Caribbean. Royal Caribbean is best known for it’s Broadway caliber performances at sea. However, they truly have something for everyone. The wealth of activities makes most Royal Caribbean’s cruises a good pick for multi-generational journeys. Royal Caribbean is heavy into branding—from Starbucks to Johnny Rockets, and from Shrek to Barbie, the ambience aboard Royal Caribbean’s ships will feel familiar. 

Travel Style: Younger cruisers, budget-friendly, solo cruisers, minimum regulations

Best fit: Norwegian. This cruise line is best known for its “freestyle travel” concept. They do not enforce dress codes or mandatory dining times on their ships, making them a great option for the “go with the flow” travel style. Restaurant options are extensive, with most of the venues requiring a surcharge, but the actual quality of food is not a strong suit for the brand. However, entertainment is above average and waterparks keep kids enthralled. The line also offers smaller cabins for singles on some of its newest ships, a rarity in the industry. 

Travel Style: Adventure traveler, nature exploration, intellectuals

Best Fit: Hurtigruten. Hurtigruten prides itself on tailoring their expeditions to the intellectual community looking to explore exotic areas of the world. During the voyage, guests can enjoy lectures about the area of travel presented by experts such as zoologists, oceanographers, and more! These are smaller ships that travel to more remote destinations like Antarctica, Greenland, and the Arctic.

Travel Style: Families, avid Disney supporters.

Best Fit: Disney Ships. No brand does family fun better than Disney, especially when catering to pre-teens! The novel split-bathroom concept in most cabins is something the other lines haven’t quite matched. As an Orlando-based line, Disney’s itineraries are heavily based on Caribbean travel out of Port Canaveral. All ships are designed with the quintessential Disney characters and stories in mind, a favorite of Disney World lovers and families. They charge a premium for its cruises.

Travel style: Older cruisers, aspiring foodies, world travelers

Best Fit: Holland America. As a more traditional mid-sized cruise line, Holland America caters to an older crowd. However, there are plenty of touches that make Holland America an appealing alternative to the bigger lines, including in-room DVD players with a free library, fresh squeezed orange juice at the buffet, cooking classes in a show kitchen, and bathtubs in most cabins. In addition, the main dining room serves food that is somewhat better, and more adventurous than the mass-market lines. Holland America travels to a greater variety of unusual ports of call, with frequent Panama Canal, Australia/New Zealand, and South America sailings!

What is your favorite cruise line? Tell us why in the comments below.

Friday Feature: St. Lucia

castries-st-lucia-forest-piton-peaks.jpg

St. Lucia

.

St. Lucia is a honeymoon favorite… and rightfully so! With gorgeous beaches and a beautiful mountain-scape, this is one of the most romantic Caribbean islands. However, you don’t need to be a newlywed to enjoy this beautiful piece of paradise! Large hubs like Miami, Chicago, Charlotte, and more offer direct flights to Hewanorra International Airport (UVF).

Best Times to Visit: The best time to visit St. Lucia is between May and June. These late spring and early summer months offer wonderful weather – high 70s to 80s – plus there are unbelievable room rates at some of the best hotels.

Things to do:

Visit the Sulphur Springs. You'll know when you're in St. Lucia once you touch down and get a strong whiff of sulfur. The distinct scent is from one of the island's most historic attractions - Sulphur Springs. This is the Caribbean's only drive-in volcano and is the most active mass area in the Caribbean. You will find bubbling hot spring water pits, mud pools, and steaming vents.

Snorkel the Caribbean waters. No trip to St. Lucia is complete without experiencing the crystal clean waters that make this destination such a hot spot! Swim with the marine life and see the beautiful reefs that dot this island. Most resorts offer excursions through the hotel, but if you are looking for a different adventure Sugar Beach Resort offers night snorkeling!

Climb the "stairway to heaven" at the Tet Paul Nature Trail. The Tet Paul Nature Trail is one of St. Lucia's most sacred gems. Hiking the trail will take you nearly 45 minutes, but once you reach the top, you’ll experience a stunning view of the Pitons. Along the way, you'll find historic landmarks and practices like indigenous housing and farming to learn more about the local culture.

Make chocolate from scratch at Hotel Chocolat. St. Lucia is teeming with fresh cocoa! At Hotel Chocolat, you can grind cocoa beans to make your very own chocolate from scratch. If you are still craving some chocolatey goodness, head on over to the Fond Doux Plantation and Resort to get a history lesson on your favorite treat!

