As Halloween gets closer it dawns on me that many people do not know where the holiday comes from and where many of its traditions began. Halloween started as Samhain, a pagan holiday celebrating the ending of fall or the harvest, it was also considered when departed souls could revisit earth. When the Catholic Church took over Ireland it incorporated Samhain and turned it into All Hallows Eve (the day before All Saints Day), eventually becoming Halloween. Many traditions of modern day Halloween come from the Pagan version of the holiday and the transition over to a Christian holiday.
Now that you know a bit of history about Irelands involvement in Halloween’s origins you can understand why the biggest Halloween party is located in Derry, Ireland. Derry is in Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and is the top destination for Halloween celebrations. “Out of this World in the City of Bones” is a three day festival with parades, parties, fireworks, costumes, spooks and scares. The festival includes haunted houses, ghost walks, an apple fair, Monster Halloween Fun Fair, and parties until the wee hours of the morning. The festival is kicked off the “Awakening of the Walls,” which involves light, fire, sculpture, music and performances along the city’s walls. For more information about the festival itself check out this year’s schedule: http://www.derrystrabane.com/Subsites/halloween/Home .
While in Derry, grab a bite to eat at The Sooty Olive, especially the sea bream with potatoes and black pudding. The beef brisket at Legenderry Warehouse No. 1 is also a must. For a pint and a steak visit Walled City Brewery. For a more traditional Irish pub you might like Peadar O’Donnell’s which has a vintage feel and an excellent whiskey collection.
Either before the festival or after venture beyond Derry’s walls and get to know the beauty that is Northern Ireland. You could take a trip down the Causeway Coastal Route and visit the Giant’s Causeway (an UNESCO Site), Bushmills Distillery (the oldest one on the island), and the Gobblins (Victorian cliff walk). You can also take in some city life in Belfast, with its vast history including the Titanic Experience. Also near Derry is the Inishowen Peninsula which consists of coastal cliffs, beaches, and phenomenal seafood. You can also take a Game of Thrones tour and visit the Kingsroad, Winterfell, and the Iron Islands.
Northern Ireland is a fantastic place to visit any time of year, but if you are a fan of Halloween you should definitely go over the holiday and take in everything Ireland and Derry has to offer.
Here in Virginia the weather is finally getting cooler and the leaves are changing their colors. The fall flavors have hit the coffee shops, Halloween decorations have gone up, and Thanksgiving plans are being made. Fall is officially here, and it got me thinking about where the best destinations are to really witness fall in all her glory. I picked three USA destinations and 3 European ones, not listed in any particular order here they are:
So those are my choices for fall destinations. There are great options here at home in the United States as well as fantastic destinations in Europe to witness the grandeur of nature.
Often clients come to us wanting a dream Caribbean vacation but with no idea of what resort or even what destination they want to visit. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have an issue with this, as it is our pleasure to guide you to perfect spot. This blog will cover what to think about when choosing a resort/destination, or at least what to tell us (your travel agents) to help narrow down the seemingly endless amount of choices. So here is a list of questions to think about and answer starting the planning process of your Caribbean vacation.
Every corner of the world has its own festivals, some small neighborhood parties to huge events known the world-wide. I picked 13 festivals that I believe are worth traveling for, not saying there aren’t many many more but these are my top picks.
First let’s start with the carnivals, the parties before Lent:
As travel agents we are asked frequently about the difference between taking a cruise and going to an all-inclusive resort and our answers are based on how the client likes to travel. For the purpose of this blog I will be referring to the Caribbean cruises and resorts as I break down the differences.
First we will start with price, because that usually is a deciding factor. Up front the cruise usually looks more economical than the all-inclusive resort; this is because the cruise companies expect you to spend your money on board. The base price of the cruise does not include: alcohol, soda, specialty drinks (coffees and such), specialty restaurants, gratuities, some onboard activities, the spa, or on shore excursions. You can purchase an alcohol package upfront otherwise it can get very pricey to drink on board the ship. Shore excursions that are purchased with the cruise are usually pricey, we do offer excursions for cruise passengers from another company that are generally more economical (just a friendly fyi). So what is included in a cruise? Really is depends on the cruise line/ship, but generally: most food, juice, ice tea, regular coffee, the shows, child care/programs, some activities, and the pool. Luxury cruises often include more.
