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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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7 Thing You Didn’t Know About St. Patrick’s Day


Today is the big day. If you’re Irish, claim Irish descendancy or are just looking for a good reason to get drunk, you know what March 17th is. You count down to it. You plan for it. You celebrate it, plan off work for it. And guess what? It’s here.

St. Patrick’s Day.

What is St. Patrick’s Day, and who is St. Patrick? Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick, is a cultural and religious celebration held on the traditional death date of Saint Patrick in 461 AD, the foremost patron saint of Ireland. Made an official holiday by the Catholic Church in the early 17th century, the celebration honors the 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop, who baptized thousands of people in Ireland and ordained the earliest Catholic priests in the country.

Why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? What makes this a day of indulgence with green beer, shamrocks and parades of such augmented measure as to scale entire cities? Here are seven things you probably don’t know about St. Patrick and the day that bears his name!

Shamrocks

Historical legend credits St. Patrick with teaching the Irish about the Holy Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leafed plant, using it to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God. This story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older. The shamrock has since become a central symbol for St Patrick’s Day.

It is also commonly thought that the Shamrock could be a mixed Celtic reference, as many of their symbolic deities came in threes, which often was representative of the cyclical nature of being – live, death and afterlife.

Driving the Snakes from Ireland

Legend has it that St. Patrick was personally responsible for driving all of the snakes (yes, literally snakes) from Ireland, an event coming after which he was attacked by snakes upon a 40-day fast on a hilltop.

The true story is much more symbolic, however, as “snakes” is likely representative of the Pagan people and Celts that St. Patrick was responsible for converting to Christianity – thus, driving the “snakes” out of Ireland.

Blarney Stone

The St. Patrick’s Day legend of the Blarney Stone, a block of limestone built into Blarney Castle, is one wrought with confusion. The most prevailing story of the Blarney Stone involves Clíodhna, a banshee/goddess figure who Cormac Laidir MacCarthy appealed to while involved in a lawsuit.

Reportedly Clíodhna told MacCarthy, the builder of Blarney Castle, to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to court. He did so, and with great eloquence and a little deceit, plead his case and won. It is because of this that the Blarney Stone is said to impart “the ability to deceive without offending”. In fact, the word blarney has come to meaning flattering or deceiving in speech, a blatant derivation from MacCarthy’s success.

What’s interesting to note about the tradition of kissing the Blarney Stone is that it is, in fact, in a very precarious position within the castle. The act of actually kissing the stone isn’t easily done,  as it is incurred with some risk by scaling to the top of the castle and bending over backwards along the castle’s parapet.

St. Patrick’s Blue

Despite the well-known Kelly Green color associated with St. Patrick’s Day, history points quite convincingly to the fact that the original color of his sainthood was a light blue. Once the familiar clover became the recognizable symbol of nationalism in the late 1700’s, in the wake of the Irish Rebellion, the color merged to it’s now traditional green. Seen everywhere from the dyed waters of the Chicago river to the isles of Ireland itself, this color is now the hue of the fun and festive worldwide celebration.

St. Patrick’s Day is a Celebration… of his Death!

As a member of the Catholic faith, St. Patrick was revered as the primary Saint of Ireland, and is credited with introducing Christianity to the country. Ironically, this holiday tends to celebrate his life on March 17th, and the life of the revelers in his name no matter which religion our fellow party goers subscribe to. Of all the St. Paddy’s Day traditions, the fact that St. Patrick’s Day honors his death as much as his life surprises many.

Lost to time, St. Patrick’s legacy actually started with his origins in Roman Britain (modern England), not Ireland, where he was captured and enslaved to watch over his captor’s animals. He later escaped after six years of servitude to his home in England, just to later return to Northern Ireland.

The Bars Were Closed

Due to the overwhelming Catholic population in the early 1900’s, the holiday, while recognized, could not be celebrated with the now familiar jaunty revelry in local pubs. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that you could find partakers cheering the Saint over a pint during Lent, which happens to fall during the celebration of the Irish Saint. While they tried to stave off the celebrations as best they could, in 1961 the Irish government came to their senses, and the breweries rejoiced, as they repealed their version of March 17th prohibition and let the locals imbibe to their delight!

St. Patrick’s Day Parades – An American Tradition

St. Patrick himself might be surprised by this one! The inaugural “parade” to celebrate his day was actually held in none other than New York City, not Ireland. In 1762, with soldiers of Irish origin serving in the army across the pond, many marched through the streets to show their loyalties. Since then, the rest of the country has happily joined in, and that act of Irish patriotism became what we know today across so many U.S. cities – the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In fact, Chicago celebrates the day by dying the entire  Chicago River in St. Patrick’s green!

