Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Punta Cana (DR) - a stay review.

 
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Here’s my review of our stay at this hotel this summer. Please remember that this is a personal review and does not mean you will have the same experience as we did. Please comment below if you’ve stayed here and tell me about your trip!! I’d love to compare anecdotes!

Before we go into specifics, check out some Do’s and Don’ts when you vacation at an All-inclusive here.

THE LOCATION

 Aerial view of the resort. I found it from the plane! Do you see the pools?

Aerial view of the resort. I found it from the plane! Do you see the pools?

Hard Rock Hotel has locations all around the world. We chose this particular one due to a “deal” we found that lured us into looking at it. It is located in the area of Bavaro, in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. You fly into the Punta Cana Airport and make your transfer to the hotel. I urge you to have your transportation set up before arriving. If you can’t or don’t know how to, don’t panic!! There is a counter FULL of transportation agencies right outside the airport with information and people eager to help you. It is just a good idea to plan ahead of time to avoid getting potentially scammed. We were recommended Dominican Plus, and they were very professional and reliable, so I recommend them. Just make sure you tell them that you want to be picked up at the group lobby when you go home, to avoid misunderstandings. The hotel has two lobbies and this can create confusion, and delays…believe me, you don’t want any delays when you are heading to the airport.

The hotel’s entrance is off a main road, but it was quite strange…the gated entrance says “Hard Rock” but it continues into a development of condominiums for sale. Perhaps those are part of the golf course? I don’t know, but after another mile or so inside the gated community, there’s another gate to the actual Hard Rock Hotel. So it’s pretty safe and private in there.

THE SERVICE

Service was OK. The front desk clerk was an absolute delight. Everyone else, not so much. For some reason, besides the entertaining personnel and a handful of waiters, most employees looked like they hated their job. Seriously. Rarely any smiles, not very good at interacting with guests (even when I spoke to them in Spanish), they just didn’t look happy. We witnessed a few guests being terribly mean to some waiters and bartenders, so I am sure they don’t get treated well by the occasional A$$(redacted)**. We tried to be nice and kind, and we received smiles and kindness in return. Just remember that.

THE ROOMS

Well, you have a variety of rooms to chose from, depending on your budget. But, just so you know, ALL rooms have a jacuzzi inside the room. Yes, I repeat. ALL ROOMS have private jacuzzi. All rooms are also equipped with a minibar full of drinks, beer, water, and liquor. You have access to a rum and coke 24/7. I do have to admit, the room was absolutely beautiful and comfortable. Very well decorated, with a large granite counter bathroom and double shower. You will feel like royalty.

ROOM SERVICE

Since all your meals are included in what you already paid…why not order some room service? Their room service was fast and they brought everything we ordered. Very easy to order and just as delicious as if you go eat at the restaurant. We opted to order breakfast for room service. Plenty of hot coffee and fresh fruit. It was great. I do have to say though, the room service menu was a little short, so not too many options for you to chose from.

GETTING AROUND

To get around this massive resort, you can either walk, take the trolley, or rent a golf cart for your stay. If you decide to walk, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes, because you will be doing a LOT of walking. To get from your room to the pools, or to the beach, or to a specific restaurant, depending on your location, sometimes it’s a long way. If you take the trolley, fear not! There are trolley stations all around and they run every 5-15 minutes depending on the time of the day. There are also maps of the premises all around so you don’t get lost. If you want to have fast and reliable transport at anytime, you can opt to rent a golf cart. Parking for golf carts are conveniently located all around the resort, so it’s easy to get in and out.

THE RESTAURANTS

With 9 different restaurants on the premises, you won’t go hungry. Try them all!! You can walk in for lunch, but for dinner, make sure to have a reservation. Some of these restaurants book days in advance and they won’t let you in without reserving a spot. My tip: When you first arrive, head over to the front desk and make all your reservations for your stay. They have a booth dedicated to reservations in the group lobby of the hotel. BUT BE PATIENT… It can get crowded and the clerks take their time with each guest. When you bypass the waiting, you can decide where to dine each day of your stay. Enjoy anything from Mediterranean, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian steakhouse, Latin American, or artisan brick oven pizza (which by the way is absolutely amazing). When you are done with dinner, have a coffee and pastry at the coffee place, or enjoy some of their magnificent ice cream at the ice cream parlor (no reservations required for the coffee or ice cream!).

THE POOLS

13 pools, which includes 3 kid pools, and 4 swim-up bars. The central pool area (and most pools really) fill out rather quickly. My tip: Head to the pool right after breakfast and claim your seat. All pools have accessible bathroom conveniently located within a short walk, and towel booths. ALSO, all pools have bars nearby and snack foods available at all hours (mostly chicken tenders, french fries or pizza)… PERFECT for when the kids (or adults) say “I’m hungry” in between meals. No need to leave the pool for anything! Poolside servers will bring you a cold drink anytime you want. Make sure to tip them at least once guys. These men and women work really hard, long hours, in the sun. Spare a dollar or two.

Do not forget to check the activities schedule for the central pool. They host competitions and fun games each day for the whole family. You can always enjoy live music or an crazy foam party at the pool.

THE BEACH

The beach at this resort is breathtaking. Beautiful white sand, intense blue waters. My only complaint…the ocean is rough in this part of the island. And when I say rough, I mean ROUGH. Most of the time they won’t allow you to get in the water. It is still nice to sit on the beach and put your toes in the sand.

THE SHOPS and Central area

OMG this place looks like a mall inside. The long long hallways are full of stores on both sides. Clothes, shoes, jewelry, souvenirs, Hard Rock memorabilia, chocolate, and a liquor store. Pretty cool to browse around when you are waiting on your dinner reservation. Most restaurants are located in the central area of the hotel, right where all the shops are; and the bars. It’s a cool place to walk around.

NIGHT LIFE AND ENTERTAINMENT

The bars are right there in the central area. 4 bars which host different activities each night. The Moon Lounge has Karaoke every other night. Kids are welcome in, but only till 11pm…and then the adult party stars. Do you prefer live music? Or perhaps you want to dance all night? They got you covered.

The theater also hosts different shows each night to entertain the crowds of all ages. Check out the shows schedule and make your plans ahead of time. My tip: Plan dinner around the shows to get the most out of your stay.

THE CASINO

The casino is HUGE! 45,000 square feet to be exact. Seriously, you can find all the typical games like poker, blackjack, craps, roulette, and obviously slot machines. One thing I noticed though, they are extremely serious about age restrictions in this place. No one under 18 is allowed to even set foot in the casino premises. Not even if you want to take a shortcut to your room. NOPE. They uphold this rule to the fullest extend. Sorry kids, can’t play on the slot machines.

THE KIDS CLUB

Fear not! Kids can still have lots of fun while the adults enjoy an evening out. The kids club offers lots and lots of activities for the little ones. Most activities are musical related…but it’s the Hard Rock Hotel, duh!

During our stay, our daughter refused to go to the kid’s club and leave our side… but seriously, this was totally OK since there was so many other things to do at the pool and around the hotel, that we kept busy. She even sang karaoke with us one night. It was great. Other options for family activities are: the arcade, escape room, and mini-golf.

THE TOURS

When you book your room, you will get points, and their amount depends on how long you stay and what room you book. Either way, DO NOT FORGET TO USE YOUR POINTS.  It is not a scam.  Redeem them towards a tour or some souvenirs.  They are like hotel cash (kind of).  We booked a dolphin and snorkeling tour directly with the hotel and it was fantastic.  In fact, it was easy and cheap.  You only pay the tax, which we gladly did if it meant that we got to interact with a dolphin so close for about 45 minutes, and snorkel in the beautiful clear and docile waters of the Caribbean.  I am not sure of the location of the snorkeling waters, but they were very calm and clear, not like the waters around the hotel, which were deep blue and very rough.  Either way, it was amazing!!!

There are many other amenities at this hotel that we didn’t have time to check out.  The spa is supposed to be amazing, so it the golfing.  If you want to get more fancy, you can become a member and enjoy MANY member-only amenities they offer.  Things like private pools, private areas, private golf cart pick ups. But I’m sure it cost a pretty penny to do it. 

I would recommend this resort because of its many amenities and great restaurants.  However, I was very disappointed in the entertainment and the themes/quality of the shows they offered.  I have seen many, much better, more elaborate, and more impressive shows done by street performers in cities around the world.  Maybe I expected more because, you know, it IS the Hard Rock Hotel and I imagined concert like experiences. I was wrong.  Regardless of this, it was fun and memorable.  Have you been here? Tell us what you thought down below in the comments!

Always,

Mia.

Punta Cana: A guide to an all-inclusive family vacation

When hubby said, "We are going to Punta Cana" I was excited, but not incredibly thrilled as I've been with other trips. The truth is, I didn't know what to expect.  Either way, we packed our bags and headed to Dominican Republic, an island shared with Haiti, located between Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, in the beautiful Caribbean ocean.  

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First things first. We always look for the best travel deals and family friendly spots. For more information on how to travel on a budget read this first.  

When you budget for a vacation, it is important to remember a few factors. First, how many are traveling. Not to be obvious here, but the more people, the more expensive it can get, but even with large families, there's always the option of Airbnb.  

This time, we wanted to do an all-inclusive type of hotel.  Dominican Republic is known for its many resorts and beautiful beaches, so we gave it a chance. We found an amazing deal (Expedia unreal deals are great sometimes) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.  

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Granted that sometimes, if you book your hotel directly with the hotel's site, you can find even better deals. Sometimes this hotel (depending on the season) has up to 40% off and kids stay free.  Of course, they do these types of deals when kids are in school and chances are that you will only find adults there, but hey! If you can afford taking your family on a school week without missing any important tests or projects, this can be a very affordable option.  

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Either way, we always pack light. Even when kids are traveling. I've adopted a minimalist way of traveling and I'm loving it.  For a list of things to pack when traveling with kids, check this out.  

WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE PUNTA CANA AIRPORT

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It is hot. The plane landed and we got off the plane and onto a bus, which took us to their immigration port of entry. Lines were long, so be prepared to wait. Have your immigration AND customs paperwork filled out and ready. Once you go through immigration, you proceed to pick up your luggage and go through customs... which is technically just an officer collecting your form. They might do a random baggage search, but we didn't see any of that. In fact, there are people that work at the airport for a tip that will help you get your luggage through the side so you don't stay in line...most of them know the custom's officers and they let them bypass the crowd. Weird, yes, but it worked for us.  

