Eye Masks for Midair Slumber

I’m amazed that some people can pass out on a plane without a problem. Not all of us have that talent, which means that people like me need a lot assistance just to get comfortable and squeeze in even an hour of shut-eye. A fluffy pillow, a warm blanket, a comfy outfit, a mild sleeping pill and/or alcohol… every little thing helps.

I think one of my biggest in-flight sleep deterrents is the fact that planes are almost always too bright. Even when they dim the lights and it’s dark outside, there’s still too much light, which is why eye masks come in handy for me. Still, many eye masks out there are unflattering. It’s bad enough that your hair’s all messy from the head rest, your skin’s all dehydrated from the lack of humidity, and your mouth’s probably hanging open as you’re slumped in your seat after dozing off. Not to worry; there are some super cute masks out there that give you a touch of sophistication, even if you are slightly drooling on the side of your mouth.

 

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breakfast at tiffany’s inspired eye mask from TheSleepyCottage

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pretty pink silk sleep mask from The Snoozery

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 2.55.26 PMmary green sleeping eye mask from Shopbop

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french lavender aromatherapy cat eye mask from Naomilingerie

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lavander eye mask from Holistic Silk

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lacey lids sleep mask from Morgan Lane

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silk eye mask from Net-A-Porter

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floral print linen eye mask from Zara Home

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starry eyed sleeping mask from Morgan Lane

Clever Ways to Save Money When Traveling

If money is no issue, we’d probably find ourselves swimming in infinity pools overlooking epic panoramas, dining at the most expensive Michelin star restaurants, de-stressing at the most luxurious resorts, and going on the most epic adventures. But the hard truth is money is almost always an issue… unless you’re in the 1% of the population.

Just because we’re on a budget though, it doesn’t mean we can’t still have an amazing vacation. It just means we have to skip or cut back on the not so important things so we can splurge a little on the important ones when we’re traveling. Here are some tips on how you can save money and stay on your budget when traveling:

 

Pack a sandwich. Eating out while traveling is one of the biggest money drainers, but you don’t have to do it all the time. Stay at B&Bs, hostels and hotels that offer free breakfast. Pack a sandwich for lunch as well as some snacks—I spent several days in London having only a sandwich and a bottle of water for lunch, which actually turned out nicely because I got to enjoy them while people watching and relaxing along the Thames. Use your dine out funds mostly for dinner. And if you really have to eat out for lunch—there are, after all, some local fares that are only meant for daytime consumption—then find places that are cheap. There are a lot of food spots out there that serve amazing food at very affordable prices.

Take the public transportation. If you’re visiting a big city, chances are you can easily get around just taking the public transportation. Yeah, you need to do a bit of research and it’ll take some time to figure out the system, but it’ll be totally worth it, especially considering the money you’ll save not paying for cab rides. In busier cities like New York and London, taking the trains will even save you a lot of time. I’ve once spent an hour in a car trying to get to a restaurant in London due to heavy traffic… it would have only taken me half that time or less in the Tube.

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Souk owner presenting his wares in Marrakesh (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Haggle when you can. I was one of those people who couldn’t bring themselves to haggle because I felt like I was cheating vendors out of their hard earned money. I’ve since realized that these vendors can usually afford to sell their wares at much cheaper prices than initially advertised. Proof: a merchant at a souk in Marrakesh once sold me a pouf for 40 MAD cheaper than we initially agreed because he didn’t have enough change to break my 200. In fact, in many places vendors actually expect their customers to haggle. So don’t be afraid to haggle—start at one third of the original price and work your way from there—and don’t hesitate to walk away if you can’t get it for the price you’re willing to pay.

Take advantage of free tours. Many hostels and hotels offer complimentary walking or bike tours that you must take advantage of when you’re on a tight budget. They might not be as comprehensive as those tours run by actual tour companies, but they’re usually informative and very useful for familiarizing yourself with the destination you’re visiting. It’s also a great way to meet fellow travelers and a perfect chance to ask a local—your tour guide—some questions you might have about the area.

Stay at hostels. Nothing beats the deliciousness of a luxurious hotel room and a plush queen sized bed that you have all to yourself. I personally prefer private hotel rooms myself, and if you can afford it, I would tell you to go for it. But if you’re on a tight budget, paying for a hotel room that will cost you $100 or more a day is simply impossible. Opt to stay at a hostel instead, where a comfortable bed will cost you anywhere from $15 to $75, if it’s really busy. Just make sure to do your research, as there are a number of crappy ones out there. The amazing ones—like Smart City Hostels by Safestay in Edinburgh, which has really good amenities like free reliable WiFi, complimentary hot breakfast and free walking tours; a cool pub; and very friendly staff—are worth every single penny.

Buy a pay as you go SIM card. You’re better off getting a pay as you go SIM card at your destination than paying for a 30-day international data plan from your service provider. When you get your SIM, simply purchase a cheap bundle that meets your minutes, text and data needs during your trip. You’ll save a lot of money and still enjoy good enough mobile privileges.

Travel with someone. Traveling alone can be such a liberating and unforgettable experience, but traveling with someone has its perks as well. Going on a vacation with your partner or a couple of your friends will let you split some of the bills and expenses on hotel rooms, meals, tips and even toiletries, saving you money that you can later use for some souvenir shopping.

Buy a city pass. Some of the bigger cities offer city passes that will give you free access to some or most of their main attractions. Some, like the London Pass and the Paris Pass, even include huge discounts to other sights as well as offer fast track entries. These city passes are usually very affordable and cheaper than paying for all those attractions individually. And they’re very convenient too.

Eat your leftovers. If you’re anything like me, you’re likely going to end up with plenty of leftovers when dining out. Take leftovers with you if you have any; they’re another meal or snack that you won’t have to pay for, saving you some cash. In some countries, it’s not customary to take your leftovers home. In fact, many restaurants in these countries like the UK don’t even carry leftover containers. Don’t sweat it; just carry around an empty container with you!

Pack light. These days, airlines will try and charge you for everything. That includes things that you think should be like choosing your seat and checking in your luggage. Check-in baggage usually costs anywhere from $25 to $100 depending on the weight. Save some money with careful planning, packing only the clothes that you’re going to need with just a couple of just-in-case pieces. This way, you can pack everything in a carry-on and you won’t have to pay for checked bags. Just make sure you have space in there for souvenirs.

