Tag Archives: travel tips

Pool at Kura Design Villas Cost Rica

These Trips of a Lifetime Are Better if You Book Last Minute

The most extraordinary trips usually require a fair amount of planning. But there are a few destinations where, right now, even a top-of-the-line trip can be planned on the spur of the moment—and should be. Here’s where and why.

Costa Rica

Honeymooners are steering clear of Costa Rica right now—the best resorts, which are typically full, are running at 60 to 70 percent capacity—and the Zika virus could be to blame. If you’re of a reproductive mindset, sure, it’s wise to stay away (Zika is a major concern only for women who are or hope to soon become pregnant). But if not, now is a great time to visit Costa Rica. This summer, top properties such as Finca Rosa Blanca Resort, Hacienda AltaGracia, Kura Design Villas, Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort, and Lapa Rios Eco Lodge are offering discounts to entice travelers, but Michael believes the biggest value is in the extra-special service that you’re sure to receive when a hotel’s staff has fewer guests to care for: A naturalist might take some extra time to find that elusive bird species with you, a restaurant might surprise you with a private dining experience for free, or the front desk clerk might upgrade you to a suite if one would otherwise sit empty. (These things are certainly likely to happen for WendyPerrin.com travelers who use a recommended expert off of Wendy’s WOW List.)

ecuador with snowy mountain, green meadow, and sheep grazing

Ecuador’s mainland is seeing fewer visitors than usual—which means now is the perfect time to visit. Photo: Southwind Adventures

Ecuador

An April earthquake and fears of Zika virus have scared some travelers away from Ecuador. But the major tourist areas of Quito, Cuenca, and the Galapagos have seen little effect from either scourge: The quake’s area of damage was confined to the coast, and as for Zika, mosquitos don’t live in the Andean highlands and are unlikely to carry the virus in the Galapagos (due to the same strict environmental controls that have made the islands malaria-free). Tom Damon, Trusted Travel Expert for Ecuador, tells us that, while you’re unlikely to find space on a last-minute Galapagos cruise (travelers book these far in advance, and few have cancelled), the mainland is seeing fewer visitors than usual—and there’s so much there to see, from highland haciendas to rainforest ecolodges, craft villages to UNESCO World Heritage sites. Ecuador’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and the government will have to do much rebuilding along the coast. This is why Quito’s mayor, Mauricio Rodas, has said: “The best way to help Ecuador is to visit Ecuador.” Go now, and you’ll be greeted by grateful citizens eager to make yours the trip of a lifetime.

Monk and flowers, Nepal.

Monk and Flowers, Nepal. Photo Courtesy Toni Neubauer

Nepal

“Because of the earthquake in April 2015, tourism is still quite slow in Nepal, so if you have a last-minute desire to see or trek the Himalayas, now is definitely the time to go,” says Antonia Neubauer, Trusted Travel Expert for Nepal. Infrastructure, hotels, and trekking routes are all largely functioning as they were before the quake—and you won’t run into hordes of hikers on the most popular trails, as would have happened in the past. Surprisingly, hotel rates have gone up as concrete, food, and other supplies are having to get shipped in from other countries (many farmers missed the planting season last year). But remember that your tourist dollars are desperately needed: “A good portion of the population is still struggling to rebuild. When you come to Nepal, know that you are giving back to the country just by being there,” says Antonia. While summer is the monsoon season, fall is prime for trekking, biking, and festival-going.

Tibet

It’s not at all unheard of for China to revoke permits that have already been granted to travelers headed to Tibet. “The Chinese government can close travel to Tibet at any time,” says Sanjay Saxena, Trusted Travel Expert for Tibet, “which means that it’s difficult to plan a trip for next year. However, our ears in the tourism ministry forewarn us a few weeks in advance if a closure is expected, so with a last-minute booking I can with great certainty determine whether or not we will be able to get a permit.” The overland journey from Lhasa to Kathmandu, Nepal, is one of Sanjay’s favorite travel experiences, but after last year’s earthquake, this border crossing was closed and all such trips had to be cancelled. Sanjay has just gotten word that it will be reopened in June, making this iconic journey through two Himalayan kingdoms possible once again.

 

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.

Berlin Wall, Germany. Photo: Context Travel

Berlin’s History on Foot: A Walking Tour

Berlin is a city of creative, laid-back people, where long conversations ensue after chance encounters with locals. It also has a long and complicated history: Once the center of a mighty empire, it grew infamous as the capital during the grim Nazi period, and then, for almost 30 years, as a city divided by a wall.

Since the 1990s, Berlin has seen social, political, and economic regeneration, and now it is a gripping city to explore, whether you survey the unique architectural complexes, walk the remnants of the Berlin Wall, or visit its vast heritage of museums and galleries. It’s also a popular one-day add-on before or after a European river cruise, and even during a Baltic Sea cruise.

But no matter how or when you visit, the flat terrain and clear grid of streets make Berlin an ideal city to explore on foot. For advice on how best to route a city stroll, we tapped Context Travel, our Trusted Travel Expert for cultural walking tours. Here are two itineraries, ideal for any urban explorers. You can choose to go it alone or hire one of Context’s “docents”—professors, art historians, chefs, and other interesting local people—to show you around.

The 20th century history walk:

2-3 hours

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: Context Travel

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: Context Travel

Though a sprawling city, Berlin has several important sites relatively close to one another that make for a good introductory walking tour.

  • Start at the Brandenburg Gate, a famous symbol of Berlin modeled on the entrance to the Acropolis, and the spot where Reagan urged Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Then stroll around it to see the Reichstag—where Parliament meets—just in its shadow.
  • Then make a U-turn and head toward the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial.
  • Afterward take in the sobering Topography of Terror museum, with its exhibitions documenting Nazi atrocities at the site where the headquarters of the Gestapo and SS once stood.
  • Finish up at Potsdamer Platz, a public square once bisected by the Berlin Wall and now a poster child of the city’s post-unification project.

The Wall walk:

4–5 hours

Berlin Wall, Germany. Photo: Context Travel

Berlin Wall. Photo: Context Travel

Berlin experienced the country’s post-World War II division like no other city in Germany, having been split by the Berlin Wall, which went up overnight on August 13, 1961 and was finally torn down in 1990.

Three key locations around Berlin will give you a comprehensive concept of the Wall: the Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Strasse; Checkpoint Charlie, an old crossing point between the Soviet and American sectors of the city; and the East Side Gallery, a section of wall covered with paintings done by artists from around the world.

We suggest the following route for your mauerweg (Wall walk):

  • Starting from the Memorial—a still-standing section of wall and a center that explains the construction of the border partition—take a short walk to Kieler Strasse to see the old East Berlin watchtower, one of the few such remaining structures; the tower has been turned into a museum by Jurgen Litfin, whose brother was the first person to be killed trying to flee East Berlin.
  • From there, following Invalidenstrasse down along the canal, come out to the Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz—the place where a peaceful demonstration on November 9, 1989, turned into a historic event which ended with demolition of the Wall.
  • Head south along Ebertstrasse, stopping to look at the remnants of the Wall at Potsdamer Strasse, one of the city’s main thoroughfares.
  • Walking through Leipziger Platz along Mauerstrasse, and turning to Friedrichstrasse, you will get to Checkpoint Charlie, an old crossing point between the Soviet and American sectors of the city.
  • Splash out on lunch at Tim Raue, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant next to Checkpoint Charlie. Despite its accolades, the atmosphere remains unflappably casual, with serving staff in Converse and the now-famous chef often seen working the room, chatting to diners. Or for a quicker stop, try West Berlin, a chic cafe serving exceptional coffee and pastries. Though located just past the tourist circus that is Checkpoint Charlie, the cafe is mostly frequented by Berlin’s creatives and offers a refreshing taste of local life.
  • The last stop on your tour should be the East Side Gallery, a section of wall covered with paintings done by artists from around the world. The best way to reach it is by subway: Walk to U1 Station Hallesches Tor, then ride the U1 line to Warschauer Strasse.

This entire route runs about seven miles and takes four to five hours; you can, of course, cherry-pick portions of the walk for a shorter version. Or you can join Context’s Walking the Wall tour, learning from an expert in 20th-century history about life on both sides of the Wall, and the hardships and moments of bliss that the city experienced during the Cold War.

 

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.

How to Avoid Long Airport Security Lines This Summer

Airport security lines have grown absurdly long of late, thanks to more people traveling and fewer TSA workers. With the busy summer travel season upon us, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Here’s how to minimize your time stuck in a TSA line on your next trip:

If You’re Flying Soon

Find out if your airport terminal has more than one security checkpoint.

Many terminals do. Before leaving home, go to the airport’s website and pull up a map showing the security checkpoints. (This map, for instance, indicates where the three checkpoints are in Newark airport’s Terminal C; this one shows where they are for all five terminals at Dallas-Fort Worth.) At the airport, ask an official which checkpoint has the shortest line.

Download the MyTSA app.

Available for free for iPhones and Android, this app gives you current security wait times at your airport, as reported by your fellow travelers. You can also view them here; just type in your airport code.

Arrive early and hit the club lounge.

The bigger and busier your airport—e.g., J.F.K., Chicago (O’Hare), or Miami International—the earlier you’ll want to arrive, especially if you’re flying at a peak time.  At least two hours early for a domestic flight, and three hours early for international, may be a good rule of thumb for most airports. To keep your stress level down, you might consider arriving really early and buying a day pass to an airport lounge club (if the club is gate-side).

If You’re Flying Later

Don’t buy airline tickets for flights at peak times.

Avoid Friday late afternoon and early evening, for example, because that’s when business travelers returning from business trips are hitting the airport at the same time as leisure travelers leaving on vacation, creating security-line pile-ups. If you’re taking a long weekend, consider flying on a Saturday morning and returning Tuesday. (That’s also less expensive than a Thursday-to-Sunday long weekend.)

Enroll in TSA PreCheck or, even better, Global Entry.

TSA PreCheck admits you into a priority lane where you need not remove your shoes, liquids, or laptop. The $85 fee covers you for five years. For an extra $15, though, get Global Entry (the $100 fee also covers you for five years), which lets you skip the long customs line on your way back into the U.S. from an international trip, and which automatically gives you TSA PreCheck. Not every airport has PreCheck lanes or Global Entry kiosks, so check whether yours does.

Buy access to the priority security line.

Many travelers who have elite status with an airline can use the express lane at the security checkpoint. If you don’t have elite status, some airlines let you purchase access to the priority security lane on a one-time basis. United, for instance, lets you buy access at 68 airports worldwide (prices start at $15), and JetBlue lets you buy it at 62 airports.

 

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.

Smitha leads us to our cabana in Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private port in Haiti.

Is This the Best New Cruise Perk at Sea?

If you think there’s no way you could survive a 6,000-passenger cruise ship, listen up. When the world’s new largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seasdebuts this month, it will introduce a first in special treatment at sea: the Royal Genie. Yes, that’s right, a genie. The kind who grants your every wish. More specifically, a shipboard fixer whose goal is to expedite you past every line and make every potential obstacle on a 227,000-ton floating megaresort vanish.

At least, that was what my Royal Genie did when my family and I put one to the test a few months ago aboard Allure of the Seas.  Allure was a fitting ship for this test run because it was the world’s largest cruise ship at the time (until Harmony of the Seas overtook it) and is very similar in design to Harmony. Royal Caribbean, the cruise line to whom these ships belong and that invited me to preview the Royal Genie service, plans to roll it out across five ships this month. Only a handful of passengers—those in the top suites—get a genie.

Now, testing a Royal Genie is harder than you might think. I had trouble dreaming up things for her to do. Maybe I’m just too low-maintenance for a genie. Or maybe I’m more comfortable fending for myself. I did that too on my cruise: I split my time between being spoiled rotten and tackling the buffet line like everyone else. My goal was to be able to advise you how to have the best trip possible aboard the world’s biggest cruise ship, whether you’re in a $30,000 suite or a genie-less $4,000 stateroom.

Before I share my hard-earned advice, though, allow me to clarify what a Royal Genie actually does.

What My Royal Genie Did

My genie, Smitha Thompson, and me in the Royal Promenade aboard Allure of the Seas.

Me and my genie, Smitha Thompson, in the Royal Promenade aboard Allure of the Seas.

If you’ve ever had an airline rep meet you at an airport entrance and escort you through check-in and immigration and onto the plane, bypassing every line en route, then you can start to wrap your head around what a Royal Genie does for you. Her first order of business is to whisk you through the cruise check-in and embarkation process. My genie—the lovely Smitha Thompson, who hails from Mauritius—met me and my family inside the Fort Lauderdale cruise terminal. After we’d sailed through check-in, she escorted us onto the ship and to our room, where awaiting us was about a month’s supply of Brownie Brittle, pretzels, and red licorice (my kids’ favorite snacks, which our genie had researched beforehand). Refills flowed every day.

Smitha got us tables in the ship’s fully booked restaurants and front-row seats to the most popular shows. She had me meet with the head of the shore excursions department so I could get answers to my questions about the pros and cons of various shore tours on offer.

Smitha with the boys at our cabana. Photo: Timothy Baker

Smitha with the boys in our cabana in Labadee.

Her main goal, though, seemed to be for us never to get lost on the ship and never to wait in any line. To that end, she insisted on coming to our room (or to wherever we were on the ship) to escort us to every dinner, show, and scheduled activity. We assured her it was unnecessary, but this genie business was new to her too, and she didn’t want to mess up. Her goal in escorting us was always to take us on the shortest route from point A to point B and, upon arriving at point B, to hand us off to the person in charge there for safe keeping. When the ship docked in port, she expedited us off the ship via a labyrinth of secret passageways, normally off-limits to all but crew, so as to bypass any potential bottlenecks en route to the gangway. When we called at Labadee, the cruise line’s private port in Haiti, we were the first passengers off the ship, onto a private golf cart, into the roped-off portion of Labadee that is reserved for suite passengers, and up to a hilltop private cabana, where snorkel masks, fins, a cooler filled with drinks, and a bartender named Kesnel awaited.

Smitha even stood in line at the lobby Starbucks each morning so that she could knock on my door holding a skinny vanilla latte at 7:00 a.m. (She had asked me to specify a coffee drink and delivery time each morning.) The coffee was free of charge, of course, as were all of her services. Only Star Class passengers get a Royal Genie, and those passengers have already paid top dollar, so the cruise line is not about to nickel-and-dime them.

Smitha expedited our departure as well. Normally, on a cruise, passengers must place all suitcases and non-carry-on luggage outside their cabin doors the night before disembarkation (so that the luggage can be transported off the ship and into the cruise terminal). Smitha got this rule waived for us. On the final morning of the cruise, we got to stay in our cabin with all our luggage till everyone else had been ushered into disembarkation groups. Then she came with porters to collect us and our bags, led us on another shortcut to the gangway, escorted us off the ship, expedited us and our baggage through customs and immigration, placed us in a taxi, and sent us on our way. From cabin door to taxi door, disembarkation took 15 minutes—which, for the world’s biggest cruise ship in one of the world’s busiest cruise terminals, is pretty darned fast. 

Our baggage left the ship at the same time we did. Photo: Timothy Bake

Thanks to Smitha, our luggage stayed with us in our cabin until we left the ship.

The Royal Genie concept has evolved in the months since my test run. Smitha, whose real job was in the ship’s guest services department, was enthusiastic about trying on the role but had never received any official genie training. Since that time, Royal Caribbean has hired a bevy of Royal Genies, trained and certified by the British Butler Institute, and has even designed special outfits for them that are less nautical, more purple.

How to Use a Royal Genie

As wonderful as having your own personal vacation assistant might sound, there were awkward moments and missed opportunities. Should you ever be so lucky as to have a Royal Genie at your disposal, here’s my advice:

Don’t be afraid to say No.

A Royal Genie wants so badly to be helpful that sometimes, so as not to hurt her feelings, you end up saying yes to things you really don’t want. For instance, I wish I’d said “No” when Smitha urged us to ride around Labadee in a private golf cart even though we would have preferred to walk like everyone else. I did say “No” to the hand-delivered morning lattes, once I realized I’d rather sleep in.

Ask which shipboard experiences are most special and why.

On a Royal Caribbean megaship, there are more activities, shows, and restaurants than anybody could ever try in one week, so you must choose carefully.  I wish Smitha and I had sat down at the start and gone through the universe of options, as overwhelming as that might have been. Somehow I didn’t even learn until Day 6 that the ship has a zip-line or that I could dine al fresco in a garden, under the stars, listening to live music.

Request an in-depth tour of the ship on Day 2 or 3.

Smitha gave us a 45-minute introductory tour of the vessel on Day 1. The ship is the length of four football fields, with 18 decks, so she probably didn’t want to tire us out. But I wish I’d asked for an in-depth, three-hour tour. The ship has seven “neighborhoods” and surprises on every deck, from a Kate Spade boutique to a Boardwalk carousel to a running track that wraps around the entirety of the ship. Only on the last day of the cruise did I discover my favorite serene hideout: Deck 5 aft, where there are just a couple of empty wooden deck chairs and ocean panoramas forever.

Find out what behind-the-scenes tours are available.

Who are you most interested in meeting on the ship and what are you most interested in learning from him or her? The inner workings of a 6,000-passenger megaship are pretty fascinating. Your genie can probably arrange an insider’s tour with anyone from the chef to the chief engineer.

Ask about private photo ops with one of the ship’s photographers.

Your genie will likely schedule activities for you that are unique in the world.  (Here, for example, is a glimpse of the first-at-sea features aboard Harmony of the Seas). And when you’re doing a one-of-a-kind activity with your family, you may want a photographer capturing the moment—such as when you’re riding the Labadee Flight Line or surfing on the Flow Rider.

Smitha checks on the boys at the Flow Rider. Photo: Timothy Baker

Smitha kept showing up to check on us around the ship. Here, she checks on the boys at the Flow Rider.

How to Get By Without a Royal Genie

The truth is, some of what a Royal Genie does you can arrange on your own, as long as you’re organized and do some advance planning.

Figure out what’s important to you ahead of time, so you board the ship with a strategy.

Study the cruise line’s website, read the forums and advice on Cruise Critic, and know the full range of options that will be available to you, so you can take action immediately upon boarding. On the ship each morning, read the list of scheduled activities in the daily newsletter; it’s a long, dense list, so bring a highlighter.

Book as much as possible before boarding.

You can make restaurant reservations and book show tickets online in advance. If it’s a free show, send a family member 30 minutes early to save seats for you.

Do the most important activities early in the cruise rather than later.

You know those one-of-a-kind activities I mentioned? On the last day of the cruise, passengers were realizing that they hadn’t tried the Flow Rider, or the Boardwalk zip-line, or what-have-you, and the result was that these things were in high demand. Try them early in the week when the line is short—or before they shut down because the weather has turned too windy.

If you’re in the Caribbean, consider staying on the ship during one of your days in port.

Nobody is a more enthusiastic shoreside sightseer than I.  If you have a smart plan for exploring and getting an authentic experience of an island during your limited time in port, good for you. But if you’ve boarded with no plan, beware. The larger a ship, the longer it takes to get on and off, and the more touristy or inconvenient the port areas it calls at. If you’ve got no sightseeing plan, and your choice is between a generic group tour and walking aimlessly around tourist traps, consider just staying put on the ship and having all its features to yourself. Then return to the island and see it properly someday when you have the time to do it justice.

Ask the crew for dining recommendations.

Seriously.  The crew members aboard Allure, at least, are outgoing conversationalists, and we got our best food tips from a random assortment of them. They recommended breakfast at the Park Café in Central Park (a big mid-ship outdoor garden), for instance; there we discovered New York deli-style bagels with assorted flavors of cream cheese, lox, and toppings. They also sent us to Johnny Rockets in the morning for omelettes. Who knew?

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If you are considering a cruise on a giant ship, I recommend having a savvy and extremely well-connected cruise specialist arrange and book it for you so that you get the best cabin and itinerary for your dollar. Feel free to write to Ask Wendy and I can suggest the right cruise advisor for your particular trip goals.

Full Disclosure: Royal Caribbean provided me and my family with a complimentary cruise  (I paid for the airfare).  In keeping with my standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Royal Caribbean’s part, nor was anything promised on mine.

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.

Rizzoli bookstore, New York. Photo: LUXE City Guides.

12 Beautiful Bookshops Around The World

This article originally ran on Luxe City Guides


 

‘A library is full of new worlds to travel’, or so the adage goes, but we believe quite the opposite – that the globe is packed with paperback pushers well worth travelling to. Book nerds and interior aficionados, get passports and specs ready for this divine dozen of biblio boltholes.

Livraria Lello, Porto bookstore

Livraria Lello, Porto. Photo: LUXE City Guides

Livraria Lello, Porto

You can certainly judge this bookstore by its cover – a neo-gothic facade featuring ornate reliefs and painted figures representing Science and Art. And the inside of 100-year-old Livraria Lello is just as magical, with a stained-glass ceiling, arched shelves and intricate curled staircase.

Livraria Lello, R. das Carmelitas 144, Porto. +35 122 200 2037

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice

With rambling rooms, steps made from old opuses and an oh-so charming canalside locale, Libreria Acqua Alta (pictured above) is certainly one of the most enchanting book nooks to be found anywhere. But its position just inches above sea level means the vast stash of new and used English and Italian titles is at risk of being washed away as the water rises each winter. Owner Luigi Frizzo came up with an, ahem, novel solution – store the works in gondolas and bathtubs, so when the acqua really gets alta, the libros stay dry.

Libreria Acqua Alta, Castello, 5176/b, Venice. +39 041 296 0841

Maison Assouline, London

This luxury, limited edition bibliotheque on bustling Piccadilly (set in a Grade II-listed former bank, no less) boasts not only a back catalogue of 1,400+ cultural and coffee table tomes, but also a room devoted to sumptuous furnishings for your at-home library, and the suave Swan Bar, serving coffee and classic ‘tails to sip while you scan the shelves. C’est chic!

Maison Assouline, 196A Piccadilly, London. +44 20 3327 9370, assouline.com

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles. Photo: LUXE City Guides

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

Situ’d in Downtown’s historic core, the last word on opus emporiums stocks best sellers and records on its stately, columned first floor… But it’s the mezzanine level that’s the true treasure, an uncategorised literary labyrinth with tunnels constructed from outdated encyclopedias, storybook sculptures and hidden alcoves. Best of all: everything up here is only one dollar.

The Last Bookstore, 453 S Spring St, Downtown, Los Angeles. +1 213 488 0599, lastbookstorela.com

L’eau et les Rêves, Paris

Sure, Shakespeare and Company is quaint and Galignani grand, but how can you skip a bookshop on a boat? Bobbing atop a serene stretch of the Seine in the Ourcq, L’eau et les Rêves (Water and Dreams) is a lovely lil’ library within a black barge; a river-reader specialising in all books nautical, plus a pirate-heavy selection for the kiddies. Barge in!

L’eau et les Rêves, Quai de l’Oise, 19th, Paris. +33 1 42 05 99 70, penichelibrairie.com

Robinson Crusoe, Istanbul

Perched above shopping strip Istiklal Caddesi is this local literary institution, lined floor-to-double-ceiling with fiction, fine art, history and travel titles. With rolling ladders, a reading table and piano, it exudes a warm library atmos, and patrons are positively encouraged to park their bots in cushy armchairs – or better yet, on the sunny rooftop terrace – and browse before buying.

Robinson Crusoe, İstiklal Cd. 195, Beyoğlu, Istanbul. +90 212 293 6968, rob389.com

Rizzoli bookstore, New York. Photo: LUXE City Guides.

Rizzoli bookstore, New York. Photo: LUXE City Guides.

Rizzoli, New York

It has been a fairytale ending for this Manhattan stalwart. Evicted from her original abode in 2014, she has now reopened in a historic NoMad building complete with molded cherrywood shelves, brass chandeliers and custom wallpaper. An upsized 5,000 sq ft space = more room for page-turner fiction, philosophy works and foodie cookbooks.

Rizzoli, 1133 Broadway, NoMad, New York. +1 212 759 2424, rizzolibookstore.com

Topics, Berlin

One for the minimalists, this white-walled, bare-bulbed Neukölln Bibliothek divides its curated collection not by genre but by – you guessed it – topic. Each of the 80+ cubes contain a separate selection on subjects ranging from time machines to transsexuality to the femme detective.

Topics, Weserstraße 166, Neukölln, Berlin. +49 176 72218939, topics-berlin.com

Livraria da Vila, São Paulo

While most of the shops on this list boast walls covered with tomes, the central store of São Paulo chain Livraria de Vila also heaps its hardcovers along ceiling cut outs and the swiveling doors of its front facade, giving the illusion that it is literally built from books.

Livraria da Vila, Alameda Lorena, 1731, Jardim Paulista, São Paulo. +55 11 3062 1063, livrariadavila.com.br

Tsutaya Books Daikanyama, Tokyo bookstore

Tsutaya Books Daikanyama, Tokyo. Photo: LUXE City Guides

Tsutaya Books Daikanyama, Tokyo

The tri-level, Mid Century Mod-styled Tsutaya flagship is stocked with every kind of reading, listening and watching pleasure. Peruse for page-turners in the extensive selection of English merch, then saunter upstairs to the Anjin lounge and take an artisan brew while you fall into the first chapter.

Tsutaya Books Daikanyama, 17-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. +81 3 3770 2525, real.tsite.jp

Brattle Book Shop, Boston

In summer readers revel in the outdoor lot of Brattle Book Shop, one of America’s oldest and largest paperback pushers. It holds three stories of general, used and antiquarian works, plus the open air sale section sided by an urbane scene of street art and fire escapes.

Brattle Book Shop, 9 West St, Boston. +1 617 542 0210, brattlebookshop.com

BooksActually, Singapore

Nestled in the arty Tiong Bahru nabe, this curio-crammed cutie is packed with fiction, classic literature, local works and poetry. But she holds more than just books actually: the back room showcases an adorable assemblage of hand-stitched notebooks and stationery.

BooksActually, 9 Yong Siak St, Tiong Bahru, Singapore. +65 6222 9195, booksactuallyshop.com

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Rome’s Best Aperitivo Bars
New Art Museums & Galleries
7 Hotel Rooms With A View

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Enjoying a guided boat tour in Mekong River

How to Get the Best Private Guide For a Trip With Kids

When you’re planning a vacation with young kids, you might think that hiring a private guide is an unnecessary luxury, an expense that couldn’t add much to the experience or that might get in the way of all that family bonding. You’d be wrong.

A good kid-friendly guide—as I found out on a recent trip with my husband and four-year-old to Southeast Asia—can make a huge difference in your child’s experience of a place, and in yours, too. The best ones know how to make museums come alive, where to find engaging activities, and equally important, how to steer your day so that no one has a meltdown (adults included).

The same value that outstanding guides add to grown-up trips—fascinating history and context, behind-the-scenes access, instant entry into local culture—they can bring for kids too. We travel with our children because we want to create memorable experiences as a family; how memorable is it if you’re chasing after them all day and trying to figure out the next “fun” thing to do? A private guide will not only come up with exciting activities, but will also take care of the small, annoying details—leaving you free to accomplish your main objective: spending meaningful time together.

In the end, our Southeast Asia guides ensured that our trip ran as smoothly and efficiently as possible, given that we had a four-year-old in tow. Here’s what I learned families should look for when choosing and using a private guide:

Request a guide who’s also a parent. With perhaps a few exceptions, only a fellow parent can truly understand how a young kid will impact your trip. Ask your trip planner how he/she knows that a particular guide is great with kids; have they seen the guide interact with children?

Make clearly spoken English a priority. My son, Zeke, had a hard time understanding when some of our guides spoke; in these situations, either my husband or I would have to “translate” for him. In the future, I’ll make unaccented pronunciation the second-highest priority for any guide I hire for my family.

Kid-focused activities on Halong Bay

Kid-focused activities keep kids engaged throughout long tours. Photo: Ryan Damm.

Ask in advance for a treasure hunt or other kid-focused activities. Don’t expect your kid to simply tag along while you tromp through museums and monuments. Including your children in the day’s events is key to keeping them engaged. Treasure hunts are a great way to keep them interested throughout a day-long tour.

Invite your guide to bring his/her own kids along. Our guide in Saigon had two kids close in age to our own; when he brought them along, Zeke—who had up until then been shy around our guides—immediately warmed to the whole family. It was as if he saw our guide as a dad now, a figure he could trust. And he adored playing with the girls so much that my husband and I were able to leave him under the care of the girls’ mother or uncle while we did some sightseeing. (If you’d rather not pay for another adult who can act as babysitter, you can tag-team the sightseeing while your spouse watches the kids.)

Make the most of your time with a guide, wherever you are. When Zeke hijacked the city tour that had been planned for our only day in Hanoi (thanks to a tantrum so bad it left me in tears), our guide took us to an indoor play area instead. While we didn’t get to see much of Hanoi, I still learned a lot about contemporary Vietnamese culture by chatting with our guide while my son played in a ball pit.

Be vigilant about the schedule. Adding a four-year-old to the equation makes everything take twice as long, whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a stroll through Hoi An’s Ancient Town. When any of our guides assumed that we could keep to a typical touring timetable, the schedule would invariably slide, and my son would end up missing his afternoon nap—which made all of us cranky. If I’d estimated for our guide how long my son would last in Angkor Wat at the outset, he could have properly paced our visit so that we saw all of the ruins’ highlights. As it was, my son melted down halfway through and we had to skip half of the temple. Next time, I’ll be explicit with guides about what time we have to eat lunch or be back at the hotel for an afternoon rest, so that they can plan accordingly.

Allot your time with guides thoughtfully. I found a private guide most helpful in large cities, where logistics are particularly tricky. I recommend hiring one for your first day in a new city, then using any additional time there to explore on your own. Elsewhere, use guides only where they can provide access to things you wouldn’t see otherwise: a local village, say, or an after-hours visit to a museum that’s normally crowded.

What’s the best thing that a private guide has done for your family on a trip?

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.

Disclosure: Journeys Within and their partners provided most elements of the writer’s trip (hotels, intra-Asia airfare, guides, ground transportation, and sightseeing entry fees) free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage on Journeys Within’s part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read our sponsored travel agreement with Journeys Within here

A beach on Île d'Yeu

French Islands So Pretty You’ll Be Tempted To Skip Provence

Looking to explore French countryside without the crowds of Provence and the Riviera? Consider the islands off the Atlantic coast, especially if you enjoy biking through picturesque villages, sampling succulent seafood, and relaxing on miles of sandy beaches—sandier than most you’ll find on the French Riviera. Here is your guide to choosing the right French island for you.

