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?!

7 EASY TIPS ON MAKING A KID-FRIENDLY ITINERARY

Traveling with kids is a rewarding, fulfilling, and yet often a complex process. Many parents want to share the wonderful world of travel with their kids, but it can be hard to help kids understand what they are seeing, where they are going, and why they are not following their normal schedule. Throw in time zone changes, unique menu options, and a lack of daily comforts... and there can be some stress! Some kids may just roll with the punches that travel throws their way, but others may have a harder time adapting. Below are some tips that can help make traveling easy on both the parents and kids, while creating memories of a lifetime.

1. Inquire on input. I always remember being asked about what I wanted to get out of my trip, which made every adventure even more meaningful and memorable. Obviously, I didn't always get the winning vote, but many times I was able to help create the plan, which made me feel involved in the process. If your kids don't know much about the area, try showing them some fun YouTube videos, colorful pictures, share some stories, and get them excited to see something...and then find out what that something is!

A great scavenger hunt topic is finding new fruits IN the local market

A great scavenger hunt topic is finding new fruits IN the local market

2. Turn your trip into a treasure hunt. It's not always easy for kids to buy into going wherever their parents tell them. If a child hasn't heard of Florence, or Barcelona, or London...then what do they care about what they see?  I have found that giving kids a challenge can often entice their interest and intrigue them enough to play along. Because of this, I have tailor-made scavenger hunts for my clients with kids so that they can learn a bit of history, feel the fulfillment of checking items of a list, all while documenting all they saw for parents to maintain a keepsake for years to come...win, win! As a note, these will soon be available for download on the site!

3. Beat the jet lag. This goes for kids and adults, but particularly kids. No one likes getting off a sleep schedule (heck, don't mess with me after a trans-Atlantic flight), but it is important to maintain momentum. Nothing shakes off the cobwebs like keeping moving. Basically, check in, drop the luggage, and move onto something completely engaging and enthralling to distract the whole family from the fact that you would rather be snuggled up and sleeping yourself into a funky schedule for the rest of the trip. This may be an early night in for everyone, but pushing through that initial wave of exhaustion will help you set your clock for the rest of your trip.

Photo credit:  Walks of Italy

Photo credit: Walks of Italy

4. Treat yourselves. It's vacation! You may not normally "sugar up" the family midday or after dinner (everyone has a different system) and I'm not telling anyone how to parent, but I'm just saying that a gelato in Italy is a pretty swell treat for not acting like a stinker after a flight halfway across the world (I mean, I'll behave for a creamy scoop). This may mean an exotic treat, extra iPad time, staying up later than normal, or even finding a playground among a busy city. Regardless of what it is, find some options in advance that are a unique experience for a kid on "vaca" and help find a positive reinforcement option for your child being a trooper!

5. Make time for breaks. I realize that this may seem like a no-brainer for anyone who has children, but it the prioritization to do nothing can tend to take a backseat during a chock-a-block full trip. Remember that you are on vacation. This is a time to prioritize your positive experiences, relaxation, and overall happiness. It may seem like the end of the world to stop for 30 minutes to cool off, grab a sandwich, have a drink...but is it really? Running 30 minutes late will rarely throw of an entire day, but an ornery child can easily derail your full itinerary in the blink of an eye (or full meltdown in public). If you are feeling like everyone is running on fumes, take the time to recharge, and don't feel guilty for putting your family first. If you miss seeing one monument, painting, or statue... I doubt it will ruin the entire trip!

6. Enjoy the local resources Not every family is traveling with an open-ended budget, and even those who are will enjoy finding a frugal option now and then! If you have a kitchen where you are staying, stock it full of snacks in advance. Also, refill any reusable water bottles when possible (read up on if the water in the city is drinkable, and don't assume that it is not). Lastly, find interesting options that could save some cash! Is there a market with any food stands? Are to-go meals cheaper than sitting down? These are options that are actually very culturally dependent and can save you some serious cash if you know the tips and tricks of a location. And all that cash you save? I'm thinking you might be treating yourself with a nice bottle of wine as a victory dance that everyone survived (and dare say, enjoyed) the vacation!