Rack up the miles. Racking up travel miles in your airline or regular credit card, simply by making necessary, everyday purchases, is one of the best ways you can save money while traveling. You can use the miles you’ve earned to pay for travel-related expenses like airline tickets, hotel rooms, room service, some purchases and even cab rides. My favorite is Discover it as it doesn’t have an annual fee and it doubles your earned miles in the first year.

 

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All About England: 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go

 

Since England is an English-speaking country, first time travelers to the country tend to drop their guards. But during my first visit there, I was not only surprised by the many dissimilarities, I also ended up committing a few faux pas. The fact is there are many things about the country that are completely different from what we are used to. Here are some of them:

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Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

1. People are, in fact, pleasant and very helpful. And they say actually apologize for things like accidentally bumping into you on the street.

2. The usually have separate faucets for hot and cold water. Careful not to turn the hot water faucet too far or you WILL get burned.

3. Your servers at restaurants will ring you up at the table, and not many of them will be pleased if you asked for wine recommendations.

4. Don’t believe the myth. The food is actually good and hearty. Definitely try the Full English for breakfast.

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Sosharu (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Sosharu (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Nando’s (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Preserves and cheese, Borough Market (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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Brindisa Tapas (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Brindisa Tapas (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Q Grill (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

5. They won’t let you order food at pubs unless you secure a table first, and not many do takeaways (that’s British for take out).

6. Speaking of pubs, many of them close early. Like 11pm early. Even in London.

7. The public transportation will get you literally anywhere. While planning for my trip in the Cotswolds, I was terrified that I’d get stuck somewhere in the middle of the country if I missed a bus. My fear was quickly dispelled as soon as I realized that even in the countryside, buses and trains run pretty regularly.

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Bibury (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Chipping Camden (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Chipping Camden (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Burford (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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House in the Cotswolds (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

8. You need to keep up the pace during rush hour in London. That’s usually between 7:30 and 9:30 in the morning, and from 5 to 7 in the evening.

9. Some hotels, especially the cheaper ones, may not have in-room air conditioning. This may not seem so bad during the cooler months, but in the summer time, it CAN be torture.

10. They actually have good coffee and nice coffee shops. The afternoon tea, however, is a lovely affair that you must partake in at least once. I very much enjoyed the one at sketch in London.

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sketch in London (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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sketch in London (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

 

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Marvelous Magnets in Alluring Marrakesh

Spend a couple of days in Marrakesh, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the small yet vibrant city, and you’ll understand what attracts thousands of travelers to this tiny part of Morocco. Visit the former imperial city, and revel in its lively culture and these five unforgettable family-friendly attractions.

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Riad Si Said (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Stay: Enjoy traditional Moroccan accommodations in one of the many riads in Old Medina, where many of the city’s attractions are located or within walking distance. Some, however, are better than others. Book a stay with the super affordable and highly rated Angsana Riads Collection Marrakesh. The brand owns a number of riads located within the old city, including Riad Si Said, which offers complimentary breakfast, a pool and spacious suites dressed in traditional Moroccan furnishings.

 

Central Souqs

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Marrakesh’s Central Souqs (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

What is Marrakesh without its bustling marketplace that offers families endless shopping opportunities? Right in the center of Old Medina are the city’s Central Souqs, whose maze-like streets and alleys are teeming with shops that sell everything from Argan oil, local spices and ingredients for that night’s dinner to beautiful clothing, Moroccan poufs, gorgeous rugs, colorful footwear, metalworks, ceramics, musical instruments and lanterns. You can spend hours simply getting lost and bargaining for goods to take home.

Koutoubia Mosque

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Koutoubia Mosque (Flickr: Adam Axon)

The mosque’s minaret, which has stood guard over the city since the 12th century, is the first thing you’ll see as you enter the city from the airport. Koutoubia Mosque remains a holy place of worship and may not welcome non-Muslims through its doors, but it’s still one of Marrakesh’s biggest attractions. Visit in the early morning when it’s a tad cooler, walk its beautiful grounds and take that opportunity to get some photos in. Later, grab some pastries at Patisserie des Princes.

Djemaa el-Fna

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Djemaa El Fna (Flickr: Tom Walk)

Marrakesh’s main square, Djemaa el-Fna, is one of the city’s best and most vibrant attractions. It’s worth of a visit in the daytime when local sellers of juices, potions and food are starting to set up shop, but it’s best to visit when the sun goes down and the whole place transforms into a venue for many street performances. Djemaa el-Fna boasts musicians, bellydancers, circus performers and even the last remaining storytellers. The food and juices look enticing, but make sure to do your research first and watch the vendors as they prepare that orange juice for you.

Koutoubia Gardens

Energetic may be Marrakesh’s core personality but that can be overwhelming to new visitors. Take refuge in the Koutoubia Gardens, nestled behind Koutoubia Mosque, where palm trees and orange trees offer a much-needed quiet break. Have a lovely stroll here, or grab coffee and quick bites from Café L’Arome and enjoy them at one of the park benches. The gardens also offer great views of the minaret so remember to bring your camera with you.

Mouassine

Also in the center of Old Medina, Mouassine is much like the Central Souqs in that it offers plenty of shopping opportunities for local goods and products. The difference is Mouassine has brought in new sorts of sellers, shops and cafes, fusing the old with the new, cool and chic. Visit souqs that sell beautiful leather goods and textiles and shops that sell stylish clothing. Later, take a stroll around Bab Doukkala and walk around the Bab Doukkala Mosque complex.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

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Exploring One of London’s Oldest Neighborhoods

Compared to New York, Tokyo or Los Angeles, London is a small metropolitan. But within its city limits are several neighborhoods—a just little over 40, in fact—and each of them possesses a plethora of sights and diversions that could easily fill up your day of exploration.

Within the City of London, one of the oldest neighborhoods, for example, historical attractions, bustling markets and awe-inspiring architecture abound. Here are some of the best ones you can visit and explore in one day.

 

Where to Stay: Experience the best of both worlds at the newly opened Batty Langley’s Hotel. The beautifully furnished hotel boasts rooms and suites with Victorian flourishes and antique furniture like gorgeous four-poster beds and exquisite old-fashioned ceramic bathtubs as well as modern conveniences such as Bluetooth and Apple TV connectivity and complimentary high speed WiFi. Best of all, they offer breakfast in bed so you can lounge in bed a little longer the next day!

