Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mount Rushmore

I wanted so badly to get some great photos of Mount Rushmore during our visit.  The sky was clear and brilliant blue, the wind was calm, and I was ready to shoot.  As I began snapping away, I noticed some small specks atop Theodore Roosevelt's head.



Hmm, what's going on up there?  Let's zoom in and see:










Despite asking around, we were never able to determine what was really happening up there. I didn't get the clear shots I desired that day, but now it's fun to see the scale of the monument in relation to the tiny people on top of it.

Do you have any ideas about what these folks were doing on top of Mount Rushmore?  Please share in the comments! 

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler's Sandbox.  Please visit them for a wonderful glimpse into others' travels!  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Crazy Cabin Week (aka How to Enjoy a Week with Family)

Photo credit: Thomas Huston via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 License

What do you get when you pack four adults and five kids into a 3 bedroom 1 bath cabin for a week?   Lots of crazy fun, as I recently found out!

A few weeks ago, my husband, daughter, and I joined my mom, my sister, and her four kids for our annual "cabin week" in the mountains of central Utah (side note: huge kudos to my husband for being the only adult male to come along).  Although there are a lot of us staying in fairly close quarters, we manage to have a blast every year.  Here are a few tips that we use to make things run smoothly:

1.  Go with a spirit of flexibility and cooperation

This one seems like a no-brainer, but I had to remind myself a few times throughout the week that it was not the end of the world if our eating and sleeping schedules were different for a week!  Everyone gave a little in terms of when and how to do things, and it all worked out so much better than if we had rigidly stuck to our normal routines.  And it was so nice to have everyone cooperating on meals, cleanup, and keeping an eye out for the kids.

2.  Use white noise

With little ones that still need naps and a good night's sleep, we found white noise to be essential for masking many of the noises that are inevitable when staying with so many people.  I went low-tech and took along a small desktop fan for our room, while my sister used a white noise app on her iPhone.  Both worked amazingly well and we all went home well-rested at the end of the week.

3. Find a place for everything and stick to it

I can't believe how much STUFF we packed to use at the cabin (somehow I never learn my lesson and pack less, but having a child is a good excuse, isn't it?)  Space was at a premium, so at the beginning of the week we each claimed certain shelves and drawers, and everyone made sure to keep things corralled in their spaces throughout the week.  It's times like these that I love having neatniks in my family :-) 

4.  Have fun sharing some meals

We decided that each family would take their own breakfast and lunch supplies and that we'd do dinners together as a group, with each family being responsible for 2 dinners during the week (we went out for pizza on the 7th night).  The dinners that were the biggest hits were ones where everyone could customize the food to their liking-- a waffle bar with toppings like whipped cream, spiced apples, sliced peaches, butter, syrup, and cinnamon-sugar to choose from, hamburgers/veggie burgers with various fixins,  Hawaiian Haystacks, or Navajo Tacos, for example.

5.  Take lots of activities

My mom is awesome in general, and she is particularly awesome at keeping everyone engaged and entertained.  Since we were at the cabin during the Olympics, she came prepared with sports equipment and activities for each day--badmitton, slingshots, baseball, kickball, tennis--and had a very cute "medals ceremony" with real medals for the kids at the end of the week.  Not only that, she also packed a beautiful wood photography craft for my sister and I to complete and take home with us.  We had all taken lots of books, art supplies, and board/card games, and although they didn't get used much due to the kids' obsession with the swimming pool and the Olypics on TV, it was nice to know that we had plenty to do if needed!

What strategies do you use when traveling or staying with lots of people?

This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Walkingon Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups.  Please visit them to see many great tips for travelers!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Snorkeling in Kauai

Photo credit: Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons,  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

One of the things I was most looking forward to in Kauai was the snorkeling.  I had even purchased my own snorkel gear and somehow managed to stuff it into my only piece of luggage, a small carry-on bag.  We were staying on Poipu Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Kauai, and despite being quite pregnant I couldn't wait to get out in the water.

