Category Archives: Travel

One Day in Berlin

The complex modern history of Germany’s capital city provides a frame of reference for most American travelers. Whether you remember Berlin divided by its infamous wall, or when that wall came down, this iconic city requires deeper exploration.

With so many group tours following the flow of the Danube in the southern part of the country, you may need to make special plans to get north. Here’s why it’s worth it.

What to See

An incredibly deep history runs throughout Berlin. Plenty of companies offer free, and very good, walking tours of the city. If you opt to go at it alone, The Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate is a must-see. Wandering up Unter den Linden, take a brief stop at the Gendermanmarkt, a large, beautiful square with Berlin’s Konzerthaus in the middle of two grand churches.

Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the south east corner of the Mitte, is home to the German History Museum as well as the Pergamon Museum. Head west on Unter den Linden to explore Humboldt University, Einstein’s old haunt; and Bebelplatz, the site of the Nazi book burning in 1933.

Or, follow the boulevard east from Museum Island toward Alexanderplatz. There, you’ll see the well-known TV tower, known for its sunlit cross—the Pope’s revenge. You can visit the tower’s observation deck for panoramic views of the city. Throw in a Spree River cruise and lunch around the Platz, you have a full day booked already!

Getting Around

Berlin has great public transportation that runs on an honors system. No one really checks your ticket, but you are expected to have it if security stops you. When you buy your ticket, either from a machine or a human, validate it in a yellow box outside the metro stairs. Validated tickets are good for two hours.

While sprawling, Berlin is walkable and pedestrian friendly, especially in the tourist zones. Weather can be finicky in every season, so always be prepared with an umbrella. Berlin is also a great city for biking—pay extra attention to the bike lanes you’ll see clearly marked red in many places.

Get Your Camera Ready!

Top spots for photos include the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Reichstag (Germany’s Parliament building). You’ll find lesser-known gems, too, such as the small bridge over the Spree River behind the Reichstag, with an excellent and abstract view of the monument.

If you want burn off a few extra vacation calories, hike up almost 300 stairs to the top of the Victory Column. The view from here is more than enough of a reward. Finally, visit the colorful murals of the Eastside Gallery. This remaining section of the Berlin wall is over three quarters of a mile long, and provides the perfect backdrop to any selfie.

Let’s Shop!

Two boulevards can claim Fifth Avenue status, ranging wildly in price. A stroll up Kufurstendamm, also known as the Ku’Damm, will take you to the KaDeWe, a 7-floor department store that sells everything from winter coats to high-end Italian olive oil. Unter den Linden, “Under the Linden trees,” resembles Paris’s Champs-Élysees with shops, cafes, and restaurants galore. The boulevard ends at the Brandenburg Gate and Tiergarten Park, a great place to grab a bratwurst and curry fries for a picnic lunch.

Potsdamer Platz is a modern square with theatres, nightclubs, a casino, and the Arkaden shopping mall. Looking for boutique shopping? Do not miss Hackescher Markt, a collection of quaint shops and cafes in the middle of the Mitte District.

Guten Appetit

Traditional German food is heavy, with lots of sausage options and sauerkraut on the side. Bread is delicious and abundant, and having a beer as you walk home from work is a normal, daily occurrence. A huge Turkish population also means plenty of kebabs for sale, and quality Indian restaurants pepper the city.

Visit the Nikolai Quarter for typical German fare and beer gardens located along the river. Prenzlauer Berg is chockfull of great eating establishments from brunch to late night. As a cutting edge city, Berlin also enjoys an evolving culinary scene and fancy restaurants like Grill Royal in Mitte will impress the most sophisticated foodie.

Staying Over

If you extend your stay from a land tour, or make a special trip from a river cruise, consider staying in Mitte. As the central and most touristic zone, Mitte contains most of the highlights you could see in a day, including the Museum Quarter, shopping, and a variety of restaurants. Hotel John F is well located, just a 4-minute walk from public transportation.

Read more on TourMatters

One Day in Havana

Complex, colorful, and musical, Cuba is quickly topping the list of exotic hotspots to visit. American travelers still cannot visit as “tourists,” and generally have tightly-planned predetermined itineraries. But, if you are one of the lucky ones who finds themselves with a free day in the effervescent city of Havana, here are ways to put that day to good use!

What to See

Havana has so much to see that trying to narrow yourself down to just a few options can be overwhelming. Luckily, many highlights are centered around Havana Vieja, the Old Town.

