5 Great Ideas to Create a Memorable Weekend in Charleston

While sitting in a restaurant in Atlanta last month, I innocently mentioned that I was headed to Charleston, South Carolina for the weekend.  Three heads whipped around at the table next to me and they all said, “Charleston?  You’re going to Charleston?  That’s our favorite place in the whole world,” and they proceeded to tell me why for the next 10 minutes.  Our food coming to the table cut off our conversation, but suffice to say, I got the idea that Charleston is fantastic, and I was even more excited to get there.

Boy, my new restaurant friends couldn’t have been more right.  Charleston is a stunning example of the Deep South with an artistic flair and Lowcountry vibe that I’ve not see duplicated in any of my travels.  The pace is relaxed, and the people talk a bit slower than other parts of the country, but it’s like they’re savoring their spot in the world and are letting it seep slowly into you so the feeling will last.

If you get a chance to experience Charleston, don’t hesitate.  It is worth every mile to get there and every penny spent to enjoy it all.  As a head start for planning your visit, I’ve made a list with just a few ideas for truly enjoying your stay in the “Holy City.”

Find a fabulous place to stay – Charleston and the surrounding islands have every kind of lodging you can think of available.  There are some delightful options in Charleston proper from the amazing 5-star Planters Inn on Meeting Street where you can have breakfast in your room on a silver tray, to the charming bed & breakfast Two Meeting Street Inn which is a true Lowcountry experience with all the Southern ambience you could ever ask for.  If you’d like to stay outside the city itself but want to be close enough to experience all it has to offer, I suggest renting a condo out on Isle of Palms.  There are some great options out there directly on the beach, and it’s only about a 20-minute drive to get to downtown Charleston.

Take a walking tour of Old Charleston – If you’ve never taken a walking tour of the historic district, this is a “must do” while in Charleston.  The guides take great pride in their city (as they should) and are as entertaining as they are informative.  At the very least, it will give you a great overview of the layout of the city so you can do more sightseeing on your own once the tour is over.  I highly recommend booking the Historic Charleston Walking Tour through Viator (www.viator.com).

Eat fantastic seafood – Charleston is the biggest hub of amazing food I’ve ever seen, and trust me, I’ve looked.  😊  Pretty much any type of food you enjoy is available in the city and done with a little Lowcountry twist that makes you feel like you’re absorbing the culture right along with the fantastic eats.  My one solid recommendation for everyone though is to have some seafood while you’re there.  It’s flat out fabulous.  Everything is fresh and lovely from fish to oysters to shrimp and crab.  There are so many options in town, I couldn’t possibly list them all, so I’ll just give you two of my particular favorites: SNOB or Husk.  (DEFINITELY make reservations ahead for either one.)  If you’re staying in a condo and a restaurant doesn’t sound great, stop at one of the many seafood markets and pick up some shrimp for a Lowcountry boil (click here for a recipe) on the beach outside your condo.  Nothing like peeling and eating shrimp with a little sausage and corn while watching the waves roll in.

Take a bike ride on Isle of Palms – Even if you stay in the city, you should make the short journey out to Isle of Palms and spend the day.  The beach is lovely and there is a marina, some great restaurants (Acme Lowcountry Kitchen is a particular favorite) and lots of fun things to do like golf, tennis and, you guessed it, BIKING!  You can bike right on the beach or pedal around the shaded bike paths that run throughout the island.  Renting a bike is really easy.  Just go to http://isleofpalmsbikerentals.com/ , and they’ll fix you right up.

Take in Art Walk – Charleston isn’t just known for their food.  They also have a very vibrant and growing art scene, and the galleries are simply lovely.  Four times a year the Charleston Gallery Association hosts an Art Walk through the French Quarter and surrounding areas in downtown Charleston.  With over 40 galleries participating, you’re sure to find a piece that is just your style.  There are two Art Walks left this year – Friday, October 5th and Friday, December 7th.  The Walk runs from 5-8pm and while many galleries will have things to nibble on, most will be offering wine to sip while you peruse their offerings. (If you can’t schedule your trip to coincide with these 2018 dates, never fear, they will have 4 more next year.)  A few important tips. 1) Go to http://www.charlestongalleryassociation.com/ to see a downloadable/printable map of all the participating galleries with a description of the type of art displayed so you can use your time wisely; 2) Be sure to book a dinner reservation for about 8:15pm because everyone else on the Walk will want food at that time as well; and 3) Have a little fun and use a Rickshaw to get around the city rather than trying to move your car or walk after 3 hours of viewing art.  Just go to https://charlestonrickshaw.com/ to reserve your private Rickshaw chariot.