Unfortunately, on the day we arrived there had been an evacuation due to a tsunami warning caused by an earthquake in Chile so I wasn't getting in the water that day, lovely as it looked.



Day two onward, we had uncharacteristic wind and rain, but I wasn't to be deterred.  I strapped on my gear:



And headed out into this:


I was happily snorkeling away despite the decreased visibility and had ventured quite far from the shore.  Suddenly I was grabbed under the arms and pulled above the surface by a man I had never met.  As I struggled to get free, I exclaimed, "What are you doing!?"  He replied, "Your friends asked me to come save you since you don't know how to swim very well."  Huh?

I may be bad at a lot of things, but swimming isn't one of them.  After a very strange conversation, we discovered that I was not, in fact, the person he was looking for. He swam off and I had a good laugh as I headed back in to shore, exhausted from battling the waves.  A happy side note:  The person the man had been looking for had made it safely back to shore on her own.

I didn't get the awesome Hawaiian snorkeling experience I had been imagining, but I did get a funny story out of it.

Now it's time for you to make me jealous.  Please share your best snorkeling experience so I can live vicariously through you!

This post is linked to Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler's Sandbox.  Please visit to see more delicious travel photos and stories!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Visiting New York City Without A Car



I had the pleasure of visiting New York City with my sister and husband one summer for a whirlwind three days before attending a wedding in the Hudson River Valley.  What an incredible city!

One of our goals for the trip was to do all of our sightseeing without using cars, including cabs.  This might not seem like such a novel idea to NYC locals, many of whom don't own a vehicle, but for a Utah girl who depends on her car almost every day, it was pretty radical.  Combine this with a crazy heat/humidity combo and the fact that my sister was 6 months pregnant at the time, and we certainly had an adventure on our hands.

Here’s how we accomplished our “no car” goal:

1. After flying into JFK, we took an express bus from the airport to Grand Central.  It was relatively easy and quick, and very affordable.

2. From Grand Central, we walked, yes walked, to our hotel near Radio City Music Hall.  This one was a killer, given the aforementioned heat/humidity and pregnancy.  However, it was worth it for sightseeing value alone, and it wasn’t all that bad since we only had carry on luggage (with wheels, thank goodness).

3.  We braved the subway.  After all the scary things we’d heard about the subway over the years, this one turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  Very helpful employees, lovely air conditioning, easy-to-read maps, and took us pretty much everywhere we wanted to go that wasn't within walking distance.

4. We hoofed it.  Walking everywhere allowed us to see so many great parts of the city, many of which we wouldn't have seen had we taken a cab.  One day on our way to Central Park, we were suddenly surrounded by a large crowd.  Music started playing and a bunch of guys broke out break dancing.  We grabbed an ice cream from a nearby vendor and enjoyed the impromptu show. It was also rewarding to discover a couple of great delis/coffee shops after walking past them on the street.

5. We took the Staten Island Ferry, a great (free!) ride that gave us a fantastic view of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.  

6. When it was time to leave the city and travel to the wedding near Fishkill, we walked back to Grand Central and took the Hudson Line train on the Metro-North Railroad.  What a beautiful ride, right along the Hudson River!  I would highly recommend taking this detour from the city if you have time.

7. Two days later and very sad to leave, we took the train back to Grand Central, then enjoyed a quick cup of coffee there before boarding an express bus back to JFK.

I was surprised that I didn't miss having a vehicle at all, and actually felt that our trip was much more enjoyable without one.  What cities have you seen without a car?

Please visit Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels for more wonderful travel-related tips!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Road Trip and a Few of My Favorites in Moab, Utah



Every spring we take a motorcycle trip with some friends to Moab in southern Utah.  Today, I thought I'd share some of my favorite Moab lodging, dining, and activity picks with you.

