Archive for May, 2012

“I do!” er… “They Do!” – Honeymoon Ideas in Time for Wedding Season

I have received a record number of wedding invites this year, which can only mean three things – I’m getting old, I will soon be broke and it’s wedding season! Love is most definitely in the air. While I myself am not getting married, I have to admit I cannot help but think about what my own wedding would be like. My thoughts range from the food that will be served, the flavor of the cake, the dress (obv), and (drum roll please) the honeymoon! Ok, so based on those topics, maybe I just want to have a great meal in a beautiful dress while on a beach – the wedding can wait. For those of you who are preparing for your upcoming nuptials but are not quite sure where to go for your honeymoon, here are a few ideas to get you started:

According to the travelchannel.com, some of this year’s Top Honeymoon Hot Spots for 2012 include Botswana, Bali, the Virgin Islands, Italy, Mexico, and Greece. Although I have to say this unique list of Honeymoon Choices for 2012 caught my attention which includes Croatia, Mozambique, Boracay, and Buenos Aires to name a few. As much as I love laying around and being a bum while I’m at home, I prefer to be as active as possible while traveling. I’m sure my hypothetical honeymoon would be much the same!

Here are some exciting things to do in a few of the countries listed above:

  1. Bali, Indonesia: Definitely spend some quality time on the beach, but then get out and about. Here’s a list of a wide variety of Bali tours available to satisfy your travel dreams, be they cultural, leisurely or adventurous! You can enjoy the beauty of Kintamani while experiencing two forms of traditional Balinese dance, go white water rafting on the Ayung River, or my personal favorite, ride an elephant ride through the countryside!
  2. Mozambique: For an easy, comprehensive guide to Mozambique, Lonely Planet is the place to turn to. They have created an itinerary for a 14 day vacation to ensure that you don’t miss a thing. Go fishing on Lake Chicamba and you are likely to spend your day checking out the Zebras that tend to hang around. Go on a game drive at Kruger National Park for a chance to see the famous “big five” animals: lions, elephants (my favorite!), leopards, cape buffalos, and rhinoceros. And when you’re tired of adventure, kick your feet up in Vilankulo, a paradise that promises glistening sandy beaches and gorgeous coral reefs.
  3. Boracay, Philippines: Did you know that Bulabog Beach in Boracay is known for being the best kitesurfing destination in Asia? You do now! This island in the Philippines has so much to offer and is said to rival the best beaches in the Caribbean. Which is OK, I mean, if you are into that sort of thing. Check out White Beach, Puka Beach, Baling Beach, and after you’ve had too much sun, escape into the Bat Cave. Not to be confused with Batman’s lair, but it is home to insectivorous bats.

OK that’s all for now. Now go, get married… or dream about getting married! What would your dream honeymoon look like? Let us know in the comments below! I know you think about it, if you didn’t, Pinterest wouldn’t exist… just sayin. And if you’re already married and want to brag about your amazing honeymoon, tell us what you did! (If you can’t see Facebook comments, click here: Honeymoon Ideas in Time for Wedding Season)

Tips for a Fun Last Minute Memorial Day Weekend

Raise your hand if you’re a procrastinator! If you’ve read any of my other postings, you know that my hand is definitely in the air. This horrible habit can make it rather difficult to plan a vacation. Surprise, surprise, this Memorial Day weekend is no exception. Why didn’t anyone tell me that the end of May was already here?! Wasn’t it just Easter? That being said, I refuse to allow a three-day weekend to slip through my fingers, and neither should you! I have spent the majority of my morning, when I should have been working, piecing together my last minute vacation. To my delight, all is not lost! Thanks to the magic of the World Wide Web (does anyone still say that?) I never have to learn my lesson and neither do you. Check it…

To celebrate the true spirit of the holiday, here’s a list of Memorial Day events including parades, fireworks, musical performances, wreath-laying ceremonies, picnics and more.