Best for Those Who Want it All: Île de Ré

Ile de Ré has scenic ports, whitewashed houses with colorful shutters, expansive beaches, famous oysters, even vineyards. The one drawback is that because the island is now on the tourism map, it’s attracting 160,000 vacationers per year, making it the most expensive of the islands. You can evade the worst of the crowds by coming slightly off-season, in June or September, or by spending time in one of the island’s smaller, quieter towns, such as La Flotte. “La Flotte has a great daily morning market selling local specialties like fleur de sel and homemade soaps,” points out Trusted Travel Expert Paul Bennett. “And there are excellent restaurants overlooking the port, such as L’Ecailler, where you can enjoy the best of the day’s catches with a glass of the island’s crisp white wine.”

Best for Budget Beachcombers: Île d’Yeu

Ile d’Yeu has the natural beauty of Ile de Ré without the hype. South of the city of Nantes and accessible by ferry from Fromentine, this small island has a wide variety of charming vacation rentals and is easy to get around only by bike. You can wander the narrow passageways of its main town, Port Joinville, before trekking out to the 14th-century fortress le Vieux-Château. Along the way, breeze by traditional fisherman huts and tall lighthouses perched on steep cliffs. Get digging on the beach and you can have a tasty free clambake for dinner.

Les Aiguilles de Port-Coton, Belle-Île

Les Aiguilles de Port-Coton, Belle-Île. Photo courtesy Bathilde Chaboche, Office de Tourisme Belle-Île-en-Mer.

Best for Adventurous Romantics: Belle-Île

This beautiful island off the coast of Brittany has almost-tropical aquamarine waters, 60 pristine beaches, and quaint villages. Outdoorsy types can kayak, windsurf, scuba dive, or hike to the island’s famous rocky “needles,” Les Aiguilles de Port-Coton. Culture lovers are in for a treat too: They’ll recognize that rock formation from Claude Monet paintings. When dinnertime calls, make your way to the fishing village of Sauzon to feast on fresh-off-the-boat lobster. Then get a well-deserved good night’s sleep at the Citadelle Vauban hotel, in a 17th-century fortress (that also has a good restaurant and local museum), or pamper yourself at the Castel Clara, whose seawater spa faces the wild coast.

Best for Getting Away From It All: Île d’Ouessant

If you’re after tranquility and natural beauty, sail over to this offbeat island, the north-westernmost point of France. You can bike along the coast, through green fields dotted with sheep, and past deserted beaches beckoning you to lay down your towel. Discover what daily life was like on the island pre-WWII at the Niou Huella Eco-Museum, or wave toward North America or Great Britain at Créac’h lighthouse, marking where the Atlantic Ocean turns into the English Channel.

Best for Families: Île aux Moines

Few foreign visitors join savvy French families on the short boat ride from Vannes to l’Île aux Moines, one of the Atlantic coast’s best-kept secrets. “With no cars and amazing sandy beaches, it’s perfect for kids,” notes Trusted Travel Expert Jack Dancy. “Plus there are great hiking and biking trails, excellent sailing opportunities, and many family-friendly holiday rentals.” The streets of the main town, Port Blanc, are lined with quaint traditional stone houses, shops, and crêperies. A wander into the center of the island will take you to France’s own Stonehenge, Cromlech de Kergonan, a megalithic site featuring 24 standing stones. While you’re in the area, Jack also suggests visiting the walled city of Vannes, especially for its fish market in the 19th-century Les Halles market building. Watch as local fishmongers try to out-hawk one another with their selection of sea bass, haddock, and prawns hauled into port that very morning.

Since there’s so much to discover on these islands and along France’s Atlantic coast, consider a multi-day sailing trip—something Jack can arrange.

 

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.


Meet our writer

Lily Heise’s work in tourism and travel writing have seen her blossom hunting in Kyoto, tracking down hidden Angkor temples and getting lost in the Argentinian outback. Her writing has been featured in CondeNast Traveler.com, The Huffington Post, Business Insider and Frommer’s Guides, and she also share tips on France, other travel destinations and romance on her blog Je T’Aime, Me Neither. You can catch up with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Symphony of Lights show, Hong Kong

Hong Kong Is A Great Place for a Layover: Here’s What to Do

Hong Kong’s exceptional public transportation system makes it easy to explore the city between flights; whatever else you do, taking in the skyline of this sky-scraping metropolis is a must. We asked the Hong Kong staff of Context Travel—a company on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts that runs cultural walking tours in cities worldwide—for their favorite ways to get a taste of Asia’s financial hub. Keep in mind that because of immigration, getting to and from the airport, and checking back in, you’ll need at least six hours between flights.

The Basics

How to get out of the airport:

Train: The best option is the Airport Express, which takes you to Kowloon or Hong Kong island in no more than 24 minutes. The platform is located in the main terminal building, just after arrivals, and is clearly signed. Trains depart every ten minutes from 5:50 a.m. until 12:48 a.m. A round-trip ticket is 100 Hong Kong dollars (about U.S. $13); purchase tickets by the platform before boarding the train or on arrival at your destination.

Taxi: The Airport Express is the quicker and more convenient option, but you can also take a taxi to Kowloon for approximately HKD $270 (about U.S. $35) and to Central for approximately HKD $320 (about U.S. $40).

What to do with your luggage:

If you haven’t checked your baggage through to your final destination, stow it at the left luggage counter on Level 3 of Terminal 2, which is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Prices are HKD $12 (about U.S. $1.50) per hour or HKD $140 (about U.S. $18) for the day.

If you have a 6-hour layover:

Context recommends allowing three hours for immigration, exiting the airport, and traveling to and from your desired destination. So don’t bother leaving the airport unless your layover is at least six hours long.

But if you do have six hours, you’ve got enough time to explore Kowloon Island and absorb the famous Victoria Harbor skyline. The best route is to take the Airport Express to Kowloon Station (about 20 minutes); from here, you can either stretch your legs on a 15-minute stroll to the Jordan district, or jump in a taxi for the five-minute ride (HKD $22 /U.S. $3). Here you’ll find some interesting markets selling anything from fish balls to your fortune to the newest gadgets. It’s a great place to soak in the bustling atmosphere and see today’s Hong Kong firsthand. Grab a bite to eat in one of the many tasty eateries in Jordan before walking down Nathan Road toward the harbor, where you can walk along the Avenue of Stars to see the city’s iconic skyscrapers. It’s a striking view day or night, and a great place to sit with a drink or an ice cream.

Head back to Kowloon Station on foot through Kowloon Park (25 minutes) or via a ten-minute taxi ride. If you find that you are ahead of schedule and have an hour to spare, head up to Ozone, the highest bar in the world—located 118 floors above Kowloon Station inside the Ritz-Carlton—for an impressive panorama before boarding the Airport Express to get you speedily back to the airport.

If you’d like a more structured interlude, Context Travel offers a three-hour Today’s Hong Kong walking tour of Kowloon Island. This allows first-timers to understand the social, cultural, and political changes that Hong Kong has experienced (and is still experiencing) since the 1997 British handover.

If you have a 9-hour layover:

A slightly longer layover allows you to head into the Central district and go up to Victoria Peak to admire the sprawling metropolis below. Take the Airport Express to Hong Kong Station (the final stop). Once you’re in Central, signage along the walkways will help you navigate to the “Mid-Levels Escalator,” which links different parts of the hilly city, from sea level to 443 feet high; take the escalator up to admire the bustling streets below. In the Central area Context offers a two-and-a-half-hour food tour; you could sample local delicacies, from dim sum to custard egg tarts.

Continue on your way up the escalator until you see a sign for Hollywood Road. Turn right down Hollywood Road toward Sheung Wan, and you’ll find yourself on an interesting street lined with antiques shops and ancient trees growing up the stone walls. Pop into Man Mo Temple, an interesting contrast to the financial center and towers surrounding it. Now it’s time to see Central and Kowloon from an outstanding vantage point: Victoria Peak. You could catch a tram, which leaves from the Lower Peak Tram terminus; however, the queues can sometimes be long, which may be risky during a layover. A safer bet is a taxi, which should take approximately 30 minutes each way and will cost about HKD $90 ($11.60). The top of the peak is the perfect place to soak up the view, walk off your plane legs, and grab a drink or a bite. When it’s time to leave, jump in a taxi back to Hong Kong station to board the Airport Express.

If you don’t have time to leave the airport:

The Hong Kong airport is a comfortable place to spend a few hours. There are a number of V.I.P. lounges that are free for business-class ticket holders; at some travelers can pay for a day pass. Terminal 2 is home to SkyPlaza and SkyMart (large shopping and restaurant areas), and there is even an IMAX cinema. For a bit of R&R, you can grab a foot massage or a spa treatment inside Terminal 1. Free Wi-Fi is also a plus, to help you pass the time or plan for your next leg of the trip.

An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.

 

More Layover Solutions:

Philadelphia Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Istanbul Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Tokyo Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

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.

A selection of pastries at one of London's best markets

The 5 Best Street Markets in London

This article originally ran on Luxe City Guides


 

By Chloe Jessica Payne

The Big Smoke is big on street markets, with hundreds of stalls criss-crossing the city selling everything from blooms to burgers to faffy bric-a-brac. And sure, heavyweights like Borough, Portobello and Camden have their charms, but if you want to avoid the fanny-packed hordes, we suggest you pack an appetite and pootle along to these…

Heavens to Betsy! Is that the sun you see peeping through the perennial blanket of clouds?! Well there’s no happier way to pass a sunny Sunday morning than by wandering through the historic Columbia Road Flower Market in London’s East End. You might not think much of a posy of flowers, but Columbia Road is about much more than just bouquets, Babs. Going like spit since 1869, the now up-and-coming area is dotted with gourmet stores, indie boutiques and lovely cafes – a rarity in a city that seems to be gripped in the throes of chainstore-itis. And after that (if you’ve still got some wind in your whistle), why not give the nearby, style-packed LUXE London Shoreditch itinerary a whirl?

Columbia Road Flower Market, Columbia Rd, E2, Tower Hamlets, London

The Columbia Road Flower Market

The Columbia Road Flower Market. Photo courtesy LUXE City Guides.

Let’s make this clear from the outset: we love Borough Market – and have yet to find a finer chorizo burger – but unless you want to spend a morning milling around with the world and his wife, venture one stop further on the Jubilee Line to Bermondsey, where only Londoners-in-the-know go. Here be Maltby Street Market, peddling all manner of tum-rumbling fare every Saturday and Sunday, with highlights including mead, fresh-steamed mussels, award-winning brownies, antique bits n’ bobs, handmade soaps, and take-home gourmet goodies.

Maltby Street Market, Maltby St, SE1, Bermondsey, London

Street market food, London

Some of the best food in London can be found at street markets. Photo courtesy LUXE City Guides.

London is a vast city to navigate, however, so depending on where you’re based, it’s a smart idea to check out the umbrella farmers market website which will guide you to your nearest organic food odyssey. Our particular faves include southern belle Oval, sleb-spotter Marylebone and the darling little Pimlico (the latter two feature in the LUXE London shopping itins too, natch). And so, off to the market you go!

London Farmers Markets, lfm.org.uk

More from Luxe City Guides

LUXE London guide
8 of Tokyo’s Top Fine Diners
Gin Lover’s Tour of the World
5 Stunning Spa Sanctuaries in Asia
Shopping on Rome’s Via dell’Oca

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

sleeping on a plane

15 Problem-Solving Items for Overnight Flights

Leave it to frequent fliers to come up with creative ways to make overnight flights comfortable. These unusual recommendations come from assorted travel experts and friends on Facebook. They’re not all what you’d expect, but they’re all very clever. What items do you take on the plane to help make you more comfortable?

Cabeau Fold ‘n Go Travel Blanket and Case

Cabeau Fold n Go-Blanket

Cabeau Fold n Go-Blanket

It’s super plush and comfy and can also be used as a pillow and lumbar support. It has a loop with a snap that lets me attach it to my carry-on bag so it’s easy to access and doesn’t take up precious space in my bag. —Susan Portnoy, founder, The Insatiable Traveler

Lululemon Vinyasa scarf

I never board a flight without it. The wide, soft, cotton scarf with snaps can be worn all sorts of ways, which is great for travel. For flights though, I love that it can be a blanket, a pillow, a wrap, or even a sort of light-blocking head scarf.” —Christine Sarkis, senior editor, Smarter Travel

 

FitKicks

Fit Kicks

Fit Kicks

I always bring “FitKicks,” as they keep my feet comfy and clean. I also wear my L.L. Bean 850 down jacket that weighs about 2 ounces and doubles as a pillow when stuffed inside its own pocket. —Gail Rosenberg, luxury travel designer, Largay Travel

Trtl Pillow

Trtl Pillow

Trtl Pillow

It’s a machine-washable, super-soft-fleece travel neck pillow that is the best thing ever. —Margaret Stevenson

4Head

It’s a natural headache relief treatment I buy in the U.K. It comes in a small container that you roll up, like a solid deodorant stick. It’s great for headaches and stuffy sinuses, and if you take a big whiff of it, it wakes you up too. Think of it as a solid Vicks Vapor Rub, only tinier and convenient. —Marie Fritz

Bach Remedy Rescue Night

Use these flower remedies and hope for a better sleep. —Paola Fiocchi van den Brande, founder of Passepartout Homes

 

Inflatable beach ball

beach ball photo by Michael Frascella

If you never thought to pack an inflatable beach ball in your carry-on, you’re missing out on a great nap. Photo: Michael Frascella/Flickr

Bring one of those cheap blow-up beach balls and a hand towel. Blow up the beach ball, cover with the towel, and use as a giant pillow to lay on in your lap. It’s a refreshing change from the neck pillow for those who need a “little more” cushion. —Mark Estill, travel consultant/owner, Mark4 Vacations

White noise app

I use a white noise app on my iPad. Pop in my earbuds, turn on the waves, and the sound masks airplane and passenger noises better than noise-cancelling headphones. —Deb Arora, partner, Jacks & Stars

Rosemary oil

I bring a tiny vial of rosemary oil. My sinuses get super-dry on those long flights, and that leads to headaches and other weirdness. The smell of that oil just brightens up the inside of my head. And bonus, it banishes that weird airplane smell for a bit. —Pam Mandel, writer/editor, Nerd’s Eye View

Coconut oil

I use it as a moisturizer (face and body), hair conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant (it’s anti-bacterial). —Lynn Braz, author, LynnBraz.com

Baby wipes

First, so that you can wipe off the tray table, armrests, and headrest. Second, so that when you wake up, you can wipe your face and feel refreshed. —Katie Kenner-Bohl

Emergen-C packets

I take one while flying, and I keep a few extra in my toiletries bag, for the trip. Better safe than sick! —Kelsey Ebner

Your favorite herbal tea

It’s comforting to have something familiar while traveling, and a cup of hot water is easily gotten from a flight attendant. —Scott Laird, writer, AbFabSkyLife

iPad with extra storage

Beyond all the usual stuff that experienced travelers know to do to try to sleep (much of which will work or not work with the reliability of a cheap watch), what seems to affect me best when I’m struggling to sleep is knowing I have comfort “content” handy. Most of my favorite novels—and we’re not talking Tolstoy but easier-on-the-spirit reads—are already loaded on my iPad. And if I’m too tired to read, I have episodes of favorite TV shows (“Gilmore Girls” and “Frasier” among ‘em) and movies that help me feel at home and relax (“Mamma Mia” always makes me smile). When I replaced my old iPad with a new one, I doubled up on the storage space for just this reason: I wanted to make sure there was enough room for my old pals.—Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief, Cruise Critic

What do you pack in your carry-on for a more comfortable flight?

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

A Tip for Finding Cheaper Hotel Rates

We recently heard an interesting hotel hack from a reader, about how to find cheaper rates: Sometimes if you make two separate back-to-back reservations, it’ll turn out cheaper than if you book one. Here’s what our reader Jerry Huller had to say:

I subscribe to Wendy’s newsletter and want to pass on a travel tip: If staying at a hotel over a long weekend, consider pricing individual nights to see if you can get a cheaper rate.

My wife and I are planning to stay at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa, CA, in April. On the hotel website, I priced a three-night stay arriving on a Friday and leaving on a Monday. The price was $252.10 per night (for a View King room with the AAA rate). Then I decided to price just the Sunday night and found a price of $234.10 per night for the same type of room. Then I went back and priced just the Friday night and Saturday nights, and got the cheaper rate of $234.10 per night. Then I went back and priced all three nights and again got the higher rate of $252.10 per night.

It’s cheaper to make two back-to-back reservations than one three-night reservation.

Have you ever tried this?  Let us know if it worked, and share your own hotel tips below.

 

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.

Beijing sunrise

The Three Most Important Things to Pack for China

As I prepared for my trip to China—where I’ll be spending ten days with our Trusted Travel Expert Mei Zhang—Wendy had some good packing advice for me.

1. Pack cold medicine

“In China, it’s relatively easy to get clean bottled water and to get hot fresh cooked vegetables and food,” she told me. “The problem is all of the bad air and the germs and the people spitting and coughing. So bring medicines in case you get a cold. In China it’s the respiratory issues, not traveler’s diarrhea. You don’t need extra clothes, you can buy good quality things like silk pajamas for like ten bucks. You need cold medicine.”

On her list:

Vitamin C
Sudaphedrine or similar decongestant
Sore throat lozenges
Saline spray for your nose
Artificial tears for your eyes

2. Bring comfortable shoes

This sounds like an obvious one, but it’s more important than usual in China. Thanks to all the construction and uneven roads, you’ll want comfy walking shoes that you can spend the whole day in—whether you’re hiking the Great Wall or exploring hutongs.

3. Get a good data plan for your devices

This one is from my own research, as I knew I’d want to stay in close touch with WendyPerrin.com HQ, continue working, and post to our social media platforms.

Remember that the Internet doesn’t work in China like it does at home. No Google services—neither Google search, nor Gmail—are supported. Likewise, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter won’t load if you’re using the Internet (whether by Wi-Fi or a landline). However, if you use your phone or tablet’s cellular data (meaning 3G or 4G), the system recognizes your non-Chinese phone and lifts the gate. So I ended up being able to use my phone for anything (it simply switches to 4G) but can’t use my laptop. This is incredibly useful, but if you don’t have a good overseas data plan, this could also be incredibly expensive. T-Mobile offers free unlimited international data and texting included in its Simple plan, and Google Project Fi offers free texting along with international data at the same rates you’d pay at home (meaning your monthly bill is the same no matter where in the world you use your data) so those could be options if you’re a frequent traveler. (Full disclosure: I’m testing Google Project Fi while I’m in Asia, using a loaner phone from the company but paying for the service myself.)

Have you been to China? What were the most useful things you packed?

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.

old fashioned cameras by Vladimir Morozov/Flickr

Passport Photos Are Expensive, But They Don’t Have to Be

Passport photos are some of the ugliest photos we ever take. And ironically, they are some of the most expensive too—you have to buy them in pairs that can cost as much as $15. And if you need more, you have to fork over another $15.

I was very frustrated by this recently because I’m preparing for a three-month trip in Asia and I needed to renew my passport and get photos for several visas (I also like to carry a few extra in my luggage just in case I need one at the last minute). And then I read about ePassportPhoto.com. The site offers a few solutions to the problems mentioned above.

First, take your own photo.

ePassportPhoto.com lets you take your own photo, and then sends you multiples for cheap.

ePassportPhoto.com lets you take your own photo, and then sends you multiples for cheap.

There’s no reason to pay so much money to have a bad photographer take a bad picture of you in front of a white screen. Seriously, so bad. I went to a local drugstore and the employee used a fish-eye lens, arguing that it was the best way to get the right proportions. I would argue differently.

Luckily, anyone who has a phone or a digital camera can take their own photo these days (and keep taking it until they get a good one). The State Department even provides very detailed directions on its site so that you can be sure you take one that will be acceptable for passport use. Just stand against a white wall, look directly at the camera, try not to smile, and snap away. If you use ePassportPhoto.com you have even less to worry about: They’ll let you know if the one you took is acceptable and then size it for you.

Or upload an existing one you already have.

If you prefer to have your photo taken professionally, or if you have a leftover professional passport photo (and since they usually come in pairs, that’s likely), you can still use ePassportPhoto.com to save some money on multiples. Just scan in the one you have and continue with the next step.

Next, print it for cheap…or free.

Go online to ePassportPhoto.com and choose the country for which you need a passport or visa photo. Next, decide whether you want the final result mailed to you at home; printed at a CVS, Walmart, or Walgreens; or if you want to print them at home yourself. Then just upload the photo that you took (or scan in the professional one you had taken), and decide how you want to receive them.

If you choose the print-at-home option—which is free—the website has an easy-to-use cropping tool to help you tailor your photo to the passport or visa you specified. Then you’ll just click download and voila! You have a single sheet of four images, which you can print out as many times as you need.

Four of my mug shots, tiled on one easily printable sheet by ePassportPhoto.com. I could print this at home, have it mailed to me, or have it printed at a local drugstore.

Four of my mug shots, tiled on one easily printable sheet by ePassportPhoto.com. I could print this at home, have it mailed to me, or have it printed at a local drugstore.

If you don’t have a quality photo printer (I don’t), you can opt to have a drugstore or ePassportPhoto.com do the printing for you. In those cases, the website will take care of sizing the image, and then it will create a tiled sheet of the photo—meaning it’ll fit four passport photos on a regular-sized 4×6 photo sheet (you’ll get two sheets total).

I chose to have my order routed to a local CVS for printing. When they’d been sent on to CVS, I got an email from one of the ePassportPhoto.com staffers, who reminded me not to mention the words “passport photo” when I picked them up. As far as CVS knows, you ordered regular 4×6 prints online, and they’ll treat your order the same way as if you’d ordered pictures of your dog.

The ePassportPhoto.com order of eight pictures—eight!—cost me just $8.99, plus about 20 cents that I paid when I picked them up at CVS, for the actual printing. That’s less than I would’ve paid for two passport photos at CVS if I’d used the traditional route. And if I’d printed them out myself at home, they would’ve been completely free.

The final step: Grab a pair of scissors and cut the sheet into separate little passport photos…and use the money you saved to buy yourself a little something for your trip.

 

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.

Serenity Pool at the Four Seasons Maui.

Best-Value Hotels in North America’s Hot Spots

For the Trusted Travel Experts on Wendy’s WOW List, spending the night in a hotel is serious business: They’re constantly scouting new properties in their destination and re-inspecting their past favorites to make sure they’re still up to snuff. Here are their favorites across North America:

Disney World

Best for Pinching Pennies
The Garden Wing rooms at the Contemporary allow you to stay in the most expensive neighborhood at Disney—the coveted “monorail” line, which is the closest to the Magic Kingdom—without having the most expensive house on the block. By not paying the premium to have a lake view or a theme-park view in the main Tower building, you can enjoy staying at a deluxe resort in one of the best-priced rooms.

The Port Orleans French Quarter Resort is in Disney’s moderate category, but don’t dismiss it. This sweet Dixieland-themed property has only 1,000 rooms, so there’s less competition for space at the pool and the food court than at other mid-priced resorts, which can be twice as large. The kids will love the water slide, and the whole family will appreciate the direct buses to each of the parks and the option for a boat ride on the canals to Downtown Disney.

Families enjoy the Family Suites at the Art of Animation Resort. They can sleep up to six people, have two bathrooms, and are themed after Cars, Finding Nemo, or The Lion King. You also get a separate room from your kids! Rates start at about $270, which is a much better value than paying for two rooms. —Michelle Allen, Trusted Travel Expert for Disney

Read Michelle’s Insider’s Guide to Disney World, Orlando, and contact her through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Maui, Hawaii

Best Pool for Kids
Families headed to Maui might consider the Grand Wailea, where the enormous pool deck is a kid’s paradise, with nine interconnected pools, four waterslides, caves, waterfalls, and even a rope swing.

Best for a Special Occasion
The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea has the best location on the island. Honeymooners appreciate the candlelit, beachfront restaurant and the adults-only Serenity Pool, while families can take advantage of the complimentary kids’ club. It’s one of the priciest hotels on the island but, at certain times of year, we can arrange for our guests who stay five nights or more to receive a $100-per-night resort credit. Unless you plan to spend a lot of time inside, don’t bother springing for a room with a full ocean view—you’ll be more than satisfied with a partial ocean-view. —Jay Johnson, Trusted Travel Expert for Hawaii

Read Jay’s Insider’s Guide to Maui,and contact him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

San Juan Islands, Washington

Best for Under $200 a Night
The Inn at Ship Bay is the best value in the San Juan Islands in summer: its water-view rooms cost just $195 a night. They are comfortable rather than swanky, but when you’re able to enjoy the view from your balcony—and then walk a few steps to the hotel restaurant, which is one of the island’s best—you won’t worry about the motel-style bathrooms. — Sheri Doyle, Trusted Travel Expert for the Pacific Northwest: Oregon, Washington, British Columbia

Read Sheri’s Insider’s Guide to the San Juan Islands, and contact her through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

The Four Seasons Seattle

The Four Seasons Seattle. Photo courtesy Steve Sanacore.

Seattle

Best City Pool with a View
The Four Seasons has big rooms, great service, and a prime location one block south of the Pike Place Market. The heated pool is warm enough that you can swim outside in December, while you’re taking in the view of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. The partial bay-view rooms are a good compromise, cost-wise, between the city-view and the full deluxe bay-view rooms. My preferred rates often provide substantial savings of $100 per night or more in the summer months. — Sheri Doyle, Trusted Travel Expert for the Pacific Northwest: Oregon, Washington, British Columbia

Read Sheri’s Insider’s Guides to Seattle, and contact her through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Utah’s National Parks

The Castle, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Photo: National Park Service

The Castle, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Photo: NPS Photo

Best-value splurge hotel
Book one of the four suites at Cougar Ridge Lodge and you’ll have access to an exhibition kitchen where cooking lessons, wine tastings, and custom wine blending can be arranged; a roomy bar; a game room with a state-of-the-art simulator and a full-length bowling alley; and ATVs, horses, and bikes available for an additional cost (guests at the less expensive casitas that have recently been added to the property can’t use most of these features). The two suites on the north side of the lodge have private hot tubs; the two on the south side have access to a wrap-around deck that leads to a shared hot tub. The lodge is a half-hour drive from the entrance to Capitol Reef National Park, home to amazing rock formations, excellent hiking and road touring, fly fishing, and more.

Mexico City

Best for a Weekend Getaway
Head to the St. Regis Mexico City on a weekend, when prices are significantly lower. It has top-notch service right on Reforma, the city’s main thoroughfare, and it’s especially great for families, thanks to the kids’ program (in-room glamping!), indoor pool, and child-care services. — Zachary Rabinor, Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico

Read Zach’s Insider’s Guide to Mexico City, and contact him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Best Way to Make Lemons from Lemonade
Hacienda San Angel, a cluster of exquisitely restored villas in the hills above the historic center of Puerto Vallarta. After the triple hit of the economic crisis, swine flu, and the narco-media blitz, rooms are only a fraction of their 2008 prices. The San Jose, Vista de Santos, and Angel’s View Suites have even better views of downtown and the Pacific Ocean than do the more expensive Royal Suites. We can typically offer upgrades and special amenities, depending on season and occupancy. — Zachary Rabinor, Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico

Read Zach’s Insider’s Guide to Puerto Vallarta, and contact him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Riviera Maya, Mexico

Best for Privacy Seekers
Hotel Esencia is one of the finest boutique hotels on the coast, with relatively uncrowded beaches, as it’s bordered by private homes to the south. Watch for third-night-free promotions, which give you a 33 percent discount over advertised rates. The super-personalized service makes you feel like royalty; you are, after all, staying in the former home of an Italian duchess. — Zachary Rabinor, Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico

Read Zach’s Insider’s Guide to the Riviera Maya, and contact him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

British Columbia, Canada

Best Pool for Kids
Fairmont Chateau Whistler is an outstanding hotel with genuine hospitality and a ski-in, ski-out location at the base of British Columbia’s Blackcomb Mountain. It’s also my favorite place in Whistler to send families—the façade looks like a French castle, but it’s as-homey-as-can-be inside. My kids love swimming between the indoor and outdoor sections of the pool and sipping hot chocolate with marshmallows in one of the three outdoor hot tubs, while my wife and I appreciate the inexpensive meals we can pick up at Portobello Market, a kind of high-quality cafeteria. All of our travelers enjoy complimentary breakfast and room upgrades at the hotel.

Best Wilderness Sightings
As wilderness lodges go, it’s hard to beat the value for dollar you get at Sonora Resort, a Relais & Chateaux property in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands. Unlike other similar properties, Sonora doesn’t require a minimum stay, and its rates include the room, meals, and beverages, but you pay extra for the activities you want. And there are plenty to choose from: wildlife programs (where you can see whales, grizzlies, seals, sea lions, eagles, or dolphins), sea kayaking, fishing, snorkeling with salmon as Wendy and her family did last summer, or just hanging out at the fabulous spa. Our guests who book here get a complimentary two-hour wilderness excursion by zodiac. —Marc Telio, Trusted Travel Expert for Western Canada

Read Marc’s Insider’s Guide to British Columbia, and contact him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

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.

Great Wall of Chin

How to Solve China’s Two Biggest Tourism Problems

Hi everyone, this is Billie, coming to you from Beijing. I’ll be traveling this week and next in China and sharing with you all the cool things I’m seeing, doing, and eating—and all the ways the right travel planner can make all the difference. Especially in a challenging destination like China.

That’s right, on this trip, I’m traveling with WildChina, run by Mei Zhang, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for China. Wendy keeps constant tabs on the travel planners she puts on her WOW List to ensure that they are delivering on “wow” experiences that live up to your (and her) standards, and Mei is doing some interesting work over here that we wanted to check out and share with you.

We were inspired to set up this trip, because we were hearing from readers and from travel planners that many people think China is a hard place to visit or not worth it. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Beijing skyline from Rosewood Hotel

The Beijing skyline on a late-March morning, from my room at the Rosewood Hotel—and there’s no smog! Photo: Billie Cohen

Everyone talks about Beijing’s smog like it’s the monster in a horror movie. But the trick to avoiding it is simply to know when to visit. Mei knows: early spring (right about now) when the weather is mild and beautiful (high 60s, low 70s) and the seasonal winds keep the air quality nearly as low as in other international cities.

