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Hi!

27 May

Hey all-

I’m back from my amazing trip to Thailand and boy, do I have some awesome stories. I will be back writing next week, after enjoying the beautiful Memorial Day weekend weather.

And for those who can’t wait, here is a taste of some of the amazing photos from Thailand to come:

Wherever you are celebrating the long weekend, I hope you have a fabulous time!

Speak to ya next week!

Bon Voyage!

10 May

Tomorrow I leave for my first visit to Thailand (!!) so this will be the last post you see from me until I return in two weeks. That’s right, I am powering doowwnnn.

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew at dusk (Getty)

I can hardly contain my excitement! I welcome any last tips or advice for my vacation. Otherwise, be prepared to see some nice photos and a full re-cap of our trip.

Bon Voyage!!

Friday Question: If you could spend this weekend anywhere in the world…

6 May

Happy Friday All!

Let’s celebrate with some wanderlust, shall we? If you could spend this weekend anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do?

With all the should you/should you not visit Mexico news lately, I am really craving a visit back to the Yucatan peninsula (I guess you can figure what side of the argument I’m on).

So, if I could spend this weekend anywhere in the world,  I would choose… Tulum, Mexico.

Tulum is absolutely beautiful

I’ve heard nothing but good things about this hippie/ex-pat little town. I unfortunately was only in Tulum for just a few hours during my vacation last year and that was spent solely at the ruins. The water was so beautiful and the people were so nice, I defintiely have to go back!

What destination are you dreaming of this Friday afternoon?

Countdown to Thailand!

3 May

I am just one week and one day away from my very first visit to Thailand and I can hardly contain my excitement! Being this close to a trip is certainly exciting but it can also be just as stressful. Are my hotels all booked? Do I know where to go once I land? What do I do about currency? etc. etc.

I am not one to take the laid back approach when it comes to trip planning. I like to be very thorough with everything I do to ensure a relaxed, stress-free vacation.

Below are some of the things I am doing, just one week out, to eliminate some of that unnecessary, and unwanted, stress. If you are approaching a vacation and haven’t done these things already, be sure to get on it!

  1. Re-confirm all hotels, domestic and international flights
  2. Research airport transfers; will it be easy to get a taxi to your hotel? If not, arrange for a car to pick you up at the airport, prior to your departure
  3. Re-confirm all tours/activities, if pre-booked. If not, research to make sure you won’t be shut out upon arrival due to crowds
  4. Print all confirmation emails, receipts, etc. or keep them accessible on your iPad, cell phone, etc. to make sure you have proof of your purchase
  5. Call your cell phone carrier to ask them about roaming charges. If you need cell phone access, consider adding on an international plan to avoid sky-high charges. Otherwise, be sure to purchase a calling card so you can let your loved ones know when you’ve arrived safely
  6. Change some of your currency to get small bills in the local currency. This will be helpful for tips, transportation, etc. Choose whether you’d like to rely on traveler’s checks, cash or your atm card. A mix of each is usually a good balance- you never want to be 100% reliant on your atm card and then run into lack of access to machines!
  7. Call your banks (checking and credit cards) and let them know you are traveling so they don’t freeze your account once they see foreign transactions
  8. Make two copies of your passport. Keep one in your wallet (for when the original is locked in a safe) and another one at home
  9. Make copies of your credit cards, atm card and traveler’s checks to leave at home, just in case you lose your wallet and need those details
  10. Purchase TSA-friendly locks and toilet trees (if you are going with carry-on only)
  11. If bringing prescription medications, make sure you have a doctor’s note so you don’t encounter any trouble at security
  12. Type up an itinerary that includes details about where you are staying, what you are doing and how you are getting there to help keep you organized and your family informed of your travels
Keep this checklist handy and hopefully it will help you on your next vacation!

Upcoming Trip: San Francisco

19 Apr

I’m heading to San Francisco next week for the first time, if you can believe it! Super excited for it, not only to check out the new Terminal 5 at SF airport but to check out what often rivals NYC! Sadly, I am going for work and only have one day to myself but I’ve done some research and pulled together some of the “must see” staples for a first time visitor. Let me know if I’ve missed any!

Trolley Ride- Getty Images

Trolley Ride- Getty Images

First Time Visit to San Francisco

When to Go:  San Francisco generally has mild weather throughout the year but it does have a marine climate, which means chillier and damp. If you’re looking for beach weather, look elsewhere. You will get warm weather during the spring and summer but it can get pretty darn cold at times!