Thinking of visiting Charleston?  I’d love to help you plan your perfect Lowcountry experience!  Give me a call at 678-548-6402 or send an email to dori@wandermoretravels.com.

Happy travels!

London on Your Bucket List? Great Tips for Experiencing the City

The first time I visited London, I was 10 years old and was sure it was the center of the universe.  People were everywhere, and the energy surrounding them and the city in general was infectious (much to my parents’ dismay).  There were many palace guards and tour guides that were happy to see the back of me, let me tell you.  In the intervening years, I’ve been to London for both business and pleasure, and that energy and excitement is always there waiting for me.  From the sublime areas of Mayfair to the quirky nightlife of Soho, there’s something for everyone in this amazing destination.

Of all the major cities in the world, I get requests for planning trips to London most often. Why is this?  Because visiting London can be a bit daunting (even for return visitors), and it always helps to get a little expert advice before taking on Great Britain’s capitol city.  To help get you started, I’ve made a short list of the best “neighborhoods” in the city for different types of experiences during your visit.

Best Neighborhood in London for Sightseeing: South Bank and Bankside

When it comes to sightseeing, South Bank and Bankside are excellent for access to big attractions – London Eye, Tate Modern, the Shard – and the City of London also has its share of popular sights. Accommodations are few and far between though.

Best Neighborhood in London for Nightlife: Soho

The best area in London for nightlife is in Soho. The neighborhood is a good mix of trendy cocktail bars (many of which also do great food, traditional English pubs, theatres, and basement clubs with DJ nights). There are only a few hotels in Soho, slightly set back from the action. Other good areas for nightlife include Camden with its live music venues and East End, with its legendary clubs.

Best Neighborhood in London for Food and Restaurants: Covent Garden

Some of London’s best eating is done around Covent Garden. The dense cluster of streets is packed with restaurants ranging from inexpensive Indian, Mexican and Brazilian mini-chains to upscale fine dining and traditional pubs serving excellent local food. From Covent Garden, it’s only a 5 min walk to Chinatown or Soho which is jam-packed with artisan coffee shops and global offerings. Hotels around Hyde Park offer London’s best Michelin-starred dining. Camden, the East End, and King’s Cross are great for street food.

Best Neighborhood in London for Families: South Kensington and Marylebone

South Kensington is one of the best places to stay in London for families. The neighborhood is relatively quiet, and there are two stellar museums with plenty of interactive exhibits for all ages. Just to the north is Hyde Park, with its playgrounds and the family-friendly Winter Wonderland during the colder months. Marylebone is another good option, within easy reach of both Hyde Park, London Zoo in Regent’s Park and Madame Tussauds – popular with older children.

Most Romantic Neighborhood in London: Mayfair, Marylebone, or South Kensington

If you want to romance your significant other in London, it’s hardly a tough call between staying in Mayfair, Marylebone, or South Kensington. Mayfair is Old World wealth and charm, with renowned 5-star hotels such as The Ritz and the Connaught, and some of London’s most celebrated restaurants, including La Gavroche and Corrigan’s Mayfair. In South Kensington, you can opt for the 5-star hotels that fringe Hyde Park, while Marylebone has a hip vibe, some excellent boutique hotels, and less formal dining.

Best Neighborhood in London for Walking: Covent Garden/Leicester Square/Soho

The Covent Garden/Leicester Square/Soho area is very popular with visitors on foot – it’s a neighborhood made up of numerous little streets lined with restaurants, bars and shops, some of them completely pedestrian, and there’s little in the way of traffic. It’s very central, right in the heart of London’s West End where you’ll find Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery.  Plus, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the London Dungeon (just across the river) and Westminster Cathedral are only a 15-minute walk southwest from Leicester Square. Buckingham Palace is a 15-minute walk west of Westminster – most of it away from traffic, through St James’ Park. The British Museum is a 20-minute walk north of Covent Garden.

Safest Neighborhoods in London

London’s safest neighborhoods tend to be the most affluent ones. Mayfair, South Kensington, Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Chelsea – all these are largely safe to walk around any time of day. Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia are also very safe, but standard precautions apply at night. Covent Garden is generally fine but things can get lively late on weekend nights.

