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Travel Wisdom

RTW Hotels Off Beat

No matter where you go in the world, if you dig around you’ll find a charming little hotel that brings the local color to life.  The reviewers using Hostelbookers.com have recommended these budget-friendly hotels that reflect the tempo of their surroundings and are excellent launching points for off-the-beaten path excursions.

Hotel 71

Hotel 71, Chicago
Although in the thick of the action, this downtown Chicago hotel maintains a chic sense of serenity.  Beautifully appointed air-conditioned accommodations have awesome views of the river and city skyline.  The 24-hour reception desk will cheerfully direct you to the swimming pool, validate your parking and sign you up for walking tours that explore the extensive Chicago Pedway network.

Hotel De Rocroy

Hotel De Rocroy, Paris
Enjoy a nice quiet room that’s convenient to Paris airports and sightseeing destinations via the nearby Gare du Nord Station.  The stylish accommodations are air-conditioned with well-appointed baths, flat screen TVs, Wi-Fi and beautiful beds.  The multi-lingual staff will serve you complimentary breakfast before directing you to the neighborhood jaw dropper, the ornate Church of Saint Vincent-de-Paul that is a combination Greek temple and catholic cathedral. You can book this property at HostelBookers.com to make your trip to Paris enjoyable and budget friendly.

Hotel Beatrice

Hotel Beatrice, Florence
Unlike those stuffy hotels in Florence, you’ll feel like you stepped into an Italian family’s home when you enter this repurposed mansion near the Santa Monica Novella railroad station.  The friendly staff makes you comfortable in your soundproofed air-conditioned room and serves you a delicious complimentary breakfast at their on-site restaurant.  Walk through neighborhoods bristling with plazas, piazzas and cathedrals on your way to Alice’s Mask Studios where you’ll marvel at her clever creations.

Northumberland Hotel

Northumberland Hotel, Edinburgh
Enjoy the royal treatment at this formidable Scottish hotel that welcomes families, couples and business travelers with equal grace.  Start your day with a free continental breakfast before retrieving your car from the parking area to tour the moors or hopping on the bus to Edinburgh to wander in the Princes Street Botanical Gardens.

Haad Yao Bay View Resort & Spa

Haad Yao Bay View Resort & Spa, Koh Pha Ngan
Escape from it all at this seaside resort nestled in a hill overlooking one of the prettiest bays in Thailand.  Get the full spa or treatment in their salon, relax around the swimming pool, plug in at their Internet café or shop in their on-site store.  Enjoy complimentary breakfast in your air-conditioned room or at their restaurant before setting out to snorkel along the miles of coral reef.

Hotel Fukudaya

Hotel Fukudaya, Tokyo
Set on a quiet, safe, side street, the charm of this family-owned hotel lies in personalized touches like daily traditional green tea service.  The clean, private rooms come in Western or Asian styles and all have communal facilities including Japanese-style baths.  An easy walk from Shibuya Station, along the way you can explore the fascinating Shoto Museum of Art and the English-style gardens in Yoyogi Park.

Anapurna Vishram Dhaam

Annapurna Vishram Dhaam, Goa
Escape to a heavenly oasis snuggled in a quiet neighborhood yet convenient to Goa’s beaches, markets and entertainments.  The blend of traditional design and modern amenities create a palatial atmosphere that extends from the swimming pool to the full-service restaurant to the business center.  Catch the Anjuna bus to the beach and on Wednesdays head to Calangute to experience the exotic open-air beach market.

Casa de Campo

Casa De Campo, Lima
Get back to nature without giving up civilized luxuries at this Peruvian garden hotel that oozes personality.  Enjoy free breakfast at the restaurant, barbeque on the patio, lounge around the swimming pool, meet friends at the bar or stroll through the beautifully landscaped grounds.  Local guides provide horseback tours into the tropical countryside for some spectacular photo opportunities.

Places to Go

Where I’d like to Spend 2013

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Every year I think of places I’d like to go – sometimes as a dream, others as a definitive plan. These are usually based on my dealings with other travellers and whatever history I’m currently infatuated with (I read a lot…) and then I just spin a big wheel. Sometimes saving wins… but I’m never happy when it does lol.

These are three places I would love to visit this year if I get the chance. Oh please let me get the chance…

 

Marrakech is calling me - what about you?
Marrakech is calling me – what about you?

Morocco

Right at the top of my list for many years now is the small North African country of Morocco. I don’t really know what it is about this place that enchants me so, but I would quite enjoy visiting it. There’s something about the history that intrigues me, from it’s days as a bastion of Muslim culture to a French colony and then its current existence as a place caught somewhere in between. Years ago I had a friend who went there for a few months and they said it was one of the best experiences of their lives. I would probably spend most of my time in Marrakech or Casablanca, just soaking up the vibe of the cities, taking in the sights and seeing how they view the rest of the world.

 

St. Lucia

I haven’t been to any Caribbean nations but for some reason St. Lucia has been calling out to me. There have been so many beautiful pictures I have seen from other travellers who have spent weeks here at resorts, or from television shows where it is the backdrop – how could I not fall in love with the idea of it? Those giant mountain things that burst out of the water and make for the perfect photo spots or just a place to relax and reflect as the water rolls in is all a part of the image I have in my mind of St. Lucia. It also doesn’t hurt that I have a friend who is getting married there in the spring and I’m debating whether or not I can afford to go there for it. I’m leaning towards probably not but then again, what else are credit cards for?

 

Could never get tired of seeing this sight!
Could never get tired of seeing this sight!