 

Where to Stay: Ideally you want to stay in the Union Square area where there are tons of shops, restaurants, etc. Fisherman’s Wharf is also great, especially for families looking to do tourist activities.

 

Some Union Square Hotel Options:

 

Golden Gate Bridge- Getty Images

Golden Gate Bridge- Getty Images


Must-Do Activities:

  • Golden Gate Bridge: No visit to San Francisco is complete without seeing this iconic bridge. If your schedule allows, take a walk, or bike ride, across and soak in the beautiful views of the Bay and city. Bring along a picnic and hang out in Golden Gate Park after.
  • Cable Car Hopping: The must-use method of transportation in San Francisco are the cable cars; duh!
  • Nob Hill:  This part of town has awesome views of the city but it’s a steep ways up. Take the Powell-Hyde cable car up to the top and grab a drink as you take in the views of the Bay. After completing your first Powell-Hyde cable car ride, it’s apparently a San Francisco tradition to celebrate with an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista Café, located at 2675 Hyde St.
  • Alcatraz Island: What was once home to some of America’s most dangerous offenders has now become part of the National Park Service and a fixture on all visitors’ itineraries. Cut out the middleman and book a day or night tour directly with Alcatraz Cruises; tickets start at $26
  • Shopping: Union Square, where you will likely be staying, is great for shopping but if you are looking to branch out, check out the vintage and trendy shops near Haight Street and Valencia street in the Mission and Hayes Street in Hayes Valley. If you’re looking for typical souvenirs, try Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Eat: San Francisco is one of the country’s food capitals, famous for its seafood. There are tons of great restaurants offering Dim Sum in Chinatown. Other great, trendy restaurants all over Union Square as well (see below for some of the city’s popular choices).

 

Liberty Hill

Liberty Hill- Getty Images



Popular Restaurants:

 

Some Helpful Planning Links:

Vacation Planning Tips for the Unprofessional Traveler

7 Apr

One of the main reasons why I created this blog was to share my unprofessional travel planning tips and itineraries with other travelers, like myself, who unfortunately don’t get to travel for a living.

The folks over at CheapOAir (an awesome site for getting cheap airfare; check it out if you’ve never used it!) caught wind of what I was doing with this site and asked me to pull together some of my vacation planning tips for their readers.

Check out some of those tips below and be sure to check out the full post on CheapOAir’s blog . I hope these tips help you just as much as they help me whenever I plan my vacations.

 

Vacation Planning Trips for the Unprofessional Traveler

Planning a trip can be extremely hard, time-consuming and overwhelming, especially if you aren’t a huge travel enthusiast or fortunate enough to travel for a living.

To make the process a little easier, here are some planning tips you should always utilize when researching a vacation.

Vatican City in Rome, Italy in June- we found a deal on Alitalia for direct r/t air for less than 500! Unheard of during this time of year! With this deal, we were even able to fly into Rome and out of Florence.

Photo Note: all photos are from vacations I was able to take thanks to following these tips!

1. What’s dictating my itinerary? This should always be the first thing you should ask yourself when starting the planning process. It could be budget, time of year, activities, culture, or anything, really.

Note: The easiest topics to deal with are budget and time of year. For instance, with weather: say, you can only travel in June and warm, dry weather is a huge priority for you. Well, if so, you can easily cross of places in South America or parts of SE Asia, as the weather is colder or rainy during this time of year.

2. Create a wish list. After realizing what is dictating your vacation, take a look at a map and make a “wish list” of 6-10 locations you’d love to visit at some point in your life.

Note: Can’t decide on a short list of destinations to go to? Allow companies like Travelzoo and Sherman’s Travel inspire you. Each Wednesday, these two companies release a list of the top 20 and 25 vacation deals. Catch: you have to be ready to pounce right away as deals sell out quickly. You also have to luck out in finding a deal that coincides with your travel days (or be flexible). Wanderfly is also a great inspiration tool.

Cinque Terre, Italy

3. Research.

Things to look out for as you research each area:

  • Weather: what is the climate like during the time of year you are able to travel? If it’s rainy and you’re looking for beach time, you can likely cross off a couple of destinations and save them for another time of the year.
  • Airfare: Your plane tickets will almost always account for majority of your budget, especially if you’re traveling abroad. Utilize the amazing search engines and fare trackers out there to find the best fares available so airfare doesn’t put you totally out of your budget.

