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Top 10 Budget Tips for Traveling Couples


One of the things that kept us from traveling earlier in our relationship was the perception that we couldn’t afford to see the world. Traveling seemed like something reserved for either the uber-rich or people with no responsibilities and no timelines, the type that could travel cheaply because they had the time to bus or backpack instead of buying a flight from one location to the next. We had no idea we could be a couple that would travel the world together.

Another barrier was the obvious – there are two of us. Everything, or so we thought, cost double to travel as a couple. Two plane tickets. Two meals. Twice the drinks. Twice the tickets. Twice the entry passes. At a surface level, this is obviously a true statement – traveling as a couple does require you to save money more creatively because you’re paying for two of everything. However, when we stepped back after gaining some experience as a couple on the road, we found that there were a few ways we were wasting money while traveling. There are plenty of ways to save money for travel, and especially while traveling.

It’s easy to spend less with beauty all around you.

The relieving part of this realization is when we recognized that, for the most part, these were simple fixes. We didn’t have to sign up for any credit cards. We didn’t have to take additional risk. We didn’t have to go without doing what we really wanted to do when we traveled – we just had to be a little smarter.

With that said, we would rather you learn from our mistakes than make your own. Take note of these tips for saving money while traveling as a couple, no matter how simple they are. It’s been our experience that very often it’s the most simple tips and ideas that saves us the most money when we’re on the road!

Share Meals

This is a very simple, practical tip that will cut your food cost in half with little effort. Most places you travel in the world serve large portions, although some seemingly think that America is the only country that serves meals on plates that look like trash can lids, but it isn’t true. If you’ve ever had a plate of Schnitzel in Germany or a traditional Irish breakfast, you know this to be a myth.

This was plenty for us to split in the middle of a long day of sight-seeing!

What happens very often with couples who travel is that they will order two meals, have left-overs, and box food that goes to waste. It’s wiser to either get one entree or two appetizers and split it. The benefits are beyond financial also, as one of the things that bogs down enjoyment while traveling is spending too much time in bars and restaurants, over-indulging from the menu and then feeling too sluggish to do anything in the city.

Dine Less, Snack More

This is similar to the point above, but really requires more of a change in philosophy and the way we think about eating when we travel.

What I mean by dining less and snacking more is simply this – instead of every meal having to be a true meal, think about it as grazing. Too many travelers have the concept of eating “three squares” per day while they travel, and it’s something Tracy and I generally disagree with. If you can have a few bites of something in the morning, maybe take a snack during the day, split a lunch and have a cheap snack in the evening, you’re going to save considerably on your food cost. You may even be able to splurge for a nice meal or two, something that is worth sitting down for a few hours and enjoying, instead of eating three squares on auto-pilot.

Fast, inexpensive sandwich shop in Barcelona. We found a cheap meal to-go before hitting the city!

A great way to do this is by finding the local or regional market where you can find easy, to-go meals that are inexpensive and portable. When we’re in London, grabbing a few Tesco sandwiches has saved us more than a pound or two, and allowed us to have something quick without breaking the bank and stopping our sight-seeing adventures around the city!

Free Walking Tours

A great thing to do on Day 1 in any new city is a Free Walking Tour. You can find organizers of these meet-ups in virtually any city with a tourist presence, who work on tips or up-sell opportunities (free walking trip on which they sell canal trips, etc…). These are always safe, informative, and provide a great scan of the city without spending a single dime.

The best thing you can do is get lost on a walking tour – in Amsterdam!

When we were in Munich, we started our trip with a free walking tour in the center of the Marienplatz, which lasted over two hours and did a wonderful job of getting us acquainted with the city. Not only was it historically informative, but all along the way the tour guide gave great tips and locations for some of the less-touristy, more authentic locations to enrich our experience. We’ve made these Free Walking Trips a must since that experience.

Buy Alcohol at Duty Free

Most people enjoy having a few drinks on vacation and we’re no different. Like all couples, when we’re on vacation we’re also drinking for two. While there’s always time for a Guinness in an Irish bar, buying all of your drinks in bars and restaurants is an absolute budget buster.

Luckily, Duty Free is a great option for stocking the (hotel room) bar. Duty Free is an international-flights-only shop in most major airports around the world that sells various goods without paying local taxes. You’ll see a variety of items in these stores, from perfumes and souvenirs to high-end chocolates and alcohol. Alcohol can normally be bought for 30-50% cheaper than what it typically sells for in independent liquor stores.

Pre-drinking on Duty Free helps you save money for the good stuff!

In some countries where the government owns the liquor supply, such as Iceland, a bottle of liquor costs near the equivalent of a plane ticket making it beyond wise to pick up a bottle for the room in Duty Free. If you plan on having more than just a few drinks, do your pre-gaming in the room and “add-on” with the local fare in restaurants when you go out. Doing so will ease your bar tabs by at least 50%, saving you possibly hundreds of dollars over the span of a long vacation.

Avoid Cabs

Speaking of budget busters that make no sense, let’s talk about cabs for a moment. .

First, in many cities (in America and abroad) cabs are an absolute racket, especially when the driver can tell that the rider isn’t a local. We’ve been in situations, when we were less experienced, where a cab driver managed to turn a five-mile drive back to the hotel into a a $60 loop around town. “There’s construction,” he said. Was there? I wouldn’t know because I’m not from there, and that’s the issue.

Metro passes can be had in any city for nearly nothing!

Cab drivers have a tendency to take advantage of ignorance, not only through elongating trips but also by making the correct trip at an inflated rate per quarter-mile or picking a route that may not be necessarily out of the way, but one where they know they’ll hit traffic.

There are a few cities in which we’ve taken cabs and felt like we were being dealt fairly abroad, namely Dublin and London (use only the black cabs), but for the most part you would be wise to use the train, subway, metro, or even walk. A handful of cab rides can easily run you $100 or more simply from the airport for two people, and in most cities there are far better options available.

In Amsterdam, bikes are the way to get around!

So, when is it right to use a cab? When you have to, or when you know exactly where you’re going. In these cases, tell the cab driver up front, in a kind way, that you know where you’re going. Say your address, and tell the cab driver the first couple of steps on how to get there. “We’re heading to the Harding Hotel. Just take a right on this street and you’ll cross the Liffey – it’s at the end of Grafton Street next to Temple Bar.” (This didn’t happen in Dublin, just using it as an example) They’ll know that you know, and they’ll bypass you for the next unsuspecting victim.

Obviously, if you are out and the trains or buses are no longer running, you may have to opt for a cab ride. My advice? If you do have to get a cab in this situation, and you don’t know by heart where you’re going, use the GPS on your phone to keep the driver honest. If you see them getting quirky or getting off track, tell them you have it pulled up and there’s a better way (don’t be immediately accusatory). Sometimes the driver may actually know a better way and is trying to accommodate a faster route – but, sometimes they aren’t.

Go for the Greenery – Visit Parks

Parks are incredible for couples on vacation, not only from the aspect of their beauty, but from the variety of scenery in and around parks.

Gardens and Parks are the ideal location for a romantic day!

In most cities, parks double as cultural icons and places where history is commemorated through statues, gardens named after famous citizens and myriad other artistic expressions. Another bonus? Romance is off-the-charts in most parks. All you have to do is pick up a few snacks and a bottle of wine, grab a blanket, walk through a charming neighborhood, enjoy the scenery and set the stage for a memorable and romantic experience.

Outside of most parks, there will be small shops and museums that coincide with the park and its history. Through these shops, you’ll often find unique experiences that won’t be available through most of the city due to its relation to this park specifically.

Hop-On Hop-Off

As touristy as they might be, we’re huge fans of using Hop-On Hop-Off buses in larger cities.

Think about the cost. Two tickets for a Hop-On Hop-Off might run you $60-70 for two days. One cab ride across town and back can cost you that same amount. With unlimited trips on the bus, they make for an ideal method in getting around town, seeing the major tourist locations without having to search for them, and experiencing the area around those landmarks.

Hopping-off to see the coast of Lisbon.

Additionally, if you work through your hotel or the local Tourism Office, you can get tickets for the Hop-On Hop-Off bundled with museum tickets for other attractions for only a few dollars more.

Free (and Cheap) Museums 

Museums contain literal treasures about cities and their histories, and most museums are cheap on entry and heavy on entertainment. Many are even free.

Museums can be experienced anywhere – and cheaply!

Our advice? Do a search on the top two or three museums in the city of your choice where you would like to go, then do another search for “free museums“. Mix the list up and visit some of each. You might be able to see as many as five on your trip for as little as $40 or $50 for both of you, and truly immerse yourself in the local culture, art, and history. In addition, there’s something very connecting and romantic about museums when traveling as a couple.

Take Your Camera for a Walk

You don’t have to be a travel blogger or professional photographer to enjoy taking pictures. An absolutely free way to enjoy a city is to just get lost in it, walk around with your camera in tow and allow the city to sweep you both away.

Take the time to just walk and find the treasures around the corner.

Too often when we travel are we going to or from something, and allowing yourselves to just roam around looking at architecture, art, and even the passing-by of the day. The pictures you get will document your trip, give you a little something to brag about on Instagram (perfectly acceptable), and you’ll find yourself more acutely aware of the city in which you’re staying without having spent a dime.

Food and Arts Markets

Food and Arts Markets are rich with cheap, affordable, or even free ways to pass the day and have a beautiful, romantic experience.

Especially in most European cities, one can find open-air street markets with artists, street food, local works and vendors for multiple blocks alongside riverbanks and popular city streets. Your commitment to spend a dime is nil, and these markets often afford opportunities to meet locals, experience local artistic flair and pass hours in what can seem like minutes.

Markets like this are everywhere in Vienna during Christmastime!

These also give you the chance to buy real souvenirs. Instead of buying an over-priced key-chain in the airport, visit these markets to find small trinkets, normally for just a few dollars, and take a real piece of culture home with you.

You and your love can pick up a little street food, perhaps some wine, and sit along a park bench watching the activity of the market in full swing as you feel the true energy of the city come alive – all without breaking the bank.

Most couples tend to get frivolous with travel spending in impromptu ways, but this is well within your control! Understanding how to get the most out of your experience while also saving money affords you the opportunity to easily fix a bad trend – and enjoy it even more. If you’ve found yourselves getting to the end of your vacations low on funds and even lower on real experiences, these ten tips will give you everything you need to save money and travel the world together as a couple.

 

 

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Travel Peru: Machu Picchu and More


There is much to be said for utilizing American holidays for certain excursions, especially south of the Equator, where during North America’s wintertime it is quite appealing. Additionally, since no one besides the continental United States celebrates Labor Day or Thanksgiving, the travel prices are less expensive, yet the weather is perfect in places like Peru. We spent 9 days in this amazing country, and to be honest, I would take their ceviche over traditional turkey and stuffing any day! Easily, Peru is one of the best places to see in South America, and late November is one of the best times of year to go.