  • Museums: If museums are what you’re after, pop inside the beautiful Fine Arts Museum or the Museum of the Revolution.
  • Arts: If you have time and transportation, head out to the Hemingway House, Ernest Hemingway’s home for many years. Another fun and artsy alternative is Fusterlandia, a Gaudi-like block of artistic expression by the Cuban artist Jose Fuster.
  • Sites: Saunter through Plaza de los Libros where you can pick up a second hand book in Spanish or English. The Center Square of Havana is adorned with the Colonial Arts Museum and the Havana Cathedral, which can be entered throughout the day free of charge. The Morro Fortress, which juts into the sparkling sea, will lead you to the famous Malecón, or sea wall, that runs along Havana Bay.
  • People: The Malecón, known as the world’s largest sofa, is the preferred location for people of all ages to sit, chat, play music, or take a sip or two of rum.

Everywhere in this city is photo-worthy, but distinctly Havanan subjects include the Malecón, Plaza de Armas, the colorful facades of Central Havana, the Capitol building, and the view from the top of the Hotel Havana Libre. And, of course, the cars.

What to Do

Have a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio in La Habana Vieja, which was a regular haunt of Ernest Hemingway. Take an hour for a tour and a cafecito in the back bar of the National Hotel in Vedado, like Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner used to do. If you are spending the night, don’t miss a show at the Buena Vista Social Club. Reservations can be made online. Like to dance? Find yourself an instructor and learn how to salsa with the best of them!  Catch a taxi to Revolution Square and back—the ride alone is an event since most taxis are classic American cars from the 1950s.

Getting Around

La Habana Vieja is easily walkable. If you want to visit other neighborhoods such as Vedado, Central Havana, or Miramar, you’ll need to take a taxi or the bus. Remember that as of now, only local currency is accepted, so negotiate the rate with your taxi driver before getting in the car. Coco Taxis, small, round, open-air, coconut-inspired transportation systems, are a fun and slightly pricier option. Buses are extremely crowded and normally run about 1 CUC (convertible peso).

Let’s Shop!

While Cuba is not an epicenter for shopping, several markets will appease souvenir hunters. For the artsy crowd, the San Jose Market has everything from crafts to snacks to beautiful, handmade art. Fusterlandia has plenty of arts and crafts for sale.

State stores are the best place to buy rum (Santiago de Cuba and Havana Club being arguably the best brands), cigars (Cohibas, while pricey, are considered top notch), and authentic Cuban coffee. Note: Check government guidelines for the latest restrictions on returning to the US with these items.

Let’s Eat!

Cuban restaurants tend to follow the guideline of quantity over quality, but you’ll find plenty of delicious dining options. La Moneda Cubana is one of the oldest restaurants in Havana and has a lovely view overlooking the bay. La Templeta is located along the water with great fish and steak dishes. Cafe Laurent, in Vedado, is a highly recommended paladar with live music. (Reservations are necessary.)

Rice and beans is certainly a Cuban staple, but don’t miss out on the fresh fish, pork, and rabbit dishes, and traditional ropa vieja. All washed down with a mojito, of course. Finish your meal up with some of the best flan you’ve had in your life, and a sweet yet strong Cuban coffee.

Read more at TourMatters

One Day in Rome

Rome can’t be seen in a day, it’s true. But if you have one day “at leisure,” set your alarm early and prepare for a full, fantastic day in arguably one of the greatest cities in the world.

To get the most of the Eternal City without complete exhaustion, zone in on the most important sites on your list. Decide what you must see and map a day around that. If you make it to the Trevi Fountain with a lucky penny to spare, trust that you will return someday to see the rest!

Where to Begin?

Start your day Italian style at any café: Stand at the bar and order yourself a cappuccino with a cornetto for a true local breakfast. Tips aren’t necessary but always nice, so leave some extra change and make your way to the Colosseum. Meander toward the Arch of Constantine, behind which stands the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and Capitoline Hill. If possible, bring your own guidebook or notes. Walking tours are available but will eat up a significant chunk of your day.

