Archive for May, 2011

Female Bloggers Highlighted in March Magazine

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

I am so excited and appreciative to be featured in the new issue of March Magazine, the bi-monthly magazine that celebrates the accomplishments of women. 

The article features a few of us gals who make a living by blogging. So to learn a little more about me, read the article here: March Magazine

 
 

 

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Summer Kick-Off! Last Minute Memorial Day Deals

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Even though Mother Nature has seemingly forgotten that summer is quickly approaching in Colorado, I am confident that she will not fail me for a gorgeous Memorial Day ushering in summer this weekend.

Did it creep up on you too? Have no fear because last minute deals abound and there are great spots ripe for the picking for your next long weekend getaway.

The Cayman Islands are a great place to kick-off summer. (Photo courtesy of travel.nytimes.com)


In 2010, over 281 million people visited U.S. National Parks, and this year, they’re expecting their biggest numbers ever. I, for example, am spending the weekend at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

And if you are looking for a last minute getaway and don’t know where to go, here are my suggestions with the help of my friends at hotels.com.

Orlando

It will be hot, the lines will be long, but nothing says welcome to summer quite like a trip to Orlando and a visit to the theme parks and hotel prices are too good to pass up. You can save up to 50% on your stay through hotels.com.

Suggestions: The Coco Key Hotel and Water Resort is an affordable and fun spot where you can cool off in the hotel pools when the Florida sun gets too hot; or rent your own private home with its own pool thru Legacy Vacation Homes.

Chicago

I can’t say enough about Chicago in the summer time. Haven’t been? Now’s your chance to go with huge hotel savings from hotels.com!

Suggestions: The Allerton Hotel on Magnificent Mile, the Radisson Chicago O’Hare and The Hotel Felix are fun, affordable options in the heart of Chi-Town.

Charleston, SC

One of my favorite cities for a summer stroll is Charleston, South Carolina. You can’t go wrong with a stay in the historic district or on the coastal sand dunes.

Suggestions: In the heart of old Charleston you can stay at the historic Francis Marion Hotel.

Stay 3 nights and save 30% at the ResortQuest Rentals at Kiawah Island located on the Atlantic Ocean.

Austin

I love everything about Austin from the music to the food, and spending some time in the summer down south is always a blast.

Suggestions: The Omni Austin Hotel at South Park is a great family-friendly option, with rooms starting at just $116 on hotels.com

Cayman Islands

If your passports are ready then catch a plane and a deal when you visit The Cayman Islands this summer!

Suggestions: Treasure Island Resort is a 2 ½ star affordable lodging option with three pools and a private beach.

The Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa – Seven Mile Beach features open-air restaurants, a gorgeous beachfront and the Westin Kids Club.

What are your favorite places to visit in the summer? Will you be taking any trips this year?

 
 

 

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A How-To Guide to One Week in Italy: Part II

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

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What to Do

If you have two or three days in Rome then I recommend purchasing the Roma Pass, which allows you on/off access to Rome’s transportation as well as entrance into two museums or sites such as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.

The Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Basilica - While here, you will find unbelievable art and sculptures, and St. Peter’s is sure to be a memorable experience as it is one of the most beautiful, famous places in the world.

The Necropolis Under the Basilica tour. This special tour was one of our trip highlights!

VISITING FLORENCE (Firenze)

The birthplace of the Renaissance still shines today with beautiful artwork, sculptures, architecture, and today’s budding artists filling the squares seeking inspiration for their own masterpieces. You can see Florence in a day but you may want an extra day to explore the leather markets and eat gelato around the small city.

Italy’s train system makes it easy to get between cities. A direct train can be taken from Rome to Florence and any other major city and have you there in just a few hours. It’s worth it!

Where to Stay

Relais Villa Antea is a former home turned bed & breakfast. Open for the past five years, it is one of Florence’s best-kept secrets. With just six rooms available, each is beautifully appointed, the bathrooms spacious, breakfast is excellent but what really sets this spot apart are the owners and staff who are overly accommodating and helpful.  Their recommendations for places to eat were focused on what is excellent not touristy from the local pizza establishment to a fine dining experience.

Dining

Best pizza in Florence: Pizzeria Spera – Go local if you dare!  My husband ate pizza every day for nine days and this was his favorite, by far.