Now for the resort; the base price for an all –inclusive resort does not include: some charge extra for lobster or prime rib, special private dinners on the beach, spa, motorized water sports, and excursions off property. The all-inclusive resorts generally include: alcohol (most of the time top shelf too!), all food and drink—including those specialty restaurants, non-motorized sports (such as kayaking, hobie cat sailing (mini catamaran), and snorkeling from the beach), entertainment on the resort, and gratuities.
Basically, if you want your cruise to have everything the resort already includes you will be paying a similar price. So now we will cover the other differences, beyond just price and what is included.
Cruises: if you start in the States you will not need a passport, some ports are within driving distance and you can skip flying, you see more than just one island, if you like gambling there are casinos on board (not all resorts have them on property). Disadvantages of a cruise are: you only have a limited time in each port (you only really have time to do one excursion or you can hang out in which ever town/beach is near the port), it can be crowded (good luck finding a secluded spot beyond your cabin), you generally have to eat at particular times (no room service either), if you get seasick just a slight wind change can enhance that feeling, and if an emergency breaks out you are stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean.
Resorts: since you are staying in one location you can really get to know the island/country and the culture, you do need a passport and you will have to fly (several locations are a short flight from most US east coast locations). You can spend the day lying on the beach, sipping your drink or snorkel off the beach, or learn how to sail a hobie cat without having to disembark from a ship. Some resorts have sister properties nearby that you can visit and use their facilities or dine at their restaurants. Thus if your resort does not contain a casino but her sister property down the street does, you can hop a shuttle and go gamble to your hearts content. Some all-inclusive resorts are adults only! Meaning there are no kids to splash you or screaming babies to interrupt your peaceful getaway. Most resorts are pretty large so even if you go to one that allows children you should be able to find a quiet spot to relax, many offer child care or kids/teen programs to entertain them while you get some much needed adult time. Now a resort cannot move out of the way of a storm, but for most other emergencies you can be relocated to another part of the resort and at worst another resort all together.
So now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of both cruises and all-inclusive resorts, what do you think? Which would you prefer? Really it is about what you want out of your vacation. Do you want a quick view of several locations or do you want to get to know one location? Do you like the idea of being at sea for at least a day or two (depending on the cruise) or are you more land bound? Would you prefer the rocking of the deck or the swaying of palm trees? It really is up to you, some people love cruising and others would rather be on a beach drink in hand. The next time you are debating which one you would prefer for your Caribbean vacation: do not think in terms of price but in terms of experience.
Let’s talk South Africa and her temperature differences. South Africa is an amazing country in Africa, you can get a taste of city life, beaches, wineries, and go on a safari all in the same general area. Our packages usually include Cape Town and a safari, and you can add day tours for the wine regions and the coast.
I visited in May, the beginning of their winter (so I guess fall?). I’m from Virginia/North Carolina so hot is around 100 and cold is around 50, anywhere in between is do-able. South Africa gets HOT in their summers, so they suggest going during their winters (which happen to be our summers). We started with a few days in Cape Town. It was rainy in the city–or anywhere one that side of Table Mountain—and cool, mid to upper 60s. Once you left the city area it warmed up and the sun came out. So, if visiting the city during the winter bring an umbrella, a rain jacket, and/or a sweater. Our first night there we went out to dinner at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, it was chilly enough that they had heaters burning outside and we got blankets!
During our 4 days in Cape Town we only were able to see the top of the mountain on one day and you cannot go up it if you cannot see the top….so if there during the winter/rainy season go up as soon as you see it clear. Our one day was our last day there, only half of us got to go up because we split up to do our own day trips. On top of the mountain it is cold and windy so dress warmly. We went out to Stellenbosch, aka wine country, it was cool all day but sunny so I wore a light sweater and was fine. Absolutely fantastic wine by the way, the Pinotage is a local variety and makes an excellent wine.
