I get requests for my top 5 places to visit....or top 10 things to see....or my favorite place I've been. For me, it is impossible! Of course there are places I've visited that I really enjoyed and would go back to in a heartbeat, but after visiting 65 or so countries, there is no way to rank them. That being said, my plan is to start blogging more and I will start by posting some places I thought were amazing. So, in no particular order...one such amazing place hopefully every week :)
I've been to India twice....once to work at mobile medical camps in a tiger reserve in Southern India (my first career was in public health) where I stayed for a couple of months and second time in Rajasthan 5 years later for vacation. I traveled by myself and found that while India can be chaotic it can also be very peaceful. My senses were in overdrive almost every moment but I think travel should transform you....and for me India did that. As a traveler, India offers opportunities to see historic monuments (like the Amber Fort above), beautiful scenery, and wildlife and try new foods, drinks and experiences (like a visit to an ashram). India is also a shoppers paradise and a destination for detox and Ayurvedic spa treatments (I still dream of my head massages...). India has something for everyone....
This is a temple at Mysore Palace in Southern India. Look at how ornate the figures are....so beautiful. There are lots of different itineraries I can plan for India---independent options to explore with drivers on select days (my driver still e-mails me on all Indian holidays to say hello) or options where you are escorted by a guide and driver for your entire visit. There are now even river cruises on the Ganges with luxury companies like Uniworld where all of the details are taken care of and all you have to do is enjoy (and volunteer if you like at certain ports). I am dreaming of my next visit....Kerala is high on my list.
There are several reasons to use a travel agent....here are the top 5.
So, now that we have the agent part down, what are the benefits of using an independent company like Unraveled Travel.
I look forward to working with you all of you!
My husband and I went on a 7-night sailing with Seabourn to the Baltic Sea. Seabourn is the only cruise line to consistently offer 2 overnights in St. Petersburg on a 7 night cruise….which was exactly what we were looking for.
Seabourn has a great reputation and I was looking forward to the sailing. Overall, it was an amazing experience.
-I had reserved the lowest category verandah in a guarantee status. Our stateroom was assigned less than a week before sailing. However, we were upgraded to a V6 in an excellent location. The stateroom was very large with a sofa, table with two chairs, queen size bed, and a long narrow dresser. There was also some storage in the nightstands and above and below the TV. The balcony was large and had room for two chairs and a small table (with room to spare both in front of the chairs (you could stand and look out easily without touching the chairs) and with space in between so you were not right next to your companion). The bathroom had a double vanity with space to store items and a separated tub and shower. Molton Brown amenities were provided. The walk in closet had two tier racks, as well as a one tier higher rack for longer items. There were also a few small drawers and a safe.
-The food was excellent. The specialty restaurant (The Grill by Thomas Keller) was fantastic, especially for my husband who is a huge meat eater. It was ok for me (I’m a vegetarian who does eat some fish). There were several places to eat on board and the quality of the food was great across the board. There were healthy options at each meal, such as fruits and vegetables. I noticed several meal choices were offered such as gluten-free, sugar free, vegetarian. Afternoon tea was held most days and was a nice addition. The desserts in the Colonnade (buffet) and the restaurant were quite good (same with those offered at afternoon tea).
-Drinks are mostly included. I thought some of my husband’s favorite single malt whiskies might be considered premium and charged extra, but that wasn’t the case and he tried several. Be warned that Seabourn will ask for your drink preferences to stock your mini bar. I wasn’t prepared and couldn’t think of anything we liked to drink :) The cabin stewardess met with us the first night to request any drink items we may have forgotten.
-The staff to passenger ratio is very high on Seabourn and while staff were available when we needed them, the service varied quite a bit.
-Fellow passengers. Most passengers were in the 40 to 60 year old range. A good percentage were repeat Seabourn clients (probably 50% or so of the people we met). I was surprised to see as many kids on board as I did---from infant age to teenagers. I would guess 20+ kids on our sailing. Not a big deal for us, but I know some people that are interested in Seabourn want an adult only experience.