Feature Hotels: Jade Mountain, Sugar Beach Resort, Royalton Saint Lucia Resort and Spa, Cap Maison

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 10.41.25 AM.png

Things to Know Before You Go…

.

  • Crack open a fresh coconut. No trip to St. Lucia is complete without a coconut drink! They are sold by many street vendors throughout the island.

  • Tipping is discretionary! A 10% service fee is added to by most restaurants and bars but anything additional is up to you.

  • You can use US dollars. St. Lucia actually has its own currency, the Eastern Caribbean dollar. However, most places accept US dollars (you just might get change in Eastern Caribbean dollars).

  • Beach vendors and guides can be pushy. While working with a vendor or tour guide outside of your resort can save you some money, they also push a lot harder for your time.

    For more tips, click HERE.

Friday Feature: Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Manzanillo-puerto-viejo-costa-rica_tcm55-189088.jpg

Guanacaste

.

Guanacaste is located in the Pacific northwest of Costa Rica on the border of Nicaragua. It is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country with plenty of adventure activities to choose from as well. This part of Costa Rica really resinates with adventure-focused travelers who are looking to stay active and explore the nature/wildlife of the area. How do you get to this tropical destination? If you are heading out to the coastal areas, the best option is to catch a domestic flight to the one of the four regional airports in the area - Tamarindo Airport, the Playa Nosara Airport, the Playa Samara Airport, and the Punta Islita Airport. All found along Guanacaste’s golden shores, these airports provide you with easy and convenient access to the countless beaches found in this area.

Best Times to Visit: The best time to visit Costa Rica is between mid-December to April, which is considered the dry season. However, if you visit between September to October you can expect afternoon showers and fewer crowds.

Things to do:

Go surfing or beach hop. Whether you are looking to shred some surf or catch some rays, Guanacaste is the place to do it! The southern part of the province is renown for it’s surfing beaches such as Tamarindo (best for beginners), Avellanas or “Little Hawaii”, and Playa Grande. If you are looking for a more relaxed beach day, the good news is that there is no such thing as a “bad beach” in Guanacaste.

Zipline over Rincon de la Vieja Natonal Park. Ziplining is one of those activities that feels like a “must do” in a tropical destination like Guanacaste. You can experience some of the best views at Rincon de la Viega National Park where the cables are built over a river, through the forest, and takes you to the base of a volcano - giving you the best of everything!

Hike to the waterfalls, rivers, and volcanoes. Beaches are a huge draw for visitors of Costa Rica, but this beautiful providence offers so much more than just white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. If you are looking for some nature and adventure in your vacation, make sure to get out the National Parks in the area. With volcanoes, rivers, and waterfalls, it is hard to beat the views of this region.

Snorkel in the Gulf of Papagayo. If you love the ocean, snorkeling or diving in the waters of the Gulf of Papagayo will not disappoint. With some of the best diving in Central America, you could swim with eagle rays, sharks, dolphins and other creatures of the sea. Or explore the reefs around Samara where you can see eels, colorful tropical fish and maybe a turtle or two!

Feature Hotels: Rui Guanacaste All Inclusive, Dreams Las Mareas, Reserva Conchal Beach Resort, El Mangroove Marriott Autograph Collection Resort and Spa

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 10.41.25 AM.png

Things to Know Before You Go…

.

  • Save your pennies by using public transportation. The public transportation system in Guanacaste is really good and a great way to cut out the added costs of private transfers to and from adventures.

  • Pack light. When traveling on small planes between parts of Central America, weight becomes very important. Do yourself a favor and leave that extra outfit behind!

  • Slow down. In the land of “pura vida,” don’t be in a hurry. Buses run late, restaurants close early and flights get delayed. Be prepared to go at Costa Rica pace, not what you’re used to at home.

  • Driving is an adventure all it’s own. Unless you are comfortable with rough, unpaved roads, reading Spanish road signs, and driving stick shift, I would recommend leaving the driving to the locals.

    For more helpful tips, click HERE.

Friday Feature: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

DES_PVR_001.jpg

Puerto Vallarta

.

Puerto Vallarta is one of those beautifully unique destinations that offers travelers a variety of experiences during their stay. It is located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, nestled between the lush jungle of the Sierra Madre mountain range and pristine, crystal clear beaches. How do you get to this beautiful destination? Most major airports offer affordable direct flight options to Puerto Vallarta’s Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport. Rates are the most affordable from April to June before the summer busy season starts up!