From Capitoline Hill, continue up Via del Teatro di Marcello toward the impressive, stark white monument known to Romans as “the wedding cake.” Walk through Piazza Venezia, minding the crazy traffic, and snap a photo from across the plaza with the victory monument in the background. (~0.5 mile)

Just a Little Shopping …

Begin your shopping adventure on the Via del Corso, or detour off to the left. Via Pastini will lead you to the Pantheon, and then to Piazza Navona. This beautiful Italian square is filled with life and laughter, artists and restaurants, and tiny boutique shops. If you’re hungry, stay here for lunch, or make your way back to Via del Corso for a delicious meal at my own favorite lunch option. (~1 mile)

Leisurely make your way Via del Corso past the signs for the Trevi Fountain, window shopping until you reach Piazza del Popolo. Head up to Villa Borghese park for some fresh air and absolutely breathtaking views of the city. (~ 1 mile)

If you are feeling active, bike rentals abound. It’s easy to get lost in this park for hours, so give yourself a set amount of time to wander the green space. Then, find Via Trinitá del Monti on the southwest edge of the park, and continue south with the park on your left. Before you know it you will find yourself at the top of the famous Spanish Steps. (~ 1 mile)

The Trevi Fountain is just a 10-minute walk from here, and with street lights beginning to twinkle and the fountain water glistening an iridescent blue, there’s no better time to visit. Make sure you have a coin, nudge your way through the crowd to the front of the fountain, turn around, and throw the penny over your shoulder. Now, smile! Legend has it that anyone who performs this action will find themselves in Rome once again!

Let’s Eat!

In Italy, dining is an art. It seems everything you put in your mouth, be it pizza, pasta, or tiramisu, is made with love and care. My personal all-time favorite Roman restaurant is Il Falchetto, situated just off Via del Corso, with excellent pasta, fish, and vegetable options. Cacio e Pepe or pasta Da Danilo are two traditional choices. With Nonna Betta (Roman artichokes) as an appetizer, and a glass of Lazio-produced Frascati white wine to wash it all down, you will be doing like the Romans in no time at all!

Aperitivo, the Italian version of happy hour, is taken very seriously and shouldn’t be missed. Order an Aperol spritz at an outdoor table, settle in to partake in complimentary snacks and the ultimate Roman pastime—people watching! Try Bar del Fico near Piazza Navona for a typical aperitivo experience.

Now that your taste buds are stimulated, it’s time for dinner. The neighborhood of Trastevere is full of great restaurants with regional dishes, and access to the Tiber River and views of St. Angelo. If noshed on pasta for lunch, go for a mouthwatering thin crust pizza. Keep it classic or add some toppings, like prosciutto or fungi. Save room for dessert. No trip to any Italian city is complete without a scoop (or two!) of homemade gelato.

Getting Around

Walk! The route above is about 5 miles, not including park and piazza meandering. Rome is a pedestrian city, and getting lost in those small, winding streets is an essential part of the discovery process. If you’re in a bind, invest in a Metro day pass. The three subway lines conveniently stop at most of the city’s major attractions.

Il Finale!

We’ve only covered a fraction of what you can see in one day exploring this handsome city, but if you find yourself rushing, slow down. You’ll enjoy Italy more through social and cultural experiences—don’t sacrifice them for sightseeing.

Rome can’t be seen in a day, it’s true. But if you have one day “at leisure,” set your alarm early and prepare for a full, fantastic day in arguably one of the greatest cities in the world.

To get the most of the Eternal City without complete exhaustion, zone in on the most important sites on your list. Decide what you must see and map a day around that. If you make it to the Trevi Fountain with a lucky penny to spare, trust that you will return someday to see the rest!

Where to Begin?

Start your day Italian style at any café: Stand at the bar and order yourself a cappuccino with a cornetto for a true local breakfast. Tips aren’t necessary but always nice, so leave some extra change and make your way to the Colosseum. Meander toward the Arch of Constantine, behind which stands the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and Capitoline Hill. If possible, bring your own guidebook or notes. Walking tours are available but will eat up a significant chunk of your day.

From Capitoline Hill, continue up Via del Teatro di Marcello toward the impressive, stark white monument known to Romans as “the wedding cake.” Walk through Piazza Venezia, minding the crazy traffic, and snap a photo from across the plaza with the victory monument in the background. (~0.5 mile)

Just a Little Shopping …

Begin your shopping adventure on the Via del Corso, or detour off to the left. Via Pastini will lead you to the Pantheon, and then to Piazza Navona. This beautiful Italian square is filled with life and laughter, artists and restaurants, and tiny boutique shops. If you’re hungry, stay here for lunch, or make your way back to Via del Corso for a delicious meal at my own favorite lunch option. (~1 mile)