Tip: If you’re planning on maximizing your time in London and visiting many of its popular attractions, the London Pass is a convenient and money-saving tool to have. It gives you access to over 60 of the city’s attractions at no further cost as well as skip-the-lines privilege to some of the most famous ones. Plus, you won’t have to keep standing in line for tickets, it’s so easy to use (show to scan and you’re in!) and you get an attractions guide book for free. Purchase the London Pass before you start your day of exploration in the City.

 

St. Paul’s Cathedral

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St. Paul’s Cathedral is a must visit sight in the City of London. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

Start your day early at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which opens to visitors at 8:30 am except on Sundays. While not included in the London Pass, tickets are affordable and can be purchased online.

One of London’s most famous attractions, the cathedral is a sight to behold both inside and out. It’s the site of several important events in British history, including the funeral of Winston Churchill and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, as well as the final resting place for several people of great significance like Alexander Fleming and its own architect Christopher Wren.

While its history is impressive, it is a far cry from the architecture and design of the cathedral, both of which are lavish and spectacular. While photos are not permitted inside perhaps to preserve its sanctity, the stunning mosaics and paintings, intricately designed arches, columns and ceilings, and incredible high altar will forever be etched in your memories. Borrow the complimentary audio guides, as they’ll offer interesting facts and insights you wouldn’t otherwise know, and conquer your fear of heights and climb the steep steps up to the Whispering, Stone and Golden Galleries for awe-inspiring views.

Tower of London

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Visit the Tower of London and learn about its role in history. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

After a couple of hours in St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk about 20 minutes southeast to the Tower of London. Or save time and take the Circle or the District Line from Mansion House Station to Tower Hill. When there, head straight to the entrance and bypass the line with your London Pass.

The Tower of London is one of London’s most historic and most important sites, with a grim history that only adds to its appeal. Today, it is home to the magnificent Crown Jewels as well as the imposing Royal Armouries in the White Tower, both of which you must visit early on as they draw the most crowds. Take your time in both areas as there’s so much to see and connect to history. Later, visit the Tower Green Scaffold Site, where Anne Boleyn was executed; the Bloody Tower, which harbors a harrowing secret and where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned; and Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, burial place of Anne Boleyn.

While they can draw such large crowds, the 60-minute Yeoman Warders tours that starts every 30 minutes from the Middle Tower, are certainly worth going on as they are very informative and also fairly entertaining.

Tower Bridge

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The Tower Bridge is one of London’s most beautiful bridges. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

Grab a quick bite at New Armouries within the tower grounds and then head straight to Tower Bridge mere steps away. Again, bypass the line with your London Pass and spend around 30 minutes or so exploring it. But before you do, make sure to take photos of the bridge, which is picture perfect especially when it’s bright and sunny in London.

The Tower Bridge Exhibition is worthy of a visit, even if you only have an hour or less to spare in your day. You’ll get a chance to see its interiors, learn about its construction as well as bridge engineering, see its Victorian engine rooms, walk over the Thames over transparent glass floors, and even witness fascinating bridge lifts (check the schedule here).

After your visit, visit the Girl with a Dolphin Fountain along St. Katharine’s Way for a great photo opportunity.

Leadenhall Market

Walk about 16 minutes to Leadenhall Market where lunch options are aplenty.

The covered market is one of the city’s most famous, thanks to its beautiful Victorian roof and the fact that the Diagon Alley scenes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were filmed here. However, it’s also known for its food stalls, shopping opportunities, restaurants and pubs. Take your hungry troop here for a much needed refueling and break.

Don’t be shy and take photos of the market. Everybody’s doing it!

London Bridge Experience

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Take the older kids to see the London Bridge Experience. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

While you can take the bus from Leadenhall Market to the London Bridge Experience, which is also included in your London Pass, walking over London Bridge is much more scenic and will only take 13 minutes of your time.

The London Bridge Experience welcomes kids of all ages (except perhaps infants) but may be disturbing for the little ones. The older kids will certainly get a kick out of it however, especially if they are into scary mazes. Comprised of two parts that altogether takes about an hour, the tour starts with a themed, story-telling narration of the bridge’s fascinating and at times dark past as well as a small exhibition that depicts its history, and then takes visitors to a dark and at times scary maze that they have to pass through.

The staff will give you a chance to skip the maze, so you will have the option to experience only the first part that offers quite an insight to the bridge’s history.

Museum of London

Take the Northern Line from the London Bridge Station to Moorgate and walk less than 10 minutes to the Museum of London since you’ll have plenty of time to spare.

Continue your day immersing in London history and visit the kid-friendly Museum of London. Here, you and the kids will be transported to the city’s different yet equally intriguing eras—from London before it became London through Roman and Medieval London as well as the time of the Plague to the modern city we’ve come to know and love—through several galleries and recreations. There are interactive displays as well, which are perfect for teaching the kids, and temporary exhibits that London Pass holders can visit for free.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

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Travel Tips for Visiting London for the First Time

London is an easy city to familiarize yourself with, so even if you come unprepared and decide to just wing it, you’ll find the city pretty effortless to become acquainted with and accustomed to. Still, it’s nice to be just a little prepared and look like you know what you’re doing. With these ten tried and tested travel tips, you might just even blend in with the locals.

 

Get an Oyster Card. Everybody in London either walks or uses the public transportation (or realistically, both). The city’s network of public transportation, which consists of buses, the Underground trains, National Railway trains, trams and even boats, is very efficient, very effective and the fastest way to get around (the trains especially). Before you start your London explorations, obtain an Oyster Card that you can “tap up”—meaning add credit to—at every National Rail and Underground station as you go. Oh, and do memorize these symbols below…

bustop – London bus stop symbol

179px-Underground – London Underground symbol

nationalrailicon – National Railway symbol

Get a Pay As You Go SIM Card. Unless you belong to an amazing cellular network, an international data plan might be just a tad too expensive for what you need. As soon as you get to London, visit a local store and get a Pay As You Go SIM Card, which allows you to choose and purchase a bundle that fits your needs best. These bundle are usually cheaper and provide more minute, text and data allowance. Best of all, you can purchase and activate a bundle through your phone.