Best Times to Visit: The best time to visit is between April and June when the weather is pleasant, the rain is scarce, and the crowds are few & far between. If you're interested in whale watching, peak season is from December to March.

Things to do:

Take a sunset sail on Banderas Bay. There is no better way to experience a Puerto Vallarta sunset than sipping a cocktail on a sailboat. This is a great option for couples taking a romantic getaway or planning an anniversary trip!

Stroll through the streets of Zona Romantica. Zona Romantica, or Old Town, is set away from the main resorts of Puerto Vallarta and has a more local, relaxed vibe. Spend some time exploring the locally-owned boutiques and restaurants while taking in some of the music and entertainment of street performers.

Spend some time on Playa Los Muertos Pier. The pier is one of the main attractions of the city and stretches over the Los Muertos Beach, which is THEE beach of Los Muertos. It is also close to shopping and restaurants making it easy to spend an entire day here.

Snorkeling in Los Arcos. No trip to this beautiful coastal city is complete without spending some time exploring the waters and marine life. There are plenty of snorkeling tours that offer you a full or half day’s excursion.

Zip line through the mountains. With beaches and mountains, Puerto Vallarta has the best of both worlds. If you are looking to add some adventure to your vacation, zip line through the beautiful and lush jungle of Sierra Madre while taking in the scenic mountain range.

Feature Hotels: Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, Hotel Mousai, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway

8822832_433_z.jpg

Things to Know Before You Go…

.

  • Exchange dollars for Peros at the airport. Some merchants do except US dollars, but you are at the discretion of the store owner.

  • Locals take there tequila seriously! Unlike the tequila in the US, this tequila is similar to wine. There are plenty of tastings and tours throughout the area that are great to learn more about the process.

  • It is safe! There has been a lot of negative PR surrounding Mexico lately, however Puerta Vallarta has very little crime.

  • You get what you pay for when booking hotels. While all budgets are possible in Mexico, it is best to splurge in areas most important to you.

For more information, click HERE.

TOP 5 LIVE: How to create a travel budget 💰

fullsizeoutput_6767.jpeg

TOP FIVE LIVE

How to create a travel budget

After a couple of missed weeks, we are back with our famous Top 5 Lives and excited to share our top 5 tips on how to build a realistic travel budget! When we sit down with our client’s to talk about their budget for an upcoming trip, it is very common for people to not have any idea of what to expect… which makes the planning process even harder for you! Here are a couple tips on how you can find that sweet spot you’re comfortable saving and spending on a vacation:

  1. Know what your discomfort level is with a budget. If it is going to make you cry inside to spend around $20,000 for one trip, that's good to know and a jumping off point for you to work back from. You can also pinpoint this number by doing a little research on flights, hotels in the area, etc. This allows you to also be realistic about what are some minimum numbers you will need to keep in mind. By working backwards and forwards at the same time, you are able to find that sweet little range that is manageable for whatever your financial circumstances are.

  2. Be realistic. Consider if the normal price point that you might use to book a domestic trip apply to the destination in which you are looking to go. For example, a typical room price on the Amalfi Coast is around $350 per night. So always make sure that you are being realistic with your budget and factor in the differences in pricing for various destinations.

  3. Check out what the norm is. A lot of people will see the beautiful views of Croatia, Santorini, and Positano on Instagram or other social media platforms and completely fall head over heels for that experience. However before you get to emotionally attached to one particular spot, head on over to their website to doa quick scan of what an average room price look like. It may make sense, but it may not and that helps you move forward in finding a more reasonable option for your budget.

  4. Consider the number of nights you want to stay. If you find that your total is way out of your desired range, consider trimming some dates off of your itinerary. This allows you to get the experience you are looking for without blowing your budget.

  5. Calculate a savings plan based off of your budget. After doing a little research, take your travel budget and divide that number between the number of months leading up to your trip. This will give you the average amount per month you will need to save in order to hit that number. This makes the amount more reachable because it shifts your focus. So instead of looking at your one lump number as something that is big and scary, you can instead look at it as a bunch of tiny, reachable goals spread out over the months.

    • Pro Tip: It is always better to be more liberal with you budget rather than conservative. Realistically when you are on vacation you are more likely to make impulse purchases so it is better to plan for that on the front end.