Our experience was definitely one of my overall favorites of all the excursions we’ve experienced. Using Best Peru Tours, an all-inclusive organizer of guided tours throughout Peru, we were able to book a stay that had us beginning our journey in Lima and flying to Cusco before making the trek to Machu Picchu, then returning for two nights in Lima. If you’re wondering how to get from Machu Picchu to Lima, your escorted touring group will take care of that as well!

Beautiful Machu Picchu

While in Lima, you’ll want to stay in downtown Miraflores, which is about an hour from the airport. After your arrival in Cusco, the Inca Rail (a national train liner that goes between Cusco and Machu Picchu) is about a 2.5 hour trip, and brings you to the base of Machu Picchu to experience the real splendor of the location. If you use a company such as Best Peru Tours, the booking of the individual legs becomes rather easy, as they handle this and the hotel booking for you.

Your choice is either to stay some time in Machu Picchu and truly experience Cusco, or perhaps enjoy a rather elaborate day trip from Lima if your time is limited. Along the way, you’ll experience Ollantaytambo and have a chance to see the beautiful Sacred Valley – one of our favorite scenes along the trip. Not only is the Sacred Valley visually enchanting, but its ideal as a places for couples to travel as it doubles as incredibly romantic.

Sacred Valley is another one of Peru’s magnificent experiences.

 

The bus ride up the mountain to Machu Picchu is daunting and thrilling at the same time. Try not to freak out as you look out the nearest window displaying a free falling, tree-lined and rocky mountain face as you wind at nearly 180-degree angles up a dirt road! Oh, there are buses passing you on their way down as well, but from our experience, they are definitely professionals!

(Side note – we didn’t know it was pronounced “Macch-you PEEK-shoo” until we got there! Apparently “PEE-shoo” means, uh, male member, so just a quick FYI, haha!).

In addition to Machu Picchu, a tour to the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo is a must. The Pisac Market is so peaceful, and the local silver jewelers will show you how they create their beautiful pieces by hand in their workshop. The cost of their pieces is unbelievably cheap compared to US pricing for silver, and there are day trips that frequent the area from Cusco regularly.

Before and after your tours, you’ll stay in the city of Cusco. It is unlike anything we’d experienced before – wild, warm, welcoming, and a lot of wandering (well fed and super friendly) dogs, which we loved! The locals in Cusco, at the base of the beautiful landscape, only require you to speak broken Spanish to get around – because most locals understand basic English – which is embarrassing to any native English speaker from the U.S.

The people are warm and accommodating, used to tourists but not at all resentful of the intrusion on their natural habitat. The tourists that frequent Peru from other destinations leave almost no footprint behind, and instead, a lot of love and appreciation.

Things of note regarding travel in Peru:

YOU CANNOT DRINK THE TAP WATER, but bottled water is inexpensive, and in certain locations can be refilled into your bottles. The environmental concerns regarding plastic waste have to be suspended for personal health reasons, but the walkability of any area and public transportation probably balances it out.

DO NOT FLUSH TOILET PAPER down any of the toilets. The reason for this rule (which is posted in all hotel rooms and public toilets) does not have to do with hygiene, it has to do with the original city planning – the sewer pipes were built too small! They are the size of a small orange in diameter as opposed to what we are used to in the States. You’ll need to place all paper waste into the trash can, which every establishment provides. It’s standard practice, just be respectful and dispose of your full trash bag if necessary!

MOST HOTELS IN CUSCO DO NOT PROVIDE DOUBLE/QUEEN BEDS, which we actually liked, to be honest! After days and days of travel in those full size beds, where we were restless and rolling over each other, we were given 2 separate, soft beds in a clean room which were absolutely perfect. I call them the “Avoid Snoring and Shuffling” travel convenience beds. Well worth it, and the room was so cozy!

Must Do In Cusco

Visit the downtown area and walk around the Plaza de Armas! There are many great restaurants and shops, as well as the impressive Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, also known as Cusco Cathedral. This UNESCO World Heritage site was completed after almost a century of construction in 1654. Within its walls are housed myriad artifacts and relics from the area itself.

Cusco Cathedral is beyond impressive.

The San Pedro marketplace in Cusco is also not to be missed, open from 9am to 6pm, and less than a ten minute walk from the Plaza. It’s a bustling array of great sights, sounds and smells, where you might find local performances in the square, an area surrounded by food and juice carts as well as souvenirs. Across from the square is another large part of the market where you can get freshly prepared food from locals and spend hours wandering around! If you do buy from any one of the endless souvenir stands in the market, feel free to offer a price you feel is reasonable if their initial price is too high.

After walking around the expanse, you might get a little hungry! Try a plate of lomo saltado (stir fried beef), and a big glass of steamed milk, both delicious. The local people here are very friendly and welcoming to tourists, so try something new! We spent quite a bit of time here in this area wandering around for the day.

Quick tip #1: If you do partake in the local juice, make sure to verify that it’s been made with bottled water as the local water is not potable!

Quick tip #2: The “toilets” in the market area are built into the floors in the public areas and manned by locals who charge for toilet paper, and, there are no sinks. Bring a pack of sanitary hand wipes as well as some tissue before you head over.

Must do in Lively Lima

While much of Lima is highly congested and not ideal for tourist, staying in the Miraflores district was an absolute delight. Clean and modern, yet still containing the cultural flair that is uniquely Peru, Miraflores represents the best of Lima.

We stayed at the El Tambo II Hotel, located in central Miraflores near excellent restaurants and prime shopping markets, most of which featured locally made clothes, bags and other goods. Walking out from the El Tambo was a peaceful stroll, along the main thoroughfare in the morning and stopping for a light desayuno and coffee.

The food, no matter where we ate, was incredible. Given Lima’s location as a coastal city along the rough waters of the Pacific, fresh fish was ample. With that in mind, our first dinner stop was El Pez On, a thriving seafood restaurant that provided us with free pisco sour as we waiting for a table under the shimmering Peruvian sun. The setting was incredible, the service was even better, and the ceviche was the best we’ve ever had.

El Pez On – the perfect place to start your stay in Lima.

There were numerous other activities in the downtown streets, as we walked to nearby Parque Kennedy. The small park was idyllically situated along a small section of hostels and restaurants, where we had a glass of wine or two and a few appetizers. After, we walked to the benches and fed some of the cats who frequented Parque Kennedy (also known as Parque Gato!).

You won’t be the only one hanging out at Parque Kennedy!

For calmer fair, Miraflores provided unlimited small cafes and beautiful sitting areas to simply watch the day pass. However, nighttime brings a different vibe. The streets fill with locals and tourists alike soaking in the perfect weather and delicious drinks, often making a stop at one of the local casinos for a draw or two on the slot machine. We stopped in as well, as stopped after our third “pull” paid for a few drinks and a modest meal!

Miraflores truly is a beautiful city to simply walk, as we experienced during our nighttime walking tour of the city, purchased through Viator for only $8 per person. The tour was casual and informative, and truly helped us feel like we knew the city, though the truth was that we had much to learn. If walking isn’t your interest, and perhaps you prefer a bike ride, you can also check out the Urban Bike Ride Tour that goes from Miraflores to San Isidro. It’s a beautiful ride that allows you to view a larger section of Lima, all within view of the rolling Pacific waters.

The Heights of Machu Picchu

The truly glory of Peru, however, is and will always be Machu Picchu. Arriving at the base of this beautiful time capsule was the culmination of a life-long interest we’ve both had, from our early days as a couple talking about the poem by Pablo Neruda to the time spend leering at travel articles and dreaming about the day we would finally see the ancient city.

Standing atop Machu Picchu, walking through it and touching the centuries-old structures truly sends the chill of time through your bones. The wind seemingly blows history through you, and you realize you’re truly in the presence of something grand. Machu Picchu was the ultimate culmination to a trip truly built for a crescendo, and we were provided that.

If you haven’t been to Peru, and more specifically Machu Picchu, you simply must go. The people, the food, the culture and the permeating history make it life-changing experience for any traveler looking for something transcendental.

 

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Top 10 Most Beautiful Underrated Caribbean Islands


The Caribbean is too-often associated with simply being a destination of family cruises, where one is taken out into the ocean on a big boat, dumped onto a tourist-friendly block of an island and swooped back up twelve hours for another jaunt to the next location. The truth is, the Caribbean offers many islands that are worth the flight and hotel expense not only because of the impeccable weather, but variety of rich, cultured experiences available on virtually every island. Especially great is the remote nature of these islands as off-the-beaten path destinations for quiet vacations.

Additionally, this beautiful expanse of islands is mistakenly summed up by thinking of a few locations only – Jamaica, Bahamas and Aruba being those that stand out when individuals and couples search for the best islands in the Caribbean. Fortunately, there is so much more to be seen and experienced out of the 28 island nations in the Caribbean, as well as the more than 7,000 individual islands! There are a million reasons to travel to the Caribbean, but here are some of our favorite under the radar locations and why we think you should go!

Curaçao

Part of the sister islands that make the ABC islands (along with Bonaire and Aruba), Curacao boasts incredible beach-fronts, crystal-clear water and some of the best and most affordable resorts in the Caribbean. Part touristic, part untouched, Curacao has something in mind for the beach-goer and party-goer, including some of the most stunning vistas in the Caribbean as well as a thriving nightlife in downtown Willemstad, the capital. Lastly, the ABCs are technically removed from the hurricane belt, making weather a nearly non-factor year-round for the gorgeous utopia.

Perhaps the most truly differentiating things on the island to experience is the shipwreck on Klein Curacao, a small island just off the mainland. Curacao is, in fact, a hot-bed of shipwreck activity with several notable locations to dive or snorkel around shipwrecks such as the Superior Producer, which went down in 1978.

Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

Most come to the Dominican Republic for Punta Cana, the coastal city littered with all-you-can-eat packages and Caribbean tourists who want to be in the Caribbean without actually being in the Caribbean. However, Bayahibe offers a truer and less stale experience than Punta cana. Take advantage of the locally-prepared seafood dishes and scuba diving by day, and the numerous, thriving and vibrant live music establishments by night. Kviar Show Disco & Casino Bayahibe is a favorite place that doubles as a location to dance the night away, have some drinks, and risk a few bucks on the blackjack table.

Bonaire

 

There are countless reasons to visit Bonaire, and its not only our favorite place in the Caribbean, but arguably our favorite place in the world. Small, unspoiled and untouched, Bonaire is a water-lover’s dream, featuring some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world, as well as a vibrant nightlife and excellent cultural experiences.

Make sure to visit Klein Bonaire, a small swath of land directly opposing the primary tourists’ area in the capital of Kralendijk, where daily boats will take you on a short ride to experience a completely unfettered snorkeling experience. Don’t forget to take your own food and drink, however, because Klein is completely uninhabited. Bonaire is ridiculously romantic, and absolutely perfect as a Caribbean get-away for couples!