Unsafe Areas of London

Parts of the East End, such as Hackney and Shoreditch, can be sketchy at night. While the King’s Cross area has been rejuvenated, the area around the train station is still grotty and it’s best not to wander around late at night. Camden is fine during the day but has a reputation for robberies and assaults outside daylight hours. The Soho and Leicester Square area can also get rough late at night and Hyde Park is best avoided after dark.

Thinking of visiting this amazing city?  I’d love to help you plan your perfect London experience!  Give me a call at 678-548-6402 or send an email to dori@wandermoretravels.com.

Happy travels!

Top 5 Things to Do in Vancouver

Vancouver is truly breathtaking – even for the most seasoned traveler.  The landscape, the buildings and the surrounding water make it a particularly exceptional city.  Add in friendly people and delicious food, and you’re set up for a worldly, yet unique experience in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Lodging options are wide and varied.  From some of the most exclusive five-star properties in the world to lovely little hide away cottages, there’s something for everyone in and around the city. The transit system is fantastic and very easy to navigate (the train from the airport to downtown is awesome), so there’s really no need to rent a car if you don’t mind public transportation.

To help you make the most of your time, here is my top five list of the best things to see and do while in this beautiful city.

  • Take a Bike Tour – This is the absolute best way to see the amazing city of Vancouver. Sign up for a tour for the first day of your trip because you’ll get a fantastic overview of the city.  You’ll see all the little sections of town – Gastown, Yaletown, Granville and English Bay where you can take a Polar Bear dip in the waters with other adventurers on New Year’s Day every year.  Oh, and don’t worry about the biking part.  The city has tons of bike lanes and is mostly flat with only a few gentle rolling hills.  Bikers of all levels will enjoy this fantastic way to get up close and personal with all Vancouver has to offer.
  • Stanley Park – Voted the best park in the world on TripAdvisor in 2014, this 1000 acre park bordering downtown is almost entirely surrounded by water and is a testament to all the diverse landscapes the area has to offer. Whether you’re walking, biking, hiking, jogging or just people watching on a bench, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to enjoy wildlife, wetlands, beaches and old growth forest.  Plus, there is an outdoor theater, a train to ride, a great aquarium and several places to grab a bit to eat.  Be sure to check http://stanleyparkvan.com/stanley-park-van-events-calendar.html for a complete park event calendar so you’ll know what’s happening there while you’re in town.
  • Sea Plane Ride to Victoria Island/Butchart Garden tour – Your visit to Vancouver would not be complete without a sea plane ride to Victoria Island. The 35 minutes ride will take you into downtown Victoria where you can have high tea at the Empress hotel (absolutely delightful), and then take a bus tour out to Butchart Gardens.  If you’re thinking you’re not much of a bus tour kind of traveler, no worries.  You can take a sea plane right into Butchart Cove, enjoy a 3-course dinner and then explore the world famous gardens.
  • Grouse Mountain/Capilano Suspension Bridge Park – Take a “trip” to North Vancouver for a lovely day enjoying the great outdoors. You’ll get amazing views and old growth forests, plus the Capilano Suspension Bridge built in 1889 which is breathtaking and not to be missed – even if it’s just for the photos you’ll capture.  There are two new options to enjoy nature there as well.  The Cliffwalk follows a granite precipice along the Capilano River, and the Treetops Adventure takes you through the coastal rain forest on 7 suspension bridges.  A fabulous way to absorb the stunning beauty of British Columbia.
  • Granville Island Market – The Granville market is a very cool way to spend an afternoon in Vancouver. With dining, food shops, boutiques carrying goods made by local artisans and of course the locally sourced, fresh produce and seafood, it’s a delight for all your senses.  A bit quirky, but always fun, be sure to add the Granville Market to your itinerary.

For more information about Vancouver and other active or wellness travel adventures, send me an email to dori@wandermoretravels.com or call 678-538-6402.

Happy travels!

 

