Archive for General

Felix Is 5!

We have spent the last week or so celebrating my sweet little man. I just can’t believe that he is five years old.

On his actual birthday, we took him to Pizza Hut, at his request.

 

Then, on Friday night we celebrated with family and godparents with more pizza. As you can see, Felix chose Batman as his theme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, on Sunday, he invited a few of his friends to celebrate with laser tag, mini-golf, and cake.

Happy Birthday, Felix!

Things To Look Forward To

As we go through the week of spring break with endless days of rain and dreariness, I find that I need to remind myself of all the things coming up in the next few months that I can look forward to.

  1. The kids’ birthdays  – Felix will turn 5 next week and Anya will turn 8 right before we leave for Europe.
  2. Anya’s First Communion – How is she old enough for this?!
  3. Waverly – Eric and I get to investigate Waverly Hills with a group at the very end of May…we are super excited about that!
  4. Europe in June – I need to finish planning our trip but our international adventures are always a good time.
  5. Smashing Pumpkins Concert – We get to see the Smashing Pumpkins in July.
  6. Disney in September – So Disney is NOT the most magical place in the world for me, but I know I will enjoy watching the kids have a great time.

We are also hoping to get a camping weekend in sometime in May, but things are filling up fast, so we’ll see!

What are you looking forward to?

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use a Travel Agent

Yep. You read that right. The title of this post is “Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use a Travel Agent.” Being a travel agent, I believe that most people can benefit from using a travel agent when planning a trip. That being said, there are times when not using a travel agent is worth considering.

  1. If you don’t plan on actually booking with a travel agent, please don’t waste her time. As much as I love to book trips for people, I am almost always upset when I spend hours planning a trip for someone and that person books the exact same thing themselves. We aren’t paid to do research on a location only for that person to go out and book it themselves. I personally understand why someone would book a trip on their own if they are saving a significant amount of money, and that’s why I don’t usually mind to price check something for someone if it’s something I can do quickly, but if you are going to book on your own regardless, please don’t waste someone else’s time.
  2. If you are working with a travel agent already, it’s not a good idea to have another travel agent working on the same trip. This means that one of them is wasting their time. This kind of thing has happened to me before and it’s frustrating.
  3. If you’ve already booked your trip and want to know things like the cheapest way to get around the city or how to get the best deal on a tour. It’s ok to ask if an agent knows something about a certain city. I personally am always happy to help out if I know the answer to something, but I don’t feel like it’s my job to help someone figure out the cheapest way to get from one place to another when they haven’t let me book any part of their trip.
  4. If you are already on a trip that you have booked on your own and something goes wrong, there is probably not much a travel agent can do. It is not a travel agent’s job to dig someone out of a hole somewhere (figuratively speaking, of course) if the agent didn’t book your trip. If there is a hurricane, I’m going to be spending my time figuring out how to get my paying clients on a flight off the island and there won’t be much I can do for someone who needs help figuring out flights that they’ve booked on their own. At this point, you are better off calling whoever you booked your trip through.

So when is it a good idea to use a travel agent?

…When you legitimately want good value for your money. Travel agents are typically pretty great at finding the best deal for the money you are willing to spend on travel and sometimes it is cheaper than someone could find on her own. We have different places we can search for the best value and we often have a network of other agents with which to consult about options. If you want to be sure to find the best match for you, consider booking your next trip with a travel agent.

Summer Vacation Ideas That Are NOT the Beach

A lot of people like to go to the beach for summer vacation, but there are lots of options for people who aren’t into the beach and want to stay in the US. Here are some options that are not too far from us here in the midwest!

1. Savannah

Though there is a beach near Savannah, you could spend all your time in Savannah and not even miss the beach! Savannah has a lot of historic sites and you could spend hours just strolling through the historic district checking out gardens, mansions, and monuments from the Civil War era. Paula Deen’s restaurant is there and if you are into the supernatural, Savannah is said to be very haunted and has a lot of ghost walks and haunted tours for you to choose from. There are also some great pubs to check out in the evenings. Eric and I visited before we had kids and spent an entire week exploring the area…we loved it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. New York City

It’s not hard to find something to do in New York City. There are tons of sites to see, such as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Ground Zero, and Central Park. Or you can check out the different neighborhoods or take in a Broadway musical or a play. We haven’t personally been there yet but it’s on our list of places to see sooner rather than later!

3. New Orleans

I visited New Orleans over spring break one year in college. Like Savannah, it is known for its hauntings, but there are also many more options here. Take a cemetery tour, check out the French Quarter or the Garden District, or stroll down Bourbon Street in the evenings. And don’t forget a late night stop at Cafe du Monde for your beignets!