Find a local park to explore and get some energy out!

Find a local park to explore and get some energy out!

7. Find open space to explore! There are kids everywhere you go, and they all have the same level of energy, curiosity, and need to explore. We are so lucky to live in a time with so much information readily available to us. There are so many blogs on family travel for specific locations that you are sure to find great options for playgrounds, parks, and activities that may be outside the normal tourist itinerary. It seems that kids have less of a language barrier than adults and can adapt to various situations quickly, making a local playground a perfect place to experience the culture of the spot you are visiting. I suggest finding a spot to "regular" each morning during your trip for kids to get the energy out and to get ready for a day of exploring.

Just remember that if all doesn't go to plan, make another plan! I've been guilty of letting obstacles give me the blues, but that doesn't change anything. It's best to have a few back up options in your back pocket so that if someone needs a nap (no judgement if that person happens to be a parent) or you just aren't in the mood to do what you planned, you can switch gears without throwing off your day.

Do you have kid-friendly travel tips? We'd love to hear them!

 

MMM....JUST TASTE THE CULTURE!

I was once at a meeting where they asked everyone to write their name on their name plate and draw an image that depicted a "fun fact" about themselves. Now, I feel like this is never an easy question. No one wants to come off as boring, or "braggy," or, in a worst case scenario, share something that makes you unique but takes a negative turn (you know, there's always one).

Churros in Madrid

Churros in Madrid

I was struggling to find what made me different from every other unique person in the room. While I was staring blankly at my name plate, my boss said "I know something for you....it's easy." My interest was peaked. "You like food more than anyone I have every met." It's true...I do. I think about it constantly, I talk about it way too much, and I plan my meals endlessly to make sure that I am maxing out my "tasty" quotient for each day. In fact, I had sent no less than five emails to my boss and co-worker on restaurant options within reasonable taxi distance from our conference. What's a hungry girl to do? We were in Nashville, where there are TONS of options (shout out to the AMAZING 5th & Taylor). I couldn't fathom leaving without getting to know the city, and I feel like getting to know a culture largely comes from tasting the cuisine.

pizza in Rome

pizza in Rome

So that leads me to how I start to plan every trip. The food. For example, have you ever heard of a trip to Italy that didn't mention pasta, pizza, or gelato? If you have, I want to shake your hand because you are in a small group, my friend!

I truly believe that taste is the most powerful of the senses (obviously along with smell, since it is such a contributing factor). It has the power to create a memory that you think back on, and all too often, make an audible reaction...."mmmm."

Heavenly ceviche on the beach of Mexico

Heavenly ceviche on the beach of Mexico

Yes, I'm that girl that will lust after meals past. I can remember my first taste of Spaghetti Nonna Rosa at Il Gatto e la Volpe in Florence, the bittersweet and acidic medley of the ceviche at Coqui Coqui in Tulum, eating the crispy greasiness of fried zucchini flowers in actual Roman ruins at Costanza's in Rome, and the hearty taste of stuffed tomatoes that I couldn't get enough of while sitting under a canopy of grape clusters in Paxos, Greece (kicking myself for not getting the name of the place!).

I'm still not satisfied...each delicious meal intensifies my desire to try yet another place, another meal, and another specialty (am I right, Hunger Diaries? She just gets me). My food bucket list contains Bolognese in Bologna, pizza in Naples, pho in Vietnam, perogies in Poland...and so so many more!

I've never considered myself an adventurous eater, but apparently I am more so than the "average bear." I like to try the local specialties. If the local specialty is rabbit, I guess I'm getting rabbit. How can I understand how people of another culture live their day to day, if I stick with what I could/would order back in Florida? My one exception is mussels....I CANNOT get enough mussels, particularly when in a seaside town!