Leisurely make your way Via del Corso past the signs for the Trevi Fountain, window shopping until you reach Piazza del Popolo. Head up to Villa Borghese park for some fresh air and absolutely breathtaking views of the city. (~ 1 mile)

If you are feeling active, bike rentals abound. It’s easy to get lost in this park for hours, so give yourself a set amount of time to wander the green space. Then, find Via Trinitá del Monti on the southwest edge of the park, and continue south with the park on your left. Before you know it you will find yourself at the top of the famous Spanish Steps. (~ 1 mile)

The Trevi Fountain is just a 10-minute walk from here, and with street lights beginning to twinkle and the fountain water glistening an iridescent blue, there’s no better time to visit. Make sure you have a coin, nudge your way through the crowd to the front of the fountain, turn around, and throw the penny over your shoulder. Now, smile! Legend has it that anyone who performs this action will find themselves in Rome once again!

Let’s Eat!

In Italy, dining is an art. It seems everything you put in your mouth, be it pizza, pasta, or tiramisu, is made with love and care. My personal all-time favorite Roman restaurant is Il Falchetto, situated just off Via del Corso, with excellent pasta, fish, and vegetable options. Cacio e Pepe or pasta Da Danilo are two traditional choices. With Nonna Betta (Roman artichokes) as an appetizer, and a glass of Lazio-produced Frascati white wine to wash it all down, you will be doing like the Romans in no time at all!

Aperitivo, the Italian version of happy hour, is taken very seriously and shouldn’t be missed. Order an Aperol spritz at an outdoor table, settle in to partake in complimentary snacks and the ultimate Roman pastime—people watching! Try Bar del Fico near Piazza Navona for a typical aperitivo experience.

Now that your taste buds are stimulated, it’s time for dinner. The neighborhood of Trastevere is full of great restaurants with regional dishes, and access to the Tiber River and views of St. Angelo. If noshed on pasta for lunch, go for a mouthwatering thin crust pizza. Keep it classic or add some toppings, like prosciutto or fungi. Save room for dessert. No trip to any Italian city is complete without a scoop (or two!) of homemade gelato.

Getting Around

Walk! The route above is about 5 miles, not including park and piazza meandering. Rome is a pedestrian city, and getting lost in those small, winding streets is an essential part of the discovery process. If you’re in a bind, invest in a Metro day pass. The three subway lines conveniently stop at most of the city’s major attractions.

Il Finale!

We’ve only covered a fraction of what you can see in one day exploring this handsome city, but if you find yourself rushing, slow down. You’ll enjoy Italy more through social and cultural experiences—don’t sacrifice them for sightseeing.

Read more at TourMatters

One Day in Miami

So you’re headed south and have a day at leisure in the great city of Miami? Make the most of it! Pack your bathing suit and some light clothes, sandals and a hat, and come enjoy the Magic City in all its glory.

This southern gateway for cruises and tours is basically two cities: Miami Beach and Miami. Miami is the mainland city, home to Little Havana and Coconut Grove. Miami Beach is where you’ll find the famous South Beach, and other evolving neighborhoods leading north to the ultra-fancy Aventura. The beaches themselves are gorgeous, calmer toward the north and more social toward the south.

Staying Over

With only one day, it’s hard to stay anywhere but South Beach. Vibrant, bustling, sexy, and energetic, South Beach is a must see for any visitor. Hotels range drastically in price, and be cautious when booking to be sure you don’t end up in a “party hotel.” Expect to pay a little more for a quieter establishment. The Hilton in SoFi, the neighborhood South of Fifth Street, is a good option and a great location.

Notable Neighborhoods

On the mainland, Miami Design District is the place to go for upscale shopping, or Midtown/Edgewater for affordable shopping and wonderful pizza, Asian fusion, French, and Italian restaurants. Head farther north for Miami’s developing districts like MiMo, with lovely boutiques and cafes, and the Caribbean-style Little Haiti, with brightly painted pastel shops and houses.

Brickell/Downtown is Miami’s financial district with nice happy hours; Little Havana and Calle Ocho is home to a large Cuban and Central American population, and Wynwood is the arts area.

Getting Around

Miami is not known for great public transportation, but it is getting better. From Miami International Airport, you have several rail and shuttle options. Taxis to Miami Beach have zone fares, and a cab to South Beach is a flat rate of about $35.

