I recently signed up for 23andMe to learn more about my ancestry and genetic makeup. I knew I had Spanish ancestry (turns out I'm 24% Spanish). I also learned that I'm 10% Italian and 11% French/German. This inspired me to go back to my roots and beyond.
I haven't been to Barcelona and Rome in over a decade and am looking forward to exploring these beautiful cities all over again. Plus, I'll be visiting places in Italy and France I've never been. In fact, everywhere else in the itinerary is new to me.
Click here to learn more about this exciting itinerary with Azamara Cruises and the exclusive perks you'll get by joining me.
There's a lot to remember before heading out on your next adventure. That's why I always use a checklist to remind myself of all the things I need to pack before I head out.
Click here for a handy packing list.
After all the packing is done and just before I leave home, I double check to make sure I have these 3 things on me. Without these 3 items, I may not even make it to my destination in the worst case scenario and at a minimum my travels will be very difficult. If all I have are these 3 items, I'll be able to get by and can always purchase anything else I need.
#1 Don't forget your passport
If you're traveling internationally, you won't even make it on the plane without your passport. If somehow you slip through all the checks and make it to your destination, you'll be on the next flight back home as soon as you land. I've seen it happen a number of times. The traveler has to go back home to get their passport. Their travel plans are delayed plus they incur stiff fees from the airline to re-book their air.
Bonus Tip: Make sure your passport doesn't expire until 6 months after the date you return home or they might not let you abroad.
#2 Don't forget your money/credit card
I was pick pocketed while traveling once. They took my wallet with all my money and credit cards. They were so good I didn't even realize it until the next day. Worst part? I was only half-way through my month long journey. I begged my parents to send money via Western Union at each new city I went to so I didn't have to come home early. Thankfully they agreed, but it was quite the process. The time difference between me and them was about 10 hours which made communication difficult. I wasn't sure how much money I needed for the rest of the trip and typos in my name made it difficult to collect the cash.
#3 Don't forget your phone
With the shift from paper to digital almost 100% complete, your most important travel information is now on your phone. Plus your family and friends often expect to hear from you frequently while you travel to make sure you're ok. We've grown so dependent on our smart phones, it's hard to travel without them. To top it off, many of us no longer use a physical camera. It's now just an app on our phone. Can you imagine traveling to all these beautiful sites and not being able to take pictures of any of your food!
So before you leave for your next trip, double-check and make sure you didn't forget your passport, money, and phone.
Matt sailing on Celebrity Solstice to Astoria, OR last September
Join Matt on an Incredible Journey to Alaska July 5 - 12
I've been dreaming of cruising to Alaska for several years now and can't wait to share this journey with you. I'm hosting a select group of travelers on a Celebrity Solstice cruise to Alaska and I'd love for you to be one of them. Space is very limited so let me know right away if you have any interest in joining me.
Click here to learn more about the exclusive perks you'll receive by joining this cruise.
Want to increase those likes, shares and comments on your vacation photos this year? Instead of spending a ton on an expensive camera, grab your smartphone and follow these easy tips and tricks from the pros.
Brighter is better – Natural light is your friend. To get a great photo, put yourself in a position to get the best shot. If you’re indoors, set up your shot next to a large window. However, if you’re outside in the midafternoon, direct sunlight can be too harsh on your subject. Look for creative ways to shade your subject to keep your photo balanced. You can also aim to shoot outside during the fabled “golden hour”- during sunrise and sunset.
Avoid too much zoom – Drastic zooming on any subject can create an unwanted grain to any photo. If you need to zoom, wait until you already have the image you want and then zoom and crop in the editing phase.
Focus is key – Your camera’s autofocus could be doing your photos more harm than good. Luckily, most smartphones allow you to pinpoint your photo’s focus directly from your palm. Set up your shot, and then touch and hold the main focal point on your screen until you see the yellow Auto Exposure/Auto Focus Lock appear. Take your photo as normal, and the final image should clearly be clearer.
Polish polish polish – Once you’ve selected your favorites, it’s time to make them shine. There are dozens of options and free apps for your phone that will give your photos a professional edge, with VSCO and Snapseed being our personal favorites. Download a few, play around with their options and see which ones you like best. Most times, all your photos need is a little cropping and lightening to make them pop.
Nothing compares to the once-in-a-lifetime moments you get to experience on a safari, wildlife cruise or national park hike. These moments, like watching a gaggle of penguins swimming in Antarctica, used to be nearly impossible (and expensive), since the areas were widely unchartered and remote. However, now, with more cruises and tours exploring these hidden wonders worldwide, there are more chances than ever to watch wildlife dwell in their natural habitats. For the best viewing, visit one of these breathtaking destinations.
