Tag Archives: travel planning

travel planning with map and laptop

How to Maximize Your Vacations This Year

January is a great time to grab a calendar, look at the year ahead, and plot out where in the world it might take you.  First, planning out your vacation days in advance helps ensure you don’t lose that workplace benefit.  Second, it enables you to get the accommodations and experiences you really want, at the best prices, rather than settling for what’s left over after everyone else has booked their trips. Third, it gives you something to look forward to throughout the year.  So, each January, I sit down with a calendar and approach my vacation planning the same way I approach my household budget planning, so as to maximize my travel dollar, time, and enjoyment.  Here’s how I do it:

Grab your calendar and look at when the school breaks and long holiday weekends fall.

Check the dates for Presidents’ Day, Easter, Memorial Day, and so on. These dates will dictate either when to travel or when not to, depending on whether you’re tied to a work schedule and/or have kids in school. If you are holiday-schedule-bound, ask yourself where you could add one or more days onto the start or end of a holiday weekend. If you’re not tied to a holiday schedule, by all means avoid traveling at these times. Instead, travel between these holidays, to take advantage of lower airfares, lower hotel rates, and fewer tourists. (While you’re checking your and your family’s work and school schedules, also check everyone’s passport expiration dates. If anyone’s passport is expiring this year or early next, read this.)

Predict what weather-related escapes you will need when.

I know, for instance, that when February arrives each year, my husband will need a snow-free getaway or we will all go nuts. I also know that, in the dog days of August, I crave someplace cool—or, at least, cooler than home. I’ve learned that that doesn’t necessarily mean a higher latitude. While my family has loved our August escapes to cooler climes—Newfoundland, British Columbia, London, Iceland)—I’ve also found that southerly places can provide first-rate relief as long as there’s an ocean breeze (Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay; the beaches of Charleston, South Carolina; St. Simon’s Island, Georgia; Playa del Carmen, Mexico).

Know what destinations are in “shoulder season” at those times when you can travel.

Shoulder season is that time between peak and low seasons when you usually get the most value for your dollar because the weather is good yet prices are lower and tourists fewer than in peak season. Our Where To Go When series will give you plenty of shoulder-season ideas for those windows of time when you have availability.  My family once spent a phenomenal February school break in sunny Andalusia, Spain, for example, and we once spent a festive Thanksgiving exploring Central Europe’s Christmas markets on a European river cruise. Here are smart shoulder-season options for spring break 2024.

Consider where your money will stretch furthest internationally.

It’s smart to factor exchange rates into your decisions. Central America is always one of the most affordable regions in the world.  Read these Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama trip reviews to gain an understanding of what a fun and authentic tropical vacation you can get at a better value than on many Caribbean islands. At the other extreme, Japan and Scandinavia are always among the world’s most expensive countries, as are France and Italy at the 5-star level.  Airline routes and fares also determine trip cost and convenience, of course.  Check out Nonstop Flights To Make Your Travels Easier.

Set up low-airfare alerts.

Now that you have a sense of which places interest you most for the time slots you’ve got available, pinpoint the right time to buy your airline tickets. There are websites (Google Flights, Kayak, Hopper, SkyScanner) that will send you notifications when fares drop on specific routes or specific dates or both.  If you’re considering a long-weekend getaway and can take only two days off work, remember that it’s usually less expensive to fly on a Saturday and return on a Tuesday than to fly on a Thursday and return on a Sunday.

Especially if you’re Europe-bound, book early.

Italy, France, Greece and other Mediterranean and Western European countries have been extremely popular in the wake of the pandemic, and with all the events coming to Europe this summer—from the Paris Olympics to Taylor Swift concerts—airfare is not the only component of your trip that should be booked well in advance. Say you want to go to the Netherlands to see the legendary springtime tulips—and, while you’re in Amsterdam, visiting the Anne Frank House is a must. Tickets for that become available six weeks ahead and sell out quickly. If you figure out your Netherlands dates in January, you can snap up tickets to the Anne Frank House and Keukenhof Gardens as soon as they are available.

Pinpoint the right destination specialist.

If your end goal is the most rewarding travel experience possible, the smartest way to approach booking your trip—the way that will deliver the greatest value for money—is not to book all the various components (accommodations, activities, transportation, hard-to-get tickets, special guided experiences) piecemeal but, rather, to hand the whole thing over to an excellent destination specialist who knows all the insider tips and tricks in the place where you’re headed. How do you find the best specialists around the world? Use our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts as your first resource. Click the button below to get started:


If you are mulling over a resort stay, book it now, as long as you can cancel with no fee.

If you think you might need a room at a popular resort, reserve your spot, as long as you can do so with no cancellation penalty. The more in-demand your destination and timing, the harder this will be.  Islands in particular have limited flights and limited hotel options, leading to high prices and cancellation penalties. So that you’re not shut out, book a spot but be sure to mark on your calendar the date when you need to cancel in order to avoid paying any fee.

If the resort you want is fully booked, ask when cancellation penalties set in for the dates you want.

First, call the resort directly (not a website, not the 800 number) and ask whether it’s truly sold out (the resort itself might have different inventory) and whether there’s a waitlist. Then, ask when the cancellation fee sets in for people who are booked on the day you’d like to arrive. Mark your calendar to call the hotel the day before that fee sets in: That’s when other people will be cancelling and you can try to scoop up a room that has just opened up.

It is easier and likely more effective, of course, to contact the right destination specialist and have them work their magic via their local hotel connections.  But destination specialists typically won’t book hotels only, so contact them only if you plan to book local activities and experiences through them as well.

Start thinking about Christmas/New Year’s now.

I’m not kidding. Get ideas from these Christmas/New Year’s trips most loved by your fellow travelers.  If you need a beach or ski resort, remember that you’ll find peak prices and minimum-stay restrictions at this time of year. Some of Hawaii’s top resorts, for example, are already fully booked for the December 2024 holiday period. These resorts save their rooms for loyal guests who return year after year. If those returning guests should cancel—and sometimes they do when deposits come due—then a few rooms may open up to new travelers at that time. Get yourself onto the waitlist now.

Include in your 2024 calendar both a “vacation” trip and a “travel” trip.

Trip sellers use the words “vacation” and “travel” interchangeably, but they are actually very different.  “Travel” comes from the French “travail” (meaning, work)—and it is indeed a lot of work to cope with unfamiliar languages, customs, currencies, etiquette, logistics—but it expands one’s mind and horizons.  By contrast, “vacation” is the opposite of work (in fact, it’s recovery from work). Each year we all need a good dose of both vacation and travel.  If what you really want is both in one trip—exploration that’s as relaxing as possible, with all the hassles removed!—that’s when to use a WOW List trip-planning expert.

Include in your calendar a new destination you’ve never been to before.

We all need the comfort of the familiar (e.g., the annual family trip to the lake), but we also crave novelty and excitement. Getting slightly out of your comfort zone leaves you with a sense of accomplishment, not to mention unforgettable memories.  I insist that my kids get to at least one new country each year.  If life gets in the way and you can’t get to a new place in 2024, at least, when you’re in the old familiar place, try a new activity you’ve never done before.  Mastering a new challenge—say, learning to surf or cook the perfect tiramisu—makes a trip vividly memorable.

