Jan
27th
  Travel Tip: How to Maximize Your Frequent Flier Miles & Beat the Airlines

It’s hard enough to find seats to a desired destination using your frequent flier miles, right? It seems every seat costs more and more miles. Sheesh! Well here’s a little trick that you may not realize to maximize your miles – and even use less than the airlines want you to! Watch this video – When you try to use your miles, DO NOT just take the first mileage ticket offered to you. Click around to the different mileage award levels. As you see, while I was exploring an upcoming trip, the economy ticket cost MORE miles than business. Economy class costs 30K…Business class costs – 25 K! Make sure to check the more premium ticket level because it can cost you LESS miles! The airlines don’t tell you that. Hopefully this will help you- happy travels! ‪#‎travel‬ ‪#‎frequentflier‬ ‪#‎airlines‬

 

 
Jan
15th
  My trip to Istanbul: The Perils & Treasures of Being at the Crossroads of East and West

It’s with a heavy heart that I read the reports about the bombings this week in Turkey – and especially the one that killed 11 people, mostly German tourists, in Istanbul.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

I was in Istanbul a little over a year ago. I remember people asking me if I felt safe since Turkey is so close to Syria. At that time, Istanbul hadn’t really been affected, and most of the violence was with the PKK was outside Istanbul…or involved the civil war in neighboring Syria. So although I was mindful, I also believed I had no reason to feel I was in danger.

To be honest, what made me feel less safe than being close to terrorist organizations operations, was the way I was treated on the street by local men. I was traveling with three girl friends, and we couldn’t walk down the street without multiple comments -men trying to sell us stuff , making catcalls – one even yelled asking about our “dowery.” Now there’s something you don’t hear often in the United States. I am not sharing this to flatter myself – it was uncomfortable and irritating. Women should go prepared.

Sultanahmet Park, Istanbul

Sultanahmet Park, Istanbul

The above photo was taken in the vicinity of the recent bombing - Sultanahmet Square – right in the heart of the tourism industry – a blade right through the city’s soul. Can’t get much more of a soft target than that, nor a travel buzz-killer. I stayed at a hotel in the Sultanahmet neighborhood near where the bombing took place, and spent much time in that Sultanahmet Square visiting all the remarkable sights, many visible right from the bomb location. I would like to share these places with you, as it looks that travel there might not be a good idea for a little while. (I hate to say that, but I wouldn’t go back right now. It’s a personal choice for everyone. )

HAGIA SOPHIA

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

What I think is the granddaddy of the sights – it is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world because of it’s classical Byzantine architecture. The outside is impressive, but it is the inside that is the true star. Hagia Sophia was built in the year 537. Pretty amazing. DSC01375 It has Christian and Islamic influences, as it was built as a Greek Orthodox church, converted to a Roman Catholic church, then in 1453, when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks,Sultan Mehmed II  ordered the main church of Orthodox Christianity converted into a mosque. DSC01350 It was interesting to me to see the layers of Christian influence peaking through the aging plaster… most signs of Christianity were ordered to be covered when it was converted to a mosque. DSC01436 DSC01359 It now operates as a museum, not a place of worship. Although you can take an audio tour, I would recommend hiring guide or taking a tour. There’s just simply too much to wrap your head around . DSC01369 One of the most popular places in the Hagia Sophia is the Weeping Column. Strangely enough, it is always a little damp – as if it is perspiring – some say it is the Virgin Mary’s tears. Legend has it that the pillar was blessed by St Gregory the Miracle Worker and that putting one’s finger into the hole  in the column can lead to ailments being healed if the finger emerges moist. (I’m still waiting…)

CISTERN BASILICA
Cistern Basilica

Cistern Basilica

Hands down my most loved attraction in Istanbul. One of my favorite favorite favorite experiences in all my travels, probably because the expectations were low. From the outside it doesn’t look like anything. Seriously, it doesn’t look like anything is there because it’s all underground!
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The Cistern Basilica is an underground reservoir for water that was once under a basilica – thus the name. It is incredibly large – 105,000 sq feet. What makes it so mystical is that it is built with a forest of columns that have been recycled from old important buildings. So you have these gorgeous Ionic and Corinthian style columns in this underground cave of sorts, lit just perfectly to bedazzle the ambiance.
The cistern, built in 532, used to supply water to the Great Palace in its day, but then was forgotten about and rediscovered again in 1545. Don’t miss it.
TOPKAPI PALACE
Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Topkapi Palace was the imperial home of the Ottoman emperors for four centuries. Lavishly decorated, with all sorts of ancient items from the Ottoman rule on display…
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What I found most fascinating were the clothes the emperors wore and how they changed through the years… and also found slightly disgusting in its opulence: the gifts other rulers around the world gave to the Ottomans. Some of the gifts’ monetary worth could feed entire countries. Why did the rulers need them besides serving their egos?
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BLUE MOSQUE
Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