Make sure you have transportation set up in advance. 

We were recommended Dominican Plus, and we are glad we used them. Very reliable, incredibly friendly staff, and we felt safe the entire time. Not to mention, very much affordable.  You can rent a van just for you and your family and they will pick up at the airport, and take you straight to the hotel.  Round trip.  No other stops, no other people in with you.  Private van for a very affordable price. You can go to their website or check them out on Viator (which by the way is highly recommended) to see their tours and other services while in Punta Cana.  

A TIP GOES A LONG WAY

One of the good things about an all-inclusive vacation is that tip is included in the price…well, that’s what they tell you. In fact, it is written on what’s included with your trip. But, look at it this way: yes, you might’ve paid enough to get there and have your dream vacation, so yes, it should be included in the price, BUT these people make no money out of it, and work incredibly hard every single day. They will not get rich if you tip them a little here and there, in fact, they will treat you like a VIP.

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Here’s what you do: Always tip your drivers and bell-person at the hotel. Pick your favorite bar and get to know your bartender or poolside server. Tip him/her well ($10 might not be a lot for you, but it is for people in other countries), that tip, at the start of your day will create a ripple effect… Your glass will not be empty, you will feel like a VIP, because they will treat you differently from those who do not tip, IF you are drinking alcoholic beverages (Why not?! It is all-inclusive!) they will make sure your drink is better than all others. Don’t believe me? Try it. You will be treated like royalty…it is your dream vacation after all.

HOTEL EMPLOYEES ARE HUMAN TOO. BE KIND.

This is something that you would think is obvious, but I was surprised by how many people treated hotel employees and drivers like they were trash. It was sad. Yes, they are there to help you and make sure you have a great time, but please remember that a kind word, a smile, and a simple thank you can make a difference in the day of others… and it will give you good karma points.

TRY ALL THE DRINKS

It’s free! Yes, if you are drinking a Pina Colada, and suddenly your taste buds decide you need something more dry…Do it! No outrageous-cocktail-price guilt attached. And after that try a specialty coffee to wake you up before karaoke night. Yes, you get the idea.

TAKE CASH

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We are all so used to plastic, that it’s easy to forget to withdraw some cash before your trip. Take cash with you because you will need it. American dollars are OK. It comes in handy when you tip or when you want to buy a quick souvenir. Keep in mind that most of these resorts have many stores and many choices to find small (or big) gifts.

PACK SOME FANCY CLOTHES

If this is your first time at an all-inclusive resort, you probably think that all you need is your swimming suit and flip flops. Well, yes, that is great if all you plan to do is to stay by the pool. But the truth is that you are going to want to try the amazing gastronomy that these resorts have to offer… INCLUDED IN THE PRICE.

Side note: To eat at some of these restaurants, you must dress up… a little. So pack a nice dress or two, and fancy flats or sandals. You will regret it if you don’t. By the way… it doesn’t really have to be so fancy, just something other than shorts and a tank top.


DO KARAOKE, GO TO THE DANCE BAR, GO SEE A SHOW

But, I have the kids with me! Yes, I know. We did too… Besides the casino and specific adult-only designated areas, most all-inclusive hotels that allow children are very family oriented and kid friendly. So, things like karaoke, shows, and dance night are open to all ages. They might have a curfew for kids, but it’s usually by midnight. Believe me, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy yourself and your kids will love it too.

USE YOUR POINTS

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When you book at certain hotels, most have a reward system or point system that gifts guests with incentives. Get informed about their rewards and use it! You may think that it’s a scam to lure you into buying extra amenities or packages..blah blah. Not always. We used our points (given to us by just booking on certain days) and used them towards excursions. All you have to pay is tax. We were able to swim with the dolphins and snorkel in the Caribbean ocean for next to no money! Thanks to the points we cashed. No questions asked, no extra spending. USE YOUR POINTS! If you don’t like excursions, you can also use points towards the spa or even to buy souvenirs.

A side note: I did notice that the actual city of Punta Cana is quite dirty. The touristic sites are kept well and clean, but the rest of the city and streets are extremely dirty and full of trash. That sight made me double pledge to keep trash in bins and recycle ALL my plastic at home.

RELAX BY THE BEACH

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Chances are your resort is on the beach. If so, take advantage of the privacy (or semi-privacy) that all-inclusive resort locations have to offer. Depending on the location, you might find paradise in your back yard. It is easy to get lost in the amenities that resorts have to offer, just take at least a few hours to admire nature and put your toes in the sand.

RELAX BY THE POOL

This one is pretty straight forward. Just pick a pool and enjoy. Most likely whatever all-inclusive you pick is going to have several pools to chose from. The best thing to do is wake up early, have breakfast and head to the pool of your choice to reserve a chair. Pools get pretty packed starting mid morning and afternoon. But if you know that you will be spending your day doing nothing, sun bathing or enjoying cocktails while you read your favorite book (see suggestions here!), pick your pool and claim your seat. Get to know your bartender and/or poolside waiter, tip them well, and you will LOVE your day.

ALSO, HAVE FUN BY THE POOL

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In many hotels, they reserve the main or central pool to conduct family friendly pool activities. Take a day or afternoon to get our of your shell and release your inner weirdo… in a good way, and not in a creepy way. Pool entertainers are usually pretty outgoing and with a contagious sense of adventure, get lured in and participate. Fall off the giant inflatable in front of everyone, rock on in a pool of foam, paddle across the pool competing for best time, play polo or water sports. Just do relax, and have fun.

LAST THOUGHTS

All inclusive resorts are great if you have a budget and a family. You can drink, eat, and have fun without the guilt of overspending as everything is pre-paid. Want some ice cream at 10 pm? Get it! Decided to try all flavors of coffee and accompany them with different pastries…do it! No-guilt attached… other than the overload of calories you will intake, your wallet won’t suffer.

Go ahead! Find your best choice for your family and do it. Looking for deals might be a tedious task sometimes, but it is sooooo worth it when you finally hit the jackpot. Piece of advice: search on Wednesdays and/or Thursday nights, since I’ve found that many deals are released on those days. If you search for vacations on the weekend, chances are that you will pay more… this is not always the case, but it’s worth the try.

ENJOY YOUR VACATION!

Do you have any other tips or recommendations? Comment below! I would love to hear about it.

Always,

Mia

Iceland Excursions; Suggestions on what to see and do

So we have already shown you how/what to pack when traveling to Iceland and how to (somewhat) stay on budget. Now the most important part, what to see/do?!

Iceland is known for it's serene landscape and beautiful natural wonders and there is no end to the amount of amazing, once in a lifetime sights to see. 

This list will break down a few of our must see/do list while in Iceland. Of note, we booked all of our tours through viator.com. Not only were they the best prices around but they were efficient and organized which made the whole trip that much more enjoyable!

1) Cave Hike/Golden Circle Tour

This all day, action packed tour took us through the southeastern part of Iceland. We started out with an early morning exploration of a volcanic cave. There was lots of crouching, sliding, and some crawling involved but man was it fun! Check us out!

After a much needed lunch, we were refueled and ready for our afternoon which consisted of a hike around Thingvellir National Park, watching the roaring cascade of Gullfoss waterfall (insanely beautiful!), and awed over the massive Geysir eruption in the geyser fields.  

Because our tour guide was phenomenal (seriously Icelandic Adventures is the best!) we made a quick pit stop to feed and faun over some Icelandic horses. 

2) Waterfalls/Glacier Walk/Black Sand Beaches

This tour was a spur of the moment decision for us, we had booked and planned our entire trip prior to coming, leaving ourselves 2 free days in our week long vacation in case anything interesting appealed to us, and thank goodness we did! During our brew tour, we met a really cool couple who had taken this tour the previous day and raved about it, so we knew we had to check it out on one of our free days!

This all day tour took us to the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss (stunning), where we hiked behind the falls and then just generally stood drooling at the sheer beauty,

Next in the tour was a stroll along the black sandy beaches of Reynisfjara. This unique beach is comprised of basalt lava and is utterly breathtaking. 

After a quick lunch in Vik, we headed out for our glacier hike at Solheimajokull Glacier. This serene and peaceful site looked like something from a land before time. You can totally imagine you are the other person in the world standing looking at the rolling hills and snow white ice. 

 

3) Blue Lagoon

Now after all those days of hiking, and sightseeing, you would be insane not to take an afternoon to soak and relax at The Blue Lagoon geothermal hotsprings. 

FOR A MORE IN DEPTH LOOK AT THE BLUE LAGOON- CHECK OUT OUR ARTICLE HERE

Your entrance fee gets you admission into the facility, one towel, 2 drink vouchers, and unlimited volcanic ash face masks. 

We soaked our weary travel bones until we were sweaty prunes, and then soaked some more. With a swim up bar, we could honestly have stayed forever. The steamy haze and sheer size of the pool made the experience intimate and despite the crowd when checking in, spacial and relaxing. It was definitely one of our more memorable experiences. 

4) Food/Brew Tour

You all know by now that we are huge self proclaimed foodies who make it a mission to try all the local cuisine, including, strike that, especially the strange and unusual. Singing up for a food/beer tour will definitely knock off some of those must eat items from your list. We booked one that paired a local brew with a local sample sized serving of food. Expertly timed courses and great explanations of flavors, this was a fun one.

If you want to wing it- we recommend checking out this restaurant which offers a seven course meal which highlights all the unusual foods Iceland has to offer. We chowed down on horse, puffin, and whale to name a few. The step price tag of 70USD per person was worth it in my opinion to sample all these rarities in one stop.

5) Northern Lights Hunting

You can't visit Iceland and not try to catch a glimpse of the illusive Northern Lights. Hailed as one of the seven wonders of the world, this scientific phenomenon is simply put, magical. Our nighttime tour took us several hours outside of Reykjavik to literally, the middle of nowhere. Our gregarious tour guide kept the late night ride entertaining with old folk lore, Icelandic facts, and interesting stories along the way. While they (obviously) can't guarantee that you will see the lights, they do everything they can to make it the best possibility (they have scouted out several prime locations, kept a close eye on cloud coverage, and are flexible with viewing spots, etc) and will even offer to reschedule you free of charge for another day of your trip if the lights don't cooperate. While the lights weren't out in full force for our hunt, we did catch some truly magical glimmers. 