I assure you that I learned about my love for researching the best places to eat (and I'm not talking fancy...I mean quality) by getting burned a time or two. One situation sticks out like a sore thumb. Just like many tourists, I fell victim to getting lured in by a sidewalk restaurant promoter promising great things. When the meal came out, there were vegetables that looked like they were dumped straight from a Green Giant bag. No offense to Green Giant, but if I wanted frozen veggies, I'd go to the nearest Publix. My meal that night fed a stray dog...the term "doggy bag" has never been more literal.

The moral of the story: I will search tirelessly looking for that perfect meal that captures all facets of a destination. It takes time..boy, does it take time...but no matter way, it is better than chasing down stray dogs.

IT’S NEVER TOO SOON FOR TULUM

tulum.jpg
Ready to explore the town of Tulum!

Ready to explore the town of Tulum!

Most pictures that I have seen of Mexico tend to be around the main hotspots that we have all heard of: Cabo San LucasPlaya del Carmen, and Cancun. But one day, I was toying around onPinterest (Dangit, Pinterest…why do you have to be so addicting!), and came across a picture of lantern lit jungle tavern with a white sandy floor in a place picture referred to as “Tulum.” The next thing I found out about Tulum, was that it was a yogi’s haven. Now, I am not a yogi, but I am all for integrating wellness into a vacation. As I continued my Pinterest meandering, I saw images of bathing suit-clad travelers lounging on mattresses in the sand, while drinking something that I imagined to be cool, rum-filled, and delicious. I spiraled into an all-out vacation fantasy!

Tulum has apparently been a hideaway for travelers that want to avoid the chaos of the main resort towns, but want to experience the glory of local culture, no-fuss sunbathing, cenote swimming, and the pleasures of the many restaurants that are sprinkled along the main Tulum strip.

The idyllic Ahau Tulum eco-lodge Photo credit: Ahau Tulum

The idyllic Ahau Tulum eco-lodge
Photo credit: Ahau Tulum

Even getting to Tulum was enjoyable! Thanks to Delta, getting to Cancun from Florida was a breeze. However, fighting through the crowd of vendors in the airport who want your business, was not. Fortunately, I had reserved a shuttle with USA Transfers and they were perfectly prompt and professional. They even stopped at the 7-11 as we got on the highway so that we could enjoy a cold cerveza for the drive! So with Pacifico in hand, we settled in for our one and a half hour drive towards our beach hideaway.

By the time we arrived at our hotel, we were ready to see what this town had to offer us. As we walked up the sandy steps to the check in desk, we were greeted with champagne and a warm welcome. Customer service here was no joke. Honestly, Ahau Tulum’s staff was better than any I have ever experienced (and much more impressive than I expected from an eco-lodge).

Our dinner restaurant, Casa Banana Photo Credit: Casa Banana

Our dinner restaurant, Casa Banana
Photo Credit: Casa Banana

Even though our visit was in November (normally a dry month), we were met with unseasonably rainy weather. Because of this, the receptionist tempted me with an offer I couldn’t refuse: an essential oil massage in a hut on the beach. I anxiously accepted, and I am so glad that I did. I waited for my masseuse with the world’s most magical tea in the lounge area, where other guest were reading and hanging out. Within a few minutes, it was my turn to be pampered. For two hours, I listened to the waves crash against the shore and the pitter patter of the rain on a palm frond roof, while experiencing the most cathartic massage that has ever happened to my body. I’m talking about wobbly legs, woozy feeling, and make-no-sense kind of talking after this massage. I was useless to the world- apparently this is just how Tulum likes its guests!

Luckily, this warm welcome was the tip of the iceberg for the town of Tulum. The rain did not slow us down, and actually added to the novelty of visiting an actual rain forest! We ended our first day with a drizzly walk down the canopied road to a fantastic dinner at Casa Banana. If you ever have the chance to diner here, I would absolutely suggest it. We waited for a table by the bar, while enjoying artisanal, fresh, and unique cocktails. My husband and I both enjoyed perfectly cooked steaks and grilled vegetables that were prepared over an open wood-fire grill.

To end the day, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Tulum goes to bed quite early. This really is heaven! It was early to bed for me- after all, I had sun salutations with the hotel’s yogi early in the AM….Namaste.