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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Do You Travel With Kids?

Every once in a while I hear stories from adults who go to fabulous places and then they mention that they left their kids at home. It may just be the way I was raised, though my BFF and husband have the same views and we all had vastly different childhoods, but I feel like going on a vacation means you go as a family. Unless you are in need of a weekend getaway to reconnect with your spouse, wherever you go, your kids go as well. Not only does it bring your family closer together, it creates lifelong (usually happy) memories and your kids might learn a thing or two about a new culture, their food and their history. I feel like parents who go away, especially to exotic places, on their own are vastly depriving their children of world knowledge and life lessons, no matter what age they are. I'm aware travel isn't cheap, but your kids should not be left out because you can't afford for your whole family to go to destinations. You should save for longer or go to less expensive cities until you can travel more far and wide. Apparently, a lot of travelers agree with me. Do you?

Do you agree that children should travel when they're younger? Do you travel with your kids?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Four Cool Places to See Views of Paris

Sometimes when you are on vacation, it can be fun to see the whole city (or a large part of it) from above. Paris is a very interesting city and it's quite large. I've talked about seeing what's underneath the city at the catacombs and the Pere Lechaise Cemeterie, but what about seeing a bunch of the city's landscape from some of it's awesome landmarks? Here are four that I think are fun:

Eiffel Tower
It's the most obvious, but you can see quite a lot of the city from the top, while also checking off a must-do on your list. Ask someone to snap a photo of you with your love and you'll have a romantic shot to look back on.

Arc de Triomphe
It's one of those landmarks that you figure you will see, but on our first trip to Paris, we only saw it from down the street. Make sure to load up on protein and wear comfortable shoes before you visit, because there are 488 steps to the top, many of which are up a winding spiral staircase. It's a long hike, but the view is definitely worth it.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Another attraction that requires a lot of walking. There are many steps to the top of the Cathedral, but once up there, you can see the Seine and much of the touristy area of Paris. You'll also get up close and personal with the gargoyles on the roof. I wasn't up for another climb, so I didn't do this on my visit to Notre Dame, but it's on my list for my next trip there.

Montparnasse Tower
An easier way to view Paris from the top is on Tour Montparnasse 56. Ride to the top floor of the tower where you can view and take photos of Paris from inside. There are interactive monitors that can help you learn more about the city's history, telescopes, a gift shop and a cafe. Head up a short flight of stairs to the roof and get 360 degree views. On our visit, it was quite cold and windy, but we still had amazing views from inside and outside.

Do you have a favorite place to view the city from?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

10 (More) Things to Keep in Your Carry-On

Last week I started talking about how you can keep things in your carry-on to make packing easier. There are just some things that you should have with you every time you travel with will help your trips go more smoothly and are convenient to have on hand. Perhaps you have other must-have items in your arsenal, and I'd love for you to share them!

Ziptop bags - These can come in super handy for so many things: dirty clothes, leftovers, snacks, wet items and more. Didn't have time to let your bathing suit dry before heading home? Toss it in one. Picked up some fried chicken and have leftovers? Bag it up and take it with you.

Lip balm - Changes in climate can wreak havoc on your lips, but so can being out in the sun all day, winter winds and the stale air on the plane. Keep your pucker soft and supple with moisture that fits in your pocket.

Snacks - Being hungry can make you cranky and ruin your day. You're not always going to have access to food when you're traveling, so make sure to toss some filling snacks into your bag. Some favorites: granola bars, nuts, carrot sticks, fruit and muffins.

Water bottle - You need to stay hydrated, especially on the plane where the atmosphere just saps your moisture. If you have a reusable bottle, you can save money by filling it up wherever you go. A folding water bottle is also a space saver when you aren't using it.

Non-electronic entertainment - What happens when you run out of battery and aren't near an electrical outlet? Boredom, that's what. I always keep a pack of cards, a travel game or a puzzle book in my bag. Usually, all 3 make it in there, so I can play alone or with my husband. My favorite travel game is Fluxx. Everyone can play it.

Antibacterial wipes - Do you know how many germs are on all the things you touch when you travel? From the tray table on the plane to the bathroom doorknobs, you are subjected to all kinds of yucky bacteria. Besides being able to wipe down questionable surfaces, these work great when you spill something or have dirty hands and aren't near a sink.