Nevis

Nevis is small. Very small, at only 36 square miles. However, what the tiny island lacks in size it makes up for in richness. There is simply so much to do in this idyllic paradise, including volcano exploration, hiking, camping, snorkeling and diving – to name a few.

Additionally, Nevis doubles as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, 18th century American statesman and the 1st Treasury Secretary in national history. Hamilton is honored throughout the island, including a casual trip through the now-museum that sits at the site of his birthplace. You’ll have to fly from Miami into into neighboring St. Kitts to reach Nevis, but the extra layover is absolutely worth it.

Grenada

Grenada is rolling and stunning, although often overlooked in favor of many of its neighbors. It is possibly one of the most unspoiled islands in the West Indies, and retains original colonial charm as well as a casual atmosphere and amazing food. St. George, the island nation’s capital, is a cultural landmark full of historic museums and inviting people.

The Coyaba Beach Resort is the place to stay, as it includes reasonable prices, beautiful rooms and one of the best restaurants on the island – the Arawakabana

Saba

Saba is the smallest Dutch-Caribbean island, and certainly one of the most beautiful. Called the “Unspoiled Queen”, the island houses less than two-thousand residents, making it an ideal choice for those looking to truly disappear off the grid.

In addition, Saba has some of the highest elevation in the Caribbean, making it the perfect location for hiking and mountain biking, at more than 1,200 feet in elevation. The lifestyle on Saba is different from much of the Caribbean – slow and old-fashioned with little nightlife, even with the emergence of an ecotourism industry in the last few decades.

Tobago

Just north of Venezuela sits Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost country in the Caribbean. Trinidad is unquestionably the bigger brother of the two, being larger, more industrialized and more acclimated to tourism, but Tobago offers much. Low-key and unspoiled, there are a few resorts in Tobago such as the Le Grand Courlan Spa Resort where the ocean is warm year-round, completely calm and untampered. Additionally, Le Grand Courlan is a perfect couples resort because of its adults-only policy!

Tobago is scenically stunning due to a natural feature most Caribbean islands lack in volume – bays. Tobago has numerous well-known bays that are ideal for boating, diving or simply swimming. What’s better is that many of these are away from what few “touristy” areas there are, while remaining perfectly safe.

Cayman Brac and Little Cayman

Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are stunning visually and even more interesting historically, as a remaining location where the infamous pirate Blackbeard allegedly hid his treasure – estimated at more than $14 million according to record. Accessible through the Grand Cayman, these islands offer superb adventures for scuba divers, cliff divers and windsurfers.

Legend has it that Blackbeard’s treasure is hidden along an area of rocky shoal that outlines the beautiful Cayman Brac. This shoal reaches high and vast, attracting rock climbers and hikers in addition to the already-present divers and treasure hunters! Beyond the shoal lie vast caves scattered along the coastline where small amount of gold, silver and jewels have been found over the years!

Barbados

Barbados is a natural wonder, complete with beautiful, scenic nature that is perfect for calm, casual walks throughout the island. Botanical gardens, forest trails and caves are virtually everywhere, making Barbados a perfect off-the-grid location to reconnect with nature. Harrison’s Cave is a wonderful location for a truly unique Caribbean experience, and afterward you could east to the stunning Bathsheba Beach or to the south, where the Mount Gay Rum distillery has been in operation since 1703.

On Barbados’ Platinum Coast, the calm water is ideal for swimming, snorkeling or simply doing nothing.  For culinary enthusiast, the coastal fishing town of Oistons is ideal to try your hand at fry fishing with locals and familiarizing yourself with authentic Caribbean cuisine!

Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

If you visit Puerto Rico, and you should, make sure to take a small ferry over to Vieques Island, a small and quiet paradise filled with lavish resorts, mangroves, wildlife and picturesque beaches. The Vieques Wildlife National Refuge is a must-see feature of this island, as it retains much of the natural Puerto Rican wildlife to be left undisturbed and protected.

Just eight miles east of the mainland Puerto Rico, Vieques features some of the most beautiful black-sand beaches in the Caribbean, as well as Bahía Bioluminiscente. Also called “Bio Bays”, these are bodies of water that contain millions of micro-organisms, called “dinoflagellates”, that glow in the dark for a second when agitated. It is a rare, natural wonder that you can easily experience while visiting Puerto Rico. Have your camera ready!

There’s more to the Caribbean than cruises or Jamaica. With an area so moving, so beautiful and so vast, the numbers of island nations are far more varied than most imagine and offer myriad unique experiences for anyone willing to take a chance. Often, these more “out of the way” locations are the ones that will simply amaze you with things you never imagined, food you never tasted and the kind of people you could only meet far from the general eye of tourism. Take a step away from the places you know, venture further, and experience all the Caribbean has to offer.

 

 

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Travel Blogging – What to Expect in the First Few Months


This blog is the result of an idea that started over a year ago, and like many of you fellow writers, it was a sudden change in our lives that spawned the idea. We didn’t have any idea how to start a travel blog, no real idea of what it involved, we just started somehow.

At the time, I had worked for ten years to a point where, professionally, we were very comfortable. Suddenly, I was notified at the end of another long work day that my situation was actually not comfortable at all. I was advised that there were going to be some realignment within my organization, and that my position was going to be eliminated.

The change was stunning, and it caused me to think of what I really wanted to do. After some consideration and thought, there was never a moment where Tracy and I “came up” with the idea of travel blogging – it seemingly began organically. One moment, we were having dinner and discussing what we really wanted to do, and the next we had made a decision. We loved writing, we loved traveling, and the next thing you knew we were buying a URL and learning about how to start our blog.

One of my favorite pictures, taken the day we decided to become travel writers.

Our blog began, in earnest, in December 2016. Since that time, we’ve learned immeasurably and found that travel blogging is certainly not something to be taken into halfheartedly. There have been endless things discovered, and many things left to be learned. The idea that we would hit “publish” and suddenly become a great blog like Nomadic Matt vanished quickly when days passed with no traffic and no interest. There weren’t any media outlets pounding at our door, and it seemed like we were simply writing for no one.

As the lessons have piled up, so have the small wins, and we’re beginning to see the return on our time investment. We have the believe that it will continue, and lead to us becoming one of the best travel blogs for solo travelers and couples seeking answers to their travel questions. Some of you can relate, those of you who are also aspiring writers, and we thought we would share a few things you can expect in your first few months of travel blogging.

Dedication

Travel blogging requires much more time than we originally thought. Yes, there was an initial feeling that we would build a site, post a few articles, go live and watch the views and share counts mount. We were wrong.

This is hard. Very hard.

It isn’t all tropical sunsets – travel blogging is hard. Very hard.

Travel blogging has an immense failure rate, with some estimates stating that as many as 97% of travel bloggers quit within the first 18 months. Two of the remaining three percent quit over the next six months, and the lucky “one” is the one that goes beyond two years. Most don’t realize that there really is one thing you must possess to put up with the constant challenges, constant need to learn, to adjust course, to adjust attack, to learn, to build social media, to connect with other bloggers and a multitude of other tasks.

That one thing is love.

If you don’t love this, you will fail. If you don’t love this, you will quit. It’s difficult, and you have to have an essential passion for this to press on through the twists and turns of what lay ahead. If you don’t love it, find something you do love, because travel blogging is not for the casual observer unless you truly want to do it casually.

What’s fun? Doing what you love. What’s more fun? Doing what you live, with the one you love.

With that being said, we understand that it’s only been four months. Could we quit? Sure. We won’t, though. When you check back a year from now, we’ll still be here because we love it. Will we be rich? Probably not, but we would do this anyway. We love it that much.

Don’t write solely for the money. Don’t build your blog and your website solely for the riches, because we know it’s going to take us and anyone else that undertakes this task a long time to get there. Write for the passion, and let the money come when it comes. You can only dedicate yourself to something like that if you love it.

That’s our outlook, and what we believe will see us through.

We believe the climb to the top will be worth it.

 

Learning

Of the things you see on our site, from the design and website UX to the widgets and e-mail list, the only thing we knew how to do four months ago was write articles in a Word document. It takes a lot of learning to start your own travel blog, but it again falls back on your passion to determine whether or not you have the dedication to see it through.

Our first major lesson learned was perhaps our most difficult, and costly. We originally bought the URL in mid-summer last year, and began working on our brand new blog. We bought the URL on Wix, as we had a previous positive experience with a small site for a completely unrelated venture. We had no knowledge of WordPress, true website design or building a site from scratch. We thought the easy-to-create templates on Wix would allow us to bloom.

Wrong.

Wix, and most of the cheaper, DIY, template-based blog CMS that you seem on television commercials are created with software code that is so clunky that Google’s algorithm can’t even locate the page content.

What does this mean? We had to learn WordPress.

If you want a serious blog, go with WordPress from Day One.

Do yourself a favor. On day one, don’t believe you can start this without doing it on WordPress. The learning curve is steep, but it’s also doable if you’re committed (see how that keeps coming up)? We have spent at least fifty hours on the layout and design of this website. We have spent at least a hundred more looking up the answers to questions we needed to do that layout. That research paid off, however, as our blog is currently improving in search engine position thanks to the lean code design that WordPress offers.

Additionally, you’re going to learn about things you possibly haven’t even heard of before. Get ready to immerse yourself in photography and social media, to learn about intimidating terms like SEO, backlinks, and TrustRank, and then get ready to apply all of this to your new project. It is, in many ways, like trying to uncrack a code.

You will learn as much starting your blog as you will going through actual school, but the difference is that you are the one that is going to dig through, with blood, sweat and tears, and find the answers.

When learning WordPress, there are times where the light at the end of the tunnel feels like a train.

Investment

This is a word that scares some people, but you’re going to invest a lot into starting your blog. Be it time or money, you’re going to invest if you want to get your blog off the ground.

I do recommend, no matter what level of expertise you have in creating blogs, to take the training course offered by the world’s leading travel blogger – Nomadic Matt. Matt’s course, called Super Star Blogging, has been one of the best investments we’ve made in beginning our blog. You have the opportunity to connect with not only Matt, but his support team and hundreds of other bloggers and authority figures from travel photography, entrepreneurship, travel blogging and other fields. Taking the course is something that has greatly accelerated our pace and allowed us to really understand what we’re doing.

A few other things are going to cost some investment as well, from WordPress themes and plug-ins to Facebook advertising and e-mail hosts, you can’t do this for free. Is it expensive? No, absolutely not. However, do expect that it will take you a few hundred bucks to get started and probably $20-30 per month on various tools to get you going.

The bigger investment is time.

What do our days look like? Here’s a snapshot:

6:30 to 8am – Wake up, work out, make breakfast and do a social media blast on our primary outlets before going to work.

8am to 6pm – Work our day job. Use off-time for social media blasts, responding to blog comments or reading about tactical elements related to the blog.