Lodging:
We usually stay in a townhouse at the lovely Moab Springs Ranch.  The warm, modern three bedroom/three bath condo (with 2 car garage) provides more than enough space for us and two other couples to stay comfortably.  There is a fantastic, fenced, park area with huge trees and hammocks, a heated pool and hot tub, a pond, and a shallow wading "river" that is perfect for cooling off on a hot day.  We like to prepare at least one or two meals at the condo, and usually end up grilling something delicious and eating on the deck as the sun goes down.

I am also quite fond of the Red Cliffs Lodge just outside of Moab, which is especially great for those who prefer a hotel setting.  Rooms and cabins are spacious and have gorgeous views of the Colorado River and Moab's signature red rock cliffs. The Lodge offers a number of activities, a restaurant, and onsite Castle Creek Winery.


Dining: 
I was sad to hear that one of my favorite Moab restaurants, Desert Bistro, has recently moved away from their location at the Moab Springs Ranch.  It was so nice to be able to walk down to the restaurant from our condo; an alfresco dinner under strands of twinkling lights was a most pleasant way to enjoy an evening.  The food is delicious and service is top notch (especially with Tatiana as your server).  This one's definitely a splurge!  It looks like their new location will be opening soon on Main Street.

Moab Coffee Roasters inside the Lost River Clothing Company building on Main Street has the most delicious homemade chai I've ever tasted. Everything at this little coffee shop appeals to me--the unique and very knowledgeable owner/barista, the hand drawn coffee bags, the fresh coffee beans roasted in-house, the creamy gelato, and of course, the chai.

Other dining favorites include Miguel's Baja Grill for Mexican, Moab Diner for breakfast, and Moab Brewery for a decent beer and pub fare.


Activities:
The real draw of Moab is its incredible variety of outdoor activities.  With two national parks--Arches and Canyonlands, camping, hiking, world-class climbing, rafting on the Colorado River, mountain biking on the Slickrock trail, off-roading, and more, there is really something for people of all ages and fitness levels.

A few of my favorite outdoor activities include:

  • Visiting Arches National Park and hiking to Delicate Arch (pictured below).  There are two hikes to choose from, an easier one for families with kids that allows you to view the arch from a distance, and a more strenuous one that gets you up close to the arch.  Whichever hike you choose, you will be in awe of the scenery!
  • Exploring the area by motorcycle.  Beautiful routes include the La Sal Mountain Loop Road, the Dead Horse Point Mesa Scenic Byway (state route 313), and the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (Highway 128--fantastic views of the canyon and the river!).  
  • Taking a picnic and going down the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway (Highway 279).  There are a number of picnic areas along the way, with amazing views of sheer red cliffs, dinosaur tracks, and Native American petroglyphs.  Look up and you may catch a glimpse of a climber dangling high up on the cliffside!    


Moab's Main Street offers many interesting galleries, clothing shops, bookstores, gift and souvenir shops, cafes, and outdoor outfitters to explore.  I always like to buy local notecards when traveling, and I managed to find some beautiful ones by artist Serena Supplee and photographer Tom Till .

Have you visited Moab?  What are your favorite things to do there?

Please visit Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler's Sandbox  and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom to see many wonderful travel photos and stories from around the world!


Disclosure: I do not post sponsored links or accept paid insertions.  All places are mentioned here because I have personally experienced and enjoyed them.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Best Tips for Keeping Track of Checked Luggage

Photo by Russell Lee via Library of Congress website [http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c31699]

It hasn't happened to me yet, but I am slightly paranoid about losing a bag while flying, especially internationally.

I take all sorts of precautions to try to prevent it from happening:

  • Before packing for a new adventure, I remove any stickers/tags that the airlines have placed on my suitcases on previous trips, since these direct baggage handlers where to send my bag. I really don't need my luggage going to Mazatlan when I'm now going to India!  Also, I always double check the new tags that are placed on my bags at check in, as well my claim stubs, to make sure they both have the correct destination listed.  
  • This may be overkill, but I place at least 3 identification cards in my bag, one visible from the outside in the little transparent pocket and another two inside.  Instead of listing my home address, I list my email address, a phone number--either my cell phone if I will have it available or a phone number at my destination, and the address of my destination (e.g. a hotel).  
  • I pack all essentials (medications, expensive items, a change of clothes, etc.) in my carry on.  Doing this is pretty much a given these days, but I continue to hear stories of people whose bags have gone missing and then they are left scrambling to get new prescriptions and clothes.  Not a fun way to spend the first day of vacation!   