Get a London Pass. If you’re planning on visiting many of London’s most popular attractions, London Pass will save you a ton of time, money and hassle. Starting at £59 for a 1-day pass, the passport will give you access to over 60 attractions at no extra charge, as well as discounts and extra perks at many others. Additionally, you’ll also get Fast Track access to a select few—the Kensington Palace, the Tower of London and the London Bridge Experience, for example—so you can beat the lines and save even more time.

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Tower of London grounds (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Learn the Currency. Much like the rest of the city, the British pound or pound sterling is pretty straightforward but it’s still a pretty good idea to familiarize yourself with them, especially the coins. Londoners are usually very patient, but you still wouldn’t want to be holding up a line while you try to figure out which one’s 20p and which one’s 10p. The banknotes are usually £5, £10, £20 and £50 bills while the coins you’ll come across are usually 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. And when someone asks you for 5 “pee,” don’t freak out. They only mean 5 “pence”.

Skip the Cabs, Take the Tube Instead. London, like many metropolitan areas, is plagued with really bad traffic. This means that a £15 cab ride can easily turn into a £30 one during rush hour. With your Oster Card tapped up and ready to go, you can easily hop on a train to get to your destination in no time. It’s cheaper, faster and also very easy to figure out as timetables, directionality, connections and stops are displayed at every single station and every single platform. And if you’re still not feeling confident, simply use the Google Maps app on your phone. It’s pretty good at providing idiot-proof instructions on getting from one point to another using public transportation.

Visit by Neighborhood. While London is quite compact, every neighborhood in the city has a number of things to offer. If you have plenty of time in the city—3 weeks perhaps, I would suggest exploring it one neighborhood at a time. This will give you ample time to get to know each one—as they each have their own distinct personality as well as must see sights. Go for a literary walk in Bloomsbury, go shopping in Soho and Mayfair, visit the historical attractions in the City, enjoy arts and culture in Shoreditch, etc.

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Carnaby Street in Soho (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Look Right Then Left. If you come from a country where people drive on the right, which is basically most countries, it’s easy to get confused when navigating the streets on London. The whole United Kingdom drives on the left side of the road. While you might not be doing any driving during your visit there, this is still a very important tidbit to remember as you’ll need to remember which way to look when crossing streets. Always remind yourself to look right first and then look left. Look right then look left. Make this your mantra for the next few days until it’s practically second nature.

Stay on Your Left-Hand Side. Pedestrian traffic is much like vehicular traffic. Everybody walks on the left side, on the streets, up the stairs, at the stations… Or at least they should be. Most people do, but it can get a little confusing since most visitors and tourists don’t follow it. The best thing you can do is keep walking on the left side but pay close attention to oncoming traffic so you can dodge accordingly.

Take Some Day Trips. There’s a lot to see in the city itself and chances are you may not be able to see most of it during your visit. If you’re staying for two or three weeks however, it will be good and a nice change of pace to visit some of the smaller towns and cities outside London. Literally everything is a leisurely train or bus ride away. Take a couple of days or even weekends to visit Oxford, the Cotswolds, Bath, St. Ives, Weymouth, Brighton, Canterbury, or even Edinburgh and Glasgow.

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Bibury in the Cotswolds (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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Bath Abbey in Bath (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Get Some Clear Plastic Bags for Your Liquids. If you’re planning on visiting other cities in other countries while there—Marrakesh, Madrid or Lisbon, perhaps—it’ll be good to know some of England’s rules for air travel. One clear-cut rule that airport security is firm about is your liquids storage. They prefer that all flyers use a clear, resealable bag that’s about a little bigger than the Ziploc sandwich bags we have in the US to store their liquids. If you use the wrong container—a big Ziploc bag or a clear make-up bag, for example—chances are they’ll make you take them out and repack them in the preferred bag. Don’t worry, though. The airports usually have these bags on hand, whether for free or for purchase, so you can go to the airport and grab a couple before going through security. Also, bear in mind that every passenger has a limit of 2 bags max, so make sure to only bring the necessities.

 

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Flying Tips for Non Flyers

Visiting unbelievably beautiful places is a privilege that’s often hard to trade or resist; but to some of us, the ‘getting there’ part isn’t quite as enjoyable. If you’re a non-flyer like me—and by that I mean someone who isn’t comfortable with the act in general—flying to your vacation destination may just be the most irksome part of your holiday.

Flying is, however, an eventuality you can’t avoid if you want to see the world. There are, however, a few things you can do to make the experience as pleasant for you as possible.

 

Choose a Seat You’re Most Comfortable With

The window seat isn’t necessarily the best seat on an airplane. I find that while I do enjoy sitting next to the window for the view, the makeshift headrest and the control of the window shade, there are days when I prefer sitting in an aisle seat for several reasons including having access to the aisle if I need to stretch my legs or use the toilet and being able to easily get to my carry-on in the overhead bin. Decide whether it’s the aisle, middle or window seat that would fit your needs the most and reserve that seat, as sitting in one you’re most comfortable with will make that flight a lot less painful.

Wear Comfortable Clothes

Sure, it’s a good idea to dress up and look good for a flight, but in the end all that matters is your comfort. As long as you don’t look like you just crawled out of bed or haven’t showered in days, nobody will care how fashionable your in-flight outfit is. Besides, you can look good while still being comfortable. Loose-fitting pants, a pair of shoes that’s easy to slip off and on, and even underwear that won’t ride up are the way to go when you’re stuck in a tight space for a couple of hours or more. Plus, they’re good for your circulation.

Use an Eye Mask

One of several ways you can endure a flight is to actually sleep through it. But it’s not exactly easy, not when there’s always light coming from different sources—whether it’s your seatmate choosing to turn his reading light on when practically the whole cabin is dark or it’s that unshaded window across the aisle from you—keeping you awake. Try an eye mask instead. It doesn’t have to be Breakfast at Tiffany’s fancy, it just has to be effective. You can even purchase one at one of the stores at the airport.

Bring a Security Blanket or Pillow

To some of us, sleeping on a plane—unless of course you’re sitting in first class—can be challenging and frustrating. You can only put your seat back so far and the headrest isn’t exactly nice and fluffy. Some flights do offer complimentary blankets and pillows, but they’re not always available so bring your own just in case. Don’t lug a massive pillow or blanket around, however. A travel pillow or a small blanket will do, something good enough to help you sleep.