Forbidden Palace China

The skies were blue and the smog nonexistent on the breezy spring morning I visited the Forbidden City. Photo: Billie Cohen

As for crowds, I haven’t been part of one yet. That’s because Mei’s guides have insider knowledge and special access. The first means they know things like what time of day to hit the Great Wall so that you’re not swallowed up by tourist hordes; the second means they can whisk you past queues and ticket takers so fast you’ll feel like a VIP. And of course you are.

Forbidden City Chin

My guide Chris found us a completely tourist-free nook in one of the Forbidden City’s gardens. The peace and quiet was wonderful. Photo: Billie Cohen

To remind travelers that there’s more to China than traffic-clogged Beijing or crowded Shanghai, Mei likes to take them way off the beaten path. So in addition to urban touring, she encourages travelers to explore rural areas, like Yunnan Province, where I’m headed in a few days. Mei grew up in that region, and therefore has deep local connections—connections that her travelers get the benefit of.

That’s what I know to start, and that’s what I’ll be checking out on this trip. Follow me for the next two weeks as I share my experiences (on instagram too a @billietravels). Leave any questions below and I’ll try to get them answered.

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.

Dürnstein, Austria

5 Reasons Not to Cancel a Trip to Europe

Note: This article was originally written in 2016 to address travelers’ questions about traveling after certain terrorism incidents. It is not related to the current coronavirus situation of winter 2020 and does not reflect our opinions and advice about traveling at this time. For information about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, please see our article, Coronavirus: How to Keep Track of What’s Important.

Following last week’s terror attacks in Brussels, the U.S. State Department issued a Europe Travel Alert—and, to my mind, some people are overreacting. Before you cancel a trip to Europe, consider:

1. The State Department has issued a Europe Alert, not a Warning.

Travel Alert does not advise you to stay home. An Alert is for “short-term events we think you should know about when planning travel to a country.” That’s very different from a Travel Warning, which is for “when we want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all.” An Alert merely reiterates what we already knew: When you go to Europe, be vigilant.

2. If you’re a smart traveler, you’re already vigilant.

You already steer clear of big crowds, such as at major train stations, sporting events, and public gatherings—places where pickpockets and drunken hooligans are a far more likely threat than terrorists. You already avoid mobs at tourist sites—by going at optimal times of day or bypassing the lines. If you don’t, here’s how.

3. State Department advisories always err on the side of caution.

If you were running the State Department, would you want to be in a position where a terrorist incident occurs and you hadn’t warned people? No. You’d want to avoid blame. The State Department has nothing to lose by issuing an Alert. Furthermore, it has nothing to lose if the Alert is not followed by an attack. (That’s because the spin can be that the authorities’ beefed-up vigilance is working.) Remember that the probability that you’ll get caught in a terror attack is minuscule.

4. The State Department tends to paint wide swaths of the world with the same brush.

There’s an Alert for the entire continent of Europe, even though a terror attack is far more likely to occur in a big city than in country villages or coastal areas or Mediterranean islands. Even when it comes to the State Department’s country-specific advisories, don’t think that an Alert or Warning for a nation means that that country is dangerous throughout. Just because parts of Mexico near the borders are dangerous, that doesn’t mean you should avoid Cabo San Lucas. Would you avoid Orlando because a bomb went off at the Boston Marathon? Would you avoid Beverly Hills because of shootings in San Bernardino? If I still haven’t convinced you, consider that the State Department currently cautions people about traveling everywhere in the world.

5. People think they’ll be more worried at their travel destination than they actually will be.

Over the years I’ve had email correspondence and phone calls with hundreds of people who cancel trips for no good reason, lose a lot of money, and miss out on what could have been wonderful memories. I’ve also watched hundreds forge ahead with trips and tell me afterward how glad they were to have done so. I’ve noticed that people expect to worry during a trip more than they actually end up worrying. As it turns out, that’s human nature. Psychologists will tell you that people typically overestimate how emotional they will be. Once they’re in the actual situation, there are dozens of interesting and demanding immediate circumstances that occupy their attention—circumstances that they didn’t factor in ahead of time. Similarly, once travelers get to their destination, they become so preoccupied with sightseeing, shopping, and other activities that they forget they were supposed to be worried.

Whether you’re traveling to Europe or any country that’s in the news, if you’re concerned about safety, here are smart steps you can take to protect yourself and give yourself peace of mind.

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 Holocaust Memorial in Budapest

The Ultimate Jewish Heritage Trip in Israel Includes a Stop in Europe

Starting this spring, U.S. travelers who are passing through Europe on their way to or from Israel can take advantage of special new Jewish-heritage itineraries. “It’s actually very convenient to combine a tour of Israel with a stopover or a few days in Europe or North Africa,” says Joe Yudin of Touring Israel, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Israel. “It’s a great way to break up a long flight while keeping the theme of the journey.”

Joe has teamed up with Europe specialists on The WOW List to create the customizable multi-country itineraries, which typically include visits to historic synagogues, Jewish museums and cemeteries, and restaurants specializing in traditional Jewish food. So far, these travel experts have created seven itineraries—six in Europe and one in Morocco—that tell a seamless story. “After all, the story of the Jewish people began in Israel 4,000 years ago,” says Joe, “and with the Roman conquest of Israel the Jewish nation was dispersed throughout the known world. These tours will focus on the connection of those events and be tailored to each traveler’s specific interests.

“Of course, travelers can also visit the usual iconic sites in those countries, just as a Jewish-heritage itinerary in Israel also includes visits to Christian and Muslim and secular sites.” The tours are hosted by guides specialized in Jewish culture and history and include opportunities to meet local Jewish community leaders. Highlights include:

* Morocco: In Casablanca, the Moroccan Jewish Museum, the only Jewish history museum in the Arab world.

* Spain: The Jewish Quarter of Cordoba and the Maimonedes Synagogue, built in 1315, as well as Jewish heritage sites in Barcelona, Seville, Toledo, and Gerona/Besalu.

* Portugal: The little towns of the Serra da Estrela and one of the oldest synagogues in Europe at Tomar.

* Budapest: The Holocaust Memorial in Budapest and the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives in the Great Budapest Synagogue.

* Prague: The Spanish Synagogue, as well as the ancient Old-New Synagogue and Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery, founded in 1478.

The Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse, Vienna

The Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse, Vienna. Photo courtesy Ouriel Morgensztern.

* Vienna: The Jewish Quarter of Leopoldstadt, the Jewish section of the Central Cemetery, and the Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse, where a permanent exhibition gives a comprehensive insight into Jewish life and the Jewish history of Vienna.

* Italy: The Jewish Ghetto in Rome and a medieval Tuscan hill town known as La Piccola Gerusalemme, or Little Jerusalem, for the Jewish community that coexisted with the majority Christian population in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, the Medici rulers confined the Jews to a ghetto, and travelers can visit the synagogue, bakery, mikvah, and other remnants of Jewish heritage.

Spotlight on Venice
A destination of particular interest this year is Venice, which established a Jewish ghetto on March 29, 1516. The city and the Jewish community of Venice are marking the quincentennial with Venice Ghetto 500, a yearlong program centered on three main events: an opening ceremony at the Fenice Opera House on March 29; the exhibition “Venice, the Jews and Europe” at the Doge’s Palace (June–November); and the refurbishment of the Jewish Museum and restoration of three historic synagogues, a $12 million project begun in 2014.

In connection with the quincentennial, Touring Israel has teamed up with Maria Gabriella Landers and Brian Dore to offer a three-day, privately guided tour that comprises both prominent landmarks and little-visited sites. The following itinerary can be customized to suit individual travelers’ interests and time constraints:

Day 1: You’ll take a private water taxi to the dock of Ca’Sagredo, one of Venice’s oldest and most esteemed five-star hotels near the major sights. Although on the Grand Canal and close to the Piazza San Marco and Rialto, the hotel is a bit apart from the tourist thoroughfare. Home to one of the Venetian Republic’s wealthiest and most powerful families, this 42-room property is housed in the palazzo that was their fifteenth-century residence. Paintings of important seventeenth-century Venetian painters adorn the common areas, and there is a restaurant on site with seating on the Grand Canal.

In the late afternoon an English-speaking Venetian will meet you in your hotel lobby to accompany you on a bacarata, stopping in at some choice spots for ombra and cicchetti (wine and Venetian appetizers) during the traditional cocktail hour. This is a great introduction to La Serenissima through a truly local custom, and you can learn about Venetian gastronomy as you become familiar with the lay of the land.

Day 2. A local expert guide will lead you through the Jewish Ghetto. The term ghetto originates from the Venetian word getto, meaning the pouring of metal. Today the word has a negative connotation, but in 1516, when an enclosed neighborhood for Jews was created in Venice, it referred to the foundry that the district replaced. The Venetian Republic segregated Jews to placate the Roman Catholic Church, which had already forced the expulsion of Jews from much of Western Europe. Nonetheless, in the span of a few decades the Venetian Jews were able to overcome obstacles and establish a tight network of trade that involved the states bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. You will visit the ghetto and learn the historical importance and contribution of the Jewish population during the Serenissima Republic, and you will see the famous hidden synagogues, which are among the oldest and most valued in Europe. Your specialized guide will accompany you privately into three stunning synagogues and explain the ghetto’s history, art, and curiosities. After the ghetto tour, you’ll explore the Cannaregio neighborhood, a very interesting but little visited section of Venice. Enjoy lunch here at one of the restaurants that feature classic Venetian kosher cuisine. After lunch you’ll explore the Jewish Cemetery on the Lido, where the tombs date from 1389. The cemetery endured a long and tumultuous history until it was abandoned in 1938.

Day 3: Your guide will get you past the lines for the Basilica in the iconic Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, where, you’ll get to see the 500th-anniversary exhibit, a multi-media celebration of Jewish art, culture, and civic society throughout the history of the lagoon.

Day 4: On your final morning, you’ll get to take a private water taxi from your hotel to your point of departure (airport, train station, port, or Piazzale Roma).

For more information or to customize your own itinerary, contact Joe Yudin of Touring Israel.

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.

Lunch al fresco on Viking Star cruise ship

This is a Cruise Ship That Smart Travelers Will Love

Lunch aboard Viking Star in the port of Monte Carlo. It was December, and temps were in the 50s.
In Corsica, an empty beach—one of the rewards of low season.
Ajaccio, Corsica on Viking Star cruise
Viking ships tend to stay in port till after dark. This is Ajaccio, Corsica.
Lunch al fresco on Viking Star cruise ship
Lunch al fresco again—in December, in Ajaccio.
Toulon, France on Viking Star cruise ship
Here we are in Toulon, France, just past sunset.
all onboard sign on Viking Star cruise ship
A curfew of 10 pm means you can arrange a very full day of sightseeing in southern France.
big windows on Viking Star cruise ship
Most parts of the ship let the outdoors in—even the buffet restaurant.
the bar in the buffet restaurant on Viking Star cruise ship
Almost everywhere on the ship there’s a view. This is the bar in the buffet restaurant.
Explorers Lounge on Viking Star cruise ship
Viking Star has a ton of nooks with books and, sometimes, screens displaying ever-changing travel photos from around the world.
video screen on Viking Star cruise ship
The biggest screen with a scene is in the atrium.
Explorers Lounge on Viking Star cruise ship
Even the bars are comfy.
rooftop infinity pool on Viking Star cruise ship
Probably the only rooftop infinity pool in Toulon.
main pool on Viking Star cruise ship
The main pool can be enclosed or open-air, depending on the weather.
main pool on Viking Star cruise ship
Here’s the same pool, at night.
spa thermal pool on Viking Star cruise ship
And here’s the thermal pool, in the spa.
spa on Viking Star cruise ship
There’s no fee to use the spa. These heated loungers are available to everyone.
spa snow room on Viking Star cruise ship
The spa’s snow room is available to everyone too. In case you feel like jumping from hot tub to snow and back again.
cabin on Viking Star cruise ship
This was my cabin—simple and comfy.
cabin balcony on Viking Star cruise ship
This was my balcony.
putting green on Viking Star cruise ship
The ship’s putting green—which I never saw used, despite shirt-sleeve weather.
Viking Heritage Museum on Viking Star cruise ship
The atmosphere onboard is one of cultural enrichment with a Scandinavian flavor. Here’s the Viking Heritage Museum.
wool hats for sale on the Viking Star cruise ship
Homey touches include these wool hats for sale. They’re knitted by Berit Clausen, the spa manager’s 95-year-old grandmother back in Norway.
Mamsen’s, the Norwegian deli on the Viking Star cruise ship
My favorite place to eat on the ship is Mamsen’s, the Norwegian deli in the Explorers’ Lounge. It’s named after the mother of Viking president Torstein Hagen and supposedly serves her traditional recipes.
Norwegian deli food on Viking Star cruise ship
Among the delicacies on offer (for free) in the Explorers’ Lounge, as well as in The Living Room, are salmon gravlax and steak tartare.
lunch on Viking Star cruise ship
Reke (Atlantic shrimp on white bread) for lunch.
breakfast on Viking Star cruise ship
At Mamsen’s they make these special waffles with berries and sour cream.
waffles on Viking Star cruise ship
Voila!
room service on Viking star cruise ship
Room service is free too. And the salmon gravlax melts in your mouth.

 

If you’re an avid independent traveler, as I am, seeing the world by ship has its pros and cons. A cruise is an easy way to see remote places that would otherwise be too expensive and logistically tricky to get to. But there’s a trade-off: Your limited time on land at each stop hampers your freedom.

That’s why I’m excited to tell you about Viking Cruises’ first ocean ship, the Viking Star. On a recent Mediterranean sailing from Barcelona to Rome, it was easier than ever to go at my own pace and do my own thing. (I say that having sailed on more than two dozen ships worldwide, ranging in size from 120 passengers to 6,000.) Viking Star’s sister ship, Viking Sea, will launch next month, and two more nearly identical ships are coming next year: Viking Sky and Viking Sun. They’re a good option for travelers who are normally too independent for a cruise. Here’s why:

1. You can avoid the tourist hordes.

In my case, I got to explore Europe minus the crowds of peak season. It was an unconventional wintertime Romantic Mediterranean itinerary that the new Viking Sea will sail next winter. The Barcelona-Rome route includes Toulon (on the French Riviera), Monte Carlo (Monaco), Ajaccio (Corsica), and Livorno (Italy). There are two traditional drawbacks to Europe in low season, of course: Chilly weather and not enough daylight hours. Normally in low season it’s smart to stick with Europe’s large cultural capitals, since they have a lot to offer even when it’s cold and dark outside. But the Viking Star keeps you warm and cheery in cold weather (see #5 below). The ship can’t rectify the second drawback: the sun setting at 5 pm. Darkness falling early, combined with the fact that the ship was docked in one port or another all day every day, meant that I almost never got to see the ship moving through water in daylight (normally one of my favorite things about a cruise). What made up for that, though, was the absence of other cruise ships in port, making it so easy to escape other tourists on shore (something that is not easily done on, say, a Caribbean cruise).

2. The ship isn’t too big or crowded.

It holds 930 passengers, but it feels more like a 500-passenger ship. It’s blissfully uncrowded, perhaps because people disappear into the dozens of nooks and hiding spots around the ship, and also because every cabin has a balcony. At no point did I encounter or spot any lines or wait for a deck chair or an empty table. There are many public spaces where you’ll find a comfy armchair, a great book, and nobody around. The ship has three pools—an outdoor infinity pool at the stern, a heated pool in the spa, and a main pool that can be either enclosed or open-air, depending on the weather—and none of them ever had more than two people in them.

3. You spend a ton of time on land.

On the “Romantic Mediterranean” itinerary, we sailed only at night. The ship was docked in port all day long, every day. You can sightsee till 8 or 10 pm, and the ship overnights in Barcelona on the first night and in Rome on the last night, so on those nights there’s no curfew at all. I ended the trip wishing we’d had a day at sea so I could have spent more time enjoying the ship itself—watching the waves pass by, soaking in the spa’s thermal pools, sampling more Scandinavian delicacies, and curling up on one of the many plush sofas with one of the many classic novels from one of the many intriguing bookshelves.

4. You don’t feel confined.

First, you’re almost always able to get off the ship and into town. Second, every chance they get (when the weather is warm enough), the crew throws open the floor-to-ceiling doors and windows to let the outdoors in. There are great views from almost every public space on the ship. Even the buffet transforms into an open-air restaurant—and it has an open kitchen, so you can actually look through the kitchen to the ocean on the other side of the ship. Every room has a veranda with a floor-to-ceiling view, and there’s a promenade deck that wraps around the entirety of the ship (something that’s increasingly rare nowadays). Windows onto the promenade deck open as well.

5. Itineraries can be unconventional because the ship is weather-proof.

I’ve never been on a comfier ship for cold-weather cruising. In addition to two indoor pools, Viking Star’s got two indoor hot tubs, a Nordic-style spa with saunas and steam rooms, an abundance of armchairs adorned with blankets and throws, and warm Scandinavian décor throughout. This means the ship can ply cool itineraries such as from Norway to Montreal, with stops in the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and Quebec.

6. There’s no regimented schedule.

Unlike on some larger ships, there’s nobody telling you when to do what. There are no announcements. There are no formal nights. You don’t have to report to a particular lounge or theater at a particular time in order to join a tour. Nope, if you want to join the free group tour in each port, you just get off the ship and meet your group on the pier. In fact, the only time I saw herding during the cruise was off the ship, on those free tours. Because they’re free, almost all the passengers take them, which means you could be part of a caravan of buses all pulling into the same tourist sites at the same time. Remember: Just because it’s free, you don’t have to do it. It’s very easy to do your own thing in port. Just grab a taxi, hop on public transit, rent a car, or start walking.

7. The Wi-Fi is free, fast, and reliable.

The Wi-Fi alone gives you freedom and flexibility because it costs you nothing to hop on the Internet and do a little research before arriving in each port to find out what’s happening on the day you’ll be there.

8. It’s easy to dine privately and on your own schedule.

There are four restaurants where you can have long, elaborate meals, but if you’re like me and you just want quick, easy options anytime, anywhere, the choices are excellent. You can order room service for free, 24 hours a day, and it’s delicious and arrives fast. You can also grab hefty, free gourmet snacks of melt-in-your-mouth salmon gravlax, Atlantic shrimp, and steak tartare (with all the trimmings), both at the ship’s Norwegian deli and at its Living Room bar.

9. The ambience is more boutique hotel than cruise ship.

The ship was designed by an architect who does not normally design cruise ships. Not only are the interior design and décor atypical, but very little of what you see onboard feels corporate or mass-produced. The ship feels like an independent, family-owned, Scandinavian hotel, with homey and personal touches—such as wool hats, for sale in the spa shop, that were knitted by the spa manager’s 95-year-old grandmother. The atmosphere is one of cultural enrichment, from the collections of classic books to the Viking Heritage museum to the selection of TED talks on your in-room television.

10. You can relax mentally because it’s so affordable.

Your cruise fare includes a lot. In addition to the Wi-Fi and the tour in each port, you get entry to the spa’s thermal pools, saunas, and steam rooms; beverages, beer, and wine served with meals; minibar items; cappuccinos at the bar; and the aforementioned gourmet snacks served around the ship. There were salmon gravlax (on rye bread with dill mustard sauce), Reke (Atlantic shrimp on white bread), steak tartare (with the trimmings), and assorted Norwegian pastries, including special waffles with berries and sour cream. When you consider the sky-high prices you’d pay for those things in Scandinavia, the value is striking. There’s no nickel-and-diming; in fact, it’s hard to spend money on the ship. There isn’t even a casino. My only shipboard expense was a 50-minute Swedish massage which, thanks to massage therapist Luisa who is literally from Sweden, was the best I’ve had on any ship.

If you’ve got questions about the ship, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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.

 

Disclosure: Viking Cruises provided me with a complimentary week-long cruise. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Viking Cruises’ part, nor was anything promised on mine. You can read the signed agreement between me and Viking Cruises here.*

Concourse play area, Seoul Incheon Airport

How Not to Get Lost in the Seoul Airport

Seoul’s Incheon International Airport is widely considered the second-best airport in the world (after Singapore’s Changi Airport); blog after blog sings its praises. Surely my family could while away a ten-hour layover in this epicenter of creature comforts, where the amenities, I read, would include leather recliners and free Wi-Fi—right? Well, I’m here to warn you that Incheon’s facilities might be impressive, but it falls down in one crucial area: signage. The chairs might be cushy, the shopping divine (for collectors of perfume, Toblerone, and other duty-free knick-knacks—I’ll get to that later). But to my mind, maps and signs that are easily understood by your jet-lagged, sleep-deprived customers should be every airport’s top priority. Let me explain:

I’d heard that Incheon had several play areas—perfect, I thought, for letting my four-year-old burn off some energy between flights. So upon arrival, I consulted a touch-screen map to find a play area near our gate. The map’s menu listed nearly 100 duty-free shops, but not a single kid space; when I searched for “play,” the single result was a playground on the Concourse, a corridor of gates separated from the terminal by a shuttle train. We boarded the train and made our way to the advertised play area, which consisted of a large cargo net hanging a foot or two off the ground like an enormous hammock, plus some small plastic balls to throw around. Somehow, after having read glowing reviews of this airport posted by fellow parents, I’d been expecting more. My son grew tired of the place within a few minutes, and so we went in search of a different—hopefully better—kids’ area.

Trying to retrace our steps, we saw not a single sign pointing our way back to the terminal, where our departure gate was located. When we finally made our way to the shuttle platform, a guard turned us around, explaining that the train takes passengers in only one direction. We finally found an airport employee who agreed to escort us back to the terminal, quietly chiding us the whole time for missing the signs that the shuttle ride was a one-way trip. (I suppose what makes Incheon world-class is that a guy in a suit showed us the way back to our gate; back home, a TSA officer probably would have kicked us out to the curb.)

Seoul Incheon Airport signage

Would you have known, based on the photo above, that by boarding the shuttle train you’d lose access to the entire terminal? Photo: Ryan Damm

I ask you, readers: Would you have known, based on the photo above, that by boarding the shuttle train you’d lose access to the entire terminal? I now see our mistake, but at the time—bleary-eyed after a red-eye from Saigon—I breezed past these signs, not realizing that “Concourse Only” meant we couldn’t return to the terminal.

When we finally found the Kids’ Zone on the second floor of the Terminal, I was again disappointed, this time by the wide-screen TV that was showing Jurassic Park (a PG13-rated movie) beside a climbing structure appropriate for kids under six. Way to go, Incheon: Let’s give little kids nightmares before they board a long-haul flight!

Kids area in the Terminal, Seoul Incheon Airport

The kids’ area in the Terminal at Seoul’s Incheon Airport was disappointing. Photo: Ryan Damm

As far as I can tell, Incheon is a glorified shopping mall with gates as afterthoughts, and little concern for the basic needs of travelers. In the market for a Swarovski bracelet, a Louis Vuitton suitcase (who buys luggage when they’re already on a trip, anyway), or fast-food kimchi? Incheon has you covered. A can of soda water, a bag of crackers, or a globally understood sign indicating DO NOT ENTER? In those departments, I found that Incheon was sorely lacking. Next time, I’ll be flying through Singapore.

Which airports do you think are the most kid-friendly?

 

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.

Taj Mahal Reflection, Agra, India

Make Sure Your Private Guide Can Do These Six Things

The more time I spend with private local English-speaking guides—and I’ve used them in countries worldwide—the more I think it’s one of the hardest professions around: part psychologist, part historian, part logistician, part fixer, and all-around charming travel companion. That is why guides vary so vastly in quality; I’ve had a few I wanted to fire, and a few I wanted to invite to my wedding.

The cream of the crop, in my experience, come via top-notch destination specialists such as the ones on Wendy’s WOW List. Our Trusted Travel Experts spend countless hours every year in their destinations vetting new guides and educating old ones. They build loyal relationships with the best guides in a region, so that those guides will go the extra mile for their clients. That’s why I’m more comfortable spending my money on a guide vetted by a Trusted Travel Expert, as opposed to a guide I find online. Here are a few examples of what makes a guide booked by a TTE different:

They whisk you past the lines. They’ll pre-buy your admission tickets so that you don’t have to wait in lines at museums and other sights. I myself have been whisked past a long line at the Taj Mahal, my guide leading us with tickets already in hand.

They get you in. Different regions, cities, and even museums or monuments require different guiding licenses; only the best guides have the licenses to chaperone you everywhere you want to go. If you’re stuck with a guide who’s not licensed to show you a site, he’ll have to hand you off to someone else, and that locally licensed guide could be terrible. On a different visit to the Taj Mahal, I was handed off to someone who did nothing but recite historical dates and attempt to restrict my photo taking to only the corniest shots. (No, I do not need to pose while seeming to pluck the top off of the dome—thanks, though.)

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel

View of the Old City from the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. Photo courtesy Joe Yudin.

They answer every question. Guides clamor to work for the top firms, who can feed them a steady stream of clients—so those firms hire only the most knowledgeable guides. When reader Courtney Hartness reviewed a trip booked by Trusted Travel Expert Joe Yudin, she called her guide “a walking encyclopedia.” From Montana to Mendoza, from Saigon to the Serengeti, I’ve had the same experience with TTEs’ guides.

They connect you with local influencers and other interesting people. In fact, often the guide is a local influencer or expert in a particular subject matter. In their review of Italy Trusted Travel Expert Maria Gabriella Landers, readers Bob and Linda Infelise describe their guides as “a professor at the University of Edmonton’s campus in Italy, a television personality in Bologna, and a wonderful retired librarian in Venice.”

They hold the keys to the highest level of insider access. In many cases, a guide alone can’t open doors that are closed to the public. “It takes years to cultivate relationships with museum curators, theater directors, palace management, etc.,” says Greg Tepper, Trusted Travel Expert for Russia. No single guide in St. Petersburg or Moscow can get a traveler behind all or even most closed doors. But Greg can, and so his guides can when they’re working for him.

They take you to only the most worthwhile shops and restaurants—not those that give kickbacks. The best guides command the highest rates; lesser ones are forced to supplement their wages with kickbacks from cronies at touristy stores, eateries, even museums.

We’d love to know: What do you value most in a private guide?

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.

Fregate Island, Seychelles

Have You Been to One of Google’s Top Trending Countries?

Do you search for travel information on your phone? According to Google, mobile travel inquiries increased by nearly 50% from January 2015 to January 2016. The rise makes sense, considering how much everyone seems to be looking at their phones these days. And with that increase, Google has been able to find out some interesting things about where we’re traveling lately.

Top 10 Trending Countries

  1. Seychelles
  2. Greece
  3. Bermuda
  4. Scotland
  5. Brazil
  6. Portugal
  7. Argentina
  8. Germany
  9. Jamaica
  10. Barbados

Based on US searches on Google since January 2016

Top 10 Trending Cities

  1. Myrtle Beach
  2. Playa del Carmen
  3. Cancun
  4. Huntington Beach
  5. Laguna Beach
  6. Santa Cruz
  7. Aspen
  8. Newport Beach
  9. Big Bear Lake
  10. Park City

Based on US searches on Google since January 2016

Of course, all this interesting search information doesn’t remove the challenges of actually planning a great trip. In fact, Google says that 70% of travelers worry that they may not be finding the best price or making the best decision while booking a trip.

That’s why the search company held a press conference yesterday to introduce Destinations on Google, a new way of compiling certain kinds of travel information and displaying it to would-be globetrotters.

The tool works best as an overview of popular locations. For example, if you type in “Europe destinations,” you’ll get a list of popularly searched spots within Europe (London, Barcelona, Paris, etc). And if you tap into a city, you’ll see suggested itineraries.

Google Destinations screenshot

The breadth of the information is decent for overview or inspiration purposes—and you can do some fun filtering by interest, like for scuba diving or hiking—but you’re not going to be able to plan a comprehensive trip from here, one with all the special experiences most people want to discover these days. The Google team says that’s fine—that’s not what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to complement the travel experts and travel planners, by offering a first stop for research.

And Destinations does work decently in that way…though to be fair, sophisticated travelers probably don’t need Google to tell them that the top sights in Paris are the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame.

Instead, the most useful part of the tool is the same mechanism that powers Google Flights—so that when you type in “Greece destinations” or “Europe vacation,” your search results will include a recommended vacation week, based on the lowest estimated airfare Google Flights can find from your location. Similarly, Google shows the average estimated hotel price, in your chosen star category, in the destination you’re researching. Via its tool, you can find out the average starting price for, say, a seven-day trip from New York to Paris, in any particular month. Though the true price of a trip is never just the average air and hotel (there are meals, admission tickets, transportation, and activities to think about, not to mention the difference in cost between just any old hotel and the hot new spot everyone’s talking about), it’s still a helpful way to think about where you might want to go if you have a vacation coming up at a certain time of year.

Google Destinations price screenshot

A few key things to keep in mind as you explore: Google doesn’t do any of the booking (it’ll direct you to each hotel’s or airline’s site to do that) and it can’t refine for important personalized criteria (such as finding a hotel that is in your loyalty program or has the bed configuration or connecting rooms you need). Also keep in mind that Google is basing most of its information on popular searches that other people make. As an example, Google Destinations will tell you that May is when most people go to Athens; that is helpful information, but that doesn’t mean May is the smartest time for you to visit (unexpected or off-season weeks can sometimes be the best times for travel). Google also doesn’t tell you when a special local festival is happening a few miles outside of the city, or when the curator of the Acropolis Museum is available to take you on a private evening tour.

For that, you still need humans. And Google admits that freely. As a spokesperson explained, “This is not meant to replace travel agents, or TripAdvisor, or traditional travel media.It’s meant to compliment and be used in concert with other resources.”

That’s no surprise to us here—we’ve been talking about the value of exceptional human travel planners for years. So while a smart digital tool like Destinations on Google can be a useful part of your travel toolkit, you’ll still need to put down your phone to discover the most extraordinary parts of travel.

 

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.

Cheetah in Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Great Deals on Kenyan Safaris Are Happening Now: Don’t Miss Out

If you’ve been even toying with the idea of taking a safari, now is the time to book it. KLM has just announced a flash sale of airfare to Nairobi, starting today through March 14, for trips taken through May 31. Fares out of several major US cities start as low as $723. Even better news: Those aren’t the only flight deals right now. Dan Saperstein, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for East Africa and South Africa Safaris, reports that British Airways and Swissair are also offering fares right now for less than $800 (he’s even seen a few for less than $700), and that some discounted fares are extending through July and August. “These are all excellent deals,” he says, “as this airfare is usually anywhere from $1,100–$1,500 per person for these airlines (KLM can be upwards of $2,400 at times).”