  6. BONUS: Consider the exchange rates in other countries. The conversion rates can play a significant factor into creating your budget. Make sure that when you are doing research to convert whatever costs into US dollars - especially with Euro. This can be a big difference in how much you will need to allocate to your vacation budget!

Friday Feature: Cape Town, South Africa

penguins-857206_1920.jpg

Cape Town

A chic cosmopolitan edge, incredible beaches, and phenomenal food and wine… Not to mention a culture with a very rich history and nearly-perfect weather. Cape Town is pretty much an ideal destination for any kind of trip. How do you get to this paradise? Cape Town International Airport is the primary airport serving the city of Cape Town, and is the second-busiest airport in South Africa and third-busiest in Africa. Most flights from the United States have a layover in either Amsterdam Airport Schipol or Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Best Times to Visit: The best time for a Cape Town beach holiday is from late January to late April at the tail end of the city's dry summer months.

Things to do:

Indulge at the local wineries. Cape Town’s wine region offers more than just world-class vino. Along with the stunning grapes, you can expect beautiful drives through the wine region, warm and inviting South African hospitality, farm-to-table dining experiences, and luxurious accommodations. For a list of the top 10 best wineries & tasting rooms in Cape Town, click HERE.

Visit Table Mountain. We recommend planning this trip at the beginning of your trip as it offers breathtaking views of the city. Take a tram ride to the top and spend the day exploring or sipping some vino while taking in the sights of South Africa. There is also a restaurant at the top that offers snacks (but a limited selection). It is best to reserve your spot on the gondola in advance and plan for first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.

Tour Robben Island. If you are looking to add a little history to your trip, consider exploring Robben Island. This is where Nelson Madela was imprisoned for 18 years. The tours are given by former inmates, so the connection you get to history is unparalleled! Make sure to book your tickets online in advance!

See the Boulder Beach penguins. South Africa is known for it’s unique wildlife so spend some time at Boulders Beach where you can see the penguins! Rent a car or schedule a private/group tour of the Cape. It can get incredibly crowded on the viewing platform, so get to the beach as early in the day as possible. After Boulders Beach, head father south to the protected wildlife reserve at the Cape of Good Hope where you can see more indigenous animals and visit the lighthouse on the cape.

Feature Hotels: Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, One&Only Cape Town, Ellerman House, Arabella Hotel and Spa

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 3.52.50 PM.png

Things to Know Before You Go…

.

  • This is a tipping nation. This is a tipping country and visitors should expect to tip for anything from a lunch out, to gas station attendants, to car watchers... yes, car watchers. Almost anywhere you park in South Africa has a “car guard” to ensure that your vehicle remains safe while you go and explore.

  • There are three capitals. If you’re visiting South Africa you should know there is no truly defined capital city. But instead, there are three - Pretoria (executive capital), Bloemfontein (judicial), and Cape Town (legislative). 

  • The South African Rand is king. Rand is the nation’s currency and currently trades at 1 Rand : .07 USD.

  • No vaccinations are necessary. Unless you are coming from a country where Yellow Fever is prevalent.

How to: Rent a car abroad

While renting a car in another country comes with freedom from rigid bus/train schedules, it does come with it’s own set of complications. There are very harsh differences between the United States and other countries in terms of operating a vehicle - including rules of the road, car systems, insurance, and even blood alcohol level laws!

road-trip-1246530_1920.jpg
  1. Figure out your insurance coverage. Rental insurance always seems to be one of those questions you don’t think about until you are standing at the counter in the airport terminal. However, abroad this becomes more than a nervously answered question. Make sure that you verify your coverage ahead of time. Typically your credit card or auto insurance at home is enough to cover you but we recommended getting the policy in writing to keep with you along your travels.

    • Tip: Ireland requires the supplemental insurance and can hit you with the extra fees while you are over there, so be sure to make room in the budget!

  2. Consider getting an International Driving Permit. An International Driving Permit, or IDP, is the document, along with your home’s drivers license, that allows you to operate a vehicle abroad. Not all countries require you to have an IDP to rent a car, but some do so it is best to check with you rental agency beforehand. Also, keep in mind that variations can occur within the same continents. For example, Europe doesn't have the same regulations throughout- Greece requires an international drivers license to be obtained in advance, whereas Italy and France do not.

