Archive for February, 2011

Check list. Day before travel overseas.

Why don’t I follow my own advice, and pack and finish all preparations early? Tomorrow I leave for Mexico in a few hours and I”m still crossing things off my list. Here’s my pre-trip “Don’t Forget To Do” list.

1. Call my credit card company to add a “Travel Alert” to my account. When they see ATM debits and Credit Card charges from Mexico they’ll accept them. I am careful to give the exact dates so they know when I’ll be home.

2. Call my cell phone carrier and add the International Plan. With ATT it cost $4.99 for a month. The charge can be pro-rated, so I make a note to call and cancel it as soon as I get home. Most importantly, I ask how much each minute will cost if I call from Mexico to the USA. How much will text messages cost? I learn that I should turn the phone off, (use Airplane Mode) or I’ll be charged minutes for every phone message and text sent to me.

3. I go into the bank and get lots of crisp, clean $1 bills to use for tips and shopping (when the vendor doesn’t have change). I also take a couple hundred dollars in US currency, which I keep in my money belt or lock in my suitcase in my room, if a safe isn’t available.

4. Check my list of last minute items I’ve forgotten in the past:

  • cell phone charger,
  • night gown, toothpaste,
  • washcloth (many hotels overseas do not provide them),
  • large safety pin or clothespin to fully close hotel drapes,
  • a rubber door stopper for added security in hotel rooms.

Good luck. I hope you can learn from my mistakes.   Au Revoir.

What apps are best for overseas travel?

With the help of modern technology – i.e. smartphones – traveling to a new country or city has never been easier. Here is a great list of travel apps to check out.

1.  Viber
There’s a wide range of apps out there that offer travelers and expats an opportunity to keep in touch with their friends and families back home. One such example is Viber, an application that allows iPhone users to make free phone calls to fellow iPhone users no matter where in the world they are. Providing you and the call recipient both have iPhones, then international calls using Viber or Wi-Fi are completely free of charge.

2.  iMetro
iMetro is a handy app that provides metro/underground transport maps for 28 cities throughout the world. Each map is scalable and you can manipulate the screen to zoom in and find your way.

3.  HiConverter
Can’t quite get used to the measurement systems in place abroad? HiConverter is a very handy app that quickly converts measurements from one system to another. Temperature, shoe sizes, distance, currency; you name it, it can convert it. The app also has the added advantage of being integrated with Tiptulator, an app that allows you to calculate the tip on a restaurant or bar bill.

4.  iLingual
ILingual is a fun app that steals your lips and transforms them into multilingual speakers. You simply take a photograph of your lips (or someone elses’ for a more comedic effect), choose the phrase you would like to say in the foreign language and then hold your iPhone over your face where you lips are to create the effect that you are speaking the words. At the very least it will get a few laughs! The app is currently only available in French, German and Arabic.

5. XE Currency
XE Currency is a very popular app because it allows for very quick currency conversions and is capable of performing multiple conversions at the same time. The currency rates can refresh every 60 seconds meaning that you have the most up to date rate available at your fingertips. You can also program the app so that it automatically tracks the performance of a number of different currencies over time, great for expats who are investments in a variety of locations.

6. Word Lens
Word Lens is one of the newest apps on the scene and it has caused quite a stir. The app offers a new approach to translation that is based on images and goes significantly further than many other translation apps have been able to go. At present it only offers Spanish to English translations but more languages are planned in the future.

7. Weatherbug
Weatherbug is a great app to save, and track, the weather conditions in up to 20 locations throughout the world and offers live webcam views of the weather in action.

8. Tourcaster Walking Tours
For travelers or newly arrived expats who are interested in exploring on foot without being armed with an attention-grabbing tourist book, the Tourcaster audio walking tours app offers walking tours in popular destinations throughout the world. Load your virtual map and follow the onscreen instructions to explore the city and learn more of its history. Each tour is categorized according to difficulty, length and distance so you can fit your tours in around your schedule and explore at your own pace.

Thanks for the information, George Eves, serial expat and founder of Expat Info Desk, a comprehensive online information resource for expats worldwide.

When planning travel online is a bust – get honest answers from friends.

Do you ever wonder who writes the reviews on travel sites that rate hotels and restaurants? Here’s a cool new online travel resource that gets around this issue.  Check it out. , Gogobot

Reviews for online resorts, hotels, restaurants - Are they unbiased?

When all the reviews are “over-the-top” complimentary, I question their credibility. Was this written by employees or friends of the owner? After all, they’re anonymous.

Recently I stayed in a “romantic”  hotel along the river in Sedona, Arizona. The descriptions and reviews online  were all exceptionally good , so I should have suspected something was wrong.  So I followed the advice of strangers and booked a room. The resort was noisy, (meaning I could hear the couple in the next room), accommodations were damp and cramped and the staff was disdainful.  And the hotel didn’t have a view of the signature red rocks that change in color and mood from sunrise to sunset. O.K. I made a mistake.

Where could I find more honest answers?