-Docking and Port Calls. We stayed on schedule and announcements were made as to which deck to disembark each day (varied between two locations). Most docking locations were close to the city center. In Tallinn, Seabourn offered a free shuttle bus. Most disappointing was that we had to dock outside of St. Petersburg----normally Seabourn docks on the river in the middle of the city with amazing city views. It added about 15-20 minutes driving time each way into/out of the city, but you can only get off the boat with a guide or on a tour (unless you have your own visa), so going on our own wasn’t possible for most at this port.
The two overnights in St. Petersburg were important to us because we also wanted to visit Moscow. You have to have 2 overnights to make this work as it is around 18-19 total hours away from the ship. The high speed train is 4 hours each way or you can fly. It is a long day, but was the complete highlight of the trip!!! Our guide was wonderful---if you want her name, please message me.
-The other item to mention is the ship size. I have sailed on Windstar and was expecting Seabourn Quest to only be a bit larger (I was on Star Breeze---a former Seabourn ship). I was wrong. The ship itself is definitely a medium sized ship. From the pier, it looks quite large (until it docks next to a Princess ship which we did the next day!) We had about 450 people on board—a good amount for a ship this size. However, there were times the boat felt crowded. If you want a small ship experience, Seabourn Quest may be a bit too big. However, if you are used to the big ships and want to scale back some, Seabourn would be a great option.
Yet another beautiful location in the Alps! My husband and I have visited over 12 ski resorts in Europe and while all are beautiful, each one is a little different from the others...in terms of skiing and the atmosphere.
Andermatt is located near the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland. Lucerne is the nearest big city, but you can reach Andermatt from Zurich by train in about 2 hours. The town itself is quite small and has a historic feel (old architecture, narrow roads), but there are plenty of modern amenities. The luxury brand Chedi has a beautiful hotel and spa here (be prepared to spend some big bucks!) and there are several boutique properties. The true character of the city can be found in its small guest houses (Gasthaus) both for the rooms and the restaurants.
There are several ski resorts linked together in this region and you can access all of them by cable car or train from Andermatt (included in the price of the ski pass).
If like me, your other half likes to ski, but you don't....there are plenty of winter walking trails here. Several trails start right in the city. There are also options for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. There are a few stores, but Andermatt is not the place to go to shop. The apres ski scene in Andermatt is fairly quiet, no where near the level of many other Alpine resorts. There is a whiskey bar with high end choices and a few on mountain bars that can attract a crowd.
Since Andermatt isn't a huge resort, prices are reasonable...or as least as reasonable as they can be for Switzerland. Expect to pay around $150-$200 per night for a double room in a gasthaus and $50-$75 for dinner (nothing fancy).
Please message me if you would like more information or are interested in a trip to Andermatt.
A lot of people say to me "I can't afford a river cruise." It is true that the up front costs of a river cruise can be higher than that for an ocean cruise. The lowest price river cruise is usually around $1700 per person and goes up from there. However, because most river cruises include a lot more in the price of the cruise than do most ocean cruises, the TOTAL price of the cruise is often the same.
In the example below, I compare a popular river cruise company Ama Waterways with Holland America, a well-known ocean cruise line. Holland America is considered an mid to high level cruise line (although not considered premium or luxury). The service on board is excellent. Ama Waterways is considered a mid to high level river cruise line (not considered premium or luxury) and the service on board is excellent. So, trying to compare apples to apples :)
Most river cruise rooms, and all of them on Ama Waterways, have a window. Most are full length windows and some rooms have balconies. Holland America has some room choices without a window (called interior rooms) and then rooms with more views as you move up the price categories.
It is true, that if you get a sale price on Holland America for an inside room....even with everything you will have to add on to the cruise, it may still be less than a river cruise. However, if you take the same category of rooms and compare, the price is the about the same (or sometimes even less).
