Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Groundhog Day of Traveling

The Groundhog Day of Traveling

I am a big fan of going back to familiar places that I've traveled to before, but I also like to explore and visit new places. I do have a couple of friends that do not like returning to the same place twice. They believe there are too many places to visit, so why go back to the same place again? While I am not that extreme about it, I do often wonder about those people and families who take the same trip every year; to the same place, at the same time of year.  I realize that when you have a family, sometimes those trips are to visit family, or that traveling in the summer (primarily families) is easier since the kids are out of school - I get that.  On the flip side of that, I think a lot of people would benefit by "shaking it up" a bit, and venturing out of their comfort zone. Instead of taking the family trip to San Diego or (fill in the blank), maybe it would be fun to experience the Grand Canyon in Arizona, or visit Washington, D.C. to get a glimpse of the White House, and other historical landmarks. Perhaps take a trip to visit our friends to the North, and experience the beauty of Vancouver, B.C. 

Spring is finally here, and with that brings Spring Break trips, and the thoughts about summer time traveling destinations. If you are one of those who takes the same trip every year, why don't you think about a place you've always wanted to visit and make it happen. There are a plethora of vacation ideas out there to fit any budget and interest, so go ahead and visit someplace different this year. 

*photo used from:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Art of Travel: Part 3 - Planning or Working With Someone to Set Your Itinerary

In this series discussing the Art of Travel, I've covered what happens once you have been bitten by the travel bug, and then some ways you may go about selecting your destination of choice. The next piece in this segment is to begin planning your itinerary. A lot of travelers may feel they don't need the assistance of a travel professional and chose to go it alone. Other travelers may retain the assistance of a travel professional to assist in their itinerary selection, and then there are a few who may do a bit of their own research, and then turn over their selections to a travel professional in order to complete their travel plans. 

Similar to the selection of your destination; planning your travels is drilling down to the nitty gritty of the who, what, when, where and how? These are some of the components you may want to take into consideration, whether you are working with a travel professional or doing it on your own:
  • You've selected your destination and your dates of travel have been selected.
  • If  you are flying out the country you will need to have your passport.
  • Depending on where you are traveling, you may also need a visa. I recommend checking out that countries embassy site, so that you can see what restrictions they may have for entering their country.
  • Accommodations - If you are traveling alone, this may not be a big issue; however, if you are traveling with others, you may need larger accommodations. With that being said, your budget is crucial in this aspect, because this component is typically the most expensive part of your travels (next to international air tickets). There are low budget accommodations; moderate; boutique; upscale, and pure out and out decadence. I wrote about selecting hotels before, so I've included the link:
  • Flights - This sounds easy, but it can be trickier than you can imagine. When I work with clients, I try to be cognizant of the number of plane changes; amount of time between their arrival into an airport and when their next flight leaves, and a host of other factors that may increase the overall price of the ticket, but will assist in retaining a bit of sanity. I know that there are some people who will change flights five or six times to shave off $50 to $100 dollars. I, personally think there are other areas to shave money, rather than having to deplane a half a dozen times to save $50, but that's each individuals personal decision.
  • Depending on where you are visiting, you may need a rental car, or you may not. When traveling abroad, say to Europe (especially for first timers), I strongly discourage renting cars; however, for those brave souls who have dreamt about tooling around the Amalfi Coast, or the South of France - they will not be discouraged. Make sure to read the terms and conditions closely, because renting a car abroad is not like it is in the United States. For those who aren't renting transportation, it's imperative to have a good map of the buses, rail systems, metros, etc. Also, here is a little tip I learned. When you are traveling, always take a few of the hotels business cards with you, so if you are in a place where you don't speak the language well, you can give the taxi driver the card so they know where to take you.
  • Proximity to everything may or may not be important. Some people go away to - go away. Others want to be in the middle of it all. This may be another item you factor into consideration when selecting your accommodations.
  • Tours are important to consider, because some of the popular ones sell out fast, so it is wise to pre-purchase some tour packages that are "must sees" before you arrive. Also, when visiting certain countries, make sure to check the days and times that the museums, art galleries, etc, are open, because a lot of them are closed on certain days. I know a lot of people have images of being herded like cattle in and around a country, but a lot of the smaller tour operators prefer smaller, more intimate groups. I work with some who specialize in certain things, and they prefer to have groups at 4-10 people. This allows for more interaction, and easier navigation. Also, another little tip I recommend. If you are going to a city that has a Hop on / Hop off tour bus, you should do that on the first or second day of your arrival. It gives a great lay of the land, so you can scope out places at a leisurely pace and not feel rushed. It's not a guided tour, so you are on your own; yet, you have the benefit of the driver who is making recommendations and telling stories while he/she is driving.
  • Food. Yes, you knew it was only a matter of time before I brought up this important component. I am one who researches the heck outta' where I'm going to eat, but, I also retain some spontaneity, in that, I will stop in to any place that looks clean, interesting and engaging. 
These are just a few of the major components I take in to consideration when I am putting together an itinerary for a client, because there is only so much time, therefore, it's imperative that they get the most "bang for their buck."