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Flying over California (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Skip the Nonstop Flights

A two-hour flight isn’t so bad. But if you can’t stand being on a plane for hours at a time, a six-hour flight might be too long for you. I know it is for me, as I start to get antsy after four hours. Opt for a connecting flight instead, if you don’t mind extending your total travel time for a few more hours. Not only are they generally cheaper, they’ll also give you a chance to breathe, stretch your legs and maybe even grab a proper lunch at the airport.

Revel in Your Travel Quirk

We all have our little quirks that we cling on to like a security blanket. If you have a travel quirk—whether it’s tapping the side of the plane three times with your right hand before you board or falling asleep during turbulence because it rocks you to sleep (like me)—don’t hesitate to do it if it helps you feel at ease. Just make sure it doesn’t bother the other passengers.

Download Your Favorite Movies

Watch the free movie or movies the airline offers on your flight. Or if you have extra cash to spend, by all means purchase that in-flight movie you’ve been meaning to watch. Watching a movie is one of the best ways to distract yourself from the tediousness of a flight. Do remember though that some flights, especially the budget ones, do not offer in-flight entertainment so make sure you have your favorite flicks handy on your computer or mobile device. And bring a book or two with you to read as well.

Travel Light

I find that traveling light takes the pressure off a little. Not having bulky and heavy luggage to carry around with you allows you to relax a little and focus on yourself a little more. Plus you won’t have to worry about overhead bin space or having to wait forever for your checked in luggage at the airport.

Drink Plenty of Water

The super low humidity in an airplane cabin can be very dehydrating, and the longer your flight is, the more chance you have of getting dehydrated. If you’re already feeling uncomfortable or apprehensive about flying, being dehydrated can make you feel even worse. Make sure to drink plenty of water and leave the alcohol for when you’re back on land.

Chat with Your Seatmate

It may seem like an awkward situation at first being stuck in the same row as two or three other strangers for a few hours, but you’d be surprised how many people are more than happy to chat with their seatmates. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You’ll know immediately if they’re interested or not. If they aren’t, then you can go back to reading your book or watching a movie. If they are, then you’ll have another way of distracting yourself and you’ve also made a connection with someone.

 

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Hotel Review: The Royal Playa del Carmen, Dressed Down Yet Elegant

A tranquil courtyard, green and decorated here and there with unusual metal sculptures, led arriving guests from The Royal Playa del Carmen‘s enormous lobby to the pools and the beach beyond. Standing there, it’s quite easy to fully appreciate the resort’s allure. Six or so elegantly beautiful Mexican hacienda-style structures, painted white for a more modern flair, rise above you in their modest grandness, their doric columns and intricate iron railing balconies both intimate and inviting.

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The Royal Playa del Carmen

Back in the courtyard, two paths on the opposite sides lead to the pool area, where two big pools sit, busy with guests enjoying their fruity cocktails and flanked with at least two hot tubs, possibly a couple hundred lounge chairs and several curtained cabanas, all arranged in a very appealing way. From here, you can hear the sounds of the waves as they kiss the beach, the famous Playa del Carmen beach, that lay just a few steps beyond.

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Cabanas at The Royal Playa del Carmen
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View from my hotel suite at The Royal Playa del Carmen
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View from my hotel suite at The Royal Playa del Carmen

I was almost sad to leave the brilliant blue waters of Cancun behind, which was where I was until an hour earlier. But walking onto that serene, cream-colored beach and seeing that familiar turquoise waters of the Riviera Maya again after so many months, I am reminded of why I prefer it over Cancun’s partying ways.

It was here where, a little over a year ago, I fell in love with the Yucatan Peninsula and this unfailingly intriguing country. Having a smaller budget then, I made do with a cheap-ish studio apartment that turned out to be more expensive than its actually worth. Picture rough sheets, no air conditioning to take shelter from the tropical heat, a ceiling fan that sounded as if it was about to fly off its base any minute to shred me to bits in my sleep, and the occasional roach in the tiny bathroom that, judging from their gigantic size, could also possibly murder me during slumber. The only good thing that AirBnB find had going for it, in fact, was that it was just a short stroll from Playa’s main tourist strip.

This time around, I find myself, with incredible relief, surrounded in luxury. With over 500 upscale rooms, the all-inclusive Royal Playa del Carmen is an adults-only, beachfront property whose well-appointed suites boasts a massive bathroom, a Jacuzzi, and at times, a private plunge pool. It comes, undeniably, with palatial elegance, from its architecture down to the excellent service, but that elegance is also somehow charmingly subdued. It is, in other words, posh without being stuffy and superior, upscale but sincerely friendly. It’s one of the many things I love about it.

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Suites with private plunge pools at The Royal Playa del Carmen

I also love its abundance of delightful surprises that you’ll truly be hard-pressed to find in other properties, let alone in an all-inclusive one. Consider, for example, its quiet pool area–a gorgeous hidden gem that you wouldn’t know existed until either somebody told you or you just happened to discover it while getting lost in the resort’s expansive grounds. Consider nearby the onsite coffee shop–an unusual thing for an all-inclusive property–that serves proper lattes and is always ready with plates of cookies and muffins for afternoon indulging.

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The Royal Playa del Carmen
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Consider also the spa, whose bamboo-enclosed outdoor massage area may just be as glorious as those ones on the beach, the 24-hour snack bar where you can grab delicious snacks as well as good wine and cerveza any time of the day, the balcony hammocks that you wouldn’t have to fight anyone for, the pool concierge who is ready to lend a hand when you’ve run out of sunscreen, and even the friendly stray cats the staff has kindly allowed to stay on property for guests to dote on.

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Spa Azul at The Royal Playa del Carmen
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Spa Azul at The Royal Playa del Carmen

And I love the food, the delicious fares of Brazilian, Asian Fusion, Spanish, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and French Mexican type cuisines that you can indulge in, guilt-free because you are, after all, on vacation. And because it’s hard to stay at this resort and not indulge. The sheer loveliness of it, whether bathed in sunshine or swathed in dusky blue, will make anyone drop their guard and simply revel in anything and everything.