Price isn't everything. The atmosphere on board is completely different between a river cruise and an ocean cruise. Ama Waterways boats hold 200 people or less and dock right in city centers. There is no need to walk from the port into town or take a tender (small boat) from the boat to the shore--both of these are common on ocean cruises. Most Holland American ships hold between 1,000 and 2,000 people. This is considered mid-size for ocean vessels. Having 200 or less companions on board means getting off the ship is quicker and easier and the cruise has a more intimate feel. You have a better chance of getting to know others on board and the staff have a better opportunity to know you and what you like. There are some river cruise lines that allow children, but not all do. The facilities on board aren't as extensive on a river cruise as they are on an ocean cruise---the spa and pool may be smaller, there isn't a kids club (if they allow children), and entertainment options are toned down (no Broadway-like shows like you often get on an ocean cruise).
Please message me and we can discuss which options are best for you...for either a river or an ocean cruise.
I like to travel by myself. Sometimes it is the only way travel is possible....like if my husband or friends don't have the time to travel when I do. Other times, no one else is interested in going to where I want to go :) Or don't want to see a place the way I want to see it. This week I headed out solo for a quick trip to Porto, Portugal. I landed and headed for the Metro to the stop closest to my hotel. I emerged on the street into a chaos of people and noise...and no real idea where I was going. I luckily found a place with free city maps and proceeded to...as inconspiciously as possible...take a quick look and see which direction I needed to go. I guessed wrong, but found a lively street and this beautiful church. Once I knew I was heading in the wrong direction, I changed course and headed towards my hotel. When I travel alone, I have no one to apologize to for going in the wrong direction. I wanted to get to my hotel to put my bag down, but I had no real schedule and knew if I couldn't find the hotel on my own, I could always ask for directions or get a taxi.
I originally was going to stay at a chain hotel where I have points. Free is tempting :) Although as my trip approached and I looked more into the location of the hotel, I realized it wasn't for me. I was in Porto for one full day (two nights) and staying outside the city center (even for free!) just didn't make sense. Porto has lots of reasonably priced hotel options, so that also helped make my decision. For 51€ per night, I stayed right in the city center and it included breakfast. The hotel was old (the oldest in Porto), but was full of character and antiques. This is another time when it is nice to travel solo. My trip, my stay, my decision....
I woke up the next morning to lots of variety at breakfast. I had heard that the Portuguese like their sweets and this buffet certainly showed that. There were 5 cakes, crepes, french toast (more like friend dough), flan, rice pudding and sweet, sugar dipped breads. There were also savory options, but it was clear that there is an expectation to have at least a little sugar with your breakfast (no complaints here!). Feeling fortified, I headed out to explore. I knew I wanted to see the Douro River and at least one of the markets. It was still early (around 9am) when I arrived at the riverfront and things were quiet. I was nearly alone and could appreciate the views and spy the port houses across the way. I knew the area would be bustling with people later in the day as there are stores and restaurants all along the way (they just weren't open yet). I caught a glimpse of it later in the day going full steam and was thankful I had the tranquil moments that morning.
After leaving the river, I headed in the general direction of the Balhao market. I'm not one for maps when I travel alone---I look to see generally which direction---and then head out. The sun was hitting the old marking building when I arrived and it was beautiful. One of the corner stores was a seed and flower shop. Prime real estate for seeds....not something you see in many countries. Much better than a fast food restaurant or tourist store in my opinion. The inside of the market was as old and run down as advertised. I don't mean that in a bad way. There was a little bit of everything for both the locals and the visitors. The stalls set up on the upstairs railing were all fruit and vegetable sellers and downstairs was a mixed of food, souvenirs and small restaurants. I love to see food in each country I visit....what is popular? what is different? what is the same?
Having checked off my two main sights well before noon, I started to wander. I shopped in stores, had tea at the historic and famous Cafe Majestic, and saw the figurines dance out of the nearby clock tower at noon (didn't even know about it until I happened to be walking by right at noon). I got out of the tourist part of town and ended up I'm not quite sure where. The streets are steep and turning a blind corner on a small street, you never know if you are going to be hiking up or strolling down. After some time (not really sure how long), I came across a little restaurant and decided to have some lunch. I thought about asking the waiter where I was, but decided against it. I had no where to be until my flight the next morning and figured I would figure it out....eventually. And I did. I continued to walk for awhile and came to one of the main Metro stops. I recognized the name from the day before and my feet decided it was time to jump on the Metro to head back to my neighborhood.