Need help perfecting your 2024 travel calendar? We can help if you click the button below and tell us what you’re seeking:



Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

View of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy.

Where Everybody’s Traveling in 2023: The 10 Most Popular Countries for WOW Trips

As you plan your travels for the year ahead, you’d be wise to keep in mind where everybody else is going. These are the 10 most-booked countries by travelers who have used our WOW system to plan 2023 trips:

1. Italy
2. United Kingdom
3. Australia
4. France
5. Japan
6. Spain
7. Portugal
8. New Zealand
9. Ecuador (incl. the Galapagos Islands)
10. Egypt

It’s great to see places that had some of the strictest Covid restrictions and that took two years or more to reopen—Australia, Japan, New Zealand—making such a strong comeback. The best way to find availability and affordability in these popular places is to be flexible with your travel dates. Avoid peak periods (e.g., springtime cherry blossom season in Japan, which is practically sold out) and go in shoulder season instead.

The House at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

Of the countries that were closed the longest during Covid and did not reopen until 2022, Australia is the most popular now.  This is Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Elise Hassey

Five European countries on the 2023 Most Popular list were also on the 2022 Most Popular list: Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Portugal.  You know what that means: These places will be in even higher demand this year than they were last year, given the greater number of people worldwide who will return to traveling internationally in 2023. So, if any of these places are on your Must-See-In-2023 list, avoid tourist crowds by focusing your itinerary on the best off-the-beaten-path locations within these countries.

The problem solvers who can maximize your experiences of these places are the trip-planning specialists on Wendy’s  WOW List. They have the connections and clout to find availability in “sold out” hotels, they know the smartest timing for your trip, and they can point you to the best under-the-radar locations. To get an unforgettable trip, use the black CONTACT buttons on The WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer. That’s how you’ll get a priority response and VIP treatment. Here’s why.

If you haven’t started making travel plans for 2023 yet, I encourage you to focus on places that are not on the above list. There are so many wonderful opportunities in South America, Asia, the South Pacific, and non-Mediterranean Europe where you won’t face as much competition from other travelers that drives up prices and crowds. There are also countries worldwide that reopened early during the pandemic and thus the pent-up demand for them has cooled a little.  Learn your smartest options by perusing our trip reviews from travelers just back from these very places.



Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip. 

Aquamarine blue waters of sea near Taormina resorts and Etna volcano mount. Giardini-Naxos bay, Ionian sea coast, Taormina, Sicily, Italy.

The 10 Most Popular Countries of 2022 for WOW Trips

Drumroll, please: The 10 Most-Traveled-To Countries by the users of  Wendy’s WOW system during this comeback year for global travel were:

1. Italy
2. Greece
3. Portugal
4. France
5. United Kingdom
6. Spain
7. Morocco
8. Egypt
9. Kenya
10. Costa Rica

It’s really no surprise that the top six countries are in Europe. Or that seven are on the Mediterranean Sea, where you can find sunny coastlines most of the year.

You might be surprised, though, to see Morocco rank as the most popular country outside of Europe. But it makes sense: Morocco is exotic yet close to the U.S. (so you needn’t spend too many hours on a plane), you can do virtually all your sightseeing and dining outdoors, and Morocco was so careful as regards Covid that travelers felt very safe there this year.

Three countries in Africa made the top ten—and they are all so different!  In addition to Morocco, there was Egypt (for its ancient wonders) and Kenya (for its awesome wildlife). Egypt and Kenya are two countries that reopened early during the pandemic, as did the only country in the Americas to rank in the top ten, Costa Rica. That head start from reopening early helped set these countries up to welcome more travelers this year.

Popularity is a double-edged sword, of course: It can increase the crowds and hassles that travelers need to wrestle with—unless you’ve got the right local fixer in your corner, zapping the lines and logistics. To see what we mean, learn from these traveler reviews. And, to find such a local fixer, look to The WOW List.


Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

vineyards with snow-capped mountains in background Mendoza Argentina

9 Countries Where the U.S. Dollar Stretches Far in 2018

At the start of each year, as we ponder where to go next, a good question to ask is: Where is the U.S. dollar currently strongest?

Exchange rate is, of course, only one factor that determines the cost of a trip. Other factors include airfare, the length of the tourist season at your destination (the shorter the season, the higher the prices), whether the destination attracts more business travelers or vacationers (business-travel hubs are more expensive), how many hotels your destination has (since that determines the amount of hotel competition, which determines rates), and so on. The cost of traveling in a destination (and doing what travelers do there) can be very different from the cost of living in that destination (and doing what residents do there). Still, exchange rates are helpful indicators of how much you’ll spend when you are indeed doing those things that locals do—eating where they eat, shopping where they shop, taking public transit, and so on.

All you Europhiles should know that, at this moment, one U.S. dollar is worth .84 euros —the same exchange rate as three years ago. Sadly, the days of the U.S. dollar equating to .93 euros (2016 and 2017) seem to be gone for now. So where in the world is the U.S. dollar stronger than it was three years ago? Here are nine appealing travel ideas for you:


Argentina has been a fabulous value ever since the peso slid a whopping 30% back in 2015. Besides bargains, what else awaits you there? Read our Insider’s Guides to Buenos Aires and Mendoza wine country to find out.

Jan 2015: US $1 = 8.57 pesos
Jan 2018: US $1 = 18.66 pesos


The U.S. dollar and the Azerbaijani manat were at parity until December 2015, when the manat took a huge hit. Since then the U.S. dollar has bought twice as much as before. If you’re interested in an Azerbaijani adventure—and you should be—contact me because I’m interested too and have been investigating Azerbaijan trip-planning specialists to see who deserves a spot on The WOW List.

Jan 2015: US $1 = .78 manat
Jan 2018: US $1 = 1.70 manat


The U.S. dollar is near a 10-year high against the Mexican peso. Learn what’s unspoiled and up-and-coming in our Insider’s Guides to Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and the Riviera Maya.

Jan 2015: US $1 = 14.58 pesos
Jan 2018: US $1 = 19.10 pesos


Five to ten years ago, travel to and in Brazil was prohibitively expensive for most travelers; today it’s a whole other story. Learn what you’ll find there in our Insider’s Guides to the glamorous side of Rio de Janeiro, the charming seaside village of Trancoso, the otherworldly Brazilian Amazon, and, for the ultimate extravaganza, Five-Star Brazil: Best Things to See and Do.

Jan 2015: US $1 = 2.62 real
Jan 2018: US $1 = 3.21 real


Now is the moment to explore Colombia—while it’s still relatively under-the-radar and undeveloped. Here are reasons to go to Colombia pronto.

Jan 2015: $1 = 2,434 pesos
Jan 2018: $1 = 2,941 pesos

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom isn’t the bargain it was right after Brexit in 2016, when the pound hit a 31-year-old against the U.S. dollar—and, make no mistake, London is always an expensive city—but the U.K. is still a better deal now than it was for decades. Read our Insider’s Guide to London, as well as my son Charlie’s Do’s and Don’t for Your Trip to London, which he wrote in 2016 right after I jumped on the post-Brexit values and booked our family vacation there.

Jan 2015: $1 = .66 pounds
Jan 2018: $1 = .74 pounds


Malaysia was a better deal last year (when one U.S. dollar was worth 4.46 ringgit), but your dollar can still stretch far. Here’s what awaits you in Malaysia (and islands nearby).