    • An IDP only costs about $20 and are valid for one year. To apply you must “be at least 18 to apply, carry BOTH your IDP and your valid driver's license when driving abroad, and obtain your IDP from the same country that issued your driver's license”. You can review how to apply HERE.

  3. Make sure you reserve an automatic car in advance. Automatic cars are more frequent than not in the United States. However, cars abroad are more often manual so if you are unable to or uncomfortable operating a manual vehicle in a foreign country make sure that you specifically request a automatic car in advance!

  4. Brush up on the rules of the road. Driving on the left side of the road may seem like one of the biggest considerations, but keep in mind that other countries have rules of the road that are less obvious to Americans. In some countries, for example, you can’t turn right on red. In others, the slow lane can’t be used for passing. Read up on what is customary in the country you are visiting before to avoid a surprise ticket.

  5. Know your limit. Vacations often times mean indulgence. If you are looking to rent a car abroad, keep in mind that different countries have different laws about drinking and driving. For example, Hungary has a zero-tolerance policy while Italy’s limit is .5 grams per one liter of blood. So before heading out for that wine tasting tour or ordering that pint at lunch, know the limit at your destination.

Friday Feature: Charleston, South Carolina

54766027.jpg

Charleston

.

Nestled off the Atlantic Coast, you'll find the charming, seaside city of Charleston, South Carolina. This idyllic destination has been named dozens of award-winning titles, including Travel + Leisure's Number 1 City in the World. Spend a weekend here and you will quickly see why. It's rich in history, home to some incredible restaurants, and picturesque as a postcard. Charleston makes the perfect weekend road trip destination for those living in the Southeast. But if you are not close enough to drive, Charleston International Airport has plenty of quick flights from Atlanta!

Best Times to Visit: March - May or September - November to avoid the summer crowds and take advantage of the cooler, less humid temperatures.

Things to do:

Walk Rainbow Row. Located in South Broad, Rainbow Row is arguably one of the most picturesque roads in America. Stroll the cobblestone streets and take in the beautiful, pastel colored homes. Don’t forget your camera because these are serious #housegoals!

Rent bikes. This is one of the best ways to experience low country. Rent a bike early in the morning to cruise the beach during sunrise, or peddle your way through the historic neighborhoods around the city.

Stop by the Charleston City Market. This is an open air market that serves up fresh local produce, handmade jewelry, live entertainment, delicious street food and more! It takes place every Saturday from April 8 to November 25 in downtown at Marion Square from 8:00am to 2:00pm.

Experience the local cuisine. Charleston is known for it’s southern style cuisine and exceptional seafood. Some of our favorite places include 167 Raw, Hominy Grill (we recommend the shrimp & grits), Indaco, Leon’s Oyster Shop, The Vendue Hotel Rooftop Bar (great for happy hour), and more!

Go dolphin watching. Being on the coast, Charleston has an amazing amount of dolphins you can find frolicking in the ocean. One of our favorite viewing spot is the Station 12 beach access on Sullivan’s Island — there are clearly marked signs for each station, and number 12 is located right next to Fort Moultrie. 

Socialize & shop on King Street. This fun networking event happens every 2nd Sunday of the month. It typically features new product launches, lots of great sales, great food, and more! Check out more of Charleston’s awesome events HERE!

Feature Hotels: King Charles Inn, Harborview Inn, Zero George Inn

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 12.59.53 PM.png

Restaurants We Recommend…

.

  • Paw Paw for seasonal, Southern-inspired cuisine using the freshest ingredients.

  • R Kitchen for a snug spot with an open kitchen tailored specifically to guests. There are only around 8 - 10 spots per night, so plan ahead.

  • FIG for an elevated take on Southern classics. 

  • Xia Bao Biscuit for creative, multicultural Asian cooking & specialty cocktails.

  • Leon's Oyster Shop for a relaxed atmosphere serving oysters, Southern-style seafood & fried chicken.

  • Poogan's Porch for brunch & traditional Southern cooking served in a Victorian townhouse.

Friday Feature: Tuscany

casetello-del-nero-v12-17-17.jpg

Tuscany

.

If you have been keeping up with us at Explorateur Travel for any amount of time now, you will see that we have a very evident and excitable love for all things Italy, especially Tuscany. Aside from the bountiful supply of vino, this beautiful countryside offers visitors unparalleled views and a culinary experience like no other. So how do you get to this Italian slice of paradise?! There are two international airports in the region, Pisa International Airport Galileo Galilei and Florence Airport Amerigo Vespucci, with direct flights out of some of the major US airports. Fiumicino International Airport in Rome offers the most economical flight options and is only a 2-3 hour drive.

