Archive for the ‘Travel Tips’ Category

Barefoot Dining

August 9, 2013

On our anniversary, we had dinner on the beach in Aruba.  Like many beach resort areas, Aruba has a number of dining on the sand options.  

The Westin sets up tables for the number of guests who have booked.  They have a great view of the sunset and a very nice menu but all the beaches in Aruba are PUBLIC so there are people frolicking in the surf and on the sand right in front of your romantic dinner.

This is actually a factor to consider at several of the dining spots.  One of the more popular dining on the beach options is Passions.  Part of the Amsterdam Manor all-inclusive resort, it accommodates both guests and outside diners.

The palapas also can be a factor when selecting a romantic dinner on the beach location. Many of the resorts have these thatched roof “umbrellas” to provide shade on the beach for their guests.  We had dinner one night at Matthews Beachside restaurant and found both the busy beach and the palapas greatly reduced our enjoyment of what was otherwise a lovely meal.  The palapas, unlike a traditional umbrella, cannot be closed or taken down. In the case of Matthews, we couldn’t appreciate the sunset because we couldn’t see it through all the palapas!


Our favorite beach dining location was Barefoot.  Billed as “Elegant dining in flipflops” it was all that and more!  Located far enough from the busy resorts to have minimal beach traffic and an unobstructed sunset view, it was the perfect setting.  Yes, it is close to the airport and you can see a plane or two come in for a landing but that is, in itself, rather interesting.  It’s Aruba so we’re only talking about a couple of planes in an evening – not a couple of planes every few minutes.  The food was outstanding.  The service attentive without being intrusive.

My personal favorite takeaway from the evening;  the Royal Mojito.  A typical Mojito but with champagne in place of the traditional soda water.  Oh yeah!  I’ve been ordering all my Mojitos “royal” (yes, I have to explain what that means but all the bartenders get it and think it’s a great idea) ever since we got back.

How do you find the perfect beach dining experience on your next vacation?  Use the internet.  Once you’ve identified options, look at the photos on their websites.  You can usually review the menu on line as well.  Read reviews of both the food AND the settings on 3rd party review sites.   If you arrive a few days ahead, go check it out in person to be sure when the special night arrives you’ll have the romantic experience you were expecting.


An Uber Good Idea

July 26, 2013

Do you cringe at the thought of getting into a cab?  Too many of them are just gross!  Lots of old, beat up and dirty interiors where we try not to touch anything!  In an unfamiliar city, we often fear of “being taken for a ride”.  You know what I mean, “Is this the most direct route or one intended to run up the meter?”


Then there’s paying.  Yes, many display credit card logos but rarely have I had a cabbie who seemed happy to see my Visa card.  So usually you need cash and I just don’t carry much cash.

towncarTown Car services have existed for a long time but they need to be set up.  Unless you already have an account with a car service, you’re not going to call one when you need a ride home from an extended happy hour with friends.  Where certainly nice, they are a bit pricey and are limited to your home or the frequently visited city where they are based.

The best of both worlds is Uber.  A free app on your phone, it let’s you call for a car in a growing number of major cities.  Like a Town Car service, you need to set it up but it takes only a few minutes.  One set up covers you in any Uber city.  You enter your credit card and even set the tip percentage you want included as the default.

When you need a car, you request one using the app.  Your phone’s GPS provides your location and you can alter it if its not 100% accurate.  You will get a text confirming your request giving you both the estimated time to pick up (usually within 5-15 minutes) and a photo of your driver.  You’ll get another text or call when your driver arrives.  You get a receipt in your email.

We’ve used them both to and from SeaTac airport on our most recent trip.  Both experiences were impressive!  Quick, clean, good condition black cars with neat, friendly, professionally dressed drivers and even bottled water waiting in the back seat- all for less than we usually pay for a traditional taxi!

Time of day doesn’t matter either.  We went to the airport at 10 PM and it was after midnight when we landed.  You don’t have to just use them for the airport.After dropping us off at home, our driver planned to stay in the area to provide rides for people who have been barhopping.