I feel like I saw lots of Porto in my one day and think it was a great city to be on my own. I know I saw things I wouldn't have seen if I had not decided to simply explore. If I was set on seeing a long list of attractions, I wouldn't have had the privilege to just be. Not all cities can be done so randomly. I cherish my experiences when I can just let things happen.
Cruise Selection 101
Cruises are not all created equal. Here are a few items to consider before deciding on a cruise.
PRICE: The price you pay for the cruise, is not the price of your whole trip. Yes, cruises include several parts of your trip in one price, but the inclusions vary by cruise line.
-Many cruise lines charge you for drinks, fitness classes, wi-fi, room service, gratuities (tips) for staff on board and for shore excursions. Some of these costs (especially gratuities) are not included even if you have a package that is marketed as “all-inclusive.” The exception are higher end, premium cruise lines that truly offer an all-inclusive experience. Ask me questions to make sure you understand what is included in each price.
-Budget cruise lines (MSC, Costa) often have the lowest price up front, but nickel-and-dime you on board…meaning not as much is included when compared to other cruise lines. This may mean you end up spending more in the end because you have to pay as you go throughout the cruise (or have to buy additional packages).
-A small increase in price can translate into a much better experience. A stateroom upgrade from an inside room (no window) to a balcony can change your perspective. A cruise on a premium or luxury cruise line may give you perks for free and service that goes beyond your expectations. A Disney Cruise for kids is the “gold standard” as they understand how to make a family vacation enjoyable for all. (Yes, Disney costs more, but vacation time is often limited and perhaps spending more for the experience will be worth it for your family).
SHIPS: Cruise ships vary in size from a small yacht carrying 25 passengers to mega-ships carrying over 5,000.
-The size of the ship can affect many parts of your trip. On the positive side, larger ships generally have more amenities like more restaurants, activities and entertainment. On the negative side, it can take you 15 minutes or more to make it from one place on the ship to another or take up to 2 hours to get off the ship in port.
-The quality of the ship can vary. Some cruise ships look like luxury hotels and others look more like budget hotels. Both will get you to the ports of call, but if the presentation of the ship (or the condition of the ship) is important to you—it is important to consider that up front. If some peeling paint will bother you, mention it. If you require marble in your bathroom, please mention that as well :)
-On board amenities vary quite a bit. Are you a party animal? There are cruises where the parties last well into the night. Do you have kids? The availability and hours of the kids club will be an important factor to consider. How much do you care about entertainment? Some cruise lines have Broadway-like shows and others have no evening entertainment other than a bar with some music. Please let me know what is important to you (or what isn’t important to you) and I can present some cruise options that fit your needs.
PORTS OF CALL: Every cruise (except cruises to nowhere…a real option) have ports of call. The similarities end there.
-Hours in port….what they mean. They mean the time that the ship is either docked or anchored in that port. It does not mean that is the time you will have on land.
The morning time is often as estimate as the ship has to clear customs and dock or anchor. Once that is complete, many cruise companies offer the people booked on cruise line shore excursions the chance to leave the boat first. Depending on the number of people, it can be an hour or more before you can leave the boat if you aren’t on a cruise line excursion. If your ship is anchored and you have to take a tender (a small boat) to land, allow extra time as you will have to wait for an available tender.
The same holds true for the return trip. Allow plenty of time to get back on board if docked or to catch the last tender of the day. If you miss it, the ship will likely leave without you and it is your responsibility to get to the next port (or the ship).
-Where is the port? Many cruise lines list major cities as the ports of call (like Rome when the port is actually an hour away in Civitavecchia). Do some research or ask me questions about where the port is and how long it will be to get to where you want to go (and how to get there).