Best Times to Visit: The best times to visit Tuscany are between late September and October and between April and May. During these months, travelers will find comfortable temperatures and fewer crowds at the major sights.

The best part about Tuscany?! It is included on our Eat Italy group trip. If you are looking to add Tuscany to your list of summer travel plans, join us May 31st - June 9th for the Italian trip of a lifetime! Check out our full itinerary and trip details HERE!

Things to do:

Stay at an agriturismo. For a long time, this was one of Italy’s best kept accommodation secrets because it is truly one of the best ways to experience Italy’s countryside. An agriturismo is an independently-owned farm where the owners are typically farmers who have decided to use their home partially for accommodation purposes. An agriturismo allows you to truly experience the countryside as well as the flavors and traditions of Italian cooking firsthand!

Take a cooking class. Other than the wine, Italy is so well known for it’s sensational cuisine. However, because many of the country’s best food traditions can not be found in swanky restaurants it is best to experience from a local first hand at a cooking class!

Go truffle hunting. Tuscany is Italy’s largest supplier of truffles, which are a staple in most Italian meals. Truffle hunting is an age old tradition in Italy, and a “do not miss” on any Tuscany vacation! It involves walking the woods with a hunter and dog who is trained to sniff out truffles underground.

Indulge in wine and olive oil tasting. This one may seem obvious but we couldn’t not include it! The wines and olive oil of the region are truly unique and there is not a better way to learn more about Tuscany than through a tasting!

Pack a picnic and spend the day biking around the countryside. Getting lost and venturing away from the crowds can be one of the best ways to see a region. Spend some time finding the perfect lunch spot, pack a bag and bottle of wine, and simply take in the views this beautiful region has to offer!

Feature Hotels: Castello del Nero, Borgo San Felice, Villa di Piazzano, Castiglion del Bosco


purple-grapes-553462_1920.jpg

Things To

Know Before You Go...

.

  • Summer months get warm, so it is best to make sure that your accommodation has air conditioning. Many do not and even though the stone walls can keep it cool, you may find yourself somewhat uncomfortable. Also, we definitely recommend finding a property with a pool in summer months!

  • Forget everything you think you know about Italian food. Italian food is regional so do not expect to get the same tastes at every place you visit within the country.

  • Tip wisely. There is a service charge required and included in your bill, however tipping isn't included nor added on as on option. If you get great service, feel free to add a few euro to the total or round up on your total bill but there is no set % expected for tips.

  • Consider renting a car to get around. The Tuscan roads are easier to manage than the cities and you will get the most out of your stay if you can explore on your own. Transfers can get pricey and then you will be in the countryside without a means of getting to the main towns easily to explore (and eat since many don't have full service restaurants on site). 

See more tips here!

Friday Feature: Cambodia

2ef6f34d_z.jpg

Cambodia

.

Cambodia is teeming with lush jungles, picturesque beaches, mysterious caves, and friendly locals! There is something here for every travel style - relax on a private island resort, rock climb the caves near Kampot, experience ancient temples, or taste authentic Amok (a famous Cambodian meal)! Ready to book your ticket?! You can find flights out of Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and more! The Phnom Penh International Airport is the gateway to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. However, Siem Reap International Airport better serves visitors to the temples of Angkor.

Best Times to Visit: Most travelers visit Cambodia from November to March. If you prefer to dodge the crowds and go when prices are lower, the best time to visit is from May to early October. Cambodia’s most rainy months are September and October.

Things to do:

Eat fresh seafood on Ko Ta Kiev Island. Ko Ta Kiev is the largest island of the Cambodian islands and a beautiful place if you are looking to escape reality. It is a popular destination for day trips and island tours for visitors to Cambodia because the quiet island is it’s own tropical paradise. After a day of exploring this jungle island, refuel with fresh caught seafood served by the most friendly locals!

Visit Kep National Park. The nearly 5 mile trail can be done by foot or bike, and leaves visitors with impressive views of the ocean and mountains in the distance. There is a $1 entrance fee into the national park and a perfect day trip from the nearby towns. Make sure you bring water and comfortable shoes!