If you are thinking this will be like Hagia Sophia, you have another thing coming. Worth the visit, although yes, it is another stunning display of religious architecture. It incorporates some Byzantine Christian elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period.
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But – it is known as the Blue Mosque because of blue tiles surrounding the walls – more than 20,000 tiles total.
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It is still an active place of worship, so visitors must take off their shoes and women must cover their heads.
Again, these are just a few of Istanbul’s treasures in one area of the city. It is a dynamic place to visit -  at the crossroads of Europe & Asia, it’s exotic & stimulating at every turn. Perhaps it seems a bit unsavory to visit at the moment, but hoping for some peace for travelers in this crazy world right now.
 
Jan
12th
  A Tried & True Way To Connect With Your Kids While Traveling

It’s a new year… full of hope and resolutions.

Maybe one of them is to learn something…try something…or branch out? If so, traveling is a fun way to accomplish those goals with some kind of learning vacation, and a way to connect with your children when you include them in the experience. While many families take trips to spend quality time together without the hassles and pressures of real life… or venture out to see important & interesting sites, I have found learning something together deepens the experience for the whole family.

Doing it on vacation also takes the “chore” factor out of it.  Also – it is bonding, and often levels the playing field between parents and children because both are entering a new endeavor.

For instance – last summer I took some surf lessons with my children in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. Not only was it fun… but we were enjoying some of the best of what our destination has to offer – a pleasant beach and great waves for beginning surfers. And most importantly, we felt we accomplished something – the kids felt great about that.

I have to admit, they conquered the learning curve better than I! But the last party wave we took together was a highlight of my life. Ty Gurney Surf School in Waikiki does a nice job or teaching all levels. tygurneysurfschool.com I have used them many times.

If surfing isn’t your thing – try a cooking class in a region that has different cuisine… or we even took an art class in France. There is even a family space camp in Alabama where you can train together to become astronauts – that kind of trip seems like it would be your final destination however, where some other options like surfing is something you can do n the side in a place where there is also much more to do.

Gettysburg, PA

Gettysburg, PA

Yet, it doesn’t have to be in a classroom environment – For instance, visit a historical site like the U.S. Mint in Washington DC or Gettysburg in PA and hire a family friendly tour guide. It is good for the kids to see you interested in what they will be learning about in school while also emphasizing history that is important. Discussions that take place afterward can drive home how much you all learned.

Every family has different interests, but there is always something you can learn. I hope I’ve inspired you.

For more ideas that run a HUGE gamut try learninvacation.net or shawguides.com

 
Dec
18th
  Giving Back: Donate Your Frequent Flier Miles to Charity

Alaska Airlines 737-900ER ArtworkK65104

If you are looking for ways to give this season, one area that you may overlook is your stash of frequent flier miles.

There are many organizations that accept and need your unused miles – if the miles are going to expire before you can use them, or you have so many you’d like to share, consider some of the following places to donate them to help others in need…and brighten some lives.

(Sometimes there is a minimum donation, but that minimum can be something like 500 miles…which in today’s world, won’t cover much of a trip, and would barely put a dent in your account.)

1) Check with your airline, as many partner with charitable organizations to transfer your miles. For example American has a relationship with organizations that serve vets, children, or medical institutions. On the airline’s website the choices are broken down by category of those they help. http://hub.aa.com/en/ju/donate

Delta Airlines offers a wide group of charities as well – From Canine Assistance, helping train service dogs for those with special needs… to St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital..to Habitat for Humanity. http://www.delta.com/buygftxfer/displayDonateMiles.action

Check with the airline with which you have a mileage account to see where your miles can go.

2)Help make the wishes of  children come true: The “Make a Wish” Foundation grants thousands of travel-related wishes to children with life-threatening diseases. Wouldn’t you rather create a wonderful opportunity for a sick child instead of letting them expire in your account?