The safari was a few hours by car from the Johannesburg airport on a reservation called the Pilanesberg Reserve (we choose this one because it is out of the malaria zone). That area was rather warm during the day; tank top/shorts weather….the locals were all in fleeces, which I found amusing. But at night, as soon as the sun set, it was COLD. Safaris are done in the morning and the later afternoon/evening. So you are in an open air truck before and after the sun and moving. We did not pack appropriately for this. Bring a heavy jacket (depending on your tolerance of cold…I’m not a fan), real shoes, pants, mittens (I used my dad’s socks lol), and a hat. The lodge we were with had blankets in the truck and ponchos….which really helped break the cold wind. Even though we froze (again….I hate the cold!) it was the most amazing adventure. I highly recommend doing a safari to anyone: singles, couples, and families. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is amazing and it’s really fun trying to spot them! Oh and FYI…elephants are very quiet for their size!
This week I decided to focus on a stateside location: Savannah, Georgia. Even though I prefer international travel (Travel Pros also focuses more on it) it is nice to be able to get away without having to use the passport. Savannah is my personal favorite city (that I have been to) in the states, it is beautiful, the people are friendly, and there’s an array of things to do.
First and foremost it is a historic city, so there is a lot of history and they are proud of it. There are too many history based tours to count, including trolley tours, walking tours, and historic house tours. I highly recommend one of the trolley tours, I have done a couple different companies and I did not see that one is better than the other. The trolley tour is a hop on hop off system and these types of tours help you get your bearings in a new city. You can you can get a good idea of where things are and what you would like to explore in more detail, plus you get a little history lesson. The other type of historic tour I highly recommend is one of the walking ghost tours. So many to pick from! They even have a ghost tavern tour where you get a ghost story at every bar stop. I prefer the more straight forward ghost tours, because I am ghost tour junky and Savannah is one of the most haunted cities in the United States. My last ghost tour was by See Savannah Walking Tours and our guide was amazing, she knew her history and made the stories very believable. Wither you are a true believer or not they are fun tours and every company and guide are different, I’ve been on a couple in Savannah and we did not hit the same locations. As for other types of tours, you can choose from boat tours, food tours (including a Paula Dean tour), and pub crawls, among others.
Savannah is great for low key weekends to fun crazy bachelor/bachelorette parties, it has something for everyone. There are too many amazing restaurants to count, but I really enjoyed Moon River Brewing Company, they have great food, their own brewery, and a regular full bar. Get the bbq sandwich! Delicious; also note, it’s haunted. If you want a classy spot for a drink I recommend the Marshall House, the bar is between the Marshall House lobby and Bistro 45; their bartenders know what they are doing and …..wait for it…..it’s haunted. During the Civil War the Marshall House was used as a hospital and when they were doing renovations they found a bunch of limbs in the basement because it was too cold to dispose of the amputee legs/arms properly. It might be safe just to assume all historic buildings in Savannah are haunted, so you can ask the employees for stories and they are usually more than willing to tell you some tales. Abe’s on Lincoln is a themed tavern worth a stop, especially if you like bar games. Six Pence Pub is great for a quiet drink; it is a British pub so expect British fanfare. There are several roof top bars in Savannah, I recommend Rocks on the Roof, it has fantastic views of the river, and you can get to it via River Street or Bay Street. Cheap drinks and bar food (especially po-boys) are plentiful on River Street, Bay Street, and the City Marketplace Square.
The historic district of Savannah oozes charm: from the colonial homes to the grand antebellum mansions, the small pubs and green squares. Savannah was originally built with 24 squares but now has 22 historic squares, where you can make wishes in fountains and enjoy picnics amongst the Live Oaks with their draping Spanish Moss. To learn a bit more about Savannah’s historic squares visit: http://www.savannah.com/savannahs-historic-squares/ . Forsyth Park is another great location to just enjoy the outdoors, they usually have something going on in the park on the weekends, along with families having lunch or playing Frisbee.
In the summer Savannah can get rather hot, so to escape the heat most people go to a nearby beach. Tybee Beach is about a 30 minute drive from the city and is wonderful for adults and kids. It has a fantastic pier with refreshments for kids and adults, along with a shaded area full of picnic tables and restrooms. At the end of the pier is where the fishing is, there are a few benches if you would like to sit and watch the action or just take in the ocean without having to get sandy. There are several restaurants to choose from, we went to Sting Rays Seafood and their food was great and well-priced for a beach area.