Of course the 3 day weekend is also a great opportunity for some R&R so here’s a great article with 5 last minute vacations to do on a budget; yes I said the B word. They have some really great tips to save you money. You can go to Chicago, NYC, Las Vegas, Orlando, or Miami! I don’t know about you, but since I live in a land locked state, the beach sounds like the perfect way to spend this long weekend.

If flying is not an option this year and you’re driving to your destination, I found the best article on foxnews.com. It gives you a list of all the rest stops you should avoid around the country, mostly on the east coast. Yes, rest stops can be creepy, but the main reason you would want to avoid these are because of the crowds. Who knew?

So now that you know where you’re going and how you’re getting there, where are you going to stay? If crashing on someone’s couch, floor, or lawn is not an option, don’t worry I’ve got you covered. Besides the usual last minute websites like Priceline.com and Hotwire.com, here’s a list of hotels around the country that are offering deals for this holiday weekend! Here’s a little secret about using this Frommer’s award winning website – you get better deals if you call them. I know how archaic that sounds, who calls anyone anymore? Just ask yourself if talking to someone for a few minutes is worth saving some money. Your answer may be yes, it may be no, either way it’s a win-win.

Regardless of your political stance, please take some time to remember why we have this holiday. Thank you to the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives.

Did I miss anything? What are you doing this Memorial Day weekend? Let me know in the comments below! (If you can’t see Facebook comments, click here: Tips for a Fun Last Minute Memorial Day Weekend)

25

05 2012

Do You Know the Way to… Sante Fe?

If you happen to know the way to Sante Fe, New Mexico, you may want to head there. And I’m talking ASAP. An 80 year old Vietnam veteran and former art gallery owner named Forest Fenn has buried a hidden treasure chest near Sante Fe that is estimated to be worth between $1-2 Million USD.

Here’s the catch. You have to find the treasure. That’s the complicated part and it has proved elusive for many. There are entire blogs, facebook pages and social media groups dedicated to finding this treasure and so far no one has found it. The treasure,  rumored to contain gold, jewelry and artifacts, is buried in the mountains near Sante Fe and Mr. Fenn is not talking. Actually he IS talking, but the talking he is doing is more code filled clues. The clues are found in the form of a book he authored and poetry he has written. So, if you are a super detective, clever and an adventurer, this rich treasure trove could be yours. So what are you waiting for?

Would you go in search of buried treasure? Have you ever gone on an adventure of unknown outcome? Do tell! (If you can’t see the Facebook comments section, click here: Do You Know the Way to… Santa Fe?)

Beached Out in Bali? Get Artsy!

Two Dancers Perform the Kecak Dance in Ubud, Indonesia. Photo by Author.

I’ve never been much of a beach lover. While others seem to enjoy hours upon days of sun and waves, I have about 2 hours of stamina before I’m burned out on my salty-sandy state. I really just go for the company… and maybe a piña colada or two…

I know it sounds blasphemous to say, but after a day at Uluwatu– the Balinese surfer’s paradise– I was a little beached out. Luckily for people like me (I know you’re out there!) there are so many more things to do in Bali than simply beach bum.

Hundreds of years of water-locked culture have evolved into a fascinating art and music scene that make this Southeast Asian destination stand apart from the rest.

  • Balinese Dance: A choir of voices clicking rhythmically creates an unmistakably musical soundtrack for the Kecak Dance. Amongst fire torches, lavishly costumed dancers recreate the story of the Hindu god Rama through emotional gestures and deliberate steps. The Kecak, amongst other Balinese dance performances, makes your annual trip to see the Nutcracker seem like yesterday’s stale bread, so if you have any interest in the tradition of Bali, a glimpse at Balinese dance is essential.
  • Traditional Art: Whether you have a trained eye or are simply intrigued by the stunning sarongs and elaborate wooden statues around town, you have to make a trip to an art workshop during your trip to Bali. Batik, woodcarving, and silver craft are among the many traditional art forms that are thriving on the island. You can watch artists work for free at one of the many factories as long as you’re willing to at least browse the gallery when you’re finished.