6pm to 7pm – Make dinner and set-up to work on the blog.

7pm to 11pm or 12am – Write articles, work social media, work on design elements, network with other bloggers and followers, white-board ideas, brainstorm, read, and plan.

That’s 90% of our days Monday through Friday. While we try and breakaway on the weekends, we always come back to this because we love it. We don’t have to push to maintain the schedule above. If you love it, you won’t either.

Saturdays and Sundays are really maintenance days. We’ll spend a few hours here or there finishing articles, connecting on social media or responding to emails, but we try to balance ourselves and keep our social life at least somewhat alive. It’s worth the trade-off.

Frustration

We see why bloggers quit. We get frustrated, we get tired, and we do get burned out sometimes. Tied to Google Analytics for hours a day waiting for the “big break” to happen is all-too-common, but it’s also unrealistic. The work has to be done, and it’s much more than most anticipate. Frustration is inevitable.

You do have to find balance to get through the tough times, no matter how you work, as that frustration can disillusion many into simply giving in to the easier thing to do – quitting. That’s where the other 10% comes from in our regular Monday through Friday schedule – sometimes you just have to let it all sit while you get a beer. This is especially important if you’re a couple looking to have a great relationship.

There are times you just have to put it aside and get a beer with someone you love.

We’ve had our share of lows already, including the initially wasted five months on Wix, but we’ve also had our share of highs. We’ve had an article on the beautiful island of Bonaire get shared 400 times, and written some content of which we’re very proud. We’ve added design elements, features and “thickened” our website. We continue to, and we consider all of these “small wins”.

Those small wins will keep you living and breathing. Notice them and celebrate them, because there are going to be a lot of times when you want to chuck your laptop through a window. Design flaws, coding errors, debugging issues, writer’s block, lack of inspiration and burn out are going to visit you at some point. Expect it. Know it will come, and prepare for it.

When you feel frustrated, understand that you are a part of the entirety of bloggers who have felt that way, from your peers who are beginning to the world’s most well-known blogging brands. Everyone has felt it. Just let it pass. Either get through the problem you’re facing at the time or get away from it all-together, but don’t stew in the frustration.

Guinness is for bloggers.

Also, remember that bloggers are a helpful lot. It’s interesting to see a community of people who are actually competitors willing to help one another. There are countless Facebook groups and social media gatherings where you can get support, as well as professional learning opportunities such as Super Star Blogging that will give you a network of people willing to assist you.

Consider us a few of those people, because the world needs more people willing to write, willing to speak, and willing to have a voice. For those brave few, there is support in one form or another to get you through any difficulty.

Conclusion

We plan on doing a follow-up to this around our one-year mark, at which point we’re excited to see where we are. We’re excited to see where you are too, and hope that for those mulling over a decision to start something (blogging or not) that this serves as a call to action and to serve notice on what to expect.

The common theme behind all of this is passion. Whether your passion is travel blogging, writing, painting or starting a brick-and-mortar business, I’m sure you have a similar story. I would urge you to tell yours. Let someone else learn from it and pay your knowledge forward.

The only two reasons you should start a blog are Freedom and Love.

Most of all, however, remember to have fun. Love what you do. If you don’t, find what you do love. Write, live, read, and risk with passion. The world is full of people hating their nine-to-five job, so be different. Find your passion and let your passion find you.

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Travel Barcelona – Art to All Night


The beauty of Barcelona is bejeweled and multi-faceted. Between the vast array of art museums and Gaudi architecture, to the streets that lead you to early morning coffee shops with bocadillos waiting for customers at five o’clock in the morning, to those early afternoon corner bistros with the Estrella Damm beer you’ve been craving (Limon flavored, of course!) this city winds its way around your mind in myriad ways.

Estrella – Damm that’s good beer!

For our stay in this eclectic and diverse city, we chose the Barcelona House, an artsy and friendly hotel sitting neatly in the bustling downtown area of the city, just steps away from the main street of La Rambla, leading to the center of the action. The convenient locale of this hotel and the open-very-late staff were thankfully accommodating. The rooms were modern, clean and comfortable, and our quarters overlooked a residential building that simply added to the charm of the place.

A comfortable and cozy room at the Barcelona House Hotel.

After retiring our backpacks in for the night, still hungry from the flight and looking to explore, we ventured down the main thoroughfare after the sun had set and found ourselves at the El Cercle restaurant, serving excellent wine and a great view of the city’s shopping center from the top deck.

Great view for a romantic meal in downtown Barcelona.

Despite the cold of Spain’s late autumn, we settled in at the best vantage point while the nightlife in Barcelona walked by down below. And, perhaps because of the chilly night, we were quite happily the only guests at the top of the eatery. The food was amazing and the service, despite the weather, was impeccable.  Personally, I’m a big fan of anchovies, and while maybe not a great choice while you find yourself elsewhere and land-locked, the fresh fish here was presented with amazing flavor and quite memorable.  (We tried them many places, always delicious in Barcelona!)

In this diverse city there are many centrally-located and beautiful shops and boutiques that are frequented by a mass of visitors and Barcelonans alike. This city is one of both old and new, the new being displayed in it’s rows of high-end shops, featuring the upscale wares of all kinds in the famous Passeig de Gracia.

Day-Tour Around the City

To make the most of a Barcelona trip at a reasonable price, we headed downtown to utilize Barcelona’s Hop On Hop Off bus tour, offering both a blue and red line to see the sights at your leisure without breaking the bank. For about $30 per person you can traverse the city all day. You’ll be taken to the most popular and memorable areas of the city, including the Joan Miro museum, where you can peruse his famous modern artworks in the clean-lined building so befitting of his craft.

Outside of the Joan Muro Museum, as no pictures were allowed inside!

Although you aren’t allowed to photograph inside the museum itself, walk through to the second level, an outside pavilion where you’ll see a crisp, stark rooftop with his colorful sculptures, where pictures are encouraged and the view is remarkable. While inside, however, don’t miss the unique mercury fountain, a sculpture commissioned for the World’s Fair in 1937 – an art piece actually flowing in repetition with mercury itself – a must see behind the glass as you enter the main gallery.

Beneath the steps of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

In addition to the art along your bus tour, you can view the art of Gaudi in the structures that line the streets, a testament to the artist himself, and a view into the traditional history of the city itself. Ethereal and encrusted in tiles and glass, Gaudi history is truly one of the city’s birthrights, not to be missed. As a student of art in my early university years, these buildings hold a certain provenance of Barcelona for me. Not excessive and tasteless (as the word in mistranslation has come to be known as a colloquialism), but they stand moving and bright, an inspired set of architecture in a flat world.

Ground level view of a Gaudi masterpiece!

Restaurants and Markets

The city of Barcelona is highly walkable, and once we departed from our day trip on the bus, we found ourselves happily meandering along the streets, searching for a dinner (and drink!) spot. Our favorite turned out to be Rosa Negra, a colorful and vibrant Spanish restaurant on the Via Laietana, serving the best tacos and mojitos we’d had in Barcelona (or, any city), and in addition to the food and drink, the décor is something to behold. Make sure to ask for their hot sauce, if that’s your flavor, it’s not to be missed! Without question, Rosa Negra is the best food we had in Barcelona.

One of the best meals we’ve had anywhere – Rosa Negra!

 

If you find yourself in the famous area of the Sagrada Familia, make your way to the En Diagonal Bar, a tasty and Mediterranean themed eatery with a wonderful outdoor dining patio. Just a four to five minute walk down Carrer de Sardenya from the famous church, this quaint spot offers traditional tapas, chorizo, and excellent sangria. Stop in for a bite after touring this part of the city and you won’t be disappointed!

A beautiful view of the Mercado de la Boqueria – such fresh produce!

After you find your favorite eatery, of which there are many to choose from, make sure to check out the Mercado de La Boqueria. This indoor market is an impressive expanse, offering local food to chefs as well as home cooks and tourists alike. As one of the liveliest places we’ve experienced in the city, this market is a welcoming and walkable place for anyone in the vicinity. Take your time and mill about the vegetable and fruit displays, as well as the fresh seafood. Even if you’re not going to break out a kitchen set in your hotel, this market is brimming with flavors you can take home with you in memory.

Juice area at Mercado de la Boqueria.

Historical Landmarks

The Sagrada Familia is in itself an impressive and unbelievable work of art as well as history. Apart from the Catholicism of this church, the colorful Gaudi architecture swirls around every corner and window – perhaps the most breathtaking pieces of the structure altogether. Tickets are currently available for 29 euros per person and is worth the experience no matter if you’re an art major or a simply a fan of the great history of this city.

The Labor of Love that is the Sagrada de Familia.

The Casa Amatller is another one of Barcelona’s beauties. While the tours may be short, you are free to photograph along the way. This astounding Gothic structure envisioned by Gaudi the 1880’s has endeared itself as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984. Surprisingly, this unique location was once a residential building in the heart of the city, and has since been rightly converted to a museum and library. If you’re visiting during the day, leave the Estrella Damm pint for later and stop into the local cafe, the Faborit, for a cup of their delicious hot chocolate!

Amazing view of Gaudi’s Casa Batllo – a Barcelona treasure!

Continue through the tour of Gaudi’s masterpieces at the Casa Batllo. This impressive building boasts a façade of balconies that well resemble giant bones and skulls, which juxtapose the well-lit, jovial and colorful windows that adorn the outside. The lines of this structure are mesmerizing as well as a marvel of architecture which runs through the blood of Barcelona.

Visit Salvador Dali in a Day

This is the excursion for art lovers, and especially those in love with the work of Salvador Dali. Leave from Barcelona in the early morning and head to the original Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, designed by the consult of Dali himself, before heading to the Dali home in Cadaques (called the Port Lligat Museum House).

Which do you see – Lincoln or Gala?

The museum is truly stunning, offering a glimpse into the mind of one of the most flamboyant and brilliant artists of modern history. The museum truly lives up to the wishes of Dali, who said, “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.” Come, see and dream.

Dali’s Round Room, at his home in Port Lligat, is perfectly designed to create an echo for only those in the center of the room!

The Dali home in Cadaques is a masterpiece of artwork itself, having been built for Gala Dali (Salvador’s wife), and the location where the couple lived for more than 50 years before Gala’s death in 1982.

Always remember to look UP!

There are a variety of Dali-inspired trips to the region for all budget levels, and all include the beautiful drive through the eastern Spanish terrain.

Take in the Nightlife in Barcelona

Once the sun sets, its time to party in Barcelona! There are endless choices of venues, from traditional Latin music to the soulful sounds of blues bands, take a night and experience the best of the bustling after-hours excitement!

The Mojito Club in the neighborhood of L’Eixample, Barcelona offers fresh and festive Latin music with salsa dancing and great drinks as well. Locals and tourists alike flood the dance floors to move with the beat until 5am – if you can make it till nearly dawn! Offering dance lessons for individuals as well as couples and groups, start out learning a few steps and then grab a mojito and join the crowd.