Whatever you know or don’t know about St. Patrick’s Day, make sure to enjoy with friends, a cold pint and a cheers to Ireland!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Best U.S. Cities for St. Patrick’s Day


It’s a month away, but like us, you know you’re already thinking about it. You’ve already looked at the calendar, saw St. Patrick’s Day (on March 17th every year, for those of you who aren’t in the know) is on a Friday, and felt your own inner leprechaun tickle your soul. St. Patrick’s on a Friday? Just take the day off. Start early. Go late. Yeah, you know you’re making plans.

Americans, and I guess really anyone, loves a good excuse to drink. Hey, it doesn’t even have to be our holiday (sorry about that, Ireland)! We’ve all but stolen Cinco de Mayo and made it into a tequila-infused day where everyone will readily tell you they don’t have a clue what they’re celebrating. Did you really think St. Patrick’s would be any different? Oh no, my friend. Oh no.

So, with flights to be booked and plans to be made, where are the hottest spots in the U.S. to have a bit of the green goodness and let your inner clover blossom?

#10 Seattle, WA

Despite the most geographically-distant location from where it all started, Seattle does St. Patrick’s Day right. The city leads up to the day with great events on a daily schedule, including a St. Patrick’s Day Dash that continues to grow in size yearly. The race paints the streets of the Emerald City green, as it has done for more than 30 years and is as much of an “Irish Halloween” in the Spring as one could imagine – complete with costumed participants such as the nearly 7-foot-tall leprechaun.

Seattle is a great drinking city as well, and one with enough craft beer joints to help you truly immerse yourself the event – wherever that might take you. If you’re looking for traditional Irish Pub flare, try the Old Pequliar or Mulleady’s Irish Pub, often considered the best of it’s kind in the city.

#9 Roanoke, VA

 

Roanoke? Yeah. Roanoke.

Downtown Roanoke fills up with more than 30,000 revelers each year during what they call their “Shamrock Festival,” a family-friendly affair that still features plenty of pints of the good stuff and a raucous enough environment to make you think you’re back in the Old Country. There are block parties littered everywhere throughout the city, that will grade from as docile and “nice” as you would like to the upper echelons of drunken hooliganism.

#8 Atlanta, GA

St. Patrick’s Day is a huge deal in Atlanta, featuring a city-wide parade that the city has hosted for 135 years, making it one of the oldest traditions in the city. There are several groups that feature in the event as active members and participants, including Clan Na NGael, Fire Emerald Society of Metro Atlanta (FESMA), the Irish Information Center and the Metro Atlanta Police Emerald Society (MAPES). The family-friendly event also includes a 5k race with a hosts of runners of all classes, from walker to professional athlete.

Additionally, Atlanta is a thriving drinking city with a high Irish ancestral population. Our personal favorite is Ri Ra Irish Pub in Midtown, where you can enjoy excellent hand-crafted burgers such as the Dubliner – a rosemary-infused lamb burger with curry aioli and goat cheese on brioche. Goes great with a Guinness!

#7 San Diego, CA

The year-round gorgeous weather of San Diego makes a great backdrop for any parade, but the St. Patrick’s Day parade hosted by the city is one of the liveliest and most well-attended put on by the city’s “Irish Congress” each year.

Each year, San Diego lines up an extensive list of performers of Irish theme, including traditional Irish dance troupes and pipe bands to further authentify the occasion. More than 40,000 people are present each year for the event, which begins at Balboa Park and stretches throughout the city.

#6 Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia is a food and drink mainstay in the U.S., which makes it an ideal location to be on St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish in Philadelphia first celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in 1771, five years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, making this parade the 2nd largest in the entire United States (behind the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, held in 1762). This is massive event with more than 100 events and over 2,000 participants!

Philadelphia, as mentioned, is one hell of a place to get a drink – especially a Guinness. Skip the chain locations and go straight to Moriarty’s on Walnut Street if you want to do it right. Here, you can get all the Irish classics to sop of a few pints of the black stuff – including Shepherd’s Pie, Fish and Chips and the best Bangers and Mash in the city.

#5 San Francisco, CA

 

You may not think Irish when you think of San Francisco, but you definitely think of partying. The LGBT capital of the U.S. is a haven for any group of people looking to mix it up, and the diverse setting results in unique pockets of celebrations that explode throughout the city.

San Francisco has its own parade, massive in its own right and dating back to the mid-1800s. The roster is one of the earliest to begin in the country, and one of the last to end, leaving revelers covered in glitter, filled with green beer and partying late into the night. If you’re really looking for a big crowd and a great time, check out the Financial District’s block party – one of the largest of its kind in the country!