Jan 2015: $1 = 3.57 ringgit
Jan 2018: $1 = 3.97 ringgit

South Africa

The rand lost 25% of its value three years ago. It still hasn’t fully recovered, so carpe diem. Here’s what awaits you in Cape Town and the Winelands, and here’s our Insider’s Guide to South African safaris.

Jan 2015: $1 = 11.44 rand
Jan 2018: $1 = 12.37 rand


Canada may not be the steal it was two years ago—when one U.S. dollar equated to 1.44 Canadian—but the greenback still goes far, especially if you remember the days when it was at parity with the loonie. To better appreciate the range of delights in Canada, read our Insider’s Guides to British Colombia and Newfoundland.  In 2015 I jumped on the amazing exchange rate and rushed my family to British Columbia for our summer vacation. You can read about a few of our adventures in We Had the Best Family Trip in Whistler and We Never Put on Skis and I Can’t Believe We Did This: Mountain Climbing in Whistler.

Jan 2015: $1 = 1.20 Canadian dollars
Jan 2018: $1 = 1.25 Canadian dollars

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The Best Time to Book Any Trip, By Destination

Booking a trip at the last minute can occasionally yield an amazing travel bargain. More often than not, though, it means paying more for an inferior trip. Sure, if it’s low season in a destination that has a ton of airline service and hotel rooms, you might get your choice of flights, resorts, and rooms at the last minute. But when you want a high-caliber trip to a destination that’s very popular and has limited infrastructure (say, Iceland) or where the travel season is short (say, Alaska or the Amalfi Coast), it’s much smarter to book early.

Here, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts detail the benefits of booking early in assorted destinations worldwide, as well as the optimal moment to book for each destination. For the best possible trip and to be marked as a VIP traveler sent by Wendy, contact these Trusted Travel Experts via their black CONTACT buttons on The WOW List.

You get more charming accommodations and more suitable room types. A destination’s most charming hotels usually have just a handful of rooms, and larger properties will have a limited number of rooms of the type you want. When your goal is the sort of high-caliber trip that Trusted Travel Experts (TTEs) orchestrate, starting early means that the TTE can not only match you to the right accommodation but can also put in a request for a specific room number. Beware of last-minute hotel deals in Southeast Asia, warns Trusted Travel Expert Andrea Ross: “The deals tend to be for the rooms no one wants, or they are too good to be true and you’ll find yourself at an overbooked hotel, being moved to a ‘comparable’ hotel outside of town.”

The best private guides are still available. Nearly all guides are independent contractors who work for a number of different companies, so travel planners reserve the savviest English-speaking guides first, before a competitor has the chance to do so; last-minute bookers get novice or part-time guides. These less skilled guides might be able to recite important dates and events, but they likely are not as charismatic, can’t discuss the nuances of contemporary local culture, and don’t have the experience to make sure your trip runs flawlessly.

There’s time to arrange WOW experiences. All of the experts on Wendy’s WOW List can set up unique encounters with locals and access to places that are normally off-limits to the public. But they need time to pull these strings. So if you want V.I.P. access to portions of Versailles that are closed to the public, or an invite to a remote indigenous community in the Amazon, book early.

The best tables at top restaurants can be reserved. You may be coming to Thailand in November, points out Thailand travel specialist Sandy Ferguson, “but some of Bangkok’s fine dining establishments stop taking reservations in June.”

You’ll be at the top of the list for upgrades and other perks. Hotels are more likely to dangle incentives—such as a room upgrade—to those who book early, when they aren’t very full yet; as availability diminishes, they are less inclined to give extras that they don’t need to. Likewise, a last-minute trip usually takes more work for a travel planner to arrange (calling around to multiple hotels to find available rooms, scrambling to find guides and transportation), which increases the cost to you; when you book well in advance, the planner may well pass some of the savings on to you, in the form of complimentary spa services, a bottle of wine in your room, and the like.

You may save money on accommodations. Gone are the days when hotels had just two or three rates per room, depending on the season. Today, most hotels increase rates as their supply decreases, so that early bookers get the best rates. If you give Jonathan Epstein, Trusted Travel Expert for the United Kingdom, enough lead time, he can arrange the order of your itinerary so that you stay at certain hotels when they are less expensive (spending weekends in a city, for example). Most cruise lines give discounts for early booking as well.

Your itinerary will maximize your time. By planning ahead you’ll have more options for flights between destinations. If you wait until the last minute to book a Southeast Asia itinerary, says Andrea Ross, “What could be a direct flight from Luang Prabang, Laos, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, turns into a daylong excursion through the Bangkok airport, running for the only connecting flight available.”

Now, what do we mean by “book early”? In most instances, this means nailing down your itinerary at least six months in advance, but that varies depending on whether you’re traveling in the destination’s high season. Here are general rules of thumb:

North America

Alaska and Canada: Book six to nine months ahead for summer travel; the top properties sell out as early as September or October for the following summer.

Disney: Book at least seven months out.

Mexico: Book eight to 12 months ahead for Christmas/New Year’s, and at least four months ahead for other times of year.

Caribbean and the Atlantic Islands

St. Barts: Book 11 months ahead for villas; for hotels, book six months ahead for larger properties, nine months ahead for smaller ones.

Central America

Costa Rica: Book 9 to 12 months ahead for Christmas, New Years, Easter, and Spring Break. For July and August, book six months in advance. For the rest of the year, three months in advance is fine.

Nicaragua: Book six to eight months ahead for high season (November–April). For July and August, book three months ahead; for the rest of the year, two months is sufficient.

South America

Brazil: Book four to six months ahead for low season, eight to nine months ahead for Christmas/New Year’s and Carnaval. Book a year or more out for hot spots like Trancoso during those prime times.

Colombia: Book six months ahead for the high seasons (Easter and Christmas/New Year’s), three months ahead for other times of year.

The Galapagos: Book 10 to 12 months ahead during the warm air/water season (December to June), six to eight months ahead for other times of year.

Patagonia: Book six to eight months ahead for peak season (December to February).

Peru: Book six to eight months ahead for travel during the dry season (May to October).


Spain and Portugal: Book six months ahead for high season (May to September); eight to 10 months ahead for Christmas/New Year’s or Easter.

Turkey: Book four months ahead for gulet yacht charters during the prime season (May to October).

U.K. and Ireland: Book six to 10 months ahead.


Bali: Book six to 10 months ahead during high season (July to September and Christmas/New Years), four to six months ahead for other times of year.

Bhutan: Book six to 10 months ahead during high festival seasons (March, April, October, and November).

Myanmar: Book six to 10 months ahead.

Southeast Asia: Book six months ahead, even earlier for travel during Christmas/New Year’s.

Africa and Middle East

East Africa: Book six to 12 months ahead; book 18 months ahead if you want to stay at small camps.

Israel: Book six months ahead for high season (spring and fall, outside of major holidays).

Morocco: Book at least six months ahead for spring and fall travel, eight months ahead for Christmas or Easter.

Australia and Pacific

Papua New Guinea: Book 12 months ahead for the Mt. Hagen Cultural Show in August. For the rest of the year, three to six months in advance is fine.