A Barcelona club night

For a more modern music scene, hit up Razzmatazz in Poblenou, offering five individual rooms as venues for tastes of every kind. The music here mixes up the crowd well with international DJ’s spinning everything from electronica to rock to hip-hop… also until 5am! Check out The Loft area for a more techno crowd, one of the hot spots of the club. In addition to the weekend parties, Razzmatazz brings in live acts during the week for a mellower vibe, depending on your flavor!

DJ’s Hands at the Carpe Diem.

The beautiful Barcelona beach area offers another option – a spot that goes from day to night seamlessly at Carpe Diem Lounge Club (colloquially known as CDLC), located right on the Mediterranean in Port Olympic. Offering a calming and serene experience during the day, with food and custom drinks, the night turns CDLC into a lively, fresh atmosphere with lots of energy. Dress well and rub shoulders with some jet-setters here, while sipping a fragrant cocktail by the sea!

Beautiful expanse over a stunning Barcelona!

Barcelona is a vibrant, 24-hours-a-day delight for all the senses, from the quaint coffee shops offering frosty glasses of Estrella Damm and sardines to the world-class art and bustling nightlife, get lost on every corner and fill your moments with experiences that will last a lifetime!

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How to Succeed as a Traveling Couple


I was having an interesting conversation recently with an acquaintance of mine, a guy about my age who has been with his wife for about four years, and asked me “how do you still get along while you travel?” The question struck me strangely, perhaps because I really don’t often consider the status of “getting along” or “not getting along” in terms of our relationship – we’re together. Always will be. Win, lose or draw, good day or bad, it’s us. There’s only one state of “permanence”, I suppose, and we stay present in that when we travel. And, as the quote says, “the couple that travels together stays together”.

I had to think about the question for a moment because Tracy and I don’t really consider our relationship in those exact terms, so I had to ask him to expound. “Well, just being around each other for weeks at a time. Doing everything together. Never being out of eyesight or earshot… how do you do it?”

I was a little saddened by the question when I understood what he was driving at, but also understand it’s a question that’s probably fairly normal to most people. There was a realization that some couples may struggle to get along more when they travel, but it’s our experience together over ten years and many trips that have helped us to learn how to do so. I gave my friend a moderately well though-out explanation of what I thought before moving on, but the question hasn’t left me for a few days. I thought “maybe this is a real problem for every couple… maybe we had the same problem once and just figured it out?”

It seemed like something worth writing about.

We do have ten years together, and while I don’t think we have it all “figured out”, our disagreements are normally pretty short in nature, pretty silly, and we move past them without too much time wasted. I thought of the first few times we traveled together, however, and I suppose the reality did strike me that we did, in fact, have to learn to travel together. Travel is fun and travel is expansive, but sometimes it can be challenging and force you out of your comfort zone in ways that compel you to admit that you have the capability of improving. Especially when you travel with the one you love.

So, after ten years and twenty countries together, we were able to come up with a list of a few things we remember that help us survive (and even thrive)  as a traveling couple!

The Couple That Travels Together, Stays Together

This may seem obvious, and it is. Really obvious.

Pick the right person to be with.

Does this mean you’ll never fight? Yeah, right. Does this mean you’ll never disagree? Not a chance. However, there should be a basic respect and interest in one another, as well as commonality that will enable you to travel with each other. If you don’t have this, forget traveling, you probably shouldn’t even be together. Harsh truth? Maybe. Truth, none-the-less? We believe so. We’ve all been in relationships where we didn’t have anything in common with the other person, and we actually place the “love of travel” right along the questions of religion and children when being in a relationship. If one person loves travel and the other could care less? One will either have a sense of unrequited wanderlust or the other will feel dragged through life paying for trips they don’t want to go on.

Find someone that loves to travel as much as you do.

Assume Positive Intent

So, you picked the right one? Here’s a secret – you’re still going to have disagreements. Travel doesn’t change that – it can, in fact, enhance it. The biggest travel tip for any couple is to “assume positive intent.”

After a twelve-hour flight, expect each other to be less energetic, less understanding and less patient than normal. This is absolutely human nature, and something you should both expect from one another.

You’re going to be tired sometimes. Jet lag is a nightmare to your state of mind, so allow for some adjustment. You’re going to be curt with each other at some point on your trip if you get a little lost or something doesn’t go according to plan. Don’t make it the end of the world, don’t make it more negative than it is, and don’t expect the worst in the other person because they’re a human with human feelings and prone to the same bouts of unsolicited grumpiness that you also exhibit.

Instead, assume that the other person loves you and means well. Assume that, if something offensive was done or said, that it wasn’t done maliciously. Don’t look for reasons to stoke the fire. Assume positive intent and ask the same in return.

Compromise

It goes without saying that every relationship requires compromise to work, but it’s especially important when traveling together. After all, travel opens up possibilities and gives you myriad things you can do together. Isn’t it wise to make sure that each of you gets to do the things that matter most?

Tracy and I feel like this is something we’ve learned well over the years, and an area where we needed improvement – and luckily have! Much of our planning prior to trips comes with the idea in mind of picking “me-things” and “you-things” to make sure we each give and take in our experiences, but what you find is that even the “you-things” are enjoyable and help you out of your comfort zone!

For example, we wouldn’t even travel today if Tracy didn’t help me get over my fear of flying. Early in our relationship, we established a give-and-take that included me working on my fear so we could enjoy traveling together. Once out of my comfort zone, I was able to experience the deep love I also had for travel, but could never express!

Over time, it’s amazing how many of your interests will begin to meld if you remember to meet in the middle when it comes to picking excursions and even picking places to visit.

Communication

One thing that makes compromise impossible is a lack of communication. After all, how can you compromise with each other when you don’t know what the other person wants? It’s important to ask and be an active participant in listening to what your partner wants to do. Furthermore, understand why.

For Tracy, I couldn’t properly appreciate her love of the United Kingdom without understanding her fascination with her family heritage, and she could say the same about me and Scandinavia (Skol!). Understanding the “why” behind the “what” is an old sales tactic, but it’s really best used in a relationship – especially for traveling couples!

You should set expectations while being flexible. For example, if one of you really has a bucket-list item that isn’t shared by the other person, it’s pertinent to make sure that happens – for each of you. Decide what those important things to each other are, and show understanding by making sure they happen when you travel.

Give Space

While the point of traveling together is to be together, there should be times where you do your own thing – if even just for a few minutes at a time. I’ll give a few different examples.

In Lima, I found myself more jet-lagged than usual after a five hour flight. Really wanting to do nothing but rest, Tracy decided to venture out for a few hours (it was still daylight in a safe area close to the hotel, nothing crazy), shop, and get familiar with the area around the hotel. By the time she got back, I was rested and ready for dinner, and from that point on we were synced. Had I pushed and gone out, my exhaustion probably would’ve only gotten worse, crankiness may have ensued and we could’ve had a disagreement because of it.

On a smaller scale, don’t stay attached to the hip in markets and walking around in general. For example, while in the flower markets in Amsterdam, Tracy would walk off while I did the same, and generally say “let’s meet back here in 20.” You can do everything generally the same without doing everything exactly the same and allow each other a little breathing space.

Embrace Doing Nothing

Couples can feel a lot of pressure to do more than what is necessary when they travel. Sometimes what’s really nice is just to do absolutely nothing together – especially while you’re adjusting from jet-lag.

What’s funny is that, many years after having gone on certain trips, Tracy and I still talk about the times we did nothing. Right alongside our conversations of the Rialto Bridge and Machu Picchu is the time we arrived in Vienna with overcast, chilly weather, took a four-hour nap, woke up and went to get a beer. Don’t let each other feel the pressure to overextend – enjoy the relaxation.

Accept The Disagreements That Do Happen

Following all of this advice for couples who travel, you’re still going to have disagreements from time to time. This occurs in relationships, no matter if you’re traveling or not.

It’s easy to get frustrated when this happens, and the frustration can lead to a lack of listening, lack of understanding and ultimately a longer argument. Just accept that disagreements exist and realize them for what they are – normal.

Instead of concentrating on being right or “winning” a disagreement (no one ever does, by the way) concentrate on understanding, listening, communicating and understanding why you traveled together in the first place – for the love of travel.

 

 

 

 

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Beautiful Bonaire: The Best Kept Caribbean Secret


Bonaire is truly an undiscovered diamond in, well, a seascape of so many beautiful diamonds. However, Bonaire is unique in that it remains a sort of untouched paradise in an over-saturated world.

The least traveled of the ABC islands (which Bonaire makes up along with Aruba and Curacao), it lies just quietly north of Venezuela in the Caribbean. This small island oasis is a snorkeling and diving paradise, as well as one of the most genial and heartwarming places I’ve ever been.

This particular part of the tropical world holds many wonders, a vast and impressive expanse of ocean that entices travelers from around the globe. The secrets in it’s history are both ancient and new, so it’s no surprise that included among the crystal clear waters sits a snorkeling and diving paradise you might not have even heard about; an island so close to Aruba you could reach it by air in less than 30 minutes and Curacao in about 15!

This land of white sand and orange-gold sunsets has a special place in my heart. As a child my grandparents were missionaries on Bonaire, volunteering at the still-operational Trans World Radio studios. I was blessed to spend a few holidays in Bonaire as well as experience my first solo international trip to visit them from my home in the Northeast US when I was thirteen years old.

Since then, Bonaire has thankfully not changed too much. This island retains it’s peace, it’s familiarity, and it’s warmth. The years may pass, but the culture and the soul of the people never seem to be affected by the seemingly ongoing stress of the world at large.

Beauty and the Beaches

Bonaire has long been a hub for professional divers as well as Dutch vacationers, its clear waters and laid back attitude boast an appealing attraction for discerning adventurers from all over the globe, while still remaining a virtual secret to the majority of travelers.

As part of the ABC Islands and the Leeward Antilles (formerly the Netherland Antilles), Bonaire has for decades had the luxury of sitting largely untouched by rampant tourism. Only 24 miles long, Bonaire sits as the top rated snorkeling and scuba diving in the Caribbean. This ongoing oceanic tranquility is carefully maintained by both private and governmental protection of the reefs, keeping Bonaire a paradise since 1979.

There are many beautiful stretches of white sandy beach to choose from, almost all ideal for snorkeling or diving, with the exception of the north side of the island where the waves and currents are enough to knock you off your feet in an instant!

Sorobon Beach

Located in the southeast of the island, Sorobon Beach is a beautiful location for snorkeling and swimming, as well as just relaxing in the sun. One of the best beaches in the Caribbean, here you can kick back with a tropical cocktail and watch the world-class windsurfers who often hit the waves at Sorobon.

Also located here is the Sorobon Beach Resort and the famous and fun Hang Out Beach Bar, a much-loved Bonaire establishment for good times since 1988.

