MY TOP 10 EURO-TRIP MOMENTS (Part 2)

Beer drinking in Prague on the food tour

Beer drinking in Prague on the food tour

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

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

The truffle festival sommeliers

The truffle festival sommeliers

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

Dreaming at the John Lennon Wall in Prague

Dreaming at the John Lennon Wall in Prague

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

Making friends on Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Making friends on Beaujolais Nouveau Day

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

Road trip shenanigans

Road trip shenanigans

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

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

MY TOP 10 EURO-TRIP MOMENTS (Part 1)

"Was it amazing?!"

"How was your trip?"

"Tell me all about it!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOLO TRAVEL: ALONE BUT NEVER LONELY

Aren't you lonely? Do you feel safe? What do you do at restaurants?

Those are just a few of the questions that I get asked regularly while traveling alone. I realize that I am new to the international solo-travel game, but so far, I am quite pleased with my decision to experience the world solely with the company of me, myself and I.

I'd like to address the questions that I commonly get asked, and debunk some stigmas about traveling solo:

  • Aren't you lonely?

The truth is that I am rarely alone. In creating the itinerary for this trip, I padded my stays with EatWith dinners, Flytographer sessions, Viator tours, free walking tours, stays with locals through AirBnB (where I've been invited out to parties by my hosts), and a month with a host family through WorkAway.

Now there are also apps that make it even easier to travel alone, but never feel lonely. Tourlina is an app for female travelers to meet other female travelers, Vayable hosts tours with locals, Couchsurfing allows budget-friendly travelers to crash on a host's couch for free, MeetUp advertises events for those with common interests to join a group outing....and there are many more!

I have opened myself to the social circle of the world and it has been a gracious host. I have ended up engaging in conversation during most dinners, volunteered to take photos for other couples on tours, I've had drinks with people I've met at meals, and I've shared cabs with couples going to the same destination that I was headed because I overheard them asking for a price quote.

There are actually very few times that I am alone, and during those times, I enjoy my time to write, watch movies, catch up with friends through texting, and Facetime with family. While I do realize that there is a distinct difference between being alone and lonely, the support that I have received in taking this journey has never once left me feeling isolated.

  •  Do you feel safe?

I have yet to be in a situation where I genuinely felt unsafe. Have I felt uncomfortable? Fortunately, I can't say that I have! I will say that some men (particularly in Italy) are extremely confused by solo female travelers and consider this as fair warning that this does attract some attention (although, who knows...this may be a positive for some!). A simple grin and passive nod tends to give off the "thank you but no thank you" vibe. I'm never rude, but I don't entertain interest either. I'm an overly (sometimes skeptical) cautious person , so I am always watching my bags, speaking very directly, and staying alert. So far, so good (crossing fingers and praying it stays that way)!

  • What do you do at restaurants?

I eat. No really...I make a reservation for one and I enjoy a bottle of wine, appetizers, a full meal, and usually dessert and a cappuccino. Anyone reading this probably knows that I love to eat...and so I make a point to enjoy myself just as I would if I were with someone else. After all, I am one of my favorite people...so why not spend an evening enjoying a good bottle of wine with myself? It's pretty liberating...you should try it!

* One thing that I should note: I commonly cork the bottle of wine and take it back to my apartment to finish up while catching up on emails. It is important not to over drink if you are traveling alone. Safety first...and staying alert and competent is key!

If you are debating on whether or not to take the plunge on booking your first solo trip, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you like traveling at your own pace?
  • Do you trust yourself with directions and logistics (or trust your phone's GPS)?
  • Do you feel confident in communicating with strangers?
  • Are you comfortable eating and walking alone in new settings?
IMG_9096.JPG

If you answered yes, I think that you should go for it! The biggest plus that I have found is that I can stop when I want to, eat where I want to eat, nap when I need to rest (which is rarely), and just follow my instincts towards my next adventure. Sure, I have wished that my husband, friends or family were with me from time to time (I think it would be concerning if I didn't). However, I have met people that I never would have spoken to if I were within a group, I have seen things that I may not have seen if I had a tighter itinerary, and I have experienced things that I could have missed out on if I were not traveling alone.