*Photo taken by That Chick Té

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Art of Travel: Part 2 - Selecting a Destination

Photo Taken at Hotel Teatro - Denver, Co
The Art of Travel: Part 2 - Selecting a Destination

I recently finished reading James Clavell's enchanting novel, Shogun. The epic tale is set in Japan in 1600, and weaves together the lives of multiple characters who are inextricably linked through: deceit, loyalty, treachery, opportunity, sadness and love. I could go on, but suffice to say, this eleven hundred plus page novel held me captive for several days. The novel itself was marvelously written and heavily researched. I won't give away any of the plots (to encourage you to read it yourself), but I will say that if you are reader who likes to be captivated by descriptive imagery, and an involved storyline - this novel is for you.

Some of you are probably wondering, "What does this novel have to do with selecting a travel destination?" Well - everything. It is oftentimes through conversations and simple reading that our curiosity is piqued. While I was reading Shogun I kept thinking in my head, "I have to go to Japan." That is not to say that I've never thought about visiting Japan, but it was intensified by reading the novel.

Selecting a destination sounds simple, but oftentimes multiple factors have to be determined, ie, budget, dates/time of travel, and if traveling with others, you must consider their input in the selection process. Sometimes you just don't know where you want to go, but you may have certain criteria, such as: relaxation, adventure, sailing, spas, shopping, etc. All of these criteria are crucial in narrowing down your final destination. When I am working with clients, some of them know exactly where they want to go, but a few don't have a clue; they just know they want to get away!

When you seriously start thinking about selecting a destination, along with the above-mentioned items, also consider some of the following:
  • Your interest (as well as any traveling companions interests).
  • Time of year. Some places are better (or worse) during certain times of year, so be certain that you consider that in your selection process. Also, some places are more expensive during some times of the year, but are still quite lovely at low season or shoulder season.
  • What do you want to do while you are there?
  • Health constraints. Sometimes it's simply not wise to attempt travel to certain places if you are not in reasonable health. Example - Peru is a lovely place to visit, but it requires some semblance of good health in order to traverse the various ruins, and mountainous terrain.
  • Food can be another important aspect. If you or someone you are traveling with has certain food allergies, or certain foods that can not be eaten (vegetarians, etc), it's best to be aware and select your travel destinations accordingly. That's not to say that anybody can't travel anywhere they would like, but if they won't be able to find foods that they like or can eat, that may put a damper on their trip. Some people are more adventurous when it comes to eating unfamiliar foods, so for those less adventurous folks, it's best to be prepared.
  • What do you want to get out of your travel? Some people travel for relaxation and to "get away." Others travel to explore unfamiliar places, and to gain further knowledge into other people and cultures. Some travel to find their roots. And a lot of people travel for pure adventures sake; to get their hearts pumping by pursuing death defying feats!
 *Photo taken by That Chick Té

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What Luxury Hotel Properties Can Learn!

Westin Hotel - Downtown Denver
I just got back from a trip to Washington State, and during my stay at a Ramada hotel (which is not ordinarily high on this Chicks list of places to stay), I noticed some items that luxury properties could definitely take a cue from.

Now, when I lists these items, please be aware that I realize that every property can not be all things to all people; therefore, numerous chains (Starwood, Marriott, Hilton, etc) have different properties within their brands, in order to accommodate a large demographic of people.

Westin Upstairs Area By Bar
I have included the photo of the Westin property in Downtown Denver in order to make a point (also, my camera was not working very well on my most recent trip, so I was unable to get a lot of photos). The Westin properties, and other high-end properties within the Starwood brands, tend to have lovely and inviting seating areas within their establishments; however, like most high-end properties, you can sit in their lobby areas and utilize their internet service, but they charge for internet service in your room - that's amazing  to me, and not in a good way.

Now, take for instance, the Ramada in Olympia, Washington, they don't charge for internet service in your room, and I'll list some other items that were offered that travelers tend to like a lot, but are not (typically) offered in most luxury properties:
  •  Free Parking - Yeah, it's free.
  • Complimentary Breakfast - Ok, this has -0- appeal to me, but a lot of travelers love the idea of a "free" meal. And despite the fact that I am definitely a room service type of Chick, I have to admit that it was nice to go down and grab a complimentary bagel and orange juice before I hit the road in the mornings. By the way, their breakfast was not just a box of cold cereal and stale pastries. They had a waffle maker with waffle mix; fresh fruit (whole fruits as well as cut up pineapples, peaches, strawberries, etc); fresh (not stale) pastries; scrambled eggs; bacon and/or sausage; gravy; a juice machine that had cranberry, orange and apple juice, as well as one of those coffee machines that had the French Vanilla Coffee, and other coffee flavors too.
  • In-room mini-refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, and a desk with ample amount of electrical outlets to plug in every conceivable device you may be carrying with you.
  • Free Cookies - Yes, I had one peanut butter cookie when they just pulled them out of the oven one evening ...mmmm, yummy!
  • Friendly Staff - Well, that may be something that is standard at most luxury properties, but it was worth mentioning.
  • Oh, and just to mention it again - free internet in your room.
I will say that I was impressed by the service I received, the cleanliness of my room, and the overall accommodating feel I had during my three night stay at the Ramada in Olympia, Washington. With that being said, you know I have a thing for sexy, boutique type properties, and while this hotel was completely respectable, (and I won't have a problem staying here again if/when I am in the Olympia, Washington area), it isn't sexy. But, that's my thing, and fortunately for the Ramada, I'm sure most of their guests could care less about the zero sexy factor!

*photos taken by That Chick Té