#4 Savannah, GA

Savannah probably isn’t where your mind starts when you think of the best cities to drink green beer and douse oneself in lucky-charm-colored glitter, but have you been there? These people know how to party, and don’t need much of an excuse to do it. Home to one of the largest organized St. Patrick’s parades in the U.S., Savannah literally turns green the week leading up to the holiday with landmarks such as the fountain at Forsyth Park being dyed for the affair.

With proximity to bars being paramount on St. Paddy’s, the parade route smartly runs alongside the more popular areas where followers can watch while piling on the pints.

#3 Chicago, IL

Admittedly, the top three could be argued about their order by Chicago unquestionably deserved a spot. The Windy City dyes the Chicago River green, sparking the city with Irish spirit and the patrons with Irish spirits!

Chicago’s downtown parade occurs on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, beginning with the dyeing of the river at 9am and continuing in Grant Park with a parade at noon. The South Side Irish Parade occurs the following day, stepping off from 103rd and Western at noon, further invigorating the city into full-on celebration.

Skip the deep dish pizza on St. Patrick’s, however, because Chicago features some of the best Irish Pubs in the mid-west. Our favorite is The Grafton, located on North Lincoln and named after the famous Grafton Street area in Dublin, Ireland. The menu includes all of the Irish classics, including a mammoth legend that’s difficult to find done correctly in the U.S. – the full Irish breakfast.

#2 New York, NY

What doesn’t New York do well? The United States’ largest city and cultural wellspring, New York was an early spot for Irish settlers in the 16th and 17th centuries, and has kept in keen sight it’s European roots.

Hosting the oldest St. Patrick’s parade in the United States, which begins in Midtown and ends at the American Irish Historical Society at East 80th Street in the Upper East Side. Any festival in New York is a site to behold, but St. Patrick’s Day brings entertainment of a different sort. Bartenders are common to pass out free shots along the parade route, ill-advised clover tattoos are visible as far as the eye can see and drunken revelers belt out pitchy renditions of “Danny Boy”. Never a lack of entertainment in the Big Apple, is there?

New York is it’s own animal, and the beast gets let loose on St. Patrick’s Day.

#1 Boston, MA

Did you really think another city was going to be first?

Boston is America’s Dublin. The Irish have been in Boston since colonial times, when they arrived as indentured servants, merchants, sailors, or tradesmen in the mid-1600s. Even today, the Irish still represent Boston’s largest ancestral ethnic group.

Bostonian last names are distinctly Irish, from O’Connor and O’Brien to McCormick and Kennedy, the Irish have positively impacted America from the country’s earliest roots – much of which stemmed in Boston.

If there is one parade in America you must attend on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s in Boston. The passion of the ancestral spirit is alive, palpable and proud on this day, as the parade routes from Broadway Station to Southhampton St, making it one of the longest in the country.

Bars? Food? Beer? Boston’s got that too. You can stumble across a myriad of pubs throughout the downtown area, along the financial district and parade routes. One of the most popular in the city is J.J. Foley’s, the more than 120 year-old establishment in “Southie”. Foley’s is a place where you can get all of the traditional Irish pub grub with a flair of class – including dishes such as a magnificent Duck Confit and a Pork Osso Bucco that absolutely melts on contact.

If you can’t make it to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day, the U.S. offers many great options. However, you simply have to put Boston at the top of the list.

 

Photo Credits: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

 

 

 

 

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Off-Time Travel: How to Save Money on Your Next Vacation!


Just as the weather ebbs and flows, so do the travel seasons. No matter where you are on Earth, there are high-seasons and low-seasons to expect visitors to either a greater or lesser extent. Should you travel in low-season? Furthermore, what is low-season?

These factors that determine what is a “high” season are varied, and depend as much on the place the visitor is coming from as the destination itself. What do I mean by this? Well, I’ll give you an example.

Off-Season Travel

Tracy and I greatly enjoy the island of Bonaire, an island that is a part of the “ABC” chain that includes Aruba and Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles. Though the weather is very consistent in this island chain, there are high seasons and low seasons in which one can expect an influx of visitors. The reason really doesn’t have anything to do with travel to Bonaire, because if you go in December the weather is essentially the same as it is in July – hot. Very hot.

Yet, most vacationers to a tropical location know that the tropical location is the way it is basically year-round – hot, beautiful and humid with periods of rain showers. As a result, they base their travel time (creating this “high” season) in the latter months of the year when their own weather is more desirable to escape. In layman’s terms, a tourist from New York is going to care less about leaving the city in August when it’s hot, but might really want to get out of town in January when it’s freezing cold and snow is on the ground.