Fiji: Book six to eight months ahead for the first three weeks in July, when Aussies and Kiwis flock to Fiji to escape their winter. For the rest of the year, three to six months in advance is fine.

New Zealand: Book 9 to 12 months ahead for Christmas and New Years, especially if you want to stay at the ultra-luxury lodges. Book nine months ahead during Chinese New Year, America’s Cup races, and All Blacks games. For the rest of the year, six months is plenty.

Australia: Book 10 to 12 months ahead for top-end luxury lodges, Kimberley cruises, Great Barrier Reef islands, and the Red Centre during high season (April–September), and for Melbourne during the Australian Open in January. Book six to nine months ahead for Tasmania during peak season (October–March), especially if you’re doing a multi-day walk. For all else, three to six months’ lead time is fine.

French Polynesia and the Cook Islands: Book 9 to 11 months in advance, particularly if you want one of the overwater bungalows with a prime view.


Book six to 12 months ahead.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Triple Creek Ranch

6 Ways to Make a Valentine’s Day Weekend Magical

This Saturday is Valentine’s Day—and the Monday after is Presidents’ Day. Many of us may be thinking about a last-minute long-weekend escape. As TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate, I’ve been sharing a lot of getaway ideas and strategies over on TripAdvisor’s blog and in its Wendy’s Travel Tips newsletter. Here’s an assortment of these tips, to help you maximize a mid-winter getaway.

Consider a Cozy Winter-Wonderland Retreat
Some lodges and ranches that you think of only for summer are awesome in winter, especially when you get to do activities you’ve never tried before. Think dogsledding, snowshoeing, ice fishing, or even skijoring (which is like waterskiing, only on snow, with a horse rather than a boat pulling you). Here are six things to look for in a cozy winter retreat.

Choose a Hotel with an Incredible Indoor Pool
In wintertime, sometimes the smartest hotel feature to splurge on is a fabulous heated indoor pool with a panoramic view. Here’s how to find them.

Achieve Your Ideal Notion of Seclusion
Secluded doesn’t have to mean remote. One of my most romantic trips ever was when my husband surprised me with a night in a lighthouse on a tiny island in San Francisco Bay that barely anyone knows is there. Here’s how to pinpoint your perfect secluded getaway.

Find a Special Suite That’s Worth the Splurge
Certain jaw-dropping suites I’ve opted to splurge on—such as at Matakauri Lodge in New Zealand on my honeymoon—are sealed in my memory forever. Here’s how to know when a suite is worth the splurge.

Get Into an Impossible-to-Get-Into Restaurant
What to do when the restaurant you want for Valentine’s Day is fully booked? Here are tips for scoring a hot table on any Saturday night, wherever in the world you may be.

Make a Fairytale Place Even More Transportive
My first date with my husband (long before the aforementioned honeymoon) was in a medieval German castle. It was one of those heady travel moments that transport you to another place and time. Here’s how to create such moments.

I’d love to hear: How do you make romantic weekend getaways magical?


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Newfoundland road signs

How to Find the Best Way to Get from One Place to Another

The travel problem: How to find the most efficient transportation option between two places, or among multiple destinations

The tool that solves it: Rome2Rio is a website that helps you determine all your transportation options from Point A to Point B—and to Points C, D, E, and F if that’s what your travel plans call for. Just type in your starting location and your next destination(s) and Rome2Rio returns air, train, bus, ferry, mass transit, and driving options. The company, based in Melbourne, Australia, pulls info from thousands of transportation companies all over the world (including more than 670 airlines). It’s not a booking site, so you can’t purchase any of the flights or train trips it spits back. Instead, it smartly provides times and approximate fares so you can weigh your options all in one place; and it includes a link to the transport company so that you can complete the purchase there. Rome2Rio (which is also available for iOS and Android) offers hotel and rental car searches, but I find it most useful for its original purpose: mapping out the best way to get from here to there.


Wendy Perrin on airplane

How to Find the Best Flight for Your Money

The travel problem: Finding the most comfortable, most convenient flight for your dollar.

The tool that solves it: As Routehappy says on its website, “not all flights are created equal.” And that’s exactly why Routehappy was created—to help you determine which flight will give you the best value for your money. On the surface, this site looks like any flight-search tool, but when it spits back your results, you’ll see a lot more information than just times and fares. By combining data on such things as seat size, legroom, in-flight entertainment, Wi-Fi, baggage fees, and flier reviews (all of which you can expand for more detail), Routehappy creates a Happiness Score for each flight. Once you find the trip that will make you happiest, click the purchase button to be taken to the exact page you need on the airline’s own website. Even if you’ve already booked your flight, this tool can still help: Type in your flight info, and Routehappy—and its growing community of fliers—can tell you what to expect.

Positano, Italy

How to Plan the Ideal Italy Trip


Hi Wendy, I’m planning a trip to Italy in September 2015 for my 40th birthday with my husband. We have 12 days total and would love to see Florence, Pisa, Rome, and drive the Amalfi Coast. What would you recommend for the most time-efficient way to cover these areas? Thanks.

—Chris H.


Chris, it depends on which cities you’re flying into and out of. If your airline ticket is roundtrip to Rome, for instance, then I’d give you different advice than if you can fly into Florence and out of Naples, or vice-versa. Some people would prefer a north-to-south itinerary, starting their trip in Florence—because that’s the portion that requires the most brainwork and footwork—and ending on the Amalfi Coast—because that’s the portion more conducive to relaxation and beachgoing. Others would prefer the opposite because Florence is a shopping extravaganza and you’ll have a lot less to pack around Italy if Florence comes at the end of your trip rather than the start.

And then there’s Andrea Grisdale, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for Italy, who is a master of efficiency who plans trips to Italy for thousands of travelers each year. She suggests starting in Naples and ending in Florence, based on airline schedules from the U.S., airport distances, and hotel check-in times. Here’s an itinerary that Andrea recommends for you:



When booking your airline ticket, keep in mind that if you must connect in Rome to get to Naples, it may be faster to drive from the Rome airport to Naples than to fly that short distance.


Have a driver pick you up at either the Rome or Naples airport and drive you to Pompeii so you can see the ancient city en route to the Amalfi Coast. Make Positano your base for the next three nights because of the selection of accommodations and because the town has beautiful bars, restaurants, shops, lanes/stairways, and hidden corners to explore. You’ll arrive in the mid-afternoon when your room is available for check-in. Spend your first late afternoon/evening exploring Positano.


Ravello, Italy

Ravello   Photo courtesy IC Bellagio

Day 3: THE AMALFI COAST (Read Andrea’s Insider’s Guide to the Amalfi Coast.)

If you want to drive yourself, rent a Smart Car locally, as they are easy to drive and park (parking is a challenge on the Amalfi Coast) and great when you must pass large vehicles on narrow curves. Having a driver would give you the time to explore more coastal villages and off-the-beaten-track corners and to enjoy fun local interaction. Your driver could drop you off in Ravello, and you could walk through the valleys and villages down into Amalfi and meet him there.


Capri City, Italy

Capri City   Photo courtesy IC Bellagio

Day 4: CAPRI

Head to Capri by public boat. Or you could hire a private boat, which would give you the option to swim in the area of the Li Galli Islands, enjoy a fun lunch in one of the cove restaurants in Nerano, and explore the many grottoes around the island of Capri before arriving in Marina Grande (where the public boats arrive). See Capri by taxi or take the funicular from port to Capri Town. Drink an aperitivo and people-watch in the piazza, and also see Ana Capri (more quiet and quaint) before returning to Positano.