Some tools:

  • Bing Travel: Bing uses price predictor technology that will tell you whether a fare is a deal or not. Based on fare history, your search results will tell you whether you should buy now or wait for a better price. You can also set a fare alert to email you the latest fares so you don’t have to check back each day.
  • Fly.com: Fly.com has a great fare calendar that tells you the cheapest days to fly to the destination of your choice. This will save you the headache of guessing which days will garner the best fares.
  • HipMunk: This somewhat new search engine generates search results in a refreshing way: through a colorful bar chart. It also filters search results by degree of “agony,” and allows you to search multiple dates and airports in separate tabs, saving you a trip to the previous stage to start all over again.
  • CheapOAir.com: This website, of course, also does a great job of highlighting cheap airfares.
  • Newsletters: subscribe to newsletters to receive alerts about low fares from your hometown airport.

Some great ones include:
–   Airfare Watchdog
–   FareCompare
–   Ortbitz

** Tip: this research will come in handy for almost every vacation in the future so keep your findings in a safe place!

 

Read the rest of my tips at CheapOAir.com

Happy Planning!

Koh Samui, Thailand Hotels

4 Apr

When planning our upcoming trip to Thailand, we got stuck on deciding which hotel to stay in in each area. There are so many questions that come to mind when choosing a hotel: is this a good area? how is the service? is this within walking distance to the sights? etc. etc. etc. Despite the answers to these questions, the Thai people are known for their excellent service so pretty much wherever you stay, you know you are in good hands.

For the Koh Samui leg of our trip, we ultimately decided on staying at Beach Republic in Lamai beach but there were so many great hotels we considered that I wanted to share some of them, in case they suit your needs.

Location tip: after doing quite a bit of research and speaking with people who’ve visited Koh Samui, we realized there are two places you are better off staying in if you want a taste of the nightlife but don’t care to be right in the heart of it (aka Chaweng Beach): Lamai Beach or Bophut Beach (aka Fisherman’s Village).

Here are some of the Koh Samui hotels that were top of mind when we planned our Thailand trip:

In Lamai Beach

Montra Samui

Montra Samui

–                 Montra Hotel: from $150/nt; website

** Note: Hotel has not opened yet—might open in May 2011

–                 Beach Republic: from $125/nt with breakfast; website

** Note: #1 on Trip Advisor

–                 Pavilion Samui: from $162/nt; website

Langham Place Samui at Lamai Beach

Langham Place Samui at Lamai Beach

–                 Langham Place Samui at Lamai Beach: from $377 for 3 nights; website

–                 Rocky’s Boutique Resort: from $160 per night with breakfast; website

In Bophut Beach (Fisherman’s Village)

–                 Anantara: from $170/nt; website

–                 Q Signature Samui: $90/nt with breakfast; website

Q Signature Samui

Q Signature Samui

 

In Koh Phangan (Neighboring Island)

–          Santhiya: from $177/nt with breakfast; website

In Coral Cave (between Lamai and Chaweng)

–                 Coral Cave Chalet: from $126/nt for a deluxe suite; website

–                 Samui Cliff: from $270 for 3 nights); website

–                 The Kala Samui: from $126/nt with breakfast, transportation, a massage, and more (limited time offer); website

The Kala Samui

The Kala Samui

In Silver Beach (between Lamai and Chaweng)

–                 Promtsuk Buri: from $73/nt for a beach front bungalow; website

–                 Samui Yacht Club: from $86/nt; website

In Chaweng Noi

–                 Fair House Samui: from $98/nt with breakfast; website

–                 Imperial Hotel: from $122/nt; website

Imperial Hotel Koh Samui

Imperial Hotel Koh Samui

Happy Planning!


Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotels

31 Mar

When planning our upcoming trip to Thailand, we got stuck on deciding which hotel to stay in in each area. There are so many questions that come to mind when choosing a hotel: is this a good area? how is the service? is this within walking distance to the sights? etc. etc. etc. Despite the answers to these questions, the Thai people are known for their excellent service so pretty much wherever you stay, you know you are in good hands.

For the Chiang Mai leg of our trip, we ultimately decided on staying at Rimping Village but there were so many great hotels we considered that I wanted to share some of them, in case they suit your needs.

Location tip: after doing quite a bit of research and speaking with people who’ve visited Chiang Mai, we realized there are two places you are better off staying in: near the Night Market or inside the Old City. This will allow you to be within walking distance (or a short tuk tuk ride) to two of the main tourist areas.