Bachelor’s Beach

This small stretch of white sandy beach is located in the Belnem district, conveniently located just south of the airport. Sitting at the bottom of a short 10 foot cliff, you can park just next to the top of the stairs and make your way down to this intimate and charming spot. This stretch is, like so many Bonaire beaches, perfect for snorkeling and diving.

The steps are just off the road and simple, and a quick descent to the water. The locals advise you just to watch your footing on the last of the steps where the ocean spray may have made it’s mark!

Te Amo Beach

This is one of the favorites of the Bonairean locals, a great place to spend time relaxing in every sense of the word – get a tan, take a swim, and then have a cook out! Like so many other Bonaire beaches, the sea life is abundant and beautiful, and only a snorkel away from the shore. During certain times of the day there is a local favorite stopping by – the Kite City food truck, which serves delicious fresh fish dishes!

Donkey Beach

Bonaire is a unique island in so many ways – one of which is the proliferation of wild donkeys that roam the local (as well as the wild) areas. Although this beach may be a bit of a misnomer, it’s a local favorite, a breathtaking spot for all things swimming and snorkeling.

This locale is ideal for both new visitors and frequent beach goers alike, as the weekends become a lively local spot with music, family fun and an atmosphere of good vibes!

Klein Bonaire (No Name Beach)

In addition to the popular beach spots on the main island, Klein Bonaire is a small, uninhabited island just 15 minutes away. The fastest way to get to Klein Bonaire from Kralendijk is by water taxi via Caribe Watersport, located at the Eden Resort Beach area directly across from Klein Bonaire, itself. On Klein Bonaire’s uninhabited shores you’ll find yourself at “No Name Beach”, a stretch of unbelievably soft, white sand and it’s signature blue waters gently lapping the shore. Make sure to bring your own snorkel gear (rentals are available at the resort as well!), because this beach is ideal for snorkelers of all skill levels as the shallows are easily navigable and the water is calm. No Name Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Bonaire, and one that will bring you the type of seclusion you’re looking for.

Make sure to also bring along a bag of water and snacks, however, because Klein Bonaire is uninhabited in every sense of the word! There are no drinking fountains or vendors, so pack whatever you think you’ll need from the mainland. Luckily it’s only a fifteen minute boat ride each way and the taxis travel to and from every couple hours. On the beach, there is a small pavilion area where you can catch some shade while not in the water or sunbathing, but keep that sunblock handy!

Buddy Dive Resort

This particular area is one of our favorites, despite the lack of sandy sunbathing areas. Buddy Dive has some of the most amazing snorkel and scuba areas we’ve seen on the island. There is a pool area and many beautiful places to relax.

In addition to the beauty, you can rent a waterproof camera for the day, swim to your heart’s content, and then they’ll give you a disc of every picture you took! The variety of fish in this particular spot is breathtaking once you put that mask on and start out down the ladder into the crystal clear water.

One addition to this spot is the restaurant, which offers amazing, fresh food, and you can sit overlooking the water. You may even have an iguana visitor or two looking for a fresh tomato or lettuce scrap. You’re encouraged not to feed them, but don’t worry – they’re very friendly! We snuck a few scraps to our reptile lunch companion a couple times!

Transportation Tips

The beauty of Bonaire also lies in the fact that it’s simplicity only adds to the tranquility. There are just two main roads on the island, one North and one South, which makes for easy navigation if you choose to rent a car from the airport while you’re there, though it isn’t necessary considering the proximity of every eventual activity you’ll be interested in.

Despite the lack of public transportation systems, taxis are very inexpensive and run by the always friendly and largely English-speaking locals. On our last visit we had the pleasure of taxiing around the island many times with Victor, a wonderful conversationalist and friend to everyone at our resort!

If you’re looking for more wind in your hair during your daily escapes, make sure to take a chance to pedal around the island via bicycle, both standard and all-terrain are available, or explore at a faster pace on an electric bike. Check out Scooters Bonaire or Bonaire Eco Cycling to rent your two-wheeled transportation for the day. Bonaire encourages this eco-friendly mode of travel by providing free charging ports in Sorobon, Rincon, and the Wilhelmina square in Kralendijk.

Sun to Sunset on the Island

Beyond the sea life and snorkeling, the island has much to entice any traveler looking for leisure, including beautiful resorts like Eden and Buddy Dive, both within minutes of the late nights of downtown Kralendijk (a fun and festive city so far off the beaten path that spellcheck can’t yet discern it’s name!).

All of Bonaire’s tranquil resorts, as well as the bustling and friendly downtown, cater to relaxation, ambiance and beauty, as well as excitement. At any moment you can find yourself drinking a Pina Colada in the pure definition of paradise, worlds away from any worries, woes, or car payments!

For nightlife in Bonaire, you won’t have to travel too far if you’re staying at one of the beautiful resorts just down the road from downtown. The most enjoyable weekend nightlife we’ve found is at Spice Beach Club, which is part of the waterfront Eden Resort. Offering delicious food as well as very reasonably priced cocktails, Spice lights up the Caribbean-facing cabanas every Friday night with live music, lights, and a genial party atmosphere that guarantees you’ll make at least 10 new friends after just a couple mojitos!

For dance enthusiasts, there are many options to move to the beat of your choosing, including Little Havana, Karel’s Beach Bar, and the Plaza Resort Bonaire which hosts Latin night every Saturday evening. With just a quick registration, the Plaza Resort also offers a free salsa workshop from 6 to 7 pm, after which you can dance with the best of them! If dancing isn’t your thing, head on over to the casino at Divi Flamingo, where you can also test your skills at the tables and slots, open late every night except Sunday. As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Bonaire for even just a long weekend!

While in Bonaire, also make sure to have a few (or a lot!) of their local favorite, Amstel’s Bright beer. A refreshing addition to the beach and sun, Bright is served everywhere and is reasonably priced! In addition to this signature brew, lift a glass of the island’s newly created and brewed “Bonaire Blond”, a light and spicy citrus brew made with locally grown ingredients!

All in all, the nightlife in Bonaire is exciting, fun, and open till the wee hours of the night, maybe even long after you planned on turning in!

Salt Flats and Flamingos

A very unique aspect of this island is that, despite it’s minuscule size and uninhabitable wilderness, there lies one of the world’s only Flamingo Sanctuaries. The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary stands as a breeding ground for the beautiful pink bird, a key area due to the salt flats where they make their nests.

The sanctuary is off-limits to visitors, but while in the area (especially near Pink Beach) you’d be hard pressed not to witness a flock flying overhead. Bonaire’s flamingos hold the special distinction of being some of the pinkest in the world due to their diet, which is rife with red carotene!

Also, keep watch as they fly over, unlike their stunning upper feathers, their beauty is fully seen from beneath where the contrast of their ink-black wings can be appreciated as they fly overhead.

Bonaire’s Lasting Allure

There are so many things that can be said, described, photographed and remembered about this beautiful island. If you get the chance to see it, take it all in! From the warmth and friendliness of the people, to the fresh food, to the sheer beauty of the land and all the Caribbean sea has to offer, there may be no such unique experience to be had in this world.

Untouched for decades, it will remain so, which is just one more endearing and heartwarming quality about this astounding and life changing destination.

 

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Where Do Couples Eat in Fort Lauderdale?


We’re fortunate enough to live in a place that, even when we’re not on the road, feels a lot like vacationing. Tracy and I moved to Fort Lauderdale a few years ago, and have since been amazed at the sheer depth of things there are to do in the Venice of America, as it’s called.

Fort Lauderdale isn’t a large city, with only around 200,000 residents in what is considered “proper” Fort Lauderdale. One really does need to make the distinction, as rarely is done, between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. It’s essentially two different planets. The food, the attractions and the cities themselves are different enough to necessitate separating Fort Lauderdale out from Miami in a food-focused post. There are, of course, plenty of reasons we travel, but Fort Lauderdale is a great place to call home when you can’t, and there’s plenty of things to do.

With that being said, Fort Lauderdale is a major tourist attraction in the U.S., and you can’t cover all of it in one post. The beautiful beaches, hot climate and vibrant atmosphere attract visitors from not only the rest of the U.S, but South America, Europe and throughout Asia as well. It is as diverse a place as there is in the United States for tourism, and its deep culinary underbelly reflects much of that.

Given the depths of all there is to experience, we’ve tried to gather as much information to give you a great start the next time you find yourself along Las Olas and A1A, looking for a place to fill you up that won’t break the bank!

Southport Raw Bar

Intracoastal view from the back deck of Southport Raw Bar

Type: Seafood

It’s first on our list for a reason.

Southport Raw Bar is a Fort Lauderdale landmark that has its beginnings in the early 1970’s, and has seemingly grown alongside the city. At the time, Fort Lauderdale was primarily an undeveloped beach town aside from the notoriety it had gained by being featured in the 1960 movie Where The Boys Are. Now, both are synonymous with “island-life” in South Florida.

When company or family comes to town, the first stop is Southport, one of the best seafood restaurants in Fort Lauderdale. With outdoor seating facing the Intracoastal waterway, some of the freshest seafood catch you can find in the Southern U.S. and cheap beer specials, you can come, fill up, slam a couple of pops and just get away for a while.

The service is friendly, the food is great, and the prices are some of the more affordable along the beach considering the quality of the experience. We highly recommend as a place that is sure to get you in the beach-mood.

Gilbert’s 17th St. Grill

Havarti-stuffed burger? On a date? Yes, actually!

Type: Grill

Gilbert’s isn’t just burger joint, it’s the burger joint.

Family-owned for more than forty years, Gilbert’s boasts a small menu that’s heavy on taste, including a selection of more than ten different hand-crafted burgers, grill platters with beef, fish and chicken as well as excellent salads and desserts.

However, don’t sleep on the sides at Gilbert’s. Get the legendary sweet potato fries to go with the blue cheese stuffed burger for a truly transcendental experience!

Looking to keep it thin for your fun in the sun? Gilbert’s offers plenty of lighter-fare options to keep you from feeling beached on the beach!

Wild Sea

An excellent spot for great seafood and a glass wine.

Type: Seafood/Fine dining

Why include a “fine dining” establishment in a post about where to eat on a budget? Wild Sea offers a first-class experience at third-class prices, with one of the most creative seafood menus in all of Fort Lauderdale. The menu is stunning, and you can get a great meal for under $20 per person.

If you know your seafood, I mean really know, Wild Sea offers great catch options outside of the norm such as Monkfish and Wahoo. The decor is elegant, the inside is cozy and warm while also feeling exclusive and providing the background setting for a great date night.

Tap 42

“Tap” is a great spot to meet with friends or have a great cocktail.

Type: Gastropub

Tap 42 is a newer Fort Lauderdale invention that is off-the-rails popular. A place for 30-somethings to both see and be seen, Tap 42 is most popular as a brunch location that gets busy early and stays that way.