According to the organization, kids’ travel wishes can range from visiting far-away family to swimming with dolphins in Hawaii. Whats more, you can donate through a nearby branch so local children can benefit.  wish.org

3) Help vets get the treatment they need by supporting their lodging when they have to travel for services. Fisher House Foundation is best known for a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving care for a condition. www.fisherhouse.org

4) The Red Cross – Probably the best known organization that needs to travel to locations to help those in a recent disaster or facing an emergency. They can always use miles. redcross.org

There are so many other groups – Salvation Army, American Cancer Society – do a little research and perhaps one that is near and dear to you that would appreciate the miles in your account. (Unfortunately the IRS does not consider miles property so they are not a tax deductible gift.)

Hopefully you can consider this ..chances are that you may never get to use your miles the way seats are so infrequently available these days. Don’t let them go to waste, when some worthy organization can put them to good use. Happy Holidays!

 

 
Dec
11th
  Unique Places In The USA To Get Your Holiday Spirit On

I am always looking for special ways to celebrate the holidays with my family. Exposing them to the lenghts others will go to be festive – whether it be with over the top decorations, or a devotion to Christmas tradition – they all inspires us.

That holiday beauty isn’t only found locally  – if you are traveling this time of year to visit relatives, why not explore something new and take advantage of the festivities in another destination?  I know it’s easy to just relax and do nothing over a family vacation, but there are some cool places to visit in our country around the holidays.

Newport, Rhode Island Mansions at Christmas

Newport, Rhode Island Mansions at Christmas

Mistletoe in the Mansions:

Some of the famous mansions in Newport Rhode Island, once “summer cottages” for the wealthy families during America’s Gilded Age, are gloriously adorned for the holidays. Take a journey back in time and explore the late 1800s and early 1900s to see how  many of America’s wealthiest families lived .. during the holidays these homes sparkle with opulent seasonal decorations.

Newport Rhode Island Mansions at Christmas

Newport Rhode Island Mansions at Christmas

The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House–three National Historic Landmarks   – are open and host special activities like Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions – a great night for families with holiday music playing and refreshments being served while you wander through the rooms of these extravagant homes. Going on until Jan. 3, 2016  http://www.newportmansions.org/events/christmas-at-the-newport-mansions

Breckenridge CO : The Torchlight Parade

Breckenridge, CO Torchlight Parade

Breckenridge, CO Torchlight Parade

Something I’ve always wanted to do is spend New Year’s at Breckenridge ski resort, watch the town’s hallmark of the holidays – The Torchlight Parade – and then enjoy a cozy night at a restaurant near the mountain to catch the fireworks later in the evening.

The Torchlight Parade is definitely a one of a kind event:  Ski instructors will set off in the dark with torches in-hand to skiing down the mountain. They create a beautiful snake-like light display  in perfect formation.   Then, just after the lights show, kids can partake in the parade magic. Kids will sport glow sticks and go down the easier slopes.

Breckenridge on New Year's Eve from Colorado AAA

There’s lots of merriment in town ..leading up to quite a firework show over the Rockies…You can arrange a special experience by grabbing some friends and going cross country skiing at night to watch the fireworks.  Either way… make a reservation well in advance.

Season’s sights in South Carolina 

Night of 1000 Candles, Brookgreen Gardens

Night of 1000 Candles, Brookgreen Gardens

In Myrtle Beach South Carolina,  the town’s lovely public garden – Brookgreen Gardens -comes to life during the presentation of “A Night of a Thousand Candles” – Amid the soft glow of more than 5,500 hand-lit candles and countless sparkling lights in the moss-filled gardens ,visitors walk the paths with a warm cup of cider, to the sounds of  bells ringing, and carolers singing. But hurry – there are limited dates. www.brookgreen.org/calendar_dec.htmlss-

Ripley's Aquarium

Ripley’s Aquarium

A different kind of celebration in Myrtle  Beach happens at the Ripley Aquarium believe it or not…This one is for kids – Learn about marine life while enjoying the beautifully decorated and themed Christmas trees each representing one of our 50 United States… from a Mardi Gras tree with masks and beads to a Las Vegas-style tree with a feather headdress. The South Carolina tree is over 18 feet tall and features sea shells, magnolias, and golf balls. Kids will like the free scavenger hunt that tests your knowledge about each state’s tree.
Through Dec. 31.  www.myrtlebeach.com/myrtle-beach-events/show/festival-of-trees/#dDvgCt8q4oLmBjDU.99

