Archive for Travel

Greece 2017: Day 11 (Rhodes)

We purposely planned a day to spend at the beach in Rhodes. We figured the kids would appreciate getting to play, and we wouldn’t mind a day to take it easy at this point in our trip.

We had found this amazing bakery in town, so we grabbed breakfast there and then raced to the bus stop to take the bus to Fahlraki, a local beach town. There were several options for beaches near Rhodes, but based on recommendations given to us on Tripadvisor, we opted for this beach, as it seemed family-oriented and had food options for lunch.

I spent most of the day reading on the beach and the kids alternated between playing in the water and digging in the sand. Toward the end of the day, Felix bent over and threw sand up his back for five whole minutes. Silly boy.

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At lunch, we opted to grab some food from the restaurant we had rented beach chairs from. We were disappointed in how much we paid and the portion sizes, but you live and learn!

After we finished up at the beach, we walked back to the bus stop and took the bus back to Rhodes town. After cleaning up, we had gyros for dinner and hung out around town.

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Even though we didn’t do much that day, it was nice to have some time to enjoy the beach. When taking long trips like this, we definitely recommend building a day like this into your itinerary!

 

 

See what else we did in Greece:

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

Day 6 – Nafplio

Day 7 – Nafplio

Day 8 – Nafplio to Rhodes

Day 9 – Rhodes

Day 10 – Rhodes (Lindos)

If Ever There Was a Reason…

….to use a travel agent and purchase travel insurance, it is now. Now that Hurricane Irma has dissipated, we can sit back and assess the situation and what could have been.

Can you imagine being on an island in the Caribbean, knowing that a hurricane is headed your way in less than a week? Your flight is cancelled and you have limited internet and phone access. This could be a terrifying situation, but if you booked through a travel agent, you may have someone who might be able to help you. It may not always be the case that an agent can get someone out of a sticky situation such as this one, but wouldn’t you want to have someone who would be around to at least try to get you off the island?

I was fortunate that I didn’t have anyone in a situation like this when Hurricane Irma began her voyage through the Caribbean, but I did spend several hours on hold with Disney to reschedule an upcoming trip that was affected by her arrival. While this isn’t quite as big of a deal as being stuck in the hurricane itself, it was nice for my client to have someone else to deal with waiting on the phone all morning instead of having to do it herself.

When it comes to travel insurance, some people like to gawk at the price and choose the least expensive option, if purchasing any at all. Yes, most of the time you probably won’t have to file a claim, but it happens. In fact, it probably happened for a lot of people this week. Imagine the same scenario I described above in which you are stuck on a Caribbean island staring a hurricane directly in the eye. Even if your airline hasn’t cancelled your flight, you may want to leave on an earlier one to be sure you are off the island when it hits. This means you might have to be ok with forfieting what you already paid for the flight you no longer want to take AND pay for a last-minute flight that leaves earlier. Depending on how much your policy pays out for claims, you may end up spending all your claim money (maybe even more!) just to get home, so it might be worth it to make sure your policy pays out more than 100% of your trip cost for trip interruption benefits.

No, travel insurance doesn’t cover everything, but it covers some of the things you might encounter, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to have some sort of medical insurance when you leave the country; you may not have as much coverage (or any coverage at all) as you think through your primary medical insurance plan outside the United States. Also, all travel insurance policies are different, so be sure to read the fine print and ask any questions necessary.

What I have taken from the situations of the past week has been how important it is to have some sort of coverage to fall back on, as well as how important it could be to have someone standing in your corner when this kind of thing goes down. Just something to consider for your next trip…

Greece 2017: Day 6

Our first full day in Nafplio began with a fabulous breakfast at our pension. We filled up on ham and cheese toasts, boiled eggs, bread and jam, Greek yogurt with fresh honey and figs, and of course, coffee. I miss this breakfast just talking about it!