I've seen lots of crazy ways of differentiating one's suitcase from everyone else's and I've tried a number of things myself, some with better luck than others.  A baggage-handler friend of mine cautioned me against tying anything like a scarf or bandana onto my bag, since apparently these are a frequent cause of luggage getting lost due to the fabric getting stuck in the conveyor belts.  

Some ideas for those who, like me, have black/dark colored luggage:

  • Write on the outside of your bag with chalk--wipes off easily once you arrive
  • For something more permanent, draw all over your bag with a silver Sharpie  
  • Stick colorful duct tape across the bottom or other hard surface on your luggage and write something creative on it 
  • I like to get my bag "shrink wrapped." for international flights and place a bright neon paper with my last name written on it in between the last few layers of plastic.  I first had this done when coming home from India and thought the idea of wrapping bags was genius!  I also put other identifying marks on the bag in case the plastic gets torn or removed.

I'd love to hear from you!  Please share your best ideas for identifying your checked luggage or preventing it from getting lost in the comments below.


Please visit Walkingon Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups for more great travel tips every Tuesday!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hotel Review: Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay, Mazatlan, Mexico



From the very first sip of my complimentary welcome drink, I knew our stay at the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay in Mazatlan, Mexico was going to be amazing.  The super-potent top shelf margaritas had our heads spinning after a long flight and no food!  After a very friendly check-in, my husband and I meandered happily around the grounds of the resort sipping our drinks while waiting for our room to become available.


We were soon whisked away to our room via golf cart. The resort is spread over 20 beautiful acres with guest suites located in eight separate buildings. Despite its large scale, we received very personalized service and never felt that the resort was crowded. 



View of the resort from the beach

Our room was a "junior suite," which at 425 sq. feet was plenty of space for the two of us.  With a kitchen, a beautifully tiled bathroom, a sitting area, a sleeping area, and a balcony overlooking the ocean (all rooms here face the ocean), we could really spread out and enjoy the room.  Honestly, though, we spent most of our time outside basking in the sun at the pool or the beach, as well as exploring the town.

View from our balcony


The resort is in an area of town called New Mazatlan, around 10 miles from Old Mazatlan where most of the town's hotels, restaurants, and shopping are located.  I was concerned that we'd feel a little too isolated being that far away from the main part of town, but it ended up being a HUGE plus since there were absolutely no beach vendors or annoying timeshare hawkers to deal with.  The resort provided a free shuttle into town throughout the day, and it was the perfect way to experience some hustle and bustle when we desired and then retreat back to our resort for some R & R.

Sunset from our balcony

Speaking of R & R, there are so many ways to do it at the PB Emerald Bay.  You can lounge by the "activity pool" and sip a drink or smoothie from the swim up bar, soak in the more remote"quiet pool,"  stretch out under an oceanside canopy and enjoy the amazing view, luxuriate in the spa with a massage, or enjoy drinks or a meal at one of several onsite restaurants.  We did all of these and more, and by the end of the week we were sun-soaked and completely blissed out.  


Early morning view of the pool and swim up bar

Some of my favorites at the resort:
  • Location, location, location!  It was perfect
  • The Pillow Menu:  Gimmicky?  Maybe, but I loved it
  • Our balcony overlooking the pool and ocean:  morning coffee has never been so enjoyable
  • The customer service:  friendly but not intrusive
  • Free airport shuttle and transportation to town
  • The drinks.  Wow, we're definitely not in Utah anymore! :-)
  • Lobster enchiladas at the onsite Le Cordelaire restaurant
  • The other guests:  A good mix of families and couples of all ages.  This was NOT a party resort
  • All water at the resort is filtered so we never had to worry about it