Top 10 Things to Do in Iceland – Part 2

Continuing our quest for an amazing Iceland adventure, I’m including the second half of my top 10 list of things to experience when you visit this great country.  Enjoy and let me know which item would be Number 1 on your list!
  1. Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) – This sight is at the top of many lists, however, you need to know the best possible location to view this wonder.  Be sure to check the weather so that you have a combination of dark and partially clear skies and then head to Thingvellir, a national as well as historic site.  It is by far the best place to experience the Northern Lights.   It also doubles as a great tourist selection for you to gain some insight into the history of the island.
  2. Holuhraun – This is a fairly new site that you can visit located in the Highlands of Iceland.  You will need a 4WD to reach the landscape and be sure you get a high-quality vehicle that is equipped to travel on the unique terrain.  Holuhraun is the newest formed lava flow from a volcano that lasted from August 2014 through February 2015.  When peering into the rifts of the lava you see many beautifully vivid colors.  While driving along the sand, you can still see steam in certain areas.  It is a geological wonder to behold.  Be careful and stay on the marked paths and to wear gloves when handling any lava rocks.
  3. Reynisfjara Beach – This beach is gorgeous and an absolute must-see!  With its rare black sand and basalt columns, there is much to explore on this volcanic shoreline.  The black sand is lava that cooled once it hit the water, and the sand is more like various small stones.  White sand and red sand beaches (Westfjords) also exist in Iceland.  While on Reynisfjara, you can see Gardar, which is a basalt cliff that resembles a staircase to heaven.  It is a natural pyramid and was formed by columnar jointing.  There are many basalt columns throughout Iceland, but this is by far the most exceptional.
  4. Evenings in Reykjavik – This small town has the best party spots in Iceland, hands down!  Ther are multiple bars and restaurants to choose from.  None of the businesses charge a cover and the music is amazing.
  5. Seljavallalaug – This natural pool is one of the oldest in Iceland, and you will surely have a memorable experience when visiting.  The water is not that hot because it does mix with colder water.  Enjoy!

For more information about Iceland and other active or wellness travel adventures, send me an email to dori@wandermoretravels.com or call 678-538-6402.

Happy travels!

Top 10 Things to Do in Iceland – Part 1

I get requests for information on traveling to Iceland constantly these days. It’s a stunning country with amazing outdoor experiences not found anywhere else in the world, so it’s easy to see why everyone is so intrigued by this unique destination. Hiking, biking, photography, kayaking, whale watching and soaking in the natural hot springs are just a few of the fantastic ways to experience Iceland. On top of that, flights from JFK to the capital of Reykjavik (pronounced Rike – a – vik) are running around $500 round trip – even in the most popular summer months.

Iceland is also becoming a popular “stop over” destination. My clients who are visiting other European countries this summer are flying to Iceland on the great fares from the US, staying a few days and then continuing on to their main destination. Of course they are seeing the sights while they are there, but they are also taking advantage of the great airfare available to Europe from Iceland. As an example, Reykjavik to London fares in July start as low as $47! Nope – that’s not a typo.

To make it easier for you to hit the best spots in a short amount of time, I’m giving you my Top 10 Things to do in Iceland, starting with the first 5 on my list in this post and then the last 5 in my next edition.

  1. Whale Watching Tour – There are many tours available that allow you to see whales as well as puffins.  You can engage with Naturalists and experience rare sightings that will leave you in awe.  It’s best to whale watch in the summer months – April through September.  A “must” experience when visiting Iceland.
  2. Mineral Hot Springs – Geothermic springs pop up all over Iceland, and you should definitely take advantage of a relaxing soak in the waters during your visit.  The most popular is the Blue Lagoon Spa located just minutes from Reykjavik.  This is a man-made area and is renewed every two days with fresh water.  It is easily reached via car or bus.  My personal favorite though is the Secret Lagoon natural hot springs.  They are located in the small village called Fludir in the Golden Circle area. It is the oldest swimming “pool” in Iceland, and they’ve done a great job keeping it natural and unique for their guests. The pool’s natural surroundings and steam rising into the air gives the place a magical feeling.
  3. West Fjords – Located in the popular peninsula, the Fjords are breathtaking.  You need to plan well and leave time to really explore all this area has to offer.  While you’re there, take in the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum or the famous Latrabjarg cliff.  There are tons of things to see and do in this mountainous remote area.
  4. Skogafoss – The perfect place for you to get a photo with a double rainbow, Skogafoss is the most scenic falls in Iceland. (See photo at above.)  With a drop of over 60 meters, the view is spectacular.  There is also a legend of gold that lies within the falls.  Take your chance and search if you dare…
  5. Silfra – Silfra is an amazing diving spot located in Thingvellir National Park.  It is the crevice between the tectonic plates in North America and Eurasian continents.  It’s the only place in the world where you can dive between two tectonic plates that shift roughly 2 cm every year.  The shifting of the earth creates new caverns and tunnels.  There’s plenty of wildlife to see on your dive/snorkel as well.  The three main dive sites are: Silfra Hall, Silfra Cathedral and Silfra Lagoon.  The maximum depth is about 207 feet, and the water is the purest in the world so feel free to take a sip while diving.