Now that you know a little bit about Savannah I know you are packing your bags for a visit! Remember: take a trolley tour and go on at least one ghost tour, get a drink at one of their many unique bars, take in the squares, and drive out to see the beach. Oh, and take a house tour, the Owen Thomas house will not disappoint. My best piece of advice though, is to just enjoy the city. And take lots of photos of those gorgeous Live Oaks. They are so pretty!
Travel scams are a part of traveling and knowing how to spot them is the best way to avoid them.
Usually if something is free or a stranger is a little too helpful (offers help without being asked) it is a scam. For example, if a stranger/local comes up to you and offers to take a photo of you, there is a good chance they are trying to steal your camera. Best bet is to ask a fellow tourist (don’t forget to return the favor!) or your tour guide to take the photo. If you feel something drop on your body that caused your clothing to get dirty and someone rushes up to “help” clean it, there is a good chance they are trying to steal from you. If this happens to you, clean it up yourself. Men, be wary of attractive women that are being overly aggressive with their attentions to you. No, you did not suddenly become a chick magnet; they are trying to distract you in order to steal from you.
Be aware of those that look like they are giving you something and then turn around and ask for money. Such as the “friendship bracelet” scam, this is when they literally make the bracelet on your wrist and then ask for money, this is very popular in Europe (I had someone try it on me at the Spanish Steps in Rome). If someone pushes a rose into your hand and you are not interested in giving them some cash, push it right back to them. At train stations watch out for someone that offers to guide you to your station or carry your luggage, they will want cash when you get there. I knew what was happening but was late for my train in Rome so I went ahead with this guy offering help, I only had a few Euros on me so that is all he got, but since I knew what the play was I was okay paying the guy to haul my giant suitcase up and downstairs (FYI: I still missed my train).
When it comes to transportation it is best to always go with the official locations. Do not buy tickets for transportation or attractions from anyone other than the official office; if you do, often you will find you purchased a fake ticket. Taxis: make sure the meter is working, if it is not working or on, get out, they are trying to charge you extra. I have found some taxis do not have meters, in that case agree on a price from location A to location B before getting in. Research the taxi practices in the area you are visiting, some cities have official taxis that have to charge the government rate (which is lower than the private taxis). When you can always order a taxi from your hotel or restaurant (they usually have no problem calling one for you), or go to a taxi que/stand.
Beware of fake cops. This might be hard to spot. But if anyone asks you to give them your wallet/purse/bag or passport, do not give it to them! Call the police to verify that they are real cops, and if in more doubt go to the station.
Understand the dangers of public Wi-Fi; some thieves will use these spots to steal your passwords and/or credit card information. Either avoid it by using the hotel’s password protected logins or have your own private network. If you must use public Wi-Fi make sure you encrypt your online activity.
Pan handlers. They are in every city and tourist area, especially outside train/bus stations or airports. A lot of people use their children to beg thinking tourist will be more sympathetic to a kid. I had a conversation with a taxi driver in Mexico asking us not to give to children because it encourages the parents to keep the kids out of school and “working” them on the streets. So, do not give money to kids. I know it is hard to say no to their sad eyes, but it feeds into a cycle if you give in.
Now, here are some tips on how to protect yourself against pickpockets. First and foremost is to be aware of your surroundings and your person/stuff. Take the headphones off and look around. Know if someone is sneaking up on you, or generally acting shady. Split your cash and/or cards up. If you are traveling with your significant other, split it between the two of you. Also split it up on your person/bag; basically do not keep everything in the same place. If you are traveling where there is plenty of access to ATMs, I would limit the cash I carry on hand. If your card gets stolen (carry the phone number to report it somewhere other than on your card) the bank will replace your money but if cash gets stolen you are out of luck. There are special clothing made to be pickpocket proof with secret pockets and hidden zippers that are worth the money, especially if you are visiting “pick pocket happy” areas such as Europe. This is the company my husband bought his through: https://www.clothingarts.com/?gclid=CLyZr5-ut84CFQ1sfgodRIIGlQ .
Just a note about credit cards abroad, it will be wise to let your bank know when and where you are traveling so they do not think it is fraud and cut it off and leave you stranded. Also ask them what their exchange fee is for international charges, some banks are better than others and it is worth looking into.
