WHEN IN ROME....EXPLORE AS ROMANS DO: MY EXPERIENCE WITH SCOOTEROMA.

When I decided that I would be re-visiting Rome, I knew that I had to find a different way to see the city than I had before. I had been to Rome twice, and it was the second visit that made me fall in love...I couldn't even imagine what the third visit would bring!

And then I found ScooteRoma.

Yes, it is exactly what you are thinking. I fully committed to the Roman way of life, and decided to explore the city by scooter ("motorino" if you are Italian). As a note, if you are feeling nervous, they have more than just scooter tours! I actually found them through their adorable instagram account that I highly recommend you follow just for kicks.

What I discovered in my three hours with ScooteRoma, is that you can explore all corners of the city efficiently (and without further eviscerating my feet). I loved the thrill of weaving in and out of cars (I truly didn't think that I would), rushing through alley ways, and navigating to the front of traffic by snaking through traffic. Considering that I had to buy new sandals on the way to meet Mimmo (my Roman tour guide) because my feet were hurting so much, this relaxing ride was more than welcome.

Mimmo met me at a central spot and had my helmet ready to go. He was nice enough, not only to wait for me as I arrived flustered and late, but to also stop for coffee at a fantastically local cafe mid-tour and provided me with some sugary treats to fuel my adventures. A cappuccino and cream filled pastry was exactly what I needed to set the tone for my day whipping through the city's streets!

I had planned on walking to the Piazzale Garibaldi to get a view of the city..but Mimmo checked it off my list without even knowing. He took me to the "secret" spots, while also passing through the popular Roman landscapes. I was able to see the Roman forum, the "keyhole" to Rome, the orange garden in Parco Savello, and (what felt like thousands) more in between.

There are tours, and then there are tours...this my friends, is worth it. I'm not all for following a tour guide holding an umbrella upside down to mark where they are in the crowds. I can assure you that ScooteRoma provides a more intimate way to see Rome in a way that a Roman would every single day.

So why not hop on?!

GET YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT AND PLAN THE PERFECT TRIP

If you've ever gone on a trip, you've probably experienced at least one of the following things:

  1. Your vacation felt too short
  2. You wanted to do everything in a small amount of time

Am I right? You're not alone.

It can be hard to fit everything you want to do into a few days, a week, or even two, when you are traveling. I recently learned that Americans are notorious for not taking long enough vacations, and who would disagree? Doesn't everyone want a full month off like the Europeans?

{silently raising my hand in solidarity while simultaneously working}

Visiting a vineyard near Toledo, Spain

Visiting a vineyard near Toledo, Spain

So how do you do it? How do you fit it ALL in? How do you come back from vacation less exhausted and burnt out than when you left? Ideally, we vacation to get away from it all, and somehow come back with an emotional (and maybe literal) hangover from trying to pack our days with activities.

Obviously, this doesn't always apply. If you are sitting on a beach in Tahiti and reading this, you can stop now...your priorities consist of one thing: do nothing.

However, if you are going to a location that has sites to see, food to enjoy, and excursions to experience, keep reading to find out how to prioritize your time when creating your itinerary:

  • Ask yourself "why" you are traveling. Really think about it. Are you traveling to relax? Are you traveling to see things that you have never seen? Are you traveling to eat incredibly local foods? If you are aren't a foodie, then you won't want to build your itinerary solely around the best restaurants. It just doesn't coincide with want you want out of your trip. Find out your "why" to help build the foundation of your trip.
  • Now create a list of the "must do's." I ask this of every client. What can't you live without on your trip? For example, mine is always wine. So I would make sure that I am jotting down that I can't live without a trip to the local vineyard, wine room, or unique tasting in the areas that I visit. You might find that this overlaps with your "why." That means you are on the right track!
  • Create a list of the "nice to haves." There are always things that would be good to do/see, but you can live without. If you are into sports, think of this as your second string list. They may be necessary, and can change the game...but they aren't your key players.
  • Now set the pace. Do you want to be on the go everyday? Does walking all day long sync up with your "why?" If your trip is meant to be rejuvenating, I wouldn't suggest trying to pack in lots of sites. However, if you want your trip to be as dense as possible, then who's stopping you? I would suggest that if you are in a big city, you may want to plot out one to two sites a day from your "must do" list and then add in some fluff that would be "nice to have."
Fostering my relationship with my "why"

Fostering my relationship with my "why"

Travefy App, Photo Credit: www.superbcrew.com

Travefy App, Photo Credit: www.superbcrew.com

If you go about your planning in a systematic way, and really ask yourself these questions, you are must more likely to feel fulfilled...and hopefully less exhausted! In addition, there are really rockstar websites that can help you build your itineraries now. I prefer using Travefy because they have an app, it syncs with my calendar, creates a PDF, and is just stinkin' easy to use.

However, if you still need help after all that, well...that's what we are here for!

Happy planning!