    Making Beads at a Bali Silver Shop

    Making Beads at the Silver Shop. Photo by Author.

  • Local Music: The islandy influence has made modern Balinese music a combination of reggae and mellow rock. Look for restaurants featuring live musicians for a casual sampling of local rhythms or spend an evening at a concert for a bit of Balinese culture. If you’re feeling especially inspired by the island breeze, join in on a beach jam session or sing along with the band after the bar closes to covers of Sublime and the Red Hot Chili Peppers–songs that feel so much more inspiring by the sea.
  • Contemporary Art: Indonesia has a surprising presence of modern art forms created by young people straying from the traditional variety. Often, art schools will hold exhibitions where you can check out the artistic perspective of Southeast Asian youths through funky batiks or abstract sculptures. Also, keep an eye out for cafes and restaurants that feature the work of local artists for a bit of culture while taking your morning coffee.

Whether or not you’re tired of the beach, the unique cultural offerings of Bali are wonders no traveler should miss! The enriching artistic side of Bali spills out as far as the sand and you’ve gotta see it to believe it, whether formally or more casually.

So wipe off that sand, put that sundress back on and dig into Balinese culture! If you’re feeling inspired, check out some of these great tours of Bali with Gray Line.

Whats your favorite way to escape the beach? (If you can’t see Facebook comments, click here: Beached Out in Bali? Get Artsy)

Live & Learn [Abroad]: Five Ways to Live and Work Abroad

Author Teaching English in Thailand. Photo by Will Hoberg

Travel addicts usually have seen a long and impressive list of cities and sights. Whether Machu Picchu or the Eiffel Tower, it’s hard to uncover a world wonder that some people haven’t seen. So, the question is, after many years in the business of international travel, what’s next? Long-term travel! Whether for just a couple weeks or an entire year, staying and living abroad is perhaps one of the most satisfying life experiences that someone can give him- or herself. If you’ve got the time and the interest, here are five ways to keep busy during an extended journey abroad!

1. Work: If the bad economy paired with student loans or a mortgage are holding you back from fulfilling your international wanderings, working abroad could be a viable option. Remember that great trip you took to Costa Rica, or the wonderful experience you had in Vietnam? Live it out all over again in a whole new, extensive way, all while still earning an income and having a purpose. Examples: ESL Teacher, Hotel Receptionist, Camp Counselor, Freelance Writer, Au Pair, Web Designer, International Business(wo)man, Piano Teacher, etc.

2. Work Exchange: Work exchange is a relatively popular trend emerging amongst budget travelers around the world. How does it work? In exchange for answering phones or milking goats, hotels or home stays will hook you up with a free place to stay and meals. If working on a farm just isn’t your thing, get creative! If you’re willing to lend your professional skills, create a persuasive cover letter and send it out to some hotels in the city of your next destination. They might just be looking for a web designer or consultant around the same time you’re planning your trip! Examples: Farm Hand, Hotel Receptionist, Nanny, Barista, Bartender, etc.

3. Volunteer: An issue you’re passionate about becomes much more real and powerful when you spend some time working in the field. Arrange in advance, or if you’ve got extra time, just show up and get the feel of different organizations upon arrival. Whether you volunteer in a new city, state, or continent, volunteering is undoubtedly one of the most meaningful ways to dedicate your time and connect with local community. Examples: Health Clinic Worker, English Tutor, Editor, Orphanage Volunteer, Trail Cleaner, Guitar Teacher, etc.

4. Learn: Yoga enthusiast? Cooking wiz? Salsa dancer? What better way to hone your favorite skills than to practice them at their point of origin? Jump into an intensive week-long course or get your professional certification abroad. Often, the course itself is cheaper, and allows you to step out of your normal life and focus your efforts closely on your new trade. You’ll come home with a newly developed talent and knowledge of the local context. Now that’s expertise! Examples: Learn Yoga in India, Study French Cuisine, Get your Scuba Certification in Indonesia, Study Spanish in Argentina, etc.