4. Gatlinburg

 

Gatlinburg can be a little cheesy on the strip, but try breakfast at one of the many pancake houses and check out the oddities at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Then, spend a few days hiking in the Smoky Mountains. You can even rent cabins nearby if you want something other than a typical hotel room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital is a great educational experience, especially if you have kids old enough to understand what they are seeing. Lots of things to do here are free, including the Smithsonian museums. I highly recommend the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but make sure you are emotionally prepared for it the day you go. I think it’s a must for everyone at least one in their lifetime, but it’s not for the faint of heart. If you want a break from D.C., you could spend a day in nearby Alexandria (Virginia) and check out the historic district for something a little different.

 

Where in the Caribbean?

People are currently planning their summer vacations, and a common question I get has to do with where to go if you want to go to an all-inclusive, but you’re on a budget.

First, I want to say that all-inclusive resorts are the way to go if you want to relax, lay around, and not do much of anything. They are the ultimate haven for people just needing to get away from life for awhile. That being said, they are not all created equal. You do get what you pay for, but there are moderately-priced resort brands worth checking out if your budget has a limit.

All-inclusive resorts are generally found in the Caribbean. Contrary to popular belief, there are no true all-inclusive resorts in the United States. You do have to leave the country to get to what you are imagining when you are thinking of all-inclusive resorts. Many islands offer these kinds of resorts, including the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Aruba, and Antigua. However, the main three that are the most cost-effective and easiest to get to are Jamaica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. (For the record, I do know that Mexico is not an island, but they do have some great all-inclusive resorts!)

So how do you know which one to visit? Here are some ideas to get you started…

 

Mexico

Parts of Mexico do not have the best options for beaches. Some tend to have a lot of seaweed and rocks that impede the view, but there are some stretches of beach that are really beautiful, so be sure you know what to expect if you go.

Mexico is probably the most cost-effective and there are resorts both near and far from the airport, so you have a lot of options.

As far as sightseeing, Mexico has a lot of adventure parks (think Xcaret), snorkeling opportunities (Cozumel is supposed to be wonderful!), and lots of options to see amazing ruins like Chichen Itza and Tulum.

 

 

Jamaica

Jamaica has a special place in my heart, as it is where we spent our honeymoon. We visited for our 5th anniversary and then again over our 11th anniversary. The main area for resorts are Montego Bay (which is where most people would fly into), Negril, Ocho Rios, and the South Coast if you are staying at Sandals South Coast. Negril, Ocho Rios, and South Coast are approximately 90 minutes from the airport.

Those sound like long transfers, but they are worth it! Negril is known for it’s beautiful beaches and Sandals South Coast has a long beach that is not in the middle of town, so only guests from the resort are hanging out there.

I was recently in Montego Bay. We stayed at Secrets St. James, and while the beach there was small, they utilized the beach area they did have and there were some really beautiful spots to relax.

Excursions include Bob Marley sites, hikes and trips into the mountains, and Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios. There is also the bio-luminescent bay near Montego Bay

 

Dominican Republic

Punta Cana has some beautiful beaches. Many water excursions are offered, such as snorkeling and swimming with dolphins. The food isn’t as great as resorts in other Caribbean countries, but there are some very affordable options in the Dominican Republic. We spent 7 glorious nights there a year and a half ago, and we were perfectly happy to just lay on the beach, drink in hand.

Another perk of Punta Cana is that there are several options near the airport, so you don’t have to wait long to start your vacation!

If you are still planning your summer vacation and would like some help, make sure to contact me!

 

4 Misconceptions About Travel

1. I want to book an all-inclusive resort in the United States.

For whatever reason, there are no true all-inclusive resorts in the United States. At least, not the kind most people think of. If you want an all-inclusive, you need to look in the Caribbean, like Jamaica, Mexico, Punta Cana, etc.

2. I don’t need travel insurance.

Travel insurance is certainly not a requirement, but you will wish you had purchased a policy if you end up getting sick out of the country or if you have to cancel because of an illness or death in the family and you lose all the money you spent on a trip because you can’t go.

3. Cruises are cheaper than resorts.

At first glance, cruises appear much cheaper than other vacation spots, but keep in mind that most of the prices you see do not include the port fees and taxes or the gratuities. Also, drink packages cost extra and are not cheap. In addition, if you want to do anything at the ports, the shore excursions cost extra. This is all before considering getting to the port as well, which will most likely include at least one hotel stay, if not more, if you live further away and choose to drive instead of fly. It’s not impossible to do a cruise inexpensively, but things can add up quickly!

4. I can get a better deal online.

You may be able to get a better price online, but you get what you pay for, and not all of them are legitimate. It is possible to get a good, legitimate deal online, but it does require some extra time and research to make sure you are getting what you are expecting. I have heard lots of stories about people who booked online, only to find that the hotel door didn’t lock or the room wasn’t clean. If a deal is too good to be true, then it probably is.

 

First Impressions: Tarifa

We have been to Europe 5 times and have traveled through numerous countries. In this series, I want to share our first impressions of the cities we have visited.