Though most of all, I love that it’s one of those places where you, without meaning to, just automatically drop your shoulders, straighten your spine and walk as if you’re wearing a thousand dollar dress. But really you know no one will look down their noses at you if you’re sweating through your cheap, Target-bought top after just getting back from exploring the ruins of Tulum under that sweltering, unforgiving midday sun.

Or when, on your last day, you just happen to take a slip on an oversized sandbag while you were walking on a neighboring beach (because why wouldn’t you?), and you’re walking back to your suite all gross, your legs sandy and your bottom algae-covered.

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6 Simple Ways to Stay Healthy When Traveling

A vacation is pretty much synonymous to relaxation as well as indulgence. For many of us, it’s that rare chance in the year when we can leave all our cares behind, avoid the more arduous activities and possibly indulge in things we can’t always have in our daily lives—like heaping piles of food, perhaps.

Just because you’re on vacation, however, it’s no excuse to overlook your health. After all, you wouldn’t want to return from your dream vacation needing another vacation, or worse, nursing a debilitating virus. Here are a few very simple, tried and tested things you can do to stay healthy yet still enjoy your vacation.

Drink plenty of water. It’s easy to neglect drinking water when all those yummy drinks are an order away. The problem with these drinks is they’re so delicious and refreshing that you’ll end up having more than your fair share without noticing the stacking calories. Drinking healthy amounts of water while on vacation is a great way to offset your calorie gain as well as maintain the balance of your body fluids and stay hydrated (few are as dehydrating as that alcohol in your cocktails!). Best of all, drinking water is one of the easiest ways to reenergize.

Stay active. Take some time whether at the start of your day or at the end of it to squeeze in a quick cardio. Many hotels and resorts have a gym onsite with facilities at the guests’ disposal. With all that good food you’ll be sampling—some of them not as healthy as we’d like them to be, it’s easy to gain a bit of weight during your vacation. It only makes sense to balance that out with a little bit of workout and burn those extra calories from that 14oz steak or that large piece of chocolate cake you ordered the night before. And like water, it’s also energizing and a fantastic way to start the day!

Keep a balanced diet. Sure, you don’t get to indulge in amazing steak or lobster every day. It’s more than ok to treat yourself to those hearty lunches and dinners as well as those fruity cocktails. But at the end of the day, it’s still important to eat your fruits and veggies, and control your portions. A good way to keep a balanced diet is to start your meal with the healthier stuff and then leave some room for that hunk of meat or pasta dish you’ve been dreaming about. This way, you can enjoy the “good” stuff without overindulging.

Get plenty of sleep. It’s easy to lose track of time especially when you’re having so much fun or when you’ve got a lot of catching up to do with relatives you’re traveling with. Just make sure you don’t do it every night. A vacation is the perfect opportunity to rest and catch up on much needed sleep. Go to bed early, sleep in or even squeeze in siestas—traveler’s choice. Just make sure you get more than enough shuteye so you can start your days and end your vacation well rested.

Do some yoga. Aches and pains are normal when your itinerary is imbued with activities or when you’re participating in more strenuous endeavors like hiking, kayaking/paddle boarding and snorkeling. A fantastic trick to shoo the soreness away is to do some post-activity stretching, or better yet, an energizing yoga sequence. Yoga workouts are a quick and effective way to get rid of most of the soreness. They’re also a lovely way to reboot your body, getting it ready for another day of fun. There are many videos on YouTube that will guide you through a 20 to 30 minute workout; and some hotels offer yoga classes as well.

Squeeze in a massage. A spa treatment may be the best pampering you can give yourself, so shell out a bit of cash and treat yourself to an amazing massage. You’ll come out a more relaxed and happier you. Many hotels and resorts have their own spa onsite, and a combination of a full-body massage and aromatherapy is probably the yummiest and most satisfying. Before or after your treatment, take advantage of the spa facilities. There’s nothing like a good soak in a hot water plunge pool, or a few minutes under a glorious rain shower. Lastly, try to find a spa where they offer treatments right on the beach; the sounds of the waves will make the experience even more soothing.

 

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Vignettes of Yountville, Day Two

Day two in Yountville didn’t start out well for us. We came out to one of the vineyards up on the hills early Saturday morning with Napa Valley Aloft for a hot air balloon ride (and a champaign breakfast after), but the weather had other plans. We were hoping it would clear up, spending our time taking photos of the fog-covered vineyards and half blown-up balloons while waiting. But the fog just got thicker by the minute.

Our guides were very apologetic though (although it’s hard to blame them, the weather can be unpredictable), and they made up for it by having unbelievably delicious Bouchon chocolate cupcakes waiting for us when we got back. And we still enjoyed the view.

Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Bicycle Ride Around Yountville

With our hot air ballon ride canceled and it being too late to go back to bed, we had to find another way to spend our Saturday morning. Luckily our hotel (North Block Hotel) lets guests use their cruiser bikes for free, so we decided to explore the town on them.

We rode our borrowed bicycles along Washington Street past the main strip and the town limit to where the vineyards are, and then on the bike path along St. Helena. The bike ride was a lovely experience, and certainly a good way to see the rest of Yountville.

Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bouchon Bistro (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bouchon Bistro (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
French Laundry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
French Laundry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Richard Reddington’s Redd Wood

The bike ride was also a fantastic way to work up an appetite. Afterwards, we had a light but super tasty breakfast at Chef Richard Reddington’s Redd Wood, complimentary of North Block Hotel: eggs (sunny side up and an omelet), bacon, roasted rosemary potatoes and toast. And the arugula was amazing and fresh.

Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

We also had supper there that evening; and unsurprisingly, the restaurant serves amazing dishes for dinner (much like most of the restaurants in this town… I seriously think they have a ban on bad food and bad chefs in Yountville). For starters, we had the crispy Fritto Misto that I couldn’t get enough of. We followed it up with the super light Prosciutto Crudo Pizza and amazing Shrimp Linquine. And for desert we had their yummy Pot De Creme Coffee Espuma Whip and Biscotti.

Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Bardessono

Before heading off to the Taste of Yountville festival, which we had tickets for, we simply had to stop by Bardessono, one of the greenest hotels in the country (that’s no exaggeration, mind you! This hotel goes out of their way to be eco-friendly, which gained them the hard-to-acheive LEEDS Platinum certification. I talk more about this in my recently published piece on eco-friendly trip ideas for Earth Day…).