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Then, we decided to walk the 999 steps up to Palamidi Castle. We told the kids we would give them a penny for every step they walked up to the castle without complaining. They both made it, but unfortunately, Anya lost about half her euros on the way down due to whining. It was a long way up and it was hot, but we took breaks and it was worth it once we got to the top. There were some amazing views and we explored what was left of the old Venetian castle, including an old prison cell and some different lookout points. We had to be careful, though, because the drop-off points weren’t always clearly marked so we didn’t let the kids get too far away.

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Upon coming down from the top, we decided to head to one of the local beaches. Eric went back to the room to get our swimming suits while I waited with the kids. We walked just a few minutes and got to the beach. It was a pebbly beach but with some really amazing views of the surrounding mountains. It wasn’t a very big beach, there were a lot of younger people ,and it gave off a bit of a party vibe, but I’m glad we went anyway, if even just for the views. The kids got in the water for a bit and then we changed clothes and went on our way.

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We took one of the paths to get to the main port area and this offered more gorgeous views on the way.

 

 

 

Once we got to the marina area, we started a self-guided tour I found in my Rick Steves guidebook. It took us all around the little town and pointed out some important spots, including a gelato shop run by local Italians. Toward the end of the tour, we took a detour to the playground so the kids could play. Anya fell on her face and her mouth was bleeding, so Eric had to run somewhere quickly to get ice. It’s always something!

We went back to the room to rest and then headed out for another Greek dinner. It was worth it to spend the day hanging around Nafplio and soaking in the Greek culture. There didn’t seem to be as many Americans here, as this is a popular spot for Greeks to get away for the weekend.

See what else we were up to in Greece!

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

 

Greek Food

I’m taking a break from recounting our days to talk about all the amazing food we had on our trip. This is the first time we’ve been to Europe and stayed in one country the entire time, so we had a chance to sample lots of different things. Here are a few of them…

1. Greek Yogurt

I have never been a huge yogurt fan, but I am a believer now. The Greek yogurt in Greece is amazingly creamy. When we were in Nafplio, we had it every morning for breakfast, sometimes with dates and other times with honey. I especially liked it with honey, because the honey there is phenomenal. We had some Greek yogurt at the airport that was so creamy, it could have been frozen yogurt.

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2. Gyros

This was probably my favorite thing in Greece. The gyros came with chicken or pork – your choice, and there was usually cucumber, tomatoes, and either potatoes or french fries stuffed in the top, all topped with just a little tatziki. We’ve made gyros here a few times, but it’s just not the same when the meat isn’t coming off a rotisserie. Sometimes, though, I think we actually got chicken souvlaki sandwiches when we ordered gyros, which were also good, but with grilled chicken instead of the meat from the rotisserie. You could also order a gyro plate that came with the meat, pita bread, and potatoes all separated out, but I preferred it as a sandwich.

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3. Chicken Souvlaki 

You could get chicken souvlaki in a sandwich (wrapped in pita, almost like a gyro), or you could get a chicken souvlaki plate that almost always came with potatoes or french fries. This worked out well because our kids are picky but they would eat grilled chicken.

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4. Moussaka and Pastitsio

These dishes are like the Greek versions of pasta. Pastitsio is ground beef, pasta, and bechamel sauce, while moussaka is very similar but includes eggplant and/or potato with bechamel sauce.

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5. Saganaki and other cheese dishes

Saganaki, pictured on the right, is basically a fried cheese, though this one also includes nuts and honey drizzled on the top. The picture on the left was a roasted feta dish with onions and peppers on it. It was one of the best things we had in Greece.

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6. Greek salad

One thing we noticed about the difference between Greek salads in the US and Greek salads in Greece is that the real thing doesn’t typically have lettuce. It is literally sliced cucumbers, hunks of tomatoes, and chunks of onion, preferably red onion. Of course, this combination is drizzled with olive oil and often topped with a big hunk of feta cheese and sprinkled with black olives. So delicious!