Here are some of the Chiang Mai hotels that were top of mind when we planned our Thailand trip:

 

Rimping Village Hotel

Rimping Village: from $67 per night including breakfast

  • Between old city and night market (walking distance to both)
  • Pool; award-winning service
  • #4 on Trip Advisor’s list of Chiang Mai hotels
  • Hotel website
Ping Nakara

Ping Nakara

Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel and Spa: from $137/nt including breakfast

  • Riverside; walking distance to the old city
  • Top-rated hotel for romance
  • # 2 on Trip Advisor’s list of Chiang Mai hotels
  • Has a pool
  • Hotel website

Rachamankha Hotel: from $138/nt (with discount for 3 nights) including breakfast

  • Located inside the walled city; walking distance to all the temples, old city sights, etc.
  • Top-rated service; rated one of the World’s Best hotels by Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler
  • #3 on Trip Advisor’s list of Chiang Mai hotels
  • Has a pool
  • Hotel website
Rachamankha Hotel Chiang Mai Thailand

Rachamankha Hotel Chiang Mai Thailand

The Chedi Chiang Mai: from $123/nt (discounted for 3 night stay) including breakfast

  • Located right near the night market
  • Top-rated hotel by Conde Nast Traveler
  • #6 on Trip Advisor’s list of Chiang Mai hotels
  • Has a pool
  • Hotel website
The Chedi Chiang Mai

The Chedi Chiang Mai

Dusit D2

Dusit D2

Dusit D2: from $81/nt with breakfast

  • Located right next to night market; 20 min walk to city center
  • Known for its modern, trendy decor
  • Top-rated hotel by Conde Nast Traveler
  • Has a pool
  • Hotel website

Baan Orapin: from $57/nt with breakfast

  • Just outside of the night market area, along the river, out of the commotion
  • Has a pool
  • Hotel website
Baan Orapin

Baan Orapin

Banthai Village: from $65/nt with breakfast

  • Located near night market
  • Has a pool
  • Hotel website

Banthai Village

Banthai Village

 

In the Name of a Good Deal! Flashback Itinerary: Riviera Maya, Mexico

30 Mar

I love Mexico. The food, the people, the beaches, the music, everything. I’ve only been twice, once was regrettably on a Carnival cruise (don’t get me started…), but I had an amazing time both visits.

Tulum, Mexico

Tulum

There’s something extremely exotic about Mexico. It is the closest gateway to Latin America, with Caribbean distance (for those on the east coast). It provides you with an adventurous-type of vacation without having to go very far. You can sunbathe on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, snorkel in crystal blue waters, learn about Mayan culture, visit awe-inducing ruins, hike through the jungle, and more. I’ve yet to visit any of the larger cities but they open the doors to a whole new wealth of Mexican culture- art, culinary delight, etc.

I recently stumbled upon some hard-to-pass-up fares to Mexico ($308 r/t!) that got me thinking about returning for a short visit. The good thing about Mexico, and how close it is, is that you can visit a new part of the country for 5 days at a time (or even a long weekend), without having to use all your vacation days! I was just there in December and have my big trip to Thailand coming up, otherwise, I totally would have jumped on this offer to Cancun.

For those looking to take advantage of these great fares in the spring, below is my itinerary from my December trip. Our budget was $1500 per person (including flights) and we were well within it. Keep in mind, this was during peak holiday travel season (just before Christmas), so you will likely get even better deals now!

Flashback Itinerary: Riviera Maya, December 2010

Travel Dates: December 18-23

Number of Travelers: 2

Airline: American Airlines with a connection in Miami (only on the NY-> CUN leg)

Fusion Beach Hotel Bar & Grill

Fusion Beach Hotel Bar & Grill

Hotel: Fusion Hotel

Calle 6  entre 5 Av. y la playa.

Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo

PH:  (+52) 984 873 0374

www.fusionhotelmexico.com

Total Cost: $540 for 5 nights

Hotel Notes:

–          This is a great hippy type of hotel, right on the beach in Playa del Carmen

–          They have live music on the beach every night: reggae, salsa, 80s, rock, etc. They sang it all!

–          Great food! People came to this hotel especially for their awesome burgers. We enjoyed lunch here twice and each time was delicious. The complimentary breakfast was less-than stellar (really, was just a basket of

Lounging at Fusion Hotel

mixed muffins and breads, all dry), but the actual breakfast menu was great- lots of fresh juice options! Best part about eating here? You get to sink your toes in the sand during any meal!