Anyway, the hotel is not only very friendly to the environment, it is also beautifully designed. We had a quick tour of its grounds and buildings that blended modern simplicity with natural touches, which I absolutely loved. And they have a spa onsite too. It was smaller than the spas I’ve been too, but Yountville is all about relaxation so we simply had to squeeze in massages before we joined the festivities.

Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

After our lovely massages at the Spa at Bardessono, we walked over to Washington Street, which was bustling with people. We were in town on the same weekend as the town’s annual Taste of Yountville and Yountville Live!, and having obtained complimentary tickets to both festivals (thanks to the kind folks at Fuller & Sander and the Yountville Chamber of Commerce) we decided to spend lunchtime sampling wine and food from many of the local restaurants and wineries that were participating. There were out of town participants as well.

It was a fun experience, going from one tent to another. We spent a couple of hours walking up and down the main strip, tasting different wine and samples of delectable food (even the firefighters’ tent served amazing barbecue), and chatting with some the locals.

This is day two of our Yountville adventures. Vignettes from Yountville, Day Three is coming soon. Stay tuned!

 

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Seven Things You Need to Know About Oahu Before You Go

Oahu is a US destination, and yet it feels like a completely far off place thanks to its Polynesian roots that remain alive and thriving today. This uniqueness, coupled with its impressive mountains and stunning beaches, puts the island (and the rest of Hawaii for that matter) at the top of everyone’s–as pedestrian as this might sound–bucket list.

During our weeklong visit to ring in 2016, we discovered some things about Oahu that many wouldn’t know unless they’ve been there. And we thought we’d share them with you.

Below are some things you need to know about Oahu before your visit:

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Boneless Chicken with Brown Gravy and Macaroni Salad at the Rainbow Drive-In (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. The food is really good. Everyone who has been to Hawaii has complained about how underwhelming their local food is. As a result, we kept our expectations low. Much to our surprise, Hawaiian food is actually pretty good if you know where to go. In fact, we ate like kings during our visit. The trick is to skip the Hawaiian fast food chains and go where the locals go. Click here to see our Oahu restaurant recommendations.
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Cinnamon Girl at Ward Warehouse in Honolulu (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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Eden in Love Boutique (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. There’s plenty of shopping to be done. Hawaii may be on the expensive side, but there’s something about walking along beachfront Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu’s main shopping strip, that just gets you in the shopping mood. And it has a lot of our favorite brands – from cheap H&M and Forever21 to the more expensive Kate Spade, Tory Burch and Coach. At Ward Village, there are specialty boutiques like Cinnamon Girl and Eden in Love that sell the most adorable items! And then there are also the Walgreens stores that carry pretty much every single flavor of Mauna Loa and Hawaiian Host imaginable! Needless to say, our bags were twice as full on our trip home.
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Surfers at Puaena Point (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. Surfing is THE way of life. Pick any beach in Oahu with good-sized but safe swells and you’re bound to find a surfer riding those waves. It’s to be expected, considering that the now internationally renowned sport originated in Polynesia and has been practiced in the Hawaiian Islands as far back as the 1700s. During your visit, why not do as the locals do? You’ll regret it if you don’t as surfing is one of the most exhilarating and liberating water sports there is. There are several local surf schools by the beach, if you haven’t done any surfing before. Not ready to stand on your board just yet? Body boarding is just as fun!
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Sea turtle at Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. Don’t get too close to the turtles. These majestic animals are irresistible, but they are endangered and we should all do our part to preserve their species. Sometimes, people do not realize the difference between a simple touch and going as far as sitting on a turtle’s shell. So it’s best to just avoid getting too close altogether.
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Ruins hidden in the woods (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. Everything is less than 3 hours away, and yet one week is still not enough. You can pretty much drive around the island in a single day. It’s that small. But that doesn’t mean that a week is enough to explore and experience the whole island. There’s just too much to do from the busy streets of Honolulu to the quieter and more adventurous North Shore and everything in between. We stayed for a week and tried to pack in as much as we could, and we still missed a lot of stuff! Stay for two weeks or more!
  1. Everybody drives at 35 miles an hour! When you come from a big city like LA, the island’s slow pace might be a little hard to get used to. People certainly take their time doing stuff. This includes service at restaurants and driving. So if you’re used to doing things fast, you need to bring plenty of patience with you.

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  1. Waikiki Beach is great, but you can do better. Waikiki Beach is probably the most touristy beach on the island, probably because it’s the most accessible. And while it’s nice and affords a beautiful sunset, it’s certainly not the best beach on the island. We actually visited a number of beaches during our trip and have a few favorites. Do your research before you go, and you might just find one that not a lot of people know about.

 

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Hotel Review: Cabana Bay Beach Resort

Why Go: Go back in time and find out what it was like living in the 60s at Universal Resort Orlando’s family-friendly Cabana Bay Beach Resort, where the retro cool style of Mad Men meets the fun, futuristic utopia of The Jetsons.

The latest onsite hotel addition to one of the most popular theme park resorts in the world is perfect for families with a penchant for bright colors and vintage design. And as Universal Orlando’s first value-to-moderate hotel, Cabana Bay Beach Resort treats guests, young and old, to pretty, candy-colored aesthetics, great kid-friendly pools, plush beddings and easy access to the theme parks at super affordable rates.

Cabana Bay Beach ResortCabana Bay Beach Resort (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Getting There: Situated next to Interstate 4, Cabana Bay Beach Resort is easily accessible whether you’re driving from another city or taking the shuttle from the Orlando International Airport 20 minutes away. A complimentary shuttle is available to and from the theme parks.

Getting Oriented: The retro-themed hotel sits on the Southwestern corner of the Universal Orlando complex, with Universal’s Islands of Adventure directly to the North and Loews Royal Pacific Resort to the East.

Family suite at the Cabana Bay Beach ResortFamily suite at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Room Options: Families large and small will find the rooms at Cabana Bay pleasantly comfortable and roomy. A family of four will enjoy spacious accommodations in a standard room with two queen beds while a family of six will find a family suite with a kitchenette, an additional full-size sofa bed and extra large bathroom to their liking. Large and multi-generational families will love the connecting rooms and suites perfect for spreading out while still having easy access to one another.

For the Whole Family: Picnic tables, a lawn, a pool table, and a bean bag toss give families plenty of fun things to do together at the resort. However, water fun is never far away on days when you want a break from the theme parks and need to cool down and relax.

