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!
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!
….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…
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
I have been posting a lot about our trip, and I’m sure many of you are wondering how we kept the kids busy. Felix was difficult. he was just starting to walk/cruise when we left so it was really hard for him to be in the stroller and on buses and trains all the time. Anya was much easier, thankfully. I came up with some projects for her to work on, though she called them “missions.”
Finger puppets! I packed these and gave them to Anya a couple at a time.
She was able to practice writing on plane and train rides.
I created two different “photo hunts” where she had to take a certain number of pictures of certain things. These were awesome for outdoor tours. Sometimes she really got into them and kept pointing out when she would see what she was looking for.
Eric found this idea for how to make a sturdy folder to hold paper and markers out of a DVD case, so he made this before we left.
It holds paper and markers!
What have you used to keep your kids’ occupied while on vacation?
When we go on vacation, we like to get a few souvenirs, but what we don’t want is a bunch of new junk to find places for. I know everyone likes different things to remember their trips, but here are a few things we often look for when we travel:
I’ve mentioned this before, but we really love putting up our tree every year and seeing the ornaments from all the places we’ve been. Some places (especially in Europe) don’t always have ornaments, but we usually find something that we can make into an ornament, like a magnet or a key chain or something similar.
I know this might be a little strange, but I love buying earrings on vacation. I remember where I bought all of them and every time I get them out to pick a pair to wear, I think about where I bought them. I’m sure I can get similar looking earrings anywhere, but I like buying things like this in markets and from street vendors when we’re on vacation.
3. Shot Glasses
This is totally my husband’s thing, and we have what seems like a million of them sitting upstairs in a room. He likes to find these on vacation when he has a chance.
4. Dolls and other Toys
When we took Anya to Europe two years ago, we let her pick out a couple of dolls from street vendors and she still has them in her room. We also think it’s kind of neat for the kids to have toys from other countries. We were in Prague before we ever had kids and bought a little puppet just because it was cute and we thought any future children we had might enjoy it.
We bought this right outside the Musee de Orsay in Paris.
This is one of my favorite souvenirs. They are a little pricier than other souvenirs, but I love having paintings and watercolors to hang in the house. I don’t dislike what we currently have hanging on the walls, but my goal is to someday have only family pictures and pictures and paintings from our travels.
6. Music Boxes
Anya really enjoyed the music boxes we bought in Germany two years ago, so this is something we may start looking for. She still gets it down several times a week and plays with it.
Do I really need to say anything about this? It’s just too bad there is a limit to how much wine we can take home!
8. Home Decor
Sometimes we find little things to use as décor for the house. Another goal of mine is to have most of the décor be from our travels. It is happening slowly but surely!
Last week, I posted ideas for preparing small children for a big trip, but there are also things we tend to do to prepare ourselves as well. Besides all the physical and obvious preparations (accommodations, transportation, itineraries, etc.), there are lots of little things that help keep us excited about the trip (as if we really needed anything to sustain the excitement!).
1. Find books to read for the flights, trains, etc. I know that I am really weird about this, but I don’t like to read anything “scary” while I’m on vacation. Normally, I love a good vampire novel or a good historical fiction novel, but I don’t like to read anything too heavy while on vacation. I normally go for something that I can go back to and not have to remember a lot to jump back in. I never know when I will have a chance to read, especially when the kids are with us. A lot of times I end up with Chick Lit or “feel good” books. Anything with plane crashes or terrorist attacks are off the list!
2. Don’t watch any movies with scary plots. This means no plane crashes, terrorist attacks, or people being kidnapped or imprisoned abroad. (Basically, no Brokedown Palace or episodes of Locked Up Abroad.) I know this might seem silly but I really don’t want to watch movies about people catching a nasty virus on a plane or a plane being shot down right before I’m getting ready to get on one!
3. Peruse the forums and look at pictures. Nothing gets me more in the mood for a trip than reading others’ trip reports and questions/comments and seeing pictures of the places we are visiting.
4. Read books or watch movies that take place in or near the places you will be visiting. This is, of course, as long as the movie isn’t about how terrible and corrupt the city is!
5. Walk. A lot. We’ve been walking with the kids in the double stroller, as well as walking with Felix in the Ergo and Anya walking with us. She walked almost 2 miles the other day! It doesn’t seem like a big deal but I think people do a lot more walking in Europe than most people do here, at least where we live. We always try to make sure we are in decent shape when we go so that we are physically able to do the things we want to do.
6. Read about the sites you plan to see. I find that if I know more about the sites we plan to visit, it is much more exciting when we actually get there because I understand what it is I’m seeing.
7. Look up food to try while you are in Europe. Some cities have food they are known for, so we like to have a short list of things we definitely need to try. Langos in Budapest are a must, as are tapas in Spain!
8. Check the weather. As we get closer to our trip, I’ve been googling the weather in each of the cities to get an idea of how hot (or cold) it might be so we know how and what to pack.
This time around, there will be two little ones in the picture!
So I know a lot of these are probably overkill, but I get so excited when we get closer to the trip that I need something that helps me to contain the excitement!
What do you do to prepare yourself for a big trip?