Archive for Travel Planning

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!

 

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.

 

Something to Look Forward To

With all the crazy snow we’re having around here, I am so ready for some nicer weather! I’ve been trying to catch up/get ahead with my travel planning so I’ve been researching tons of places in the Caribbean, which makes me wish we were planning a spring break trip, too. I’ve also been working on a lot of European trips, so I ended up spending one late night with a cup of coffee and a map of Europe pulled up on my screen…which can be dangerous in our house!

So of course, I’ve come up with a possible itinerary that looks like this:

Amsterdam (4 nights)

Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges (3 nights staying in Brussels or Ghent)

Paris (4 nights)

London (4 nights)

We have not been to Amsterdam or Brussels and it has been over 10 years since we have visited London and Paris, but the kids have never been. Felix is oblivious and has been requesting to go back to Greece to check on all the cats we saw last year, but Anya seems pretty excited about going somewhere else in Europe, especially Paris.

This is still pretty iffy and it may not work out but we have been looking at possible accommodations in each of those cities and just brainstorming ideas for things we’d like to do. I’ve also been playing around with different dates and flight combinations trying to figure out the least expensive way to get there and back.

Here’s hoping it all works out…After the crazy 2 and a half weeks I’ve had, I need something fun to look forward to!

Greece 2017: Day 15

The worst day of vacation is always the day before you leave to go home. Of course, we always want to enjoy every second of our vacation, but it’s hard not to think about having to go home the next day.

 

We spent that last day walking around Athens. We did a little shopping at some local stands and got to see the Olympic stadium. We didn’t pay to go in but were able to get some shots of it from the outside.

 

 

I also had to take some pictures of the police vehicle outside Exarcheia in case of riots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent the afternoon walking around the National Archaeological Museum, which was the perfect way to spend the last day. The museum houses lots of artifacts from all over Greece, including some of the sites we visited while we were in Greece, so it was really neat to have seen all the sites first and then view some of the pieces that came from some of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, the kids were kind of over it, so we gave them old cameras and a phone so they could take pictures. At one point, Eric found a series of selfies with funny faces that Anya took of herself!

We were so sad to leave Greece, but we had so many great experiences and learned a lot about Greece and Greek culture. We still miss the food!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out the rest of our trip!

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)

Day 11 – Rhodes

Day 12 – Rhodes

Day 13 – Athens (Rhodes to Athens)

Day 14 – Athens (Aegina)

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…

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!

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!

 

A New Adventure

I have briefly written about doing a travel school program. Well, I finished over a month ago and signed a contract to be a home-based travel agent with an agency just a few weeks ago. This means I am able to start planning and booking trips, so please keep me in mind if you need some help booking a vacation. You don’t even have to live near me; I can book trips for anyone anywhere. Also, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even if you are only needing certain things for a trip, I still might be able to help you out. You can contact me through my Contact Page.

I have actually seen some really great deals come up for this summer, so if by chance you are still looking for a great deal on something for this summer, contact me as soon as possible and we can get something set up for you!

 

 

Costa Rica!

If you read my post about my New Year’s intentions, you would know that we are now planning a trip to Costa Rica in July. This was originally going to be for our 10-year anniversary, which will be in October 2016, but for various reasons, we decided we didn’t want to wait to go. So we’re going in July, and we will figure out something else to do for our 10-year anniversary. Anya keeps calling it “Pacarica” and asking why we are calling it “Costa Rica.” Silly girl.

This is a little different for us because we are used to planning big European trips, but as it turns out, it’s not that much different. We are using the same resources (mainly Tripadvisor), and have consulted with our travel agent, who has been there. Here are our thoughts so far:

1. We are planning to fly into San Jose and transfer to Monteverde, which is famous for its cloud forest. We have found a lodge that has an enclosed balcony where you have a view of the forest and can see monkeys and other animals hanging out in the trees. We are excited about having breakfast on that balcony with our Costa Rican coffee. But the best part might be that it is only $70 a night. We will spend 3 nights here and will explore two different cloud forests and take a night tour.

2. We will then transfer to La Fortuna/Arenal, which is about 3 and a half hours away. We are considering a transfer that is a combination of a van, boat ride, and horseback riding through the forests. We thought it would be neat to make the transfer more of a tour. We have read that the views are fantastic and it sounds like a great experience.

3. Once in Arenal, we will stay at the Nayara Hotel Spa and Gardens. This will be our one indulgence. It is a super nice resort and each room (even the standard rooms) are stand-alone casitas with balconies, some of which offer views of the Arenal volcano. Luckily, our travel agent is able to get us a much cheaper deal on flights and our stay at this resort and we will save almost $200 by letting her book this for us. (By the way, people tend to think that booking trips or parts of trips through travel agents are more expensive. While that may be true in some instances, we have had several instances where the prices have been the same or even better, so it pays to look into it!) We plan to hike around the volcano area and see La Fortuna waterfall. We also want to visit one of the hot springs while we’re there, as well as take a day trip to Caño Negro. It is a little north of Arenal, closer to the Nicaraguan border. It is somewhat remote, especially in that there are no trails. You visit by boat. Supposedly, you have great chances of seeing wildlife while there as well.

4. After 3 nights in Arenal, we will transfer to Playa Hermosa on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. It was a huge debate about which side to visit, and we finally settled on the Pacific side, partly because it is closer to the other airport in Liberia, making our drive to get to the airport much easier, shorter, and cheaper. The pictures of the sunsets and the views we have seen are absolutely gorgeous. We have lots of options here, including a day trip to Nicaragua, a day trip to a park that features waterfalls and mud baths (Ok, I normally wouldn’t be into the mud bath, but where else would I do this?!), snorkeling in nearby Playa Ocotal, a sunset cruise in Playa Coco (only a 10-minute taxi ride from Playa Hermosa), and we hope to spend at least part of a day just relaxing on the beach. We have also found that there are several massage therapists who offer massages on the beach at a really inexpensive price, so we may be taking advantage of that as well. After doing some research, we found the perfect hotel. It offers free breakfast and amazing window views of the ocean from some of the rooms. It is up on the hill, which means it is a 5-minute walk to the beach, but we have read that it is worth it. Eric also read that the attached restaurant has happy hour each day and that drinks and certain food items are half-price at this time. Another great thing about it is that it is only around $100 a night!

Our travel agent will be booking our flights, the hotel in La Fortuna/Arenal, and our private transfers. We looked into public transportation but decided to go with private transportation so that we could leave whenever we wanted, and it will make for a quicker trip, which means we will spend less time in transit and more time enjoying our trip. We plan to book most, if not all, our tours, and the other two hotels.

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This was taken at the airport when we were heading to Jamaica on our 5-year anniversary. We are excited to get to do another trip on our own!

 

 

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