To protect you from scams and pickpockets while traveling knowledge and being aware is power.
Mobile Travel Apps
We are regularly asked what type of travel apps we have on our phones and/or tablets. So, I have compiled a list of various types of travel apps. If you do not want to clog up memory with a bunch of apps, I at least highly recommend having at least 1 city guide app, a currency converter app, and a translator.
Triposo- is your smart travel guide. They use their clever algorithms to peruse the web and crunch through millions of websites and reviews. The result: unique travel recommendations designed for you. Choose your favorite hotels, sights, activities and restaurants and add them to your bucket list. Download our guides to your smartphone for access to maps, local tips, bookings and personalized suggestions all without the internet! *Heather recommended*
Lonely Planet- Get to the heart of a destination with Lonely Planet on your mobile device; packed with tips and advice from on-the-ground experts, our city guides app is the ultimate resource before and during a trip.
Trip Advisor- The 150 million-plus reviews cover 4 million hotels, attractions, flights, and more. Best picks for each city can be downloaded as City Guides. Meanwhile, the site’s acquisition of LaFourchette, a European restaurant booking service, has recently opened the door for one-click dinner reservations. Now with offline access to reviews, maps, and photos for over 300 cities. *Heather recommended*
Travel & Leisure- City guide by the travel magazine
Time Out- When you’re done browsing Guardian Travel, of course, the Time Out app is a great directory of ideas of things to do in cities around the world. With coverage from Accra to Amsterdam, Edinburgh to Singapore, the app covers everything from bars, restaurants, attractions and events. The event finder is a particularly useful tool, meaning you’ll never struggle to find the most popular concerts, festivals or one-off happenings going on around you. You can also book restaurants and concert tickets through the app and create a customized travel guide for your holiday
Event Seeker- Plenty of guides tell you which museums and attractions you should put on your bucket list; this app pinpoints specific exhibitions, concerts, food festivals, and shows that are worth your while.
XE Currency- Need to calculate currencies on-the-go? With the XE Currency App, you can access live exchange rates, view historical charts, and calculate prices on your smartphone or tablet. With over 40 million downloads worldwide, this FREE app is available for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows, and Firefox OS devices. *Heather recommended*
Mobile Passport- The Mobile Passport App by Airside Mobile lets you skip the line at US airports for Custom and Border Protection (CBP). Just fill out your profile and answer CBP’s questions – then go straight to the “Mobile Passport Control” express lane at the airport! *Homeland Security and TSA recommended* *Also Heather recommended*
Smart Travel- It is the official State Department app for U.S. travelers. The app invites you to see the world with easy access to frequently updated official country information, travel alerts, travel warnings, maps, U.S. embassy locations, and more. *Heather recommended*
Rome2rio- shows you how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and automobile. This is the most amazing thing ever. It shows you all your transportation options, how long it takes and even links to the airlines, buses or trains. Super duper cool. Don’t know how to travel from Bratislava, Slovakia to Bydgoszcz, Poland (yes that’s a real city)? Rome2Rio knows. *Heather recommended*
Gate Guru- The free GateGuru app (iPhone, Android and Windows Phone) provides flight-tracking with push notifications of changes, airport maps from FlightStats and nearly 40,000 reviews and tips pertaining to eateries and services at more than 200 airports. *Heather recommended*
Trip Case- TripCase creates clean, streamlined itineraries of your upcoming trips by consolidating travel-confirmation emails that you forward to it. It's not as "auto-magic" as TripIt Pro, and the maps didn't consistently provide correct information in our tests, but the interface is great, and it's completely free
Whats App- Use your Wi-Fi connection (rather than data roaming) to send unlimited texts, images, audio messages, and videos to WhatsApp users worldwide. The service is free for your first year, and $0.99 annually thereafter.
Ringo- If you have a local SIM card, download Ringo (free; ringo.co) to save on international phone calls. It uses local networks to deliver clear sound without any audio delays, and rates are as low as 0.003 cents per minute, 25 percent cheaper than its closest competitors. Don’t have an unlocked phone? Buy one abroad for as little as $15.