Sunset over the infinity pool

A few tips:
  • The only things I was not impressed with at this resort were the beds.  Our "junior suite" had two double beds that were slightly lumpy and uncomfortable.  At a luxury resort?  I expect at least comfortable queen-size beds.  The "master suites" come with one king-size bed, so if you are picky that way then definitely choose the master suite...I wish we would have.
  • Pick up groceries to stock your room's kitchen.  They provide a full size refrigerator, stove, sink, dishes, and coffeemaker.  You will definitely want to bring your own coffee along since it is not provided.
  • Rooms are completely tiled, and sometimes we could hear noise from other guests echoing in our room.  It really wasn't bad, but you may want to bring a set of earplugs if you are light sleeper.  We rolled up a few towels and placed them under the doors, which helped greatly.
  • As at many other Mexican resorts, you will probably be asked if you'd like to take a timeshare tour here.  We opted to do it and received free breakfast, drinks, and a $200 resort credit each.  Well worth it for a two hour presentation, in our opinion. (Timeshare attendance perks may be different now than when we attended, so please ask for details if you are interested)
  • The resort has recently added an all-inclusive option, which wasn't available during our visit.

Enjoying a late lunch at Le Cordelaire


 Have you visited Mazatlan?  Where is your favorite place to stay?



Please visit Budget Traveler's Sandbox and R We There Yet Mom for some wonderful travel photos and stories!


Disclosure:  This trip was taken at my own expense and I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Ode to the Victoria, BC Harbour


During my "spontaneous" visit to the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, I could not stop photographing its beautiful harbour.  Seriously, I have hundreds of photos of it from various angles!

From my very first walk around the harbour after disembarking our ferry, I was smitten.  To me, the harbour felt like the heart of Victoria, and it drew me to it time after time, day after day, until it became a good friend.  Come take a photo tour with me!

We arrived aboard the Victoria Clipper originating from Seattle.  It was a pleasant ride...


But I really wish we had taken a seaplane instead!

Add caption

I was captivated by the Parliament Building:


We learned that the copper domes on top of the building have turned green due to oxidation.  Aren't they gorgeous?  Incidentally, the Statue of Liberty is green for the same reason!


This cute little ferry was available for tours of the harbour:


Notice the green domes on the Empress Hotel?  We saw this beautiful green copper patina all around Victoria.


Have you ever cried when you left a particularly special destination?  I did when we sailed away from Victoria!




For more amazing travel photos and stories, please visit Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler's Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Visit to Singapore's National Orchid Garden




On my last visit to Singapore, I made sure to take advantage of as many of the admission tickets that were included with my Singapore stopover as possible.  One such ticket was for Singapore's National Orchid Garden.  I had seen beautiful orchids (the national flower) sprinkled around Singapore, including a miniature orchid garden at Changi Airport, and was eager to see more, so my husband and I boarded the Hop-on Hop-off bus and had a leisurely ride to the garden.  Incidentally, the city's MRT subway now has a stop near the garden, which would have been an even more convenient way to get there had it been available at that time.


A view of Palm Valley, Symphony Lake, and the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage

The National Orchid Garden is part of the much larger Singapore Botanic Gardens, a beautiful setting that seems to attract many locals for jogging, rollerblading, and picnicking.  To get to the orchid gardens, we had a roundabout walk through most of the botanic gardens and up a gentle hill.  Back home this would have been a very easy walk, taking 15 minutes at the most, but Singapore's high humidity at the time of our visit made it seem more strenuous.


The Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage

En route to the orchid garden, we passed by Palm Valley and Symphony Lake (one of 3 lakes in the gardens).  The Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage was deserted at the time, but I could imagine enjoying a concert and a picnic there in the lush setting and tropical evening air.

The Crane Fountain


The National Orchid Garden is the only part of the Botanic Gardens that charges admission, but it is quite reasonable at $5 SGD for adults and $1 SGD for seniors.  Kids 12 and under are free.  