**Download the Northern Lights app if you are an iPhone user before you go and take pics from there with a steady hand for your best shot at catching the lights on camera. If you don't have a fancy one that is.***  

In addition to these stunning sights around the countryside, there is plenty to keep you occupied in the city of Reykjavik as well. A few must see places/activities within city center include:

- Weekly Fleamarket, Kolaportið which is opened every Friday/Saturday and features some really unique hand crafted items including jewelry, wool sweaters, hats, etc. 

-Saga Museum: Play dress up like a Viking and enjoy this 50 minute self guided tour through some of Iceland's history as depicted through wax figures. 

-FREE city walking tours" You don't want to miss the opportunity to take advantage of a FREE walking tour all through downtown Reykjavik. Sponsored by the city, this guided tour will show you all the historical spots around town in this two hour guided tour. 

-Elevator ride up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja church. Check out this view! 

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-Puffin/Whale Watching Tours: Depending on what time of year you travel, be sure to check out the puffin and/or whale watching tours. This was a fun (if cold!) few hours on the sea and a good alternative to hiking around the countryside if you have physical limitations or just need a more relaxed day. Experience the beautiful landscape from the sea!

Ballin on a Budget; Planning your trip to Iceland

As you guys know, we recently returned from a week long jaunt in Iceland, and had the time of our lives. 

We had heard that Iceland was an expensive country to visit, but were woefully under-prepared for just how expensive things could be. So we have complied a list of tips and tricks to make the most of your trip, without breaking the bank. 

1. Cheap flights:

With the emergence of bargain airlines, flying doesn't have to be as costly as it once was. Airlines including Spirit, Allegiant, and WOW can take you to many tourist destinations for a fraction of the price. The tricky part comes in scheduling which airport to fly from (they don't have hubs at all international airports), and understanding baggage and carry on rules.

WOW is the bargain airline which operates to and from the US to Iceland (and parts of Europe). Check their website to see out of which cities they operate. We took these cities listed, and looked to see which we could fly to on the cheap. A couple hours of research later and we were able to book flights from Charlotte, NC to Boston, MA to Reykjavik, Iceland all for the low low cost of $550 USD per person. (We also had some credit card points to redeem so our cost was under $500 per person- score!) Red eye flights are also considerably less expensive. We never flinch at a red eye, especially when it's international. Arrive in time to see the sunrise and you're ready to explore!

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Being a bargain airline, WOW makes up there revenue with charging for all bags, carry on, movies, and in flight drinks and snacks. No complimentary conveniences here! To save on the insanely overpriced snacks (there is no way I am spending $6 on a mini can of Pringles), I packed some snacks for the ride (Lance cracker, packages of nuts, some cookies), although I did cave and buy a Coke ($3) due to airline restrictions of boarding a plane with liquids. 

Each passenger is allowed one carry on (laptop case or smaller) and you must pay a fee to use the overhead bins. You also pay for each checked bag, and the weight limit was 35 lbs per bag which meant we had to be very careful in our packing and clothes selections. (I tend to overthink everything which inevitability means overpacking!)   

CHECK OUT WHAT I PACKED FOR OUR TRIP HERE!

2. Lodging:

While there are plenty of nice hotels in Iceland, if you are planning on staying for more than 2-3 nights, we highly recommend looking into renting through Air B&B. Not only is it less expensive per night, but they usually offer discounts for extended stays of more than 5 days.

We also took advantage of our kitchen/fridge to stock up on cereal/milk/snacks (which saved money on our food budget). One with a washer was an extra perk that allowed us to pack lighter and be able to wash clothes mid trip. We opted to stay in the Marina district. We were a mere 2 blocks away from the pick up spots for our tours and an easy 4 blocks from center city. It was the perfect location! 

3. Food/Drinks:

Food and drink prices are astronomical in Iceland, but there are ways to save money where you can. If you don't mind hotdogs/warm sandwiches/noodles, there are some really great stands throughout Reykjavik where you can pick up an inexpensive lunch (under $10).

One of my favorite parts about traveling is sampling the local cuisine, so I personally don't like hitting up the same spots to eat every day, I much prefer to try a new place everyday. BUT with as busy as we were, sometimes a quick lunch on the way to our next activity worked in a time crunch (and made our wallets happy).

Download the app "AppyHour" (Itunes and android) to locate where all the best drink deals are happening every afternoon. (Because no one wants to pay $14 for a pint or $22 for a cocktail!). With this app you can quickly locate drink deals across Reykjavik. (Typically BOGO or 50% deals). 

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Here are a couple of our fav cheap eats:

Baejarins Betzu Pylsur: Hot dog stand.  Good hot dogs, simple, but very reasonably priced.

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Ramen MOMO:  This little tiny restaurant is a hidden gem.  Only sits 10 people at the time, so you will have to wait.  They won't cook your food until you find a seat.  A must have! (And for $5 USD per bowl- a real money saver!)

 

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4. Sightseeing:

Iceland does not have a large scale public transport system like can be found in most large scale cities in the US, and across Europe. Mostly due to the vastly undeveloped landscape of the country, and the fact that the entire population is under 400k, there really isn't a need. This leaves you with 2 options: 1) Rent a car or 2) Book tours which include pick up and drop offs.

Keep in mind that gas prices (like everything else) are quite high. Roughly $3.00 per liter, and sights are very spaced out, so know this when deciding how you want to get around. We opted for tours which included pick up, and drop off as it was a more cost effective, and convenient option for us. The tours through viator.com were very reasonable and well run. (Note that this website is not Iceland specific- you can use it for booking all manner of international tours!)

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 You simply  cannot  travel to Iceland and not explore the beautiful countryside. I mean, check out this view!

You simply cannot travel to Iceland and not explore the beautiful countryside. I mean, check out this view!

NOT SURE WHICH TOUR TO BOOK? CHECK OUT OUR ARTICLE ON WHICH TOURS WE RECOMMEND!

5. SOUVENIRS

Like everything else in Iceland, souvenirs are also very expensive.  Yeah, you want to bring your mom, or your friend a bottle or Icelandic Liquor, or a taste of sea salted chocolate, or perhaps even a wool sweater.  Be prepared to pay a pretty penny for all of the above.  Almost all souvenir stores around the center city are very high in price.  We made the "mistake" of purchasing some very costly small items on our first couple of days, but soon realized that there are other ways to find the same items way cheaper.  How?

If you are looking for good quality wool sweaters, all the fancy stores around the city will charge you a couple hundred dollars for something nice.  Go to the Reykjavik flea market on Saturdays or Sundays and you will be able to browse a vast variety of hand-made authentic Icelandic wool items at a much cheaper price.  Even though this is a "flea market" the wool merchandise, and costume jewelry is hand-made and new. Yes, it's still a little pricey, but cheaper than a downtown store.

We also found that souvenir shops NOT in center Reykjavik have way cheaper prices. We shopped for small items and collectibles at the stores located outside the city when we went on tours.  

IF you happen to spend over $6,000 Icelandic Krona (roughly $60 USD) in one transaction (excluding food) keep your receipt, you might be eligible to receive up to 14% of your purchase back! Simply, take the receipt and fill out a form at the tax office located inside the airport, and they will reimburse your sales tax directly to your credit card AND, while at the airport, hit up the Duty Free store! Seriously, you will save a whole lot of money by buying booze and candy to take back home there, instead of a liquor store.  

There are not a whole lot of ways to save tons of money when visiting Iceland.  You have to do what you can to minimize the impact on your pockets.  Everything is expensive, but it's cheaper if you plan ahead. Planning is key.  Plan where you want to eat, buy your cold gear before arriving, purchase your alcohol at the duty free before leaving the airport, and definitely use the viator app for tours, and the appy hour app to search for half off dining and drink options.  Follow this and you will save some moolah.  Buy your souvenirs outside city center, and walk everywhere.  Taxis are costly.  Do you have any other tricks or tips? We would love to know!

Please comment below or shoot us an email! 

Safe Travels my friends! Have fun in Iceland.

XOXO,

Coco

 

 

 

Top 5 Aromatic and Delicious Foods to Try in Morocco

Guest Post by Maria Bella.

I don’t know if anyone else has ever felt it, or it is just me. I sum up life needs in the 4 most important aspects to be considered -before spending valuable money. Number one is your family, then clothing, food and at last shoes. Wanderers might agree with it because your family is your ultimate responsibility, clothing and shoes are the reflection of your personality, and food is something that should be healthy, yet good enough to your taste buds. Out in the world there are many outclass cuisines that are enjoyed, especially from all over Morocco, Africa.

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Morocco is the land of aromatic spices, and exotic food recipes that gives you a tempting feel. Some food cuisines are derived from the Roman era while others let you enjoy the real Moroccan food. Spice up your love for food and show some real affection towards it, try the food with ingredients that adds up the taste to your life. Nomads are people who can easily adapt to the new and exciting changes and for them, food is something they can sacrifice anything for.  It is only enough to have some tasty and different food to taste.

Roaming around the local market of Marrakech, the aroma will lure you towards it. There are even times when their homes will grab your attention because of the delightful scent of yummy ingredients. The real way to enjoy the food is to feel its fragrance, breathe-in the aroma, and let your mouth filled with water by only gazing at it for a minute. That’s the way one can romanticize his breakfast, lunch and dinner too. So, foodies! here we have a list of some must try dishes in Morocco. Apparently, Marrakech is the city of delicious cuisines but Tangier is also giving a hard competition nowadays.

1. Tagine

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Let the spices melt in your mouth with the watery lamb cooked well with green olives (on choice). Tagine is more likely to be the national dish of Morocco. You can find it in any restaurant or a road side café where it is mostly served with breads.

2. Harira

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If you are visiting Morocco in the Holy month of Ramadan, you will find people breaking their fast with this particular dish. Harira is the common dish that is made from the ingredients like, chicken or lamb both, tomatoes, chickpeas, and lemon slices used for the garnishing while serving it to the guests.  

3. Zaalouk

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Whenever looking for irresistible food taste, one needs to look out for Zaalouk, prepared with salads scooped up with the bread. It is the combination of multiple salads, compellingly misty aubergine puree garnished with garlic, paprika, cumin and chilli powder.  