For more information about Iceland and other active or wellness travel adventures, send me an email to dori@wandermoretravels.com or call 678-538-6402.

Happy travels!

Top 10 Things to Do Before Heading Overseas

It’s that time of year when thousands of people are heading out on a holiday overseas.  I know you’re excited about all you’ll see and do, but spending just a little time preparing for your trip now will save you tons of stress later.

Here’s my list of the top 10 things to do before you step on that airplane.

    1. Check your passport. This seems like a no brainer, but you would be surprised how many times I’ve had clients believe their passports were all set, only to realize they were expired or about to expire.  Take my advice – check out your passport as soon as you’ve booked your adventure.  It needs to be valid for AT LEAST 6 months after your return date.  If you need to get a passport or renew an existing one, it is taking about 3 months these days.  You can get step by step instructions here: https://www.usa.gov/passport.
    2. Secure trip insurance with medical coverage. I know, I know.  Seasoned travelers don’t need trip insurance, right?  WRONG!  Even if you don’t want the peace of mind of not having to pay for a trip you can’t go on because Aunt Edna broke her hip, you DEFINITELY want the medical coverage that comes with most good trip insurance policies today.  Check with your travel professional (I know a really good one 😊) to get a quote.
    3. Register your trip with STEP. STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (https://step.state.gov/step/) and it’s a free service provided by the US State Department to enroll your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.   When you enroll, you’ll automatically receive information about safety conditions in your destination(s), and the Embassy will be able to contact you in case of a natural disaster, civil unrest or a family emergency.
    4. Turn “on” your mobile phone. You want to have a method of communication when you’re overseas, and for most people that’s a mobile phone.  You have three options:  a) Add an international plan to your phone through your existing carrier.  This is easy, but has pretty severe limitations on call minutes and data usage;  b) Rent a phone once you get to your destination. This is a good option for short trips, but ends up being expensive if you’re there longer than a few days; or c) Buy a local SIM card and install it in your current phone.  This is a cost effective option, but your phone must be ‘unlocked’ (check you’re your carrier about the status of your phone) and your phone number will not work for anyone trying to get in touch with you from home.
    5. Know how to get where you’re going. If you’re traveling independently (not with a guided tour), you’re going to need some help with directions once you reach your destination.  One option is to use the GPS capabilities on your mobile phone, but you’ll definitely need a good data plan for this method to be cost effective.  If you choose to use your existing phone for directions, I would go with buying a SIM card locally and installing it there.  You’ll have around 2 Gigabytes of data to use for about $20 in many places.  Another option is to connect your smart phone to WIFI, look up your destination on Google Maps and then download the map so you can view it off-line while walking around town.  If you’re renting a car, you can ask for a GPS option to be included which will help you get from town to town efficiently.
    6. Make sure your ATM card is compatible. Trust me when I tell you, there’s nothing worse than standing in front of an ATM in Paris in desperate need of Euros, and the machine says your card doesn’t work.  Check with your bank BEFORE you go to make sure your ATM/Debit card is compatible with the network in the country you’re visiting.  While you’re talking with them, register your trip dates listing all the places you will be visiting during those dates, so your card doesn’t get turned off for a fraud alert because the bank has no idea you’re in Greece.
    7. Make copies of all your important documentation. It’s a whole lot easier to get items replaced if you have a copy of them handy while traveling.  This goes for your passport, your visa(s), your credit cards and your important contact phone numbers.  Snap a picture with your mobile phone or make hard copies and be sure to leave a copy with someone at home as well as having one with you.
    8. Check out power voltages and get appropriate adapters. Do a quick internet search to find out the power voltage for the places on your itinerary and then go to Amazon and get the right adapters for your trip.  My advice is to have at least 3 of the appropriate adapters per person. Most electronics have power conversion built in anymore and just need the adapter to access power, but check with your individual item to be sure it says 120V – 220V.  If you have something that doesn’t convert automatically and you absolutely have to have it when you travel, order a power converter from Amazon as well.
    9. Fill all your prescriptions. You certainly don’t want to spend your vacation time roaming around Croatia looking for a pharmacy that will fill your prescription, so get it taken care of before you leave.  IMPORTANT NOTE: Bring all your prescription medication in the ORIGINAL packaging.  It’s very convenient to have all your medication in a pill organizer labeled for each day, but some countries are cracking down on this practice and will confiscate your medication if it’s not in a package with a prescription label.
    10. Learn a few key phrases in the local language. Thank you.  Good Morning. Where’s the restroom?  Another beer please.  These (and a few others I’m sure you can think of) are good to know when headed to a foreign country.  Not only does it show respect for the local people, but it will help you get what you need a lot quicker than saying ‘More wine’ over and over in English to a non-English speaker.