Tarifa

Tarifa is a small town on the southern tip of Spain. Most people probably haven’t heard of it, but it is a great place to stay if you want to visit Gibraltar and/or Tangier. There isn’t a lot to do there, compared to other Spanish cities, but it has a kind of “edge-of-the-world” feel to it, especially when you’re able to see the coast of Africa in the distance and the point at which the Atlantic and the Mediterranean meet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a lot of cool restaurants there and they have some things worth seeing, like St. Matthew’s Church, as well as a beach, though it is really windy there. Actually, it is supposed to be the windsurfing capital of the world! The views in Tarifa are also pretty amazing!

 

Our first impressions?

Worldly. Windy. Crossroads.

 

 

Our Summer Adventure

Our summer adventure has been decided! Last weekend, I came across a great deal on flights and I just couldn’t pass it up.

This summer, we will be visiting Amsterdam, Belgium, Paris, and London. We will arrive in Amsterdam early on a Thursday morning and will spend the next 3 nights there, leaving later in the day on the 4th night. We plan to take a train to Ghent (in Belgium) via Antwerp, where we will spend 3 nights. One day will be spent exploring Ghent, another day we will spend in Bruges, and on the 3rd day, we plan to spend the day in Brussels before moving on to Paris, via rail. We plan to spend 5 nights in Paris so that we can take a day trip, possibly to the Loire Valley. Then, we will leave early on a Monday morning and take the chunnel to London where we will spend 4 nights before flying home.

Trip planning is in full swing as we try to find a place to stay in all these cities. The kids are excited, and Anya is looking forward to seeing the Eiffel Tower.

 

International Travel Tips

A lot of people are booking trips for spring break or summer or maybe even both! If you are travelling outside the country this year, these are some things you should consider before leaving…

  • Make sure you have a valid passport with at least 6 months left on it. Many countries will not allow entry if your passport expires within 6 months of your visit.
  • Make copies or take a picture of your passport and all the credit cards you will be traveling with. If some or all of these documents are lost or stolen, you will be able to contact your credit card company, and you will still have your passport information. Take a copy with you and leave a copy here with a family member.
  • Call the credit card company and the bank before leaving so that they are aware you will be using your card out of the country. Some banks and credit card companies must unlock your cards before they can be used, and some may not allow you to use them at all. This is very important to avoid being locked out of your account. Also, be sure that you know your PIN numbers on your debit cards and know the maximum amount of money your bank allows you to take out per day.
  • Register your trip with the US State Department at https://travelregistration.state.gov/. This lets the State Department know where you will be and when. The State Department will also send you notifications if there is a travel warning in the area you are traveling. Also, check for any travel tips or warnings for the country you will be visiting.
  • Know where the US Embassy is located in the country you are traveling in in case something happens and you need to get there.
  • Bring a charger adapter, if necessary. Some countries require different chargers.
  • Be sure to purchase travel insurance, as your medical insurance likely does not cover you while out of the country. Bring copies of your travel insurance cards.
  • If you plan to drive while there, be sure to obtain an international driver’s license. This can be done at AAA.
  • Check with your cell phone carrier to see if you will have service in the country you are visiting and inquire about any international charges for use of your phone in that country.

Another thing I always encourage is to do a little research about where you will be travelling. Not everywhere you may visit is the same as your hometown. Lots of things could be different, such as food, pricing, language,and the overall culture of the people. It helps to learn a little of the language; most locals really appreciate the effort, even if you know very little. The best advice I can give is to expect things to be somewhat different and be open to something new.

 

Oh, January

How I hate this month. For years, I have felt horrible for almost the entire month of January. It took awhile before I realized the problem: there is just nothing going on in January. Nothing happening. Nothing to look forward to. Every other month of the year has something that I enjoy, but January? Nothing. After the hype of Christmas and all the chaotic holiday stuff, you’d think I’d enjoy a month of nothing, but I don’t. I always feel awful in January.

Four years ago, we started attending a wellness weekend in Brown County, Indiana. We stayed in a lodge, hiked in the woods, ate at restaurants we only got to eat at once a year, and took all kinds of wellness classes like yoga, Reiki, and a bunch of other stuff some people might label “new-agey.” But it gave me something to look forward to in the middle of the month and it left me feeling refreshed and ready to start the year. For three years, I have felt a lot better due to attending this event.

Well, we didn’t get to go this year because of snow and ice. I was so disappointed. And almost two weeks later, I’m remembering exactly why we go to this every year. I feel awful. In fact, I haven’t felt this awful in four years. Never mind all of the other things going on in my life that make things even more difficult. Like the fact that my cat has diabetes and I have to pay an exorbitant amount on insulin to keep him alive for longer. Or the fact that my Fitbit no longer syncs to my phone and the company refuses to stand by their product and either fix the problem or send me a new Alta. Or that somehow part of the ceiling in our dining area was leaking and my husband had to tear the dry wall out and is in the middle of replacing it, so a chunk of the ceiling is messed up right now. It just never ends.

The bottom line is that I know there are also a lot of good things going on, but right now they are clouded over by all the stressful stuff happening. I know I’ll get through it, but I’m glad we only have a few more days of January left!

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