Happy Holidays with Hearst

Hearst Castle at Christmas from Hearstcastle.org

Hearst Castle at Christmas from Hearstcastle.org

Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA is interesting enough without the embellishments of the holidays, but the venue’s special holiday tours showcase abundant holiday decorations with numerous Christmas trees, including two towering 18′ trees, and a one of a kind poinsettia tree. View Mr. Hearst’s celebrated art collection in the warm glow of thousands of holiday lights. Your guide through the castle will share stories of holiday festivities during the estate’s heyday as docents dressed in 1930s period attire bring the Castle to life. This tour replaces the other evening tours until Jan. 2  www.Hearstcastle.org/wp-content/uploads/Wreath-1-e1447370663740.png

I think the Castle is better for older kids, but if you don’ t have any kids with you, check out nearby Paso Robles wine country. I love how the wineries get decked for the season..and the spirit in this cute little once-farm town is quaint.

Happy Holidays everyone  – the spirit of the season is wherever you find it!

 

 

 
Dec
08th
  That Holiday Road Trip with Kids….

A large percentage of us will travel to visit family over the holidays… both by air and by car. It can be a big undertaking if you have children, on top of the sometimes frenetic pace of holiday planning, gift giving, party attending, etc!

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So here are some ideas from my own family trips to make that road trip more fun & less stressful. (Tips on air travel later.)

Most importantly, try try try to remember these are memory making opportunities for your family, even when things temporarily get out of control! You get your kids in an enclosed area  for a set time to talk with them & share ideas.

Entertainment:

1) Old fashioned games: A deck of cards can go a long way. We play black jack in our car – the person in the passenger seat is the dealer and posts the cards on the radio area/dashboard… You can play for pennies or points. This can kill a good hour if your kids are engaged….(I understand it may seem like I am promoting gambling but if they lose, it’s a good lesson against it!)

Also – Mad Libs are fun for the younger set.

2) There are so many electronic games that can be interactive with another person so you don’t have that teen in the back completely vegging out on his or her own games with earphones. Try Mastermind or Words with Friends. It can be front seat vs back seat as teams.

3) Competitions: If you have kids who love a challenge, make some learning activity a competition. To avoid sibling spats, you can even have them work on it together – like challenge them to memorize the order of the presidents.. or their multiplication tables. I know you are thinking “yeah right” but for some reason when they are on the spot, many kids like to show what they know and “win.”

Packing:

1) Pack strategically with kids’ bags on top in case they want to reach something, or if you need diapers for changes.

2) I don’t like to promote one commercial thing over another, however… To save you from loading the car with gifts, Amazon Prime is the greatest thing if you are a mom – $99 a year gets you FREE two day shipping on most items..& access to kindle library to check out books & access to video streaming. So… if Santa has to deliver to another house for the holidays, it is so worth it to subscribe to Amazon Prime instead of shipping via UPS or Fed Ex or even regular mail depending on how much you have. Not to mention – you can download movies for the road trip. There is also a special discount program for diapers worth researching.

In the old days, we would pack the gifts in the car 7 hope the kids didn’t see…Thanks Jeff Bezos. Now parents can send ahead easily without waiting in line at the post office.

3) Pack lollipops. Enough said. Long lasting and minimal sugar.

4) Pack external hard drives so your electronic devices are already charged, as well as phone chargers for multiple devices – there is even a “10 in 1 Multi Phone USB Charger Cable Car Charger ” that can be useful www.amazon.com/Multi-Phone-Charger-Cable-Wall/dp/B008OBT3UK

Apps:

1) Goes without saying – Waze. I don’t go to the grocery store without it. It still has its faults, but by and large you are a more informed driver using it, with warnings about traffic, accidents and police cars along the way. It gives you your trip time and changes it in real time, as well as gives you the fastest way to your destination.

2) Gas Buddy – users report cheapest gas prices along your trip.

3) Audible – for audio books the whole family can enjoy.

4) Sit or squat – Pretty self explanatory right? Restroom finder that rates the cleanest rest stops.