Vatican City, Italy

Vatican City   Photo courtesy IC Bellagio

Days 5 – 7: ROME

Leaving Positano, you may wish to enjoy a typical pizza in Naples, or take in the city’s highlights via a walk through the backstreets with a local, before hopping onto the high-speed train to Rome (just 1 hour 10 minutes). Take a taxi to your hotel in the heart of Rome and spend three nights. In Rome Andrea can arrange Vespa and Segway tours, gelato-making lessons, cooking with a local chef in his beautiful apartment, seeing the wonders of the Vatican, exploring Underground Rome in Trastevere, etc.


Take the high-speed train to Florence (just 1.5 hours) or hire a private driver/guide for the day so you can stop in towns between Rome and Florence and learn all about the Lazio and Tuscany regions en route. Stop for lunch in an off-the-beaten-track trattoria or with one of the Palio teams in Siena in their headquarters or, if wine is your thing, with a local family in their private vineyard. Arrive in Florence and spend four nights. In Florence you may follow in the footsteps of the Medicis, discover more about Michelangelo, take gastronomic walks and pop into specialty food stores, visit artisan studios, shop at the designer outlets (and hire a personal shopper to maximize your shopping time), and much more.


Lucca, Italy

Lucca   Photo courtesy IC Bellagio

Day 9 or 10: PISA AND LUCCA

Spend one of your Florence days with a driver/guide exploring nearby Pisa (for the Leaning Tower) and Lucca (a medieval walled town). If you wish to climb the Leaning Tower, be sure to research it in advance.

Day 12: FLY HOME

Florence’s airport is an easy 20-minute drive from the city.


So, Chris, that’s an efficient way to pack a whole lot of Italy into a trip with only ten nights on the ground. If you’d like Andrea to arrange your trip, customizing it to your needs and interests, using her team of drivers and guides, and booking it so that you get the special treatment and perks that her guests get at hotels and restaurants, of course she’d be happy to.


Buon viaggio … and happy birthday!


Paris is one of the world's most expensive cities this summer, but there are easy ways to make your dollar go farther.

Smart Travel Strategies for Summer

As TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate, I’ve been sharing a lot of summer travel advice over on the TripAdvisor blog. In case you’ve missed my posts, here are links to the tips I think you’ll find most useful:

* Traveling Overseas? Make Your Dollar Go Farther.  Here’s a list of the world’s most expensive cities this summer (including Paris)—and six actions to take that will not only save you money but also reward you with more local color.

* How to Plan a Family Beach Vacation That Won’t Break the Bank.  Are you finding that every four- or five-star beach resort you’ve contacted has hiked its rates sky-high this summer?  Here are the tricks I’ve used for my own family’s summer getaways.

* Easy Ways to Avoid Airline Baggage Fees.  Of all the fees airlines hit us with, the one that most travelers find most annoying is the fee for checking luggage. For those of you who don’t have elite status with an airline, here are three ways to avoid getting stung.

Improve Your Trip With an Overnight Layover (No Kidding!)  Do you dread overnight layovers?  It’s time to change your attitude and use them to give your trip a fun kick-off or a grand finale.

* When to Save Money with a Vacation Rental.  You get more space and privacy than in a hotel, and you get to live like a local, but renting a home without staff or hotel infrastructure can mean spending your vacation doing household chores. If you’re looking for that perfect villa in Tuscany or farmhouse in Provence where it’s an easy walk into town for dinner and you needn’t worry about wrestling with unfamiliar appliances or taking out the garbage, feel free to shoot me an email (click on “Contact,” above) and I can connect you with the right trusted villa expert for your destination.

Happy summer travels, everyone!

Luxembourg Gardens boat pond, Paris

One of many inexpensive activities in Paris is to sail boats in the Luxembourg Gardens, as my younger son is doing here.

Royal Mile in Edinburgh Scotland

Where to Eat and Drink in Edinburgh


I’m leaving for Scotland in a couple of weeks. Any recommendations for great restaurants and bars (for the over-30 crowd, please!) in Edinburgh? Thanks!

—Faby S.


Faby, you’re in luck because Edinburgh has gone through a culinary boom lately.  It’s now got five Michelin-starred restaurants—which is pretty impressive for a city of only 500,000 people. On top of that, 2014 is Scotland’s Year of Homecoming, so you’ll find several food and drink festivals on tap.

To get an answer for you from someone who knows Edinburgh well, I reached out to Jonathan Epstein of Celebrated Experiences.  As a first-rate travel planner for Scotland, he’s there frequently, road-testing  not only the restaurants and pubs but also the hotels, car services, expert guides, etc. The secret to Edinburgh’s culinary success, he says, is the combination of innovative Scottish chefs and fresh local ingredients, from farm-to-table vegetables and fruit to excellent seafood, lamb, and Angus beef.  Many restaurants are so in-demand that it can be very  tough to get a table, but that’s where Jonathan wields his local connections on his travelers’ behalf, not only getting them reservations but getting them VIP’d.  “Food tastes better when people are being extra nice to you,” he points out.

Here are the spots he recommends: 


The Kitchin:  “Tom Kitchin is an amazing chef, and dinner there is not only delicious but educational. They hand out maps of Scotland to guests to show exactly where the food is sourced from. And, when we call ahead on behalf of travelers, Tom comes out and walks them through the menu, teaching about foraging and his local producers.”

Castle Terrace:  “A few years ago, Tom Kitchin opened a second fine-dining restaurant, and it quickly also earned a Michelin star.”

Restaurant Martin Wishart: “He was the first Michelin-starred chef in Edinburgh.  His restaurant opened in 1999 and received a star in 2001. He also has a contemporary brasserie called The Honours that our travelers love!”

Paul Kitching 21212: “A very fun and innovative restaurant by Chef Paul Kitching. Don’t come here if you need lots of options.  Do come here if you want a meal made to perfection with incredibly fresh ingredients.  The menu changes daily, and the name of the restaurant is based on the number of choices you have for each course.  You get a choice of two starters, two mains, and two desserts.  The midcourses…no choice!  Lunch is very accessible, at just $37 per person right now.”

The Pompadour:  “Two years ago, after a grand refurbishment, The Caledonian was rebranded as a Waldorf Astoria hotel.  The fantastic Galvin brothers, behind so much dining success in London, opened a brilliant restaurant there called Pompadour.”


Wildfire: “Delicious, non-pretentious presentation of great steaks and seafood.”

Scotch Malt Whisky Society: “It’s a private club, but we can arrange entry into it. We also arrange special whisky tastings and even dinner with whisky pairings.”

Wedgewood: “It serves great Scottish cuisine, and you are never rushed because tables are not turned: You’ll be the only one enjoying that table the night you are there.”

The Indian Cavalry Club: “It’s the Best Indian food in Edinburgh, and remember, eating Indian is a must when in Britain.”

Fishers in the City: “Great buzz and atmosphere.  Popular with locals, and open late!”

Angels with Bagpipes: “For less formal nights out, this has been a favorite of ours for quite some time. It’s under new management, and we still hear great reviews from travelers.”