“I should have asked my travel buddies for recommendations,” I chided myself when I returned home. Perhaps you, like me, don’t appreciate lots of friends asking for advice often, about Paris, New York or Sedona.  As a travel journalist with over 20 years of friends and colleagues, I have lots of contacts, but I don’t want to impose on anyone. But I learned a way to get around that.

When I discovered this new website I was skeptical until I tried it out.  No one is anonymous, so your friends will see what you’ve written. In the The Passport section, you share a  list countries and cities you’ve visited, sports you enjoy and you can write and read reviews for and from your friends.  You can also see the travel credentials and hometown of the person who gives you a recommendation.  This is how it worked for me.

I became a member and posted a question on gogobot, that was also posted to my Facebook pals. I asked:

Any recommendations for restaurants and night life in the Tri-Beca area? I’m going to NYC with my  daughter.

WOW. Within minutes, friends I hadn’t communicated with in months began responding with short entries and great advice. And the followers of gogobot also chipped in. One responder is a professional woman who lives in TriBeca. Another friend told me about a hip night club and offered to get us reservations through a friend. What a deal.

New York City restaurants recommended in the TriBeca area included:

Blue Hill on Washington Square where all the ingredients come from from local farms, so they are incredibly fresh.

In Vino Wine Bar & Restaurant is a great cozy neighborhood Italian restaurant in the East Village. The cave-like interior makes for a very intimate experience.

PDT (Please Don’t Tell), on St. Mark’s Place is an underground speakeasy that has so much appeal that even the uber cool Europeans are all over it.

If you want to see more recommendations from New Yorkers living in the neighborhood, check out my profile at Gogobot.

Next I posted this:

Is Mexico Safe? Traveling to Playa del Carmen. Again, the response was immediate and from colleagues that had traveled to this area recently. Is it safe? YES! And I also learned that it’s easy to rent a car and visit Tulum and other Mayan sites on our own. I heard from people all over Mexico including two friends in San Miguel de Allende who assured me that the drug violence is far away from tourist destinations.

All this advice was so freely offered by avid and experienced travelers, so I felt the urge to give back.

Since I know Paris well, and have wrote about it in my book Best Girlfriends Getaways Worldwide, I shared my favorite Left Bank hotel and favorite place for ice cream and sorbet (Bertillon on Ilse St. Louis).

When I have time I’ll add more personal favorites. Best of all, what I wrote on gogobot will always be there to send on to other friends.  Gotta love it!

Spring Break Beach Trip in the Planning. Mexico?

Lousy winter weather and a pent up demand for a vacation in the sun are my reasons for heading south to Mexico.

The top international destination for Spring Break is Cancun, along the gulf of Mexico and that’s where I’m going next week. Actually I’m going to an area an hour south of Cancun called Playa del Carmen.

Luckily I used airline coupons to pay for the airfare months ago. United Airlines bumped us from a flight last May and the coupons had to be used within a year, so after tedious phone calls to United, I finally turned the coupons into plane tickets to Cancun.

TRAVEL TIP: Check the expiration dates on free travel coupons. Travel must be booked and begun before the expiration date which is usually 12 months from the time the coupons are issued.

Despite a continuing string of negative headlines from Mexico, including recent decisions by three cruise lines to cancel port calls in Mazatlan, the country remains popular with vacationers: Cancun, San Jose del Cabo and Puerto Vallarta were among the top five international destinations in Orbitz’ recent spring break survey.

According to USAToday’s Laura Bly.

How to get a deal? Consider an all-inclusive resort. You’ll know what you’re going to spend before you go because all food, and often all drinks and evening entertainment are included.

I like to pack in advance to make sure I pack lightly and efficiently. Using old lists, I’ve filled and emptied my suitcase mixing and matching outfits. Roll clothing or fold? How many pairs of shoes?A sarong for a beach cover-up? Ah so many decisions and so little space.  Any suggestions?

Packing can be such a pain!

Remembering Valentines & Romance in Kathmandu

“Do what you love and love will follow,” my mother told me.

So I took off alone around the world to walk, hike, climb, cycle and kayak my way through six continents and more than 70 countries around the world.   Along the way I never celebrated Valentine’s Day.

I was sitting on a low sofa in the lobby of the Kathmandu Guesthouse having just returned from the trails of Annapurna. I hadn’t washed my hair in ten days; the last thing on my mind was romance.

Then, I saw his legs: long, lean and muscular. I heard he was leaving the next morning for a month’s trek to Mt. Everest. Our paths crossed for one moment. Long enough to light a spark.

I continued my travels for another year (alone). And, within days of my return to San Francisco, we met again at a mutual friend’s party. Romance, then marriage.

It was meant to be.

 

Top Picks for Romantic Spots in San Francisco

Sand Beach and walking trails at Chrissy Field

From Gogobot with changes and additions by the Gutsy Traveler, Marybeth from her book

50 Best Girlfriends Getaways in North America.

1. Gary Danko

“This place is absolutely amazing in so many grand and subtle ways… As usual, the service was impeccable and cannot be disputed. Everything from the greeting to the entry to the wine pouring was perfect down to the last drop.”