5) TV Food Map – Fun one for foodies – leads you to restaurants that have been featured on Food Network.

Obvious tips:

Just in case you don’t already think of these… Pack healthy snacks… If you have young kids with lots of energy take breaks at places where they can run around. Pack a soccer ball or football to encourage burning off some energy.

Last tip: We are all here for the journey right? Take a deep breath, drive safely, and try to enjoy the ride…and  when the squabbles in the back seat get out of control, break out the lollipops. Always works. Happy Holidays!

 

 
Dec
04th
  Volunteer on a Winery in New Zealand..or Just Sample the Goods :)
Auckland, NZ

Auckland, NZ

Let me just be honest and say…. well.. When I was in New Zealand, I visited the wineries near Auckland for the wine tasting, not the volunteer vacation this time. But I ended up learning about the possibilities when I was there….& hope to do it someday.

Waiheke Island, NZ

Waiheke Island, NZ

While New Zealand is well-known for it’s Sauvignon Blancs in the southern island… a novel way to wine taste in New Zealand is on the islands around the north, where Auckland is. I spent time on Waiheke Island – a quirky, very progressive island, oozing with character, known as “the island of wine.”

IMG_7538The wineries I visited were gorgeous!

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Think about it – wineries on an island means many of them have ocean views! THAT is new to me, and my travel group absolutely appreciated every last golden drop of sunshine, and wine just minutes from the sand.

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There are more than 30 wineries on this 19 mile long island. What is fascinating about New Zealand wineries is that 95% of them are following sustainability guidelines.  It is a goal of the Kiwis to be good stewards of the land- and what dedication. Think about how much more expensive it is to not use pesticides, or to collect rain water as irrigation.

A mere 35 minute ferry ride from Auckland is Waiheke Island. known as “the island of wine”. There are about 30 growers on the island with 8,000 full year residents. During the summer months, though, that population blossoms to more like 40,000.

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My personal favorite was Cable Bay Winery.

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The art… the design… the patio…

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The bean bag type chairs laid out on the grass facing the beach…

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Mudbrick Winery was a great stop for lunch – you can sit on a casual outdoor patio, or graze on gourmet fare inside. This is where we ran into an American who came to work on a winery and she was loving it.

Now for the volunteering part: There is an organization  – “WWOOF” – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms -  that places volunteers at New Zealand wineries. You can help tend to the grapes, learn about winemaking, and even at some, work in the wine bar. Volunteers are usually given a place to stay with room and board… not to mention the chance to form bonds with new friends from a foreign country. (Although – be warned, sometimes you do have to pay a small price to stay while volunteering.) I have found that the best travel experiences happen this way, because you get off the tourist map, and get great recommendations of places to see from your hosts.

While this may not be the neediest of causes, giving back helps the local economy, & you foster bonds with people from other countries.

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To learn more about New Zealand wines, Waiheke in particular, and how to volunteer – here are some links…

www.wwoof.net

www.cablebay.nz

www.mudbrick.co.nz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Nov
16th
  Is It Safe To Travel To Europe?
From chron.com

From chron.com

Is it safe to travel right now – especially to #Europe?

That is the question on many travelers’ minds after the horrific violence that ensued in Paris..& unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. It becomes a personal choice, after weighing one’s comfort level with the level of risk.

But here is what you need to know in weighing your decision: Times are different. In the past year, terrorists have been striking “soft targets” more frequently – undefended or vulnerable locations where ordinary people gather. The Russian plane, the Tunisian resort, a train between Paris & Amsterdam, & outside a train station in Ankara, Turkey, are just a few incidents in 2015. Back in July, the state department issued worldwide caution warnings that extremists might elect to attack these venues, & target foreigners because of the West’s attempts to bring down ISIS. But it is impossible to protect against attacks everywhere.

The old advice to avoid high rise hotels, American chain hotels or restaurants still holds true, but these last Paris attacks were much more random. So what can you do?A few simple, concrete things:

If you have plans in the future to travel to Europe, or want to make plans, consider travel insurance that has a terrorism policy -that way if transportation shuts down, or popular destinations close, you can change your trip and not lose money.
Also – pay attention to governments’ travel advisories – not just from the US, but also check the UK’s, & Australia’s for a varied perspective. (www.state.travel.gov/…/alertswarnings/worldwide-caution.html)

So should you go? I would encourage everyone to still travel – otherwise the enemy wins. That is what they want – to create fear, and change our lifestyle. Right now, security is beefed up more than ever. France’s president Francois Hollands is asking for a three month state of emergency that would extend police power to search & arrest, and limit public gatherings in that country. We can support the French people in solidarity by continuing our travel plans.