Visiting New York?  San Francisco? Dallas?  Chicago?  Even Phoenix?  Check the growing number of cities where Uber offers service – even some international cities!  We are converts to this great, hassle-free service and will be using it regularly from now on!

Riding the Waves

July 5, 2013


We love catamarans for riding the waves.  You can find various sailing options at many island and ocean side destinations.  Here are some points to consider when weighing your options.

The first question is what type of sail you want.  Sunset sails with champagne are a more sedate, romantic outing.  Catamaran sails to snorkeling sites combines two popular water activities.  We prefer the “Tradewinds Sail”.  Typically these are about an hour and a half and if you like a high octane adventure as we do, opt for a breezy day.

On Waikiki there are 2 catamarans side by side on the beach.  We did the same Tradewinds sail on each and found some interesting differences.

On the Waikiki Rigger the ladder used to load and unload the catamaran is at the side and is tied off at the front left (port bow) as you sail.  The “railing” around the boat is actually just a safety line not intended to be used for holding on for extended periods.  This boat wants guests seated and encourages sitting on the large net areas up front or on the benches in back if you’d rather not get drenched.


Notice the ladder ties up at the front and the railing is only solid in this area which is blocked from guest use during sailings. The rest of the “railing” is just the safety line which is an enforced rope not intended for holding on except in emergency situations.

We like to ride standing up as close to the front as possible.  I find the nets to be uncomfortable because you have to sit with no back support and your legs straight out in front of you.  The net also leaves a deep impression pattern in your skin.  We stood as we like to do and found it difficult to hold on because the safety line cut into our hands as the boat pitched in the waves.


The other catamaran is the MaiTai.  This is our favorite boat for several reasons.  The crew seems more professional, the ride was less expensive ($28 vs. $30) and the boat is a better design for maximum adventure.  My goal is to point out those design differences so you can evaluate catamarans before you get on board.

The MaiTai ladder is in the CENTER.   This leaves both points of the boat open for maximum adventure.   They also offer ample bench seating with waterproof storage areas for what you bring on board (sandals, towels, beach tote).  If you don’t want to get wet, this is the place for you.


The ladder here is in the center leaving the entire front points open for guests to enjoy during a sail. The railings are solid and provide a great handhold when underway.

However, if you want to ride the waves, grab a spot along the rail and hold on.  Yes, the MaiTai has a solid handrail all around the boat giving you a secure and comfortable hold in the waves.  If this appeals to you, take a close look at the railings before choosing your sail option.

We look for solid railings and unobstructed front points for our catamaran adventures whether on Waikiki or any other destination.  Booking on line, zoom in on the photos of the boat to look for both ladder placement and railing type before you click “book it” and enjoy the ride!

Planning with Pinterest

June 21, 2013

Planning a trip for this summer?  Next spring to coordinate with a graduation or destination wedding?  Always find yourself tearing out magazine articles on restaurants?  Just working on your “bucket list”?

If you answered yes to any of those, you need Pinterest In case you don’t know, its basically a web-based bulletin board. Pinterest Load the free software on your computer, tablet or smartphone.  The program will add a “Pin It” button to your toolbar or drop down menu. Then when you find something on the web you can “Pin It” to a board and it saves an image as well as the hyperlink.

How does that help with trip planning? Simple.   Build a board for a particular trip, or as I have done, for each city.  As I search the web, I add hotels, attractions, restaurants and more to the appropriate board.

If I read an article about a place I’ve never been, I’ll go on line to the sites mentioned and pin them to a board I might call Future Trips or Beach Destinations – or even Bucket List.

Read a restaurant review that makes you say “Next time I’m in LA, I want to eat here”? Go to the restaurant site and pin it to your LA board.

Best part, because its web based, you can access the information from your smart phone. No more kicking yourself for not remembering the name of the place you read about!

Same is true for adding “finds” you make along the way.  See something interesting? Pull up the site and pin it to the appropriate board! Want to share some of your favorite places in Kauai with a friend going there?  Share your board for easy access to the links even several years later!  You can also “follow” others who share similar interests  and take inspiration from what they post.  See something you love?  Add it to one of your boards.  Sure beats a filing cabinet full of folders you never access!