In addition to the airfare deals, there are two other big discounts that travelers can take advantage of if they head to Kenya in spring:

1. Accommodations: “Pricing for the camps and lodges is also less expensive these months of the year,” Dan explains. “Rates typically go up around June 15th in East Africa, so combined with the airfare, you can see significant savings traveling during these months.”

2. Visas and fees: In an effort to encourage more family travel, Kenya just changed its entry visa policy so that all children under the age of 16 get into the country for free, effective immediately (adults are still $50). In the same vein, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that from July of this year, all park fees will be reduced and that VAT charges will be removed. Dan says, “It may not appear to be a huge difference on a daily basis, but it certainly adds up to a huge savings over the course of one’s safari, especially when traveling with a family.”

As for the key question of whether spring is a worthwhile time to take a safari, Dan says “absolutely it is. Rains can occur this time of year, but the ever-changing global weather patterns make it a worthwhile time to visit, as the animals are there to be seen year-round; they certainly don’t go inside if it happens to rain!”

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 Flow Rider on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas

How to Keep Your Kids Happy on a Cruise

the Flow Rider on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas
Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas cruise ship
Allure of the Seas has a park in the middle. Photo: Timothy Baker
central park Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas cruise ship
Growing trees at sea is hard, but Royal Caribbean has managed to do it. Photo: Timothy Baker
Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas cruise ship
Central Park is a mid-ship oasis of calm, at any time of the day or night. Photo: Timothy Baker
kiddie pool Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas cruise ship
The ship has pools for kids... Photo: Timothy Baker
hot tub Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas cruise ship
And the ship has pools for adults. Photo: Timothy Baker
Boardwalk on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas cruise ship
There’s always something going on at the Boardwalk—including free donuts in the morning and free hot dogs in the afternoon. Photo: Timothy Baker
surfing the Flow Rider on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas
The surfing staff is highly experienced at teaching beginners how to enjoy the Flow Rider. Photo: Timothy Baker
Flow Rider on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas
Doug’s surfing lesson paid off. Photo: Timothy Baker
Flow Rider staff show on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas
Even if you yourself don’t want to try the Flow Rider, you can enjoy the spectacle. Here, the surfing instructors put on their own show. Photo: Timothy Baker
Royal Promenade on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas cruise ship
Among the eateries and bars on the Royal Promenade are Kate Spade, Michael Kors, and Guess boutiques. Photo: Timothy Baker
The Aqua Show features acrobats in a modern circus-like atmosphere. Photo: Timothy Baker
Aqua show on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas cruise ship
The Aqua Show stage, as viewed during a rehearsal. The diver (at top left) is jumping off a 60-foot-high platform. Photo: Timothy Baker
Ice show on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas cruise ship
The “How to Train Your Dragon” Ice Show Photo: Timothy Baker
friendly officers on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas cruise ship
Officers aboard Allure of the Seas pose with King Julien, the lemur from Madagascar. Photo: Timothy Baker

 

Hi. I’m Doug. I’m 12 years old, and I just took my 12th cruise. It was on the Royal Caribbean ship Allure of the Seas. If your kids are 9 to 14 years old, and you want to be sure they have a great trip and don’t complain, here are the things onboard that you should do with them because they will enjoy them the most.

The Aqua Show: It will make your jaws drop. Divers dive off tiny platforms higher than the Olympics’ highest platform. They dive into a small pool that is only 11 feet deep. It will stun you.

The Flow Rider: It is a surfing and boogie-boarding simulator. Even though the lines are super-long, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Izumi: It is a super-funny hibachi dinner. The chef started out saying, “Hi, I’m Ryan, and I will be your fake Japanese chef today.” He cooks in front of you and says things like, “These eggs came all the way from…yup, you guessed it… Kentucky.”

The Ice Show: The ice rink has many shows—like How to Train Your Dragon and Monopoly. It has many jokes for adults and kids. You will probably end up talking about it all through dinner.

Central Park: Central Park is a nice place to relax. It is always very calm there. It has great restaurants. Nobody knows that you can even go there for breakfast: The Park Café has bagels with different flavors of cream cheese and toppings, and you can get them to take out and walk around the ship with.

The pools: There are 7 pools and 12 hot tubs—and that doesn’t include the pools and hot tubs that only parents can go in. Some hot tubs have huge TVs so you can watch a sports game. Each pool has its own theme and is equipped with a soft-serve ice-cream machine. There are pools for all ages. There are no water slides, but there’s a water volleyball court.

The Boardwalk: The Boardwalk is a place to go with your family and have fun. There’s a carousel, an arcade, a ring toss, a bean bag toss, a Johnny Rockets, a hot dog stand with all different kinds of hot dogs, a candy shop, and an all-night buffet that Mom and Dad didn’t even know about. There’s a zip-line above the Boardwalk but, once you’ve done the Labadee Flight Line, it’s not very exciting.

The Royal Promenade: It’s a huge shopping mall in the middle of the ship with a floating bar that goes up and down three decks. There’s a parade there on the last night of the cruise. It has shops like Kate Spade (parents might want to know that).

The ship’s staff: The officers and crew are very nice. If you ask them to do something, they’ll do it. They’ll even play ring toss with you. They are very loyal and don’t get mad. Overall the staff is much nicer to kids than the staff on most other ships.

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.

A picture-perfect sunset, as seen from the Negro River, , a tributary of the Amazon in Brazil

Things to Do in Brazil Beyond the Olympics

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are almost here, and in addition to providing the chance to see Usain Bolt win another pile of gold medals, the Games are also an opportunity to explore the best of Brazil. August is technically winter in the southern hemisphere, but Brazil’s weather is mild and dry—making it a great time to add some nature to your Rio city stay.

Here is a savvy selection of places to see and things to do beyond the Olympic events.

Rio de Janeiro

With the Olympic events in Rio spread out across four hubs, traffic in the city will be a nightmare—which is one reason to book your tickets through a Trusted Travel Expert from Wendy’s WOW List, as those tickets will get you access to the V.I.P. shuttle vans operating throughout the city in their own lane. “One hub, Deo Doro, is in serious suburbs,” says Martin Frankenberg, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Brazil. “Unless you’re a die-hard equestrian fan, think hard. It could take one and a half to two and a half hours to get there, depending on traffic.” Martin also mentions that Deo Doro is a dodgy area after dark and therefore isn’t a great place to go wandering around. That said, he emphasizes that Rio is a safer city than people think; still, it is a city. “You just have to be smart,” he says. “Don’t leave your camera sticking out, don’t wear jewelry…..Use common sense..”

As part of the Olympics, a lot of new stuff is being built in Rio, and not all of it is specifically for the Games. Martin recommends the stunning Museum of Tomorrow, designed by famed architect Santiago Calatrava, and the Museum of Image and Sound in Copacabana.

The Amazon

The Amazon starts its dry season in August, which means river levels are lower and beaches are exposed. “People are often shocked by the beauty of the white-sand beaches that form here,” says Martin, “making a trip here unique from the experiences one can have in Ecuador or Peru’s swaths of the same river system. In fact, I know of few other places in the world where you can have a different beach entirely to yourself each evening at sunset.” Don’t expect to see wildlife here, though. If you want that, try…

The Pantanal

August is an ideal time to check out the Pantanal, the biggest hot spot for wildlife in the Americas—jaguars, alligators, capybaras, and thousands of birds and fish. If you are looking for a safari-like experience, this is the place.

Paraty

In contrast to Rio’s urban crush, Paraty is a scenic small coastal town set along the Costa Verde against a backdrop of mountains. It’s a charming beach escape with colonial buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, only a three-hour drive from Rio.

Ibitipoca

“Also within driving distance of Rio, this area has incredible lodges,” says Martin. “One of my favorites is the Reserva do Ibitipoca. It’s a farm estate with amazing waterfalls, horses, beautiful country scenery.” The property is on a preserve covering 4,000 hectares of natural wilderness and is part of an effort to not only protect the current environment but to make sure that all growth here is sustainable.

 

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.

La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain

The Perfect Cruise Shore Excursion in Barcelona

The shore excursions sold by cruise lines can be touristy, overpriced, and inefficient. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular ports recommend sightseeing itineraries for your time off the ship, so you can get the max out of your precious time in port.

The Perfect Port Day in Barcelona

Since its cruise port sits so close to the city center, Barcelona is a natural contender for independent shore excursions. We asked the whizzes at Context Travel to dream up the best ways to spend a day in the city. You can choose to go it alone or hire one of their “docents”— professors, art historians, chefs, and other interesting local people—to show you around.

Getting into Barcelona

Most cruise ships dock extremely close to the city center at the Moll Adossat terminal (moll means pier in Catalan); even if your ship doesn’t dock there, the other piers are nearby.

By bus — The Barcelona port authority operates a shuttle bus (the T3 PORTBUS, a.k.a. the blue bus) that takes passengers between Moll Adossat and Plaça de Colom. From this plaza at the base of Las Ramblas, you can easily get around on foot or by metro; the Drassanes stop on the green L3 line is nearby. To catch the bus, look for signs upon exiting the boat; the cost is 3 euros (about U.S. $3.30) round-trip, 3 euros (about $3.30) round-trip. Your cruise company may also run its own shuttle from the Moll Adossat to the World Trade Center, which is just a few minutes’ walk from Plaça de Colom.

By taxi — There is a taxi line at Moll Adossat, though sometimes the wait is long. The ride to Plaça de Colum should take about 10 minutes at a cost of roughly 10 euros (about $11). The ride to Plaça de Catalonia, Barcelona’s more central square, is about 20 minutes and roughly 15 euros (about $16.50).

By private car — You can pre-book a private car to whisk you back and forth in style, but it comes at a price; Context Travel offers the service for $50 each way.

Walking — It’s about a 45-minute walk to Plaça de Colom; the part of the city you’ll see is neither interesting nor beautiful.

Things to do

If it’s your first time in Barcelona:

Start your exploration at Plaça de Colom, where you’ll see a large monument to Christopher Columbus. The monument sits at the base of Las Ramblas, a historic, pedestrians-only avenue that runs north to the city’s main square, Plaça de Catalunya. Stroll up Las Ramblas to see some of the street performers and activity (though watch your purse); veer off to the right at some point to get lost in the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) and El Born neighborhoods in the Ciutat Vella (old city). The Barri Gòtic does have some heavily touristed streets, but it’s still possible to find quaint ones—we especially love exploring what remains of the historic Jewish Quarter.

Stop at the Born Centre Cultural, housed in a 19th-century covered market, to learn about the history of that neighborhood as well as all of Catalonia; then head to lunch at Bar del Pla for some tapas.

Catalan flags in Gracia, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Context Travel

Catalan flags in Gracia, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Context Travel

In the afternoon, head up Las Ramblas (by foot or via metro line L3) to Passeig de Gràcia, the main artery of the Eixample district. It is in this newer district that you’ll find Barcelona’s famous modernista architecture, particularly works by the three most famous modernistá architects: Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. You’ll see the bulk of these on the Passeig de Gràcia itself, including Gaudí’s famous Casa Mila. Passeig de Gràcia is also home to luxury stores like Chanel. While walking the Passeig de Gràcia, look down at the paving stones beneath your feet—they are based on a design by Gaudí. The L3 line runs parallel to this avenue, so you can simply hop on the subway to the Drassanes stop and catch the next PORTBUS whenever it’s time to get back to the ship.

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Context Travel

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Context Travel

If you’ve already been to Barcelona:

Head to Gràcia, a village once well outside the city limits (now near the Lesseps stop on the metro’s L3 line). Far from the prying eyes of tourists, Gràcia is an ideal neighborhood for learning about Catalan culture and pride; for insight into the current political atmosphere and independence movement in Catalonia, Context Travel offers a three-hour walking seminar of the neighborhood. Have lunch in Gràcia at Can Xurrades, a local favorite for Catalan cuisine, particularly steaks from Iberian bulls (similar to Kobe beef); call in advance to reserve a table. Then head by metro down to Plaça Espanya for an afternoon of Catalan art: the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, a fantastic collection of Catalan visual art, is housed in the Palau Nacional; the nearby Caixa Forum has wonderful temporary exhibitions in a converted textile factory. Context arranges a three-hour walking tour of nearby Montjuïc hill that contextualizes the area.

To return to the port, make the five-minute walk from the Caixa Forum to the metro stop Plaça d’Espanya on L3. Exit at Drassanes, and return to the T3 PORTBUS stop to catch the shuttle back to the Port.

 

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.

kid eating pretzels and watching TV on a plane

How to Ace Long-Haul Flights with Young Kids

When I decided to take my four-year-old son to Asia, the trans-Pacific flight loomed large in my mind. How would we get through 18 hours on a plane?

I needn’t have been so worried about the flight; while there were a few tough moments, we passed the time surprisingly easily. Flying that distance with a baby or toddler would have been much more trying, but by four years old, kids are better able to entertain themselves, and to adhere to expectations of good behavior. So, aside from advising fellow parents not to let a long flight derail their travel plans, here’s what I learned:

Treat the flight as a highlight of the trip, not a chore. Most of us have forgotten the romance of air travel—and for good reason. Kids, however, are primed to find the idea of soaring through clouds and landing in a new part of the world—in the middle of a new day, even—downright magical. Present the flight as a fun adventure. Tell your kids how lucky they are to get to sleep overnight on the plane; bring pajamas and any other portable parts of their bedtime routine.

kid asleep in airplane seat

For a better chance of having more space, I always book window and aisle seats at the back of the plane. Photo: Ryan Damm

Strategize for more space. I always book window and aisle seats at the back of the plane, leaving the seat between two of us open. These aft middle seats become the least desirable and often go unfilled, giving us more room to stretch out. If another passenger claims the seat, we simply trade them one of our window or aisle spots.

kid in airport pushing luggage cart

Get to the airport early so you can find ways to burn off your child’s energy. Photo: Ryan Damm

Burn off some energy. Before a long flight, get to the airport extra-early so that your kids will have ample time to run around before boarding. Find an empty gate and set up an obstacle course using the chairs, garbage cans, and whatever else you can find. The more ya-yas you get out on the ground, the fewer you’ll have to deal with in the air. 

Establish ground rules. Explain to your kid what constitutes proper plane etiquette. Don’t expect them to automatically know not to speak loudly, rest their feet on the seat in front of them, or take off their seatbelt during turbulence. Balance this with positives: They alone can control the window shade or armrest, for instance.

Don’t act as activity director on the plane. On previous flights, I’ve lugged along a huge bag of toys and activities, most of which go unused. This time, I gave my son unlimited use of the seat-back entertainment system and an iPad (a boon for him, since screen time is very limited at home). This allowed me to be well rested for the trip ahead, and it also trained him to be a much more pleasant flying companion.

kid looking out airplane window

Flights don’t have to be a chore: Kids are primed to find the idea of soaring through clouds downright magical. Photo: Ryan Damm

Test before takeoff. I kept my son’s new iPad a surprise until we boarded the plane—a huge mistake, once I realized that several of the movies I thought I’d loaded onto it weren’t working, and many of his favorite apps now had new purchase requirements. Next time, I’ll road test any new devices first.

Bring lots of food. No one likes airplane food, least of all picky kids. My son refused to even uncover one “kids’ meal” that was served to him, based on the odors emanating from under the tinfoil. Bring enough food to keep your kids satiated throughout the flight; The best flight advice I got from Andrea Ross, the Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia who designed my kid-friendly Asia trip, was to pack instant noodles in a cup, to which the flight attendants will happily add water for a hot meal.

What are your tricks for surviving a long flight with children?

 

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.

toy bullet train photo by Barron Fujimoto

How to Compare Trains, Buses, and Flights for the Best Trip

Train travel has a romance that few other modes of transportation do. And these days, there are so many trains to choose from, including sophisticated high-speed options in 20 countries around the world. Recognizing the continuing lure of the rails, Omnio—a website and mobile app for comparing and booking trains, buses, and flights across Europe—has just released a ranking of those 20 high-speed trains.

The rankings are based on a few criteria:

  • the percentage of the population that has access to high-speed trains from their home city
  • the ratio of high-speed to regular trains
  • the average ticket price by distance traveled
  • the maximum and daily operation speeds of the trains

Maybe you won’t be surprised to find out that the U.S. ranked 19th of the 20; only better than Finland. Or that the number 1 spot went to Japan—which was also first to this industry, constructing the original high-speed train network in 1964.

Here’s the full list of overall rankings:

  1. Japan
  2. South Korea
  3. China
  4. France
  5. Spain
  6. Taiwan
  7. Germany
  8. Italy
  9. Austria
  10. Turkey
  11. Sweden
  12. Belgium
  13. Netherlands
  14. Portugal
  15. Russia
  16. Poland
  17. Uzbekistan
  18. Norway
  19. US
  20. Finland

Even today, Japan still has the fastest trains, reaching speeds of 374 mph; France is a close second at 357 mph (though it only ranked fourth place overall). As part of its research, Omnio put together a map of the fastest rail routes in Europe.

Map of the Fastest Rail Routes in Europe

Map: Omnio

According to Omnio, 19 more countries are currently planning high-speed rail networks, so this ranking could include a lot more destinations in coming years, though it doesn’t look like the U.S. will stand a much better chance even then.

In a press release announcing Omnio’s findings, CEO and founder Naren Shaam said, “While the rail network once literally put cities on the map in the United States, trains have long since faded in Americans’ minds as a preferred way of travel, ceding to both the car and the plane. Europe has stayed with the beloved train however and also has rediscovered buses, with new luxury coaches now winning marketshare from discount airlines.”

Europe’s and Asia’s extensive ground-transportation networks are one of the reasons it’s easier to get to small towns and villages in those regions. Its search tool now covers train, air, and bus travel in 11 countries and more than 30,000 destinations all over Europe and easily allows you to compare your options.

Just go to the site and type in your starting destination and where you’d like to end up. In an easy-to-read list, it’ll spit back your options categorized by air, rail, and bus so that you can easily compare prices, schedule, travel times—and what Omnio calls the “smartest” itinerary, a combination of optimal price, duration, and time of departure. Once you click your selection, Omnio will either handle the booking itself or redirect you to the booking page on the relevant partner’s site (depending on its booking agreement with said partner).

Either way, the real joy of Omnio is that it gives travelers a one-stop shopping site for comparing different modes of transportation—and as a bonus, it might even help you discover a new and exciting way to travel.

What’s your favorite high-speed train?

 

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.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

How to Get the Best Tickets to the Olympics

If you’ve been thinking about experiencing the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer, don’t wait any longer to plan your trip. The best hotels are nearly sold out. Luckily, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for Brazil, Martin Frankenberg—a Brazil native based in São Paulo, with an office in Rio—just dropped us a line to share some good news and useful tips.

As we explained in our how-to-plan article last summer, Olympic tickets and hotel bookings are available only through Authorized Ticket Resellers (ATRs)—and even back then nearly all of the hotel rooms were already spoken for by the International Olympic Committee and its long list of VIPs, sponsors, and staff.

The news is that Martin can now officially sell tickets and book hotels for you—and he has access to the hotels you’d actually want to stay in. At the time of this writing, he can still get travelers into the Sofitel, the Caesar Park, and the new Grand Hyatt. A few other new-for-the-Olympics luxury hotels—including the Trump and the Emiliano—are expected to open soon, too, possibly bringing a few more room options.

As for events, Martin notes that you can still buy tickets to just about everything, even the most popular events like the opening ceremony. (The only two not available at this time are the men’s tennis final and the men’s basketball final.) Of course, certain events come with big buzz and matching prices. For example, while the initial round of gymnastics will cost you only $300–$400, the finals round for sprinter Usain Bolt is more like $3,000. The most expensive tickets go up to about $7,000.

Fortunately, prices for official tickets are regulated, and if you buy through Martin you’ll pay the set price plus a transparent handling fee and be assured that your tickets are legitimate. You’ll also be buying what’s known as VIP hospitality tickets. That means they come with a few perks:

  • the best available Category A seats
  • access to the event’s hospitality lounge for food and beverages
  • a pass to use the VIP mini vans in Rio’s Olympic driving lane—which means you won’t be stuck in traffic as you travel between events

We recommend reaching out to Martin via this Trip Request Form because then you’ll be identified as a Wendy Perrin traveler, which brings a few additional benefits. You’ll be set to have the best possible experience in Brazil.

 

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.

Cinque Terre, Italy

The Truth About Cinque Terre’s Supposed Tourist Limits

Lots of news outlets have been reporting that Italy will soon start limiting the number of people allowed to visit Cinque Terre this summer. The crowded seaside villages have become so clogged with tourists over the past few years that this announcement—of a plan to require tickets and cap visitors at 1.5 million—sounded realistic.

But as so often happens, the reports got most of it wrong (as they did with the scare that Venice was banning all wheeled luggage). You will not need tickets to visit the Cinque Terre this summer. We checked in with our Trusted Travel Experts for Italy to get the real details.

Turns out that the ticket idea broached by the president of Parco delle Cinque Terre was just that—an idea. As his staff clarified for Andrea Grisdale, it’s true that the national park is concerned about the high numbers of tourists to their UNESCO World Heritage Site—since 2011, the number of visitors has shot up from about 400,000 to about 2.5 million in 2015.

But officials are only brainstorming and researching options at this point—they are not limiting the number of visitors in 2016. One proposed idea is an online ticketing system called the Cinque Terre card (which would give visitors unlimited train access and admission to the park’s trails); another proposal could be a simple increase in prices. Beyond that, other ideas have been floating around—basing ticket availability on weather and trail conditions; an app that would show live information about traffic and tourist congestion in each village—but nothing is concrete.

At this stage, it’s too early to tell what will definitely happen. And you can be sure that we will keep you updated with the facts from our well-connected experts

As Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers clarified, “There is nothing to this story other than it highlights something we’ve been saying to our clients for a long time: The Cinque Terre are overrun with tourists and may not be the authentic, fishing villages and peaceful hiking experience they have in mind.”

Of course, the Cinque Terre are not so popular by accident—they are beautiful, and remain on many people’s bucket lists despite the crowds. If these five towns along Italy’s Ligurian coast are on your travel list, here are some tips for making the most of your visit:

See the towns by boat.

“The five Terre towns are really tiny, so any land-based visit or hiking will be crowded, and the public ferries and local trains that go from town to town are also crowded,” notes Maria. “It is lovely to get out on the water to see the coast from that perspective—the view from the water is really what people see in dramatic photos of the area anyway.” Maria and Brian can set up a private boat excursion for you on a speedboat or sailboat; you can read more about it here.

Plan far ahead.

Andrea recommends you reserve accommodation as much in advance as possible, as the availability in the hotels is quickly booked up.

Visit during shoulder seasons.

“Consider the months of April and October ,as there are fewer tourists and a beautiful time of the year for weather and scenery,” says Andrea. “May, June, July August and September are always busy months for this area.”

Put in the leg work and you’ll be rewarded.

In a great blog post on the Cinque Terre, Maria and Brian point out that “Corniglia, the center village, is one of the least visited, as its clifftop position requires climbing 400 stairs, but because of this also has some of the most stunning views and hikes on the coast.”

Eat local

With all that walking, you’ll need sustenance. Don’t miss the local specialties: Liguria is the birthplace of pesto Genovese and is also known for focaccia bread, seafood, and Sciacchetrà, a wine produced in the hills of Cinque Terre.

Explore beyond Cinque Terre

Pro tip from Maria: Explore the area beyond the five towns. “I often suggest that visitors to the area stay in Santa Margherita Ligure or Portofino, which are also popular, but larger and a bit more expansive so you don’t feel the constant crush of your fellow travelers. The Cinque Terre is only a few minutes away, and you can visit the five towns in one day. You can also hike in the hills above Portofino. Other small coastal towns that are not strictly part of the 5 Terre but are nearby include Comogli, Moneglia and Porto Venere.”

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.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbu

Istanbul Airport Layovers: The Best Way to Spend Them

An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.


 

If you’re passing through Istanbul, don’t miss the opportunity to get a glimpse of this city of two continents. The folks at Context Travel (a company on Wendy’s WOW List that runs cultural walking tours in cities worldwide) gave us ideas for how to spend a layover there. Just one word of warning: The hypnotic views of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn from a rooftop restaurant may make you miss your connecting flight—but would that really be the end of the world?

The Basics

U.S. citizens need a visa to enter Turkey, which you can obtain online before arrival.

How to get out of the airport: There are several ways of getting to and from Ataturk airport (IST), the international hub on the European side of the city, about 12 miles from its center. The first is the M1 metro line, which connects to other metro lines at Yenikapi, a district close to Sultanahmet. The ride takes 35 to 40 minutes and costs 4 Turkish liras (about U.S $1.35). The second option is to use Havatas, a private bus line from the airport to Taksim; buses leave every half-hour and cost TL 10-13 ($3.50-$4.50); the ride is approximately an hour. By taxi, it takes 45 minutes to an hour to get to the city’s historic center, depending on traffic. If you have limited time, a taxi is a good option, and costs around TL 40 ($14) each way, assuming that the meter is on and properly set. There are always a number of liveried taxis waiting at the airport’s international arrivals exit.

What to do with your luggage: IST offers luggage storage on the arrivals floor of both the international and domestic terminals. The daily fee is TL 20 ($7) for a suitcase, TL 30 ($10.50) for oversized bags.

Check with your airline before planning a layover in Istanbul: Some offer complimentary tours, shuttles, or hotel rooms for their passengers.

Sunset over Sultanahmet, Istanbul.

Sunset over Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Photo: Context Travel

If you have a 4-hour Layover

With fewer than six hours, it’s not worth attempting to get into Istanbul itself, but there are a couple of nearby neighborhoods where you can enjoy a meal. Atakoy Marina has several cafes and restaurants with a nice view of the Marmara Sea, including outposts of local chains Big Chefs, Midpoint, and Mado. The easiest way to get there is by taxi, for TL 10-15 ($3.50-$5).

If You Have a 6-Hour Layover

Start in the Sultanahmet neighborhood to see the Hagia Sophia; Topkapi Palace, where the Ottoman sultans lived and ruled; the Blue Mosque; and Sultanahmet Meydani (Sultan Ahmet Square, once the Hippodrome of Constantinople), home to the Serpent Column, the Column of Constantine, and the Walled Obelisk. Yenikapi is the closest metro stop to Sultanahmet, or you can switch from the metro to the tram at Aksaray, and get off the tram at the Sultanahmet stop, right near the Hagia Sophia. If you’re interested in the singular atmosphere of Istanbul’s colorful markets, don’t miss the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. All of these sights are walking distance from each other, but it takes at least two hours to explore each one—more if you really want to get a feel for the place.

If you have enough time and energy, or if you’ve been to Sultanahmet before, spend the day wandering around Galata and Karakoy, whose winding streets are home to local designers’ shops, art galleries, and an excellent museum, the Istanbul Modern. Galata not only has a rich history but, along with Karakoy, it’s the new hub of entertainment in the city, and perfect for a flavor of up-and-coming Istanbul. (The Karakoy tram stop, three past Sultanahmet, leaves you at the bottom of the hill under the Galata Tower.)

If You Don’t Have Time to Leave the Airport

The international departure floor has many cafes and restaurants with a range of cuisines. There are a number of lounges, some of which grant day-use access for around TL 100 ($35), including snacks, alcoholic and soft drinks, WiFi, and newspapers.


 

More Layover Solutions:

Tokyo Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

 

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.

How to Spend a Romantic Weekend in Paris: A Gentleman’s Guide

“If St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, were to whisper in your ear, ‘Take your wife to Paris for the weekend; she works hard and she deserves a break,’ where exactly would you take me and what exactly would we do?”

This is the purely hypothetical question that I asked my husband, a native Parisian, three days before Valentine’s Day. His response was to sit right down and, drawing on his extensive knowledge of Paris and women, craft the following itinerary. I share it here in the hope that it will bring comfort, joy, and a moonlight boat ride to another hardworking girl.

I have taken the liberty of filling in a few details not supplied by my husband, whose descriptions of romantic hotels, streets, and restaurants tend to begin and end with the phrase “It’s nice.” Sometimes he adds a finer detail or two, such as, “There are cobblestones” or “It goes back 500 years.” Where the descriptions are purely those of Patrick Texier—former teenage Romeo, now devoted husband—I have put them in quotation marks. Because he was a teenager in the 1960s, he specified that the car you hire for this itinerary should be a Citroën 2CV, aka a “deux chevaux,” the car Bridgitte Bardot drove in the 1961 romantic comedy Please, Not Now! directed by Roger Vadim. Patrick had one when he lived in Cameroon in the 1960s, and his eyes grow misty with nostalgia whenever he chances upon one rusting away in a patch of weeds. The car is seriously cute—a little like a Volkswagen Beetle, only French. Several companies supply them, with a driver or without.

Hôtel Particulier Montmartre is small, with only five suites, and surrounded by a pretty garden. When I, intrigued, asked my husband to tell me more, he said, “There are big photographs on the walls.” A perusal of the hotel website states that the deluxe suite has a private stairway, a panoramic view of Paris, and walls painted with “Barbie doll eyes” that make the traveler feel “spied upon.” Another suite has thickly upholstered button-tufted walls and a display cabinet containing “erotic and gourmand objects by Philippe Mayaux.”

After your night in the deluxe suite with the Barbie-doll eyes, followed by café au lait and a buttery croissant (my husband’s standard breakfast), you will head out into the morning light, arm in arm with your beloved, and stroll around Montmartre, stopping at the following places:

The "I Love You" wall mural in Montmartre, Paris

The “I Love You” wall mural in Montmartre, Paris. Photo: Peter Rowley/Flickr

Le mur des je t’aime, a mural composed of 612 tiles of enameled lava inscribed with declarations of love in 250 languages;

The Brancusi sculpture The Kiss, in Montmartre Cemetery, which marks the tomb of a young Russian anarchist driven to suicide by an unhappy love affair. (My husband visited her grave in 1964 with a girl named Irene, who lived below his parents’ flat in Port d’Italy);

Musée de la vie romantique, the 19th-century home of Dutch painter Ary Scheffer (his work was much admired by King Louis-Philippe), where the Friday-night salons, which went on for decades, were attended by neighbor George Sand and her lover Frédéric Chopin, as well as Delacroix, Liszt, Rossini, and later Charles Dickens and Ivan Turgenev. Today you can see the plaster casts of what the City of Paris, which runs the museum, describes as “the writer’s sensuous right arm and Chopin’s delicate left hand,” as well as other George Sand memorabilia (her jewelry, her family portraits, her rare and unique watercolors).