Travel is free on the MetroMover, as well as by trolley. The bus system leaves a lot to be desired, so opt instead for a taxi or Uber. Miami Beach also has a free trolley system, in addition to a $0.25 blue bus that takes you up and down Washington Avenue every 20-30 minutes. However, it’s easy and enjoyable to walk or bike, and renting a bike for a day will run you about $25.

Strolling South Beach

In South Beach, don’t miss a photo opportunity of the downtown skyline at the beautiful South Pointe Park. Stroll east toward the beach, detouring for a glass of wine at Smith & Wollensky or lunch at Joe’s Stone Crab. On the beach, the colorful lifeguard stands are perfect backdrops to a group photo.

From the park, make your way up Ocean Drive to feel the vibe, but plan to eat elsewhere. Most of the restaurants are overpriced and lower quality. Instead, head northwest to Lincoln Road, a promenade where anything from sushi to bratwurst, and H&M to Dior, is at your fingertips.

If you’ve got the energy, continue west, past Purdy Avenue, over the tiny bridges of the Venetian Causeway to the Standard Spa, where you can get one of the best sunset shots Miami Beach has to offer. Depending on your route, you could cover five or more miles in South Beach alone.

Feeling Artsy?

In Miami, catch live music at Lagniappe, a casual wine bar in Midtown, or at Ball & Chain, an old-school club in Little Havana with live jazz for happy hour. There are art galleries galore in Wynwood, and Little River is beginning to bud as an art space, too.

You can also check out the PAMM Museum for some culture and grab lunch at Stephen Starr’s Verde. The view from here is fantastic, and looks out over Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach. The Epic Hotel’s Area 31 restaurant boasts an amazing view of Brickell Key and the Intracoastal Waterway that should not be missed if you are in the area.

Get Active

If you’re in Miami before (or after) a long-haul flight to South America, don’t pass up a chance to stretch yourself.  Free yoga is available on South Beach and Bayfront Park. The North Beach Bandshell offers roller skating on select weeknights, and the Miami Beach Boardwalk is a great place to walk or run with the beach on one side, and high-rise hotels on the other.

The culinary scene is shining, and fish lovers will rejoice with options ranging from excellent ceviche to stone crab claws by the dozen. Simply put, there are so many things to do in Miami, the hardest thing to do is leave!

Read more at TourMatters

One Day in Budapest

In some itineraries, “Day on Own” can be three dreaded words. As travelers, sometimes we just prefer to have our days all planned out. Fear not! From bathhouses to opera houses, Budapest is brimming with activities, all of which give you insight into this beautiful gem on the Danube.

Take the time to explore both sides of the city: Buda is quieter, hillier, and greener; Pest is vibrant, bustling, and energetic. Pest has more landmarks, so you may want more time there. But, you can easily cross from one side of the blonde Danube to the other by foot, bicycle, tram, or metro, so it doesn’t matter too much on which side of the river you stay.

Shutterbug?

Exploring European cities is most effective on foot, so throw on your most comfortable (yet stylish!) shoes and head to the Chain Bridge. On the Pest side, stroll along the Danube and watch both local and long-haul river boats cruise by. On the pedestrian pathway, but be mindful of bicycles and watch where you are walking when the path turns to cobblestones.

On the Buda side, couple your walk with a cable car ride up to the Buda Castle District or Fisherman’s Bastion. Meander the upper town with beautiful views and quaint, tiny streets to explore. Batthány Square is just off the river with an unobstructed view of the Parliament Building.

The view south from Margit Bridge is an excellent place to capture a shot of both Buda and Pest, with all the bridges and landmarks, too. For the ultimate photo of everything, take a ride up to the Citadel, where a bird’s eye view of Budapest can awe even the most well-traveled photographer.

Shoppers Delight

For an afternoon of shopping, head to Pest. Vaci Utca, the most popular and pedestrian-only drag in the city, is littered with both brand name stores and mom-and-pop souvenir shops. At the western end is the Central Market Hall, a two-story market that sells everything from onions or fish to magnets or embroidered tablecloths. Andrássy Avenue is the city’s Champs-Élysées, where window shopping is the most pocket friendly option. Behind the Parliament is a tiny district dedicated to antique hounds.

Foodies

Hungarian cuisine can be heavy, but there’s no denying it hits the spot. Once you work up an appetite walking all over, treat yourself to hearty goulash soup with thick bread or meat in gravy with dumplings. If you just need a “treat,” try deep fried bread with cheese or cinnamon on top.