THE DANGERS OF STUDYING ABROAD

My mom cried. She thought I might die in a terrorist attack. I reiterated that I wanted to go to Europe, not the Middle East. In our current day reality, this may have been a threat that I would have put some legitimate thought into. However, my concern would have been fleeting and regardless, I still would have boarded that plane.

To back up a bit, I went to Florida State University (Go ‘Noles!). During freshman orientation, there are tons of break-out sessions that upcoming freshman can attend to find out how to maximize on their college years. I was eighteen, fresh-faced, naïve about the world, and had never traveled outside the country. Despite my mom’s comment that day as I peeled off to attend the informational session on the study abroad programs (“I’m not paying for that…I’ll go to another session), I went and listened to what the advisors had to say. Come Hell or high water, I was going to spend a semester overseas!

My mom was telling the truth. She didn’t pay for me to study abroad (which, of course, I did not initially believe since she was always willing to invest in anything academically focused). This is not to paint a negative picture about my mom at all, in fact quite the opposite. I learned more from her telling me “no,” than I ever would have if she had just agreed that my parents would foot the bill. Because my parents weren’t paying, I decided that I needed a loan. I didn’t know about terms, or interest rates, but I applied, I got approved, I signed my name on the dotted line, put my name in the hat for a summer in Italy, and got into the program.

9 years later, I came back to visit the FSU campus in Florence

9 years later, I came back to visit the FSU campus in Florence

So that was that. I was going to Italy! Now it was time to plan! I needed to get my passport, a student visa, luggage, books for classes, adaptors, and every other thing I was informed that I needed for the upcoming summer semester. Months, and a lot of checklists later, I rolled up to the American Airlines check-in counter with two HUGE suitcases, both weighing in at the maximum threshold. I looked like I was moving permanently, instead of just attending six weeks of classes.

I connected through Charlotte International Airport and met up with one of my best friends from my freshman dorm who had lived in Italy as a child while her dad was in the Navy (coincidentally, I ended up marrying he brother, so now she is my sister in-law and her father is my now father-in-law). We flew side-by-side across the ocean, and landed to find that our luggage didn’t make the trip. We ended up spending the first two days wearing our new classmates’ clothes, using their cosmetics, and not caring one bit. We were in ITALY!

Kalee and our first day in Italy in front of the Baptistery of San Giovanni

Kalee and our first day in Italy in front of the Baptistery of San Giovanni

Upon initial arrival, we all checked into our apartments. Somehow, we had thirteen students in one tiny, lackluster, poorly plumbed, and incredibly perfect apartment. We decided to have a “roomie” dinner where we all ended up enjoying too much wine, making our 8 AM orientation less-enticing than it would have been if we had solely suffered from an overdose of jet lag. I remember walking around that morning and seeing the Baptistery the first time and knowing that something in me had changed on a molecular level.

I spent the next six weeks wandering the streets of Florence. Every moment that I wasn’t in class, I was perusing the shops, drinking wine in the piazzas, and exalting the artwork that decorated the streets. As an outsider, I couldn’t imagine that Florentines ever become numb to the rich beauty of their city. In walking to a restaurant, you pass multiple Renaissance art pieces, monuments, and landmarks. Florence has a wealth of history, and I was cashing in all my chips to see it all before I left in June.

Our weekends contained trips to Rome, the Tuscan countryside, the Amalfi coast, Milan, Venice, and a myriad of small towns that create the allure that Italy has to offer its residents and tourists. Every town, every meal, every breath abroad changed my perspective on life and my expectation of what it was to “travel.”

The dangers of studying abroad were not imminent, physical, terrorism-rated, nor did they appear to be obvious, at first. In fact, I didn’t even realize what I was at risk of at any time during my semester in Italy. To clarify, nothing about my study abroad experience was actually dangerous or even slightly risky. However, the emotional danger was the fact that I was officially afflicted with a permanent case of wanderlust.

finally convinced my mom to visit Florence with me in 2014

finally convinced my mom to visit Florence with me in 2014

Travel in itself was not the problem. The conundrum was that anytime I was not traveling, I was either daydreaming about where I can visit next, or I found myself researching the next item to check off my bucket list. I have reason to believe that I am not alone in this. In fact, I now tend to see a lot of study abroad alums posting recent pictures of their excursions to Europe, further validating my perspective.

So here I am ten years later. I wish that everyone could have the pivotal experience that I was able to participate in during the summer of 2005, but I realize that is far from a reality. However, I can help others feel the same emotions that I had during those six weeks that I spent in Italy. This is exactly why Explorateur Travel exists. My goals include providing all aspects of experiential travel for those who want to “feel” the place that they are visiting. The focus is not merely to book travel, but to plan those small details that invoke an intense and permanent connection with the vacation destination.

THE “EXPERIENCE” OF DINING IN MADRID

In the United States, the average family tends to eat between 6-8 PM with a typical bedtime of 8-10 PM. When on vacation, it wouldn’t be abnormal to have a little variance in this schedule. However, I never expected dinner time to extend into the late night when I am usually snuggling up with a book and a cup of tea.