Pinterest is a great paperless  planning and dreaming tool for all areas – decorating, cooking, gardening, crafts, entertaining and yes, travel.

Hidden Gems of Paris

May 17, 2013

Okay, they may not actually be HIDDEN, but far too many Louvre Paris people miss them none the less.  Everyone goes to the Louvre‘, the Eiffel Tower (though last week’s post told you how to skip the line and get more out of the visit), the Arc de Triomphe and you should too, but some of my favorite places are a bit less known.

Catacombs of ParisThere are catacombs in Paris.  BIG catacombs and you can tour them.  You’ll need to take the subway, there are no restrooms there and plan to stand in line but it’s well worth it.   Believed to be the source of infections in the 1700’s, bodies were exhumed and moved to old quarries outside (at the time) the city of Paris.  So many skeletons were moved an in an effort to honor the dead, patterned walls were constructed from the bones.  A bit macabre perhaps, but we loved it!

Are you a fan of the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera?  Paris Opera House LobbyThen a visit to the Paris Opera House is a must!  Even if you are not, it’s one of the most spectacular buildings.  The outside is impressive, but so many buildings in Paris are beautiful.  But inside!  WOW!  We even got to sneak a peak inside the performance hall and saw the actual chandelier that is replicated in the Broadway musical in rather spectacular fashion.

Concerts in ParisIn many neighborhoods, you will find flyers posted outside decommissioned churches advertising classical music concerts.  I’ve been to these in Rome, Venice and Paris and they are always lovely evenings in beautiful settings.  The posters are never in English but you should be able to make out the date and time as well as the composer’s music being performed.  There are few (if any) tourists and it’s a great way to spend a Paris evening.

Get the museum pass either online before you go or at one of the less busy monuments to save yourself a lot of line time.  The line at the Louvre’ and other tourist hotspots is to buy tickets.  There is usually an express entrance for those with the museum pass.

Invest in a week long (or however many days you will be there) Paris Metro pass.  The system is easy to use and you will feel like a Parisian in no time!  The larger stations take credit cards for the purchase and that will give you maximum flexibility.


Do your research ahead of time and plot out your days to make sure you capture as much of this beautiful city as you can in the time you have.  But also be sure to allow time to sit at a sidewalk cafe and sip a chilled Rose’ and watch the world go by.

j’aime Paris

May 10, 2013

Yes, I love Paris.  Here are a few suggestions to help you love it as well.  Do as much research, book tours and buy tickets on line NOW – it gets busy!

Summer – particularly July – is a great time to visit Paris.  It’s warm, there are sidewalk cafes everywhere and Rose’ wine is both inexpensive and delicious!

Bastille Day is July 14th.  If you can plan your trip to be there, it’s well worth it!  Locals and tourists alike arrive EARLY at the Champ de Mars, the official site of the Bastille Day (French independence day) festivities.  Take a picnic and plan to spend the day.  We were actually on the other side of the river (both sides were lined with watchers) and as long as you have a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower, you are in for a treat!  The fireworks, set off from the Tower, are breath-taking!

Bastille Day, Paris

You can’t visit Paris without a visit to the Eiffel Tower.  On any given day, you will find the lines to buy tickets to visit the tower staggering!  Behind the scenes at Eiffel TowerThere is a fee so you will have to pay anyway, but the option I’m suggesting will cost you only a little more, give you a ton of fascinating information AND let you skip the line!  There is a tour offered called “Behind the Scenes at the Eiffel Tower”.  Buy your ticket up to 3 months in advance and print them at home.  You’ll get to see an underground bunker, the machinery that operates the elevators and learn the history of this iconic monument.  Once on the 2nd level, you can purchase a ticket at a kiosk to go all the way to the top if you want.