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7. Octopus

So we only had this once but I thought it was interesting enough to mention. This is grilled octopus and it was actually pretty good. Even Anya tried it and she approved!

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8. Pita

Pita is the Greek’s choice of bread, which is fine by me. It comes plain, with garlic, sprinkled with olive oil, sprinkled with cheese, etc. Also, if you order a sandwich, you will more than likely get it wrapped in pita.

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9. Honey 

I don’t know what makes Greek honey so good, but it is absolutely amazing. I put honey in my Greek yogurt whenever we had it, and a lot of times it was included in the desserts. Apparently, it is typical to get free dessert at Greek restaurants (I think we paid for dessert maybe once when we ate at a restaurant). Sometimes dessert would be something like sliced apples drizzled with honey. Who would have thought something so simple would have tasted so good!

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10. Stuffed vegetables

I don’t know if this is really a “thing” in Greece, but there were lots of stuffed peppers and stuffed tomatoes on the menus in Greece. I had this dish several times, mostly when I needed a break from gyros.

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11. Baklava

I actually loved the baklava, even though it’s so not something I thought I would really like. Again, honey is involved in this along with yummy phyllo dough. Anya even decided to have that as her cake on her birthday.

 

Oh, how I miss the food in Greece!

 

 

 

 

Things to Consider When Leaving the Country

When we travel overseas, as we’re getting ready to do, there are a few things we always try to do.

  • 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 all the credit cards and your passport 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 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. 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.
  • Know where the US Embassy is located in the country in which you are traveling 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.

Traveling outside the United States can be exciting and a great experience; it may just take a little extra planning, but it is totally worth it!

California 2016: Day 12

On Wednesday, we did a whale watching tour. I had never been whale watching so I was excited, because I thought our chances of seeing a whale were good. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales, much to our dismay. However, the tour was pretty exciting because we saw lots of other things, including a group of sea otters playing in the water and lots and lots of dolphins. In fact, one group of dolphins was really large and they were all swimming alongside us in the boat. But the highlight of our trip was the great white shark we saw that wasn’t all that far from the beach. It was apparently sleeping at the time so we got a really good look at it. We also learned that the people on the beach weren’t in much danger…according to the expert on the boat, at least. That being said, I’m not sure I would have been swimming in the water near the beach if I knew what was there not too far away from me! So while we were disappointed about not seeing a whale, I figured there will be other whale watching tours in my future, but the chances of seeing a great white shark in real life while on a boat was pretty slim.


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On a side note, a few weeks after we got back, Eric looked up sharks in Santa Cruz just to see if they had seen the shark again and we found out there was a helicopter shooting footage of it from the air, and when we looked a little closer, we noticed that it was filming the day we were on the boat and you could see us on the boat!

See what else we were up to in California…

San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

San Francisco: Day 3

San Francisco: Day 4

San Francisco: Day 5

San Francisco: Day 6

San Francisco: Day 7

Napa Valley: Day 8

Yosemite: Day 9

Santa Cruz: Day 11

 

 

Why We Travel with Our Kids

Me and Felix enjoying flamenco in Spain in 2014

As I’ve mentioned before, we are planning a trip to Greece this summer, and we are taking our kids. Some people are shocked to hear that they are coming along because they are so small. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t always take our kids everywhere. We have taken a few trips to places like Jamaica, Mexico, and Costa Rica and have left them here, so Eric and I could spend time together on our own. However, they have gone to Europe with us every time we have gone since they have been born. This trip to Greece will be Anya’s 3rd trip to Europe and Felix’s 2nd trip. We are really lucky in that neither of our children have serious medical issues or anything that would keep us from being able to take them out of the country, and we are very grateful that we have been able to set aside money in order to take them places like this. It would probably be easier not to take them to Europe, but our motto has always been that they can throw a fit here at home or they can throw a fit wherever we happen to be.