Cucina: “Should you get a craving for Italian food, this restaurant at G&V Royal Mile Hotel is the one to choose.”


The Scran & Scallie: “Tom Kitchin’s gastro pub. Terrific local beers.”

The Devil’s Advocate: “Located in an old Victorian pump house in Old Town.”

Sandy Bell’s: “Our favorite for traditional local music.”

Deacon Brodies Tavern: “Best pub on The Royal Mile.”

Guildford Arms: “Beautiful, traditional pub.”

The Abbotsford: “Another beauty. We love the traditional Scottish ales, the curved bar, and the Victorian ceiling.”

The Black Cat: “A very atmospheric bar specializing in whisky.”

Café Royal Oyster Bar: “Gorgeous bar, with a nice selection of Scottish beers.  Tasty fresh mussels and oysters (and much more).”


Faby, if you can’t get to every one of these, you can always live vicariously by following Jonathan’s Instagram page.



Omaha Beach Normandy France

The Best Way to Tour Europe’s World War II Sites


Hi Wendy,

My husband and I are seasoned travelers and would like to take a trip to see some of Europe’s important World War II sights, including Normandy, the Ardennes, Amsterdam, Munich, and Nuremberg—and we’re open to other suggestions. We want very knowledgable guides in each place and want to stay in the nicest accommodations.  Who should we contact to help us plan such a trip?


—Randy B.


With the 70th Anniversary of D-Day coming up this Friday, there’s a lot of interest right now in European itineraries that encompass the Normandy landing beaches and other WWII sites. Randy, this means you need a Western Europe travel specialist with knowledge of, and access to, the best guides for these sites.

My suggestion is that you reach out to Rudi Steele of Rudi Steele Travel. He’s a particularly well-connected travel agent who was born in Germany (where his older brothers were actually drafted into the Hitler Youth) and raised in Switzerland. World War II is a passion for him. Over the years, he has made private guided WWII itineraries a subspecialty, and he also has close relationships with the general managers of Europe’s finest hotels, and that translates into preferred treatment and extra benefits for you.

Rudi is imaginative with itineraries, so fasten your seatbelt. He may suggest that you start off in London at the Imperial War Museum. It’s currently closed for renovation, but just last week he got some travelers inside it privately with a historian. Rudi can even fly you by helicopter from London to one of the Landing Beaches in Normandy!  As you move through France toward Germany, he might recommend you make time for some of the underground fortresses along the Maginot Line.  As for Germany, the court room in Nuremberg is a must, of course, but Rudi says a highlight for World War II buffs is a visit to Colditz Castle, near Leipzig. The Germans used the Castle as a high-security prison for Allied officers who were considered particularly dangerous and had escaped from other prisoner-of-war camps; many managed to break out of the Castle anyway, and you can tour the escape tunnels.

Randy, over the next few days the beaches of Normandy (like the one pictured above) will be bustling with 70th anniversary activity. By the time of your trip, though, all should be back to normal and peaceful. Have a great trip!

Lobby of The Affinia Manhattan hotel
Nobody expects to see a space like this at 7th Ave. and 31st St. It's the lobby of The Affinia Manhattan.

7 New York City Hotels That are Convenient and Affordable


Hi Wendy,

A friend and his wife are going to New York City for their 25th anniversary. They want to see all the attractions, which will take them from the Statue of Liberty to the new Freedom Tower, and up to Central Park. What conveniently located Manhattan hotels do you recommend for someone with a budget of about $300 per night?


—Jack C.


Jack, as someone who grew up in midtown Manhattan and still spends most days of the week there, zipping uptown and down on the subway, I do have a few picks for hotels that are well-located for sightseeing, convenient to public transportation, and budget-friendly (for NYC, that is).  Given the tourist crowds that are expected to hit Manhattan over the next few months—New York City is, after all, the #3 U.S. destination for TripAdvisor travelers this summer—these options should come in handy.


In the Theater District: citizenM Times Square

This new 230-room hotel is the first stateside outpost of the Amsterdam-based hotel chain, whose motto is “affordable luxury.”  The lobby, referred to as “the living room,” features oversized art and is filled with books and magazines. Efficiency is the theme, with self-service check-in and check-out, a 24-hour canteen, and rooms that make the most of their limited space with oversized beds and smart storage (218 West 50th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues).


Near Fifth Avenue shopping: Viceroy New York

The 240-room Viceroy aims to bring a downtown vibe to its chic uptown location just a three-minute walk from Fifth Avenue’s most elegant shops and restaurants and the prettiest corner of Central Park.  The lobby has an Art Deco vibe; the restaurant and bar, Kingside, is a destination unto itself; the rooms are done in brown leathers, wood paneling, and brass accents. Doubles start at $305 if you prepay (120 West 57th St).


Near the Flatiron: Ace Hotel New York

This trendy 260-room hotel a few blocks from Madison Square Park is a magnet for locals, thanks to its Stumptown-Coffee-serving lobby bar and Michelin-starred gastro pub, The John Dory Oyster Bar. In a building dating from 1904, the hotel has an eclectic aesthetic that combines the historic mosaic tile floor and stained glass ceilings with oddities such as a graffiti sticker mural wall in the lobby. Room sizes vary drastically, from Bunk Bed to Loft Suite  (20 W. 29th St., near Broadway).


Near Columbus Circle: Hudson New York

Just five blocks from Lincoln Center, this Philippe Starck-designed hotel is still reasonably hip, even 14 years after it opened. Rooms are small; the focus is on the public spaces, such as the Sky Terrace rooftop bar, which is very popular in summer, and the Hudson Common, a beer hall and burger joint with nightly live music (365 W. 58th St., between 8th and 9th Avenues).


Near Pennsylvania Station: The Affinia Manhattan

This hotel is not in a pretty neighborhood, but it’s close to the transit hubs at Penn Station and Herald Square, yet still a few blocks removed from the noise and chaos of Times Square (and just a short walk to Macy’s and the Empire State Building). The hotel has an Old New York ambiance—with velvet couches and gold-plated elevators—and 618 modern, comfortable rooms (371 Seventh Ave. at 31st St).


At Grand Central Terminal: Grand Hyatt New York

It’s hardly a charmer, what with 1,306 rooms and a busy lobby, but it’s attached to Grand Central Terminal, making it one of the most convenient places to sleep in Manhattan. It’s got all the comforts of a large hotel: a 24-hour market downstairs, a fitness center, and just about any service you could need within easy reach (109 East 42nd St).


Near Soho shopping and galleries: The Nolitan

NoLita is a fun downtown neighborhood whose abbreviation stands for “North of Little Italy.” This hotel’s cozy lobby has a library, and its modern-industrial rooms have unfinished ceilings and wood-plank floors. Some even have floor-to-ceiling windows or balconies (30 Kenmare St.).



Keisuke Matsushima restaurant, Nice, France

Must-Dine Restaurants in Nice and Monte Carlo




We’re headed to the south of France in June and want to eat where the locals eat. Any restaurant suggestions in Nice and Monte Carlo?