Happy Travels!

Why Would You Go on a Wellness Retreat? I’ve Got 5 Great Reasons…

When you tell someone you’re hosting a Wellness Retreat, there’s always a pretty big reaction. Either the person claps their hands and says “Where do I sign up?”, or they immediately look at their watch and tell you they need to run to a teeth cleaning appointment they forgot about.  If you’re in the hand clapper group, I’m right there with you. If you’re in the excellent dental hygiene group, well, maybe I can change your mind. See my top five reasons to attend a retreat below. Hopefully, at least one of them will speak to you, and the dentist will just have to wait until you get back from one of the best experiences of your life.
  • You’ll feel energized and refreshed when you get home. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need to push the reset button.  Life is happening all around us at the speed of light, and you can’t remember the last time you hit pause and took a time out.  Sure, that vacation last summer with the family was fantastic and you made some amazing memories, but there wasn’t a lot of time for you to just focus on you – your dreams, your goals, your health, your career – well you get the idea.  Retreats give you time to reflect on all these topics (and more), and slowing down for a few days sets the creative part of your mind free to wander, just like when you were a kid.  Research shows us that when we allow ourselves these moments in time, we feel revitalized, refreshed and ready to take on new challenges.  I’d say that’s a fabulous reason to watch for a retreat opportunity.
  • You’ll get an avalanche of great ideas. Studies have shown that entrepreneurs who spend 3 weekends or more a year retreating from their everyday world are more creative, better problem solvers and have more overall success with their companies than those who don’t.  If you own your own business or work in a small, entrepreneurial company, do you need a better reason than this to take a long weekend for yourself?
  • You’ll learn a new skill. Yoga, hiking, healthy cooking, kayaking, relaxation, biking, meditation, setting priorities, sleeping well, the value of good nutrition, healthy habits or just how to be present in your life once you’re back home.  Really, the list could go on and on, but I promise you, you’ll add more items to your skill list in the few days you’re away than you ever thought possible.
  • You’ll discover new things about yourself. Whether you’re 25, 45, 65 or beyond, there’s always something new to learn about yourself.  And, because there’s something almost magical about being on retreat, you’ll answer questions like, what do you really want the next five years to bring you?  What do you want to be doing every day?  Who do you want to spend more time with?  How do you want to spend that time?  How do you want to feel each day when you wake up?  I’ve pursued questions like these and so many others over the years, and the answers have helped shape my life into something wholly rich and satisfying.  And there’s still so much more to learn! I had better sign up for a retreat soon.
  • You’ll meet new, like-minded people from across the country and around the world. This could be my favorite reason of all to go on a retreat.  The people you meet and get to know enrich your life in ways you couldn’t possibly envision prior to meeting them.  They have different ideas, ways of life, skillsets and priorities that you would never have been exposed to if you hadn’t committed to taking the time to get away.  The best part about this is, they are all on the retreat for the same reason you are – to focus on improving their lives.  It creates an amazing atmosphere of sharing and learning that you tend to think is non-existent in the “real world”.  I’m here to tell you, it does exist and there’s a spot waiting just for you on that next retreat.

Happy travels!

River Cruising Anyone?

River cruising is all the rage.  In fact, I have more people asking about river cruises that any other kind of tour travel these days.  It’s not really surprising based on the amazing advertising that airs about this type of travel.  It looks simply idyllic doesn’t it?

Guess what?  It is!!  Having just returned from a trip down the Rhine River, I feel qualified to say this.  Traveling through the waterways of the world by ship is absolutely enchanting.  A vast array of river cruise companies have created floating hotels that whisk you through multiple cities and countries, but you never feel rushed or overwhelmed.  Many times you spend the day basking in the culture of one delightful town, cruise overnight and wake up in a brand new place to explore the next day.  Add in exceptional food, interesting and fun excursions and plush accommodations, and you have a recipe for a fantastic vacation experience.

Below I’ve given a little bit of information about four popular cruise lines currently operating.  If you would like to see a chart that compares all the major river cruise lines, please let me know by adding a comment here, and I’ll get that to you shortly.