Travel is changing me for the better and I am welcoming this evolution with open arms. I am more confident, competent, and cultured all because I trusted myself to be the best company possible, and you may be surprised how traveling alone could shape you!

Have you traveled alone? I'd love to hear about your experience!

 

 

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?!

5 REASONS IT'S OK TO BE YOUNG & IN LOVE (WITH TRAVEL)

Flowers at  the Old Biscuit Mill  in Cape Town, South Africa

Flowers at the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town, South Africa

I think it’s safe to say we have all had that first love; the one that we talked to all night and danced under the stars for hours after curfew with, the one who made you laugh so hard you had tears rolling down your face, the one who embraced you and let you feel so much of their warmth, and the one who left that impact so deep in your heart that you think about everything you did together every single day since you left them. They made you feel so young, young and in love...with travel. 

I was 20 when I found mine. Her name's South Africa.

I didn’t expect to find myself wanting and wishing to be back until my first adventure to the Rainbow Nation. After spending one month in the country with a couple of short trips to Swaziland and Mozambique, I was hooked; I was so hooked in fact that I decided to fly back less than a year later. I spent 12 weeks in Cape Town and fell truly, madly, and deeply in love with the country and its people. When I tell people this I usually get two types of reactions, but the looks of awe and curiosity are the ones I love the most.

Boulders Beach  near  Simons Town , South Africa

Boulders Beach near Simons Town, South Africa

Check out this quick list I put together of 5 reasons that justify why it’s ok to be young and in love with travel!

  1. You're only young onceso why not live life to the fullest, right? You can redefine “growing up” (whatever that means). You can broaden your perspective, make your world connect in different ways, and do something new every day. Stop asking yourself when you’ll go back or when you’ll leave, just go.
     
  2. Now's your time to be selfish, it’s your time to fill your soul and no one else’s. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but honestly I cannot say this enough! I know we all have that picture perfect future in the back of our minds, or that picturesque path that you’re currently standing on leading you to that amazing job, but when will you ever get the chance to take off and find something that you’re not even looking for or that’s not even there yet? Feed your dreams of eating gelato in some random city in Italy, grab a coffee at the same coffee shop you already went to four times, and laugh that belly deep laugh because what do you have to lose (you’re in Italy for crying out loud!!). Let your mind wander and your feet will follow, I promise! 
     
  3. That big girl/boy job will be there when you get back, well, probably! You just graduated with that brand spankin’ new degree- ah it looks good in that frame (that imaginary one, because it’s actually still hanging out in the closet, oops) and...YOU GOT THE JOB! Not the dream job, but A JOB! Now this is when things get hard. You’re trying to decide if you should take that trip to India that you’ve dreamed of since you were in high school and that trip that was inspired from your one week volunteer trip in Haiti, or stay home and take the job and work forever and ever and ever...hmm. I’m not saying it’s an easy decision at all, but if all goes well with the world, that job (and more) will be there when you get back. Going abroad will open doors, doors you had no idea existed. You’ll learn more about yourself than you thought- yep, even the fact that you have learned to embrace wearing the same pair of socks 7 days in a row- and that dream job that overlooked you the first time, won’t even second guess your strength, independence, and well roundedness.
     
  4. (Insert home town here) isn’t going anywhere. If you’re worried about leaving mom, dad, sis, bro, g-ma, or g-pa and THAT’S OK! I cried almost every night for a week when I studied abroad. I missed my family and my friends, but the funny thing was that nothing was changing at home. Everyone was still doing life, the same life that they were doing a week or six months ago, and I was over in Cape Town like "what’s happening bru and are we having a braai!?” But no, I’m serious- make moves, you won’t regret it. 
     
  5. You’re stronger than you think you are and I know you can do it. Make your life an adventure and step out of your comfort zone. Traveling is fun and scary, it’ll make you cry happy cries and sad cries, but it will be the time that fills your soul with magic and make you feel alive...really alive. 

So basically what I'm trying to tell ya'll is don't be afraid to fall in love with travel and IT'S OK to do so! I hope this helped put your mind at ease a little bit, and let the adventure continue...

Travel far & travel often my friends. 

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!

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!