Other places are a bit more obvious as to why their “high” seasons are when they are. Paris is cold in the winter, but gorgeous and temperate in the summer. Las Vegas can be nearly unbearable in the summer, but very nice in late fall and early winter. So, when should you book your next trip? Consider a tale of two bookings…

Off-Season Travel to Europe

We spent nearly two weeks in Europe, spending time in Vienna, Barcelona and Lisbon. At first, we considered booking the trip in early September through a trip aggregator called Tripmasters (which we use often). The cost of our sample itinerary was a bit over $4,000, so we instead decided to hold off until “low” season.

Cold travel? Grab a ski-cap and go!

Instead, we booked our trip over Thanksgiving, despite the cold weather in Vienna and cooler weather than usual in Barcelona and Lisbon. The cost? $2,500. What we saved by waiting two-and-a-half months essentially paid for all of our expenses on the trip, and in hindsight we truly couldn’t have been happier with what we experienced.

There are benefits beyond merely cost, however, when considering to travel in the “low” season. Some cities, such as Paris, can be absolutely intolerable at its busiest time of the year. Lines to everything are long. It’s impossible to get on the Metro. You can’t navigate the city via bus, cab or even using the hop-on hop-off service, of which we’re quite fond despite its reputation as being “touristy”.

Bigger cities can get brutally hot during high-season as well, as they are typically crowded areas that are completely paved. We really, truly don’t prefer being surrounded by hot, sweaty tourists (even if we’re also at the time hot, sweaty tourists). We like space on our vacation. We like being able to get in line for the museum and not having to wait an hour for entry. We like not paying double for the same thing we could’ve booked three months later.

Think about it, what are you really sacrificing by waiting to vacation? Five degrees of temperature? Ten degrees of temperature? Call me crazy, but I’m willing to deal with 40 degrees Fahrenheit in Vienna if it saves me nearly 40% on the cost of my trip and I’m able to experience more.

We did the same with the island we previously mentioned, Bonaire. We went at the end of August, and were within shouting distance of the equator. Now, you may be able to tell by the photos on our website that I’m not of the skin-tone that does exceptionally well on the equator but, hey, I’m going either way. If I can save a few bucks and have more fun by traveling at the low-season and piling on a little more sunscreen, I’m all about it.

Common Sense Travel

We’ve utilized this concept numerous times while traveling, which has compiled itself by helping us save money and travel more often. I can absolutely promise you, unless you plan on traveling to Greenland, you’re probably going to be okay if you travel during a slightly colder season of the year. Trust us. Awesome places are still awesome no matter when you go, and if you’re awesome too, you’ll have a fantastic time.

There’s another aspect of this for we of the working-class. Vacation days. They are limited and something to save in America. I’ll work through a 102 temperature to save a vacation day. I’ll duct-tape a dangling index finger. I’m not going to the doctor and I’m not staying home. Am I the best employee in the world? Probably not. I just love to travel more than I enjoy taking sick days.

Without the willingness for off-season travel, we may never have seen the Mona Lisa.

Traveling during off-seasons, and planning to do so around areas that maximize free vacation days, really helps make the most of your travel. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of the year to travel virtually anywhere because many employers give the Thursday-Friday combination as free days. You can take one vacation day, get a flight out to Europe on a Tuesday night and spend four nights in Europe. Think that’s too hard? We’ve done it. Several times.

You can too.

Other holidays that are great to book around are Memorial Day and Labor Day, because they both fall on Mondays and have “built-in” three-day weekends. Take two days of vacation and spend five nights in South America. Easy-peasy. Take the four remaining days of that week and get nine nights if you can swing it, and you get two consecutive weekends. These are the types of trips that multiple-city trips are simply made for.

Our first trip to Europe was incredibly spontaneous, very broken apart in the way we booked it and exhibits many of the travel tendencies we preach. Given just enough money to book two discount flights to London, we booked the round-trip out of Orlando. We had two problems however, because at the time we lived 200 miles away from Orlando (in Jacksonville) and we didn’t have the money to book the hotel. Did I mention this was over Thanksgiving weekend?

First night in Europe – ever.

No worries. We planned to drive to Orlando from Jacksonville, because the flight deal was only on a direct, round-trip from there. The difference in cost was about half, and the drive was only a fraction of the time a lay-over would have been. We maximized time and money by booking at a low-time, taking advantage of a short-term deal, and being willing to put in a little elbow-grease to our vacation.