  • AmaWaterways – This cruise line boasts 17 modern ships in their fleet and sails the waterways of Europe, Africa and Asia (Vietnam and Cambodia).  The staterooms, recreational and dining areas are beautiful, well-equipped and meticulously maintained by an incredibly friendly staff that make you feel more like an old friend than a customer.  In addition, Ama has a focus on health and wellness, offering hiking and biking excursions as well as yoga and pilates classes, and all are included in the cost of your cruise.  There are also less active excursions like gentle walking tours and wine tastings for those who’d rather relax while seeing new places.  The food is simply wonderful (seriously), and the cost is very reasonable based on the accommodations and level of service provided.  WanderMore Travels Grade: A+
  • Viking – Based on the amount of advertising Viking does, this cruise line has become synonymous with river cruising especially to Americans.  Sailing the waters around Europe, Russia, Egypt and Asia, Viking is the largest river cruise operator (by far) in the world.  This leads to itineraries that are widely varied and well-developed.  The accommodations, common and dining areas have very clean lines following Nordic fashion, and are well maintained by a lovely and polished staff.  There is not a focus on health and wellness for excursion choices, but the staff is always ready to help you hire a bicycle in town or map out a hike to scenic areas.  The cost can be reasonable if you book through an advertised deal.  WanderMore Travels Grade: B+
  • UniWorld Boutique River Cruise Collection. UniWorld has been offering amazing river cruise experiences for the last 30 years. Just walking onto the ship is an experience.  Each vessel has a unique design that can only be described as artful.  Think Versailles mixed with a little Ritz Carlton and you’ve got the right flavor.  Their itineraries are just as varied as the décor, offering trips down less-visited waterways like the Po River in Italy.  In addition, they are truly an all-inclusive experience (yes, that includes alcohol 24/7).  With all the beautiful attention to detail in the décor, the food and the itineraries, UniWorld charges a premium fare and has people returning again and again to experience this amazing brand of floating elegance. WanderMore Travels Grade: A
  • Crystal River Cruises. Crystal has been cruising the oceans in luxury (serious luxury) for the past 25 years, and has now entered the river cruise market. In keeping with their strength in the luxury market, Crystal calls their ships “River Yachts” as opposed to the more mundane title.  The food can only be called Michelin inspired and the staff are hand-picked and Crystal trained.  Their staff ratio of two crew members to three guests is unmatched, with butler service for every room category, dedicated spa professionals, Crystal Society hosts, multiple pastry chefs and much more.  Their ship Mozart boasts king-sized beds, iPad control centers and the largest suites of any river vessels in Europe.  Suffice to say, you will be in the lap of luxury for your entire cruise.  Naturally, the price tag is as hefty as you might imagine, but sometimes you just need to splurge a little – right?  WanderMore Travels Grade: A+

Happy Travels!

 

Traveling Overseas? Get Prepared with My Top 5 Check List

Travel rocks!  Pretty simplistic statement, but seriously, seeing beautiful new places, having amazing adventures, and collecting memories that will light up the rest of your life – what could be better?  Not much in my opinion.

To get the most out of your travel experiences though, it pays to prepare a bit to make sure everything goes smoothly.  To that end, I’ve compiled my top 5 list of preparation items for your next overseas journey. Take care of these few items before you head out the door, and you can strike out with confidence.