Ghost Orchid--(Photo credit: Mick Fournier, Pompano Beach, Florida) Creative Commons 3.0 License

Upon entering, we were amazed at the beauty and variety of orchids we saw throughout the garden.  There are an incredible 1,000 orchid species and 2,000 orchid hybrids in the garden's collection.  The amount of care this must take is astounding!  I was so impressed with how well maintained and beautiful everything was, particularly after I tried to take care of ONE single orchid in my home a few years ago and managed to kill it within a couple of weeks.


Why is there a giant, golden birdcage in the middle of the garden, and what am I doing inside of it?
 I have no good answer for either question.

There are so many gorgeous areas to explore in the Orchid Garden, and due to our late arrival we had to speed through them much more quickly than I would have liked. I realized after we left that I hadn't taken any close-up photos of the orchids, which is such a shame because their variety in color, size, and texture was truly stunning!



In addition to the many outdoor orchid exhibits, fountains, and waterfalls, there are also some indoor spaces that I would highly recommend checking out, including the Coolhouse (an indoor tropical forest and a welcome respite from the heat), the Misthouse (containing rare and award-winning orchid species), and the Bromeliad House.

What is your favorite garden to visit?  Please share!

Please visit Budget Traveler's Sandbox and R We There Yet Mom? for more travel photos and stories!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dreaming of New York City

Over the past few months, I often spend Fridays musing on travel destinations, thanks to R We There Yet Mom's Friday Daydreamin'  series.  Sometimes I remember past vacations, and sometimes I dream about places I've yet to see.


Times Square--NYC

This week I'm daydreaming about New York City.  Summer and NYC go together in my mind, probably because summer's the only time of year I've been there.


Times Square--NYC

It really can't get much better than sitting atop the glowing red TKTS stairs on a hot summer night with my husband and sister, slurping frozen yogurt and watching the action in Times Square.


Times Square--NYC

What destination are you daydreaming about?  Please share!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Travel Tip: When to Use a Travel Agent

I've mentioned before that I relish trip planning and that I usually prefer to do it myself using online resources like Kayak, Room77, Tripadvisor, and Vayama. One question I am often asked is whether I ever use a travel agent.  The answer is YES!  In certain circumstances I've found travel agents to be invaluable for planning the type of trip I want to take.


Singapore's Changi Airport


One situation in which my travel agent has been a huge asset is overseas travel, particularly to Asia.  When planning my first trip to India ten years ago, I didn't even consult the internet.  Instead, I booked our airline tickets through an L.A- based agent that a friend recommended, and everything went off without a hitch.  Using an unfamiliar agent was fine in this situation given the limited services that we needed.

Two subsequent trips to India were a little more complex to plan, so I enlisted the aid of a travel agent in Salt Lake City whom I could call or visit at any time to ask questions.  With the rise of travel-related information and booking sites online, I was able to compare everything my agent quoted, and I was stunned at the disparity between the prices!



Singapore


My travel agent was able to book round-trip tickets to India on Singapore Airlines (my favorite!) with a stopover in Singapore that included four nights in a 5-star hotel, for several thousand dollars cheaper than anything I could find online.  The agent also came in very handy when some unforeseen circumstances delayed us in Japan's Narita Airport.  One quick call and our agent was able to rearrange tickets and hotel bookings to accommodate our disrupted schedule, in addition to scoring us a free night stay at a hotel along the way.



Downtown Singapore


Travel agents can be a superb resource when you have multiple-city itineraries.  If you enjoy VIP-level treatment, many travel agents have relationships and connections with hotels, airlines, restaurants, and local guides, and they can get you upgrades, perks, reservations, and experiences that you would be hard-pressed to obtain on your own.  In addition, there are agents that specialize in specific regions and countries, as well as specific types of travel or accommodations (i.e. cruises, villas), and their knowledge is usually top-notch.