Having said that, I understand it might be a bigger leap today: The mood may not be as celebratory, & fear provokes irrational thoughts – especially if you are bringing children. You have to weigh your own fear – the odds are not high you will be a victim of terrorism abroad, but psychologically, we all feel safer at home. If you feel you won’t be able to relax and enjoy – wait it out & explore our own great country. (The National Parks are turning 100 in 2016! ) Based on history, things will die down – we will hopefully defeat the extremist organization & it may “feel” safer to you.

In the meantime, remember – this was an attack on all humanity, & nothing brings us closer to people in other countries, nothing bridges the gap more, than travel. We must continue to live our lives…& defend freedom.
Below is an article that presents thoughts & latest updates on the subject…Wishing safe travels to all, especially with the holidays approaching.
www.cnn.com/2015/11/15/travel/paris-travel-advice/ ‪#‎prayersforparis‬ ‪#‎travel‬ ‪#‎travelsafety‬ ‪#‎travelsafely‬ ‪#‎paris‬ ‪#‎europe‬ ‪#‎traveltoeurope‬

 
Nov
02nd
  Too Good to be True? Flights to Europe for $69…The Low Cost Story

A price like that seems far-fetched right? Well recently low cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle announced that $69 one way flights to Europe from the US are coming as soon as 2017. (Average round trip is expected to be more like  $300,but still!) How does Norwegian Air plan to do this? They already have a low-cost model, but charge for extra services (which make airlines billions of dollars!) But to offer this price the airline plans to save costs by flying into smaller airports that don’t levy such high fees.

From Norwegian Air Shuttle

From Norwegian Air Shuttle

What is Norwegian Air? I’ve written about them before – Europe’s third largest low cost carrier that broke into the Trans-Atlantic flights from US  to Europe in 2013. They currently fly from Los Angeles, Oakalnd, NY, Boston, Washington DC, and Las Vegas to Europe. I flew them this past summer, along with other low cost carriers – yes I was the Queen of Low Cost last summer…  I would much rather sit on a cramped plane for a cheap ticket, and take more trips, than not go anywhere at all. Especially with kids because it adds up. Low cost carriers are great for families if you don’t need upper class. I flew RT to London on Norwegian Air for $800 per person. I flew EasyJet one way from London to Zurich for $25 per person. I flew Allegiant Air RT from LA to Oahu for $400 per person. Some other well-known low-cost carriers are RyanAir, Spirit, Frontier, WOW, and of course, Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America. Here is what you can expect from low cost carriers, because with prices like $69 round trip to Europe, you are going to want to fly the low cost skies.