At this point, gentlemen, you may notice that the love of your life is wan from hunger and fatigue, so usher her into the 2CV and head for the center of Paris. Swing by Place Dauphine (“It’s nice. There are cobblestones”), pausing for a double selfie in front of No. 15, where Yves Montand and Simone Signoret used to live.

Have lunch at Le Caveau du Palais, “because the food is good and it isn’t touristy; a lot of lawyers are going there.” Romantic touches include plates of gravlax and magret de canard decorated with expressionist squiggles.

After lunch, stroll through the Square du Vert-Galant,  a little triangular park that juts into the Seine at the western tip of Île de la Cité. “It’s one of the best views of the Seine. You’ve got the river on your left, the river on your right, and the river right in front of you.” The park is named for Henri IV, a renowned vert-galant, which is to say a ladies’ man who is undaunted by a few gray hairs.

Square du Vert-Galant, Paris

Square du Vert-Galant, Paris. Photo: Oliver Hertel/Flickr

Next, guide your sweetheart around Isle Saint Louis, where “the small streets haven’t changed in 500 years.” When she begins to drag her heels across the cobblestones, return to the 2CV, which you have nimbly parked in a space that a Rolls-Royce would ignore, and head for the hills with the top down. Wind through Buttes Chaumont, “an old neighborhood, mainly Jewish, on a hill, with a very nice park and nice views of Paris”; Butte Bergeyre, a small village that “very few people know about; the houses are low because a lot of quarries are underneath”; and Rue Mouzaïa, “like a village street, with cobblestones and lots of plants” (by which, my husband says, he means trees, shrubs, and rosebushes). Stroll with your lover under the trees, pausing to pluck spring blossoms from her windblown hair.

Buttes Chaumont, Paris

The view from Buttes Chaumont, Paris Photo: Eric Huybrechts/Flickr

On your way to dinner, drop by Dilettantes, a champagne bar in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. If your date is famished, buy her a handful of macarons (Pierre Hermé; Arnaud Larher) or chocolate (Patrick Roger; Jacques Genin) and feed them to her one by one. Do not allow her to stuff them in her purse “for later.”

Dinner is either aboard a yacht on the Seine or in one of the private dining rooms at Lapérouse. My husband and I had a small argument about this. He claims the boat ride is the more romantic choice. The yacht, which is called the Don Juan II, is small enough to qualify as intimate; the cuisine is by Guy Krenzer, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France; and everyone gets a window seat. And of course, Paris at night, reflected in the river, is spectacular. All good arguments for the cruise. To which I countered that the private rooms at Lapérouse are also pretty darn spectacular, and more intimate, and that any restaurant that contains in its official 250-year-old history the phrases “hidden stairway,” and “criminal activity” deserves a closer look.

And that’s it. Sadly, I have not done most of these things, and I will not be doing any of them on Valentine’s Day. My husband, however, has done them all with one exception. He has never, to my knowledge, booked a room at Hôtel Particulier Montmartre, which only opened in 2007.

Romantic couple walkng through Paris France

Romance in Paris Photo: Flickr/Snaaaax

Postscript: While my husband was laboring over the above itinerary, I furtively posted a request on Facebook, where I have many Paris-loving friends, asking for their input. Joël Le Gall, an utterly charming Frenchman who leads tours of Paris, suggested Hotel des Grandes Ecoles, a “fabulous romantic hotel in Quartier Latin,” and seconded the choice of Musée de la vie romantique, pointing out that you can have a drink under an arbor on the terrace.

Jeff Tolbert, an American whose wife is French, recommended Hotel le Crillon, (presently closed for renovation) and a visit to the hammam at the Mosque de Paris or l’Escale Orientale.

Finally, both gentlemen, like my husband, recommended a tour of Paris by Citroën 2CV. The car features in Jeff’s memory of a day-trip to Giverny with Florence, and in the story of a Le Gall daughter’s engagement, which Joël described to me in a Facebook comment thus: “When my son-in-law decided to say to my daughter that he wanted to marry her, he rented a 2CV and drived into Paris in a very old frenchy fashion. How should she be in a situation to say no?”

 

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.

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

Having a baby changes everyone. One of the biggest adjustments for me was putting away my passport. I went from visiting three continents in my first six months of pregnancy to managing nothing more exotic than Cabo San Lucas during the first four years of my son’s life—and all-inclusives certainly weren’t going to scratch my travel itch. That’s when I called Andrea Ross and April Cole, two of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Southeast Asia. Andrea had raised her kids in Cambodia and traveled with them all over the region. I asked her: Could I have the sort of enriching trip that I longed for—but one that my four-year-old son would also enjoy, not just suffer through? Not only did she assure me that it was possible, Andrea told me she’d plan it, crafting a two-week itinerary that got us to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, in Cambodia, plus Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Saigon in Vietnam.

Let me be honest: The trip wasn’t all smiles and cooperation, like the Facebook feeds of those friends you envy (appearances can often be deceiving). We probably averaged two tantrums a day, which is definitely higher than the at-home norm for our reasonably mellow kid. But am I happy we went? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Of course—now that I’ve had a few months to recuperate. Here’s my advice for those wanting to travel adventurously with small kids in tow:

A Vietnamese family played their collection of traditional instruments for us in Saigon

A Vietnamese family played their collection of traditional instruments for us in Saigon. Photo: Khoa Nguyen

  • Book with a Trusted Travel Expert. I’ve done plenty of independent travel. But leaving the planning to Andrea this time meant that I could focus on my family rather than rustling up that night’s hotel confirmation or figuring out how to get from A to B. And having done it all with kids herself, Andrea could anticipate our needs, choosing hotels with truly useful perks (free laundry at Siem Reap’s Unique Boutique), kid-friendly guides, and cultural experiences that we never could have booked on our own, such as meeting a Vietnamese family who played their collection of traditional instruments for us—and then invited our son, Zeke, to bang away on them to his heart’s content.
Halong Bay vietnam with kids

By building anticipation about our Halong Bay boat trip before we left home, Zeke was thrilled to hop on board when the time came. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Build anticipation. Andrea advised us to look at maps with Zeke, borrow books about Southeast Asia from the library, and discuss the itinerary with him. This also helped prep Zeke for the most unfamiliar moments of the trip: While he was initially reluctant to sleep on a boat in Halong Bay, I talked him into it by showing him photos of our junk online, and explaining that he’d be the only kid in his class to have spent a night on a boat. By the time we got there, he was thrilled to hop aboard.
  • Don’t look to your bucket list for inspiration. Since you probably won’t get to every place worth visiting (see Rule of Four, below), this isn’t the time to fulfill that lifelong dream of seeing Machu Picchu or experiencing the Australian Outback. It is, in fact, a great time to revisit a place that you already love. I’d been to Siem Reap eight years earlier—even stayed at the same hotel—and so everything felt familiar. This made it easier for me to get around with a kid, and to accept that I’d be spending my afternoons at the pool rather than poking around town.
  • Follow the Rule of Four (or more). At least four nights in each location, that is. Andrea set a quick pace so that we could see all the major highlights of Vietnam; the downside was that we had to spend only one or two nights in several locations in order to squeeze it all in. If I had it to do over again, I’d stick to just two or three destinations and stay in each longer. After our fourth night in Siem Reap, Zeke was finally getting comfortable with our surroundings and the hotel staff—just in time for us to move on.
  • Help your child create a “Things that Are Different” or “New Things I Tried” book. This brilliant advice came from Andrea, who devised it as a way to turn potential negatives into positives, and to engage kids in really seeing what’s around them. Before we left, Zeke helped pick out a blank Moleskine notebook; during the trip, he drew tuk-tuks and trees on its pages, and dictated stories about houses on stilts and shops without doors. I left pages blank so that I could add photos from each day, and I plan to use the same notebook on our next trip—thus creating a journal of Zeke’s early travels.
  • Don’t focus on the flights. Long-haul flights are to family travel what diapers are to early parenthood—the thing that feels like it’s going to be a huge deal, but really isn’t. Stay tuned for an upcoming article with my tips on making the best of a long flight with a young kid; in the meantime, rest assured that however distant your destination, the flying time is a small fraction of your overall trip (I say this even after spending almost 38 hours in the air over the course of our two-week trip).
Presidential Palace in Hanoi Vietnam with kids

Zeke plays outside the Presidential Palace in Hanoi. Toys can be helpful for when your kid just doesn’t want to walk through another museum. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Don’t skimp on toys. Andrea cautioned me not to pack light with a kid in tow. How I wish I’d taken her advice and brought more to keep Zeke occupied during our downtime. Next trip, I’ll pack a new small toy for each day, which I can bring out for that moment when Zeke doesn’t want to walk through another museum, or when I simply need a rest. Balloons are also great: They’re small and light for packing, and a quick distraction when blown up.
local artist and kid sketching in Mekong Delta

The highlight of the trip was the day we spent in the Mekong Delta, during which Zeke got to help cook puffed rice, make rice paper for spring rolls, and sketch a truck with a local artist. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Prioritize doing, not seeing. Interaction is key to a kid’s enjoyment of the trip. Anything we did that allowed Zeke to participate was a hit. The highlight of the trip was the day we spent in the Mekong Delta, during which Zeke got to help cook puffed rice, make rice paper for spring rolls, and sketch a truck with a local artist. Andrea warned me that the experiences she had planned for us there were a bit more touristy than the biking or walking tours she arranges for adults—but taking part in all the local industries was right up Zeke’s alley. Another highlight for him was the Artisans d’Angkor silk farm and workshops in Siem Reap, where he got to finger spider-web-fine threads of silk and take a crack at carving soapstone. When Zeke got bored wandering around yet another ancient temple, simply handing him our camera to take photos bought us another half-hour of happiness.
Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre, Siem Reap Cambodia

To break up temple visits, we stopped at the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre in Siem Reap. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Plan at least one thing each day for the kids. Use that activity as a motivator to get through the rest. When Andrea wanted us to see several smaller, less crowded temples outside the Angkor Wat complex, she sweetened the day for Zeke by adding a stop at the fabulous Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre.
  • Schedule downtime. Even kids who don’t nap at home will need to rest each afternoon, given the added stimulation of a foreign country. On the days that we failed to make this happen, we paid the price with an extra-cranky kid. Andrea also wisely planned two days at the Hoi An Beach Resort in the middle of our trip, which were essential for all of us to recharge. A bag of sand toys bought from a roadside stand for Zeke, umbrella drinks for my husband and me, and we were once again a happy family.
  • Gather playground intel. In cities, where your hotel room is bound to be small, you’ll need somewhere to burn off energy. Public spaces dedicated to kids are largely a luxury of the developed world; in Hanoi, when Zeke voiced his displeasure with the city tour we had planned, our guide brought us to Tini World, a play area inside a high-rise mall. Sure, we missed Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Fine Arts Museum, but we still got to chat about contemporary Vietnamese culture with our guide while Zeke played in the ball pit and painted a ceramic crocodile.
  • Employ a private driver. The money you’ll spend is well worth it. We could have hired a tuk-tuk to drive us around steamy Angkor Wat—but taking breaks inside our air-conditioned van, with cold towels and icy drinks at the ready, kept Zeke’s energy from flagging and meant that we were able to do more touring. It also allowed us to leave a bag in the vehicle with spare clothes, water, toys, and other in-a-pinch supplies, carrying in my backpack only the essentials (which for us included sunscreen, tissues, and tangerine-scented hand sanitizer—which Zeke would sniff as we strolled through pungent Asian markets).
  • Don’t push unfamiliar food. So much about being in a foreign country is overwhelming to kids; let them find some comfort in their meals. English menus with a “western food” section? It’s the last thing I’d want in a restaurant when traveling alone, but my first priority with a kid. Be proactive about keeping blood sugar high—if ever there was a time for unlimited quantities of whatever you limit at home (in our case, bread and ice cream), this is it.
  • Manage your expectations. I went into the trip imagining that Zeke would emerge from his bubble of relative plenty and discover how much less most other kids make do with; instead, Zeke focused on his own deprivations. Let me tell you, it’s humbling to have your kid whine for sparkling water and insist on being carried when you’re surrounded by children whose parents have sent them onto the streets to sell postcards and trinkets for a living.
  • Bend your parenting rules. Travel with young kids is hard. Cut yourself some slack, whether this means offering unlimited screen time or resorting to bribery. (Zeke often ended up on our shoulders midway through a temple visit. With the promise of a single packet of M&Ms, I got him to walk on his own through all of Banteay Srey.) Don’t worry about setting a bad precedent; children understand that things will go back to normal once you’re home.
  • Splurge at the end. Through most of our trip, my husband, son, and I were fine with sharing a single room. Early on, it would have been a waste to have a suite, as jet lag was waking Zeke up at night. But by the end of the trip, my husband and I were starved enough for adult time that we tried to sneak out after putting Zeke to bed (a Skype call from laptop to smartphone serving as our baby monitor)—only to find that our hotel’s bar had been taken over by a cruise-ship group for a loud performance. As we gulped down our drinks on our room’s cramped balcony, I vowed to end our next trip in a suite.
At the Artisans d’Angkor silk farm and workshops in Siem Reap, we got to take a crack at carving soapstone

At the Artisans d’Angkor silk farm and workshops in Siem Reap, we got to take a crack at carving soapstone. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Keep your eyes on the prize. If your main goal is to relax, this isn’t the right kind of trip for your family. But if you want to foster a love of travel in your kids, and a curiosity about the world and all its differences, it’s best to start young. I had to remind myself many times that the goal of our project was to expose Zeke to new things—which doesn’t have to be enjoyable to be worth it. Zeke still talks about our “big trip,” even mentions Cambodia and Vietnam by name. They’re now his touchstone for a part of the world where things are different. And that, to me, is worth everything.

What lessons learned have you learned from traveling to exotic places with young kids? Share your own tips below.

 

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.

Disclosure: April and Andrea and their partners provided most elements of the writer’s trip (hotels, intra-Asia airfare, guides, ground transportation, and sightseeing entry fees) free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage on their part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read our sponsored travel agreement here

Kids in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Timothy Baker

Photo Etiquette: How to Take Pictures of People When You Travel

Getting good pictures of people without invading their privacy can be a challenge for travelers. The etiquette is devilishly complex: For starters, it depends not only on who the subject is (a street musician, a child skipping rope, a panhandler, a policeman) but also on where he is. In France, for example, you’re breaking the law if you don’t ask permission first.

“A lot of it is situational,” says contributing photographer Tim Baker. “Some people actually like having their photo taken. Some people hate having their photo taken. And a whole bunch of us could go either way, depending on our mood.” As a photojournalist who has traveled to more than 100 countries, Tim often downsizes his equipment when photographing people in public places. “Smaller cameras are better than monster ones,” he says. “Far less intimidating.” The photograph above, made in Hanoi, is a case in point: “Even though I had all my pro photo gear, I used a point-and-shoot-style camera. The other key was taking some time. After the subjects’ initial interest in me, I just stood around for a couple minutes looking away.  Their interest in me waned, allowing me to get a nice candid moment. Of course,” he adds, “when taking a little more time, you risk the scene changing.”

Here is a short list of Tim’s strategies for getting the shot while keeping things cordial in most travel situations:

* Explain what you’re doing. “If the subject and I speak the same language, I’ll tell them why I want to take their photo (‘What a beautiful scene. The background fits you perfectly’) and quickly explain my vision.”

* Don’t be pushy. “If you ask permission and it’s denied, don’t try and sneak a photo.”

* Respect your subject’s time. “Be ready to shoot if you get a go-ahead. Don’t pick that moment to change lenses and settings. Make it quick.”

* In a local market, establish a rapport with one of the sellers. “Once accepted by one, the others will often think you are okay to photograph them, too.”

* Make taking a photo of the seller part of the negotiation—as in “Okay, I’ll buy your tchotchke if you pose for a photo.” Pictures of craftspeople with your purchase add to the item anyway.

* Focus on people who are engaged in an activity. The best time to take candids of people is when they are busy—involved in something else like shopping, watching a sporting contest, and so on.

* Be willing to back down. “Sometimes you just have to walk away from what you think is a prize-winning shot because the subject won’t cooperate—unless you think it’s worth risking the subject’s wrath.”

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.

ubud bali

Five Destinations That Will Be Cheaper in 2016

Want to make your money work harder for you in 2016? The U.S. dollar remains strong throughout much of the world, but here are five destinations where you’ll find especially attractive prices for hotels, souvenirs, and even flights this year:

Great Britain

The London Eye Ferris Wheel

The London Eye Ferris Wheel. Photo: Celebrated Experiences

While everyone knows that the dollar has been strong versus the Euro, few people noticed in January when the dollar hit a 12-year high versus the British pound; that Michelin-star dinner or bespoke suit will be almost 20% cheaper than it was just two years ago. Also, with so many new luxury hotels opening in London, competition is fierce, especially outside of high season. Jonathan Epstein, our Trusted Travel Expert for England, Ireland, and Scotland, points out that rates are lowest in August, when business travel to the city dries up—but with free museums, long days, and lovely weather, it’s the perfect time to take your family. Many properties are even upgrading his clients as soon as they book.

To get the best possible trip, use Wendy’s trip-request form to contact Jonathan.

Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland. Photo courtesy Tourism Australia.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland. Photo courtesy Tourism Australia.

Stuart Rigg, our Trusted Travel Expert for Australia, attributes the continent’s excellent value this year to a combination of factors: a favorable exchange rate (10% better than a year ago), increased competition among airlines flying there from the U.S. (with new service from Los Angeles on American Airlines, and from San Francisco on Qantas), and low-season deals: In the Whitsunday Islands, where temperatures are in the upper 70s and and scuba diving conditions are ideal during the antipodal winter, both the One&Only Hayman Island and Qualia resorts are offering savings of up to 25%.

To get the best possible trip, use Wendy’s trip-request form to contact Stuart.

South Africa

Tintswalo Safari Lodge, South Africa

Tintswalo Safari Lodge, South Africa. Photo: Tintswalo Safari Lodge

Since the Rand has devalued by about 40% against the dollar since last year, South Africa is a steal this year, according to Julian Harrison, our Trusted Travel Expert for Southern Africa. Tintswalo Safari Lodge, one of his favorites near Kruger National Park, cost $635 per person per night in 2015. This year, in spite of a 10% increase in rates, that same room is going for $435 per person per night.

To get the best possible trip, use Wendy’s trip-request form to contact Julian.

Canada

Three years ago the Canadian loonie was equal in value to the U.S dollar. Today it’s dropped by almost one-third. Every meal you eat will cost 10% less than it did at this time last year, and savings like that add up over the course of a week. If you book an itinerary in advance through a Canadian travel firm, you’ll save on arrangements priced in Canadian dollars. For example, Jill Curran, our Trusted Travel Expert for Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, arranges a five-night exploration of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula—with opportunities to view this spectacular, unspoiled coastline by boat, by kayak, and on foot—that costs $142 less (for two travelers) than last year.

To get the best possible trip, use Wendy’s trip-request form to contact Jill.

Indonesia

The rupiah is also down compared to the dollar. Since hotel rates in Indonesia are quoted in dollars, this won’t affect your accommodation expenses, but it does mean that intra-island fares have come down quite a bit—and the cost of all that island-hopping can really add up. For example, a round-trip ticket from Bali to Yogyakarta on Garuda Indonesia (the country’s most reliable carrier), which cost $256 a little over a month ago, is now $189. Prices for overseas flights are also at an all-time low, reports Diane Embree, our Trusted Travel Expert for Bali—in some cases, 50% less than what they cost a year ago.

To get the best possible trip, use Wendy’s trip-request form to contact Diane.

What are your tricks for finding good value abroad?

 

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.

When Is a Cruise Ship Balcony Worth It and When Is It Not?

Question from a reader: “On a river cruise, is it worth it to splurge on a veranda cabin, or is a ‘French balcony’ cabin perfectly fine?” This query comes up so often, we decided to turn it over to our cruise experts and have them toss it around—but first, let’s define our terms: A “French balcony” is a glass door or wall-to-wall window that opens to give you fresh air and the feel of a veranda, minus the outside floor, tables, and chairs. Most ocean-going cruise ships give you a choice of an “inside” cabin (no window), an “outside” cabin (a sealed window/porthole), or a “veranda” cabin, also known as a balcony cabin (floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass door leading to a balcony). Many river cruise ships, which are generally narrower than oceangoing vessels, offer a fourth option, the aforementioned French balcony, which opens your cabin to the outdoors without robbing it of floor space. Is it a better deal than a higher-priced cabin with a full balcony? For help weighing the pros and cons of balconies on river cruises and ocean cruises, we polled three of our Trusted Travel Experts.

On a River Cruise

French balcony in a cabin aboard Avalon Tapestry II

Wendy’s French balcony cabin (#312) aboard Avalon Tapestry II on the Seine River in Normandy.

“In most cases, a French balcony is perfectly fine for a river cruise,” says Tom Baker, Trusted Travel Expert for Large, Affordable Ships and River Cruises. “because you tend to spend less time in your stateroom than you do on an oceangoing vessel, and more time in the air-conditioned lounge or on the upper-level deck, where you can see both sides of the river. Also, when a river ship ties up for sightseeing, it often docks right next to another ship. A balcony isn’t used during that time because the view diminishes completely.”

That’s the short answer, but variations in ships and itineraries complicate the matter, which is why it’s wise to book your cruise through a Trusted Travel Expert who has sailed—many times—on the cruise line and the ship. “The value of having a balcony versus a French balcony depends on the cruise company,” says Mary Jean Tully, TTE for Higher-End Ships. “They are not all designed the same. On Viking’s river cruises, for example, when you splurge on a balcony you are also upgrading to a larger suite, and for many people, that is well worth it. On other river ships, such as the new builds for Crystal Cruises, the French-balcony design allows for larger staterooms. You can take in fresh air and see the view without compromising on space.”

On river cruises, some veranda rooms may have a better location on the upper decks, whereas the bottom deck may only have window accommodations. These non-veranda window rooms are at or very near the water line, so the view becomes water streaming by as you sail, with very little view of the shore.

Bottom line: On a river cruise, a balcony may offer good value when it means an upgrade to a larger suite, but not when a French balcony gives you more interior space, or when you will be spending little time in your cabin.

On an Ocean Cruise

A veranda cabin is generally worth the splurge on a seagoing vessel, which is why 80 percent of new ships are built with balcony access. A balcony can offer a wonderful perspective when you’re sailing into or from a port of call—even hearing the sounds from the port below adds to the experience. And when you’re close to a calving glacier or in an area with dancing dolphins, having that balcony can be a game changer. With that in mind, guests sailing on an itinerary with few ports of call and the possibility of chilly weather, such as on a transatlantic crossing, could forgo the balcony.

“A balcony or veranda cabin is really ideal for a warm-water destination,” says Baker, “like the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, Mexico, Hawaii, or French Polynesia, and even the Mediterranean in the summertime when the weather is lovely. Balconies are lesser used in cold-water destinations like Alaska, Antarctica, and places where weather is cooler.”

Bottom line: On an ocean cruise, a balcony is generally worth the premium price.

 

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.

How One Travel Company Creates Meaningful Travel

Years ago, at the end of a trek through the Himalayas, an American traveler asked her Nepali guide, If you could do anything for your village, what would you do? It’s a question that regularly comes up on cultural tours, especially in a place like Nepal, where families often struggle to put food on the table but readily open their doors and hearts to passing strangers. Naturally, we wish to return their generosity and reflect their good will, but how?

The American trekker, in this case, was Antonia Neubauer, our Trusted Travel Expert for Nepal and Bhutan. Her guide responded that he would build a library for his village. Antonia, a former language teacher and education researcher, knew about libraries and about the impact they can have on entire communities—men and women, adults and children. And as the founder of a travel company specializing in Asia, she had the drive and the resources to create one in a Nepali village.

That parting conversation was the beginning of READ Global, an international organization that today serves 2.5 million people in three countries—Nepal, Bhutan, and India—and has garnered a string of prestigious awards. The latest: The 2015 Legacy in Travel Philanthropy award, sponsored by American Express, which recognizes sustained impact for more than 15 years. The award, announced in December, went jointly to Lindblad Expeditions and Myths and Mountains, the travel company Antonia founded in 1987. From the beginning, part of the mission of Myths and Mountains has been to give back to the communities that bring its customers so much joy (you can watch Toni talk about it in this video).

In October 2016, Antonia will be taking a group to Nepal to visit several of the READ libraries, which function not just as book lenders but as community centers, bringing information—how to grow better crops, how to raise healthier children—to rural villages. (The initials stand for Rural Education and Development.) On that trip, travelers will:

  • Have dinner in Kathmandu with the READ board, which includes key members of Nepali society, to get a unique perspective on life in the country;
  • Have breakfast with the Jomson Mother’s Group, a women’s organization that has established a library, a children’s center, a microcredit program, and a water-treatment plant;
  • Learn about the efforts of Tukche villagers to rebuild following the 2015 earthquake, and visit the furniture factory that sustains their library;
  • Meet the remarkable Tharu people who reached out to other communities after the quake, saving many lives.

When your travel specialist engages in the type of philanthropy exemplified by READ Global, you cannot help but share in the benefits. Over and over, travelers tell us their most memorable moments have little to do with snowcapped mountains and everything to do with the people they meet. As “Antonia’s friend,” you are welcomed with open arms, and that’s just the beginning. Throughout your trip, you have unparalleled access to people and places, and extraordinary experiences as a result. Finally, the question of how to thank your hosts becomes a no-brainer when there’s an award-winning organization to accept your check—all because of a lot of behind-the-scenes work on the part of your Trusted Travel Expert. It’s a travel experience in which everybody wins.

 

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.

How to Deal with Flight Delays, Cancellations, and More

Winter storms mean all kinds of problems: delays, cancellations, long lines, and changed plans. But they don’t have to mean stress. Here are steps you can take—and tools you need in your arsenal—to prepare for anything the snow can throw at you this season. Safe travels!

Change your flight.
The simplest way to avoid the hassle of a storm is to avoid the storm altogether. So if you don’t have to travel when a blizzard is on the way—don’t. When big storms are expected, airlines will often take preemptive action and allow you to change your flight without fees. Check your airline’s website or Twitter feed to find out more. If do you have to travel, consider rerouting your flight to avoid the storm altogether. Look for hubs with good weather; this FlightStats chart tells you which airports are seeing the fewest cancellations.

Use the right technology.
Speaking of Twitter, watch your airline’s feed closely for info on flight changes or cancellations. Another option is to download the airline’s app, which will also keep you updated about last-minute things like gate changes or flight delays.

Other apps that come in handy during bad weather include FlightStats.com, which can alert to you delays or weather cancellations (sometimes more efficiently than the airline will), and LoungeBuddy, which will help you find pay-by-day airport lounges so you can relax a little while you wait for your flight. We’ve got a full list of problem-solving apps here, and more info on airport lounge day passes here.

Use the right humans.
Even with all the right apps, you might still need to talk to a real person to solve your travel snafu. A great way to avoid long hold times is to call an airline’s customer-service office in a different country (here’s more on how to never wait on hold with airline customer service again). Your credit card concierge can usually be of help as well, but you can also call in the experts and let them handle it for you: Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge specializes in emergency air travel assistance, and his team is well prepped for messy weekends like this one.

Prep the kids.
If you have kids, and there’s a possibility you’ll be stuck in an airport (or on the tarmac) for a while, you might want to try some of these tricks for flying with toddlers shared by contributing editor Brook Wilkinson. One of her secrets is to bring a bunch of new, very cheap toys to keep her son occupied. “Scour the library book sales and Target $1 bins for inexpensive options,” she writes. “Some of my favorites: play dough, pipe cleaners, magnetic playsets, and reusable sticker pads. On one flight, a pack of small monster trucks entertained Zeke for a good 30 minutes. Just make sure that you liberate toys from their plastic clamshell packaging at home, while you still have access to scissors!”

Do what you have to do to avoid as much stress as possible.
Business travel expert Joe Brancatelli once told me his three most sanity-saving travel tips, and this was one of them: “Even if it costs you a few bucks, do whatever you have to do to fix a travel problem on the spot so you can go back to enjoying your trip. Argue with the travel company about compensation later. But, within reason, fix the problem first, worry about compensation later.”

 

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.

How to Avoid Food Poisoning When You Travel

Part of the fun of travel is trying a ton of new foods. But if you eat the wrong thing…well, then the trip becomes no fun at all.

Luckily, it’s reasonably easy to avoid food poisoning in developing countries, as Wendy outlined in her recent TripAdvisor blog post.

Here are a few of the basics:

1. Keep your hands clean
Wash with soap and water right before eating, and carry antiseptic wipes.

2. Stick to bottled or sterilized water
Drink bottled water—and make sure the bottle is properly sealed. Avoid ice unless you can confirm it came from a bottle or was purified. And don’t brush your teeth with tap water (or shower water). Bring your own water purification tablets too.

3. Eat smart
Avoid seafood, buffets of food that has been out for a long time, and fruits or vegetables that might have been washed in contaminated water or touched by unwashed hands. (Instead, stick to bananas and other fruits you peel yourself). Don’t be afraid to try street food, as long as you look for dishes that are boiled or steamed in front of you and served piping hot.

 

What are your best tips for staying healthy while traveling?

 

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.

convertible cable car up Mt. Stanserhorn Switzerland

5 Cool Experiences You Didn’t Know You Could Have in Switzerland

Think you already know Switzerland, with its snowy peaks, perfectly timed trains, and delicious cheese? Think again. We’re not saying that these famous attributes aren’t indispensable parts of the Swiss experience—but we have uncovered new ways to see a place that so many of us already know and love. Read on for our five favorite twists on quintessential Switzerland. And if you want an extraordinary trip to Switzerland, Wendy knows the right people to help plan it—ask her.

1. Fondue in a Rickshaw

Fondükscha fondue tour in Switzerland

In the small town of Thun, Switzerland, you can hire a “Fondükscha” to give you a tour of the town while you eat fondue. Photo: My Switzerland

Of course you’ll want to try some cheese fondue when in Switzerland—it is the national dish, after all. But how about dipping your bread while being driven around in a rickshaw? In the small town of Thun, located between Interlaken and Bern, you can hire a “Fondükscha” to take you past the main sights of this beautifully intact medieval village while enjoying fondue, wine, cherry brandy, and tea. Swiss rickshaws are designed for the elements, with a closed-cab structure, sheepskin seat covers, and warm blankets to keep you cozy throughout the excursion.