My hope is that our travels will help our children to learn about other cultures and how people live in other places. The world is bigger than the street we live on. It is bigger than the city we live in. And it is definitely bigger than the state, and even the country, we live in. There is nothing wrong with choosing to stay in your own country for vacations, and I can completely respect that. It can get very expensive to travel out of the country (especially in some locations), and it can be a real pain to have to figure out car seat situations and how to keep kids busy in museums. But it is when you leave your own country and fly to a different one that you really see that the world is about more than just you. It really puts things into perspective in that your life is a small part of a much, much bigger picture. When you get off a plane in a different country where the language, culture, and food are all different, it makes you realize that there is so much more to the world than the box we live in. It makes you appreciate the freedoms we do have here in America, but it also shows you that, at the end of the day, we are all just people trying to live in this world.

Yes, there are some not-so-nice people in the world, and these people have done some really horrible things to innocent people. I would be lying if I said that some of the things I see on the news don’t make me nervous to travel. But I also know that these sorts of things also happen here in America, and there have even been some crazy things happening in my own city. I remind myself periodically that I am not really any less safe in another country than I am in my own, assuming I am smart about my decisions about when and where to go.

So yes, there are bad people, but most people living in other countries don’t fall into that category. The only thing we really know about people from other countries is that there are some not-so-nice people, what the government officials in that country stand for, and what the media would like us to know about particular place, which is not even usually the full truth. But those groups of people are not the majority of the people living in those places. The majority of the people in these countries are just like us. I really enjoy being on the metro and/or the buses in other countries and watching how people living there do everyday things, like get to work and go grocery shopping. At the end of the day, we are all just trying to work, provide for our families, give our kids a good education, and take our kids to the park every once in awhile. Yes, we might go about these things in a different way, but ultimately, we all want pretty much the same things. Yes, there are some unfriendly people in other countries just like there are unfriendly people here in the US, but for the most part, we have always been met with smiles and a genuine willingness to help when we look like we could use directions or any kind of help. In fact, most people are pretty proud of their country and they want nothing more than to tell you all about it.

I hope that our travels will help to raise two intelligent, accepting, and open-minded American children. White children. Children some would call privileged. I want them to know that we do not all look or speak the same, but that we are all people, and we are all worthy of respect, no matter how we look or what language we speak. I want them to feel comfortable in unfamiliar places and be able to navigate their way around any city even if the street names are in another language. I want them to learn as much as they can about the world and the people in the world, and traveling is the best way to do just that.

This is not to say that kids can’t be taught these very same things without traveling, because that is certainly possible, but as long as we can save enough money to afford to travel with our children, we plan to keep doing just that.

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California: Day 11 – Santa Cruz

The next day, we checked out of the lodge at Yosemite and headed for our last stop before heading back home: Santa Cruz. We had rented a cute little house in neat little neighborhood that wasn’t too far from the beach.  The property manager talked with me on the phone on the way there and gave me some recommendations on things to do with the kids and where to eat. She also brought over some Meyer lemons from her lemon tree!

Even though Santa Cruz isn’t that much further south than San Francisco, it was surprisingly much warmer, which I really loved. I liked San Francisco, but I have since decided that I couldn’t live there because it was way too windy and cold in June.

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The kids and I hanging out at the house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After settling into our new place, we went out to explore. We drove a short distance to Capitola and ate at a little beach bar type place that had a pretty view of the water. We got there in time for happy hour and those things were strong!!

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At dinner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After dinner, we walked down along the water before it got too cold.

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Need Help Planning a Trip?

They say that January through March/April is the busy season for travel agents because the holidays have finally passed and everyone is looking forward to spring break and summer plans. Now is the time do think about what you want to do this spring/summer!

I actually (mistakenly) always thought that it was more expensive to book trips through a travel agent, but the truth is, you just might find a better deal. It’s true that for some of the trips we have planned in the past, we have been looking for a specific type of hotel and we couldn’t get what we wanted through an agent, but in a lot of situations, we actually got a better deal, so it is always a good idea to have them price something out for you. If it’s better, then it’s better, and if it’s the same price, then you’re getting out of having to do all the work and letting her/him do it for you. There is just no reason not to have your agent check pricing for you.