Instagram- With more than 200 million users, Instagram has become a ubiquitous tool for editing and sharing photos and short videos on the fly. A new feature: Instagram Direct lets you send photos and clips to a limited audience of your choosing, rather than posting to your public feed. *Heather recommended*
Uber- The pioneering e-hail car service is now available in more than 35 countries and in cities large and small. Instantly order a taxi, black car, or SUV, and pay with a credit card online. Then watch your driver’s GPS position in real time while you wait. *Heather recommended*
Google Translate- This translator can be a useful tool to support your own, more serious language learning, but realistically, it’s most useful on a practical level quickly translating day-to-day words you come across on your travels. For example, you can hold your camera up to text – such as a sign, or a menu – and Google will translate it for you instantly. It’s an essential app for any traveler. *Heather recommended*
Today we are focusing on National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures and Lindblad Expeditions. The main difference between the two is that G Adventures is mostly land based off the beaten path tours, while Lindblad Expeditions is mostly cruise based with several different small ship types. Either company will give you a great adventure vacation, choosing one over the other is going to base on what you want to do and see. Both companies operate small group tours that still cater to the individual with unique once-in-a-lifetime type tours.
Lindblad is about expedition travel, exploration, research and conservation. There tours are cruise based; their fleet is small scale, nimble expedition ships that are able to go where the big boys cannot. This allows you to get closer to our planet’s more remote locations and wildlife. Their tours consist of remote locations such as Antarctica; best accessed by ship locations such as the Galapagos Islands and Baja’s Sea of Cortez. Their ships are equipped with exploration tools which allow you to get a more focused look into the marine or terrestrial environment. Also on board is Lindblad’s fantastic expedition team whom help you understand and appreciate everything you are looking at and will not let you miss anything!
“You will see and do things that are cool. Watching killer whales circle a seal on an ice flow, devising hunting strategies before your eyes is cool. As is having a marine biologist with you when it happens. Having a gray whale calf surface alongside your Zodiac is cool. And having the world’s best whale photographer, National Geographic’s Flip Nicklin right there with you, is great too.”
~Exert from their website: www.expeditions.com
If expedition cruises are not quiet your thing, Lindblad also offers cruises on a 1931 hand-sailed tall ship that cruises the Caribbean and the Mediterranean Seas. She is called the Sea Cloud and she is beautiful. Sea Cloud has itineraries that focus on “off the beaten path” islands and provide authentic local experiences. Sail the Greek Islands, the Dalmatian Coast, or the Caribbean Sea on an unforgettable journey aboard the Sea Cloud.
Lindblad has expeditions from Antarctica, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Asia, Europe, Alaska, the Amazon, and the Galapagos Islands.
G Adventures’ slogan is “Adventure, Enhanced” which is what they do; they enhance your travel experience. Their small unique tours are “designed to take you deeper into the cultures and habitats of the places we explore.” Their tours with National Geographic are mostly land based, they include internal flights and private rides in order make transportation quicker, they also use a select set of accommodations that represent the area you are located in. The National Geographic G Adventure tours include more meals than G Adventures other tours; these can range from high end restaurants to meals with local families. One thing that is really great about G Adventures as a company is that they work in community development worldwide, and then you have the National Geographic Society’s non-profit work in conservation, exploration, research, and education. Thus by going on one of these tours you are supporting the betterment of the world.
G Adventures National Geographic tours are worldwide. They have a 9 day Morocco Journey tour, an 11 day Discover Sri Lanka tour, a 10 day Botswana Safari Experience, and a 10 day Burgundy by River Barge tour just to start. They take you to locations you didn’t even know you could go to and had only ever dreamed about. Would you like to learn the art of Flamenco? How about learn to cook in a Balinese chef’s home? What about take a tour of Petra with an actual archaeologist? G Adventures with National Geographic can make these things happen!
“Each tour includes opportunities to learn about our world through unique interactive experiences with local experts like historians, marine biologists, photographers, Buddhist monks, chefs, and others.”
~exert from their website
Now you are asking yourself how much can these fantastic trips cost? Can I afford them? The answer is “yes, you can!” For what is included these tours are very affordable, and there are a range of prices and length of travel, so there is something for everyone. I am itching to book one myself!