Very near the Cathedral of Notre Dame is Sainte-Chapelle.  Without a doubt, the most spectacular stained glass in all of Paris.  Due to the narrow Sainte-Chapellestairs by which you enter and the security, the line is always down the block.  Here’s my next “skip the line” suggestion.  On a board near the front of the line you will see posted flyers for concerts.  Check the dates – it will be in French so just look for the numbers for both time and date.  If there is one taking place during your time in Paris, ignore the line and ask the guard at the front how you buy tickets to the concert. He will send you in through security to a courtyard where a ticket kiosk sits.  Bring Euros!  When I was last there they didn’t take credit cards.  Get your concert tickets and go on with your day.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Later, return about 30 minutes before the concert.  There will beConcert in Sainte-Chapelle 20 or so  people in line with you, you will have all the time both before and after the concert to wander the sanctuary taking photos without being jostled by other tourists.  Then enjoy the way the setting sun bathes the room in colorful light as the  classical concert fills this majestic setting.

Of course there are a couple of more “must do” items you might miss so I’ll have to devote next week’s blog to Paris as well.  Time to go open a bottle of Rose’!

Traveling Companions

December 14, 2012

My husband and I just spent a great week with friends who met us in Florida.  Finding others to travel with is often challenging.  Here are some things to consider as you think about who to invite share your next vacation.

Traveling Styles – Are you a planner or a no reservations type?  Planes? Trains? Boats? Road trip? Outdoors or museums? Hikes or spas? Five star or camping? Dancing the night away or an early run on the beach? Ask friends to describe their favorite vacation. If it doesn’t sound fun to you, find someone whose does.

Hiking with Friends

Together…or Not. Do you like some time on your own on vacation? Its important to ask other travelers in advance. Can you do independent things at least some days and then swap stories over dinner or do you expect to do everything together?

Who Pays for What? Money can be a trouble spot in any relationship including travel partners. If you love pricey food and drink, be sure the others do as well. Non-drinkers quickly resent being asked to “Just split it” when the bill includes cocktails or bottles of wine.

Napa with friends

Separate checks is a good solution if half the party consistently eats and drinks more or less than the other. Just ask the server up front and let everyone enjoy their meal.

We bought a great trip for 4 at a charity auction that included air, hotels, some activities and car. We weren’t looking for reimbursement for half from the other couple, but the friends we invited immediately said they’d pick up all the meals and gas.

Scotland with friends

Sharing adventures can be great but be realistic. If someone drives you crazy over an evening with their bickering, drinking, tardiness, cheapness, negative attitude or drama – it will only be worse with the repeated exposure of traveling together.

Capture the Memories

October 19, 2012

As you read this, I’m STILL in Bhutan.  That means I’m probably on about photo number 300 and still shooting!  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been very disciplined about making photo albums as soon as I get home.  I know if I put it off for more than a couple of days, it will become yet another unfinished project.

Now with on line services such as Shutterfly (my personal favorite) it’s easier than ever to preserve the memories of your trips.  Using their templates, you upload your photos, arrange them as you like, change the background and add text.  No more forgotten names of temples or towns – you can put captions on photos throughout your book.


When it’s finished, you have a coffee table worthy photo book your friends won’t believe you made yourself.  They also take up a lot less space than traditional photo albums which I like as well.

If you have easy access to wi-fi while on your trip, you an upload your photos as you go and even arrange some of the pages while relaxing before going to sleep each night.

Use the Eye-fi chip in your digital camera and send the pictures to your cloud account any time you are in range of a wi-fi connection for easy sorting and editing.

Depending on where you are traveling, you could have your photo book ordered by the time you get home and in your mailbox a few days later!  Gotta love that!

Of course, there’s no rule that you can only use these great photo books for memories of your trips.  You can make them for your kids or parents to put all the childhood photos into a book.  A friend of mine made a book for her son with pictures of him playing hockey, in Halloween costumes, even the day they brought home their dog as a puppy.  Christmas is coming.  The gift of memories is always welcome!

Sleep Tight

October 5, 2012

Traveling can be hard on your body – and your body clock.  Different time zones, the excitement of a new city, the stress of crowds and noise all can take a toll.  Getting enough sleep can make a trip much more enjoyable but sometimes that’s easier said than done.