Best fine dining: Taverna della Bronzino – Extraordinary service matched with a magnificent menu!

VISITING THE CINQUE TERRE

The Cinque Terre is one of the most beautiful areas of Italy

A piece of heaven on the Italian Riviera, the five villages of the Cinque Terre are growing in popularity for their sun, sand, coastal views, hiking, wine and relaxation. For me, this was the perfect stop after visiting the bustling cities of Rome and Florence. You can travel between towns by train or boat or even hike, as many groups do, but be sure to bring along your hiking shoes.

Where to Stay

If you want to have an experience like no other, then stay at La Torretta in the village of Manarola. I can’t say enough about this upscale, 13-room place that caters to its visitors with complimentary wine and appetizers graciously offered each afternoon on the sun terrace, breakfast delivered to your room each morning, stocked mini-bars in the room, and its spectacular views – all included in the price worth spending.  It fills up fast, so book this one way in advance.

Accommodation options in Monterosso el Mare abound. Arguably the most popular of the five villages of the Cinque Terre because of its beaches, you can choose from beachfront hotels in the village’s new town or capture the old world charm of the hotels in the old town.

With this agenda, I had enough time to visit the cities on my itinerary and didn’t feel that I missed out on anything important, like eating gelato at least twice a day. It did leave me with the desire to come back again, exploring more of Italy and its cities.

If you’d like to find out more information about my amazing trip,  feel free to leave comments on this post or send an e-mail with any questions you may have – travelsmartblog@gmail.com

 
 

 

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A How-To Guide to One Week in Italy: Part I

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

My husband Ryan and I enjoying our stay in Italy

I just returned from an amazing trip to Italy. Here is an overview of our trip and a few recommendations if you are planning your own Italian holiday!

The Itinerary

I chose a few Italian destinations for my most recent vacation with my husband, which lasted just over a week. An important tip for any sightseeing adventure is not to expect to see everything – you’ll just be rushed and disappointed. It’s important to allow time for the unexpected surprises that you encounter along the way. And, not seeing everything is a great way to plan on another trip in the future!

The flights worked best flying in and out of Rome so this is how I planned it.

Day 1 and 2 – Rome

Day 3 and 4 – Florence

Day 5, 6 and 7 – The Cinque Terre

Day 8 and 9 – Rome  

Flights

Flights to Europe from the U.S. are very expensive compared to domestic travel, especially in summer months.  Planning in advance is the key to ensuring the best possible value. If you know that you will be traveling abroad sometime in the next year or two, consider switching to a credit card from a major international carrier that is offering a free international ticket.

I recently noticed such a deal from British Airways. The best way to keep abreast of unadvertised fare sales, and they do happen, is by following the major airlines on Twitter and signing up for fare alerts on www.airfarewatchdog.com.  Also be sure to check directly with overseas carriers as they often have the lowest fares in and out of their countries.

Things to do in Rome

What I liked about splitting Rome on either end of our trip was getting a feel for the city; its energy, its beauty and its history. Then we returned to it at the end of the week with some perspective and focused thought on what we wanted to see before flying home. 

We arrived into the city in the early evening. Once we checked into our hotel, the evening was perfect for a night stroll through Rome followed by dinner. The city is lit up beautifully at night and a great and romantic way to view the ancient ruins and churches. I also enjoy the energy of the restaurants around Campo de’ Fiori that come alive after dark with their outdoor tables great for people watching. 

A great way to avoid jet lag is to immediately adapt to local time. Getting out for a nice walk and late dinner, as they do in Italy, made it easy to adjust to the time change.

A "unique" view of Mecenate Palace in Rome

Sites like Hotels.com and TripAdvisor are very helpful when researching where you want to stay in a particular destination and reading guest reviews are an invaluable resource. Guest reviews help you to decide what will be important to you during your trip. Note if the hotels offer free breakfasts, the size of the bathrooms, the size of the bedrooms, the noise, and the location. Everyone weights these factors differently.

Villa San Pio is a snazzy boutique hotel in the Aventine Hill area, near the Circus Maximus in Rome. I couldn’t speak more highly of our first accommodation during our vacation. The rooms and bathrooms are large. I actually fell asleep soaking in the bathtub after a long day of walking! Breakfast is included and the cappuccinos are perfecto!