When my husband told me about a childhood memory of how his family was unable to find a restaurant to eat dinner at 10 PM in Malaga, I truly thought he was exaggerating. Then this April, I was the one wandering the streets of Madrid at 9:30 PM, hungry and being turned away time and time again. How could the Spaniards eat so late? Aren’t they starving by the time they get to the restaurant? Don’t they have to get to sleep? And why is every restaurant packed to capacity?

Unbeknownst to me, it turns out that lunch is the main meal in Madrid. You can see business men and women enjoying their mid-afternoon meal until around 2-3 in the afternoon. So no wonder they aren’t hungry until later!

Eating out is not just a convenience in Spain (as it tends to be in the U.S.), but it is an intense social occasion. Lunches and dinners last for hours – filled with multiple courses and varying beverages. We sat next to a table of four locals who sat for hours and gradually made their way through croquettes, paella, and dessert accompanied with cava, sangria, and then finally onto coffee. Therefore, the restaurants typically only host one seating per evening and have no problem filling their tables, much less turning those away that didn’t have the foresight to make a reservation in advance. If you are eating in Spain on a Friday or Saturday, I highly encourage you to make a reservation or you may end up wandering the streets and hoping that someone missed their 9:30 PM reservation.

With that being said, no matter what the time was, our food was incredible, fresh, and served with a healthy side of delicious Sangria!

PERUSING THE MARKETS OF PARIS

Flower-Market.jpg

Many people travel in a way that allows them to “put checks in the block.” By this, I mean that if they have a week in one location, each day is packed with museums to see, places to eat, and little time to meander and simply absorb the culture. Fortunately, it seems that the cultural focus of travel is becoming increasingly prevalent – particularly with millennial travelers.

While in Paris with a girlfriend, we were determined to spend our time outside of the typical itinerary of Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Louvre (don’t get me wrong, we did those too!) by wandering around the local markets. Navigating to and from these markets took us out of our comfort zone, and allowed us to enjoy the true culture of each neighborhood.

We started by taking the Metro to the Marche les Puces (which includes 15 markets!). Unless you are prepared and directionally aware, I would suggest considering taking an Uber or cab to this area since the metro exit isn’t necessarily in the best area of town.

I can assure you that if you are looking for something, they most likely have it! However, you may have to dedicate a day to finding it. The items at Marche Antica are incredibly diverse including: fabulous fashions from Hermes, Chanel, and Yves St. Laurent, chandeliers, old musical instruments, and restored furniture. It is easy to lose track of where you’ve been and frankly, we didn’t mind that!

When returning to the center of Paris, we decided to continue our shopping by strolling through the food market of Montorgueil. There are few things that smell better at the end of a tiring day than a pop-up stand making crepes! Of course, not all items are prepared to eat on site but a few are. Most items include fresh local produce, fish, crustaceans, and flowers (for color). Your senses will be overwhelmed, confused, and you will most likely leave hungry. Luckily, turn the corner to move onto Rue Petits Carreaux and almost any culinary request can be granted at the dozens of cafes and bistros lining the street.

I encourage visitors of Paris to immerse themselves in the culture by perusing the goods of the many markets. To find the markets that best suit your needs, use these resources:

http://www.timeout.com/paris/en/shopping/the-best-markets-in-paris
http://www.marcheauxpuces-saintouen.com/1.aspx
http://travel.cnn.com/paris-shopping-guide-061506

WE CAN ALL LEARN A THING OR TWO FROM ICE CUBE…

Photo Credit: Ice Cube Images

Photo Credit: Ice Cube Images

As the artist Ice Cube says, “take a step back and examine your actions because you are in a potentially dangerous or sticky situation that could get bad very easily.” This statement couldn’t be more accurate when deciding whether to opt. for more data while traveling. In our world of smart phones, we are heavily dependent on travel apps, maps, and Googling things. We have become so contingent on our phones, in fact, that we no longer plan where to go for restaurants but instead rely on an app with reviews to locate a restaurant for us.

The good news is that smart phones and tablets have airplane modes readily available for the preservation of data use. The bad news is that we can do almost nothing while in this mode. The confusion comes into play when we don’t know what to turn on or off and then we accidently turn one mode on that uses data unbeknownst to us. Suddenly… BOOM … you are stuck with a sizable bill that you were trying to avoid by relying on the Wi-Fi at your hotel.

Yes, I am speaking from personal experience. I was in Spain and kept my phone on airplane mode the entire trip except for when I was in the hotel. While at the hotel, I was updating a social media post using Wi-Fi when I realized I was almost late for dinner. I ran out of the door, forgetting to switch the settings, and the next thing I saw was a text from AT&T stating that I had exceeding $100 of extra data.

Luckily, AT&T sees this all the time and happily allowed me to retroact my data plan for the month, lowering my extra charges to around $25 (thank you, AT&T). International data plans start around $20 – a small price to pay when you never know what sort of emergency may occur. Go ahead and spring for the extra data for the month of your travel and don’t stress about having to use one of your apps to find that awesome restaurant you read about online. I promise you will be happy that you did.