 

 

4. B’stilla

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For instance, you are enjoying holidays in Fez, which is also known as another charming city of Morocco, inviting food lovers to taste the cuisine that is a pastry pie filled with pigeon meat including cinnamon, saffron that gives the aromatic touch to the delicious dish. Sweet and savory taste will also give you an idea of trying a new and unique recipe at a cooking class.

5. Mint tea

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Its aroma is enough to hold you, and its fragrance arises nostalgic feelings. Refresh your emotions with the best drink of the world, you will forget the wine or beer after tasting this once. The refreshing taste of mint gives a soothing touch to the mind. While you are looking to relax for a moment, cherish that moment with a special mint tea of Morocco.

 

Moroccan Sweets

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Bakeries of sweets can be found at every corner of the street. Mint tea serving with the pastries and other sweet cuisines. In Morocco a sweet dish is considered as a necessary part of every meal, and all people of Morocco have a sweet tooth.  

 

If you are a food lover, and admirer of the spices and smells, then Morocco is the land for you. Once landed there, you will feel the aromatic air. A country is supposed to be adventurous in every manner; many companies are proving you lavishing tours that include cooking classes, don’t forget to avail that. If you are an observer who loves to give at least a try to every new thing or activity coming their way, then you must try the foods mentions in the blog.

Every city has its own taste that represent the regional and cultural differences of Morocco. Other than food, one will also get view of beautiful sights; moreover, tourists are always treated in a best way, they are invited to the local home cuisines every time. Accept the invitations and spend some wonderful time with the kind people of Morocco. Plan your Morocco Holidays now, and include all these dishes in your list!

About the Author:

Hi, this is Maria from UK. Nowadays, I am writing creative, historical and informative articles about traveling. I am interesting in writing to provide unique and creative content that enable the reader to understand the traveling experience and take help to plan a Cheap morocco holidays decision on the basis of provided information.

Cruising Do's and Don'ts: When I planned ahead and when I didn't plan with my head.

Being that this was my second cruise I thought for sure I was adequately knowledgeable about the ins and outs of what to expect and what to bring. Turns out packing/cruising for 7 is a tad different from the small party of two that was the last trip. 

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-BRING A LANYARD: I don't know why I didn't think about or remember this from the last trip- but please for the love of god bring a lanyard to keep your sail and sign card on. Since cruises are non cash accepting zones, these things are needed for everything (get on and off the boat at port, buy drinks, pick up souvenirs in the gift shop, play in the arcade/casino). They are linked to whatever CC you set it up with (or pre-loaded cash) and I can't tell you how annoying it was to have to keep it in my wallet the whole trip which I was then forced to carry around on the ship the entire 7 days. Mia was smart and brought one as a "just in case" item. They *do* sell them on the boat, but my cheap ass wasn't paying $13 (per lanyard) for both my husband and myself. Lesson learned. Bring a lanyard! 

-IF GOING IN A GROUP, A WALKIE TALKIE IS A LIFESAVER:

Being that we were traveling outside of the US (without an international data package) we knew we would not able to communicate with each other using cell phones while on board. Even our normal tricks of using WiFi to text via WhatsApp wasn't an option being that Carnival charges a daily Wifi fee that I was definitely not going to fork over (cheap ass remember?) Thank goodness Mia came up with the brilliant plan (she comes up with most of them if I'm being honest) of bringing a set of long range walkie talkies with us in the event that we wanted to split up so we could still communicate when/where to meet back up. Or to prank call each other from our rooms at night/in the AM, whateves. The boys scoffed at us, but they quickly realized how useful they were and everyone was happy we forked over the $15 per couple to buy them from Amazon. 

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-CHEERS! PACKAGE OR NAH?

So the Cheers! package is an unlimited alcohol package for when you are on board the ship. At about $50 per day per person- this one isn't for the casual drinker. We weighed this option very carefully and did ALOT of math when determining if it would be worth it for us (see kids, math DOES come in handy when you are adulting- tabulating drink costs on a cruise ship for 4 of age adults is no joke!). In the end we decided to fork over the $800 per couple total cost just to have the peace of mind of not mentally tabulating our sail and sign bill each time we ordered a cocktail. (I should clarify that *I* didn't worry about calculating that bill but hubby saw that as the total to beat and kept track of every drink we each had in order to calculate if we really got our monies worth...we did....and then some in case you were wondering). At between $6 and $10 for your most bought beer and cocktails, they can add up quick! Throw in 3 full days at sea with no ports (and let's be honest- three kids who while adorable and lovely- can drive you up a wall)- and we easily met our moneys worth. We were also able to use them to get the kids some fancy (non alcoholic) drinks and sodas that we would have normally had to pay for, so all in all it was a good deal for us. 

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- TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP- THAT IS THE QUESTION:

When given the option to pre-pay for tips up front when we booked the cruise, we opted out. (Now hold your horses people- we are really great tippers and always tip well when we receive a service- over 20% in fact). We were unsure of how the staff was actually tipped out from this option and wanted to tip individually to those who provided us with services (room stewards/bar tenders/waiters) to ensure that our tip money was actually going to those serving us. Turns out, everyone is charged a flat fee for tips, they just give you the option to pay it up front or your card will be charged at the end of the cruise. We found this out the night before setting sail which was kind of an annoyance (my husband had already taken out a couple hundred dollars...in ones...) but c'est la vie. Because we firmly believe in over-tipping, especially when the service is phenomenal- we went ahead with our original plan and tipped our servers individually anyway. These guys were some of the most friendly, efficient, hard working service industry professionals I have ever met and they deserved every dollar (and more), so when given the option to tip- do it. 

- DOWNLOAD THE CARNIVAL HUB APP-

A free app with cruise specific info, this thing was a life saver most days at sea. Set it up with your own unique login and password, and it keeps an electronic tab of all your purchases on the boat as well as a schedule of all the events going on onboard each day. It allows you to mark items you are interested in and it will alert you when they are coming up we found it really handy! The best part? The app will work on the boat and will not charge you for wifi (app is free and to use is free even in international water). Score! 

- WHAT TIME TO DINE?

Upon booking your cruise you will asked to choose a dining time for dinners at your assigned dining room. Three options are given, Early, Late, and 'Your Time". I would choose the "Your Time" dining option as it is the most flexible of the three, allowing you to go early or late depending on what other activities you guys have going on on any particular day. With so many fun and exciting activities both onboard and onshore it's nice to have this flexible option. 

- BEACH TOWEL BONANZA: 

Carnival does provide beach towels for your use (one per person will be folded up for your use in your room) BUT if you loose one during the day they charge your room $20 for a replacement. Since they all look alike and the whole boat had them, it is very easy for people to pick them up thinking they are theirs and they are YOU are stuck with a bill (happened to me on our first cruise- so annoying!) So I say bring your own distinct beach towel so no one mistakes it for theirs.

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-WATERPROOF CAMERA IS A MUST!

I originally planned to just get a water proof case for my phone but I chickened out when it came to the deep blue ocean... I mean, let's face it... even though my phone is ancient, I paid like an arm and a leg for it, so I didn't want it ruined! I did test the case, and it did have good reviews, but I'm a nutcase and I couldn't make myself submerge my iPhone under the sea. In a pool, yeah. In the ocean. No. So I went online and bought a (Yuntab Action Camera Sport) cheap version of a goPro, and OMG that little camera is awesome! Paid just $20 for it, plus $10 for the 32gb memory card, and I have to say that the pictures and the video quality are off the hook! This tiny (super tiny) camera with a very good waterproof case did wonders under water... here's a video of me snorkeling:

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-JOT DOWN YOUR MEMORIES.  

Take a journal. Yeah. It might sound a little juvenile to you, but taking trips down memory lane 20 years from now when you find your journal in a drawer or in a box will be awesome. (You are welcome in advance.) Also, pick your favorite picture from your trip, print it, and throw it in there. You'll eventually forget about it, but when you find it, it is sure to bring a smile to your face. 

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-FOR GOODNESS SAKE, CHILDREN, GIVE OCEAN CLUB A CHANCE.

 Do it for your parents. They deserve a break. Our little humans were excited to go check it out and were there for about two hours. When we picked them up, we could see them dancing and laughing and doing crafts, but as soon as they saw us they changed their attitude. We asked "Did you like it!?"... "Nah" They all said they didn't want to come back, they all wanted to spend 24/7 with us because (and I guess this is partially our fault) they enjoyed the activities that involved music, and singing, and trivia, and games, and although family friendly, they weren't catered to children. Oh well. Next time we will probably approach it in a different way and maybe they'll have more kid time and we can have more adult time.  

-TAKE AN EXCURSION! We took ours in Grand Turk. Reserved through the Carnival website. They took us snorkeling to two locations, over the coral reef, and then swimming with sting rays. Yes, those things are scary looking. After our outing we were treated to some rum punch they even fed us freshly prepared (caught in front of you) Conch salad. n awesome experience and highly recommend!

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There are many "Do's and Dont's" that I can write, that may or may not pertain to you, so bottom line, go have fun! Enjoy the sun, the water, the people, don't forget that the people that work there are people too and those people are super cool actually... as they have met sooooo many more people than you. Be kind and you'll have a great time!

Bon Voyage!!! 

Cruising the Caribbean: The Highlights Reel

So here I am, not even a week post cruise and I'm already dying to go back. We have spent the last seven days gliding along the Atlantic, hitting up spots in Nassau, Half Moon Cay (a privately owned Carnival island) and Grand Turk (which my 6 year old affectionately dubbed "Turkish" for the entirety of the trip) and we have lived to tell the tale! I'm happy to report that Mia did not fall off the boat, or get eaten by a shark, or get left on an island as the cruise ship sailed off and left her alone, nor did the zombie apocalypse occur while we were in international waters, or really any waters for that matter. Oh, we had a plan of course in case such a situation arose, but I digress.... Nothing but a little sea sickness and in the grand scheme of things- it was pretty benign. 

Traveling with a large group (7) including three kids, we did have our fair share of meltdowns, tears, whining, and general pestering, but by and large it was a truly fun trip. So, of course, we have to break down our favorite things about cruising and our ports of call. 