 

3 TIPS TO FINDING GREAT RESTAURANTS

There's been quite a trend in my blogs lately, and it has to do with my favorite way to experience the culture of a location. You may have guessed it...food! I have no shame in this topic. I. LOVE. FOOD.

Tiramisu in Madrid

Tiramisu in Madrid

Food is the foundation to all of my itineraries. I lay the groundwork with three solid meal choices per day (maybe even an acclaimed coffee shop and snack stop), and then find experiences and sites near those restaurants. I take food VERY seriously. I've said it before, and I'll say it again...I've never met anyone who has planned a trip to Italy without making a point to indulge in the pasta or pizza. I think that this example, while very cliche, makes my point quite nicely.

This logic is exactly why I spend the bulk of my time planning on researching restaurants. The research pays off, and I am going to share my secrets with finding the perfect gastronomic delights!

1. Don't trust Yelp. I should note two things here: 1) this is a rule that applies more with international travel and 2) I don't mean specifically and exclusively Yelp. I am referring to all the review sites that tend to be a perfect beacon of light towards great meals in the U.S., but don't always work in other countries. Yelp and the likes aren't popular everywhere, and therefore, most reviews tend to be written by tourists. If a restaurant is #1 with hundreds of reviews in English, you are most likely going to be sitting with many Americans and wondering why you took an international flight to sit next to someone from Nashville, TN. Nothing against anyone from the Volunteer state, but it just may not be the authentic experience you were hoping for. As a last note on this point (and minor clarification), it isn't that all places that are popular with tourists are bad, but depending on their location they may be able to get away with lesser quality because they know they will always have guests knocking on their doors. For example, I learned why Parisians had a stereotype of being rude while eating at a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower. There was no incentive to provide excellent service, or food, because their tables were full just by catching the eye of hungry tourists during their site-seeing around town. Your best bet is to wander off the main streets and dip into a place that entices your tastebuds.

Steak frites in Paris

Steak frites in Paris

2. Trust your gut. Have you ever walked by somewhere and just known that you were meant to eat there? As if there was a gravitational pull towards their menu? I have actually been en route to a restaurant and walked past a cute courtyard and derailed my entire evening. And you know what? It was perfect. Better than perfect...it was kismet! It also turned out that the restaurant that I wanted to had been packed that night and was full of tourists. Instead, what I found was a historical nook away from the world where I only heard one table speaking English...my own! We had found a gem, and I will forever return and suggest that restaurant to anyone visiting that city because of the hospitality, food, and incredible background of the building.

3. Get busy reading blogs! Not every blogger has the same tastes or insight, but that is what makes the blogging world so helpful. I read close to dozens of blogs on each location I visit just to make sure that I am getting as much information about a place as possible before arriving. This removes the intimidation of travel, but also provides me with time-saving tips to get the real "meat and potatoes" of a city. I will compare suggestions on blogs to on-line reviews (taking it with a grain of salt, per my recommendation on #1), and continue my search until I feel like I have found the best matches for the budget, ambience, and geographic location that I am seeking. After all, the information is free and available, so it may be better to invest time than waste the coin on a meal that was mediocre.

If you don't have the time to search, compare, and plot...that's what we are here for! We can take the searching off your plate (pun intended) and tailor your itinerary dreams specifically to your style. Our team will read countless blogs, reviews, magazine articles, and forums to make sure that we get it "just right." And we promise...we are good at more than just eating.

5 TIPS TO MAKE YOUR PARIS TRIP PERFECT

There are many things to see, do, and eat in the city of lights, but there (in my humble opinion) five things that every visitor should make time for in their trip in Paris. I realize that this city tends to be a gateway to the rest of Europe for many tourists, but despite how long or short your trip may be, these "must do's" can help you experience Paris in the romantic way that it tends to be portrayed in the movies.

1. Plan a picnic. Upon arrival, you may be tempted to ditch the airplane blanket and leave it crumpled with your pretzel bag in the crease of your seat. However, this makes for a perfect picnic blanket during your trip. Save the blanket, grab some cheese, roasted tomatoes, fresh berries, a baguette, a bottle of wine, and settle in at the Luxembourg gardens, Tuileries, or in the shadow of that very iconic tower.