5. Document: Whether you consider yourself a creative or not, everyone can wield a point-and-shoot digital camera, a FlipCam, and a pen. If you want a memorable way to document your vacation for friends and family, or even the world, spending some extra time abroad can be a fun opportunity to create a final project. Pick a topic, get to capturing moments and be prepared to work until it’s finished! Examples: Make a Video, Create a Slideshow, Print a Photo Book, Keep a Blog, Freelance for Magazines, etc.

If you’re planning your next short-term vacation or hoping to get away for a while, keep in mind that there are always opportunities to connect with locals and learn, no matter how long you have! Start off with some fun Gray Line sightseeing tours to get the lay of the land, enjoy the local food, explore the museums, experience the natural beauty, and then set aside some time to learn a new skill or volunteer your time, even if you only have a day. It will give you an interesting new perspective on a place and make for a vacation you’ll never forget.

And that’s a vacation worth my time and money!

What’s the coolest job abroad you’ve ever heard of? Let us know in the comments below! (If you can’t see Facebook comments, click here: Live & Learn [Abroad]: Five Ways to Live and Work Abroad)

Funicular Friday!

Every good traveler needs to expand their vocabulary every once and a while. Whether it’s learning a few phrases of a foreign language or mastering a local dialect in your own language, expanding your vocabulary is generally a very good thing.

I recently expanded my vocabulary to include the word funicular. A cable railway where a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up and down a steep slope; the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalance each other. Plus it offers great bragging rights to those who ride one.

Implemented throughout the world where steep inclines make transportation difficult, the funicular comes to the rescue.

Have you ridden a funicular? Have you encountered any other interesting modes of transportation with names as fun as funicular? (Click here if you can’t see Facebook comments: Funicular Friday Blog Post)

Street [Food] Smarts: Traveler’s Guide to Eating Street Food

Photo by Author. Spicy, Crispy, Street-Side Samosas in Myanmar

 

Crispy empanadas stacked and sprawling emit fragrances that could make even the most finicky of travelers scarf down a plate. Pad Thai is twice as flavorful and half as expensive in Thailand, and street Kebabs after a night out in France have a higher turnover than their restaurant counterparts anyway!

Traveling offers an abundance of opportunities to sample local favorites and imported flavors. How could you turn that down? As long as you have a discerning eye, you can sample some of the best food in the world like a mad man without even losing a day to stomach grumbles.

Wondering how to eat street food without getting sick? Here are 4 essential tips for eating smart on the street:

1. Choose your Food Wisely: Sure a street ceviche and an already-cooked pork skewer look tasty, but only if you’re willing to gamble upon the food’s freshness. Typically, a smart street-eater might steer clear of meats and fresh fruits and vegetables in favor of something fool proof– fried, boiled, and seared are always good! Pick something that is stored and cooked to order for the least chance of contamination.

A couple options include Vegetarian Pad Thai, Churros, Chow Mein, Samosas

2. Follow the Crowd: Step down trendsetters, this is the time to do as the locals do. If a crowd of Mexican diners are vouching for a burrito stand, chances are it’s not only safe, but delicious. Also, the more people blowing through, the quicker the food turnover… which means less chance of a yucky stomach bug for you.

Eat at the standard local breakfast or lunch time to see the most popular places in action.

3. Screen for Sanitation: Food cleanliness is part of a huge realm of subjectivity and you’ll have to set your own standards when you see it– flies are a serious reality in many parts of the world and a quick rinse is considered “washing” at particularly busy food stalls. Use discretion and ask questions about water or cooking methods if necessary. Soon enough, you’ll develop a new standard for “clean” and knowing what to look for will make is not so scary anymore.