Typical Hungarian restaurants can be found up and down Vaci Utca, or around Vörösmarty tér a square at the north end of the boulevard. For a typical Hungarian pastry and coffee, spend some time in the Gerbeaud Cafe. If you want to have lunch before touring, say, the Opera House, dine at one of the many establishments found in Litz Fér off Andrássy Avenue.

Culture Fix

If you’d rather take in more art and history, consider a tour of the Parliament Building or the Opera House. You also have your choice of specialties, including the Terror Museum, Fine Arts Museum, or the Military Museum (located in Buda Castle).

Essential sites like St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hero’s Square, the Great Synagogue, and the Holocaust memorial, Shoes on the Danube, outside the Parliament should not be missed. The Four Seasons hotel, at the entrance to the Chain Bridge, is also worth a visit for its award-winning design.

One Last Thing

A trip to Budapest wouldn’t be complete without a visit to its famous bathhouses. First developed by the Romans and revived in the last century, bathhouses are a staple of Hungarian life. The Szechenyi Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool is located in the heart of Pest, and the Géllert Baths and Spa is on the Southern end of Buda. Either option is easily accessible by public transportation or taxi.

If you aren’t traveling through the area by boat, dedicate one hour of your evening to a nighttime river cruise. As a tour manager I say without reservation that seeing Budapest’s majestic landmarks light up the sky as you sail along the peaceful Danube is an unforgettable experience.

Read more at TourMatters

13 Tips from a European Expert

Tour directors have one universal rule of thumb: Assume nothing will be exactly as you expect. When heading into an unknown situation like travel, we take comfort in studying the rules up front so we feel prepared. But even guide books only go so far. What other universal truths should you master before your next European adventure?

1.  Carry tissues and band-aids.

Regardless of on-call attendants and entry fees, bathrooms are never guaranteed to be stocked with toilet paper. Let your inner nonna shine and stuff a tissue packet (or three) in your bag while sightseeing. And, when your new walking shoes aren’t quite as broken in as you originally thought, band-aids (or “plasters,” depending on where you are traveling) for blisters can make touring on foot a whole lot easier.

2.  ATM fees are always lower than exchange fees.

Instead of carrying wads of cash to exchange overseas, consider taking just a small amount of your destination’s currency to get you from the airport to your hotel, and then utilizing an ATM machine. Known in Europe as Bancomats, the only fees you will most likely incur are bank fees. Speak to your own bank representative before leaving home, alert them that you will be withdrawing money overseas, and find out your maximum daily withdrawal limit. This is important: If your limit is 500USD, you will have an allowance of roughly 350EUR, depending on the current exchange rate. If that isn’t enough, consider increasing your daily limit before your departure.

3.  Find out the emergency number in the country you are staying in.

A good tour director should give you plenty of time to explore solo. That freedom is a blessing, but also comes with a small amount of risk. If you find yourself in an emergency, it is your responsibility to know the number to call. 112 is the ‘911’ of most European countries, and any phone that is roaming should be able to connect. If not, ask passerby. Human compassion is international.

4.  Learn how to say please, thank you, and good day. Bonus points for “Do you speak English?”

Many say that Hungarian is the hardest language to learn. Hungarians know this and don’t expect a word of their language to escape your lips. However, when one does, they are delighted! Wherever you may go, take a few minutes to memorize key words in the local language, even if it feels impossible. Not only does your effort ensure a better relationship with the people you meet, it is a fun way to immerse yourself in the culture and build confidence.

5.  Carry your travel insurance information.

Many times, as a tour director, I have had an emergency with a guest who hasn’t the slightest idea whether they purchased travel insurance. Your coverage details provide vital information, and accessibility to saves crucial minutes of phone time.

6.  Carry a copy of your passport.

Not the original, a copy. Pickpockets are everywhere, don’t risk losing the original when you’re not in transit.

7.  If you absolutely need a washcloth, bring one.

Face cloths are never a guarantee, even in a quality hotel.

8.  Check the weather forecast, then remember to be prepared for everything.

The Greek Islands are not perpetually warm, as much as we want to believe they are!

9.  Tipping is appropriate in the tourism industry, everywhere.

When in doubt, tip. When not in doubt, also tip. The tourism and hospitality industry survives through the financial graciousness of guests. A gratuity will rarely be taken as an insult. Special attention should be paid to guides, drivers, musicians, and housekeepers. Ask your tour director if you aren’t sure about group dinners—most tour companies cover restaurant tipping for included meals.