–          Good service (not the best, but not terrible either). One thing that did irk us was that the staff didn’t go out of their way to take care of hotel guests but instead those who gave them big tips to reserve lounge chairs on hotel property (even when they weren’t hotel guests).

–          Bare rooms: but what more do you need other than a bed, clean bathroom and a refrigerator? I guess a safe couldn’t hurt, although you could leave your belongings in the safe at the front desk (which we did).

Skeletons are all over Playa del Carmen

AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION: Universo Cancun

–          Cost: $100 r/t for two people

–          This was booked by the hotel concierge so we had to pay for the service in cash upon check-in

–          Note: we prefer to take care of our transportation needs prior to arrival (eliminate any headache, language issues, etc.), but you can EASILY find transportation right outside of the Cancun airport. There was literally a huge crowd of drivers waiting for tourists

–          We found this company to be great! They were on time, were perfectly pleasant (even after having to wait 2 hours at the airport as our flight was delayed)

Activities:

–          Spa Treatments (we opted for massages at our hotel on the beach but these two spas get great buzz!):

o   Visit one of Veronica’s Massage Gold locations: Calles 24 and 26 or 5th ave between 24 and 26 ($50 for a 1 hour couples massage)

o   Jungle Spa in Puerto Morelos: Calle Dos Puerto Morelos. Call owner Sandra Dayton at 998 208 9148 to make an appointment ($60 for a 1 ½ hour massage- cash only). Note: Puerto Morelos is about an 1 ½ hours or so away from Playa del Carmen.

–          Full Day Excursion with Edventure Tours: 8am-6pm ($92 per

Snorkeling in the cenotes

Snorkeling in the cenotes

person- advance deposit of $40 via PayPaal is required)

o   Tour includes: snorkeling in Dos Ojos Cenotes, swimming with sea turles in Akumal, a visit to the Ruins of Tulum, and additional snorkeling in a lagoon.

o   Note: the tour also included a visit to “pet a monkey” near the Cenotes. We found this a little upsetting as both monkeys were tied up and treated like circus animals. The people who own the monkey, make their money off of tips from tour groups, such as this one. This isn’t uncommon in foreign countries, by any means, but it is not something that we would encourage people to participate in.

Akumal

Snorkeling with the sea turtles in Akumal


–          Water Parks (great for families):

o   Xcaret: eco-park ($69admission)http://www.xcaret.com/attractions

o   Xel-Ha: eco-park; All-inclusive package: $71 http://www.xelha.com

Tulum, Mexico

The Ruins of Tulum

Tulum, Mexico

Beautiful Tulum

Noteworthy Restaurants:

–          Yaxche: calle 5th Avenue and 22nd avenue; delicious Mayan food! One of our best meals in Playa del Carmen

Yaxche Maya cuisine

Yaxche Maya Cuisine in Playa del Carmen

–          Wicky’s: 10th Street & The Beach; amazing burgers/sandwiches

–          Restaurant 100% Natural: Corner Quinta Av & Calle 10 Town Center; good for the diet-conscious

–          Carboncitos: 4th Street | Between 5th and 10th Avenues (great salsas!)

–          La Parilla. On 5th Ave. at Calle 10; typical Mexican tourist restaurant- equipped with a mariachi band, and all

Mariachi Band in Playa del Carmen

Mariachi Band in Playa del Carmen

Hope you get to experience the incredible Riviera Maya soon and if you do, tell us about it!

Newsflash: Great fares from NYC to Mexico

29 Mar

I just spotted a GREAT fare from NYC to Cancun in April and May for $308 r/t. This is an amazing time to go to Mexico– such great weather!

I went to Mexico in December and spent 5 days at a little hotel on the beach in Playa del Carmen. It was LOVELY. Away from the hustle and bustle of Cancun but definitely plenty of restaurants and nightlife to not have you bored in your room at night.

I will post some information from that trip soon but in the meantime, here are some helpful links for those interested in taking advantage of this awesome deal:

Lonely Planet Mexico Guide: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/mexico

Mexico Tourism Board: http://www.visitmexico.com/wb2/Visitmexico/Visi_Home

New York Times: http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guides/north-america/mexico/overview.html?scp=10&sq=&st=tcse

Frommers’ Intro to Mexico: http://www.frommers.com/destinations/mexico/

Note: Flying into Cancun doesn’t mean you need to stay there. Check out Cozumel, Playa del Carmen or the incredible Tulum. Pretty much anywhere in the Riviera Maya is amazing and it gives you a great taste of Mayan culture.

 

Tulum is absolutely beautiful

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