A few paychecks later, we booked the hotels. A few paychecks later, we booked excursions and a round-trip Eurostar pass from London to Paris. We flew out on a Wednesday night, arrived in London mid-morning, spent Friday in Paris, had a wonderful Saturday in London, was back home Sunday night and at work Monday morning. We never doubted ourselves, because the desire to travel led us to become solutions-based about our approach.

The weather held up for us, for the most part, and we had finally cracked a pretty major eggshell. Had it not been for that spontaneity, the willingness to travel when none else wanted to and to not be considered about being a bit tired on Monday, I probably wouldn’t be writing to you now. I may never have seen London. I may never have taken foot inside the Louvre, and I may not be who I am today.

Travel, by its very definition, is meant to be transformative. Yet, sometimes to transform we have to be willing to step outside of our comfort zone, take chances and do something others would prefer not do. We have to be unique, and we have to stand alone.

Travel is much like life, itself. They both require you to break free to get to the good stuff, the really good stuff that changes you and creates you anew. Allow yourself to be led by travel, because in many ways travel is life. We are not meant to be sedentary, nor solitary.

Take a chance. Book that trip on the off-season, save the cash, and reward yourself by traveling again.

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Top 10 New Years Eve Spots for 2017


Another year down, another list of resolutions made, and another December 31st is upon us. 2016 had the feel of a welcomed house-guest who overstayed its welcome, and I think we’re all happy to turn the page.

As we see 2017 upon the horizon, we plot our ambitions to hunt down this year and focus on our goals, is it really too early to plan where we’ll be one year from today? Where will you celebrate the ringing in of 2018? It’s never too early to plan ahead, so here’s our top ten list to lend a hand!

New York, New York

You simply can’t begin any New Year’s Eve list without the American New Year’s capitol – New York City. The Big Apple is simply so big, so grand, and the energy in Times Square remains nearly impossible to match. As stereotypical as it may seem, New York remains a place you simply have to experience New Year’s Eve.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is a great spot for New Year’s Eve for several reasons. It’s absolutely gorgeous, as everyone knows, but high-time for the Northern Lights is September through March, making New Year’s Eve the dead-center location to experience not only the fireworks of ringing in the New Year, but the fireworks of the celestial light-show at it’s absolute finest.

Orlando, Florida

Orlando offers much to do year-round, but when you have Florida weather mixed with Disney resources (i.e: money), it’s frankly very hard to go wrong on New Year’s Eve. No one does over-the-top quite like Disney, and greeting a brand new year is a great occasion if you want to be visually stunned.

London, England

 

London has numerous locations that give a wonderful vantage point of the various lightshows and fireworks around the city, including various tower heights and areas near bridges where your perspective is unmatched. Additionally, it’s quite surreal seeing the New Year’s fireworks exploding behind Big Ben on the grandest night of the year.

Paris, France

The City of Lights is a no-brainer for a lot of events, but where else would you want to be while bringing in a New Year with new goals and plans? It is, after all, the City of Lights. Who does lights better? Amazing displays can be seen along the Champs-Elysees, and no landmark lights up quite as magnificently as the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Copacabana Beach is the place to be in Rio on December 31st, without question. Almost no location parties like Brazil, and combining the greatest party day with one of the world’s let-loose destinations is a recipe for incredible fun. If you can swing the extra cash, stay in the Copacabana Place.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney being a charming and beautiful large city with wonderful people is a great start to any holiday, but it’s also unique given that it’s one of the first major cities to experience the New Year due to it’s eastern location along the timezone schedule. The Australians do it right and add a touch of caring class, with tonight’s celebration in Sydney taking time to honor David Bowie and Prince.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotland is a great place to be for just about anything, but the sheer age of the city, a city that seems to mark time just by it’s very existence, is quite empowering. Add in the atmosphere – joyful, drunk, fun and reveling – and Edinburgh is like spending New Year’s Eve inside of a time capsule that spans across the centuries.

Tokyo, Japan

Japanese culture really does big, bold and grand when they want to do big, bold and grand. Given the size and height of Tokyo, the skyscrapers climbing high into an ever-expanding city, the scenery of the lightshow is simply incredible. Tokyo is a great place to spend New Years Day due to extensive traditions, such as Hatsumode, the year’s first visit to a shrine or temple.

Miami, Florida

If you’re a beach-person living in the U.S., you simply have to experience New Year’s Eve in South Florida. While we’ve listed Miami, it’s really up to a matter of opinion on whether you would rather be in Miami or Fort Lauderdale. If you’re looking for a South Beach party and to get a little reckless, travel the 25 miles south to Miami. If you’re looking to have a good time in a luxury-yacht haven, but not get too crazy, you’ll have a wonderful time in Fort Lauderdale!