 

2. Ride in an Open-Top Cable Car

convertible cable car up Mt. Stanserhorn Switzerland

To reach the summit of Mt. Stanserhorn, ride the world’s only convertible cable car. Photo: My Switzerland

You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to scale many of Switzerland’s majestic peaks; cable cars and funiculars will do the hard work for you. To reach the summit of Mt. Stanserhorn, in fact, you can hop aboard the world’s only convertible cable car, which runs throughout the summer. From the open-air top deck, enjoy 360-degree views reaching into France and Germany—and no cables to impede your sightlines. At the summit you’ll find a network of hiking trails and a revolving restaurant.

 

3. Take a Train from Glaciers to Palm Trees

Bernina Express train through Switzerland

The beautiful Bernina Express train through Switzerland has the UNESCO World Heritage status. Photo: My Switzerland

The UNESCO World Heritage stamp usually brings to mind ancient ruins or historic monuments. But in the case of the Bernina Express, it’s a train route that has earned this honor. Board the Bernina in St. Moritz, and three hours later you’ll have journeyed past glaciers, over the highest Alpine pass crossed by a train without a tunnel, and down into Tirano, Italy, where the snow-capped peaks outside your panoramic windows are replaced by Mediterranean palms.

 

4. Listen to Traditional Folk Music

Appenzel region of Switzerland

Just an hour from Zurich, the Appenzel region is quintessential Switzerland. Photo: My Switzerland

It’s a wonder that American visitors haven’t yet discovered Appenzell; though just an hour from Zurich, the region is quintessential Switzerland, loaded with gorgeous alpine vistas and a rich cultural heritage. You’d hardly be surprised to see Heidi herself come bounding across the rolling hills, dressed—as many locals today still are—in traditional attire. Come in August and you’ll get to enjoy Ländlerfest, one of Switzerland’s premier folk music gatherings, with performances by both well-established groups and talented young musicians.

 

5. Drive a Snow Groomer

snow grooming pisten bully machine in switzerland

In the resort region of Sattel, you can co-pilot a snow grooming machine. Photo: My Switzerland

Wishing to add some horsepower to your ski vacation? In the resort region of Sattel, you can co-pilot a snow grooming machine, with nothing but the enormous machine’s headlights to guide your way through the darkness of night as you prepare the slopes for the next day’s skiers. Finish your task by midnight and you’ll be rewarded with dinner at a mountainside restaurant.

What unexpected Switzerland experiences are we missing? Tell us in the comments below! And if you want to start planning your own Swiss getaway right now, ask Wendy for a travel specialist recommendation.

 

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.

Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit

Behind the First Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit

Last week was a big week for me and WendyPerrin.com—and I didn’t even travel beyond New York City. Instead, I sat in a light-filled conference room at Dream Downtown with the best itinerary designers in the world—the Trusted Travel Experts on my WOW List. They had flown in from all corners of the globe so we could spend two full days discussing the topics closest to my heart as a consumer advocate: solutions to your travel problems, and best practices for crafting your trips.

As you know, my goal is to make sure all my readers have extraordinary travels. I do that by providing honest, experienced advice and solutions, and by staying in close contact with readers throughout their trip-planning process—and even afterward when they return—to ensure that their experience, the travel specialist’s performance, and my recommendations all pan out to their satisfaction.

In doing so, I’ve learned a lot about the challenges that stand in the way of extraordinary trips. For example, the five biggest trip-planning challenges that I hear about from travelers are:

1. Choosing the right locations within the country/region they’ve picked
2. Avoiding touristy places, crowds, lines
3. Solving logistical and timing/pacing problems
4. Getting better value for their dollar
5. Finding the right accommodations

And the five biggest trip-planning challenges that I hear about from families are:

1. Choosing the right locations within the destination they’ve picked
2. Choosing the right destination
3. Pacing: Finding the right balance between activities and downtime
4. Finding the right rental villa/apartment
5. Finding the right hotel rooms

The good news is that my trip-planning system can get travelers past these roadblocks. If you reach out to a travel specialist I recommend to you (either via Ask Wendy or via The WOW List), I monitor your trip from start to finish.  (Important note: I can’t monitor your trip if I don’t know about it. If you don’t use the black Contact buttons on the The WOW List or on our Insider’s Guides, I can’t step in and help if necessary, nor can you expect preferred treatment from the TTE. You won’t get Wendy’s WOW Moments either.)

This is what I love to do and it’s why I held the first Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit last week: My team and I met face-to-face with the private trip designers I recommend, many of whom I’ve known—and monitored voluminous consumer feedback about—for well more than a decade.  We spoke about the latest trends, most popular destinations, and solutions to the biggest travel challenges.

Here’s a quick recap of the Summit highlights. Stay tuned for news about the next summit—and email me via the Ask Wendy form (it comes directly to me!) if you have additional questions or challenges you’d like to see us tackle on WendyPerrin.com.

We kicked off the two-day exchange of ideas by welcoming nearly 80 of the world’s best trip designers to the Dream Downtown hotel in NYC’s Meatpacking District; to get a feel for its design- and art-heavy scene, check out this hotel tour and this video of my suite.

 

  On Day 1, since we had all those great travel minds in one room, we went around the room, and each Trusted Travel Expert shared an innovation they’ve implemented recently to ensure their travelers have first-rate experiences.

Next we moved on to 2016 travel trends.

We kicked off Day 2 with a press conference. To a room full of influential travel journalists—including George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog and Lissa Poirot of Family Vacation Critic, I revealed the most popular destinations for 2016—an exclusive sneak peek at the places our readers are traveling to this year.

 

To get a 360-degree view of travelers’ experience, I passed the microphone to a few Trusted Travel Experts, so they could reveal the trends they’re seeing and their predictions for 2016. 

Even our event sponsors—MedjetAssist and Switzerland Tourism—and our special guest—Zita Cobb, the visionary founder of the much-buzzed-about Fogo Island Inn in remotest Newfoundland—were chosen because I knew they’d provide unique and useful information for improving travelers’ experiences. That’s always my end goal.

 

At #WPTravelSummit, sat next to the owner of this amazing property. Should I inquire about the rates? A photo posted by Mei Zhang (@wildchinamei) on

 

 

As I told that room full of Trusted Travel Experts (and a few new faces that I’m testing behind the scenes, to see if they’re good enough for The WOW List), my M.O. in everything is to make your travels better.

Don’t forget: Contact me via my Ask Wendy page if there are questions or trip-planning challenges I can help you solve.

The Four Seasons Bora Bora is a honeymoon destination, but the pool couldn’t have been more kid-friendly. by Travel Babbo

What Really Makes a Hotel Kid Friendly

Listen up hotels! I’ve stayed at a lot of you, and some of you are definitely more kid-friendly than others. I’ve written before about things that could be improved at specific hotels (the Sonnenalp in Vail, the Mauna Lani in Hawaii and the Four Seasons Bora Bora), but since readers of my Travel Babbo blog have given me feedback as well, I want to create a comprehensive list of everything you need to do in order to be a kid-friendly dream hotel. If you already meet the criteria on this list, please get in touch with me! I really, really want to find the perfect hotels and resorts for families. And if this list does not represent things that you currently do, on behalf of families everywhere, we would love for you to implement them. Without further ado, my dream hotel checklist:

1) Rooms that can accommodate two parents with two, three or four kids. I don’t expect every room to be able to do this, but it would be great if hotels had at least a few rooms designed for families. And if your rooms can accommodate only four people total, please have connecting rooms! It’s not convenient to split up when we’re on vacation together. And it’s really not convenient when we’re given two rooms two floors apart, as happened at the ACHAT Plaza Zum Hirschen in Salzburg.

Mauna Lani hotel in Hawaii by Travel Babbo

At the Mauna Lani in Hawaii. The patio of one of our connecting rooms. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

2) Easy booking for families of five or more. Go to any hotel website and click on Reservations. Now tell me if it’s clear how many people their rooms can sleep. Still looking for a site that provides that information up-front? So am I. On most hotel sites it’s difficult to find out the maximum number of guests per room, but then they expect you to know that figure before searching for reservations. A lot of hotels have at least some rooms/suites that can accommodate five or six people. But when you go to a website like the Grand Wailea‘s and try to get a room for two adults and four children (an option in their drop-down menus), you immediately get an error message stating that no rooms are available and that six guests “may exceed the occupancy limit.” So it’s up to you to guess whether that means that there aren’t any rooms that meet your guest numbers or any rooms available at all. It’s then back to the search screen to try again with multiple rooms and different numbers of adults/kids in each room, now guessing as to how to divide up the family into two rooms.

I would LOVE for hotels to have a note on their booking screens that details the maximum number of people that their rooms can accommodate. As it is, I usually have to search through the room descriptions, and then more often than not I have to email the hotel to see if a “max of four people per room” includes small children. Basically, I want easier booking!

3) A family rate. If you’re going to ask us to split up into two rooms, connecting or not, please offer a discount for the second room. And please, please, please do not tie it to your highest rack rates that are never really charged to guests. I see this all the time. Hotels always have specials: bed and breakfast rates; fourth night free; seasonal promotions. Then sometimes they offer a family rate for a second room, but it’s never a discount off of the other specials. For example, the Four Seasons Bora Bora used to offer a fourth night free (which worked out to 25% off) or a second bungalow at 50% off. But if you chose the 50% off, you no longer received the fourth night free. So while it’s nice that they had a family rate, in actuality it worked out to roughly the same as the other specials, and nowhere near the 50% savings advertised since guests wouldn’t have been paying the full price anyway. (Math: A $1,000 bungalow discounted for a free fourth night, assuming you are staying four nights, means an average nightly rate of $750, or a 25% discount. Two $1,000 rooms for four nights with 50% off the second room means a total charge of $6,000, or, wait for it, $750 a night—the same as the other special. So there’s no real family discount, unless you are staying for a number of nights not divisible by four.)

I get that hotels have an economic incentive to maximize revenue and to only offer one discount per room. But what if you think of it as a marketing expense? If you provide families with better rates, that means happier parents who are more likely to make return visits. And when kids make multiple visits to a hotel growing up (our kids stayed at the Mauna Lani in Hawaii eight straight years), guess where they’re going to want to return with their kids someday?

4) Something at check-in for kids. Colored pencils. Coloring books. Beach balls. Beach toys. Stuffed animals. I’ve seen it all when checking into hotels, and our kids have loved all of it. When they get something at check-in, not only does it give them something to occupy themselves with and enhances the vacation, it also makes them feel welcome and it gives them a connection to the hotel.

St. Regis Aspen hotel by Travel Babbo

Stuffed bears from FAO Schwarz were a huge hit with my kids at the St. Regis Aspen. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

5) Proactive recommendations for kid-friendly things to do. It’s not always easy to find great lists of kid-friendly activities online. I would love to automatically receive a sheet or twofrom a hotel detailing the nearest parks, playgrounds, aquariums, kid museums, kid-friendly cooking classes and other local things that families have rated highly. It wouldn’t require more than a few hours of work from the concierge to create and maintain the list, and it would enhance the visit of every family. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I ask the concierge for ideas of local things to do with kids and the concierge directs me to the hotel’s kids club (yes, this has happened more than once).

My daughter sketching in the travel journal she got at check-in at the Westin Times Square by Travel Babbo

My daughter sketching in the travel journal she got at check-in at the Westin Times Square. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

6) A little extra space in the rooms. Families of young kids may need to set up Pack’n Plays. Most families have extra luggage. And there’s always going to be in-room down time when you don’t want to be crammed into the room with very little extra room. I understand that hotels can’t magically make their rooms larger, and I fully appreciate that historical hotels typically sacrifice space for character. I’m just saying that it’s great to have rooms that are a little more spacious.

7) A kid-friendly pool and hot tub. Obviously this isn’t applicable to all hotels. But if you have a pool and you want to attract families, have a shallow section in the main pool. And have either a separate hot tub for families, or allow kids to use the main hot tub without keeping it way too hot. Basically, look at your pool from the perspective of families and see if it’s somewhere that they would really want to spend a day, and where parents can let their younger kids play in the pool without necessarily being in there with them (but still supervising, of course). And please don’t force us to show armbands or room cards to get towels. At any hotel, big or small, I want to be seen as guests and not as room numbers.

8) A Kids Club that’s open all day with no extra charge. Please don’t make families pay $50–$100 a day, and commit to a whole day, for kids club activities. This is one of my favorite elements of Four Seasons and Rosewood resorts. Kids can get out of the sun and stop in and do crafts, play games or watch a movie when they want, or go on excursions around the hotel with club staff. Our kids usually don’t want to be there for more than an hour or two at a time, and we usually don’t know in advance when they’re going to want to do that, so flexibility on the part of the kids club is a must. Hotels can’t think of kids clubs only as places for parents to check their kids in for a full day; club rooms should also be areas for kids of any age to relax out of the sun for a little while.

Playing complimentary pinball at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort. by Travel Babbo

Playing complimentary pinball at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

9) Easy food options for kids. I love when a hotel has a casual restaurant with a great menu and a (for backup) kids menu. Or if there is a nicer restaurant, have a casual section—maybe outside—for families. It’s great when the kids can run around a little while waiting for dinner to come, and always nice to have an option to pick things up and bring them back to the room if you don’t feel like dining out.

The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs by Travel Babbo

Enjoying wine while the kids run off and play at Ristorante Del Lago at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

10) An easy/inexpensive laundry option. At a lot of hotels the only laundry option is The List. You know The List—it’s in the closet attached to a plastic or canvas sack, and it indicates that the hotel will wash your pants for only $5 and your socks for only $2. That’s not family-friendly! Kids get dirty. Some hotels provide free washers and dryers, which we took advantage of at the Mauna Lani and Four Seasons Bora Bora this year. Others provide coin-operated machines, which is still fine. I’d love for more hotels to provide access to machines, or at least to have an option to have a load of laundry cleaned for a reasonable price—say $15. And knowing that you’ll have access to laundry at your hotel makes packing that much easier.

The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah in Bali has the most family-friendly laundry service that I’ve seen. The hotel will wash six things a day per person for free. Even when we forgot to place dirty clothes in the laundry bag in the morning, we would find them washed and folded for us that evening. How cool is that?

A kid-sized bicycle at the Sonesta Hilton Head. by Travel Babbo

A kid-sized bicycle at the Sonesta Hilton Head. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

11) Kid-sized things. It’s great when hotels have kid-sized robes for us in the rooms. And it’s also nice to have sinks at a height that’s good for adults but also reachable by kids. At most hotels our five-year-old can reach the sink, even if it’s on tip-toes, to brush her teeth or wash her hands. But we’ve been to some hotels where the kids are forced to (unsafely) turn over trashcans as improvised steps just to reach the sinks.

12) An overall kid-friendly vibe. Last, but not least, I want to feel like our (well-behaved) kids are welcome. You can be the nicest, most formal hotel in the world, and your staff can still treat kids like valued guests and not like potential nuisances. I love when staff members go out of their way to talk to our kids and ask about their vacations, or give suggestions of things to do the next day. This can be housekeepers or managers or pool staff—anyone who comes into contact with the kids. I’ve stayed at large resort hotels where the staff weren’t overly friendly, and at European city hotels where the staff just had great interactions with the kids and which, in turn, made it more fun to return to the hotel in the evenings.

Three kid-sized robes waiting for us at the Rosewood Mayakoba by Travel Babbo

Three kid-sized robes waiting for us at the Rosewood Mayakoba, in perfect lengths for my kids. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

Those are the top twelve things I’m looking for in kid-friendly hotels. What have I missed? What would you include? What hotels have you found that meet all of those criteria?

 

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.


 

Meet our writer

Eric Stoen, the founder of Travel Babbo, travels around the world constantly with his three kids. Wendy met him when he won Condé Nast Traveler’s Dream Trip Contest a few years ago and was so impressed with his travel savvy that she invited him to contribute to WendyPerrin.com.

Historic center of Cartagena, Colombia with the Caribbean Sea visible on two sides

The Future of Travel: Predictions for 2016

The best human travel planners are a bit like old friends: They just “get” you. A big part of their jobs—aside from building the local connections that lead to the best travel experiences—is to be able to quickly understand what travelers want and find creative ways to provide it. That’s why we think this list of trends is interesting. What follows are the observations of some of our Trusted Travel Experts—longtime vets of the travel-planning world who book hundreds, if not thousands, of trips each year. This is what they’re seeing travelers ask for most…as well as their predictions for the experiences travelers will be asking for in the coming year.

What other services or types of trips would you like to see travel planners provide in 2016? Tell us in the comments below.

A Blend of the High and the Low
“When it comes to culinary experiences, travelers want to mix haute cuisine with street food. The same goes for culture—they’re mixing high-brow culture with real interaction with locals. The trend is echoed with glamping: Travelers want real remote nature and adventure combined with luxury.” —Zach Rabinor, Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico

Once-in-a-Lifetime Experiences
“People don’t want to die with a lot of cash. They would rather spend it on helicopters over the Cliffs of Moher, or a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a master Scotch whiskey distiller at their favorite distillery, or paying what it takes to beat the crowds.” —Jonathan Epstein, Trusted Travel Expert for England, Ireland, and Scotland

Solo Travel
“I’m seeing many more solo travelers! Thankfully, Ireland is perfect for this. You never have to feel alone.” —Jonathan Epstein, Trusted Travel Expert for England, Ireland, and Scotland

Travel Influenced by Pop Culture
“We see people chasing scenes from movies and books. In the U.K. and Ireland alone, you can see sites related to Outlander, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Downton Abbey, MacBeth, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Martin, Dr. Who, and James Bond.” —Jonathan Epstein, Trusted Travel Expert for England, Ireland, and Scotland

Travel Influenced by Food Photography
“Also, we’re getting a lot of requests for photo tours, so we’re doing a new tour where travelers learn how to take photos of food. We all love taking photos of food when eating new things! Travelers also want to go home with new recipes so they can cook what they have eaten in the destination.” —Virginia Irurita, Trusted Travel Expert for Spain

Millennials and Mobile
“Our demographics have shifted wildly towards millennials, who are booking our tours for the intellectually curious at a higher rate than any other demographic. They are also repeating more and staying longer. So, in other words, they’re a more engaged demographic than Gen X or Boomers. We’re also seeing a decided shift toward mobile bookings and last-minute bookings.”—Paul Bennett, Trusted Travel Expert for Cultural City Experiences

Increased Interest in Turkish Art
“There is an increased interest in exploring the contemporary art scene in Istanbul. [My company] has arranged exclusive tours of art galleries with local art experts and the opportunity to meet gallery owners and interact with learning experiences and the history of the artists.” —Karen Fedorko Sefer, Trusted Travel Expert for Turkey

The Rise of Colombia as a Family Getaway
“More and more families are coming to Colombia: Many Americans, particularly from the Eastern corridor, are opting for quick escapes to Cartagena, due to direct flights from NYC , Miami, and Fort Lauderdale. We see a trend of families visiting the coffee country, which is not really on many Colombia itineraries but offers a plethora of outdoor and cultural activities that have wowed our family travelers. The town and region of Barichara in the province of Santander has one of the most charming, well preserved colonial villages in all Colombia. Coupled with this region being an active adventure capital of Colombia, it will surely be more and more visited in 2016. [My company] rents ranches and country homes in this region for families.” —Eric Sheets, Trusted Travel Expert for Colombia

 

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.

Duomo Florence Italy

Most Popular Destinations of 2015…and 2016

The WendyPerrin.com community of travelers is made up of some of the most sophisticated travelers anywhere. You seem to know where to go before the rest of the world does, and the things you do when you get there set the tone (and influence the itineraries) for future travelers.

With that in mind, we connected with our Trusted Travel Experts and reviewed the most popular places for WendyPerrin.com readers in 2015, as well as the locations highest on their lists for 2016. That’s one of the reasons we’re hosting the Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit right now in New York City: to meet with the travel planners on The WOW List, review these destinations, and learn more about what they can hold for you in the coming year.

Where are you headed in 2016? And for what destinations would you like us to provide more information — or more Trusted Travel Experts? Tell us in the comments below.

Most Popular Destinations in 2015

  1. Italy
  2. Cuba
  3. France
  4. Argentina
  5. Australia
  6. Mexico
  7. United Kingdom
  8. Costa Rica
  9. Spain
  10. India

Destinations Most Requested for 2016

  1. Cuba
  2. United States
  3. Italy
  4. France
  5. Mexico
  6. Japan
  7. African safaris/New Zealand
  8. Argentina/Spain/India/Australia
  9. Vietnam/Costa Rica
  10. United Kingdom

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze—and Wendy in one of its zodiacs

How I Monitor the Travel Agents I Recommend

Throughout my career as a travel journalist and consumer advocate, I’ve been known for upholding the highest standard of honesty and transparency. Now that I have my own website, I want you to know how I work, how my Trusted Travel Experts work, and the steps I’m taking to ensure that all the recommendations you read here are the best possible. That’s why I’m hosting the first Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit next week in New York City.

At this two-day conference, I’ll be getting together with the Trusted Travel Experts from my WOW List to share information on what today’s sophisticated travelers want and how to give it to them. This summit is one of the ways I ensure that every TTE on my WOW List is living up to your standards.

Maybe you’ve seen The WOW List and wondered how I came up with it. Maybe you assume it’s just like any other “best of” list. Or that I am some kind of travel agent recommending my friends. Or maybe you figured that any travel agent could pay their way onto that list.

If you thought any of those things, you’re dead wrong.

My WOW List is unique and independent. I’m not a travel agent—I’m a journalist—and no one can pay to be included. The trip planners who make the cut each year have gone through rigorous testing—often by me, and always by hundreds of travelers who have sent me their feedback. (You can read reviews of every TTE on the website, and if you’ve traveled with one yourself, I encourage you to share your own review.) I have known—and monitored—most of the TTEs on my list for more than a decade: I know the kinds of trips they plan, their level of taste, what they do best, and their occasional foibles. I know everything about them from their business models to the names of their dogs. I also know that they appreciate what it means to have the Wendy Perrin stamp of approval, and they understand the expectations and trust they need to live up to in order to keep it.

The WP Global Travel Summit is integral to safeguarding that trust. So on January 11 and 12 I’ll gather with my select group of expert travel planners and we will swap ideas, innovations, and best practices about how we can improve your travel experiences in 2016. My team and I will come away with insider destination tips, travel solutions, and trip-planning ideas that we’ll be sharing directly with you. What’s more, the conference is being held at the Dream Downtown hotel in New York City, right across from the beautiful High Line park and historic Chelsea Market, so we’ll be posting insider tips about NYC and one of its coolest hotels too. Stay tuned here at WendyPerrin.com and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to hear more about what we learn at the WP Global Travel Summit. We can’t wait to find new ways to make your next trips extraordinary!

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Singapore's Changi Airport has several gardens

Best Foreign Airports to Get Stuck In

Sometimes getting stuck in an airport isn’t that bad. Really. Especially if you’re in a world-class hub that’s like a small city, with vast food, entertainment, shopping, and spa options.

You already know the best U.S. airports for long layovers and for great eats. Now we bring you the best foreign airports, according to our readers and other expert travelers. Next time you’re booking an international flight, seriously consider an itinerary that gives you a layover in one of these hubs.

Asia

Singapore Changi Airport, SIN

“So much to do there. A movie theater, outdoor pool, butterfly garden, and you can even do a quick city tour for free if you have a longer layover. It’s hands down the best.”
—George Hobica, president and founder of Airfarewatchdog.com

“The whole place is a wonder that can keep you endlessly entertained.  But my favorite thing about Changi is ‘Singapore Food Street’.  It’s not the perfect recreation of the hawker centers ubiquitous throughout Singapore, offering fantastic food at cheap prices—there are constraints in an airport after all—but it’s the next best thing.”
—Gary Leff, View from the Wing

Seoul Incheon International Airport, ICN

“One could live behind security there for days.  There are day rooms for those who want to spend a little money (or just free showers for those who don’t).  There are tablets available for people to use and fast Wi-Fi throughout.  There are, of course, a ton of shops and restaurants.  They even have a cultural center with performances throughout the day that also allows travelers to participate in making traditional crafts. If travelers have a little more time, they can venture outside the terminal to one of the stranger things I’ve seen: In an office area right near the terminal, there is a medical facility designed specifically for medical tourism. Go get a little botox or maybe some tooth implants while you wait for your next flight.”
—Brett Snyder, The Cranky Flier and CrankyConcierge.com

“After Singapore Changi, my second favorite airport is Seoul Incheon for the free transit tours of the city.  There are plenty of overnight flights arriving from Southeast Asia, where a connection to the U.S. won’t leave until midday.  That means a long time at the airport, and they’ve made it possible to get off the airport grounds and experience the city.”
—Gary Leff, View from the Wing

Hong Kong International Airport, HKG

“I usually take the fast train into the city if I have enough time, but if I’m staying at the airport, I amuse myself by shopping. They have Kiehls, Zara, Muji, Chanel, Gucci, and duty-free. There’s an IMAX theater, a nine-hole golf course, eateries like Hung’s Delicacies and Tasty Congee. If you do not have access to any of the amazing airline lounges, you can still pay to get into one of the Plaza Premium lounges to snack, rest, and take a shower.”
—Arnette, Round The World Girl

Narita Airport (NRT) and Haneda Airport (HND), Tokyo

“Narita and Haneda can do no wrong in my book. Clean amazing bathrooms, great restaurants, and lots of awesome shopping.”
—Paula Froelich, host A Broad Abroad

Europe

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, AMS

“My favorite airport for long layovers is Amsterdam…because I don’t stay in the airport. No matter where I’m coming from, it’s typically very fast to go through immigration and store carry-on luggage (I usually use the basement lockers between Arrival Halls 1 and 2). There’s a train station in the airport itself, it’s a quick journey to Central Station, and the trains run frequently. Once I get into the city, I usually explore on foot, although the trams work well too.”
—Eric Stoen, TravelBabbo

sleep pods at Helsinki airport

Long layover at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport? No need for a hotel, just grab a quick nap in the GoSleep pods. Photo: UNI

Helsinki Airport, HEL

“Vantaa Airport in Helsinki is wonderful. Compact and quite fun to be in. There are truly original sleep pods if you want a snooze and a good hotel inside the building (Hotel Glo) if you want a more traditional room. Food’s okay and the shopping is less cookie-cutter than some airports. Several high-style Finnish shops and a Moomin shop, if you’re into that stuff…”
—Joe Brancatelli, Joe Sent Me

“Helsinki Airport is cozy for a layover. The Kainuu room, near gate 30, is a quiet room with a green carpet and two ‘sun-tanning beds’ that are great for sleeping! There’s even a free book swap for avid readers. The Almost@Home Lounge, with its replica of a private home’s lounge and kitchen area, is really cool. Both terminals offer passengers free Wi-Fi, which I think is a necessity!”
—Cacinda Maloney, PointsandTravel.com

Istanbul Atatürk Airport, IST

“Istanbul is a favorite, if you’ve got access to the Turkish Airlines lounge. Great sampling of ‘street food.’ Amazing space, size-wise, with a variety of entertainment and activity options. Excellent service and very comfortable.”
—Bob Holland, The Holland Group

London Heathrow, LHR

“My favorite airport for long layovers is such a fabulous place to visit that sometimes I actually book flights with super-long wait times, including overnights! Heathrow’s Terminal Five is pretty, with lots of light, lots of terrific shops, plenty of bookstores, and pleasant enough restaurants. The BA Lounge is terrific and I typically will nosh there after shopping sprees. But the best place to while away extra time is the Sofitel London Heathrow. It’s got two good restaurants (one French, one more international), a charming bar and lounge area, lovely service, and the most beautiful spa I’ve ever seen anywhere near any airport. Most times the rates for overnight stays are quite reasonable, and I look forward to spending time there as much as I might for a genuine resort vacation.”
—Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief, Cruise Critic

“Heathrow is the airport we all love to hate. But the Heathrow Express gets you into Paddington Station in 15-20 minutes, and that puts all of London at your feet for a layover. And, if you really get hung up, take the escalator up to the Hilton at Paddington Station.”
—Joe Brancatelli, Joe Sent Me

Reykjavik Keflavik International Airport, KEF

“Between flights you can go to the Blue Lagoon!”
—Katherine Eklund 

Middle East

Pool at Doha Airport

Qatar’s Doha International Airport has a pool, a spa, and other amenities. Photo: Billie Cohen

Doha International Airport, DOH

“The new Doha Airport in Qatar has 24-hour shopping, decent and varied food options, and also rooms for overnight layovers. And being home to Qatar Airways, those flying business and first class have access to their lounges—which have quiet sleeping areas (business class) and actual bedrooms and a Jacuzzi (first class). Also, the dining experience is fantastic.”
—Ana Silva O’Reilly, Mrs. O. Around the World

North America

Vancouver International Airport, YVR

“Vancouver really does have a lovely facility. An absolutely wonderful hotel, the Fairmont, is up a flight of steps. And, again, there’s a fast transit system to get you quickly into town if your layover extends.”
—Joe Brancatelli, Joe Sent Me

What’s your favorite foreign airport to get stuck in?

 

More Layover Solutions:

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

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.

 

Northern Lights, Finnmark, Norway

7 Destinations That Get Even Better in the Dark

Now that winter is in full swing, bringing short days and long nights, we’d like to spotlight a few great destinations that come alive in the dark. Put these nighttime experiences on your travel list, and tell us about your favorites!

Norwegian Lapland

Very simply put, you can’t see the Northern Lights when the sun’s out, so the short days of winter are a blessing for aurora chasers. Pro tip: You’ll have a 95 percent chance of a sighting if you head to the beautiful Finnmark coastline in the Norwegian Lapland, between December and March. The weather is cold, but the clear, dark skies offer great opportunity.

Read our Insider’s Guide to Norway

Mykonos

When you spend the day in a place as beautiful as Greece you’ve got a lot to celebrate come nightfall. And that’s what happens every evening on Mykonos. Spend the day soaking up the sun, but when it sets, finish in typical Mykonos manner: with a night of partying at clubs or a casual nightcap at a small bar.

Read our Insider’s Guide to Mykonos

Monaco at night

Monaco at night. Photo: Visit Monaco/Facebook

Monte Carlo

Like you when you don your finest evening wear, some places are just prettier at night—and Monte Carlo is one of those places. When the sun goes down, everything lights up: the boats in the harbor, the casinos, the glamorous Hotel de Paris, and all the fabulous people who frequent them. It’s like something out of a James Bond movie.