Watch them clean up the previous order to see if they’re using clean water and soap.

4. Eat it Anyway: Sometimes the best food comes from an establishment that looks flat out shady. If you’re brave, it might be worth taking a risk on a mango lassi or an agua fruta, as long as you know basic precautions (ie. purified water) have been taken. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and enjoy every last sip. Usually, you’ll have no problems at all!

Theres too much to sample in the world of cuisine to always stick to restaurants. Flavors emerge in an entirely new way and the breadth of local food is broadened significantly if you’re willing to experiment. If you’re new to street food, take it slow, but I’m confident your first trip won’t be your last! Enjoy!

Interested in experiencing the local cuisine? Check out one of Gray Line’s foodie tours on GrayLine.com!

Where and what was the best street food you have ever eaten? (If you can’t see Facebook comments below, click here to go to the full version of the Street [Food] Smarts: Traveler’s Guide to Eating Street Food Blog Post

Gear Review: The Mojito Travel Wallet

Mojito Travel WalletTrying on a wallet this size had me skeptical… would it be enough? But much like travel, it taught me to live with less.

Size

The Mojito is so small that I’ve actually had a few freak-out moments thinking I’d lost my wallet only to find it was still in my pocket. Moving into my new Mojito wallet required me to shed a lot of extra cards and bills. I now carry just 6 cards: my ID, 2 credit cards, debit card, medical card, and library card. It’s nice not having a George Costanza sized wallet bulge from my side pocket and equally nice not having to dig to find things since I only keep my essential cards on hand.

Cash Management

You can carry around 5 bills in the side pouch so if you’re like me, you’ll probably find yourself paying with credit most of the time. This wasn’t a huge shift. Of course when you do pay with cash, the Mojito might also make you a nicer person when tipping or you might end up with a glove box full of ones (both true stories).

Durability

After 5 months of continual use, the stitching and materials look pretty much good as new so I’m quite pleased, considering my average wallet looks pretty shabby by this point.

Travel

I can see why some people might use it solely for travel. For example who needs their grocery saver card when traveling, might as well cut down. It’s also not a bad idea to keep risk low by not carrying too much cash, paying instead by credit card or frequenting ATMs. Small enough to be un-noticed in most pants, it will be hard for pick-pockets to tell where your wallet is hiding.

Rating

In summary, I give the Mojito Travel Wallet 9 out of 10. It’s a must try, give it at least a month to see if you can live with less. I kept my old fattie in the car just in case I needed a random card, I didn’t. So if it’s time to replace your wallet, consider the Mojito. Available on the Malcolm Fontier Website for $25.

What’s in your wallet? (Can’t see Facebook comments below? Click here for the full Mojito Travel Wallet Review)

 

15

05 2012

Walking Like You Know Where You’re Going

Only in India can a quick walk to the bank be interrupted by a scuffle with a petitioner, a negative aura reading, and a near death-by-rickshaw experience…

Notorious for its touts and scams, navigating your way through New Delhi is a learned art. Whether you’re walking to your favorite spot or exploring a new part of the city, the best way to avoid any unwarranted attention is to walk like you’ve had the direction in your mental-GPS since the day you were born… and when you walk past the same street again 10 minutes later, utterly lost, you act like you just wanted to check out the area.

It’s a confidence and an assertiveness that you’ve got a direction, and usually, with the walk, you can avoid some unnecessary ventures into tour shops and rickshaw rides without even breaking your smile.

Usually, I pride myself on my ability to stay out of unwanted situations when traveling, but today, the hawkers were coming on strong, and there was no amount of poise that could get me through unscathed.

At this point, I had been a solo traveler for approximately two hours. My friends took off in the morning and I was left behind in the hotel room with a head cold, an almost empty wallet, and a nearly unplanned itinerary. I took initiative and peeled myself out of bed for a quick jaunt to the bank, but as I was reminded, nothing comes so easily in New Delhi.