Pool at the Cabana CourtyardPool at the Cabana Courtyard (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Separated into two courtyards – Cabana Courtyard and Lazy River Courtyard, Cabana Bay’s huge recreation area boasts two big, zero-entry pools (open from 8 am to 11 pm) with plenty of umbrellas and lounge chairs, a lazy river, a waterslide, a hot tub, a small sand beach, and several cabanas to rent for privacy. The Cabana Courtyard features one pool, the waterslide, the cabanas and Atomic Tonic for refreshments. The Lazy River Courtyard, on the other hand, is home to the lazy river, the second pool, the sand beach and The Hideaway Bar & Grill.

Indoors, the resort’s 10-lane bowling alley and restaurant, Galaxy Bowl, give families the option to hit the lanes while having casual dinner. There are also several shopping and dining opportunities, including a Starbucks and a Universal Gift Shop.

Just for Kids: Little ones will love the kids’ splash pad located next to the waterslide at the Cabana Courtyard. Big kids, tweens and teens will enjoy the arcade games at Game-O-Rama, which features old school classics like skeeball.

Galaxy BowlGalaxy Bowl (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Where to Eat: The full-service hotel offers six gastronomic opportunities. Poolside eats and drinks available at The Hideaway Bar & Grill, which serves burgers, sandwiches, wraps, chicken wings, hot dogs, fries, salads and deserts. Bayliner Diner, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is great for quick, indoor dining with their burgers, pizza, pasta and grab-and-go items. Galaxy Bowl serves nachos, spring rolls and wings, salads, sandwiches, burgers and pizza for lunch and dinner.

Atomic Tonic is a great stop for refreshing drinks, while Swizzle Lounge has the perfect nightcap for parents after the kids have gone to bed.

Coffee-drinkers can start their day with a morning boost from the onsite Starbucks.

Insider Tips:

  • If you’re planning on shopping at the parks using your room keycard, make sure to stop at the front desk and have them increase your spending limit so you won’t have to call in every time you spend past the $150 default limit.
  • Don’t carry your shopping bags around the park. Arrange for them to be sent directly to the hotel.
  • The Tube Shack in the Lazy River Courtyard sells tubes at $20, but if you’re looking to save money, bring your own or go on the lazy river without them!
  • Keep an eye out for poolside contests and movies.
  • Remember that you have early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the park opens to the public, a perk that comes very handy as Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are two of the busiest and most popular areas of the parks.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

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5 Places to Go If You Love Mexico

Mexico holds a special place for anyone who’s made the trek south of the border. There’s the history, pre-Colombian and post, the beautiful beaches and the natural wonders. There’s the food, the all-inclusive resorts, and, always a factor for vacation, the affordability. Mexico does not, however, hold a monopoly on these features and, if you’re looking for something just a little different, here are 5 fantastic alternatives that will make you want to quit your job and stay.

The Ruins: Belize

Temple in Plaza A in Caracol, Belize (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)
Temple in Plaza A in Caracol, Belize (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)

Some of the amazing discoveries in Mexico are the Mayan ruins that pepper the Yucatan peninsula. Even though the Mexican pre-Colombian sites are very well taken care of, if you journey to Belize, you’ll see an extension of the Mayan landmarks. These southern sights are different in one particular aspect. At a few of the different sites, you can actually climb the ruins.

Check out Tikal to climb the tallest temple steps; or head over to Caracol, the largest Mayan ruins. Caracol is so large, it’s still being excavated and covers an area twice as large as current capital of Belize, Belize City.

The Beaches: US Virgin Islands

Trunk Bay, US Virgin Islands (Photo: Everett Carrico)
Trunk Bay, US Virgin Islands (Photo: Everett Carrico)

In Mexico, you’re bound to spend a lot of time at the beach. A country with two long coastlines boasts countless beach destinations such as Riviera Maya, Acapulco, Cabo, and so on; but there are other beaches only a few hours plane ride away that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Trunk Bay on St. John Island in the US Virgin Islands is paradise in beach form. The waters so pristine, you’ll want to bring a snorkel, and the beach (and the US Virgin Islands) remote enough to ensure you won’t be battling the hordes that go to places like Cancun and can relax and enjoy life in Island Time.

The Food: Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's Mofongo (Photo: Jing)
Puerto Rico’s Mofongo (Photo: Jing)

Mexico has the taco. Puerto Rico has mofongo. This iconic dish is a staple of Puerto-Rican cuisine and should be on everyone’s itinerary when they visit Puerto Rico. Think of a dumpling where the dough is made from plantains and stuffed and cooked with savory meats.

Puerto Rican food doesn’t end there however. Pasteles are the tamales of Puerto Rico and, though hefty, are often served as side dishes. You can also find Lechon (roast suckling pig), Arroz con Gandules (their own take on rice and beans), and a whole litany of fried finger foods such as Cuchifritos and Frituras, among others.

The Resorts: the Dominican Republic

Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Invariably, one of the reasons people head to Mexico is to stay at all-inclusive resorts. These resorts bring the luxury of a pampered experience with off-site activities that will remind you why you came to Mexico in the first place.

The Dominican Republic is a fantastic alternative when looking elsewhere for a new resort. Not only does the Dominican Republic house a Club Med with its own Cirque de Soleil playscape (Creactive), but also a plethora of other resorts to vacation such as the Excellence Punta Cana and the Now Larimar Punta Cana. Most resorts either offer or can help book area excursions.

Nature: Costa Rica

Sloth in Costa Rica (Courtesy Visit Costa Rica)
Sloth in Costa Rica (Courtesy Visit Costa Rica)

Biodiversity is not exclusively a feature of Mexico. Though there are great opportunities to see incredible wildlife (from nature reserves to more developed areas like the aqua park Xel-Ha) in Mexico, Costa Rica is in many ways the place to go to explore the wilderness.

Due to a more a nascent tourist industry and lower levels of development, places like Tortuguero National Park, where you can watch several species of turtles nest and return to sea, and Corcovado National Park, where you can find all 4 species of the indigenous monkeys, will capture your attention. In fact, Corcovado is not only great for finding monkeys but you can also find Tapirs, sloths, anteaters, and, if you’re lucky, the jaguar. While there, make sure to wander the Cloud Forests.