1) I'm not sure what kind of list this would be without mentioning the most important item for us when traveling (or let's be serious, just generally in life), THE FOOD. Being that it was an all inclusive trip, all food costs were covered in the initial price of booking, and for real ya'll, we ate our monies worth. From Guy's Burgers, hot and fresh taco bars, cafeteria styled feasts, to formal sit down dining, a cruise is the place to be for any foodie. Sit down dinners were my favorite meals of the day as they always featured unique menu items along with the more traditional fine dining meal options (steak lobster, etc. ) I am proud to share that I sampled escargots and frog legs among many other carefully crafted delicacies. I may have left the 7 day cruise 10 pounds heavier, but my stomach has never been happier

RELATED: MY FIRST CRUISE

2) You may not know this about us, but we are a pretty competitive bunch. Well, let me clarify, the husbands are a pretty competitive bunch so you can pretty easily guess that we took all the onboard activities very seriously on our trip. From bingo to scavenger hunts, Harry Potter trivia (which we were were ashamed not to know all the very tricky answers!)  and roulette, we were on a mission to win any and all competitions (even self made) with extra bragging rights if an actual prize was involved. We were dubbed ping-pong champions , back stroke masters, scavenger hunt aficionados, bingo extraordinaires, and family challenge victors. Between the two families we won over a dozen medals, a cruise ship shaped trophy, a bottle of champagne, and $340 in bingo spoils. There is always something fun going on onboard, and we always add our own flare/style to the events! As a funny side story, at the scavenger challenge, one of the items was to get a bikini top and bring it to the stage...well, Mia's hubby had the fantastic idea of snagging her bikini top. Thank goodness she had her cover up on because he was serious about it (umm hello? bragging rights and a snazzy plastic medal were at stake!) and took off with it! Unfortunately he was not quick enough, and my hubby snagged the victory on that one. ;)

 Our team name was "The Incredibles" and we ROCKED the family challange! 

Our team name was "The Incredibles" and we ROCKED the family challange! 

3) Out of the three ports we visited, my absolute favorite was Grand Turk. There was something for everyone; chitzy & craftsman style shopping, white sandy beaches, fun and exciting excursions, and of course....places to eat. This was the island we had chosen to go on our excursion, snorkeling with sting rays. We took a motorboat out into the water to three separate spots to explore various reefs and sea life with the last stop at a small island cove where we got up close and personal with some sting rays. Riding the motorboat back inland, the crew whipped up a fresh from the sea conch salsa (so good!) and some rum punch. 

4) THE PEOPLE. Yes. We met pretty fantastic and interesting people on this trip. Oddly enough, none of which were fellow cruisers...well, not really odd because, let's be honest here, we are not "walk up to random strangers and make friends" type of girls. Hello! Social anxiety!  We actually made an effort to speak with and made friends with the crew of the ship.. they looked much more approachable (maybe it's because they are paid to be nice to you? ;) ) It happens that the crew consists of a very international and diverse community and talking to people from so many different parts of the world (parts that we had never heard of before) is kind of amazing. We met people from all parts of Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Romania, Peru, and different parts of the US. What we found even more amazing is how humble, and hard working all these people are, and to be honest, I think we found some great friends in this trip... in fact, our next big adventure might be to Transylvania! 

So, bottom line my friends: Pack your bags and take a cruise!!!!! Enjoy the good food, the beautiful places, and the great people. Then go home with some amazing memories and share them with the world!

DID YOU LIKE THIS STORY? Let us know!!! Please share or comment below!

What we learned while backpacking. Paris and Rome.

Before we travel, I always make it a point to research the places we are planning on visiting for things like weather, customs, special laws, walk-ability, transit and transportation arrangements etc.  Often times I find it very useful when I read tips and suggestions from other travelers and their experiences.  SO, I thought I would put together a list of tips and suggestions from our own experience while we traveled in Europe.

1. TRAVEL LIGHT.

There is no need to carry a million items. Remember, people live there and there are many places to buy the essentials like toiletries and other products should you need them. So packing travel size items is totally the way to go. Your luggage will be less heavy and your back will thank you.

2. TAKE AN UMBRELLA/RAINCOAT

I guess this one depends on where and when you travel, but generally, I always take a small travel umbrella and a light raincoat. Many times in the past I've failed to take these items and the result? I get miserably soaked by the pouring rain. Especially if you are out and about sightseeing. A travel umbrella is so small, you can place it in a side pocket of your backpack with no problem and it is TSA approved. As far a a raincoat,I opt for a light raincoat (C0lumbia Sportswear worked perfectly).  Make sure it is waterproof and not just water resistant (believe me...great difference).    

3. PORTABLE CELL PHONE CHARGER

I use my cellphone to take all my pictures while traveling.  I mean, the convenience of just having a small device which you can also use as a camera/phone/GPS and mini computer is just a great perk of living in the twenty first century...as such, I also have to deal with terrifying "low battery" pop up message that is inevitable when traveling. A small, portable cell phone charger is a life saver. You can check out all our pictures now and thank the creators of such neat device later.

4. PORTABLE SELFIE STICK FOR PICTURES

When we exerted ourselves up 37 stories just to reach the top of the Saint Peter's Basilica or the Notre-Dame top level to see the mystic gargoyles, it was worth it. But we also realized there's an incredible potential for amazing pictures that cannot be achieved with just stretching your hand.  A selfie stick was the solution.  A picture perfect solution. 

5. TAKE A SCARF

Yes, It is HOT in many places in Europe in the summer days. This was especially true when we visited Rome. You will be tempted to wear just a tank top and shorts, or a sleeveless maxi-dress. It's the perfect attire for the warmth of this spectacular place...BUT be aware that MOST (if not all) churches, and sacred places in Rome - including the Vatican- will NOT let you in if you don't cover your shoulders (and your knees).  A scarf is the perfect alternative to wrap around your neck and shoulders.  and it also provides a very stylish way to accessorize your outfit. Locals in both, France and Italy wear scarves all the time, even in the summer months - and especially at night.

6. GIRLS, MAXI OR SUMMER DRESSES ARE A MUST

A perfect outfit when backpacking is one that you can dress up or dress down with ease.  A maxi dress or a cute summer dress provides the perfect combination of style and comfort. Dress it up with a scarf or custom jewelry, or just wear it as it comes during the day. You can't go wrong with a dress.

7. TENNIS SHOES ARE TOTALLY OK

One of the things I was most worried about was the fact that I wanted to pick the right pair of shoes for Paris and Rome. I didn't want to look like an obvious tourist.  I googled a million times and read a million blogs to investigate what kind of shoes other people were taking on their trips. All suggested comfortable walking shoes, and flats for women. Many stated to stay away from white tennis shoes. Let me tell you what I saw. An unbearable amount of both men and women wearing tennis shoes (as in Nike and Adidas). I also saw a lot of locals wearing white tennis shoes (usually Converse or Keds). So I wish I would've known this before picking my shoes. I opted for taking a pair of gray Bobs (by Sketchers) with the memory foam inserts. They were very comfortable walking shoes and they looked just fine with my outfits.  Just remember, whatever shoe you pick, make sure they are made for walking (we walked an average of 10 miles per day), and make sure you break them in in advance!

8. WATERPROOF YOUR SHOES

I learned this one the hard way.  Remember when I said we've gotten soaked by pouring rain in the past? Well, this includes our shoes. Let me tell you, there is nothing worse than walking around in wet soggy shoes all day. So this time, I knew better. I got a water-proof spray (make sure it works on fabric) and waterproofed my shoes all the way around.  The result was as expected, and my feet did not get wet at all when it rained -Even when I accidentally stepped in a big puddle!.

9. PARIS PASS/TRAIN PASS 

Is it worth the money? Well, the answer depends on your needs.  There are many alternatives on packages that you can get while in Paris.  We definitely recommend to get the travel card even if you don't end up getting the whole Paris pass deal.  Let me explain.  The Paris Pass is a package deal that you can purchase online and pick up when you arrive at one of the many locations they offer. It includes a museum pass, an attraction pass, and a travel card.  You can get it for two, three, four, or six days, depending on your needs. If you purchase the whole pass, you have access to over 60+ museums and attractions and unlimited metro, RER, and bus travel, a bus tour, fast track access to many museums, and a guide book. So here's how you decide.  Make a list of the museums and attractions that you want to visit for sure, and if it's more economical to just pay for them individually (you can find the prices online) and if you are not interested in taking the bus tour either, then just get the travel card and a museum pass, or just a travel card and pay for the museum entries individually. We got the pass for convenience and peace of mind. For us it was worth it since we visited many places. 

RELATED: PARIS: CITY OF LOVE AND MANY OTHER AMAZING THINGS

10. USE YOUR MANNERS

I'm embarrassed to admit that many Americans are perceived as rude in Europe. And unfortunately it is true. I observed how many of us forget to use our manners when talking to strangers in Europe. I'm going to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and state that it could be (perhaps) the language barrier. Many people (including myself) get nervous and forget the few foreign words they know when someone speaks to them in another language. But either way, it's not an excuse. Don't forget to use your hellos and thank yous in the respective language.  You will see a huge difference in the way locals respond to you.

11. DON'T FALL FOR STREET SCAMS

There are MANY scammers scampering the streets for their next victim. From innocent looking kids trying to convince you to sign a petition - while his/her friend steals your cellphone or wallet, from very young women posing as old and disabled gypsy ladies begging for money - you know they are not real when they won't show you their face.  Many pickpockets and fake street performers that only want to distract you so you are an easier target. Also, there are many street sellers that will literally hand you an item and once you have it in your hand they will demand payment.  Best thing to do; be vigilant of your surroundings and your belongings and you will be fine. 

12. TRY EVERYTHING (FOOD/DRINK)

Forget diets! eat everything you can and enjoy a different culture through their cuisine.  You only live once!

RELATED: ROME MUST EATS

RELATED: PARIS FOODIE EDITION

13. FACE THE HEIGHTS

The most beautiful views in Europe will be from the top of a mountain or building. We climbed Norte-Dame, Sacre-Coeur, and Saint Peter's Basilica (at 37 stories high) by foot.  Hundreds of steps later, you will be awed by the incredible views you will find once you face your fear of heights and tight spaces. Especially in Paris, prepare to climb many, many steps all around the city.

14. CARRY A MAP

If you don't have constant internet access it's impossible to rely on your phone's GPS when you get lost in the city. Having a good map with clear street names can potentially save you your sanity when the time comes. This is a good advice also for a metro or RER maps. Plan  your route in advance so you don't waste precious vacation time trying to figure out where to go and how to get there with no map.