Depending on the ship and the port, you may have to take a tender to land and then a bus to the actual port city. This transportation can take an hour or more, each way. This can really limit your time seeing what you want to see. If there is a MUST SEE for your cruise vacation, please let me know, so we can find a cruise that gives you the most time in that location.
Part 2 will be coming soon. If you have questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
These are some of my travel experiences from 2003 until present day. I have picked several amazing experiences and I hope they inspire you to plan your next journey!
The year was 2003. I had traveled to a few countries at the time, but nothing all that adventuresome. Then, I got a call from an old friend saying "I'm getting married...in Australia" Could I come? Of course my answer was yes!!! So, I started planning. I wasn't going to fly all the way to Australia and only stay for a few days, so after begging and pleading with my boss I was able to take 5 weeks off from work. The world was my oyster or so the saying goes. I researched Tahiti, but decided that was a little too romantic of a location for a single woman on an independent trip. Next I looked into the Cook Islands--sounded wonderful. Next a stop in Fiji...then New Zealand and finally the wedding in Sydney, Australia. I learned a lot about planning travel...and traveling....on this journey.
My time in the Cook Islands was spent on the beach, in the hills hiking and eating lots of local food. One day as I was returning from a hike I saw a sign for an animal rescue. I have always been an animal lover so I peeked my head in to learn what I could do to help. I was able to spend time with some dogs and give a donation to help keep the operation running. This was my first lesson--travel opens doors to opportunities. Opportunities to help as well as opportunities to learn.
After a week or so, I moved on to Fiji. I was trying to get off the beaten path and succeeded. I enjoyed great conversations with a local family and enjoyed seeing rarely visited parks. However, I learned that off the beaten path is often shorthand for have to take 5 buses and a taxi to get where you are going. I felt like I was always traveling and not really in a good way. This lesson has helped me plan my time more wisely.
Next was New Zealand. I decided on the way to Christchurch from Fiji that I wanted to add a flight and explore another area of the country. The spontaneity paid off by me having a really fun experience at Cadbury World...a chocolate factory tour. This is not something I would normally do on my travels, but in the moment is sounded like the best idea in the world. New Zealand offered my a safe place to be spontaneous and I was rewarded in many other ways. One more example was instead of the typical experience of a cruise on Milford Sound (often crowded), I could learn from other travels that the nearby Doubtful Sound was so much less crowded and less touristy. This was my first chance to kayak in the ocean. Everything was so peaceful and still and I will hold this memory forever.
I like traveling by myself...even now that I'm married, but I can tell you I was so happy to see people I knew when I got to Sydney. Meeting new people is great, but sometimes you want the comfort of the known when traveling. I didn't have to plan everything--I could tag along with others to Bondi beach or for a tour of the Opera House. That took the weight off my shoulders. Of course my friends (Jeff and Liv) had a beautiful wedding ceremony and I'm glad I took the time to enjoy my journey getting there.
I already loved to travel, but I think this is when I was officially bitten by the travel bug and have been exploring often ever since.
My husband and I like to do different things when we travel. Sometimes we travel together and sometimes we travel apart. Costa Rica was a great place for us to travel together since there was so much to do that both of us enjoy. He was able to go scuba diving in the morning and be back in time for us to have a late lunch together. I was not yet very comfortable driving or taking a taxi alone for long distances, so I booked half-day trips with the hotel (this trip was in 2005). I enjoyed a boat ride near the rainforest and saw monkeys, crocodiles, and hundreds of birds and enjoyed a wonderful beach-side massage. We decided to spend one full day together and weighed our options. We decided it was worth the expense to hire a driver to take us to several places. Our day ended up being close to 14 hours long, but we saw the Monteverde Cloud Forest (and went on the...at the time...highest zip line), several beautiful lakes and ended the day at the Arenal volcano. We soaked in the thermal springs and had a wonderful dinner before we were driven several hours back to our hotel at the beach. It was such a memorable day! What started off as a package tour of hotel and airfare really turned into a very individualized trip. We saw the options available and were able to tailor our stay to meet our sometimes diverse needs.