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada – Located on the rugged shores of Hudson Bay in Northern Manitoba, Churchill is one of the few human settlements in the world that is also home to polar bears. Since they spend most of their summer hunting for food, the best time to view them is during the fall. The optimal way to experience the beauty of these bears is with a custom tundra buggy, which offers once in a lifetime chances to get up close.
Chobe National Park, Botswana, Africa – Chobe National Park in Botswana offers truly unspoiled views of Africa’s famed wildlife. On a game drive here, you won’t be met with other jeeps, but instead with views of warthogs, bushbucks, monkeys, lions, leopards and hyenas. A cruise along the breathtaking Chobe river offers a chance to see marine mammals like hippos and crocodiles.
Antarctica Peninsula – Although it may be void of any human life, Antarctica is home to one of the largest populations of penguins, with over 40 million spread across the continent. Once unchartered, Antarctica is growing in popularity, and more cruise lines are adding the snow-capped glacial peaks and emperor penguin colonies to their itineraries.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador – This tiny archipelago off the coast of Ecuador has been an iconic destination for wildlife viewing for over 200 years. Thanks to more cruise lines charting the South American Coast, it’s much easier for anyone to view its many inhabitants, like the island iguanas, blue-footed boobies, giant green sea turtles and sea lions.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States – Aside from spewing geysers, gradient canyons and rushing waterfalls, Wyoming’s crowned jewel is also home to some of the country’s most spectacular wildlife. From black bears to bald eagles to bison and coyotes, this area is rich with a vast array of animals.
Nature provides dramatic scenes everywhere, but few more breathtaking than an epic waterfall. In North America, our default idea of an epic waterfall is Niagara. For decades, these three falls – Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil Falls – have attracted millions of sightseers to the US-Canadian border, and for good reason. Horseshoe Falls alone drops water from a height of 173 feet, spilling 600,000 gallons of its famed green waters per second. But Niagara is not the only waterfalling game in town. Here are four other cascades that put the “awe” in awesome.
Iguazu Falls – The falls at Iguazu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are larger than anything in Niagara, with a height of some 240 feet. Iguazu is interesting as it’s made up of a number of cascades thanks to the rock formations shaping the falls direction, and vast sprays are thrown up as the water collides with them. It’s surrounded by lush, subtropical rainforest populated by tapirs, ocelots and jaguars, along with 2,000 plant species and around 400 types of bird. There are a couple of differences in the experiences you can have in each country it borders. The Argentine side of the falls offers a better chance to get close up to the action, while the Brazilian side is better for looking out over the panorama from a distance.
Victoria Falls – There are two names in common usage, the Victoria Falls given by UK explorer David Livingstone to honor his queen, and the indigenous name Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning ‘the smoke that thunders.’ The falls, another UNESCO site, are classified as the world’s largest at 354 feet high; its spray rising to a height of 2,000 feet and can be seen from up to 30 miles away. There have been railways and hotels in the area since the early 20th century, allowing tourism to flourish. The two small national parks on either side welcome thousands of travelers a year in search of the local wildlife such as hippos and rhinos. One of the famous features on the Zambian side is The Armchair, a pool very close to the edge of the falls formed by a rock barrier where brave souls can swim in relative safety.
Havasu Falls, Arizona – The striking aspect of the falls, which plunge from around 100 feet, are the vivid colors that can be seen, the bright blue of the water contrasting with the deep red of the surrounding rock face. The color of the water is due to unusually high levels of calcium carbonate and magnesium, and since they originate from an underground spring, their temperature rarely dips below 70F. There are plenty of spots from which to enjoy the views here, including a wide sandy beach, or picnic tables under the shade of the local cottonwood trees. Guided tours are especially popular, leading groups on adventures that usually include camping out near the base of the falls.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – The falls here are relatively small compared to Niagara and Iguazu, with its two main ones just 225 and 75 feet tall respectively. However, what they lack in height they make up for in beauty, and together with the layered lakes that stack up along the topography, they form one of Europe’s most striking landscapes. Some 16 lakes of varying sizes have formed, and guided tours in English take place every day to help you make the most of your time here. The surrounding national park contains some of Europe’s rarest wildlife, with wolves, brown bears, lynx and wildcats. Again, local guides can help improve your chances of spotting them. You may even be lucky enough to spot a majestic Golden Eagle.
Many travelers have had to cope with at least one of these situations: their flight is delayed, overbooked or canceled. Of course, our clients should know that we’re always watching out for them, assisting them to get on another flight or booking a hotel room if necessary. But it’s also important for travelers to know what rights they have – and don’t have – in these cases.
The law does not require airlines to compensate passengers if a domestic flight is delayed or canceled, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, each airline has its own policy regarding what, if anything, it will do for customers. For example, some carriers may offer compensation in the form of meal or hotel vouchers. So it’s always a good idea to ask.