Some tips for choosing a good travel agent:

  • Ask your friends and family for recommendations of travel agents they've worked with and enjoyed.  I've had great success with this strategy.
  • When you don't have a personal recommendation, get one from Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler on her list of Top Travel Specialists.
  • Still can't find a travel agent to meet your needs?  Check out travel agent networks such as Virtuoso, Signature, and Ensemble.
  • Understand that a good travel agent will want to build a relationship with you by asking detailed questions about your preferences and desired experiences.  Be as specific as possible about your needs, while also being realistic about expectations for your price range.
  • Expect to pay a fee, but make sure that the services and prices you are receiving are worth it.  Double check prices online, if possible.  If the agent won't provide a break down of costs (many don't) then be sure to ask questions about the benefits you are receiving by booking through them. 
  • Remember that all travel agents are not created equally! You will find wild differences in level of service and prices quoted between agents.  Do your research and don't hesitate to ask questions, and feel free to switch to another agent or agency if you aren't comfortable with the service you receive.
  • View more tips for maximizing your experience with a travel agent here.

Have you ever used a travel agent?  How was your experience?

For more awesome travel tips, please visit Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels!

I'm also linking up this week with Budget Traveler's Sandbox's Travel Photo Thursday!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reminiscing



As the months go by, I am often reminded of what I was doing last year at this time, or even a few years ago at this time, especially with regard to my travels.  Does this ever happen to you?

Recently I've been reminiscing about a motorcycle trip I took to South Dakota with my husband in June of 2008, well before we had our daughter.  After riding from Utah to Mount Rushmore, along with my parents and aunt and uncle who also ride, we spent a week exploring the beauty of South Dakota.   This photo of me looking out over the Badlands brings back such fond memories of that trip.

Please visit R We There Yet Mom? to see some awesome travel photos and stories from all over the world.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Travel Tip: Take the City Tour!

I'm not usually one for gathering with lots of other tourists when I travel.  My husband and I prefer to explore on our own, whether by foot,  public transportation, or car, finding all those interesting out-of-the-way places that make a city unique.

However, there's one exception to our independent travel preferences: Organized city tours!

Singapore Ducktours' amphibious vehicle


I never thought I'd be a proponent of organized city tours.  You know the ones...those double-decker, open top buses you see in places like New York City with a quirky guy or gal shouting into a microphone and gesturing wildly at all the local sights?  "Nope, not for me," I thought.

Well, I was wrong.  On a recent trip to Asia, we took advantage of Singapore Airlines' Stopover program in Singapore (I can't praise this program enough...you should definitely check it out if you are ever traveling through Singapore!)  Now, we'd visited Singapore a few times before and had always loved it.  I didn't think there was much that we hadn't seen of the city.  When I noticed that a city tour on Singapore Ducktours  was included as part of our stopover package, I wasn't too keen on going, especially since there were so many other included attractions that I wanted to visit first.


One of Singapore's many green spaces, framed by the Esplanade, Singapore Flyer, and hotels


My husband convinced me to try the tour anyway, so off we went.  We climbed aboard the retrofitted WWII-era amphibious Vietnamese war craft and got comfortable as we started off on the "land" portion of the tour.  I was surprised at how enjoyable and informative the tour was, and we got to see several parts of the city that I hadn't seen before.

Soon we were headed toward the "sea" portion of the tour, entering the Marina Bay.  Despite the ominous looking sky, we were treated to fantastic views of some of Singapore's best landmarks:


The Singapore Flyer


The Float@Marina Bay, the world's largest floating stadium, hosting concerts and other events 



The Esplanade-Theaters on the Bay



The Merlion, with the Fullerton Hotel and Singapore's financial district in the background

My travel tip for today? Take the city tour!  Don't worry about looking like a tourist :-)  Since my Singapore trip, I've done city tours in several other locations and have found that it's a great way to start off my vacation.  I get oriented to my destination, see amazing landmarks, gather some interesting information from the tour guides, and after an hour or so I'm free to explore the city independently.

Have you ever taken a city tour?  

To view more photos, stories, and tips from fellow travelers, please visit Budget Traveler's Sandbox, Walkingon Travels, and Suitcases and Sippy Cups.