Photo credit: One Kings Lane and Laduree

Photo credit: One Kings Lane and Laduree

2. Break for brunch. I consider brunching in Paris the equivalent of high tea in London. I adore the pastry tower, juices, sandwiches, and perfectly soft macarons of the famous Ladurée on the Champs-Élysées. This brunch is only served on Saturdays and Sundays, but it's worth making arrangements to eat yourself silly among chandeliers, floral tapestries, and a view of one of the most famous streets in the world.

3. Tour the arrondissements. Sure, it is easy to stay near the Eiffel Tower or to huddle close to St. Germaine, but this city really begins to unfold when you discover the different cultures of the various segments of town. There are twenty in total, and I definitely recommend some over others...but we'll save that for another day!

4. People watch. If you look at any street cafe (at any time of day), you'll notice that the locals are sipping (not gulping) beverages and leisurely enjoying their time. This is where I just want to throw my hands up and claim that I lost my passport for a week! In my opinion, this prioritization of doing "nothing" is everything. The locals are refueling, brainstorming, and just simply enjoying the beauty of their city. Who can blame them? So grab a glass of champagne or espresso and join in the non-productive, but oh-so-liberating act of people watching. For some great spots, check out Rue Montorgueil!

5. Frequent the markets. Paris has a street market for everything! Food?....check! Antiques?....check! Fashion? You guessed it...check! You will not find the same thing at any market, and you will find that each neighborhood sells something different. Plus, navigating your way to and from the markets will help you understand the geography of the city and help you create an adventure that you otherwise may not have had. For more on markets, see my previous post.

I truly did not expect to love Paris in the way that I did, but I can't help wanting to return every year for the rest of my life (building that in the budget...wink wink). As I've said about Rome in the last post, Paris deserves at least three full days on your itinerary. These five things may take a little extra time on the agenda, but you will walk away with a deeper understanding of what makes this city such a bucket list item for most people!

THE TOP 5 WAYS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH ROME

When I first visited Rome, I enjoyed my time, and was happy to have spent a two day whirlwind tour discovering the city. However, to tell you the truth, I was a little less than enthused about this famous place that is known for ancient ruins, lively piazzas, and ornate Renaissance churches.

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I don't think I'm alone in this perception, either. I have heard many a tourist say that Rome was great to see, but it wouldn't be making a reappearance on future itineraries and I never disagreed with this train of thought until 2013.

If you've read my blog before, you may have seen my post on studying abroad. During this time, our class traveled all over Italy and crammed as much historical information into our brains (and pizza into our faces) as possible. During my short stint to Rome, I decided that I was okay with not returning. It wasn't until 2013, when I went on a trip to Italy with my parents, that I truly fell in love with Rome.

What changed my mind? Well, a myriad of things, but mainly I revisited Rome and decided to take the non-whirlwind approach. We saw the city markets, cooked in the apartment, took tours from locals, and just experienced Rome as the Romans do. Basically, we found our way in the experiential travel world.

If you've thought that a trip to Rome could easily be trumped by a trip to Florence, Bologna, or Venice, I'm here to share how to make it a better competitor, and maybe even a top choice when planning your next jaunt to the boot-shaped country.