North American Road Trip

I’ve been saying this for years, ever since I moved to Canada and got to driving age, that I want to drive from sea to sea – and as more time passes, my desire to do so only grows. For those of you not from North America, it really is a daunting task to drive from one side to the other and the country changes so dramatically that it’s impossible not to fall in love. I would probably cheat and break it up into two separate trips, as I’m located somewhere in the middle, but that’s not a problem at all. I would head west through Canada, stopping at the Rockies to take in those breathtaking views, then head to Vancouver before turning south to California and the coast before heading back east through the U.S. It would be about a 10 000 km journey and would take the better part of a month to do properly, but what an adventure! Maybe one day I would even drive as far north as I could too? I would do it in the summer (duh… winter is NOT road trip season in North America!) so I could probably camp out each night to cut down on costs and rough it a bit.

 

Wow… I’m really getting excited for this. Anyone want to tag along?

Travel Wisdom

How the Internet Makes Travel Easy

 

It seems there is almost nothing the internet can’t do, which is even more true when it comes to vacation planning.

There was a time where only the most seasoned globetrotter or risk-taker would attempt to plan a trip on their own, but these days you’re a bit of an anachronism if you do it any other way. Sure, travel agents may still be able to offer you interesting deals, packages and well-put together brochures, but you’re no longer at their mercy when it comes to ways to plan your trip. Thanks to the internet, not only can you do all the research yourself but you can reserve and pay for much of it without even leaving home.

Here are just some of the ways the internet improves the travel experience.

 

Amazing Hostel in Queensland, Australia by the Great Barrier Reef
Amazing Hostel in Queensland, Australia by the Great Barrier Reef

Accommodation Planning

Depending on what kind of trip you’re going on, (be it sightseeing or beach relaxation) where you’re going to sleep is a big part of the experience. Will you be able to find a place close to the action, during the timeframe you have and at a price you’re comfortable with? Thankfully, there are plenty of reputable booking websites, like Hostel World, that make this process quick, easy and informative. This is a huge help if you’re planning out ahead of time or even just find yourself in the area and want to know which places are available that night.

 

Reviews from Average People

Brochures and travel agent testimonials are great, but they are definitely designed to sell you something, so the opinions included are always positive. By researching online, you have access to not only those kinds of resources, but also those written by average travelers, alerting others to things to watch out for or side-trips off the beaten path. Like with sponsored pieces, take travel blogs with a grain of salt as well – everyone has their personal tastes and one person’s opinion is by no means the ultimate authority.

 

Pictures!

Maybe you have no idea what to see or where to go – or maybe you know exactly what you want but you just want some motivation. In either case, the internet is home to a near infinite number of pictures, many of which serve to inspire travelers to get out there and see whatever it is for themselves. Unique or cliched, you’ll find it all online.

 

Nothing like a little photographic motivation!
Nothing like a little photographic motivation!

 

Near Universal Access

Regardless of where you are in the world (except for a few countries), you have access to the same information as anyone else. This means you can make changes to your itinerary on the fly without worrying about getting to some fixed point to research or, in many cases, book/cancel some aspect of your trip. What’s even better is many sites are available in multiple languages too, so even if you’re an Italian college student backpacking through Scandinavia and looking for a place to stay in Sweden, you can access a site like Hostel World in Italian and reserve a room for the night. You can’t get much more convenient than that!

Places to Go

Top 12 Tokyo (and area) MUST DO List – part 5 of 5

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Part 1                    Part 2                    Part 3                   Part 4

This is the fifth and final part of my series on the most interesting things to see in Tokyo, with numbers 11 & 12 on my list – but let’s be honest, even the final edition is never truly the end as I’ll always be adding new things. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading it!

 

11. Visit the Imperial Grounds – The Imperial Grounds in Tokyo is where the emperor and royal family of Japan reside – and no, you are not allowed inside the palace. You aren’t even allowed inside the grounds unless it’s during the two specified times of year and even then, it’s more of a herding event than anything else. Why would you want to go here then?

 

What you have to keep in mind is for centuries, the emperor was seen as a deity – descended from the gods that created Japan out of the ocean, he existed in a separate realm from the common person. It was not until the end of World War II when the emperor became a ceremonial figure only and was thoroughly demystified, which isn’t that long ago when you think about it. Visiting the grounds is like taking a step back in time to a long ago age and, even if you don’t believe in monarchies, a huge thrill.

Unless you visit during New Years or the Emperor’s birthday (like, a week before New Years) you aren’t getting inside the grounds – the best you’ll do is walk up to the gates and spy a few buildings and the giant moat. If you are lucky enough to get inside, you can marvel at the classical Japanese architecture and perhaps even see the Emperor himself as he addresses the public. If nothing else, the walk from Tokyo station is quite nice.

There’s Akihito!

 

When to Visit: Any time, but the interior is only accessible Dec. 23rd (for the current emperor) and January 2nd for New Years.

 

12. Watch the People – The final point on my list is the simplest and can realistically be done from anywhere crowded (which is about 90% of Tokyo). I choose Shinjuku because as the business district and home to the busiest and biggest train station, you will see people from all walks of life. Best of all, it won’t cost a single yen.

Depending on the time of day you are here, you may see businessmen sleeping off a hangover on the street; people rushing to their commute that you can time down to when each train arrives and departs; tour groups looking up in awe of the buildings, crowds and signs; girls in strange costumes ranging from Little Bo-Peep to leather and spikes, holding hands; late night partygoers ready for a night on the town – and then the whole cycle repeats itself the next day.

It’s amazing how quiet the trains are when you consider how many people are on them… but still perfect for watching the weird!

 

No trip to Tokyo is complete without witnessing something that makes you stop and go ‘where the hell am I?’ so if you haven’t experience that yet, take an hour (it won’t take that long – trust me) and camp yourself out in Shinjuku, preferably by the station – or even on the train. You won’t regret it.

 

When to Visit: Any time – but particularly entertaining during cherry blossom season.