15. SUMMER CAN GET HOT

I said it before, but I'll say it again. Summer can get hot, especially in Italy.  If you are planning on visiting in June-August, plan accordingly and pack summer clothes. Shorts, dresses, sunglasses, and lots and lots of sun screen when you go out sightseeing.

RELATED: WHEN IN ROME

16. AMERICAN EXPRESS- NOT ACCEPTED EVERYWHERE

We wanted to minimize the amount of cash we carried, in case of pickpockets. Didn't want to risk getting robbed of all our money. We thought it was a good idea to pay with a credit card whenever possible. For the most part this worked great. BUT be advised, only Visa and Master Card are accepted in most places. Coco had an American Express card that was barely used because apparently Paris and Rome (even the very touristic places) do not accept American Express.

17. THE WI-FI SCAM

One thing I would like to point out is the fact that almost every cafe, restaurant, and shop in Paris advertises free Wi-Fi for their patrons. LIES. Now, this is only a theory based on observation, but it seems to me that advertising free Wi-Fi is a good tactic to get people to have a seat and order an espresso while they figure out their maps or they make a call using internet access (namely, us).  But 8 out of 10 places do not really have this free Wi-Fi access. You have to request a password to access their network, and (if they provide it to you) the connections don't work. Our group was pretty technologically savvy and none of us could connect to most networks. When you ask the waitress for a correct password, they will say it is the password it was already provided and that it should work. Verdict: false advertisement just to get tourists to sit down while hunting for that precious Wi-Fi.

We all have different experiences every time we travel. It's our mission to share these with fellow travelers for informative purposes. We would also love to hear from you and your experiences! Comment below and tell us about your trip and backpacking experiences! 

***TRAVEL WITH US! READ ABOUT OUR OTHER ADVENTURES HERE!

Things you must try in Paris (Foodie edition)

It's no secret we LOVE good food.  In fact, part of the reason we travel so much is to try new food and to experience exotic tastes (and blog about it - insert cheesy smile).  While in France, we tried everything new we could get our hands (and mouths) on.  We also had a good glass of wine with our meals every time we could.  So, if you go to Paris, here are some things you must eat/drink:

RELATED: PARIS CITY OF LOVE AND MANY OTHER AMAZING THINGS

1. (French) ONION SOUP.

You will find this item under "Onion Soup" on the menu - If they list it under "French Onion Soup" their menu is too Americanized and trust me, you want to try the real thing.  We tried ours at a small cafe in the 10th arrondissement, next to the Porte Saint-Denis monument.  It was a savory, cheesy, soup with a generous amount of all the good ingredients.  Do not miss out trying this famous soup!

2. ESPRESSO

a must have with your meals.  Whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner you must have a cup of espresso.  I noticed that Parisians won't give you much sugar with any kind of coffee you order.  Good thing I'm used to black coffee! French espresso is made out of dark, perfectly roasted beans, brewed into a very strong (one or two gulps) tiny cup of coffee.  The perfect energy drink to keep you going.

3. CAPPUCCINO

Seriously, there is a coffee shop or coffee bar in every corner of Paris.  A very common practice is to approach the "bar" (which is the counter), order your coffee and pastry or choice, and enjoy it while standing up at the counter.  If you sit down, sometimes they will charge you slightly higher price for your snack.  Some places will ask you if you want the counter or a table before you pay so they know how to charge you.  DO NOT leave France without drinking -many- Cappuccinos.  This creamy, foamy, chocolaty cup of perfection goes flawlessly with any croissant you choose.  

4. PIZZA

Yes, you can find good pizza in Paris too.  Maybe because Italy is so close to France, we found really good pizza while in Paris.  I prefer the ones with lots and lots of gooey cheese.  One that comes to mind, the paysanne pizza.  Lots of cheese, mushrooms, eggs, tomatoes, bacon and a dairy creme (that I have no idea what it was but resembled sour cream) in the middle...perfection.

RELATED: WHEN IN ROME

5. HAVE A TASTE OF FRENCH BEER

There are many to choose from.  Kronenbourg 1664 (blonde beer), Cervoise Lancelot, Duchess Anne Triple, or my favorite, Blanche Hermine (wheat beer).  Our hubby's like IPA's and it was quite difficult to find them around Paris. But, we stumbled upon a very cool little pub called Rivolux on 16 Rue de Rivole, which had IPA's on tap.  The bar tender, was as amazing making mix drinks as he was friendly.  Nice atmosphere, great company, good drinks.  Life is good.

6. CHEESE

My FAVORITE thing in the world is to eat a good piece of gooey cheese accompanied by a good glass of wine.  Blue cheese, goat cheese, Gouda, Camembert, Machengo, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gorgonzola, Comte Cheese, and many others are among the ones we tried every time we could put our hands on a cheese platter.  yum.

7. WINE

In Paris, a meal is not completed if you don't order wine.  Whether you like red, white, rose, dry, sweet, sparkling, wine is the perfect companion to your lunch or dinner.  Maybe the savory level of French cuisine is specifically designed to make your taste buds crave some wine.  Maybe it was the fact that we were in Paris and wanted to try everything.  Maybe is was the ambiance.  Have some wine.  You deserve it.  

8. ANGELINA PASTRIES at VERSAILLES PALACE

If you visit the Palace of Versailles, just south of Paris, you can enjoy ANGELINA's royal-like selection of pastries.  I tried a Strawberry cream cake that I only wish it was a little bigger.  They have a few locations throughout the Palace and the gardens.  You won't be disappointed.

9. FOUR CHEESE SPAGHETTI

Perhaps the best pasta dish I've ever had.  It was simple, yet incredibly flavorful.  The combination of mozzarella, cheddar, provolone and Asiago melts in your mouth and will keep your taste buds engaged till the last bite.

10. CREME BRULEE 

A classic made perfection.  Creme is a type of custard that is very popular in France.  You can find it in croissants, doughnuts, and other french pastries.  Creme-Brulee has always been a favorite of mine.  Creme with a rich layer of caramelized sugar...life doesn't get better than that.  

BONUS must EAT: CREPES

Plain, with chocolate, creme, caramel, chantilly cream, fruit, at a coffee shop, restaurant, bar, or at a street vendor. No matter where you are or what time it is, you can find a place that will have crepes.  Total paradise.

**** READ ABOUT OUR OTHER ADVENTURES HERE!

And you fellow traveler? what is your favorite must try? Comment below and we might try it out!

Must eats in Rome!

Our three day jaunt in Rome was filled with some serious good eats. I can't think of one thing I ate that was just "meh", everything was rich in flavor and simply put, delicious. Rome had, hands down the best pasta and pizza I have ever eaten. The sheer number of items to sample can be overwhelming to a traveler so I'm going to give you a breakdown of the top 10 foods to try when in Rome!

1) Gelato: You can't come to Rome and not try the gelato. More simply put, icecream. Ranging in flavors from light and fresh fruits to deeply decadent chocolates and caramels, there really is a flavor for everyone. You won't have to search hard, there are shops on nearly every corner. I sampled the raspberry and chocolate and they were absolutely delicious. 

2) Corneto: Not to be confused with a croissant (yes they look exactly alike but don't make the faux pas of calling it a croissant!), this flaky pastry is the breakfast item of choice in Rome. Variations on the corneto are many, you can find them filled with chocolate (both dark and white) and cream. I tried them all -don't judge, it was for research (who am I kidding, I just really like a pastry) and I personally preferred the cream one, or corneto crema. Whichever way you order, these things are a must when in Rome.

3) Negroni: This cocktail was recommended by our traveling companion and resident one time bar tender, Stephanie. The negroni is comprised of one part gin, one part vermouth, and one part Campari and garnished with an orange peel. While not everyone was a fan in the group, I personally enjoyed the cool kick this stiff drink offered, especially after a long day of sightseeing.

4) Spaghetti Carbonara: A very traditional Roman dish, this pasta is comprised of egg, cheese, pancetta, and black pepper. Grate a little Parmesan cheese over top and voila, culinary perfection. Filling and scrumptious this was a meal fit for a queen!

RELATED: WHEN IN ROME

5) Mezzmaniche Gricia- Another traditional pasta dish in Rome, this meal is comprised of rigatoni pasta, prosciutto Norcia, and onions. I grated some Parmesan cheese over the dish because, well, you can never have enough cheese! This was my first meal in Rome and definitely set the tone for all the good eats to come.

6) Cacio e Pepe: A very popular Roman dish, our Air BnB host, Helena raved about, insisting that we try it while visiting. Meaning simply, "cheese and pepper", the flavor of this dish is anything but simple. Each bite is cheesy deliciousness. Did I mention it was served in a fried cheese bowl?!  

7) Pizza : The amount of options available in all of Rome for pizza are staggering but trust me, pick any and you wont be disappointed. This pizza was made to order with all fresh ingredients, each mouthful an explosion of flavor. I opted for the spicy pepperoni, olives, and tomatoes, and believe me when I say, there was not one scrap of crust left on my plate when we left. Superb!

RELATED: PARIS: CITY OF LOVE AND MANY OTHER AMAZING THINGS!

8) Ravioli- Or as I like to call them, pasta cheese packets. These little suckers are the perfect delivery mechanism for some cheese! Even those are not so adventurous with their eats will love this one. Stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach served with a butter and sage sauce, these ravioli were definitely the best I've ever eaten. They were practically oozing with richness.  

9)  Trippa alla Romana: Ok now don't let this one scare you off, but trippa is....well...its intestines. I know, I know, it sounds absolutely disgusting, but let me explain. The intestines are cleaned and prepared, then cooked in a tomato based sauce filled with various herbs and spices. I was worried it would have a weird consistency or displeasing taste but was pleasantly surprised at the smoothness of the meat as well as the tasty combinations of spices used to prepare the dish. I would definitely recommend branching out of your food comfort zone to try this one out.

10) Soute di Cozze: Husband and I ordered these yummy mussels as an appetizer on our last night in Rome. Not only did they taste like they just came out of the ocean but whatever sauce they cooked these bad boys in was divine. (Our waitress spoke no English and we spoke no Italian so we weren't really able to get the full gist of what sauce these guys were cooked in). Taking a guess, I imagine it was a tomato based sauce with some garlic? Whatever is was, it was heartstoppingly good.