My family on an Easitalytour at the Coliseum

My family on an Easitalytour at the Coliseum

  1. Rent an apartment. I personally have never lived in a hotel (after all, we are not all Chuck Bass) and I don't anticipate that I ever will. To experience the local culture, one must live like a local, and an apartment is a great way to feel settled, have a kitchen, and experience what it is like to have a "home" in the city that you are visiting. My favorite sites are AirBnB, HomeAway, OneFineStay, and VRBO (although, many cities have great local options, as well). 
  2. Stay for 3+ nights. I think that many people treat Rome like they do Paris: simply, a stopover en route to the next place. However, if you limit your time, you are limiting your experience. Here's the thing...it's hard to find the balance of seeing multiple places and spending quality time in each location. I suggest three nights per city to give it a fighting chance for your love.
  3. Take a tour. Don't love being in a blob of humans with one person leading with a funny umbrella sticking up in the air? Join the crowd (not literally). Rome has some great tours that are individualized that can allow for you to really see what you want to see, and how you want to see it. My favorites are Easitalytours and Scooteroma. Easitalytours provides an English (or Italian) speaking tour guide who is beyond knowledgeable on Rome's history, art, and culture. We spent a half day meandering through the wonders of Rome without having to use a map and learning the tricks of navigating through town. Our tour guide also served as an enthusiastic photographer when we got to the most picturesque locations. Scooteroma is a unique option that allows you to ride or drive a scooter through Rome on a designated path. Romans love their scooters and this is a great (and fast) way to see the city through a local's eyes.
  4. Test out your culinary skills. Don't forget that an apartment comes with a kitchen! The market in Campo di Fiori sells an array of fruits, vegetables, oils, spices, and even flowers (if you are wanting to make your place extra cozy). Take an early morning walk through the piazza, grab a cappucino, and start shopping. There is nothing to help you experience a city like haggling with a street vendor! You will probably save some money and have a great memory of creating your own version of Italian cuisine.
  5. Roam...in Rome. Like every city, there are different neighborhoods with varying cultures. This is no different in Rome. If you stick to the normal path, you will see normal Roman things (and probably a lot of that will be touristy since this is quite the hub of tourism for Italy). Put on your walking shoes and start to explore the nooks and crannies of Rome. If you are like me and you err on the side of caution, ask your waiter, tour guide or temporary landlord where they would eat, walk, and explore their own city. Your experience will be unique, you may get lost, but the adventure is all in the journey (and worst case scenario, they have Uber to bail you out).
Having a nightcap in front of the Pantheon

Having a nightcap in front of the Pantheon

I hope that if you didn't love Rome the first time, you may give it another shot! I can't wait to go back, eat some Cacio e Pepe, zoom around on a scooter, and drink a spritz in front of the Pantheon!

 

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.

WHAT KIND OF TRAVEL?!

I feel it in the air…do you? There’s a change coming…a big one.

Travel is changing.  People used to turn to travel agents for expertise and planning. Nowadays, it seems that travel agents tend to focus more on luxury travel, which leaves every other traveler who isn’t booking 5 star resorts to fend for themselves.

The biggest shifts are that people are not only traveling more frequently, but at a younger age, and with a completely different agenda. Experiential travel is taking over the tourism world…

What kind of travel?!

I also use the term “experiential travel” in describing what Explorateur Travel focuses on, and I keep getting a lot of “what is that” and confused facial expressions. This type of travel can be better summed up by examples than a vague description.

Cappuccino at the famous Cafe de Flore

Cappuccino at the famous Cafe de Flore

Experiential travelers would rather sip a piping hot cappuccino with a fresh baked croissant while people watching at a sidewalk café instead of waiting hours in line to catch a moments view from the top of the Eiffel Tower (even though that view is quite breathtaking).

Need another example? How about visiting a vineyard during harvest season to help pick some grapes and then finishing the tour with a fine vintage grown in that very soil. Or renting an apartment (we love us some AirBnB and OneFineStay) near the markets so that you can cook with the local produce and freshest ingredients. Okay…okay…so not all experiential travel has to involve food (but, we wouldn’t complain if it did).

The vineyards of Toledo, Spain

The vineyards of Toledo, Spain

This type of travel is how Explorateur Travel came to be. We focus on finding you a cultural approach to travel, but it’s also important that we tailor the itineraries specifically to each traveler so that they are sure to make the best out of their trip. Our budget-friendly services can replace your hours of on-line research, after all, you’re busy living life!

Do you have any "experiential travel" examples? We'd love to hear them!

 

IT’S NEVER TOO SOON FOR TULUM

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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.

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

KEEP CALM AND "CARRY ON"

Everyone packs differently and everyone has different priorities when traveling. These tips are a few that I abide by in order to make sure that I get to enjoy the “getting there” portion of my vacation, and not just the final destination.