Gum - Gum is always handy: for keeping your ears clear on the plane, helping with dry mouth and freshening your breath after eating and not having the opportunity to brush your teeth.

Mini power strip - 95% of the time I travel, I find that there are only two free outlets in the room, both of which are usually in the sink area. I don't know about you, but I don't want to plug my phone in near running water. Probably you have more than one thing to plug in, too. I have this Belkin one and it's awesome.

Pen - You never know when you'll need a pen. Fill out the crossword during take-off, fill out customs forms, write down directions, etc. 

Tea Bags - Water isn't always what you want, but then again, sometimes you need something to help you sleep, relax or soothe your throat, so taking a small selection of tea bags can be very helpful when you travel. Toss in some sugar or Splenda packets if you don't like your tea plain.

What other items do you include in your must-have items?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Drive Safe on Your Summer Road Trip

Drive Safe on Your Summer Road Trip

Each summer, hundreds of Columbia motorists will gas up their vehicle in preparation for a road trip. Although an out-of-town trip can be a very memorable and exciting experience, personal safety should still remain a top priority. Here are some important safety tips to keep in mind when traveling on a road trip. 

Take rest breaks

When traveling on a long journey, it is critical that the driver takes several rest stops along the way. The simple act of driving can actually cause a great deal of mental and physical fatigue. Drivers should never make the mistake of driving on an empty stomach. Hunger tends to cause people to lose their focus while driving. Instead of putting the responsibility of driving on one person, the best approach is to have at least two drivers. 

Observe the speed limit
Always take the time to observe the posted speed limit. The highway patrol is always on the lookout for speedsters. Driving at an extremely fast rate of speed jeopardizes the well-being of everyone on the road. However, traveling at excessively slow speeds can be just as dangerous. In some instances, a slow driver can cause a major traffic jam. 

Keep the vehicle locked at all times 
The car doors should remain locked at all times. There are always opportunistic thieves who are looking to rip-off inattentive travelers. It only takes a few seconds for an experienced criminal to steal items out of a vehicle. If the doors are unlocked, even a quick bathroom break could be disastrous. The best approach is to keep valuables securely locked in the trunk. 

Never leave children unattended
When traveling with small children, never leave them unattended. Before hitting the road, make sure that the child has a photo ID card. In the unfortunate event that a child becomes lost, an ID card can help the authorities track them down. Each year, dozens of innocent children are abducted. Small kids should be instructed to never talk to strangers. 

Have the vehicle serviced
In order to prevent car trouble on the road, the vehicle needs to be serviced prior to the road trip. Some of the most important items that need to be checked out include the coolant system, brakes, battery, tires, transmission and air-conditioner. It is also important to check the oil level before hitting the road. 

Organize a roadside emergency kit
SC travel agents recommend that everyone keep a roadside emergency kit on hand. Some of the key items include a first aid kit, jumper cables, flashlight, pocketknife, duct tape and a basic tool set. It is also advisable to keep bottled water and a few snacks in the vehicle. 

These are great tips to remember every time you take a road trip. South Carolina is a great destination for your travels. If you want to find out more about Columbia, SC travel, AAA has some wonderful ideas for you, including a lot of budget- and family-friendly suggestions.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

10 Things to Keep in Your Carry-On

Do you hate packing? Let's make it easier! When you keep things packed, it's easier to just pull together the rest of your stuff and get on your way to your destination. There are some things you should just keep in your carry-on. They will make your trip easier, more comfortable and you won't need to buy them when you get there and realize you should have brought them to begin with.

Sunscreen - Sunny or not, it's really important to protect yourself from the harsh rays of the sun. If you don't use the same sunscreen on your face as the rest of your body, you may just want to look for makeup with SPF in it, to cover both bases in one product. You still want to cover your other exposed skin with sunscreen, including your ears, back of your neck and the part in your hair.

Sarong - Multipurpose! Can be used as a cover up, skirt, towel, picnic blanket, scarf or more. It's a great item to have and packs super small.

Tote bag or reusable bag - Carry around your groceries, laundry, beach essentials, souvenirs and anything else. I love one that packs into itself and I can carry in my day bag to pull out in case I need it.

Packable rain jacket - Better than an umbrella, keeps you dry and can also be used as an additional layer if it's chilly wherever you are.