Well that rounds out my list of top eats in Rome, three days was not nearly enough time in the beautiful country of Italy (I'm already scheming ways to get back for a longer jaunt) but I think we really did Rome justice by packing in so much of the local cuisine in such a short time.

What are some of your favorite dishes in Rome? LET US KNOW BY COMMENTING BELOW!

Paris, City of Love... and many other amazing things!

So as all of you know, we packed our backpacks and embarked on a 10 day adventure to Paris/Rome and now we are sharing our experience with you. I’m going to tell you a little bit about Paris, France. But, before I go into details, let me debunk the saying “French people are rude” or “Paris is not that great” which I sadly heard numerous times before we decided to experience it ourselves. Parisians are incredibly nice, and the city itself is nothing short of amazing. There are so many places to see that in all honesty, we probably needed a whole month to see them all!. Many locals went out of their way to help us out and to give us directions when they recognized a "we're lost" face- even when we didn't speak each other's language. All you have to do is be polite to them and they will be polite to you. 

RELATED: WHEN IN ROME

So we made sure we had a metro map, and toured this fascinating city by ourselves.  Here are my top 5 must see places while in Paris:

1.       THE LOUVRE MUSEUM.  

 

This is perhaps my favorite place in Paris. The Louvre Palace was originally built in the 12th century and extended over the centuries to what it is today; a magnificent, massive palace, home to thousands of the world’s most renowned works of art. The actual museum opened in 1793 and is divided into several wings, from Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities, to Islamic art, sculptures, paintings, prints, and drawings.  You can see world famous paintings like the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci, to Greek art masterpieces like the Aphrodite sculpture (The Venus de Milo).  There is so much to see and experience in the vastness of this museum that it can be a little overwhelming. The Napoleon III apartments are a must see area of the Louvre. The extravagance and magnificence of the exhibit shows you how luxurious it was to live in this palace. I can totally picture myself living here (as a princess in a fairy-tale). Oh! and don't forget to stroll by the "carousel" and see the, also very famous, inverted pyramid.  It's beautiful!

2.       THE PARIS CATACOMBS

Equal parts amazing and macabre; the underground Paris Catacombs are definitely something different. Get there early (before they open!) so you don't have to wait too long in the line.  We got there thirty minutes before opening and still have to wait over one hour to get in.  When you enter, you have to go down, and down, and down a spiral staircase that seems never-ending (So beware if you are claustrophobic), but it's worth it!  There are miles and miles of underground tunnels and secret passages under the city of Paris and most of it is covered by the bones and skulls of more than 6 million people. Of course, only a portion of these tunnels are open to the public, but it is still shocking to see this osseous display with your own eyes.  Back in the late 1700’s when the cemeteries of the city were overflowing with centuries of dead Parisians, mostly from disease, famine, and wars, millions of remains and bones were transferred to the underground tunnels, establishing the largest ossuary in the world. They say there are several secret entrances around the city, and if you are not an expert in the tunnels, better not attempt to explore the non-public areas of the catacombs on your own…legend says a man got lost in the catacombs in the late 1700’s and died without finding the exit. 

 

3.       NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS CATHEDRAL.

Everybody has heard of Esmeralda and Quasimodo, right? Well, Our Lady of Paris (exact translation) is one of the most beautiful medieval/Gothic structures you can visit. It is surreal to think that you can step foot in a building that has stood tall for so many centuries. Construction began in 1163, but it wasn't until the mid-13th century that the design and the façade were completed. You can appreciate the magnificent Rose window and the Cathedral’s gorgeous inside. The Gothic architecture and the many engravings, and sculptures will keep your jaw dropping. We took an extra step (or 387 to be exact) and climbed all the way to the dome. I mean, you can’t go to Notre Dame and not see the very famous Gargoyles! It was a narrow, endless spiral staircase to the top, but we made it. After shaking the claustrophobic moment off, you can see it was well worth it when you catch your first glimpse at the amazing Gothic gargoyles. They have been watching over the city of Paris for centuries and they are still standing. Another quick step inside the bell tower (another smaller staircase) and you can see the Cathedral’s majestic bell. But, just so you know, this part of the tower is (all) a wooden structure, so you will feel it move underneath you. Or that could’ve been my legs feeling like jelly after going up 31 flights by foot.

 

4.       THE EIFFEL TOWER.

I get it. You can’t be in Paris and not see the very famous Eiffel Tower. Located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, this gigantic iron tower was built in 1889 as an entrance to the world’s fair.  When you are under it, you can actually feel its energy and magnificence on your own body. Security was very high when we went (the EuroCup 16 was in effect), and Paris celebrated with European soccer fans by hanging a colossal soccer ball from the tower. We didn’t go up to the floors allowed to the public, but we enjoyed some good ice cream, and shopped for souvenirs at the Champ de Mars. 

 

5.       SACRE-COEUR BASILICA

Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this basilica built in the late 1800’s, sits on top of the butte Montmartre, which is the highest point in the city. Prepare to walk up many, many steps, since the roads that lead to this point are filled with stairs.  There’s no avoiding this fellows, so get your legs ready. You can take a little funicular car (your metro ticket will work for this one) to the top of the hill. Once you reach the top, you will be amazed by the view. It’s totally worth it. After your visit you can stay in the area and visit the little museums and galleries nearby. My favorite, the Dali Gallery, is within walking distance of Sacre Coure. 

Bonus tip, wear comfortable shoes when sightseeing in Paris.  You will do a whole lot of walking and stair climbing.  

Besides my top 5, I also have to mention the Chateau de Versailles. Located 45 minutes south of Paris (just take the C line and it will take you directly there), it was the luxurious home of Louis XIV in the late 1600's, early 1700's. We got there pretty early. They open at 9am and the lines can get very long, very quick. Since the early bird gets the best worm, we were among the first in line and were able to buy a "passport" ($18 euros) which grants entrance to the palace, the gardens, and other smaller house-museums inside. The golden gates of the lavish Chateau gave us a good preamble of what to expect once inside.The furniture, the decor, the chandeliers, the statues, everything evoked an extravagant way of life. A royal way of life.  *sigh*

We walked and got lost in the gardens (yes, they are that big), ate lunch at one of the several little restaurants, and rented a row boat for a romantic sail in the Palace's Grand Canal (it is so big, it took 11 years to be built). By the way, this is a must do! So the next time you are in Paris, don't hesitate to visit all of these places and take lots and lots of pictures!

**** Read about our other adventures around the world! HERE

Fellow travelers, what are your favorite parts of Paris? 

When in Rome!

So Mia and I just got back from a whirlwind 10 days in Paris/Rome. When I tell you this trip was PHENOMENAL! With only 3 days in Rome, we really had to make good use of our time to see everything on our "must see" list but surprisingly we also discovered a couple neat little gems along the way (which of course, I'm going to share with you guys!). So here is my  list of the top five things to do/see in Rome.

1) The Colosseum. Dating back to 70AD, this ancient structure is the home of bloody battles and torturous executions. Go ahead and pay the extra 6 euros to get a guided audio tour which provides interesting information on the structures architecture, the gladiators themselves, the fights, and other interesting tidbits of information. We got there about 30 minutes before opening time, 9AM, which I strongly recommend so you don't have to wait in long security and ticket buying lines. I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of the structure and that fact that it was almost 2000 years old. To think of everything it has seen and withstood over time is really mind boggling. 

2) St. Peters Basilica- Built in the 1500's, this basilica was constructed in the rumored place where St. Peter was tortured and ultimately crucified by Roman Emperor Nero in 64AD. The sheer size and attention to detail is simply breathtaking, not hard to believe you take into consideration that it was largely designed by the esteemed artist, Michelangelo. St. Peters Basilica is also is also the burial place of the much adored Pope John Paul II (now officially a Saint). You definitely don't need to be Catholic, or even a religious person, to admire the beauty and intricacy of this structure. If you are able, I strongly recommend you pay the few euros is costs to walk to the top of of the top of the dome and take in the panoramic view of Rome. I'm not gonna lie, it was difficult, and for someone who is deathly afraid of heights and super close quarters, it was a nail biting climb. The staircase spirals very tightly in places and is super hot (we traveled in June) but once you climb those 551 steps, the view is simply breathtaking. Take your time and walk around (enjoy the breeze and fresh air!) and snap a few pics before making your way back down again. The halfway point back down has the Vatican gift shop where you can stop in to purchase any number of items blessed by the Pope himself, rosaries, figurines, post cards, metals, prayer cards, anything you can imagine really. 

3) The Trevi Fountain. Rome is famous for their numerous piazzas (plazas) with amazing fountains and quaint streets but the Trevi Fountain is a must see when in Rome. Day or night, this fountain is awesome either way (trust me on this- we went one day and the next night to compare). Make sure and take a coin to throw over your left shoulder, backwards which according to legend, means you will come back to visit one day. Located in the Pizaaas di Trevi (imagine that), this place is always packed, and at night the lights illuminating the fountain are so romantic. Street vendors come out at night to sell all sorts of wears from jewelry to Italian souvenirs. (Keep your purse/wallet/phone close- the area is ripe with pickpoketers!).

4)Palatine Hill: Just a short walk from the Colosseum, Palatine Hill is one of the most ancient places in the city dating back to 10BC. Be ready for a long walk, we ambled around these ruins for several hours, taking in the breathtaking beauty. Palatine Hill was once the home of various Emperors and nobility and have remained surprisingly intact over the past couple of thousand years! It was like walking through a movie set for a post apocalyptic movie, the flowers and green grass provided such a contrast to the obviously old and crumbling city around. Please don't skip out on seeing Palatine Hill while in Rome!     

5) The Vatican/Vatican Museum: You can't go to Rome and not hop on over to the residence of the Pope! Home of the famous Sistine Chapel, The Vatican is the richest country in the world. Yes, I said country. I didn't know this either but the Vatican is actually it's own country, residents being those born in the Vatican or with proven family lineage of residence. Inside the Vatican you can walk St. Peters Square, visit the Sistine Chapel which houses the famous painting by Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam (sorry no photos of this masterpiece- camera are strictly forbidden inside the chapel), and priceless works of art held within the Vatican museum by world renowned artists including Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Bellini. We opted for the guided tour by City Lights Tours which was worth every penny. A knowledgeable and energetic tour guide, Enza, lead a small group (14 people) around the Vatican, Vatican museum, and St. Peters Basilica, sharing with us fascinating history and facts. (We were also able to skip the lines- score!)