In the case of overbooking, federal law comes into play. Before bumping anyone off a flight involuntarily, airlines are required to ask for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for compensation. If there aren’t enough passengers willing to do so, the airline may bump people based on criteria such as check-in time, fare or frequent-flier status.
Passengers whose arrival at their destination is delayed by one to two hours (or one to four hours for international flights) must receive compensation of 200 percent of the one-way fare, up to $675. For a delay of more than two hours, (or four hours for international flights) passengers are entitled to 400 percent of the one-way fare, up to $1,350. In order to get volunteers, airlines are free to offer more money than required.
There are exceptions to the rules. Airlines are not required to issue compensation if a passenger doesn’t fully comply with ticketing and check-in procedures, if the flight is unable to accommodate a passenger because an aircraft with fewer seats is substituted due to operational or safety reasons, or if an aircraft with 60 or fewer seats is unable to accommodate the passenger due to safety reasons. And no compensation is required if the arrival delay is less than an hour.
Passengers who find themselves stuck on the tarmac for an extended period waiting for takeoff should know that they have rights under U.S. law, too. Airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more seats cannot allow them to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours on domestic flights or more than four hours on international flights without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane. Exceptions are allowed for safety, security and air-traffic control reasons. In addition, airlines must provide adequate food and water, ensure that lavatories are working and notify passengers regarding the status of the delay.
I was recently selected to join the elite group of Distinctive Voyages hosts. I'll be hosting three luxury cruises this year. The first one is to Alaska in July. I've been dreaming of cruising to Alaska for several years now and can't wait to share this journey with my group. There are over 300+ itineraries to choose from. Only a select group of travelers will receive the following perks while aboard the ship.
Distinctive Voyages include:
Ask me how you can join me on this cruise to Alaska or about other Distinctive Voyages!
Business travel can be exhilarating, fun and challenging. However, despite all the great experiences you get to enjoy on the road, you also have to deal with not being in your own bed and the lack of sleep that accompanies that. Add long hours, little access to fresh foods, and of course, time away from family and friends, and it’s no wonder the Harvard Business Review found a strong correlation between the frequency of business travel and a wide range of physical and behavioral health risks.
It takes effort to be a healthy road warrior, but it is so worth it. Feeling good while traveling for work leads to more productivity, better output, a superior work product, and an all-around happier life. Here’s our business travel wellness routine:
Stay Hydrated – Drink at least 1.5 liters of water every day, whether or not you’re traveling. When flying, drink at least half a liter of water for every hour in the air. As a bonus, this forces you to get up and move while on the plane, helping to lower the risk of blood clots.
Move Your Body – Make it a point to be up early enough so that you can exercise at least 40 minutes every morning before 7 a.m. A good road warrior workout should involve a balance of high-intensity cardio and free weight exercises to keep metabolic levels up during the day. You should either use the hotel gym, or simply pack exercise bands to use in your hotel room in case time is tight.
Rev Up Your Mind – After you get out of bed and exercise, do some motivational reading, listen to TED Talks or spend time in spiritual reflection to put yourself in the right frame of mind for the day. Stay off social media during this time and challenge your brain instead!
Refresh Your Body – Get at least seven hours of sleep every night, because your brain and body needs restorative sleep in order to work well. To get that sleep, practice good sleep hygiene: turn off the TV in your hotel room and set your phone on silent so you’re not awakened by a 2 a.m. email.
For true beer lovers, the highlight of any vacation is hoisting pints of the local stouts, IPAs and lagers of their vacation destination. They will not be disappointed at these destinations, where the quality and variety of the beer attracts millions every year.
Munich, Germany - No beer bucket list would be complete without Munich, the place where millions of barley buffs converge every year for the 16-day festival called Oktoberfest. But even if you can’t make it during that time, you can still enjoy the city’s legendary beer gardens and the famed 425-year-old brewery Hofbräuhaus.
Montreal, Canada - For decades now, Montreal has been a mecca for brewpubs, perfecting the art of microbrewery. Beer brewed here is often defined by its color—blonde, rousse, ambrée or noir—than by its style at such places as the world-famous Le Cheval Blanc.
Amsterdam, Netherlands - Home to globally popular brands Heineken and Amstel, Amsterdam is a town steeped in beer history. Locals like to linger long over their pints of pils at neighborhood watering holes called brown bars, where the darkened interiors inspire profound conversations.
Dublin, Ireland - Guinness. Need we say more? Fine…inside the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s top tourist attraction, you’ll get a grand history lesson along with a perfectly poured pint. Afterward, soak in the city’s thriving pub culture at The Porterhouse, Dublin’s first brewpub, to sample their homemade porters.
Brussels, Belgium - This is the capital of Belgian beer, the award-winning ale that has been traditionally brewed by monks since the Middle Ages. Here, beer aficionados debate over the quality of their lambics at charming café-bars called estaminets.
Sharing my travel experiences and insights