  1. “Baby blockers”- or soundproof headphones. I truly mean no offense to anyone that is traveling with a young child, but a tearful flight can deprive a cabin of travelers from some much needed R&R. Throw on some headphones and settle in with a good book – you’ve got yourself an in-flight oasis.
  2. Abide by the TSA policies and pack the Ziplocs. It is always helpful to keep a few of your toiletries in your carry on but make sure that they are in a clear bag or you may end up having to toss them before you even board your plane. This is a good place to store your lotion, some Evian facial spray, make-up necessities, and clearly marked vitamins/medicines. However, each passenger is allowed one clear plastic bag, so if you don’t need it for the flight, go ahead and stash the items in your checked luggage.
  3. • Avoid getting cold feet. During the summer, it is tempting to throw on sandals for a flight, but the temperature of the cabin can tend to be a lot lower than the outdoors. If you know you get cold easily, throw some socks in your carry on for cozy sleeping. My favorite thing to do is to pack a flexible pair of flats that I can put on and still be able to walk to the bathroom.
  4. Don’t get caught with your pants down! Prior to my first trans-Atlantic adventure, I had no idea what to pack. In yet another life-lesson moment, I learned the necessity of packing some extra underpants when my luggage arrived two days after I did. Make sure to tote some items that would help you feel “fresh” in the event that your luggage gets lost along the way.
  5. A toothbrush. Never underestimate how a fresh mouth can change your mood and make you feel ready to site see at your final destination.
  6. A (wearable) blanket. Most international flights provide a light blanket, but in the event that you get cold quite easily, don’t hesitate to throw a pashmina or scarf in your bag to take the place of an airline blanket.
  7. BYOB. It you are like me, vacation starts once you get to the airport (maybe even before). I always bring 2-3 mini bottles just in case the beverage service is running behind. In addition, some airlines don’t provide complimentary alcoholic beverages, and by bringing my own I can always guarantee a mid-flight cocktail.

After all that…sit back and enjoy your flight!

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.

TAKE THIS TO THE BANK: 5 MONEY TIPS FOR TRAVEL

I spent ten years talking about taking my parents to Europe, six months planning the trip, and two days fighting canceled flights, all to arrive unable to take cash out of the ATM in order to pay our VRBO host. I knew it was sketchy that they required cash but I needed to oblige. I called the banks to let them know I was traveling and did everything that I thought would be enough to ensure monetary security during the trip. However, I failed to take matters into my own hands. As a child, I was taught to ask nicely if I wanted something but as a grown-up, I needed to independently fish for the things I wanted. Nowadays, banks have interactive online portals that allow you to submit your travel information yourself and receive an email confirmation that your travel plans have been logged.

Don’t be like me and believe that the nice lady over the phone is inputting your information correctly (although, I am sure she had the best intentions). Make sure to follow these steps to confirm that you have any and all financial resources that you may need during your trip:

  • Gather the equivalent of at least $100 (more if you want to feel extra secure) in the currency of your final location. Regardless of what taxis, tips, hunger pangs, etc. come up between your departure and arrival at your accommodations, this should have you covered. If you want to bring more and avoid the fees at the airport, feel free to do so. Be realistic though and don’t take out more than you will actually spend as you may end up losing part of the deal when converting the money back to your original currency at the end of your trip.
  • Have multiple forms of payment. You should have at least a debit card and a credit card. The more diverse your forms of payment, the more secure you will be if one card is canceled, lost or compromised.
  • Make sure that your card is internationally accepted. Most credit cards are, however, not all have a chip allowing easy reading by all machines. This was another lesson learned while trying to extract cash from the ATM in Corfu, Greece. My consequence consisted of walking a mile to find a bank that could read my chip-less credit card. I now have Chase Sapphire that not only provides reward travel points but also contains a convenient chip that has been read everywhere I’ve gone since. When in doubt, get the card with the chip and the strip.
  • Travelers’ checks are for the birds. This concept is considered antiquated and less suitable. Stick to traditional currency to guarantee that your money is accepted by the vendors.
  • Submit all travel plans online and make sure to do this for all of the cards, even for those that you may only use in the event of an emergency. It is suggested to do a follow-up phone call to verify that all plans are confirmed within the system. You can never be too cautious when it comes to money and travel. 

The last thing that you want to worry about on your trip is finding an ATM. You could chalk it up to sightseeing with a purpose….by why not avoid the stress, time crunch, and use your resources to enjoy the journey that you have just embarked upon!