TRAVEL AGENT vs. TRAVEL "ARTISAN"

Your dream vacation is waiting

Your dream vacation is waiting

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

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

Do you prefer an active vacation?

Do you prefer an active vacation?

Travel Agents...

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

 

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

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

Explorateur Travel...

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

Have questions? Give us a ring!

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

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

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?
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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?!

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!

 

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.

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.

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.