Related: Must-Dine Restaurants in Nice and Monte Carlo

 

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Southeast Asia’s night markets are an experience. Some are crowded and touristy, but Chiang Mai’s “Street of Walking People” is one of the best. Every Sunday, rain or shine, most of Chiang Mai turns out for this market, which lasts from 4 p.m. until midnight, starting at Thapae Gate and running the length of Ratchadamnoen Road through the heart of the Old City. The street is closed entirely to vehicular traffic, allowing locals to meet, browse, socialize, haggle, and enjoy. The market is a real showcase of the art and craftsmanship of northern Thailand.

Read our Insider’s Guide to Southeast Asia

 

Hvar Town, Croatia

Hvar Town, on the island of Hvar, is magical at night in season (June through September). The harbor sparkles with all the beautiful yachts that are lit up—and with all the chic Europeans strolling and dining along the waterfront. The whole scene is electric and lively: You can spend the night popping into bars and concerts, and sampling great little restaurants.

Read our Insider’s Guide to Croatia

St Petersburg, Russia, at night. Photo: Exeter International

St Petersburg, Russia, at night. Photo: Exeter International

St. Petersburg

When all the palaces and historic monuments light up each night, St. Petersburg is a sight to behold. Moscow may have the Bolshoi, but St. Petersburg has three venues now for the Mariinsky Ballet, offering much more in the way of world-class evening entertainment. On top of that, cruising at night on a private boat along the city’s canals is about as romantic and beautiful as it gets.

Read our Insider’s Guide to St. Petersburg

What destinations are your favorites at night?

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.


 

If you’re flying through Barcelona-El Prat airport (BCN) and have a layover, you’ll probably be tempted to try to duck into the city and look around. The good news is that as long as you have at least seven hours, you can do it. We talked to Paul Bennett of Context Travel—our Trusted Travel Expert for short, cultural experiences in cities worldwide—for tips on how make the most of your Barcelona airport layover:

How to get out of the airport:

Taxis: Taxis are plentiful at the airport. A taxi to central Barcelona should run about 25 to 35 euros. The journey should take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the time of day..

Train: There is train service from the airport to the station Barcelona-Passeig de Gràcia in central Barcelona. The train line is the R2 Norte Aeropuerto – Sant Celoni / Maçanet Massanes. This train runs every 30 minutes for most of the day, and the journey takes approximately 30 minutes. You can purchase your ticket at the airport station before boarding. Finding your way to the train from the airport is easy—it’s clearly marked. The station Barcelona-Passeig de Gracia is in the heart of the Eixample district, where many of Gaudi’s works are located.

Bus: Try the Aerobus. There are two options—one leaving from Terminal 1 and the other from Terminal 2. The buses come frequently, every 5 to 10 minutes. They are affordable (about 10.80 euros per round-trip ticket), comfortable, and fast (35 minutes). You purchase your ticket from the driver while boarding or sometimes there is a person selling tickets at a kiosk by the bus (they are legit). The bus makes a few stops at various spots in the city—its terminus is Plaza Catalonia, which is ideally located just between the Gothic Quarter and Eixample district and is served by several metro lines. Its website is very easy to navigate. Don’t be alarmed if your bus is full when you arrive and you can’t get on, just remember that another one will come very shortly. It’s also very easy to find the Aerobus at the airport—it should be very well marked.

Note: The aerobus is generally easier to navigate than the train, as it’s designed for tourists. But if your time is very limited, or you have a very specific destination in mind, a taxi might be worth the extra cost.

What to do with your luggage: There is a left-luggage office in Terminal 1, on the first floor (Spanish floor 0) and it’s possible to leave luggage there for up to 30 days (fee per 24-hour period). If you’re arriving into Terminal 2, Terminal 1 is a short walk away. There is also a free shuttle bus that runs 24 hours a day. The charge for all or part of each 24-hour period depends on the size of your luggage: large locker (50x80x90 cm), €5.80; medium locker (35x80x60 cm), €5.10; small locker (35x80x45 cm), €4.50.

Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain

Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: mertxe iturrioz/Flickr

If you have a 7-hour layover:

 Allot four hours for travel to and from the city in order to be back in time (two hours in advance) for an international flight. That will give you a nice three hours in the city, which is enough to get a feel for Barcelona’s medieval Gothic Quarter and its more gritty sister, the El Raval neighborhood.

Start with a quick look at La Rambla, the city’s ancient thoroughfare, which was once a stream located outside the city walls. (In fact, a “La Rambla” street exists in many cities and was derived from the Arabic word ramlah, meaning riverbed). If you’re hungry, head to the Boqueria to see the sites and smell the smells. It’s a tourist haven, sure, but it is a historic market worth taking in, with many authentic vendors and locals doing their shopping. Pinotxo bar is one of the best stands for regional specialties; try the bacalao (dry salt cod), which is ubiquitous. After a bite, wander briefly through the Gothic Quarter’s narrow streets, staying especially attuned to the neighborhood’s ancient Jewish Call (the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 but there are still traces, however slight, of their existence in Barcelona). Then head over to El Raval, on the Boqueria side of La Rambla. It’s an area that was once grazing land for the walled city and has undergone great transformation over the centuries. The last century was hard on the area (it became the red-light district); however, in the 1990s the city poured money into developing the Raval, and it’s now a bohemian center. It’s home to the Richard Meier–designed Museum of Contemporary Art but still a haven for trendy artistic types (check out the street art).

For those interested in learning about the Raval’s history with an expert, you could skip the stroll through the Gothic Quarter and consider Context Travel’s three-hour history seminar of the neighborhood: Revealing the Raval.

 

If you have an 8-hour layover or longer:

Take a taxi to the top of Montjuïc hill for a spectacular view of the city and a bit of exploration. The area is home to a 17th-century fortress (the Montjuïc castle, Carretera de Montjuïc); two Olympic stadiums (1936 and 1992); the International Exposition (World’s Fair) of 1929; the Palau Nacional (built for the World’s Fair and intended to be a temporary structure, but now the Museum of Catalan Art; a museum dedicated to the work of Catalan artist Joan Miró; and quaint secret gardens along the hill’s side. Later, board the cable car (near the Funicular de Montjuïc’s Miramar station; walk about a half mile along Avinguda de Miramar in the direction of the sea (east), or take the #50 bus, for a thrilling ride down to the port, where you can stroll along the seaside promenade and stop for a relaxing drink or bite to eat in the sun. After this break, depending on how much time remains, explore the area of Barceloneta just next door. It’s a neighborhood created in the 18th century to provide housing for families who were displaced by the construction of the citadel in the Ribera neighborhood. Many of Barceloneta’s original 18th-century, two-story houses exist today, and its comparatively wide streets are a bright alternative to the dark and narrow alleyways of the Gothic Quarter. Stop in at the lively neighborhood tapas restaurant La Bombeta for some great snacks before taking a taxi back to the airport.

For those looking for more structured time, try Context Travel’s three-hour Montjuic, Conquering the Mountain walk or the three-hour Barcelona and the Sea tour.

 

If you don’t have time to leave the airport:

There are a number of VIP lounges that are free for business-class ticket holders and open to other ticket holders for a small fee (26 euros per adult/12.50 euros per child). These lounges usually have food and beverage service, television, Internet access (sometimes even computers for use), newspapers, and books. The Joan Miró VIP Lounge in Terminal 1 is open to travelers flying only to non-Schengen countries and even has showers and a leisure area with pool tables.

Terminal 1 also has several air rooms, air showers (30 minutes; includes towel, gel, and slippers), and an air wellness program (read: massage). These should all be pre-reserved on the website.

There are a few play areas for children spread out around both terminals. They can be found on the interactive airport map.

The airport offers 15 minutes of free Wi-Fi to every traveler. Beyond that, it must be purchased.


 

More Layover Solutions:

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Tokyo Airport Layovers: The Best Way to Spend Them

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.

Scott Mayerowitz AP airlines reporter

How an Airlines Reporter Travels: Meet the AP’s Scott Mayerowitz

Scott Mayerowitz knows airlines. He’s been reporting on them at the Associated Press for five years, and before that was a travel editor and business reporter with ABC News. So he’s not just any old travel writer—he’s an investigative journalist with chops. However, this self-described #avgeek is not so serious that he’d turn his nose up at the chance to go sky diving on a cruise ship or to share a good Throwback Thursday selfie.

His Twitter and Instagram feeds are must-follows for any traveler—not only for the airline and travel news he provides, but also for a window onto the world of frequent fliers and mileage junkies (he is one himself), and for a humorous peek at his own life too.

Most memorable travel moment:

Visiting Iceland in summer, it was still light enough after a late dinner to play a round of golf with my dad. It wasn’t the best course or the best performance on our part, but there was something very unique about teeing off that late at night.

Most embarrassing travel moment:

Ordering food at foreign restaurants. Anywhere. My Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese—frankly any language skills—are atrocious. Even when reading something off a menu, I horribly mispronounce it. I always try, and I want locals to correct me so I can learn, but it’s embarrassing to me and my travel companions.

Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag:

Pacifiers. Hey, I’ve got an infant daughter. I’m still kind of surprised at the things I now travel with.

Scott takes his future avgeek along for the flight. Photo: Scott Mayerowitz/Instagram

Scott takes his future avgeek along for the flight. Photo: Scott Mayerowitz/Instagram

Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:

The museums and monuments of Paris are surely packed with tourists but not the least bit touristy. The one trick to avoiding the masses is to buy the Paris Museum Pass. Yes, it can save most first-timers money. But the real value is saving time by skipping lines at sites like the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Versailles. Simply visit one of the less-crowded museums first to buy the pass.

Non-touristy spot people might not know about but should add to their must-visit list:

Most folks now know that Bruges is a popular place to travel outside Brussels, but Ghent, which is lesser known, was really cool. The city isn’t as postcard-pretty but is more vibrant; it’s filled with unique stores and restaurants and isn’t catering mostly to tourists.

Name two indispensable apps you use when you travel:

Google Maps (now with an offline feature that is perfect for overseas travel) and FlightAware, which updates me about flight delays, inbound aircraft, and the filed flight time.

The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind:

My portable battery charger—well, chargers. I normally travel with two iPhones, an iPad, and my laptop. The laptop gets first priority for any spare electrical outlets. So that’s where the battery chargers come in; they ensure that my iPad will survive a long flight or that my phone has enough juice left upon landing to be productive.

Choose any two travel-world bloggers and tell us the most important thing you’ve learned from each.

It’s so hard to single out one or two folks. I’ve learned way too much about miles, points, and gaming the system from the scores of bloggers out there. I’ve also found tricks to making my travels easier from people like Wendy Perrin. And then there is Brett Snyder at CrankyFlier.com, who spells out exactly how things work in the industry.

Related:  The Airlines’ Biggest Shortcoming, According to The Cranky Flier

Whose Tweets do you find the most useful and entertaining when you see them in your feed?

I find Brian Sumers offers some of my favorite geeky, airline news. Then there is my awesome co-worker David Koenig, who is on top of every bit of industry news you would ever need to know.

Name one way the travel industry can do better.

A lot of websites will sell you a package vacation with air, hotel, and car rental. But none of them seamlessly ties all of that together. It’s the same thing with hotels and airlines. Travelers might be treated like royalty at a great hotel, but then that magic of the vacation disappears at the airport check-in counter. Luxury hotels and airlines need to find ways to better partner to have that service seamlessly carry over throughout the entire trip. For us, it is one journey, and travel providers need to start thinking about the trip from our perspective.

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel that you think will be different in 20 years:

The personal interaction will be gone from all but luxury travel. We already check in for flights (and a handful of hotels) with our mobile phones. We can order room service on an app. And forget the city walking tour. There’s now a podcast for that. Sure, this does help empower some independent travelers, but we also risk a homogenized travel experience and miss out on those tiny interactions that give us a sense of place and uniqueness.

You’ve said the points/miles game will either go away completely or change drastically. Can you speak to that?

I have a confession: I am a points-and-miles addict. But I am getting closer and closer to getting out of the game. Or at least changing my strategy. Unless you are an elite flier, loyalty doesn’t pay. And even there, the real benefits don’t kick in unless you do 50,000 miles a year. The same for hotels. The top-tier folks are treated great, but otherwise the leisure traveler doesn’t see giant benefits. Still sign up for programs and collect your points, but maybe it is time to rethink those credit cards. A two-percent cash- back credit card will probably suit most travelers best. Especially if you just fly domestically in coach and are happy with a clean, safe hotel room. Plus you aren’t married to one airline or hotel chain. That said, I’m finding it personally very hard to break the habit. I still am getting value out of luxury hotels and international business-class flights, but it is getting harder and harder.

Related: The Best Credit Cards for Travelers

Most effective thing you’ve ever said or done to get an upgrade or a special perk while traveling:

Airline upgrades for special occasions are a thing of the past. But hotels still have much leeway in who they upgrade and why. I’ve had good luck on my honeymoon and even one night when my wife and I escaped for a kid-free night. I usually reach out in advance with my confirmation number, explain why this is an important stay, note any status I have, and ask if there is anything they can do to make it special for my wife.

To make friends, I always carry:

Airline drink coupons

Overrated:

Theme parks

Underrated:

National parks

If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing:

The wrong lyrics to whatever’s on the radio.

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was:

500 Days of Summer

When I travel, I’m not afraid of:

Getting lost

But I am afraid of:

Losing perspective.

 

Follow Scott:

Twitter @GlobeTrotScott

Instagram @GlobeTrotScott

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Geneva Airport flightboard Nov 14, 2015

5 Reasons Not to Panic About the Worldwide Travel Alert

The State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert and, in my opinion, some people are overreacting. First, such an alert isn’t new: The State Department has periodically issued worldwide travel cautions since shortly after September 11, 2001. Second, the State Department is not advising us to stay home—it’s advising us simply to be vigilant, which is smart on any trip.

Third, why is anyone surprised? When you look at a list of terror attacks since 9/11, it’s clear that anything can happen anywhere at any time. Most travelers I know have, in the years since 9/11, grown accustomed to that fact and learned to live with it. We’ve adapted to the new normal. We know that—as I point out in 7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks—the risk that we’ll become the victim of a terrorist incident while traveling is very small.

The more you’ve traveled, the more direct experience you have that is at odds with what you see on television news or hear about on talk radio, so you’re not overly influenced by the media noise that foments fear. I’ve traveled in many a country at times when a State Department Travel Warning was in place, and there were no signs whatsoever of any problem.

I actually think high airfares may be doing more to keep people from traveling than terrorists are. After 9/11, travelers were convinced that certain swaths of the world were deadly dangerous…until airfares and cruise fares were chopped in half, at which point they pounced on the deals.  Every traveler considering a trip does a risk-benefit analysis. When the benefit is great, they play down the risk; when the price drops low enough, they’re suddenly willing to travel.

I’ve been studying travelers closely since long before September 11, 2001. I’ve watched hundreds of them cancel trips for no good reason, lose a lot of money, and miss out on what could have been wonderful memories. I’ve also watched hundreds forge ahead with trips and tell me afterward how glad they were to have done so.

As you wrestle with whether to make or quash travel plans while the worldwide travel alert is in place (it expires on Feb 24, 2016), here are five things to consider:

1. The State Department is not advising you to stay home. 

It has issued a Travel Alert, not a Travel Warning. A Warning is for “when we want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all.” Travel Alerts are “for short-term events we think you should know about when planning travel to a country.” The problem with the worldwide travel alert—and, in my opinion, a reason why some people are panicking—is that it does not provide tangible steps of advice that are easy to follow. But I’ve done so here.

2. State Department advisories have always erred on the side of caution.

If you were running the State Department, would you want to be in a position where a terrorist incident occurs and you hadn’t warned people? No. You’d want to avoid blame. The State Department has nothing to lose by issuing an Alert. It also has nothing to lose if the Alert is not followed by an attack. (That’s because the spin can be that the authorities’ beefed-up vigilance is working.)

3. Other English-speaking governments have not issued worldwide travel alerts. 

It’s wise to get a second opinion by checking out other English-speaking governments’ advisories, such as Canada’s, the United Kingdom’s, and Australia’s.

4. If the Alert leads to fewer people traveling abroad, the warmer the welcome the rest of us will get.

There’s no reason to expect to encounter unfriendliness toward Americans abroad. It’s been my experience that there are at least three reasons why most people in most foreign countries are friendly toward Americans (at least, toward those of us who don’t behave like “ugly Americans”).  First, locals who depend on tourism are happy to see us, especially when tourism is down (and at a time when the Chinese, European, and Russian economies are flat). Second, Americans tip more than anyone else. As long as we continue to tip the way we do and the rest of the world doesn’t, we’ll be welcome. Third, I’ve found that locals differentiate between an individual traveler and his/her government; they don’t hold you responsible for your government’s policies any more than you would hold them responsible for their government’s policies.

5. The Alert will probably lead to travel deals. 

History has shown that special offers will be on the way. When enough people stay home, deals arise. I’ve already signed up for low-fare alerts from AirfareWatchdog, and I’ll look for hotel deals on TripAdvisor. FIve-star hotels and other luxury travel suppliers won’t want to lower their rates publicly because they fear devaluing their product; instead, they’ll share unadvertised deals with their favorite travel agents behind the scenes (including my Trusted Travel Experts).

Of course, each of us has his or her own comfort level for travel right now, and we must each do our own risk-benefit analysis. Nobody knows you better than you, and you’ve got to do what feels right for you. As for me, I’m going to watch out for good travel values and report them here. Watch this space.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The Best Airport Restaurants in the U.S.

When you’re stuck in the airport, as is likely to happen this time of year, one of the tried-and-true ways to kill time is to eat something. Happily, airport restaurants have improved so much in the past few years that you might just wish you had more time to dine before taking off.

Inspired by the list that The Daily Meal just released, compiling its editors’ picks for the 35 best airport restaurants in the world, we asked our readers—frequent and sophisticated travelers that they are—for their expert opinion on the matter.

We narrowed the field to restaurants in U.S. airports, because other countries recognized the value of quality airport cuisine long before our own did, and so it’s simply too easy to ask for the best airport restaurants in the world.

Here’s what your fellow travelers named as the best airport restaurants in the U.S. Bookmark this page—you’re likely to need it if you’re traveling over the next few months.

Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport (ATL)

“One Flew South. They fly in their sushi fresh every day! It’s located in the International Terminal and feels like a real restaurant with funky decor. It’s amazing!”
—Lissa Harnish Poirot, Editor-in-Chief, FamilyVacationCritic.com

Cafe Intermezzo at ATL airport

Grab a book with your meal: Cafe Intermezzo at ATL is a restaurant and a bookstore. Photo: Cafe Intermezzo

“Cafe Intermezzo ATL. Both of my favorites in one place: great salads, and the tables are surrounded by a book store!”
Beth Aton Stewart

“Ecco in Terminal F. It’s a Midtown Atlanta restaurant that now offers an airport outpost. Wonderful Mediterranean cuisine and a respectable wine list.”
—Marshall Jackson, MJ on Travel

“Fresh to Order is fantastic. All fresh, light, and healthy menu selections at affordable price points. Refreshing to see in an airport!
—Laura Faust, Ciao Laura

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)

“The Salt Lick has the BEST BBQ at an airport I have ever had. The brisket was amazing! And I am from Texas, so I should know! They have one at DFW too.”
—Cacinda Maloney, Points and Travel

Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)

“Legal Sea Foods—there is more than one, and some have that ‘airport’ feel, but Legal is very fussy about quality, and you can get some of the best, freshest seafood in Boston.”
Go See It Travel

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

“Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits! I used to live down south, now I’m in Pittsburgh. I try and make all my flights connect through CLT, and I will run from one end to the other for my chicken biscuits!”
Tasha Heckla

Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

Rick Bayless's gourmet Mexican dishes—and margaritas—are fan favorites at Chicago O'Hare. Photo: Tortas Frontera

Rick Bayless’s gourmet Mexican dishes—and margaritas—are fan favorites at Chicago O’Hare. Photo: Tortas Frontera

“Tortas Frontera is SO good. Delicious sandwiches, locally sourced ingredients, and a killer margarita. For about the same price as other airport options, you can get a little bit of gourmet (Rick Bayless knows his stuff). I actually look forward to this airport meal!”
Kelly Ratliff

“Always make the rounds of Garrett’s popcorn, Vosge’s chocolates, and Tortas Frontera sandwich with margaritas!!!”
Katherine Montgomery

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

Texas favorite Salt Lick BBQ has an outpost at DFW location. Photo: Salt Lick BBQ/Facebook

Texas favorite Salt Lick BBQ has an outpost at DFW location. Photo: Salt Lick BBQ/Facebook

“Salt Lick BBQ gets my vote. Being a Texan, this gives me the taste of home even if only passing through. And yes, Texas BBQ is the BEST!”
Charles Wolfe

“Cousins Bar-B-Que @ Dallas. D’lish!”
Lisa Ringler

“DFW Pappasitos, Mexican.”
Leslie Kaminski

Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)

“Max & Erma’s: A taste of typical Midwest always makes me happy to be home! Their cheesy tortilla soup and warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies are sure to cheer and warm up any wintery blues. Also would vote for National Coney Island, a Michigan classic.”
—Jessica Seba, Journey Mexico

Indianapolis International Airport (IND)

“Harry and Izzy’s is a great spot to sit down and have their famous shrimp cocktail and a drink.”
Midori Fujii

New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

“Delta’s terminal at LGA offers a wealth of modern café options. Last time flying through I made extra time to pop into Crust. Fresh coal-oven pizzas and quiet atmosphere. Love the iPad order system. Swift service, darkened lighting, and a location just footsteps to the gates make this a perfect dining spot.”
—Sharon Pomerantz Strelzer, Pomerantz PR

Miami International Airport (MIA)

“Cafe Versailles totally gets you in the mood of Miami—hot, sizzling, tropical. You want to do the salsa while ordering your Cuban sandwich. When you can speak Spanish to the staff while you are still in the U.S., it’s like you’ve taken a ‘little trip’ to another country, and that’s priceless!”
Robyn Webb

“At MIA, La Caretta is terrific authentic Latin cuisine.”
Marcy Gross Schackne

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)

“Ye Olde College Inn—fantastic food!”
Lucie Thornton

Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

“At EWR, Jersey Mike’s subs are the best.”
Leslie Kaminski

New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

“At JFK, The Palm has fabulous burgers. (Would you expect anything else?)”
Marcy Gross Schackne

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)

“I like Cibo Wine Bar at PHL. Great wines, nice Italian food, and an ambience that makes me forget I’m at an airport.”
—Lissa Harnish Poirot, Editor-in-Chief, FamilyVacationCritic.com

Portland International Airport (PDX)

“Do food trucks count? PDX has the popular Pok Pok food truck now, and LAX terminal 4 has Roy Choi’s Kogi BBQ.”
—Arnette, founder, Round The World Girl

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)

“I love Le Grand Orange at PHX—maybe because LGO was also in my Phoenix neighborhood. I’d often stop to get carry-out to take home from the airport! I love their salads, their pizza is delicious, and they offer a gluten-free chocolate cookie that is delectable.”
—Micheline Maynard, Editor in Chief, Curbing Cars

Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA)

Legal Sea Foods clam chowder

A cup of clam chowder or a lobster roll? Or maybe a crab roll? Legal Sea Foods serves all its signatures at various airport locations. Photo: Legal Sea Foods/Facebook

“Bowl of clam chowder at Legal Sea Foods. Also, Boudin Bakery in SFO for fresh sourdough bread. They would be great together!”
— Charles McCool, McCool Travel

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The Travel Innovation We’re Building at WendyPerrin.com

Welcome, new readers! Especially those finding me from Town&Country, where the Dec 2015/Jan 2016 issue profiles me (“The Travel Whisperer”) and reveals what we’ve been building for travelers here at WendyPerrin.com.

“When Wendy Perrin shares her secrets, it’s as close as you can get to vacation perfection,” says Town&Country. Well, what my team and I have built does more than just share my secrets. We’ve dreamed up a way to save you from mediocre trips.  It’s a whole system—one that’s never existed before in the history of the world, and one that consumers have needed for decades—whose goal is to deliver to you the trip of your dreams.

If you click over to our Plan A Trip section, you can read about how we’ve created a WOW system that connects you with the best destination specialists out there and then optimizes the interaction between you and them so as to help you get the best trip possible at the greatest value for your dollar.

I began compiling a list of best destination specialists two decades ago, when I was at Condé Nast Traveler. First published in the year 2000 as “Wendy’s Rolodex,” it was the first list of its kind back then, and I’ve continued to refine and grow my “rolodex” every day since, road-testing and monitoring those on it to ensure that they remain the best. Now I’ve created a Trip-Monitoring Service too:  For two decades at Condé Nast Traveler, I studied the problems travelers have with travel agents, intervened to rectify the issues that cropped up, and advised readers how to avoid these pitfalls. My Trip-Monitoring Service is designed to ensure you benefit from that advice; it zaps common problems before they impact a trip.

How does it work?  If you know where you want to travel, go to The WOW List, find the right Trusted Travel Expert, click on the black CONTACT button below the Trusted Travel Expert’s entry, and fill out the “Let’s Create an Extraordinary Trip!” form. That way you’ll be recognized as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler, you’ll be entitled to the best pricing and service that each Trusted Travel Expert can offer, and you’ll get my advice along the way and my Trip-Monitoring Service. If you can’t find your destination on The WOW List, go to this abbreviated version to see all the locations in an easy, at-a-glance format.

If you have no destination in mind and need suggestions, click over to Ask Wendy. I’ll do my best to reply personally with recommendations or refer you to the right generalist travel agent.

No matter how you connect with me—here on the site, on Facebook, or on Twitter—rest assured I’m doing my utmost to put the best travel-planning tools of all kinds, human and digital, at your fingertips. What I’ve built here is my small way of doing my part to contribute to the greater good: The more people enjoy eye-opening and transformative trips, the more often we will travel, the more stamps we will collect in our passports, the more global citizens there will be, the better we will all understand one another, and the more of the world’s problems we can solve.

Happy travels!

 

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Best Ways to Spend Delays in 17 U.S. Airports

For many of us, Thanksgiving and Christmas mean too much time spent in airports: The holiday crowds require you to get there early, messy weather can mean delays, and planes are so packed that, if your flight is cancelled, it can be untold hours before you get a seat on another flight. But some airports are far more tolerable than others. In some cases they’re even enjoyable. You already know the best way to spend a layover in 10 of the biggest U.S. hubs. Here, a selection of savvy globe trotters—from travel experts to my Facebook followers—share the best U.S. airports to get stuck in, and their favorite way to pass the time there.

Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport (ATL)
“ATL – One Flew South – sushi.”
—Willis McKee, reader

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
“If I had to choose one airport, it would be Austin, Texas, for the great local restaurants, including several that often have live bands.”
Scott Mayerowitz,  Executive Editorial Director, The Points Guy

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
“Relax in the charming white rocking chairs scattered throughout the airport. Makes me think ‘Southern Hospitality’.”
—Kathy Belden, reader

Centurion Lounge in Miami International Airport

The Centurion Lounge

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
“I’ve been stuck for days at DFW, and it was just fine—I looked into declaring residency in the American Express Centurion lounge. The DFW airport grounds are bigger than the island of Manhattan, and the airport offers myriad amenities, including the American Express lounge and an almost-too-nice Grand Hyatt attached to the terminal with a pool deck overlooking the runways. What more could you need?”
—Gary Leff, founder, View From The Wing

Denver International Airport (DEN)
“Food, not too much shopping, lots of open-space feeling from the high ceilings and huge windows— and views of the mountains.”
—Carolyn Trabuco, reader

Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
“Detroit is the best airport in the USA at the moment. Great local restaurants. Beautiful and clean.”
—David Rosati, reader

honolulu airport chinese garden

Believe it or not, this is an airport. HNL’s Chinese, Japanese, and Hawaiian gardens were designed in 1962, when the airport was built. Photo: Courtesy HNL

Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
“I love the gardens in the middle of the airport.”
—Perri Collins, reader

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
“My favorite domestic airport to get stuck in is Los Angeles International (LAX)! They’ve brought in a bunch of local restaurants and shops which have made all the difference in the world. A lot of travelers don’t realize that your same-day boarding pass allows you to go into any terminal no matter which airline you’re flying! So if you like a restaurant in one of the other terminals, go ahead and check it out.”
—Johnny Jet, JohnnyJet.com

Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
“Lots of good shopping and restaurants, and if it’s a long enough layover, in less than 15 minutes you can take the train to the Mall of America for a ride on the carousel.”
—Lori Bruns, reader

New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): Terminal 5
“I love the JetBlue terminal (Terminal 5) at JFK. They have that great store MUJI to GO, an Ex Officio shop, great restaurants, and a spa.”
—Paula Froelich, founder of A Broad Abroad

New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): Terminal 4
“I love the Delta lounge in Terminal 4. It’s so big that I can always find a quiet corner. The space is subdivided into a lot of different rooms, so it’s easy to have a different experience each time. Every seat has outlets and USB ports, which is key for last-minute charging. And there’s an outdoor lounge, which is just fun because I’ll take any oxygen I can before being locked in a tin can.”
—Pavia Rosati, founder/CEO, Fathom

Palm Beach International Airport (PBI)
“It’s low-key and truly Floridian, with a relaxing vibe. And if you forgot a souvenir, there are always those kitschy coconut candy treats.”
—Sharon Pomerantz Strelzer, reader

Portland International Airport (PDX)
“PDX has the best store: CC McKenzie has awesome clothes, shoes, and accessories. They also have the Dragontree holistic day spa, and Powell’s Books!”
—Brandy Audette, reader

San Francisco International Airport yoga room

SFO’s Yoga Room, the first ever in an airport, lets you get in a good stretch before you board your flight. Photo: Courtesy San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
“It has a spa for massages and a yoga room.”
—Deb Arora, reader

Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA)
“I love taking a walk into the historic lobby in what’s now Terminal A. It’s usually pretty empty there, but if you stop for a moment, you can just feel the presence of all of the historic figures that have graced those halls since the terminal opened during World War II.”
—Brett Snyder, president and Chief Airline Dork, The Cranky Flier

What’s your ideal airport to get stuck in? Weigh in below!

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

passport

6 Things You Need to Know About Renewing Your Passport

Here are six important things you need to know about your passport:

• If you are a frequent traveler and were hoping to be able to add extra pages for your passport, you’re out of luck. As of the beginning of 2016, travelers are no longer be able to add new pages to an existing passport. Now if you run out of space, you’ll have to buy an entirely new passport with either the standard 28 or the expanded 52 leaves.

• Check your expiration date right now. If you have eight months or less, renew it now. Passports are usually valid for ten years, but you really have to renew it in its ninth year—since many countries won’t let you enter if you have fewer than six months before your passport expires.