Eye mask - Ever been woken up with sunlight right in your eye as soon as the sun comes up? So many hotels have horrible drapes. If yours do, these will help you sleep past the crack of dawn without having to burrow under the covers like a groundhog.

Ear plugs - You never know when you'll be a victim of noisy neighbors or construction. They are smart to have just in case.

Flip Flops - Wear them to the beach, down to breakfast, out on the deck, to the pool or wherever else you don't want to wear real shoes, but aren't about to go to barefoot.

Vitamin C - Keep yourself from getting sick on vacation. You're being exposed to random germs, recycled plane air and unhealthy food. Even if you choose nutritious options, you still might not be eating as you normally do, which could lower your immune system, along with not getting as much sleep as usual.

Papaya enzyme - Along with new foods you might never have encountered and all the delicious, but unhealthy options you are faced with, you're bound to have some digestion issues and/or heartburn. Papaya enzyme are chewable tablets that aid in breaking down food and making you not feel like you ate one of those Taco Bell burritos that just sits in your stomach.

Aspirin/ibuprofen - Well, this is pretty self-explanatory. Helps with headaches, swelling, minor aches and pains, etc.

What are your must-have travel items?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

TunnelBear: Watch Your Favorite TV Wherever You Are

Okay, so I know I'm not the only one who has issues with wishing they could watch stuff from their DVR or Netflix queue or even stuff on network websites like NBC.com while I'm on vacation. Not that I have that much time to watch TV, but sometimes you just want to veg out while relaxing and either there isn't anything on or all your choices are in a foreign language. Once we were in the Bahamas and waiting out a hurricane watch with the only thing on every channel the coverage of the hurricane's route. We tried to watch stuff online, but because we weren't in our own country we were blocked from any streaming videos. 

While bringing along a couple DVDs or downloading movies to our laptop is a solution - because we did watch the last 4 episodes of Dexter while in London and France on DVD - it's not always convenient and you may not always bring enough or fell like watching what you brought. So, how do you fix that? A VPN (virtual private network) like TunnelBear is the answer! In short, it uses "tunnels" to hide your IP address from the network you're trying to access and makes it look like your computer is in the country of the website you're trying to use. For example, say I want to use my Netflix account, but I'm in Germany. Using TunnelBear, that will be downloaded on my computer, phone or tablet, I can select US as my country and then log onto my Netflix account as I would from home and then stream anything I want.

Another awesome thing the TunnelBear app allows you to do: connect to your Pandora/Spotify account. Eric likes to listen to music while getting ready in the  morning and he often either uses Pandora or his phone playlist. As much fun as listening to local music stations can be, sometimes you just want to listen to your favorite tunes so you can sing along in the shower. 

So, what else can it do? If only having access to your streaming services isn't that exciting to you, there are two other great things about TunnelBear:

1. Keep your browsing activity totally safe! TunnelBear takes your privacy seriously and that mean that you can feel free to use your credit card, personal information and check your banking account without worrying that someone is going to snipe your information. All your activities and info are coded and completely hidden, which makes this a great app even for domestic travel, because public WiFi is not always a great thing.

2. Ever traveled and found an absolutely amazing show that you love, love, love so much and then go home and can't watch it? Yeah, me too. I have two shows that I wish I could have watched once I came home from trips: Es Incroyable and Two Pints and a Packet of Crisps. Of course, on this last trip, I found the French version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and even though I can't understand most of the words, it's super funny. With TunnelBear, you can pretend to be in those other countries and watch these shows online if they're available. Awesome!

There are three different plans to choose from on TunnelBear: The basic plan called Little Bear, which is free and two unlimited data plans. The Giant Bear enables you to download to your computer and two other devices for $4.99 per month and the Grizzly Bear, which gives you the same great deal, but at a 17% discount if you pay for the entire year ($49.99). It's super easy to download and to sign up, too.

Once you've set up your account and downloaded the app, all you have to do is choose the country you want the internet to think you're in, turn it on and then browse away. Simple, right? The video above shows you just how simple. Use it on your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android phone or tablet. Use it for Skype, Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, Apple TV, all your web browsing and more! 

I'm really excited to start using this app more to view shows I never thought I'd get to watch again and feeling secure wherever I go with my laptop and phone and not feeling like I might be the victim of identity theft because I want to look at my credit card transactions from the last week. The rates are totally affordable and let you bring your fun with you, while also giving you peace of mind. Download it now!