  • Register with STEP. STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and is something you should register with if you are traveling out of the country.  It’s a free service that allows US citizens traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.  Once you’re registered, you will get important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country and give the Embassy a way to contact you in an emergency – whether it’s a local issue or family related.  It will also help expedite the passport replacement process should you have your passport stolen or lost while traveling.
  • Make a copy of your passport. I know you’ve heard this before, but it never hurts to review.  If you have a copy of your passport and it gets lost or stolen, you can get it replaced relatively quickly.  If you don’t have a copy, you will incur miles of red tape as the Embassy or Consulate tries to ascertain if you are who you say you are.  You’ll still be asked a million questions even if you have a copy, but trust me, it will make for a much smoother process.  I used to make two paper copies and put one in my carry-on bag and leave one with my emergency contact at home.  However, these days I just have a photo of it in my phone, and I email that photo to my emergency contact.  That way if my phone gets stolen along with my passport (heaven forbid), I can get an electronic copy emailed to me right away.
  • Check-in with your bank. You’re going to need local currency once you get to your destination, and the easiest way to do that is through a local ATM.  Of course, you want to be sure your debit/ATM card will work in ATMs overseas by calling your bank and checking with them.  Typically, if your card has a Visa or Mastercard logo on it, you’re good to go.  (You’ll definitely want to use an ATM at your destination to get the best exchange rates available – much better than the airport or at your bank before you leave town.) Also, while you’re on with the bank checking about your debit card, be sure to find out about any fees associated with using an ATM or making purchases with your card in a foreign country so you can plan accordingly.
  • Make sure you set your cell phone up with a plan that won’t incur overage charges. This one is really important if you don’t want to have a nasty surprise once you get back home.  Your friendly neighborhood mobile phone company will charge your lights out if you use your phone outside the country and haven’t purchased a temporary overseas plan with them.  Data usage is the worst offender.  We’re so used to using maps, social media and Internet searching at home, it’s only natural to continue the practice when you’re traveling.  All of a sudden, you’ve racked up $1000 of overage charges you didn’t plan for.  Call your phone company and set up a plan for texting and minimal talk time, and ask them how to change your phone settings once you’re on your flight to make sure you don’t incur unintentional charges.  Then find WIFI to connect to for data usage, and you’ll be able to communicate with home and your social media buddies without spending next year’s travel budget on all those selfies you posted.
  • Check in with your travel professional about local requirements. Many countries have specific requirements for visitors.  These requirements could include special visas, appropriate clothing, immunizations or possession of medications.  Now you could spend a bunch of time researching all these requirements and always having a niggle of doubt about whether you missed something, OR you could call a travel professional and get a complete list right away.  Guess which one I’d choose?

Happy travels!

This Ain’t Your Granny’s Group Travel

Group travel has undergone a huge metamorphosis in the last 10 years.  Gone are the days of just “seeing the sights”, eating in herds and visiting all the main tourist attractions in an area.  Group travel experts now design adventures around your special interests in a way that is authentic to your destination of choice.  How about tasting wine across Provence while learning French cooking from an Avignon local?  Want to cycle through the Basque region of Spain interspersed with sea kayaking along the northern Spanish coast?  Or maybe a glamping adventure including photography lessons from an Ansel Adams acolyte in Yosemite National Park is more your style.  Does a spa vacation with essential oil classes and gentle horseback riding through virgin forest sound like more your speed?  Suffice to say, if you can dream it up, there’s a group trip for that.

And that’s not all.  Traveling in a group to a bucket list destination focused on your special interest also comes with some great benefits not found in individual travel.  I know you’re thinking, “What, there’s more?”  Yes, indeed there is. Traveling with a group has some definite advantages over traveling solo.  Here are just a few.

  • More socializing. If you are traveling with a group of people you already know, your journey will give you invaluable time to strengthen your relationships and build fabulous new memories with those people.  If you’re traveling with a group of people you didn’t know before departure, you’ll get the chance to build new friendships and experiences with people that have similar interests.  I find I enjoy a hybrid of these two opportunities.  I like going on a group trip with a few people I know and several people I’ve never met before.  It truly broadens the experience so much to learn about people from different cultures and areas of the world all while sharing the excitement of travel with people you’ve known for years.
  • More cost effective. A travel group is usually defined as 8 or more people.  This is because airlines, hotels and attractions typically begin discounting costs for airfare, rooms and tickets if you have a group of 8 or more traveling to the same destination at the same time.  The more people in your group, the more discount you can expect.  It’s just simple economics driving this.  For example, it is significantly less expensive for hotels to rent out an entire floor of their property while dealing with one tour organizer, than to rent out those same rooms to 40 individual people.  Not to mention the guarantee of blocks of space being planned for months in advance.  You can expect anywhere from 25-40% discounts off regular retail pricing.
  • More special opportunities. Many times, large groups will get special treatment because of the logistics of moving your group around.  For example, you might get to board the plane quicker and as a group.  The hotel may set up a special reception area with food and drink on your group’s floor to accommodate everyone.  Customs may divert your group to a special area to handle immigration all at once instead of having to stand in the cattle call line like individual travelers.  Attractions may provide special hours that only serve your group.  Really the possibilities are endless, and all you have to do is join a group of like-minded people on your next adventure.
  • More smooth sailing. Traveling with a group usually makes things go much smoother, especially if you’re headed somewhere off the beaten path.  This is because someone else is handling the details, “greasing the skids” if you like, around all the intricacies of travel for you.  You don’t have to worry about transfers or directions or where to stay.  You just get to focus on the amazing sights and sounds of the locale you’re visiting.

Happy travels!