Frank, if I were headed to Nice and Monte Carlo and wanted to know where the locals eat, I’d ask my friend Christine Cantera, a.k.a. Miss Expatria, who is a local herself.  She has written all about France and its food for Viator, BootsnAll Travel, Nomadic Foodie, et al. In fact, do yourself a favor and invite her to dinner with you! You’ll be sure to order the right thing, have a delightful dinner, and come away with plenty of travel tips for the area. Meanwhile, here are Christine’s recommendations:


In Nice:

La Merenda, 4 rue Raoul Bosio

“It’s a rustic bistro with a focus on locally sourced foods and a limited menu that changes with the chef’s whim. It draws a mix of older locals and foodies who’ve heard about it (and it’s probably not for anyone with dietary restrictions because I don’t know if they’d have the resources for substitutions). Seating is limited, and they have no phone, so you’ll need to hang around outside until noon, when you can ask to put your name in for a spot. Oh, and they’re not open on weekends. Oh, and they only take cash. Don’t worry: It’s worth the hassle.”


L’ Ane Rouge, 7 Quai des 2 Emmanuel

“The port side L’Ane Rouge has a pretty typical seafood menu for the French Riviera; you won’t find anything too inventive, but the classics are always solid. Reserve an outdoor table: The outdoor terrace is massive, is not as cramped or hot as the indoors, and has views of the port you’re sitting on.”


Keisuke Matsushima, 22 rue de France

“Two words: Michelin star.  The dining room is Japanese-style minimalist, but the cuisine is innovative French. I haven’t actually eaten here myself, but everyone I know who has eaten here has raved about it.”  [Note from Wendy to Frank: That’s where you should take Christine for dinner.]


In Monte Carlo:

Il Terrazzino, 2 rue des Iris

“It’s one of the only places in Monte Carlo that’s not over-hyped or over-priced. The Italian food is fresh and lovingly prepared. Reservations are a must.”

Bon appetit et bon voyage!

L'Ane Rouge restaurant, Nice, France

Chef Michel Devillers uses fresh local ingredients at L’Ane Rouge in Nice


Location of London's Marylebone Hotel

Tips for a Quick Trip to London


Hi Wendy,

I’m headed to England in June. We fly into Heathrow, spend one night in London, then take the train to Stratford-upon-Avon for two days, followed by a week back in London in a flat. I’ve been trying to find a hotel for that first night in London that will allow us to walk around and see sights our first day and evening, but is convenient for reaching Marylebone Station by noon the next day. Any recommendations? As for our train tickets, is it better to buy them in advance or on the day of travel?

Thank you,



Roberta, with so many people flooding London this summer—the city drew a record-breaking 16.8 million visitors last year—I knew you could use not only a smart hotel recommendation but also a few tips for avoiding crowds and lines. So I reached out to England travel specialist Katey Hartwell of Travel Experts, who has helped many of my friends with similar London requests. Here’s Katey’s advice:

“For an easy overnight in London, The Marylebone Hotel is terrific. It’s right where you need to be for departure the following day, plus the location is excellent for dining, delightful shops, as well as the British Museum, Hyde Park, Regents Park, and access to just about every major site in the city center.  The hotel is large enough that it may still have rooms available during the busy summer season.  It also has a pool, which is a nice amenity after an overnight flight as well as a place to refresh if your rooms are not ready.

You can get tickets at the rail station, and trains are frequent to Stratford-upon-Avon, but it saves time at the station if you’ve already bought them, so purchase them online at www.britrail.com.

For your week in your London flat, you should make advance reservations for the main attractions—such as The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Palace—since these will have long entry lines.  You can purchase the tickets online here or consider the London Pass, which will get you into most attractions and allow you to skip the lines at the most popular.”

Does anyone else have London tips for Roberta? 



Chianti, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Italy Tourism Board

The Best Way to Travel Between Rome, Florence, and the Towns of Tuscany


Hi Wendy,

We’re taking a mother-daughter trip to Italy for my daughter’s college graduation. We’ll be in Rome for four days, then Florence for six days, in early June.  We want to make day trips from Florence to Lucca, Pisa, a few Tuscan villages, and possibly Cinque Terre. What’s the best way to get around efficiently in our limited time? What are the best day trips from Florence?




Donna, if I were you, I’d use a combination of trains and private drivers.  I’ve driven from Rome to Florence, and all over Tuscany, in a rental car, and I have to tell you that it’s not very efficient. You can easily get lost because of poor signage and confusing roads, get fined for breaking rules you didn’t know exist, and waste untold hours searching for parking spots, especially in June—a peak month for tourist crowds. You can’t drive into the historic centers of cities like Florence and Siena anyway—although you can drive in circles around them for hours, following the signs for “centro”  yet never reaching it.

Trains are a good solution for certain day trips from Florence—say, to Pisa and Lucca, which you can combine in one day by train (especially in June, when you have many hours of daylight to play with). For certain day trips, though, you need a car—especially if you want a proper experience of the hill towns of Tuscany.  As for Cinque Terre, it makes no sense to do that as a day trip from Florence; it takes too long to get there, whether by train or car.

Your best option, if your budget allows, is to hire a knowledgeable private driver for the day trip to Tuscan villages, especially if you want to see Chianti, the legendary wine region between Florence and Siena, and if you plan to do any wine tasting there.  You might also hire a driver for the trip from Rome to Florence. True, you could easily take the train, but then you’d miss must-see stops in between, such as the grand Umbrian hill town of Orvieto.

Maria Gabriella Landers, an Italy travel specialist I recommend on my WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts, arranges magically efficient itineraries with private drivers. I asked her to share her advice for you:

“Travelers to Italy can be smart about when to utilize a driver. Do it on a day when you’re changing hotel locations, so you have the convenience of a driver when you have luggage, and so you can make sightseeing stops between those locations—such as stops between Rome, Florence, and Venice.  Stopping in Orvieto or Siena, or in the hill towns of Chianti, en route from Rome to Florence adds color and contrast to an itinerary focused on the bigger cities.

Once you’re in Florence, you could do a day trip, with a driver, to visit San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Radda, and Gaiole, and stop by a couple of vineyards—all in one day. There are also lots of tiny, charming villages just outside Florence—Vinci, for instance, which is Leonardo da Vinci’s home town and has spectacular views, as well as a da Vinci museum and the house where he was born. You could also do a day trip to Montepulciano and Pienza (90 minutes by car).”

As for day trips from Florence that you can execute comfortably by public transportation, here are Maria’s suggestions:

  • Lucca and Pisa. You can work the trains so as to visit both in one day. Check Trenitalia for schedules; be sure to enter the city names in Italian—e.g., Firenze for Florence, Roma for Rome. Keep in mind that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a 20-minute walk from the train station.
  • Bologna. It’s just half an hour by train.
  • Fiesole and Settignano. You can take city buses from Florence to visit these two charming and historically rich towns in the hills outside of Florence.
  • For a bit of fresh air without really leaving town, you can walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and stroll along the hills to Via San Leonardo and Villa Strozzi.

Note to readers who’ve already been there and done that: If you’re looking for more unusual day-trip ideas, here are two that are on my own wish list: The Piero della Francesca trail, and this unusual ancient Tuscan cooking class.