Don't be a stranger! Follow TunnelBear on Twitter | Facebook | YouTube

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are my own.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Virginia Beach Wish List

It's been a while since we've taken a vacation that has taken us to the beach, but this year we're including a side trip to Virginia Beach to our trip to Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg. I've visited Newport News, but never Virginia Beach, which may seem odd, but we didn't often get to the coast. We may only have four days there, but we're going to use it to relax, get some sun and eat some seafood. Of course, there are other things there we plan to "take in". 

This photo of Virginia Beach Boardwalk is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The Boardwalk
You can't go to a beachside city and never go to the boardwalk. Who doesn't love browsing shops, people watching and enjoying the view of the ocean? I'm packing my sunscreen already!

This photo of Edgar Cayce's A.R.E. Association for Research and Enlightenment is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Edgar Cayce's A.R.E. Association for Research and Enlightenment
This place has a stone labyrinth! Okay, that's not the only reason to go. Edgar Cayce was the father of holistic medicine and a psychic, which makes him totally fascinating. A.R.E. houses all of his work and daily free lectures are given. 

This photo of Old Cape Henry Lighthouse is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Old Cape Henry Lighthouse
Have you ever been to a lighthouse? After hiking up 488 steps to get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, the 91 steps to the top of this thing should be a breeze and quicker to get to the view! This lighthouse was built in 1792 and was one of the first acts of the newly formed Federal government, authorized by George Washington. Cool, huh?

This photo of Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
Ooh...barracuda! They have those here and many other ocean critters. I love an aquarium and I'm not about to miss the chance to get hands-on with some fun marine life, have fun with interactive exhibits or try out their fabulous potato soup. Yeah, random, but visitors raved, so I figure I should try it!

This photo of Old Coast Guard Station is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Old Coast Guard Station

I don't know how much I really know about the Coast Guard, except they save lives and police the waters. This museum tells you all about them and has exhibits of their equipment and their history in the Virginia Beach area. Also, a $4 admission sounds like a bargain!

We may do more stuff while we're there, but this seems like a good selection of things that will take up some time, but still leave us enough free time to lay on the beach, jump in the ocean, eat delicious, delicious food and browse funky shops. 

Have you ever been to Virginia Beach?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Where is Your Favorite Book?

I love reading and some of my favorite books have fantastic backdrops, including the Harry Potter franchise. I've gotten to visit several of the locations on my trip London. Perhaps you have dreams of visiting where your favorite book(s) is set. Cheapflights took it upon them to round up some classic books and their settings so you can be inspired to travel through your love of reading. 

Where would you travel if you could? Which book inspired it?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Take the Underground to Notting Hill

When we travel we enjoy looking for food. Two ways we do that are by hitting up a grocery store when we first arrive to stock our fridge and then seeking out street markets. As you know, I love a good farmers' market, but I also love browsing markets that sell hand made goods and local foods. It's a great way to interact with people who live at the destination, buy souvenirs and try new foods. When in London, I wanted to hit up several markets, but with so many things going on and a limited time to do them, we only made our way to one - the most important on my list. Portobello Road Market. If you only get the chance to visit one market in London, and want to see a bit of everything, then this is the one to go to.

Portobello Road is the one stop shop for antiques, souvenirs, handmade clothing, crafts, accessories and foods of all kinds. Whether you want to purchase ingredients to make food back at your hotel/rental, get items for a picnic or sit down to a nice meal at a restaurant, it's all here. I really wanted to purchase many of the things I saw and I was a little sad that I had a shortage of both money and space, but I will plan accordingly on my next trip to London. Between shops, merchant stalls, farmers market goods - with amazingly good prices - restaurants and food carts, it's not hard to spend a lot of time (and money) there. 

Luckily, I was satisfied for the time being picking up a few items, a danish and a doughnut the size of my head. It may have helped that we had plans to go straight from Notting Hill to the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studios, so carrying too much was not something we were interested in doing. Check out some of the great things we saw on our visit to Portobello Road Market.

Though I plan to return to Portobello Road Market, I also hope to visit Borough Market (during the day when it's actually open), Brick Lane Market, Camden Lock Market and the market in Covent Garden. 

Have you been to any of the London markets or do you have a favorite market from your travels?
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