On our return to Rome, we stayed a night in the Mecenate Palace, a four-star hotel in the heart of Rome. The location near the Termini train station was ideal but the views from our room and the roof-top dining area were captivating. 

Make sure to check back here on Thursday for more information on how to do Italy right!

 
 

 

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How to Keep Money Safe When Traveling Abroad

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Make sure to avoid the "tourist look" in order to keep your money safe when traveling abroad

Dear Nicole –

I will be traveling in Europe in June with my 18-yr old son and had a question about crime in Rome. My question/concern is how to secure the large amount of cash I will have with me at that point in our trip. Would you leave passports and cash in a locked suitcase in the possession of the hotel? What is best to avoid the pickpockets and not have to hold my hand in my pocket all day and worry about it?

Thanks! - Tom M.

Dear Tom,

Thank you for your inquiry. I have been considering your very same concern as I will be heading to Rome early next month as well. Here are my answers to your questions and I look forward to returning with some stories to share! 

Handling $$ in Rome. You want to bring both a credit card and a debit card with you. It’s better to wait until you arrive in Europe to exchange your money. You can use the debit card at cash machines (ATMs) to withdrawal cash for local purchases and taxis, and the credit card for larger purchases. ATMs in Rome are easy to find and to use and cash is often the preferred payment method at local shops and restaurants.

Use a Money Belt. To keep your money safe, use a money belt. It buckles around your waist inside your clothes – not in your pockets!  Pickpockets are rampant in Rome so keep your money on you at all times. Your money belt is also the safest place to secure your passport.   

Storing Luggage. If you are comfortable leaving your luggage with your hotel for a few hours and it is convenient, then do so. The main train station and airports also have secure luggage storage for a fee. Do not leave money or passports in your luggage. However, you should have a copy of your passports inside your luggage as well as any important phone numbers that you may need (credit card companies, airline, hotel, US embassy, family at home) in the event that your important items are lost or stolen during your trip.

Avoid Being a Target. The best way to avoid the pickpockets who often look like professional businessmen or needy mothers with children is to travel with a purpose. As tourists, we definitely have times when we need to access our maps or consider our site-seeing options but don’t stand around in public areas to do this. When you do have the need to regroup then step into an Internet café or a restaurant. Have a seat, and then consult your map and discuss your plans. 

For any other safety questions, I have More Travel Safety Tips.

Keep these things in mind and I am sure that you will have a problem-free experience. I hope that you and your son have a wonderful adventure in Rome.

Safe Travels!

 
 

 

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Last Minute Mother’s Day Travel Deals

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Me with my mom and kids.

Nothing has defined me better than the label “Mom”. I wear it like a badge of honor. It’s not to say that every minute has been bliss and at times it can be downright difficult, but being a mom gives me a purpose beyond myself. 

As we get ready to celebrate Mother’s Day, it’s important to realize that there are many moms out there today. And no matter how you define the mother in your life, moms mold who we become and how we perceive and react to the world.

Why not say thank you to your Mom with a fun getaway weekend? Here are a few deals from Hotels.com that I found for you to take advantage of. Won’t Mom be so proud of you?

Cabo San Lucas 

If mom has her passport then head south of the border to Cabo San Lucas. May is a great time to visit because the crowds are fewer and prices are lower. I found a great deal through the Hotels.com Mother’s Day Sale at the Riu Sante Fe All-Inclusive Resort with rates starting from $157 per night, which includes all meals, drinks (alcoholic beverages too), taxes, gratuities, some recreational activities and entertainment. 

New York City

Put a little sizzle in Mother’s Day weekend and take mom to The Big Apple. Keep her busy with a Broadway show, fabulous restaurants, Central Park, the museums and shopping. And you can stay at The Alex, located in the heart of New York City, Mother’s Day weekend for 40% off its regular rates when you book with Hotels.com.

Santa Fe

I enjoy the relationship I have with my mother now that we are both grown-ups. And I really appreciate the opportunity to travel with her and experience new places now as friends, too. Santa Fe might be next on our list. This Mother’s Day you and mom can stay at the Hotel Sante Fe & Spa from just $155/night. A little R&R in Santa Fe may be in mom’s future!

For a complete list of deals, check out the Mother’s Day Sale on Hotels.com.

How will you be celebrating Mother’s Day this year?

 
 

 

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