 

Now I know I said this was my top 5, but I'm sneaking in this last spot because after all this running around Rome you are going to want a good spot to sit back, relax, and enjoy a good drink. The area of Rome known was Trastevere is loaded with good food and plenty of places to grab a drink. We enjoyed wandering the little streets and alleyways taking in the scenery and liveliness of the area. Known as a vibrant collage hangout, Trastevere is located in the 13th rione (district) of Rome. We picked a spot at a local bar and sipped Nagronis after a long day sightseeing, it was the perfect spot to unwind and take in the local atmosphere!

**** Travel with us! read about our other adventures here!

What are some of your favorite spots in Rome?!

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International Travel with Kids 2: COLOMBIA

 Cocora valley

Cocora valley

After traveling all around the coffee triangle region of Colombia (and enjoying their world renowned coffee every chance we got) we found it was easier to transport everyone by renting a small bus vs. individual taxis or vans. The kids enjoyed it because it felt like a school field trip every time we rode our bus (the littlest one having never ridden a school bus for a field trip was particularly thrilled by the experience). I’m grateful all our kids were well behaved, and of course, I’m grateful that they all listened to my safety warnings and followed them to a T.

When traveling with kids, especially on long trips, I find it very important to make each child feel comfortable in order to get their best behavior.  As an example, I always make sure to pack my daughter’s precious blanket. We don’t leave home (overnight) without it. I also made sure to pack her favorite drinking cup, one toy, and her favorite, weather-appropriate, outfits. These small details made her feel secure and it made the environment a little less scary for her.  Also, please always make sure they have comfortable shoes for long walks, that way you don’t have to deal with foot blisters and other issues that can potentially ruin a good time.

RELATED: INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL WITH KIDS PART 1: COLOMBIA

 giant man

giant man

I always carry a cross body bag, big enough for my personal belongings, a few snacks, and a bottle of water. Refillable bottles that have a snap-hook that you can attach to your bag are very convenient. I like to be hands-free and carry everything on my cross body bag. I also carry a travel size bottle of hand sanitizer, tissue, and band-aids (believe me; you’ll thank me should you need these).

We laughed a lot in this trip. Hubby is 6’5” and needless to say, he looked like a giant compared to most locals. This was pretty hilarious especially when he realized that he his feet hung out of the South American standard beds, and he had to watch his head through many door frames and other structures.

 somebody didnt fit through the door of the bathrooms

somebody didnt fit through the door of the bathrooms

We had a scary moment when we thought one of us lost their wallet with all personal information and identifications (it is always a good idea to have a photocopy of yours and your child’s documents stored in a safe place while you travel).

But don’t worry… we found it!

One of my favorite places was Salento, Quindio.  We climbed the Alto de la Cruz and all of its 250 steps.  We were exhausted once we got to the top, but it was totally worth it.  The views of the town and the mountains were breathtaking.  I also thought it was very curious to see so many stray dogs walking around, and none of them looked malnourished (although some were thirsty).  We noticed that the locals, and hundreds of tourist, feed and pet these very friendly dogs all the time. So, living on the streets might not be too bad for them after all.  They get sheltered by local vendors when needed, and the town is their playground.  

 brother giving a stray dog some water.

brother giving a stray dog some water.

We also had some small injuries and scrapes.  Kid #4 got a splinter (a very small splinter) and cried bloody murder for a good twenty minutes while uncle and dad tried to remove it. Picture this: Lunch time; the water park's restaurant area packed with people trying to eat; a four year old screaming but moved to the grassy area just outside the restaurant to minimize a spectacle (that didn’t make it better btw).  Dad is holding her so she doesn’t move, uncle is performing an improvised cutaneous amateur surgery, well, that’s the way it seems from a distance judging by the screams and kicks... and suddenly it stops. The splinter is out and magically she feels nothing anymore. The rest of the crew recovered their original color as their faces go back to normal from the bright tomato red they had turned with embarrassment. Immediately, Kid #3 starts to cry. She also has a splinter that was conveniently painless until she saw it. Repeat. Buy everyone ice-cream after the ordeal.

 flying back home

flying back home

Despite the minor incidents everything went well until our way back home. We had another eight hour layover in Panama. By that time we knew the airport like pros. We knew exactly where the AC area was, and what restaurants were good. About an hour before boarding hubby started to feel queasy. He looked pale and clammy and I knew that something wasn’t right. “Maybe it was something he ate?” I thought, but we all ate the same thing and we were feeling alright so that couldn’t be it. Then I saw hubby pacing back and forth. He was holding his right side. The flank area of his body, he said, was throbbing. The pain made him so sick that he was vomiting. I knew he was not going to be able to make it on a plane for 4 hours in that condition. I knew he was passing a kidney stone (he suffers from this often). Even if he wanted to board the plane, the airline clerk saw his pale face and asked me what was wrong. I told her I suspected a big kidney stone. Well, apparently they don’t let you board a plane (at least not in Panama) if you are or look sick. He looked terrible. Even my five year old daughter knew something wasn’t right. So our group gets split in two and we stayed in Panama while the rest flew back home. Luckily, the medic at the airport clinic was incredibly nice and gave hubby something for the pain. He was able to stabilize him and after a couple of hours his pain was bearable. The airline was also (to my surprise) very cooperative. They placed us on the last plane back to the States that night, and although we missed our connecting flight, we were glad to be home.  

Read about: tips on what to pack when traveling with kids

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International Travel with Kids part 1... It is Possible!: COLOMBIA edition

We love to travel abroad.  Last summer we packed our bags and took a plane to Colombia. This beautiful, diverse South American country had so many things to offer, we should’ve planned for more than the two glorious weeks we took.

 Always have a"fun-kit" on hand for long layovers

Always have a"fun-kit" on hand for long layovers

We traveled with four kids, ages ranging from 8 to 4. Let me tell you, yes I was nervous at first because for three of the kids, it was their very first time on a plane. We spent the weeks before the trip preparing them for any possible scenario. Fortunately, although they are little, they are smart kids. We went over safety rules, different foods, how to behave on a plane, cultural differences, language differences, and safety rules one more time. I was satisfied that they had learned at least a little after my constant (almost obsessive) repetition. By the way, we budgeted our finances in order to travel with the whole family.  It takes effort, but it's totally worth it! (click here for how to budget to travel).

The day came. Five adults, four kids, lots of bags…. Well, not really, we tried to travel light.  We knew we had an eight hour layover in Panama, so we were prepared. (See What to pack TIPS when traveling with kids ). We had activity books, portable DVD player, cards and little games for them to play…and snacks; plenty of plane-friendly snacks. BUT, we didn’t count on the almost infernal heat at the non-air conditioned airport. Neither one of us had ever traveled through that airport before, so we didn’t know what to expect. Apparently the airport was under construction and only a very small part of it was air conditioned. Well, needless to say, we spent 7 of the 8 hours in the AC area. The kids were comfortable enough and really tired by the time we got in the last plane to Colombia. They all fell asleep.

When we finally arrived to the city of Pereira, one of the main cities in the heart of the“Coffee Triangle”, we realized that hubby’s bag was missing!. The airline in Panama failed to transfer it to the next airplane. After the aggravation of setting up a lost-bag claim, we were greeted by some of our family that lives there. They had also rented a bus to fit us all and transport us around. 

We had to accommodate all of us in a small three bedroom apartment. It was tight, but it wasn’t terrible. It was hot thought (thank God for fans and micro-fiber cooling towels). We toured the city the first day with no problems. We also had to shop for hubby’s clothes since he had nothing to change into.  Note to self:  sizes in other countries are slightly different from the US.  Large there is NOT like a large here. 

We quickly learned the lesson in apparel shopping, but not before we had already purchased some items.  That didn’t stop us from having fun. 

 Hotsprings waterfall in the background

Hotsprings waterfall in the background

Our first destination was a natural hot-springs pool park of Termales of Santa Rosa, up in the central mountain range, about one hour from where we were staying. It was hot in Pereira, but this place was cool and comfortable, although it got a little cold at night fall. The hot-spring in this area was a natural volcanic spring that flows from an impressive waterfall at 158° and reaches the pool area at 104°.  Once the water enters the pool it is combined with cold water to make it comfortable and soothing. You can even smell the volcanic residue in the air. It was amazing and the kids loved it. 

DESTINATION #2

After this day experience, we went to a sports/waterpark complex called Confamiliar Risaralda- Parque Consota, and stayed in a beautiful cabin while enjoying a semi-private pool and all the amenities of the park. Fresh coffee was served each morning by their friendly staff dressed in typical- coffee region attire.  In the meantime, hubby’s luggage was still in limbo.

DESTINATION #3

Way into day four, we were able to recover the luggage, along with the comfortably fitting clothes of a 6’5” man.  He was happy, and we moved on to the next destination; a country house outside the Pereira.  We relaxed for two days laying in hammocks and cooking out in the outdoor kitchen.   The kids had a wonderful fenced space to play around and breathe in the fresh air and also fishing.

DESTINATION #4 was a Coffee-themed amusement park.  We all enjoyed this place tremendously.  Filled with roller-coasters, water rides, theater, music, and eco-friendly walks, this coffee-themed park was both informative and fun.

Back in the bus to:

DESTINATION #5

Kids are singing, and we are all admiring the view.  We arrive to “Salento” and first on our list is horse-riding in the Cocora Valley, part of the central Andes Mountains.  Horse-riding in the Andes was, in my opinion, what the kids (and the adults) enjoyed the most.  The gorgeous views of the mountains, and the small colonial town of Salento, Quindio, with its multicolor colonial architecture were breathtaking.  Salento also had dozens of small stores full of handcrafts and souvenirs for tourist.  The locals are friendly and the food is fantastic. (Read our blog about the local food!).

We spent the rest of the days in between walking around the city, shopping, and eating local food.  The kids behaved great and we felt safe and confident to even go out at night (we got a sitter for that ).

 Night view of the city

Night view of the city

Read about the interesting encounters (with pictures), and the adventure back home… which includes a complication, in Part 2.

Also stay tuned for a complete list of what to pack when traveling with kids.  See more pictures in our gallery (Pics & Art) tab.

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