Here’s why.

We really want to go to Greece this summer. We’ve been thinking about it for years and I think we are really going to do it this year, but we were really discouraged by the fact that flights are almost $1500 apiece. That’s almost $6000 in just flights for the four of us and nothing else. When I looked in one of my supplier’s databases, I was able to find flights for the four of us and 3 nights in a hotel room in Athens for right around $3600. Yes, you read that right. $3600. Over $2300 cheaper than doing it outright and by just purchasing flights, we still wouldn’t have any hotels included in it. For $3600, we could get flights for all of us and 3 nights in Athens at a hotel. And this is before my agent discount. This is a deal I could get anyone. Is it the hotel we would have chosen on our own? No. It’s not. But that $2300 savings is the difference between us being able to actually go, even if we have to stay in a hotel that we wouldn’t normally have chosen, and not being able to afford to go at all. I will also add that there is nothing wrong with the hotel we would stay at. We just typically prefer smaller bed and breakfasts or apartments, and this hotel is a chain. But like I said, it is going to be totally worth it to spend 3 nights there if it gets us that kind of savings.

So, please always check with your travel agent to get pricing. You never know what you will find.

Other reasons to use a travel agent, besides the fact that they might get you a better deal:

1. They have access to all kinds of suppliers that are offering different deals that you would know nothing about. Sometimes suppliers offer deals that only agents have access to.

 

2. They can make sure you are booking a service with a reputable company. There are a lot of scams out there.

3. More than likely, they have a network of other agents to ask specific questions to if they don’t have the answers.

4. If something goes wrong with your trip, she/he might be able to help get things sorted out. The very first trip I booked had a glitch. I got a call early one morning from my client who was in London and had missed their flight to Vienna, which meant they were going to miss their train to Salzburg. I was able to call the supplier to have the hotel notified that they would be arriving late and I was able to get the name of the train station my client needed to go to and the times for train options that evening. I was also able to start their insurance claim.

6. Speaking of insurance, travel agents can get you a great plan…and on any big trip that has non-refundable parts to it (like flights) really should be insured in case you need to cancel for a covered reason. And anytime you leave the country (if you live in the US), you really need insurance because it’s very likely that your primary insurance does not cover you medically when you leave the country.

All this being said, please contact me if you need me to check any prices on anything. It is worth a try, and it costs you nothing to have me check something for you. You can contact me through email at RachelM@MyAmbassadorTravel.com. I will also be adding a travel contact page on my blog that will make it easier, but that is the way to contact me for now!

 

California: San Francisco, Day 7

On Friday, we decided to venture to Muir Woods, which is a little ways across the bridge. However, we had to pick up a rental car to be able to get there, and we were planning to leave the city the following day. It was a good thing we opted to get the car this morning instead of the day we had planned to leave, because it took forever. I’m not sure why, but I wish I had known it was going to take that long, even with a reservation.

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Once we finally got our car, we headed to Muir Woods. We had heard that parking was a nightmare and that is totally the truth. We drove around for awhile until we finally found a spot. We got to hike around the woods and see some pretty amazing trees and it was nice and peaceful for most of that walk.

 

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Next, we opted to stop at Muir Beach. It was definitely too cold to get in the water, but the views were gorgeous. Eric made a cairn and I got some really cute pictures of Felix making his own cairn and Anya joined in to help him with it, too.

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We did some grocery shopping at an organic store that would make all the crunchies here go crazy and then headed back across the bridge. We parked at the hotel and then headed back down to Fisherman’s Wharf. We shopped for a bit andthen had a late dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack. It was a nice way to end our time in San Francisco, but we still had another week of fun ahead of us.

See what else we did while in California:

San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

San Francisco: Day 3

San Francisco: Day 4

San Francisco: Day 5

San Francisco: Day 6

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