Complete with bottomless drink menus both Saturday and Sunday, the brunch features American-based fare with flair, such as Chicago-Style Steak and Eggs and the “Hangover,” a colossus of a meal consisting of Turkey Sausage, Scrambled Eggs, White Cheddar and Maple Hollandaise between a French Toast Challah Bun!

Located just down the street from Las Olas and on the edge of downtown Fort Lauderdale, “Tap”, as its called locally, has also spread to neighboring areas in Boca Raton and Miami for those just outside of Lauderdale limits. Go hungry, stay long and take a cab. Trust me.

Il Mulino

You probably want this.

Type: Italian

Mention Italian food in Fort Lauderdale, and Il Mulino is bound to come up. Located on N Federal Highway next to one of our favorite theaters, The Gateway Theater, Il Mulino serves classic Italian dishes in a warm and inviting setting.

I, quite honestly, have a very hard time recommending what to get at Il Mulino. Why? Everything is outstanding. You want pizza in Fort Lauderdale? The good stuff they make in the old country? Go to Il Mulino. You want pasta? Il Mulino. Flatbread Rustico? Il Mulino.

Just go to Il Mulino, the best Italian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.

Moonlite Diner

If you romanticize the 1950s like we do, sometimes nothing is more quaint and fun than an American classic – diners.

Type: Diner

Tracy and I are absolute suckers for diners. Put one in an Airstream bus or other silvery, shiny exterior mimicking an Airstream, and we go fully unglued into nostalgia for a time forgotten in America. Fort Lauderdale is like any city – it needs a great diner.

Don’t get fancy, just stay with the diner classics for a cool, romantic experience and a taste of Americana – split a chocolate shake, for example. Two straws, please!

Perhaps you and your love need a base-coat after a fun night out? You can’t go wrong with off-the-griddle hash-browns and a couple of eggs, sunny-side up!

Galanga

Tom Kha Gai? Yes, please.

Type: Thai Fusion

Galanga is a Thai-Sushi location in the Wilton Manors area in northern Fort Lauderdale, about 2 miles from downtown and only 3 miles west of the coast. We frequent here when we need an international fix, as Galanga serves up one of the best Red Curry dishes in all of South Florida.

The interior is soft and ambient, providing an ideal mood-setting spot that is incredibly relaxing. Best of all? Two entrees and a bottle of wine will get you out the door for under $40!

This is absolutely one of our favorite places in Fort Lauderdale, and it comes highly recommended.

Shuck n’ Dive

The Fried Green Tomatoes are excellent.

Type: Cajun

Shuck n’ Dive serves up Louisiana Cajun like no one else in Fort Lauderdale, including nightly specials coming both in plates and bottles! Shuck is a place we go to often when we’re looking for a relaxing outdoor setting where we can have a casual conversation or possibly take in a ballgame. Cajun may not sound like the ideal centerpiece for a date night, but it absolutely is.

The popular Cajun classics are on point – from Jambalaya to Crawfish, and we’ve probably eaten our body weight in oysters here. Very cool, very laid-back spot that’s great to pass a few hours and down a few buckets.

Nuevo’s Cubano’s

When is a Cubano ever a bad idea?

Type: Cuban

Want authentic Cuban? Want a real Cubano? Guava Pastelito? Empanada? Come here as soon as your plane lands and get the best Cubano in Fort Lauderdale.

Nuevo’s Cubano’s is a local fixture that stands on its own in a city full of great Hispanic food and tradition. Nuevo’s is exactly how you want a place to look when having one of the best sandwiches you’ve ever had – small, roadside, tight parking, fast service, cheap (under $10) and delicious.

With the location only three miles from the beach, it’s a great spot to sit down for a day-break, maybe even split a meal (they’re filling) and head to the beach. Wash it all down with a delicious Cuban Coffee for the road, and off you go!

Tom Jenkins BBQ

Type: BBQ

You can smell it when you drive by. It’s as though the scents reach into your car, grab the wheel, and pull you in. It’s good. It’s really good, and (as un-beachy as BBQ may be) you’ll do yourself a service to get the good stuff anywhere you can, anytime you can.

Tom Jenkins is by far the best BBQ in Fort Lauderdale, but that isn’t a disservice to the rest of the BBQ joints in the city because Jenkins is the best BBQ restaurant in most cities.

Listen, is BBQ a romantic food? No, of course not. But it’s a great way to find out if you have the right one with you. “You don’t like BBQ? Maybe I don’t like you.” There’s possibly no better love than someone that can help you take down a pound of brisket – let’s be honest.

Homemade food. Homemade sauce. Do it.

The Foxy Brown

Foxy Brown is possibly the best brunch spot in Fort Lauderdale.

Type: Brunch

Unquestionably a top-five brunch spot in Fort Lauderdale, The Foxy Brown is a personal favorite. It’s a place that feels somehow less than Floridian, and more in line with what one would experience in a Charlestonian breakfast or brunch. It has a bit of Southern Charm that is equal parts relaxing, delicious and intoxicating.

The small, warm environment includes a somewhat secluded seating area outdoors, and generally is full after about 10am on the weekends. They have an excellent choice of frittatas and benedicts, but I’m partial to the Hangar Steak Hash- a lead cut with 2 eggs and a chimichurri hollandaise that is somewhere lighter than it should be, and so good. A place where Tracy likes to go traditional, try the Patty Melt as well – it did, after all, inspire the rest of the menu!

La Bamba

Type: Latin

More of a fusion restaurant than purely Mexican, intertwining with classic Spanish dishes, La Bamba is a great location for couples looking to have a few margaritas and unwind.

A small, comfortable and traditional restaurant, the lines at La Bamba are often long – with good reason. Worth the wait? Without question. The traditional Ropa Vieja is outstanding, and I highly recommend the Costillas de Puerco – two seasoned pork chops topped with sauteed onions served with white rice, black beans and fried ripe plantains.

Date Night Special: Mod Wine Lounge & The Gateway Theater

Type: Neighboring establishments – Wine Bar & traditional 1950s movie theater

One of our favorite date night plans involves two neighboring locations.

Start your night at Mod with a bottle of wine and charcuterie plate, perhaps mixing in an elegant country pate in a quaint, beautiful bar with a 1960s flair. Reasonably priced given the quality, we’ve loved going to Mod and sitting outside on yet another impeccable Fort Lauderdale night and watching the city go by. Frank and Chad are the owners, and if you have an opportunity to speak with these two you’ll fall in love with their love for wine, for providing a first-class experience, and their sheer kindness and hospitality.

After you’re finished, walk the ten steps next door to the Gateway Theater, a traditional movie theater opened in 1951 that is as much Fort Lauderdale as the beach, itself. The Gateway hearkens back to a pre-AMC homogenized era where theaters had a sense of character while offering films not commonly shown in your run-of-the-mill chain theaters, including art films and foreign new releases not available anywhere else!

It’s easy for us to pick out a few of the best, ones that we’ve frequented and loved, but it’s hard to go wrong in Fort Lauderdale. With the ocean as your backdrop, the sound of the gulls as your soundtrack and the smell of salt and fresh catch in the air, it’s easy to find the right choice.

 

 

 

 

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Much Ado About Munich


There are some cities that remain as ambiguous after visiting as before, perplexing locations that seem to possess something hidden. Something complicated, something beyond label is just beyond the ability to define.

I suppose it was an ancestral want, the children of hundreds of years of American product that had previously called lands in the Netherlands and Germany home. We are children of sort of diaspora, where our Viking forefathers left colder Nordic lands in search of more fertile climate and better weather in neighboring Southern countries. We both wanted to see Germany, a place where the good, bad, ugly and the utterly abhorrent of history had all been present.

Cold? Yes. Worth it? Unquestionably.

Even now,  I look back in strange reflection of Munich, even upon planning a return trip. Who’s city is Munich, anyhow?  Does it belong to history, the namesake of 12th century Monks (Munichen, in old, high-German) who started a for-profit brewing practice that became synonymous with the city and the world’s largest annual celebration of beer and its brewing? Does it belong to the now-elderly generation of the 1930s and 1940s, who for more than 60 years have dealt with the reputation of being native to the city that flowered a ruthless dictator? Does it belong to the victims of that time? Does it belong to the tourist, who flock here each fall to revel in the Leiderhosen and bier? Or, does Munich simply belong to time herself?

Munich must belong to no one, a seemingly ancient Bavarian relic whose very existence is a watermark of human existence and the duality of human conscious potential – a city full of historical brilliance and madness, full of creativity and stagnation, of progress and death, of consciousness itself and the utter loss of it.

Munich is the capital of the old Bavarian world, positioned and re-positioned as the home for kings and even the Holy Roman Empire for hundreds of years scaling from the 12th century until the brink of war at the beginning of the 20th. A city currently just over a million-and-a-half people, Munich sits only 20 miles away from the Austrian border and is home to Oktoberfest, a yearly beer-making festival that you would have to live under a rock to not heard of. Each year, more than six million tourist spill into the city between the end of September and the first week of October, quadrupling the city’s population and making an otherwise quaint and quiet city quite the opposite.

Munich isn’t a city that is typically on one’s travel itinerary for the other eleven months out of the year. It’s a small-feeling, large city that retains its cultural roots in its food and architecture. However, Munich has seen many changes. It has gone from Bavarian stronghold and the site of religiosity in the middle ages, only to become the wellspring from which sprang the Beer Hall Putsch, the first overthrown attempt of Hitler’s fledgling Nazi party in 1923 that resulted in an arrested, wounded Hitler and a culturally divided Munich. The Munich people suffered much in the years to come, as their city was demolished by more than 70 air raids in the 1940s, leading to a rebuild of much of the city.

In recent years, however, Munich is experiencing a sort of renaissance. There are countless things to do in Munich, and its residents enjoy a high standard of living amidst the silent cornerstones of her dark and tumultuous history, with Munich ranking consistently in the top ten in European lifestyle rankings. Strong economy, great food, better beer and killer leiderhosen. Was it that which was on our mind when we first booked to visit this beautiful city in the plains? Strangely, no.

It was Sam Smith.

Planning a surprise birthday present, one finds it hard to resist cheap tickets in Europe to see your wife’s favorite musical artist – so, I bit. The first thing on our itinerary wasn’t a booked hotel, nor was it a seat on Lufthansa. Oh, no, friends… it was silky-smooth Sam. Engage brownie-points for the husband!

Any excuse to book a trip – even a surprise gift to see Sam Smith 5,000 miles away!

After purchasing the concert tickets at the Kesselhaus (which was subsequently moved to Zenith, a slightly larger club next door to the Kesselhaus), we booked the trip around the concert. In total, it was a 10 night affair split between London, Munich and Venice.