2. Napa Valley

Okay, this isn’t technically in SF, but it’s an “easy drive north of San Francisco, Napa Valley is a perfect weekend getaway! It’s great for couples.”  Visit romantic wineries like the Mondavi Vineyard or Frogs’ Leap, and take a hot air balloon ride over the valley complete with a champagne breakfast.

3. Dosa on Fillmore

“Our dining experience was extremely enjoyable–great service, ambiance, and fancy cocktails. I would HIGHLY recommend Dosa on Fillmore to anyone interested in Indian cuisine. True, although many dishes have been slightly modified from their original state to compliment San Francisco, you will be hard pressed to find a spot that serves such high quality, South Indian inspired cuisine.”

4. Chapeau on Clement

“The place is quiet and the entire experience screamed something cozy, seductive, and most definitely French.”

5. California Academy of Arts & Science

“If you were here to enjoy the night it’s definitely a spectacular experience filled with live music, great DJs, alcohol and cooking demonstrations full of great food and useful learning resources.” Be sure to take your sweetheart to the 2 and 1/2 acres of live plants and flowers blanketing the roof and watch the sunset over Golden Gate Park.

6. Ana Mandara in Ghiradelli Square

Ana Mandara means “beautiful refuge” in a Vietnamese Dialect. Its dramatic interior transports you to an Asian tropical garden accented with potted palms, a koi pond and cozy alcoves defined by dark carved wood. Ana Mandara is my favorite New Vietnamese restaurant (with French accents) restaurant because of its opulent beauty, the gracious service and the fabulous cuisine.

7. Gitane Restaurant and Bar

“Gitane is tres sexy in every way. The ambiance, the staff, the food and the cocktails are all incredibly sexy. It’s the … quintessential date spot in SF.”

8. La Mar Cebicheria Peruana

I discovered La Mar in the Mira Flores district of Lima, Peru and was ashamed to learn that there’s a sister restaurant in San Francisco. Now it’s one of my favorites. If you feel like a gastronomic adventure for the land of the Incas, this is a great choice.

9. Chrissy Field and the Fort Point National Historic Site

Chrissy Field's Location along the Bay

The view here is understatedly indescribable and breathtaking at the very least and grandeur … and amazing as well. Walk on the sandy beach and look across at Alcatraz, the Marin hills and the Golden Gate Bridge. Have a hot chocolate or double latte at The Warming Hut.

10. Golden Gate Park

“This park is very serene and nice in many areas and contains specialty places such as conservatories and museums with a huge … selection of specialty gardens such as the Japanese Tea Garden.”

Banish Bad Hair Days – Dos and Don’ts

Can you beat back frizz, control cowlicks and tame unruly hair when you’re traveling? Yes! Bad hair days do not have to be part of your travel plans.

Hair Beauty Dos and Don’ts

1. See your stylist and have your hair done the day before you leave. Planning, packing and closing up the house are stressful enough. You’ll need the quiet time and relaxation which having your hair done affords.

2. Get a good cut and have it styled for comfort and ease. Once you have a masterful cut, there are many ways to punch up your look.  If you have long hair, be sure to take scarves, clips, and ties. The humidity and heat in Thailand or Bali can turn normal hair into frizz.

3. Plan ahead, particularly if you are going to be gone for awhile. Purchase the correct hair formula for you hair color so someone else can do it for you without making mistakes. TAKE IT WITH YOU. If you need to  have your hair done when you’re in Tuscany or Provence, for example, take a digital photo of your hair style before you leave the salon. Carry the photos with you to show the new stylist how they like their hair, so there’s no room for error. Unless you want to try purple hair and a buzz cut.

4. Brush thoroughly before going to bed so you get all the spray and residue out.

5. Buy a silk pillow cover and use it. I have to admit that when I use my silk pillow cover my hair keeps its shape, bounce and body.

6. Consider using bottled water when you do the final rinse of your hair. Why?

My stylist told me she had a client who traveled to the Amazon and when she rinsed her hair with the water on the ship, her hair turned a brass color, due to the minerals in the water.   Don’t trust the local water if your hair is treated or delicate.

7. Hair pieces are in. Don’t miss a morning train or pass up a decadent breakfast of warm French pastries and coffee because you are hassling with hair preparation. Have you had days when you don’t have time to style your hair between afternoon activities and dinner? Here’s the solution — pull your hair back and add a hair piece or a flower. It’s simple, easy and the end result is a sophisticated look.

8. Hair gets sun burned too. Apply a spray hair sunscreen before you go sailing, tanning by the pool or golfing. The hair spray is good for your skin too.

A good hair day can help a woman (or man) ooze confidence and poise.

 

 


About Marybeth Bond

Marybeth Bond is the nation’s preeminent expert on women travel. She is the award-winning
author-editor of 11 books.

Marybeth has hiked, cycled, climbed, dived and kayaked her way through more than seventy countries around the world.

She was a featured guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Marybeth has appeared on CBS News, CNN, ABC, NBC, National Public Radio and National Geographic Weekend.