10.  If something has a price tag, it is not up for bargain.

This clue is especially important when you are perusing the local markets. If it’s marked, the price is non-negotiable. If not, sharpen your haggling skills. Which brings me to …

11.  Never buy a souvenir in the first market kiosk you see.

Make your way to the back, where the items are nearly always cheaper. Why not save money when you can, right?

12.  If you don’t want bread at a restaurant, send it back to avoid hiddden charges.

You are more likely to encounter bread charges in Mediterranean countries.  The same practice goes for appetizers and digestives. A plate of salami you didn’t ask for?  A round of limoncello?  Odds are, even if you didn’t ask for it, you will find it on the bill.

13.  Teamwork is key!

Your tour director is not only your guide, but also your event planner, reservationist, scheduler, accountant, insurance agent, concierge, historian, and geography expert. You are on vacation, but your guide is not. Help keep the tour and logistics running smoothly by being prompt, filling out your required paperwork, and having your emergency and insurance paperwork handy if the need arises.

Above all, traveling is fun! Resolve your administrative tasks before you leave home so the moment you step off that plane and begin your adventure, your only job is to take in the sights and enjoy yourself.  Expect some snags and embrace them. What you discover during unexpected turns often makes the journey more memorable!

Read more at TourMatters

Prepare for Poland

Poland is a triumphant nation with a tragic history, and now it is aggressively pressing its way into the forefront of the travel industry. Many travelers, mostly European, have been quietly perusing Poland for years, but only recently is it introducing itself to the West as a must-see. And for good reason! Vast green hills peppered with livestock, colorful religious altars adorning local roads, and small but vibrant cities bursting with energy combine to form one of the most complicated countries on the European continent.

Before making a reservation and heading across the pond, consider the key points below and prepare for a journey that will leave you wanting more.

Read more at TourMatters

Stay Healthy in Miami

Going on vacation doesn’t mean you have to abandon your active lifestyle. In Miami, it is easier than you probably think. Below are several ideas to ensure a healthy vacation here in Miami.

If you want to maintain your exercise routine:

Rent bikes from your hotel or from the city bike share program, DecoBike. Ride along the promenade from Miami Beach to South Pointe Park. Want to try something different? Rollerblades are still a completely acceptable form of transportation. Rent them from South Beach or Bayside with Bike n Roll Miami, and wallow in your 90s nostalgia.

Jogging on the beach is never a bad idea. Especially if you join the iconic Raven’s Run, a free running club led by the famous Raven. A Miami local, he has successfully run 8 miles on the beach every single day for the past 40 years. If you prefer to run solo, head to the boardwalk that starts on 23rd Street.

Kitesurfing is a popular pastime down here, especially in the Keys. Thankfully, you don’t have to go far. Key Biscayne is known for its plethora of kite surf instructors, so book your lesson and hit the water. If possible, stick around until the sun goes down. This island is known for its incredibly colorful sunsets.

Miami’s proximity to the Caribbean means ocean waves are few and far between. That’s why Miamian’s prefer paddle boards to surfboards. Paddle under the sun through the bay from Sunset Harbour Marina, or wait until dusk and join one of Miami Beach Paddle Board’s Neon Tours. Explore the Sunset Island channels on boards equipped with LED neon lights.

If yoga is your thing, you are in luck. Free and donation-based classes are offered all throughout the city, and most take advantage of our wonderful weather and gorgeous vistas. Practice in front of the ocean at sunrise or sunset at 3rd Street Beach, hosting classes every day at 7am and 5pm. Sleep in a little bit and meander over to the Mondrian Hotel on Sunday mornings at 10am to get your vinyasa on in front of the bay, overlooking Miami’s impressive downtown skyline. In contrast, practice with a view of Miami Beach at Bayfront Park, offering free yoga classes every Monday and Wednesday at 6pm and Saturday at 9am.

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Travel Hacks for Miami Visitors

Miami is bustling, international, energetic and colorful. There aren’t too many rules here. Understanding the culture will help you blend in. Here are some tips to ensure you enjoy your trip to the max!

Transportation
Getting around by trolley is free, but the bus is exact change only. Have it out and ready.

Timing
Speaking of which, the bus is rarely on time. Don’t panic, it will arrive eventually.

Life is Sloooow
It’s hot and tropical, making the culture laid back and slow. Remember this when dining out, shopping or using public transportation.

Dining Out
Many restaurants will not present you your check until it is specifically asked for.