A sleep mask can be helpful when trying to catch some ZZZs on a flight or to combat that light streaming in through the curtains of your hotel room or if you are trying to nap when the sun is still up.  There are a lot of options and I’ve tried them all and here is my review:

1.  These flat types are very inexpensive and can be found everywhere.  The airlines put them in the kits they hand out in business class of international flights.  This particular one came with a cashmere blanket as part of a travel kit.  They are fine if nothing else is available but they are not very comfortable.  Too flat and that presses against your eyes in ways you are not accustomed to making it hard to truly sleep.

2.  This one sold in many specialty stores even came with a set of earplugs (more on those later).  The adjustable strap is nice as is the padded bumper that fills the gap on either side of your nose along your cheek but overall, it’s just too heavy and not flexible enough to be comfortable.

3.  Sold by Bed, Bath & Beyond among other retailers, this is one of the best of the inexpensive (under $10) options.  It’s super soft, lightweight and has the padded area for the cheek area to keep light from creeping in and to keep the mask from pressing as hard on your eyes.

4.  There are lots of these fun and cute options but they are mostly fun and cute  rather than functional.  

5.  This is the BEST sleep mask I’ve ever found.  Sold by Magellan’s, a catalog and on line travel retailer it’s just under $15 (less if you buy several).  It’s super lightweight with an adjustable head strap but the best part – the eye “pockets”.  Shaped like a bra for your eyes, the cups don’t push on your eyes giving you freedom of eye movement and the most comfortable fit of any sleep mask I’ve ever tried.

Sometimes darkness is not enough.  Quiet is also important which is where ear plugs come in.  The stiffer, bullet shaped ones that often come with masks as part of a set or are sold in packages in your neighborhood Walgreen’s are NOT ideal.  Neither are the ribbed plastic ones also widely sold in drug stores to help relieve pressure from flying.

My favorite are the ones typically found in sporting goods stores or shooting ranges.  Individually packaged, they are an ear conforming foam and shaped.  This combination makes them easier to insert, comfortable to wear and less likely to pop out while you are sleeping.  Look in a container near the cash register at Cabela’s or even the sporting goods section of Wal-Mart.

Armed with your Magellan’s “Good Night Sleep Mask” and a package of ear plugs you should be able to get some much needed rest to make your trip less stressful and more fun!

Gearing Up

September 21, 2012

In two weeks we leave for our walking trip in Bhutan.  This trip, named one of National Geographic’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime will have us walking 3-6 hours a day, sometimes on trails, other times on various rural “roads” at average altitudes of 8200 feet – afterall, it is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.


I like adventure but a nightly bed and private bath are mandatory.  This trip includes both.   To prepare for this amount of walking, particularly at higher elevation, we spent 2 weeks at our condo in Deer Valley, Utah (8400 ft) and we hiked or some other physical activity every day.

My husband ended up buying new hiking boots (3rd time’s the charm!) and chafe resistant underwear.  I bought a “cooling towel” and we both bought new, seamless, sweat proof socks.  I determined which flavors of Clif Bars that I prefer, that they are “friendly” to my system and that Starbucks Cool Lime refreshers is the only water flavor additive I enjoy.  I also concluded my Prada sunglasses were more comfortable in all day active wearing than a couple of other brands intended for such purpose.  All that matters – who needs a headache or too frequent bathroom stops from your gear – including your snacks!

If you have an active trip in mind – even if not to a place as remote as Bhutan, gather and try your gear out early and often.   I got my hiking boots for Christmas and broke them in at Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas (and got a foot massage that afternoon at the Venetian spa!) as well as many hikes over the next 8 months in the Seattle area.  I’ve kept track of which shirts, shorts and pants performed well on each of these weekend outings so I bring the right clothing – nothing that creeps, binds or chafes!

On Rattlesnake Ledge over 4th of July I learned to tuck my laces loops under the cross laces to avoid  a loop catching on the hook and tripping me – AGAIN.  Better to have a skinned knee at home than on a trip.

Planning ahead has also allowed me to take advantage of sales leaving me more money for the next adventure!

Gear doesn’t have to be expensive but it does have to be comfortable and work well to make the most of your adventure.  Plan ahead and try everything out locally before you head off on a “trip of a lifetime”.

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