Also read Maria’s Insider’s Guide to Florence, her Insider’s Guide to Tuscany, and her Insider’s Guide to Umbria.  Then contact her via Wendy’s trip request form. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Buon viaggio!

united boarding pass showing early morning flight

Pros and Cons of Early Morning and Late Night Flights

The high airfares that families face during school breaks—when every other family is trying to flee town at the same time—can feel positively punitive.  Often the only solution is to opt for the least convenient flights—typically in the late evening and early morning—which means sacrificing the kids’ sleep schedule and your sanity. Are the costs really worth the savings?

That’s the question I’m asking myself today. My family of four just flew back from Georgia, where we visited relatives over the Easter school break. I paid $1,200 for our four tickets from Newark to Atlanta. While I’m glad to have saved about $300 by booking the last flight of the day to Atlanta and the first flight of the day back to Newark, the decision took its toll on us. I thought I’d detail the pros and cons of our experience, in case you ever need to make a similar decision.

The pros:

  1. We saved $300.
  2. There were few lines. Upon landing at our destination late at night, we did not hit any lines picking up our rental car, nor did we hit any traffic driving to our hotel. When flying back at dawn, there was no line at check-in or security.
  3. Our early morning flight left on time—which, of course, is a big advantage to early morning flights. They are the least likely to be delayed.
  4. Upon landing, we had a full and productive day ahead at our destination (since it was only 8:18 a.m.).

The cons:

  1. We lost way too much sleep.
  2. Our nighttime flight was delayed—as is often the case, thanks to the cascading effect of delays throughout the day. Our 7:14 p.m. flight to Atlanta translated to a midnight arrival at our hotel.
  3. Airport transit services were limited in the wee hours.  We had to set our alarm clocks for 3:00 a.m. to catch our 6:01 a.m. flight home because we had to ensure we could return the rental car, catch the Skytrain from the airport rental car center to the terminal, get through security, catch the Plane Train to our concourse, and find the kids some breakfast before the 5:36 a.m. boarding time.  It’s a good thing we left time for the unexpected because, upon breezing past security at 4:45 a.m., we found that the Plane Train that operates between concourses was out of service. We had to walk from check-in all the way to Concourse D (five concourses away)—which, as anyone who has spent too much time at ATL can tell you, is a major hike.
  4. Airport concessions were closed.  ATL is the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic, yet there were no snacks to be found at 4:45 a.m. Fortunately, a coffee shop in Concourse D opened at 5:00 a.m. (The United Club there doesn’t open till 6:00 a.m.)


I’d love to hear: What have you put yourself through to avoid a high airfare?  And how do you decide whether the inconvenience and sleep deprivation are worth the savings?

Fogo Island Inn Newfoundland aerial view

Fly Your Own Plane to Fogo Island, Newfoundland

If piloting your own small plane to the edge of the earth sounds like your kind of fun, or like a great gift for a significant other, I’ve got an idea for you—and you don’t even need to be certified to fly. It’s the birthday present I gave my husband last year. You can even combine it with a trip to the Fogo Island Inn, the buzzy new hotel off the remote northeast coast of Newfoundland (next stop: Greenland) that is on many people’s travel to-do lists right now.

Getting to Fogo Island can feel like a journey to the edge of the world. In fact, according to the Flat Earth Society, Fogo is one of the four corners of the world. From Gander, Newfoundland, the journey requires a two-hour drive, a 45-minute ferry ride, another 20-minute drive, and a mess of logistics.

Last summer I needed an easier way. I was bound for Fogo and crunched for time. I also needed a birthday present for Tim. So I killed two birds with one stone: Tim got to pilot a four-seat Cessna 172 Skyhawk from Gander to Fogo and back—even though he’s not certified to fly—and I got a transit time of just 30 minutes each way.

Gander is, of course, an internationally renowned center for aviation training. At 8:00 a.m. we reported to Gander Flight Training HQ and met our trainer, a young pilot named Derek Sparkes. He weighed us and our luggage, had us help him with the aircraft safety check, and taught us about all the controls, gauges, and dials in the cockpit. He sat next to Tim throughout the flight, leading him through each step, his hands almost on the controls so he could take over in a nanosecond if necessary; in fact, sometimes Tim could feel the yoke and pedals move to where Derek wanted them to be. But Tim taxied down the runway, communicated with air traffic control, and took off all by himself. As we sailed over vast expanses of blue and green, Tim even managed to shoot some photos too. But when it came time to land on Fogo, the landing strip looked awfully narrow. Tim decided he’d better leave the touchdown to an expert and gladly handed over control.

Such private flights out of Gander are both weather- and weight-dependent. Thankfully, the wind cooperated and our luggage was light. Such flights aren’t cheap either. I paid $1,200 to the travel planner who recommended and arranged it for me, Marc Telio of Entrée Canada. It was a splurge, for sure, but the roundtrip flight saved us at least six hours of travel time and left us with a priceless memory. And because I also booked my Fogo Island Inn stay through Marc—who gets a greatly reduced rate, thanks to his friendship with the Inn’s founder—I saved almost as much as I spent.

Pilot Derek Sparkes performs a safety check

Pilot Derek Sparkes performs a safety check on the plane.

Tim takes the pilot's seat.

Tim takes the pilot’s seat.

Inside the Cessna

Inside the Cessna

The runway

The runway

The view from inside the plane

The view as we took off

aerial view of Newfoundland

View from the plane

Fogo Island 5aerial view of Fogo Island Newfoundlandaerial view of Fogo Island Newfoundland

Fogo Island 11
I’d love to hear: What’s the best travel gift you’ve given anyone?

Transparency disclosure: Yes, the Fogo Island Inn is an advertiser. But I visited and fell in love with the Inn and its people, community, and concept long before this website was conceived.


Alone in Petra at sunrise

My Favorite Spot in the World for Sunrise

A lot of travelers aim to be in a particular spot for the sunset. If you ask me, sunrise is better. You get equally great photographs (thanks to that “Golden Hour” lighting that occurs twice daily—shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset) but your pictures aren’t spoiled by hordes of tourists.

Petra caves

Locals live in the caves inside Petra

Sunrise is also the best time to watch the locals doing their thing—waking up in the rickshaws they slept in; heeding the mosque’s morning call to prayer; practicing their tai chi on the waterfront; setting up their stalls at the fish market; dropping their children off at school. At sunrise I’ve managed to be alone with the fishermen and feluccas on the banks of the Nile, as well as with saffron-robed monks amid the ruins of Angkor Wat.

Petra, Jordan

This is typically Petra’s most crowded spot

My favorite sunrise ever, though, was in Jordan, at the ancient rock-hewn city of Petra, one of the new seven wonders of the world. The site officially opens at 6:00 a.m., but Tim and I found the gate wide open at 5:30 a.m. and walked right in. For one priceless hour—till the first tourists caught up with us—we were the only people there and felt like archaeologists who had discovered a lost world. The light at sunrise so intensified the colors in the sandstone that it quickly became clear how Petra got its nickname “The Rose City.”

By 11 a.m. the site was swarming with day trippers from cruise ships. But I’ll always have the memory—and photos—of my own private Petra.

Petra Jordan

Sunrise brings out the colors in the sandstone

As it turns out, I’m not the only person who thinks Petra is home to one of the world’s best sunrises. I’d love to know: Where in the world is your favorite? And, so you can savor a sunrise on your next trip, here’s a handy-dandy tool for sussing out the exact time of sunrise wherever you are in the world.