Paying Your Bill
When you do receive your bill, always check for included gratuity.

Personal Space
Is non-existent. The little old lady behind you isn’t trying to steal anything from your purse, she is just trying to get closer to the front of the line.

Social Norms
Miamians will not apologize profusely for accidentally brushing your arm while walking down Lincoln Road. They won’t expect you to either. Live and let live.

Safety in the Street
Like any city, biking is a popular way to commute. Be aware of tourists on bikes, as most are too engaged in the scenery to notice pedestrians.
(Insert photo of bikers)

Street Dress Code
Miami is the city of ‘yes.’ Anything goes. Don’t, however, feel the need to wear your thong bikini while jogging. Very few can pull that off.

Beach Dress Code
Topless bathing is accepted everywhere. Whether or not it is actually legal is a different story. If you want to go full out in your birthday suit, head to Haulover, just north of Bal Harbour.

Language
This isn’t the USA you’re used to elsewhere. It is an extension of South America. If you order your cafecito at a local Cuban coffee shop, don’t assume the employees speak english.

Coffee
A cafecito, or cortado, is espresso with tons of sugar. A cafe con leche is espresso with tons of milk. A cortadito is a mix of the two.

Weather
Rain showers generally last 10-20 minutes. If you are on the beach and the sky opens up, stick it out. By the time you pack up and leave, it will be over.

Locals
Most locals are not rampant partiers. Ask promotors for nightclub advice. Ask locals for directions. Ask other tourists what night is best at Mangos. Ask locals about the city’s greatest happy hours.

Parking
Parking tickets are given out like candy. You won’t beat the system. If you didn’t pay for your spot, chances are it’s illegal. Avoid the headache and park in a lot.

The Sun
Experience sunrise on the beach with free yoga. Enjoy sunset on the bay with half-priced drinks.
(INSERT photo of sunset over downtown miami)

Taxis
If you are in a taxi in South Beach, direct the driver to a street west of Collins Ave. You might have to deal with more stops signs, but the difference in traffic will be worth your while. If you don’t have cash, ask if the driver accepts credit cards before getting in.

Bike-share
Better yet, rent a DecoBike using your credit card. Ask a local for help.

Alcohol
Alcohol is available for purchase almost everywhere, including Walgreens, CVS, Whole Foods and Publix (pronounced with a short ‘u’, like the Irish bar, followed by “licks”.)

Cuisine
Miami’s food scene is so much more than fried plantains and medianoches. From Peruvian to Italian, the city is bursting with great restaurants. Don’t limit yourself!
(Photo of ceviche)

Kodak Moments
Most importantly, always have your camera ready. From breathtaking sunsets to drag shows at brunch, you never know what you are going to see in this vibrant city!

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When to Go to Miami

The best time to go to Miami is during the winter months. The high season lasts December through February, and while more expensive and crowded, it is most pleasant for weather. Warm, breezy days and cool nights draw crowds from all parts of the world. June through October is hurricane season, bringing with it heavy rainstorms. August and September are especially brutal with high humidity and scorching temperatures. Art Basel kicks off the high tourist season in December, and crowds of sophisticated New Yorkers and European families stick around until late February. March is the best time to party, with spring breakers and music festival lovers filling the streets and nightclubs. Memorial Day weekend is a mob scene with police forces on every corner to control the crowds. The best time to experience life as a local is during the summer, when crowds disintegrate and the local scene shines through. Many restaurants offer half-priced bottles of wine and discounts on entrees to keep the the city active.

Best Weather: December, January and February is high season for a reason. Daytime temperatures generally rise high enough to enjoy the beach and cool off for comfortable nighttime activities.

Best Time for Hotel Deals: The cheapest time to go to Miami is during the summer months, when hotel rates drop substantially. For lowest rates, check out June, July, September and October.

Big Must-See Events: Art Basel, the international Art Fair festival, usually falls on the first week of December, kicking off the high season. Foodies will appreciate a visit to Miami in February to catch the Food Network’s South Beach Food and Wine Festival. March is the month for music lovers, with Ultra Music Festival and Winter Music Conference bringing in the world’s most beloved DJs. The jewel of Miami, its beautiful beaches, are open and free to the public year round.

Best Time to Avoid the Crowds: September and October are low in terms of tourists, but extremely hot. Miami sees a serious drop in tourism the week following Art Basel, usually the second week in December. The week post New Years draws a thin crowd as well, with pleasant weather.

Read more at MapQuest Travel