The price is the same—$110—whether you buy a 28-page book or a 52-page book.

•You can easily renew by mail (and avoid an additional processing fee by doing so) if your most recent passport is undamaged and was issued when you were 16 or older (and within the past 15 years). Even if you’ve legally changed your name, you can still do the entire passport renewal process by mail.

•You have to send in your old passport to get a new one. Don’t panic if it doesn’t get returned with your new one—it will be, but usually in a separate mailing.

• The State Department offers expedited service: Pay $60 and your new passport will arrive in three weeks instead of six. Don’t bother with this. I just renewed mine, and had it back in two and a half weeks. The exception is if you are in an extreme hurry, in which case you can pay the same $60 for a five-day turnaround if you apply in person at a passport agency and can prove your urgent need.

 

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

San Lorenzo villa rental, Dolomites, Italy

The Rewards of an Italian Villa Vacation in Winter

Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy
Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy
Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy
Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Via Lambertesca apartment rental, Florence, Italy
Via Lambertesca apartment, Florence, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Via Lambertesca apartment rental, Florence, Italy
Via Lambertesca apartment, Florence, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Via Lambertesca apartment rental, Florence, Italy
Via Lambertesca apartment, Florence, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
San Lorenzo villa rental, Dolomites, Italy
San Lorenzo villa, Dolomites, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
San Lorenzo villa rental, Dolomites, Italy
San Lorenzo villa, Dolomites, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
San Lorenzo villa rental, Dolomites, Italy
Outdoor whirlpool, San Lorenzo villa, Dolomites, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
La Civetta villa rental, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy
La Civetta villa, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
La Civetta villa rental, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy
La Civetta villa, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy villa rental
Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy villa rental
Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Villa Sola Cabiati, Lake Como, Italy villa rental
Villa Sola Cabiati, Lake Como, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

 

How does a holiday in an Italian villa sound? Like a dream, if you ask us. Sure, the holidays are lovely no matter where you spend them because it’s always wonderful to be with family…but wouldn’t they be just a bit more wonderful if you were sipping Italian wine from the scenic backyard of your own Tuscany estate? Yeah, you know it would. That’s why we checked in with Mara Solomon, our Trusted Travel Expert for Large Italian Villas (four bedrooms or more), to find the best, most beautiful properties for all your holiday getaways. Start planning your Italian villa vacation now…

Thanksgiving in Tuscany

Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy

Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

“One of our favorite houses is Le Ripe, outside the village of San Casciano dei Bagni, a little jewel box of a medieval village that’s a 1.6 km walk from the house. The view is of all the hills that go up to Monte Amiata—it’s breathtaking. It’s a main house for eight with an adjacent building that brings you up to 14. You have working fireplaces, and the cook, Antonietta, is amazing. The owner of the house has also developed a lovely spa, and November is a perfect time to visit (so are December and January) because you can sit in 104-degree water and look out over the gorgeous countryside. The other reasons to come here for Thanksgiving are that airfare is cheap and you are deep into the autumn festival. You have fresh porcini, zucca, chestnuts—it’s a huge food time here and there are many simple quaint festivals to celebrate the harvest.”

Christmas in Florence

Via Lambertesca apartment rental, Florence, Italy

Via Lambertesca apartment, Florence, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

“I love Florence for Christmas. They put these long, white banners over the streets with illuminated stars and snowflakes, and it’s beautiful. They don’t do the whole commercial Christmas here—you get together with your family and you eat. And there’s no better place for it. Via Lambertesca is the apartment I would recommend in Florence. It’s between the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo—there is no better location. It has five double rooms and comfortably accommodates ten people. It’s modern and gorgeous, and we have a terrific cook who can prepare a whole holiday dinner.”

Christmas or New Year’s in Milan/Lake Como

Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy villa rental

Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

“Milan is fabulous right now—so alive, so interesting, and the people are beautiful. As for where to stay, this is a contrarian view, but I recommend Lake Como. I was at Lake Como a few years ago in December and it snowed, and it was the most beautiful I’d ever seen it. We have three houses that have beautiful working fireplaces, and that are so sumptuous that you just want to relax indoors and enjoy. Plus, it takes no time at all to get to Milan from here—they’ve really improved the highways so it’s only about an hour, and we would arrange the car so you don’t have to drive.”

Winter Break in Venice and then the Dolomites

San Lorenzo villa rental, Dolomites, Italy

San Lorenzo villa, Dolomites, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

“For a February or March break, I am an enormous fan of doing a city culture trip to Venice and then going two hours to the Dolomites for skiing, where you can do the Sellaronda ski loop of connected lifts and trails.

We have a beautiful house called San Lorenzo. It’s small and intimate with four rooms and three and a half baths, and it can accommodate ten people. It’s up in the mountains overlooking Val Badia, Val Pusteria, and Val Aurina. It’s really a retreat: You have a stainless steel heated outdoor whirlpool, you have a full indoor spa with sauna, you have a huge wood-burning stove, and you have people who cook and look after you and who are gems.”

Easter/Spring Break in Maremma, Tuscany

La Civetta villa rental, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy

La Civetta villa, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

“April is pretty much the best time for getting a hit of spring in Italy, when it’s still bad weather back home on the East Coast. My preference for April is the Maremma region. There’s a microclimate here, where spring comes early. It’s not pool weather but it’s warm, colorful spring days, and after a long winter, we’re all just starved for that. It doesn’t work if you’re from L.A., but as a New Englander I’m especially drawn here.

La Civetta is one of our properties in this area. It’s five minutes from a cool little village where you’ll find a Croatian tailor who will make you a beautiful jacket in a week, for men or women. It’s also near another thermal bath that’s very natural, rustic, and wonderful.

In addition to this little tailor, there are also food shops—and this is wine country. All the big heavy-hitting wines—they’re from here. You’re driving by the vineyards as you come to the house. So anybody with an interest in wine could easily fill an April here. And it’s nice because this is not when other people are there. You pay nothing for your plane ticket, it’s not crowded, and it’s much easier to see the vineyards.”

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

 

Tower of David, Jerusalem, Israel.

How to Stay Safe Traveling in Risky Countries

If you’re waiting for that perfect moment to travel to the Middle East, it’s probably never going to happen. It’s like waiting for that perfect moment to have a baby: You can always find some reason why now is not the optimal time.

At least once a week a reader emails me asking whether it’s safe to go to Israel, Egypt, Turkey, or [fill in country perceived as dicey] right now. I’ve noticed that the people asking have one thing in common: They’ve never been to the country in question.  And I think that very fact makes it harder for them to put the risks in perspective. If you’ve traveled in a supposedly precarious country before, you know first-hand how much less risky it is than all the media noise would indicate, you realize that the statistical probability that you will be the victim of a terrorist attack there is tiny, and you have no need to email me.

The news media never report the extent to which everyday life goes on as normal at a destination—because that’s not news. As I pointed out in Is It Safe to Travel To Turkey?, “Television and news coverage always make an incident in a foreign country seem more alarming than it actually is. If news sources were to report the extent to which life at the destination goes on as usual, with people going about their everyday routine unaffected, it wouldn’t sell ads, and the news sites wouldn’t get traffic.”

I’m writing this from Marrakech, by the way. It’s my fifth trip to Morocco. And in those five trips I’ve had so few safety concerns that it no longer even occurs to me that there might be risk involved in traveling to Marrakech.

So, in my opinion you should just go ahead and go. But be a smart traveler by doing three things:

(1) Book your trip through a Trusted Travel Expert.

Proven destination specialists like those on my WOW List have the latest security information at their fingertips, know which areas in a country are safe and which aren’t, employ the savviest guides and drivers, and know how to keep you from harm. Earl Starkey, Trusted Travel Expert for Turkey, has been keeping travelers safe there. And Joe Yudin, Trusted Travel Expert for Israel, is keeping travelers safe in Israel.

“I felt totally safe,” says Nadika Wignarajan, a WendyPerrin.com traveler from Bayonne, New Jersey, who just returned from a trip to Israel arranged by Joe. She and her parents were there for a week, including on November 4, when an Israeli Border Police officer was critically injured by a Palestinian driver who deliberately struck him near Hebron—the latest attack in a wave of increased violence since the start of October.

“Joe and his team have their ears to the ground and know what’s going on,” says Nadika. “I knew my guide wasn’t going to take us anywhere that wasn’t safe. There are parts of New Jersey that are more dangerous. We felt safer in Israel than in some areas of New York City where you don’t want to go at night.”

In fact, Nadika adds, there are advantages to being in Israel right now. “There are fewer tourists than usual. The religious sites are crowded, and there are cruise ships bringing in a lot of tourists, but other places were not crowded, and the hotels weren’t that busy; they were going out of their way to do stuff for us.”

“The biggest misconception travelers have,” says Joe Yudin, the Israel-based travel specialist who booked Nadika’s trip, “is that there is constant violence everywhere. That just isn’t the case. The second biggest misconception is that there is tension in the air. Not true. Yesterday I spent the entire day in an Arab village in the Gallilee, and everyone was nice, pleasant, accommodating, warm, smiling. There have been a few bad incidents, and these unfortunately are played up in the news over and over and over. But the fact is that usually there is no violent crime on our streets. Yes, there have been a few wars and everyone here is a soldier and knows what to do in wartime, but this isn’t a war. This is a wave of violence that we usually do not have. It brings the level of violence here up to the regular level of violence you find in Western cities.”

(2) Give yourself peace of mind via MedjetAssist’s Horizon Membership.

Even intrepid seasoned travelers who are able to put risks in perspective—and who understand the difference between the probability of an incident occurring in a country and the probability of an incident occurring to them while they are in that country—can still wonder how to lessen their risks when traveling there. If an incident occurs and does impact your trip, what are the smart steps to take?

You might not know the answer, but you can turn to someone who does. MedjetAssist, the air medical transport membership program that gets you from a foreign hospital that you happen to find yourself stuck in to a hospital back home that you trust—something that most travel insurance policies won’t do for you—recently added a new membership level that reduces your risk when your security is threatened: Horizon Membership offers assistance should a crisis—a terrorist attack, a political threat, violent crime, or the like—strike. You get access to a 24/7 Crisis Response Center, a veteran security expert to advise you, and response services to come to the rescue if necessary.

Actually, MedjetAssist Vice-President and COO John Gobbels points out, if required, a crisis team can come in and remove you from a situation even if it’s not been a declared a major event or incident—even if it’s just because you’re feeling uncomfortable due to the current situation on the ground and want to get out of that place.  Some other companies’ emergency response services benefit kicks in only after a “qualifying security event” has taken place, says Gobbels—for instance, after the State Department has issued a Travel Warning, or after the event that was merely threatening has escalated into a dangerous situation.

(3) Take smart precautions.

If you’re headed to Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East:

1. Enroll in the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), so the Embassy can send you security updates and help you in an emergency.

2. Choose a hotel that has CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera, so you can monitor the news in the mornings and evenings. Also make sure the hotel has reliable Internet access, so you can check local English-language news Web sites.

3. Avoid public gatherings and demonstrations.
Don’t get caught in an angry mob.

4. Avoid public transport.
Use a driver.

5. Stay away from border areas and avoid bad neighborhoods the same way you would in New York City or Chicago.
“Don’t wander alone in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, or Nablus,” says Joe Yudin, my Trusted Travel Expert for Israel.

6. Don’t photograph government buildings, military installations, airports, train stations, policemen, guards, or anyone who doesn’t want his/her photo taken.

7. Carry your hotel’s business card—the one written in the local language—so you can show it to non-English-speaking locals (such as a taxi driver) and get back to your hotel in an emergency.

8. Carry a cell phone programmed with emergency numbers (for the police, your hotel, and medical emergencies)

9. Carry a mini-flashlight (in case you’re caught in the dark).

10. Don’t focus on the wrong risks. Don’t get so caught up in avoiding risks that are highly unlikely—e.g., a terrorist attack—that you forget to focus on those risks that are much more likely to damage a trip—e.g., traffic accidents, pickpockets, food poisoning, sunburn.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

exercise bands on carry-on bag

An Easy Way to Exercise on Vacation — No Gym Required

Making time to exercise on vacation can often seem like a chore. There are so many fascinating things to be doing, and after all, you’re probably already walking a ton each day. But it’s even more important than usual to take care of yourself when you’re traveling: You’re out of your normal routine, eating differently, sleeping differently, and are probably more tired than you realize.

One way I make it easy to stay on top of my health is to keep a couple of tiny exercise helpers in my carry-on: A resistance band and a loop band. They weigh next to nothing and fit right in the pocket of my carry-on—as opposed to bulky running sneakers, which eat up a ton of precious space (and so often go unused; am I right?).

Instead, the bands quickly turn any hotel room into a gym. I use the first band to do arm- and leg-strengthening exercises (here’s a wide array to choose from). And I place the loop band around both legs for bridges, clamshells, and lateral band walks.

I especially appreciate these items after a long flight, and when I don’t want to deal with making an appearance at the hotel fitness center.

Do you have an exercise routine when you travel?

Istanbul's Bebek Neighborhood

Is It Safe to Travel to Turkey?

Is it safe to travel to Turkey? That is a question I’ve been asked dozens of times over the past two decades, usually as a result of a scary news story that makes someone second-guess a trip they’ve already planned.

Last week I was asked the same question again by a reader who has booked a Turkey trip through one of the Trusted Travel Experts on my WOW List. Even though she’s excited about the trip, she is getting pressure from her family and adult children to rethink her plans.

I understand that her family may be concerned, given what they are hearing and seeing in the news, but if it were me, there’s no way I would cancel. Turkey has had bombings every year since I can remember, and never have any of these incidents impacted or dampened my readers’ travel experiences there. I myself have been to Turkey four times—three of those times coinciding with major terrorist incidents—and every time I felt totally safe everywhere I traveled in the country.

I know that politics in Turkey are complex and that national elections are scheduled for November 1. But I also know that television and news coverage always make an incident in a foreign country seem more alarming than it actually is. If news sources were to report the extent to which life at the destination goes on as usual, with people going about their everyday routine unaffected, it wouldn’t sell ads, and the news sites wouldn’t get traffic. That’s why media outlets are forced to write sensationalistic, scary headlines: to get people to click and read.

True, there are areas in southeastern Turkey—near the border with Syria—that most countries’ governments are warning travelers not to visit. But those areas are hundreds of miles from Istanbul and other popular tourist sites.

Furthermore, any coverage that paints a story about difficulties travelers might be facing does not apply to travelers who booked through a destination specialist such as the Trusted Travel Experts on my WOW List. These experts know their destinations like no one else, and they know the truth about where it’s safe to be. In the case of this particular reader, she booked her trip through Karen Fedorko Sefer, a Turkey travel expert to whom I’ve been sending travelers for years. Karen lives in Istanbul and has the latest on-the-ground intel for making trips safe, not to mention extraordinary.

Last year, after another spate of news reports about terrorist incidents in Turkey, I interviewed several readers of mine who were traveling in the country at a seemingly difficult time. They had arranged their trips through Earl Starkey, another Trusted Travel Expert who lives in Istanbul. (Here’s his Insider’s Guide to Istanbul, as well as his Insider’s Guide to Cappadocia.) Examples of what these travelers told me include:

“The impression from the news in the U.S. is of a somewhat exotic, traditional country that is as progressive as a secularized Muslim country can be, but that remains somewhat poor and undeveloped,” Mr. Martin said. “I was, quite frankly, in shock to find a modern, affluent, and incredibly clean cosmopolitan city in Istanbul, efficient, modern airports, and generally friendly, accommodating people who truly were secular and in many areas very wealthy.”

“Before we left, my main fear was that there would be a great deal of hostility toward Americans. I never felt that! The Turkish people are warm and welcoming—just lovely people.”

“We were in Cappadocia when the U.S. bombing of Syria started. That day we toured a number of small towns in the area, and I looked carefully for any negative response from the locals. (I am over six feet and clearly American, so I do stand out in a small village). Everyone was very friendly and welcoming—I did not observe a single negative glance or frown.”

In that same article, I outlined steps you can take to decide if Turkey is right for you, along with precautions you can take to remain safe. While those tips remain useful, that article was written for people who travel totally on their own and do not have one of my Trusted Travel Experts watching over them throughout. The on-the-ground support that my Trusted Travel Experts offer is invaluable on any trip, and it’s the reason I created The WOW List in the first place.

So please don’t avoid Turkey. Just plan it right. Chances are you will be pleasantly surprised by the extent to which life goes on as normal, you will have fascinating conversations with the locals about current events, and you will feel jazzed about being there at an important moment. I say this because that’s what my readers who return from Turkey always tell me.

Imagine the news that Turkish people are getting about our lives in the United States right now. The sudden and all-too-frequent mass attacks of violence in our schools, movie theaters, and churches surely must make them question whether it’s safe to travel to the U.S.   Would you tell them not to come?

Astonishing Business-Class Airfare Deal to Europe—But You Have to Act Fast

 

Every year I wait with bated breath for the day when business travel expert Joe Brancatelli announces that the airlines have started their secret business-class airfare sales to Europe. Today’s the day, folks—and this time the sales, which are usually for either the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays or for summertime, are actually for both! Joe has found outstanding business-class airfares to Europe for as low as $1,566 roundtrip from the East Coast and $1,616 roundtrip from the West.

If you don’t know who Joe is or why I think he’s the smartest guy in the room when it comes to getting the most for your business-travel dollar, you can read our interview with him here. You can also sign up for his Joe Sent Me newsletter as soon as you finish reading this; you’ll be glad you did.

But back to the sale: The low fares, which are on British Airways, are for travel between November 16, 2015 and August 2016, but you must book by the end of the day tomorrow, October 16. Fares available include:

  • Tampa to London for $1,566
  • New York to London for $1,605
  • San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, or Washington, D.C., to London for $1,611
  • Los Angeles to London for $1,616
  • Atlanta to London for $1,811

If you want to travel elsewhere in Europe via London, business-class fares start as low as $1,533 roundtrip.

But wait—it gets even cheaper: If you are an AARP member, says Joe, “you can drive your fare down below $1,200 roundtrip on some routes between late November and next August. (Yes, August, 2016.) And, yes, other carriers do seem to be matching. And, yes, there’s a great mileage bonus opportunity. And even a first-class sale.”

The key to many of these low fares is a Sunday-night stay, says Joe. Start reading about the sale at www.ba.com/2015, and then dig deeper with BA’s pricing tool here. The sale includes American Airlines, Iberia and OpenSkies, BA’s boutique carrier to Paris and Iberia. And, amazingly, Joe reports good availability.

So, if you’ve been toying with the idea of a trip to Europe, now is the moment to book. And if you were ever thinking, “I wish I knew about great business-class travel deals,” now is the time to become a member at Joe Sent Me. Yes, you’ll still get some great info if you opt only for his free weekly newsletter, but you’ll get the really good stuff—including breaking travel alerts and deals—if you purchase a membership. Starting at just $69 a year, you can see that it very quickly pays for itself.

Fireworks at Disney World, Orlando, Florida.

How Disney’s New Ticket Prices Will Impact Your Family Vacation

Disney made two announcements last week that will affect trips to Disney World and Disneyland. We checked in with Susan Kelly, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Disney trips, to learn more about how these changes could impact any family vacations you may be planning to the happiest place on earth.

The first news was that annual passholder rates have gone up and benefits have changed. “Now visitors have options between different levels of passes at different price points,” Susan explains. “The most expensive Platinum Pass includes parking, park hopping, a photo pass, and no blackout dates.” Conversely, the least expensive option has blackout dates and excludes the extra perks.

These passes are geared toward visitors who go to Disney a lot, Susan points out, so the change might not affect you at all if you’re planning a one-off family vacation.

The second announcement will have a greater impact if or when it is eventually implemented: surge pricing. When demand for tickets is highest (holidays, school breaks), tickets will be most expensive; when demand is lowest, tickets will be cheaper.

“The current park admission model has everyone paying the same flat rate to enter the parks,” Susan explains. “A four-day pass is the same price, no matter when those four-day visits occur. The new pricing being considered will have different prices for each day, based on what season and what day of the week you visit. A visit to Magic Kingdom on the Saturday of Christmas week will be more expensive than a visit on a Wednesday in early September. You will save by visiting on weekdays and designated off weeks.”

One reason cited by Disney for this potential change—apart from the obvious goal of making more money—is crowd control; the theory is that cheaper tickets offered at low-peak times will help spread out the high peaks and valleys of visitor numbers throughout the year. “Hopefully it will do something to alleviate the crowds,” Susan says. “The number-one question travelers ask us is: ‘When can I go when it is not busy?’”

And how can families still make a Disney vacation affordable? It’s all about planning: “You will save more the longer you visit,” explains Susan. “It’s the family visiting for only one or two days that pays the most per day. There is the opportunity to save up to 45 percent on park admission if you visit for more days. Knowing that, it’s smartest to plan for one big trip. It is better to visit once for eight nights than to do two shorter visits of four nights each.”

Susan also recommends taking advantage of any promotions that Disney runs. “Part of our free service is that we keep our ears to the track on discounts as they are released, and we work to apply them to existing reservations. If there are no discounts available at the resort the traveler booked, we give them the option to move to where there is a savings.”

Your best strategy? Reach out to Susan to book your Disney vacation for the smartest dates. (She knows when they are.) And keep in mind that if the only time your family can travel is during a peak week, and you hate crowds, Disney might not be the right place for your family at that time.

“I think that one hand of Disney is trying to find ways to manage the crowds by providing a financial incentive to visit during ‘off’ times,” Susan says, “but the other hand has over-built and over-promised that ‘magical’ experience. You can’t skip down Main Street with 25,000 people in your way!”

Remember also that Disney can be so expensive on some dates that it might actually be more affordable to take your family overseas! For ideas, check out our list of European Cities that Are Surprisingly Kid-Friendly and contributor Eric Stoen’s guide to a perfect family vacation in Paris.

 

infographic about best and worst tourist attractions for wi-fi security

Why You Should Think Twice Before Connecting to Wi-Fi When Traveling

This article originally ran on Smarter Travel

These days, traveling is almost impossible without a mobile Internet connection. Between Google Maps, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other booking and review-based apps and websites, you need your phone to get the most from your trip.

And with international data packages so expensive, you might think a cheap or free Wi-Fi connection is your best bet. But maybe not. Mobile threat defense company Skycure says you should disconnect when traveling in certain high-risk destinations. Here’s why.

Skycure studied the world’s top tourist destinations (based on data from Travel + Leisure) from June 2014 to June 2015 to determine the places most frequently targeted by malicious networks. Times Square in New York City topped the list with the highest threats, followed by Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and Disneyland Paris. The full list of tourist attractions with the highest risks is below.

Times Square, New York City, NY
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
Disneyland Paris, Marne-la-Vallee, France
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
Ocean Park, Hong Kong
Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, NV
Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood, CA
Union Station, Washington, D.C.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, MA
Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA
Navy Pier, Chicago, IL
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FL
Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA

Where is your network the most secure? Places with remote connections and restricted mobile phone use. The Taj Mahal in India, Universal Studios in Japan, the Great Wall of China, Sydney Opera House, and Great Smokey Mountains National Park round up the top five safest spots to connect to a Wi-Fi network.

Also from Smarter Travel: Best Apps to Prevent Travel Disasters

Android v. iPhones

In a separate study, Skycure found that Android devices were twice as likely to encounter a threat compared to iPhones. According to the study, iOS devices will connect to more Wi-Fi networks overall, but Android devices connect to more malicious networks.

How to Stay Safe

Follow these quick tips if traveling to high-risk destinations:

  • Avoid “Free Wi-Fi” networks (8 percent of the total reported threats came from a network with “Free” in its name).
  • Read warnings on your device before agreeing to Terms and Services.
  • Make sure your device is updated to the most current operating system.
  • Disconnect from a network if your phone has erratic behavior, i.e. frequent crashes or if you receive any warning messages.
  • Download a mobile security app.
    Click here to download the full infographic from Skycure. Click here to download Skycure in the app store.

Also from Smarter Travel: The 8 Best (and Worst) Travel Apps

 

girl in front of duomo florence italy

Florence Can Be Kid-Friendly: Just Follow These Tips

When I won Condé Nast Traveler’s Dream Trip contest three years ago, it was based on my essay about wanting to take my kids to Florence, a city I loved but that I didn’t think of as kid-friendly. Wendy and her WOW List expert Maria Landers crafted a great two-week trip for us—so great that Florence quickly became our family’s favorite destination, and we’ve now returned to the city every summer since the prize trip.

My advice to families heading to Florence for the first time? Embrace what Florence is known for—namely art, architecture, history and food. Here are my recommendations for how best to do that with kids:

Embrace the Art

visiting Pitti Palace with kids Florence Italy

Our guide Elvira (arranged through CIU Travel) showing our kids the art of the Pitti Palace. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

Art is everywhere in Florence—in the public squares, in the museums, and even on street signs. Our kids loved the Bargello, Academia, and Uffizi Museums with Elvira, our extraordinary guide arranged by Concierge of Umbria. At each museum we were able to skip the long lines and we had decidedly kid-friendly tours, focusing on lesser-known important pieces, as well as the major works. We never spent more than an hour in any museum, and every stop involved not only seeing the art but also interacting with it. Elvira arranged scavenger hunts and sketching sessions for us around town. After my kids saw David, they went out to patio of the Academia and drew photos of what they thought Goliath looked like. And our private tour through the Uffizi’s Vasari Corridor was extraordinary. Our kids still remember the corridor above their heads every time they cross the Ponte Vecchio.

We’ve also done private art sessions. Paul Bennett, another Trusted Travel Expert on Wendy’s WOW List,, set up a fresco making session with a Florentine artist. And through Arte al Sole the kids had a sketching class combined with a scavenger hunt through the Boboli Gardens. The best thing about the Arte al Sole class? We, the parents, weren’t involved at all. We dropped the kids off with their art expert Andi and picked them up three hours later at the entrance to the gardens. It’s the only time we’ve separated from the kids in Europe and they loved it!

Embrace the Architecture

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence Italy

The Palazzo Vecchio in Florence reflected in a puddle. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

My favorite way to get the kids to appreciate the architecture of Florence? Climbing to the top of the Duomo. Buy tickets in advance across the street, get there early and enjoy! And don’t fall for this “private tour” scam.

This year we also added in a scavenger-hunt-with-a-twist through the city using cards from Tava Adventures. The cards are for kids and show the major sites of the city, like the Uffizi, Santa Croce, and the Duomo, along with some games for the kids to play during downtime. But since our kids had been to Florence several times they already knew the information on the cards, so we tested the kids by letting them lead us to each site in the city based on the cards. That challenged their navigation skills and memory (and our patience a little!) but they got us to all of the sites successfully.

The last thing that we do is to make an annual visit to Piazzale Michelangelo above the city. It’s a great place to enjoy the sunset, but we let the kids point out to us all of the elements of the skyline so that they remember, for example, the difference between the churches of San Lorenzo, Santa Croce, and Santa Maria Novella. The Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, and Ponte Vecchio are all visible from there as well.

Embrace the History

Flag throwing with the Bandierai degli Uffizi, Florence Italy

Flag throwing with the Bandierai degli Uffizi. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

History is obviously intertwined with art and architecture, but there are some excellent museums that are more historical than artistic—like the Bardini, Galileo and Stibbert museums—that our kids really enjoyed. We also had a great visit to the Torrigiani Gardens with Elvira and Maria, which included a tour of the gardens (Europe’s largest private garden) by the owner of the property and a private demonstration by the Bandierai degli Uffizi, one of the most prestigious flag carrying/throwing groups. Such a cool afternoon, all rooted in Florence’s history.

Florence italy park

Take walks with one or more of the kids at sunrise; you’ll have the city to yourselves. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

My favorite thing to do in Florence, sometimes with one of the kids and sometimes by myself, is to walk around the city right at sunrise. There are a few locals out but very few tourists, and it’s amazing to have all of the sites virtually to myself. I love standing in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria, closing my eyes and thinking about the Medici, artists, and others who have walked through that exact spot. Florence isn’t particularly enjoyable in the middle of a summer day with hordes of tourists and day-trippers off of cruise ships, but early in the day, as the sun is rising and the city is coming to life, it’s magical.

Embrace the Food

trattoria entrance Florence Italy

Become a regular at a restaurant during your trip and you’ll soon be treated like family. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

We love the food in Florence. Every year we return to our favorite restaurants and also make a point of trying new places. Even when we don’t love a trattoria we rarely have a bad meal. My primary dining advice to people when traveling to Europe applies in Florence just like it does in Paris or anywhere else: become locals! If you find a place that you love, go back again and again. You’ll find the service is completely different when the staff recognizes you and appreciates that you’ve returned. We typically eat at our favorite casual place three times a summer. The staff remembers us even when we haven’t visited in 11½ months and greets us with handshakes and hugs. We sometimes get a local discount. And this year we were given a bottle of our favorite wine as we were leaving the final time. The restaurant is barely in the top 50 percent of Florentine restaurants on TripAdvisor, but to us it has some of the best food in the city and the service is great. Find your own favorite place and go back again and again! I promise it’s worth it.

pasta making class Florence Italy

A cooking class is a great way to introduce kids to local cuisine, and to continue the memories once you get home. Photo: Eric Stoen/Travel Babbo

Beyond restaurants, we’ve done many cooking classes in and around the city. We’ve learned how to make pizza, gelato and pasta. We’ve made chocolate, tiramisu and salads. We’ve cooked chicken, pork and zucchini flowers using only local ingredients. Every cooking experience has been excellent and our kids have loved every minute. Maria and CIU Travel set up several of the cooking classes for us. We’ve also found others through TripAdvisor—simply search for Florence, and then go to Things to Do and choose Classes and Workshops and then Cooking Classes in the menu on the left (here’s my full guide on how to use TripAdvisor to find great things to do). Our last class was extraordinary, through Let’s Cook with Jacopo and Anna, but there are a lot of highly-ranked classes.

Overall, we’ve found Florence to be extraordinarily kid-friendly, but it’s kid-friendly because we’ve gone out of our way to find family-friendly guides who make the art and history of Florence come alive, and we’ve made walking around and sightseeing highly interactive. Food is no longer something to order; it’s something to learn how to make, and then to build on that when we get home. Take your kids to Florence! But do it right.


 

Meet our writer

Eric Stoen, the founder of Travel Babbo, travels around the world constantly with his three kids. Wendy met him when he won Condé Nast Traveler’s Dream Trip Contest a few years ago and was so impressed with his travel savvy that she invited him to contribute to WendyPerrin.com.