I pioneered my way into my alley and was immediately accosted by a woman collecting “signatures and no money”– as usual, “no money” actually meant “some money”– but I managed to decline as politely as possible and escape her sharp-nailed grip before getting seriously trapped into anything.

I had barely strided away when I received a complimentary-yet-unwelcome aura reading from a baba pacing beside me on the road. “Hello ma’am. I want to tell you… You have a good heart but a negative energy from my three very serious problems. Very very serious. Your life is terribly out of balance. I think you are a little insane.” …Thank you? I suppose I could have paid to learn that I am oversensitive and that I lack focus, but I actually already know that, and I really just need an ATM.

“Oh Wow. Thank you sir… maybe I come back later?” I said as I quickly changed to the other side of the road.

Listen guys… I’ve got a head cold and an attitude, do you think we could do this later?  I thought. Maybe they would have left me alone if they realized I had less than $8 in my possession.

Finally, as I rounded the corner to the bank, a bicycle rickshaw sharply cut left behind me. I jumped back to find my space obstructed by a mango stall. Luckily, I made it up on my toes, pinned against the steel table and barely avoided getting my feet crunched by the passenger cart of the rickshaw. I didn’t expect an apology, or even wait for some acknowledgement of what just happened. It happens at least thirty times on a good day.

Getting to the bank, the intention of the trip was nowhere near as significant as the trip to get there. When traveling, it always takes a while to find your feet and even longer to grow your teeth. There is a steep learning curve to knowing when to talk and when to walk, when to smile and when to scowl, when to be polite and when to argue.

After today, I suppose even walking like you know where you’re going isn’t always enough, but it’s still worth a shot.

Here are a few quick tips for avoiding touts when traveling:

1. Most important of all is walking with purpose!

2. Throw on sunglasses and look straight ahead in touristy areas. Pretend not to hear the “hellos” and “where are you froms” coming out of nearly every shop if you don’t have the time or interest in buying.

3. When confronted directly by someone, simply say a genuine “No, thank you” and keep walking. If you slow down, it becomes a lot more difficult to walk away without being rude. If they are persistent, it helps to have an excuse about why you’re in a hurry.

4. Ask for information from people with no vested interest. Don’t get directions from a rickshaw driver or shopping recommendations from a silk shop owner! Instead, ask at an upscale hotel, someone on their way to work, or a fellow shopper.

What’s your best trick or tip for avoiding touts when traveling? (Can’t see Facebook comments? Click here to view the full version of the Walking Like You Know Where You’re Going Blog Post)

Luggage: Form, Function or Affordability?

As the summer travel season approaches, I find myself on the hunt for a few new pieces to add to my luggage collection. As a traveler at the point in my life somewhere between that starter set of luggage purchased fresh out of college and the investment pieces of a high-end set, I’m looking for a few quality pieces to get me where I’m going without clearing my bank account. Some of my considerations: not hideous, not going to fall apart when I jam it into the overhead bin, and not going to send me to the chiropractor upon my return home. Here are a few of my finds — just in case any of you are randomly moved to send this travel blogger a gift:

Leather Weekender: Perfect for a quick weekend trip (hence the name, I guess…) and smushy enough to get tucked into nooks and crannies. It looks lovely, and who doesn’t adore the smell of old leather–but does its vintage classification mean it may soon wear out?

Rolling Backpack: Probably the most lumbar-friendly of the options, this roomy backpack with handy rolling wheels (and an ambidextrous handle making it great for you southpaws) doesn’t quite have the presence of the other selections, but all in all, not a bad option.

Rolling Carry On: Personally, I find this adorable – who doesn’t need a little houndstooth in their life? Apparently roomier than it looks, this little lovely could accompany you pretty much anywhere you want to go.

What’s your favorite travel bag? Let us know in the comments below! (Click here if you can’t see Facebook comments)

11

05 2012