Upon arrival in Munich, we made our way to the city center via the U-Bahn, one of Europe’s more futuristic, clean and efficient public transit mediums. We checked into the Hotel Daniel, a slightly older, boutique hotel which is the kind of hotel we love to find in any great city. Hotel Daniel is clean, quaint and optimally located to the Karlsplatz in downtown Munich as well as the primary economic and tourist center. The staff was welcoming, the hotel was more than affordable, and it’s certainly a location you should check out.

The city is still rich with Bavarian culture, and by Bavarian we’re talking about something far older than the events of the last 100 years in Germany. The beer that was brewed by Monks more than 600 years ago has birthed the “big six” breweries, upon which is built the Oktoberfest celebration. These breweries include Paulaner, Lowenbrau, the famous Hofbrauhaus, Augustinerbrau, Hacker-Pschorr, and Spaten, all of which will give you a taste of the real Munich, and all of which still exist within a small, some say walkable area of the original city.

The beer that is synonymous with Munich bier culture, however, is and always will be Hofbrauhaus. Founded in 1589, it’s the Hofbrau beer that is most commonly shown in those pictures of head-sized frosted mugs flowingly freely. It’s good. It’s very good, and beyond the actual beer is a building and brewery that carries perhaps more of Munich’s history than any single entity or structure. The structure itself is the original, despite having been rebuilt due to bomb damage incurred during World War II, yet the original recipe, original music and original dress is very much alive within its walls. As touristy as it may be, you owe yourself a visit to Hofbrauhaus before moving along to less common ventures.

Proof of awesome seats at a great show!

Munich is a city that does, in fact, own its history and has learned from the good and bad they’ve experienced. We took part in a free walking tour of the city, lasting only a few hours and possessing great historical information about much more than the events of the early 20th century. There are more corporate city tours, but the one we prefer is by InMunich Tours , as the groups were smaller, more personable and the hosts were incredibly educational and helpful. Along the way, you’ll hit more than two dozen locations synonymous with Munich and Bavarian culture including the Englischer Garten, Marienplatz, Odeonsplatz and a sampling of the famous Hofbrau beer. It’s a definite must-do. And hey, what’s better than free?

It’s very clear that America, and certainly Southern America, derives much of its cuisine from German-inspired classics. The one thing you must have, if you only eat one meal, it’s the Weiner Schnitzel at Ratskeller in the city center. Schnitzel is the predecessor of the American Country Fried Steak, where German immigrants substituted their classic recipe requiring veal for a simpler ingredient to find in the new world – beef. It’s a simple, delicious, satisfying dish made with thin strips of veal battered and fried, typically paired with either poached or mashed potatoes.

Oddly enough, Munich’s location makes it more culturally diverse as a food destination than one might think. A short drive to both Austria and even Italy, Munich borrows much from its surrounding neighbors. One great place to experience the relative eclecticism is Limoni Ristorante, perhaps one of the best Italian restaurants serving local, Bavarian draught beer. Limone serves predominantly Venician cuisine, yet caters to the local flavor by adding a unique Munich cheese menu, which is center to Bavarian culture.

For your more adventurous food tastes, Munich is a great city to experience more adventurous dishes such as blutwurst (or, blood sausage), which are sausages filled with blood that are cooked or dried and mixed with filler and seasonings until thick enough to solidify when cooled. Strange as it may seem if you haven’t had it, it’s delicious and far less adventurous or strange tasting as you may imagine.

Munich is, however, much more than just sausage and beer. One of the true artistic landmarks in all of Europe, Munich benefits much from it’s ancient, Bavarian heritage, which is on display and wonderful museums such as the Munich Residenz directly in north-central Munich or the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of technology, covering more than 50,000 square meters and displaying 17,000 artifacts. If you’re a museum buff, also check out the Bavarian National Museum, founded in 1855 by King Maximilian II.

Munich offers great cafes around virtually any corner.

Lastly, one final artistic must is the Glypytothek in Koningsplatz. The Glyptothek – a name derived from the Greek “glyptik,” meaning sculpture – is the oldest museum in Munich. Completed in 1830, this Neoclassical building houses one of Europe’s foremost collections of sculpture, much of it assembled in the early 19th-century by King Ludwig I, a great lover of ancient art. Being the oldest museum takes its influence beyond simply the Bavarian, as the museum contains much of central Europe’s Roman, Greek and Etruscan history.

Yet, Munich really is known first-and-foremost for the beer. We had it early, had it often, and had it always. We had it upon our first lunch, and we had it before heading to the Zenith alongside hundreds of rowdy Bayern-Munich fans, whom accompanied us along our path on the U-Bahn. It goes with everything. A cool frosted mug goes with the weather, it goes with the clothing – it seemingly goes with walkingIf you make it to Munich, you absolutely have to find yourself on a drinking tour of the city. These are most often historical, most often educational and always fun. It’s the type of trip that helps break down walls, and by the end of which you’ll find yourself having made friends.

While Munich starts and ends and beer, there’s clearly more. There’s clearly more aside from Oktoberfest. There’s wonderful food, helpful people and perhaps one of the cleanest cities in all of central Europe. It’s safe, fun, quiet most of the year and incredibly easy to enjoy oneself in. Perhaps it’s one of the greatest unknown sentinels of historic elegance in all of Europe, and perhaps you should find yourself there.

So, who really owns Munich? Well, perhaps the locals. Perhaps the tourists. But most importantly, perhaps you should go, claim your own piece and call it your own.

 

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Travel as a Self-Development Tool


I didn’t grow up flying. In fact, the first two times in my life that I found myself on an airplane I was 16 and 22, respectively.

I didn’t grow up taking lavish vacations, seeing the European countryside or even making the cross-country jaunt to such far-away places as… Texas? We did that once, and I remember feeling so alive with the first vestiges kindling of the wanderlust that would completely own me in later years.

Our favorite view of the world…

My parents worked hard to provide a living, and I relished the family car-rides to the East Tennessee mountains or the pristine beaches of Florida’s panhandle. They were far-away places to me, a child who would find “home” on the old paper globes, turn it 180 degrees and locate what was farthest from that point and say “there… I’m going there some day.” I suppose I knew the globe well back then, mostly on the account of dreaming.

I can say I’ve been to some of those “there” places of which I dreamed. What I can’t say is much else, because the thought still leaves me speechless. I look back in thankfulness for all Tracy and I have seen together, because for a very long time in my life “travel” seemed like a complete pipe-dream.

You might have felt that way once. Maybe you still do.

Bonaire – where we found our favorite place in the world (so far…)

I wonder, like everyone else does about moments in their life, about landmark moments and what would have become of me had I “zigged” instead of “zagged.” When was it that I fell in love with the idea of travel? Was it easy? Was it always there? Was it uniquely me from the beginning? That’s hard to say, because what I remember first about travel wasn’t a want or a lack of want, but rather fear. A nasty, horrendous fear of flying that, in hindsight, could have had crippling effects on my life.

My father never has, to this day, flown on an airplane. My mother only had late in life, and never for reasons of luxury or adventure. My first flight, in fact, was during my sophomore year of high-school. As an accomplished athlete, my football team traveled to Alaska for an official, organized competition. While I wish I could say I enjoyed the experience of flying, I must certainly did not. White-knuckled, I sat there in my seat. I almost remember counting the beads of sweat on my palms as a diversionary tactic. Every second seemed like a minute, every minute like an hour as I looked out the window in near-panic.

Then the plane actually took off.

While I don’t need to recount the entire, sordid ordeal, it goes without saying that it was a terrible experience for me. I wasn’t straitjacket-crazy, but it was then that the idea came to mind that seeing the world probably wasn’t on my agenda in adulthood. What strange paths we travel, don’t we?

For years, fear gripped me over the idea of flying. I quit jobs that presented amazing opportunity to avoid travel. I missed out on once-in-a-lifetime chances to take the safer path. Now, it seems insane and as though some gutless ne’er-do-well had taken over my body. Yet, I can’t forget that at one time in my life, that was me.

The want of travel was always there, and it hung on me like a ghost. It pressed as I got older, and upon meeting Tracy and falling in love it became something I had to face. She wanted to travel. I wanted to travel. I wanted her. I had to get over my fear.

Somehow.

With much intent, I took a job that required travel. I was terrified. It’s not even that the job was the “stuff of dreams,” but it paid the bills and served a purpose – to help me confront the fear that was holding back my passion, my wants and my ability to be close to someone with whom I had fallen in love.

The first few flights were horrible, but I had adapted a methodology that was one-part booze/one-part headphones and two-parts fear to confront my terror. When I wasn’t flying, which was about half of the time during a standard work week, I took my off-time to look at the statistics of air safety versus car-travel safety, and myriad other statistics that made me begin to believe my fear was somewhat unfounded.

My fear lessened, but only marginally at first. Oddly enough, when the fear broke it broke completely and suddenly. I remember the moment, my first flight on a “prop” plane (a small airplane operated by two front propellers) and was I first noticed was the absence of nerves. There were some present, but nothing like before.

The humid, overcast Florida afternoon hung over the plane as it hummed into the sky – and then it happened. First a shaking of the plane, then a jolt, then steady again. Then another jolt. I waited on my fear… nothing. Another jolt. “No sweat on my palms,” I thought. Jolt. Shake. Veer.

 

Nothing. Just breathing, and the sound of my music player ringing into my ears a song that has become so symbolic of such an important moment in my life – “My God is the Sun” by Queens of the Stone Age. The chorus hit just as the prop plane crested above the final mound of clouds, turned port-side just a bit and, as if determined by something far higher than myself, the beautiful afternoon sun stared me down. Setting, disappearing. Just like my fear.

Travel is perhaps the most effective method of better you, of helping you find out who you are. It did that for me, and if it hasn’t done it for you yet, it will. As I’ve mentioned in my circumstance, travel helps you overcome fear. Fear of heights. Fear of flying. Fear of strange food, and people of different cultures. There is no fear travel can’t help you overcome. The mere temptation of being able to see the world, to reach out to far-flung places is enough for many to leave caution to the wind and grasp for their inner-most adventurer. It literally moves you.

Travel also culturally changes you. Especially in the West, we tend to live in fairly homogenized cultural bubbles that fail to challenge our perspective of the world. Looking down from a hilltop on the small houses in the mountainside city of Cusco, Peru gives you perspective. Struggling to have a broken conversation with someone in a foreign language opens you up. You learn appreciation. You learn tolerance. You learn that the world is so big that you simply have to love it.

Another way travel helps you grow, and many forget this, is that travel gives you a chance to give. Being generous in a foreign country, taking the time to talk to a stranger and express gratitude for their customs and to learn about what matters to them is giving of your attention, but travel is also an incredible way to give through your efforts. Mission trips, humanitarian aid and animal rights causes all coincide with travel very often, and give opportunities to give instead of get when you travel.

Travel does all this and more. It makes you brave. It makes you a more interesting person, and gives you more to talk about and share with others (just don’t brag about how much you travel).

If you’ll let it, you can be transformed by your willingness to explore. Find yourself somewhere else, and by doing so, find yourself.