Explore the caves near Kampot. This is a great way to sneak away from the tourists in Cambodia as mostly only locals know of these caves. Some of these caves are Phnom Ta or Phnom Sia, which has an elephant rock formation. You can also see Phnom Chhogok, which has a small temple inside the cave. You have to walk up some steps to the cave but will see stunning views of the rice fields in the distance - so make sure to bring your camera. We recommend reserving a tour in advance for a half day of caving, abseiling, and rock climbing! 

Visit the temples of Angkor. These temples feel like heaven on earth. Angkor is one of the world’s foremost ancient sites, with the enormity of the Great Wall of China, the detail of the Taj Mahal, and the symbolism of the pyramids, all rolled into one! To say these temples are breathtaking and a must do while in Cambodia is an understatement.

Feature Hotels: Song Saa Private Island, Belmond La Residence dAngkor, Amansara Cambodia


30c1a360_z.jpg

Things To

Know Before You Go...

.

  • Brush up on your negotiation skills. Haggling is expected with street vendors, taxi drivers, outdoor markets, and some restaurants.

  • Keep your hands to yourself. And never touch someone else’s head as it is considered sacred.

  • Cover your shoulders. Cambodians dress modestly and always remove their shoes before entering a home or wat.

  • Clasp your hands and bow when greeting someone. Bow lower for the elderly as a sign of respect.

  • Be happy. Avoid showing negative emotions, especially anger. Always receive compliments humbly.

TOP 5 LIVE: How I started my company

16179600_10108986947776463_4511659405564997415_o.jpg

TOP FIVE LIVE

How I started Explorateur Travel

After posting on Facebook about my humble beginnings in starting Explorateur Travel, I thought it would make sense to get a little vulnerable about how I started my business and how I sacrificed to get my dreams off the ground. Disclaimer: I am not a small business consultant and I am not saying that this is the only way to do things! I am just merely hoping to share my journey with you… and maybe inspire a couple of people along the way!

  1. I was a sponge. There is a wealth of free information online about every topic imaginable so take advantage of it! When I first had the idea about starting my travel company, I listened to travel podcasts non-stop! It is so important to soak up as much information as you possibly can, especially in the beginning when you are starting from square one.

  2. I was willing to work for free. I am not necessarily recommending this. However, I believed that I had to sacrifice a little to create something that would one day become a lot more. I worked for free in Italy (workaway.info) to gain knowledge and experience. I beta tested my business for a year doing itineraries for people free of charge. And I did all of this because I always had to do something that was pushing my business forward. However, the downside to working for free is that I did not value my knowledge enough. I think that this is typical of people starting a new business. It is important to remember that you are coming to the table with something, so don’t discredit yourself.

  3. I quit my corporate job. I took a risk by leaving my comfortable corporate job with a salary, health care, and normal working hours because I had to make space to travel and create my vision. While this was hard at first to wrap my head around, I got closer to doing what I wanted to do because I was no longer working towards someone else’s dream.

  4. I was poor. Like no money poor. I had to be okay with not buying a new dress, not going on a group trip, or not getting a new couch for my apartment because every dollar I saved was another dollar I could pour back into my business. These are the scary things people don’t tell you about starting a business but always remember that this season is temporary and it is all a means to an end. Just know that it is okay to not be rolling in dough right away! Side note: I highly recommend reading Shoe Dog. It is about the founder of Nike… who didn’t pay himself for years in order to build this brand into what it is now. Also, Girl Wash Your Face is another great inspirational book that makes you want to run head first after your dreams! I highly recommend them both!

  5. I ignored what other people told me would work. I believe that I was secretly fortunate to not know anything about this industry before I started it. I came into it with such a fresh and creative mindset that wasn’t squashed by following someone else’s processes and vision. Don’t get me wrong, I found mentors later on. But by ignoring what other people thought would work, I let the other’s anticipation of failure fuel me!

  6. Bonus: I started to celebrate other peoples successes. Instead of fearing or be annoyed by other people’s successes, I learned to be excited about them because I wanted that to someday be me. Comparison is the thief of joy. Everyone has to start somewhere so don’t beat yourself up about the current season you are in because it is all part of your journey.

  7. Bonus: When I wanted to stop, I didn’t. There will be setbacks and hard days and doubts, but you must not allow yourself the option of giving up. Treat everything as a lesson, admit your mistakes, own your short comings in the beginning, and be okay with not knowing everything! You got this!