Norwegian Air Shuttle

Norwegian Air Shuttle

My experience on Norwegian: PROS: New planes – it’s long haul fleet is entirely new Boeing 787 Dreamliners. IMG_8633It has a fantastic entertainment system that makes the whole experience go smoother – especially with kids. Tons of movies, tv shows, etc. Norwegian also has a new filtered air system that the airline claims reduces jet lag – don’t know about that, but I certainly felt less dehydrated. CONS: Not great food to buy on board.. Ran into a few rude employees on the phone… Ticket price changed online AS I was booking my ticket. Also – they get you – once you are ready to pay for your ticket online, they then tell you there is a 3% charge for using a credit card. Not aligned with any other frequent flier program. My experience on Allegiant: PROS: Relatively cheap to Hawaii at the very last minute – less than one week away. CONS: Allegiant is notorious for cancelling flights at the last minute – even while you are at the airport gate. One guy I met had his flight cancelled one hour before, and it wasn’t rescheduled until two days later. Fine if you don’t want to come back from Hawaii, but would be a bummer missing two days of your vacation :) Not aligned with another frequent flier program. My experience on EasyJet: PROS: SUPER cheap! Cheaper than the trains. The prices make it easy to jump from one European city to another. CONS: They really expect you to do everything with very little help from them. Dont expect top notch service at the airport. And get to the airport on time if you have to check bags- again, the desks were understaffed. Planes felt old.  Not aligned with another frequent flier program. Overall: 1) Because many of the low cost airlines fly into the secondary or smaller airports, check the price of transportation from that airport to your destination. For instance, if you are going to London and land at Gatwick, it is more expensive to get to central London from Gatwick than from Heathrow. Make sure you calculate in that cost of your ticket to make sure it’s worth it. 2) If you are traveling with someone with special needs, or young children – get to the airport with plenty of time. In my experience, there aren’t as many people staffed, so the wait could be longer. 3) If you are traveling with bags, and need to check them, check your bags online when you buy your ticket.  The price can gradually sneak up, and it will definitely be more if you decide to check them upon arrival at the gate. 4) A flight attendant secretly told me that always check the upper class prices on Norwegian as well – sometimes they are cheaper than the back of the plane if those start to creep up. 5) Use websites that track low cost carriers – Cheapoair.com, Skyscanner.com, Whichairline.com 6) Along that same advice, after checking the price of a ticket on the airlines’ website, double check another travel booking webiste like those mentioned. On Norwegian air, the price literally increased right while I was about to book, so I jumped over to Cheapoair, and got the tickets for the lower price I had initially seen…AND they didn’t charge me a 3% credit card charge, and meals were included in the price. 7) Tickets on many low cost airlines tend to be non-refundable and non-changeable without paying a hefty fee. In conclusion – I consider options a good thing… as long as safety and good service are part of the package. These low cost carriers are also causing competition so most airfares are ticking downward. Please share any of your experiences flying the low cost skies…

 
Oct
26th
  San Francisco: What’s New, & What’s Old but Still “Has It”

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Resonate:  to have particular meaning or importance for someone : to affect or appeal to someone in a personal or emotional way

I know I’m not the only one on which San Francisco has that effect, many travelers visit for a reason. But after living there for ten years another lifetime ago, each time I visit, the darn city by the bay carves a deeper niche into my soul.
This past weekend, I was there, and was so happy to see that no matter how things change: tech boom after boom, neighborhoods that I wouldn’t have stepped foot in after dark are now hip and happening, and many new restaurants – things also stay the same: the breeze off the bay, clear crisp autumn days, cable cars, ethnic neighborhoods.
So here’s a round up of what’s new… and what’s sentimentally constant:

New: FANTASTIC restaurant Cotogna in Jackson Square. SF has always been a foodie town, and this place fits right in as one of the most delicious new Italian restaurants. May be one of my best meals I’ve ever had in SF, but then again I was with great company which could have influenced my experience – dont miss the Raviolo di Ricotta w/farm egg. OMG. Warning: Super hard to get a reservation. Book way in advance.

Old but still has it: Bix. Down a dark, hidden alley, stands one of the all time classics. Also in Jackson Square, this supper club with a piano bar is housed in an old bank vault. Many thanks to the bartender who let us stay after hours so my friends and I could take a long, sentimental walk down memory lane at our old hang out. The environment is still classy, & my favorite painting still hangs on the wall – the butler examining the lipstick stain on a champagne glass. Even though there are newer places with younger crowds, this old stand by is unique and doesn’t disappoint if you want a cozy pre or post-dinner drink at the bar. #Sohappyit’sstillthere

New: Belga Restaurant : Really fun, buzzy European bistro-type environment, right in my old neighborhood, on Union St. just walking distance to all the Cow Hollow/Pacific Heights nightlife.

Old: Found great hotel rates at some of the older hotels… trying to stay relevant & compete with some of the newer, more contemporary places. Check the classic hotels – rooms aren’t as fresh, but usually great locations & decent rates.

New: I call it the “Uber” effect – my observation after one weekend is that it seems easier to find a parking spot in the city – WHAT? Sounds crazy I know – but with many people Ubering it, the parking spaces were easier to find. BUT  – because more people are using Uber (it is a SF company and SF is a busy town with many visitors) I had to pay double rates every time I used the service due to high usage. It was always “peak hours.” so budget accordingly. Keep in mind it’s not easy to drive all those hills in San Francisco, and hotel parking is expensive, so these are things to weigh if you consider renting a car vs Uber.

Old: Fall is still the best time to visit, in my opinion. Summer in SF is notoriously cold, autumn can’t be beat.

#itresonates
#greattown
#greatfriends
#grateful